March 5, 2016
ISLAMABAD—Afghanistan’s Taliban has cast further doubt on prospects for peace talks with the Kabul government.
In a Pashto language statement given to VOA Saturday, the Taliban said its leadership has not yet decided to engage in peace talks with the Kabul government because it believes no such effort will be productive until all foreign forces leave the country, sanctions on insurgent leaders are removed and Taliban prisoners are released.
The statement said U.S. night raids in Afghanistan are still continuing. It added that fresh American forces have deployed to the battlefield and that Afghan forces have also intensified their operations. It said in the light of these developments any peace talks will be meaningless.
The Taliban statement has effectively dampened hopes for the peace talks to start any time soon.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, expressed optimism Friday that peace talks would start within days, telling VOA that “there is a lot happening in the background” to get the talks under way. He said the planned starting date of the first week in March was “indicative” that plans are moving forward.
But a Pakistani security official with knowledge of efforts Islamabad is making to persuade the Taliban’s Qatar-based political office to send someone, said “no headway has been achieved so far.”
The official, requesting anonymity, told VOA the talks are “not happening this week because no one from their [Taliban] side has yet agreed” to come to Islamabad.
The four-way talks are expected to involve diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, as well as Taliban representatives.
US support for peace process
In a video conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Friday, President Barack Obama stressed U.S. support for a peace process that he says “reduces violence and ensures lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region.”
White House officials said both presidents intend to use the July NATO summit in Warsaw to reaffirm international support for peace in Afghanistan.
Obama also congratulated Ghani for the progress he has made, including record government revenues and efforts to fight corruption, and praised the bravery and sacrifices of Afghan security forces.
Obama announced late last year he is postponing the withdrawal of most U.S. forces in Afghanistan one year until he leaves office in January 2017.
U.S. troops are training Afghan forces in taking full responsibility for providing their own security against the Taliban and other militants.