The Taliban militant group says peace talks with the US — which have been underway in Qatar for months — have stalled over the key issue of a timetable for American and other foreign troops to pull out of Afghanistan, a longtime Taliban demand.
A Taliban political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told the AFP on Sunday that the two sides have so far failed to hammer out their differences on how to put their draft agreement on the withdrawal timetable into action.
The two sides are trying “to narrow the differences and have an agreement on a timetable which is acceptable to both sides,” but “that has not been achieved so far.”
He also explained that nothing would move forward “in principle” until America announced a withdrawal timetable.
“If we are not able to finalize it in this round, then … peace would be far away rather than being closer,” Shaheen added.
Since last year, sixth rounds of talks have been held in Doha between the militant group and US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and his delegation of about two dozen officials in the hope of ending an American war in Afghanistan that has dragged on for over 17 years.
The latest round began on May 1, and it is not clear if the talks were to continue Monday, which marks the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The negotiations have so far excluded Afghan officials. The Taliban refuse to hold talks with the government in Kabul, which the militant group views as illegitimate and a US puppet.
In February, Khalilzad claimed progress in the talks, saying that a deal was within reach by July.
Khalilzad has repeatedly said that for things to progress, the Taliban must ensure Afghanistan is never again used as a terrorist safe haven, implement a ceasefire, and speak to Afghan representatives.
The Taliban have said they will not do anything until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.
Earlier this week, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called on the US to end the use of force in Afghanistan instead of putting pressure on the militant group to cease fire.
“Instead of such fantasies, he [Khalilzad] 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 added.
The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately comment on the Taliban’s latest statement.
The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the 2001 US-led invasion, but 17 years on, Washington — having failed to end the Taliban’s militancy campaign — is seeking truce with the militants.
Observers say the militant group is now negotiating from a position of strength as it has managed to strengthen its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56 percent of the country, down from 72 percent in 2015, according to a US government report released last year.
The Taliban have even continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces amid the negotiations.
Last week, thousands of tribal elders and other figures held a rare grand assembly — known as Loya Jirga — in Kabul to express their views about a peace deal with Taliban.
At the end of that meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered Taliban a truce deal.
The militants were, however, quick to reject the offer and launched attacks on a police station in northern Afghanistan, leaving over a dozen people dead there on Sunday.