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Veteran Afghan strongmen to form new front for talks with Taliban

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(Last Updated On: August 29, 2021)

A band of veteran Afghan leaders, including two regional strongmen, are angling for talks with the Taliban and plan to meet within weeks to form a new front for holding negotiations on the country’s next government, a member of a group said.

Khalid Noor, son of Atta Mohammad Noor, the once-powerful governor of northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province, said the group comprised of veteran ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and others opposed to the Taliban’s takeover.

“We prefer to negotiate collectively, because it is not that the problem of Afghanistan will be solved just by one of us,” Noor, 27, told Reuters in an interview from an undisclosed location.

“So, it is important for the entire political community of the country to be involved, especially the traditional leaders, those with power, with public support,” Noor said.

Atta Noor and Dostum, veterans of four decades of conflict in Afghanistan, both fled the country when the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif fell to the Taliban, without a fight.

The U.S.-backed government and military folded elsewhere as the Taliban swept into Kabul on August 15.

However, the backroom discussions are a sign of the country’s traditional strongmen coming back to life after the Taliban’s stunning military campaign.

It will be a challenge for any entity to rule Afghanistan for long without consensus between the country’s patchwork of ethnicities, most analysts say.

Unlike their previous period in power before 2001, the predominantly Pashtun Taliban did seek support from Tajiks, Uzbeks and other minorities as they prepared their offensive.

Despite a commitment to negotiations, Noor said there was a “huge risk” that the talks could fail, leading the group to already prepare for an armed resistance against the Taliban, Reuters reported.

“Surrender is out of the question for us,” said Noor, the youngest member of the erstwhile Afghan government’s team that held talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Ahmad Massoud, leader of Afghanistan’s last major outpost of anti-Taliban resistance, last week also said he hoped talks with the Taliban would lead to an inclusive government, failing which his forces were ready to fight.

It remains uncertain how much popular support is actually enjoyed by leaders like Atta Noor, widely accused of corruption, and Dostum, accused of multiple acts of torture and brutality, and described in a U.S. State Department report as a “quintessential warlord”. Both leaders deny the accusations.

The Taliban, already a formidable military force, are now in possession of an estimated 2,000 armoured vehicles and up to 40 aircraft, among other arms left behind by fleeing Afghan forces, potentially bolstering their firepower.

Still, Noor said the Taliban would not be able to hold out against a popular resistance.

“History has shown that no one in Afghanistan can rule by force, it is impossible,” the Western-educated politician said, “No matter how much support they have from international community, it will fail.”

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Turkish, US foreign ministers hold bilaterals on NATO summit sidelines

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his US counterpart Antony Blinken met on the sidelines of NATO summit in Latvian capital Riga on Wednesday Two foreign ministers held bilateral talks at the Atta Center, where the NATO Foreign Ministers summit was underway.

Before the meeting, Cavusoglu said Turkey is in contact with Ukraine and Russia to ease tensions, adding that sanctions on Moscow will not solve the crisis.

Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow has massed forces on the border with Ukraine, which is battling Russia-backed separatists who control part of its territory to the east, and Kyiv on Wednesday urged NATO to prepare sanctions on Russia.

Cavusoglu and Blinken were expected to discuss latest developments in the region, including Ukraine, Libya and Afghanistan.

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Three Russian aircraft with humanitarian aid arrive in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

Three Russian aircraft landed in Kabul on Wednesday carrying 36 tonnes of humanitarian aid, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

All three Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, involved in delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan would also evacuate Russian citizens, as well as citizens of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states, Russia’s Defense Ministry, said in a statement.

“Some three Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifters of the Russian Defense Ministry have delivered humanitarian aid to the Kabul airport and are boarding evacuees for departure from Afghanistan,” the statement read.

A total of over 380 Russians, citizens of the CSTO member states (mainly Kyrgyzstan), and Afghan students from Russian universities will fly out on the departing planes, the ministry said.

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India considers re-opening mission in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: December 1, 2021)

As countries slowly start reopening their embassies in Kabul, India is also reportedly considering the possibility of re-staffing its mission in Afghanistan.

So far, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all have a diplomatic presence in the country.

Japan and the EU have also discussed the possibility of returning to Afghanistan.

One senior Indian official told The Hindu on Wednesday that “establishing a presence in Afghanistan has nothing to do with recognition [of the IEA government]. It simply means that you would like to have people on the ground dealing with the new regime, to continue engagement with the people.”

He said the Modi government is not convinced about the need to re-open its mission, but that discussions are continuing on what India’s strategy should be, The Hindu reported.

At present, the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which was evacuated within two days of the IEA talking control, is intact and being guarded by IEA forces.

While calls from within the country to reopen grow, officials told The Hindu that much depends on what India’s other partners and friendly countries choose to do.

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