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The New Arab Staff

Exclusive: Taliban weighs in on peace talks as US envoy announces trip

Talks between the Taliban and Kabul were paused, but have since resumed. [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 March, 2021

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In an interview, a Taliban spokesman accused the Afghan government of being behind the recent violence, but offered no evidence.
As the US envoy to the Afghan peace process announced his intention to travel to Kabul and Doha, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political bureau, Muhammad Naim, gave an exclusive interview to the The New Arab’s Arabic language publication, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed,

In his interview, Naim speculated that the Afghan government was behind the recent attacks in the captial, while maintaining that it is their intention to continue with peace talks.

“Those who are being targeted are university professors and imams, and those who criticise the Kabul administration, and those who carry out these operations are those associated with the Kabul administration,” alleged Naim. 

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled recently, amid rumours that the international forces present in country will not withdraw their forces in May, as was originally laid out in the Doha peace agreement. 

Naim claimed that negotiations had not stopped, but admitted they had been delayed, citing the need for some members of the negotiating team to quarantine.

“Our delegation, lead by the head of the Taliban’s political bureau, Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Russia and Iran, and it was assumed that they would return quickly, but their quarantine, due to the coronavirus, was the reason for the delay in the resumption of the negotiations,” explained Naim. 

At their most recent meeting, “the two sides agreed to continue the sessions, discuss topics on the agenda and which topics are to be discussed first” said Naim, adding “we want to reach an agreement. As soon as possible.”

The continuation of violence is a main sticking point, especially for the US, who have used this as a pretext to extend their deployment in the country. Both the current and former White House administrations have repeatedly called for a ceasefire, to allow the peace process to continue. 

“We want to solve the problem. We don't want there to be a temporary ceasefire for a day or for a short period. We want to agree on a final solution to this problem,” said Naim.

Regarding the violence, Naim laid the blame at the feet of the government in Kabul. 

“For our part, we have fulfilled our duty. As for the other side, including America and its allies, and the Kabul administration, they have not stopped bombing, night attacks and drone attacks. These attacks are continuing and they have not committed to the reduction.”

Naim claimed that those targeted by recent attacks were all critical of the Afghan government, and it is them who sought to silence these individuals. 

“They [the government in Kabul] are concerned about our agreement with the United States of America, as the agreement is not in their interest and they want to obstruct the process and create problems.”

This is not an opinion that is widely shared or believed by others. 

Speaking to reporters in February, General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, was clear in the assertion of the US that the Taliban was responsible for the recent uptick in violence. 

“This is clearly the Taliban. There is no way it's anyone else. That's very clear," McKenzie said.

Amid rumours that the US and its allies will not withdraw from Afghanistan in May, Naim insisted that, “Ending the war in the interest of everyone, and the agreement is a way to end it, and the United States signed this agreement that was supported by the Security Council and the neighbouring countries.”

“The problem will be with those who break the agreement. We are defending our country and our independence, our rights and freedom, and our principles, and we will defend our freedom and our country always,” added Naim. 

Asked if this signals a return to operations against US forces, Naim added, “We do not kill. We defend our land, our freedom and our rights, and this is a right for every human being and a right for every people whose land is occupied. We defend our land, our creed and our principles.”

The original Doha agreement was signed by the former Trump administration and it has been speculated that the Biden administration would seek to change the terms. 

But Naim rejects this suggestions, saying, “it is not acceptable, and this agreement must be adhered to.”

Read more: Winners and losers: The future of Afghanistan's fragile peace process

The Biden administration announced yesterday that the US envoy to the Afghan peace process, Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Taliban officials and Afghan leaders to discuss the ongoing peace process. 

The US state department said he will hold discussions with the parties, “whose interests are best served by the achievement of a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

According to the statement, Khalilzad, in addition to visits to Kabul and Doha, will travel to “additional regional capitals”, although no further details or timings were provided. 

Around 2,500 US troops remain stationed in Afghanistan, alongside 10,000 Nato personnel. 

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