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Ghani outlines Afghanistan’s path to peace

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(Last Updated On: May 4, 2021)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September represents a turning point for the country and its neighbors.

In an article written by Ghani for Foreign Affairs, he says the Afghan government respects the decision to withdraw troops “and views it as a moment of both opportunity and risk for itself, for Afghans, for the Taliban, and for the region.”

“For me, as the elected leader of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, it is another opportunity to reiterate and further my commitment to peace. In February 2018, I made an unconditional offer of peace to the Taliban. That was followed by a three-day cease-fire in June of that year.

“In 2019, a loya jirga (grand council) that I convened mandated negotiations with the Taliban, and since then, my government has worked to build a national consensus on the need for a political settlement that would comport with the values of the Afghan constitution and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My government remains ready to continue talks with the Taliban. And, if it meant peace would be secured, I am willing to end my term early,” he wrote.

He says the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal is another phase in Afghanistan’s long-term partnership with the United States.

“Afghanistan has been through consequential withdrawals before. In 2014, the year I first took office, 130,000 U.S. and NATO forces withdrew, allowing Afghans full leadership of the security sector and of the institutions that our international partners had helped us build.

“Since then, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have protected and upheld the republic and made it possible for the country to carry out two national elections. Today, our government and our security forces are on a much stronger footing than we were seven years ago, and we are fully prepared to continue serving and defending our people after American troops depart,” he wrote.

He says the withdrawal also represents an opportunity for the Afghan people to achieve real sovereignty and that soon all decisions regarding military approaches to the Taliban and other terrorist groups will be made by the Afghan government.

“Indeed, the Taliban’s justification for war—jihad against a foreign power—will cease to apply,” he wrote.

Ghani says the U.S. decision to fully withdraw surprised not only the Taliban but also “their patrons in Pakistan”. He says this has forced them to make a choice.
“Will they become credible stakeholders, or will they foster more chaos and violence?”

If the Taliban choose the latter path, the ANDSF will fight them. And if the Taliban still refuse to negotiate, they will be choosing the peace of the grave, he says.

Ghani also stated that in order to avoid such a fate, the Taliban must answer critical questions about their vision for Afghanistan.

“Will they accept elections, and will they will commit to uphold the rights of all Afghans, including girls, women, and minorities?

“Negative answers to those questions were suggested by the Taliban’s recent decision to pull out of a peace conference that was supposed to begin in Istanbul at the end of April.”

He said the Taliban, it seems, remain more interested in power than in peace. A political settlement and the integration of the Taliban into society and government is the only way forward. But the ball is in their court.

Ghani wrote that Afghans cannot and absolutely will not go back to the horrors of the 1990s and are “not idly waiting for peace to chance upon us but continue to take steps to create the environment and platform for it to take hold.”

He says that while all Afghans want peace, it is far less clear what the Taliban want.

“They demand an Islamic system – but that already exists in Afghanistan. For any negotiations over a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban to succeed, the Taliban must articulate their desired end state with clarity and detail.”

The first topics of negotiation must be reaching the desired end state and putting in place a comprehensive cease-fire to bring peace and respite to the daily lives of the Afghan people and to restore credibility and faith in the peacemaking process. Because cease-fires established during peace negotiations often fall apart, however, it is critical that we have international monitoring, Ghani wrote.

“Next, the parties would have to discuss and decide on a transitional administration. Although the structure of the republic must remain intact, a peace administration would maintain order and continuity while elections were planned and held.

“This transitional authority would have a short tenure, and it would end as soon as presidential, parliamentary, and local elections determined the country’s new leadership. I would not run for office in such an election, and I would readily resign the presidency before the official end of my current term if it meant that my elected successor would have a mandate for peace,” he said.

He also noted that the negotiations would confront difficult issues, such as whether and how the Taliban would end their relationship with Pakistan.

The talks must also address the Taliban’s ongoing connections to al-Qaeda, which the UN detailed in a 2020 report, he said.

In line with this, the Afghan government and the Taliban must also agree on an approach against the Islamic State (or ISIS/Daesh), al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups and that any agreement includes a framework for counterterrorism that secures guarantees of support from other countries in the region and from international organizations.

“The agreement must also ensure the continuation of high-level regional diplomacy and welcome the involvement of the UN secretary-general’s personal representative.”

Once the Afghan government and the Taliban have reached a settlement, the Afghan people would need to publicly endorse it through a loya jirga, a grand meeting of male and female community leaders from every province.

“The Taliban have been deprived of immersion in Afghan society for the past 20 years, and a loya jirga would offer an ideal opportunity for their leadership to interact with all segments of the population,” he said.

The Afghan people want a country that is sovereign, Islamic, democratic, united, and neutral.

After a political settlement has been negotiated, inked, and endorsed, the hard work of implementation would begin. This is the process of building peace. There is always a temptation to make the temporary permanent, which is why the peace government must prioritize elections, he said.

In the interim, however, the transitional leadership would have to make a series of hard decisions about how to govern. Economic development, education and health services, and other key functions of the state would have to continue without disruption, Ghani stated.

“Any stoppage would have disastrous ramifications for the Afghan people and for the economy. There would also be new priorities, such as releasing prisoners of war; integrating members of the Taliban in all levels of government, the military, and society; and addressing the grievances of those who have lost loved ones, property, and livelihoods during the past two decades of war.”

He went on to state a newly elected government will have an important mandate to sustain peace and implement the agreement. That may require making amendments to the constitution. The constitution makes clear that, except for the Islamic character of the state and the fundamental rights of citizens, all else is subject to amendment, and there are mechanisms in place to enact those changes.

He said a new government would also need to deal with the reintegration of refugees (particularly those who fled to Iran and Pakistan), the resettlement of internally displaced people, and the often overlooked issue of national reconciliation.

Meanwhile, the transitional cease-fire would have to give way to a situation in which state institutions command a legitimate monopoly on the use of force. And Afghanistan would need to commit to permanent neutrality in order to mitigate the risk of regional conflicts. The UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council would be the ideal venues for establishing and formalizing Afghanistan’s neutral status, he stated.

The Path Ahead

“Even in an ideal environment, achieving a just and lasting peace would not be an easy journey. And unfortunately, the environment we are operating in is not ideal. There are many risks that this process could be derailed or disrupted, and Afghans may lose yet another opportunity for peace.

“For one, the perception of uncertainty, fueled by dire predictions in the media, may incline many Afghans to leave the country. This could lead to a repeat of the refugee crisis that unfolded in 2015 and would deprive the country of talented people right at the moment when they are most needed,” he wrote.

Another risk is that a disrupted or disorderly transition could threaten command and control within the country’s security sector. There must be an orderly political process to transfer authority so that the security forces are not left without leadership and direction, he said.

“Moreover, it is critically important that the United States and NATO fulfill their existing commitments to fund the ANDSF. This is perhaps the single most important contribution that the international community can make to a successful transition to peace in Afghanistan.

“There is also a risk that Afghan political figures will not galvanize around an orderly peace process. Thus we are reaching out to ensure that the process is inclusive, not only of internal political figures and different strata of Afghan society but also of regional actors who could potentially attempt to spoil the process.

“The main risk to peace, however, is a Taliban miscalculation. The Taliban still believe their own narrative that they have defeated NATO and the United States. They feel emboldened, and because their political leaders have never encouraged their military branch to accept the idea of peace, the greatest risk is that the Taliban will continue to show no earnest interest in making a political deal and will instead opt for continued military aggression,” Ghani said.

He went on to say however that it is not too late for Pakistan to emerge as a partner and stakeholder in an orderly peace process.

“If that is what happens, the Afghan government and the security forces are ready. As we prepare for peace talks with the Taliban, we are also prepared to face them on the battlefield.

“Over the last two years, more than 90 percent of Afghan military operations have been conducted entirely by Afghan security forces. Should the Taliban choose violence, it would mean a major confrontation over the spring and summer months, at the end of which the Taliban would be left with no good options except to come back to the negotiating table.”

He said Pakistan might also miscalculate in a way that threatens peace. There have been positive signs that Pakistan will choose the path of regional connectivity, peace, and prosperity, as indicated in remarks delivered in March at the Islamabad Security Dialogue by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani army chief of staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Those remarks could signify an important pivot from a destructive to a constructive approach to relations with Afghanistan. Now is the opportunity to put those words into action.

“If Pakistan chooses to support the Taliban, however, then Islamabad would be opting for enmity with the Afghan nation and would be foregoing the enormous economic benefits that peace and regional connectivity would offer.

“Pakistan would become an international pariah, as it would be left with no leverage in the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal. The Pakistani government miscalculated in its response to the United States’ plan of action for Afghanistan and the region, but it is not too late for Islamabad to emerge as a partner and stakeholder in an orderly peace process,” he said.

In conclusion, Ghani stated: “As we move into uncharted waters for Afghanistan, I am focused on achieving the best possible outcome of this long period of conflict: a sovereign, Islamic, democratic, united, neutral, and connected Afghanistan. I am willing to compromise and sacrifice to achieve that. The withdrawal of U.S. troops is an opportunity to get us closer to that end state, but only if all Afghans and their international partners commit to a clear path forward and stay the course.”

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Day 3 of ceasefire: MoD accuses Taliban of violating ceasefire

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

The Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Saturday that Taliban has violated the three-day ceasefire in seven provinces across the country that killed and wounded dozens of civilians.

“The ceasefire has been violated in several cases and several points of the country and terrorist groups under Taliban leadership violated the ceasefire. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is committed to the ceasefire, but enemies are not committed and violated the ceasefire,” said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the MoD.

This comes after an IED was reportedly detonated inside a mosque in Shakardara district in Kabul during Friday prayers. On Saturday, sources said 14 people were killed, including the mosque’s Imam.

The following incidents were reported on Saturday, day three of the ceasefire.

1 – One policeman and two civilians were wounded in an explosion in Surobi district of Kabul province on Saturday.

2- Two civilians were killed and two others were wounded in Kunduz province in an IED explosion.

3- Two civilians killed in Ghazni province in an explosion

4- Two explosions were reported in Kandahar province that killed and wounded civilians.

5- An explosion in Kapisa reportedly killed and wounded civilians.

In addition to this, Mohammad Omar Sherzad, the governor of Uruzgan province said that Taliban attacked Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) in the province.

“In two areas of Uruzgan province the ceasefire has been violated. One attack was on a security forces convoy along the Kandahar-Uruzgan highway and second they (Taliban) attacked an ANDSF check post close to Tarin Kot city, that wounded Afghan forces. The Taliban are not committed to their commitments,” said Sherzad.

Meanwhile, some members of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) said that all the attacks are not carried out by the Taliban.

“Shakardara attack was a series of killings of religious scholars; such attacks are carried out by Takfiri (non-believing) groups; but attacks in Uruzgan, Kandahar and other provinces are Taliban actions,” said Mohammad Arif Rahmani, an MP.

The three-day ceasefire was widely welcomed by the Afghan people but most called for the tenuous truce to be extended and to become permanent.

However, going into the ceasefire, the Taliban said it would observe the truce but would resume hostilities after the Eid holidays.

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Atmar conveys condolences to Palestine just hours before media offices bombed

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Haneef Atmar spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Palestine, Riyad Al-Maliki, on Saturday and condemned the escalation of attacks and encroachment on the Palestinian people during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.

In a statement issued by his office, Atmar said the bloody attacks were unacceptable for Islamic countries and the world’s peace-loving nations. 

He also called for an immediate end to the violence in the region.

Expressing the Afghan people’s solidarity with the people of Palestine, Atmar stated that Afghanistan supported the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to an independent state, within the borders set out in the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution.

Atmar’s conversation came just hours before Israel bombed a building in Gaza City that houses The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of other foreign media outlets. 

The airstrike on the high-rise came nearly an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to evacuate the 12-story building, which also housed residential apartments. 

The strike brought down the entire structure, which collapsed in a gigantic cloud of dust. There was no immediate explanation for why it was attacked, AP reported

The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising at a time when there have been no peace talks in years. 

AP reported the strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon after the building’s owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that it would be hit. AP’s staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.

Al-Jazeera, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.

“This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” an on-air anchorwoman said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.

 

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Taliban faction’s deputy dies in Kabul from injuries sustained in Herat skirmish

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

Deputy head of the Taliban splinter group in the western part of the country, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, died in Kabul on Saturday from injuries sustained last week in a skirmish in Herat.

Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed his death and said he had been transferred to a Kabul hospital on Thursday afternoon due to the severity of his wounds. 

Niazi, who was reportedly shot three times in the head, was initially taken to Herat District Hospital after being seriously wounded in an apparent Taliban-on-Taliban attack. 

Sources said three insurgents were killed and three others were wounded in the clash. 

Provincial officials told Ariana News last week that Niazi was wounded on Wednesday in a skirmish with Taliban militants in the Guzara district of the province.

The sources stated at the time that Niazi, a pro-Taliban commander, was taken to Herat’s public hospital.

According to the sources, three of Niazi’s bodyguards were killed in the skirmish.

The Taliban has not commented in this regard.

Niazi was believed to have been Mullah Mohammad Rasool’s deputy – the head of the faction that split from the Taliban in November 2015, following the announcement in July that year that the Taliban’s longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead.

The dissident faction’s announcement was at the time believed to be the first public and official split of the Afghan Taliban since the group formed in the 1990s.

Omar’s deputy at the time was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who claimed power — sparking a battle over the group’s leadership.

Rasool and Niazi were among several Taliban commanders who challenged Mansoor’s appointment as leader. Mansoor was the leader of the group from 29 July 2015 to 21 May 2016 but was killed in a drone strike by the United States in Pakistan.

Niazi was born 1968 in Pashtoon Zarghoon district, in Herat province and served as governor of Kabul Province under the Taliban regime.

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