Afghanistan’s prime minister on Wednesday defended the Taliban’s government in the battle against an emboldened Afghan insurgency, as the government seeks to adjust to international war pressure while recognizing that a resolution in Kabul is unlikely.
He also blamed Islamic State (IS) for the recent surge in violence that has taken more than 1,500 lives in Afghanistan this year.
The president’s chief spokesman Saad Mohseni said this week that the Taliban had recognized the president’s legitimacy as leader of Afghanistan since the 2016 elections, even though the rebels consider the constitutional process to be rigged and they say the U.S. refuses to negotiate with them.
Abdullah also said his government did not intend to meet with Mullah Mansour, former Taliban political leader, for talks in Pakistan. It fears to alienate Pakistan, a long-time supporter of the Taliban who is not the Taliban’s only supporter but one of its staunchest backers.
Many were elated at the appointment of Omar Zakhilwal as the new Taliban political office in Qatar last week, following Mansour’s death in Pakistan. Hamid Karzai, who led the Afghan government from 2009 to 2014, was among the Afghan officials who welcomed the appointment and said it would prevent the Taliban from hijacking Afghanistan’s political process.
But in recent days, concerns have mounted over the Taliban’s first show of strength since Mansour’s death, with attacks on checkpoints, police outposts and public gatherings by insurgents disguised as Afghan security forces.
On Wednesday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against two police stations and two checkpoints in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 13 security forces and wounding 33 others. Four insurgent fighters were also killed in the two strikes in Takhar province, a Taliban statement said.
Some security officials see the attacks, which coincided with the parliamentary elections Sunday, as a warning from the insurgents to all candidates and bystanders ahead of the parliamentary elections in July 2019 and the presidential race in April.
Deputy Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said the army had beefed up security around all polling stations in the restive north. He said the security of polling booths and ballot boxes had been given the top priority in the north of the country, where Taliban attacks are on the rise and where al-Qaida and IS affiliate elements also pose a threat.
“We know they have an agenda, we know that we need to continue the fight, and even if they are not present, we will continue to take the fight to them,” Barmak said.
The military and Afghan forces have lost dozens of soldiers and police over the past year-and-a-half as IS has replaced the Taliban as the insurgent group of choice for insurgents across the country.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. continues to support the Afghan government and keep the door open to talks with the Taliban. But a senior State Department official traveling with Pompeo, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and insisted on anonymity, said there has been no substantive engagement with the Taliban since Mansour’s death in September.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani foreign minister said he expects the U.S. to achieve results by the time of the U.N. General Assembly in late September, amid growing tensions between Washington and Islamabad over counterterror ties.
Pakistan views U.S. drone strikes and assistance to the Afghan Taliban as a violation of its sovereignty. Islamabad denies that it provides militant groups shelter but acknowledges a role in the economy of its former Afghan allies, especially Taliban and IS.
In April 2018, Pompeo accused Pakistan of harboring foreign terrorists. Pakistan returned fire, saying it had proved its commitment to fighting terrorism with troops in Afghanistan and the fight against IS and the Haqqani network.
To be sure, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in U.S. foreign aid over the past decade, and more than $11 billion in coalition support funds, which are not tied to Pakistan’s participation in the war against the Taliban.
Pompeo’s comments come on the heels of Trump’s Sept. 21 remarks in which he accused Pakistan of giving the U.S. “nothing but lies and deceit.” Pakistan has sought to minimize tensions between the two nations, in part through new diplomatic efforts.
AP writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.