ISLAMABAD - Islamic scholars from around the world opened a two-day conference in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to debate the Afghanistan war and urge the Taliban insurgency to seek a settlement through peace negotiations.
But a Taliban statement issued just hours before the meeting has warned participants against declaring its insurgency anythingbut a “jihad” (holy war) against “American invaders” of the country.
The insurgent group asserted the ongoing conflict is not an “inter-afghan battle or battle among Muslims”, blaming the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan for starting it.
“If someone still declares the blatant command of Islam for pleasing American President Donald Trump and his companions and calls Mujahid (Afghan) nation a terrorist and rebels, then this will be complicit in invasion of American aggressors and abating of the weak Muslims,” the statement said.
The Taliban went on to urge Saudi authorities and scholars not to side with “American invaders in what it described as a fight between “Islam and disbelief”, saying such attempts cannot change the nature of the Afghan dispute and the “legitimate jihad.”
The statement claimed the Taliban has extended its control to “over 70% geography of Afghanistan” and it will continue its fight until an independent “Islamic system” is implemented in the country.
The Islamist insurgents have dismissed Tuesday’s Saudi moot and decrees issued in previous such gatherings of Muslim scholars, including one in Indonesia, as a U.S. ploy to justify its "military occupation” of the country and seek legitimacy for the “stooge” Kabul regime.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered unconditional peace talks to the Taliban and declared a unilateral temporary ceasefire against the insurgents last month during the Eid festivities to encourage a negotiated end to the war.
The ceasefire initiative prompted the insurgent group to announce its own cessation of hostilities during the three-day Eid festival. But the Taliban ignored calls for extending the ceasefire and engaging in peace talks, and it has since returned to the battlefield with more intensity inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan security forces and seizing new territory.
The Taliban demands direct talks with the United States without involving "puppet" Afghan government officials.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a brief visit to Kabul on Monday where he pledged support for Ghani's peace efforts but stopped short of again rejecting the insurgent demand for bilateral talks.
Pompeo emphasized the peace process will be Afghan-led and it will be amongst the Afghan people. "Having said that, we are prepared to participate in that, to facilitate, to help the Afghan people resolve their differences and to arrive at a place where all of the Afghan people can have their voices heard and live in a society that is peaceful," he explained.