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UN official warns al-Qaeda still ‘heavily embedded’ with Taliban 

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(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

A UN official has said despite the Taliban’s pledge in February to cut ties with al-Qaeda, the group is still “heavily embedded” within the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Speaking to the BBC, Edmund Fitton-Brown, co-ordinator of the UN’s Islamic State, al-Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team, said there has been regular communication between the two groups despite the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February. 

“The Taliban were talking regularly and at a high level with al-Qaeda and reassuring them that they would honor their historic ties,” Fitton-Brown said.

According to him, the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban was “not substantively” changed by the deal struck with the US. 

“Al-Qaeda are heavily embedded with the Taliban and they do a good deal of military action and training action with the Taliban, and that has not changed,” he said.

BBC reported that although al-Qaeda’s strength and ability to strike the West has significantly diminished over the past decade, its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is believed to still be based in Afghanistan along with a number of other senior figures in the group. 

But, Fitton-Brown said despite its lower profile, al-Qaeda remained “resilient” and “dangerous”.

Fitton-Brown also told the BBC that he had noted recent reports about the Taliban requiring some Pakistani foreign fighters in Afghanistan to register with them and abide by a code of conduct forbidding attacks outside Afghanistan. 

He said it was not yet clear whether that agreement applied to al-Qaeda, nor whether it was an “irrevocable” move toward preventing foreign militants posing a threat internationally from Afghanistan.

BBC stated US officials have been vague when questioned as to whether or not they believe the Taliban is fully complying with its commitments on al-Qaeda, and instead have often suggested the information is classified. 

Ambassador Nathan Sales, co-ordinator for counterterrorism at the US state department, told the BBC: “We expect the Taliban to honor the commitments that they made… to end all connections with terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. We intend to continue monitoring the situation very closely to ensure actions are matching words.”

Speaking to the BBC, Rahmatullah Andar, a former Taliban commander and now spokesman for the Afghan government’s National Security Council warned of the threat of a resurgence from al-Qaeda and other global militant groups. “The Americans might think the agreement they have signed with the Taliban will sort everything out,” he said. “But time will prove that’s not the case.”

Fitton-Brown also warned that were the peace process, currently underway in Doha, fall apart, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (Daesh) could attempt to further exploit “ungoverned space” in Afghanistan.

“Both of those groups have an avowed aspiration to pose an international threat,” he said.

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Afghan Republic’s team agrees ‘in principle’ to peace talks procedures 

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

The Afghanistan Republic’s peace negotiating team said on Saturday night that both sides have agreed in principle to the rules and procedures regarding talks going forward but that this does not mean the framework has been finalized. 

“The negotiation teams of both sides have ONLY agreed in principle to the 21 articles of the rules & procedures, with the exception of the introduction because it requires further discussion & clarification. Therefore in the joint meeting on Nov 17, 2020 in the presence … of the host country, it was decided that the rules & procedures will only be considered final once it is presented to the general meeting of both delegations & approved there,” the Afghan Republic’s statement read. 

“The IRoA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) has shared our understanding of the elements of the introduction with the other side (Taliban),” read the statement.

This statement followed soon after Naeem Wardak, the Taliban’s spokesman in Doha posted on Twitter that the “procedure” to take the intra-Afghan negotiations forward was finalized between the two sides on November 15. 

In a series of tweets Naeem said: “The procedure of Intra-Afghan negotiations between the negotiating teams was completed and finalized in 21 articles on the 15th of November 2020.”

He said this framework was then interpreted in the presence of the “host/facilitator country”, that being Qatar, two days later – on November 17. 

“A copy of it was handed over to the host/facilitator country after it was approved by both negotiating teams,” he tweeted.

This comes after reports first emerged around November 23 that there had been a breakthrough in stalled talks in Doha, which officially started on September 12. 

Sources said early this week that Afghanistan Republic’s chief negotiator Massoom Stanikzai and presidential peace advisor Salam Rahimi were in Kabul to discuss progress with President Ashraf Ghani. 

But both parties to the talks remained tight-lipped about any progress.

In fact, Presidential Palace spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said at a press conference on Wednesday that no progress had been made in Doha regarding peace talks.

Sediqqi said the Taliban’s demands contradict the Afghan Constitution but he did confirm that Stanikzai had been in Kabul.

Seddiqi said the republic’s negotiating team will hold discussions with the Taliban in respect of the Afghan Constitution and on the advice of the peace consultative Jirga.

Wednesday’s denial comes after some sources told Ariana News on condition of anonymity that Afghan leaders had approved some points that had been contested – leading to a breakthrough in the talks.

 

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Khamenei promises retaliation for killing of Iranian scientist

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday Tehran would retaliate over the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, who the West claimed was heading up a secret nuclear weapons program for Iran. 

Khamenei said in a statement scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had been killed “by brutal mercenaries”. 

“Two important issues should be seriously put on the agenda by all those involved, first, the pursuit of this crime and the definitive punishment of its perpetrators and commanders, and second, the pursuit of the martyr’s (Fakhrizadeh) scientific and technical efforts in all the areas in which he was involved. 

Khamenei who has said Tehran never sought nuclear arms and pledged in his statement to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after gunmen ambushed him in his car near Tehran.

Reuters reported that the killing, which Iran’s president was swift to blame on Israel, threatens to spark a new Middle East confrontation in the final weeks of US President Donald Trump’s term.

It could also complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration. Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed with Tehran.

Israel’s N12 news channel meanwhile said Israeli embassies around the world had been put on high alert after the Iranian threats of retaliation. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised cabinet meeting that Iran would respond “at the proper time.”

“Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.

Israel has declined to comment on the killing. The White House, Pentagon, US State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden’s transition team, Reuters reported.

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Kabul doctor arrested for raping 10-year-old boy 

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said Saturday morning that a Kabul doctor has been arrested and charged with sexual assault after allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy. 

Saleh said in his daily report on Facebook, after the 6.30am security meeting, that he has discussed the issue with the Ministry of Public Health and requested the doctor’s license to practice be revoked. 

Saleh said the doctor, named Sifat Assadullah, son of Azizullah, had worked at the Zulfiqar Hospital but that he will be barred from ever practicing medicine again. 

Saleh also said Kabul police had arrested three kidnappers in the Karte Parwan area in Kabul. He said the gang had kidnapped a 55-year-old man and had demanded ransom money for his return. 

However, the hostage was killed. He said the victim’s family had asked for privacy in the wake of the man’s death and that no further details be released. 

Saleh also reported that in the past forty-eight hours, Kabul’s National Security Directorate (NDS) had 11 members of the Taliban and ISIS groups, including an 11-year-old boy. 

“Among these 11 people is an under-age young man named Idris, who was encouraged and groomed by the Taliban to be a suicide bomber. 

“Fortunately, a disaster was prevented. Idris’s father was also arrested for hiding his son’s affiliation with the Taliban.” He said the family lives in PD5 of Kabul. 

In a report back on the Kabul University attack earlier this month, Saleh said the NDS has asked for more time for their investigations. 

Saleh indicated he was not withholding information on the case but said: “My commitment to the people of Afghanistan is that from now on, the cases that are completed are no longer private and will be given to the people uncensored. 

“People have the right to access basic information about terrorism and the crimes committed by Taliban and others.”

Saleh’s meetings with security chiefs take place every morning at 6.30am where the First Vice President is addressed on progress being made in open cases and of arrests and other achievements by security forces in the preceding 24 hours. 

These meetings are part of Saleh’s plan to clean up Kabul and rid the city of criminals and terrorists. 

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