DOHA: The supreme leader of Taliban said on Sunday he “strenuously favours” a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, even as the Islamist movement pushes a sweeping offensive across the nation.

Haibatullah Akhundzada’s announcement came as representatives of the insurgents and the Afghan government sat down for a new round of talks in Qatar, stirring dim hopes for a revival of long-stalled peace talks.

“In spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate strenuously favours a political settlement in the country,” Akhundzada said in a statement ahead of next week’s holiday of Eidul Azha.

“Every opportunity for the establishment of an Islamic system, peace and security that presents itself will be made use of by the Islamic Emirate,” he added.

Says group will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil to pose security threat to other countries

“We fully assure neighbouring, regional and world countries that Afghanistan will not permit anyone to pose a security threat to any other country using our soil.”

For months, the two sides have been meeting intermittently in the Qatari capital, but have achieved little if any notable success. The discussions appear to have lost momentum as the militants made enormous gains on the battlefield.

The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said the two sides were to meet on Sunday evening, but ducked journalists’ questions about a possible joint statement.

There were no signs of an imminent breakthrough.

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

“Our message remains that instead of relying on foreigners, let us resolve our issues among ourselves and rescue our homeland from the prevailing crisis,” he added.

The insurgents capitalised on the last stages of the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan to launch a series of lightning offensives across the country.

The group is now believed to control roughly half of the nation’s 400 districts, several important border crossings, and has laid siege to a string of vital provincial capitals.

A spokesman for the Afghan security forces said that 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 retake all the territories... We are ready to defend our country,” Ajmal Omar Shinwari told reporters.

The Taliban have long appeared to be united, operating under an effective chain of command and carrying out complex military campaigns despite perennial rumours of splits within their leadership.

But questions remain over 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.

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

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2021

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