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Afghan government short on options after being shut out of US-Taliban peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan – Excluded from peace talks with the Taliban, estranged from Washington after sharply attacking its peace envoy and under growing pressure to postpone July elections, the Afghan government is running short on time, friends and …

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Crisis with India can have unintended impact on Afghan peace process: Maleeha

NEW YORK: The ongoing crisis with India means that Pakistan’s full focus has to be on its eastern frontier and that has implications for the nascent Afghan peace process, Pakistan’s Representative to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi said.
Although she stopped short of saying this would affect Pakistans role in the process, her message was clear that the shift in focus could have that unintended results.
Our attention is going to be where we feel there is a military threat to us,” Ambassador Lodhi said in response to a question about the possible impact of the simmering India-Pakistan tensions stemming from the Kashmir dispute.Qatar offers mediation to de-escalate tensions between Pak, IndiaThat ongoing threat, she clarified, was from India.
The latest round of Afghan peace talks is taking place in Doha, Qatar, between Zalmay Khalilzad, the American special envoy, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader, who for the first time is taking a more direct role in the process.“Both (Afghanistan) and (Kashmir) issues are important in their own right.
But it is the eastern border, from where India attacked Pakistan. They sent planes into our territory.That’s a hot border,” the envoy added.“Afghanistan is a different situation.We would like that war to end. But we don’t perceive a threat from our western border.
It’s our eastern border from where we continue to perceive a threat.“We are in the midst of a very tense situation, a very fraught situation,” the Pakistani envoy continued.The Indian leadership is failing to respond to Prime Minister Imran Khans repeated gestures (for peace), which included freeing and releasing the Indian pilot.”The turmoil in Kashmir escalated on February 14, after a suicide bombing killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Kashmir.Pakistan categorically denied any involvement and offered to investigate, but India still went ahead and dropped bombs inside Pakistani territory.We kept asking the Indians to give us what you have and we will act on it, Ambassador Lodhi said, adding that only couple of days ago, the so-called dossier has been handed over Pakistan.Theresa May lauds PM Imran’s peace overtures amid Pak-India tensionsWe are examining that dossier to see if there is anything there on which we need to act, and we will act if there is any solid evidence, but we cannot act on the basis of allegations, she said.Replying to a question about Kashmir, the Pakistani envoy said the dispute has been there for the past 70 years.
“It has to be addressed, in its own right and (on) its own merits because it will remain an issue that will lead to repeated tensions between India and Pakistan and in any case, it is an issue that is on the Security Council agenda and it has resolutions that remain unimplemented.

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Afghan Taliban, US suspend talks for two days

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban and American officials on Thursday suspended the peace talks for two days and agreed to resume negotiations from Saturday after they failed to evolve consensus on two major issues – US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and US Special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation confirmed suspension of talks for two days.
Taliban sources in Qatar, however, said the talks were suspended for two days after the US negotiation team allegedly deviated from the two main topics and started discussing other irrelevant issues and pressed to declare on ceasefire. They said there was a deadlock in talks and this was the reason the process was suspended for two days.
This issue is not that much simple to be resolved within two or three rounds of talks. We were told to discuss two major issues US withdrawal from Afghanistan and our commitment not to let our soil to be used against any country and particularly the US and its allies after we reached an agreement, said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban.However, he stated that the US delegation members deliberately’ deviated from the main agenda and started asking questions about the future government in Afghanistan, women rights and Taliban relations with the international community. Some of the Taliban representatives had adopted a very simple approach towards peace talks and wanted to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict but unfortunately that does not seem to be easy, the Taliban leader argued.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said: Amid the ongoing talks between the negotiation teams of Islamic Emirate and United States in the Qatari capital of Doha, extensive discussions were held about the method of foreign troops’ withdrawal from Tuesday till Wednesday noon and from that time onwards, discussion revolved around preventing Afghanistan from being used against others.He said the meeting ended on Wednesday night, as both negotiation teams agreed to take a break today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) for consultations and preparation for the third meeting which shall be held on Saturday.
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban’s head of the Political Commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar held a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the top NATO commander General Scott Miller and senior Qatar government officials including deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Rahman al-Thani and National Security Advisor Mohammad al-Masnad.Taliban sources said Mulla Baradar informed them about Taliban’s priorities and explained to them that they would continue to demand the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan.Taliban said they had already explained their position about militant groups in Afghanistan such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying no foreign militant group would be allowed to operate independently or use their soil against any other country.Zabihullah Mujahid said Mulla Baradar emphasized Taliban commitment to the current peace process and their struggle for peace and establishment of an Islamic system of government in Afghanistan.
Taliban sources said they had already maintained that al-Qaeda members who pleaded allegiance to their supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada would not be asked to leave Afghanistan.They would need to live in Afghanistan and obey the Afghan constitution but would never run any militant group or use the Afghan soil against any other country.As for the ISIS or Daesh, we have nothing to do with it and would not allow it to create any law and order situation in the country if we came into power, said the Taliban leader.He said their talks with US had been practically suspended due to the deadlock and now the two sides would discuss the future line of action with their respective leadership.
Americans and particularly Zalmay Khalilzad during the talks demanded the Taliban to declare a ceasefire before the launch of Taliban’s proposed spring offensive, fearing that it would escalate fighting and attacks against foreign and Afghan forces. They repeatedly asked for ceasefire and our representatives constantly said No’ to them, said a Taliban leader privy to the peace talks in Doha.He said Taliban Rahbari Shura, the top decision-making Leadership Council, is expected to be approached and informed about the present deadlock in peace talks.We had agreed with Americans that irrelevant issues would be discussed later once we develop consensus on US withdrawal and our commitment to keep Afghanistan a peaceful country not posing threat to any country.But they started debating other issues that created a deadlock in talks, said the Taliban leader.Taliban and US representatives resumed the peace negotiations in Doha on February 25.
They were supposed to discuss the draft framework for US forces’ withdrawal and Taliban pledge to prevent Afghan soil from being used against other countries.The path to peace doesn’t often run in a straight line.
The situation in Afghanistan is complex and like all sensitive talks, not everything is conducted in public. We made significant progress on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal.That doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re not even finished with these issues yet, and there is still work to be done on other vital issues like intra-Afghan dialogue and a complete ceasefire, he explained.He added that skeptics have rushed to judgment based on just the first part of a much larger effort as though they have a completed agreement.But you can’t eat an elephant in one bite! And a forty year old war won’t be resolved in one meeting, even if that meeting runs for close to a week, said Khalilzad, a seasoned diplomat.He said it was a moment for the Afghans to begin to heal old wounds and chart a new course for their country.PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban and American officials on Thursday suspended the peace talks for two days and agreed to resume negotiations from Saturday after they failed to evolve consensus on two major issues – US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Taliban’s pledge of preventing their soil from being used by the militant groups in future against the United States and its allies.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and US Special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation confirmed suspension of talks for two days. Taliban sources in Qatar, however, said the talks were suspended for two days after the US negotiation team allegedly deviated from the two main topics and started discussing other “irrelevant” issues and pressed to declare on ceasefire.They said there was a deadlock in talks and this was the reason the process was suspended for two days.“This issue is not that much simple to be resolved within two or three rounds of talks.We were told to discuss two major issues – US withdrawal from Afghanistan and our commitment not to let our soil to be used against any country and particularly the US and its allies after we reached an agreement,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban.However, he stated that the US delegation members ‘deliberately’ deviated from the main agenda and started asking questions about the future government in Afghanistan, women rights and Taliban relations with the international community.
“Some of the Taliban representatives had adopted a very simple approach towards peace talks and wanted to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict but unfortunately that does not seem to be easy,” the Taliban leader argued.Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said: “Amid the ongoing talks between the negotiation teams of Islamic Emirate and United States in the Qatari capital of Doha, extensive discussions were held about the method of foreign troops’ withdrawal from Tuesday till Wednesday noon and from that time onwards, discussion revolved around preventing Afghanistan from being used against others.”He said the meeting ended on Wednesday night, “as both negotiation teams agreed to take a break today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) for consultations and preparation for the third meeting which shall be held on Saturday.”According to Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban’s head of the Political Commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar held a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the top NATO commander General Scott Miller and senior Qatar government officials including deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Rahman al-Thani and National Security Advisor Mohammad al-Masnad.
Taliban sources said Mulla Baradar informed them about Taliban’s priorities and explained to them that they would continue to demand the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan.Taliban said they had already explained their position about militant groups in Afghanistan such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying no foreign militant group would be allowed to operate independently or use their soil against any other country.
Zabihullah Mujahid said Mulla Baradar emphasized Taliban commitment to the current peace process and their struggle for peace and establishment of an Islamic system of government in Afghanistan.Taliban sources said they had already maintained that al-Qaeda members who pleaded allegiance to their supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada would not be asked to leave Afghanistan.
“They would need to live in Afghanistan and obey the Afghan constitution but would never run any militant group or use the Afghan soil against any other country. As for the ISIS or Daesh, we have nothing to do with it and would not allow it to create any law and order situation in the country if we came into power,” said the Taliban leader.He said their talks with US had been practically suspended due to the deadlock and now the two sides would discuss the future line of action with their respective leadership.“Americans and particularly Zalmay Khalilzad during the talks demanded the Taliban to declare a ceasefire before the launch of Taliban’s proposed spring offensive, fearing that it would escalate fighting and attacks against foreign and Afghan forces.
They repeatedly asked for ceasefire and our representatives constantly said ‘No’ to them,” said a Taliban leader privy to the peace talks in Doha.He said Taliban Rahbari Shura, the top decision-making Leadership Council, is expected to be approached and informed about the present deadlock in peace talks.
“We had agreed with Americans that irrelevant issues would be discussed later once we develop consensus on US withdrawal and our commitment to keep Afghanistan a peaceful country not posing threat to any country. But they started debating other issues that created a deadlock in talks,” said the Taliban leader.
Taliban and US representatives resumed the peace negotiations in Doha on February 25. They were supposed to discuss the draft framework for US forces’ withdrawal and Taliban pledge to prevent Afghan soil from being used against other countries.
“The path to peace doesn’t often run in a straight line. The situation in Afghanistan is complex and like all sensitive talks, not everything is conducted in public.
We made significant progress on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal. That doesn’t mean we’re done.
We’re not even finished with these issues yet, and there is still work to be done on other vital issues like intra-Afghan dialogue and a complete ceasefire,” he explained.He added that skeptics have rushed to judgment based on just the first part of a much larger effort as though they have a completed agreement.
“But you can’t eat an elephant in one bite! And a forty year old war won’t be resolved in one meeting, even if that meeting runs for close to a week,” said Khalilzad, a seasoned diplomat.He said it was a moment for the Afghans to begin to heal old wounds and chart a new course for their country.

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Talks with Taliban in Doha productive: US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Thursday said the latest talks with Taliban in Doha were “productive”. Khalilzad met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Doha starting Monday, in what is believed to be the highest level engagement between Khalilzad met with the Taliban’s top political leader in Doha starting Monday, in what is believed to be the highest level engagement between the US and the Taliban since the months-long peace push began.
Khalilzad had on February 25 tweeted that he and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar had held a “working lunch” ahead of a fresh round of talks with the insurgent group as the US seeks a way out of its longest war.”Both sides will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on Saturday.
All four key issues remain on the table,” he added.In another tweet, Khalilzad said, “As talks continue in Doha, there is also progress on forming a national team in Kabul ready to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue and talks with the Taliban.
“Marathon talks last month saw the two sides walk away with a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for international terror groups.There was no accord on a US withdrawal or a ceasefire, however, issues which have derailed attempts at peace talks in the past, while the government in Kabul has voiced increasingly loud fears it was being sidelined from the talks.
The latest negotiations came as violence soars in Afghanistan, with the UN reporting Sunday that more civilians were killed in 2018 than any other year since records began in 2009.US President Donald Trump has signalled his eagerness to end his country´s involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.
Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.

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Civilian deaths in Afghan war hit record in 2018

KABUL: More civilians were killed in the Afghan war in 2018 than during any other year on record after nearly two decades of fighting, according to a UN report released Sunday.
The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.”The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.
An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban — has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.
Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 with 3,804 people killed and another 7,189 wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across the war-torn country.The report’s release comes a day before the US and the Taliban hold their next round of talks aimed at ending the conflict, raising tentative hopes for peace along with fears that an American withdrawal could spark an even bloodier civil war.
The talks in Doha follow years of escalating violence in Afghanistan. According to the UN, at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the last decade when the organisation began compiling the data.
The uptick in violence in 2018 coincides with a significant increase in the number of deaths caused by the “deliberate targeting of civilians”, according to the report, mostly stemming from suicide attacks by insurgents allied with the Taliban or Islamic State (IS).”It is time to put an end to this human misery and tragedy,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
“The best way to halt the killings and maiming of civilians is to stop the fighting,” he said. At least 65 suicide attacks were recorded in 2018 — the majority hitting Kabul — with militants responsible for the death of more than 2,200 civilians across the country.An increase in air strikes by US and Afghan forces also led to more civilian deaths in 2018, with more than 500 civilians killed by “aerial operations for the first time on record”, the report noted.The US intensified its air campaign against Taliban and IS fighters as Washington seeks to pile pressure on the militants, dropping twice as many munitions on insurgent positions in 2018 compared to the previous year.
Yamamoto said the civilian casualties were “wholly unacceptable” and called on all parties to take “immediate and additional concrete steps to stop a further escalation in the number of civilians harmed and lives destroyed”.Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.The escalating violence comes as US President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.Marathon talks held in Doha in January sparked hopes of a breakthrough after the two sides agreed to a “draft framework” that included a Taliban vow to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terror groups.But US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — who is leading the American side negotiating with the Taliban  has emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground. Critics remain skeptical of the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.

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FATF urges Pakistan to reassess militant outfits’ ranking

ISLAMABAD: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has not accepted Pakistan’s low to medium risk ranking of eight banned militant groups – including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that claimed responsibility for Pulwama attack – and urged Islamabad.
The global body, working to curb money laundering and terrorism financing, also urged Pakistan to swiftly implement its 27-point Action Plan.Pakistan will remain on the FATF grey list, although India tried to get it blacklisted.Pakistan has now two more months to satisfy the FATF’s concerns, as it now has to deliver on 16 more action points by May in addition to five outstanding points that originally had to be met by January this year.
The face-to-face meeting of the Review Group will now take place in April before FATA again reviews Pakistan’s case.“Pakistan has revised its TF (terrorism financing) risk assessment, however, it does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the TF risks posed by Da’esh, AQ, JuD, FiF, LeT, JeM, HQN, and persons affiliated with the Taliban,” said an FATF  public statement issued after its week-long plenary meeting.
India presses for Pakistan to stay on terror financing listIn its Terrorism Financing Risk Assessment Report, Pakistan assessed majority of these organisations except Taliban and Haqqani network as low to medium risk entities, said a Pakistani delegate while speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the FATF was of the view that all of these organisations including JeM pose high risks to other countries.The JeM took responsibility of February 14 attack at Pulawma in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). India immediately blamed Pakistan after a young suicide bomber, a native of the IOK, drove his explosive laden vehicle into a convoy of Indian security forces, killing nearly three dozen soldiers.
Pakistan on Thursday also banned Jamaat-ut-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e- Insaniat Foundation (FiF)– two organisations that India believes are front for the banned Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT). The FATF wanted Pakistan to treat these eight outfits as high risk entities and take actions against them accordingly.Pakistan has taken steps towards improving AML, CFT: FATFIndia was at forefront to get Pakistan blacklisted during the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) meeting but it did not press the demand during the final plenary meeting. India was backed by the United States and other powers, said a Pakistani official.
“Given the limited progress on action plan items due in January 2019, the FATF urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its action plan, particularly those with timelines of May 2019,” said the public statement.Since June 2018, Pakistan has made a high-level political commitment to work with the FATF and APG to strengthen its anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and to address its strategic counterterrorist financing-related deficiencies.
“Pakistan has taken steps towards improving its AML/CFT regime, including by operationalising the integrated database for its currency declaration regime,” said the FATF. “Pakistan should continue to work on implementing its action plan to address its strategic deficiencies.”Pakistan is again asked to adequately demonstrating its proper understanding of the TF risks posed by the terrorist groups and conducting supervision on a risk-sensitive basis.It has to demonstrate that remedial actions and sanctions are applied in cases of AML/CFT violations, and that these actions have an effect on AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions.The country should demonstrate that facilities and services owned or controlled by designated person are deprived of their resources and the usage of the resources.Pakistan will also has to show that competent authorities are cooperating and taking action to identify and take enforcement action against illegal money or value transfer services (MVTS).
The FATF also underlined that the country needs to show that the authorities are identifying cash couriers and enforcing controls on illicit movement of currency and understanding the risk of cash couriers being used for TF.The inter-agency coordination including coordination among provincial and federal authorities on combating the TF risks has also been emphasised again by the FATF.

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