International-backed efforts to seek a negotiated end to the 12 years of grinding war in Afghanistan have suffered another blow after Taliban rebels apparently rejected conditions for proposed peace talks. The development comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron concluded a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of efforts to revive the stalled peace process.
In its first formal reaction following the opening of the controversial Taliban political office nearly two weeks ago in Qatar, the Afghan insurgent group has harshly criticized the United States and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for allegedly “wasting time” and making “false commitments” regarding proposed peace talks.
In a Pashto language statement emailed to VOA late Saturday, a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, says “coercion, threats, provocation” and demands that Taliban fighters surrender have not worked in the past and will not work in the future to solve the Afghan problem.
The Islamist group also accused the United States of being in a “state of confusion” and lacking a “firm stance” on the peace talks. It also snubbed the Afghan president for his opposition to a direct dialogue between the Taliban and the United States.
Earlier, President Karzai warned foreign peace plans could weaken his country and lead to a disintegration of Afghanistan. Speaking alongside visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron in Kabul on Saturday, the Afghan president ruled out any pre-conditions by insurgents or concessions given to the Taliban for resuming talks.
“Therefore, there was that massive strong reaction to the manner in which the Taliban office in Doha was inaugurated," he said. "The Taliban, once they have joined the peace process, once they begin to talk to their Afghan brothers and sisters, if they have any demands they should put them forward and then there is a mechanism provided in our constitutions for amendments in the constitution.”
Karzai is also suspicious of the role Pakistan has played in the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar. Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency was behind the rise of the Islamist group during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s. Islamabad's admission it is trying to facilitate the current peace effort indicates the ties remain intact.
But after talks Sunday in Islamabad with Cameron, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to address Afghan concerns.
“We believe that such a process should be inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. I have assured Prime Minister Cameron of our firm resolve to promote the shared objective of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, to which the three-million Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan can return with honor and dignity,” he said.
Prime Minister Cameron welcomed his Pakistani counterpart’s pledge, saying peace and stability is vital for both the neighboring countries.
“And I know that you and President Karzai will work together towards those ends," he said.
The opening of a Taliban office in Qatar earlier this month renewed hopes over the prospect of a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict. The United States and President Karzai revealed hours before the inaugural ceremony they were sending peace envoys to the Gulf state for holding separate meetings with the rebels.
But the process immediately came to a halt after President Karzai angrily reacted to the Taliban raising their flag over the office and designating the Qatar facility as belonging to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the insurgent group used for Afghanistan during its five-year rule.
Feeling betrayed by the United States, the outraged Afghan president announced he was boycotting the peace talks and suspending negotiations with Washington on a bilateral agreement that defines the American presence in Afghanistan past 2014, when most foreign troops will have withdrawn.
Some critics are advising against holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar, citing stepped up high-profile insurgent attacks in Afghanistan. But President Karzai says the deadly violence will not deter his government from seeking peace with the Taliban.
“We want to talk peace because that is what we are seeking because that is what the country needs that is what also the Taliban need,” he said.
Karzai accuses the U.S. and Qatari governments of allowing the Taliban to use the political office as publicity stunt to gain international credibility, charges American officials immediately rejected. U.S. officials blamed the Taliban for violating prior understandings regarding opening of their office.
The United States later persuaded authorities in Doha, the Qatari capital, to remove the Taliban flag and the nameplate from the controversial office, and endorsed the Afghan president’s concerns. But that seems to have upset the Taliban and since then the peace talks have been on hold with no signs of their immediate resumption.