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Despite territorial gains, Taliban to present peace plan to Afghan govt

Despite territorial gains, Taliban to present peace plan to Afghan govt
July 6, 2021

(Reuters) - The Taliban will present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government next month, according to the group, despite their major territorial gains in the country, as severe fighting breaks out with the imminent withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country.

Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled into neighbouring Tajikistan in the face of Taliban advances since the United States vacated its main Afghan base, centrepiece of U.S. and NATO might for almost two decades in the country, as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by September 11.

While the transfer of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan army added momentum to a Taliban drive to seize control over new districts, Taliban leaders renewed the long-stalled talks with Afghan government envoys in Qatar's capital Doha last week.

"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 was at a critical juncture.

"Although we (Taliban) have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue."

The upsurge in fighting and the flight of thousands of members of the tattered Afghan security forces have raised grave doubt about the US-backed peace negotiations, which began last year under the then-President Donald Trump's administration.

Responding to a request for comment on the Taliban representative's remarks, a spokesperson for the US State Department said a negotiated settlement was the only way to end 40 years of war in Afghanistan.

"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, the official 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."

TALIBAN ADVANCES ON THE GROUND

Western security officials said the Taliban have captured more than 100 districts but the group says 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 Taliban.

Diplomats overseeing the intra-Afghan talks have repeatedly sought neighbouring Pakistan's help to convince Taliban leaders to offer a written peace plan even if it took a maximalist line.

Last month the European Union's special envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, said time was running out and that a written proposal would be a sign of successful Pakistani leverage over the Taliban.

"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 Najia Anwari, spokesperson for Afghanistan's Ministry for Peace Affairs.

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 Taliban 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 them from power after the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

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