Afghan ambassador: Taliban attacks undermine peace talks

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Afghans stand near a damaged shop after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. A suicide car bomber targeted the police headquarters in a minority Shiite neighborhood in western Kabul on Wednesday, setting off a huge explosion that wounded dozens of people, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Unrelenting Taliban attacks like the deadly car bomb that rocked Kabul on Wednesday are undermining the credibility of negotiations to end the nearly 18-year-old war in Afghanistan, the country’s ambassador to the U.S. said.

The near-daily attacks across the country will cause greater distrust of talks that U.S. and Taliban officials have said are close to producing an agreement and the eventual withdrawal of American forces, Ambassador Roya Rahmani said in an interview in Washington.

“It’s simply not understandable why somebody with the idea of peace in mind would like to continue killing people,” Rahmani said in a nearly hourlong interview with The Associated Press.

The most recent Taliban attack targeting Afghan security forces blasted a busy neighborhood during morning rush hour, killing at least 14 people and wounding 145 — most of them women, children and other civilians. The bombing was one of the worst in the Afghan capital this year and comes just after U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported “excellent progress” in U.S. talks with the Taliban.

“As a citizen, for me, it becomes much harder to trust and continue with a positive spirit if I feel continuously attacked. I think this is shared by our people,” the ambassador said.

Earlier this week, the Taliban said differences had been resolved over the withdrawal of the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and about Taliban guarantees that they will cut ties with other extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

She said the attacks across the country could be evidence that the Taliban are trying to get further concessions at the negotiation table, or that they want to capture more territory. The Taliban now control roughly half of the country, but not the cities of Afghanistan. Rahmani said she thinks reaching a cease-fire first could have provided a better climate for negotiations and would have instilled the “trust that is needed for a successful peace process.”

Khalilzad has said he wants a final agreement by Sept. 1 on the issues of troop withdrawal and assurances that Afghanistan will never again be a launching pad for terror attacks on the United States and its allies. Two other pillars of the negotiations are a cease-fire and an agreement by the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

If an accord can be reached in U.S.-Taliban talks, it would set the stage for all-Afghan negotiations. However, the Taliban, which ruled the country under a hardline, repressive regime from 1996 to 2001, has dismissed the current Afghan government as an American puppet.

Rahmani said there’s no way to carry out any kind of negotiated peace if the Afghan government is sidelined.

“Who is going to implement whatever you’re going to agree to?” the ambassador asked. “If there is no government in place, no institutions to implement what you’re agreeing to in the peace talks, then how is that going to hold?

“I think if they want peace, they would have to sit with the government.”

Earlier this week, the Taliban issued a statement saying that the upcoming Afghan presidential election in late September will be worthless. The insurgent group vowed to sabotage the process through multiple attacks on election sites and campaign rallies.

“It’s very unfortunate to hear that,” she said. “What I can say —what I’ve heard from our people — is it angers them and motivates them even more to go to the polls.”

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