Peace talks between the United States and the Taliban began last October in Qatar, with the aim of ending the almost 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump announced that negotiations were over without a deal.
“They are dead. They are dead. As far as I’m concerned, they are dead,” Trump told reporters, blaming a Taliban attack last week in which an American soldier was among the 12 people killed.
“They thought that they had to kill people in order to put themselves in a little better negotiating position … You can’t do that with me, so they [the talks] are dead as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said.
The president’s move surprised the Taliban leaders.
“It was astonishing for us because we had already concluded the peace agreement with the American negotiating team,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told Al Jazeera in Qatar’s capital Doha.
After nine rounds of negotiations in Doha, it seemed that most of the differences between the US and the Taliban had been resolved. The US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, also said a peace agreement was finalised in principle.
Since talks began, discussions focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee it will not allow foreign armed groups and fighters to use Afghanistan as a launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country; the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces; an intra-Afghan dialogue; and a permanent ceasefire.
Shaheen said a ceasefire inside the country was never part of the negotiations but rather an intra-Afghan matter that would form part of future discussions with the country’s government – but only after foreign forces withdraw.
“About the other Afghans, we are ready to talk with them. If there is a ceasefire with them, there will be no attack [on] them. But this is another aspect of the Afghan issue. We want to end the occupation of Afghanistan first,” he said.
He said the Taliban’s agreement with the US was to offer them safe passage in the withdrawal of troops – something they would stand by if a deal is signed.
“If we sign an agreement with them, we have the obligation not to attack them and provide them a safe passage. If they withdraw without any peace agreement signing with us, it is up to our consent or willing[ness] whether to attack or not to attack them,” Shaheen said.
“It is then up to us, because there is no agreement. So we will attack them if we see it is in our interest, our national interest, our Islamic interest. If we see it in our interest not to attack, we will not attack them.”
“If the Americans want to not attack us, and they want to withdraw, and they sign the agreement, yes we will not attack them … But if they attack us, they continue their bombardment, their night raids, [then] that will continue from our side what has been continuing for the last 18 years.”
So with the US quitting the negotiating table, can peace be achieved in Afghanistan? And if so, what would it take?