Senior negotiators from the Afghan government and the Taliban have met for fresh peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha as Taliban insurgents escalated attacks on cities and villages and took over a vast swath of territory.
Among the high-ranking representatives from Kabul attending the Saturday talks were former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, with the spokesperson for the government’s negotiating team insisting that Kabul expects the two sides to reach a deal during the talks within a short time.
“The high-level delegation is here to talk to both sides, guide them and support the (government) negotiating team in terms of speeding up the talks and have progress,” said the spokeswoman for Kabul’s negotiating team, Najia Anwari, in Doha on Saturday.
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“We expect that it (will) speed the talks and… in a short time, both sides will reach a result and we will witness a durable and dignified peace in Afghanistan,” she added.
The two sides have been meeting on and off for months in the Qatari capital but the talks have lost momentum as the insurgents have made battlefield gains.
Afghan forces, meanwhile, clashed on Friday with Taliban militants in Spin Boldak region after launching an operation to retake the key southern border crossing with Pakistan.
The battle at the southern border follows weeks of intensifying fighting across Afghanistan, with the Taliban pressing multiple offensives and overrunning dozens of districts at a staggering rate.
Government troops also tightened their grip in the north and battled to recapture the stronghold of an infamous warlord.
The development comes as intense clashes raged over large swathes of Afghanistan, with a war of words intensifying between Kabul and Islamabad after the Afghan vice president accused the Pakistani military of providing “close air support to Taliban in certain areas.”
Pakistan, however, has strongly denied the claim, with a foreign ministry statement saying the country “took necessary measures within its territory to safeguard our own troops and population.”
The speed and scale of recent Taliban attacks have caught many by surprise, with analysts saying the group intends to force the government to negotiate on the insurgents’ terms or suffer total military defeat.
Pakistan’s Balochistan province has been home to the Taliban’s top leadership for decades, along with a large contingent of reserve fighters who often slip into Afghanistan to boost their ranks.
Foreign troops had been engaged in Afghanistan for nearly two decades following the US-led military invasion of the country launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The foreign forces have largely withdrawn from the country after Washington announced plans to pull out its forces by the end of next month.