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Khalilzad calls for peace talks; warns against military solution

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, has said the level of violence in Afghanistan is too high and that peace talks need to resume as soon as possible.

“Both sides have to be realistic about finding common ground. If there is no peace agreement, the alternative is not a Taliban victory. It is a long war,” he said.

Speaking to Germany’s Der Spiegel, Khalilzad said he believes the Taliban leadership is in control of its fighters on the ground but he warned “if groups inside the Afghan Republic start to divide and each go their separate ways – which is a possibility, and a dangerous one – that would encourage the Taliban, perhaps the hardliners, to seek a military solution.”

Asked what a “military solution” would mean for Afghanistan, Khalilzad said: “It would mean a repeat of the tragic period of the 1990s, when Afghanistan became the scene of a proxy war following the Soviet departure.

“Many of the leaders of the Taliban and the other Afghan groups remember that period. They remember that terrible mistakes were made: They didn’t come together, instead they each sought an advantage for themselves and that led to a war that destroyed Afghanistan. Our expectation is that the parties won’t repeat that mistake again,” he said.

Khalilzad went on to say the proposed peace conference in Turkey, which has been delayed due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend such a meeting until all foreign troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan, is one test to see whether the Taliban want to end the conflict through negotiations.

“The Turks have agreed, together with Qatar and the United Nations, to convene a meeting of the Afghan Republic and the Taliban to accelerate political negotiations. The Taliban so far have not agreed to the dates that were proposed. They said they haven’t yet received authorization from their leaders. But they do want prisoners released and they do want to be taken off the blacklist,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad pointed out that “war is expensive.”

He said this applied to both sides – to the Afghan security forces and to the Taliban. He also stated that significant numbers “are dying on all sides”.

But he noted that the Taliban have choices – choices that affect their futures.

“One future is international legitimacy, assistance, getting off the sanctions’ blacklist, and prisoners released. But that means negotiations and agreeing to a realistic political settlement.” Khalilzad said.

“The alternative is war. Even if they make continued gains, they’re not looking at an easy victory. And ongoing aggression on their part will mean continued isolation, not being accepted as a legitimate partner, not getting off the blacklist, no prisoners released, and the continued opposition from the international community working to prevent a military takeover.

“So this is a time for the Taliban to decide which path they want to take. And we are preparing ourselves, with our friends and allies, for both options. That’s the message that we have delivered to the Taliban,” he said.

Khalilzad said according to the Taliban, they “are working on their plan for a political settlement.”

On the Afghan Republic’s plan, Khalilzad said there had been 30 to start off with but this was now down to two.

“The negotiations – including the meeting in Turkey with facilitators – can be used to see how these plans might fit together for the future of Afghanistan. We strongly hope the UN, Turkey and Qatar can help through active facilitation.

“The Afghan security forces are a national institution worthy of support and we will keep supporting them,” he said.

But Khalilzad said if the Taliban fail to pursue a political settlement and pursue the line of war, he believes the Afghan security forces will resist and “we will support them”.

He warned however that Afghanistan’s recent history shows that efforts by any group to impose their will on the people by force leads to a “long war.”

Once again he reassured Afghanistan that neither the US nor the rest of the international community would abandon Afghanistan.

“We will have – when the withdrawal is completed – a new chapter in our partnership. Afghanistan is going to be at the very top of the recipients of U.S. assistance, foreign assistance which includes supporting the Afghan security forces, development assistance and humanitarian assistance. And our allies say the same,” he said.

Khalilzad also stated that the US is preparing for all potential outcomes, stating “the violence is bad”. He said their goal is to help end the conflict through a peace agreement.

“In a best-case scenario, there will be national reconciliation and everyone’s energies will focus on rebuilding lives and obtaining the peace dividend. But yes, things could get worse if there is no realistic agreement and the war continues – or, God forbid, that it escalates, and past mistakes are repeated. We, for our part, will do all that we can, short of getting involved again in a war, to prevent things from devolving.

“All Afghans have been affected by this war. Afghans living in Taliban areas have not been spared. They have been deprived of a lot. They deserve a better chance, as well as those who have benefited from the gains of the last 20 years. We’re preparing for all potential alternatives and we are very much committed to humanitarian support as well,” he said.

Khalilzad went on to say the Afghan security forces are a national institution worthy of support, which the US will continue doing. He also said Washington will maintain a robust embassy and will monitor the situation closely.

Asked about “what went wrong” with Afghanistan, Khalilzad stated that while the Republic has delivered on many fronts, there have also been challenges.
He said corruption has been a key problem and that the electoral process has been problematic at times.

“Over the long history of this war, there have also been mistakes made in executing the military strategy. The issue of sanctuaries for the opposition was not dealt with in a timely fashion,” he said.

On Pakistan, Khalilzad said: “We believe that Pakistan has a legitimate interest in Afghanistan and the Afghans should respect those legitimate interests. The legitimate interest is that Afghanistan’s soil should not be used by those hostile to Pakistan against Pakistan.”

He also stated that Pakistan soil should not be used by forces hostile to Afghanistan, against Afghanistan. “And we have been working hard, along with the United Kingdom, for the two countries to work on improving security cooperation and perhaps to reach a security agreement with each other. That’s an important part of our peace efforts,” he said.

Khalilzad said that if this peace effort does not succeed, and if there is no agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan will suffer.

“Pakistan will be blamed because so much of the Taliban’s leadership lives in Pakistan. A failed peace also means missed opportunities for both countries. Leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan have a common interest in economic connectivity and trade and development. And we are working hard with both, and with Central Asia, for these things. We believe peace in Afghanistan empowers that and makes that possible.”

Khalilzad went on to say that ultimately, the responsibility of whether peace is possible, lies with the leaders of the Afghan Republic and the Taliban.

“The Afghan leaders say they have learned from the past. But we will see. Will they put their country first, will they put their people first or will they pursue some separate agenda? Will they put the future of the current generation, our future generations first? Time will tell whether they will make the right choice or repeat past mistakes. And the Taliban have an important historic choice to make,” he said.

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Kabul municipality drawing up service plans, order removal of T-walls

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(Last Updated On: September 19, 2021)

The acting head of Kabul municipality on Sunday ordered the removal of the city’s blast walls and said plans are being drawn up to address urban challenges and to provide effective services.

Addressing a press conference in Kabul, Mawlawi Hamdullah Nomani said the removal of barriers and concrete walls is a part of the plan going forward

Mawlawi Nomani said that the construction of high rise buildings and usurpation of land are challenges that will be addressed in future.

“Investigations about buildings and land grabbing, which were [prone to] corruption will be addressed. We will not allow this, people cannot misuse this. We will investigate this when all institutions resume work,” said Mawlawi Nomani.

According to him, the Islamic Emirate will urge donors to complete projects that have stopped in the past month.

“We are in contact with donors of 100 projects that have now stopped. We have not received a positive or negative answer about the fate of the projects,” he said.

Mawlawi Nomani also said that the removal of barriers and concrete blast walls will be completed soon.

“We will remove barriers that spoil the city, most of these were placed by security institutions. We are telling people who erected barriers to remove them, otherwise we will remove them and the people will have to pay municipality expenses,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of concrete walls, known in Kabul as T-walls, have for years spoilt the look of the city.

Almost everywhere you look in the Afghan capital, you see these tall, thick walls, which range in height from three to seven metres, that surround homes, businesses, schools, embassies and government compounds.

Over the years demand was high and as more walls went up, traffic problems increased as roads were all too often blocked when new walls went up.

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Female teachers concerned about their future

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(Last Updated On: September 19, 2021)

Female teachers for grades seven to 12 say they are uncertain about their future as they have been instructed by the Ministry of Education not to return to work.

Many of these teachers say they are the only breadwinners in their families and have asked to return to teaching.

This comes after the Ministry of Education issued a notice calling on male students and male teachers from grades seven to 12 to return to school.

This came into effect on Saturday.

However, the notice did not make mention of female students and teachers, nor did it give any indication of what would happen in future to the hundreds of thousands of secondary school girls.

Khatara, a Grade 12 Pashto subject teacher at the Bibi Sara Khairkhana school in Kabul, said that the Kabul Education Department had asked her not to return to school until further notice, and that the education process for girls in Grades 7 and above had stopped.

Khatara, who is her family’s only breadwinner, has been a teacher at the school for 15 years. However, she is now struggling financially and has called on education ministry officials to allow female teachers to return to work.

“If an educated woman is not represented in society like a woman doctor, then who would treat women? If this issue is not addressed, there will be an education crisis in the country,” said Khatara, the school teacher.

Family members of Khatara are worried about what their future will entail if the family’s only breadwinner loses her job.

“We call on the Islamic Emirate to allow women to continue their work. Many women are their family’s only breadwinners,” said Basharatullah, Khatara’s brother.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Cultural Commision at the Ministry of Information and Culture said on Saturday that they are working on a way to resume the process of education for women and girls in the country.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund on Saturday welcomed the move to reopen secondary schools in Afghanistan, but stressed that girls must not be left out

“We are deeply worried, however, that many girls may not be allowed back at this time,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.

She said it is critical for all girls to resume their education and that female teachers need to resume work.

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UN chief urges action to prevent economic collapse in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 19, 2021)

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called on the international community to urgently inject some cash into Afghanistan, saying it would be disastrous if the country’s economy collapsed.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Guterres said currently “millions and millions of people (are) on the verge of dying because of hunger”.

Should the economy collapse, “it would be a total disaster; it would be lots of people dying and I believe a massive outflow into the neighboring countries with horrible consequences for the stability of those countries, so I think it’s very important to avoid that collapse.

“I’ve been saying that humanitarian aid is essential but at the same time it’s necessary, and of course there are ways to do so even in respect for international law, it’s essential to inject some cash to allow the Afghan economy to breathe and to avoid the kind of collapse that would have devastating consequences,” he said.

Guterres’ statement comes amid a cash flow crisis in Afghanistan. Essentially a dollarized nation under the former government, weekly shipments of US dollars stopped the day the Islamic Emirate took over Kabul – on August 15.

Since then, severe weekly limits have been imposed by banks on cash withdrawals for individuals, foreign reserves have been frozen, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank also stopped loans.

Guterres said: “It’s our duty to do everything possible to support the Afghan people and to help create the conditions for those concerns that everybody has about terrorism, about human rights, about inclusivity, to materialize.”

He also stated that the “situation is unpredictable” but added the UN is working with the Islamic Emirate to allow for humanitarian aid to be distributed to the people.

He said that is would be a “disaster if terrorist organizations could operate again from Afghanistan.”

Guterres also noted that it was important for the Islamic Emirate to “understand the importance of an inclusive government that takes into account the diversity of the different groups [in the country]” and to respect basic human rights.

Asked about what he thought went wrong in Afghanistan, Guterres said the first problem was the “idea that the Afghan people can be ruled from outside.”

He said the British and the former Soviet Union had both tried to do this in the past, but both had failed.

The Afghan people are “very proud and they have lots of problems among themselves but they have even more problems with the idea that they can be dominated from the outside”, he said.

He also said he felt there had been too much “military action and not enough support to building institutions.”

According to him, the former Afghan leaders were divided – singling out the two past elections that had both been contested.

He said the election system adopted for Afghanistan “that was a unitary system was not the most adequate for a country that is so decentralized”.

“The truth is that there was a huge dysfunctionality in the government and we have seen it in relations of the president; and the international community looked at it without any capacity to really allow things to improve and so all these fragilities accumulated and in the end what we had, and we had it in a very chaotic way that nobody was forecasting.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen; as I said the situation is unpredictable but i think that there is at least a part of the leadership of the Taliban (Islamic Emirate) that would like to have Afghanistan as a country recognized by the international community and would be ready to pay a price for that,” he said.

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