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Afghanistan: Ghani signs decree to release 1,500 Taliban fighters

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has signed a decree to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as a move to launch direct talks with the armed group to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan. According to a copy of the two-page decree seen by Reuters news agency late on Tuesday night, all released Taliban prisoners will have to provide “a written…

Afghanistan: Ghani signs decree to release 1,500 Taliban fighters

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has signed a decree to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as a move to launch direct talks with the armed group to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
According to a copy of the two-page decree seen by Reuters news agency late on Tuesday night, all released Taliban prisoners will have to provide “a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield”.
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President Ghani has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiation between the Taliban and the afghan government. Details of the decree will be shared tomorrow.
— Sediq Sediqqi (@SediqSediqqi) March 10, 2020

“President Ghani has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi posted on Twitter.
The decree, to be made public later by Ghani’s office, lays out details about how the Taliban prisoners will be released in a systematic manner to further peace deals.
The process of releasing the prisoners will begin in four days, the decree said.
Part of US-Taliban deal
The release of prisoners is part of a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban last month that would allow US forces and NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan to end more than 18 years of war.
Earlier on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a tweet that his group had handed a list of 5,000 prisoners to the US and was waiting for all to be released.
Also on Tuesday, a senior Taliban leader in Doha, the group’s political headquarters, said vehicles had been sent to an area near Bagram Prison, north of the capital Kabul, to collect the freed fighters.
“After our conversation with Zalmay Khalilzad (US special envoy for Afghanistan) on Monday, in which he conveyed to us the release of our 5,000 prisoners, we sent vehicles to pick them up,” he told Reuters.
The Taliban had demanded the release of the prisoners as a confidence-building measure to pave the way for the opening of direct talks with the government.

Ghani, who previously refused to honour a prisoner swap deal between the US and the Taliban, later said he was not averse to releasing Taliban prisoners to move the peace process forward.
In addition to the tensions between Ghani and the Taliban, an escalating political feud between Ghani and his former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah has deepened political chaos in the country.
Ghani was sworn in for a second term on Monday, but the ceremony was marred by a rocket attack.
Abdullah, who has refused to accept the election results released last month or recognise Ghani as president, also held his own inauguration ceremony on the same day.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a US resolution on the deal between the US and the Taliban, a rare endorsement of an agreement with an armed group.
The US military has begun withdrawing troops as part of the pullout agreed upon in the February 29 pact.
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Afghanistan

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…

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 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.

SOURCE:
News agencies

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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…

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 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…

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 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.

Long-awaited swap

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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