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Taliban implies discussions around ceasefire still a long way off  

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(Last Updated On: October 13, 2020)

As calls mount for a ceasefire – or at least a reduction in violence – in Afghanistan, the Taliban has stated the talks, currently underway in Doha, have not yet reached the stage where the issue of a truce can be discussed. 

In an interview with Gulf Times, Muhammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said: “Ceasefire in Afghanistan is a major issue but we have not reached at a level [in the ongoing peace talks] where we will discuss this issue. So far we have not taken the first step towards the peace negotiations.”

He also said the two sides have not yet started formal negotiations. 

“We have not started the talks formally yet. We have not reached the ‘ceasefire stage’. We have been discussing the rules of procedure.” 

Naeem also stated: “We have not yet discussed any issue that can create hurdles. I am however hopeful that we will make the headway. A certain time frame cannot be given but we are hopeful to make progress.”

Despite a sharp rise in violence over the past two months and this week’s assault on Helmand province by the Taliban, Naeem said the group is “sincere for reconciliation and peace. We have shown this. We negotiated for about 18 months with the US government and reached at a conclusion. We will do whatever we can to have peace in the country. We will make progress.”

On topics to be discussed during talks, down the line, which would include women’s rights and jurisprudence, he said: “We are yet to set the agenda for the negotiations. Once the agenda is set, we will be able to say what we will discuss.” 

Naeem also stated: “We have time and again said that our policy is not to interfere in the affairs of other countries. We also expect other countries not to interfere in Afghanistan.”

On the November 3 presidential election in the United States, he said the group hopes the US-Taliban deal brokered in February in Doha will remain intact irrespective of the results. 

“Our deal is not with one person. We have signed the agreement with the US government. We think that the US wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. They have signed the peace deal for their own people and country. We hope that all political leaders of the US realize the importance of the peace deal and there will be no change.”

COVID-19

Global coronavirus caseload crosses the 40 million mark

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide passed the 40 million mark on Monday, according to a Reuters tally. 

Reuters reported that this comes as the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere appears to have fuelled a resurgence in the spread of the disease. 

Experts however believe the true numbers of both cases and deaths are likely much higher, given deficiencies in testing and potential under-reporting by some countries.

The Reuters data shows the pace of the pandemic continues to increase as it took just 32 days to go from 30 million global cases to 40 million, compared with the 38 days it took to get from 20 to 30 million, the 44 days between 10 and 20 million, and the three months it took to reach 10 million cases from when the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, in early January.

Reuters also reported that record one-day increases in new infections were seen at the end of last week, with global coronavirus cases rising above 400,000 for the first time.

The United States, India, and Brazil remain the worst affected countries in the world. 

 

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UN secretary general condemns Ghor attack 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday strongly condemned the attack in Ghor province on Sunday that killed and wounded dozens of civilians. 

In a statement issued by the organization, Guterres said he “strongly condemns the indiscriminate attack today on a provincial police headquarters in Afghanistan’s province of Ghor, in an area where many civilians are present.”  

The UN stated that according to preliminary reports, the car bomb claimed the lives of at least 13 people and injured dozens of civilians, including women and children. 

“Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable,” the statement read. 

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” Guterres said.

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US peace envoy warns high levels of violence could derail peace process 

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(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad warned that “distressingly” high levels of violence could derail the peace process and the understanding that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. 

In a series of tweets overnight Monday, Khalilzad appeared to have been responding to Sunday’s spat between the Taliban and the US Forces Afghanistan after the insurgent group accused the US of violating the Doha agreement by carrying out airstrikes in Helmand and Farah provinces last week. 

The US Forces Afghanistan responded not long after rejecting the claim and said they were within the terms of the agreement as they had been defending the Afghan security forces who had come under attack by the Taliban. 

The Taliban also issued a veiled threat in their statement and said: “All responsibility and consequences from the continuation of such actions shall fall squarely on the shoulders of the American side.”

Khalilzad meanwhile said in his Twitter statement: “Unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric do not advance peace. Instead, we should pursue strict adherence to all articles of the US-Taliban Agreement and US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration and not neglect the commitment to gradually reduce violence.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for substantial reduction.

“Taliban attacks in Helmand, including on the provincial capital; Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces; & Taliban complaints of ANSF operations and coalition strikes led to a recent meeting in Doha.

“All sides agreed to decrease attacks and strikes and reduce violence and casualties. Although violence in Helmand has decreased, violence overall in the country remains high.

“Our expectation has been and remains that violence comes down and stays down.

“It was a focus of the Agreement we signed, further highlighted in connection with the releases of the last batch of prisoners and reaffirmed again in the most recent commitment all sides made to adhere to all aspects of the deal,” Khalilzad said. 

Reacting to the car bombing on Sunday in Ghor province that killed at least 13 people, Khalilzad stated: “Violence has stalked Afghans for far too long. It has robbed far too many Afghans of their loved ones. The tragedy in Ghor today is the most recent example.”

He said: “The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiating table is very risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculations by Afghan leaders.

“We must adhere to the letter and spirit of what was negotiated and the recent understanding. They provide a path to minimizing Afghan loss of life and protecting an historic opportunity for peace which must not be missed,” Khalilzad said.

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