WASHINGTON/ISE-SHIMA: The selection of a hard line cleric as the new Taliban chief on Wednesday all but dashes US President Barack Obama’s hopes for opening peace talks before he leaves office, one of his top foreign policy goals, current and former US defence and intelligence officials said.
In affirmation, Obama on Thursday said the Taliban is unlikely to come to the table for talks with the Afghan government “anytime soon” despite the organisation’s new leadership.
Obama told reporters in Japan, where he is meeting with other leaders of the Group of Seven nations, that he expected the extremist movement to continue its violence in Afghanistan.
“We anticipate the Taliban will continue an agenda of violence,” he said.
The Taliban leadership council tapped Mullah Haybattulah Akhundzada, a conservative Islamic scholar from the southern Afghanistan, to succeed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, four days after Mansour was killed in a US drone strike.
The killing of Mansour showed that Washington has at least for now abandoned hopes of reviving the direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, which broke down last summer.
“I was not expecting a liberal democrat to be appointed,” he said.
“My hope, although not my expectation, is that there comes a point where the Taliban realise what they need to be doing” and start getting into a dialogue with the government,” he said.
Experts said Akhundzada is likely to pursue aggressive attacks throughout the summer, intensifying the pressure on Obama to reconsider his plan to withdraw US military trainers and special forces and leave the decision on how to end America’s longest war to his successor.