The war in Afghanistan “has no legitimacy” and a political solution is the only way forward, the United States’ special envoy to Afghanistan has said, as violence rages between Afghan government forces and Taliban fighters.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday morning, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington expects both sides to focus on a political settlement amid weeks of “very concerning” violence.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“We believe that there is no military solution,” Khalilzad said. “Ultimately for Afghanistan to have peace and stability there needs to be a negotiated political settlement that has broad support in Afghanistan and broad support in the region and beyond.”
The Taliban has carried out an increase in attacks ahead of the withdrawal of US and other international troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, winning a string of battlefield victories in recent weeks.
The group, which has seized control of populated rural areas and key border crossings, is also putting pressure on provincial capitals.
Khalilzad said Taliban members have been “emboldened” by the group’s recent gains and “are in a maximalist frame of mind”, while the Afghan government is attempting to develop a new military strategy, “believing that without that, it’s in too weak [a position] to pursue a negotiated settlement”.
But he reiterated that “the best-case scenario” is a negotiated agreement to end the violence.
“That’s what the people of Afghanistan want, that’s what the United States wants,” Khalilzad said. “This war has no legitimacy anymore. It’s just a struggle for a balance of power.”
Two days of talks between the Afghan government and Taliban delegations earlier this month in the Qatari capital, Doha, ended without an agreement, though both sides said they remained “committed to continue negotiations at a high level until a settlement is reached”.
That round of discussions came just weeks before US President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan – and as the Taliban’s advance continued across the country.
Last week, the US pledged to continue providing air support for Afghan forces as they seek to repel the Taliban fighters. But US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie declined to say whether US forces would continue air raids after the end of their mission on August 31.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday, the US Department of State said, with both leaders condemning the wave of ongoing Taliban attacks, which has led to mass displacement and “the loss of innocent Afghan lives”.
The pair “emphasized the need to accelerate peace negotiations and achieve a political settlement that is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities, allows the Afghan people to have a say in choosing their leaders, and prevents Afghan soil from being used to threaten the United States and its allies and partners”, the department said in a statement.
Ghani had earlier blamed Afghanistan’s deteriorating security on the US deciding “abruptly” to withdraw its troops. “The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” he told parliament this week, adding he had warned Washington the withdrawal would have “consequences”.
On Tuesday, a top Afghan military commander ordered residents to leave the besieged city of Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan as the army prepared a major offensive to flush out Taliban fighters after three days of heavy fighting.
The United Nations also called on the warring parties to do more to protect civilians, warning that the impact of “indiscriminate” gunfire and air raids would be “catastrophic”.
The US and the United Kingdom have accused the Taliban of committing “war crimes” in the southern town of Spin Boldak in Kandahar province, alleging that dozens of civilians were “massacred”.
Roya Rahmani, the former Afghan ambassador to the US, said on Tuesday that while the international community is generally agreed that there is no military solution to end the conflict, the Taliban wants a victory on the battlefield.
“The civilians unfortunately bear the brunt of this because they want to have that statement of victory,” Rahmani said during the Aspen Security Forum.