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Talks will be a test for both sides but US will be on hand to help: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2020)

In a special briefing ahead of the historic start to the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha on Saturday, the United States’ special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said peace talks is a test for both sides – for the Taliban and for the Afghan government. 

In the video conference briefing via the US State Department, Khalilzad, who is in Doha, raised the question of whether the two sides could “reach an agreement despite differences in terms of their visions for the future of Afghanistan?

He pointed out that the peace talks process had reached an important juncture but that there are difficulties and significant challenges in the way of reaching an agreement. 

However, the US was prepared to assist if needed, he said, adding that this phase is a new stage in diplomacy path to peace. 

Khalilzad stated that from now on the process is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led and that there will be no foreign mediators nor facilitators when the sides hold their talks. 

“They will be talking to each other. The secretariat of the conference will also be carried out, that function, by the Afghans from the two sides,” he said.

On the issue of the release of Taliban prisoners, especially the “high risk” ones, Khalilzad explained that although no one is “happy about the release of prisoners that committed violence or – against our forces, but we want to keep the big picture in mind, unhappy as we are.  But we’re hopeful that that step, the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, can lead to the end in the war and that Afghanistan never again becomes a threat to any of us.”

He said he felt that logic was compelling and that the countries concerned do understand that this was an Afghan decision – albeit a difficult one. 

This statement comes after the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners – the final “high-risk” six having been flown to Qatar on Thursday where they will be held under supervision. 

Another point noted was that of the recent assassination attempt on First Vice President Amrullah Saleh’s life. 

Saleh escaped with only minor injuries when his convoy of vehicles was targeted in a roadside bombing. However, at least 10 civilians were killed in the early morning attack. 

This was yet another in a string of targeted killings and attempted assassinations – which prompted Khalilzad to say there “are spoilers who don’t want the peace process to take place or to go forward, and there are people who prefer the status quo to a peace agreement.”

“There are people who prefer the US to remain entangled in a conflict in Afghanistan.  And a number of players are bad and some are at war also not only with the government but they are at war with the Talibs as well.”

He said one such group is Daesh, and that Daesh has been responsible for quite a lot of violence in Afghanistan. He said the group itself “does not want the peace process to go forward.”

He pointed out however that the Taliban continues to fight Daesh and stated that “they have done some of the heavy lifting in the fight against Daesh in Afghanistan, and the government is fighting it too.”

Khalilzad also said that in light of upcoming elections in the US, he was hoping that progress would have been made regarding negotiations by that time. 

With the possibility of a change in administration should Donald Trump lose the race, Khalilzad said he was committed to staying at least until the elections. 

Khalilzad also reiterated what had been said earlier in the week about the US troops drawdown and said that between mid-October and mid-November numbers would be down to about 4,500. 

One of the key concerns around the issue of a peace deal has been that regarding women’s rights and on that note Khalilzad made it clear that this is of critical importance to the US. 

“That’s the second-most important issue for us after terrorism, and we encourage that women participate in the negotiations.  And as I said, four women are part of the Islamic Republic negotiations team. I expect them to be fully prepared to defend their rights,” he said. 

In conclusion, Khalilzad said that although there would be no mediators or facilitators in the peace talks, the US will “be prepared to help when our help is needed. We’ll obviously be monitoring; we’ll be engaging each side. And we are very good at – obviously, that’s one of our comparative advantages.”

He said: “We think all of the problems – there can be a solution if the will is there. If bridging formulas are needed, then we’ll have to think about it.  We’ll consider; we will help.”

But he made it clear that this was an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, “and if they don’t need our help, that will be fine.”

 

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Renegades signs Afghan teenager for Australia’s Big Bash League

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

Australia’s Melbourne Renegades have signed up 15-year-old Noor Ahmad after a 12-month scouting mission and plan to unleash him on the Big Bash League later this year. 

Earlier this week Renegades confirmed Mohammad Nabi had also signed up and on Thursday, the club announced on its website, 15-year-old Noor Ahmad, from Kabul, will also join their team. 

“We’ve been tracking Noor Ahmad closely for more than a year now and although he’s in the early stages of his career, he’s an exciting prospect and he has a few tricks that’ll make life difficult for batsmen,” Renegades Coach Michael Klinger said. 

Ahmad is a left-arm wrist-spinner who has earned high praise around the globe.

Ahmad earned a contract in the Caribbean Premier League earlier this year and won a T20 trophy under Mohammad Nabi’s captaincy in 2019.

“The Renegades fans and followers of the Big Bash may not know much about Noor at this stage but I can tell you, he is a very exciting talent who I feel has a big future in the game,” Nabi said.

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Khalilzad meets with Taliban’s Baradar, discusses increase in violence

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha on Wednesday night to discuss a range of issues relating to the Afghan peace process, including the high levels of violence. 

In a series of tweets by the Taliban’s Doha spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, Khalilzad was accompanied by US Forces Afghanistan commander General Scott Miller.

Naeem said the discussion centered around a number of issues and talks were held on the full “implementation of the whole articles of the agreement signed between the IEA [Taliban] and the US”.

He also said the release of remaining prisoners was discussed as was removing names of Taliban members from the US’ blacklist. 

According to him, the increase in hostilities was discussed and attributed the high levels of violence to a number of factors. He said the “humiliation of the martyrs’ bodies” was one reason, as was that of raids carried out against released prisoners and “their killing”. 

He also said, “offensives and the violation of the agreement overall were reckoned the causes that don’t lead the circumstances to a good direction.”

Khalilzad returned to Doha earlier this week to meet with negotiating teams in Doha to press both sides to immediately reduce the levels of violence that Afghan civilians are forced to bear. 

According to a statement issued on Wednesday by the US State Department: “Too many Afghans are dying. The sides urgently need an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.” 

“Along with international partners, Ambassador Khalilzad will press the two negotiating teams to accelerate their efforts and agree to a political roadmap that ends Afghanistan’s 40-year-long war. The sides must move past procedure and into substantive negotiations. American and international assistance remains available to all sides,” the statement read. 

Khalilzad meanwhile said in a series of tweets on Tuesday night that he returns “to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened.”

“The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said.

“Intransigence and a refusal to abandon animosity, embrace fellow citizens, and agree on a formula for political cooperation/competition underpin the ongoing war.”

Khalilzad said: “Afghans are dying at a high rate, and regional spoilers are using Afghans as cannon fodder for their illegitimate objectives.  Bloodshed must end.

“Afghans need to pivot to development instead of destruction, stability instead of chaos, forgiveness instead of vengeance, compromise instead of inflexibility,” he said.

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Bajwa warns Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘can’t afford chaos’

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Wednesday that Afghanistan and Pakistan could not afford the risk of lawlessness and chaos as such a situation would have catastrophic consequences for both countries.

Speaking during his visit to a hospital in Peshawar to visit victims of Tuesday’s bombing at a madrassa that killed at least seven people, including children, and wounded more than 100, Bajwa said that Afghan refugees in Pakistan should exercise caution about unfavorable elements so that they were not wittingly or unwittingly used in terrorist activities, Dawn News reported. 

He said Pakistan has always wanted peace in Afghanistan and would spare no effort to restore peace and stability in the country.

Bajwa also said Pakistan and Afghanistan had faced terrorism for the past two decades but that peace in both countries was intertwined.

Tuesday’s explosion happened as a prominent religious scholar was giving a special class about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrassa, police confirmed. 

Some Afghan students studying at the seminary were also among the wounded persons, officials said.

 

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