Category Archives: South-Central Asia – Islamic Republic Of Afghanistan 🇦🇫

Five ‘rest in pieces’ as early morning bombs rock Kabul.

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Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government that began in September remain deadlocked.

Three explosions rocked Kabul Saturday morning, killing at least five people and injuring two others, authorities said, the latest in a series of similar recent attacks in the Afghan capital.

Police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said that three “sticky bomb” explosions had taken place in different locations between 08:00 and 10:00 am local time.

Targeted killings with remotely detonated bombs attached to vehicles have long been a favoured tactic of militants in Afghanistan, especially during the morning commute in cities, where civilians pay a disproportionate price for the violence.

No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks, though Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban for previous similar incidents, a charge it rejects.

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Faramarz said the first explosion had injured two civilians, while the second blast had killed two soldiers, as well as a woman.

The third bomb left two police officers dead.

The details were confirmed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

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Security sources also said at least two of the victims in the second explosion worked for the defence ministry, though the ministry would not confirm.

Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government that began in September remain deadlocked.

The latest rise in violence has led US President Joe Biden’s administration to launch a review of a deal signed between Washington and Taliban last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of all American troops in coming months.

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Biden is reviewing whether to stick to a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops or risk a bloody backlash from the insurgents by staying.

General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, on Thursday indicated that conditions have not been met for a withdrawal.

While the Taliban had pledged to reduce violence under their deal with the US, they have not done so, McKenzie said on a plane to Pakistan.

“Certainly ISIS has launched some attacks. It pales against what the Taliban is doing,” McKenzie said, denouncing violence against Afghan forces, and “targeted assassinations in some of the urban areas.”

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“This is clearly the Taliban,” he said. “There is no way it’s anyone else. That’s very clear.”

The Taliban denies being behind escalated violence, saying those responsible are other jihadist groups.

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#Newsworthy

Taliban warns NATO … in Afghanistan.

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Joe Biden’s administration has said it would review the deal, with the Pentagon accusing the Afghan insurgent group of not meeting their commitment to reduce violence.

The Taliban on Saturday warned NATO against seeking a “continuation of war”, as the alliance weighs a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Defence ministers from the Washington-backed allies are to meet next week to discuss whether NATO’s 10,000-strong mission — mostly carrying out support roles — should stay or go, as Taliban violence rages.

“Our message to the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting is that the continuation of occupation and war is neither in your interest nor in the interest of your and our people,” the Taliban said in a statement.

“Anyone seeking extension of wars and occupation will be held liable for it just like the previous two decades.”

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Former US president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban last year under which the United States agreed foreign troops would leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in return for conditions including cutting ties with Al-Qaeda and opening peace talks with the Kabul government.

Joe Biden’s administration has said it would review the deal, with the Pentagon accusing the Afghan insurgent group of not meeting their commitment to reduce violence.

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The Taliban in turn has accused the US of breaching the agreement and insisted it will continue its “fight and jihad” if foreign troops do not leave by May.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 07, 2019 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference with the German chancellor in Berlin. – US President Donald Trump will host NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Washington at a time of severe strain within the Atlantic alliance, the White House announced Saturday. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

In his final days in office Trump unilaterally reduced US forces in Afghanistan to just 2,500 — the lowest since the start of the war in 2001.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly insisted that NATO members must decide “together” on the future of their mission and he hopes Biden will coordinate more closely with allies.

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“If we decide to leave we risk to jeopardise the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years,” the NATO chief said earlier this month.

“If we decide to stay we risk to continue to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops.”

The Taliban on Saturday said it was “seriously committed” to the US deal, claiming it had “significantly decreased the level of operations”.

Insurgents have launched a string of offensives threatening at least two strategic provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan in recent months.

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They have also been blamed by the US and the Afghan government for a wave of assassinations on journalists, politicians, judges and activists.

The warring sides launched peace talks in September year, but progress has been slow and overshadowed by the violence.

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#Newsworthy

Afghanistan: Tabilan fighters kill 12 pro-gov’t militiamen.

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Herat provincial council member Mohammad Sardar Bahaduri confirmed the attack and said it was carried out by two Taliban fighters who had infiltrated the base.

Two Taliban fighters who had infiltrated a base of pro-government Afghan militiamen killed 12 of them, officials and the insurgent group said Saturday.

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The night-time attack at a post manned by the militiamen occurred in the district of Ghorian in the western Herat province late on Friday, the governor for the district Farhad Khademi told AFP.

“Twelve pro-government militiamen were killed in the Taliban attack in Ghorian district last night,” he said.

“The militiamen were dining when the attack happened,” he said.

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The Taliban also said two of its fighters had carried out the attack and then returned.

In a separate incident, a vehicle carrying policemen was struck by a roadside bomb in the centre of the Afghan capital Kabul, police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz told reporters.

Two policemen were killed and one wounded in the attack, he said.

Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months, especially in Kabul, which has been rocked by a new trend of targeted killings.

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The bloodshed comes even as the Taliban and government negotiators engage in peace talks to end the nearly two-decades-long war in the country.

Representatives from two warring sides are currently in the Qatari capital Doha discussing the agenda for the talks.

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#Newsworthy

Afghanistan car bomb attack claim 12 lives.

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More than 100 people wounded in a powerful car bomb in Ghor province, interior ministry said.

At least 12 civilians have been killed and more than 100 people wounded after a car bomb targeting an Afghan police headquarters in the western province of Ghor went off on Sunday.

The attack took place in Feroz Koh, the capital of Ghor, a province that has not seen much violence compared with some other regions of the conflict-wracked country.


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The ministry of interior said the car bomb detonated in front of Ghor police headquarters at about 11am local time (06:30 GMT).

“The terrorists detonated an explosives-filled car… as a result 12 civilians were killed and more than 100 people were wounded,” the interior ministry said.

Mohammad Omer Lalzad, head of a hospital in Ghor, said emergency staff were treating dozens of people, adding that the death toll will rise.

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Juma Gul Yakoobi, a Ghor health official, told AFP news agency that the victims also included members of security forces.

Security personnel and residents gather around the site of a car bomb that targeted an Afghan police headquarters in Feroz Koh, capital of Ghor [AFP]

“The explosion was very powerful,” said Aref Abir, spokesman for the Ghor governor. “There are fatalities and casualties, and people are taking them to hospitals.”

He said the blast damaged nearby government offices handling social affairs.

Peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government began in Qatar last month but violence has continued unabated on the ground.

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The talks appear to be stalled as the Taliban and the Kabul administration have struggled to establish a basic framework for negotiations.

On Friday, the Taliban agreed to suspend attacks in southern Afghanistan that had displaced thousands of residents in recent days.

It came after the US said it would halt all attacks and night raids in keeping with the peace agreement it signed with the Taliban in February.

The US had been conducting air attacks in support of Afghan forces trying to repel Taliban assaults in Helmand province, which threatened to derail efforts to end Afghanistan’s war.


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan talks opens in Qatar.

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Saturday marks start of long-delayed Doha talks with opening remarks from both sides; negotiations to begin on Monday.

After nearly two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban have opened in Qatar’s capital.

Key speakers at Saturday’s opening ceremony at a hotel in Doha included Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The negotiations, where the two warring sides will sit face-to-face for the first time, will start on Monday.

For his part, Abdullah spoke about seeking a dignified and lasting peace.

“I believe that if we give hands to each other and honestly work for peace, the current ongoing misery in the country will end,” Abdullah said, calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire”.

The talks were set to take place in March but were delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Baradar, meanwhile, repeated his group’s demand for the country to adopt an “Islamic system”.

“We want Afghanistan to be an independent, developed country, and it should have a form of Islamic system, where all its citizens see themselves reflected.”

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Pompeo, for his part, told the Afghan sides that “the choice of your future political system is, of course, yours to make” as he urged them to “seize the opportunity” to secure peace.

“Each of you, I hope you will look inside your hearts; each of you carry a great responsibility, but know that you’re not alone. The entire world wants you to succeed and is counting on you to succeed,” he said.

Kicking off proceedings earlier on Saturday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said both parties must “rise above all form of division … by reaching an agreement on the basis of no victor and no vanquished”.

Delayed talks
The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.

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In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the government said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals.

Taliban and Afghan government sources told Al Jazeera a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar. The prisoners arrived in Doha on Friday and will remain in custody there.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said although the talks raise hopes of the war ending in the country, many challenges remain.

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“This is a new phase in diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad told reporters in a telephone briefing on Friday.

“These negotiations are an important achievement, but there are … significant challenges on the way to reaching an agreement.”

It took almost six months to get the Taliban and the government to the negotiating table, and analysts said the challenging part is to get both sides to reach an agreement.

“The various delays since the first designated start of the talks in early March show how much mistrust the two parties need to overcome,” Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told Noble Reporter‘s known Media.

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“It shows how difficult the talks will be in general, given the many issues they would have to solve, with the most difficult one being Afghanistan’s future political system.”

The Afghan negotiating team includes five female representatives who will carry the responsibility of defending and protecting women’s rights during the talks.

Abdullah Abdullah called for a ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

“While there is no other realistic option currently to find a negotiated end to the Afghan war, it is far from clear whether any peace deal will address major concerns of the Afghan population such as a preservation of the rights and freedoms that have been constitutionally guaranteed to them,” Ruttig said.

The Afghan government backs the current democratic political system, while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance.

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The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule, during which women were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.

The Afghan government’s agenda for the talks is to secure a permanent ceasefire, but analysts said that will be difficult to achieve as the Taliban’s only bargaining chip has been their military strength on the ground.

“The Taliban should see these talks as a good political opportunity. If they continue to fight on the ground to exert pressure, there are less chances of the talks being successful,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

“Peace demands compromises from all sides and that means sacrifices should be made to acquire a political solution to end this war,” added Saadat.

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In the first six months of 2020, almost 1,300 civilians, including hundreds of children, have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.

In July, President Ghani said about 3,560 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 6,780 more wounded in Taliban attacks between February 29 and July 21 this year.

“The suffering of the Afghan people has gone on for far too long,” UN envoy Deborah Lyons said on Friday.

“An inclusive peace process, involving the meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, upholding the human rights of every Afghan is the only path to peace.”


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan talks set to hold in Qatar.

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The development comes as a final hurdle to the start of the talks – fate of six Taliban prisoners – have been resolved.

The long-awaited talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will take place in Qatar’s capital Doha from Saturday.

Qatar’s foreign ministry made the announcement on Thursday as a final hurdle over the release of six Taliban prisoners appears to have been resolved.

“The State of Qatar is pleased to announce that the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations will commence in Doha on Saturday the 12th of September 2020,” the ministry said in the statement.

“These vitally important direct negotiations between the different Afghan parties represent a step forward in bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan.”

The Taliban, while confirming the talks, said the dialogue “intends to advance the negotiation process in an appropriate manner and bring about comprehensive peace and a pure Islamic system in the framework of our Islamic values and higher national interests”.

A permanent ceasefire is expected to be at the top of the agenda as well as a political settlement to end the years-long conflict in the country.

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The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.

Under the February deal, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the government said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved in the killing of their nationals.

Taliban and Afghan government sources told Noble Reporters Media‘s known Media a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar where they will remain in custody.

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“Our six brothers [Taliban prisoners] arrived in Qatar a little while ago in good health,” Taliban spokesman Naeem Wardak said in a statement on Thursday.

As part of the February agreement, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha to take part in the peace talks.

Pompeo welcomed the start of negotiations, saying they will mark “a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed”.

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The Afghan government backs the current political system, while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of Islamic law as the country’s system of governance.

The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule during which women were banned from attending school, working, taking part in politics or even leaving their homes without a male family member.

The Taliban will be led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s chief justice and a close aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada.

The Afghan government negotiating team, including Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation Council which has been tasked to hold talks with the armed group, is planning to fly to Doha on Friday.

The team also includes women’s rights activists.


#Newsworthy…

Intra-Afghan Peace Talks to Begin as Taliban team returns to Doha.

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Negotiations are part of US-Taliban peace deal signed in February in the Qatari capital to end the 19-year conflict.

A Taliban delegation has returned to Qatar, paving the way for the start of peace talks with the Afghan government that are expected to take place in the Gulf state.

The delegation’s arrival early on Saturday was announced by Taliban officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The negotiations are part of a peace deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February in Doha.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Afghans on both sides of the conflict to get started with their negotiations to decide what a post-war Afghanistan might look like.

The US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien held a telephone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last week. The US officials have also pressed neighbouring Pakistan to get the Taliban to the table.

The delegation’s arrival early on Saturday was announced by the Taliban officials [File: Sorin Forcui/Al Jazeera]

Intra-Afghan talks
Relentless delays over the exchange of prisoners – 5,000 held by the Afghan government and 1,000 by the Taliban – have hindered efforts to get intra-Afghan talks started.

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In late August, a delegation led by the Taliban’s political office head and the chief negotiator of the February deal with the US, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, visited Pakistan.

While little was revealed about the details of his meetings with Pakistani officials, it is believed he was pressed to get started with intra-Afghan talks.

With many of the Taliban leadership council living in Pakistan, Islamabad has been pressed by Washington to use its influence to push negotiations forward.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said he wants peace talks started and a military solution for Afghanistan is an impossibility.

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Pakistani officials reportedly met a second time with Baradar on Friday before his return to Doha, again pressing for a swift start to Afghan peace talks.

US and Afghan officials have said they want to see a reduction in violence in the conflict going into talks with the Taliban, but the group maintains that a ceasefire would only be on the agenda once talks begin.

Washington’s February agreement with the Taliban was reached to allow the exit of US troops after nearly 20 years at war in keeping with a promise President Donald Trump made during the 2016 US election campaign.

The withdrawal, which has already begun, is not dependent on the success of the Afghan negotiations but rather on commitments made by the Taliban to fight armed groups and ensure Afghanistan cannot be used to attack the US or its allies.


#Newsworthy…

ICC frowns at United States sanctions on officials.

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US sanctions target International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a top aide over Afghanistan probe.


The International Criminal Court (ICC) has condemned “unprecedented” sanctions imposed by the United States on prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her top aides in retaliation for a probe into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Hague-based tribunal said the sanctions announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Bensouda and another senior official, Phakiso Mochochoko, were “serious attacks” against the rule of law.

Pompeo announced the moves on Wednesday, saying that “the ICC continues to target Americans”.

The ICC said in a statement the new measures “are another attempt to interfere with the Court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence and crucial work to address grave crimes of concern to the international community”.

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The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law and target Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Mochochoko.

Pompeo also said individuals and entities that continue to materially support Bensouda and Mochochoko would risk exposure to sanctions as well.

Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is investigating whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and US forces [File: Eva Plevier/Pool via Reuters]

“We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo said.

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The war crimes court said it “continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world’s most serious crimes”.

The ICC will continue its investigation into possible war crimes by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

The State Department also restricted the issuance of visas for individuals Pompeo said were involved in the court’s efforts to investigate US personnel, though he did not name those affected.

Member countries of the International Criminal Court hit out against the “unacceptable” sanctions.

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“I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organisation,” said O-Gon Kwon, president of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was concerned by Pompeo’s announcement, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Dujarric said that “we trust that any restriction taken against individuals will be implemented consistently” with a decades-old US deal with the United Nations to host the world body’s headquarters in New York.

Pompeo says the move is part of the administration’s pushback against the world court for investigations into the US and its allies [Nicholas Kamm/Pool via Reuters]

‘Stunning perversion’
Bensouda was given the go-ahead by the court in March to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and US forces.

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The US revoked Bensouda’s entry visa last year in response to the possible Afghanistan inquiry. But under an agreement between the UN and Washington, she was still able to regularly travel to New York to brief the UN Security Council on cases it had referred to the court in The Hague.

Rights groups immediately condemned the US designations.

Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch international justice director, said it was a “stunning perversion of US sanctions.”

“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.


#Newsworthy…