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Khalilzad, Qataris, Taliban discuss development opportunities in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 4, 2020)

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Qatari officials discussed the possibility of co-investing in Afghan projects to “consolidate peace and unlock regional prosperity.”

Khalilzad said in a series tweets that he and Adam Boehler, the CEO of the US International Development Finance Corporation, who is accompanying him during his trip on Afghan peace, met with officials of Qatar Investment Authority and Qatar Fund For Development in Doha.

“We discussed the possibility of co-investing in Afghan projects to consolidate peace and unlock regional prosperity. The potential to amplify investment impact in Afghanistan with like-minded partners is real,” Khalilzad tweeted.

Khalilzad also met with Mullah Baradar the deputy Taliban leader in Doha on Thursday. The group’s spokesman said in a statement that the meeting focused on the Afghan peace process, quick release of prisoners, the commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations, and other related issues.

“We underscored the economic development opportunities that will follow a sustainable peace,” said Khalilzad, “We agreed developing plans in support of peace can never start too early, assuming the two sides can overcome final hurdles on the path to intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Mullah Baradar and his team were engaged and the Taliban recognize all Afghans will have to make compromises in order to draw in the required investment in Afghanistan’s future, the US Envoy tweeted.

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Pompeo sees Loya Jirga as ‘historic opportunity’ for peace

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Thursday night called on President Ashraf Ghani and all delegates attending Friday’s Loya Jirga to “to take advantage of this historic opportunity for a peace that benefits all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and global security.”

In a statement issued by the US State Department, Pompeo said the United States understands that the Loya Jirga delegates will decide on the speedy release of the remaining Taliban prisoners from their list, the last obstacle to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.

He said once these prisoners have been released the Taliban have committed to enter talks with the Afghan government. 

“The Taliban have also committed to significantly reduce violence and casualties during the talks where the parties will decide on a political roadmap to end the long and brutal war and agree on a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. 

“The United States intends to hold the Taliban to these commitments,” he said.

Noting that the issue of the release of the remaining 400 prisoners was of concern, he said “this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”

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

He also said the US remains committed to its partnership with Afghanistan and that terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan should never again pose a threat to the United States and its allies. 

“As ever, the United States seeks a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan that is at peace with itself and its neighbors,” he said adding that at the same time “we are committed to reducing the burden on the US taxpayer and the risk to US troops.”

Meanwhile in a series of tweets, the top US peace broker, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the Loya Jirga – the highest consultation body made up of Afghan elders – was a “historic opportunity” to remove the last hurdle to direct peace talks.

“A positive outcome will mean a reduction in violence and Afghans immediately coming together at the negotiating table,” said the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation.

“We wish the Jirga participants success in their discussions and urge them not to allow those who prefer the status quo and seek to complicate the path to peace to manipulate the process.”

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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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Traditional grand council of elders set to decide fate of prisoners Friday

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(Last Updated On: August 6, 2020)

A traditional consultative council, or Loya Jirga, will convene in Kabul on Friday to decide the fate of the last 400 Taliban prisoners who have not yet been released in accordance with the US-Taliban Doha agreement. 

The agreement called for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel that were being held captive by the Taliban. 

To date, the Taliban has released its captives and the Afghan government has freed over 4,500 Taliban prisoners. 

The last 400 are seen as extremely dangerous by Afghan officials and some Western allies. 

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 on Sunday President Ashraf Ghani called for a Loya Jirga to resolve the issue. 

This Loya Jirga is made up of a cross-sector of the population and at least 2,000 people – mostly elders, community leaders and senior politicians will attend. 

The Jirga is expected to run over two days and security measures in Kabul have been vastly stepped up. Many busy roads in the city will be closed to normal traffic and thousands of security force members have been deployed to maintain safety.

On Wednesday, the Taliban issued a statement rejecting the Loya Jirga as having no legal status. 

In the statement issued on the group’s website, the Taliban said: “That the Kabul administration has decided to summon a supposed Loya Jirga under the pretext of deciding the fate of 400 prisoners and could possibly use it as a tool against peace and wishes of the nation, hence, convening such a Jirga before reaching comprehensive peace and political settlement can in no way be representative of the people or hold any legal status because the Kabul administration itself is illegitimate.”

But the Loya Jirga will go ahead and the 2,000 participants who will attend are the same elders and political leaders invited to a similar council meeting held last year. 

Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said this week that the Jirga will also decide “what kind of peace it wants.”

The Jirga comes even though the government’s health minister, Jawad Osmani, said at a press conference this week that a survey conducted, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, has found at least a third of the country’s population has been infected with COVID-19. This amounts to about 10 million people. 

In addition, the survey found that at least half of Kabul’s population had been infected – despite official figures countrywide being at just under 37,000. 

Meanwhile, AP reported that Ghani’s critics have accused the president of stalling peace negotiations with the Taliban to retain power as president because it is widely speculated that negotiations could seek a neutral interim government. 

Ghani, who has insisted he will finish his five-year term, was elected in controversial presidential polls held last year. He and rival Abdullah Abdullah battled over the results, which Abdullah alleged were deeply flawed.

Washington intervened warning the squabbling leaders to find a political compromise. 

That led to Abdullah being named to head peace efforts as head of a High Council for National Reconciliation.

The Taliban meanwhile have said they are ready to hold negotiations within a week of the final prisoners being released. 

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