There were conflicting reports on Thursday about the fate of a major Afghan trading town on the border with Pakistan with the government saying its forces had retaken it from the Taliban but the insurgents insisting they remained firmly in control.
Taliban fighters captured the Spin Boldak-Chaman border post on Wednesday, the second most important crossing on the border with Pakistan and a major source of revenue for the Western-backed government in Kabul.
A senior Afghan government official said on Thursday the security forces had retaken control of the town hours after the Taliban seized it.
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed that and said his forces still held it.
“It is merely propaganda and a baseless claim by the Kabula administration,” he told Reuters.
The defence ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Clashes between the Taliban and government forces have intensified as US-led international forces have been withdrawing and the Taliban have captured several districts and border crossings in the north and west.
President Ashraf Ghani was due to meet regional leaders in Uzbekistan on Thursday as the deteriorating security raises fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis and Pakistan said it would host a conference of senior Afghan leaders in a bid to find solutions.
The government gave an indication of the scale of destruction in recent fighting, accusing the Taliban of destroying hundreds of government buildings in 29 of the country’s 34 provinces as the fighting has intensified.
The Taliban deny government accusations of extensive destruction by their fighters.
Senior Afghan government official in Kabul, Nader Nadery, said the security forces were working to push back Taliban fighters and regain control over 190 districts.
Pakistan, worried about a spillover of fighting, has shut its side of the Spin Boldak-Chaman border, on the main commercial artery between the second Afghan city of Kandahar and Pakistani ports.
With security deteriorating sharply, diplomatic efforts focussing on pushing the rival Afghan sides to make progress towards a ceasefire at talks that they have been holding intermittently in Qatar.
Pakistan was for years accused of backing the Taliban with the aim of blocking the influence of its old rival India in Afghanistan. But Pakistan denied that and now says it wants to encourage negotiations to ensure a peaceful outcome.
Pakistan’s information minister, Fawad Chaudhry, said onTwitter Pakistan was arranging more talks.
“Important Afghan leaders, including Hamid Karzai, have been invited,” Chaudhry said, referring to the former Afghan president who remains an influential figure.
Chaudhry said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to Karzai late on Wednesday. He did not elaborate but told Reuters Taliban leaders would not be attending as Pakistan was holding separate talks with them.
Karzai and some top Afghan political leaders are expected to fly to Qatar this weekend for talks with members of the Taliban who have an office in the capital, Doha.
The Islamist militants ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster in 2001, weeks after September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
They have since been fighting to expel foreign forces and topple the Western-backed government in Kabul.