Taliban say they want Afghan deal

Islamabad: The leader of the Taliban said Sunday that his movement is committed to a political settlement to end decades of war in Afghanistan, even as the insurgents battle in dozens of districts across to country to gain territory.

The statement by Maulawi Hibatullah Akhunzada came as Taliban leaders were meeting with a high-level Afghan government delegation in the Gulf state of Qatar to jump-start stalled peace talks. The Kabul delegation includes the No. 2 in the government, Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan's national reconciliation council.

The talks resumed Saturday, ahead of the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which in many parts of the world is expected to start Tuesday. A second session was to take place Sunday afternoon.

Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Qatar, previously expressed hopes for a reduction in violence and possibly a cease-fire over Eid al-Adha.

Akhundzada said that in spite of the military gains and advances, the Islamic Emirate strenuously favors a political settlement in the country, and every opportunity for the establishment of an Islamic system. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is what the Taliban called their government when they ruled the country for five years, until their ouster by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

Still, there are few signs of a political agreement on the horizon. Battles between the Taliban and government forces are continuing in dozens of provinces, and thousands of Afghans are seeking visas in hopes of leaving the country.

Most are frightened that the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops after nearly 20 years will plunge their war-ravaged nation into deeper chaos. With the U.S. withdrawal more than 95% complete, Afghanistan's future seems mired in uncertainty. Militias with a brutal history have been resurrected to fight the Taliban but their loyalties are to their commanders, many of them U.S.-allied warlords with ethnic-based support.

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