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In peace talks move, Ghani appoints 48 as reconciliation council members 

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(Last Updated On: August 30, 2020)

In a major step towards kick-starting intra-Afghan peace talks, President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday approved 48 candidates as members of the High Council for National Reconciliation. 

Ghani signed a decree to this effect and included a cross-sector of the Afghan society, including former president Hamid Karzai, Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, former vice president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor and other well known Afghan figures. 

The high council is led by former CEO Abdullah Abdullah and will be directly involved in dealing with peace talks. However, the body will only facilitate talks and is not a decision-making body. 

Ghani’s decree comes just days after Abdullah announced that talks could start in Doha this week. 

However, no details have yet been released nor has a confirmed date been announced. 

The talks hit a stumbling block earlier this month after Ghani held back on releasing the final 320 Taliban prisoners – a precondition set in the Doha agreement between the US and Taliban in February. 

This agreement, which was reportedly not sanctioned by the Afghan government, set out conditions that the Taliban should release 1,000 Afghan government personnel and the Afghan government should release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before talks could start. 

Over the past few months, Ghani has released more than 5,000 prisoners but has been hesitant to free 320 on the Taliban’s list. Considered hardcore, many of these prisoners have masterminded some of the worst attacks in Afghanistan while others are drug kingpins. 

However, Ghani’s latest move indicates that preparations could be underway to pave the way for the start of intra-Afghan talks. 

The names released in Saturday’s decree are as follows:

The leadership of the council is made up of 10 members including the chairman Abdullah Abdullah. 

Three deputies include Abdul Salam Rahimi, Enayatullah Farahmand, and Asadullah Saadati, deputy chairman. 

The rest are Zuhra Mutahari, former deputy governor of Paktia; member of Afghanistan’s Ulema Council Atta-Ur-Rahman Salim; head of Hizb-e-Islami Nawin Din Mohammad; political figure Akram Khpulwak; head of the negotiation team Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai; and special presidential envoy Noor-Ul-Haq Olumi.

Other members are: Former president Hamid Karzai; former mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf; Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; former vice president Mohammad Karim Khalili; former deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq; former vice president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum; former vice president Mohammad Yunus Qanooni; former foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani; former mujahideen leader and ex-minister of energy and water Mohammad Ismalil Khan; former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor; head of Maaz-e-Milli party Sayed Hamid Gailani; Zabihullah Mujaddedi; Sayed Mansoor Nadery; Enayatullah Shahrani; Mohammad Khan; head of Afghanistan’s Ulema Council Sadiq Modabir; Mohammad Ismail Ghazanfar and Mawlawi Khodaidad Saleh. 

Government representatives are: First Vice President Amrullah Saleh; Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danesh; Acting Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar; National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib; Meshrano Jirga Speaker Fazl Hadi Muslimyar; Wolesi Jirga Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani; presidential adviser Almas Zahid; presidential advisor Mawlawi Jora Tahiri.  An additional member, the state minister for peace affairs, will also be appointed a member once the position has been filled. 

Women will also be represented and eight have been appointed to the council. 

They are: Civil society activist Safia Sediqqi; former MP Najiba Ayubi; a member of the Afghan Women’s Network Mari Akrami; civil society activist Zia Gul Rezaee; member of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission Alia Yulmaz; former higher education minister Farida Mohmand; chairperson of medical council of Afghanistan Nasrin Oryakhil and civil society activist Zarqa Yaftali. 

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Pakistan’s peace envoy arrives in Kabul for talks

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2021)

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan said Sunday that a high-ranking delegation led by Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan officials.

“Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation, arrived in Kabul this morning for discussions with Afghan officials on peace,” Khan tweeted. 

During his visit Sadiq will also discuss security and related matters, the ambassador confirmed. 

Sadiq’s visit comes just two weeks after a scheduled visit by another Pakistani delegation was canceled due to security threats. 

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Asad Qaisar, and his accompanying delegation were forced to turn back to Islamabad after entering Afghan airspace following the reported discovery of explosive materials at the airport. 

At the time, Qaisar’s flight was turned back after NATO warned they had found explosives on the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul city.

Qaisar had been scheduled to visit Kabul for three days. 

According to officials at the time, the explosives had been planted on one of the runways years ago.

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CENTCOM chief in midst of ‘detailed planning’ for counterterrorism ops

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(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)

Carrying out airstrikes against terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan without a US troop presence in the country will be difficult but “not impossible”, the commander of US Central Command General Frank McKenzie said on Tuesday. 

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, McKenzie said he is in the midst of “detailed planning” for options for so-called “over the horizon” forces, or forces positioned elsewhere in the region that could continue counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. 

He said he plans to give Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin those options by the end of the month.

“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie said. 

“The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you’re out of the country, and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that.”

McKenzie’s testimony comes almost a week after President Joe Biden announced he was withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan and that they would all be home by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. 

According to The Hill, Biden’s decision came despite repeated statements from US military officials that the Taliban was not yet upholding its end of a deal made during the Trump administration to reduce violence and break from al-Qaeda, as well as warnings about the potential for chaos in Afghanistan that could allow an al-Qaeda resurgence should US troops withdraw.

Meanwhile, McKenzie’s comments about the difficulty of intelligence gathering without a troop presence echo comments last week from CIA Director William Burns, who told senators the ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a US military withdrawal, the Hill reported.

On Tuesday, McKenzie also said he continues to have “grave doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability in upholding its commitments under the deal signed last year.

McKenzie declined to tell lawmakers how he advised Biden as the president deliberated the withdrawal, but said he had “multiple opportunities” to provide Biden with his perspective.

The Hill reported that speaking broadly about options to continue strikes once US troops leave, McKenzie said surveillance drones could be positioned in a place where they can reach Afghanistan “in a matter of minutes” or ”perhaps much further away.”

“We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we’ll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said. 

“Some of them may be very far away, and then there would be a significant bill for those types of resources because you’d have to cycle a lot of them in and out. That is all doable, however.”

Right now, McKenzie added, the United States does not have any basing agreements with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or other countries surrounding Afghanistan.

McKenzie also said there are a “variety of ways” to strike targets, including long-range precision fire missiles, manned raids or manned aircraft.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.

“I don’t want to make light of it. I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do. I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything. And we’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley are also scheduled to brief the full House and Senate behind closed doors later Tuesday on Biden’s plan for Afghanistan.

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Khalilzad wraps up 4-day trip to Turkey ahead of Summit

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(Last Updated On: March 30, 2021)

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has wrapped up a four-day visit to Turkey to discuss the upcoming Istanbul Summit on the Afghanistan peace process.

In a statement issued by the US Embassy in Turkey, the planned Istanbul Summit “is meant to help Afghan negotiators accelerate their efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and agree to a political settlement and a permanent ceasefire.”

The conference will complement peace talks currently ongoing in Doha, the statement read.

Khalilzad, who was in Turkey from March 26 to 29, met with a number of Turkish officials during this time, including Presidential Advisor Ibrahim Kalin, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.

According to the embassy’s statement, American and Turkish officials consulted on the timing, format, and overall objectives and agenda of the conference to ensure that it will be well prepared and organized. 

“They agreed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned conference, supported by high-level attendance from the international community, provides the best means to accelerate the peace process. 

“They also agreed to urge the Afghan parties to prepare for constructive participation in this conference.”

This comes after Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), said last week he hopes “tangible progress will be made towards a peace settlement at the Istanbul meeting”.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, Abdullah said the presence of decision-makers expected to attend the meeting needs to be utilized to push to accelerate the settlement of issues in Afghanistan.

“There have been a lot of discussions between both sides in the past few months in Doha. The Doha process will continue and then we have the Istanbul meeting. The Istanbul meeting will be held at a high level.

“There will be top leaders of Afghanistan and Taliban — that’s how it is anticipated,” Abdullah said.

He also urged that the Istanbul opportunity should not be used to give speeches; instead, it should focus on working for tangible progress.

“The final, final, final agreement, of course, it takes time, but we should at least agree on few principles. And an agreement on a ceasefire will be very, very important,” Abdullah added.

Anadolu reported that Abdullah said it’s time to move beyond the US-Taliban deal, which stipulates the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and stated it was time to forge an agreement directly between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

He also stated the Taliban’s readiness to move ahead would be tested in the coming days.

“Eventually, it has to be a comprehensive agreement between us, there is something between the US and the Taliban, but eventually, we need to agree. The readiness of the Taliban remains to be seen. It will be tested before the meeting in Turkey,” Abdullah told Anadolu.

No date for the Istanbul Summit has yet been confirmed but it is widely expected that it will take place early next month. 

 

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