Afghan government and Taliban meet again after unclear talks

The latest talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha ended without significant progress on Sunday, even after the insurgent’s supreme leader said he “strongly supports” a political solution to the conflict.

High-ranking representatives of the Kabul government, including the head of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, came in for two days of intense talks as the hardline Islamist movement pushes a major offensive across Afghanistan.

They had tried to revive long-stalled peace talks, but agreed in a joint statement on the need to find a “just solution” and meet again “next week”.

Prior to the second day of talks, Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada had said that “the Islamic emirate is strongly in favor of a political settlement” despite the groups’ lightning-fast victories on the ground.

But the Qatari facilitator of the talks said at the end of the two days that the parties had only agreed to “work to prevent civilian casualties”, far less than previously agreed ceasefires.

“The two sides agreed to continue high-level negotiations until a settlement is reached. To that end, they will meet again next week,” said Mutlaq al-Qahtani, Qatar’s counter-terrorism envoy who oversees the talks. for Doha.

The two sides have been meeting intermittently in the Qatari capital for months, but have had little or no significant success. The discussions seem to have lost momentum as the militants made huge gains on the battlefield.

Complex military campaigns

Taliban leader Akhundzada has said his group remained committed to forging a solution to end the war, but chided the group’s opponents for “wasting time”.

The insurgents took advantage of the final stages of the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan to launch a series of lightning strikes across the country.

The group now controls about half of the country’s 400 counties and several key border crossings, and has besieged a series of vital provincial capitals.

A spokesman for the Afghan security forces said pro-government fighters had conducted 244 operations, killing 967 “enemy” fighters, including key commanders.

“We have recaptured 24 districts so far, our goal is to recapture all areas… We are ready to defend our country,” Ajmal Omar Shinwari told reporters.

The Taliban appear to have long been united, operating under an effective chain of command and conducting complex military campaigns, despite perennial rumors of splits within their leadership.

But questions remain about how much control the Taliban leaders have over commanders on the ground, and whether they will be able to convince them to abide by a potential agreement if signed.

Notably, despite the days ahead of the Eid holiday, the leader’s statement made no mention of a formal call for a ceasefire.

Over the years, the Taliban have announced a series of short-term ceasefires during Islamic holidays, initially sparking hopes for a greater reduction in violence.

However, the group has been criticized for using the temporary ceasefires to resupply and bolster their fighters so that they can launch devastating attacks on Afghanistan’s security forces once the ceasefire ends.

Temporary ceasefire

In another sign of the threats facing the Afghan government, it said on Sunday it was recalling its ambassador to Islamabad and all senior diplomats over “security threats”.

The top envoy’s daughter was briefly kidnapped this week in the Pakistani capital.

Islamabad has touted a conference of regional leaders to address the violence after the Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Monday.

Many in Afghanistan are planning an understated Eid festival.

According to tradition, we will not be slaughtering sheep or goats this year, said Abdullah, a resident of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

“It is because the situation in our country is not good. The fighting continues. We are concerned,” he added.

“People are poor and most are concerned about the increase in violence.”

The US-led military coalition has been grounded in Afghanistan for nearly two decades after an invasion launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Fears are growing that Afghan forces will be overwhelmed without vital coalition air support, allowing for a full-scale military takeover by the Taliban or the start of a multi-faceted civil war in a country overrun with weapons after nearly four decades of fighting.

(AFP)

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