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Taliban say they want a deal with Afghanistan, even as they fight

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ISLAMABAD: The Taliban leader said Sunday that his movement is committed to a political agreement to end decades of war in Afghanistan, even as insurgents fight in dozens of districts across the country to gain territory.
Maulawi Hibatullah Akhunzada’s statement came as Taliban leaders met with a high-level Afghan government delegation in the Gulf state of Qatar to reignite the stalled peace talks. The Kabul delegation includes No. 2 in the government, Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s national reconciliation council.
The talks resumed on Saturday, ahead of the four-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which in many parts of the world is expected to start on Tuesday. A second session was to take place on Sunday afternoon.
Washington peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Qatar, previously expressed his hopes for a reduction in violence and possibly a ceasefire on Eid al-Adha.
Akhundzada said that “ despite military progress and achievements, the Islamic Emirates strongly favors a political settlement in the country and all opportunities 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 they were toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001.
Still, there are few signs of a political deal on the horizon. Battles between the Taliban and government forces continue in dozens of provinces, and thousands of Afghans seek visas in hopes of leaving the country. Most fear that the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops after nearly 20 years will plunge their war-torn nation into deeper chaos. With the US withdrawal completed by more than 95%, the future of Afghanistan appears to be 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 US allied warlords with ethnic support.
This has raised the specter of deepening divisions among Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. Most of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtun, and brutal killings have occurred in the past in retaliation by one ethnic group against another.
In a sign of how little progress has been made in the negotiations, both sides are still haggling over terminology, without even agreeing on the name of the war-tortured nation. The Taliban insist on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Kabul wants the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Akhunzada’s statement called for an Islamic system without explaining what that meant.
He promised to support education, but for girls he said that “ the Islamic Emirates will. . . strive to create an appropriate environment for female education within the framework of the sublime Islamic law. ”
He did not say how that was different from educational institutions that have been created in the last 20 years and whether women would have the freedom to work outside the home and move freely without being accompanied by a male relative.
He said the Taliban have ordered their commanders to treat civilians with care and protect institutions and infrastructure. However, reports have emerged from areas under Taliban control that schools have been burned, women restricted to their homes and some government buildings blown up.
The Taliban have denied reports of such destruction, saying the images shown are old and accused the government of being involved in disinformation and propaganda.
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