Hours before the start of a major NATO summit in Chicago, the Taliban's main spokesman released a lengthy statement signaling the insurgency was open to a political solution to the conflict, but accused NATO of "wavering in their stance" on negotiations.
"The Islamic Emirate has left all military and political doors open," read the statement, written in English and attributed to spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. "[H]owever the invaders are utilizing a one step forward, two steps backwards tactic. They are conjuring artificial excuses to prolong the occupation of Afghanistan, are wavering in their stance and do not seem to have a clear strategy for a political solution."
Until NATO stops wavering, the statement continues, the Taliban considers the coalition's calls for talks to be "meaningless."
It was the Taliban who suspended negotiations in March following the burning of the Quran on a US base and a shooting spree by a US soldier. But the United States and NATO have continued to talk of seeking a negotiated settlement to the 11-year conflict.
Most recently, President Obama backed negotiating on a visit earlier this month to Afghanistan. However, he also outlined a new strategic pact with the US-backed government in Kabul that would let some American soldiers stay in Afghanistan past 2014 until 2024.
Obama's two-pronged message of peace talks but prolonged troop presence unsettled what appeared to be a Taliban strategy of running out the clock on the US withdrawal target of 2014. The Taliban's statement today suggests the insurgency is irked by the move to "prolong the occupation."
Whether Mr. Obama's gambit pushes the Taliban to publicly return to negotiations remains to be seen. While today's statement signaled openness again to negotiations, it also expressed doubts about NATO's sincerity in wanting to leave.
"The foreigners should forgo prolonging and complicating the Afghan issue for their colonialist objectives," the statement reads.
It goes on to remind NATO that, despite the 2024 extension, there are domestic pressures to wrap up the war soon. The statement cites a recent CBS News/New York Times poll in which 69 percent of respondents said the US shouldn't be involved in Afghanistan. Indeed, Monitor polling on the new US-Afghanistan strategic pact found nearly two-thirds of Americans reject the broad outlines of the deal.
The Taliban statement also reiterated the group's stance that they were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and will not allow Afghan soil to be used to launch attacks on other countries.
"The Islamic Emirate once again declares that it holds no agenda of harming anyone nor will it let anyone harm other countries from the soil of Afghanistan hence there is no reason for the occupying countries including America to continue the occupation of Afghanistan under the pretext of safeguarding its own security," the statement reads.