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The Taliban said on Saturday it would not take part in peace talks brokered by Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States.
Following a meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group made up of representatives of the four countries in Kabul in February, officials said they expected direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin in early March.
But the Taliban, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, publicly denied they would be participating in any upcoming talks in Islamabad.
With the American troops remaining in the country conducting airstrikes and special operations raids in support of the Kabul government, the Taliban would not participate in talks, the group said in a statement.
"We reject all such rumors and unequivocally state that the leader of Islamic Emirate has not authorized anyone to participate in this meeting," the statement said. "(Islamic Emirate) once again reiterates that unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated, and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any results."
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Direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban have been on hold since last year's announcement of the death of the movement's founder and longtime leader Mullah Mohammed Omar some two years earlier. The group, which was ousted from power in a US-led military intervention in 2001, has been waging a violent insurgency to topple the Western-backed Afghan government and reestablish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
On February 24, a group of 24 former Taliban militants laid down their arms in Jalalabad and joined the peace process, but new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has laid down preconditions for taking part in any talks as he struggles to overcome factional infighting, with some breakaway groups opposing any negotiations whatsoever.
"On the one hand America is deploying fresh troops to Afghanistan, is carrying out airstrikes in various areas and partaking in night raids and on the other the Kabul administration has expanded operations in multiple provinces, displaced thousands of families from their homes in this cold winter and at the same time intensified propaganda about negotiations and Quadrilateral Coordination Group meetings," the Taliban's statement said on Saturday.
US officials estimate the Taliban dominates or threatens almost a third of the country and has full control over at least four districts. Taliban forces recently recaptured districts in the opium-rich Helmand province after a withdrawal by Afghan forces. Although the group briefly took the northern city of Kunduz last year, it does not control any provincial capitals.
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