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NATO calls for prisoner release issue to be resolved urgently

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(Last Updated On: July 15, 2020)

NATO has called on the Afghanistan government and the Taliban to “urgently resolve issues related to prisoner releases,” and to enter into intra-Afghan peace talks. 

In a statement issued by the organization on Tuesday, NATO said: “An Afghan-owned and led peace process aimed at finding a political resolution that ends decades of conflict is the only way to deliver sustainable peace to the Afghan people and to ensure Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability. 

The organization said it was committed to contributing to an environment conducive to this outcome. 

“We call on all sides to rapidly resolve the remaining issues still precluding the start of inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations,” the statement read.

According to them, the “current level of violence – driven especially by Taliban attacks against Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, remains unacceptably high, causing instability and undermining confidence in the peace process.”  

They pointed out that during the 2018 and 2020 Eid al-Fitr ceasefires and the period of reduced violence leading up to the signing of the US-Taliban agreement and the issuance of the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration, all sides demonstrated the political will and capacity to stop the fighting. 

The statement went on to point out that given the impact of COVID-19, “we echo the call of the United Nations for the Taliban to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire that applies to all sides. Both sides must also urgently resolve issues related to prisoner releases.”

NATO pointed out that the military presence of the Alliance and its partners in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan is conditions-based. 

“We will continue to consult and, if conditions allow, to adjust our military presence to support the peace process, initiated by the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. 

“We urge the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to fulfill their commitments, including entering into intra-Afghan negotiations and ensuring terrorists never again find safe haven on Afghan soil. 

Highlighting recent attacks, NATO stated that these “heinous attacks targeting civilians, including women, children, civil society members, religious figures, and health care workers throughout Afghanistan underscore the urgency of fulfilling these critical commitments.”

In conclusion, the statement noted that NATO reaffirms its longstanding commitment to Afghanistan, the Afghan people, and the Afghan security forces through the Resolute Support Mission. 

“We expect intra-Afghan negotiations to lead to an enduring and comprehensive peace agreement that puts an end to violence, safeguards the human rights of all Afghans, including women and children, upholds the rule of law, and ensures that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”

On Tuesday night, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted: “The level of violence in Afghanistan driven by Taliban attacks, undermines confidence in the peace process. We call on all sides to rapidly start intra-Afghan talks. NATO Allies will continue to consult on our military presence to support peace process.”

This statement comes after a disagreement over about 600 prisoners from a total of 5,000 the Taliban want released prevented the launch of US-brokered peace talks.

Although prisoner releases by both sides have taken place, the Afghan government has said it does not want to release some prisoners for security reasons and its Western allies also object to some of them being set free.

The United States and the Taliban struck a landmark agreement in February on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

As part of the pact, the Taliban agreed to open power-sharing talks with the Afghan government.

 

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Afghan envoy to UN cancels speech amid uncertainty over seat

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Afghanistan did not have a representative addressing the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly in New York, after Ghulam Isaczai, the UN envoy under the former government, withdrew on Sunday.

According to UN officials, Isaczai was due to speak on Monday.

Isaczai had been scheduled to address the final day of the general assembly.

Afghanistan’s UN mission in New York posted on Twitter that Isaczai decided not to speak “to preserve the national interests, preserve the seat of Afghanistan in the United Nations and to continue long-term cooperation with United Nations and Security Council on main issues.”

It added that Isaczai would continue “activities as usual” at the global body.

IEA Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week asked to address the gathering of world leaders and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s new ambassador to the UN.

But Muttaqi was not permitted to do so as the credentials committee has not yet met to discuss the issue.

When the IEA last ruled between 1996 and 2001, the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.

Eventual UN acceptance of the ambassador of the IEA would be an important step in their bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the IEA’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that international recognition of the IEA was not currently under consideration.

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Pilgrims from around the world gather in Kerbala for Arbaeen

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

Masses gathered in Kerbala on Tuesday for the religious pilgrimage of Arbaeen and visited the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas.

In a normal year, up to 20 million mostly Shi’ite Muslims take part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Kerbala to commemorate Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was slain in battle in 680 by the Muslim Caliph of the day.

In 2020 and due to the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Iraqi authorities had barred entry to most foreign pilgrims, including some three million Iranians.

“Last year we were prevented from performing the pilgrimage. But now thank God, it was granted to us”, an Iranian pilgrim, Hamid Muqaddam said in Kerbala.

This year, Iraqi authorities allowed a limited number of pilgrims from abroad to enter Iraq and attend Arbaeen.

On Monday, Iraqi authorities recorded 2,447 new cases of coronavirus infections and 32 deaths.

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Pentagon leaders to face Afghanistan reckoning in Congress

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(Last Updated On: September 28, 2021)

President Joe Biden’s top military leaders are expected to face some of the most contentious hearings in memory this week over the chaotic end to the war in Afghanistan, which cost the lives of U.S. troops and civilians and left the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) back in power.

The Senate and House committees overseeing the U.S. military will hold hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, where Republicans are hoping to zero in on mistakes that Biden’s administration made toward the end of the two-decade-old war.

That will follow similar questioning two weeks ago that saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken staunchly defending the administration, even as he faced calls for his resignation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to praise American personnel who helped airlift 124,000 Afghans out of the country, an operation that also cost the lives of 13 U.S. troops and scores of Afghans in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport.

Austin is expected to “be frank about the things we could have done better,” a U.S. official told Reuters.

That will also certainly include the U.S. military’s last drone strike before withdrawing, which the Pentagon acknowledges killed 10 civilians, most of them children – and not the Daesh (ISIS-K) militants it thought it was attacking.

Ahead of the hearing, Senator James Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, wrote to Austin with a long list of requests for information, including on the August 26 airport bombing, equipment left behind and the administration’s future counter-terrorism plans.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, said lawmakers would also press about “a lack of coordination and a real plan for how we were going to get all the Afghans who helped us out of the country.”

“I don’t know if we’ll get answers. But questions will be raised again about why we got to the point that we did in Afghanistan,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Many of the hardest questions may fall to the two senior U.S. military commanders testifying: Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command.

McKenzie called the drone strike a “tragic mistake,” one that critics say raises hard questions about America’s ability to properly identify counter-terrorism targets in Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal.

But McKenzie and other U.S. officials will be under pressure to defend the Biden administration’s plans to address future counter-terrorism threats from groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State by flying in drones or commandos from overseas.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of downplaying the risks associated with that so-called “over the horizon” capability.

Separately, Milley could face intense questioning over an account in a new book alleging he bypassed civilian leaders to place secret calls to his Chinese counterpart over concerns about former President Donald Trump.

Milley’s office pushed back against the report in the book, saying the calls he made were coordinated within the Pentagon and across the U.S. government.

Senator Marco Rubio has called for his resignation. Senator Rand Paul said he should be prosecuted if the account in the book was true. But some of the greatest concern has come from lawmakers in the House, where Milley will testify on Wednesday.

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