KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – Taliban guerrillas on Friday hailed the rebels' new office in Qatar as evidence of their success on the battlefield but vowed to fight on until all US forces leave Afghanistan.
The opening of the office in Qatar was seen as a first step towards a peace deal as the US-led NATO combat mission ends next year, but a furious Kabul accused the rebels of posing as a government-in-exile.
Talk of a meeting between US and Taliban officials has been put on hold, and the US has stressed the office must not be treated as an embassy for the hardliners who were ousted from power in 2001.
"We welcome the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, and we are happy about it," Mullah Ehsanullah, a local Taliban fighter in the Zherai district of the southern province of Kandahar, told AFP by telephone.
"With the establishment of this office, we want to hold talks with the international community like an independent and sovereign state.
"We are reaching our goals in defeating the US, now we want to free our country from occupation. We want to build our country on our own."
When the office opened on Tuesday, it used the title of the rebels' 1996-2001 government, the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan", and flew the white Taliban flag -- a provocative symbol of oppression to many Afghans.
Afghanistan's envoy to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, on Thursday described the opening as "theatrical", which he said contravened an agreement on how the occasion would be managed.
Mursaleen, a Taliban fighter in the Ghaziabad district of eastern Kunar province, told AFP: "We have fought hard for our country to save it from the occupiers. When our demands are met, we will sit down at the negotiating table."
Another Taliban fighter in Kandahar in the south, who declined to be named, said that they had fought against the Soviets in the 1980s and against the US since 2001 for an "autonomous Afghanistan under an Islamic government".
"We never backed this system we have today in Afghanistan," he added. "They are doing everything just to be in power.
"We are happy about the opening of the office, but the Taliban leaders in Qatar must not make any deals to bring themselves into government, that's not acceptable to us," he warned.
A well-informed member of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan told AFP that peace moves would not impact the fighters' deadly campaign of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes.
"There is not likely to be any immediate change on the ground, with fighting ongoing despite the starting of talks," he said, adding that any Qatar deal would be hard to implement as the insurgents were decentralised.
"Taliban representatives in Doha are not very powerful and influential within the insurgency," he said.
"So they might not be powerful enough to impose the outcome of negotiations on the main shura (council) which has the power."
In Pakistan's tribal district of North Waziristan -- the country's most notorious bastion of militants -- a regular visitor told AFP that insurgents believe peace talks are possible only if all US troops leave Afghanistan and all Taliban prisoners are freed.
"It (the peace process) is new but I'm not very hopeful," he said. "The Taliban know that the Afghan government may allow the US to keep nine military bases in the future, which means the US will not withdraw.
"In the mind of many jihadis, as long as the US is in Afghanistan one way or the other, they will fight them."
The Taliban on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed four Americans at Bagram, the largest US-led military base in Afghanistan.
On June 11 they also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb outside the Supreme Court in Kabul that killed at least 15 civilians.