ISLAMABAD (AP) – The Taliban leader said Sunday that his movement is campaigning for a political solution to end the decades-long war in Afghanistan, even as insurgents are fighting to gain territory in dozens of districts across the country.
Maulawi Hibatullah Alhundzada’s statement came as Taliban leaders met with a senior Afghan government delegation in the Gulf state of Qatar to initiate stalled peace talks. The Kabul delegation includes the government’s No. 2, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Council of Reconciliation of Afghanistan.
Talks resumed Saturday, ahead of the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which is expected to begin on Tuesday in many parts of the world. A second session should take place on Sunday afternoon.
Washington’s ambassador for peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Qatar, had previously expressed hopes of a reduction in violence and a possible ceasefire over Eid al-Adha.
Akhundzada said that “despite the military achievements and advances, the Islamic emirate strongly advocates a political solution in the country and any opportunity to establish an Islamic system”.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was called their government by the Taliban when they ruled the country for five years until they were overthrown by a US-led coalition in 2001.
Still, there are few signs of political agreement on the horizon. Fighting between the Taliban and government forces continues in dozens of provinces, and thousands of Afghans are seeking visas to leave the country. Most fear that the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops after nearly 20 years will plunge their war-ravaged nation into deeper chaos. With the US withdrawal more than 95% complete, Afghanistan’s future seems sunk in uncertainty.
Militias with a brutal history have been revived to fight the Taliban, but their loyalty is to their commanders, many of whom are US-allied warlords with ethnic backing.
This has raised the specter of deepening divisions among Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. Most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns and there have been brutal killings of one ethnic group against another in the past.
As a sign of how little progress has been made in the negotiations, both sides are still haggling over terminology, unable to even agree on the name of the war-tormented nation. The Taliban insist on the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan. Kabul wants the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Akhunzada’s declaration called for an Islamic system without explaining what that meant.
He promised to support education, but for girls he said, â€œThe Islamic Emirate will. . . strive to create an appropriate environment for the education of women within the framework of sublime Islamic law. “
He did not say how this was different from the educational institutions created over the past 20 years and whether women would be given the freedom to work outside their home and move around freely without being accompanied by a male relative.
He said the Taliban had ordered their commanders to treat civilians with care and protect institutions and infrastructure. However, there are reports from areas under Taliban control that schools have been burned down, women have been locked in their homes and some government buildings have been blown up.
The Taliban have denied reports of such destruction, stating that the footage shown is old and accusing the government of disinformation and propaganda.
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