President Joe Biden and his advisers are not changing plans to complete the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan by this month’s end, despite the Taliban capture on Sunday of Kunduz, a crucial northern commercial hub, and then breaking through in two other regional capitals, The New York Times reported. Biden had been briefed on the developments Sunday, according to a White House official, and aides were in contact with the American Embassy in Kabul, the newspaper said, citing a senior administration official. Senior Pentagon officials were also reported to have been on phone calls about the Taliban’s advances. Despite that, the senior administration official said that Biden was not changing course on the troop pullout. Over the course of the past week, Taliban fighters have swiftly moved to retake cities around Afghanistan. But administration officials have publicly continued to hold out hope that Afghan forces have the resources and ability to fight back, while at the same time negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban that seems more unlikely by the hour. In Kabul, the US Embassy issued a statement condemning the “unlawful” seizure of Afghan cities, and called for a ceasefire. “These Taliban actions to forcibly impose its rule are unacceptable and contradict its claim to support a negotiated settlement in the Doha peace process, the statement said. “They demonstrate wanton disregard for the welfare and rights of civilians and will worsen this country’s humanitarian crisis. “We call for the Taliban to agree to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and to engage fully in peace negotiations to end the suffering of the Afghan people and pave the way for an inclusive political settlement that benefits all Afghans and ensures that Afghanistan does not again serve as a safe haven for terrorists.” When asked about the Taliban’s advances on Friday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Biden had long been prepared to make “difficult choices” as part of his commitment to disengaging from Afghanistan. “The president made clear: After 20 years at war, it’s time for American troops to come home,” Ms Psaki said. “He also feels and has stated that the Afghan government and the Afghan National Defense Forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail, and now is the moment for the leadership and the will in the face of the Taliban’s aggression and violence.” On Sunday, the senior administration official said that the White House strategy remained unchanged. The Defense Department was on standby to provide resources if needed, the official added, but the prevailing strategy was to continue as planned and leave it to Afghan officials to retake Kunduz and defend other cities. In New York on Friday, Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). said that Afghanistan was at a dangerous turning point, and called on the UN Security Council to seize the current opportunity to quickly reinvigorate peace talks and prevent the crisis from spilling across national borders. Late, Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, who was denied the opportunity to address the Security Council, held under India’s presidency, held a press conference to highlight that Pakistan had consistently called for a political solution as the only way to restore durable peace and security in Afghanistan. “Pakistan therefore welcomed the international consensus which has emerged that the best means of securing peace and stability is through a political solution negotiated between parties to the conflict,” he told a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York. Pakistan has made earnest efforts to promote such a political settlement, Ambassador Akram said, pointing out that in 2015, a political settlement was scuttled by the deliberate revelation of the demise of the then Taliban leader-Mullah Omar. Pakistan, he said, was instrumental in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in 2019, and facilitated the conclusion of the US-Taliban agreement of February 2020. “We helped to convene the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha in September 2020,” he said while highlighting Pakistan’s role in the peace process. Pakistan, he said, also joined the Troika-China, Russia and the US-to facilitate the intra-Afghan talks and the Doha process. “It was a common presumption that the withdrawal of foreign forces would be accompanied by steps towards an intra-Afghan political settlement,” but the decision to divorce the two processes changed the parameters of the negotiating process and created disincentive for both Afghan parties to seek a compromise required for a political settlement. “We strongly believe that any military takeover or imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan will further aggravate and prolong the conflict.” Pakistan, therefore, calls on the Afghan parties to eschew a military solution; to protect innocent civilian lives including women; and children, and to engage in serious negotiations to realize a durable political settlement.