ISLAMABAD (AP) — Afghanistan’s Taleban leaders agreed they wanted a deal with the United States (US), but some were in more of a hurry than others.
Taleban negotiators were at odds with their Council of Leaders, or shura, about whether to travel to Camp David even before US President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled the high-stakes meeting planned for last weekend .
According to Taleban officials familiar with the discussions, the shura opposed the trip to Camp David and chastised the negotiators who were eager to attend.
The Taleban have been holding talks with the US for over a year in the Qatari capital, Doha, where the militant movement maintains a political office.
Spokesman for the Doha office Suhail Shaheen told the Taleban Al-Emarah website on Tuesday that US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had invited Taleban negotiators to Camp David in late August.
The Taleban accepted, only to delay, demanding the deal be announced first by Qatar. They also wanted a signing ceremony witnessed by the foreign ministers of several countries, including Pakistan, Russia and China. The delay followed the shura’s rejection and admonishment of its negotiators.
This wasn’t the first disagreement between the negotiators and the shura, according to Taleban sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss internal debates with reporters.
Several months earlier, the shura opposed an offer by Chief Negotiator and Co-founder of the Taleban Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to give the Americans 14 months to withdraw their roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan. The shura let Baradar know it wasn’t on board with the timeline and that he could not make decisions independent of the shura.
Still, several Taleban officials familiar with both the negotiating team and the shura said that while opinions differed, the Taleban leadership debated every article of the agreement and the negotiating team either got the shura to agree or bowed to its decisions.
“What’s striking is how the Taleban mobilised at the highest levels to support negotiations with the US,” said Deputy Director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Wilson Center Michael Kugelman. “Senior Taleban officials didn’t only endorse the talks; they helped lead them.
“This suggests that Washington would have trouble exploiting fractures within the Taleban in an effort to strengthen its hand in negotiations,” he said.
“There may be divisions within the Taleban, but they presented a relatively common front in the negotiating process. That’s more than one can say for the Afghan government, or even the Trump administration.”