ISLAMABAD - The Taliban has categorically stated that seeking a peace deal with the current government in Afghanistan would be tantamount to a surrender to the “enemy” and contrary to Islamic faith.
The Islamist insurgency issued the statement to media, including VOA, in response to reports its representatives told a former insurgent group that the Taliban is willing to enter into peace talks with the government.
The announcement, and reported U.S. plans to send additional American troops to the war-torn country to help Afghan forces contain the Taliban, strengthen widespread concerns of an escalation in hostilities and bloodshed this year.
The Taliban's denunciation of engaging in talks with Kabul also deals a critical blow to the U.S.-backed government’s hopes a recently concluded, much-touted peace deal with notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar may encourage Taliban leaders to also quit violence and join political reconciliation efforts.
“The stance of the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is that laying arms to the enemy and assisting them in achieving their sinister designs is not only contrary to the national aspirations of millions of martyrs, but Shariah [Islamic faith] too,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the main spokesman for the insurgency.
He also rejected as “groundless propaganda” reported claims by members of Hekmatyar’s group, the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin [HIG], that Taliban officials in the country and those in its Qatar-based so-called political office have established contacts with them and are willing to join the government-led peace process.
While the Taliban has long maintained its insurgency was aimed at forcing U.S.-led international forces to quit Afghanistan, the group is increasingly making clear it is fighting to regain power in the wake of significant territorial gains over the past two years.
Professor Marvin Weinbaum of Washington-based Middle East Institute, however, said the Taliban has not been interested in entering into a peace process from the outset and internationally-backed efforts to nudge the insurgents to the negotiating table were based on “a misguided notion” of having a negotiating partner.
“The Taliban have come to this with a different vision. It’s a vision not of this constitutional liberal system. Its a vision rather of a Sharia state that’s willing to make accommodations but not to deviate from its basic objectives of an [Islamic] Emirate. And I submit to you that remains the major stumbling block [in the way of peace talks],” he said.
The Taliban would use “Islamic Emirate” for their government in Afghanistan before it was ousted by the U.S.-led military invasion in late 2001.
The Islamist insurgency, meanwhile, has intensified battlefield hostilities across most of Afghanistan since launching its yearly so-called “spring offensive” two weeks ago. The Taliban is currently said to be controlling or influencing an estimated 40 percent of the Afghan territory.
Critics say years of alleged covert support from neighboring Pakistan, coupled with overt legitimacy lately lent to the Taliban by Russia and Iran, have emboldened the insurgency to evidently seek a settlement on its own terms, a proposition unacceptable for the Afghan government and its international backers, fueling fears the precarious security situation is bound to deteriorate in the months ahead.
The United Nations has already warned Afghan civilians, particularly women and children, are increasingly bearing the brunt of the protracted conflict and the number of civilian casualties have already hit a new high in the first quarter of 2017.
“The first four months of 2017 witnessed the highest recorded number of child civilian casualties resulting from conflict-related incidents in Afghanistan, including the highest number of children killed, for the same comparable period since the mission began documenting cases [in 2009],” reported the U.N Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, on Monday.
It said that nearly 1,000 child casualties, including 283 deaths, occurred between January 1 and April 30 this year, showing a 21 percent increase in child deaths compared to the same period in 2016.