Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday to end the months-long political crisis, a step that is expected to boost efforts to move the peace process forward.
Abdullah, who had disputed the election result and declared himself president in February, appointed as the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) that will hold talks with the Taliban armed group.
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The United States had been pushing Afghanistan’s divided leadership to bury their differences and begin the so-called intra-Afghan talks after it signed an agreement with the Taliban on February 29 aimed at ending the 19-year war.
In a joint phone call to Pres. @ashrafghani and I today, @SecPompeo expressed U.S. support & appreciation for the signing of the political agreement that leads to the formation of an inclusive government. 1/2
— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) May 17, 2020
Abdullah’s group will get 50 cabinet appointments and other provincial governors’ posts as part of the deal.
The US had cut $1bn in aid to Afghanistan after Ghani and Abdullah refused to compromise, with the two leaders holding parallel inaugurations in the capital Kabul.
‘Strengthened Kabul’s position’
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the deal. “Secretary Pompeo noted that he regretted the time lost during the political impasse,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
In a repeat of the 2014 election that was marred by irregularities, Abdullah, who served as Afghanistan’s chief executive for the past five years, had disputed the result of the September 2019 vote.
On Sunday, Ghani said it was an “historic day” for Afghanistan and the agreement was reached without any international mediation, referring to the 2014 power-sharing deal that was mediated by the US.
Abdullah said the deal commits to forming a “more inclusive, accountable and competent administration”.
As the head of the HCNR, Abdullah has a big challenge ahead as the deal comes amid rising violence after which President Ghani announced the launch of a military offensive against the Taliban and other armed groups.
A broad political consensus is crucial when Kabul sits face-to-face with the Taliban as part of the intra-Afghan peace talks, Sami Yousufzai, an Afghan journalist who has followed the Taliban, told Al Jazeera.
“In this crucial time when the Taliban are still conducting attacks against government forces and civilians are being killed in attacks claimed by [ISIL], this agreement has strengthened the Afghan government’s position and weakened Taliban’s,” Yousufzai said.
“A tough message goes to the Taliban that despite such political divides, they would all sit unified in front of the Taliban.”
What lies ahead?
Abdullah’s team called the power-sharing deal “an opportunity for peace”.
“We have said many times before that we are ready for peace, it is our priority, that was our position from the beginning,” Fraidoon Khawzoon, Abdullah’s spokesman, told Al Jazeera.
“The High Council for National Reconciliation lead by Abdullah will now establish a mechanism for peace that will be different from the ones in the past. The council will form committees and peace delegations. The red lines will then determine what needs to be done and on what terms peace is wanted.”
But analysts say challenges lie ahead as Abdullah will now have to build a consensus among the deeply divided Afghan political groups to come to a unified position when facing the Taliban at the negotiating table.
“The agreement did not resolve the core grievances embedded in Afghan politics, and one survey of peace plans put forward by political elites in Kabul found that most were concerned with who will gets seats at the table – suggesting that the wrangling triggered by election issues could easily continue into peace talks,” Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.
Afghanistan was shaken on Tuesday after attackers stormed a Kabul maternity hospital killing 24 people, including women and babies.
On the same day, at least 24 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast at a funeral in Nangarhar province. The attack was claimed by ISIL (ISIS).
The Taliban denied involvement in both attacks but Ghani ordered its military to switch to “offensive mode” against the Taliban and other armed groups.
The armed group carried out a truck bomb attack near a military court in Gardez city, killing at least five people. The Taliban said Thursday’s deadly attack was in retaliation to Ghani’s false accusations against them.
Another major disagreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban is over the prisoner swap – a key part of the Doha agreement. The Taliban wants 5,000 of its prisoners released in one go – a demand the Ghani administration has refused to oblige.
So far, the Afghan government has released 1,500 Taliban fighters while the Taliban has set free 100 government prisoners.
The delay has caused frustration among the armed group. “We reject Ghani’s phased release of prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban, said in March.
Though the Taliban has largely avoided targeting US interests in the wake of the February agreement, it has intensified attacks on government forces.
Watkins said there are clear challenges posed by the Taliban’s continued violence but for now “the worst category of dysfunction and factionalisation of Afghan leaders over peace may have been resolved”.
“What is clear is what this deal managed to avoid: the risk of state or societal fracture, the distraction and uncertainty for government employees and institutions while the two camps were split; and the risk of disunity during the peace process,” he said.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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