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A new plan to ‘fix the war’ with a Bonn-style conference: AAN report

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(Last Updated On: March 7, 2021)

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has in the past week proposed the possibility of a Bonn-type conference that could cancel or sideline the intra-Afghan peace talks currently underway in Doha.

According to Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), “Bonn 2” appears to have been discussed in a number of capitals and with various Afghan leaders.

The proposal appears aimed at ensuring a US troop withdrawal that would not look like Washington is cutting and running, AAN stated adding that any new power-sharing agreement reached as a ‘quick fix’ to the conflict would be inherently risky.

This could include increased conflict and the breaking down and loss of whatever stability and systems Afghanistan now enjoys.

AAN’s Thomas Ruttig, who was at the first Bonn conference as part of the UN team, argues that the situation in Afghanistan in 2021 is anyway so very different from those in 2001 that calling for a Bonn 2 conference to resolve the conflict is disingenuous.

Ruttig states that according to sources, the US envoy told Afghan politicians that the peace talks in Doha will be sidelined and that a Bonn Conference-style meeting will be held at the international level to discuss the prospect of a participatory government that would include the Taliban.

“A grand international conference that will be similar to the Bonn Conference will be held, in which the Taliban and the republic side will participate at the leadership level. At the same time, the international community, including the United States and the regional countries, will reach a political agreement that will take its legitimacy from the international community.

“However, the national legitimacy (agreement of the potential conference) would take its authority from the traditional Loya Jirga,” said Shahzada Massoud, a close aide to former president Hamid Karzai, AAN reported.

AAN stated that Khalilzad had reportedly carried a special letter from the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), calling on them “to speed up the peace process and build an internal consensus to negotiate with the Taliban on a new level,” and to prepare for a “Bonn model” conference with the Taliban, hosted by Turkey in Ankara “as soon as possible.”

According to the report, the new plan seems inspired by the desire to meet the short, albeit formally conditional, timeline that was established by the year-old US-Taliban agreement for the withdrawal of US and other troops by 1 May 2021.

Khalilzad’s hope, apparently, is that a Bonn-style conference could result in a quick power-sharing agreement (or, similarly to the approach to that before the February 2020 Doha deal with a Taliban, with a ‘framework’ agreement as a first step).

His proposal would appear to mean the end or sidelining of the intra-Afghan talks in Doha where the Taliban and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRoA) have yet to agree on an agenda, AAN reported.

AAN stated that his proposal might be primarily aimed at providing cover for the US troop withdrawal by 1 May, or alternatively include conditions for a delayed final withdrawal. Such an agreement would also allow the new US government to sidestep the thorny issue of whether the Taliban have fulfilled their commitments to the bilateral February 2020 Doha deal, with regard to cutting ties with al-Qaeda.

AAN stated that at least ten political leaders have agreed to the plan: President Ashraf Ghani, along with his two deputies, Amrullah Saleh and Sarwar Danesh; Abdullah Abdullah; former president Hamid Karzai and factional leaders Muhammad Mohaqeq, Muhammad Karim Khalili, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf and Yunes Qanuni.

The plan reported includes a handover of power from the current government to a transitional one, after “agreement on basic issues” in Ankara and in the presence of US and NATO military forces “in order to maintain political stability.”

The transitional government, reported AAN, could include leaders from Afghanistan and the Taliban but it is not clear how a transitional administration would become a permanent government.

Before Khalilzad arrived in Kabul last week, he had a stopover in Berlin. AAN reported it is likely Khalilzad discussed this plan with Berlin before heading to Afghanistan.

According to AAN, a first indirect reaction from the Afghan government to the Bonn 2 proposal came late on 3 March, from National Security Adviser Hamdullah Moheb, who said the government was “holding discussions about a wide range of alternatives” with various factions to achieve peace in the country.

He said any option needed “guarantees” from the international community and the Taliban. On 6 March, however, when opening the spring session of the Afghan parliament, Ghani indirectly rejected parts of the new US plan in a speech, particularly ideas of a non-elected government.

He reiterated that the transfer of power through elections was “a non-negotiable principle for us” and, tha the constitution would determine the country’s future, rather than other people’s plans.

He also said, however, that he was “ready to discuss the holding of a free, transparent, and countrywide election under the management of the international community” and that “[w]e can also talk about a date and reach a conclusion.”

Ghani did not refer to the idea of holding a new international conference.

AAN reported that it is interesting that Khalilzad chose to frame his plan as a ‘Bonn-style’ agreement, deliberately suggesting that it is possible to turn back history, press the restart button, deal the cards again – largely with the same factions, in some cases even the same individuals, but this time, with the Taliban at the table.

AAN stated that many authors and commentators, in hindsight, have described the fact that the Taliban were not included in Bonn 1 as one of its main mistakes.

In conclusion, AAN reported that the plan to hold a new “Bonn-style conference” prioritises US interests and timelines even more than the Doha agreement did.

Even if the Taliban agreed to a ‘Bonn 2 formula’, this would leave the causes of conflict unaddressed. It would hand the implementation of an agreement to parties who so far and to varying degrees have not been willing to seriously negotiate with each other or share power.

To only have armed factions at the negotiating table would again undercut the principle of broad participation, including of women’s organisations and other civil society groups, and would limit the chances of a peaceful future. It would repeat a major mistake of Bonn 1 where civilian political forces were not invited to the table, AAN reported.

However, if both sides could be brought to agree to a deal and even some form of truce, and troops withdrew, with the departing soldiers would go much of the remaining international attention on Afghanistan.

AAN reported that international powers would then have even less leverage on the Afghan parties, but might also have less interest, once their military engagement was over.

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Public Works on track with new road linking Badakhshan to China

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

The Ministry of Public works said Tuesday that construction of a road, connecting Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province to China, is underway and 15 percent of the project has been completed.

The Ministry said in a statement, the construction of a 49.7km unpaved road has started from Bozhai Gonbad Khord Pamir in Badakhshan and extends to the end of the Wakhan corridor close to the border with China.

The Ministry stated that the project is part of the government’s future plan for boosting regional transit that “brings Afghanistan steps closer to regional connectivity and economic policy.”

The project, at a cost of more than 369 million AFN, will be funded by the government, the statement said.

According to the statement, the impassable mountainous Wakhan corridor, which is a narrow strip of territory in Badakhshan province that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and Kashmir, would be connected to China via the road.

The Ministry of Public Works stated that the road, which will eventually be paved, will be the Wakhan Route and will “not only be a shortcut between China and Afghanistan…but will also help tourists reach Wakhan National Park.”

Historically, Badakhshan is a region comprising parts of what is now north-eastern Afghanistan, eastern Tajikistan, and the Tashkurgan county in China. However, the name is retained by Afghanistan in Badakhshan Province.

Located in northeastern Afghanistan, Badakhshan is bordered by Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

Most of the province is occupied by the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges.

Once Badakhshan was a stopover on the ancient Silk Road trading path but the Wakhan corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over a century as there is no modern road.

There is a rough track for a few dozen kilometers that was built in the 1960s, but for much of the way, to the Chinese border, there are only rough paths.

The remoteness of the region has meant that, despite the long-running wars of Afghanistan since the late 1970s, the region has remained virtually untouched by conflict and many locals, who are mostly composed of ethnic Pamir and Kyrgyz, are not aware of wars in the country.

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US destroys unwanted gear and sells it as scrap

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

Angry scrapyard owners in Afghanistan have spoken out about the US military destroying equipment as they pack up ahead of the final withdrawal.

Inside one scrapyard, owned by Baba Mir, close to Bagram Air Base, lies the twisted remains of several all-terrain vehicles, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Alongside these lie smashed shards that were once generators, tank tracks and mountains of tents that have been reduced to sliced up fabric.

Anything they are not shipping home or giving to the Afghans, the Americans are destroying.

Officials have said in the past that they are destroying the equipment so it does not fall into militant hands.

But, according to AP, Mir and other scrap sellers around Bagram have said it is an infuriating waste.

“What they are doing is a betrayal of Afghans. They should leave,” said Mir. “Like they have destroyed this vehicle, they have destroyed us.”

AP reports that as the last few thousand US and NATO troops withdraw, they leave behind many Afghans who are frustrated and angry.

They feel abandoned to a legacy they blame at least in part on the Americans — a deeply corrupt US-backed government and growing instability that could burst into a brutal new phase of civil war.

AP reported that the scrapyard owners are angry in part because they could have profited more from selling intact equipment.

According to AP, US officials are being secretive about what stays and what goes. Most of what is being shipped home is sensitive equipment never intended to stay behind, say US Defense and Western officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other equipment including helicopters, military vehicles, weapons and ammunition will be handed over to Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces and some bases will be given to them as well.

One of those most recently handed over was the New Antonik base in Helmand province, where Taliban are said to control roughly 80% of the rural area.

AP reports that destined for the scrap heap are equipment and vehicles that can neither be repaired nor transferred to Afghanistan’s security forces because of poor condition.

This is not however the first time this has happened. The same was done in 2014, when thousands of troops withdrew as the US and NATO handed Afghanistan’s security over to Afghans.

More than 176 million kilograms of scrap from destroyed equipment and vehicles was sold to Afghans for $46.5 million, a spokeswoman for the military’s Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia said at the time.

The Associated Press reported that last month, around the time President Joe Biden announced that America was ending it’s “forever war,” Mir paid nearly $40,000 for a container packed with 70 tons of trashed equipment.

He’ll make money, he told AP, but it will be a fraction of what he could have made selling the vehicles if they’d been left intact, even if they weren’t in running condition.

The parts would have been sold to the legions of auto repair shops across Afghanistan, he said. That can’t happen now. They’ve been reduced to mangled pieces of metal that Mir sells for a few thousand Afghanis.

Sadat, another scrap dealer in Bagram, says similar scrap yards around the country are crammed with ruined US equipment.

“They left us nothing,” he said. “They don’t trust us. They have destroyed our country. They are giving us only destruction.”

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US indicates Daesh might have been behind deadly school bombing

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

The US State Department said Monday ISIS (Daesh) could possibly have been behind the deadly school bombing in Kabul that left over 80 people, mostly schoolgirls, dead.

In a press briefing, the department’s spokesman Ned Price said there are some indications that Daesh was behind the attack.

“We are still looking into what or who is responsible, but I would note that ISIS has been responsible for similar attacks on Shia communities in Kabul in the past,” he said.

“We note the Taliban has denied involvement in the attack, and we welcome their announcement of a three-day ceasefire over the upcoming Eid holiday.

“We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence,” he said.

He went on to say that although the United States is withdrawing its troops, America is not disengaging from Afghanistan. He said Washington “will continue to use our diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolset to ensure that the gains of the past 20 years, particularly those made by women, girls, and minorities, are preserved.”

Price pointed out that in leaving Afghanistan, it was only “a military withdrawal”.

Quoting US President Joe Biden, Price said: “As the President has said, we will be withdrawing our military forces, except those required for the protection of our embassy in Kabul. And that’s the other important point: We are going to retain an embassy in Kabul precisely though – so that we can continue to partner and to provide support for not only the Government of Afghanistan, but the people of Afghanistan.

He stated that the circumstances of the bombing at the school on Saturday “are not yet crystal clear. As I said before, there are some indications that this may have been attributable to ISIS and not the Taliban.”

Price also stated that Washington has “long been concerned about the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan”.

“As you know, we have had a military presence in Afghanistan to see to it that the country could not be used as a staging ground to attack the United States, to propel force beyond – well beyond Afghanistan’s borders. We have been able to accomplish that goal.

“We continue to have important humanitarian goals when it comes to Afghanistan. We will continue to carry out and to move forward with those objectives, even as our military withdraws from the country,” he said.

Special Immigrant Visa Program

Price also noted that as the US withdraws, they will keep “adequate resources in the region and over-the-horizon capacity should threats emerge that require us to leverage the use of force.”

On the issue of visas for interpreters who have worked for the US military, Price said that serious attention was being given to the Special Immigrant Visa Program.

He said Washington has “added resources to help process the special immigrant visa applicants, knowing that as the United States, we have a special responsibility to those who have helped us along the way, who have helped the US military, who have helped the US government, oftentimes placing themselves in harm’s way.

“Our commitment to these people, to these individuals will continue, and we are doing all we can to process them as expeditiously as we can,” he said.

In answer to a question, Price added: “We have been acting with the utmost urgency knowing that, again, we have a special responsibility to the women and men who have, in many cases, placed themselves in harm’s way to assist the US government over the years.”

He said additional resources, including augmenting domestic staff in Washington to process applications, has already been put in place. In addition, the US has approved a temporary increase in consular staffing at the embassy in Kabul in order to conduct interviews and process visa applications,” Price said.

“And we’ll continue to do that contingent on the security situation in the country. We will continue to look for ways to speed up this process, to facilitate the processing of – for these brave individuals.”

Welcoming the three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Eid holidays, Price said they “urge the Taliban to extend the ceasefire and order a significant reduction in violence.

“We all know that a return to violence would be senseless as well as tragic. We remind the Taliban that engaging in violence will not afford it legitimacy or durability. That has been our point all along. Engaging in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement will,” he said.

He said it was in no one’s interest for Afghanistan to once again devolve into civil war. “It’s not in the Taliban’s interests, it’s not in the Government of Afghanistan’s interests, it’s not in the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors, and it’s certainly not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan.”

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