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Sceptics warn Washington’s new peace plan could backfire

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(Last Updated On: March 14, 2021)

Some Afghan officials have warned that Washington’s aggressive push for a political settlement could backfire, by deadlocking talks, undermining the elected government and plunging the country deeper into violence, the Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, Washington’s approach – nicknamed “moonshot” by some US officials because of its lofty ambitions – is an attempt to get the two sides to agree to a political settlement in just a matter of weeks.

The approach — nicknamed “moonshot” by some U.S. officials referring to its lofty ambitions — is an attempt to reach a peace deal within weeks by applying unprecedented pressure to negotiating teams on both sides of the conflict, the Taliban and the Kabul government.

According to the Post, Afghan officials are concerned a hasty withdrawal of troops without a political settlement could tip the balance – risking a repeat of the mistakes of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was plunged into civil war following the abrupt withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to the Post, Afghan officials acknowledged that current levels of violence and the stalled peace talks between the Afghan Republic and the Taliban in Doha are unacceptable. However they disagreed with the Biden administration’s efforts to speed up the process.

One Afghan official warned: “The consequences for us are the collapse of the state, sudden destruction and a very long and intense civil war.”

“The fact that it has happened in the past once shows it could happen again,” he said.

A second official said “pushing the peace now with this new initiative very rapidly” risks undermining the country’s military.

He said he fears “bringing back the old mujahideen at the expense of the Afghan security forces,” referring to the militant factions and irregular fighters who fought the Soviet forces, then turned on each other during the civil war.

 

Signs point towards a delay in withdrawing foreign troops

The Post stated however that the accelerated push for a settlement is taking place amid growing indications that the United States is considering postponing the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

But Washington has said a final decision on the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has not yet been made.

The Post meanwhile reported that a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani’s office rejected the suggestion that the president is under greater pressure now from Washington to reach a peace deal.

“If there is any pressure that we feel, it is the pressure from the Afghan people who have been terrorized” since the Soviet invasion in 1979, said Fatima Murchal, Ghani’s deputy spokesperson.

Taliban representatives in Doha also dismissed the implication that the change in approach would have an effect on long-stalled talks.

“Pressure from the United States never works,” said Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office. “We know this because they have already tried all forms of pressure for 20 years.”

According to the Post, Naeem said the group does not expect the United States to walk away from the 2020 deal, but if it does, “there will be problems, and they will be responsible for that.”

But U.S. officials say the potential risks of inaction outweigh an opportunity to accelerate the process.

The new approach of “moving at a faster pace toward a political agreement,” said one U.S. official, is “the best option for moving forward.”

“Given where we are, the alternative is more dangerous,” he said.

On the recent letter and draft peace proposal sent by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Ghani and other officials and to the Taliban, outlining a plan for a transitional government, the Post reported that this all “came as a shock”.

“It’s not what we have been promised,” said an Afghan official with knowledge of the talks, who described the tone of the leaked letter as “upsetting” and contrary to the more consultative approach Kabul was expecting from the Biden administration.

The Afghan government had called on the Biden administration to conduct a full review of the peace agreement signed between the Taliban and the former Trump administration – an agreement that excluded the Afghan government.

But, one peace talks negotiator Fatima Gailani told the Post in reference to Ghani’s government that “they were hoping for a miracle.”

She said Afghan leaders should not have been surprised by the U.S. pressure campaign, given President Joe Biden’s past comments on his desire to end the war in Afghanistan.

Now, she said, the letter and draft peace document “brought reality out into the open” and could act as a wake-up call to unify Afghanistan’s political parties.

The Post also stated that reactions in Kabul to the letter and peace plan appears to be exposing widening political fault lines, rather than signaling moves toward consensus.

Ghani’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, welcomed the new U.S. proposal.

His spokesman Mujib Rahman Rahimi said: “It is a positive starting point to boost the peace process and the peace talks.”

“We do not consider the proposal a setback or a step to destabilize the country. Rather, it is a step forward,” Rahimi said.

The new proposal was delivered almost two weeks ago by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Ghani, the Abdullah and other politicians and former government leaders. Later in the week Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Doha and put the plan to them.

No decisions have yet been made by either side on the proposal.

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EU envoy says aid will be cut if Taliban seize power militarily

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Tomas Niklasson, Acting Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, says that the EU would not recognize a Taliban government if they manage a military takeover.

In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Niklasson stated if the Taliban gain power through a military takeover the EU will cut its aid to Afghanistan and the country will be isolated.

“If the Taliban manage to take power by military means it would not be recognized by the EU, it would not be recognized by most countries in the region.”

“It would become an isolated regime and isolated Afghanistan,” he noted.

Niklasson also raised his concerns over the current situation in Afghanistan, calling on the warring parties to show flexibility in order to end the ongoing conflict in the country.

“We are clearly very very concerned by the situation. We try to do what we can to remain engaged in Afghanistan, to continue to provide development assistance, to remain engaged politically to provide humanitarian assistance as long as needed.”

The diplomat stated that the Taliban has no clear proposal in the peace talks with the Afghan Republic’s team. He added that the Taliban want to seek more concessions in the talks via their military campaign.

“The Taliban have not really put on the table a clear proposal of what they want and that is part of the negotiations and that will be a necessary next step,” he stated.

“If they put Islamic Emirate, the design of the 1990s or any Islamic Emirate on the table, no, it would not be acceptable but it could be a start for negotiation,” the EU Envoy said.

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Ghani meets with politicians, jihadi leaders to garner more support for peace

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani has emphasized the need for the continuation of peace talks in Doha and national mobilization in support of the Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF).

After holding a consultative meeting with prominent Afghan political figures and former Jihadi leaders on Saturday, Ghani issued a statement outlining a number of critical necessities.

The statement highlighted the following key points:

  1. Ending the war and reaching a just and durable peace has been the Afghan government’s priority
  2. The government has an obligation to preserve the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, national honors and institutions, values, women rights, and freedoms
  3. The political and Jihadi leaders vowed to make efforts for further national mobilization in support of Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Latif Mahmood, the Deputy Spokesman for the Presidential Palace, stated: “Ending to war, maintaining a just and lasting peace, support for the Security and Defense Forces, defending the territorial integrity and national honor, preservation of values gained in the last two decades and the principal of the Constitution were discussed in this meeting.”

Meanwhile, the Russian TASS news agency has reported that the extended Troika on the Afghan peace settlement comprising representatives of Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan will be held in early August.

“We are in constant contact over the phone with my counterpart [US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay] Khalilzad, who is now [staying] in Washington. Next week, we are planning to meet in Doha with him and with our Chinese and Pakistani counterparts for the next encounter of the extended Troika,” said Special Russian Presidential Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, as quoted by the TASS.

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Watchdog reports of growing number of revenge attacks

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(Last Updated On: July 31, 2021)

Taliban forces in Afghanistan are targeting known critics despite claiming that they have ordered their fighters to act with restraint, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

In Kandahar, the Taliban have detained and executed suspected members of the provincial government and security forces, and in some cases their relatives.

Among recent cases, the Taliban executed a popular Kandahari comedian, Nazar Mohammad, known as Khasha Zwan, who posted routines that included songs and jokes on TikTok. He had reportedly also worked with the local police.

On July 22, Taliban fighters abducted Khasha Zwan from his home in southern Kandahar, beat him, and then shot him multiple times, HRW said in a statement.

After a video of two men slapping and abusing Khasha Zwan appeared on social media, the Taliban admitted that two of their fighters had killed him.
“Taliban forces apparently executed Khasha Zwan because he poked fun at Taliban leaders,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“His murder and other recent abuses demonstrate the willingness of Taliban commanders to violently crush even the tamest criticism or objection,” she said.

Activists in Kandahar said that in villages surrounding the provincial capital, Taliban commanders have detained scores of people associated with the government or police, HRW reported.

In one case, on July 16, Taliban fighters abducted two men whose brothers had worked with NDS 03, a CIA-backed strike force that has been responsible for summary executions and other abuses, from their homes in the Qasam Pol area, Dand district, HRW stated.

Their relatives say that they have not heard from the two men since.
Also in mid-July, a media report said Taliban fighters detained Ahmadullah, a former police officer, in Spin Boldak. His family has not heard from him since.

His uncle said that the Taliban had sent letters saying that anyone who had worked with the government or foreign forces would not be harmed so long as they reported to the Taliban leadership and “admitted their ‘crime.’”
International humanitarian law prohibits summary executions, enforced disappearances, and other mistreatment of anyone in custody, which are war crimes, HRW reported.

It is unlawful to detain civilians unless absolutely necessary for imperative security reasons, the statement read.

Retaliatory attacks are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited, HRW stated.

The International Criminal Court is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and serious human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Taliban commanders who knew or should have known about abuses by forces under their control and took no action to prevent or stop them are culpable as a matter of command responsibility, HRW said.
“Advancing Taliban forces have no blank check to brutally target their critics,” Gossman said. “The Taliban leadership usually denies the abuses, but it’s their fighters carrying out these attacks and their responsibility to stop the killings.”

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