Biden Administration to Review Taliban Peace Deal

KABUL: The new US President Joe Biden wants to review a peace deal his predecessor Donald Trump signed with Taliban insurgents last February.

The announcement over the review comes as Afghan government has some considerations and objections to the peace deal.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state told congressmen that new rulers in the White House want to know what was discussed in the peace deal. Blinken assured to cancel the deal if it did not maintain achievements gained in the past.

“I am not sure any agreements between Afghan government and Taliban last for long without maintaining achievements gained in the past 20 years or achievements Afghan women gained. We are interested in education and access to healthcare services as well as in issues about job outside house. If an agreement is gained we need to get sure it preserves these rights. But I emphasize that this is not simple, so we will continue our efforts,” Blinken said.

The US is committed under the deal to pull out all its soldiers from Afghanistan by May. Taliban in return have vowed to cut ties with all international terrorist organizations and not to let al-Qaeda and Daesh use Afghan soil to threaten stability in the United States and its allies Europe.

The government of Afghanistan welcomed the new US administration’s announcement, with Waheed Omer, President Ghani’s adviser calling it a good step.

Taliban as the one side of the peace deal, call it the only way to end war in Afghanistan, with Mohammad Naeem, the militants’ spokesman saying that it should be implemented.

Naeem told the Bloomberg that the insurgents expect Biden to respect the Washington-Taliban peace deal.

The comments come after US nominee for secretary of defense emphasized on the end of Afghan war, but urged Afghanistan should not turn to a new threat for the US security.

Biden Administration to Review Taliban Peace Deal
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Pakistan urges Biden to stick to Afghan troop withdrawal

Pakistan FM tells Al Jazeera the country has hopes for greater engagement with the new Biden administration.

Karachi, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said his country has hopes for greater engagement with the new United States government and called on Joe Biden to follow up on the ongoing Afghan peace process and US troops withdrawal from the country.

“I think they [Biden administration] should realise there is an opportunity in Afghanistan and they should persevere with what was initiated and not reverse things,” Qureshi told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“Push them forward, because, after a long time, we have started moving in the right direction.”

Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, against whom the US has fought an almost 20-year war, are continuing in the Qatari capital Doha but progress remains slow.

There has been an increase in violence in recent weeks, with a surge in targeted attacks and bombings across the country for which the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban.

Pakistan facilitated the intra-Afghan talks and the US-Taliban dialogue and has now called for the US to stick to the agreements.

Under last year’s historic deal, all US troops are due to leave Afghanistan by April, but the Pentagon recently hinted it could delay that if violence does not abate.

“We are concerned because we feel violence can vitiate the climate,” Qureshi added.

“Pakistan has done a lot, we have really bent backwards to create an environment to facilitate the peace process,” he said, while blaming “spoilers” for the violence, identifying them as internal Afghan players “who have benefited from the war economy” and alleging that “there are elements from outside who do not share our vision, which is a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan.”

“It is a shared responsibility to begin with but the ultimate responsibility is with the Afghan leadership. It’s their country, it’s their future.”

Convergence of interests

Biden will inherit not only a tricky endgame to the US’s longest war but also a relationship with nuclear-armed Pakistan that sank to new lows during his previous stint in power.

In 2018, Trump slashed security assistance to Pakistan by $1.1bn over the same allegations, accusing Islamabad of having given the US “nothing but lies and deceit”.

Relations began to warm as the Trump administration took up direct negotiations with the Taliban – carried out mainly by the US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad – in a process facilitated by Pakistan.

“They should be supportive of what, I feel, is a convergence of interests,” said Qureshi.

“Our approach, thinking, objectives and shared visions are very much in line with the priorities of the new administration. And that convergence can be built further.”

At a US Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s Secretary of Defense nominee Lloyd Austin termed Pakistan “an essential partner” to peace in Afghanistan.

China relations ‘not a zero-sum game

Qureshi also called on the US not to view Pakistan’s close ties with China – an economic and political rival to the US – as a “zero-sum game”.

“They have to understand that our relationship with China is not a zero-sum game for them,” he said, making note of China’s $60bn investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

“They [the US] should come, compete and invest.”

He added that Pakistan was willing to act as a mediator between China and the US, a role it played in 1972 when it facilitated talks to set up an historic visit to Beijing by then-President Richard Nixon.

“Pakistan traditionally has had the opportunity and has built bridges between the two. In this environment, where there is a change … Pakistan can be a bridge-builder.”

Pakistan urges Biden to stick to Afghan troop withdrawal
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Ghani Warns of ‘Severe Consequences’ of Interim Setup

President Ghani says Afghanistan’s constitution is the most Islamic constitution in the world.

President Ashraf Ghani who visited the western province of Herat on Thursday said that those who are rallying for an interim setup has no understanding from the severe consequences of the plan for the nation. 

“Anyone who talks about the plan for an interim government, should ask whether the commander in chief of Afghanistan has the trust of the country’s defense and security forces. What have they thought about the future of the security and defense forces?” Ghani said. “Based on what authority are they talking about an interim government?”

President Ghani said the Taliban should halt their ties with Pakistan.

“If they (Taliban) claim to be Afghans and want to live in Afghanistan, they cannot have dual citizenship,” Ghani said, referring to the Taliban.

The president said the ongoing relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have remained unexplained.

“Today, trust remains quite weak amongst us,” Ghani said, adding “respect is subjected to some sort of peril, there no explicit definition of the interest.”

Ghani said Afghanistan’s Constitution is the most Islamic constitution in the world, adding it is a people-oriented document that can address the needs of all.

Previously, the Taliban said the group does not recognize the current Constitution of Afghanistan as an Islamic document.

Referring to the Taliban’s insistence for a complete change of the political system, Ghani said that the majority of Afghans have grown in the post-Taliban era and that the only thing they remember from the group is their violence in recent years.

This comes as efforts are underway in Doha to find a political settlement for the ongoing conflicts in the country. But the process has been slow recently as the peace negotiators have not held any meetings over the last 10 days.

“We know that every moment of delay in peace talks cause the blood of an innocent man; therefore, we do not support delay in the talks,” said Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a member of the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team.

Regional Support 

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Friday met with Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar in Riyadh and announced his country’s support for peace and development in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The Saudi Arabian minister said that “terrorism and extremism are a common threat and require joint combat,” according to the statement.

“They expressed their full support to the Afghan peace process,” said Gran Hewad, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in Brussels said that in the second defense ministers meeting, NATO will need to address the future of its training mission in Afghanistan.

“Whatever path we choose, it is important that we do so together, in a coordinated and deliberate way”, Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO supports the Afghan peace talks and, as part of this process, stands ready to further adjust its presence,” said Stoltenberg.

Ghani Warns of ‘Severe Consequences’ of Interim Setup
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Biden’s Team Kept in Dark Over Afghanistan Drawdown

“We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven’t been privy to it yet,” said Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state.

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration will review the peace agreement with the Taliban. 

“We want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place,” Blinken said at his Senate confirmation hearing.

“We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated. I haven’t been privy to it yet,” he said, adding that “We must thoroughly assess the US-Taliban peace agreement, I still do not know the details of this agreement.”

Last year on February 29, the US and Taliban signed a deal to end US’s longest war. In the accord signed in Doha, the US said it would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 –if all conditions were met–and the Taliban pledged not to allow terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan.

Blinken during the hearing promised to consider the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan’s peace process.

“I don’t believe that any outcome that they might achieve is sustainable without protecting the gains that have been made by women and girls in Afghanistan over the last 20 years,” Blinken said.

“I would acknowledge to you that I don’t think that it’s going to be easy, but we will work on it,” he added.

Afghan peace 

Waheed Omar, President Ashraf Ghani’s senior adviser for public and strategic affairs, on Wednesday said that the Afghan government will not release more Taliban prisoners, and said that previous releases have resulted in more violence.

This comes as the Taliban has demanded the release of 7,000 more prisoners, the removal of the group’s members from the UN blacklist, and the formation of an Islamic system in order to continue the peace talks, according to peace talks.

“We are not in favor of releasing more Taliban prisoners,” Omar said.

The release of over 5,000 Taliban prisoners before was intended to reduce violence as the part of the peace process, Omar said, but “violence has increased because of it.”

In the meantime, Republic negotiator Abdul Hafiz Mansoor on Monday said that the negotiating team has decided that the legitimacy of the war must be discussed with the Taliban before any progress can be made.

He said the talks will not have an outcome until this issue is clarified.

On Sunday, the chief negotiators from the Afghan republic and the Taliban met; however, the working groups from both sides failed to meet on Monday to finalize the agenda for the talks.

Three meetings were held in the first days since the talks resumed on January 6, but the working groups from both sides have not met for the last six days.

According to negotiator Nader Nadery, it was only the heads of the two teams and a limited amount of members who met on Sunday evening and discussed the agenda.

The lack of meetings was criticized by Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), who met with a number of foreign diplomats at a virtual event to discuss coordination around the peace efforts.

Abdullah said the peace efforts must be expedited.

The US-Taliban deal signed on February 29 last year raised hopes among Afghans for a reduction in violence but the Taliban, in defiance of the international community, continued their attacks against the Afghan government forces.

Biden’s Team Kept in Dark Over Afghanistan Drawdown
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‘There Is No Safe Area’: In Kabul, Fear Has Taken Over

The New York Times

A new wave of violence and a growing uncertainty about the country’s future have left Afghans in the capital with a constant sense of fear.

A police checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, this month.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times 

KABUL, Afghanistan — In Kabul’s uncertain present, fear and dread intertwine in a vise. Fear has become a way of life.

“When you’re in the car you feel fear, when you are walking you feel fear, and when you are in the shop you feel fear,” said Shamsullah Amini, a 22-year-old shopkeeper, while watching over his vats of dried grains and beans in the Taimani neighborhood. “If there was any security at all, we wouldn’t all be thinking about leaving the country.”

“Fear is omnipresent,” said Muqaddesa Yourish, an executive at a leading communications firm. “It’s gone from a state of fear to a state of being.”

Fear has long been part of life in Kabul, with the possibility of sudden death from a Taliban strike. But these days — even as the Afghan government tries to negotiate peace with the Taliban — there is a heightened sense that life is fragile here. With the Taliban active in most of the country and almost daily reports of government forces beaten back, there are new questions about whether a grim return to extremist rule is on the near horizon.

On Sunday morning gunmen killed two female judges on a street in a central Kabul neighborhood. The women worked for Afghanistan’s Supreme Court. Shaharzad Akbar, the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, wrote on Twitter afterward that the country is suffering “what seems to be a systematic massacre & the world seems to be just watching.”

In the first two weeks of January, bombs went off in several Kabul neighborhoods; a car bomb killed a government spokesman and two others; and a police officer, a military pilot, a soldier and a member of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency were all gunned down, according to a New York Times report. The list is not exhaustive.

The funeral of a female judge in Kabul  on Sunday. Gunmen killed two female  judges on a street in a central Kabul neighborhood.

Credit…Hedayatullah Amid/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Right now, I can’t be sure of my own security,” said Omar Sadr, a political scientist at the American University of Afghanistan. “But it’s not just about being targeted. It’s about an atmosphere of fear. If it continues, you won’t have the space needed for a democracy.”

The assassination campaign, aimed mostly at government workers, activists, journalists and members of the military, is thought to be the Taliban’s attempt to pressure the Afghan government during the halting peace talks, though the group has denied responsibility for the attacks.

It is also a means of silencing critical voices, now and in the future. More than 300 people were killed in targeted attacks last year, including at least six journalists over the last seven months, according to a New York Times tally.

Some who are able to get visas have left.

“It is pretty morose,” said Farahnaz Forotan, a leading television journalist, who fled to Paris in November after her name turned up on a hit list.

Farahnaz Forotan in Kabul in 2019. “The Taliban’s aim is to create fear among the population,” she said.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

In the capital, a veneer of normality masks the dread. In the early evening, storefronts are brightly lit against the darkened streets, and a frenetic bustle of shoppers and street vendors, darting through the perpetual traffic jam, is undamped by the coronavirus.

But even these last shreds of routine could disappear if the Taliban return or Afghanistan descends again into civil war.

The latest wave of violence evokes memories of the early 1990s strife that destroyed the capital. The internal war has already begun, some here say; the near-daily bombings and shootings, many unclaimed, foreshadow it. At night, the occasional burst of automatic gunfire has become familiar.

Mina Rezaee, at the cafe she runs in Kabul.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Portraits of Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt and Virginia Woolf hang on one of the cafe’s walls next to a quotation from Michel Foucault about love and sensuality.

How many explosions has Ms. Rezaee witnessed up close? “It’s common for me,” she shrugged, noting that she was near a massive truck bombing outside the German Embassy that killed 90 in 2017. In a photograph on her Facebook page, taken after the 2016 Islamic State bombing in Kabul that killed over 80, she clutches her hands to a face contorted with anguish.

“Nobody wants to die young,” said Saib Nissar, 25, who runs one of the glassed-in storefront bakeries that dot the capital. “But here in Afghanistan, no one can think of anything but the insecurity.”

The most banal aspects of daily life have become a torment.

“Every morning on the way to work I’m waiting for an explosion,” said Zahra Fayazi, a customer at the Simple Café and a former top national women’s volleyball player who now works at the state electricity company. “If it doesn’t happen in this square, it will happen in the next one.”

“When we get to the office, everyone is talking about the latest explosions,” Zahra Fayazi said.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“When we get to the office, everyone is talking about the latest explosions,” she said. “I can only breathe again when my daughters return home from school.”

The consequences of the violence are both psychological and practical — especially for the government workers, academics and activists who are the biggest targets.

Ms. Akbar, the chairwoman of the country’s human rights commission, said, “If you are spending your mental energy thinking about how to survive, inevitably all your days are tense and stressful.”

Mr. Sadr, the political scientist, said he sold his car, worried it would be a target. “I’m trying to use taxis instead,” he said. “I’m trying to be cautious and move less.”

He also said he worried about whether something he said would attract unwanted notice from the Taliban. “We’re all cautious about speaking, about the implications of speaking,” he said.

Ms. Yourish, the communications executive, who is also a former deputy minister, said she no longer has a routine. “I change my routes, I change vehicles,” she said. “I need to be on extra alert about my surroundings. You do get these thoughts of, ‘What if this is my last moment?’ It’s like, taking every day as it comes.”

“But I can’t,” she added.

Shaharzad Akbar during an interview in Kabul in 2017. “There’s this constant worry about being killed,” she said recently.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

There is little confidence that the government can hold out against the Taliban, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table. Some here who have met with them say Taliban negotiators don’t hide their contempt for the Afghan government, regarding it as a puppet of the Americans. There is deep unease about what will happen when the last American troops withdraw, tentatively scheduled for May.

An Afghan rapper and his musician friends, sitting together at the cafe, were not optimistic. “I sing of a life that doesn’t exist,” Mustafa Saher, 27, raps in his music video.

Mustafa Saher, a local rapper, received threatening phone calls after he released a music video online.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Mr. Saher put his tattooed arm on the table. “If they see this, they will cut my arm off,” he said. “They say, this is the opposite of Islam.”

After he posted his video online, he received a threatening phone call saying: “What you are doing? It is against Islam. You are an infidel!”

“I am scared of my own people,” Mr. Saher said. “This fear is depressing people and forcing them to isolate themselves,” he said, adding that it had become impossible, already, to hold concerts in many parts of Kabul.

“All we want is freedom, and justice, and maybe a little bit of peace,” he said.

Fatima Faizi and Najim Rahim contributed reporting.

‘There Is No Safe Area’: In Kabul, Fear Has Taken Over
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Billions in aid needed to help Afghan children in 2021

The organization says that $1.3 billion more is needed for humanitarian response in the country.

A humanitarian organization reports that 18.4 million Afghans, half of the country’s population, need life-saving assistance, and 9.7 million of them are children. 

The organization says that $1.3 billion more is needed in humanitarian aid.

“Millions of people are suffering every day because of poverty and conflict. It’s especially hard on children, many of whom have known nothing but violence. According to the latest UN figures, nearly 6,000 people, a third of them children, were killed and injured between January and September last year,” said Chris Nyamandi, the Save the Children’s Director in Afghanistan.

Nyamandi said that the conflicts in the country will continue to fuel humanitarian need this year.

“This will threaten people’s wellbeing and limit access to essential services like hospitals and clinics as well as humanitarian assistance,” he added.

“Now the schools are closed because of the harsh winter conditions and COVID-19 restrictions and they won’t reopen to until March. Meanwhile, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis,” Nyamandi said.

The organization says that the conflicts have displaced thousands of families in Afghanistan.

“We fled to Rodat district in Nangarhar province due to intensive conflict. Life is difficult,” ten-year-old Brishna, a resident of Nangarhar, was quoted by Save the Children as saying.

COVID-19 in Afghanistan is having a catastrophic impact on millions of vulnerable families, the organization says.

In 2020, World Bank estimates revealed that the pandemic had led to massive disruptions to imports including vital household items, which in turn is leading to rapid inflation, said the report.

Ongoing natural and man-made disasters, and the added health and socio-economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, will deepen the humanitarian impact across the country, the organization said.

In response, Save the Children is calling for at least another $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance to help the Afghan people in 2021.

Lacking this, the humanitarian community will struggle to meet the growing needs of an entire generation of children whose lives have been blighted by conflict, Save the Children says.


Billions in aid needed to help Afghan children in 2021
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Gunmen kill two female Supreme Court judges in Afghanistan


KABUL (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen killed two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court on Sunday morning, police said, adding to a wave of assassinations in Kabul and other cities while government and Taliban representatives have been holding peace talks in Qatar.

The two judges, who have not yet been named, were killed and their driver wounded, in an attack at around 8:30 am, police said, adding the case was being investigated by security forces.

A spokesman for the Taliban said its fighters were not involved.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning attacks on civilians by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Ghani said “terror, horror and crime” was not a solution to Afghanistan’s problem and beseeched the Taliban to accept “a permanent ceasefire”.

Government officials, journalists, and activists have been targeted in recent months, stoking fear particularly in the capital Kabul.

The Taliban has denied involvement in some of the attacks, but has said its fighters would continue to “eliminate” important government figures, though not journalists or civil society members.

Rising violence has complicated U.S.-brokered peace talks taking place in Doha as Washington withdraws troops.

Sources on both sides say negotiations are only likely to make substantive progress once U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office and makes his Afghan policy known.

The number of U.S troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001, according to the Pentagon on Friday.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Gunmen kill two female Supreme Court judges in Afghanistan
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Afghan Partners Call for Ceasefire, Expedited Peace Effort

Chief negotiator Masoom Stanekzai said serious discussions on the agreed points will start by end of this week.

Afghanistan’s international partners in a meeting with Afghan officials held virtually today announced their support for the peace efforts, ceasefire and humanitarian values in the country, said the High Council for National Reconciliation.

Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, the State Minister for Peace Affairs Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi, chief negotiator Masoom Stanekzai and Deputy Foreign Minister Mirwais Nab attended the meeting, according to the reconciliation council’s statement.

The event was the second monthly meeting of the High Council for National Reconciliation’s Regional and International Affairs Commission with members of Kabul’s diplomatic corps.

“We exchanged views on the peace process, the second round of the talks in Doha, regional and international support for peace. We fully briefed our international partners on the latest developments in the peace process inside the country, and in Doha,” Abdullah said.

The diplomatic corps and international partners shared their views and unanimously supported the peace efforts lead by the High Council for National Reconciliation, called for immediate ceasefire and the acceleration of the talks, condemned the targeted killings, and insisted on a unified message in support of Afghanistan the peace process, Abdullah said.

“Our negotiating team is in Qatar. They’re back there on time. They had plenty of meetings with different stakeholders,” Abdullah said. “The guiding principles were approved which were approved by the leadership committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation.”

“Achieving an inclusive peaceful settlement is our goal and preserving the achievements of the past 20 years–which are the sacrifices of our people–these are the guiding principles for our negotiating team,” he said.

According to the reconciliation council’s statement, the common points in the meeting were support for the peace efforts, a call for immediate ceasefire, expedition of peace efforts in Doha, an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace, and condemnation of targeting killings.

Stanekzai said that discussions are underway on the agenda of the talks and that serious discussions on the agreed points will start by end of this week.

Afghan Partners Call for Ceasefire, Expedited Peace Effort
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‘I Could Just Vanish’: In Kabul, Pocket Notes to Prevent Anonymous Death

David Zucchino and 

The New York Times

As violence engulfs them, some Afghans carry notes with their names, blood types and relatives’ phone numbers in case they are killed or severely wounded.

For some young people, the pocket note has become an essential element of daily life — an identity marker ensuring that they will not die an anonymous death.
 Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Tareq Qassemi, a bookseller, lost a close friend to a suicide bombing that killed 80 civilians in Kabul one scorching summer day. Four years later, he still mourns his friend, but also the nameless Afghans who perished with him.

“Their bodies were shattered — the only thing that remained was a shoe or a bag or a pen,” he recalled.

Mr. Qassemi, 28, now carries a special slip of paper, known as a pocket note, that contains his full name, his blood type and the phone numbers of family members — like a homemade, civilian version of a soldier’s dog tags. He knows too well how fragile and ephemeral life in Kabul can be, and he refuses to become an unidentified victim.

“I could get killed on my way to work or in a car or anywhere, and no one knows about me and they will look for my body everywhere,” he said. “I could just vanish.”

The bearers of pocket notes hope the slips of paper will help emergency medical workers identify an injured person’s blood type for a lifesaving transfusion. They might also help authorities quickly summon family members for precious final moments with a mortally wounded loved one. And they could help identify a badly disfigured corpse.

Tareq Qassemi carries a special slip of paper, known as a pocket note, that contains his full name, his blood type and the phone numbers of family members.

Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

For some young people, the pocket note has become an essential element of daily life. It can validate human existence — an identity marker ensuring that if violent death comes, it does not have to be anonymous.

“If something happens to me, who will collect my body? What if I need blood?” said Masouma Tajik, 22, a computer science student in Kabul, whose family lives hundreds of miles away.

“If something happens to me, who will collect my body? What if I need blood?” said Masouma Tajik, whose family lives hundreds of miles away.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

Those questions confronted Ms. Tajik when she was stuck in a Kabul traffic jam one recent day, terrified that a car bomb might explode at any moment, she said. She now carries a slip of notebook paper with her personal information. The note says, “If anything happens to me.”

In the years since the 2001 American invasion unleased a deadly Taliban insurgency, each new day has brought the potential of sudden death by car bombing, shooting, roadside explosion or rocket attack.

Since signing a February agreement with the United States, the Taliban have curtailed mass-casualty attacks in urban centers. But the country has seen a rise in targeted assassinations, singling out government functionaries, prosecutors, journalists, religious scholars and civil society activists in near-daily attacks with guns or magnetic bombs attached to vehicles. The government has accused the Taliban of carrying out most of these killings, but they have repeatedly denied responsibility.

Some officials worry that at least some of the attacks are being committed by political factions outside the Taliban to settle old scores, a disturbing trend harking back to Afghanistan’s civil war a generation ago.

At the same time, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings and other mass-casualty attacks in Kabul. A suicide bomber killed 44 people at a tutoring center on Oct. 24, and gunmen killed 21 more at Kabul University on Nov. 2.

The constant threat of a sudden, brutal death has left many Afghans with a sense of despair and fatalism. The most prosaic acts can end violently — commuting to work, visiting a friend, buying groceries, striding into a classroom.

“Every morning when I leave home, I am not sure if I’ll come back alive,” said Arifa Armaghan, 29, who works for a nongovernmental organization.

“When you lose people you know, you feel that you are next, and you feel death coming closer to you,” said Arifa Armaghan, who carries her identity card and a note in her purse.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

“This is how we live in Afghanistan,” she added. “It is not just me. I talk to some people who say goodbye to their families every morning because they don’t know what will happen to them during the day.”

Ms. Armaghan has carried a pocket note since July 2017, when a close childhood friend died in a Taliban suicide attack on a government minibus that also killed 23 other people. The body of the friend, Najiba Hussaini, was identified by her trademark silver ring, studded with a turquoise-colored stone.

“When you lose people you know, you feel that you are next, and you feel death coming closer to you,” Ms. Armaghan said.

After every mass bombing, she said, she and her friends send urgent text messages to loved ones. “There is always a fear that someone will never get back to you,” she said.

Some of those who carry pocket notes say they have considered leaving the country.

“But it is hard to decide when my brain is busy thinking about who will come to kill me,” said Mujeebullah Dastyar, 31, a geographic information specialist. For the past two years, he said, he has carried a pocket note with his name, blood type and a relative’s phone number.

Some Afghans have thought about leaving the country. “But it is hard to decide when my brain is busy thinking about who will come to kill me,” said Mujeebullah Dastyar.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times
Some Afghans have posted messages on Facebook, warning of threats against them or detailing premonitions of death.

Burhanuddin Yaftaly, 24, a former lieutenant in the Afghan army, was shot and killed by a Taliban gunman while attending his sister’s wedding in the northern province of Badakhshan in December. The bride was wounded when she tried to save her brother, police said.

Mr. Yaftaly’s father, Khairuddin Ziaye, 61, said his son had been threatened by the Taliban. Shortly before his death, Mr. Yaftaly posted a final note on his Facebook page: “Dear friends: I am sorry for any mistakes I have made in the past. I have been receiving many threats from different sides. I think I won’t be able to survive anymore.”

In Western nations, people routinely carry an array of items that can identify them, but in Afghanistan, things like driver’s licenses and employee badges are not as common, and credit cards are not used. Afghans are issued a tazkira, a national identity document, but few carry the card because considerable time and effort are required to replace it if lost.

Rafi Bakhtiar, 21, a consultant, said he has carried his tazkira since the Kabul University attack on Nov. 2. That day, he said, neighbors searched into the night for their daughter, a student, before the university confirmed that she had died in the attack. The school used a contact number in a phone found on the student’s body to call Mr. Bathtiar’s sister, a close friend.

Rafi Bakhtiar said he had accepted the harsh reality that he could die, capriciously and violently, on any given day anywhere in the capital.
Credit…Kiana Hayeri for The New York Times

“If I get killed, there should be evidence on me so people can get in touch with my family, and they don’t search the whole city to find my body,” Mr. Bakhtiar said.

Like many Kabul residents, Mr. Bakhtiar said he had contempt for insurgents who kill civilians, but he also blamed the American-backed government for failing to safeguard its citizens.

“If the government doesn’t do anything to protect us, you lose your hope and you can’t dream for a better future,” he said.

Mr. Bakhtiar said he had accepted the harsh reality that he could die, capriciously and violently, on any given day anywhere in the capital.

“We are broken. We are shattered,” he said. “The angel of death is flying over Afghanistan.”

Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Kabul.

‘I Could Just Vanish’: In Kabul, Pocket Notes to Prevent Anonymous Death
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She Killed an American in 2012. Why Was She Freed in the Taliban Deal?

The New York Times

The internal debate in Washington over the fate of an Iranian prisoner in Afghanistan illustrates one of the difficult decisions the end of a war brings.

A portrait of Nargis Mohammad Hasan hanging in her home in 2012. Ms. Hasan, an Iranian woman who served as an Afghan police officer, has been in prison until this past fall.
Credit…Mohammad Ismail/Reuters 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nargis Mohammad Hasan was serving as an Afghan police officer after emigrating from Iran when she shot and killed an American civilian adviser on Dec. 24, 2012, in Afghanistan’s capital. It was considered the first known attack by a woman in the Afghan security forces on a coalition member since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Ms. Hasan’s possible motives for the killing have always been murky. She was portrayed by internal investigations and Afghan and U.S. officials as someone who was either mentally unwell, or was an Iranian agent, or both — theories that were further clouded by the Taliban’s decision last year to call for her release even though they acknowledge that she was not a member.

Originally sentenced to death by Afghan courts, she had remained in prison. Then this past summer, she was freed as part of the United States’ peace deal with the Taliban after U.S. State Department negotiators dismissed the F.B.I. and diplomats’ opposition to her release, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

As peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban continue in Qatar, the internal debate in Washington over Ms. Hasan’s fate illustrates one of the difficult decisions that efforts to end a war can bring. To some officials, particularly those inside the F.B.I. and other national security organizations, her release by the Afghan government, under pressure from the Trump administration, was an affront to justice.

Other American officials, though they acknowledged that her crime was egregious, saw Ms. Hasan as not being the kind of high-level terrorist figure who could pose a future threat to Americans. So her release, despite her conviction, became part of the price the United States was willing to pay for the prospect of peace in Afghanistan.

Security personnel outside Kabul’s police headquarters in 2012, where Ms. Hasan killed the American civilian adviser.

Credit…Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

The quiet acceptance of the release of people who killed Americans over the course of the long war has been a byproduct of the U.S. government’s push to accelerate its departure from Afghanistan.

Unclaimed attacks on U.S. bases in the country have gone mostly unacknowledged by the American military, most likely in an effort to prevent further scrutiny of the U.S.-Taliban deal made in February, especially of the insurgent group’s compliance with one of the deal’s core tenets: not attacking American or coalition forces as they depart.

Last month, a car bomb detonated at Camp Chapman, an important C.I.A. base since the early days of the war, according to a U.S. official. There were no American casualties, and several Afghans were wounded and at least one was killed. News of the attack was earlier reported by Foreign Policy.

Under Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy, the American government has been willing to take dramatic steps, even in the face of opposition from the military and law enforcement, to extricate the United States from its longest war and bring about some type of peace in Afghanistan.

In addition to the large-scale prisoner releases, the Trump administration has pushed for a quick withdrawal of military forces in the country, often over the objections of the Pentagon. The U.S. military has drawn down to 2,500 troops, still stationed at roughly a dozen bases in the country, despite opposition from U.S. lawmakers.

But as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepares to take office, a key question remains — whether he will keep Mr. Khalilzad in place, or, push for a veteran diplomat of his own choosing. Mr. Biden has long had a skeptical view of a sizable American presence in Afghanistan, but unlike President Trump, he has also argued for a counterterrorism force in the country.

The F.B.I., according to U.S. officials, placed Ms. Hasan on a list of people who should not be released as part of the Feb. 29 deal between the United States and the Taliban, in which the U.S. agreed to push the Afghan government to free 5,000 prisoners. Officials in Australia and France also pushed, to no avail, for a small number of the 5,000 prisoners, those who were convicted of killing their citizens, to remain locked up.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who oversaw the negotiations and guided them based on his interpretation of what Mr. Trump wanted, told foreign governments that “there was no alternative but to move forward with the prisoner releases as the parties had agreed,” according to an official who worked on the February agreement.

Internally, the State Department eventually overruled the request to keep Ms. Hasan behind bars, as well. The decision was part of a broader effort by the White House to expedite talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban before the November presidential election in the United States, the officials said.

In a statement to The Times, a State Department spokesperson said the prisoner swap was “a difficult decision for the Afghans to make” and for the United States to accept, adding that it was “not something we are happy about.”

Zalmay Khalilzad, center, with Gen. Austin S. Miller, left, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, and Abdullah Abdullah, right, the chairman of the national reconciliation council, arriving at a meeting in Kabul this month.
Credit…High Council For National Reconciliation, via Reuters

The chargé d’affaires in Kabul, Ross Wilson, later said on Twitter that the United States had not “advocated” for an interim government.

For now, it’s unclear whether Ms. Hasan could be arrested and charged in the United States for the 2012 shooting of the American contractor: Joseph Griffin, 49, of Mansfield, Ga.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied that Ms. Hasan had even carried out the killing, saying she was one of a handful of women released under the deal who were “imprisoned on false charges for being members of Taliban families.” Mr. Mujahid provided no evidence explaining the assertion.

But the shooting was recorded by at least one surveillance camera, according to U.S. military documents detailing the attack. Mr. Griffin’s death came at the end of a watershed year when such attacks by Afghan security forces accounted for 15 percent of coalition troops who were killed or wounded, threatening to derail the war effort.

American military, Afghan intelligence service and court documents paint a conflicting picture of Ms. Hasan and her motivations for killing Mr. Griffin. In one account outlined in investigation documents, Ms. Hasan, a uniformed police officer who is also known as Narges Rezaeimomenabad, according to her Iranian passport, was trying to kill herself after a fight with her husband and said she had fired on Mr. Griffin so she herself would be killed by security forces.

In another theory, she was trying to secure an Iranian visa for her family. To do so, according to the documents, she was directed by an Iranian employee at the embassy in Kabul to kill a high-profile Afghan official or foreign adviser.

But it is unclear whether Ms. Hasan has any ties to Iranian intelligence operatives. Some American intelligence officials are deeply skeptical that she is an agent of Tehran, or was at the time of the shooting, according to American officials.

Iran’s involvement in the Afghan war has shifted since 2001, underscoring the changing geopolitical currents over the war’s duration. On one hand, Tehran’s official line has denounced the return of the Taliban as a direct threat to Iran. But on the other, Iranian operatives have made quiet overtures to the insurgent group, offering weapons and other equipment, in Afghanistan’s southwest, Afghan officials say.

Adam Goldman and Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington. Fahim Abed and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.

She Killed an American in 2012. Why Was She Freed in the Taliban Deal?
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