Afghan Taliban shoots down hopes of peace talks

Direct negotiations between government and militants were expected to be held in Pakistan this week.

Afghan national police at the site of a suicide attack near the defence ministry compound in Kabul on February 27, 2016. Massoud Hossaini / AP Photo
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Kabul // The Taliban on Saturday rejected direct peace talks with the Afghan government, dealing a blow to international efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations aimed at ending a deadly 14-year insurgency.

A Taliban statement, issued ahead of face-to-face talks expected to start in Islamabad this week, stressed long-standing preconditions for dialogue including the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s seemingly intractable position follows a string of military victories for the insurgent group after Nato formally ended its combat operations more than a year ago.

“We want to repeat our stance once again that until the occupation of foreign troops ends, until Taliban names are removed from international blacklists and until our detainees are released, talks will yield no results,” the group said.

The announcement marks a setback in efforts by Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States to restart negotiations.

Delegates from the four countries met in Kabul late last month for a fourth round of talks aimed at reviving the nascent peace process, which stalled last summer.

The quartet had called for a direct dialogue between the Taliban and Kabul by this week, a deadline that some analysts called “completely unrealistic”.

“We unequivocally state that the esteemed leader of Islamic Emirate [Taliban] has not authorised anyone to participate in this meeting and neither has the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate decided to partake in it,” the Taliban said.

The group also accused the United States of duplicity, saying it had boosted troop numbers, increased air strikes and night raids against the insurgents in tandem with its efforts to revive talks.

The Taliban have also stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan – even in the winter months when fighting usually abates – underscoring the worsening security situation.

Afghan security forces have suffered record casualties since Nato ended its combat mission in December 2014, leaving them to battle the resurgent Taliban largely on their own.

In recent months the Taliban briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz, the first urban centre to fall to the insurgents, and have seized territory in the opium-growing southern province of Helmand

Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in an attempt to wrangle greater concessions if and when the talks resume.

Kabul has repeatedly called for all Taliban groups to sit at the negotiating table though president Ashraf Ghani has said his government will not make peace with those who kill civilians.

The last round of direct talks was held last summer in Pakistan, but the process quickly derailed after the announcement of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar.

New leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour is struggling to overcome factional infighting, with some breakaway groups opposed to any negotiations whatsoever.

* Agence France-Presse