Extremists say their political office is unaware of any talks with the Afghan government.
The Taliban on Thursday distanced itself from peace talks that had been expected this week with the Afghan government, while making no comment on Kabul’s reported death of their leader Mullah Omar.
Afghanistan on Wednesday said Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, in the first such official confirmation from Kabul after unnamed government and militant sources reported the demise of the reclusive warrior-cleric. The insurgents have not officially confirmed his death, and the claim—just two days before a fresh round of talks were expected—cast doubt over the tenuous peace process.
“Media outlets are circulating reports that peace talks will take place very soon… either in the country of China or Pakistan,” the Taliban said in an English-language statement posted on their website on Thursday. “(Our) political office… are not aware of any such process,” added the statement, which prompted no immediate reaction from the Afghan government.
The statement marked the first comment from the group, which has waged an almost 14-year insurgency against Afghan and foreign forces, since Kabul’s dramatic announcement on Wednesday citing “credible information.”
Mullah Omar has not been seen publicly since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government in Kabul.
Haseeb Sediqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, told AFP that Omar died in hospital in Karachi “under mysterious circumstances.”
Afghan officials sat down with Taliban cadres earlier this month in Murree for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency. They agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, and Afghan officials pledged to press for a ceasefire in the second round, expected to kick off on Friday.
“The talks have… certainly lost their momentum,” said Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Announcement of Omar’s death will spark an existential crisis for the Taliban, and the last thing that will be on its mind are peace talks. It will need to focus on its survival, not talks,” Kugelman told AFP.
A statement from the Afghan presidential palace on Wednesday, however, said grounds for the discussions are more solid now than before, and implored all insurgents to join the peace process. But many of the insurgents’ ground commanders have openly questioned the legitimacy of the Taliban negotiators, exposing dangerous faultlines within the movement.