PESHAWAR: Senior members of the Afghan Taliban Saturday said peace talks with the United States stalled due to what they called “unrealistic demands” of the US representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.
They said Khalilzad asked them to release an American professor and announce a ceasefire to end the 17-year war.
“We had realised it in the first meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad a few months ago in the United Arab Emirates that he didn’t have that much depth and power to make difficult decisions. However, we wanted to give a chance to peace,” recalled one senior Taliban leader, who claimed to have held the first meeting with a US delegation headed by the US former ambassador for Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.
According to Taliban sources, most of their powerful military commanders opposed peace talks with the US but their decision-making body or leadership council agreed to continue talks with the United States if they could find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict.
“We were assured by the US officials that initially three major issues — withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, prisoners’ swap and lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders — would be discussed in the peace talks,” said the Taliban leader.
He said talks were going in the right direction and they felt they might find solution to most of the issues through dialogue.
“However, in our last meeting in the UAE, where first time other regional powers including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan also participated, the US backtracked on its earlier commitment and asked us to first release the American professor whom we kidnapped after an attack on the American University in Kabul. Secondly, the US delegation asked us to announce an unconditional ceasefire,” he recalled and claimed it sent a wave of concern among the Taliban leaders. He said they got a serious message from the meeting in the UAE that the US was no longer sincere in peace talks but Saudi Arabia decided to host another meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in the second week of January 2019. “We had selected our delegation members for peace talks in Riyadh when the Saudi authorities approached us and wanted us to announce a ceasefire in the next meeting there. We rejected their proposal and refused to attend the meeting in Riyadh,” said the Taliban official. Also, he said Saudis wanted Taliban to include the Afghan government in the peace process which they had rejected, saying that the Kabul administration was powerless to make decisions. According to senior Taliban leaders, a harsh stance of the Saudis and Khalilzad in fact derailed the peace process. “Khalilzad knowing that the professor is seriously sick told us that the US would not spare you (Taliban) if something happened to the American professor in the Taliban captivity. We told him that he is sick but we are taking care of him and then reminded him that the US had already used all its resources to eliminate Taliban but finally they chose table talks to resolve the issue,” he said. Another senior Taliban leader, on condition of anonymity, said after they boycotted peace talks in Saudi Arabia, the US approached Pakistan and the UAE to put pressure on them so they can sit with them and the Afghan government for peace talks. “Then our top leadership issued a strong-worded statement and warned they would pull out of peace talks with the US forever if certain powers (without mentioning Pakistan’s name) didn’t stop their pressure tactics. He said after their statement one of their senior leaders was released. He said a US delegation then went to Pakistan and wanted the authorities there to arrange their meeting with the Afghan Taliban member. “Pakistan contacted us but we told them we would not hold any meeting with the Afghan government. We told them we would like to continue our peace talks with the US delegation but if we are assured that three issues, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, prisoners’ swap and lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders, were to be discussed,” said the Taliban leader.