By Ayesha Tanzeem
The Afghan Taliban have denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to call off peace talks with the insurgent group, claiming American interlocuters were happy with a deal both sides had negotiated in Doha, and that September 23 had been decided as a date to move to the next step—the start of negotiations with other Afghan factions.
In a Pashto language statement Sunday, the insurgent group also claimed it will not give up its fight and that the U.S. will be forced to return to negotiations eventually.
Trump called off the peace deal with the Taliban in a series of Tweets, blaming “an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people.”
The announcement shocked the region that was expecting to see the formalization of a recently finalized draft peace agreement between Taliban and U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Days earlier, Khalilzad had told Afghan TV channel Tolo News that both sides had agreed “in principle” to a deal but he needed to get it approved from his boss–President Trump.
However, several big attacks in Afghanistan, including in capital Kabul, led to instant criticism that the Taliban were not serious about peace.
Still, President Trump’s announcement led to a mixture of uncertainty and despair in a country that was hoping for an end to almost two decades of war.
“One tweet from thousands miles far, here thirty million people are concerned & uncertain about their future,” tweeted Ahmad Shah Katawazai (@askatawazai), an Afghan diplomat and writer.
“There’s a cloud on the horizon. Darkness seems to have descended. It’s not clear where we will go from here,” Badr Jamaluddin, an Afghan politician who participated in an intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban in Doha.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban for the failure of the talks.
“We think that there was an opportunity for the Taliban to embrace a political life, they failed to do so, continuing violence while they were talking to the U.S. envoy in Qatar,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqi told reporters Sunday.
Even prior to Trump pulling out of a deal, Ghani was known to oppose a process that seemed to sideline him and jeopardize his future in Afghan politics. In a recent article, the New York Times reported alleged shouting matches between him and Khalilzad over the deal with Taliban.
The Taliban had refused to engage with the Ghani administration, calling it a puppet of the Americans. What irked Ghani the most, reports suggested, was that the insurgent group had engaged with other Afghan politicians, including Ghani’s political rivals, in conferences like one organized in Moscow.
His administration had consistently offered unconditional negotiations to the Taliban, only to be rebuffed by the militant group.
“Whatever was going on in Qatar, after all those rounds of talks and negotiations that were going on for ten months, we expected an outcome that will lead to ceasefire, that could lead us to a direct negotiation with the Afghan government and the Taliban. Unfortunately, that we didn’t see,” Sediqi said.
Concerns about a deal that some feared gave too many concessions to the Taliban emerged from multiple quarters, including former U.S. diplomats.
In an article titled “How to Avoid Rushing to Failure,” published in The Atlantic last week, nine senior former American diplomats who knew Afghanistan well warned that the “initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory.” That would embolden the militant group, they said, making it less likely that they make compromises with their fellow Afghans, and jeopardize chances of a lasting peace.
They also warned of “an outcome worse than the status quo,” a return to the civil war of the 90s, which would leave large swathes of Afghanistan open to becoming havens for groups like Islamic State.
Several people who analyze the region expressed surprise over President Trump’s decision, calling off talks over the death of an American soldier, since neither side had committed to a cease-fire.
Michael Kugleman of Washington based think tank the Wilson Center tweeted: “One possible reason for Trump’s bombshell #Taliban tweet: He needed a pretext to back out of a deal that wasn’t going to work. He found one, and, in announcing it, sought to put the Taliban on the back foot to improve the USG bargaining position in potential future negotiations.”