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Taliban seek ‘lion’s share of power’ in deadlocked peace talks: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: August 4, 2021)

The Taliban and the Kabul government are far apart in U.S.-backed talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan, with the insurgents demanding “the lion’s share of power” in any new government, the special U.S. envoy said on Tuesday.

Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad’s bleak assessment of the peace process coincides with Taliban advances on provincial capitals that have uprooted tens of thousands of civilians as the U.S. troop pullout nears completion after 20 years of war.

“At this point, they (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it,” Khalilzad told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.

The deadlocked negotiations in Doha were the subject of a telephone call on Tuesday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with them agreeing on the need accelerate talks, the U.S. State Department said.

Blinken and Ghani also “condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks and displacement of the civilian population,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The Taliban’s rapid advances have fueled fears that the insurgents aim to re-establish by force their harsh brand of Islamist rule ended by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, including the repression of women and the independent media.

The insurgents say they want a peace deal.

Price told reporters that the insurgents would become “international pariahs” if they renege on their commitment to the negotiations “and the concern on the part of all of us, one of the many concerns, is that the result will be civil war.”

A car bomb blast followed by sporadic gunfire hit Kabul on Tuesday near the heavily fortified “Green Zone,” leaving three civilians and three attackers dead.

Khalilzad was the architect of the U.S.-Taliban deal for a U.S. troop pullout reached in February 2020.

In his rare public assessment of the Doha talks started under that deal, Khalilzad said peace can only be reached through a ceasefire and negotiations that would establish a transitional government.

Ghani’s administration says the talks should focus on “bringing the Taliban into the current government,” he said.

The Taliban contend that Ghani’s government “is the result of military occupation” and they want an agreement on a transitional government and constitution, Khalilzad continued.

“They are far apart,” he said. “They are trying to affect each other’s calculus and the terms by what they are doing on the battlefield.”

Khalilzad said that 40 years of continuous conflict “has no legitimacy any more.”

“It’s a struggle for a balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions, and no Afghans, especially civilian Afghans, should die because of that,” he added in remarks that risked angering the U.S.-backed Ghani government.

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India’s Modi tells UNGA Afghanistan cannot be used to spread terrorism

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

At the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it was crucial that Afghanistan not be used to spread terrorism globally, and he called on world leaders to help minorities in the country, including women and children.

“It is important to ensure that the land of Afghanistan is not used to spread terrorism and perpetuate terrorist attacks,” Modi said.

“We also have to be alert that no nation should be able to misuse the delicate situation in Afghanistan for their own selfish motives like a tool,” Modi added in an apparent reference to Pakistan, locked between Afghanistan and India.

His comments came after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan urged the international community to help the people of Afghanistan in a pre-recorded message to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.

“There’s a huge humanitarian crisis looming ahead and this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan, but it will have repercussions everywhere if a destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said.

“We must strengthen this current government, stabilize it for the sake of the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan is on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster” and has decided to engage the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in order to help the country’s people.

Khan said Guterres had “taken bold steps. I urge you to mobilize the international community and move in this direction.”

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UN agency warns of ‘imminent’ famine in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

Afghanistan is at risk of “imminent hunger” with winter approaching and services disrupted by the return to power of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), a UN official warned in an interview with AFP.

Natalia Kanem, director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said via video that the situation in the country was dire.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say” that at least a third of Afghanistan’s population of around 33 million is affected by “imminent hunger,” Kanem warned.

Harsh winters, disrupting the ability to transport supplies to isolated areas of the mountainous country, plus the coronavirus pandemic will aggravate an already complicated situation, she added.

“There is a lot of anxiety over how we’re going to deliver health care, where the next meal is going to come from,” Kanem said.

She also warned that women and girls would bear the worst of it.

“It is urgent, for women and girls in particular who were already suffering. This is one of the countries with the highest death during childbirth and pregnancy rates.

“We cannot underscore enough that even during a transitional period, women and girls have human rights and these are to be respected,” she said.

Kanem repeated calls made by the international community to the IEA and said: “The women of Afghanistan have made clear over years that they want their education, they want their health care, and that they’re also ready, willing and able to design programs and to be able to lead in their communities,” she said.

IEA leaders have assured the international community that they are more moderate than when they ruled previously.

They have promised to change, saying they will respect women’s rights within the framework of Sharia law.

Kanem pointed out that in a country ravaged by decades of conflict, many women, particularly in areas most affected by violence, are the sole breadwinners.

“We’re all anxiously hoping that there will be regularity and ability of delivery of goods” to people in small communities where many of the UNPFA’s staff are women, she said.

“We have said that we want to be able to maintain a functioning health system.

“(It’s) pretty challenging right now with the airport having been closed, with certain professionals who have left the country,” Kanem added.

She warned that if the health system breaks down, that’s going to spell “complete disaster,” but added that for the most part the agency’s family health centers have remained open.

The UN on Wednesday released $45 million in emergency aid to support Afghanistan’s health system.

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IEA calls for foreign airlines to resume flights into Kabul

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said on Sunday all technical issues at the Kabul Airport have been resolved and foreign airlines can now resume commercial flights into the city.

In a statement issued by the spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the IEA stated: “The recent political changes in Afghanistan caused a series of technical issues within the aviation sector due to which international flights to Afghanistan were suspended and many Afghan citizens were stuck outside and unable to return to their homeland.”

“As the problems at Kabul International Airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the IEA assures all airlines of its full cooperation and expects all airlines and countries that had previously flown to Kabul to resume their flights as before,” the statement read.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs once again assures full cooperation on its part.”

This comes after all international commercial flights into Kabul were canceled following the take over of Kabul by the IEA.

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