ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - A Taliban delegation traveled to Moscow and held talks with Russian officials Friday, a week after the United States abruptly called off a yearlong peace dialogue with the insurgent group over U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.
Russian media quoted Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen as saying that his delegation had met with Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, and discussed “the recent developments regarding the peace process in Afghanistan.”
Chief Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who is leading the insurgent delegation, told Russia Today television his team had hammered out a formal agreement with American interlocutors and the two sides together with Qatar, which hosted and mediated the talks, were preparing for a deal-signing ceremony when Trump surprisingly declared the process as “dead.”
Stanikzai for the first time publicly discussed some details of the U.S.-Taliban prospective agreement for ending the Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military intervention.
“When it is signed, there will be a complete cease-fire between us and the American forces. We will give safe passage to the American forces. ... And on Sept. 23, inter-Afghan talks will start and in those intra-Afghan negotiations a comprehensive cease-fire and other domestic (Afghan political) issues can be discussed,” the Taliban official said.
Last Saturday, Trump called off the talks and his secretly arranged meetings at Camp David with insurgent negotiators as well as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, citing a recent Taliban car bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
Stanikzai stressed in his interview to the Russian broadcaster the Taliban is committed to return to the negotiating table because the conflict in Afghanistan has no other solution.
“We hope that Mr. Trump rethinks his announcement and comes back to where we were,” he said.
He added, however, the Taliban is prepared to fight 100 more years if the American side is not willing to negotiate and they do not want peace on the table.
Stanikzai questioned Trump’s justification for stopping talks, saying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement the following day admitted that American forces killed “over 1,000 Taliban” in the previous 10 days.
“If they can kill 1,000 of us, why can we not kill one or two of them? This is our right. We have to defend ourselves and defend our people,” Stanikzai said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday her government welcomes the Taliban’s willingness to continue the dialogue with the U.S. She reiterated at her weekly news conference in Moscow that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic approach to settle the crisis in Afghanistan.
“We urge the sides to resume talks as soon as possible, with a view to reaching and signing a peace agreement. We are convinced that the complete end to foreign military presence is an inalienable condition of durable peace in Afghanistan,” Zakharova told her weekly news conference in Moscow.
Russia, which maintains close contacts with the Taliban, has recently hosted several meetings between insurgent representatives and prominent Afghan politicians, as well as civil society activists as part of Moscow’s efforts to promote a peaceful end to the war.