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China offers to host Afghan-Taliban peace talks

Beijing: China has offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the wake of US troops starting their withdrawal from Afghanistan after a nearly two-decades-long stay.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who in the last two days held telephone talks with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, has said that China will back the Afghan government headed by Ashraf Ghani in playing a leading role, news reports said.

This is seen as significant given that China’s close ally Pakistan is seen as the main backer of the Taliban which has mounted attacks on Afghan government troops in a bid to secure itself a strong hand in any negotiations.

The offer to facilitate peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban was made during Wang’s phone talks with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar, according to Afghan news outlets.

China is concerned that the US pullout could lead to the regrouping of Uyghur Muslim militants in Afghanistan. Uyghurs live in Xinjiang province that shares borders with China.

In a comment that may not go down well with the Taliban, Wang expressed his hope that Afghanistan’s future leadership will pursue a moderate Muslim policy, promote a foreign policy of peace, maintain friendship with neighboring countries, and firmly combat all forms of terrorism, Xinhua said.

Wang also said that the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which India and Pakistan are members, should pay more attention to the situation with Afghanistan’s neighbors strengthening communication, speaking in one voice and taking coordinated action.

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Pak contributed immensely to Taliban’s success: US Senator

Washington: Pakistan has played on both sides of the field in Afghanistan, contributing to the Taliban’s success, a senior US senator said, a day after Washington announced plans to withdraw all troops from the war-torn Asian country by September 11.

Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed, on the Senate floor, said: “a crucial factor contributing immensely to the Taliban’s success” has been the inability of the US to “eliminate the sanctuary the Taliban was granted in Pakistan.”

Referring to a recent study, Reed said the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan and state support from organizations, like Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been essential to their war effort and the US’ failure to undermine this safe haven may be Washington’s most significant mistake of the war.

“As the (congressionally mandated) Afghan Study Group noted, these sanctuaries are essential to the viability of the insurgency. Additionally, Pakistan’s ISI aided and abetted the Taliban while opportunistically cooperating with the United States,” Reed said.

A Brookings scholar, Reed said as per the assessment in 2018, Pakistan provided direct military and intelligence aid resulting in the deaths of US soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, plus significant destabilization of Afghanistan.

“This support of the Taliban runs counter to Pakistani cooperation with the United States, including as they have, allowing the use of airspace and other infrastructure for which the United States provided significant funding,” he said.

“As the Afghan Study Group noted, Pakistan has played both sides of the field. These dynamics further play out against the complex environment in Pakistan which has implications for the national security of the United States, its allies and partners,” he said.

Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, Qatar, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.

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US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11

Kabul: The US will begin its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan before May 1 and complete the process before September 11, according to a senior US administration official. There are between 2,500 and 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present.

“We will begin an orderly draw-down of the remaining forces before May 1st and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” the official told reporters. The process could be completed “well in advance” of the September deadline, the official said.

The US and its NATO allies had signed a deal with the Taliban in February last year to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban met certain preconditions, including a cessation of violence (the Taliban has repeatedly attacked on civilians and Afghan security forces since) and not turning the country into a haven for terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda.

The US considers the re-emergence of al-Qaeda in the region after the draw-down of troops a “genuine threat” according to the official, who said the threat will be dealt with “directly” and by holding the Taliban accountable.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to arrive at an intra-Afghan settlement are under way. Istanbul will host talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government between April 24 and May 4.


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Taliban not ready to meet Afghan govt in Turkey

Islamabad: The Taliban has said that it won’t attend a peace conference tentatively planned for later this week in Turkey, putting US efforts to get a peace plan anytime soon in jeopardy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said he wanted to see a peace agreement between Afghanistan’s warring sides finalized at a conference hosted by Turkey and attended by top officials from both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Afghan government, US and Turkish officials had said they intended to begin the conference on April 16. It was to last 10 days.

No new date for the Turkey conference was set but time is running out on a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in keeping with a deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban more than a year ago.

President Joe Biden has said he is committed to ending America’s longest war but the US is reportedly looking for a three- to six-month extension.

Until now the Taliban have refused, warning of “consequences” if Washington reneges on the deal and the withdrawal timeline.

Last month, Blinken gave both the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page proposed peace plan, which they were to discuss, revise and review and come to Turkey ready to cobble together an agreement.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has grown increasingly isolated in Kabul as his political opponents accuse him of clinging to power, offered an alternative to Blinken’s proposal. Ghani supported an interim government that he would head until elections could be held within months.

The Taliban have made it clear they would not accept a government headed by Ghani, but they have yet to offer an alternative to Binken’s proposal.

Blinken announced the Turkey meeting in a sharply worded letter to Ghani and other Afghan leaders. In that letter Blinken warned that a US withdrawal without a political settlement would leave Ghani’s government vulnerable to Taliban gains. (News 95.7)

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Afghan president proposes three-phase peace roadmap: Report

Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has drawn up a new proposal for peace with the Taliban ahead of an international conference aimed at jump-starting faltering talks between the two warring sides, official sources said.

It comes after the US — backed by Russia and other stakeholders — said in its own leaked proposal that it wants to see some form of transitional government involving the Taliban, although Ghani has insisted leaders can only be chosen at the ballot box.

According to official sources, Ghani intends to present his three-stage plan at a UN-backed conference in Turkey to be attended by the US, Russia and other key regional countries. A date for the event has not been finalized.

The US is just weeks away from a May 1 deadline to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a deal agreed with the hardline group last year — a date US President Joe Biden has said will be tough to meet.

Ghani’s three-stage proposal includes reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing an internationally monitored ceasefire.

He then proposes holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a “government of peace”. (The Hindu)

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Taliban threaten attacks if foreign troops stay past May 1

Kabul: Taliban militants have warned that they will resume attacks against foreign forces if they do not withdraw from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline, in response to US President Joe Biden offering an unclear timetable on when American troops would be pulled back.

“All responsibility for the prolongation of war, death and destruction will be on the shoulders of those whom committed this violation,” DPA news agency quoted the insurgent group as saying in a statement.

The May 1 deadline is part of an agreement the US administration under former President Donald Trump signed with the Taliban in February 2020 in Doha.

It is now under review by the Biden administration.

Under the deal, the US promised to withdraw all US and international forces from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban vowed to cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Since the signing of the deal, there have been no attacks on US-led NATO forces in the country.

However, there is no tangible progress in ongoing peace talks between the representatives of the Taliban and the government that started in September 2020.

Recently, Biden said that he “can’t picture” US troops still being in Afghanistan next year, but he did not offer a precise timetable.

The Taliban called Biden’s remarks “vague” and emphasized that the Doha agreement is the best option to end the past 20 years of war.

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‘Security remains enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan’

Kabul: The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, at the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security has said that the Taliban have not significantly changed their high levels of violence, or military and political objectives.

“Security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan,” Sopko said, adding that “Terrorist groups in Afghanistan like Daesh and al-Qaeda, although reduced, remain in the country.”

He said that the ongoing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban raise questions and concerns about whether the fragile gains made by women and girls will be preserved in a future peace agreement, Tolo news reported.

“Discrimination persists, and possible policy changes by whatever form of government might follow an Afghan peace agreement could undermine women’s gains,” he said.

Spoko also mentioned that the civilian casualties also remain high—the numbers of civilian casualties violently killed and wounded in the last quarter of 2020 were the third highest in the last two years.

He said that Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events there as foreign troops depart, adding that “and risks to a potential peace if they reduce assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict.”

Sopko added that the UN Development Programme estimates that poverty in Afghanistan, defined as income of 2,064 afghanis per person per month (around $1 a day), has increased to 68 per cent from its pre-pandemic level of 55 per cent.

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Talks ‘waste of time’ unless Taliban implements truce: Ahmadzai

Kabul: The peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are a “waste of time” as long as the radical movement fails to implement its commitment to reduce violence and implement a ceasefire, Haji Nazir Ahmadzai, a senior adviser to the Afghan president on the Reconciliation of Political Parties and Tribes, told Sputnik in an interview.

“Until the ceasefire is reached, the talks don’t work, it’s just a waste of time,” Ahmadzai said.

Commenting on why the second round of talks was delayed, the presidential aide said that Kabul’s delegation has been in Doha, Qatar’s capital which hosts the negotiation, “for a long time,” ready to continue the talks.

“But unfortunately the Taliban have been on foreign trips and have delayed talks,” he added.

“You see, the Taliban did not implement to their promise of a ceasefire, the Taliban escalated the violence, blew up the cities, and escalated the fighting, which is unacceptable [both] to the international community and to the Afghan nation,” Ahmadzai said.

According to the official, the Afghan delegation will ask US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to “call a ceasefire in the peace process.”

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Afghan peace talks resume in Doha as US reviews Taliban deal

Islamabad: Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have resumed in the Qatari capital Doha after weeks of delays, escalating violence and a change in US diplomatic leadership as the Biden administration began.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted the resumption of the talks, which were the outcome of an agreement between the Afghan armed group and the US in February 2020.

But the administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing the agreement, which was aimed at ending the longest war the US has fought.

Last week, the Taliban in an open letter called on the US to fully implement the Doha accord, including the withdrawal of all international troops, saying it had committed to its side of the deal – to secure US security interests in the war-torn country.

There were no details about the talks except for an announcement that the first item of business would be setting the agenda.

When talks ended abruptly in January, days after they began, both sides submitted their wish lists for agendas which they now have to sift through to agree on negotiation items and the order in which they will be tackled.

The priority for the Afghan government, Washington and NATO is a serious reduction in violence that can lead to a ceasefire, the Taliban have until now resisted any immediate ceasefire.

Washington is reviewing the Doha peace agreement the previous Trump administration signed with the Taliban as consensus mounts in Washington that a delay of the withdrawal deadline is needed. The Taliban have resisted suggestions of even a brief extension. (Al-Jazeera)

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