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US peace envoy says US will not walk away if peace talks fail

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(Last Updated On: October 3, 2020)

Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, stepped in this week to end the deadlock in Doha and said the US “will not walk away” from the war-torn country should the intra-Afghan negotiations fail. 

Speaking to NPR, Khalilzad stated Washington would not make the same mistake as the Soviet Union which withdrew abruptly from Afghanistan in 1989, resulting in a devastating civil war that eventually led to the Taliban rising to power. 

“We will not make the mistake that was made after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was to abandon Afghanistan. And the consequences were grave for Afghanistan because of the mistakes the Afghan leaders made,” he said. 

“Rather than coming together, forming a government, they fought each other while the rest of the world benefited from the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan and the Soviet disintegration, which was partially helped by their conquest or attempted conquest of Afghanistan.”

He said now was the time for Afghanistan to seize the opportunity to negotiate a roadmap “where groups of different ideas or ideologies, values, can coexist in the same country. 

“And at the same time, there is a lesson for the United States that we cannot abandon Afghanistan. We cannot turn our back.”

He said this did not mean the US necessarily needed to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan nor continue a war just to have a military presence – “but that if the conditions are right, [if] we don’t feel threatened, that we can withdraw our military forces or adjust them accordingly, but maintain focus, relations, economic assistance, political relations, diplomatic relations, to encourage the consolidation of a peace agreement, should it be arrived at by the Afghans.”

He stated the current peace talks situation was a moment for the Afghan leaders not to repeat the mistakes of the past, but instead to build a consensus-based system where all key players can participate, “and perhaps peace in Afghanistan can change the dynamics even regionally.”

The negotiating teams in Doha, have hit a sticking point and are still to finalize the foundations in which to continue peace talks. 

Two sticking points have emerged. Firstly the Taliban want Afghanistan to recognize the US-Taliban agreement as the foundation of the Afghan peace negotiations, and secondly that Hanafi Figh jurisprudence sets the religious legal guidelines for the talks.

However, reports indicate the Afghan team is not happy about recognizing the US-Taliban deal as the basis for talks as they were not party to the agreement. 

The Afghan republic’s team also feels strongly that issues that arise can be solved based on Hanafi Figh but that Shia Personal Status Law must also be taken into account.

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Taliban lays down conditions to attend Istanbul conference

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(Last Updated On: May 26, 2021)

The Taliban has said it will attend the U.S-proposed peace conference in Turkey on three conditions – the conference must be short, the agenda must not include decision-making on critical issues and the Taliban delegation should be low level. 

A senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told VOA: “Our leadership has proposed that the Istanbul meeting should not be longer than three days.”

Another senior Taliban leader also confirmed the news when approached by VOA.

The Istanbul Conference, designed to give momentum to stalled Doha peace talks, was proposed by the U.S. in April and was expected to be held in early May. However, the conference failed to materialize as the Taliban refused to attend. 

VOA reported that the head of the Qatar-based Taliban negotiation team, Abdul Hakeem, and several key members of the Taliban’s Qatar office, met with the group’s leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and some members of the Taliban leadership council. 

According to VOA, Hakeem was accompanied by Mullah Fazil, Mullah Shireen and Mullah Abdul Manan, all negotiation team members and that the consultations with Akhundzada lasted a month before concluding last week. 

Earlier reports indicated the deliberations were conducted in Pakistan where the Taliban leadership is believed to live. 

VOA reported that the Taliban’s decision on the Istanbul conference is a result of Pakistani and Qatari efforts, among other countries.   

“The Taliban leaders were basically not in favor of participation in the Istanbul conference, but they said they will attend with conditions and on request of Pakistan and Qatar,” the Taliban leader told VOA.   

The leader, who was privy to internal consultations, did not give details as to who will represent the Taliban, VOA reported.   

Nader Nadery, from the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team, told VOA that their side was unaware of this development. 

He said nothing had been officially shared with them. 

According to VOA, the United States, Turkey, and Afghanistan had proposed that at least one or more senior leaders other than the representatives of the Taliban negotiation team in Doha lead the Taliban team in Istanbul. VOA reported that officials from these countries have said they do not believe the Qatar office envoys, including Mullah Baradar, have the authority to make decisions in the talks.     

Initially, the U.S. proposed a 10-day meeting so the Taliban and Afghan Republic’s team could resolve differences and make some critical decisions. 

But VOA reported that according to the Taliban leader, the group’s senior leadership did not want Istanbul to be a decision-making platform, and they did not want a specific agenda for the meeting.   

VOA also reported that the Taliban leader said the group would not declare a ceasefire at the moment and that this issue would not be declared during intra-Afghan negotiations. 

 

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Fears of Taliban takeover post troop withdrawal are overblown: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2021)

The US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday predictions that the Taliban will quickly overrun Afghan government forces and conquer Kabul once U.S. and coalition forces have withdrawn are unduly pessimistic.

Testifying before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Khalilzad said: “I personally believe that the statements that their (Afghan) forces will disintegrate and the Talibs will take over in short order are mistaken.”

His comments came as committee members expressed concern that President Joe Biden’s decision to fully withdraw all troops by September 11 will lead to chaos and intensified civil war.

AP reported that Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and withdrawal critic, asserted that there is “zero chance” the Taliban will abide by the commitments their leaders made in a February 2020 agreement with the Trump administration, which included engaging in sustained peace negotiations and severing all forms of cooperation with and support for al-Qaida.

“It seems all but certain the Taliban will try to overrun the country and return it to a pre-9/11 state after we have withdrawn,” McCaul said. 

“They’ve already ramped up their attacks, taking new territory and bases since the (Biden) announcement was made. Without a military presence in country, the U.S. is giving them room to deepen their relationship with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, who may seek to launch external attacks on us and our allies from the country once again.”

Khalilzad argued that the Taliban have reason not to push for a military victory and instead pursue a negotiated political settlement that could give them international legitimacy and removal from certain American and United Nations sanctions. 

“They say they seek normalcy in terms of relations — acceptability, removal from sanctions, not to remain a pariah,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad said the U.S. military withdrawal is proceeding “so far so good,” and added: “We expect that to continue.” 

He said diplomatic efforts are underway to seek agreements with neighboring countries to position U.S. counterterrorism forces within strike distance of Afghanistan to be able to respond to future threats.

 

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Five military facilities handed over to Defense Ministry: CENTCOM

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2021)

U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that about 115 C-17 military cargo loads of material have been flown out of Afghanistan and more than 5,000 pieces of equipment have been turned over to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction.

According to a statement issued by CENTCOM, the U.S. has officially handed over five facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. 

“U.S. Central Command estimates that we have completed between 13-20% of the entire retrograde process,” the statement read.

The foreign troops withdrawal process started officially on May 1 and according to U.S. President Joe Biden it will be complete by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States. 

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