Taliban rockets target Kabul Presidential Palace

Kabul, the presidential palace of Afghanistan, was hit by rockets on Tuesday because President Ashraf Ghani attended prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Adha.

The attack happened as the United States prepared to end its military mission to Afghanistan at the end of next month, and the re-emerged Taliban strengthened its control of the country.

This Islamic organization has occupied large areas of territory and controlled key border posts, depriving Kabul of an important source of income and making it almost entirely dependent on foreign aid.

The Taliban flag was hoisted at the Spin Boldak border crossing in Kandahar province last week along with the flag of Pakistan, one of the seven international border crossings claimed by Islamic rebels since June.

The defeat of Spin Boldak and Torghundi at the border crossings of Herat Province in northeastern Afghanistan with Turkmenistan is a serious setback for the besieged government of Ghani as it is working to restore the stalled peace talks to the Taliban.

“This is a very comprehensive strategy. We have never seen in the Taliban a strategy of besieging cities, cutting off roads and closing international border crossings,” Ahmed Rashid, author of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Taliban books (Ahmed Rashid) said. “What keeps the Taliban together now is the prospect of seizing Kabul, not the prospect of reaching a peace agreement with Kabul.”

Despite the joint promotion of the United States and its allies, the talks between Kabul and the Taliban in Doha over the weekend ended without a ceasefire agreement, highlighting the Taliban’s indifference to a political solution while gaining momentum.

The worsening violence triggered people to flee from rural areas controlled by the Taliban, where the repressive rules were reintroduced. As the country faces a food crisis due to the second drought in four years, the insurgents have also wasted important infrastructure in towns.

Asfandiar Mir, a South Asian analyst at Stanford University, said that the Taliban “are seeking to make the government unviable and make a soft surrender.”

“Some political leaders think there is no way to reverse or even delay the military slide to the Taliban. They are ready to bend their knees, he said.

Ghani and his Vice President Amrullah Saleh publicly criticized Pakistan, which reportedly gave the Taliban leadership refuge In its territory, and eager to ensure its strategic interests in the region to protect it from its main competitor, India.

People waving Taliban flags in the Pakistani border town of Chaman after the Taliban claimed to have occupied the Spinboldak border crossing on the Afghan side

People waved Taliban flags in the Pakistani border town of Chaman after the Taliban claimed that they had occupied the Spinboldak border on the Afghan side. © Asghar Achakzai/AFP/Getty

At a regional meeting in Uzbekistan last week, Ghani claimed that Islamabad had sent “10,000 jihadists” to the border in the past month. The Afghan president is only a few feet away from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said Islamabad failed to get the Taliban to “seriously” engage in peace talks. Khan called Ghani’s remarks “extremely unfair” and added: “Peace in Afghanistan is our top priority.”

After the daughter of the Afghan ambassador was briefly abducted and “seriously tortured” over the weekend, Ghani withdrew the Afghan envoy to Pakistan.

Pakistani officials say Afghanistan is trying to shift blame for its own security lapses. A senior government official said: “Due to the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban are launching one offensive after another. This has nothing to do with Pakistan.”

The question is whether the Afghan security forces have the strength and international support to regain lost areas and border crossings in the absence of US troops.

David Mansfield, an Afghan analyst at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank, said that taking over the border crossing “is a way of not chasing the city and seizing Kabul ransom. When you can create this financial crisis, why should you lose your strategic location? Where’s the soldier?”

At the summit held in Uzbekistan last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (right) and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (left)

At the summit held in Uzbekistan last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (right) and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (left)

Analysts said that the border takeover will also force neighboring countries, including Iran and Turkmenistan, to contact the Taliban, giving it more legitimacy when testing its ability to govern.

This strategy is a gamble. By disrupting trade, the Taliban may anger their followers, who rely on the flow of goods between countries to make a living.

“It’s a question of who blinks first,” Mansfield said. “This is risky, but the border point is crucial. This is another way to kill the city.”

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