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Ghani to sign prisoner release decree, peace talks expected in days

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(Last Updated On: August 10, 2020)

Long-awaited intra-Afghan negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to start in Doha, Qatar within a week once the final 400 Taliban prisoners have been released. 

“We are ready to sit for talks within a week from when we see our prisoners released. We are ready,” Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Reuters on Monday.

A government source told Reuters that President Ashraf Ghani would likely sign the decree to release the prisoners later on Monday.

“Everyone is waiting for Ghani to sign on the decree. The original plan is to travel to Doha on Wednesday and the talks will begin on Sunday,” the source said.

Meanwhile, in an interview with BBC Pashto on Sunday, Shaheen said the Taliban negotiating team will be led by Abbas Stanikzai, the former chief negotiator for the Taliban during talks with the United States. 

Asked about a ceasefire, called for by the Loya Jirga on Sunday, Shaheen said: “The ceasefire is part of the intra-Afghan negotiations agenda that will be discussed there. It has been mentioned in the Doha agreement.”

Shaheen said the group wanted peace but criticized the delay in the prisoner release process by the Afghan government. 

He also stated that the group will continue to adhere to its commitments made during the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha earlier this year. 

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who cemented the agreement with the Taliban in February for the prisoner release campaign along with the withdrawal of US troops, on Monday also welcomed the Loya Jirga’s decision to release the remaining 400 prisoners. 

He also said that intra-Afghan talks would commence soon. 

In a series of posts on Twitter, Khalilzad said: “In the next few days, we expect the completion of prisoner releases, then travel of the Islamic Republic team to Doha, & from there the immediate start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”

“The parties will embark on a process to reach an agreement on a political roadmap & a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire to end the Afghan war,” he tweeted.

The release of the 400 hardcore prisoners had been a stumbling block in the way of peace talks in the past month. President Ashraf Ghani has so far released over 4,600 Taliban prisoners in accordance with the Doha agreement but was wary of releasing the remaining group. 

However, this weekend’s Loya Jirga unanimously voted in favor of releasing the prisoners so that peace talks could start between the two parties. 

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Khalilzad testifies before House Committee, says pact with Pakistan possible

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(Last Updated On: September 22, 2020)

Testifying before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security about the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other. 

He also said the level of violence in Afghanistan was unacceptably high and that setbacks during talks are expected. 

“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” he told the hearing but said, “we know that reductions are possible.”

Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started in Doha on September 12 but few details have been given since the opening ceremony, except that both sides appear to be disagreeing on a number of basic issues. 

One of the key concerns among Afghans however is that women’s rights might not be preserved under a possible peace deal. 

Asked about this by the Democrats during the hearing, Khalilzad said: “I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them.”

He said: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.” 

He also said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.

“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” Khalilzad said.

Afghanistan has for years accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants but Pakistan denies doing so and in turn, accuses Afghanistan of supporting militants fighting Islamabad.

The US signed a pact with the Taliban in February, that was conditions-based, in order to bring the Afghan government and Taliban to the talks tables. 

One of the agreements on the part of the US was a gradual drawdown of troops, until a full troop withdrawal in April next year. 

Since the February agreement, US troop levels are down to 8,600 from 13,000 and are to be reduced further to about 4,500 by November. 

David Helvey, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the subcommittee hearing the Pentagon was carrying out “prudent planning” to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if conditions were met.

He added that for now, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not issued any orders to go below 4,000 troops.

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Afghanistan’s ‘cricket is proof that dreams come true’: ACB director

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(Last Updated On: September 22, 2020)

The Director of Cricket at Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), Raees Ahmadzai said on Tuesday that with hard work and determination “dreams do come true” and that Afghanistan’s cricket is proof of this. 

Representing the ACB at a virtual meeting of the Asian Cricket Council, attended by both full-members and some associate members, Ahmadzai provided details on the country’s achievements and on its challenges. 

According to the ACB, Ahmadzai also discussed the enormous potential of talent in the country – especially with spin bowlers. 

He said: “Without doubt with hard work and determination, dreams do come true and Afghanistan Cricket is a living example of it. Afghan cricketers have been through various hurdles and struggles to enjoy its results today.”

The participants, which also included officials from the International Cricket Council (ICC), recognized Afghanistan Cricket Board’s efforts to promote the game in the war-torn country. 

The meeting came just a day after ACB’s acting CEO Nazeem Abdul Rahimzai met with the governor of Nangarhar Ziaulhaq Amarkheil to discuss progress around the construction of the new Behsud cricket grounds in Jalalabad. 

Construction started about six weeks ago and phase one, which involves the leveling of the ground, is expected to be completed in the next month. 

Rahimzai asked for the governor’s assistance on some issues relating to the project and “was fully assured of full support by the local government,” an ACB statement read. 

Amarkheil meanwhile said cricket in the province should be a priority and said the project would be completed on time. 

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Three suspects identified in public beating of two women in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: September 22, 2020)

The Ministry of Interior said it has identified three security officials involved in last week’s incident involving two young women who were beaten in public in Kabul. 

In a statement issued by the MoI, the ministry said: “After investigating the case, the Crime Investigation Directorate (CID) identified one member of the security forces who was the main culprit in the case and two police officers who were negligent and irresponsible by not stopping the incident.”

The MoI stated that the case is being investigated by the CID but has also been handed over to the Attorney General’s Office. 

The incident, which took place in Kabul city, was caught on video and went viral on social media – which sparked an outcry among rights activists and members of the public. 

The two women were publicly hit by one man, while two officials in uniform stood by and watched. 

A number of other people also stood around and watched the incident unfold.

This comes amid increasing concerns relating to the preservation and strengthening of women’s rights and overall human rights in Afghanistan as the Aghan negotiating team continues discussions with the Taliban in Doha. 

Human rights activists and global leaders have all called for the achievements of the past 19 years to be preserved if any peace deal is made between the warring sides. 

 

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