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Taliban rejected Kabul offer of talks in Saudi Arabia

31 December, 2018

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The Taliban have rejected Kabul’s offer of talks next month in Saudi Arabia where they will meet US officials to further peace efforts, a Taliban leader said on Sunday.

Representatives from the Taliban, the United States and regional countries met this month in the United Arab Emirates for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban have refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government.

“We will meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year and we will start our talks that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi,” said a member of the Taliban’s Leadership Council. “However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said the leaders of the group would not talk to the Afghan government.

The Taliban have insisted on first reaching an agreement with the United States, which the group sees as the main force in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified after Taliban representatives started meeting US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this year. Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times to discuss the withdrawal of international forces and a ceasefire in 2019.

But the United States has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans.

According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, less than at any time since 2001. The Taliban say they control 70 percent of the country.

A close aide to Ghani said the government would keep trying to establish a direct line of diplomatic communication with the Taliban.

“Talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” the aide said on condition of anonymity. “It is important that the Taliban acknowledge this fact.”

Meanwhile, a Pentagon report has hinted at a favourable political settlement in Afghanistan despite challenges on multiple fronts, according to a media report on Sunday.

The US Defence Department report released this week cited the effects of a recent military escalation coupled with diplomatic initiatives.

“The current military situation inside of Afghanistan remains at an impasse. The introduction of additional advisers and enablers in 2018 stabilized the situation, slowing the momentum of a Taliban march that had capitalized on US drawdowns between 2011 and 2016,” the report said.

“Diplomatic, religious, military and social pressures, enabled by the conditions-based strategy, and buoyed by increased international engagement, have forced the Taliban senior leadership to debate whether to enter negotiations with the Afghan government,” the report added.

In August 2017, US President Donald Trump announced his administration’s strategy on Afghanistan and put forth a case for staying the course and not allowing the country “to become a haven for terrorists who would once again pose a threat to US security”.

“I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image,” President Trump said at the time, promising to end nation-building and focus instead on US interests.

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