Afghanistan peace talks continue as fighting rages

Negotiations in Doha seem increasingly symbolic as prospects for peace grow dimmer

Afghanistan's former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah (2nd L) attends a session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha, on July 17, 2021.  (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR  /  AFP)
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Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban met in Doha for talks on Saturday, AFP correspondents have said, as violence rages in the country with foreign forces almost entirely withdrawn.

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.

We have opened the Chaman border... allowing crowds of up to 4,000 Afghans including women and children to cross over to Afghanistan to celebrate Eid Al Adha
Pakistani border official

Several high-ranking officials, including former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, gathered in a luxury hotel on Saturday after morning prayers.

They were joined by negotiators from the Taliban's political office in Doha.

Former president Hamid Karzai had also been due to travel to Doha but remained in Kabul, according to a source.

The Taliban have capitalised on the last stages of the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops from Afghanistan to launch a series of lightning offensives across the country.

Talks between the government and the Taliban side led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar began with Koranic recitations, Naeem tweeted.

But the momentum of the ongoing Taliban offensive, as well as a growing mobilisation of anti-Taliban militia groups north of Kabul, suggests that peace talks are unlikely to reach any breakthrough soon.

Pakistan on Saturday partially reopened its side of the southern border crossing with Afghanistan, shut after the Taliban seized control of the strategic Afghan frontier town of Spin Boldak from government forces last week.

Thousands of Afghans were left stranded in the Pakistani town of Chaman after militants captured the town, part of a rapid offensive that left the government facing a crisis.

"We have opened the Chaman border... allowing crowds of up to 4,000 Afghans including women and children to cross over to Afghanistan to celebrate Eid Al Adha with their families, purely on humanitarian grounds," a border official told AFP.

The Taliban have also tightened their grip on the north, with clashes continuing Saturday in the stronghold of infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, that borders Turkmenistan.

Also on Saturday, the French government flew out around 100 of its citizens and Afghans working for the embassy from the capital, as security deteriorated, a French diplomatic source said.

Several other countries including India, China, Germany and Canada have flown out their citizens or told them to leave in recent days.

There have been weeks of intensifying fighting across Afghanistan, with the Taliban pressing multiple offensives and overrunning dozens of districts at a staggering rate.

As fighting raged over large swathes of Afghanistan, a war of words was also heating up between Kabul and Islamabad after the Afghan vice president accused the Pakistani military of providing "close air support to Taliban in certain areas".

Pakistan 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".

Afghanistan's southern border has long been a flashpoint in relations with its eastern neighbour.

Pakistan's Balochistan province has been home to the Taliban's top leadership for decades, along with a large contingent of reserve fighters who regularly enter Afghanistan to bolster their ranks.

Foreign troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly two decades following the US-led invasion launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

They have appeared largely out of the picture in recent months, but fears are growing that Afghan forces will be overwhelmed without the vital air support they provide.

The speed and scale of the Taliban onslaught have caught many by surprise, with analysts saying it appears aimed at forcing the government to negotiate on the insurgents' terms or suffer complete military defeat.

Updated: July 17, 2021, 12:44 PM