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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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Renegades signs Afghan teenager for Australia’s Big Bash League

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

Australia’s Melbourne Renegades have signed up 15-year-old Noor Ahmad after a 12-month scouting mission and plan to unleash him on the Big Bash League later this year. 

Earlier this week Renegades confirmed Mohammad Nabi had also signed up and on Thursday, the club announced on its website, 15-year-old Noor Ahmad, from Kabul, will also join their team. 

“We’ve been tracking Noor Ahmad closely for more than a year now and although he’s in the early stages of his career, he’s an exciting prospect and he has a few tricks that’ll make life difficult for batsmen,” Renegades Coach Michael Klinger said. 

Ahmad is a left-arm wrist-spinner who has earned high praise around the globe.

Ahmad earned a contract in the Caribbean Premier League earlier this year and won a T20 trophy under Mohammad Nabi’s captaincy in 2019.

“The Renegades fans and followers of the Big Bash may not know much about Noor at this stage but I can tell you, he is a very exciting talent who I feel has a big future in the game,” Nabi said.

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Khalilzad meets with Taliban’s Baradar, discusses increase in violence

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha on Wednesday night to discuss a range of issues relating to the Afghan peace process, including the high levels of violence. 

In a series of tweets by the Taliban’s Doha spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, Khalilzad was accompanied by US Forces Afghanistan commander General Scott Miller.

Naeem said the discussion centered around a number of issues and talks were held on the full “implementation of the whole articles of the agreement signed between the IEA [Taliban] and the US”.

He also said the release of remaining prisoners was discussed as was removing names of Taliban members from the US’ blacklist. 

According to him, the increase in hostilities was discussed and attributed the high levels of violence to a number of factors. He said the “humiliation of the martyrs’ bodies” was one reason, as was that of raids carried out against released prisoners and “their killing”. 

He also said, “offensives and the violation of the agreement overall were reckoned the causes that don’t lead the circumstances to a good direction.”

Khalilzad returned to Doha earlier this week to meet with negotiating teams in Doha to press both sides to immediately reduce the levels of violence that Afghan civilians are forced to bear. 

According to a statement issued on Wednesday by the US State Department: “Too many Afghans are dying. The sides urgently need an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.” 

“Along with international partners, Ambassador Khalilzad will press the two negotiating teams to accelerate their efforts and agree to a political roadmap that ends Afghanistan’s 40-year-long war. The sides must move past procedure and into substantive negotiations. American and international assistance remains available to all sides,” the statement read. 

Khalilzad meanwhile said in a series of tweets on Tuesday night that he returns “to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened.”

“The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said.

“Intransigence and a refusal to abandon animosity, embrace fellow citizens, and agree on a formula for political cooperation/competition underpin the ongoing war.”

Khalilzad said: “Afghans are dying at a high rate, and regional spoilers are using Afghans as cannon fodder for their illegitimate objectives.  Bloodshed must end.

“Afghans need to pivot to development instead of destruction, stability instead of chaos, forgiveness instead of vengeance, compromise instead of inflexibility,” he said.

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Bajwa warns Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘can’t afford chaos’

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Wednesday that Afghanistan and Pakistan could not afford the risk of lawlessness and chaos as such a situation would have catastrophic consequences for both countries.

Speaking during his visit to a hospital in Peshawar to visit victims of Tuesday’s bombing at a madrassa that killed at least seven people, including children, and wounded more than 100, Bajwa said that Afghan refugees in Pakistan should exercise caution about unfavorable elements so that they were not wittingly or unwittingly used in terrorist activities, Dawn News reported. 

He said Pakistan has always wanted peace in Afghanistan and would spare no effort to restore peace and stability in the country.

Bajwa also said Pakistan and Afghanistan had faced terrorism for the past two decades but that peace in both countries was intertwined.

Tuesday’s explosion happened as a prominent religious scholar was giving a special class about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrassa, police confirmed. 

Some Afghan students studying at the seminary were also among the wounded persons, officials said.

 

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