The Taliban has ruled out political reconciliation with the Afghan government and urged war-weary voters to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections in the country, alleging the "fake" exercise is being staged at the behest of U.S.-led “foreign occupation” forces.
The statement comes in response to President Ashraf Ghani’s call on Saturday in which he invited the Taliban again to avail themselves of his offer of peace talks and join the October 20 elections in Afghanistan as a "political party.”
Ghani made his offer of unconditional peace talks in February, a move widely welcomed by domestic and international partners of Afghanistan, and he reiterated the overture on Saturday as the Taliban has not formally responded to it.
"We ask the Taliban to act as a political party and participate in the elections while utilizing the prevailing opportunity and the peace offer," Ghani said while inaugurating voters’ registration process for the long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections.
But the Taliban has swiftly rejected Ghani’s latest overture, saying it "believes Afghanistan is still occupied" by thousands of foreign forces and "all major political and military decisions” are taken by the “occupiers."
The insurgent group stressed in a written statement sent to journalists late on Sunday that its "top most priority is to liberate the country and the nation from the occupation and restore, like all other rights [for Afghans], the right to do politics and freely elect their leaders."
Electing their representatives and the parliament while the country is still under "foreign occupation," insisted the Taliban, would be "great betrayal" to the Afghan nation and "cheating" on the international community.
Election process rejected
The Taliban called on Afghans to "boycott" what it called "fake and exhibitory" elections and urged them to "focus their energies" on expelling foreign forces from the country.
It was unclear from the statement, however, whether the Taliban has also rejected Ghani's offer of engaging in a peace dialogue with Kabul to end the war in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's rejection of the election process comes as insurgent attacks across the country during the past two days have killed nearly 30 government security forces.
In a statement released last Friday, the insurgent group vowed to intensify the 17-year-old war, saying this year’s fighting season will prove to be the worst and most deadliest” for Americans and their "paid" Afghan rulers.
Afghan and U.S.-led NATO forces, meanwhile, have also stepped up counter-Taliban operations across Afghanistan. The hostilities have already caused a record 2,260 civilian casualties, including more than 700 deaths, in the first three months of 2018, according to the United Nations. Conflict-related incidents caused more than 10,000 civilian casualties in 2017.