Members of the Taliban delegation from the left: Khairullah Khairkhwa, former western Herat Governor and one of five Taliban released from the US prison on Guantanamo Bay in exchange for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, Suhail Shaheen, member of negotiation team, Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban's political office attend their joint news conference in Moscow, Russia on March 19, 2021. — AP

MOSCOW: The Taliban warned Washington on Friday against defying a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American and Nato troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban issued their warning at a press conference in Moscow, the day after meeting senior Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to jumpstart a stalled peace process to end Afghanistan’s decades of war.

President Joe Biden’s administration says it is reviewing an agreement the Taliban signed with the Trump administration. Biden told ABC in an interview on Wednesday that the May 1 deadline could happen, but it is tough, adding that if the deadline is extended it won’t be by a lot longer.

“They should go,” Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters, warning that staying beyond May 1 would breach the deal. “After that, it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side... Their violation will have a reaction.”

He did not elaborate on what form the reaction would take, but in keeping with the agreement they signed in February 2020, the Taliban have not attacked US or Nato forces, even as unclaimed bombings and targeted killings have spiked in recent months.

“We hope that this will not happen, that they withdraw and we focus on the settlement, peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue, in order to bring about a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire at the end of reaching a political roadmap (for) Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

He also reaffirmed that the Taliban were firm on their demand for an Islamic government. Shaheen didn’t elaborate on what an Islamic government would look like or whether it would mean a return to their repressive rules that denied girls’ education, barred women from working, and imposed harsh punishments.

Shaheen did not say whether the Taliban would accept elections, but he emphasised that the government of President Ashraf Ghani would not fit their definition of an Islamic government.

In previous statements, the Taliban have said their vision of an Islamic government would allow girls to attend school, and women to work or be in public life. But in every conversation, they emphasised the need to follow Islamic injunctions without specifying what that would mean.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2021