Amid heavy fighting in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani by phone Tuesday and urged the Kabul government to “accelerate” the peace talks with the Taliban.
“The Secretary and President Ghani 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 State Department said in a readout of the call.
The two leaders also “condemned” the ongoing Taliban attacks and said the offensive shows “little regard for human life and human rights, and deplored the loss of innocent Afghan lives.” The Taliban’s success on the battlefield has served as an excuse for the US to step up airstrikes in Afghanistan, which have intensified in recent weeks.
Intra-Afghan talks have been stalling due in part to President Biden pushing back the original May 1st withdrawal deadline set by the US-Taliban peace deal signed last year. The Taliban has accepted Biden’s new August 31st deadline and hasn’t attacked foreign troops, but since May 1st passed, the group has significantly stepped up its offensive against the US-backed government.
The Taliban is now in a good negotiating position for any power-sharing deal with Ghani’s government, and US officials recognize this reality. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for the Afghan peace process, said Tuesday that the Taliban want a “lion’s share of the power” in a future government.
“At this point, they are demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it,” Khalilzad said.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, a Taliban spokesman said the group wants to negotiate a new government but called for President Ashraf Ghani to step down.