Published: Mon, July 01, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Taliban say latest round of talks with United States ‘critical’

Taliban say latest round of talks with United States ‘critical’

The March draft agreement between the Taliban and US officials included withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for the Taliban's commitment to fight Islamic State loyalists and cut ties with al Quaeda and other insurgent groups.

Tension between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces have escalated while the Taliban and the United States officials hold peace talks in Qatar to end the 18-year-long war in the country.

Those familiar say there has been "ample progress" on the U.S. pullout, and while there is as yet no finalized deal on anything, it is possible that a limited deal could be reached by September 1 including the troop pullout aspect of the deal.

The Taliban, driven from power by the US -led invasion in 2001, now controls large swaths of Afghanistan's territory.

Meantime, Aziz Ahmad Azizi, the provincial governor's spokesman confirmed the attack, but rejected the Taliban's claim as baseless, saying the Taliban militants fled away after suffering casualties. Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Asad Majeed Khan, has praised the latest rounds of peace talks, adding that Pakistan is making a "serious and honest effort" to further the Afghan peace process. They have also refused meeting any representatives of the US-backed central government during the peace talks.

The Taliban have said they will meet government officials but as ordinary Afghans, labelling President Ashraf Ghani's government a U.S. puppet and noting that the United States is the final arbiter on their central issue, which is troop withdrawal.

The Taliban have refused to commit to a ceasefire until the withdrawal is complete, saying that to restart their insurgency if the U.S. reneges on its promises could be hard.

But the accelerated pace of negotiations and the sudden announcement of a 1 September target date for an agreement could be linked to Afghan President Ghani's insistence on Presidential polls scheduled for 28 September in Afghanistan, analysts say.

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His political opponents have objected to the election schedule, pointing to last October's poorly run parliamentary polls.

Taliban bombers targeting a district centre in southern Afghanistan have killed at least 19 people, including eight election workers, officials said on Sunday. The voting was so badly mismanaged that Ghani fired the entire Independent Election Commission, and several of the parliamentary seats are still being contested.

Khalilzad has suggested that presidential elections could hinder peace efforts.

"I do think the USA government recognizes that the election could pose a major obstacle to peace talks, given that it will be a distraction and given that it will accentuate and intensify the fractures and rivalries in the Afghan political environment that undercut reconciliation prospects", said Kugelman.

The resurgent group attacked the government office in the Maroof district of Kandahar early Sunday morning, provincial police chief General Tadeen Khan said.

The employees of the Independent Election Commission were stationed at the government office in Maruf district to register voters when fighters of the hard line group launched an attack.

However, the interior ministry said the security forces effectively responded to the assault and killed 25 militants during an intense gun battle.

But a lasting peace may already have suffered a setback following two separate attacks on Saturday by Taliban fighters.

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