ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – The Taliban said Thursday it believes escalating military tensions between the United States and Iran are unlikely to hurt the insurgent group’s negotiations with Washington aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
The first official reaction from the Taliban comes a day after Tehran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, though they did not cause any casualties.The attack was a retaliation to Friday’s American airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad that killed Iranian military commander, Qassem Soleimani.
Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s negotiating team, told VOA their meetings with U.S. interlocutors over the past year have brought the two adversaries in the 18-year-old Afghan on the verge of signing a peace deal. He dismissed reported concerns U.S.-Iran tensions threatens the peace initiative.
“The developments will not have negative impact on the peace process because the (U.S.-Taliban) peace agreement is finalized and only remains to be signed (by the two sides),” Shaheen asserted.
The progress, he insisted, has been achieved because both the Taliban and the U.S. agree the Afghan conflict could only be settled through peaceful means.
The Trump administration has been negotiating an agreement with Taliban representatives in a bid to wind down the stalemated Afghan war, America’s longest in the history.
The U.S. is seeking counterterrorism assurances and pressing the Taliban to reduce violence as well as open negotiations with Afghan stakeholders on reaching a power-sharing deal to end decades of hostilities in the country.
American’s renewed conflict with Iran, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has raised concerns Iranian authorities could attempt to derail the U.S.-Taliban peace process by increasing Tehran’s alleged covert military assistance for the insurgents to encourage them to step up attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.
Pro-Iranian Shi’ite Afghan factions have also denounced the killing of Soleimani.
U.S. chief peace negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had acknowledged in early September a draft agreement had been reached with the Taliban and it could begin a U.S. troop drawdown process in a few months.
Just days later, however, President Donald Trump temporarily suspended the peace process citing a Taliban attack that killed an American soldier and 11 other people in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The dialogue was resumed early last month only to be paused again after the Taliban staged a major attack on the largest U.S. military base of Bagram.
Khalilzad has demanded the Taliban reduce attacks or observe a brief ceasefire before the talks could be resumed.But the Taliban has refused to cease hostilities until the proposed agreement is singed with the U.S.
Insurgent sources say Khalilzad is currently visiting the Qatari capital of Doha, where he has made informal contacts with Taliban representatives to find out whether they are ready to meet his demand for a ceasefire or reduction in the violence.
Neither Taliban nor U.S. officials have commented on Khalilzad’s presence in the Gulf nation, which has played host to the U.S.-Taliban talks since late 2018.
Photo: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (3rd-L), who is leading a Taliban delegation, attends a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 3, 2019.