ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's Taliban has dismissed as "illogical" escalating domestic and foreign calls for the insurgent group to cease hostilities before the commencement of intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
The long-delayed dialogue is stipulated in a landmark deal the United States and the Taliban sealed in February aimed at ending nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan, America's longest. The peace talks are tied, however, to a successful conclusion of an ongoing controversial prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
A spokesman for the Islamist Taliban insisted Sunday that implementation of the agreement and start of intra-Afghan negotiations are necessary to de-escalate and end the war.
"A demand for us to stop the fighting and then start the negotiations is illogical. War is raging precisely because we have yet to find an alternative," Zabihullah Mujahid said in a media release.
"The prisoner exchange process must be completed and intra-Afghan talks must begin immediately. This is the real and logical path toward resolving the problem," Mujahid stressed.
Direct peace negotiations between Afghan parties to the war were originally scheduled to commence in March but were pushed back due to disagreements over the prisoner swap.
The Afghan government says it has so far released just over 4,000 Taliban prisoners out of the promised 5,000. In exchange, the insurgent group says it has freed about 770 out of the promised 1,000 Afghan security personnel, although Afghan officials dispute those figures and say about half of the freed men are civilians.
The rise in Taliban attacks
An escalation in Taliban battlefield attacks and bomb attacks has killed hundreds of government forces and civilians in recent weeks, prompting President Ashraf Ghani to link the release of remaining prisoners to a reduction in insurgent violence.
Afghan officials also have refused to free hundreds of Taliban prisoners they say are involved in "serious crimes", including killing innocent Afghan civilians.
Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi again urged the Taliban on Sunday to renounce violence and join the peace process.
He tweeted that the rise in insurgent violence in Afghan cities and bomb attacks on security forces as well as government employees "have hurt the hopes of and expectations of the people and the international community for making peace through negotiation."
The U.S.-Taliban agreement requires American and allied troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in return for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban and commitments to negotiate a permanent cease-fire as well as a power-sharing arrangement with all Afghan groups, including the government and civil society representatives.