Warring Afghan sides discuss peace talks as deadly blast hits mosque

By: AFP      Published: 01:22 AM, 15 May, 2021
Warring Afghan sides discuss peace talks as deadly blast hits mosque
Devotees are seen inside a mosque after a bomb blast on the outskirts of Kabul on May 14, 2021, that killed at least 12 people, shattering the relative calm of a holiday ceasefire between the warring Taliban and government forces. AFP

The Afghan government and Taliban leadership members met in Qatar Friday to discuss speeding up peace talks, officials on both sides say, as a deadly blast at a mosque near Kabul shattered the calm of a holiday ceasefire.

Despite unprecedented talks opening in September in Doha, the two warring sides have struggled to make headway, with violence escalating in Afghanistan as the United States completes its withdrawal.

"Today a meeting was held in Doha between the delegations of both negotiating sides," the Afghan government's peace team tweeted.

The parties "emphasized speeding up the peace talks in Doha", it added.

In a similar statement posted to Twitter, the Taliban said "both sides agreed to continue the talks after (Eid al-Fitr)".

A three-day ceasefire agreed by the warring sides came into force on Thursday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid, after weeks of deadly violence.

But the calm was shattered by a blast at a mosque on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, which killed 12 people including the imam leading Friday prayers.

No group has so far claimed the attack and the Taliban denied responsibility.

A spokesman for the interior ministry said the explosives were placed in the mosque ahead of the prayers.

Afghans have been cautiously enjoying a rare respite from violence, only the fourth such truce in the two decades-long conflict.  

Ceasefires in the past have largely held, in what is widely thought to be an exercise by the Taliban leadership to prove it has control over the myriad factions across the country that make up the hardline movement.

There have been international efforts to jump start the faltering talks, including a one day conference in Moscow in March attended by representatives on both sides, as well as Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan.

Turkey was also scheduled to hold an Afghanistan conference in late April but it was postponed indefinitely because the Taliban declined to attend.

They were protesting a delay in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Washington pushed back from May 1.

Washington, backed by NATO, has now pledged to withdraw all foreign troops and end America's longest war by September.

Since foreign troops started the final withdrawal, Afghan government forces and the Taliban have engaged in fierce fighting, especially in the south of the country.

On Friday, US and Afghan officials said Washington had pulled out completely from a major southern air base in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, just a week after US airstrikes were launched from the airfield to push back a major Taliban offensive.

Categories : South Asia