Latest round of talks faces failure, as militants demand U.S. forces leave Afghanistan before any talks.
Taliban meeting Afghan officials in Qatar reiterated their hardline stance on peace talks Monday, ruling out negotiations until U.S. forces leave the country and the insurgents are allowed to open a political office.
A 20-member Afghan delegation over the weekend launched two days of “open discussion” with Taliban representatives in the Gulf emirate in their latest attempt to end Afghanistan’s long war. The militants emphasized their preconditions for negotiations in a statement read out by their representatives at the meeting and posted on the Taliban’s official website.
“One of the main external obstacle [to talks] is the occupation of our country by Americans… continuing the occupation will mean continuing the war,” the statement said. “The mother of all these miseries is their invasion, which should end as a first step toward a peace dialogue between Afghans.”
The statement came as a Taliban suicide bomber struck a government bus in Kabul on Monday, killing one civilian and wounding 15 others in the latest attack in the annual spring offensive. The insurgents also said they needed to set up a political office for any peace negotiations and demanded that their leaders be removed from a U.S. “blacklist.”
“For talks, an office and an address are needed. The Islamic Emirate does not have an address for peace talks,” the Taliban said, using their official name. “We need an office to issue statements on peace and answer questions. If there is an office… baseless and biased accusations will be prevented.”
Previous efforts to open dialogue with the Taliban have failed. The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as a first move towards a possible peace deal. But it shut a month later after enraging the then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling itself as the unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.
The election last year of President Ashraf Ghani, who pledged to make peace talks a priority, as well as supportive signals from the militants’ erstwhile backer Pakistan, has raised hopes of dialogue.
Qatar’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it was hosting “reconciliation” talks to help try and deliver “security, peace and stability to the Afghan people.” It made the comments in a statement to the Gulf nation’s state news agency.
The Taliban’s official spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed that an eight-strong Taliban delegation was at the event organized by the Pugwash Council, a global organization that promotes dialogue to resolve conflicts. But the spokesman cautioned that the Taliban’s attendance “does not mean peace talks or negotiations at all.”
The Taliban have denied rumors of previous talks with the Afghan government. They have always insisted that this would only happen if foreign forces withdraw unconditionally from Afghanistan.
Last month the Taliban launched their spring offensive across Afghanistan, stepping up attacks on government and foreign targets and inflicting a heavy toll on civilians and Afghan security forces. This year’s Taliban offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces will battle the insurgents without the full support of U.S.-led foreign combat troops.
NATO’s combat mission formally ended in December but a small follow-up foreign force of about 12,500 troops has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.