Political rivals in Afghanistan have issued separate invitations for inauguration ceremonies on Monday.
Abdullah Abdullah, rival of Afghanistan’s president-elect Ashraf Ghani, issued invitations to a parallel swearing-in ceremony due next week, his spokesman said on Saturday.
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“We’ve sent the invitation to all national and international organisations and all necessary preparations have been taken,” Fraidoon Khwazoon, Abdullah’s spokesman said, referring to invitations to an inauguration ceremony due to take place in Kabul on Monday morning at a similar time to Ghani’s.
A political impasse and threat of parallel governments jeopardise a nascent peace process in the nation, as the United States tries to push the Afghan government towards talks with the Taliban.
In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced Ghani as the winner of September’s presidential election, but Abdullah claimed that he and his allies had won the polls and insisted that he would form a government.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Ghani, emphasised that his side was the recognised winner of last year’s polls.
“The election season is over and president-elect Ghani was given the winner’s certificate by the independent election commission based on the outcome of the election and country’s constitution,” Sediqqi said on Saturday.
Ghani and Abdullah are old rivals who held roles in the previous government under a US-brokered power-sharing agreement.
A former foreign minister, Abdullah held the specially created post of chief executive in the outgoing government.
Diplomats and experts have said a lack of cohesion among Afghan political leaders will make it difficult for talks with the Taliban, which are due to start on Tuesday, to take place.
“This is a bad omen for the peace process,” a diplomat whose country’s embassy in Kabul had been told an invitation to Abdullah’s ceremony was on the way, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
He said diplomats from different countries were calling and messaging each other to find out about each other’s plans.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was holding talks with both camps to try to broker a solution before Monday, the diplomat said.
Afghanistan-Taliban talks at risk as unrest continues
Afghanistan: Bloodiest day of fighting since peace talks began |NationalTribune.com
Clashes and casualties were also reported in several parts of Afghanistan earlier this week [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters] At least 57 members of the Afghan security forces were killed and dozens injured in overnight clashes with Taliban fighters across Afghanistan in the bloodiest day of fighting since the government and the armed group began peace talks in…
Clashes and casualties were also reported in several parts of Afghanistan earlier this week [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]
At least 57 members of the Afghan security forces were killed and dozens injured in overnight clashes with Taliban fighters across Afghanistan in the bloodiest day of fighting since the government and the armed group began peace talks in Qatar more than a week ago.
Sunday night’s clashes were in the central province of Uruzgan, where 24 members of the Afghan security forces were killed when Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints, Deputy Governor of the province Sayed Mohammad Sadat said.
Clashes and casualties were also reported in the provinces of Baghlan, Takhar, Helmand, Kapisa, Balkh, Maidan Wardak and Kunduz, provincial officials told Reuters news agency.
In Balkh, the Taliban took hostage three members of Afghanistan’s spy organisation, according to Monir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for Balkh provincial governor.
The Taliban did not confirm casualties on its side, but according to a spokesman for the Pamir military corps, 54 fighters were killed in clashes in Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces.
A spokesman for the provincial government of Maidan Wardak, Muhibullah Sharifzai, said 26 Taliban fighters were killed in clashes there.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said Taliban attacks had killed 98 civilians and injured 230 others in the last two weeks across 24 provinces.
At least 12 civilians were killed on Saturday in air raids on a Taliban base in the northeastern province of Kunduz.
Defence ministry officials said 40 Taliban fighters were killed, but they did not confirm the number of civilian casualties.
Negotiating teams representing the Taliban and the Afghan government have been meeting in the Qatari capital Doha since talks started on September 12, but little headway has been made, particularly on a ceasefire.
The almost daily meetings in Doha have been unable to make it past debating rules and regulations of the process, and the sides remain far apart on most matters.
Afghanistan peace talks marred by gunfights, IEDs
Long-awaited “inter-Afghan” peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul began this weekend, but continued violence across Afghanistan threatened to overshadow the historic gathering. Afghan government representatives said that in the hours immediately before and after the peace negotiations formally began in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, the Taliban launched a series of…
Long-awaited “inter-Afghan” peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul began this weekend, but continued violence across Afghanistan threatened to overshadow the historic gathering.
Afghan government representatives said that in the hours immediately before and after the peace negotiations formally began in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, the Taliban launched a series of attacks against Afghan security forces and planted more than a dozen IEDs across the countryside.
“The Taliban have not decreased their violence and offensive attacks” in Afghanistan, Fawad Aman, spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Defense, said in a Twitter post.
Mr. Aman told Reuters that the government hoped the Taliban would reduce the number of attacks once peace talks began, but instead the group has continued ramping up violence. Taliban officials also confirmed some of the attacks, with a spokesman for the group saying on Twitter that insurgent fighters clashed with an “enemy convoy” near the city of Kunduz.
At least 12 people were killed in that fight, the Taliban said.
Against that backdrop, the two sides are meeting in Doha this weekend to hammer out a political arrangement meant to end decades years of war inside the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Doha for the talks.
The inter-Afghan dialogue is a key part of the landmark pact the Trump administration struck with the Taliban last February. The deal called for a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban vowing that Afghanistan would never again be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
The Taliban also agreed to stop attacks on American personnel, but the agreement did not lay out a formal ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban. Reaching such a ceasefire deal is at the top of the agenda in Doha this weekend.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” on Saturday.
“I believe that if we give hands to each other and honestly work for peace, the current ongoing misery in the country will end,” he said, as quoted by Al Jazeera.
Mr. Pompeo met with Taliban officials over the weekend and urged both sides to come to an agreement.
“Secretary Pompeo urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” State Department spokesperson Cale Brown said in a statement. “He welcomed Afghan leadership and ownership of the effort to end 40 years of war and ensure that Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States or its allies.”
The U.S. already has withdrawn thousands of troops from Afghanistan as part of the peace process. The White House is expected to soon announce another reduction, down from 8,500 to between 4,000 and 5,000.
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Afghanistan peace talks see life with Taliban prisoner release
The U.S.-backed Afghan government’s decision to free hundreds of Taliban prisoners this week has breathed new life into hopes for substantive peace talks with the militants, ending months of infighting as U.S. forces continued preparations to go home. The release Tuesday of as many as 900 Taliban prisoners signaled a potentially major breakthrough in relations…
The U.S.-backed Afghan government’s decision to free hundreds of Taliban prisoners this week has breathed new life into hopes for substantive peace talks with the militants, ending months of infighting as U.S. forces continued preparations to go home.
The release Tuesday of as many as 900 Taliban prisoners signaled a potentially major breakthrough in relations between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, which continued to trade violent blows after the Trump administration and Taliban leaders announced a deal in February.
After a three-day cease-fire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Taliban and U.S. officials suggested that the government’s round of prisoner releases was a sign that the peace process may be back on track.
Such confidence-building exchanges would be “incredibly encouraging” and significant steps on the road for reconciliation, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday.
“The future of Afghanistan is going to be best suited for peace when there is agreement between the inter-Afghan parties,” Mr. Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon. “The best path to lasting peace is a political settlement.”
A senior Taliban official said the prisoner release could lead to an extension of the three-day Eid cease-fire.
“If these developments … continue, it is possible to move forward with decisions like extending the brief cease-fire and to move in a positive direction with some minor issues,” the official told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Officials in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Kabul was also willing to extend the cease-fire.
While past Afghan talks have faltered and jihadi groups such as the Islamic State remain potent threats inside the country, the events of the past few days signaled a marked turnaround from just weeks ago, when bombings and other attacks by the Taliban and an extremist Islamic State branch threw the peace process into question.
Under an agreement with special U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Feb. 29, the Taliban vowed to block ISIS and other outside terrorist groups and begin talks with Kabul in exchange for a Trump administration commitment to draw down the 13,000 American troops to about 8,600 over the coming months.
But the deal was also contingent on peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which were supposed to have started quickly with a major prisoner swap as a confidence-building measure.
The Afghan government, which was often sidelined by Mr. Khalilzad’s diplomacy, is to eventually release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The Taliban are to free 1,000 captives, mostly Afghan government officials and Afghan security forces.
But the swap and the negotiations remained stalled through much of March and April. The lack of progress was blamed in part on continuing Taliban violence and in part on internal bickering between Mr. Ghani and his chief political rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
Both men claimed to be the country’s rightful president after a troubled national election last fall. They also disagreed on the best approach to the Taliban, which provided a sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks and oversaw a grinding insurgency against the Kabul government after they were ousted from power in an invasion by U.S. and allied forces in late 2001.
The Ghani-Abdullah infighting became so bad in late March that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced plans to cut $1 billion in U.S. assistance if the two didn’t “get their act together.”
The pressure from Mr. Pompeo, backed by Mr. Khalilzad’s shuttle diplomacy, appears to be having its intended effect.
Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani settled their internal political fight early this month and agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that appears to give Mr. Abdullah a lead role in initial talks with the Taliban.
Taliban prisoners were being released Tuesday from Bagram prison north of Kabul, where the U.S. maintains a major military base, and from Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the eastern edge of the Afghan capital.
By late afternoon, according to The Associated Press, scores of men were pouring out of the Bagram compound. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify their numbers or whether they were all Taliban members. They were transported on six buses parked outside the prison.
An official at Bagram told AP that 525 men were to be released from Bagram. No number was given for prisoner releases from Pul-e-Charkhi.
In a tweet late Tuesday, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen in Doha said the militant group would be releasing “a remarkable number” of Afghan government prisoners to make “good progress.”
But uncertainty continues to swirl around the wider peace process and President Trump’s hope to fulfill a campaign promise of bringing American troops home from a U.S. occupation that began nearly two decades ago.
Once the prisoner swaps are complete, intra-Afghan talks are is slated to begin. U.S. officials said they hope the delicate negotiations will lead to a political settlement while U.S. troops leave Afghanistan.
There are big questions about how the process may unfold. Analysts have expressed concern that the Taliban, which already control vast territory around the Afghan countryside, may return to violence against the Kabul government once U.S. forces depart.
There are also concerns that a political solution will be reached in a way that benefits only warlords and corrupt political elites while leaving common Afghans without a viable and functioning state.
Many Afghans, who have known only conflict in their homeland for several decades, are expressing frustration at the lack of progress in the peace and negotiations process.
“If both sides stop this war and sit at the negotiating table … maybe my youngest children will experience a good life, which we never experienced,” said Sayed Agha, a truck driver from eastern Logar province.
Mr. Agha, 45, was wounded in April, caught in crossfire during a battle between the Taliban and Afghan soldiers. “I have spent my whole life in war,” he said.
Some analysts say the whole Afghan government will need structural reforms to succeed.
Hadia Haqparast, a democracy and governance expert and Fulbright scholar, argues that there needs to be a “decentralization” of power in order for Afghan government to succeed in the future.
In an analysis published this week by The Diplomat, Ms. Haqparast wrote that the current government structure “has led to a fight for power among the elites and influential leaders, increased corruption and violence, and brought about a culture of impunity among various political players.
“Given the diverse ethnic make-up of Afghanistan, the only reasonable form of government capable of providing security and development is a federal government.”
⦁ Mike Glenn contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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