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Afghan troop withdrawal: Hillary warns of ‘huge consequences’

Washington: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned of “huge consequences” of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.

She told CNN there was a risk the Taliban – the Islamist group ousted in 2001 by the US-led invasion – could retake control.

The US aims to complete the withdrawal by September 11.

However, violence against Afghans has escalated starkly in recent weeks, with more than a hundred Afghan security force personnel killed.

On the eve of the previously agreed withdrawal deadline, a huge blast in eastern Logar killed dozens as they broke their fast during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. It was not clear who was behind the attack.

“This is what we call a wicked problem,” Clinton told CNN. “There are consequences both foreseen and unintended of staying and of leaving,” she said.

Under the Trump administration’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban, foreign forces were to withdraw from the country by May 1 while the Taliban held off on attacking foreign troops and bases.

But President Biden announced last month after reviewing the situation that forces would stay in the country for months beyond May, withdrawing by Sept. 11.

At least 2,500 US troops are currently deployed as part of the 9,600-strong Nato Afghan mission.

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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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Won’t leave Afghanistan before time is right: NATO chief

New Delhi: The Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance does not intend to withdraw troops from Afghanistan “before the time is right”.

“While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right,” Stoltenberg said during a media conference.

“Ministers will continue to assess the situation on the ground and monitor developments very closely”, Stoltenberg added.

Whether the troops will continue to operate in Afghanistan depends on Biden’s rejection or acceptance of the May deadline which requires pulling out all foreign forces.

US President Biden’s administration claims that it is currently reviewing the deal.

The Pentagon has also accused the Taliban of failing to fulfill its promises, which include reduction of attacks and severing ties with groups like Al-Qaeda. Even then, no concrete announcement on the future of deployment is expected this week.

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EU in Afghanistan calls for ‘end to violence’

Kabul: The European Union’s (EU) special envoy to Afghanistan, Roland Kobia, has called for an immediate end to violence in the war-torn country, followed by a ceasefire.

Taking to Twitter, Kobia said: “If some parties don’t like the term «ceasefire», call it truce, cessation of hostilities, moratorium, silent period. Whatever the semantics until it stops rivers of Afghan blood. You have an opportunity with new US administration to show you -really- want peace. Now”.

Taliban violence has “increased” in Afghanistan despite signing of the landmark peace deal with the US last year, security agencies have said, adding that the group still maintains ties with the Al Qaeda terror group.

Violent incidents mostly in the shape of target killing has been on rise over the past couple of months amid the tough and slow peace dialogue between negotiating teams of the Afghan government and Taliban group in Doha.

The second round of intra-Afghan talks after more than three weeks of break resumed on January 6 without significant progress, reports Xinhua news agency.

According to local media reports, no official dialogue has been held between the two sides over the past 10 days.

Taliban has demanded the resignation of the Afghan president from power as precondition for ceasefire and making peace.

A member of Taliban negotiating team Sher Mohammad Abas Stanikzai, according to media reports, has said that the armed group was ready “to make peace if Ashraf Ghani resigns” from power.

President Ghani has rejected the demand, saying that he is not the obstacle to peace rather he is a champion for peace in Afghanistan.

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Afghan-Taliban peace talks resume amid violence

Kabul: The negotiating team of the Afghan government left for Qatar on Jan 5 where they will resume the second round of the peace talks with the Taliban.

The second round, which will begin after a three-week break, will focus on a ceasefire and reduction in violence in the war-torn country, TOLO News reported.

Taking to Twitter, Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said: “The Republic’s Negotiation Team will depart tomorrow (Jan 5) as it was planed, to Doha to begin the second round of peace talks with Taliban. The team enjoys the full support of the republic and has the mandate to discuss the peace agenda.

“We are committed to achieving a lasting peace and ask the Taliban to do so. We are looking for a successful second round.”

The peace negotiations, which formally kick-off in September 2020, witnessed a breakthrough last month after the two sides agreed on procedural rules for the talks.

According to TOLO News, in its draft of demands, the Afghan government’s team has added ceasefire, preservation of national sovereignty, media freedom and the prohibition of activity by foreign fighters in the war-torn country.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s demands include an Islamic government structure, establishment of an Islamic council, and ensuring women’s rights and the rights of all citizens based on Islamic principles.

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Khalilzad ‘optimistic’ about start of intra-Afghan talks

Kabul: The US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said he was “optimistic” about the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

At a recent press conference, Khalilzad said: “We’re optimistic that finally we are moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Khalilzad was also hopeful that the violence will stay low in the war-torn country, reports TOLO News.

“I believe we are in a more hopeful moment that validates our approach,” said Khalilzad, citing the Eid ceasefire called for by the Taliban, which was reciprocated by the government.

“By all accounts violence was down dramatically during Eid,” the US envoy said.

He also said that about 2,500 Taliban prisoners have been released since the US and Taliban signed the agreement in February.

On the political crisis in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said: “The political crisis in Afghanistan that produced two presidential inaugurations, now it’s been resolved, and the two leaders are working together on an agenda for peace.”

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