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Constructive discussions with Pak on Afghan issue: NSA Sullivan

Washington: The US has had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan on terrorism emanating from Afghanistan and the Afghan peace process, the White House has said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also said that the peace process would be an important issue in the upcoming NATO meeting next week.

“We have only had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of America’s capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which Al Qaeda or ISIS or any other terrorist group can attack the United States,” he told a White House news conference.

Sullivan was responding to a question on talks with Pakistan on the Afghan peace process, which would be an important topic of discussion at the NATO summit.

However, he refrained from giving specifics oN the discussions with Pakistan.

“In terms of the specifics of what that will look that will have to remain in those private channels as we work through them. What I will say that we are talking to a wide range of countries about how we build effective over the horizon capability both from an intelligence and from a defense perspective to be able to suppress terrorism threat in Afghanistan on a going-forward basis,” Sullivan said.



‘Al-Qaeda chief somewhere between Afghanistan, Pakistan’

Kabul: A significant part of the Al-Qaeda leadership resides in Afghanistan and Pakistan region, including the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is “probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda,” according to a United Nations report.

The findings on the status of Taliban-controlled and contested districts were presented last week by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

The group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to be located somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Previous reports of his death due to ill health have not been confirmed. “One Member State reports that he is probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda.”

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How India can play a pivotal role in Afghanistan’s stability

By Hollie McKay

As the United States prepares to pull out the entirety of its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan, the onus for security and stability will fall on the region’s neighbors.

However, this is a window of opportunity in which India can lead the way. It will not be an easy or simple process. As the Taliban become increasingly assertive in the ongoing peace talks and potentially set to govern the country again someday, it is vital that New Delhi carves a channel for diplomatic dealings.

So far there have been some evident efforts in that direction. Indian officials are taking an increasingly visible role in the various meetings concerning Afghanistan’s future, of which Taliban members have been party.

Of course, India’s history with the Taliban – for instance when it was poised at the Kabul helm from 1996 to 2001 – has been a turbulent one. This is not surprising given the Taliban’s protracted policy of directly and indirectly supporting Pakistani terrorist groups, a policy which has resulted among other things in various skirmishes in Jammu and Kashmir.

Moreover, it is hard to forget the painful hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight in 1999 by five Taliban gunmen, resulting in one passenger being fatally stabbed and 17 being wounded (Joshi, 2020). Allegations of involvement by the Pakistani ISI inflamed the aftermath.

And certainly, the Taliban’s tendency for violence and the ruthless targeting of both Afghan forces and civilians in recent years reminds all the sobering reality that their overarching tactical approach remains unchanged.

Furthermore and of course, India’s leaders cannot enthusiastically align with a political faction that ideologically limits the education and vocational opportunities for women and endorses extremist values that amount to violence and terrorism.

The diplomatic dance with the Taliban must therefore be delicate, but not dismissive. Uncomfortable facts are facts nonetheless, and India will need to work with the reality on the ground if – or when – the Taliban resume a potent palace position.

India has built up a robust portfolio of strategic interests in Afghanistan – despite its conflicts and volatility. A good example is the $100 million enlargement of the Chabahar port to serve as an import-export core between Central Asia and Afghanistan.

By opting to play a more pervasive part in Afghanistan, India also stands to secure even closer strategic ties to the United States. Washington has vowed to maintain its diplomatic and humanitarian endeavours in Afghanistan after the military exit, and President Biden has expressed a desire to see neighbouring nations play more prominent roles.

India can also coordinate its strategy and act as something of an interlocutor for all countries directly impacted by security affairs in Afghanistan – China, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar and beyond.

While India cannot control who takes power in Kabul, it is in India’s best interests to keep the door open to whomever wins the stakes in the months and years to come, keeping in mind the Taliban’s tenacity over the past two decades of US occupation, and the fact that it is a force which is here to stay.

(The writer is a war crimes investigator and author of “Only Cry for the Living: Memos from Inside the ISIS Battlefield”. The opinion appeared in IANS)

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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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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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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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Biden to pull troops from Afghan by Sept as Blinken visits Kabul

Washington/Kabul: President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. was pulling the more than 2,500 remaining troops from the country by the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. An additional 7,000 allied forces are also expected to withdraw.

On cue, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to brief the country’s leaders on U.S. plans and to press for a peace agreement with the Taliban.

“The reason I’m here, so quickly after the President’s speech last night, is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring and ongoing commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the U.S Embassy in Kabul. He then met with President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, saying the two countries’ “partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.”

“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told him.

The trip comes after Blinken visited NATO allies in Brussels to coordinate plans for the withdrawal. The decision pushes back a May 1 deadline that the Trump administration agreed to with Taliban leaders last year, and the move risks retaliation against Afghan and U.S. forces.

Military and diplomatic leaders had said a rushed withdrawal could destabilize the country. Officials had also argued that the Pentagon’s previous “conditions-based” approach for withdrawal was a recipe for leaving U.S. forces in the country forever.

Although some members of Congress have endorsed Biden’s withdrawal plans, lawmakers from both parties have said it would set the stage for the Taliban to return to power and for terrorists from al-Qaeda and Islamic State to re-establish operations in the country.

Blinken told reporters in Brussels on April 14 that the U.S. will work closely with allies on a “safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan.”

U.S. officials hope the impending troop withdrawal will create a new sense of urgency for Ghani’s government to agree to a peace deal with the Taliban.

A report on worldwide threats issued by U.S. intelligence agencies on April 13 forecast that the Taliban “is likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”

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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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