US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced a $1bn cut in American aid to Afghanistan after he failed to convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political foe to end a feud that has helped jeopardise a US-led peace effort.
The United States also is prepared to cut another $1bn worth of assistance in 2021 and is conducting “a review of all of our programmes and projects to identify additional reductions and reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan,” Pompeo said in a statement.
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Pompeo’s statement came as he flew home from a fruitless day-long effort in Kabul to end competing claims to the presidency by Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah and win their agreement to form “an inclusive government.”
The harshly worded announcement at the end of the mission he undertook despite the spreading global coronavirus pandemic underscored how badly stalled the US-led effort to end America’s longest war and decades of strife in Afghanistan has become.
The US “deeply regrets” that Ghani and Abdullah were “unable to agree on an inclusive government,” said Pompeo, adding that “their failure has harmed US-Afghan relations and sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure.”
Pompeo also met separately with Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah at the Sepidar Palace in Kabul on Monday, but he failed to negotiate an agreement with Abdullah’s rival, Ghani [Sepidar palace via AP]
The US pays billions every year towards the Afghan budget, including the country’s defence forces.
Afghanistan barely raises a quarter of the revenue it needs to run the country, giving Pompeo considerable financial leverage to force the two squabbling leaders to overcome the impasse.
On his way back to Washington, DC, Pompeo landed at a military base in Qatar for a 75-minute meeting with Taliban officials, including their top negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund.
Speaking to reporters after departing Qatar, Pompeo declined to detail how the $1bn in aid cuts would be apportioned or whether he set a deadline for Ghani and Abdullah, who had served as the country’s chief executive, to settle their dispute.
But he indicated that the aid cut could be cancelled if they came to an agreement.
“We are hopeful, frankly, that they will get their act together and we won’t have to do it. But we’re prepared to do that,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, the US would continue backing Afghan security forces while continuing a phased “conditions-based” troop withdrawal as specified in a deal signed with the Taliban in Doha on February 29.
He said despite continuing fighting, the Taliban largely have fulfilled a commitment to reduce violence and were working to form a team for intra-Afghan talks.
Pompeo’s mission came nearly a month after his last visit to Doha for the signing of the February 29 deal with the Taliban. Ghani’s government was not a party to the agreement.
The agreement was to have been followed by the opening by March 10 of negotiations on a political settlement to decades of strife between the Taliban and a delegation of Afghans that would include government officials.
Intra-Afghan talks stalled
But the process stalled over a Taliban demand for the release by Kabul of 5,000 prisoners and the feud between Ghani and Abdullah, both of whom claimed the presidency following a disputed September election marred by allegations of fraud.
While in Kabul, Pompeo met with Ghani and Abdullah, separately and together.
Absent from the meetings was the chief US negotiator, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran diplomat. It was not immediately known why Khalilzad was not included.
A senior State Department official, speaking before the meetings ended, said the purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to try to mediate a solution between the two men.
“The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved … soon, that could affect the peace process … our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk,” the official said.
Pompeo’s visit was also extraordinary for the fact that the US, like the United Nations, had earlier said it would not be drawn into mediating feuding Afghan politicians as it did in 2014 presidential polls.
While the Afghan election commission this time gave the win to Ghani, Abdullah and the election complaints commission charged widespread irregularities to challenge Ghani’s win.
A spokesman for Ghani declined to comment, saying details of the meetings had not yet been released.
Omid Maisam, a spokesman for Abdullah, said that if there were more meetings a solution was “not impossible” and that they wanted a peaceful end to the crisis.
Afghan president pledges to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners |NationalTribune.com
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has started the process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a “goodwill gesture”, his spokesperson said, in a move that came after the government welcomed the armed group’s surprise announcement of a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The decision to release the prisoners was taken “to ensure…
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has started the process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a “goodwill gesture”, his spokesperson said, in a move that came after the government welcomed the armed group’s surprise announcement of a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The decision to release the prisoners was taken “to ensure success of the peace process”, Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter on Sunday.
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Meanwhile, the ceasefire appeared to hold as there were no reports of clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces by the end of the first day on Sunday.
Ghani said a government delegation was “ready to immediately start the peace talks” with the Taliban.
Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani’s former rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.
Pres. Ghani today initiated a process to release up to 2000 Taliban prisoners as a good will gesture in response to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire during Eid.The AFG Gov is extending the offer of peace and is taking further steps to ensure success of the peace process. pic.twitter.com/So0UEB5Bpi
— Sediq Sediqqi (@SediqSediqqi) May 24, 2020
A US-Taliban agreement signed in February in Qatar’s capital, Doha, stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the Taliban would free about 1,000 Afghan security forces personnel.
The prisoner swap was mentioned in the agreement as a “confidence-building measure” before long-awaited peace talks between the government and Taliban.
Before Sunday’s announcement, Kabul had already released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the Taliban had freed roughly 300 members of the Afghan security forces, according to reports.
The Taliban said they were committed to freeing prisoners, but reminded Kabul that the agreement was to “release 5,000” of their members as agreed with the US in Doha.
“This process should be completed in order to remove hurdles in the way of commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said on Twitter.
The Taliban’s offer of a ceasefire came just days after leader Haibatullah Akhunzada urged Washington “not to waste” the opportunity offered by the Doha agreement that set the stage for the withdrawal of US troops from the country after more than 18 years.
US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the February 29 agreement, said the ceasefire was “a momentous opportunity that should not be missed” while pledging that the US would “do its part to help”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also hailed the ceasefire, but said in a statement on Sunday that he expected “the Taliban to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield”.
He also urged the two sides to avoid escalating violence after Eid, the festival marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has made it a priority to end the country’s longest war and, in a bid to pull out foreign forces, US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.
Analysts, however, say the Taliban has been emboldened by the agreement with the US, and attacks by the group have continued since the signing.
War-weary residents in the capital, Kabul, expressed relief after the ceasefire was announced.
In a similar holiday truce in 2018, there were unprecedented scenes of fighters from opposite sides embracing and taking selfies.
Afghan government says will release 100 Taliban prisoners
The Afghan government will release 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, a government official said, a day after the armed group said it was walking out of talks with Kabul. The Taliban has accused the Afghan government of delaying the prisoner swap that was part of an agreement signed with the United States in the Qatari…
The Afghan government will release 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, a government official said, a day after the armed group said it was walking out of talks with Kabul.
The Taliban has accused the Afghan government of delaying the prisoner swap that was part of an agreement signed with the United States in the Qatari capital, Doha.
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The two foes have been negotiating since last week to try to finalise the prisoner swap that was originally supposed to have happened by March 10 and pave the way for “intra-Afghan” peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.
But the swap has been beset with problems, with Kabul claiming the Taliban wants 15 “top commanders” to be released, while the armed group has accused Afghan authorities of needlessly wasting time.
“One hundred Taliban prisoners will be released today,” said Javid Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council.
“We are doing our part in the agreement. The peace process should move forward.”
Faisal said the 15 commanders were not among those being released, and additional prisoners would be freed “depending on what the Taliban do”.
The US signed the deal with the Taliban on February 29 that required the Afghan government – which was not a signatory to the agreement – to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and for the armed group to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return.
As per the terms of the deal, Washington promised to withdraw US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban.
On Tuesday, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said the group recalled its negotiators from Kabul, hours after it suspended talks on the prisoner exchange with the Afghan government.
“The intentional delays in the release of our prisoners violates the peace agreement, therefore we call back our technical team back from Kabul,” Shaheen said in a Tweet.
Despite the setback over the prisoner releases, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23 to press Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud over the results of a disputed September election.
“We’ve made some progress, but we see them posturing in the media, we see statements that come out,” he told a State Department news conference.
While the feud has persisted, Pompeo’s visit and his announcement of a $1bn cut in US aid to Afghanistan appeared to have an impact, with Ghani on March 26 announcing a delegation for peace talks with the Taliban that won Abdullah’s endorsement.
Pompeo reiterated a call for those negotiations to start.
“I’m confident in the days ahead we’ll have things that look like steps backward, but I’m also hopeful that all the parties are sincere and wanting what’s good for the Afghan people,” he said.
Afghan gov’t delays Taliban prisoner release endangering the deal
Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani had announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed [Anadolu] The Afghan government has postponed its plan to release Taliban prisoners, a senior official said, a decision that could sabotage a peace deal signed last month between the armed group and the United States. Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National…
Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani had announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed [Anadolu]
The Afghan government has postponed its plan to release Taliban prisoners, a senior official said, a decision that could sabotage a peace deal signed last month between the armed group and the United States.
Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Saturday the releases were being delayed because more time was needed to review the list of Taliban prisoners.
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“We are ready to start the process the way it is described in the presidential decree but we won’t release anyone if there is no guarantee that they will not return to fighting,” he said.
“The Taliban have to show flexibility.”
Earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani announced that 1,500 Taliban prisoners would be freed as a “gesture of goodwill” in an attempt to resolve one of the long-running disputes that had roiled talks with the armed group.
Ghani’s decree said the government would release 1,500 captives starting Saturday if the insurgents cut violence, with plans to free another 3,500 prisoners after negotiations begin.
The Taliban rejected the offer and demanded the release of nearly 5,000 captives, citing it as one of the conditions behind the US-Taliban deal signed last month that excluded Kabul.
According to the US-Taliban agreement signed on February 29, foreign forces will withdraw from the country within 14 months in exchange for Taliban security guarantees and a pledge to hold talks with Kabul.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban on the delay in the release, a move that is likely to further stall peace talks which were originally scheduled to begin on March 10.
On Wednesday, the Afghan government warned it would resume attacks against the fighters if violence continued, ending a unilateral partial truce put in place before the talks.
Political chaos in Kabul has complicated matters further, with Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah also claiming the presidency following last September’s election, which was marred by delays and allegations of voter fraud.
On Monday, Abdullah swore himself in as president minutes after Ghani took the oath of office.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
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