KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban on Tuesday threatened to stall peace talks with the United States if they deflect from the issue of foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan, a key demand of the hardline Islamic militants to end the 17-year war.
In a statement, the Taliban said America must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it “will be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until America ends her unlawful pressures and maneuvering and steps forward toward true peace.”
The warning comes a day after Taliban fighters blew up a car-bomb outside a highly fortified compound killing at least five people and wounding more than 110 Afghans and expatriates in Kabul city.
Last week senior leaders of the Taliban canceled the fourth round of peace talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan over an “agenda disagreement.”
Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Tuesday after meeting officials in India, the United Arab Emirates and China, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said.
The Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul was named to oversee Washington’s peace efforts last year. He has met with the Taliban leaders at least three times to discuss foreign troop withdrawal and a timeline for a ceasefire.
The United States has also insisted that any final settlement must be led by Afghans themselves.
“The U.S. goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law,” the embassy said in a statement.
But the leaders of the insurgent group have rejected requests from the United States and regional powers to deal directly with the government in Kabul, which it considers an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
The Taliban has been pushing to shift the venue for the talks from Saudi Arabia to Qatar in an attempt to fend off Riyadh’s bid to include the Afghan government in them.
The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops, insist that the United States is their main adversary in the war and demand bilateral talks.
“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in the month of November 2018 about discussing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said. The United States “is now backing away from that agenda and is unilaterally adding new subjects.”
Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Janet Lawrence