As It Happens

Afghanistan says it wants peace, but the Taliban keeps attacking

The Afghan government says the country wants peace with the Taliban, but so far it hasn't seen any evidence that's possible. 

Violence has continued in the country since the U.S. signed a peace deal with the Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he won't release 5,000 Taliban prisoners whose fate the militant group and the U.S. included in their negotiations. (Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press)


The Afghan government says the country wants peace with the Taliban, but so far it hasn't seen any evidence that's possible. 

The U.S. and the Taliban signed an ambitious peace agreement on Feb. 29, followed by a historic phone call Tuesday between U.S. President Donald Trump and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

"We've agreed there's no violence. We don't want violence," Trump said after the call. "We'll see what happens."

But since the deal was struck, the Taliban have continued to attack Afghan forces, killing dozens. The U.S., in turn, launched what it called a "defensive" strike against the militants on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, peace negotiations between the warring Afghan sides have stalled before they've even started, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refusing demands to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to President Ghani's spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi on Wednesday, Here is part of their conversation. 

We are getting more details of this telephone conversation between Donald Trump and the deputy leader of the Taliban. Do you think that that contact was helpful?

We hope that whatever message was conveyed by President Trump to the Taliban was a message of the Taliban to abandon violence, to stick to the terms of the agreement and eventually accept or enter a process in which there won't be any violence in Afghanistan.

But we're not seeing much evidence of that, are we? Because just since Saturday, the Taliban have killed about 66 people in your country. Just hours after this conversation [between Trump and the Taliban], there was an ambush of Afghan forces, the Taliban killed 15 soldiers ... And at the same time, Mr. Trump has said that they have agreed in that phone conversation that there would be no violence. So what do you make of that?

You're absolutely right. So we haven't seen any sign of any Taliban's commitment towards abandoning violence. So they have attacked. They have been attacking three days after they signed the agreement with the U.S. 

This is very sad. This is what we did not expect. But, again, the international community is trying to, you know, persuade the Taliban to change course and stick to those conditions in the agreement.

But we only hope, as it's very difficult to trust the Taliban. The issue of trust is something that people in the Afghan government is so skeptical of.

Afghan Taliban militants and villagers are shown at a gathering as they celebrated the deal signed with the U.S. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP via Getty Images)

But the United States and its agreement with the Taliban appears to have committed your government, the Ghani government, to direct talks with the Taliban. ... Do you think that you are ready for those kinds of talks with the Taliban?

The Afghan government has always showed readiness to talk to the Taliban, but based on the conditions ... the Taliban has to accept a ceasefire. They [have] to stop killing Afghans. 

One of the key steps towards this process will be the Taliban's acceptance to enter into talks with the Afghan government, which they have refused all the time.

You say the Taliban have not met the conditions. But there are conditions on the Ghani government, aren't there? The first one is that you are expected to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before you even begin talking. So is that going to happen?

No, that's not going happen because the Afghan government believes that this is not [a] logical demand, or it should not be a prerequisite or a condition for to start the negotiation.

It's ... 5,000 Taliban who've [been] caught on the battlefield and their hands are stained with the Afghan blood. And these arrests were made with a huge price. You know, we lost so many people, so many soldiers. It's impossible to release them in a week, or release them in return of nothing.

We want the Taliban to discuss with us, sit with us, sit with the Afghan government ... and the release of the prisoners should be one of the agendas when the negotiations take place.

But if the Taliban do not hold that commitment towards a reduced level of violence or accepting a ceasefire [and] sitting with the Afghan government, releasing these 5,000 people will not bring peace. Because they will go and join again on the battlefield. There is no guarantee that these Taliban will go back and sit there and they will do nothing.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with the Taliban's deputy leader on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

I just wonder how strong your hand is at this point, the Afghan government's hand, given that it seems that Donald Trump is determined to withdraw the U.S. troops from your country, which have been your ally there. The United States provides a lot of funding to support your government. So if they decide, well, you know, you either do it our way or ... we are going to withdraw the troops, how strong is your hand?

We hope that's not the case. And we hope that our biggest ally, the United States, also understands the reality on the ground. 

We will be discussing this issue with the United States. We are aligned with the United States on ending this conflict, and we hope that our position could be understood. And, of course, we will work and seize this opportunity so that we can bring peace in the country.

There is a clear commitment within the international community that Afghanistan not become or turn into a safe haven for international terrorism.- Sediq Sediqqi, spokesperson for the Afghan president 

But you're up against the Taliban, [which] has perhaps 60,000 fighters, well-funded through its opium trade, has support from strong elements within Pakistan. If you don't have the United States supporting you, what are you up against?

We believe that we have the support of the United States. That's why [U.S.] Secretary [of Defence Mark] Esper and the secretary general of NATO, they were in Kabul on the same day issuing a declaration in which they say there will be continued support to the  Afghan government, and the Afghan government is the only recognized government.

A lot of people are remembering right now the late 1980s when the United States abandoned Afghanistan after its proxy war with the Soviet Union, and pushed your country into bloody years of civil war. Are people thinking about that right now?

Yes, absolutely. So there's always a flashback of the '90s in which we had the civil war and we had this horrible time that the country was torn apart apart.

But this time, we and our people believe that in the past 18, 19 years, the international community stood with us and this will continue. And there is a clear commitment within the international community that Afghanistan not become or turn into a safe haven for international terrorism.

So that's the main goal ... and we strongly believe that that partnership is needed so that millions of Afghans could still live in a country without fear.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.