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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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EU envoy says aid will be cut if Taliban seize power militarily

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Tomas Niklasson, Acting Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, says that the EU would not recognize a Taliban government if they manage a military takeover.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Niklasson stated if the Taliban gain power through a military takeover the EU will cut its aid to Afghanistan and the country will be isolated.

“If the Taliban manage to take power by military means it would not be recognized by the EU, it would not be recognized by most countries in the region.”

“It would become an isolated regime and isolated Afghanistan,” he noted.

Niklasson also raised his concerns over the current situation in Afghanistan, calling on the warring parties to show flexibility in order to end the ongoing conflict in the country.

“We are clearly very very concerned by the situation. We try to do what we can to remain engaged in Afghanistan, to continue to provide development assistance, to remain engaged politically to provide humanitarian assistance as long as needed.”

The diplomat stated that the Taliban has no clear proposal in the peace talks with the Afghan Republic’s team. He added that the Taliban want to seek more concessions in the talks via their military campaign.

“The Taliban have not really put on the table a clear proposal of what they want and that is part of the negotiations and that will be a necessary next step,” he stated.

“If they put Islamic Emirate, the design of the 1990s or any Islamic Emirate on the table, no, it would not be acceptable but it could be a start for negotiation,” the EU Envoy said.

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Ghani meets with politicians, jihadi leaders to garner more support for peace

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani has emphasized the need for the continuation of peace talks in Doha and national mobilization in support of the Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF).

After holding a consultative meeting with prominent Afghan political figures and former Jihadi leaders on Saturday, Ghani issued a statement outlining a number of critical necessities.

The statement highlighted the following key points:

  1. Ending the war and reaching a just and durable peace has been the Afghan government’s priority
  2. The government has an obligation to preserve the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, national honors and institutions, values, women rights, and freedoms
  3. The political and Jihadi leaders vowed to make efforts for further national mobilization in support of Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Latif Mahmood, the Deputy Spokesman for the Presidential Palace, stated: “Ending to war, maintaining a just and lasting peace, support for the Security and Defense Forces, defending the territorial integrity and national honor, preservation of values gained in the last two decades and the principal of the Constitution were discussed in this meeting.”

Meanwhile, the Russian TASS news agency has reported that the extended Troika on the Afghan peace settlement comprising representatives of Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan will be held in early August.

“We are in constant contact over the phone with my counterpart [US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay] Khalilzad, who is now [staying] in Washington. Next week, we are planning to meet in Doha with him and with our Chinese and Pakistani counterparts for the next encounter of the extended Troika,” said Special Russian Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, as quoted by the TASS.

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Watchdog reports of growing number of revenge attacks

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Taliban forces in Afghanistan are targeting known critics despite claiming that they have ordered their fighters to act with restraint, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

In Kandahar, the Taliban have detained and executed suspected members of the provincial government and security forces, and in some cases their relatives.

Among recent cases, the Taliban executed a popular Kandahari comedian, Nazar Mohammad, known as Khasha Zwan, who posted routines that included songs and jokes on TikTok. He had reportedly also worked with the local police.

On July 22, Taliban fighters abducted Khasha Zwan from his home in southern Kandahar, beat him, and then shot him multiple times, HRW said in a statement.

After a video of two men slapping and abusing Khasha Zwan appeared on social media, the Taliban admitted that two of their fighters had killed him.
“Taliban forces apparently executed Khasha Zwan because he poked fun at Taliban leaders,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“His murder and other recent abuses demonstrate the willingness of Taliban commanders to violently crush even the tamest criticism or objection,” she said.

Activists in Kandahar said that in villages surrounding the provincial capital, Taliban commanders have detained scores of people associated with the government or police, HRW reported.

In one case, on July 16, Taliban fighters abducted two men whose brothers had worked with NDS 03, a CIA-backed strike force that has been responsible for summary executions and other abuses, from their homes in the Qasam Pol area, Dand district, HRW stated.

Their relatives say that they have not heard from the two men since.
Also in mid-July, a media report said Taliban fighters detained Ahmadullah, a former police officer, in Spin Boldak. His family has not heard from him since.

His uncle said that the Taliban had sent letters saying that anyone who had worked with the government or foreign forces would not be harmed so long as they reported to the Taliban leadership and “admitted their ‘crime.’”
International humanitarian law prohibits summary executions, enforced disappearances, and other mistreatment of anyone in custody, which are war crimes, HRW reported.

It is unlawful to detain civilians unless absolutely necessary for imperative security reasons, the statement read.

Retaliatory attacks are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited, HRW stated.

The International Criminal Court is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and serious human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Taliban commanders who knew or should have known about abuses by forces under their control and took no action to prevent or stop them are culpable as a matter of command responsibility, HRW said.
“Advancing Taliban forces have no blank check to brutally target their critics,” Gossman said. “The Taliban leadership usually denies the abuses, but it’s their fighters carrying out these attacks and their responsibility to stop the killings.”

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