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Peace talks a way to find ‘political formula’ to end war: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said Sunday the  start of the intra-Afghan talks is a new beginning for the Afghan people and a way to “find a political formula for ending the war that could lead to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”

In an interview with Ariana News on the sideline of the long-waited intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Khalilzad said the Afghan and Taliban delegations need to agree on a reduction in violence.

This would then need to lead to a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire enabling the two sides to pursue talks in a peaceful environment, he said.

 “We demand violence be reduced and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire to be reached as soon as possible,” Khalilzad said.

Referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that America has no intention of forcing a political system on other countries, Khalilzad stated that US support for Afghanistan depends on a system in which Afghans can practice democracy.

“If people do not support the future system, if it was not democratic, the rights of the people would not be respected, women would be deprived of their rights, and then we would make our own decision,” he said. 

Regarding the troops drawdown in Afghanistan, the US envoy said that US forces would be reduced to 4,500 until the end of November; “Commander of US Forces said that with these soldiers they can accomplish their responsibilities and until the end of November we will monitor the situation.” 

Many critics have claimed that the urgency involved in withdrawing troops is a campaign move by US President Donald Trump ahead of the November elections. They state this is in keeping with his 2016 election promise of bringing home all American troops. 

Khalilzad meanwhile has been the driving force behind the peace talks process and has worked for two years to get both parties to the talks tables. 

In a briefing ahead of the historic start to the talks on Saturday, he said peace talks was a test for both sides – for the Taliban and for the Afghan government and raised the question of whether the two sides could “reach an agreement despite differences in terms of their visions for the future of Afghanistan?”

He pointed out that the peace talks process had reached an important juncture but that there are difficulties and significant challenges in the way of reaching an agreement.

However, the US was prepared to assist if needed, he said, adding that this phase is a new stage in the diplomacy path to peace. 

Khalilzad stated that from now on the process is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led and that there will be no foreign mediators nor facilitators when the sides hold their talks. 

He also said that in light of upcoming elections in the US, he was hoping that progress would have been made regarding negotiations by that time.

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Atmar conveys condolences to Palestine just hours before media offices bombed

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2021)

Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Haneef Atmar spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Palestine, Riyad Al-Maliki, on Saturday and condemned the escalation of attacks and encroachment on the Palestinian people during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.

In a statement issued by his office, Atmar said the bloody attacks were unacceptable for Islamic countries and the world’s peace-loving nations. 

He also called for an immediate end to the violence in the region.

Expressing the Afghan people’s solidarity with the people of Palestine, Atmar stated that Afghanistan supported the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to an independent state, within the borders set out in the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution.

Atmar’s conversation came just hours before Israel bombed a building in Gaza City that houses The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of other foreign media outlets. 

The airstrike on the high-rise came nearly an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to evacuate the 12-story building, which also housed residential apartments. 

The strike brought down the entire structure, which collapsed in a gigantic cloud of dust. There was no immediate explanation for why it was attacked, AP reported

The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising at a time when there have been no peace talks in years. 

AP reported the strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon after the building’s owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that it would be hit. AP’s staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.

Al-Jazeera, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.

“This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” an on-air anchorwoman said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hamas said it fired a salvo of rockets at southern Israel in response to the airstrike.

 

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Pakistan’s peace envoy arrives in Kabul for talks

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(Last Updated On: April 25, 2021)

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan said Sunday that a high-ranking delegation led by Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan officials.

“Muhammad Sadiq, Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation, arrived in Kabul this morning for discussions with Afghan officials on peace,” Khan tweeted. 

During his visit Sadiq will also discuss security and related matters, the ambassador confirmed. 

Sadiq’s visit comes just two weeks after a scheduled visit by another Pakistani delegation was canceled due to security threats. 

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Asad Qaisar, and his accompanying delegation were forced to turn back to Islamabad after entering Afghan airspace following the reported discovery of explosive materials at the airport. 

At the time, Qaisar’s flight was turned back after NATO warned they had found explosives on the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul city.

Qaisar had been scheduled to visit Kabul for three days. 

According to officials at the time, the explosives had been planted on one of the runways years ago.

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CENTCOM chief in midst of ‘detailed planning’ for counterterrorism ops

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(Last Updated On: April 20, 2021)

Carrying out airstrikes against terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan without a US troop presence in the country will be difficult but “not impossible”, the commander of US Central Command General Frank McKenzie said on Tuesday. 

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, McKenzie said he is in the midst of “detailed planning” for options for so-called “over the horizon” forces, or forces positioned elsewhere in the region that could continue counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan. 

He said he plans to give Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin those options by the end of the month.

“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie said. 

“The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you’re out of the country, and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that.”

McKenzie’s testimony comes almost a week after President Joe Biden announced he was withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan and that they would all be home by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. 

According to The Hill, Biden’s decision came despite repeated statements from US military officials that the Taliban was not yet upholding its end of a deal made during the Trump administration to reduce violence and break from al-Qaeda, as well as warnings about the potential for chaos in Afghanistan that could allow an al-Qaeda resurgence should US troops withdraw.

Meanwhile, McKenzie’s comments about the difficulty of intelligence gathering without a troop presence echo comments last week from CIA Director William Burns, who told senators the ability to collect intelligence on threats in Afghanistan will “diminish” with a US military withdrawal, the Hill reported.

On Tuesday, McKenzie also said he continues to have “grave doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability in upholding its commitments under the deal signed last year.

McKenzie declined to tell lawmakers how he advised Biden as the president deliberated the withdrawal, but said he had “multiple opportunities” to provide Biden with his perspective.

The Hill reported that speaking broadly about options to continue strikes once US troops leave, McKenzie said surveillance drones could be positioned in a place where they can reach Afghanistan “in a matter of minutes” or ”perhaps much further away.”

“We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we’ll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said. 

“Some of them may be very far away, and then there would be a significant bill for those types of resources because you’d have to cycle a lot of them in and out. That is all doable, however.”

Right now, McKenzie added, the United States does not have any basing agreements with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or other countries surrounding Afghanistan.

McKenzie also said there are a “variety of ways” to strike targets, including long-range precision fire missiles, manned raids or manned aircraft.

“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said.

“I don’t want to make light of it. I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do. I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything. And we’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley are also scheduled to brief the full House and Senate behind closed doors later Tuesday on Biden’s plan for Afghanistan.

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