No talks with Taliban until it behaves: Pompeo

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, defended President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel secret talks at Camp David with Taliban leaders who, according to him, are using terror as a bargaining chip, agencies report.

Trump’s surprise move came after Taliban claimed an attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier along with 11 Afghan civilians last week.

Responding to criticisms from Democrats and some Republicans for inviting a terror group that has not renounced 9/11, Pompeo said the administration has to first put an end to the decades-long war that killed hundreds of Americans. To achieve that, one has to sometimes negotiate with some pretty bad actors.

But last Thursday’s car bomb attack proved Taliban is not committed to upholding peace. The Trump administration will continue supporting Afghan soldiers and punishing Taliban until they behave, he said.

Last week, Washington had decided to withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan in five months in exchange for a peace deal with the Taliban.

Announcing the cancellation of the secret talks with Taliban, Trump said the group could not hold truce even days ahead of the Camp David meeting.

Holding talks with a group that kills innocent people is meaningless, he said, echoing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s comments on the car bomb attack.

By indulging in such violent acts, Taliban leaders are trying to build false leverage to strengthen their bargaining position, Trump said.

Lawmakers cutting across party lines criticised Trump’s move to invite Taliban to Camp David. 

Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger tweeted Taliban that has not renounced 9/11 should not be allowed in the US. Another Republican Liz Cheney echoed his views.

Taliban threat to US

In a strong response to Trump’s decision to cancel Camp David talks, Taliban said this would lead to further losses of US lives and other assets.

The US wanted to avoid such threats when it started direct talks with Taliban without involving Kabul in Doha earlier this year.

The two sides even reached an agreement in principle on the draft framework after nine rounds of talks on Sept 2. But they did not pass a copy of the draft to the Afghan government or disclose it to media as the deal was awaiting Trump’s clearance.   

By striking a peace deal with Taliban, the US was hoping to avert another deadly attack from Afghanistan as 9/11.

It was also looking for a dignified exit after nearly 19 years of war that left thousands of US-led coalition forces and Afghan soldiers killed.

Trump wanted the troop pull-out ahead of the presidential elections to tell American voters that his government ended the protracted Afghan war.

The separate meetings with Taliban leaders and the Afghan president at Camp David were to finalise power-sharing arrangements in the future government.  It was planned ahead of the Afghan presidential election to be held on Sept 28.

The possibility of a free and fair presidential election looks remote after the cancellation of the Camp David talks.