Taliban to End Talks With Afghan Government After ‘Fruitless’ Meetings

“It is expected that there will be crests and troughs along the way. US role is critical as they have the leverage on Afghan govt”.

DESPARDES — The Taliban have broken off talks with the Afghan government on a prisoner exchange, a main step in peace talks being brokered by the United States after it agreed on a troop withdrawal pact with the armed group.

In a tweet first sent in Pashto around midnight on Tuesday (19:30 GMT Monday), the Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said its technical team would not participate in “fruitless meetings”, and the release of their prisoners was being “delayed under one pretext or another”.

“Therefore, our technical team will not participate in fruitless meetings with relevant sides starting from tomorrow,” Shaheen, who is based in Doha, said in a subsequent tweet in English.

Commenting on the development, head of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) think tank Mr. Hasham Saddique said, “It is expected that there will be crests and troughs along the way. US role is critical as they have the leverage on Afghan govt”.

Pakistan has actively assisted in the landmark US-Taliban peace deal with a view to enable ‘enduring stability’ in the region, a term used by Army Chief Gen. Bajwa last year.

Pakistan should (however) not be seen to be taking sides but behind the scene they should put their weight, says Saddique. “We need to engage all parties. Involving China could be considered”.

The prisoner swap – which formed part of the US-Taliban deal signed in February was supposed to be a gesture of trust between the two sides.

However, President Ashraf Ghani refused to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners under the terms of the US deal, saying the Afghan government had made no such agreement. Instead, he offered the conditional release of 1,500 prisoners.

The pact between the United States and the Taliban, under which US-led international forces will withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, is seen as the best chance yet of ending the 18-year war.

But peace hinges on talks between the US-backed Afghan government and the armed group. A prisoner exchange is meant to build confidence on both sides for those talks.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Pompeo last month traveled to Kabul and the Qatari capital of Doha in a bid to nudge the prisoner exchange process forward.

What was the US-Taliban deal?

Under the agreement, US President Donald Trump announced 5,000 US troops would leave the country by May and he would meet leaders of the Taliban in the near future.

US and Nato troops will withdraw from the country within 14 months, as long as the Taliban uphold their side of the deal.

The US also agreed to lift sanctions against the Taliban and work with the UN to lift its separate sanctions against the group.

In return, the Taliban said they would not allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

US officials also agreed to the prisoner swap as a first step in talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban – who are still technically at war. The Afghan government was not included in the talks.