Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan gov’t resume in Doha after weeks of delays and change in US leadership.
Doha, Qatar – The Taliban has blamed the Afghan government and its Western allies for not living up to the agreement signed last year despite months of negotiations, including the release of prisoners and withdrawal of foreign forces.
A senior member of the Taliban’s political office in Doha told Al Jazeera all Taliban prisoners were to be released three months after the initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue in the Qatari capital.
“It’s been [more than] five months and they haven’t released a single prisoner,” said the Taliban official, who did not wish to be named, blaming the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani for the delay.
The comments came as the Afghan armed group resumed talks with the Afghan government in Doha on Tuesday after weeks of delays and a change in US leadership.
The Taliban official also raised concerns over the delay in the withdrawal of remaining US forces as the new US administration of President Joe Biden has been reviewing the February 2020 Doha agreement. Biden has backed political solution for the conflict but may not honour the troop withdrawal deadline agreed to by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“We have an agreement with the legal government of the United States and we expect them to abide by their deal. Taliban remains committed to the written deal and we expect the other side to do the same,” the Taliban official said.
Last week, the Taliban issued an “open letter” calling on Washington to pull out the troops.
In recent weeks, NATO and US officials have voiced concern about alleged links between the Taliban and hardline armed groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS). According to the Doha agreement, the Taliban was expected to sever ties with armed groups and ensure Afghan soil is not used for attacks on US interests.
“We are closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Afghanistan … There is an ongoing monitoring situation and based on that allies will be able to make decisions together,” NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg told Al Jazeera last week.
Taliban leaders insist they do not have ties with any armed group and they still stand by their promise not to allow Afghan soil to be used for attacks against any other country.
Kabul has already freed 5,000 Taliban fighters as part of the Taliban-US deal, while the 1,000 Afghan troops were freed by the Taliban as a “goodwill gesture” to kick-start the intra-Afghan talks in September.
But the rival sides have been haggling over issues, achieving little progress while deadly violence in Afghanistan continued.
Afghan officials have rejected the Taliban’s demands saying they cannot be held responsible for agreements that were made between the armed group and the US.
A member of the Afghan government negotiating team in Doha told Al Jazeera Kabul released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, as per the decision of the Grand Jirga not because of the US-Taliban deal. “It’s a false allegation to say we have not released prisoners.”
But the Taliban says the Doha agreement has provisions that called for the release of all prisoners through intra-Afghan talks.
Nader Nadery, a senior adviser to President Ghani, said: “The Afghan government delegation has been there in full faith and all readiness. If we are real and genuine about ending this war, we should start talking about everything that both sides have put forward.”
“We need to get into the business of talking instead of the blame-game and discuss issues that matter, issues which could prevent the daily loss of lives of our people,” Nadery told Al Jazeera.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have risen since the intra-Afghan peace talks began last September, according to a United Nations report. The annual report released on Tuesday by the UN mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said there was a sharp rise in civilian casualties in the final three months of 2020, most of them ascribed to the Taliban.
A report earlier this month by US government watchdog Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said Taliban-initiated attacks in Kabul were on the rise with increasing targeted killings of government officials, journalists and civil society leaders.
But Taliban officials have denied the group was behind the relentless violence in recent months that has engulfed the war-torn country, calling it “malicious propaganda of the Kabul administration”.
The Taliban fighters have largely avoided targeting US security installations following the February 2020 deal but have continued their attacks against Afghan security forces.
The armed group says the reports incriminating the group are “biased” and based on inputs from the Kabul administration, adding their attacks against Afghan forces are “defensive”.