US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Omar Sobhani/Reuters
The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan should stop calling on Taliban militants to lay down their arms and convince the United States to end the use of force instead, the Taliban said on Friday.
Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born US diplomat, entered a sixth round of talks with the hardline extremist group in Qatar this week in a bid to end America’s longest war.
“In our opening session, I underscored to the Talibs that the Afghan people, who are their brothers & sisters, want this war to end,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.
“It is time to put down arms, stop the violence, & embrace peace.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a series of sharp tweets in response.
“@US4AfghanPeace (Khalilzad’s twitter handle) should forget about the idea of us putting down our arms,” he said.
“Instead of such fantasies, he should drive the idea home (to the US) about ending the use of force and incurring further human and financial losses for the decaying Kabul administration.”
He said the United States must stop repeating failed strategies while expecting different outcomes.
“It would be better if @US4AfghanPeace musters the courage to call a spade a spade, not a gardening tool & accept the current realities.”
Intense fighting continues across the country with the Taliban controlling or influencing more territory than at any point since their ouster at the hands of US-led troops following the Sept.11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support that is training and assisting the Afghan government’s security forces in their battle against Taliban fighters and extremist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
After five rounds of talks, Khalilzad reported some progress towards an accord on withdrawing US troops and on how the Taliban would prevent extremists from using Afghanistan to launch attacks.
The Taliban, who refuse to talk to the Afghan government, insist that talks cannot move ahead until foreign forces leave.
“Peace will require that we find common ground on four inter-connected issues: troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan dialogue & negotiations, and reduction in the violence leading to a comprehensive ceasefire,” Khalilzad said in his tweet.
“Nothing will be final until we agree on all 4 issues.”
President Ashraf Ghani hopes to showcase unity at the four-day meeting — known as Loya Jirga — that brings together politicians, tribal elders and others.
A fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban is to begin in Qatar, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept.1.
Ghani said the message of the five-day gathering was clear: “Afghans want peace” and offered a ceasefire, though he stressed it would not be unilateral. In the statement on Friday, the Taliban rejected a ceasefire, saying attacks will continue during Ramadan but said “fighters are very careful of civilians during any operation.”
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