a blue burqa dangling from my trembling hand

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episode 10

Lament For Long-Gone Col. Johnson

by rawclyde !

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I try to report what is true

Read ‘tween the lines of stories I find

Look for photos that do not lie

Bumble & stumble around the distant war

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From an easy chair thousands of miles away

My penetration is shallow indeed

Will peace get forged one way or another in that far away land

Does anyone in America know ~ Afghanistan?

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My infinity machine doesn’t always work right

And flying saucers are so undependable

Every time I think I’ve landed on that nation’s sand

I end up in a ridiculous bubble ~ called Afghaneeland

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I lost the most beautiful woman on the planet Earth

Col. Sheena Johnson, U.S. Army

In the mirage-brimming bubble of Afghaneeland

A blue burqa dangling from my trembling hand

!

Afghaneeland

by

rawclyde

!

text copyright clyde collins 2015

art

by

meshitup

https://www.daz3d.com/meshitup

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will leadership rivalry undermine peace?

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by shereena qazi

with reporting by mohsin khan mohmand in kabul 

https://www.aljazeera.com

february 22, 2020

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Hours after Afghanistan’s incumbent President Ashraf Ghani was declared on Tuesday the winner of the September 28 presidential election, runner-up Abdullah Abdullah contested the much-delayed results, highlighting the power struggle between the two leaders.

Following a recount and a total delay of nearly five months, Abdullah, who served as Afghanistan’s chief executive for the past five years, yet again questioned the fairness of the country’s electoral process, in a repeat of the 2014 election that was marred by irregularities.

On Tuesday, Abdullah announced that he would be setting up a parallel government and a day later, in his capacity as chief executive, he barred electoral officials from travelling out of the country. 

His moves come ahead of possible intra-Afghan talks between the government and the Taliban armed group aimed at reaching long-term peace.

The talks are predicated on the successful signing of a peace deal between the Taliban and the US government, delineating the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s pledge to not allow Afghan territory to be used as a launchpad for attacks outside the country.

On Saturday, the Western-backed Kabul government, US and Taliban announced the beginning of a week-long “reduction in violence” (RIV) that should culminate in the signing of the peace deal on February 29.

Hours after the RIV pact took hold, reports emerged of Abdullah replacing the governors of Sar-e-Pul and Baghlan provinces. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed concern over the action, saying it could jeopardise the peace process. 

“Resorting to force or any other unlawful means at the very time that efforts are ongoing to realize a reduction in violence – with the expectation that it can lead to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations on peace – jeopardizes the population’s hope for peace,” the statement said.

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chief executive of afghanistan

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After bitterly disputing the results of the 2014 election, Abdullah and Ghani were brought to the negotiating table by the US and agreed to run the government together – but fissures within the national unity government often came to the fore.

Their five years of partnership were often fraught with disagreements, bickering and rifts, bringing the government to a standstill on several occasions.

But the recent dispute between the country’s two most senior leaders could not have come at a more sensitive time for Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump initiated talks with the Taliban in 2018 as part of his campaign promise to bring US troops home. The two sides are on the cusp of reaching a deal, which may see the end of nearly 19 years of war.

The Taliban has been fighting NATO and Afghan government forces since 2001 when the group was toppled from power in a US-led invasion.

If the US-Taliban deal is signed, Taliban and Afghan leaders would sit down to discuss the political future of the country. The Taliban made the deal with the US its condition for agreeing to speak to the Kabul government, which for years it dubbed a “puppet” of the US.

A broad political consensus is critical when Kabul sits face-to-face with the Taliban as part of the intra-Afghan peace talks. However, the Ghani-Abdullah rivalry could spill over into violence that would weaken the Afghan government’s hand in the negotiations.

“This has created fragmentation in Kabul government. This will certainly lead to a weaker position of Kabul when they sit face-to-face with the Taliban at the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Habib Wardak, a Kabul-based security analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“But before we even reach to the point of sitting with the Taliban, it will be a challenge to form an all-inclusive team and build confidence among the political elites, most of whom reject the outcome of presidential elections.”

As well as struggling to maintain consensus, the Afghan government is also faced with mounting socioeconomic issues, including unemployment, deteriorating security conditions and a collapsing economy.

Mariam Solaimankhail, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, said the election results should indicate a clear mandate to the government “to partake in any discussion of national significance”.

“The election results were necessary for the continuation of the democratic process. No discussions with any group should disrupt the constitution, democracy and the overall achievements of the last two decades,” she said.

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shrouded in controversy

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The counting of votes in the September 2019 election has been shrouded in controversy since the beginning, with repeated delays to the results election officials attributed to technical issues, allegations of fraud and protests from candidates.

The Taliban’s announcement at the time that it was boycotting the elections and its threats of violent disruptions combined with a general distrust of politicians and corruption to prevent many Afghans from exercising their ballot.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced preliminary results in December, saying Ghani had won re-election by a slim margin in a vote that saw a total turnout of more than 1.8 million. Abdullah dismissed the results as fraudulent.

On Tuesday, the IEC announced the final results after a recount, saying Ghani had won with 50.64 percent of the vote, beating Abdullah who secured 39.52 percent.

The Abdullah camp was swift in its rejection, casting a shadow over the future of the democratic process in the war-torn country.

“They took Ghani’s side. They were working directly for them. They surrendered to their power, status, influence and money,” Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign team, told Al Jazeera.

“That is why, not just us, but also the electoral complains commission, monitoring organisations and other teams did not participate in the audit and recount process of votes and this process had lost its legitimacy and credibility. That is why the result and outcome do not have legitimacy too.”

Addressing Abdullah’s announcement of forming a parallel government, potentially creating a constitutional crisis, Khwazoon said: “Our government will conduct its oath-taking ceremony … We have already formed groups and we will also announce our high-level appointments.”

Saif Khalid Sadat, a senior member of Ghani’s electoral team, rejected the Abdullah camp’s allegations, saying the election results had been announced by the IEC, as was within their legal authority, and “should be implemented by all means”.

“The elections have successfully been conducted on the basis of all electoral laws and procedures. Ghani gives high priority to the peace talks with Taliban and I believe it will be better for an elected government to negotiate with the Taliban,” he told Al Jazeera.

Some analysts have accused Abdullah of pursuing narrow political interests.

“Abdullah’s grievances are not political and it is based only on his very personal narrow interest and the interests of many warlords part of his political coalition,” Harun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“President Ghani has campaigned over preservation of the republic and the democratic constitutional political process. However, Abdullah Abdullah and his coalition partners hope that through a new provisional government, they might be able to preserve their government seats and political influence.”

Sadat, Ghani’s aide, reiterated the importance of having all Afghan political forces come together under the umbrella of “the government of Afghanistan” when doors for intra-Afghan talks open in the near future.

“All sides should reach a common goal which could put an end to this war forever.”

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/ghani-abdullah-rivalry-undermine-afghan-peace-process-200221052054522.html

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u.s.-taliban truce begins

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by shereena qazi

https://www.aljazeera.com

february 21, 2020
.

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US-led forces, Kabul forces and Taliban fighters will observe a seven-day period of reduced violence, officials say.

A week-long “reduction in violence” between the Taliban, the United States and Afghan security forces took effect on Friday, raising hopes for a resolution to the 18-year-long war.

The agreement struck during negotiations between US and Taliban representatives, if maintained, could secure a peace deal that would lead to a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

In a televised address, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the reduction in violence (RIV) would begin at midnight local time on Friday (19:30 GMT). The army will “remain on active defence status during the week”, he said.

Earlier, Javid Faisal, spokesman for Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, said Afghan forces will keep up normal military operations against other armed groups, such ISIL (ISIS) during the RIV period.

“Local government and security officials have been instructed by the president himself on how to follow the regulations agreed upon for the RIV period,” he said, adding that Afghan forces will also retaliate to any violation of the understanding.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that upon successful implementation of this agreement, the US would move to sign a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29.

Soon after Pompeo’s announcement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the development and said both sides will invite senior representatives to take part in the peace deal “signing ceremony”.

The Taliban’s statement also said the signing of the peace deal would be followed by intra-Afghan talks with various political parties in the country.

The Afghan armed group, which was removed from power in a US-led invasion in 2001, has previously refused to speak directly to the Kabul government, which it denounces as a “US puppet”.

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‘historic opportunity’

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The two sides have been wrangling over the US demand for putting a ceasefire in place before the final peace agreement is signed. The deal is expected to outline the withdrawal of US troops and a guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used as a launchpad to conduct attacks on foreign countries.

The talks were launched in 2018 as part of a push by US President Donald Trump’s administration to strike a deal with the Taliban, which has been fighting the US-led forces in Afghanistan since it was toppled from power in 2001.

Trump has long expressed eagerness to bring US soldiers home and to end the country’s longest war as he seeks re-election in 2020. The two sides were on the verge of signing a peace agreement in September when Trump abruptly cancelled the talks after a Taliban attack killed an American soldier.

About 14,000 US troops and some 17,000 troops from 39 NATO allies and partner countries are stationed in Afghanistan in a non-combatant role.

Despite the heavy US presence, the Taliban now controls or holds influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001 and has carried out near-daily attacks against military outposts throughout the country.

Pakistan and NATO welcomed Friday’s announcement.

“We hope the Afghan parties would now seize this historic opportunity and work out a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” said a statement from the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the RIV will be a “critical test of the Taliban’s willingness and ability to reduce violence”. He added: “This could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans, sustainable peace, and ensuring the country is never again a safe haven for terrorists.”

Afghan political analyst Haroun Mir said although the announcement was a significant development, intra-Afghan talks would prove to be a major challenge.

“In order to reach a final settlement, we have to go through painful negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban and be able to make mutual concessions,” he said.

“Reaching a compromise will take a long time, which requires the blessings of all major stakeholders in the country, as well as regional powers and Afghanistan’s neighbours.”

The deal comes as Afghanistan is in the middle of a surge in violence.

More than 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009 when the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.

About 34,000 Afghan civilians have been killed during that period, many of them children.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/pact-taliban-reducing-violence-start-saturday-200221094340829.html

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imagining peace

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by shereena qazi & mohsin khan mohmand

https://www.aljazeera.com/

february 22, 2020

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In the space of just a few months in 2017, Jannat Bibi lost her son and two grandsons – all serving in Afghanistan’s police force – in gun battles with fighters in the country’s south.

Since then, she has been struggling to support her 17 great-grandchildren, as well as the three wives of her son and grandsons. Now aged 80, Bibi relies on donations – but they barely cover the cost of living.

Reflecting upon the effect of Afghanistan’s long-running conflict and the death of her family members, Bibi said a weeklong “reduction in violence” (RIV) period, which was agreed by the Taliban, Afghan and US forces and came into effect on Saturday, is a step forward in securing lasting peace.

“My neighbours told me about the truce and I felt really happy because I don’t want [anyone to suffer the losses] I did,” said Bibi, who lives in Shemal village, in the Darai Nur district of Nangarhar province.

“It is something I dreamt of all my life. If this truce lasts, I will know that my [great] grandchildren will get to live in a peaceful country free of war and conflict.”

If maintained, the RIV agreement could culminate in a peace deal between the Taliban and the United States, which is expected to outline the withdrawal of US troops and a guarantee that Afghan soil will not be used as a launchpad to conduct attacks outside the country.

The agreement was struck during negotiations between US and Taliban representatives, which started in 2018 as part of a push by US President Donald Trump’s administration to sign a deal with the armed group that has been fighting the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan since it was toppled in 2001.

The US and the Taliban were on the verge of signing a peace agreement in September when Trump abruptly cancelled the talks after an attack by the group.

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some celebrate, others remain cautious

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Now, the reduction in violence offers hope to civilians who have constantly borne the brunt of the almost 19-year-old war – according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than 10,000 people were killed or wounded in 2019 alone.

In Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province where both the ISIL (ISIS) group and the Taliban are active, the commencement of the RIV period was met with celebration.

“There were huge celebrations in Jalalabad city – people came out on roads dancing, waving Afghan flags and cars were decorated with flowers as they drove around the city blasting music,” Siraj Pathan, a resident of the province’s Daronta district, told Al Jazeera.

“In the past several years, most Afghans have lost their loved ones in this war. If you look around in our village, most of the children are orphans. This is how badly the war has affected us.

In the capital, Kabul, which has long been hit by deadly attacks, many welcomed the announcement of the RIV period with cautiousness.

“It all seems too good to be true,” Hamayun, a resident of Kabul, told Al Jazeera. “I am still doubtful and don’t fully trust all three parties that they would maintain the RIV agreement,” he said.

“However, if peace persists, it will result in huge positive changes and developments: the conflict will end; social ties between people will grow; urban and rural connection will be established.”

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‘if peace comes’

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Khalid Bashari, a 22-year-old Kabul resident, echoed a similar sentiment, underlining the past failed attempts to achieve peace.

“Good things will happen [for] Afghans if peace persists; we will no longer have to fear for our lives,” Bashari told Al Jazeera.

“We are not sure of what will come next, but what option do we have other than just to take a leap of faith and trust?”

Meanwhile, hashtags such as “Imagine peace” and “if peace comes” trended on Saturday as many Afghans took to social media to express their hopes for peace and describe the possibilities that would come with it.

“If peace comes to Afghanistan, my dream is to see love & affection more frequently across the country,” one Twitter user said.

Another wrote: “Imagine, today is the beginnings of true peace and I can take a road trip around Afghanistan. Imagine, I can drive to my village in Paktia, I can hike in the mountains of Badakhshan, I can camp on the bank of Helmand River, I can see the majestic beauty of Nuristan.”

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/peace-reduction-violence-offers-hope-afghans-200222080820953.html

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ghani wins, opponent claims victory too

PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI WINS A SECOND TERM…

A PARALLEL DECLARATION BY MAIN RIVAL THREATENS A CRISIS…

U.S. AND TALIBAN CONTINUE THE BROKERING OF A PEACE DEAL…

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by mujib mashal, najim rahim, fatima faizi, taimoor shah

the new york times

february 18, 2020

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday was declared the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential vote after five months of delayed results and bitter dispute. But the announcement threatened to tip the country into a full-blown political crisis on the cusp of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban.

Just hours after the announcement, Mr. Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah — who accuses Afghanistan’s election commission of favoring the incumbent — also declared himself the winner and said he would form a government of his own.

The dispute over the election result comes just after a breakthrough in the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, with the two sides arriving at a tightly choreographed peace plan expected to be rolled out in a matter of days. The plan calls first for a test period of “violence reduction,” which would lead to the Taliban and Washington signing a deal. Soon after that, the two Afghan sides would sit down to discuss the political future of the country.

But Western diplomats have long feared that a political crisis in Kabul would weaken the Afghan government’s hand in the negotiations and affect the overall peace plan.

The timing of the election conflict means Mr. Ghani’s government will be challenged, and distracted, during the tight window of days when the details of the “violence reduction” need to be determined.

In a news conference announcing the election result after an audit of about 15 percent of the total vote, the chief of Afghanistan’s election commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani, said that Mr. Ghani had won with the narrowest of margins — 50.64 percent of the vote, just surpassing the 50 percent minimum required for an outright victory with no runoff. Mr. Abdullah received 39.5 percent.

The win puts Mr. Ghani in position for another five-year term as president.

“This is not just an election victory,” Mr. Ghani said, flanked by his running mates, after the result was announced. “This is the victory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This is the victory of the people’s wishes.”

Hours later, however, Mr. Abdullah appeared in a televised address surrounded by his own supporters.

“I asked those who believe in democracy, in a healthy future for this country, in citizens’ rights to stand up to fraud and to not accept this fraudulent result,” Mr. Abdullah said. “We are the winners based on clean votes, and we declare our victory. We will form the inclusive government.”

Both candidates spoke from their palaces, where throngs of their supporters had gathered. A narrow road leads to both, with little space separating the two compounds. Late into Tuesday evening, as the supporters of both sides remained inside, the road was tense, overflowing with armored vehicles and the armed guards of both camps.

For Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah, the situation is almost a repeat of five years ago, when both were stuck in another disputed election that went to a runoff. For many ordinary Afghans, it’s a frustrating case of déjà vu.

After Mr. Abdullah led in the first round in 2014, Mr. Ghani came from behind to win in the runoff, leading to Mr. Abdullah rejecting the results. It took John Kerry, then Secretary of State, to broker a power-sharing agreement where Mr. Ghani became president and Mr. Abdullah became the government’s chief executive, with control over a large share of appointments.

The brokered deal deeply hurt the faith in elections of many Afghans, and the turnout for this year’s vote, held in September amid a record number of Taliban attacks intended to destabilize the election, was low.

During their five years sharing power, the two men were frequently at each other’s throats, their bickering often bringing the government to a standstill amid a bloody war that took the lives of about 50,000 Afghan forces in that time.

When they both ran for president again, it raised fears that the country’s institutions — particularly the weary security forces — could be split apart.

The initial results of the vote were delayed by months. When Mr. Ghani was declared in the lead in the preliminary count, Mr. Abdullah and several other candidates disputed about 300,000 votes from the low turnout of about 1.8 million. Among those were 100,000 ballots registered in the system either before or after voting hours — in some cases by weeks or months.

Mr. Abdullah’s supporters say those were fraudulent votes cast in favor of Mr. Ghani. The election commission has attributed the irregularities to human error in setting the time and date of devices that recorded the votes.

The preparations to announce the final results suddenly picked up steam this week as the peace deal became imminent, with many reading it as Mr. Ghani making sure a Taliban deal does not deny him a second term in office.

But many of Mr. Abdullah’s strongest supporters threatened the formation of a parallel government if their grievances — which Mr. Ghani’s team sees as obstructionism so that the opposition can get a share of the power — were not taken into account.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of Mr. Abdullah’s main supporters and a powerful strongman who was previously Mr. Ghani’s vice president, said at a recent gathering: “Even if they put a knife on my throat, even if they hang me, I will not accept an announcement based on fraud.”

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The New York Times

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