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Time running out for Afghan peace process, more efforts needed – EU envoy

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(Last Updated On: June 16, 2021)

The European Union’s envoy for Afghanistan said on Wednesday time was running out for Afghan peace negotiations and more needed to be done to boost the discussions as international forces withdraw from the war-torn nation.

Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital Doha over the past two weeks to discuss the peace process after a pause when negotiations largely stalled earlier this year.

Talks began in September but the already-slowing negotiations largely broke off in April, when the United States announced it would withdraw its forces by Sept. 11, after a May 1 deadline the Trump administration had agreed with the Taliban.

“Time is getting shorter as we speak,” Tomas Niklasson, the EU’s acting special envoy for Afghanistan, told Reuters during a visit to Pakistan’s capital. “There has been no or very little progress on substance, so from that perspective more has to be done.”

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter that on Tuesday groups from both negotiation teams had met to discuss “recalibration of order and sequence of talks sessions.”

But Niklasson said that to show true progress, substantive proposals needed to be put on the table on each side’s plans for the country and the outcome of the talks, which the Taliban had not yet provided.

“It’s quite possible that a proposal from the Taliban might be maximalist, maybe they would just put an Islamic Emirate on the table, which is perfectly fine for negotiations and then you can see where you can make compromises and compromises will have to be made by both sides,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group did have a written plan but would not share it publicly or with foreigners and would save it for substantive negotiations.

The envoy held meetings with officials in Islamabad this week and said he was confident that Pakistan saw it in its interests to encourage a negotiated peace settlement in neighbouring Afghanistan, but reiterated Pakistan should use all leverage it to had to encourage the Taliban to deliver a written peace proposal.

Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban have been criticised in the past by the West but foreign capitals including Washington have in recent years acknowledged Pakistan for working to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistan’s foreign minister has said in recent days that Pakistan was fully supporting the Afghan peace process but did not want to be considered the “scapegoat” and blamed if negotiations fell apart.

“I see so far little progress in terms of (the Taliban) putting a proposal on the table but whether that is because insufficient leverage is there or because the leverage that is there hasn’t been used … fully I don’t really know,” Niklasson said.

“But I have confidence that Pakistan realises the importance and the urgency of the situation and that it is in its own interest to use the leverage it has.”

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Pakistan’s customs agent says exports to Afghanistan dwindle

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2021)

Hundreds of trucks lined the winding, mountainous road leading to Torkhum, the Pakistan-Afghan border crossing on Thursday.

Pakistani officials say that is because exports to Afghanistan have dwindled in the days after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) take over.

But some truck drivers were upbeat because they said the vegetable and fruit season in Afghanistan had helped increase exports of these items from the war-ravaged country.

Another Pakistani official at another Pakistan-Afghan border Chaman said trade had picked up because the IEA government had reduced taxes, and also put an end to bribes that traders and truck drivers had to pay to cross the border.

Afghan new government bolstered its economic team last week, naming a commerce minister and two deputies as the group tries to revive a financial system in shock from the abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Underlining the economic pressures building on Afghanistan’s new government, prices for staples like flour, fuel, and rice have risen and long queues are still forming outside banks as they strictly ration withdrawals.

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Five climbers die in snowstorm on Russia’s Mount Elbrus

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2021)

Five climbers died after they got caught in a sudden snowstorm on Russia’s Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, officials said.

The other 14 members of the party were rescued on the peak in the Caucasus Mountains in high winds and low visibility amid temperatures of minus -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), the regional emergency ministry said.

The group of Russian climbers sent out a mayday call just after 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Thursday, the ministry added. Eleven of the survivors were taken to hospital.

One woman fell ill and died in the arms of one of the guides, Denis Alimov, who helped organise the climb, told TASS news agency.

Another climber broke his leg as he was coming down and the party decided to split into three groups depending on who could go fastest, Alimov told TASS.

“As they descended, two more people died in one of the groups. But the decision to split up was the right one, otherwise there might have been more casualties.”

Guides with the group suffered frostbite and other injuries, Alimov was quoted as saying.

Mount Elbrus, which rises to 5,642 metres (18,510 feet) just north of the border with Georgia, is infamous for sudden changes in weather and climbing conditions.

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IEA’s defence minister orders crackdown on abuses

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s acting new defence minister has issued a rebuke over misconduct by some commanders and fighters following the IEA’s victory over the Western-backed government in Afghanistan last month, saying abuses would not be tolerated, Reuters reported.

According to the report Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said in an audio message that some “miscreants and notorious former soldiers” had been allowed to join Taliban units where they had committed a range of sometimes violent abuses.

“We direct you keep them out of your ranks, otherwise strict action will be taken against you,” he stated. “We don’t want such people in our ranks.”

The message from one of the IEA’s most senior ministers underlines the problems Afghanistan’s new rulers have sometimes had in controlling fighting forces as they transition from an insurgency to a peacetime administration, the report said.

Some Kabul residents have complained of abusive treatment at the hands of IEA forces who have appeared on the streets of the capital, often from other regions and unused to big cities.

There have also been reports of reprisals against members of the former government and military or civil society activists, despite promises of an amnesty by the IEA.

Yaqoob said there had been isolated reports of unauthorized executions, and he repeated that such actions would not be tolerated.

“As you all are aware, under the general amnesty announced in Afghanistan, no mujahid has the right to take revenge on anyone,” he said.

Reuters said that it was not clear precisely which incidents he was referring to, nor what prompted the message, which was published on IEA Twitter accounts and widely shared on social media.

There have been reports of tensions within the IEA between hardline battlefield commanders and political leaders more willing to seek compromise with governments outside Afghanistan, report said

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