Kabul: The Taliban has plans to present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government side as soon as next month, a spokesperson for the group told Reuters even as they make major territorial gains in the country.
“The peace talks and process will be accelerated in the coming days and they are expected to enter an important stage, naturally it will be about peace plans,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on Monday. “Possibly it will take a month to reach that stage when both sides will share their written peace plan,” he said, adding that the latest round of talks were at a critical juncture. “Although we (Taliban) have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue.”
Intra-Afghan peace talks began in September last year, but there has been little progress. Fighting escalated across Afghanistan after foreign troops began last phase of withdrawal from the country in May, with the Taliban seizing dozens of districts.
“We urge the sides to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement,” a spokesperson for the US State Department said. “The world will not accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan,” the official added. “Legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has a basic respect for human rights.”
Najia Anwari, spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry for Peace Affairs, confirmed that intra-Afghan talks had resumed. “It is difficult to anticipate that the Taliban will provide us with their written document of a peace plan in a month but let’s be positive. We hope they present (it) so as to understand what they want,” said Anwari.
Also, government negotiation team member Abdul Hafiz Mansoor told Subh-e Kabul Daily that the peace talks are yet to resume. Mansoor said that the Taliban are focused on fighting and military takeover of Afghanistan, instead of seeking peace. Another team member Mohammad Amin Ahmadi said that small changes have occurred in the peace talks; however, it’s important that the ANDSF and people defend the country, even a village against the Taliban, which can affect the peace process. Ahmadi added that peace cannot be imposed from abroad, but can be made.
In fact, UN envoy Deborah Lyons met on Monday with the Taliban negotiating team in Doha to discuss the UN support to peace in Afghanistan, UNAMA stated. “Peace negotiations should be genuine and prioritized as the only way to end the conflict and bring hope to the Afghan people,” UNAMA said.
In June, the Taliban said it was committed to peace talks, with its co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar saying the organization was still pursuing a “genuine Islamic system.” “A genuine Islamic system is the best means for solution of all issues of the Afghans,” Baradar had said. “Our very participation in the negotiations and its support on our part indicates openly that we believe in resolving issues through [mutual] understanding.”
Western security officials told Reuters that insurgent forces have captured more than 100 districts but the Taliban say they have control of more than 200 districts in 34 provinces comprising over half the Central Asian country. On Sunday, more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel retreated across the northern border into Tajikistan after Taliban advances, the Tajik border guard service said, while dozens of others were captured by the insurgents.
Last month the head of Afghanistan’s official peace council called for the long halting talks on a settlement to decades of devastating violence should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks – unless the insurgents themselves pulled out. Last week US forces vacated Bagram Air Base as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought since ousting the radical Islamist movement from power after the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
Meanwhile, the Taliban spokesperson also said that the group guarantees the security of foreign diplomats in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
“Now, I cannot say whether Mazar-i-Sharif would be handed over to the Taliban, but for reasons of security of embassies, consulates and foreign diplomats, I must say that they will ensure their safety and there will be no problems for them. We are in touch with the countries, who have embassies and consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, they trust us”, Mujahid said. The Taliban, which control over 70% of the border with Tajikistan, guarantee security and non-interference, while the percentage of controlled territories may grow, Mujahid claimed.
Farhad Azimi, the provincial governor, said consulate officials were assured that their buildings would be protected at all costs. Russia’s consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh, has “temporarily halted its operations because of the worsening situation in northern Afghanistan,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted a senior official as saying. “The situation is unstable. Afghan troops have surrendered too many districts. Naturally, that triggers anxiety. So, many consulates [of other countries in Mazar-e-Sharif] have temporarily suspended their work pending clarification of the situation,” said Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan.
Pakistani authorities, however, stressed that claims of their consulate being closed were “factually incorrect.” “The Consulates General of Pakistan in Afghanistan, including Mazar-e-Sharif, are open and functioning normally,” read a statement by the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul.
“However, due to deteriorating situation of COVID-19 in the country, the Embassy and all Consulates General in Afghanistan, including Mazar-e-Sharif, have temporarily closed its consular sections for issuance of manual visas. However, on-line visa services are operational and issuing visas on daily basis.”
Turkey’s Embassy in Kabul said its consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif remains open, as it advised Turkish citizens against travelling to the northern provinces of Afghanistan, including Balkh. India also urged its citizens in Afghanistan to exercise utmost vigilance and caution amid escalating violence.
The Indian Embassy in Kabul has claimed that reports of its consulates and embassies closing in Kandahar and Mazar are incorrect. All offices are open and functioning, it added. It, however, also said that India is closely monitoring the security situation in Kandahar and Mazar cities.
The US Embassy clarified that it will continue to have “a robust diplomatic presence in Kabul.” “We have no plans to close the embassy,” the US mission said in a statement, adding that Washington was aware of the security challenges and ready to “adjust the presence as necessary to address these challenges.” Reports suggest that the diplomatic missions of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have also limited issuance of visas.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the Taliban have gained a lucrative new source of income, taking over the main trade gateway into Tajikistan, and beginning to collect customs revenues, as some of Afghanistan’s neighbors tacitly cooperate with the insurgent group.
The American-built Sher Khan Bandar crossing, north of the city of Kunduz, fell to the Taliban on June 22, with 134 border guards and other Afghan government troops fleeing to neighboring Tajikistan. Since then, the insurgents have seized most of the rest of Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan.
Instead of shutting down after the insurgent takeover, the Sher Khan Bandar complex has remained operational, with tacit understandings reached between the Taliban and others, according to local traders. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told WSJ that the group had reached out to the governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan after taking over several border areas in June.
“We informed all these governments and assured them that the routine work of the border, the customs, will be running as before,” Shaheen said in an interview. “Even the staff members of the customs, we have not changed them, we told them: Do your work as it was. We haven’t even changed the stamps. The reason is that we don’t want to create problems for businessmen, for traders, for common people.”