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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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Biden to keep Khalilzad as peace envoy for now

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

Former president Donald Trump’s peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will retain his position, for now, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN. 

This move is not typical as traditionally an incoming administration replaces all politically appointed officials – especially those dealing with foreign policy issues. 

Khalilzad, a diplomatic veteran, has worked on the peace process for more than two years and has been the key official from Washington to meet with both the Afghan government and the Taliban as well as all other stakeholders and regional leaders. 

No further details were released and according to CNN the State Department did not comment when asked about Khalilzad staying on board. 

However, in a statement issued late Friday, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib that the United States intends to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement.”

He also said Washington would assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.

Sullivan also expressed America’s desire that all Afghan leaders embrace this “historic opportunity for peace and stability.”

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Washington to review US-Taliban deal, Sullivan tells Mohib 

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib on Friday evening and said Washington intends to review the US-Taliban deal signed in February last year and to assess whether the Taliban is adhering to its commitments. 

In a statement issued by the White House following the discussion between the two NSAs, Sullivan said the US will support the peace process with “a robust and regional diplomatic effort, which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire”. 

Sullivan also made clear “the United States’ intention to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement, including to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.”

According to the statement, Sullivan also expressed America’s desire that all Afghan leaders embrace this “historic opportunity for peace and stability.”

In addition, Sullivan and Mohib discussed the US’s support for protecting the gains made by Afghan women, girls, and minority groups as part of the peace process. 

Sullivan also “committed to consulting closely with the Afghan government, NATO allies, and regional partners regarding a collective strategy to support a stable, sovereign, and secure future for Afghanistan,” the statement read.

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Taliban should cut ties with Pakistan: Ghani

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani has called on the Taliban to cut ties with Pakistan.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Ghani stated that the Taliban should not have a safe haven in Pakistan either.

“One of the basic needs for peace in Afghanistan is that the Taliban should cut their ties with Pakistan. If they call themselves Afghans and want to be in Afghanistan; they should not have dual citizenships,” said Ghani.

Ghani also urged Pakistan to play its positive role in the ongoing talks in Doha.

“I urged PM of Pakistan to tell Taliban that there is no solution without a political settlement,” said Ghani.

The President has also criticized the interim government plan, emphasizing a democratic process for the power transfer.

Ghani stated that he will transfer power to the Taliban if they are elected by the people in the elections.

 “We hope for peace, but we are ready for every danger,” Ghani said.

This comes as the Afghan government peace negotiators are in Doha to discuss the agenda for the negotiations with the Taliban delegates.

Ghani, however, said that in the end, it is the people of Afghanistan who would decide the outcome of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, on Thursday called on Joe Biden, the US president to follow up on the current Afghan peace process and US troops’ withdrawal from the country.

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