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US envoy meets Indian NSA to talk about Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: April 7, 2016)

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The United States’ Special Representative for Afghanistan, Richard Olson, met with Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, ahead of a key meeting scheduled for next week of the four-nation group seeking to bring about an end to conflict between Afghanistan and the Taliban, Indian government sources said.

An Indian government official familiar with the talks said their discussion centred on evolving a regional strategy to back the 170,000-strong Afghan army, which suffered a record 5,500 dead and 14,000 injured last year.

Next week’s meeting of the so-called quadrilateral, made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, comes among growing pessimism that Islamabad will deliver on long-standing promises to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table — the keystone of the international community’s efforts to end the conflict.

Faced with Taliban rejection of negotiations, and an offensive that has claimed swathes of territory, Afghanistan has been calling on regional states, including India, to step up supplies of military aid. India has so far supplied four Mi35 assault helicopters, as well as three light helicopters, but Afghanistan hopes for An32 medium-transports, as well as artillery and logistics equipment.

“The casualties the Afghan military has suffered are staggering”, said Lieutenant-General RK Sawhney, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation. “By way of comparison, it is as if a corps and a half in Jammu and Kashmir, out of the three corps India has there, had suffered these kinds of losses”.

“It is remarkable that the Afghan army has continued to fight”, General Sawhney said, “but it will need long-term assistance from neighbours like India, who will also suffer serious consequences if the country collapses”.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan is scheduled to fall from 9,800 at present to 5,500 by the start of 2017 — further eroding the training of troops, and the ability to provide them with logistical assistance.

In the months after he took power, President Ashraf Ghani had staked his political legitimacy on promises by Pakistan to push the Taliban into talks, but hopes have waned with the Islamist insurgency repeatedly rejecting calls to come to the table. However, hopes have waned that Islamabad is committed to a power-sharing deal involving the Taliban, as the insurgent group has registered its most significant territorial gains since 2001.

“Everyone agrees that a political settlement will at the end of the day be necessary to bring about an end to the Afghan conflict”, a senior United States official said. “However, there isn’t much reason for an over-abundance of optimism that this will happen”.

Last month, hopes rose after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy Advisor, Sartaj Aziz, broke with decades of denial that the Taliban leadership was in the country, and said the government had “restricted their movements, restricted their access to hospitals and other facilities, and threatened them that ‘If you don’t come forward and talk, we will at least expel you’”.

The Taliban had been told, he said, that “we have hosted [them] enough for 35 years, and we can’t do it anymore because the whole world is blaming us just by [their] presence here”.

In the days after that declaration, though, a hoped-for meeting between the Taliban and Afghan officials failed to materialise, with the insurgents rejecting any direct dialogue until multiple preconditions were met.

Taliban chief Aktar Muhammad Mansoor, who operates out of the Pakistani city of Quetta, has in the meanwhile consolidated his authority, bringing on board the eldest son and a brother of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the group’s founding leader. Mullah Omar was revealed, last year, to have died over two years ago — sparking large-scale rifts within the insurgent leadership.

Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of Mullah Omar, was named head of the Taliban’s Preaching and Guidance Commission, while Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, his eldest son, was named military chief for operations in 15 provinces.

“Both of the new officials of Islamic Emirate were given advise [sic] by the Amir ul Mumineen [the Commander of the Faithful, the title for Mullah Mansour] who later prayed to Allah Almighty for their success in their current duties,” a Taliban statement said.

 

The Indian Express

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Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, has died aged 91

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has died at the age of 91, state media reported.

Sheikh Sabah’s 83-year-old half-brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed, has been named by the cabinet as his successor.

In a message of condolence to the royal family and Kuwaiti nationals, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said it was with “great regret and emotion” that he had received the news of the Emir’s death. 

“The Emir of Kuwait was one of the most important and prominent figures in the Islamic world and one of the good friends of Afghanistan. During his reign, he always had good intentions towards our country and paid special attention to the development of friendly and fraternal relations between the two countries,” said Ghani in a statement issued by the Presidential Palace.

“His Highness Sheikh Sabah during his reign performed valuable services for the advancement, progress and welfare of the people of his country,” said Ghani adding that he will always be remembered for the good work he had done. 

“On behalf of the government and people of Afghanistan, I express my deepest condolences and sympathy to the officials of the Kingdom of Kuwait, the family of the late Emir of Kuwait and the people of that country. I pray to God Almighty,” said Ghani. 

Afghanistan’s chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, who is currently on a three-day visit to Pakistan, also passed on his condolences. 

In a message on Twitter, Abdullah said: “Deeply saddened to hear the demise of His Royal Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, Amir of Kuwait. My thoughts and prayers are with Amir’s family, the people & government of Kuwait. His soul may rest in peace.”

The Emir had ruled the oil-rich Gulf state since 2006 and had overseen its foreign policy for more than 50 years and had been dubbed the “dean of Arab diplomacy” for his efforts to restore relations with states that backed Iraq during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, when Kuwait was invaded by Iraqi forces.

He also often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, including the ongoing diplomatic stand-off between Saudi Arabia, its allies and Qatar.

 

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Flash flood warning issued for nine provinces

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2020)

Afghanistan’s Meteorological Department (AMD) on Tuesday issued a flash flood warning for nine provinces, including Kabul and Parwan. 

AMD said on its website rain and possible flooding can be expected in Kabul, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Kapisa, Panjshir, Parwan, Nangarhar and Badakhshan provinces over the next 24 hours. 

Rainfall of between 10 and 20 mm has been forecast. 

This warning comes after August’s torrential rain across 13 provinces left close to 200 people dead and thousands homeless.

The worst-hit province was Parwan, which saw torrents of water destroy hundreds of homes in the provincial capital Charikar. 

 

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Almost 100 dead as Armenia, Azerbaijan clashes continue

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(Last Updated On: September 29, 2020)

Almost 100 people, including civilians, have been killed as battles between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued Tuesday, for the third day, over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. 

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan said that heavy fighting had continued overnight.

The self-proclaimed authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said 87 of their military personnel had been killed and 120 wounded since Sunday.

According to the Armenpress news agency, they put the fatality figure on the Azerbaijani side at nearly 400.

Azerbaijan has not revealed its military losses but has confirmed seven civilian deaths.

Although the fighting started in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory on Sunday, clashes appeared to be spilling over the border on Tuesday. 

Armenia’s defense ministry said a passenger bus had been hit by an Azerbaijani drone in the eastern Armenian city of Vardenis. There were no reports of casualties.

Azerbaijan earlier said two Azerbaijani civilians had been killed in Armenian shelling in Azerbaijan on Monday, following the deaths of five people from the same family a day earlier, BBC reported.

The UN Security Council meanwhile is expected to hold emergency talks on the issue Tuesday.

Both sides have mobilized more soldiers and Turkey on Monday was reportedly sending in Syrian rebel fighters to help Azerbaijan. 

In a statement on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said: “I am deeply disturbed by the reported loss of civilian lives and injuries, as well as damage to civilian property and infrastructure.”

She also urged “an immediate end to the fighting”.

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