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On September 7, 2019 U.S. President Donald Trump authored a series of tweets announcing that he had "immediately cancelled" secret talks which he had scheduled for the next day with the leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) and separately with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David, after the Taliban admitted to killing, among others, an American soldier in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman based in Doha.
Trump also announced that he had "called off peace negotiations". The U.S. and the Taliban had gone through nine rounds of talks which were held over the past year in Doha, Qatar, and the global media was full of reports that a draft peace agreement had been agreed to in principle by the U.S. and Taliban delegations. The talks over the preceding months had been steered by a U.S. delegation under Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, while the Taliban delegation from the Islamic Emirate's Political Office in Doha had been led first by Suhail Shaheen, and later by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund.
Suhail Shaheen is the spokesman of the Doha-based Political Office, while Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund is the deputy emir of the Islamic Emirate and chief of the Political Office. President Trump's cancellation of the talks came as a shock to the global media, as well as the Taliban leaders, who had sensed an incoming victory. After the cancellation of the talks, Suhail Shaheen was interviewed on Al-Jazeera television by journalist Zein Tawfik in which he answered a range of questions.
From the interview, it emerges that the American delegation was focused solely on the withdrawal of its troops – not even a ceasefire – while the Taliban refused to engage with the Afghan government, which they do not recognize.
Following is the full text of the interview, originally in English and with some linguistic inconsistencies:
"[The U.S. Negotiating Team Leaders Had Agreed About] The Ceremony Of Signing The Agreement And Invitation To Be Extended To Foreign Ministers Of About 24 Countries"
Question: "Let me start with the negotiations President Donald trump announced the end of it. Did that come a surprise to you?"
Suhail Shaheen: "In the name of Allah the merciful and compassionate. Yes, it was astonishing for us. Because, we had already concluded the peace agreement with the American negotiation team and we [had] continued the talks for almost one year. And at the end, we concluded a peace agreement. And also, we concluded... the implementation framework of the peace agreement. Then both heads of the negotiation teams, they initialled the copies. One copy of that was given to the Qatari side. And we got the one copy and one [went to] the American team.
"And after that Mullah Baradar, the chief of the Political Office and deputy emir of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for Political Affairs, and his delegation had a meeting with Dr. Khalilzad and General Scott Miller [the commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan]. They were happy with the peace agreement. And they talked about the ceremony of the signing the peace agreement. Amidst that the tweet [by President Trump] was very surprising, astonishing for us."
Question: "So, the last thing you heard from Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad and General Scott Miller... was about actually the ceremony for signing the agreement, and not the stoppage of the negotiations. Is that right?"
Suhail Shaheen: "No, there was no hint, no sign. Only they talked during that meeting about the ceremony of signing the agreement and invitation to be extended to foreign ministers of about 24 countries of the world. And also they talked about the communication channel which was also part of the agreement. And we had pointed from our side the people for the communication channel in order to facilitate the implementation of the agreement. That was discussed during that meeting [with Khalilzad and Miller].
"[And then there was another meeting involving them and Mullah Baradar.] That was the last meeting our chief of the Political Office had with Scott Miller and Dr. Khalilzad... and in that [later] meeting with him, there were no sign, no hint about what was mentioned in the tweets. That was really very surprising for us."
Question: "So, when was the meeting, was it on Saturday for example?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Yeah, I don't know exactly the day. But it was after the meeting in which they discussed the communication channel and also about the ceremony, and they had another meeting; the topic was similar topics, some additions but similar topics."
"The Invitation [For Meeting With Trump At Camp David] Was Given By Dr. Khalilzad To Us; And We Discussed... And Agreed, Accepted The Invitation [But After The Signing Ceremony At Doha]"
Question: "So, during these two meetings, have you ever confirmed actually that you are going to see President Trump on Camp David on Sunday [September 8, 2019]...?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Yes, it was, the invitation was given by Dr. Khalilzad to us. And we discussed it in the political office and agreed, accepted the invitation. And we conveyed our message to Dr. Khalilzad that we accept the invitation and we will go to visit the United States – but after the signing ceremony of the peace agreement. Because, the signing ceremony of the peace agreement will create an atmosphere, that it will be, you know, reduction in violence and [there] will be a good atmosphere inside Afghanistan because after signing of the ceremony the actual implementation of the peace agreement will start, thus will create a conducive atmosphere to go there [to the U.S.]. That, we conveyed that message to him, that would be appropriate time."
Question: "So, in his tweets, President Trump claimed that the meeting between you and President Trump were scheduled on Sunday. I am asking here about the signing ceremony of the agreement that was supposed to be here in Doha. Was it on the same day, was it on Sunday, or a different day, or it wasn't agreed upon?"
Suhail Shaheen: "The expected date of the ceremony was to be fixed by all sides. And the ceremony to be held, it was decided to be held here in Doha. It was to be held here in Doha in the presence of international witnesses and in presence of the media. That was decided. That was not that it will be signed in Camp David or anywhere [else]. It was decided, the venue was Doha. But the date was not fixed. But it was generally decided that it will be held within one week."
Question: "So in this case, do you consider the tweets by President Trump as incorrect when he claimed that the meeting was scheduled on Sunday?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Yes, they gave us, so [there are] these two different things: one is their invitation to us that we accepted; and the other is the date of going there, [about] that we had our own view. They gave us their date, but we had our own view that it is appropriate to go there after the signing ceremony of the agreement. Because, before that we did our ceasefire.
"So, having no ceasefire means there will be attacks from each side. And they had attacks on our territory. We also retaliate by attacking some parts. But after the beginning of the implementation of the peace agreement, so all this thing [i.e. attacks by the two sides in Afghanistan] will stop. And that would create a conducive atmosphere for visiting the United States. That was our viewpoint. And we conveyed our viewpoint to him, to Dr. Khalilzad."
Mullah Baradar Akhund meets with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on July 27, 2019
"First We Want To End The Occupation Of Afghanistan And Then To Talk With Afghans About The Formation Of The New Islamic Government... And Also About The Ceasefire"
Question: "So, according to your statements [and] to Mr. Khalilzad, the agreement was ready for signature by the President of U.S.A. and for the ceremony of the signing agreement? But we don't know a lot about that agreement. Can you tell us more information about that, what you actually agreed upon?"
Suhail Shaheen: "There was some main points and main parts of the peace agreement. One, withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan. Second, not allowing anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against the United States, its allies. Third, to begin intra-Afghan negotiations. Fourth, that ceasefire will be an item of agenda of discussion during intra-Afghan negotiations. That was four parts of the peace agreement."
Question: "So, what you are saying now that the ceasefire was never part of the agreement?"
Suhail Shaheen: "No. That was not part of negotiation with the American side. We had two topics, or two parts with the Americans. One, to talk with them about ending occupation of Afghanistan, ... withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. Second, our obligation not allowing anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against the United States and its allies. That was the two main points that we discussed with the American side. The remaining two parts, we were to discuss with Afghans."
Question: "And really the Americans agreed to the withdrawal without ceasefire?"
Suhail Shaheen: "The Americans agreed with withdrawal [without a ceasefire]. And we agreed that during their withdrawal we will not attack them. It was part of that [agreement]. And they will not attack us. And we will not attack them. We will give them a safe passage to withdrawal from Afghanistan. There was no question of worry about that."
Question: "Does not it seem a bit strange, at least for the Afghani people, that you agreed to a ceasefire with the Americans, you were prepared and agreed to stop killing the Americans, but you did not agree to something similar to the Afghani people, your fellow citizens? How can you explain that?"
Suhail Shaheen: "That is part of intra-Afghan negotiation. As I already mentioned, ceasefire will be, comprehensive ceasefire will be an item to discuss with Afghans to reach an agreement about that. But now with Americans, we talked about the withdrawal of their forces, when they want to withdraw or they are intending to withdraw, why we should we attack them while they are withdrawing? It is rational to provide them safe passage.
"But about other Afghans, we are ready to talk with them. If there is ceasefire with them, there will be no attack with them. This is another aspect of the Afghan issue. First we want to end the occupation of Afghanistan and then to talk with Afghans about the formation of the new Islamic government in the country and also about the ceasefire. These [are] two different things."
"If The American Wants To Not Attack Us And They Want To Withdraw And They Sign The Agreement, Yes We Will Not Attack Them; We Will Provide Them A Safe Passage"
Question: "So, now the Americans stopped the negotiations. President Trump said it's ended... Are you going to resume attacks on American troops in Afghanistan?"
Suhail Shaheen: "If the American wants to not attack us and they want to withdraw and they sign the agreement, yes we will not attack them. We will provide them a safe passage, withdrawing from Afghanistan. But if they attack us, they continue their bombardment, ... [there are] night raids, that would continue from our side what has been continuing for the last eighteen years."
Question: "I am sure you follow the American press. And there were some suggestions that some Trump aides told them [i.e. the press] that he could actually withdraw without any agreement with you, the Taliban. If the Americans do that, if they start withdrawing without any agreement with you, will you still attack them, or just leave them go. Because, that is what you actually want anyway?"
Suhail Shaheen: "If we sign an agreement with them, then we have an obligation not to attack them and provide them a safe passage. If they withdraw without any peace agreement signing with us, then it is upon our consent [means conscience] or our willing whether to attack them or not to attack them. It is then up to us because there is no agreement. So, we will attack them if we want, if we see it in our interest, our national interest, our Islamic interest. If we see it not in our interest... to attack, we will not attack. That will be up to us...."
Question: "So, what is the benefit to you in attacking the Americans while they are withdrawing?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Yes, you are right. If they are withdrawing, it is more rational that we give them a safe passage...."
Question: "Will it be a different matter if they start withdrawing without an agreement with you but also they stopped attacking you?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Yes, if they attack us, we have the right of self-defense. But if they do not attack us and they are withdrawing, it is another story. Then we will do what is rational."
Question: "Mr. Sadiq Siddiqui, the spokesman for the Office of the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, said that your honeymoon in Doha was over, that is after the President Trump's decision to stop the negotiations. Do you think he is right that your honeymoon is over and there is no coming back to negotiations again?"
Suhail Shaheen: "We already have in Afghanistan, 70 percent of the territory of Afghanistan is with us. They are [limited]... to go to the Kabul airport, which is a few kilometres from the Presidential Palace, they go in helicopter. So, that means that we are also prevalent in the Kabul city. So, whose honeymoon is over? ... It is in Kabul, all the people in the NGOs ... want our permission and we facilitate... NGOs' movement from one province to another – even in the Kabul city. So, you can now imagine whose honeymoon is over, who are the people, the real people of the country and the master of the country."
Suhail Shaheen being interviewed by journalist Zein Tawfik
"We Were Talking With The American Side; They Also Represented All Foreign Forces, Including The NATO Forces In Afghanistan"
Question: "The agreement you just told us about did not mention anything about the Afghani government. They feel they were left out, and they were sold by the Americans, and you refuse still to have any negotiations with the government until the withdrawal of all the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Do you not consider them as Afghani, as worth talking to?"
Suhail Shaheen: "First, the document which found way to the media, that agreement is not the real agreement, that is not the original agreement. It was a fake text put by someone, posted on media. This is the first thing. Second is, I said intra-Afghan negotiation is part of the peace agreement. We will talk with all sides of the Afghans and that also includes the Kabul administration. And with that we will discuss the future of Afghanistan."
Question: "So, are you planning to have talks with the Afghani government, or you will carry on ignoring any talks with them until the withdrawal of the foreign forces?"
Suhail Shaheen: "Of course, first, peace agreement should be signed with the Americans. Then we will enter the intra-Afghan negotiations, that also includes the Kabul administration. They will be part of the negotiations...."
Question: "So, the Americans, according to the agreement, will withdraw and that was agreed upon. How about the other forces, other [non-U.S. foreign] troops in Afghanistan? Will they stay behind, or they will withdraw with the Americans?"
Suhail Shaheen: "That we were talking with the American side. They also represented all foreign forces, including the NATO forces in Afghanistan. That is part of the peace agreement. That is mentioned in the agreement that American forces, including the NATO forces, will withdraw from Afghanistan...."
Question: "So, let's assume that all the forces in Afghanistan are out. And Afghanistan has no single foreign soldier. What is your vision for the future of Afghanistan and the system of government?"
Suhail Shaheen: "It will be an independent country, a prosperous country with national unity... and have the power to take its political decision, its economic decision, and all other decisions by themselves. It will not be dictated by anyone, whether super power or zero power...."
"One Thing But We Want: The Future Government Be An Islamic Government; And How And What Form, That Will Be Discussed In The Intra-Afghan Negotiation"
Question: "So, can you explain a little bit more about this – Are you going to enforce and impose the Islamic rule by force on other Afghanis, or you have changed your doctrine a little about and now you can allow for dialogue and for democracy and elections and things like that?"
Suhail Shaheen: "That's part of the intra-Afghan negotiation. We have put up this to intra-Afghan negotiations. One thing but we want: the future government be an Islamic government. And how and what form, that will be discussed in the intra-Afghan negotiation. And the Afghans will decide about, but it should be an Islamic government because for the last forty years Afghan Muslim people and the mujahideen have laid down their lives, sacrificed for establishing an Islamic government."
Question: "So, what will you do if you give people a right to vote and right to have a say in their future, and they say, no we don't want Islamic rule, we want civil and secular government? What will you do? Will you enforce Islamic rule by force?
Suhail Shaheen: "We enter intra-Afghan negotiations. And that means we will talk with all sides of Afghanistan, all political figures, and other...... influential [leaders], including the current Kabul administration... about the future government of Afghanistan. That means we want to reach a conclusion through talks and negotiations."