The Taliban denounced US President Joe Biden’s statement on Wednesday that it will be “tough” for American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 as expected under the provisional peace agreement reached last year by the US and the Islamist movement.
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“Could happen, but it is tough,” Biden said about meeting the deadline. “I’m in the process of making that decision now.”
“The United States will suffer serious consequences if it violates the Doha peace agreement,” the Taliban swiftly told The Media Line.
“Such an attempt will be considered deliberate sabotage of the peace agreement and would result in the destruction of peace efforts,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said from an undisclosed location.
He reiterated the Taliban’s stance that “we have signed a peace agreement with the US administration, not with any specific personality,” in a reference to former President Donald Trump.
Ahmadi also strongly condemned a recent US Air Force strike on Taliban fighters in Kandahar Province.
Earlier on Wednesday, Col. Sonny Leggett, the spokesman for the US Forces in Afghanistan, tweeted that “the US has conducted airstrikes within the last 48 hours targeting Taliban fighters actively attacking & maneuvering on Afghan Security Forces positions in Zharay, Spin Boldak & Kandahar Districts.”
Ahmadi said, “The bombardment is a clear violation of the Doha agreement that cannot be justified on any grounds.
“We categorically warn the US administration that if such irresponsible airstrikes continue, then we also reserve the right to reciprocate the action. The American shall be held responsible for all unfortunate consequences,” he added.
On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a provisional peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, under which the Islamist group pledged to not attack American troops stationed in Afghanistan, and the US was to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan within 14 months in exchange for counter terrorism guarantees.
According to the US Defense Department, there are now 2,500 American service members in Afghanistan, the fewest since operations began there in 2001.
It was decided in Doha last year that direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government would begin as soon as possible, with the parties first releasing each other’s prisoners.
Direct peace talks were scheduled to begin in March 2020 but were delayed several times because of disagreements over the prisoner swap.
The direct talks began on September 12, 2020, in Doha. They lasted three months and ended without agreement. The peace talks resumed in January 2021 but once again stalled.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Moscow was hosting a peace conference meant to break the stalemate in the Afghan peace process.
High-level US, Taliban, Afghan government, Pakistani and Chinese delegation came for the one-day summit in Moscow.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, headed the American delegation while the Taliban representatives were led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The Afghan government delegation was headed by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation.
Russia also invited Qatar as an honorary guest at the meeting, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, would address the gathering, she added.
In Washington, Jalina Porter, the deputy spokesperson for the State Department, told a news briefing that “the Moscow meeting on Thursday does not replace other ongoing talks in Doha.”
The Biden administration is trying to speed up the stalled Afghan peace talks.
As part of that effort, Khalilzad visited Pakistan on March 8.
He met with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of the Pakistan Army Staff, at the land forces’ General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“Matters of mutual interest, regional security and the ongoing Afghanistan reconciliation process were discussed during the meeting,” the Armed Forces Media Wing said in a press release.
Scott Worden, director of Afghanistan and Central Asia Programs at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, told The Media Line that “President Biden’s comments on the difficulty of deciding on the May 1 withdrawal date underscore the unfortunate reality that there are no good options right now for a quick resolution of the Afghanistan conflict.
“The Biden administration has emphasized that it will abide by the agreement it [the US] signed with the Taliban last year, but it has also noted that the agreement is conditions-based,” Worden continued. “So far, it does not appear that the conditions have been met about [the Taliban] severing ties with terrorist groups or entering into meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government
“Ultimately the US has troops in Afghanistan to reduce the threat of transnational terrorism,” he emphasized.
“Withdrawing before the Afghan parties have outlined a political settlement that has a reasonable chance of avoiding further civil war risks enlarging the terrorist safe havens that foreign troops are there to prevent,” Worden said.
Michael Kugelman, a leading Afghan expert and the deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told The Media Line “the Taliban continues to insist that all US troops must go by May 1.
“If President Biden intends to have US troops stay beyond that date, even for a short period, then there is a very real risk that the Taliban will re-declare its war on the US and walk out of peace negotiations with Kabul,” he noted.
“The result would be disastrous, and with yet more violence, it is the Afghan people that would pay the biggest price,” Kugelman said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert, told The Media Line, “The Taliban have not escalated violence against the US troops since the Doha peace accord, but if the United States violates the peace agreement, it would have a bad impact on US troops in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban do not want to aggravate the situation, because they don’t want that Biden may be forced to reconsider the peace agreement or even have to send reinforcements to protect the US troops,” she added.
“The Taliban should beware since at least a portion of the US policymakers still disagree with the one-sided pullout, and they believe that the peace agreement was a bad deal from a US, security and human rights perspective,” Tsukerman said.
Syed Sair Hassan, an Islamabad-based defense and security analyst, told The Media Line, “Biden’s recent statement makes it clear that the United States intends to extend its presence in Afghanistan for some time.
“The Trump administration reached a deal with the Afghan Taliban to pull out its troops from Afghanistan by May 1, but the present US administration will not implement this plan until they know whether the fallout from the troop withdrawal will result in instability in Afghanistan,” he said.
“After the Cold War, as a result of the way the US left Afghanistan alone, the American people and the rest of the world had to suffer dire consequences including 9/11, which led to massive geopolitical instability and to criticism of US policymakers,” Hassan continued. “To avoid a recurrence of such events, the Biden administration wants to borrow time to resolve past mistakes.”
Adil Faroque, a Rawalpindi-based former NATO coordinator and a regional security expert, told The Media Line, “It is unlikely to expect that the US troops will withdraw in totality by May 2021, so the strategically located and a mineral-rich country will be left at the mercy of US archrivals Russia, China and Iran.
“The US-led Western camp’s desire to counter the rise of China also makes it implausible for Washington to hand the country over on a platter to China and its allies by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan,” he said.
If America fails to withdraw its troops, “it will be an invitation to meddling in Afghanistan by US archrivals in the region, i.e., China and Russia, which are already engaged with the Taliban,” Faroque said.