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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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No guarantees about Afghanistan’s future post-pullout: American NSA

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(Last Updated On: April 19, 2021)

No one can offer guarantees about Afghanistan’s future after U.S. troops leave, a top White House official said on Sunday, even as he stressed the United States would stay focused on terrorist threats emanating from the country.

This comes after US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that United States will withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by September 11.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, the White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was asked about the risk of a repeat of what happened in Iraq, where Islamic State (ISIS) militants seized territory after U.S. troops withdrew in 2011.

That led then-President Barack Obama to send troops back into Iraq.

Sullivan said Biden had no intention of sending American forces back to Afghanistan, but he added: “I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can.”

“All the United States could do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government and the Afghan people resources and capabilities, training and equipping their forces, providing assistance to their government. We have done that and now it is time for American troops to come home and the Afghan people to step up to defend their own country.”

But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected what he said were “false analogies” with the war in Vietnam as well as any suggestion his government was at risk of folding under Taliban pressure after U.S. troops leave. Afghan security forces were capable of defending the country, he said.

“The Afghan defense and security forces have been carrying over 90% of the operations in the last two years,” Ghani said in an interview with CNN.

Meanwhile former president Donald Trump said in a statement that leaving Afghanistan was “a wonderful and positive thing to do,” but called for a more rapid departure. Trump had set a May 1 deadline to withdraw.

CIA Director William Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that America’s ability to collect intelligence and act against extremist threats in Afghanistan will diminish after the departure of U.S. troops, Reuters reported.

A United Nations report in January said there were as many as 500 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained a close relationship with the group. The Taliban denies al-Qaeda has a presence in Afghanistan.

Announcing his decision to withdraw troops, Biden said the United States would monitor the threat, reorganize counterterrorism capabilities and keep substantial assets in the region to respond to threats to the United States emerging from Afghanistan.

“He has no intention of taking our eye off the ball,” Sullivan said of the president.

“We have the capacity, from repositioning our capabilities over the horizon, to continue to suppress the terrorist threat in Afghanistan.”

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Germany will not abandon Afghan staff, minister says

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(Last Updated On: April 19, 2021)

Germany will not let down its Afghan staff as the international military mission in the country, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pledged on Sunday.

“I feel it is Germany’s sincere duty to not leave these people without protection now that we will permanently withdraw,” the defence ministry in Berlin said on Twitter, quoting extracts from an interview with German news agency DPA.

U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO on Wednesday announced that they would withdraw the roughly 10,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan by Sept. 11. Germany is the second-largest contingent with about 1,100 troops.

The withdrawals have raised concerns that Afghanistan could erupt into full-scale civil war, providing al Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.

The German forces currently employ about 300 Afghans as interpreters and in other jobs, according to the defence ministry in Berlin.

Since 2013 Germany has admitted nearly 800 Afghans at risk in their own country after working for the foreign military, as well as about 2,500 family members.

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Two policemen killed in Taliban group attack in Baghlan

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(Last Updated On: April 19, 2021)

At least two policemen were killed and six others were wounded in a Taliban group attack in Baghlan province on Sunday night, police said Monday.

Police said the Taliban attacked Fabreka Qand Township in the Baghlan-e-Markazi district.

According to them, at least six Taliban insurgents were also killed and eight more were wounded in the ensuing clash between the insurgents and Afghan security forces.

“Afghan forces responded strongly to the Taliban’s attacks and pushed them back,” said Jawed Basharat, spokesman for Baghlan police.

Sayed Kamal Wardak, district governor for Baghlan Markazi district told Ariana News that the clash started on Sunday night at around midnight and lasted until 5am on Monday.

“At least one police Humvee burnt out and another one was seized by the Taliban,” said Wardak.

Police chief Sayed Ashraf Sadat along with other reinforcements are in the area and said the Taliban suffered heavy casualties but he did not provide further details.

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