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Grand council of tribal elders and prominent leaders officially underway in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

The Loya Jirga, or national grand council, officially got underway in Kabul on Friday morning amid heavy security measures in place in the city.

About 3,200 delegates, including at least 700 women, are in attendance and will discuss and decide on the way forward for intra-Afghan peace talks and the controversial release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners.

The delegates are made up of influential tribal elders, community leaders, prominent politicians from around the country.

The Jirga will ultimately advise the president on the way forward.

According to the Doha agreement signed in February between the US and Taliban, the Afghan government was required to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners – prisoners the group listed.

However, the final 400 have not been released as they are accused of having committed or masterminded deadly crimes.

So far, the Taliban has released its captives.

Addressing the delegates on Friday during his opening speech at the Loya Jirga President Ashraf Ghani said that as per the Doha agreement, the Afghan government was to release “up to 5,000, not the exact 5,000 prisoners.”

He said the government is not committed to releasing 5,000 inmates, but the Taliban prisoners were released as part of government efforts to bring peace to the country.

The release of the final 400 has however so far been a major stumbling block in starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and Ghani called for a Loya Jirga to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the United States welcomed the convening of the assembly saying that the Loya Jirga delegates had gathered “to consolidate national support for peace in Afghanistan.

“After 40 years of war, bloodshed, and destruction, the parties are ready to embark on a political process to reach a negotiated settlement,” the US State Department said in a statement.

NATO Senior Civilian Representative Stefano Pontecorvo also commented and said the Loya Jirga represents an opportunity to discuss Afghan Peace Process, “including prisoner release, allowing for much overdue intra-Afghan negotiations to start.”

“I wish the delegates well in their deliberations, consolidating a national approach to peace,” Stefano tweeted.

 

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Khalilzad ‘would welcome’ talks with Iran to help end conflict

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday Washington had offered to meet with Iran in a bid to garner their assistance to end the war in Afghanistan. 

Speaking at a virtual discussion by the US Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said he would welcome talks with Afghanistan’s neighbor but said Tehran wanted to keep the US “entangled” in the conflict. 

“Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price in Afghanistan until there is an agreement between the US and Iran,” Khalilzad said.

“But we have offered to meet with Iranians on this issue, that they should join various forums where we are there and they are there, to discuss the future of Afghanistan,” he said.

However, Khalilzad warned that the US would target any Iran-backed groups that took “action against” America and that Washington is monitoring them closely. 

Khalilzad also said that there was “no viable path” to a military victory in Afghanistan.

But Khalilzad noted that plans to downsize the number of US troops in Afghanistan, before a complete withdrawal, was all conditional.

Iran has denounced the agreement negotiated by Khalilzad between the US and the Taliban, which envisions a US troops withdrawal by April next year. Iran has accused Washington of legitimizing the Taliban.

 

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Security chiefs discuss surging levels of violence in the country

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

Security leaders from the Ministries of Defense and Interior and Resolute Support Mission met on Wednesday in Kandahar to discuss the security situation across Afghanistan. 

Resolute Support Commander, General Scott Miller stated Thursday that the level of violence in the country at the moment was too high. 

“Taliban violence has to slow down – it has to stop. What it is driving is an increase in violence across the country,” he said. 

As he stated the world is watching Afghanistan at the moment – specifically due to current peace negotiations between the Afghan government team and the Taliban. 

“We have an opportunity for peace, which is what the people of Afghanistan are looking for,” Miller said. 

He stated that during the visit to Kandahar, the officials all agreed on the need for close cooperation between all security entities in the country. 

“..we stressed and talked about the need for work amongst the security pillars, cooperation amongst the security pillars. The police and the army are very important to the people of Afghanistan,” he said. 

“But it’s the cooperation between the different security forces that are making a difference here in Kandahar. It has to – it has to be better. And then just lastly, for the people of Afghanistan, as I watch the fighting on a daily and nightly basis, I ask the people of Afghanistan, and [Kandahar’s] governor you as well, is make sure that we say ‘thank you’ and remain very proud of the security forces who are sacrificing every single day.”

The visit comes amid rising concerns about increased violence across the country since the start of the Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha. 

 

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Nominated US envoy to Pakistan says cooperation critical in peace efforts

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

Nominated US envoy to Islamabad William Todd told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that cooperation between the two countries was essential for bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“Peace in Afghanistan is in both our countries’ best interests, and effective US-Pakistani cooperation is essential to achieve that objective,” he said.

“Today, our countries recognize that we share a common interest in a durable peace in Afghanistan,” Todd told the Senate panel.

He also said Islamabad “played a critical role in creating the conditions that brought Afghan leaders and the Taliban to the historic start of Afghan Peace negotiations” but that Pakistan now has “an even more important role to play in supporting efforts toward a negotiated political settlement that ends 40 years of war.” 

“This is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region,” he said.

He said if his nomination was approved and he was appointed ambassador to Pakistan, one of his top priorities would be to encourage Pakistan to play this role.

“In terms of regional dynamics, although we have a strong relationship with India, that does not need to come at the expense of Pakistan,” he said. “I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries.”

He also said he thought Washington’s close ties with Delhi and Islamabad could help reduce tensions in the region. 

“Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President [Donald] Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it,” he said.

He also stated he would work with Pakistan to advance a “shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region.”

Todd, who was nominated by Trump earlier this year, told the Senate panel that Pakistan remained a difficult but essential US partner in South Asia, and Washington was seeking to reset its ties with Islamabad.

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