‘We will either sit knee-to-knee for real negotiations at the table, or break their knees on the battlefield,’ said the Afghani leader
Afghanistan’s President has called for a full-scale national mobilisation to counter sweeping gains by the Taliban, warning that the Islamist group will only negotiate seriously once their military momentum is halted.
Addressing an emergency cabinet meeting in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani said that the Taliban are effectively demanding surrender from the Afghan government in the talks being held between the two sides in Qatar.
The fate that awaited the Afghan people if the Taliban did gain control of the country can be plainly seen in the “cruel and repressive” rule they have imposed in the areas they have occupied, said Mr Ghani.
The demand for capitulation will be robustly answered, declared the President.
“I will never kneel before such a destructive force”, he said. “We will either sit knee-to-knee for real negotiations at the table, or break their knees on the battlefield.”
Mr Ghani’s address came as fierce fighting continued in three cities – Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah – which have been under sustained attack from the Islamists for the last three days.
Government reinforcements have been sent to the frontlines, although the capacity for troop movement has been hit by the withdrawal of in-country American air support following President Joe Biden’s decision for a swift withdrawal of US-led forces.
The situation was particularly serious in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, according to General Ajmal Omar Shinwari, with the Talibs sending in more fighters and capturing another district – the seventh – in the city.
Lashkar Gah had previously been the centre of the British mission to Afghanistan.
A six-month plan to stabilise the security situation, mobilise people and regain lost territory has already started being implemented, said Mr Ghani.
The Army will focus on broader strategic targets, the police will enforce security inside cities and districts and the security and intelligence services will help form self-defence forces.
Armed militias have long been used to counter the Islamist insurgency by successive Afghan governments with the backing of Western allies. But the conduct of some of the groups has been severely criticised by Afghan and international human rights groups for human rights abuses.
The President said that the US decision to “abruptly” withdraw forces has had damaging security consequences.
He said he respected the American decision, but added: “We faced an unexpected situation in the last three months.” Speaking to a virtual gathering of his ministers, Mr Ghani said “The Taliban have no wish for peace, for prosperity, or progress… they want us to surrender, to subdue people and the government. They will not engage in meaningful negotiations unless the situation changes on the battlefield; therefore, we should have a clear stance. For this, there is a need for a countrywide mobilization.”
There have been rising accusations of failings in the government’s security policy with internal politics hampering the war effort.
A parliamentary committee has claimed that the Chief of the Army Staff, General Wali Ahmadzai, has been focusing on rivalry with other commanders at the expense of operations.
President Ghani called for unity, saying: “We don’t have time for accusing each other on who is right or who is wrong. We have to stick together and be united. We are under attack from internal and external propaganda and we need to stand together to fight it.”
Meanwhile, General David Petraeus, the former US commander in Afghanistan, has claimed Washington was abandoning its duty to protect democracy. He told The Times, the US was leaving Afghanistan to fight a “blood, brutal civil war”.