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Delays continue to hamper the start of intra-Afghan negotiations 

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(Last Updated On: September 7, 2020)

After more than a month of speculation around the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, talks have still not started as delays continue to dominate the process. 

For months the Afghan nation has waited for negotiations to get underway but these were initially delayed by challenges around the prisoner release process. 

Last week President Ashraf Ghani released the final batch of ‘hardcore’ Taliban prisoners, except for six, raising hopes that talks would start immediately. 

On Saturday, a Taliban delegation that had been in Pakistan for talks returned to Doha and later that day announced the names of their negotiating team members. 

This led to further speculation that talks could start Monday – especially as the United States’ chief peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also reportedly arrived in Doha over the weekend. 

But anticipated talks did not start on Monday as hoped for and the Kabul team has not yet left   Afghanistan.

 One senior government official told Reuters on Monday that the negotiating team may fly on Tuesday.

According to him, the cause of the delay was partly due to the Taliban and officials in Doha sorting out final logistical questions over the opening ceremony, including who should be given time to speak and how flags should be arranged.

These matters carry symbolic weight for the two sides, each of whom has questioned each other’s legitimacy to present themselves as governing powers, Reuters reported.

Another issue hampering the start to talks was that plans to move the six prisoners to Qatar have yet to be finalized. 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that there were no “major issues” causing the delay, adding that they were waiting for the six prisoners to be released, but technical teams from both sides were working on the issue, Reuters reported. 

On Monday afternoon, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said government was ready to start talks. 

In a post on Twitter, he said: “The Afghan government delegation is ready for peace talks and the technical problems in front of these talks in Qatar have been resolved.” 

Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, meanwhile held a number of high-profile meetings with stakeholders on the issue of peace on Monday. 

During the course of the day, he met with UNAMA chief Deborah Lyons to discuss the upcoming talks as well as the Charge d’affaires for the EU in Afghanistan Arnout Pauwels. 

In another meeting, Monday Abdullah discussed peace efforts with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) envoy Huseyin Avni Botsali. 

But despite all the discussions around peace talks – no firm date has yet been given as to when talks would start.

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Key Taliban fighter killed in Helmand operation

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2020)

At least 38 Taliban militants, including the group’s shadow district governor for Nad Ali were killed in an operation by the Afghan forces in battle-weary Helmand province.

The provincial media office said in a statement on Wednesday night that Mullah Shawali, the Taliban’s shadow district governor for Nad Ali, was killed during a clearance operation on the Lashkargah-Nad Ali road.

The Defense Ministry (MoD), however, stated that Shawali was killed in an airstrike in the Nad Ali district of Helmand on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, Shawali was leading the clashes against the Afghan forces in Chah Anjir and Babaji area in the province.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry stated that the route was cleared of the Taliban.

The Taliban has not yet commented on the death of Shawali. 

The clearance operation was launched on Monday to push back the Taliban who had taken control of a number of areas in the past two weeks.

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EU says ‘killings and peace talks cannot go hand in hand’

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2020)

The European Union said Wednesday the high level of civilian casualties in the conflict in Afghanistan is “unacceptable.”

According to a statement, the EU repeated its stance on “the central role of International Humanitarian Law in an armed conflict to protect civilians.”

The EU said that despite the high levels of violence taking place against the backdrop of ongoing peace negotiations, “killings and peace talks cannot go hand in hand.”

“Therefore, the European Union joins the Afghan people longing for peace by reiterating its call for an immediate, comprehensive, nationwide and unconditional ceasefire respected by both parties.”

The EU’s statement comes in response to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) new report published on Tuesday that documented 5,939 civilian casualties (2,117 killed and 3,822 injured) from 1 January to 30 September 2020.

In its report, the mission said: “High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian.”

UNAMA stated that while the number of civilian casualties documented is the lowest in the first nine months of any year since 2012, “the harm done to civilians remains inordinate and shocking.”

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Afghans protest in Kabul against Macron’s Islamaphobic remarks

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2020)

Kabul residents took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday in protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial remarks about Islam. 

The protest, outside the French Cultural Center in Kabul city drew cries such as “death to France” and “death to Macron”.

Kabul high school students also protested against Macron’s remarks. 

Wednesday’s demonstration comes amid a standoff between France and Muslim countries after Macron reacted to the beheading of a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson about freedom of speech. 

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan added his voice to calls for a boycott of French goods.

Erdogan has led the charge against  Macron and said on Monday: “Never give credit to French-labelled goods, don’t buy them.”

French goods have already been pulled from supermarket shelves in Qatar and Kuwait, among other Gulf states, and in Syria people have burned pictures of Macron and French flags have been torched in the Libyan capital Tripoli.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meanwhile has called on France to revise its separatist policies that target Islam and offend over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. In a statement, the OIC has said: “We condemn the constant systematic attack on the feelings of Muslims by insulting the religious symbols represented by the person of the Prophet Muhammad.”

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