March 1, 2018 / 10:33 AM / 4 months ago

Taliban pour cold water on invitation to Afghan peace talks

KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban on Thursday issued a cool response to proposals that they should begin peace talks with the Afghan government, a day after President Ashraf Ghani offered a pact to recognize the insurgents as a legitimate party in negotiations.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The movement has not yet given any formal answer to Ghani’s invitation, made at a conference of officials from countries in the so-called Kabul Process aimed at creating a platform for talks to end more than 16 years of war.

But its chief spokesman did reply to an “Open Letter” published this week in the New Yorker magazine by Barnett Rubin, a respected commentator on Afghan politics, who urged the Taliban to accept talks with the Kabul government.

“Our country has been occupied, which has led to an American-style supposed Afghan government being imposed upon us,” the Taliban response said.

“And your view that we talk to them and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war,” it said, adding that the Kabul Process was simply aimed at seeking the “surrender” of the Taliban.

The comments come a month after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in which an ambulance packed with explosives blew up in Kabul, killing around 100 people, in the worst attack seen in months.

As part of its new regional strategy announced last year, the United States has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taliban, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.

However Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, the Kabul government itself is deeply divided and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.

The Taliban have themselves twice offered to talk to the United States in recent weeks, but have ruled out talks with the Kabul government, a key sticking point that must be resolved before any talks can start.

While the international community sees Ghani’s administration as the sole legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Taliban see it as an artificial, foreign-imposed regime that does not represent the Afghan people.

The Taliban statement said the movement was “sincerely committed” to meeting international concerns over Afghanistan being used as a base for terrorist attacks and had no wish for conflict with the United States or other powers.

“The crux of the matter is, what is the vital concern of America, is it really terrorism?” it said.

“Or is it extracting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, imposing a self-styled government, preventing establishment of an Islamic system and pursuing imperial ambitions in the region from this land?”

“In such circumstances, we do not care about America, neither do we want to talk, nor end resistance, nor will we get tired,” it said.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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