KABUL -- Taliban violence is threatening Afghanistan's peace process, President Ashraf Ghani warned Monday (July 6) as he briefed the international community on Kabul's preparations for peace talks with the militant group.
Afghan authorities and the Taliban are preparing to engage in negotiations aimed at ending the war.
But violence, which had briefly declined after a surprise ceasefire offer by the Taliban in May, has again spiked with officials blaming the insurgents for killing hundreds of security personnel and civilians in recent weeks.
The Taliban have denied responsibility for many attacks but acknowledge their fighters are targeting Afghan security forces in rural areas.
Ghani July 6 hosted the first of three online conferences aimed at briefing the global community on the expected peace talks.
"If the Taliban continue fighting, the Afghan peace process will face serious challenges," he told attendees from several nations.
"Unfortunately, the current level of violence is higher compared to last year," Ghani said, according to a statement issued by his office.
Ghani is hosting two other video conferences later this week.
The United States, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Egypt and Qatar, along with some international organisations such as the United Nations, are joining the video conferences, officials said.
The date for intra-Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the government has not yet been set.
Uptick in violence, ties to al-Qaeda
Earlier July 6, just hours ahead of the first online meeting, Ghani's spokesman slammed the Taliban for an uptick in violence.
"There is no obstacle on our side for the peace process, but we see that the Taliban are not serious," Sediq Sediqqi told reporters.
"The government of Afghanistan released a large number of Taliban in order to reduce violence in the country, but the violence has not decreased," he said.
Afghan authorities have released more than 4,000 Taliban prisoners out of 5,000 demanded by the insurgents in a deal with Washington signed in February.
That deal paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan by the middle of next year.
So far, the United States has honoured its commitment by reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan to about 8,600, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who heads US Central Command, said June 18.
One major sticking point to the February peace deal is the Taliban's continued ties to al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
Evidence shows that the Taliban, despite pledging to turn their backs on the terrorist group, have enabled al-Qaeda to gain strength under their protection, according to a United Nations (UN) analysis released on May 27.
"The Taliban regularly consulted with al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties," the report said.
"Al-Qaeda and the Taliban held meetings over the course of 2019 and in early 2020 to discuss co-operation related to operational planning, training and the provision by the Taliban of safe havens for al-Qaeda members inside Afghanistan," it said.
"Despite recent progress in the peace process, AQIS maintains close ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, likely for protection and training," the US Defence Department said in a security assessment compiled for the US Congress on July 1.