DOHA (Dispatches) – Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban met in Doha for talks on Saturday, AFP correspondents said, as violence rages in the country with foreign troops almost entirely withdrawn.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 militants have made battlefield gains.
Several high-ranking officials, including former Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, gathered in a 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 high level delegation is here to talk to both sides, guide them and support the (government) negotiating team in terms of speeding up the talks and have progress,” said Najia Anwari, the spokeswoman for the Afghan government negotiating team in Doha.
“We expect that it (will) speed the talks and... in a short time, both sides will reach a result and we will witness a durable and dignified peace in Afghanistan,” she told AFP.
Afghan forces clashed on Friday with Taliban militants in Spin Boldak region after launching an operation to retake the key southern border crossing with Pakistan.
The battle at the southern border follows weeks of intensifying fighting across Afghanistan, with the Taliban pressing multiple offensives and overrunning dozens of districts at a staggering rate.
Government troops also tightened their grip in the north and battled to recapture the stronghold of an infamous warlord.
In another development, Pakistan categorically rejected the charges made by Afghanistan about providing assistance to the Taliban during the ongoing clashes between the militant group and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
“We want peace in the neighboring country as a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and other countries...Pakistan is not supporting any faction in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed said on Friday.
His statement comes after Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani leveled allegations against Pakistan, saying that over 10,000 Taliban militants had crossed over into Afghanistan from the southern neighbor.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed disappointment over the “unfounded allegations” made by Ghani and said on Friday that his government has played an important role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.