KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban delivered a blow to U.S. peace efforts in Afghanistan after cancelling talks with U.S. officials that were scheduled to be held in Qatar this week.
The insurgent group, that has been waging a war against Afghanistan’s western-backed government for more than 17 years now, had agreed to hold talks with U.S. officials in Qatar, in a bid to establish peace in the central Asian country.
However, on Tuesday, a day before the two-day talks were set to begin, Taliban announced the cancellation of talks.
The hardline Islamic militant group, which has rejected requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to participate in the discussion, said it had canceled planned peace talks with U.S. officials in Qatar over an agenda disagreement.
In a statement, senior Taliban members in Afghanistan confirmed, ” Both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar.”
Apart from the disagreement over the inclusion of Afghanistan government officials, Taliban is also said to have rejected talks over discussions on a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange.
Taliban maintains that the U.S. is their adversary and has slammed the existing Afghani government for being a “puppet” government.
The group has repeatedly refused to deal with the current government in Kabul.
Several peace overtures by the U.S. have failed and recent similar efforts by Pakistan and Iran to persuade the group to meet with Afghan officials too have drawn no success.
Taliban has refused to budge from its key demand of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The U.S. currently has 14,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan and the future of U.S. military involvement and presence in the country remains uncertain.
The war in Afghanistan has already become America’s longest overseas military intervention and has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars.
Further, Taliban has demanded a prisoner exchange, insisting that the U.S. release 25,000 prisoners in exchange for 3,000 prisoners – an exchange that U.S. officials were reportedly not keen to discuss at this stage.
Taliban has also sought an end on the travel ban imposed on Taliban leaders.
The cancelled talks were set to be the fourth round of talks headed by U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Commenting on the cancellation of talks, a Taliban source quoted in Reuters said, “The U.S. officials insisted that the Taliban should meet the Afghan authorities in Qatar and both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019.”
Another Taliban source said in the report, “We would never announce any ceasefire until and unless we achieve major gains on the ground. We have the feeling that Zalmay Khalilzad doesn’t have enough power to make important decisions.”
Earlier, the insurgent group set up its headquarters in Doha at the request of the U.S. in order to facilitate peace talks.
However, after Taliban’s official office opened in Doha, the Afghanistan government put an end to all peace negotiations with the group.
The government expressed its anger at the group’s use of the flag that it hoisted there, as it is the same flag that is used during its rule of Afghanistan.
The government argued that Taliban was using its Doha office to set itself up as a “government-in-exile” with an unofficial embassy.
The last round of talks between U.S. officials and Taliban were held in December and included officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the U.A.E.