politics

Afghanistan Rejects Surprise Taliban Peace Outreach to U.S.

  • Trump has ruled out talks after wave of violence last month
  • Taliban statement intended to change American outlook: analyst

Afghan security forces stand guard near the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in January.

Photographer: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Afghanistan’s government rejected a surprise Taliban overture for peace talks with the U.S., insisting the insurgent group that controls or contests nearly half the country needs to cease fighting first.

In an unexpected statement on Wednesday, the Taliban reached out to the American people asking them to pressure President Donald Trump and “war-mongering” congressmen to end the near 17-year-old “occupation.” Those words were met with disbelief in Kabul after the group claimed responsibility for attacks in the Afghan capital last month that killed and wounded hundreds.

“The Taliban has started the war and the Taliban is continuing the war, if the Taliban want peace they should stop,” Dawa Khan Menapal, a deputy spokesman of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said in an interview. “They keep killing innocent civilians -- they should stop the battle and then reach out to Afghanistan not the Americans for peace talks.”

While many believe America’s longest war will only cease when a political settlement is hashed out with the Taliban, Trump ruled out peace talks after the wave of violence. The U.S. president last year announced the deployment of more troops and an increase in air strikes in an attempt to push back Taliban and Islamic State’s gains across Afghanistan.

Vietnam Comparisons

The U.S.’s aggressive stance might be one reason the Taliban are pushing for talks. Yet some analysts say the statement is intended to change America’s outlook.

“The Taliban believe the Americans have come to understand their war in Afghanistan is going to become akin to their Vietnam war,” said Waheed Mujhda, a former Taliban official and now a Kabul-based political analyst. “If the Americans put careful consideration to the Taliban statement and realize the Afghan war is at a stalemate, no doubt it will be a game changer. Bombardments can’t break the stalemate.”

In the Taliban’s statement, the group reiterated it will accept peace talks after the draw-down of foreign forces and that Afghanistan’s government doesn’t have the authority to negotiate.

“War is imposed on us, it is not our choice,” Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, said in the lengthy open letter. “Our preference is to solve the Afghan issue through peaceful dialogs” and prolonging the war is “neither beneficial for America nor for anyone.”

The Taliban were responsible for 42 percent of the more than 10,000 Afghan civilians casualties in 2017, according to a United Nations report published Thursday.

‘Sustained Attacks’

The situation in Afghanistan will probably “deteriorate modestly this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency, unsteady Afghan National Security Forces performance, and chronic financial shortfalls,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.

Pakistan, which the U.S. accuses of harboring Taliban-affiliated militants, has also said Trump’s strategy is doomed to failure and that a peace settlement is the only option. In interviews this month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan suggested that Islamabad would help facilitate talks with the Taliban.

With the war in a quagmire, the Taliban’s olive branch may lead to back channel talks, even as it targets more civilians in urban areas.

“The main cause of the war is the Taliban, if the Taliban wish to join peace talks the door is open for them,” said Menapal, the Afghan president’s spokesman.

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