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Progress stalls in Afghan peace talks as sides ‘await Biden’

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(Last Updated On: January 14, 2021)

Afghan peace talks that resumed four days ago are effectively on hold, sources from both sides said on Wednesday, as negotiators wait for President-elect Joe Biden to signal whether he will stick to Donald Trump’s aggressive schedule to pull out troops, Reuters reported.

This comes after a month-long break, which saw most, but not all, negotiators return to Doha last week for the resumption of talks.

A diplomatic source in Kabul told Reuters on Wednesday that expectations were low for progress before Biden takes office on January 20.

The sides “do not want to commit to anything before the 20th. They wanted to have the process going in the meantime because that was one of the requirements of the international community, so they have the process. But it is stagnant,” the diplomatic source said.

In an agreement signed between the US and the Taliban last year, Washington agreed to a full withdrawal by April this year.

The agreement was however conditions based and the Taliban is expected to meet certain security conditions before the last of the troops leave Afghanistan.

The Afghan government says these conditions have not been met while Biden and his advisors have so far given few clues as to their plans.

“We are waiting for the new US administration and their policies towards Afghanistan to see whether they would respect the peace accord,” a Taliban negotiator told Reuters on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak publicly.

“If they don’t honour their commitment of withdrawing their forces as promised…then we would need to make tough decisions by appointing hardliners to key positions on the ground.”

After months of little progress, the sides finally agreed ground rules for talks late last year. The talks then broke up in December, in part to allow negotiators to return home for consultations with their leadership.

The sides announced last week they would re-start talks on Saturday. But so far only limited meetings between smaller teams called ‘contact groups’ have taken place, three diplomatic and Afghan government sources told Reuters.

About four key members of the Taliban negotiating team were not yet in Qatar, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.

He said this was due to logistical issues travelling from remote areas where they were visiting family. They would arrive in the next few days and the delay would not affect the talks.

Some Afghan government negotiators were also not yet in Doha. One, who has been receiving treatment for cancer, told Reuters she planned to travel there this week.

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Three Russian aircraft with humanitarian aid arrive in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

Three Russian aircraft landed in Kabul on Wednesday carrying 36 tonnes of humanitarian aid, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

All three Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, involved in delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan would also evacuate Russian citizens, as well as citizens of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states, Russia’s Defense Ministry, said in a statement.

“Some three Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifters of the Russian Defense Ministry have delivered humanitarian aid to the Kabul airport and are boarding evacuees for departure from Afghanistan,” the statement read.

A total of over 380 Russians, citizens of the CSTO member states (mainly Kyrgyzstan), and Afghan students from Russian universities will fly out on the departing planes, the ministry said.

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India considers re-opening mission in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

As countries slowly start reopening their embassies in Kabul, India is also reportedly considering the possibility of re-staffing its mission in Afghanistan.

So far, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all have a diplomatic presence in the country.

Japan and the EU have also discussed the possibility of returning to Afghanistan.

One senior Indian official told The Hindu on Wednesday that “establishing a presence in Afghanistan has nothing to do with recognition [of the IEA government]. It simply means that you would like to have people on the ground dealing with the new regime, to continue engagement with the people.”

He said the Modi government is not convinced about the need to re-open its mission, but that discussions are continuing on what India’s strategy should be, The Hindu reported.

At present, the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which was evacuated within two days of the IEA talking control, is intact and being guarded by IEA forces.

While calls from within the country to reopen grow, officials told The Hindu that much depends on what India’s other partners and friendly countries choose to do.

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Saudi Arabia reopens consular section of embassy in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

Saudi Arabia announced that it has reopened the consular section of its embassy in Kabul as of Tuesday in order to provide consular services to Afghan citizens.

This latest move has been welcomed by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

“We welcome them, appreciate this profound step by the Saudi government and view it as start of good relations,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spokesman for the foreign ministry.

According to Balkhi a 14-member diplomatic team from Saudi Arabia returned to Kabul on Tuesday, and resumed consular activities.

This comes after the UAE recently reopened its embassy in Kabul.

Zabihullah Mujahid, IEA deputy minister and spokesman announced last week that the reopening of the UAE embassy was a “good step.”

The UAE was one of only a few country’s that recognized the IEA government in the 1990s, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Last week Takashi Okada, Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said his country has also decided to reopen its embassy in Kabul after the new government ensured Tokyo of its security.

Enamullah Samangani, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s deputy spokesman said that Takashi Okada raised the issue during a meeting with Abdul Kabir, the IEA’s political deputy prime minister in Kabul.

According to him, the Japanese ambassador to Afghanistan has said that his country continues to support the Afghan people and is ready to work with the IEA on this issue.

Since taking power in mid-August, the IEA has repeatedly called on foreign countries to reopen their embassies after most missions evacuated staff and closed their doors during the chaos that surrounded the US troops withdrawal process.

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