For their part, U.S. officials continue to express interest in peace talks without being openly optimistic.
“We know that the government of Afghanistan wants [negotiations], as do we. But it’s up to the Taliban now to decide whether to take advantage of the opportunity that’s provided to have a discussion with Afghans, with the High Peace Council, about the future of Afghanistan and about peace and reconciliation,” U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said in a statement in response to questions about the peace process.
U.S. officials say they considered closing the Taliban office after the fiasco last month. But the prospect that this could be the best and last opportunity for the Karzai administration to reconcile with the insurgent group before NATO’s formal 2014 withdrawal persuaded officials to keep the office open.
Now, would-be Afghan negotiators are waiting for instructions from Karzai to head to Doha. But though the Afghan leader has expressed a willingness to negotiate with the Taliban if it removes the flag and banner, the insurgent group has not publicly agreed to talk with Afghan officials or to recognize the country’s constitution.
“The path to peace and reconciliation is not short. It has its ups and downs, but the High Peace Council will keep open the doors for negotiations,” said Mohammed Ismail Qasimyar, the head of foreign relations for the Karzai-appointed council, which would be charged with leading the negotiations.
Some of Qasimyar’s colleagues found themselves desperately looking for reasons to be optimistic this week, despite the Taliban’s defiance.
“What makes us hopeful is that the Taliban have not said they will abandon the talks process,” said Qazi Amin Waqad, another member of the High Peace Council. “Engaging in talks is the only alternative for ending this conflict.”
U.S. officials say they will not intervene in the talks, which they, like Karzai, contend must be “Afghan-led,” but some Afghan negotiators are eager for American assistance.
“The United States can persuade the Taliban to talk,” Waqad said. “It rules the world.”
Taliban officials, too, singled out Americans as the most important interlocutors.
“Americans are mentioned mostly because they are on the top and in point of fact, the occupation was started by them,” Naeem said in his recent statement.
Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.