US warns Taliban against taking power by force

Published August 11, 2021
DOHA: Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq (left) and US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (centre) arrive at a hotel on Tuesday for a meeting on the conflict in Afghanistan.—AFP
DOHA: Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq (left) and US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (centre) arrive at a hotel on Tuesday for a meeting on the conflict in Afghanistan.—AFP

KABUL: A US peace envoy brought a warning to the Taliban on Tuesday that any government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan would not be recognised internationally after a series of cities fell to the militant group in stunningly quick succession.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy, travelled to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, to tell the group that there was no point in pursuing victory on the battlefield because a military takeover of Kabul would guarantee they would be seen as pariahs.

He and others hope to persuade Taliban leaders to return to peace talks with the Afghan government as American and Nato forces finish their pullout from the country.

The insurgents have captured seven out of 34 provincial capitals in the country in less than a week.

Khalilzad, top Afghan negotiator travel to Doha

Khalilzad’s mission in Qatar is to help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, according to the US State Department.

He plans to press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement, which is the only path to stability and development in Afghanistan, the State Department said.

Meanwhile, the Taliban military chief released an audio message to his fighters on Tuesday, ordering them not to harm Afghan forces and government officials in territories they conquer. The recording was shared on Twitter by the Taliban spokesman in Doha, Mohammad Naim.

In the nearly five-minute audio, Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, also told the insurgents to stay out of abandoned homes of government and security officials who have fled, leave marketplaces open and protect places of business, including banks.

It was not immediately clear if Taliban fighters on the ground would heed Yaqoob’s instructions. Some civilians who have fled Taliban advances have said that the insurgents imposed repressive restrictions on women and burned down schools. The office of the UN human rights chief said it has received reports of summary executions and military use and destruction of homes, schools and clinics in captured areas.

On Monday, the US emphasised that the Biden administration now sees the fight as one for Afghan political and military leaders to win or lose and showed no sign of stepping up air strikes despite the Taliban gains.

Khalilzad, the architect of the peace deal the Trump administration brokered with the Taliban, will hold talks with key regional players and will likely seek a commitment from Afghanistan’s neighbours and other countries in the region not to recognise a Taliban government that comes to power by force.

When the Taliban last ran Afghanistan, only three countries recognised their rule: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Besides the US peace envoy senior Afghan officials have also travelled to Doha, including Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the government’s reconciliation council. Pakistan’s national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, on Monday called for reinvigorated efforts to get all sides in the conflict back to talks, describing a protracted war in Afghanistan as a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.

Yusuf refused to definitively say whether Pakistan, which holds considerable sway over the Taliban, would recognise a Taliban government installed by force, saying instead that Pakistan wants to see an “inclusive” government in Kabul.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2021

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