The Taliban on Sunday rejected reports that they may cancel peace talks with the U.S. and the Afghan governments over criticism of the insurgents' office that opened in Qatar last week.
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan rejected a New York Times story published on Saturday that quoted an unnamed rebel official saying the insurgents were determined to keep the office's sign and flag that triggered fury in Kabul.
The sign used the formal name of “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from the rebels' 1996-2001 government, and the white Taliban flag was seen by many Afghans as a provocative reminder of the cruelties of Taliban rule.
The opening of the Qatar office was intended as a first step towards a peace deal as the U.S.-led NATO combat mission ends next year, but the Afghan government accused the rebels of posing as a government-in-exile.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Sunday that the anonymous “Taliban official” quoted in the New York Times did not represent the movement's views.
“(The Taliban) has its own spokespersons who provides information to the media,” Mujahid said in a statement. “Anyone except these spokespersons giving information, it would not be (information) from the Islamic Emirate.
“The enemy for long time have given statements in their interests citing unknown persons (as Taliban spokespersons), an example of which is an interview published on the New York Times.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Qatar on Saturday, warned that Washington could call on the Taliban to close the office if the rebels failed to live up to their side of peace efforts.
“It is our hope that this could ultimately be an important step in reconciliation if it's possible. We know that it may well not be possible,” Kerry told reporters in Doha.
If the Taliban do not address concerns, “We may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed.”
President Barack Obama has supported dialogue with the Taliban as the U.S. prepares to pull out its 68,000 combat troops from Afghanistan next year, ending the longest U.S. war which has become increasingly unpopular at home.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, imposing a harsh version of Sunni Islamic law that banned television, music and cinema, stopped girls from going to school and forced woman to wear the all-covering burqa.
They were ousted in 2001 for sheltering the Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks, but launched a resilient and bloody insurgency against U.S.-led NATO troops and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Talk of a meeting between U.S. and Taliban officials in Qatar has been put on hold, and the U.S. has stressed the office must not be treated as an embassy and must be used only for peace talks.
Taliban reject claims they may cancel Qatar talks