PM Imran offers to facilitate Taliban, Ankara talks

Turkey says still keen to run Kabul airport despite precarious security


AGENCIES August 11, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KABUL/ ISLAMABAD/ ANKARA:

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that efforts would be made to facilitate talks between the Taliban and Ankara on running and guarding Kabul airport after other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

"The best thing is for Turkey and the Taliban to have a face-to-face dialogue. So both can talk about the reasons why Kabul airport has to be secured," the prime minister said after talks with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

"And so we will be talking to the Taliban, to use our influence on them, to have a face-to-face talk with Turkey."

Turkey is for now still intent on running and guarding the airport, two Turkish officials said.

Read more: Kabul could fall to Taliban in 90 days, warn US intelligence officials

The prime minister said a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan was the only way forward, and reiterated that Pakistan would continue to make every effort to help advance the peace process to realise a political solution.

He expressed the hope that the Afghan leaders would recognise the importance of international convergence on the way forward and achieve an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement.

Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days.

Turkey has offered to deploy troops at Kabul airport after Nato withdraws and has held talks with the United States for weeks. President Tayyip Erdogan has asked it to meet financial, logistical and diplomatic conditions.

"For now nothing has changed regarding the TAF (Turkish Armed Forces) taking control of Kabul Airport. The talks and the process are continuing," a senior Turkish official told Reuters.

Also read: Taliban fighters capture eighth provincial capital in six days

"Work is continuing on the basis that the transfer will happen, but of course the situation in Afghanistan is being followed closely," he said.

The Taliban have warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan to guard the airport but Ankara has maintained its stance.

A Turkish security official said Turkey was continuing to assess developments in Afghanistan. "There is no change in view concerning the taking control of Kabul Airport. But the situation in Afghanistan is changing from day to day," he said.

Also, Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan's capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a US defence official told Reuters on Wednesday citing US intelligence.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand was a result of the rapid gains the Taliban had been making around the country as US-led foreign forces leave.

"But this is not a foregone conclusion," the official added, saying that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.

Wednesday's loss of Faizabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, was the latest setback for the Afghan government, which has been struggling to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults.

It came as President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords to the defence of the biggest city in the north as Taliban forces closed in.

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