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Khalilzad claims Iran not entirely supportive of peace process

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(Last Updated On: October 15, 2020)

American peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said efforts are being made to establish an international support group for the Afghan peace process and that hopefully, this group will be able to encourage Iran to support the peace process. 

Speaking to Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia center of the US Institute of Peace, during a Pearson Institute webinar, Khalilzad said the US is involved in discussions with the Afghans, neighboring countries and other countries “to establish an international support group for peace in Afghanistan because there is an internal dimension to the conflict in Afghanistan and [also] a regional and international dimension to it.” 

“I hope we will have the announcement of an international support group that could meet relatively soon,” he said. 

Khalilzad stated that many countries in the region realize the benefits of having a peaceful Afghanistan – especially in terms of investment and trade, which includes Pakistan that “sees an opening to Central Asia” through Afghanistan. 

In line with this, the US is seeking to forge an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure neither country will provide havens to terrorist groups. 

With regards to Afghanistan’s western neighbor, Iran, he said “there are two Irans; the foreign ministry Iran which says positive things and makes statements that could be construed as supporting the peace process,” but then there is the other Iran that would like to “keep the US entangled in a war.”  

Iran “appears to want the war to go on rather than for the peace process to succeed,” he said adding that “we would like Iran … to participate in the regional efforts in support of peace.” 

Referring to the proposed support group, he said such a body would hopefully be able to encourage Iran “to be supportive of peace efforts”. 

“The current situation is a mixed one,” he noted. 

On the current high levels of violence in the country, Khalilzad said there had been significant fighting in the “countryside” and “we are discussing with both sides, with the Taliban, to reduce the attacks.”

He stated that both the Afghan side and the Taliban are involved in the violence but said it is not only the Taliban involved in attacks but other groups are also playing a part. 

One group was mentioned, which he said was ISIS but he added that “there are also neighbors that are not being entirely helpful.” However, he did not name the country.

Efforts were meanwhile being made to reduce attacks as continued high levels of violence could undermine the people’s faith in the peace process, he said. 

On questions raised over the Taliban’s commitment to the negotiations and peace process and how to counter the perception that the Taliban thinks it has already won, Khalilzad said the Taliban appears serious about the process and has sent a high-ranking team, mostly from its leadership, to negotiate. 

“They have a strategy, a plan on how to negotiate,” he said adding that there were some differences of opinions within the Taliban’s team with regard to what type of settlement should be reached.  

He stated that the US has however reached an agreement with the Afghan government on an end-state to the negotiations and are working ”together, to cooperate, to get to that end-state during the negotiations.” 

Many countries, including the United Nations Security Council, have said the return of an Islamic Emirate is not acceptable, many neighboring countries and allies are saying the same, he said. 

The Taliban however would like to be accepted as a legitimate player, he noted adding that this could not happen if they refuse to accept a “reduction in violence if they don’t observe basic human rights.”

He said the Taliban has been told: “what they decide with other Afghans will determine what we [the US] do in relation to them.”

Khalilzad stated the peace process has its challenges – pointing out it has been 40 years of war and there has been “a lot of mistrust among Afghans,” and distrust between the US and the Taliban – which are all understandable, he said. 

Questioned on what an actual end-state entails, Khalilzad said the US has stated it wants to see a united, sovereign Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and one that has a representative government that is broadly acceptable to the Afghan people – also that the gains of the past 19 years are preserved. 

 

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Colin Powell has died of COVID complications

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state and top military officer, died on Monday at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19.

In a statement posted to Facebook, his family said, “We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”

Powell was the one most notable Black figure in Washington for decades. A Vietnam vet, he rose to become an army four-star general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush during the 1991 Gulf War.

In 1996 he considered running for president, but was dissuaded by his wife who worried for his safety.

He later served as Secretary of State under George W. Bush. It was in that capacity that he famously stood before the United Nations and made the case for invading Iraq based on the claim that Saddam Hussein was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

The evidence proved wrong. No weapons were found. Powell later admitted that his presentation was rife with inaccuracies provided by others in the Bush administration. He called a “blot” that would always be a part” of his record.

Powell was known as a moderate Republican and pragmatist. He broke with the GOP to endorse Barack Obama’s candidacy and would criticize his party’s shift toward anti-immigrant and isolationist policies.

The Powell family says he was fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Colin Powell was 84 years old.

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Children evacuated from schools as violence breaks out in Beirut

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(Last Updated On: October 14, 2021)

Children were evacuated from schools and the military was deployed to the streets of Beirut on Thursday afternoon as violence broke out during a protest rally in the Lebanese capital.

By late Thursday afternoon the death toll climbed to four, including a woman who died from a bullet wound in her house, a military source said.

Lebanese Shi’ite parties Hezbollah and Amal said armed groups had fired at protesters from rooftops in Beirut on Thursday, aiming at their heads in an attack they said aimed to drag the country to strife.

In a statement, the parties called on the army to intervene quickly to detain the perpetrators and called on their supporters to remain calm, Reuters reported.

Bursts of gunfire were heard for several hours, along with several explosions which appeared to be rocket propelled-grenades fired into the air, Reuters witnesses said.

Video footage from Lebanese TV station Al Jadeed showed plumes of smoke rising from the streets, as flames burned in the aftermath of an explosion.

The Lebanese army said in a statement the gunfire had targeted protesters as they passed through a traffic circle located in an area dividing Christian and Shi’ite Muslim neighborhoods.

As Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for calm, a military source told Reuters two people had been killed and seven more wounded.

The shooting began from the Christian neighborhood of Ain el-Remmaneh before spiraling into an exchange of fire, the source added.

Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said “two martyrs” and a number of wounded had been taken to a hospital in the Shi’ite southern suburbs, indicating that the casualties were Shi’ites.

The Lebanese army deployed heavily in the area and said it would open fire against any armed person on the road.

Political tensions over the probe into the port explosion have been building, with the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah leading calls for Bitar’s removal, accusing him of bias.

The explosion, in August last year, killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.

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Khalilzad says things could have been very different had Ghani stayed

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2021)

US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said this weekend that former president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to leave Afghanistan without warning took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Khalilzad said that the night before his departure, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Ghani on the phone.

He said Ghani had not given any signal as to his intentions.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said.

However, he implied that had Ghani stepped down as president in the lead up to the IEA’s takeover, things could have been very different.

One of the key reasons however for the breakdown of peace talks between Ghani’s government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) was that the former president wanted the IEA to be included in the existing government as opposed to a new government being formed, as per the agreement with the United States.

“There were different reasons for the lack of major progress in the negotiations;

“The main one was that there was a long, huge, big gap between the two sides around a political settlement and agreement,” Khalilzad said.

According to him, efforts were made to move the process forward and some progress was made in certain areas.

“But I think the main issue was that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement over the formation of a new Islamic government.

“The government of Afghanistan wanted the Taliban to be integrated into the former government instead of forming a new government,” he said.

According to him, this would have resembled the government of national unity after the 2014 elections which saw former president Ashraf Ghani and former CEO Abdullah Abdullah sharing power.

Khalilzad said a trilateral agreement was suggested between Ghani, Abdullah and the IEA.

However, Ghani’s opinion was that the country’s Constitution did not allow for such a move.

“For a long time, they (government) assumed if they insisted on this, the Taliban would eventually agree to it.

“The Taliban was in favor of the formation of a new Islamic government. Some Taliban wanted the establishment of the 1990s Emirate while some others were in favor of a new (inclusive) government,” he said

Khalilzad also said that after coming into power, US President Joe Biden “thought that he could reject the deal which was signed during (former president Donald) Trump’s tenure or bring changes to it and this caused the negotiations to be postponed”.

However, once Biden announced his decision to stick to the deal made during Trump’s tenure, and withdraw all troops, “changes came in the balance on the battlefield”.

Touching on the issue of terrorism, Khalilzad said the overall picture has changed and that al-Qaeda’s footprint in the country had been reduced significantly.

He said terrorists were no longer confined to one base but were today spread out around the world.

“They can be found in small and large groups in different countries around the world.

“Therefore, Afghanistan is not what it used to be in terms of the threat of terrorism,” he said adding that currently, only a small number of al-Qaeda members are present in the country.

He said the number did not warrant the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad also stated that after the deal had been signed in February last year between the US and the Taliban, Washington would not have withdrawn had Americans been targeted.

“The US troops would not have pulled out from Afghanistan if an American had been killed by the Taliban after the agreement,” he said.

A critical question around the collapse of the former government was however the sudden change of heart by the Afghan military, he said adding that in the days leading up to the fall of Ghani’s government, “unexpected things happened, where they (soldiers) did not fight”.

Khalilzad explained that in the hours before the takeover of Kabul by IEA forces, a meeting was underway in Doha between the US, the IEA and the republic.

He said an agreement was reached that the IEA would not attack Kabul and would instead give the then Afghan government two weeks, from August 15, to travel to Doha, meet with all parties concerned, and agree to the formation of a new government.

He said the delegation from the republic would have included former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah.

“And an agreement would have been made on an inclusive government; but the (former) government would have remained in place in those two weeks.”

Khalilzad stated that the delegation would have been authorized to sign off on an agreement with the IEA.

However, this meeting never took place, nor was any deal signed. Instead, Afghanistan’s then-president, Ghani, fled the country and security forces disintegrated within hours.

Khalilzad confirmed a security and government vacuum immediately emerged which led to the decision that the IEA forces would move into Kabul to secure the capital but stated that Ghani’s sudden, unannounced, departure took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.

“A night earlier the (US) Secretary of State had spoken to the president of Afghanistan; the president of Afghanistan did not signal any intention to leave.

“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said adding that Ghani might have thought his life was in danger.

Had Ghani however resigned in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, and allowed the establishment of a new government, “it could have been a historic step”.

“The name of the president could have been written in gold in the history of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that only Ghani can answer the question on why he chose to do it this way.

On whether the US will recognize the IEA government, Khalilzad said this all depends on the IEA – if they stick to the commitments they made.

“The world is waiting to see if the Taliban (IEA) will fulfill the commitments they have made, and if they do, the normal relationship between the world and the Taliban (IEA) will be established,” Khalilzad said.

However, Khalilzad said that Afghanistan is in need of urgent humanitarian aid and has pledged an additional $64 million. He said that not only was the war an issue but unemployment, drought, COVID and a low level of economic activity were also contributing factors to the current situation.

He said discussions are currently underway in various countries and within the United Nations on getting Afghanistan’s assets released.

Khalilzad pointed out that the war in Afghanistan has ended and that fears of a civil war were unfounded. This was “a positive point”, he said.

Drawing a parallel to the civil war that broke out following the withdrawal of Soviet Union troops in 1989, he said “the government at the time could not form an inclusive government, igniting civil war.

“But I hope the bad experience will not be repeated and an inclusive government will be set up,” he said adding that “if they (IEA) go through with their promises, it will be a positive era for the future of Afghanistan.”

CLICK HERE to watch the full interview with English subtitles.

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