The Taliban has rejected Kabul’s offer of talks next month in Saudi Arabia where the armed group, fighting to restore strict Islamic law in Afghanistan, will meet the United States officials to further peace efforts, a Taliban leader said.
But the Taliban has refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government.
“We will meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year and we will start our talks that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi,” a member of the Taliban’s decision-making Leadership Council told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
“However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said the leaders of the group would not talk to the Afghan government.
In a statement released on Saturday, Mujahid accused media outlets of spreading “baseless” rumours that the group would hold talks with the Kabul administration in Saudi Arabia.
It also stressed the Taliban position “remains the same and has not changed”.
The armed group has insisted on first reaching an agreement with the US, which it sees as the main force in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.
“We are advancing [the] negotiations process [with] the US under a strong and extensive plan to bring an end to the occupation of our country Afghanistan,” the Taliban says.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified after Taliban representatives started meeting US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad earlier this year.
Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times to discuss the withdrawal of international forces and a ceasefire in 2019.
But the US has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans.
According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, the lowest since 2001.
The Taliban says it controls 70 percent of the country.
A close aide to Ghani said the government would keep trying to establish a direct line of diplomatic communication with the Taliban.
“Talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” the aide said on condition of anonymity. “It is important that the Taliban acknowledge this fact.”
US President Donald Trump has announced a pullout of American troops from Syria, a decision that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, and there have been reports that he is considering a partial pullout from Afghanistan.