Afghanistan

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Another round of peace talks between Afghanistan's Taliban and the United States is tentatively set for Feb. 25, a Qatari foreign ministry official said on Sunday, after a draft pact was reached to potentially end the United States' longest war.

January 27, 2019 - Next round of Afghanistan talks tentatively set for Feb. 25
Next round of Afghanistan talks tentatively set for Feb. 25 | Reuters

“Both parties agreed tentatively to reconvene on February 25th,” the official told Reuters.

The draft deal, agreed after six days of talks last week, stipulates that U.S. troops would leave within 18 months of the agreement being signed, potentially ending the war more than 17 years after American-led forces invaded Afghanistan.


Afghan peace talks 'encouraging,' acting Pentagon chief says
Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Monday he was encouraged by U.S. peace talks with Afghan Taliban insurgents but added he had not yet been tasked with planning a full withdrawal of troops from the more than 17-year-old war.

Afghans do not want foreign forces long term: Afghan president
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday the presence of foreign forces was based on an international agreement and they will not be required in the long term.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
  • President Ashraf Ghani not joining discussions in Russia
  • Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s main rival for the presidency, will also attend the talks
February 03, 2019 - Taliban, Afghan politicians to hold peace talks in Moscow
Taliban, Afghan politicians to hold peace talks in Moscow


Taliban delegates will hold their first meeting with Afghan opposition figures in Moscow on Tuesday, in a move that could “isolate” President Ashraf Ghani from the peace process.

Government spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi said the talks were “not in Afghanistan’s interest,” and accused Moscow of breaking past pledges to Kabul to facilitate direct meetings with the insurgents.

The Taliban’s senior negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, who represented them in discussions with US diplomats in Qatar in January, will lead the group’s delegation.

He, along with the Taliban’s ex-ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, will meet with Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, and a number of powerful opposition politicians, including Atta Muhammad Noor and Mohammed Mohaqiq

Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s main rival for the presidency, will also attend the talks.

We consider this meeting in Moscow a significant step in intra-Afghan dialogue,” Atmar said in a statement.

Afghan lawyer Raihana Azad, who is also attending, doubted the discussions would result in any substantive outcome because the government was refusing to participate.

“We want lasting peace and want transparent discussions, but this meeting will not yield much as the government will be absent,” she told Arab News.

Understanding
The Russian Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile, said: “We hope that intra-Afghan dialogue will lead to understanding, and bring the warring sides in the conflict closer together.”
 
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sToRmR1dR

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
  • President Ashraf Ghani not joining discussions in Russia
  • Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s main rival for the presidency, will also attend the talks
February 03, 2019 - Taliban, Afghan politicians to hold peace talks in Moscow
Taliban, Afghan politicians to hold peace talks in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at press conference says that US wants secretly to take the control over the dialogue with the Taliban.

US trying to take full control of talks with Taliban, says Lavrov
February 04, 2019
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at press conference says that US wants secretly to take the control over the dialogue with the Taliban.

US trying to take full control of talks with Taliban, says Lavrov
February 04, 2019
The Taliban have taken a surprising turn and are modifying some of their stringent ways. Having been exposed to the Russian's form of Diplomacy, the Taliban are more active now in participating in the government-organized peace process. The progress the Taliban have made so far, involving a joint declaration in the form of a nine-point agenda doesn't include the US's intervention. The Taliban have voiced that they want the US "out of Afghanistan" including their "monitors" during the Peace Process.

Below is a remarkable essay on how "Diplomacy and bringing the sides together at the Peace table" can transform a war torn Country towards possibly reaching a political solution to this conflict. It's - History - in the making!

From the caves of the Hindu Kush mountains to conference rooms in swanky Moscow hotels, the Taliban have come a long way in their national liberation struggle and are proving themselves by the day to be the most capable stewards of post-US Afghanistan after their recent travels to the Russian capital turned them into seasoned diplomats.
2019-02-07 - The Taliban’s Moscow Travels Have Turned Them Into Seasoned Diplomats

The Taliban’s Moscow Travels Have Turned Them Into Seasoned Diplomats - Eurasia Future

The Intra-Afghan Peace Dialogue

The Taliban are still officially recognized as an “international terrorist group” by the UN in general and many of its member states in particular, but that hasn’t stopped the most important Great Powers from politically interacting with them for pragmatic reasons as every country in the world (except for India) excitedly waits to see whether Trump will really clinch a peace deal with the group prior to withdrawing American forces from the war-torn nation. The month-long interim period before the resumption of US-Taliban peace talks in Doha at the end of February was importantly marked by an intra-Afghan peace dialogue that just took place in the Russian capital and which was organized by the Council of Afghan Society in Russia. This meeting wasn’t formally part of the Moscow peace process but obviously complemented it and was greatly aided by the previous trust-building inroads that Russia made with all responsible Afghan actors through Pakistan’s facilitation.

From “Cavemen” To “Statesmen”

The gathering was noteworthy for many reasons, not least of which was the powerful symbolism of the Taliban-led prayer ceremony that took place in Moscow before the event. This National Liberation Movement has come a long way from the caves of the Hindu Kush mountains to conference rooms in swanky Moscow hotels, and the fact that they even led their former adversaries prayers (and in the capital of their Old Cold War-era Soviet enemies, no less!) spoke to just how powerful they’ve become over the past 18 years. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Taliban are proving themselves to be the most capable stewards of post-US Afghanistan, and their recent travels to Moscow as both official dignitaries participating in the government-organized peace process and private citizens meeting with their fellow compatriots have turned them into seasoned diplomats. Nowhere is this seen more prominently than in the nine-point agenda agreed to after the aforementioned meeting.

The Nine-Point Agenda

According to Afghan media outlet TOLOnews, the joint declaration is as follows:
1. All parties in this conference have agreed that a dignified and lasting peace is the aspiration of all the people of Afghanistan and this principle has been achieved in Moscow.

2. All parties agreed that in view of the current sensitive situation, the intra-Afghan dialogue must continue on regular basis.

3. All parties agreed to support the ongoing talks in Qatar and consider these talks a positive step towards ending the imposed war on Afghanistan.

4. All parties have agreed that systematic reforms be put in place in all national institutions including the security sector after a peace deal is signed

5. All parties agreed that the cooperation of regional countries and major countries are essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan

6. All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralize government with all Afghan ethnicities having a role in it, protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.

7. All parties agreed that to determine lasting peace in Afghanistan, the following points are important : the complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, asking all countries to avoid interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, providing assurance to the international community that Afghanistan will not be used against any other nation, protection of social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles, undertaking efforts for attracting international assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

8. All parties agreed that in order to create the atmosphere of trust and promote peace, in the first step, it is important that these items are taken into consideration, tackling the issue of all those inmates who are old, or suffering uncurable diseases or have completed their prison sentences and the removal of leaders of the Taliban from the UN blacklist, opening of an official political office in Qatar for acceleration of peace talks.

9. All parties agreed that the next intra-Afghan meeting to be held in Doha, Qatar as soon as possible. Agreement was also made to work further on some other important issues related to the peace process in Afghanistan.”


Analytical Interpretations

And here’s how each point can be analytically interpreted:

  1. All Afghans regardless of ethnicity want to live in peace with one another, understanding that a final settlement to their conflict mustn’t end with one group dominating the others.
  2. Moscow will probably host more such intra-Afghan dialogues in the future, which will grow more important as the US-Taliban peace talks and the Russian-organized peace process progress
  3. Practically every Afghan political force of significance apart from Kabul (which is increasingly irrelevant nowadays anyhow) wants to see the US-Taliban peace talks succeed.
  1. The Taliban will probably become part of every national institution by the end of the war, and its fighters will likely be recognized as a legitimate part of a reconstituted Afghan National Army.
  1. The international multilateralization of the Afghan peace process with the full involvement of all relevant regional stakeholders (especially Russia and Pakistan) is a prerequisite for peace.
  1. Afghanistan will become a militarily neutral and politically centralized Islamic Republic, importantly precluding its participation in the Hybrid War on CPEC and preventing the country’s “internal partition”.
  1. Post-war Afghanistan wants no foreign forces (also implying mercenaries), will base its socio-political system on Islamic principles, and is courting international investment (e.g. Silk Road, NSTC, RuPak Rail).
  1. A prisoner swap and the delisting of Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist are the next steps in the confidence-building measures that have already been undertaken by the Afghan parties.
  1. The next intra-Afghan dialogue will take place in Qatar, which might precede, coincide with, or closely follow the next round of US-Taliban peace talks there.
Additional Insight
  1. All Afghans regardless of ethnicity want to live in peace with one another, understanding that a final settlement to their conflict mustn’t end with one group dominating the others.
  1. Moscow will probably host more such intra-Afghan dialogues in the future, which will grow more important as the US-Taliban peace talks and the Russian-organized peace process progress.
  1. Practically every Afghan political force of significance apart from Kabul (which is increasingly irrelevant nowadays anyhow) wants to see the US-Taliban peace talks succeed.
  1. The Taliban will probably become part of every national institution by the end of the war, and its fighters will likely be recognized as a legitimate part of a reconstituted Afghan National Army.
  1. The international multilateralization of the Afghan peace process with the full involvement of all relevant regional stakeholders (especially Russia and Pakistan) is a prerequisite for peace.
  1. Afghanistan will become a militarily neutral and politically centralized Islamic Republic, importantly precluding its participation in the Hybrid War on CPEC and preventing the country's internal partition.
  1. Post-war Afghanistan wants no foreign forces (also implying mercenaries), will base its socio-political system on Islamic principles, and is courting international investment (e.g. Silk Road, NSTC, RuPak Rail).
  1. A prisoner swap and the delisting of Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist are the next steps in the confidence-building measures that have already been undertaken by the Afghan parties.
  1. The next intra-Afghan dialogue will take place in Qatar, which might precede, coincide with, or closely follow the next round of US-Taliban peace talks there.

Additional Insight:
Bearing this insight in mind, a few significant points can be made:

* The Taliban are displaying flexible pragmatism that shows just how much its peacemaking outlook has changed from the rigidly dogmatic stance that it was previously known for.

* A comparatively “softer” interpretation of Islamic law will afford more benefits to women and minorities (both ethnic and political) than they had before 2001.

* The Taliban want to build an inclusive Afghanistan that they recognize is impossible to achieve if they continue their armed quest to “seize the whole country” by force and obtain a “monopoly on power”.

* The most efficient means of implementing the agreed-upon nine-point agenda is to write a new constitution like the Taliban recently suggested.

* Russia is becoming a diplomatically indispensable party to the Afghan peace process, and this is a direct outcome of the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership.

* Building off the above, a Syrian-like “constitutional committee” could be assembled with meetings possibly taking place in Kabul, Islamabad, Doha, Tashkent, Tehran, Istanbul, Moscow, and Beijing.

* It’s strongly implied that the multilateral internationalism of the Afghan peace process and the country’s intended future neutrality might see it join the SCO and Golden Ring geopolitical projects.

* Afghanistan’s dire need for reconstruction aid means that it won’t discriminate against potential patrons, thereby allowing American and Indian companies an opportunity to remain in the country.

* The Taliban have rapidly “evolved” from “cavemen” to “statesmen”, and this is largely due to the newfound pragmatism that they’ve shown since traveling to Moscow during their high-profile trips.

Concluding Thoughts

Peace in Afghanistan is more of a realistic prospect than ever before following Trump’s decision to apply his “America First” strategy to the conflict after he finally realized that it’s an unwinnable quagmire of endless blood and treasure for his nation. The Taliban’s recent large-scale attacks of the past couple of months occurred during the “winter offseason” and taught Trump that the Taliban are no longer taking any time off from their armed struggle. This coincided with the Republicans’ loss of the House during the November midterm elections and inspired Trump to reach a peace deal with the group as soon as possible in order to gain the upper hand with voters ahead of the heated 2020 presidential election. Nevertheless, no substantive progress could have been made had it not been for the “statesmen”-like diplomatic pragmatism that the Taliban have recently displayed after their Moscow meetings, which might be the turning point towards possibly reaching a political solution to this conflict.
Russia offers to help U.S. on Afghan peace talks with Taliban: RIA
Russia is ready to help the United States advance its negotiations with the Taliban on withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, the RIA news agency cited Russia's foreign ministry as saying on Thursday. The comments came a day after Russia hosted peace talks in Moscow between the Taliban and opposition Afghan politicians

Afghan Taliban: no date yet for U.S. troops drawdown
A Taliban official said on Wednesday that no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government for the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and that negotiations were still underway.

No deadline for U.S.' Afghan troop withdrawal: Taliban delegate to talks
The time of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is not fixed yet and negotiations on the issue are in progress, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban delegation to peace talks on Moscow, said on Wednesday.

With eye on Afghanistan talks, Trump vows to stop 'endless wars'
President Donald Trump told Americans on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advance to end America's longest war.

Taliban reject Trump's suggestion of lingering U.S. counter-terrorism presence
The Taliban reiterated on Wednesday their long-held demand that all foreign troops get out of Afghanistan, rejecting a suggestion by U.S. President Donald Trump of a lingering U.S. focus on counter-terrorism after troops are drawn down.

Afghan president says his government must be 'decision-maker' in any peace deal
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday no peace deal between the Taliban and the United States could be finalised without involving his government as "the decision-maker".
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Pakistan, long at odds with the United States over the war in Afghanistan, has begun to play a behind-the-scenes but central role in supporting U.S. peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including by facilitating travel to negotiations.

February 8, 2019 - Exclusive: Once spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to US-Taliban talks
Exclusive: Once spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to...
FILE PHOTO - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released January 18, 2019. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released January 18, 2019. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS

The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants’ families, the insurgents say.

The Pakistani role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having. Sources caution its help could be temporary.

The Taliban also do not want to appear beholden to Islamabad, which has long denied U.S. accusations that it provides safe haven and assistance to insurgents as a way to preserve influence in neighboring Afghanistan throughout its more than 17-year-old war.

Taliban sources said Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table was instrumental. In one instance, Islamabad sent a message to the militants through religious leaders that they had to talk to the United States or risk a cut-off in ties.

They detained Taliban members’ families as a way to pressure them, a Taliban leader told Reuters.

“I haven’t seen Pakistan so serious before,” the senior Taliban leader said.

The Taliban leader, who declined to be named, said Pakistan had kept “unprecedented pressure” on the militants and their close relatives over the past few months.

“They made it clear to us that we (Taliban) have to talk to the U.S. and Afghan government,” the Taliban leader said.

U.S. General Joseph Votel, who leads the U.S. military’s Central Command, hinted at some kind of Pakistani assistance in a Senate hearing this week, saying Islamabad had “played a more helpful role.”

To be sure, current and former U.S. officials still are highly skeptical of Islamabad and do not see any steps by Pakistan that could not be easily reversed.

Washington appears for now to be sticking to a total freeze in U.S. assistance to Islamabad imposed over a year ago over its alleged support to the Taliban. Trump at the time accused Islamabad of rewarding past U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”

“There’s some self-interest obviously involved here ... I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they’re now on board with the peace process,” said Jason Campbell, who was the Pentagon’s Afghanistan country director until last year.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at press conference says that US wants secretly to take the control over the dialogue with the Taliban.
US trying to take full control of talks with Taliban, says Lavrov
February 04, 2019
Events are unfolding in Afghanistan that's supporting FM Sergey Lavrov's statements - "that the US wants to secretly control dialogue with the Taliban" in the Peace talks". Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has arrived in Afghanistan in an unannounced trip, after the Taliban refused to include Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the Peace talks and the Taliban refused an offer by Ghani to move the Taliban's existing office site in Doha, Qatar - to Afghanistan.

Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on Monday and said it was important the Afghan government is involved in talks, from which it has so far been excluded, to end the 17-year-old war.
February 10, 2019 - Acting Pentagon Chief lands in Afghanistan, supports Kabal role in Peace talks

Acting Pentagon chief supports Kabul role in peace talks
Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali
Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali

Shanahan, who will meet U.S. troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on his first trip in his new role, said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

He also said the United States had important security interests in the region.

Ghani’s government has been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and U.S. envoys, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government a U.S. puppet. Kabul is also concerned that a sharp drawdown of U.S. forces could lead to chaos in the region.

“It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan told a small group of reporters traveling with him on the unannounced trip.

Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with U.S. President Donald Trump.

He said he could not make any guarantees because U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading the talks.

He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then brief Trump on his findings.

The next round of talks is due in Qatar on Feb. 25.


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday offered the Taliban the possibility of opening an office in Afghanistan but the proposal was swiftly spurned by the group that is determined to keep his government out of accelerating peace talks.
February 10, 2019 - Afghan President offers Taliban local Office, but group wants Doha instead

Afghan president offers Taliban local office, but group wants Doha...
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2018.  REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani

Ghani has expressed alarm at the Taliban shutting his administration out of negotiations with the United States as well as recent Moscow talks with Afghan opposition politicians, and repeated earlier offers to give the group a secure official address to aid any future diplomacy between the two sides.

Nangarhar is a stronghold of the Taliban, the hardline Islamist movement that now controls or contests districts across nearly half the country, more than 17 years since they were toppled from power.

On Sunday he said Ghani was trying to harm the peace efforts with his latest offer.

Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognized by the international community and the United Nations,” Shahin said.

“By this, Ghani is trying to change the topic and harm the on-going peace efforts.”

Some 14,000 U.S. troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some U.S. forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Afghanistan has dismissed 12 election officials amid an investigation into corruption following problems with the organization of a general election last year, with fears growing that the purge could delay a July presidential election.

February 13, 2019 - Afghanistan sacks 12 election officials amid fraud investigation

Afghanistan sacks 12 election officials amid fraud investigation

President Ashraf Ghani’s government agreed to an amendment of the election law to improve transparency following meetings with political, civil society groups and opposition parties, and his spokesman said the removal of the 12 was a consequence.

“After the election law was amended in a grand consensus, endorsed by the cabinet and signed by the president, then the commissioners could no longer stay in their jobs,” said Shah Hussain Murtazawi, a presidential palace spokesman.

He did not elaborate on the reason for the sacking of the seven officials from the Independent Election Commission and five commissioners from the Election Complaints Commission.

Wasima Badghisi, one of the dismissed commissioners, said the decision was political and would not be accepted. Other were not immediately available for comment.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday the 12 officials were barred from leaving the country as an investigation had been launched into accusations of corruption, abuse of authority and incompetence.

The Transparent Election Foundation for Afghanistan, an independent election monitoring group, said the dismissals were a hasty political decision rather than a reform that would help the electoral process.

The parliamentary election was held on Oct. 20 after months of wrangling and delay, and marred by accusations of widespread fraud, including ballot-stuffing, technical problems with biometric registration equipment as well as attacks by Taliban insurgents.

Election authorities have yet to announce the final results.

New commissioners, once appointed, will face the task of preparing for the presidential election in which both Ghani and his chief executive, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, are candidates.

The presidential election was originally planned for April this year but was pushed back to July.

Many Afghans believe the vote may not take place on time.

Not only are election agencies dealing with the 12 sackings, but speculation is rising that a postponement might come as part of peace talks between United States and the Taliban to end more than 17 years of war.

The Taliban refuse to talk to Ghani and his government, branding them U.S. “puppets”, and would inevitably reject a presidential election they were not involved in.

U.S. to meet Taliban in Islamabad on Feb. 18: Taliban spokesman
Taliban negotiators will meet their U.S. counterparts on Feb. 18 in Pakistan's capital Islamabad as part of accelerating diplomacy to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Wednesday.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
A U.S. State Department spokesman on Tuesday declined to elaborate on a comment by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in which he called the Afghan Taliban terrorists.

U.S. declines to elaborate on Pompeo labeling Taliban terrorists March 6, 2019

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Speaking to a group of students in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, Pompeo said: “I have a team on the ground right now trying to negotiate with the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan.”

The United States has not declared the Taliban a terrorist organization.


Palladino said the peace talks in Doha are making progress but more work needed to be done to reach an agreement.


‘Time to Declare Victory!’ US Senators Seek to End ‘Forever War’ in Afghanistan Mar 06 2019
Senators Rand Paul and Tom Udall introduced a bill to end the ruinously expensive conflict in Afghanistan, declaring ‘victory’ in the longest war in US history after 18 years,
some $2 trillion and over 100,000 dead.

“It’s important to know when to declare victory and leave a war,” Paul (R-Ky.) said in a video announcing the American Forces Going Home After Noble Service (AFGHANS) Act, adding, “I think that time has long passed”, RT reported.

“Soon, US service members will begin deploying to Afghanistan to fight in a war that began before they were born,” Tom Udall (D-N.Mex.) said in a statement issued alongside the bill, pointing out that al-Qaeda – the stated target of the invasion way back in 2001 – is practically nonexistent in Afghanistan nearly two decades later, and Osama bin Laden is long dead.

The bill sets aside $7 billion for bonuses to the war’s veterans – which sounds like a lot until it is compared with the $51 billion yearly cost of actually fighting the war.

Paul listed a few of the more ridiculous “nation-building” projects the US has funded since getting bored with fighting the Taliban, including a luxury hotel in Kabul, a natural gas station for a nation where hardly any cars run on natural gas, and an electrification project for land under Taliban control.

"Why does Uncle Sam have to be Uncle Sap and pay for everything? The list is ongoing and incredibly insulting to American taxpayers," he noted.


At least 16 killed in bomb, gun attack in eastern Afghanistan March 6, 2019

An Afghan police officer stands guard near the site of an attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Parwiz
Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a construction company office in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday killing 16 employees of the Afghan company, a provincial official said.

The attack began when two suicide bombers set off their explosives outside the company office and gunmen then opened fire, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.

As well as the 16 dead at the company, including several of its guards, five attackers were killed - the two bombers and three gunmen, he said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar province, which is on the border with Pakistan.


Flash floods, snow and rain kill at least 59 in Afghanistan
Flash floods, heavy rains and snowfall have killed at least 59 people across Afghanistan during the past two weeks and left thousands homeless, with the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar the worst-hit, an Afghan official said on Wednesday.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I don't know who their interior designer is ... but they need to get rid of that rug! It looks like a snake den. Then again, maybe it is?

U.S. and Taliban negotiators wrapped up their longest round of peace talks on Tuesday with progress made but no agreement on when foreign troops might withdraw, officials from both sides said.

U.S., Taliban talks end for now with no Afghan peace deal
Undated Handout picture of U.S., Taliban and Qatar officials during a meeting for peace talks in Doha, Qatar. Qatari Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

Undated Handout picture of U.S., Taliban and Qatar officials during a meeting for peace talks in Doha, Qatar. Qatari Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

The 16 days of talks, in which the United States also sought assurances that the Taliban would not allow militant groups to use Afghanistan to stage attacks, are expected to resume in late March.

The negotiations in Doha, Qatar included the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and a U.S. team led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat, said the sides made progress on discussions about counter-terrorism assurances and a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“The conditions for peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides,” Khalilzad said on Twitter.

The Taliban have held multiple rounds of peace talks with the American team led by Khalilzad but have so far refused to talk to the Afghan government.

“When the agreement in draft about a withdrawal timeline and effective counter-terrorism measures is finalised, the Taliban and other Afghans, including the government, will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire,” Khalilzad said.

U.S., Taliban make 'meaningful progress' in talks: State Department

The United States and the Afghan Taliban made "meaningful progress" in recent talks and concluded that peace will require agreement on four main issues, including counterterrorism, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.

World Bank: Mideast Wars Cost $900bln in Economic Losses Since 2010
Wars in the Middle East have incurred an estimated $900 billion in economic losses since 2010, a senior World Bank official stated on Monday.

Mahmoud Mohieldin – the World Bank Group's senior vice president for the 2030 development agenda, UN relations and partnerships – said conflicts in Arab countries between 2010 and 2018 resulted in massive economic losses due to physical destruction and missed development opportunities, according to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).

Mohieldin cited the Arab Spring in 2011, followed by wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen.

He added that Arab countries have the worst income distribution in the world, with 10 percent of the population of these countries holding 60 percent of the national income. This ratio is closer to 45 percent in European countries.


The World Bank expects oil prices to stay between $69 and $74 per barrel in 2019 and 2020, Mohieldin noted.

The average price of crude oil among Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was $69.52 per barrel in 2018, according to Statista.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
The United States and Afghanistan clashed publicly on Thursday over U.S. peace talks with the Taliban, with a visiting Afghan official accusing the chief U.S. negotiator of "delegitimizing" the Kabul government by excluding it from the deliberations.

U.S.-Afghan tensions erupt over Kabul's exclusion from peace talks

The remarks by Hamdullah Mohib, a former ambassador to Washington who serves as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, drew a blistering rebuke from the State Department, which said they impeded U.S.-Afghan ties and the peace process.

The feud thrust into the open tensions that have been building between the allies over U.S. efforts to forge a peace pact with the Taliban paving the way for a U.S. troop withdrawal that Kabul fears could weaken its own negotiating position.

Mohib leveled a fierce attack on U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s conduct of the talks during a news conference at the Afghan embassy, accusing the Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat of a lack of transparency.


“Knowing Ambassador Khalilzad’s history, his own personal history, he has ambitions in Afghanistan. He was wanting to run for president twice,” said Mohib. “The perception in Afghanistan and people in government think that perhaps, perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy.”

Viceroy is a politically loaded term in South Asia as it was the title of the colonial administrator of British-ruled India.

Mohib’s comments were the most strident public complaints to date by an Afghan official over the Kabul’s government’s exclusion from the negotiations.

America’s Special Representative for Afghan affairs, Zalmay Khalilzad has announced that a preliminary draft agreement between the Afghan Taliban and Washington has been reached. Although it is clear that nothing has been finalised as of yet, this week’s announcement is the most throughout to-date when it comes to understanding America’s position vis-a-vis the Taliban.
March 13, 2019 - America Has Gone Full Circle in Afghanistan

America Has Gone Full Circle in Afghanistan - Eurasia Future

Khalilzad said the following: Just finished a marathon round of talks with the Taliban in Doha. The conditions for peace have improved. It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides. Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire. In January talks, we “agreed in principle” on these four elements. We’re now “agreed in draft” on the first two.

When the agreement in draft about a withdrawal timeline and effective counter-terrorism measures is finalized, the Taliban and other Afghans, including the government, will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire.

My next step is discussions in Washington and consultations with other partners. We will meet again soon, and there is no final agreement until everything is agreed”.


Whilst Khalizad’s statement ping-pongs between clarity and State Department jargon, several things become clear upon reading the text.

First of all, the United States appears more serious about leaving Afghanistan than Syria. This is to say that the US appears to be on the verge of solidifying a timeline for withdrawal that is being agreed upon through cooperation with Afghanistan’s strongest indigenous military force, the Taliban.

Secondly, based on what Khalilzad said has been accomplished when contrasted with what he said has yet to be accomplished, he has (perhaps unintentionally) alluded to the fact that it is now easier for the US and Taliban to agree on a framework for the future than it is for the US and the Kabul regime to do so. This is the case because Khalilzad indicated that of the four goals that must be achieved to finalise a peace deal, the two that have been agreed upon at the highest level thus far, are those which only require cooperation between American officials and Taliban officials. Counter-terrorism assurances and troop withdrawal in this context means that the Taliban will commit themselves to fighting various terror groups (they are already fighting Daesh for example), whilst the Taliban will work with the US to assure an orderly withdrawal of American troops.

The second too principles, “intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire”, require not only the consent and cooperation of the Taliban, but also that of the current Kabul regime, in order to be fulfilled. Therefore, without saying so directly, Khalizad has tacitly admitted that the US is further along in its agreements that only require discussions between American and Taliban officials than it is with discussions that involve American officials, the regime, the Taliban and other smaller factions.

This about face from the US should not surprise Afghanistan’s putative leader Ashraf Ghani. The US is infamous for being a friend one day and an enemy the next, when it comes to international relations. As Ghani remains a figurehead who even with US assistance cannot control a majority of Afghan territory, the US looks as though it is on the verge of dumping its bad investment in favour of working with a reformed Taliban that might actually be able to get things done in the country.

By working with a reformed Taliban rather than a de facto illegitimate, albeit UN recognised Ganhi regime, the US would be able to save both money and save the lives of US troops, whilst still ostensibly retaining the right to exploit some Afghan resources, whilst maintaining the presence of some American mercenaries to guard US economic interests in the country. The fact that this would happen under a government that leans heavily towards the Taliban, does in fact make it clear that both sides are willing to compromise and that for Taliban officials, removing an illegitimate government and removing uniformed US troops is now more important than a blanket extrication of American economic interests from the country. The comparative rapidity with which the US became a key economic partner of Vietnam after the Cold War is a clear model for the kind of US-Afghan relationship that could well be on the horizon. If indeed the US retains economic ties with a Taliban led Afghanistan, it would perhaps be the greatest geo-economic surprise since American Presidents have embraced a Vietnamese government whose founding father is the anti-American fighter Ho Chi Minh. That being said, whilst Afghanistan remains a more difficult place in which to do business than Vietnam was in the late 1970s, the prospect for sustained economic ties looks more and more likely in respect of the US and an Afghanistan led by a new generation of Taliban.

Furthermore, as the kind of peace process that Khalilzad has said is progressing in a positive manner,
is that which Pakistan has advocated for over a decade, a proper peace in Afghanistan could help to ease Pakistan-US tensions at a time when the US is leaning heavily towards India, but still seeks to retain what is left of its partnership with Pakistan. In this sense, whilst the US is more comfortable playing zero-sum games in foreign affairs, when it comes to Pakistan, the US won’t be willing to see Islamabad fully exit from the US sphere of influence and as such, by settling Afghanistan’s crisis in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s long held views, this will eliminate at least one point of contention between Washington and Islamabad. As such, the US may well be trying to engage in some sort of balancing act in the region that leans towards India, but one which is not yet willing to see Pakistan fully alienated.

In this sense, the agreement of which Khalilzad has spoken could potentially be a major win-win. China, Russia and Pakistan are now on the same page when it comes to an all parties peace settlement and ceasefire that mandates an orderly withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Even Iran is largely in this camp now that the Taliban have assured Tehran that a new Taliban government will neither be anti-Iranian nor anti-Afghan Shi’a. For Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, it goes without saying that a stable Afghanistan is in their interests.

Finally, while India does not border Afghanistan, New Delhi has for decades sought strong relations with Kabul as part of a wider Indian desire to encircle Pakistan. This has been especially true since the war of 1971 between India and Pakistan. Just as it is increasingly likely that a new Taliban government will work with some US business firms after a formal US troop withdrawal, the same is true of Indian firms. The difference is that without US troops or those from the current regime there to protect Indian assets, India might find that investing in Afghanistan is more effort than it is wroth. In many ways, some in India are already reaching this conclusion.

In this sense, while India’s plans to encircle Pakistan may be on the verge of being thwarted, for all other parties involved, including the US and Taliban, this new reality is increasingly looking like a win-win conclusion to a war that should have never been fought in the first place. Now that American and Taliban officials are shaking hands and making agreements, many will begin to question the wisdom of a war which began in 2001 for the stated purpose of removing the Taliban from power…only to see the US help to re-legitimise the Taliban eight years later.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
At least 50 members of the Afghan security forces have surrendered to the Taliban in a fight for control of Afghanistan’s western province of Badghis that has created heavy casualties, officials said.

March 17, 2019 - Taliban captures 50 border police as fighting intensifies in western Afghanistan


Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified even as Taliban and U.S. officials finished the latest round of peace talks on Tuesday, with both sides citing progress.

Afghanistan usually sees a marked increase in violence in spring.

Some 100 Afghan personnel who are part of the interior ministry’s border police attempted to flee their posts into neighboring Turkmenistan on Saturday, but they were prevented from entering that country, Badghis provincial council chairman Abdul Aziz Bik said on Sunday.

About 50 Afghan border police surrendered, while the remaining 50 continued fighting in the district of Bala Murghab, he said. Bala Murghab is the province’s most populous district.

Kabul summons diplomat over remarks by Pakistan's Khan
FILE PHOTO: Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Afghanistan summoned a senior Pakistani diplomat on Saturday to account for remarks by Prime Minister Imran Khan speculating about a new government in Kabul following a possible peace settlement.


The summons by the Afghan foreign affairs ministry marked the second time in just over three weeks that Kabul has demanded an explanation from Pakistan, illustrating the longstanding tensions between the two neighbors at a sensitive time.

Khan, at a rally in Bajaur, in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, predicted “mutual peace” in Afghanistan as an outcome of recurring talks between the United States and the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year-old war.

“A good government will come in Afghanistan,” Khan said. “I mean a government will come in which all will be represented. War will end and there will be peace.”


The Afghan ministry summoned Pakistan’s counselor to clarify the remarks, spokesperson Sibghatullah Ahmadi tweeted.

“Afghanistan expressed its grave objection on Pakistan’s government and deemed such remarks a flagrant interference in its internal affairs,” he said.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
In fallout from a feud over U.S.-Taliban peace talks, a senior U.S. diplomat has told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that U.S. officials will no longer deal with his national security adviser, four knowledgable sources said on Monday.

U.S. freezes out top Afghan official in peace talks feud: sources March 18, 2019
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China January 10, 2019. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China January 10, 2019. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The decision to end U.S. contacts with Hamdullah Mohib will almost certainly raise tensions between the allies over Kabul’s exclusion from negotiations that have mainly focused on a U.S. troop pullout and how the Taliban would stop militant groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks.

Mohib had launched a blistering public attack last Thursday on the chief U.S. negotiator, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.

The following day, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale told Ghani by phone that Mohib would no longer be received in Washington and U.S. civilian and military officials would not do business with him, the sources said.

“Hale called Ghani and told him that Mohib is no longer welcome in D.C. The U.S. will not deal with him in Kabul or in D.C. any more,” said a former senior Afghan official, who like the other sources requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

Kabul fears that Washington is intent on finalizing a U.S. troop pullout to fulfill a vow by President Donald Trump, undermining its ability to reach a political pact with the Taliban that preserves gains, such as women’s education, won since the 2001 U.S. invasion ended the militants’ harsh version of Islamic rule.

The former Afghan official said he saw the move as an effort to compel Ghani to “oust” Mohib, who became the president’s national security adviser after serving as his envoy to Washington.

A second source, a congressional aide, agreed that pressuring Ghani to end contacts with Mohib was “one way of looking at this” because“Hale called Ghani and told him that Mohib is no longer welcome in D.C. The U.S. will not deal with him in Kabul or in D.C. any more,” said a former senior Afghan official, who like the other sources requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

Kabul fears that Washington is intent on finalizing a U.S. troop pullout to fulfill a vow by President Donald Trump, undermining its ability to reach a political pact with the Taliban that preserves gains, such as women’s education, won since the 2001 U.S. invasion ended the militants’ harsh version of Islamic rule.

The former Afghan official said he saw the move as an effort to compel Ghani to “oust” Mohib, who became the president’s national security adviser after serving as his envoy to Washington.

A second source, a congressional aide, agreed that pressuring Ghani to end contacts with Mohib was “one way of looking at this” because the State Department provides funding for the Afghan president’s national security council staff.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will meet with Chinese, Russian and European Union diplomats on Afghanistan on Thursday as he tries to forge a peace deal with the Taliban to bring an end to America's longest war.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan to brief counterparts on peace effort
FILE PHOTO -  Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

FILE PHOTO - Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“Discussion topics include international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks,” the State Department said in a statement.

The meeting at the State Department will include Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan; Deng Xijun, his Chinese counterpart; and Roland Kobia, the EU’s special envoy.

Khalilzad will brief them on his recent talks in Doha, Qatar, with the Taliban, where the United States reported progress but no final deal on a withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces.

The Taliban rejects direct negotiations with the Kabul government led by President Ashraf Ghani, accusing it of being a U.S. puppet.

U.S. negotiators are pressing the Taliban to accept a ceasefire and talks on Afghanistan’s political future with representatives of Afghan society, including Ghani’s government. But the talks have primarily focused on the Taliban’s counter-terrorism assurances and a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Washington May Drop Kabul from Talks with Taliban over Official’s Criticism
Washington May Drop Kabul from Talks with Taliban over Official’s Criticism

US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale reportedly informed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Mohib is no longer welcome in Washington or the US in as a whole and that no American officials would deal with him.

It means that Afghanistan may be left out of the next round of talks between Washington and the Taliban, unless it sends someone else.

One former Afghan official told Reuters that the move is an attempt to force Ghani to "oust" his national security adviser.

In a heated speech during a press conference in Washington, Mohib accused US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad of "delegitimising the Afghan government", while granting legitimacy to the Taliban and holding talks with them on issues officially regulated by Kabul.

The national security adviser also suggested that Khalilzad was attempting to create a "caretaker government" by using the Taliban, in which he would be a "viceroy".

Afghanistan presidential election postponed to September
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan man casts his vote during the parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

Afghanistan's presidential election has been postponed by two months to Sept. 28, as authorities try to iron out problems with the voting process, the election board said on Wednesday.
 

angelburst29

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Several explosions in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday killed six people and wounded 23 in an attack during celebrations to mark the Persian new year, government spokesmen said.

Explosions in Afghan capital Kabul kill six during new year festival
A man removes broken glass from a window after multiple explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Parwiz

The attacks came on Nowruz, an ancient Persian festival to mark the start of spring that is widely celebrated in Afghanistan but has also faced opposition from some hardline Islamists, who say it is un-Islamic.

There were conflicting reports about of the cause of the blasts near the Kart-e Sakhi shrine, in a heavily Shi’ite Muslim area in the west of Kabul.

An interior ministry spokesman said mortar bombs had been fired. The defense ministry said in a post on twitter that three rockets were fired at civilian homes and Nowruz gatherings.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s news agency AMAQ said, without providing evidence of its claim.

Broken windows and collapsed walls were visible on homes and shops near the blast site. Blood stained the side of the road.

Afghanistan’s defense ministry said police had arrested Thursday’s attacker and secured the area.

Two U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan

Two U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan on Friday while conducting an operation, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in a statement.

Afghan suicide bomber hits family, kills one, injures four
A suicide bomber on Friday killed one person and injured four, all members of the same family, in an attack in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar, police said.
 
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