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‘Desperate situation’ for Ghani as his power is undermined: NYT

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(Last Updated On: April 11, 2021)

A senior Afghan military official said this week that if the US pulls out without a political settlement having been reached between government and the Taliban, the country will be in “deep trouble”.

Speaking to the New York Times this week, the security official said: “If the US pulls out, and there is no political agreement, then we are in deep trouble.”

“Militarily, we don’t have much hope,” he said. “If we don’t get something, the Taliban are going to march. It’s going to be a severe battle.”

One Western diplomat in Kabul said the country’s military position is deteriorating. Each day brings news of security force members blown up or gunned down.

“They can’t keep doing that,” said the diplomat, commenting on the steady loss of military strength. “The toll on the government, and the credibility and legitimacy it has, it’s not sustainable.”

The New York Times reported that this comes at a time where President Ashraf Ghani has few remaining allies, the Taliban are gaining militarily and his international supporters are impatient with him and the stumbling peace process.

The article questions how much control Ghani actually has over his country’s future and his own – questions that have, according to the NYT, been largely resolved by politicians, analysts and citizen: Not much!

NYT reports Ghani is dependent on the counsel of a handful of people and is unwilling to even watch television news – also that he is losing allies fast.

This, the NYT reports, spells trouble for a country where a hard-line insurgency has the upper hand militarily, where nearly half the population faces hunger at crisis levels, where the majority of government money comes from donors and where weak governance and widespread corruption are endemic.

This, meanwhile, is all taking place as Washington is preparing to pull out its last remaining troops, “a prospect expected to lead to the medium-term collapse of the Afghan forces they now support,” the report read.

Former National Directorate of Security chief Rahmatullah Nabil told the NYT: “He (Ghani) is in a desperate situation.”

“We’re getting weaker. Security is weak, everything is getting weaker, and the Taliban are taking advantage.”

The NYT reported that many are fed up with what they see as Ghani’s obstinacy in refusing to make concessions to adversaries, or his condescending style and that a recent letter to him from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was so harsh that even Afghans critical of Ghani found it insulting.

The letter used the phrase “I urge you” three times while Blinken also said “I must also make clear to you, Mr. President … that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option.”

The NYT stated that the unspoken subtext was clear: Your influence is minimal.

Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the head of an Afghan think tank reacted to this and said: “As an Afghan, a sense of humiliation comes over you.”

“But I also feel Ghani deserves it,” Karzai said. “He’s dealing with the kiss of death from his own closest partner.”

This comes as US President Joe Biden continues to “review” the agreement signed with the Taliban in February last year – which stipulates Washington pulls out all its troops by May 1 – a deadline that is just three weeks away.

It also comes amid a flurry of meetings between leaders of countries in the region, of US officials and Afghan politicians.

The key issue currently is the US proposal of an interim government followed by elections – an interim government that would include Taliban participation.

As pointed out by the NYT, such a move could require Ghani to step down – something he has until now repeatedly refused to consider.

Ghani has his own plan, which includes early elections but the NYT states, both Washington’s plan and Ghani’s could fall flat as the Taliban have never said they would agree to elections, nor have they indicated that they would go along with any sort of government plan or be content with power-sharing.

“From what we’re seeing, they want absolute power, and they are waiting to take power by force,” Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said in an interview.

Visions of September 1996, when the Taliban rolled into Kabul virtually unopposed and proceeded to establish their harsh regime, haunt the capital, the NYT stated.

Meanwhile some former officials criticized Ghani as being compelled to micromanage all ministries and departments, including that of military matters.

Karzai said: “He likes that, because he feels he’s the only one [competent to make serious decisions].”

But Mohib called the micromanagement accusation “a huge exaggeration,” saying that the president had not attended a security meeting “in weeks,” adding that “he is aware of the strategic picture.”

When contacted by the NYT for an interview, Ghani’s communications office refused, while a senior aide did not respond to an interview request.

A Western diplomat meanwhile told the NYT that the consequences of Ghani’s isolation is not good for Afghan unity and that these divisions spread from Kabul into the country’s fractious regions, where independent militias and other longstanding power-brokers have either rearmed themselves or are preparing to do so.

One example cited by the NYT is the low-intensity fight between government forces and the militia of a minority militia commander, Alipour, which has been smoldering for months.

The fight was recently fueled by the downing of an Afghan forces helicopter in March by Alipour’s men.

The NYT reported that Ghani and his aides have taken an active role in managing the conflict, to the dismay of the Afghan military.
“This is what we wanted to avoid. We are already stretched,” said a senior Afghan security official. “And here, you want to start another war?”

In conclusion, the NYT article noted that the upcoming talks in Turkey, the Istanbul Summit, could well end up like the recent ones in Moscow and Dushanbe, Tajikistan — with bland communiqués deploring violence and hoping for peace.

The American idea — to substitute new talks in a new locale for the old talks in Qatar that have gone nowhere — is not necessarily a winning bet and that early signs are not promising, with Ghani once again rejecting preliminary American proposals, and the Taliban aggressively noncommittal about the ideas currently on the table, the NYT reported.

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EU envoy says aid will be cut if Taliban seize power militarily

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Tomas Niklasson, Acting Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, says that the EU would not recognize a Taliban government if they manage a military takeover.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Niklasson stated if the Taliban gain power through a military takeover the EU will cut its aid to Afghanistan and the country will be isolated.

“If the Taliban manage to take power by military means it would not be recognized by the EU, it would not be recognized by most countries in the region.”

“It would become an isolated regime and isolated Afghanistan,” he noted.

Niklasson also raised his concerns over the current situation in Afghanistan, calling on the warring parties to show flexibility in order to end the ongoing conflict in the country.

“We are clearly very very concerned by the situation. We try to do what we can to remain engaged in Afghanistan, to continue to provide development assistance, to remain engaged politically to provide humanitarian assistance as long as needed.”

The diplomat stated that the Taliban has no clear proposal in the peace talks with the Afghan Republic’s team. He added that the Taliban want to seek more concessions in the talks via their military campaign.

“The Taliban have not really put on the table a clear proposal of what they want and that is part of the negotiations and that will be a necessary next step,” he stated.

“If they put Islamic Emirate, the design of the 1990s or any Islamic Emirate on the table, no, it would not be acceptable but it could be a start for negotiation,” the EU Envoy said.

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Ghani meets with politicians, jihadi leaders to garner more support for peace

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani has emphasized the need for the continuation of peace talks in Doha and national mobilization in support of the Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF).

After holding a consultative meeting with prominent Afghan political figures and former Jihadi leaders on Saturday, Ghani issued a statement outlining a number of critical necessities.

The statement highlighted the following key points:

  1. Ending the war and reaching a just and durable peace has been the Afghan government’s priority
  2. The government has an obligation to preserve the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, national honors and institutions, values, women rights, and freedoms
  3. The political and Jihadi leaders vowed to make efforts for further national mobilization in support of Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Latif Mahmood, the Deputy Spokesman for the Presidential Palace, stated: “Ending to war, maintaining a just and lasting peace, support for the Security and Defense Forces, defending the territorial integrity and national honor, preservation of values gained in the last two decades and the principal of the Constitution were discussed in this meeting.”

Meanwhile, the Russian TASS news agency has reported that the extended Troika on the Afghan peace settlement comprising representatives of Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan will be held in early August.

“We are in constant contact over the phone with my counterpart [US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay] Khalilzad, who is now [staying] in Washington. Next week, we are planning to meet in Doha with him and with our Chinese and Pakistani counterparts for the next encounter of the extended Troika,” said Special Russian Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, as quoted by the TASS.

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Watchdog reports of growing number of revenge attacks

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Taliban forces in Afghanistan are targeting known critics despite claiming that they have ordered their fighters to act with restraint, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

In Kandahar, the Taliban have detained and executed suspected members of the provincial government and security forces, and in some cases their relatives.

Among recent cases, the Taliban executed a popular Kandahari comedian, Nazar Mohammad, known as Khasha Zwan, who posted routines that included songs and jokes on TikTok. He had reportedly also worked with the local police.

On July 22, Taliban fighters abducted Khasha Zwan from his home in southern Kandahar, beat him, and then shot him multiple times, HRW said in a statement.

After a video of two men slapping and abusing Khasha Zwan appeared on social media, the Taliban admitted that two of their fighters had killed him.
“Taliban forces apparently executed Khasha Zwan because he poked fun at Taliban leaders,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“His murder and other recent abuses demonstrate the willingness of Taliban commanders to violently crush even the tamest criticism or objection,” she said.

Activists in Kandahar said that in villages surrounding the provincial capital, Taliban commanders have detained scores of people associated with the government or police, HRW reported.

In one case, on July 16, Taliban fighters abducted two men whose brothers had worked with NDS 03, a CIA-backed strike force that has been responsible for summary executions and other abuses, from their homes in the Qasam Pol area, Dand district, HRW stated.

Their relatives say that they have not heard from the two men since.
Also in mid-July, a media report said Taliban fighters detained Ahmadullah, a former police officer, in Spin Boldak. His family has not heard from him since.

His uncle said that the Taliban had sent letters saying that anyone who had worked with the government or foreign forces would not be harmed so long as they reported to the Taliban leadership and “admitted their ‘crime.’”
International humanitarian law prohibits summary executions, enforced disappearances, and other mistreatment of anyone in custody, which are war crimes, HRW reported.

It is unlawful to detain civilians unless absolutely necessary for imperative security reasons, the statement read.

Retaliatory attacks are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited, HRW stated.

The International Criminal Court is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and serious human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Taliban commanders who knew or should have known about abuses by forces under their control and took no action to prevent or stop them are culpable as a matter of command responsibility, HRW said.
“Advancing Taliban forces have no blank check to brutally target their critics,” Gossman said. “The Taliban leadership usually denies the abuses, but it’s their fighters carrying out these attacks and their responsibility to stop the killings.”

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