The Afghan government -- along with the U.S., China and Pakistan -- invited the Taliban to take part in peace talks
But the Taliban rejects "rumors" that it will participate in what it expects would be "futile, misleading negotiations"
The Taliban have been fighting the Afghan government and their allies since being ousted from power after 9/11
The Taliban are invited to the negotiating table, but they aren’t coming.
The Islamist militant group made that clear Saturday, refuting reports that it would send representatives to upcoming talks involving the Afghan government, Pakistan, the United States and China in the Pakistani city of Islamabad.
“We reject all such rumors and unequivocally state that the esteemed leader of the Islamic Emirate has not authorized anyone to participate in this meeting, and neither has the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate decided to partake in it,” the Taliban said, using another name for itself.
The announcement appears to be a significant blow to the peace talks and is a reversal from what the Taliban reportedly have done in the past.
Taliban representatives met with their Afghan government counterparts, as well as with U.S. and Chinese officials, last summer in Pakistan, officials said.
But just weeks later, the Taliban’s reported new leader (Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour) denied in an audio message that his Sunni Islamist group was trying to work toward peace with Afghanistan’s government.
Such pronouncements haven’t stopped other parties from talking, or from trying to include the Taliban.
After conversations in Kabul on February 23, the Afghan government sent out a news release noting President Ashraf Ghani’s “strong commitment … for peace and reconciliation with Taliban groups and Hezbi Islami Hekmatyar,” the latter being another nationalist militant group.
Characterizing it as a “national priority,” Ghani called “on the Taliban and other groups to join early direct talks with the government of Afghanistan.”
And the Afghanistan, Pakistani, Chinese and U.S. governments together “invite(d) all Taliban and other groups to participate … in the first round of direct peace talks” slated for early March in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Taliban: ‘Futile, misleading negotiations’ won’t work
The Taliban didn’t just reject this invite; they explained why.
It blamed the U.S.-led coalition that’s been in Afghanistan since the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks for “deploying fresh troops, … carrying out airstrikes and partaking in night raids.”
The U.S. military has carried out several missions in recent weeks in the embattled Asian nation. Many have been aimed at ISIS’ growing presence there, including airstrikes last month that hit an ISIS radio station and killed 29 militants. Deadly airstrikes last fall hitting a hospital in Kunduz that U.S. authorities had mistaken for a Taliban site, according to officials in President Barack Obama’s administration.
In its statement, the Taliban also accused the Afghan government of expanding its military operations and intensifying its “propaganda.”
The Taliban have been behind scores of attacks that have threatened security and stability in Afghanistan for years, and there’s no indication they will let up anytime soon.
Last weekend, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing near Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry that killed 12 people and injured many more, including eight civilians.
And the Taliban have been battling Afghan forces in Helmand province, with Afghan forces last month withdrawing from certain districts there despite complaints from local leaders. A few weeks earlier, the group claimed it had killed an 11-year-old boy who allegedly battled the militants in Uruzgan province.
The Taliban gave no indication in their statement Saturday about when their attacks would cease. On the subject of peace talks, the group said, “Unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile, misleading negotiations will not bear any results.”