Taliban urged to stop ‘undeclared spring offensive’

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA (AA) – The Taliban on Friday was urged to stop an “undeclared spring offensive” as a group of countries urged respect for the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces.

A joint statement by the EU, France, UK, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway and the US asked the group “to refrain from attacks against civilians, and to stop immediately all attacks in the vicinity of hospitals, schools, universities, mosques and other civilian areas.”

The statement came after Germany hosted a virtual meeting of special envoys and special representatives of countries on the Afghan Peace Process.

Armed battles slow down during snowy winters and are usually resumed after temperatures rise in early March — known as the “spring offensive.”

Meeting participants demanded an “immediate end to the campaign of targeted assassinations” against civil society leaders, clergy, journalists, media workers, human rights defenders, health care personnel, judicial employees and other civilians.

The statement emphasized that “peace can only be achieved through an inclusive, negotiated political settlement among Afghans.”

Bit it said any government established by force “which would constitute a threat to regional stability” will be opposed.

Envoys urged warring parties “to accelerate the pace of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace negotiations.”

They held the Taliban “largely responsible” for the continued violence in the war-torn country and demanded all parties “take immediate and necessary steps to reduce violence” and “create an environment conducive to reaching a political settlement.”

And asked for immediate steps that “enable the successful implementation of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

– Thanks Turkey, Qatar, UN

They urged “immediate resumption, without pre-conditions, of substantive negotiations on the future of Afghanistan” as they thanked Qatar, Turkey and the UN for their role to facilitate intra-Afghan negotiations.

“The process of the troop withdrawal must not serve as an excuse for the Taliban to suspend the peace process and that good-faith political negotiations must proceed in earnest,” it added.

Pledging support substantial international development assistance to Afghanistan, the countries, however, linked it to outcome documents of the 2020 Geneva Conference, “including the preservation and respect for the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.”

Envoys said the Taliban and the Kabul administration “must fulfill their counterterrorism commitments including to prevent al-Qaida, Daesh or other terrorist groups and individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten or violate the security of any other country.”

It also sought a guarantee of protection to diplomatic personnel and property.

The meeting also pointed to corruption in the Kabul administration and called on the current government led by President Ashraf Ghani to “effectively fight it and promote good governance, and to implement anti-corruption legislation.”

It called Afghanistan’s neighbors and countries in the region, “to continue to support the Afghan people and constructively contribute to a lasting peace settlement and sustainable economic development in the interest of all.”

– Talbian for 'inclusive Islamic government'

The Taliban said its political negotiator Sher M. Abbas Stanikzai told the meeting that in a "future inclusive government,” the group is "committed not to allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries."

Stanikzai is Deputy-Head of the Political Office and the Negotiations Team of the Taliban which is battling foreign forces since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

"[He] delivered a comprehensive speech, touching on all sides of the Islamic Emirate’s policy, including the current peace process, future Afghan inclusive Islamic government, basic human rights and commitment not to allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan," Suhail Shaheen, spokesman of Taliban's Doha-based office said in a series of tweets.

Shaheen said the Taliban negotiator "also answered questions raised by the participants."