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Taliban warn US peace deal in Afghanistan near breaking point

The Taliban has said the deal with the United States aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan was nearing a breaking point, accusing Washington of violations that included drone attacks on civilians, while also chastising the Afghan government for delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners promised in the agreement. The Taliban said it had restricted attacks…

Taliban warn US peace deal in Afghanistan near breaking point

The Taliban has said the deal with the United States aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan was nearing a breaking point, accusing Washington of violations that included drone attacks on civilians, while also chastising the Afghan government for delaying the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners promised in the agreement.
The Taliban said it had restricted attacks against Afghan security forces to rural outposts and had not attacked international forces or Afghan forces in cities or military installations.
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The group warned of more violence if the US and the Afghan government continue alleged violations of the deal, adding that continued violations would “create an atmosphere of mistrust that will not only damage the agreements, but also force mujaheddin to a similar response and will increase the level of fighting”.
“We are seriously asking the Americans to abide by the contents of the agreement and to alert their allies to fully abide by the agreement,” the Taliban statement read. 
The Taliban has accused the Afghan government of using “indefensible arguments” to explain the repeated delays in releasing a promised 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 government personnel.
The US military in Afghanistan rejected the Taliban’s claim, saying it had upheld the military terms of the agreement and that Taliban’s assertions were “baseless”.
“USFOR-A has been clear – we will defend our ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) partners if attacked, in compliance with the agreement,” US Forces Afghanistan spokesman Colonel Sonny Leggett tweeted. 
Political feud
In February, US officials and Taliban representatives signed an agreement after months of negotiations in Qatar aimed at ending the United States’ longest war, fought in Afghanistan since 2001. The deal paves the way for the gradual withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan.
Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a one-billion-dollar cut in American aid to Afghanistan after he failed to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, to end a feud that has helped jeopardise a US-led peace effort.
Ghani and Abdullah both claimed the presidency following a disputed September election marred by allegations of fraud.
The country’s Independent Election Commission has declared Ghani a winner, but Abdullah and the Elections Complaint Commission have charged widespread irregularities.
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Afghanistan

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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Diplomacy

‘Diplomacy for peace’: Afghan gov’t, Taliban arrive for talks |NationalTribune.com

Doha, Qatar – After nearly two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban are set to begin in Qatar on Saturday. Afghan government’s 21-member negotiating team is led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief. The Taliban are led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s…

‘Diplomacy for peace’: Afghan gov’t, Taliban arrive for talks |NationalTribune.com

Doha, Qatar – After nearly two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban are set to begin in Qatar on Saturday.
Afghan government’s 21-member negotiating team is led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief.
The Taliban are led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s chief justice and a close aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada.
Also attending will be Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar.
The negotiations, where both sides will sit face-to-face for the first time, will start in the capital, Doha, on Monday, Abdullah’s spokesperson Fraidoon Khawzoon said on Friday. 
The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.
In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the government said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals. 
Taliban and Afghan government sources told Al Jazeera a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar. The prisoners arrived in Doha on Friday and will remain in custody there.

Pompeo also arrived in Doha on Friday and called the talks a “historic” opportunity to end the US’s longest war.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said although the talks raise hopes of the war ending in the country, many challenges remain.
“This is a new phase in diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad told reporters in a telephone briefing on Friday.
“These negotiations are an important achievement, but there are … significant challenges on the way to reaching an agreement.”
It took almost six months to get the Taliban and the government to the negotiating table, and analysts said the challenging part is to get both sides to reach an agreement.
“The various delays since the first designated start of the talks in early March show how much mistrust the two parties need to overcome,” Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told Al Jazeera. 

“It shows how difficult the talks will be in general, given the many issues they would have to solve, with the most difficult one being Afghanistan’s future political system.”
The Afghan negotiating team includes five female representatives who will carry the responsibility of defending and protecting women’s rights during the talks.
“While there is no other realistic option currently to find a negotiated end to the Afghan war, it is far from clear whether any peace deal will address major concerns of the Afghan population such as a preservation of the rights and freedoms that have been constitutionally guaranteed to them.”
The Afghan government backs the current democratic political system, while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance.
The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule during which women were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.
The Afghan government’s agenda for the talks is to secure a permanent ceasefire, but analysts said that will be difficult to achieve as the Taliban’s only bargaining chip has been their military strength on the ground.
“The Taliban should see these talks as a good political opportunity. If they continue to fight on the ground to exert pressure, there are less chances of the talks being successful,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, told Al Jazeera.
“Peace demands compromises from all sides and that means sacrifices should be made to acquire a political solution to end this war,” added Saadat.
In the first six months of 2020, almost 1,300 civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.
In July, President Ghani said about 3,560 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 6,780 more wounded in Taliban attacks between February 29 and July 21 this year.
“The suffering of the Afghan people has gone on for far too long,” UN envoy Deborah Lyons said on Friday.
“An inclusive peace process, involving the meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, upholding the human rights of every Afghan is the only path to peace.”
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Afghanistan

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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