U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price encouraged the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to “engage in serious negotiations” to bring peace to Afghanistan on Tuesday, urging them to work together against the Islamic State the day before.
The Taliban considers itself the legitimate government of Afghanistan, dismissing the actual government as a usurpation. Kabul maintains a mirror image stance and considers the elimination of Taliban jihadist violence one of its primary goals. The two agreed this week, however, to a ceasefire in observance of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
On Saturday, shortly before Kabul accepted the ceasefire agreement, a massive jihadist attack struck a girls’ school in the capital, killing at least 85 and wounding over 100 others. While Taliban jihadists have openly opposed the education of girls and women for decades, Taliban spokesmen denied any involvement in the attack and called it a “cruel and senseless act of violence.” The Taliban declared an Eid ceasefire shortly after the attack. The Afghan government directly accused the Taliban of having orchestrated it.
Price, during his briefing Monday, suggested another culprit: the Islamic State Khorasan province (ISIS-K), its Afghan wing. ISIS-K has become one of the most powerful arms of the global jihadist group since the fall of its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria and, as a fellow Sunni Muslim jihadist group, also has a history of violently opposing the education of girls. The Taliban, an ally of ISIS’s former parent group al-Qaeda, has engaged in clashes with ISIS terrorists as the latter grew in influence and territorial control in the past several years, potentially threatening the Taliban’s significant drug profits and political control.
“We are still looking into what or who is responsible, but I would note that ISIS has been responsible for similar attacks on Shia communities in Kabul in the past,” Price said Monday. “We note the Taliban has denied involvement in the attack, and we welcome their announcement of a three-day ceasefire over the upcoming Eid holiday.”
“We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence,” Price urged.
Price reiterated his calls for the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a way to work together on “a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
“The United States remains committed to the Afghan peace process, which presents the best opportunity for Afghans to reach a just and durable political settlement, and to ensure a future for Afghanistan that is free of terrorism and of senseless violence,” Price stated.
President Joe Biden recently extended America’s military commitment in Afghanistan for four months, replacing the May 1, 2021, military withdrawal deadline set by predecessor Donald Trump with September 11 of the same year. The Taliban had signed an agreement with the Trump administration that required it to cut ties to al-Qaeda and stop attacking American soldiers in exchange for granting their wish of a full withdrawal of all foreign forces in the country. Following Biden’s extension of the war, a Taliban spokesman announced the terrorist organization would “take every counteraction it deems appropriate,” including attacking Americans, in response to Biden breaking the agreement.
The legitimate Afghan government in Kabul has also expressed frustration with the Biden administration. Speaking to CBS News this week, the nation’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh lamented that Washington had “legitimized” the Taliban by negotiating with the group, only to plan a phased exit.
“The United States legitimized them … They should be held accountable,” Saleh said. “At the end of the day, United States is a superpower, unless it says I’m not. It’s a superpower, and they have leverage — all over. We respect that leverage because, as a needy country, we need the United States to remain engaged.”
Price addressed calls this week for further involvement in Afghanistan by repeating the Biden administration policy that the end of a U.S. troop presence in the country would not mean the end of American investment in the country.
“Although the United States is withdrawing our troops, we are not disengaging from Afghanistan, and we will continue to use our diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolset to ensure that the gains of the past 20 years, particularly those made by women, girls, and minorities, are preserved,” Price said, insisting that the departure of the U.S. soldiers was only a “military withdrawal.”