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Afghan Talks With Taliban Reflect a Changed Nation

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(Last Updated On: July 9, 2019)

By Mujib Mashal

DOHA, Qatar — When the Taliban met Sunday for the first time with Afghan officials, the delegates they faced formed a moving tableau of a new Afghanistan that has taken shape since the movement was toppled 18 years ago.

Bloodshed and progress in those years have gone hand in hand, and many of the representatives at the table — from each side — came with stories of personal loss and grievance. The dialogue in Qatar, which continues on Monday, is the first in which Afghan government officials have participated and aims to break the ice for direct negotiations on Afghanistan’s political future after an expected United States military withdrawal.

“It is important to give all sides the opportunity to see how things have changed over the past 18 years,” said Sultan Barakat, the director of the Doha institute that organized the event with a German foundation. “Eighteen years is not a short time, but war tends to trap people into imperceptions.”

Among the Afghan participants are current and former senior officials who lost family members to suicide bombings, and a media executive who saw a bus full of his employees go up in flames.

When in power, the Taliban did not allow women to work or go to school. But in the main session on Sunday, at meals and during tea breaks, senior Taliban officials mingled respectfully with female delegates, like the first female governor, leading a province that had endured a gruesome Taliban massacre in 2001, and a doctor who represents the Sikh minority as a senator.

And if they happened to hear a baby crying, it was the deputy national security adviser’s 2-month-old boy. As she took her seat across from the Taliban, her husband, also a young senior official, came along to lull the child to sleep on the margins of the sessions.

When social media mistakenly included the baby’s name on a list of conference participants, maybe it was only fitting: Of all the attendees, his future stakes might be the highest.

News of another round of Afghan carnage — and children caught in an attack — came as the delegates filed into the ballroom in the sprawling Sheraton resort in Doha. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a huge truck bombing in Ghazni city on Sunday that killed eight security officers and four civilians. About 170 others were wounded, including 50 schoolchildren, the United Nations said.

On the Taliban side of talks in Qatar, several of the delegates spent more than a decade detained at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Their deputy leader in charge of the peace efforts, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who did not attend Sunday, endured nearly 10 years of Pakistani imprisonment that damaged his health.

The militants have stories of relatives and friends lost to raids and bombings by American and Afghan forces. And they believe so staunchly in their fight against what they see as a foreign occupation that even the son of their latest supreme leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing.

While the Afghan side largely sees the Taliban as a proxy force under the influence of neighboring Pakistan, the Taliban see the Afghan government as a puppet of the United States.

To bridge the two visions of reality is a fundamental but immense task. And while long overdue, the peace process — considered key to the withdrawal of the remaining 14,000 American troops — suddenly seems to be moving quickly.

Most of Sunday’s sessions took place behind closed doors. But at the end of the day participants described the atmosphere as respectful, even if the exchanges at times grew tense.

Members of the Afghan delegation said they had seen more assurances from the Taliban that they would respect women’s right to work and to get educated. Taliban officials engaged in discussions on issues, rather than reading from prepared statements as they did at previous conferences.

Nader Nadery, the chairman of the Afghan civil service commission, brought up the morning’s deadly attack in Ghazni. While he mentioned his own torture under the Taliban, he also acknowledged the suffering of the Taliban officials across from him during their years of detention.

“I have the courage to forgive, as I know your members have suffered, too,” Mr. Nadery said he told the gathering.

Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, a member of the Taliban delegation, accused the Afghan side of being selective when speaking of civilian casualties. He said Afghan officials and media played down the civilian toll caused in rural areas by Afghan and American operations.

“The pain from all sides, whether it is the night raids or the bombings, that is why we are here,” Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban delegation, said in an interview. “All sides have pain. The end of that pain is in ending the occupation.”

Abdul Matin Bek, an Afghan cabinet member attending the talks, knows that pain firsthand. His father, a member of Parliament, was killed in the suicide bombing of a funeral in 2011.

Mr. Bek said his travels around the country had shown that Afghans demand an end to the war. He hoped the current dialogue would lead to direct negotiations to achieve that.

“It is not easy for me to sit across from people who have killed my father,” he said. “But we have to end this.”

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Afghan man claims to have discovered Coronavirus antidote

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(Last Updated On: May 30, 2020)

A man in Kabul claims to have discovered an antidote, vaccine for the treatment of the Coronavirus.

Hakim Alokozai, who introduces himself as an herbal doctor, says the antidote is made from natural herbs extracts.

The man, identified as Mohammad Hakim Alokoziai, has been an herbal doctor for many years and now claims to have developed a vaccine after weeks of studies and research about the disease.

He claims to have applied what he called a vaccine, to several Covid-19 patients and came up with positive results.

Meanwhile, Khushal Nabizada, Kabul head of the public health department, said that the introduction of a drug or the treatment of diseases needs scientific requirements, therefore the treatment of patients should not be arbitrary.

Nabizada underlined that after tests and obtaining a license, this person can prescribe his medicine, and if he has created and/or tried to scam people, he will face the law and be prosecuted

Researchers around the world, in much developed, including the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union, have been trying to develop Coronavirus vaccine and antiviral drugs for months, but none have succeeded to this date.

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Ceasefire must to start, advance peace talks – Abdullah

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(Last Updated On: May 30, 2020)

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council of Reconciliation, speaks of some progress in starting the Intra-Afghan talks.

He also underlined that the government’s negotiating team was ready to start the talks with the Taliban anytime and that the two sides need to take action.

This marks Abdullah’s first speech since taking office as chairman of the High Reconciliation Council after 12 days.

Abdullah called the three-day ceasefire on Eid holidays and the significant exchange of prisoners between the Taliban and the government, promising steps to start the Intra-Afghan talks.

He also called on the countries in the region to continue their cooperation in the Afghan peace process.

Although he announced the full preparations of the government’s negotiating team to start direct talks with the Taliban, he stressed that the start of direct talks with the Taliban requires actions by both sides.

Abdullah said that the final structure of the council would be formed next week.

Meanwhile, a technical team of the Taliban arrived in Kabul following the 3-day ceasefire and is working to ease up the prisoner releases with the Afghan government.

The Taliban’s technical team continued talks for the third day behind closed doors with government representatives in Kabul, focusing on the release of prisoners at both ends, with the aim of speeding up the process and paving the ground for the Intra-Afghan talks.

It is worth mentioning that on the fourth day of the unofficial ceasefire, neither the Taliban nor the government has reported any incidents of violence. To this point, both sides seem optimistic about the cessation of violence.

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Afghanistan to transit trade via Pakistan’s Gwadar port

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(Last Updated On: May 30, 2020)

The Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) enables Afghanistan to transit trade through Pakistan’s Gwadar port under the OPTA agreement.

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce says that Afghanistan is trying to improve its economic relations with all neighboring countries and the region, pointing at the Pakistani port of Gwadar as the closest and cheapest transit route for Afghanistan’s trade.

In the meantime, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s senior advisor of economy, Abdul Razzaq Daud, has said that trade with Afghanistan is set to begin through the Gwadar port, starting with 16,000 tons of fertilizer to be shipped to Afghanistan.

In addition, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment considers the Gwadar port as less expensive than any others; however, it criticizes that the neighboring countries are not honest enough in their economic relations with Afghanistan.

On the other hand, experts point out that if Pakistan complies with international economic and transit laws, Afghan traders will be able to import and export goods via Gwadar port at lower costs.

This comes as economic relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been often strained due to political tensions, and the country has severally closed its ports to Afghan traders.

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