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Difficult decisions had to be made to get to talks tables: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation said in order for the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban to get to this point some very difficult, even heart-wrenching decisions had to be made. 

He said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that not only did the United States have to make difficult decisions but so did Afghanistan. 

This was in reference to concerns raised over whether the US government has given the Taliban “too much weight” in the intra-Afghan negotiation process – especially in light of the release of 5,000 prisoners. 

Recently foreign countries, specifically France and Australia objected to the release of some hardcore prisoners who had been responsible for killing their nationals over the past few years. 

But Khalilzad said the US itself had not been too happy about this but that “we [the US] appreciate their expression of unhappiness and empathize with them but we think the goal of making Afghanistan to be more peaceful, for Afghans to come together to end the war, for Afghanistan not to be a threat to the international community and for the burden of Afghanistan to be reduced on the international community,” sacrifices needed to be made. 

“Nothing important is easy to achieve, unfortunately. We had to do those tough things, difficult things, heart-wrenching things to get where we are.”

He also said the US was satisfied that the objectives ahead were worth the sacrifices that have been made. 

During the interview, he said not only are the current peace talks a historic moment and an opportunity for peace but also a moment of hope and he continually emphasized the fact that Afghans are tired of war – a war that has been ongoing for 40 years. 

But questioned on whether the continued attacks by the Taliban – who attribute such information as Afghan government propaganda – “sounded like two parties willing to negotiate”, Khalilzad said he did. 

According to him, negotiations are underway in a bid to build trust, to reduce violence and for the two sides to overcome their differences which have led to the conflict. 

He stated the negotiations are underway to “find a formula for resolving those differences,” and noted that both sides had different ideologies but that the aim was for them not to change these but rather to find a way to agree on a political formula that’s workable. 

“It will be difficult, I don’t anticipate …. that it will be easy and that they will quickly come to an agreement. But the door to intra-Afghan negotiations has been opened.” 

He said the United States was very pleased with the role it had played in getting the parties to the talks table but asked whether the basis of the talks was being forced on the Afghan government and whether these talks were truly Afghan-led, Khalilzad stated that until recently it had been US-led but talks were now entirely Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. 

He also said: “They [Afghan negotiating team] are not working on a US timeline but I think they are under pressure from their people who want the war to end.”

He said the US will withdraw from the country if all conditions, in accordance with the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban, are met. 

The framework agreed upon with the Taliban has four elements, terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan negotiations, a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of international forces, he said adding: “We have agreed that if all of these conditions are met within 14 months we will withdraw.” 

He said that if the Taliban does not adhere to the commitments it made to the US “then we are free from our obligation we have made with them.”

He emphasized the agreement was not something made on trust – but instead it was a deal. “You do this, we will do this,” and vice versa, he said without going into any further detail.

But he said he was counting on the Taliban to adhere to their commitment. 

According to him, the Taliban negotiating team is a “very empowered” team and one that takes the negotiations seriously and they came prepared for the talks. 

The Afghan delegation meanwhile was very broad-based and represented a cross-sector of the population, he said adding that both sides were taking the talks seriously “although there are spoilers inside and out”. 

Without naming the “spoilers” Khalilzad said there are people who prefer the status quo as it is – people who profit from the war politically and financially. This he said, was putting “small interests ahead of the broader national interests and that is obviously not acceptable. ” 

He also said there are groups that are against the peace process, against Afghans coming together and groups who want to keep the US entangled in the war. 

One example he gave was that of Daesh in Afghanistan, which, he said, “is trying to polarize the situation” and in some cases have “tried to pretend” the Taliban carried out some of the worst attacks in the country in a bid to undermine the peace process. 

He noted the Afghanistan conflict is quite complex in terms of the number of players but that the US has tried to be active not only with the Afghan sides but also within the region and internationally “to build a consensus for peace in Afghanistan.”

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Colin Powell has died of COVID complications

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state and top military officer, died on Monday at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19.

In a statement posted to Facebook, his family said, “We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”

Powell was the one most notable Black figure in Washington for decades. A Vietnam vet, he rose to become an army four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush during the 1991 Gulf War.

In 1996 he considered running for president, but was dissuaded by his wife who worried for his safety.

He later served as Secretary of State under George W. Bush. It was in that capacity that he famously stood before the United Nations and made the case for invading Iraq based on the claim that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

The evidence proved wrong. No weapons were found. Powell later admitted that his presentation was rife with inaccuracies provided by others in the Bush administration. He called a “blot” that would always be a part” of his record.

Powell was known as a moderate Republican and pragmatist. He broke with the GOP to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy and would criticize his party’s shift toward anti-immigrant and isolationist policies.

The Powell family says he was fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Colin Powell was 84 years old.

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Children evacuated from schools as violence breaks out in Beirut

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(Last Updated On: October 14, 2021)

Children were evacuated from schools and the military was deployed to the streets of Beirut on Thursday afternoon as violence broke out during a protest rally in the Lebanese capital.

By late Thursday afternoon the death toll climbed to four, including a woman who died from a bullet wound in her house, a military source said.

Lebanese Shi’ite parties Hezbollah and Amal said armed groups had fired at protesters from rooftops in Beirut on Thursday, aiming at their heads in an attack they said aimed to drag the country to strife.

In a statement, the parties called on the army to intervene quickly to detain the perpetrators and called on their supporters to remain calm, Reuters reported.

Bursts of gunfire were heard for several hours, along with several explosions which appeared to be rocket propelled-grenades fired into the air, Reuters witnesses said.

Video footage from Lebanese TV station Al Jadeed showed plumes of smoke rising from the streets, as flames burned in the aftermath of an explosion.

The Lebanese army said in a statement the gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through a traffic circle located in an area dividing Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods.

As Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm, a military source told Reuters two people had been killed and seven more wounded.

The shooting began from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh before spiraling into an exchange of fire, the source added.

Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said “two martyrs” and a number of wounded had been taken to a hospital in the Shi’ite southern suburbs, indicating that the casualties were Shi’ites.

The Lebanese army deployed heavily in the area and said it would open fire against any armed person on the road.

Political tensions over the probe into the port explosion have been building, with the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah leading calls for Bitar’s removal, accusing him of bias.

The explosion, in August last year, killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

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Khalilzad says things could have been very different had Ghani stayed

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said this weekend that former president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to leave Afghanistan without warning took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Khalilzad said that the night before his departure, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Ghani on the phone.

He said Ghani had not given any signal as to his intentions.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said.

However, he implied that had Ghani stepped down as president in the lead up to the IEA’s takeover, things could have been very different.

One of the key reasons however for the breakdown of peace talks between Ghani’s government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) was that the former president wanted the IEA to be included in the existing government as opposed to a new government being formed, as per the agreement with the United States.

“There were different reasons for the lack of major progress in the negotiations;

“The main one was that there was a long, huge, big gap between the two sides around a political settlement and agreement,” Khalilzad said.

According to him, efforts were made to move the process forward and some progress was made in certain areas.

“But I think the main issue was that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement over the formation of a new Islamic government.

“The government of Afghanistan wanted the Taliban to be integrated into the former government instead of forming a new government,” he said.

According to him, this would have resembled the government of national unity after the 2014 elections which saw former president Ashraf Ghani and former CEO Abdullah Abdullah sharing power.

Khalilzad said a trilateral agreement was suggested between Ghani, Abdullah and the IEA.

However, Ghani’s opinion was that the country’s Constitution did not allow for such a move.

“For a long time, they (government) assumed if they insisted on this, the Taliban would eventually agree to it.

“The Taliban was in favor of the formation of a new Islamic government. Some Taliban wanted the establishment of the 1990s Emirate while some others were in favor of a new (inclusive) government,” he said

Khalilzad also said that after coming into power, US President Joe Biden “thought that he could reject the deal which was signed during (former president Donald) Trump’s tenure or bring changes to it and this caused the negotiations to be postponed”.

However, once Biden announced his decision to stick to the deal made during Trump’s tenure, and withdraw all troops, “changes came in the balance on the battlefield”.

Touching on the issue of terrorism, Khalilzad said the overall picture has changed and that al-Qaeda’s footprint in the country had been reduced significantly.

He said terrorists were no longer confined to one base but were today spread out around the world.

“They can be found in small and large groups in different countries around the world.

“Therefore, Afghanistan is not what it used to be in terms of the threat of terrorism,” he said adding that currently, only a small number of al-Qaeda members are present in the country.

He said the number did not warrant the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad also stated that after the deal had been signed in February last year between the US and the Taliban, Washington would not have withdrawn had Americans been targeted.

“The US troops would not have pulled out from Afghanistan if an American had been killed by the Taliban after the agreement,” he said.

A critical question around the collapse of the former government was however the sudden change of heart by the Afghan military, he said adding that in the days leading up to the fall of Ghani’s government, “unexpected things happened, where they (soldiers) did not fight”.

Khalilzad explained that in the hours before the takeover of Kabul by IEA forces, a meeting was underway in Doha between the US, the IEA and the republic.

He said an agreement was reached that the IEA would not attack Kabul and would instead give the then Afghan government two weeks, from August 15, to travel to Doha, meet with all parties concerned, and agree to the formation of a new government.

He said the delegation from the republic would have included former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah.

“And an agreement would have been made on an inclusive government; but the (former) government would have remained in place in those two weeks.”

Khalilzad stated that the delegation would have been authorized to sign off on an agreement with the IEA.

However, this meeting never took place, nor was any deal signed. Instead, Afghanistan’s then-president, Ghani, fled the country and security forces disintegrated within hours.

Khalilzad confirmed a security and government vacuum immediately emerged which led to the decision that the IEA forces would move into Kabul to secure the capital but stated that Ghani’s sudden, unannounced, departure took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

“A night earlier the (US) Secretary of State had spoken to the president of Afghanistan; the president of Afghanistan did not signal any intention to leave.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said adding that Ghani might have thought his life was in danger.

Had Ghani however resigned in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, and allowed the establishment of a new government, “it could have been a historic step”.

“The name of the president could have been written in gold in the history of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that only Ghani can answer the question on why he chose to do it this way.

On whether the US will recognize the IEA government, Khalilzad said this all depends on the IEA – if they stick to the commitments they made.

“The world is waiting to see if the Taliban (IEA) will fulfill the commitments they have made, and if they do, the normal relationship between the world and the Taliban (IEA) will be established,” Khalilzad said.

However, Khalilzad said that Afghanistan is in need of urgent humanitarian aid and has pledged an additional $64 million. He said that not only was the war an issue but unemployment, drought, COVID and a low level of economic activity were also contributing factors to the current situation.

He said discussions are currently underway in various countries and within the United Nations on getting Afghanistan’s assets released.

Khalilzad pointed out that the war in Afghanistan has ended and that fears of a civil war were unfounded. This was “a positive point”, he said.

Drawing a parallel to the civil war that broke out following the withdrawal of Soviet Union troops in 1989, he said “the government at the time could not form an inclusive government, igniting civil war.

“But I hope the bad experience will not be repeated and an inclusive government will be set up,” he said adding that “if they (IEA) go through with their promises, it will be a positive era for the future of Afghanistan.”

CLICK HERE to watch the full interview with English subtitles.

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