The Taliban warned Washington on Friday that failure to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan will provoke a backlash, which would mean an increase in attacks by the insurgent group.
The Taliban issued the warning at a news conference in Moscow after meeting the day before with Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to build momentum for a stalled peace process to end decades of war.
President Joe Biden’s administration says it is reviewing an agreement signed by the Taliban with his predecessor Donald Trump. Biden said in an interview Wednesday that the May 1 deadline could be met, but it is difficult, adding that if it is postponed, it won’t be for much longer.
They must leave, Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban delegation, told reporters. He warned that staying beyond May 1 would be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side. Its violation will have a reaction.
He did not go into details about the reaction, but under the agreement signed in February 2020 the Taliban has not attacked U.S. or NATO forces. However, in recent months there has been an increase in bomb attacks and assassinations for which no one has claimed responsibility.
We hope that it will not happen, that they will withdraw and we will concentrate on the solution, a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem to bring a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire after reaching a political roadmap (for) Afghanistan, Shaheen said.
He reaffirmed that the Taliban maintains its demand for an Islamic government. He did not clarify what such a government would look like or whether it would mean the return of its repressive rules prohibiting education for girls, work for women and the imposition of harsh punishments.
Shaheen did not say whether the Taliban would accept elections, but stressed that President Ashraf Ghani’s government does not meet its definition of an Islamic government.
The Taliban controls about half the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that it could gain more ground without the presence of U.S. and NATO forces.
Participating in the Moscow meeting were U.S. emissary Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as Reconciliation Council for Afghanistan director Abdula Abdula and Taliban co-founder Mula Abdul Ghani Baradar. Representatives from Pakistan, Iran, India and China also attended.