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Former UNAMA chief warns peace talks ‘will not be easy’

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2020)

Former UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto said this week peace talks, underway in Qatar between Afghanistan and the Taliban, will not be easy especially as there is a wide gap between the two parties when it comes to some key fundamental issues.

But it’s imperative that both parties continue their dialogue and reach an agreement, even though it might take time, he said.

Speaking to Japan’s daily, Mainichi, Yamamoto, who was head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan until March this year, said it is important to remember that this is only the first step and that due to more than 40 years of conflict, since the Soviet-Afghan war in 1979, “the situation there has become complex over these years.”

He said the talks are a historic step toward peace – especially as the Taliban had previously refused to negotiate with the government.

But this was due, “greatly to efforts by the international community including the UN, but particularly the United States, Pakistan, and Qatar.”

Yamamoto stated there would be challenges in terms of finding common ground during the talks especially on fundamental issues such as the distribution of power and system of governance, and human rights issues such as women’s rights.

“Although the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, they still proclaim themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and have maintained that they have the legitimacy to rule the country. 

“They will likely insist on the Emirate as the form of government whereas the Afghan government would insist on the Republic as the form of government,” he said.

He said although the Taliban have stated that they respect women’s rights in accordance with Islam, the specifics remain unclear, “and we don’t know how much they will accept.”

“There is a wide gap between the two parties when it comes to some key fundamental issues, and patience will be needed for the talks to succeed,” he said.

He said however that when he spoke to the Taliban’s political delegation in Doha, during his term as UNAMA chief, the group said it had changed and had learned lessons from the past. 

“They are more conscious of how they are perceived by the international community. However, the Taliban are a large group, and as with any organization, members have different opinions.

“They appointed their chief justice and religious scholar Abdul Hakim Haqqani, a person close to the Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, as the head of its delegation in the talks. He is said to have conservative views. He was most likely appointed because the Taliban wanted to reassure their conservative members about the outcome of the negotiation,” he said adding that he did hope this appointment is indicative of the Taliban’s seriousness about the peace talks.

“Can the Taliban’s leadership with conservative thinking move forward with peacemaking? The talks would be a test as to whether the Taliban have really changed from its past,” Yamamoto stated. 

On the possibility of the Taliban taking advantage of the US troops withdrawal, to strengthen their offensive, Yamamoto said that “possibility should not be discounted.”

“While I was with the UNAMA, and spoke with the Taliban, we requested many times that the Taliban reduce violence, but they contended that violence is a negotiating leverage. They repeatedly claimed that they would not have been able to have their demands heard and hence would not have been sitting at the table without it. 

“What will become important, therefore, is ensuring that the peace talks would continue to make progress on a constructive path, through compromise from both parties so that the Taliban would not resort to violence,” he said.

Yamamoto also suggested that although the peace talks have to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, it is imperative for the international community to be ready to work as a mediator or facilitator in the event of an impasse. 

This, he said, would be to “propose ideas, persuade both parties, and sometimes even put pressure on them so that they are able to continue the talks.”

Yamamoto was head of UNAMA for more than five years before leaving in March and said in his farewell message at the time that he had only one wish – “a wish that I share with millions of Afghans: for peace to return to Afghanistan.”

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Attacks are against the values of Islam, Atmar tells OIC chief 

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2021)

Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar held talks on Wednesday with Yousef al-Othaimeen, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Saudi Arabia and discussed the current peace talks being held in Doha, Qatar. 

In a statement, the Jeddah-based organization said discussions were held on the peace process, and on how the OIC can support the talks. 

Al-Othaimeen reiterated the OIC’s commitment to supporting the Afghan people, and development projects in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Atmar praised the OIC for its role in forging unity among Islamic countries in support of the peace process and for issuing special resolutions to form a consensus among Islamic countries to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan. 

At the meeting, Atmar called the war in Afghanistan illegitimate from the point of view of Islam.

“The crimes that are being committed in Afghanistan today are completely incompatible with the beliefs of Muslims and Islamic teachings; Attacks on female judges, killings of Kabul University students and attacks on maternity hospitals are certainly not justifiable in Islam,” he said.

Atmar also stated that if the opposition is truly committed to peace, the Afghan government would not see any obstacles to national reconciliation and the success of the peace process, and would be ready to pave the way for political participation on all sides in accordance with the free will of the Afghan people and internationally accepted standards.

“We want the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to continue its previous demands to end the bloodshed and resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan through holding follow-up meetings, expert consultations and sending special groups to consult with the teams,” he said. 

In response to the Foreign Minister’s remarks, the Secretary-General of the OIC said that he commends and supports the flexible and adaptable position of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan towards peace.

Al-Othaimeen pointed out that killing, violence and intimidation are contrary to the essence of Islam and that people should be made aware that Islam is not a religion of terror and violence, but a religion of unity and convergence. 

He praised the role of religious scholars in this regard, saying that scholars in Islamic societies have an important position not only from a religious point of view but also from a political point of view.

 

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Iran’s president urges Biden to return to 2015 nuclear deal

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2021)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged US President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday to return to a 2015 nuclear deal and lift crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Biden, who takes office on Wednesday, has said the United States will rejoin the pact that includes restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work if Tehran resumes strict compliance, Reuters reported.

Rouhani said on Wednesday in a televised cabinet meeting that “the ball is in the US court now. If Washington returns to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact.”

“Today, we expect the incoming US administration to return to the rule of law and commit themselves, and if they can, in the next four years, to remove all the black spots of the previous four years,” he said.

Tensions have grown between Tehran and Washington since 2018 when US President Donald Trump exited the deal between Iran and six world powers that sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear program and prevent it from developing atomic weapons. Washington reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Iran, which denies ever seeking nuclear arms, retaliated to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy by gradually breaching the accord. Tehran has repeatedly said it can quickly reverse those violations if US sanctions are removed.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, said at his Senate hearing on Tuesday that the Biden administration feels the world was safer with the nuclear deal in place.

“President-elect Biden is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said. 

“And we share, I know, that goal across this committee, an Iran with a nuclear weapon or on the threshold of having one with the capacity to build one on short order would be in Iran that is even more dangerous than it already is.”

Rouhani meanwhile stated on Wednesday that “US President Donald Trump’s political career is over today and his ‘maximum pressure’ policy on Iran has completely failed.” 

“Trump is dead but the nuclear deal is still alive,” Rouhani said. 

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Biden team still to review US-Taliban deal: Blinken 

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2021)

Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the State Department, indicated to Congress Tuesday that the incoming president’s team will look closely at what’s already been negotiated with the Taliban. 

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, he said he plans to emphatically redirect the trajectory of US foreign policy after four years of the Trump administration.

On whether the US, under Biden, would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan as planned, he said: “The President-elect wants to make sure that even as we pull back our forces that we retain the capacity to deal with any reemergence.” 

He made clear, however, that the Biden team hasn’t been given much access to the agreement outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban in February last year. 

Blinken said the Biden team will “look closely at what’s been negotiated there … to understand fully what commitments were made and not made by the Taliban.” 

He added: “I don’t believe any agreement is sustainable without protecting gains by women and girls over the last 20 years.”

Among numerous issues he was questioned on, lawmakers also asked Blinken about one of the most concerning major external threats to the US – Iran. 

According to CNN, Trump left the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and instituted a maximum pressure campaign. But as Trump leaves office, Iran is closer to gaining a nuclear weapon than it was when he entered.

Blinken however made clear the Biden administration feels the world was safer with the nuclear deal in place.

“President-elect Biden is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said. 

“And we share, I know, that goal across this committee, an Iran with a nuclear weapon or on the threshold of having one with the capacity to build one on short order would be in Iran that is even more dangerous than it already is.”

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