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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in Turkey, which has been delayed due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend such a meeting until all foreign troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan, is one test to see whether the Taliban want to end the conflict through negotiations.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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Rights watchdog warns of looming COVID crisis

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(Last Updated On: June 12, 2021)

Amnesty International has called on the Afghan government to address oxygen shortages and procure an adequate amount of COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical supplies with the support of the international community.

“Afghanistan’s COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily increasing and these latest figures are of grave concern. It’s clear that the country has been hit by the third wave of COVID-19 and without urgent international support to contain this surge, the situation could quickly spiral out of control, with existing shortages of life-saving supplies posing serious challenges,” said Zaman Sultani, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

The organization stated that Afghanistan’s COVID-19 case numbers have been steadily increasing and that these latest figures are of grave concern.

According to the Public Health Ministry (MoPH), 973 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total infections to 79,861 people in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, 67 COVID-19 patients have died in the same period, the ministry said.

Amnesty International’s Sultani stated: “At the same time, Afghanistan’s vaccination drive has also been held up due to supply shortages. We have seen a similar situation unfolding in Nepal and India and one of the main lessons is to learn from their mistakes and be prepared for the worst before it’s too late.”

Highlighting the lack of preparation by the Afghan government to fight the Coronavirus, Amnesty International said that “more than a year into the pandemic, the government’s emergency preparedness remains inadequate.”

According to the Ministry of Public Health, Afghanistan currently has only around 2,000 ventilators and 1,063 hospital beds dedicated to treating patients with COVID-19 – this for 39 million people. According to MoPH, the country only has 1,500 ICU beds.

“The lack of emergency preparedness and the state of Afghanistan’s public health infrastructure means the country is not equipped to deal with the type of surge we have seen elsewhere in the region. Afghanistan must make diagnostics widely accessible to effectively detect outbreaks and proactively address an imminent outbreak of cases,” said Sultani.

The organization noted that the current wave poses an even greater risk of infection for Afghanistan’s four million internally displaced people (IDPs), who are living in overcrowded conditions, with insufficient access to water, sanitation, and health facilities.

“During this crisis, the Afghan government must ensure that IDPs can access healthcare, sanitation, and clean water and develop a plan that prioritizes vaccinating IDPs, whose living conditions leave them extremely vulnerable to a highly infectious virus like COVID-19,” Sultani added.

This comes as a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China arrived in Kabul on Saturday amid the surge in infections, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said in a statement.

According to the statement, the Chinese government has donated 700,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Afghanistan.

The much-needed vaccines comes as the country has been hit by a third wave of the virus, which has raised concerns among officials.

Addressing a ceremony marking the arrival of the vaccines, President Ashraf Ghani stated “vaccines are a gift of life, and we thank China for its assistance.”

Chinese Ambassador to Kabul Wang Yu, meanwhile, assured Ghani of China’s further support to Afghanistan to fight the pandemic.

Afghanistan, so far, has administered 968,000 doses of AstraZeneca, which were donated by the Indian government, and COVAX.

The MoPH stated that 280,000 members of Afghan security forces, more than 120,000 doctors and health workers, and 560,000 civilians have been vaccinated so far.

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Soccer-Italy put on a show with win over Turkey in Euro 2020 opener

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Photo credit Reuters
(Last Updated On: June 12, 2021)

Italy kicked off the European Championship in emphatic style on Friday as they delivered a commanding performance to sweep past toothless Turkey 3-0 in the Stadio Olimpico and stamp their early authority on Group A.

After a goalless first half, an own goal and strikes by Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were just reward for the home side, who played with relentless positivity from the start.

Their dispiriting failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup looked a distant memory as they stretched their unbeaten run to 28 matches in a buoyant atmosphere.

They were helped by a flat display from Turkey, who lost their fifth consecutive opening match of a European Championship finals and barely mustered a worthwhile attack all night.

“It was important to start well here in Rome and it is a joy for us and for all the Italians,” said coach Roberto Mancini.

“We produced a good performance and I think we satisfied everyone, for the fans and all the Italians watching. (But) there are six games to go and there are a lot of good teams.”

Switzerland and Wales, who meet in the group’s second game in Baku on Saturday, always knew Italy were the group favourites but the size of their task has suddenly looked somewhat bigger.

After a build-up featuring a spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma by opera singer Andrea Bocelli – channelling thoughts of Italia ’90 – a spectacular fireworks display and a typically raucous rendition of Italy’s national anthem, the 16,000-strong crowd was in fine voice by kick-off.

They were given plenty to cheer too as Italy made all the early running against a Turkish team happy to sit deep and invite pressure.

However, Mancini’s side were left frustrated in their efforts to break through the wall of red shirts.

Giorgio Chiellini had a header tipped over with a spectacular one-handed save by Ugurcan Cakir and Immobile nodded a cross wide as Italy went in at the break with 14 attempts to none from Turkey – but without a goal.

They kept probing and their patience was rewarded when Berardi fired a cross into the six-yard box where Demiral chested the ball into the net – the first time in a European Championship that the tournament’s opening goal was an own goal.

The ever-dangerous Leonardo Spinazzola had a shot beaten away and Manuel Locatelli’s low effort was palmed wide before Immobile doubled Italy’s lead by pouncing on Cakir’s parry from another Spinazzola effort to neatly knock in the rebound.

The Azzurri’s dominance was rewarded again when Immobile threaded a pass to Insigne, who placed a precise finish into the bottom corner with 11 minutes remaining.

It marked the first time Italy had scored three goals in a match at the Euros at their 39th attempt and capped a perfect start.

Mancini had told his players they should enjoy themselves and seek to entertain and that was exactly what they did for a jubilant home crowd.

There was only gloom in the visiting camp as veteran coach Senol Gunes, who led Turkey to third place at the 2002 World Cup, apologised for the performance.

“I was expecting a better game, and I am disappointed and we are sorry,” he said. “Italy totally controlled the game.”

On June 16, Italy face Switzerland in Rome and Turkey take on Wales in Baku in the second round of Group A games.

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Kabul takes delivery of COVID-19 vaccines from China

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(Last Updated On: June 12, 2021)

A batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China arrived in Kabul amid a surge in infections, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said in a statement.

According to the statement, the Chinese government has donated 700,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines to Afghanistan.

The much-needed vaccines come as the country has been hit by a third wave of the virus, which has raised concerns among officials.

Addressing a ceremony marking the arrival of the vaccines, President Ashraf Ghani stated “vaccines are a gift of life, and we thank China for its assistance.”

Chinese Ambassador to Kabul Wang Yu, meanwhile, assured Ghani of China’s further support to Afghanistan to fight the pandemic.

Afghanistan, so far, has administered 968,000 doses of AstraZeneca, which were donated by the Indian government, and COVAX.

The MoPH stated that 280,000 members of Afghan security forces, more than 120,000 doctors and health workers, and 560,000 civilians have been vaccinated so far.

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