Afghan Talks: A Road Leading to Peace?

The preliminary preparations for the intra-Afghan talks are taking shape in Qatar, aiming to set the stage for the official negotiations that were called for in the US-Taliban agreement signed at the beginning of the year. 

In my opinion, the establishment of long-term stability in Afghanistan will also serve the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran, specifically in relation to the withdrawal of foreign forces, fighting and containing extremist groups, repatriating refugees, and combating the production and trafficking of narcotics.

However, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the current intra-Afghan talks without a deep understanding of the wording and the spirit of the US-Taliban agreement.

In the Doha agreement, the Taliban consolidated all of their demands within a specific framework and timeline; however, they made no promises to address the issue of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire, which is a fundamental demand of the Afghan people.

In the classified portion of the agreement, the United States obtained a commitment from the Taliban to not stage attacks on provincial capitals, which might lead to the erosion of morale among the security forces and ordinary citizens.  On the other hand, the Taliban have been granted carte blanche to expand their territorial grip over other areas using their military forces. In fact, the only serious condition asked of the Taliban was to not aid or collaborate with any group that could pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.

The Taliban correctly self-identify as the champions of the Doha agreement; they have realized that the United States’ vested interest in implementing this agreement will prevent other Afghan socio-political forces from undermining it. The Taliban deem this agreement irreversible, at least as far as its American architects are concerned. The United States’ approach in addressing the issue of prisoner swap and particularly its insistence on releasing the last 400 prisoners – testifies to the accuracy of this view.

The importance of the current peace talks for the Taliban is largely to kick-start the process of lifting sanctions on the group’s senior officials, which is expected to take place within a specific timeframe as outlined in the Doha agreement. Nevertheless, there are no indications that they have come to believe in these negotiations as a venue to reach a comprehensive peace agreement, though one should be hopeful. The Taliban’s attitude to the Afghan government and other political movements is reminiscent of what led to the civil wars of the 1990’s. If–and I emphasize if–this calculation proves true, then we should expect the Taliban to see the peace negotiation process as merely a means to buy more time.

There are major gaps between the demands of the negotiating parties. The Taliban perceive the current (govt) in Afghanistan as illegitimate. It appears that they are tacitly striving to reestablish their Islamic emirate. By conceding to “the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government,” the American architects of the Doha agreement have practically moved past the current Afghan system of governance and guaranteed this new political order. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with a fragile internal consensus, is attempting to preserve all the accomplishments of the past two decades

We must accept that the essence of the Doha agreement is to abrogate the Bonn Agreement of 2001 and all its inner workings, to make a new regional arrangement in line with Afghanistan’s future, and to change Afghanistan’s domestic political landscape. These new developments grew out of the United States’ reevaluation of its political objectives in this region.

As far as the United States is concerned, the Taliban is an Afghan extremist movement that is pursuing its political ambitions in its own domestic territory. However, the complex structure of the Taliban’s internal relations and its connections with other extremist movements seem to have been deliberately neglected. The recently published reports in the Western media, particularly the latest report by the UN sanctions committee, confirm this failure.

In the grand scheme of things, it appears that the United States is seeking to turn Afghanistan into a geopolitical connecting point in the political economy of the two regions of Central and South Asia.  Making a strategic mistake, the United States is pursuing a vision for peace in Afghanistan that hinges on an overly simplified redefinition of the domestic situation of this country.

At last, it should be noted that the path chosen by the United States (Doha Agreement) cannot lay the foundations for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. This statement is not a disapproval of a nation-wide peace in Afghanistan, which is an inevitable necessity not only for Afghanistan but also for the entire region; the vital issue is the requirement of having a realistic approach to achieve a calculated peace. This agreement has created a supposition of bias towards the Taliban in Afghanistan (and also in the domestic political arena of the United States), which could lead to the gradual formation of unnecessary internal divisions in that country.

Without any doubt, the Taliban is a reality of Afghan society and their participation in governance will guarantee stability and sustainable development in Afghanistan. Although the current system of governance in Afghanistan is not free of its own challenges, granting unilateral concessions to the Taliban, including its demand for structural changes to the Constitution, will only foster the group’s sense of victory and throw the fate of these negotiations into doubt.

The most critical miscalculation that was made in the process of reaching the Doha agreement was the attempt to recreate the political atmosphere of 2002 in Afghanistan by moving beyond the current system of governance and setting off on a path to produce a new political framework in that country. There are no guarantees that this change in strategy will be successful.

By restoring the internal balance that has been rattled by the Doha agreement, supporting the role of the UN in facilitating the peace process, renegotiating parts of the Doha agreement, and settling on a realistic definition of peace, a legitimate intra-Afghan agreement that is accompanied by the necessary guarantees of support from the international community and her neighbors can be reached.

Afghan Talks: A Road Leading to Peace?
read more

Contact Groups in Doha Resume Talks on Procedural Rules

By Karim Amini,

Negotiators have said that no one can predict when these disagreements will come to an end.

The contact groups from both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations have resumed their talks on Sunday after three days of delays.
On Sunday evening, the contact groups from both two sides held meetings for several hours; however, they did not manage to agree on two important points in the procedural rules, said a member of the republic’s team. 17 days have passed since negotiators from both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations began attempts to reach an agreement about the procedural rules intended to guide the formal talks.
“We are holding discussions to move the talks forward. What we need is to decide on the two basic points that I informed you about, which are a collection of the values that makes the framework of today’s Afghanistan and future Afghanistan, which are quite important in terms of identity,” said Nader Nadery, a member of the republic’s negotiating team.

Negotiators have said that no one can predict when these disagreements will come to an end.

“I, as a member of the peace negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, believe that we cannot restrict ourselves to a specific timeline for bringing peace to Afghanistan and ending the war and bloodshed,” said Mohammad Rasoul Talib, a member of the republic’s negotiating team.

“There is hope. Still formal meetings have not started, but arrangements are in place. It will be good to clarify all these issues around the procedural rules and move forward within the framework of this. Everyone has hope and no one is disappointed about this,”said Mullah Khairullah Khairkhaw, a member of the Taliban negotiating team.

The Taliban insist that without recognizing the US-Taliban deal as a main foundation of the peace process in Afghanistan, the continuation of current talks between both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations will have “no meaning.”

Mullah Khairullah Kharikhaw, a member of the Taliban peace negotiating team, in answer to a question regarding the inclusion of Hanafi and Jaffari Figh jurisprudence, said that the Taliban respect the rights of all citizens of Afghanistan, but the rights of the Shias of Afghanistan will be discussed during the talks about the Constitution of Afghanistan.

Talks between the contact groups of the two sides had stopped for four days before resuming on Sunday.

The disputed points:

The Taliban demand recognition of the US-Taliban agreement as the ‘mother deal’ underlying the Afghan peace negotiations, and Hanafi Figh as the sole religious legal guidelines for the talks.

Reports say that the republic’s team has suggested alternatives to the Taliban’s demands.

The republic’s team has proposed that if a religious issue arises it can be solved based on Hanafi Figh by default, however, the Shia Personal Status Law must be respected, and the choice of religious jurisprudence should be given to other minority groups as well.

“There is a huge difference in the views between the two sides, therefore gaps and delays are common during the talks,” said Mohammad Rasoul Talib, a member of the republic’s negotiating team.

Reports say that the republic’s team has suggested alternatives to the Taliban’s demands.

The republic’s team has proposed that if a religious issue arises it can be solved based on Hanafi Figh by default, however, the Shia Personal Status Law must be respected, and the choice of religious jurisprudence should be given to other minority groups as well.

Regarding the US-Taliban agreement, the republic’s team recommended four options:

First option: The terms of the US-Taliban agreement could be accepted as underlying the talks, however, the terms of the joint declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, NATO and the US should also be accepted as applicable.

Second option: Neither the US-Taliban agreement nor the declarations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the US and NATO will be recognized as having any authority, and the negotiations will move forward based on the decisions of the consultative Loya Jirga and the Jirga’s declarations.

Third option: Both sides start talks “based on the national interest of Afghanistan.”

Fourth option: The Quran and Hadith are the main authority for the talks, replacing all others.

The Taliban insist that talking about the Jaffari Figh at this juncture is not logical, but said that this can be discussed during the talks about the Constitution of the country.

Contact Groups in Doha Resume Talks on Procedural Rules
read more

Khalilzad: No Permanent Ceasefire from Taliban Until Settlement

The Taliban has increased attacks in several parts of the country including Kandahar, Kunduz and Uruzgan provinces.

Meetings between the contact groups from both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations in Doha were not held for the past two days, while clashes have increased in several parts of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the contact groups from both sides met twice but did not reach an agreement about the procedural rules intended to guide the formal talks, which have still not begun since the opening ceremony two weeks ago.

The Taliban has increased attacks in several parts of the country including Uruzgan, Kunduz, Maidan Wardak, Baghlan and Kandahar provinces.

In the past two days, clashes have occurred in the Dehrawood district of southern Uruzgan province, which is about 40 kilometers away from Trinkot, the provincial capital.

The people have fled from the center of Dehrawood, said residents, who added that “more people have been been trapped in the clashes.”

Jalaluddin, the district governor of Dehrawood, said: “The Taliban has come from several provinces and captured some parts of the district and most of the people have been displaced.”

“The clashes are still ongoing now after several days” said a member of the provincial council, Aman Hotek.

The residents said that the routes into the capital of the province have been blocked over the past several years and “transporting the wounded people to the hospitals is very hard.”

Abdul Rahman, who was wounded in the fighting, said: “It was not clear from where the bullets were coming from, and one bullet hit my leg and three other people were also wounded who were close to me.”

On Thursday night, the Taliban attacked some parts of Rustaq Abad area in PD4 of northern Kunduz city, said a resident, adding that the “threats have reached the streets of the city.”

“There are clashes every hour in the city. During the night till morning no one sleeps–in every part of the city there are clashes,” said Feroz Arbabzada, a resident of Kunduz city.

Another resident of Kunduz said: “The shooting started and the mirrors in my shop were broken and one person was wounded here (Kunduz city).”

Jawid Basharat, a spokesman for the Baghlan police, also said that “in the past 24 hours, clashes have started in Baghlan-e-Markzai, Dahna-e-Ghori and Khost district, and so far 20 insurgents have been killed.”

At least three policemen were killed and four were wounded in an attack on a security checkpoint in Takhta Pul district of Kandahar on Thursday night, local police officials said.

However, a security source said that seven police were killed and 4 police were taken captive.

Also, a large number of Afghan commandos were deployed to Maidan Wardak province on Thursday, said the MoD, adding that the troops will “defend residents and maintain better security in the province.”

There are reports that the Taliban have attacked security forces in several parts of Maidan Wardak in recent days.

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking at a virtual event hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on Thursday, spoke optimistically about the peace talks but acknowledged there were challenges ahead.

Asked about the current increase of violence in the country, he said: “We know that a reduction in violence is possible.” He cited the two Eid cease-fires over the past year,  making the point that if there is a will for a ceasefire, one can be implemented.

Both the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban team formed small “contact groups” on the opening day of the talks on September 12. The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.

The regulations for the talks initially had 23 articles. These were reduced to 20 after meetings were held between the contact groups, and the number still may change, say sources.

__________________________

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking at a virtual event hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on Thursday, spoke optimistically about the peace talks but acknowledged there were challenges ahead.

Asked about the current increase of violence in the country, he said: “We know that a reduction in violence is possible.”

Khalilzad pointed to the two Eid cease-fires over the past year to make the point that if there is a will for a ceasefire, one can be implemented.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the Taliban see violence as a key leverage point in the negotiations and are thus unlikely to agree to a comprehensive ceasefire early in the process.

Before this, Khalilzad told the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee that violence in Afghanistan has risen to “unacceptable levels.” Khalilzad said this “decreases confidence in the peace process,” adding that the Taliban would “pay the price” with the Afghan people if they don’t reduce violence levels.

The Afghan peace negotiations that began in Doha on September 12 are a “historic opportunity” that could end four decades of conflict in the country and end America’s longest war, said Khalilzad.

At the USIP event, Khalilzad said the ongoing talks are the “heart of the Afghan peace process,” and “it’s important to be fully aware of the significance of this moment, and to recognize its historic relevance.”

He said there is hope but still a long road ahead, with many thorny issues to be negotiated.

Khalilzad also said that for peace to work in Afghanistan, it also has to have broad regional and international support. To this end, “we have focused in parallel both on the Afghans and on the international community…to achieve peace,” he said.

Peace and stability are the preconditions to significant economic growth and international investment in Afghanistan, he said adding that “economic growth and investment, in turn, are essential to preserving the deepening peace, security and social development.”

The negotiations require true courage and sincere Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation. “This key step puts agency with the Afghans, which is the only way for it to succeed,” said Khalilzad.

Women rights 

Khalilzad said at the US Institute of Peace that “We will work with our international partners to continue to press on the rights of women, and of religious and ethnic minorities. … While the ultimate political settlement is one for the Afghans themselves to decide, the United States and the international community are deeply committed to human rights and women’s rights.”

The Afghans must negotiate a solution that “suits their history and their culture. But we have made it clear we expect the women of Afghanistan to have their voices heard … The international community expects the same,” he said.

Khalilzad said that the US believes that a stable Afghanistan at peace at home and with its neighbors is not just an Afghan priority, but in the interest of the United States, the region, and the international community.

Troop withdrawal 

“We could have withdrawn, we didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave if that’s all what we wanted to do,” he said in his closing remarks. “But the purpose of our diplomacy has been—and the reason for making that conditional—has been to leave a good legacy behind to help Afghans.”

On Tuesday, speaking at the US House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security about the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, Khalilzad said that the US will “protect its interests” in all circumstances in Afghanistan and that the “Afghan people will suffer” if there is no peace settlement.

Asked if the Taliban will honor the US-Taliban agreement if US troops are leaving and cannot enforce it, Khalilzad said the reduction in US troops does not mean the US forces cannot carry out their mission. A re-evaluation will be necessary when troops get down to 4-5,000, he said, adding: “I believe we are committed to the terms of the agreement.”

Khalilzad: No Permanent Ceasefire from Taliban Until Settlement
read more

Official: Pentagon has started ‘prudent planning’ for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May

Official: Pentagon has started 'prudent planning' for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May
© Getty Images

The Pentagon has started planning to have zero U.S. troops in Afghanistan by spring, though orders have not yet been issued for a full withdrawal, a Defense Department official said Tuesday.

“I’d like to make it clear that [Defense Secretary Mark Esper] has not issued orders to reduce military personnel below this 4,000 to 5,000 level in Afghanistan, although we are conducting prudent planning to withdraw to zero service members by May 2021 if conditions warrant, per the U.S.-Taliban agreement,” David Helvey, the official performing the duties of assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security at a hearing.

The comments come as President Trump has been touting U.S. troop drawdowns in the region in the final stretch of the campaign as evidence he is delivering on his promise to end America’s “endless wars.”

The comments also come as the Taliban and Afghan government have started peace talks in Doha, Qatar, aimed at ending the 19-year war.

But the two sides remain far apart on issues as basic as a cease-fire and women’s rights. And even as they sit down to talk, violence in Afghanistan rages, with Monday reportedly the bloodiest day of fighting since negotiations began a week ago.

The intra-Afghan talks were called for in the agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February.

The agreement also laid out a timeline for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to deny safe haven to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to attack the West.

“The Taliban has still not shown conclusively that they’re going to break with al Qaeda,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said earlier this month. “So there are still some things out there that concern me about the Taliban’s either ability or willingness to comply with all the terms of the deal.”

On Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration’s envoy for Afghan peace talks, said the Taliban has taken “positive steps” toward breaking with al Qaeda, though he said the Taliban has more work to do and would not answer a question in an unclassified setting on whether Taliban leaders have instructed their fighters to break from the terrorist group.

“We look for more steps before we are satisfied, and I believe that once we reach 4,500, we’d do an evaluation of ties and actions that they have taken and make decisions based on that,” Khalilzad said at the hearing.

The U.S. withdrawal is contingent on the counterterrorism commitment, not the outcome of intra-Afghan talks or the Taliban reducing attacks on Afghan forces.

U.S. lawmakers have been critical of the deal with the Taliban, warning the insurgents cannot be trusted and expressing concerns the drawdown is based more on Trump’s political calendar than national security needs.

“Despite multiple indications that the Taliban have not fully met their commitments under the February agreement, the Trump administration has steadily withdrawn U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which has ceded much of our leverage to help shape the future of Afghanistan for its people and our national security interests,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee.

“While we are all eager for our sons and daughters in uniform to return home, it is also important that we do not needlessly or recklessly bargain away the rights and freedoms that the Afghan people have gained at such a huge cost in American, Coalition, and Afghan lives,” he added.

Helvey insisted any withdrawal by May will be “fundamentally conditions based.”

“We’ll be watching very carefully to assess the conditions of Taliban compliance with the terms of its agreement, and that will be used to inform decisions on further and future withdrawals,” he said.

Pressed on enforcement of the agreement, Khalilzad said “we are freed” from the deal if the Taliban does not uphold its commitments.

“That’s why I say it’s conditions-based,” he said. “That means if they don’t deliver on their commitments, we don’t have to withdraw forces. We could adjust our force posture. Those are decisions that our management will have to make.”

Official: Pentagon has started ‘prudent planning’ for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May
read more

As Afghanistan peace talks stutter, U.S. says violence levels too high

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The level of violence in Afghanistan is unacceptably high and the United States expects further setbacks during talks, the Special Representative for Afghanistan said on Tuesday, as the Afghan government and Taliban remained far apart on even basic issues 10 days into talks meant to end two decades of war.

“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told a House of Representatives hearing.

“We know that reductions are possible,” Khalilzad said.

Despite difficulties, the talks are the best hope for peace in years and come as a result of a February pact between the Taliban and United States, allowing U.S. forces to withdraw in exchange for Taliban promises on terrorism.

But the militant group has refused to agree to a ceasefire and the war grinds on.

In recent months, the Taliban has pledged to respect women’s rights under sharia but many educated women who have come of age since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 for harboring al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden have doubts.

During the hearing, Democrats asked Khalilzad about the possibility that after 20 years of war, billions of dollars and thousands of deaths, the withdrawal of U.S. forces could end education for Afghan girls.

“I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them,” Khalilzad said.

Since the spotlight faded from the lavish Sept. 12 opening ceremony for the talks in Qatar, the two sides have only confirmed that they are diametrically opposed on virtually every issue.

“While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles,” Khalilzad said.

He added that Washington and allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.

“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” Khalilzad, who recently returned from Doha, said.

Afghanistan has for years accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants. Pakistan denies doing so and in turn accuses Afghanistan of supporting militants fighting Islamabad.

The United States is expected to reduce troop levels to 4,000 to 5,000 in the coming months and will look at further reductions based on conditions.

David Helvey, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the subcommittee hearing the Pentagon was carrying out “prudent planning” to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if conditions were met.

He added that for now Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not issued any orders to go below 4,000 troops.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio

As Afghanistan peace talks stutter, U.S. says violence levels too high
read more

Deep divisions as Afghan negotiators get down to details

But the Taliban have refused to agree to a ceasefire and the war is grinding on. About 40 people were killed in Taliban attacks last week.

With all foreign troops due to be gone by May next year, pressure is building on the U.S.-backed government as it grapples with how it can share power with its implacable foe or contend with a likely Taliban push for military victory.

Since the spotlight faded from the lavish Sept. 12 opening ceremony in a hotel ballroom in the Qatari capital, Doha, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the two sides have only confirmed that they are diametrically opposed on virtually every issue.

“We are talking to a side that is difficult and inflexible and therefore things are not moving forward,” said a senior negotiator on the Afghan government side.

The two sides will have to tackle a diverse range of issues to secure peace, from the legitimacy of the Kabul government to women’s rights.

“The first week has demonstrated how complex the talks will be in general, with the most crucial one being Afghanistan’s future political system,” said Graham Smith, an independent analyst tracking closely the talks based in Afghanistan.

The Taliban emerged in the early 1990s from the chaos of factional strife between the Islamists who had battled occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s.

WISH FOR PEACE

Founded by religious students, the Pakistan-backed fighters brought a welcome but harsh peace, along with contempt for women’s rights, blocking their education, forcing nearly all to quit work, restricting their movement and brutally enforcing a strict dress code.

In recent months, the Taliban have said they will respect women’s rights under sharia but many educated woman who have come of age since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden have doubts.

Women could be the first casualty of the talks, some activists fear, if the government allows the rolling back of their rights to appease the Taliban.

Three diplomats overseeing the so-called intra-Afghan negotiations told Reuters the talks had bogged down over the finer points of Islamic law.The government and Taliban both follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence within Sunni Islam, but their interpretations of sharia law are “staunchly different”, said a senior Western diplomat in Doha who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks.

This affects positions on key issues like punishments for crime, women’s rights and freedom of speech.

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman questioned what he said was the Taliban insistence on settling the issue of the Islamic system so early in the talks.

“This doesn’t resonate well with our people’s wish for a lasting peace and the current political system of Afghanistan which is an Islamic Republic state and has legitimacy,” said the spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi.

One of the diplomats trying to shepherd the talks said the focus was for now on keeping the negotiators at the table, talking over tea in the Gulf capital, 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from their war-scarred home.

“They’re carving up their playing field, the challenge for us is to make sure that no one leaves the field,” said the diplomat.

Additional reporting by Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by William Mallard, Robert Birsel

Deep divisions as Afghan negotiators get down to details
read more

After Trump Remarks, MoFA Confirms Govt Has Place in Talks; 3 Issues Holding Up Start of Doha Talks

US President Donald Trump said that the number of US forces in Afghanistan will be less than 4,000 in near future.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Afghan government has a place in the peace process, responding to recent remarks by US President Donald Trump who complimented the Taliban for being “tough” and “smart” and saying the “United States is doing well” with the militant group in the talks.

“We’re dealing very well with the Taliban,” Trump said at a news conference according to a White House statement. “They’re very tough, they’re very smart, they’re very sharp. But, you know, it’s been 19 years, and even they are tired of fighting, in all fairness.”

Trump also pointed to the peace negotiations with the Taliban and said, “we’re having some very good discussions with the Taliban, as you probably heard.”

He stressed that the number of US forces in Afghanistan will be less than 4,000 in near future. “And so we’ll be out of there, knowing that certain things have to happen — certain things have to be fulfilled.  But 19 years is a long time, 8,000 miles away. Nineteen years is a long time,” Trump added.

“President Trump’s remarks have been to the media and his own people. The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has full contact with issues and is moving forward its activities based on that,” said Gran Hewad, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Taliban signed a peace deal with the United States on February 29. The start of last week’s peace talks in Doha between the negotiating teams of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban are part of the agreement the militant group signed with the US.

“The Taliban has now found their resources. Their resources are the country that is helping them. Now, if someone calls the Taliban a group, in fact, he hurts peace (process),” said Mawlawi Qalamuddin, head of Harakat-e-Islami party of Afghanistan.

US Peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in a tweet on Saturday night said that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued a statement on Afghanistan peace negotiations that underscores the international commitment to Afghanistan’s “sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity.”

Khalilzad said that the statement “supports the path the parties are currently on, which is to find a political settlement that accommodates all Afghans, one the region and international community can endorse in spirit and in action.”

“They should make an agreement based on the country’s national interests and based on the demand of the Afghan people, which is peace in Afghanistan,” said Gul Rahman Qazi, head of the council of peace and rescue of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, former Iranian ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, in an article for TOLOnews, writes that achieving a real understanding in the intra-Afghan negotiations in the absence of the Doha agreement is difficult. He has also pointed out the deep rift in the demands of the two negotiating teams in Doha.

“There are deep rifts between the two negotiating teams,” Bahrami writes. “The Taliban sees the Afghan government as illegitimate and it seems that they are seeking a reestablishment of the Islamic emirate without expressing it openly at the moment.”

He also writes that the “American architects of the Doha agreement have practically ignored the current government in Afghanistan and have guaranteed in the agreement they signed with the Taliban.

The opening ceremony for the intra-Afghan negotiations was held on September 12. The two sides have held five meetings to discuss the agenda as well as rules and regulations for direct negotiations between the 21-member negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the 21-member team of the Taliban.

The two sides, according to sources, have yet to agree on three disputed points in the rules and regulations for the talks.

________________________________________

20 September 2020

3 Issues Holding Up Start of Doha Talks: Sources

The regulations of the talks initially had 23 articles. It has been reduced to 20 articles after meetings of the contact groups, and it still may change.

Eight days after the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan negotiations, the teams from both sides are seeking an agreement on three of over 20 articles of rules and regulations for the peace talks in Doha.

Both the Kabul and Taliban teams formed small groups called “contact groups” on the opening day of the talks on September 12. The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.

The regulations of the talks initially had 23 articles. It has been reduced to 20 articles after meetings of the contact groups, and it still may change.

Their disagreement is over three issues: The name given to the war, the religious legal system chosen for the negotiations, and the Taliban’s demand to include the US-Taliban agreement as the foundation of the talks, according to TOLOnews reporter Karim Amini.

“Discussions are underway on the rules and regulations as well as the disputed points. We hope that it is finalized as soon as possible,” said Fraidoon Khwazoon, spokesman for the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Information provided by sources from the two teams indicates that the Taliban is insisting on the war being called “jihad” and that the Hanafi jurisprudence is the religious basis for decision-making in the negotiations. The Taliban has also shown their opposition to mentioning the name of religions when it comes to decisions that have a religious basis.

According to article 131 of the Constitution, the courts shall apply the Shia jurisprudence in cases involving personal matters of followers of the Shia sect in accordance with the provisions of the law. In other cases, if there is no clarification in the Constitution and no other laws exist, the courts shall rule according to the laws of this sect.

“We identified each other over the last 20 years of democracy and within Afghanistan and we accepted each other. Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, the languages, the religions, were all discussed in the constitutional Loya Jirga and we officially recognized and accepted each other,” said Mohammad Mohaqiq, the head of the People’s Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan, as he addressed a gathering in Kabul on September 18.

“The Hanafi jurisprudence is not everything. It does not mean all the Sharia law. We have many instances that beliefs of Hanafi jurisprudence are referring to other jurisprudences,” said Ghulamuddin Kalantari, a religious scholar.

Sources from the negotiating teams said another demand of the Taliban is that the US-Taliban agreement be the basis for the intra-Afghan negotiations, saying it should be an inseparable part of the talks.

The significance of this, according to sources, is that it means the Taliban will not be committed to the continuation of the intra-Afghan negotiations if the US-Taliban agreement is violated.

The two sides have agreed on the use of the word “problem” instead of war or jihad in the rules and regulations, according to a source, but it is not final. However, the republic’s negotiating team has yet to agree on accepting the Hanafi jurisprudence as religious basis for the negotiations. It has also not agreed to the US-Taliban agreement as the foundation of the talks, sources familiar with the process said.

The negotiations started with the hopes to end the decades of war in the country. A number of Afghan politicians at a gathering on Friday called for unity among the people and support for the negotiating team that is representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the Doha talks.

After Trump Remarks, MoFA Confirms Govt Has Place in Talks; 3 Issues Holding Up Start of Doha Talks
read more

Deadly airstrike in Afghanistan kills at least 10 civilians, 30 Taliban fighters despite ongoing peace talks

September 21, 2020
An A-29 Super Tucano aircraft was one of four delivered by the United States to the Afghan air force last week.
An A-29 Super Tucano aircraft was one of four delivered by the United States to the Afghan air force last week. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)
KABUL — While representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban talk peace in Doha, the sides continue to launch deadly attacks in Afghanistan, leaving dozens dead.

On Saturday, at least 10 civilians and more than 30 Taliban fighters were killed in two airstrikes by Afghan government planes in the northern province of Kunduz, according to local officials. The Defense Ministry said no civilians were harmed in the attack but announced an investigation into the incident Sunday.

Two local officials, including a deputy police chief, were assassinated Saturday in Paktika province. No one claimed responsibility, but Afghan officials believe armed groups linked to the Taliban are behind a string of similar attacks.

The peace talks, launched last week between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, were hailed as a historic opportunity to end decades of war. But while the sides have met a handful of times, they haven’t agreed on the basic format of the negotiations, including which issues will be discussed and in what order.

The continuing violence is “a big concern for us,” said Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for the Afghan government delegation. Khwazoon said the delegation will include a cease-fire in its agenda because all Afghans want to see violence reduced.

But Taliban leaders have said they will agree to a cease-fire only after all other issues are resolved and a political settlement is reached. If talks drag on, deadly attacks like those on Saturday are likely to persist.

Statements from both delegations stressing the need for “patience” suggest neither side expects a quick resolution.

The Afghan airstrikes Saturday followed Taliban attacks on Afghan military positions in Khanabad district east of Kunduz city Saturday morning, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said more than 30 Taliban fighters were killed and “initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians.” It added that it was aware of allegations of civilian casualties.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Sunday that the incident was being investigated and “a team has been formed.” Afghan government investigations into allegations of civilian casualties are generally cursory, and the findings are rarely made public.

Abdul Ahad Torial Kakar, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said the first government strike Saturday targeted a gathering of Taliban fighters. He said civilians rushed to the site to extinguish the resulting fire only to be hit by a second strike. Kakar said 10 civilians were killed, 10 wounded and five remain missing.

The spokesman for the Kunduz governor said 17 civilians were killed and 15 wounded. The civilians who were killed in the second strike were attempting to retrieve the bodies of Taliban fighters killed in the first, spokesman Esmatullah Moradi said.

The Taliban said the airstrikes were “unprovoked,” launched in “an area where there were no military activities,” and killed only civilians.

Aziz Aziz, a local politician from Paktika, said Taliban fighters are launching more attacks on government outposts, carrying out more assassinations and increasing pressure on district centers.

“Violence continues even during the talks,” he said. “And it has not been reduced.”

The “Taliban are sending a message that they will kill people, oppress them, and that they [believe they] can take the government by force,” he said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that violence has intensified in recent weeks, but he blamed Afghan government “provocations.” He said government forces are attempting to push into Taliban-controlled territory, “compelling” Taliban fighters to retaliate.

The talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are expected to be more complex than the negotiations between the Taliban and the United States. Those talks continued for more than a year.

The Afghan government and the Taliban have dramatically different expectations for a postwar Afghanistan. The government delegation wants to preserve elections and civil rights, while the Taliban leaders want the country ruled with a strict interpretation of Islamic law that could do away with elections and equal rights for women and minorities.

Haq Nawaz Khan and Aziz Tassal contributed to this report.

Susannah George is The Washington Post’s Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief. She previously headed the Associated Press’s Baghdad bureau and covered national security and intelligence from the AP’s Washington bureau.
Deadly airstrike in Afghanistan kills at least 10 civilians, 30 Taliban fighters despite ongoing peace talks
read more

UN Security Council Welcomes Start of Intra-Afghan Talks

The UN Security Council in a statement on Friday welcomed the start of intra-Afghan talks in Doha, saying it strongly reaffirms its commitments to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Afghanistan.

The direct peace negotiations between the negotiating teams of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban are about to start in Doha as the two sides have held few meetings in small-group set up called the “contact groups” to discuss rules and regulations for direct talks. The opening ceremony of the negotiations was held in Doha on September 12 in which Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation also attended. According to TOLOnews reporter Karim Amini, the “contact groups” will hold their next meeting on Saturday.

“The members of the Security Council recognized that a sustainable peace can be achieved only through a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that aims at a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire as well as an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The members of the Security Council strongly encouraged parties to the negotiations to continue pursuing confidence-building measures including reductions in violence, and to continue to engage in good faith,” said the statement.

The members of the Security Council reaffirmed the importance of the United Nations’ role in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and welcomed the efforts of all regional and international partners of Afghanistan in facilitating intra-Afghan negotiations and in helping the parties reach peace. The members of the Security Council thanked the Government of Qatar for facilitating the first round of negotiations, according to the statement.

“The members of the Security Council emphasized the importance of the implementation of its relevant resolutions, including resolution 2513 (2020),” the statement said.

_____________________________________________

UN welcomes Afghan talks with the Taliban, urges cease-fire

By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press
17 September 2020
Taliban delegation attend the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday welcoming the start of negotiations between Afghan representatives and the Taliban, encouraging the warring parties to engage in good faith and aim for a permanent cease-fire and political settlement to their 19-year conflict.

The resolution, which also extended the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan into next September, also strongly encourages the parties “to continue pursuing confidence-building measures including additional reductions in violence.”

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, who drafted the resolution with Indonesia, called the weekend’s start of negotiations in Qatar “a major achievement which we have all been waiting for for many years.”

“It is indeed in Afghan hands to define the future path of their country – just the way it should be,” he said, but he reiterated that “the violence must stop now” and “there has to be a sustainable ceasefire.”

Heusgen said the resolution’s unanimous adoption showed international support for the talks and stressed that the United Nations and Afghanistan’s regional and international partners “will do their part to support and facilitate this process.”

The Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001 by a U.S.-led coalition for harboring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. The talks in Qatar were laid out in a peace deal that Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in February, aimed at bringing American troops home and ending more than four decades of relentless wars following the 1979 Afghan invasion by forces from the former Soviet Union.

The so-called intra-Afghan talks in Qatar are expected to set a road map for a post-war society in Afghanistan.

But while the historic start of talks last Saturday was mostly about ceremony, the negotiations are expected to be long and difficult as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting rights of women and minorities. One of the first items on the agenda will be a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to go to school, work outside the home or leave their house without a male escort. And though they still face many challenges in the male-dominated society, Afghan women are increasingly stepping into powerful positions in numerous fields — and many fear the current negotiations could bargain away their gains.

The Taliban have promised women could attend school, work and participate in politics but stressed that would all be allowed in keeping with Islamic principles — without saying what that might mean.

The Security Council called for women and young people to be included in peace negotiations and underlined “that the economic, social, political and development gains made in the last 19 years, including in the field of human rights, especially the rights of women, children and minorities, must be protected and built upon.”

The council expressed “deep concern” at the current high level of violence in Afghanistan, especially the number of civilian casualties. It condemned “in the strongest terms” all militant activity and attacks, and reaffirmed the importance of ensuring that Afghan territory is not used by “terrorist organizations” such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaida “to threaten or attack any other country.”

The council also reaffirmed “that neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country.”

The U.N.’s most powerful body also stressed “the important role that the United Nations will continue to play in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan, while also addressing the challenges facing the country and its people, especially the short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” which has severely taxed the country’s deteriorating health system.

The council said the U.N. mission, known as UNAMA, will support the negotiations in Doha, if requested, including by proposing and supporting confidence-building measures and supporting “the organization of future timely, credible, transparent, and inclusive Afghan elections.”

UN Security Council Welcomes Start of Intra-Afghan Talks
read more

Negotiators in Doha Struggle to Agree on Disputed Points; No Ceasefire Until Cause of War is Discussed: Taliban Spokesman

16 September 2020

He also claimed that the Afghan government has not halted its offensive operations. 

The Taliban’s spokesman Mohammad Naeem has said that the group will not agree to a ceasefire unless the peace negotiators can discuss the main cause of the war in the country at the peace negotiating table.

He claimed that the Taliban has reduced the level of violence with the start of the preliminary round of the talks.

He also claimed that the Afghan government has not halted its offensive operations.

“It does not make sense to end 20 years of war in one hour. In our perspective, it will be logical to discuss the main aspects of the problems and the war and then finalize a ceasefire so that the problem is resolved permanently,” Mohammad Naeem told TOLOnews’ Karim Amini in Doha.

“Suppose, if we announce a ceasefire today, but then we fail to reach an agreement at the negotiating table tomorrow, do we go toward the war again? What does this mean?” he said.

He said that the Taliban wants the establishment of an Islamic system in which the values of people of the country are reflected.

“One of our objectives was to end the invasion of Afghanistan, the other one was that there is a true Islamic system that is answerable to the public and the nation,” he said.

He said that the peace negotiation talks between Afghans will have some ups and downs. But said that he was optimistic about the outcomes of the talks.

“We have entered the peace process with a strong will and determination, we want this problem finally to be resolved. The process is complicated and it has its own complexities, but we are hopeful that the problems come to an end,” added Naeem.

Five days have passed since the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan talks between the delegation representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban in Doha. But the two sides so far have not managed to finalize the procedures and methods for conducting the formal negotiations.

___________________________

Discussions in Doha ‘Very Promising’: US Gen. Miller

Meanwhile, acting Minister Khalid said: “We are hopeful about a ceasefire in the coming days,” said Khalid.

Gen. Scott Miller, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, speaking during a visit to the eastern province of Laghman, called the ongoing negotiations in Doha “very promising.”

“Discussions in Doha are very promising and important for the Afghan people, we also know the Taliban violence has to go down,” said Miller in Zabul.

Miller, who traveled with acting Defense Minister Assadullah Khalid, said that he has grave concerns about civilian casualties.

“Personally I am a little concerned about the civilian casualties…the results of bombs that civilians keep striking, and we need to bring the violence down, that is the will of the people,” he said.

Meanwhile, acting Minister Khalid said: “We are hopeful about a ceasefire in the coming days,” said Khalid.

This comes as contact groups of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban continue their discussions about the procedural structure of the talks.

A member of the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan told TOLOnews on Thursday that there is a possibility that the two sides will finalize their discussions on the procedures by Saturday.

Naming the cause of the war in Afghanistan is said to be one of the key points of contention between the negotiating teams of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban in the negotiation process.

This is the sixth day that contact groups from the two sides are continuing their debates about starting the official talks.

Fighting continues despite the talks, and at least 32 security force members, including public uprising forces, were killed and 25 others were wounded in Taliban attacks in several parts of the country on Wednesday night, local officials said on Thursday.

In Kabul, Afghan forces during an operation in Surobi district in Kabul killed Ghairatullah, also known as Mullah Sangeen, the deputy commander of the Taliban’s “Red Unit,” the Kabul Police Headquarters said on Thursday.

Another Taliban fighter named Salahuddin Sadiq was also killed.

10 Taliban were wounded in the operation, said police.

According to Kabul police, Mullah Sangeen “plotted a series of deadly terror attacks in Kabul.”

Peace talks between the Taliban and the delegation representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan began in Qatar on Saturday, September 12 with officials from many nations and international organizations attending or speaking virtually at the opening ceremony.

Negotiators in Doha Struggle to Agree on Disputed Points; No Ceasefire Until Cause of War is Discussed: Taliban Spokesman
read more