The Taliban have announced that they will not be participating in any peace talks as long as foreign forces remain in Afghanistan, despite statements today by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that NATO forces will fully depart the country by September 11, alongside US troops. This means that the Taliban will not be attending negotiations in Istanbul that start on the 24th, the latest bid for progress for a political solution that now seems as stillborn as its predecessors.
In a two-part statement posted on his Twitter account, Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said:
”Until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan.
The IEA performs its works with consultations according to the guidance of the noble religion of Islam and then adopts the stance whatsoever is decided in the result of the consultation.”
The statement follows various media reports yesterday that the US will soon announce a plan to completely withdraw the approximately 2,500 US troops in the country by 11 September, missing the original 1 May withdrawal deadline agreed to in negotiations between the Taliban and the previous administration. The Taliban have previously threatened to resume attacks on US and NATO personnel if the deadline was not met, and it is unclear if they will be reassured by the new timeline.
The decision is said to have been made following an administration review of U.S. options in Afghanistan, with peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban remaining in deadlock. An official who spoke to the Washington Post said: “If we break the May 1st deadline negotiated by the previous administration with no clear plan to exit, we will be back at war with the Taliban, and that was not something President Biden believed was in the national interest”, insisting that the real terrorism threat to the continental US originated from Africa, Yemen and Syria.
Secretary of State Blinken had previously written a sharp-worded letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, pressuring him to accept a US proposal of an interim power-sharing government with the Taliban. Previous negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban have failed to reach an agreement, as the Taliban consider Kabul as an illegitimate government, and similarly will not accept any form of governance other than their brand of religious fundamentalism.
While both the Pentagon and the United Nations have previously reported that the Taliban has failed to live up to its commitments as laid out by the negotiations, officials insist that the withdrawal is unconditional, saying that “a conditions based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever”.
In a televised address at NATO headquarters in Brussels today, Secretary Blinken confirmed that NATO members in Afghanistan would also withdraw alongside the US, saying:
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together.
We will work very closely together in the months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan.”
With the Taliban continuing its barely concealed stance of preferring combat to the negotiating table, having persisted in attacks on the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police even as talks were supposedly ongoing, even if “safe, deliberate and coordinated” is achieved, it almost certainly won’t have “dignified” as a descriptor. Even less needs to be said for progress in Afghan civil society and infrastructure made since 2001.