The chief of the Taliban is calling on the United States to accept his insurgent group’s “logical proposals” for advancing peace negotiations between the two adversaries on ending the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Hibatullah Akhundzada made the remarks in his annual message ahead of next week's Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr in Afghanistan as the months-long dialogue process has stalemated over the Taliban’s insistence it would not stop fighting and engage in intra-Afghan peace talks until all U.S.-led foreign troops withdraw from the country.
”The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) with its peaceful policy invites America to adopt a policy of reason and understanding, to remain a sincere partner in the negotiations process and accept the logical proposals of the Islamic Emirate for advancement of this process,” said the Taliban chief.
Washington says American negotiators, led by special reconciliation envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, have reached a preliminary draft agreement with the insurgent group on how and when foreign forces would leave in exchange for Taliban guarantees to disallow transnational terrorists from using Afghan soil to attack other countries.
Khalilzad has stated that a final agreement, however, must cover not only a troop withdrawal timetable, but a cease-fire by the Taliban and their engagement with representatives of the Afghan society, including the government, for finding a durable political settlement to decades of hostilities in the country.
“No one should expect us to pour cold water on the heated battlefronts of Jihad (holy war) or forget our forty-year sacrifices before reaching our objectives,” stressed Akhundzada in his Eid message, evidently responding to cease-fire demands by U.S. and Afghan officials.
No word from Washington
There was no immediate U.S. reaction available to the Taliban chief’s assertions.
A State Department announcement Saturday said that Afghan-born U.S. chief negotiator Khalilzad has left on a new 16-day visit to regional countries that will also take him to Qatar where he will continue talks with the Taliban "to move the peace process forward." The insurgent group maintains an informal political office in the Qatari capital, the venue of the ongoing U.S.-Taliban dialogue. “We are moving forward. I am optimistic. Success will require other parties to show flexibility,” he wrote.
Akhundzada accused the Western-backed Kabul government, which the insurgent group rejects as American “puppets”, of blocking efforts the Taliban is making to engage with Afghan politicians outside of the government as well as civil society representatives to discuss peace and the nature of future political governance setup in the country.
“The Islamic Emirate shall pay no heed to such futile efforts and diplomatic obstructions being created for the intra-Afghan dialogue," Akhundzada vowed.
The latest round of intra-Afghan talks, involving the Taliban, took place in Moscow earlier this week but it did not produce any substantial outcome in terms of whether insurgents would observe a cease-fire during the three-day Eid festival, similar to what they did last year.
U.S. and Afghan officials insist peace talks to end the war must be held within the current constitution to preserve gains the country has made since the ouster of the fundamentalist Taliban from power 17 years ago by a U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan.
But Akhundzada explained the Taliban is seeking the establishment of “a sovereign, Islamic and inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans.” It is for this purpose, he noted, insurgent negotiators are engaged in talks with the American side and “we pray to Allah that our compatriots witness its positive outcome.”
Longest US overseas war
The Afghan war is the longest overseas U.S. military intervention and is said to have killed more than 150,000 people, including combatants and civilians, costing Washington nearly one trillion dollars.
The Taliban currently controls or influences more than half of 407 Afghan districts, and it continues to inflict dozens of casualties on embattled Afghan security forces daily. President Ashraf Ghani revealed last year that since he took office in 2014, government forces have lost more than 45,000 personnel while battling the insurgents. The United Nations say Afghan civilians also continue to suffer record levels of casualties.