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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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Pentagon chief says removal of all contractors from Afghanistan under way

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday the process of removing all contractors from Afghanistan working with the United States was under way as part of President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of forces from the country.

The remarks are the clearest indication yet that Biden’s April order to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 extended to U.S.-funded contractors.

Asked whether the Pentagon had issued orders to withdraw not just American troops but also contractors, Austin said: “We’re going to responsibly retrograde all of our capabilities that we are responsible for and the contractors fall in that realm as well.”

Speaking with reporters, Austin said the contractors could, however, renegotiate their contracts in the future.

As of April, there were nearly 17,000 Pentagon contractors, including about 6,150 Americans, 4,300 Afghans and 6,400 from other countries.

The departure of thousands of contractors, especially those serving the Afghan security forces, has raised concerns among some U.S. officials about the ability of the Afghan government and military to sustain critical functions.

‘NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION’

Austin said the drawdown was going according to plan so far.

But Afghan security forces are locked in daily combat with the Taliban, which has waged war to overthrow the foreign-backed government since it was ousted from power in Kabul in 2001.

In just two days, the Taliban captured a second district in the northern province of Baghlan on Thursday.

The Afghan government says the Taliban have killed and wounded more than 50 troops in attacks in at least 26 provinces during the last 24 hours, while its forces killed dozens of Taliban over the same period.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said there had been sustained levels of violent attacks against Afghan security forces but none against U.S. and coalition forces since May 1.

Milley, in the same news conference, said it was too early to speculate on how Afghanistan would turn out after the withdrawal of U.S. forces given that Afghanistan had a significantly sized military and police force and the Afghan government was still cohesive.

“It is not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls or any of those dire predictions,” Milley said.

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Power pylons destroyed, leaving Kabul in the dark

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(Last Updated On: May 7, 2021)

Two electricity pylons in the north of the city were blown up early on Friday morning, the main power utility, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), said.

The incident happened in Mirzakhil village in Kalakan district of Kabul at around 4:45 am on Friday in which two power pylons that transmit imported 220 kilovolts of power from Uzbekistan to Kabul were destroyed and a third pylon was partly damaged, read DABS statement.

Locals say they woke up to the sound of an explosion, but no one was injured in the area.

“Bomb has been placed near another power pylon in the area, but a team from the Afghan army is in the area to defuse the bomb,” DABS said.

DABS said that its workers will be sent to the area once the area is safe.

So far no group claimed responsibility for the blasts.

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Australian cricketers flee India for Maldives after IPL abandoned

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(Last Updated On: May 6, 2021)

Australian cricketers playing in this year’s IPL fled COVID-ravaged India for the Maldives Thursday, but New Zealand’s top stars are stuck in Delhi until May 11, the earliest they can secure exemptions to enter England where they are due to play a Test series.

AFP reports that cricket authorities have been rushing to evacuate players and support staff after the Indian Premier League was abandoned this week.

India reported 3,980 deaths and more than 412,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours.

While most overseas-based players headed home, the Australians, including Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins, are unable to do so after Canberra closed its borders and threatened anyone entering from India with jail time.

They must wait until at least May 15, when the travel ban will be reviewed.

In the meantime, the 37 players, coaches, officials and TV commentators left for the Maldives, reportedly on a charter flight arranged and paid for by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

“Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association can confirm Australian players, coaches, match officials and commentators have been safely transported from India and are en route to the Maldives,” Cricket Australia said in a statement.

“The Australians will remain in the Maldives until the conclusion of the travel pause pertaining to flights from India to Australia.”

They are likely to be chartered back to Australia once the ban has been lifted, again with the help of the BCCI.

But Chennai Super Kings batting coach Mike Hussey was not among the travelling party, forced to remain in isolation after testing positive to the virus.

Cricket Australia said he was “experiencing mild symptoms” and would remain in the care of the Super Kings until it was safe for him to return to Australia.

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