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Pompeo, Taliban negotiator discuss Afghan peace process

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(Last Updated On: August 4, 2020)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a video meeting on Monday night with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund to discuss the Afghan peace process. 

Confirming the meeting on Twitter, a Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen said: “Both sides talked about the inception of intra-Afghan negotiations …” 

He said the release of the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners was essential in order to start intra-Afghan negotiations.

“The Secretary of State also welcomed announcement of ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate on the eve of the current Eid,” he said. 

The US’s State Department has not yet responded to the Taliban’s announcement nor has a readout of Pompeo’s conversation been issued. 

The release of the final 400 prisoners has however so far been a major stumbling block in starting peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

Monday night’s meeting between the two came just days before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s expected Loya Jirga to discuss the fate of these prisoners. 

The Loya Jirga, which is a grand council made up of a cross-sector of the population, will convene on Friday in Kabul. 

A February agreement signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha called for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government employees being held captive by the Taliban. 

So far the Taliban has released about 1,000 detainees and the Afghan government has freed over 4,500 prisoners. 

The remaining 400 however are classified as dangerous and concerns have been raised over them being released. 

Monday night’s call is the second in four weeks between Pompeo and  Akhund.

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Khalilzad wraps up 4-day trip to Turkey ahead of Summit

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(Last Updated On: March 30, 2021)

Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has wrapped up a four-day visit to Turkey to discuss the upcoming Istanbul Summit on the Afghanistan peace process.

In a statement issued by the US Embassy in Turkey, the planned Istanbul Summit “is meant to help Afghan negotiators accelerate their efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and agree to a political settlement and a permanent ceasefire.”

The conference will complement peace talks currently ongoing in Doha, the statement read.

Khalilzad, who was in Turkey from March 26 to 29, met with a number of Turkish officials during this time, including Presidential Advisor Ibrahim Kalin, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.

According to the embassy’s statement, American and Turkish officials consulted on the timing, format, and overall objectives and agenda of the conference to ensure that it will be well prepared and organized. 

“They agreed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned conference, supported by high-level attendance from the international community, provides the best means to accelerate the peace process. 

“They also agreed to urge the Afghan parties to prepare for constructive participation in this conference.”

This comes after Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), said last week he hopes “tangible progress will be made towards a peace settlement at the Istanbul meeting”.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, Abdullah said the presence of decision-makers expected to attend the meeting needs to be utilized to push to accelerate the settlement of issues in Afghanistan.

“There have been a lot of discussions between both sides in the past few months in Doha. The Doha process will continue and then we have the Istanbul meeting. The Istanbul meeting will be held at a high level.

“There will be top leaders of Afghanistan and Taliban — that’s how it is anticipated,” Abdullah said.

He also urged that the Istanbul opportunity should not be used to give speeches; instead, it should focus on working for tangible progress.

“The final, final, final agreement, of course, it takes time, but we should at least agree on few principles. And an agreement on a ceasefire will be very, very important,” Abdullah added.

Anadolu reported that Abdullah said it’s time to move beyond the US-Taliban deal, which stipulates the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops, and stated it was time to forge an agreement directly between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

He also stated the Taliban’s readiness to move ahead would be tested in the coming days.

“Eventually, it has to be a comprehensive agreement between us, there is something between the US and the Taliban, but eventually, we need to agree. The readiness of the Taliban remains to be seen. It will be tested before the meeting in Turkey,” Abdullah told Anadolu.

No date for the Istanbul Summit has yet been confirmed but it is widely expected that it will take place early next month. 

 

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Pakistan’s FM to attend Heart of Asia summit

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(Last Updated On: March 29, 2021)

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will attend the 9th Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process ministerial meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan this week. 

According to Pakistan’s foreign office, Qureshi will deliver a statement “highlighting Pakistan’s positive contributions to the Afghan peace process and its support for Afghanistan’s development and connectivity within the regional framework.” 

Qureshi is also expected to hold consultations with regional and international partners, including Tajik leaders. 

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process comprises 15 participating countries, 17 supporting countries and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.

Members of the process are Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.

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US and NATO partners will exit Afghanistan ‘together’: Blinken

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(Last Updated On: March 29, 2021)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that American forces will only withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with their NATO allies.

“We’ve been very clear, and NATO has been very clear, that the approach that we’re taking to this is we went in together, we’ve adapted to circumstances together and we will come out together when the time is right,” Blinken said in an interview with CNN.

“And what we’re focused on now is looking at the May 1 deadline.”

“One of the things that was important was not only to share our thinking as we’re going through this review, including the May 1 deadline but to listen, to hear from our partners who are so invested: their ideas, their thoughts, their analysis.”

With only weeks away from the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline, signed between the US and Taliban in Doha last year, Washington is still reviewing the deal although President Joe Biden said on Wednesday at a press conference that the date would be “hard to meet” for “tactical reasons”.

However, he also said that he does not expect US troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2022.

The US currently has a reported 2,500 troops in the country but the New York Times said in a recent article that the figure was closer to 3,500. NATO meanwhile has about 7,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of foreign troops to around 10,000. 

Blinken told CNN: “There are actually more European forces in Afghanistan right now than there are American, so they’re deeply invested in this with us, and they’ve been shoulder to shoulder with us from the very start.” 

“It was also very important to try to accelerate the diplomacy because ultimately everyone recognizes that there is no military solution to Afghanistan,” he said.

“There has to be some kind of political settlement, and it has to be a settlement reached by the Afghans themselves.”

This comes after the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad departed for Turkey on Thursday to resume negotiations on the peace process.

“Ambassador Khalilzad will build on recent efforts by regional and international partners to encourage two Afghan parties to accelerate their negotiations to end the conflict,” the State Department said.

“He will engage the two sides on their preparatory efforts for talks on a political settlement that produces a permanent ceasefire and a durable and just peace.

“He will also meet with stakeholders to discuss how the region and international community can facilitate talks between the sides.”

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