The supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, said on Sunday that he “strongly favors” a political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan, even as the hardline Islamist movement launched a broad offensive across the country.
The announcement comes as representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents gathered for a new round of talks in Doha over the weekend, raising hopes that stalled peace talks will resume.
“Despite the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate is in favor of a political settlement in the country,” Akhundzada said in a message released ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha next week.
“Every opportunity to establish an Islamic system of peace and security that presents itself will be used by the Islamic Emirate,” he added.
For months, the two sides met intermittently in the Qatari capital, but achieved little to no notable success, with talks appearing to have lost momentum as activists made huge gains on the battlefield.
The two sides were scheduled to speak again on Sunday.
The Taliban leader said his group remained determined to find a solution to end the war, but criticized “the opposition parties” for “wasting time.”
“Our message remains that instead of relying on foreigners, let’s solve our problems among ourselves and save our homeland from the current crisis,” he added.
The insurgents took advantage of the final stages of the withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan to launch a series of lightning attacks over large swathes of the country.
The group is now believed to control about half of the country’s 400 districts, several important border posts, and has besieged a series of vital provincial capitals.
The Taliban have long seemed to be united, operating under an effective chain of command and waging complex military campaigns despite perpetual rumors of a split among the organization’s leaders.
Questions remain about the firmness of the Taliban leadership’s hand with commanders on the ground and whether they will be able to convince them to abide by a possible deal if it is signed.
In particular, the leader’s statement made no mention of a formal call for a ceasefire for the Eid holidays.
– Temporary ceasefires –
Over the years, the Taliban have announced a series of short truces during Islamic holidays that initially raised hopes that a further reduction in violence would be implemented in the country.
However, the group has more recently come under criticism for using temporary ceasefires to supply and replenish their fighters, allowing them to launch fierce attacks against Afghan security forces once the truce expires.
The US-led military coalition has been on the ground in Afghanistan for nearly two decades following an invasion launched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Fears are growing that Afghan forces will be overwhelmed without the vital air support they provide, allowing a full military takeover by the Taliban or the start of a multifaceted civil war in a country inundated with large stockpiles of weapons after nearly four decades of fighting.
© 2021 AFP