The US negotiator on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Doha on Tuesday for an international meeting on the escalating conflict in Afghanistan. He “will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive” at talks in Doha this week, the State Department said Monday after the insurgents seized a series of provincial capitals.
“Ambassador Khalilzad will be in Doha to help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,” the department added in a statement.
Officials from Afghanistan’s most vested neighbours — Pakistan, China and Iran – are also attending meetings.
Fighting in Afghanistan’s long-running conflict has escalated dramatically since May, when the US-led military coalition began the final stage of a withdrawal set to be completed before the end of the month.
“The increased tempo of Taliban military engagement, resulting civilian causalities in armed conflict between the sides, and alleged human rights atrocities are of grave concern,” the US statement said.
“A negotiated peace is the only path to ending the war.”
The Taliban seized a sixth Afghan provincial capital on Monday following a weekend blitz that saw urban centers fall in quick succession and the government struggle to keep the militants at bay.
The insurgents say they are moving in on Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest city in the north and a linchpin for the government’s control of the region.
The Taliban were in control of six Afghan provincial capitals on Tuesday after a blitz across the north that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for the relative safety of Kabul and other centres.
The insurgents now have their eyes on Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, whose fall would signal the total collapse of government control in a region that has traditionally been anti-Taliban.
Government forces are also battling the hardline Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashto-speaking provinces from where the Taliban draw their strength.
The United States — due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war — has all but left the battlefield. However, its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been sent to Qatar to try and convince the Taliban to accept a ceasefire.
Khalilzad “will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive”, the State Department said, and “help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation”.
Officials from Afghanistan’s most vested neighbours — Pakistan, China and Iran — would also attend meetings there.
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was down to the Afghan government and its forces to turn the tide, saying there was “not much” the United States could do to help.
Michael Kugelman, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, doubted Washington had the means to anything.
“I fear that the Taliban (are) just so strong and the Afghan military is so beleaguered right now, it’s going to be hard to find some type of momentum-changer from the US,” he said.