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Crisis Group Welcomes Ceasefire Announcement by Govt, Taliban

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(Last Updated On: June 11, 2018)

The International Crisis Group on Sunday welcomed the “unprecedented” ceasefire announcement by the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgent group, saying such a truce could represent a concrete step toward peace talks.

“International Crisis Group welcomes pledges by the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency that both sides will respect a ceasefire over the Eid al Fitr holiday. If implemented, such a truce would be unprecedented and could represent a concrete step toward peace talks,” the organization said in a statement.

“There are sceptics both inside President Ashraf Ghani’s government and among the Taliban who question the truce. Its implementation could prove difficult. Nonetheless, the announcement of a ceasefire is a bold decision by both parties and could represent a step toward a peace process,” the statement added.

According to the organization, if the leadership of both parties can enforce the ceasefire, it would be “an important trust-building exercise that contributes to future peace-making” in Afghanistan.

Last week, President Ashraf Ghani announced a ceasefire with the Taliban after Afghan clerics gathered in Kabul and issued a Fatwa, religious ruling, against the ongoing violence in the country.

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan announces ceasefire from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr following the historic ruling [Fatwa] of the Afghan Ulema,” Ghani said in a video message aired live on the Presidential Palace Facebook page.

He ordered all Afghan security forces to stop their offensive maneuvers against the “Afghan armed Taliban” during the ceasefire period.

However, he asked governmental forces to continue their military operation against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other foreign-backed terrorist organizations and their affiliates across the country.

Following the announcement by Afghan government, the Taliban announced a truce during the forthcoming Eid al Fitr holiday.

For its part, the Taliban said its ceasefire will not extend to U.S.-led NATO forces, though the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has said the U.S. will respect the truce.

The ceasefire announcement decisions were warmly welcomed especially by citizens in the capital Kabul and on social media who hoped for a lasting peace across the war-torn country.

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NDS claims to have killed key al-Qaeda leader in Ghazni province 

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said its special forces killed a key al-Qaeda member in an operation in Ghazni province. 

In a post on Twitter, the NDS said: “As a result of NDS special force unit operation in Ghazni province an al-Qaeda key member for Indian sub-continent, Abu Muhsen al-Masri was killed.”

Al-Masri, an Egyptian national was believed to be the “second-in-command” in al-Qaeda and had been on the US’s Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Most Wanted Terrorist list.

He was charged in the US with conspiring to kill US nationals and providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

Rahmatullah Nabil, the former director of the NDS, said Sunday that al-Masri and some other members of al-Qaeda had frequently traveled between Shawwal Valley and Ghazni over the past few weeks.

He suggested that it could be related to a possible al-Qaeda attack.

According to him, key members of al-Qaeda had also been traveling to Zabul, Logar, and Paktika provinces. 

He said the al-Qaeda members had been holding “secret meetings with unknown people” in Shawwal Valley and stated if the Taliban are sincere about the peace process they should “prevent this attack”. 

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Atta Noor asks India to ‘engage with Taliban without giving them legitimacy’

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

As parties to the Afghan peace talks process in Doha stall over preliminary issues, Atta Mohammad Noor, CEO of Jamiat Party and former governor of Balkh province has called on New Delhi to help by playing a more proactive role in the dialogue and hold talks with the Taliban. 

Noor, who is currently in India, is the fourth prominent Afghan leader to visit India in the past few weeks to discuss the peace talks process – after visits by Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation; former Afghan vice-president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan politician and former Mujahideen Leader.

In an interview with ThePrint in Delhi this past week, Noor, who picked up a weapon in 2016 to save the lives of Indian diplomats during an attack on their consulate in Balkh province, said he was there to try to garner India’s support. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is currently quite complicated. That’s the reason I am here in India. I really hope that India will be more proactive because India has got power, it has got leverage, and it has got influence in the region,” Noor said.

“If India does not do that, then this will give more ground to the Pakistanis. As the Americans are leaving, the Pakistanis are finding more space in Afghanistan,” Noor said.

Until now, however, India’s policy has been that it will not engage with the Taliban, as it continues to see the fundamentalist group as being aided by Pakistan.

Recounting his experience in Mazar-e-Sharif four years ago, Noor told ThePrint it had been a rainy winter day in January of 2016 when the consulate was attacked. 

Noor said he reached the site of the consulate attack in 12 minutes and “started shooting the Taliban and other terrorists from Kashmir with my M4 sniper rifle”.

“I put my life at risk but I had to protect the diplomats and Indian friends. I felt we should give it back in return of what India did for us when we faced difficulties. There were some insurgents who had come from Kashmir as well. I reached there in 12 minutes, took up my arms and left for the consulate to defend it,” he added. 

“I was the governor at that time and more than 10,000 soldiers were under my control. But I deemed it my personal responsibility to defend my brothers who were stuck there,” he said.

According to him, insurgents tried to enter the consulate but were held off from doing so by security forces but managed to gain entry into a building nearby where they started shooting. 

The siege lasted 24 hours, with consulate staff having had to take refuge in safe rooms throughout the attack. 

“I started shooting with my people and continued shooting till the morning so that they cannot attack back. I am sure it was me who killed the first person and finally gunned all of them down. With their blood, they wrote Kashmir and Afzal on the wall,” he said.

Atta Noor at the scene of the attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2016

 

Noor also got helicopters to bring in reinforcement soldiers and said he managed to guide the pilots as well.

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in a tweet after their meeting earlier this week, Noor is regarded as a “long-standing friend of India”.

But Noor has pointed out that he is concerned Afghanistan might return to what it was during the Taliban’s regime and said India has the capability to become a “facilitator” of the peace talks and join other countries who are playing the same role.

“The peace talks going on in Qatar have not yielded any results yet. And the Taliban are being more aggressive. It seems they are being supported by others … India is a big and strong country and should be one of the facilitators (in the peace talks),” he said.

Otherwise, he said, there may come a situation where some of the Taliban leaders come to power and become part of the government while others continue to wage attacks, ThePrint reported.

“If that happens, we will get back to what happened in 1996. The situation can be worse than that,” he added. Being an important stakeholder in the development process there, India cannot afford to let that happen, he said. “I really hope India can be more proactive. India has more nationalist and strategic friends in Afghanistan.”

Noor also pointed out that the current peace talks can throw up very different results, each with consequences for India.

“There can be two situations arising out of the current peace talks. Either it will conclude and there will be a new government or the peace talks will fail and the fighting will continue. If the new government comes in, India will have its strategic partners in the new government, as always, by defusing all the plots hatched by other countries,” he said.

“Both countries are fighting terrorism … We do not want to drag the feet of India in a prolonged war. But India should engage with the Taliban … I want India to engage with the Taliban but not give them legitimacy.”

He said China is playing its role in the peace talks “aggressively” and so are the Russians and the Iranians.

Noor asked Jaishankar Wednesday to begin negotiations with the Taliban, something that the Afghan government has also reportedly been asking New Delhi to do but he said if the talks fail, the insurgents will have an “upper hand” and this will give more leeway to Pakistan.

“At that time, we would need to stand by the Afghan government … We will have a united resistance against the Taliban if the situation becomes so,” Noor said.

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Khalilzad urges independent bodies, media included, to document casualties 

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

Amid rising levels of violence in the country, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconstruction Zalmay Khalilzad said overnight Sunday that an accelerated political settlement was critical along with a reduction in violence. 

In a series of tweets, Khalilzad said: “The answer to this tragic situation is an immediate reduction of violence leading to a ceasefire by all sides. The answer is to accelerate a political settlement.”

“The US is singularly focused on this goal & is pressing both parties to reduce violence & find a path to peace as soon as possible,” he tweeted. 

Khalilzad stated however that independent bodies also need to document current events. 

“It is vital that Afghanistan’s independent media and robust civil society be allowed to document current events,” he said.

This comes after a particularly violent week in Afghanistan in which dozens of civilians lost their lives. 

On Saturday, at least 18 people, mostly students, were killed in a suicide bombing close to an educational facility in Kabul city. 

Also on Saturday, nine people were killed in Ghazni when the vehicle they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb. 

Earlier in the week, an airstrike hit a mosque and school in Takhar province, killing at least 12 children. 

Reacting to this incident, Khalilzad tweed that Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission has confirmed 12 children were killed and many more injured in the airstrike by Afghan government forces.

“This is a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, tragedy is not limited to Takhar. Civilians are victims of car bombs, IEDs, and targeted killings perpetrated by the Taliban. Civilians have been forced to flee fighting in Lashkar Gah and other areas.”

He said the US offers its “condolences to all the families of those killed and injured.”

This statement by Khalilzad follows on the heels of government’s rejection of claims last week that the Afghan National Army airstrike had hit a mosque and school. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh rejected the claims made by local officials in Takhar province and instead ordered the arrest of the individual who reported civilian casualties.

Local officials said 12 children had been killed and 18 civilians wounded in the strike in Hazara Qarluq village in Takhar on Wednesday morning.

Saleh, rejected claims, stated: “No child was killed in Afghan Air Force strike in Takhar.”

He also stated that the Taliban sniper unit “responsible for the massacre of our special forces a day earlier was targeted.”

“The person responsible for spread of this venomous and fake news was arrested immediately. Talibs use houses and mosques as shields,” Saleh tweeted.

Saleh also wrote on Facebook that legal action would be taken against those “who make false allegations.”

Meanwhile, associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch Patricia Gossman said on Thursday: “Vice President Amrullah Saleh is trying to silence those who reported a potentially unlawful airstrike that killed civilians, including many children,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. 

“The government should immediately release anyone detained under Saleh’s order and carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the airstrike.”

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