International community calls for ‘urgent end’ to Taliban offensive

Published July 20, 2021
In this file photo, an Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, an Afghan security officer keeps watch at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan. — Reuters/File

KABUL: More than a dozen diplomatic missions in Afghanistan on Monday called for “an urgent end” to the Taliban’s ruthless military offensive, saying it was at odds with claims they want to secure a political deal to end the conflict.

The statement — signed by the US, EU, and more than a dozen other missions in Kabul — follows another round of inconclusive talks in Doha over the weekend between the Afghan government and the Taliban that many hoped would kickstart the ailing peace process.

“The Taliban’s offensive is in direct contradiction to their claim to support a negotiated settlement,” it read.

“It has resulted in loss of innocent Afghan lives, including through continued targeted killings, displacement of the civilian population, looting and burning of buildings, destruction of vital infrastructure, and damage to communication networks.”

For months, the two sides have been meeting on and off in the Qatari capital, but have achieved little, if any, notable success — with the discussions appearing to have lost momentum as the militants made enormous battlefield gains.

A joint statement released late on Sunday said little more than they had agreed on the need to reach a “just solution”, and to meet again next week.

“We also agreed that there should be no pause in the negotiations,” Abdullah Abdullah, who oversees the Afghan government’s delegation, said on Monday.

He noted, however, that neither side was currently pursuing a joint ceasefire during the talks, despite urgent calls from Afghan civil society and the international community to end the surge in fighting.

On the heels of the weekend summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that his administration was also hoping to start talks with the Taliban over the group’s refusal to let Ankara run the Kabul airport after US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

“We will see what kind of talks we will have with the Taliban and see where these talks take us,” Erdogan told journalists in Istanbul on Monday.

Turkey has been negotiating with US defence officials over an offer to secure Kabul airport, which is key to allowing countries to retain a diplomatic presence in the war-torn country after the troop withdrawal. Last week, the Taliban called Turkey’s offer “reprehensible”.

Despite the latest round of shuttle diplomacy, fighting continued to flare in Afghanistan with both the Taliban and government making claims of taking and re-taking territory in various areas across the country.

Over the weekend, the Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada released his own statement saying he “strenuously favours” a political settlement — even as the hardline Islamist movement continues its sweeping offensive across the nation.

Despite coming days ahead of the Eidul Azha holiday, the statement notably made no mention of a formal call for a ceasefire.

Over the years, the Taliban have announced a series of short truces during Islamic holidays.

However, the group has been criticised for using them to resupply and reinforce their fighters, allowing them to launch devastating onslaughts on Afghanistan’s security forces once the truces expire.

With foreign forces in the last stages of a withdrawal due to be complete by the end of August, the Taliban have cut a huge swath across Afghanistan, capturing hundreds of districts, seizing key border crossings and encircling provincial capitals.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2021

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