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US closes five military bases in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: July 15, 2020)

US Department of Defense has confirmed that it has closed five bases in Afghanistan as part of the Doha agreement to reduce forces in the country. 

In a statement released on July 14, the Pentagon said that as specified in the agreement, the United States has reduced forces to 8,600 in Afghanistan.

“We have met this obligation. US forces in Afghanistan remain in the mid-8,000s and five bases formerly occupied by US forces have been transferred to our Afghan partners,” Pentagon said.

The US noted that its military presence in Afghanistan remains focused on capabilities- not numbers.

“We will continue to execute our counterterrorism mission while simultaneously supporting the 38-nation NATO Resolute Support Train, Advise, Assist mission and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as they work to secure peace in the country,” read the statement.

The US also called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to “reduce violence and embark on intra-Afghan negotiations capable of achieving a negotiated and lasting peace for Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban said the US-Taliban agreement was a zero-sum game for all sides.

“We reached a political settlement through negotiations which means it (the US-Taliban agreement) was a win-win situation for both sides,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban said.

It comes as the Taliban has intensified attacks on the Afghan forces in a number of provinces. In its recent attack on the NDS office in Samangan province, the militants killed or wounded dozens of civilians and Afghan soldiers.

The attack provoked wide condemns as the US Special Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said that the attack was a “contradicts” to the group’s commitments highlighted in the Doha deal.

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Afghan peace talks team briefs Ghani ahead of historic meeting with Taliban

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

President Ashraf Ghani met with the Afghan government’s negotiating team on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming peace talks with the Taliban which are expected to start on Sunday in Doha.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai briefed Ghani on the team’s activities and preparations following the Loya Jirga’s decision in favor of the release of the final 400 Taliban prisoners – which had been a stumbling block in the way of kickstarting negotiations.

Stanekzai stated they will sit around the negotiating table with the Taliban as a united team in favor of “the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” and they will consider the interests of the people.

Meanwhile, Ghani said the Loya Jirga drew a peace roadmap for government, and that they are “committed to the implementation of that.”

“We are committed to peace, the goal is to end the war in a fundamental way,” Ghani added.

He said the peace talks team will negotiate a suitable and fair peace deal with the Taliban as it is in the best interests of the people.

“After the decree pardoning 400 Taliban prisoners was signed, the people expect that there will be no more obstacles and excuses for the commencement of the negotiations between the Taliban and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” Ghani said.

The latest developments on the political front have been welcomed by global leaders and many have hailed the decisions as an historic opportunity to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Afghans themselves have also welcomed the developments and the business community has said peace will undoubtedly help boost the country’s economy and create much-needed jobs.

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COVID-19

Russia registered world’s first COVID-19 vaccine: Putin

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his country has succeeded to develop a vaccine that “forms stable cell and antibody immunity” against the COVID-19.

Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said: “As far as I know, this morning for the first time in the world a vaccine against the novel coronavirus infection was registered.” 

The Russian Tass news agency reported that the vaccine was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya institute and its clinical trials were over.

The vaccine was approved by the country’s Health Ministry after less than two months of human testing.

“I know this very well, because one of my daughters got vaccinated, so in this sense, she took part in testing,” Putin said. He noted that after the first vaccine shot, his daughter had a 38°C fever, and on the next day, a fever slightly higher than 37°C. And then, after the second shot, she had a slight fever again, and then everything was fine, she is feeling well and has a high [antibody] count,” Putin said quoted by the Tass.

The vaccine still has to complete final trials but Russia’s move could pave the way for mass vaccination.

Reuters reported that the vaccine’s approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.

Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia this week urged the health ministry to postpone approval until that final trial had been successfully completed.

In a letter to the ministry, it said there were high risks associated with registering a drug before that happened.

“It is during this phase that the main evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy is collected, as well as information on adverse reactions that could appear in certain groups of patients: people with weakened immunity, people with concomitant diseases and so forth,” it said.

Some international experts have also questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine.

“Normally you need a large number of people to be tested before you approve a vaccine,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, currently testing CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials.

“In that respect, I think it’s reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven’t already been tested.”

Duncan Matthews, a professor of intellectual property law at the Queen Mary University of London, said news of a potential COVID-19 vaccine was to be welcomed, “but safety must be the priority”.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have fast-track approval procedures for emergency humanitarian use and we need to see evidence that Russia is adopting an equally prudent approach,” Matthews said in an emailed comment.

More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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Private sector welcomes peace move which could bring enormous investment opportunities

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Peace in Afghanistan would provide enormous opportunities for local and international businesses to invest in the country, in turn boosting the economy and aiding in its overall development. 

Afghan business owners and leaders in the private sector have said the war has created major obstacles for investors in the country over the past 19 years. 

Following President Ashraf Ghani’s decree, issued on Monday afternoon, to release the remaining 400 prisoners so as to pave the way for peace talks, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI) urged all warring parties to seize the opportunity to bring about peace so as to improve the country’s dismal economic climate.

“We welcome the Loya Jirga’s decision to release Taliban prisoners, which could have a positive impact on the country’s economic growth,” said Khanjan Alokozai, an ACCI member said. 

Officials at the Afghanistan Chamber of Mines and Industries seconded this and said peace in Afghanistan would not only increase investment opportunities but also create much-needed jobs. 

“With the release of the prisoners, our hope is that dialogue between Afghans will begin, as this will increase investment in the country,” said Sakhi Ahmad Paiman, deputy director of the Chamber of Mines and Industries.

Ghani’s decree comes a day after the consultative Loya Jirga voted in favor of releasing the hardcore Taliban insurgents, as per the Doha agreement between the US and Taliban in February – which was one condition that needed to be fulfilled before intra-Afghan peace talks could start.

Meanwhile, economic experts are also optimistic about the opportunity for peace and for what is hoped will be the resultant economic growth in the country.

Hakimullah Siddiqui, an economist, said: “Both sides of the war must seize the opportunity to stabilize and grow the country economically, in order to increase economic opportunities.”

Other economists said peace would open up vast opportunities for investments in all sectors, including mining, agriculture, services, energy, and manufacturing. 

Talks are expected to officially begin on Sunday, in Doha, Qatar, between government and the Taliban.

The Afghan government’s negotiating team is expected to leave Kabul on Wednesday.

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