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Khalilzad’s hard work pays off as peace talks get the green light  

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(Last Updated On: September 11, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Friday welcomed the announcement by Qatar, the Afghan government and the Taliban that peace negotiations will start on Saturday. 

“This is a historic opportunity to end a forty-year war that has no military solution and kills too many Afghans,” Khalilzad said.

“The road to get here has been long and will remain difficult. No important achievement is ever easy. It is now the responsibility of Afghan leaders to capitalize on this moment and end this brutal and mindless war.”

He said there would be no political settlement without compromise and that recent Afghan history shows that seeking a monopoly of power and enforcing one’s ideology by force leads to conflict and makes the country vulnerable to interference by others.

Khalilzad’s statement came after a host of announcements, including one by US President Donald Trump that talks would start Saturday. 

Khalilzad has since 2018 worked hard to bring the Afghan government and the Taliban to the peace talks table and finally in February clinched a deal with the Taliban to start the peace talks process. 

It was a conditions-based deal that included the release by the Afghan government of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, the release by the Taliban of 1,000 Afghan government employees, a drawdown of troops by the US and the closure of five US military bases.

All conditions have been met following the transfer of the six Taliban prisoners to Qatar.

The US’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has meanwhile left the US for Doha where he will attend the opening ceremony of the historic talks. 

In an announcement on Twitter, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Haneef Atmar, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs; Abdul Salam Rahimi, the President’s Special Representative on Peace Affairs; and Seyed Sa’adat Mansour Naderi, State Minister for Peace Affairs will represent the Afghan government. 

Ghani wished the negotiating team success in “their mission to bring sustainable peace and stability to the country, which is the long-awaited aspiration of the people of Afghanistan.”

The High Council for National Reconciliation also stated that a delegation headed by its chairman Abdullah Abdullah would depart Kabul on Friday for the opening ceremony. 

The council said it “hopes that after a long wait, talks will lead to permanent peace & stability & an end to war.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg was another who welcomed the announcement and said “ all parties should seize this historic opportunity & build on the gains made with so much sacrifice. NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security.”

The announcement came just hours after the group, of six “high-risk” Taliban prisoners, was transferred from Kabul to Doha on Thursday afternoon. 

The fate of the six, which the Taliban wanted released, had been a stumbling block in the way of starting talks. 

However, an agreement was reached between the government, the Taliban and Qatar, that this batch of prisoners would be transferred to Qatar where they will be held in a secure facility. 

This comes after a number of countries, including Australia and France, objected to their release on the grounds of them having killed foreign nationals. 

Ghani was also hesitant to release them and said recently they had masterminded some of Afghanistan’s worst attacks and that some were drug kingpins. 

COVID-19

Global coronavirus caseload crosses the 40 million mark

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide passed the 40 million mark on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. 

Reuters reported that this comes as the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere appears to have fuelled a resurgence in the spread of the disease. 

Experts however believe the true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher, given deficiencies in testing and potential under-reporting by some countries.

The Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic continues to increase as it took just 32 days to go from 30 million global cases to 40 million, compared with the 38 days it took to get from 20 to 30 million, the 44 days between 10 and 20 million, and the three months it took to reach 10 million cases from when the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, in early January.

Reuters also reported that record one-day increases in new infections were seen at the end of last week, with global coronavirus cases rising above 400,000 for the first time.

The United States, India, and Brazil remain the worst affected countries in the world. 

 

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UN secretary general condemns Ghor attack 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday strongly condemned the attack in Ghor province on Sunday that killed and wounded dozens of civilians. 

In a statement issued by the organization, Guterres said he “strongly condemns the indiscriminate attack today on a provincial police headquarters in Afghanistan’s province of Ghor, in an area where many civilians are present.”  

The UN stated that according to preliminary reports, the car bomb claimed the lives of at least 13 people and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children. 

“Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” the statement read. 

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” Guterres said.

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US peace envoy warns high levels of violence could derail peace process 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad warned that “distressingly” high levels of violence could derail the peace process and the understanding that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. 

In a series of tweets overnight Monday, Khalilzad appeared to have been responding to Sunday’s spat between the Taliban and the US Forces Afghanistan after the insurgent group accused the US of violating the Doha agreement by carrying out airstrikes in Helmand and Farah provinces last week. 

The US Forces Afghanistan responded not long after rejecting the claim and said they were within the terms of the agreement as they had been defending the Afghan security forces who had come under attack by the Taliban. 

The Taliban also issued a veiled threat in their statement and said: “All responsibility and consequences from the continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side.”

Khalilzad meanwhile said in his Twitter statement: “Unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric do not advance peace. Instead, we should pursue strict adherence to all articles of the US-Taliban Agreement and US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and not neglect the commitment to gradually reduce violence.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction.

“Taliban attacks in Helmand, including on the provincial capital; Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces; & Taliban complaints of ANSF operations and coalition strikes led to a recent meeting in Doha.

“All sides agreed to decrease attacks and strikes and reduce violence and casualties. Although violence in Helmand has decreased, violence overall in the country remains high.

“Our expectation has been and remains that violence comes down and stays down.

“It was a focus of the Agreement we signed, further highlighted in connection with the releases of the last batch of prisoners and reaffirmed again in the most recent commitment all sides made to adhere to all aspects of the deal,” Khalilzad said. 

Reacting to the car bombing on Sunday in Ghor province that killed at least 13 people, Khalilzad stated: “Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed far too many Afghans of their loved ones. The tragedy in Ghor today is the most recent example.”

He said: “The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations by Afghan leaders.

“We must adhere to the letter and spirit of what was negotiated and the recent understanding. They provide a path to minimizing Afghan loss of life and protecting an historic opportunity for peace which must not be missed,” Khalilzad said.

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