afghans wonder ~ what happens now?

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by Rahim Faiez

Associated Press

September 9, 2019

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans braced for a possible new wave of Taliban violence Monday after President Donald Trump abruptly broke off nearly a year of talks with the insurgent group just when a deal to end America’s longest war seemed to be at hand.

Trump’s stunning weekend announcement that he had canceled a secret meeting with Taliban leaders and the Afghan president at Camp David and halted negotiations left many in Washington and Kabul scrambling to understand just what happens now.

“They’re dead,” Trump said of the negotiations on Monday, after the Taliban signaled they would return to talks.

At the same time, the Taliban said Trump’s decision to upend the deal just before its signing “displays lack of composure and experience,” and they vowed to continue their fight against “foreign occupation.”

“What more violence can they bring?” Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said in an interview. “What else can they do? You know they have killed 300 civilians in the past three weeks. … So we will not be surprised if we see more attacks, but they have already done it.”

Political analyst Waheed Muzhda was gloomy about the prospects for the country.

“Unfortunately all the months of efforts came to an end with no result,” he said, “and I think the fight in Afghanistan will continue for long years.”

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 American service members have been killed in nearly 18 years of war that began when the U.S. invaded after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted by the U.S. military for hosting the mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden.

Afghans were wary of fresh violence in part because Trump’s announcement came shortly before a string of highly sensitive days in Afghanistan, including Monday’s anniversary of the killing of anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the major Shiite Muslim holy day of Ashoura on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s 9/11 anniversary.

There were no immediate reports of any major attacks in the country, but the streets of the capital, Kabul, were largely empty as armed supporters of Massoud, a rare Afghan unifying figure who was killed two days before 9/11, roamed in flag-draped vehicles, firing into the air in a show of power. One police officer was killed, officials said.

Elsewhere in Kabul, a roadside bomb wounded three civilians, but there was no claim of responsibility. And in northeastern Takhar province, the Taliban claimed attacks on at least two districts overnight, with no immediate reports of casualties.

In calling off negotiations, Trump cited a Taliban car bombing Thursday near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed an American service member along with 11 others. The insurgent group has defended its continued attacks even while a deal was taking shape, saying they were intended to strengthen its bargaining position.

Trump’s decision got a mixed reaction in Afghanistan.

Many people seek peace above all after four decades of various conflicts. But some fear a failed or weak deal could lead to the government’s collapse and bring another civil war like the one that raged in the 1990s before the Taliban swept into power.

Some feared that the deal that was on the table would do little or nothing to stop the carnage against the Afghan people. Also, many Afghan women have been wary of a Taliban return to power in some form under the intra-Afghan talks that would follow a U.S.-Taliban deal, recalling the years of oppression under a strict form of Islamic law.

Under the agreement in principle that the U.S. and the Taliban had worked out, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 of the 14,000 American troops in the country within 4½ months, and the insurgents would agree to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks by al-Qaida and others.

But such assurances would be “unbelievable,” said Sediqqi, the Afghan presidential spokesman. He said other groups across the region would have seen the deal as a victory for the Taliban and “would have joined them.”

He said the only way now for the Taliban to re-enter the peace process is to accept a cease-fire and speak directly with the Afghan government, which has been sidelined in the talks because the Taliban dismiss it as a U.S. puppet.

Others in the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reacted positively to Trump’s decision.

“Inviting un-repenting & unapologetic terrorists and mass murderers to Camp David would have tarnished the stature of the camp. … Gratified that US returned back to a principled stand,” Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh, tweeted.

Ghani, who is seeking re-election, has been insisting that the country’s Sept. 28 election be held as scheduled and not set aside by a U.S.-Taliban deal. Trump’s decision appears to have suddenly opened the path to a vote.

The Afghan president appeared to make an important shift in his stance on direct talks with the Taliban, declaring that his country is ready to meet but that “negotiation without a cease-fire is not possible.” The Afghan government had previously said it had no conditions for entering talks with the Taliban.

Ghani also invited Taliban chief Maulvi Hibatullah Akhunzada to a video conference and urged him to “at least talk with people” instead of hiding.

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Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed…

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https://www.sfgate.com/news/world/article/Afghans-brace-for-fresh-violence-after-US-Taliban-14423936.php

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trump’s bad deal with the taliban

Time Machine

The Trump administration seems poised to give away everything America has fought for in Afghanistan since 9/11…

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news analysis by Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio

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Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the editors of FDD’s Long War Journal

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Last week, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, launched into a broadside against Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American diplomat responsible for negotiating with the Taliban. Addressing reporters in Washington, Mohib insinuated that Khalilzad is seeking to install himself as the “viceroy” of a new “caretaker government.” The State Department quickly issued a sharp rebuke, saying that any condemnation of Khalilzad was really a critique of its leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

While Mohib’s specific charge may have been hyperbole, it almost certainly wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Mohib has been around Washington for years, including as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., so he knew how his words would be received. His harsh critique of Khalilzad reflects the Afghan government’s deep mistrust of the Trump administration’s plans. Everyone knows that President Donald Trump wants out of Afghanistan, and the Afghans know that the State Department’s dealings with the Taliban will not deliver “peace.” Instead, Khalilzad’s talks have further empowered the same jihadists America has been fighting for nearly two decades.

The Taliban has repeatedly dismissed the elected Afghan government as an illegitimate “puppet” of the U.S. and refused to talk with President Ashraf Ghani’s representatives. Khalilzad’s diplomacy has validated the Taliban’s claim. The State Department long maintained that the talks must be “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned,” but nobody seems to have told Khalilzad. He caved to the Taliban’s demand for unilateral negotiations with the U.S. early on, holding extensive two-party talks without any preconditions. Incredibly, though the Afghan government has never been invited to the negotiating table, Khalilzad has already announced that a “draft” agreement is in place. Only after this accord with the Taliban is “finalized” can the Afghan government hope to participate in “intra-Afghan negotiations.”

But meaningful peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government are not likely to happen. The Taliban is fighting to resurrect its totalitarian Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and has already established a shadow government throughout parts of the country. The jihadists’ rulers-in-waiting do not intend to share power with the elected Afghan government—they quite openly plan to usurp it. And they are closer to achieving that goal today than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001. With American and NATO forces preparing to leave, why would the Taliban suddenly get serious about peace? Indeed, the jihadists know that one of the last major obstacles to their victory is about to be removed.

While Afghan officials like Mohib have their own reasons to distrust Khalilzad, Americans should also be concerned. The U.S. military would have you believe that the Taliban was driven, through force, to the negotiating table. That’s not true. The Taliban contests or controls more than half of Afghanistan’s territory. This ground is sparsely populated and mostly rural, but the Taliban’s men are circling several provincial capitals, just waiting to seize at least some of them. America has little will to keep them at bay any longer. So the State Department begged the Taliban for talks—not the other way around. As a result, the jihadists are negotiating from a position of strength, and they know it.

But that doesn’t excuse Pompeo’s willingness to accept an exceptionally bad deal. In addition to alienating the Afghan government, America’s long-standing, albeit problematic ally, Khalilzad has endorsed the Taliban’s big lie concerning al-Qaida and international terrorism. This should be offensive to all Americans affected by the 9/11 wars. Let us explain.

Although he has provided few specific details, Khalilzad tweeted on Mar. 12 that  the Trump administration’s draft accord with the Taliban covers two key issues: a “withdrawal timeline” and “effective counterterrorism measures.” In essence, Khalilzad has sought a Kissinger-style “decent interval” during which the U.S. can execute an orderly withdrawal in exchange for a promise that Afghan soil won’t be used as a hub for international terrorism once again. On the latter point, Khalilzad has been remarkably credulous, stating that he is already satisfied with the Taliban’s assurances.

Other than the Taliban, no one else should be satisfied—especially given the sordid history of the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaida.

Afghanistan is, today, already home to international terrorist groups. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaida fight and train throughout the country. The Taliban has no control over the Islamic State’s regional arm, which operates across the Afghan-Pakistani border and has ties to the self-declared caliphate’s mothership in Iraq and Syria. Although there may be some episodic cooperation between the two sides, Islamic State loyalists clash regularly with their jihadist counterparts in the Taliban. And the Islamic State rejects the Taliban’s legitimacy, so it will not abide by any agreement struck with the U.S. Thus, the Taliban cannot guarantee that it will hold the Islamic State’s global ambitions in check.

More important, there is no reason to think the Taliban wants to hold al-Qaida’s global agenda in check. And this is where Khalilzad’s credulity becomes especially problematic. He has already declared the Taliban to be a de facto counterterrorism partner. This is an absurd proposition.

As the United Nations Security Council found in two recent reports, al-Qaida and the Taliban remain “closely allied” and their “long-standing” relationship “remains firm.”  Al-Qaida’s leaders still view Afghanistan as a “safe haven,” and their men act like a force multiplier for the insurgency, offering military and religious instruction to Taliban fighters. Indeed, al-Qaida is operating across multiple Afghan provinces, including in areas dominated by the Taliban.

Given this current reality, Khalilzad has not explained to the American public why he trusts the Taliban to restrain al-Qaida now. As part of any final deal, the Taliban should be required to state, in no uncertain terms, its official position on al-Qaida.

Below, we outline four key aspects of the Taliban-al-Qaida relationship that the State Department should address. If Khalilzad’s final deal with the Taliban doesn’t take into these issues, in some direct fashion, then the agreement is an obvious charade.

First, the Taliban has never publicly renounced al-Qaida, by name, or accepted responsibility for harboring it before 9/11. If the Taliban has really offered an ironclad counterterrorism guarantee, as Khalilzad claims, then the group should have no problem officially disowning al-Qaida. Indeed, a disavowal should be mandatory—a key test of the Taliban’s truthfulness.

Some have tried to absolve the Taliban of any responsibility for the 9/11 hijackings, as well as a string of other terror plots hatched on Afghan soil, claiming that the group didn’t really endorse Osama bin Laden’s anti-American terrorism. But this bit of apologia falls apart when subjected to basic scrutiny. The Taliban deliberately shielded bin Laden, even as the U.S. demanded that he be turned over.

In its final report, released in the summer of 2004, the 9/11 Commission documented various American and Saudi efforts to convince the Taliban to break with al-Qaida. All of them failed. In April 1998, for instance, the Taliban’s men told a U.S. delegation led by U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson that they didn’t know where bin Laden was and, in any event, al-Qaida didn’t pose a threat to America. The Taliban told this brazen lie despite the fact al-Qaida had already declared war on America.

On August 7, 1998, four months after Richardson’s encounter, al-Qaida’s suicide truck bombs struck the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing and wounding hundreds. It was al-Qaida’s most devastating attack prior to the 9/11 hijackings. The U.S. retaliated by lobbing some missiles into a training camp in Afghanistan and at a suspected al-Qaida facility in Sudan. The bombs missed bin Laden, but the Taliban’s lie had been conclusively disproved. Bin Laden was clearly a threat to the U.S.

Still, the Taliban didn’t budge. In late 1999, according to the 9/11 Commission, the Taliban’s senior leadership voted to continue providing safe harbor for bin Laden and his terrorists. Mullah Omar even ordered the killing of a subordinate who objected to his pro-bin Laden policy. Then, on September 9, 2001, two al-Qaida suicide bombers killed the Taliban’s main battlefield opponent: Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Al-Qaida and the Taliban launched a joint offensive against the Northern Alliance the very next day. Al-Qaida’s senior leaders knew that America would rely on Massoud’s men as part of a counterattack after the kamikaze hijackings. And, in a premeditated move, al-Qaida helped the Taliban go on the offensive beforehand. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar then refused to turn over bin Laden even after the U.S. issued a post-9/11 ultimatum, deciding he’d rather lose his Islamic emirate than sacrifice the al-Qaida leader.

The Taliban has never accepted responsibility for any of this. These facts are not merely a matter of history. To this day, al-Qaida continues to praise Omar for his obstinacy in the face of a superpower. The Taliban has had more than two decades to renounce al-Qaida and it hasn’t done so. And the Taliban still hasn’t proven its willingness to hinder al-Qaida’s international plotting from inside Afghanistan. In fact, the U.S. killed a senior al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan just days prior to the 2016 presidential election. This same al-Qaida figure, Faruq al-Qahtani, was not only overseeing terrorist plots against the West, he also buttressed the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan by delivering cash and weapons to Taliban fighters, while also planning attacks on coalition forces.

If Khalilzad negotiates a denunciation of al-Qaida as part of the accord, then that would be significant. If not, then everyone should be aware that the Taliban hasn’t really come clean.

As a second measure, Khalilzad’s deal needs to address al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s oath of allegiance to the Taliban’s current top leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada.

Al-Qaida’s top leaders have been loyal to the Taliban’s emir since well before 9/11. In al-Qaida’s view, the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the only religiously legitimate state in the world at the time of the hijackings. Al-Qaida deemed Mullah Omar to be Amir al-Mu’minin, or the “Emir of the Faithful,” an honorific usually reserved for the Muslim caliph. (ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi adopted the same title in 2014, after the Islamic State declared its caliphate in Iraq and Syria.) As a result, bin Laden swore fealty to Omar and encouraged other Muslims around the world to do the same.

Bin Laden was killed in 2011. Mullah Omar is thought to have passed away sometime in 2013. Nevertheless, al-Qaida continued to market its loyalty to Omar until 2015, when the Taliban finally admitted that its founder had passed away two years earlier. The Taliban then named Mullah Mansour, a powerful figure who considered al-Qaida’s men to be the “heroes of the current jihadist era,” as its leader. Bin Laden’s successor, Zawahiri, quickly swore his fealty to Mansour, and Mansjour publicly accepted Zawahiri’s allegiance.

After Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in May 2016, the Taliban named Akhundzada as its emir. Zawahiri fell in line once again — publicly declaring that Akhundzada was the new “Emir of the Faithful.”

Akhundzada’s formal rejection of Zawahiri’s loyalty pledge would shake al-Qaida’s entire scheme. Al-Qaida is an international organization, with branches operating in several countries. Some of these branches have publicly endorsed the idea that Akhundzada is the true spiritual leader of the global jihad. Zawahiri has also declared that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate will be the “nucleus” of a new global caliphate, which al-Qaida’s men are fighting to re-establish. If Akhundzada broke with Zawahiri, then it would therefore undermine al-Qaida’s foundational mythology.

Third, Khalilzad’s agreement must sever the decadeslong partnership between al-Qaida and the Haqqani Network, an integral part of the Taliban that has conducted many of the worst terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan. This issue is especially pressing, because the Taliban’s deputy emir is an infamous character: Sirajuddin Haqqani. As part of any deal with the Taliban, the State Department should require Sirajuddin to issue a statement, in his name, renouncing al-Qaida. Here’s why this is crucially important:

Sirajuddin is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a power broker along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border who was one of bin Laden’s earliest allies.  Jalaluddin’s eponymous network welcomed the first generation of Arab foreign fighters to the region during the 1980s jihad against the Soviets. Some of al-Qaida’s initial leaders were trained in the Haqqanis’ camps. The Haqqani Network has maintained close relations with al-Qaida in the decades since. Documents recovered in bin Laden’s compound show that al-Qaida’s men continued to cooperate with Sirajuddin in Afghanistan years after the U.S.-led war began.

Sirajuddin was named the Taliban’s No. 2 in 2015. With his assumption to that role, the Haqqanis consolidated their power in the Taliban’s hierarchy. Sirajuddin has broad military responsibilities, meaning the Haqqanis are well-positioned to expand their influence across Afghanistan after the U.S. and its allies leave.

More than a generation after the Haqqanis first embraced bin Laden, there is no hint that they are willing to break with al-Qaida or renounce global jihad.

In December 2016, the Haqqanis’ media arm released a lengthy video celebrating the unbroken bond between the Taliban and al-Qaida. After the Taliban announced Jalaluddin’s death last year, al-Qaida issued a glowing eulogy, emphasizing the elderly Haqqani’s brotherhood with bin Laden. Al-Qaida’s central leadership said it took “solace in the fact” that Sirajuddin was now “deputy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Emir of the Faithful,” describing both Sirajuddin and Akhundzada as “our emirs.” The Taliban’s own video eulogy for Jalaluddin featured commentary from jihadists in Syria, including an al-Qaida-linked cleric from Saudi Arabia who has been designated as a terrorist by the U.S.

Sirajuddin himself is an internationally wanted terrorist, with a $10 million bounty on his head. The U.S. and the United Nations have sanctioned the Haqqani Network and multiple members of the group. These legal measures are backed by abundant evidence. Not only have the Haqqanis conducted some of the most devastating terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan, they have also harbored al-Qaida’s internationally-focused operatives along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The U.S. and its allies have traced a series of global terror plots to the Haqqanis’ strongholds in northern Pakistan.

Fourth, and finally, any agreement has to take into account the many al-Qaida and al-Qaida-linked fighters embedded within the Taliban-led insurgency.

In 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which operates throughout South Asia. AQIS’s first major terrorist plot was an attempted hijacking of two Pakistani frigates. The jihadists intended to fire the ships’ missiles at Indian and American naval vessels, possibly sparking an even more deadly international conflict. The plot was thwarted by Pakistani officials, but only after AQIS came close to taking control of the ships.

While AQIS’ audacious terror schemes remain a concern, the group’s primary mission is to help the Taliban resurrect its Islamic Emirate. AQIS has made this clear in its “code of conduct” which stresses AQIS’s loyalty first to Zawahiri and then to Akhundzada. AQIS retains a significant footprint in Afghanistan. In 2015, for instance, American and Afghan forces raided two large AQIS training camps in the Shorabak district of the southern Kandahar province. U.S. military officials revealed that one of the camps was nearly 30 square miles in size, making it the largest al-Qaida training facility discovered post-9/11. The Shorabak camps were hosted by the Talibabn and intelligence recovered in the facilities shows that AQIS’s tentacles stretch from Afghanistan into other nearby countries, including Bangladesh.

AQIS’s leader, Asim Umar, has already declared that America’s defeat in Afghanistan is imminent. In a tract released in April 2017, Umar argued that Trump’s ” America First” policy really meant that the U.S. would “give up the leadership of the world.” Umar exaggerated America’s weakness, but he clearly saw a retreat from Afghanistan as a victory for al-Qaida. Other al-Qaida-linked jihadists, including Central Asian and Uighur groups, are eyeing a post-withdrawal Afghanistan as fertile ground for their jihadist projects as well.

Will Khalilzad’s deal with the Taliban address these al-Qaida-related issues? Or is Khalilzad going to accept the deliberately ambiguous denials the Taliban has issued for years?

The Afghan government has its own reasons to distrust Khalilzad.

But Pompeo’s diplomats shouldn’t trust the Taliban either.

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https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/03/18/donald-trump-afghanistan-zalmay-khalilzad-225815

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taliban attacks killing troop withdrawel

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by Deb Riechmann

The Associated Press

September 6, 2019 (3 days ago)

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WASHINGTON — Relentless, deadly attacks by the Taliban, including a car bombing Thursday that killed a u.s. service member, are testing President Donald Trump’s resolve to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and end what he has called America’s “endless” war.

The death of the American — the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan — could be used to argue that it is long past time to bring U.S. troops home.

But the Afghan government and others worry that the attacks during ongoing U.S.-Taliban talks are evidence that the insurgent group cannot be trusted to end the violence and renounce international terror groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

“We want to make sure we are negotiating a peace, not simply a withdrawal,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a letter Thursday to Trump’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Engel is demanding that Khalilzad, who has said the U.S. and the Taliban are on the threshold of a peace deal, come to testify before the House committee about the negotiations. The envoy was invited to appear Feb. 26 and April 8, but never responded.

“I do not consider your testimony at this hearing optional,” Engel, a New York Democrat, wrote in the letter.

Khalizad is now back in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office, after updating the Afghan government on the latest developments in the talks. He said earlier this week that the insurgent group and the U.S. had reached a deal “in principle” and all that was still needed was Trump’s signature, but the details of the agreement have not been released.

A senior U.S. official said it’s not clear how long the envoy will be in Doha or where he will go afterward. It’s possible he could go back to Kabul or he could return to Washington, depending on what happens during discussions over the fine print of the potential deal with the Taliban, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

While details are scant about the deal the administration appears close to approving, the rising violence has rattled Kabul, the capital, and other sites around the country.

“Peace with a group that is still killing innocent people is meaningless,” said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The attack Thursday by a Taliban suicide car bombing in Kabul killed the U.S. service member, a Romanian soldier and at least 10 Afghan civilians in a busy diplomatic area that includes the U.S. Embassy. About 42 people were wounded.

Hours later, the Taliban set off a car bomb outside an Afghan military base in a neighboring province, killing four civilians.

Those attacks followed the disclosure by Amnesty International that Abdul Samad Amiri, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s acting director in Ghor province, was kidnapped and killed by the Taliban. And on Monday, the Taliban attacked a foreign compound, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 100, almost all of them local civilians.

When reporters asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday what the Taliban needed to do to show they can be trusted, Esper said it was a matter for negotiators, not for him to discuss in public.

“Until we see a final agreed-upon document that outlines what that agreement looks like, I’m just going to hold my tongue because what I don’t want to do is get out ahead, or askew, of the sensitive negations,” Esper said while traveling in Britain.

Trump has repeatedly stated his desire to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, where 2,400 American service members have been killed since the U.S. ousted the ruling Taliban regime after the Sept. 11 attacks. As part of any settlement, U.S. officials say they want assurances that the country will not again become a launching point for attacks.

Despite the violence, the administration is likely to continue pushing for an end to U.S. involvement and a withdrawal of American troops, said Jarrett Blanc, the deputy U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2012 to 2014.

“I would find it odd for Trump — based on how far this has gone — for him not to do it,” Blanc said. “My understanding is that the deal is very, very close to done. I would not be surprised if it’s a matter of days or a matter of weeks.”

He said he doesn’t believe the draft agreement includes a complete Taliban cease-fire, only a pledge to reduce violence.

Trump has said he wants to withdraw more than 5,000 American troops from Afghanistan and then contemplate further drawdowns. He has not offered a timeline for withdrawing troops, while saying the U.S. will retain a “high intelligence” presence in Afghanistan going forward. The Pentagon has been developing plans to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 U.S. troops still there, but the Taliban want all U.S. and NATO forces withdrawn.

Any U.S.-Taliban deal would open the door to a second phase of all-Afghan negotiations, which could be more difficult. Those talks — between the Taliban and Afghans both inside and outside the government — would aim to craft a peaceful future for the country. Complicating the situation is Afghanistan’s presidential election set for Sept. 28. The Taliban have threatened to attack election sites.

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Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Kabul, Robert Burns in London and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/05/taliban-attacks-test-trump-as-he-seeks-to-end-afghan-war

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trump says peace talks are dead

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by Deb Riechmann, Matthew Lee, Robert Burns

Associated Press

Sept. 9, 2019

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WASHINGTON — U.S. peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared Monday, one day after he abruptly canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.

Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan prompted the U.S. to invade after the 9/11 attacks.

Asked about the peace talks, Trump said, “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”

It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with planned U.S. troop cuts and how the collapse of his talks will play out in deeply divided Afghanistan.

In his remarks to reporters Monday, Trump said his administration is “looking at” whether to proceed with troop reductions that had been one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban struck by presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.

What had seemed like a potential deal to end America’s longest war unraveled,  with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed, and American advocates of withdrawing from the battlefield questioned on Monday whether Trump’s decision to cancel what he called plans for a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat over the weekend had poisoned the prospects for peace.

“The Camp David ploy appears to have been an attempt to satisfy Trump’s obsession with carefully curated public spectacles — to seal the deal, largely produced by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators, with the president’s imprimatur,” said John Glaser director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Trump has been talking of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan since his 2016 presidential campaign. And he said anew in a tweet on Monday, “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”

He added, without explanation, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”

There has been no evidence of a major U.S. military escalation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s weekend moves.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” Pompeo said Sunday.

Trump said he called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the emerging agreement had started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

As Trump’s re-election campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined Monday to comment on the outlook for the administration’s plan to reduce the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan to 8,600.

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government it sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West. So, the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

A U.S. official familiar with the Taliban negotiations said the “very closely held” idea of a Camp David meeting was first discussed up to a week and a half ago. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, the official said. They didn’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal could be hammered out, the official said.

Khalilzad, the lead U.S. negotiator, recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from a local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do.

The insurgent group hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks in 2001. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. On Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 12 people including a U.S. soldier. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Doha, Qatar for at least two days of negotiations with the Taliban. He has since been recalled to Washington.

It’s unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won’t trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might then change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official, who has discussed the peace process with U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad’s team was not aware of Trump’s plans to tweet the end of the talks Saturday evening.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement.

The former Afghan official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons. First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn’t state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces. That date was to be either November 2020, the same month of the U.S. presidential election, or January 2021, he said.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement was to be followed by Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government to chart a political future for the country. Ghani told Khalilzad that putting a withdrawal date in the agreement would undermine the all-Afghan discourse before it began; the Taliban would have leverage in those negotiations from the get-go because the U.S. troops would be on a timeline to permanently withdraw.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in convincing Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if the elections were held and Ghani won, his opponents and other anti-Ghani factions would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable. Other disagreements included why the deal did not address the Taliban’s linkages to Pakistan and prisoner-hostage exchanges, the official said.

~~~

Associated Press writers Cara Anna and Rahim Faiez in Kabul; Jonathan Lemire in Washington, and Julie Walker with AP Radio contributed to this report.

~~~

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/09/us-troop-reduction-in-afghanistan-unclear-as-trump-says-peace-talks-with-taliban-are-now-dead

~~~

trump calls off secret meeting

~~~

by Jonathan Lemire and Deb Riechmann

The Associated Press

Sept. 8, 2019

~~~

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Saturday he canceled a secret weekend meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghanistan leaders after a bombing in the past week in Kabul that killed 12 people, including an American soldier, and has called off peace negotiations with the insurgent group.

Trump’s tweet was surprising because it would mean that the president was ready to host members of the Taliban at the presidential retreat in Maryland just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. More than 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which were harboring al-Qaida leaders responsible for 9/11.

Canceling the talks also goes against Trump’s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and close U.S. involvement in the conflict that is closing in on 18 years.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s diplomat talking to the Taliban leaders for months, has said recently that he was on the “threshold” of an agreement with the Taliban aimed at ending America’s longest war. The president, however, has been under pressure from the Afghan government and some lawmakers, including Trump supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw American forces.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump tweeted Saturday evening.

“They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.

On Thursday, a Taliban car bomb exploded and killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days during U.S.-Taliban talks.

The Defense Department says Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, from Morovis, Puerto Rico, was killed in action when the explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”

It remains unclear if the U.S.-Taliban talks are over or only paused. Trump said he called off the peace negotiations after the bombing, but Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, was meeting with leaders of the insurgent group in Doha, Qatar, on both Thursday and Friday.

The State Department and the White House declined to respond to requests for clarification. There was no immediate response from the Afghan government as Kabul woke up hours after Trump’s announcement.

Many in the Afghan government, which has been sidelined from the U.S.-Taliban talks, and among the Afghan people have been skeptical of the negotiations, fearing there was little if nothing in the deal to stop the Taliban from continuing its attacks against civilians. The two shattering Taliban car bombings in Kabul in the past week, which the insurgent group said targeted foreigners but killed far more civilians, renewed those fears.

Longtime Afghanistan watchers, including former U.S. officials, apparently didn’t see this twist coming. After word emerged that a Washington visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had been postponed, some assumed Ghani had been trying to make a last-minute effort to meet Trump to express concerns about the nearing deal.

“Whatever was the reason for inviting Taliban leaders to Camp David and whatever the real reason for pulling the plug, the peace process has been disrupted at least for the moment,” said Laurel Miller, Asia director for International Crisis Group.

“After all the violence during many months of negotiations, it’s difficult to see why last Thursday’s attack would be the sole reason for changing course. This could be a blow to the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the peace process. Hopefully it can be brought back on track because there’s no better alternative,” Miller said.

~~~

Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

~~~

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/09/08/trump-calls-off-secret-camp-david-meeting-with-taliban-afghan-leaders

~~~

u.s. envoy returning to doha for new round of taliban peace talks

Zalmay Khalilzad to resume talks with Taliban in Qatari capital to facilitate peace process to end war in Afghanistan.

~~~

news agencies

Al Jazeera

Aug 20, 2019

~~~

The United States special envoy to Afghanistan is heading to Qatar and the Afghan capital to resume peace talks aimed at ending 18 years of military intervention.

Zalmay Khalilzad will resume talks with the Taliban in Doha “as part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the US Department of State said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Kabul, he will consult with leaders of the Afghan government and encourage intra-Afghan negotiations, it said.

A breakthrough could pave the way for a withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, including some 14,000 US soldiers.

Khalilzad bolstered optimism for a peace agreement last week when he concluded the eighth round of negotiations with the Taliban, saying in a tweet he hoped this was the final year that the country was at war.

On Tuesday morning, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC television that a deal was possible, if the current level of violence in the country could be significantly reduced.

“The conversations are going well,” Pompeo said.

“What really happens on the ground, if we can reduce violence, we’ll create a space where we can withdraw not only American support but NATO forces that are there, as well.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group ~  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant ~ claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in a wedding hall full of people in Kabul on Saturday that killed 63 people and wounded 182.

ISIL, who battle government forces and the Taliban, and have carried out some of the deadliest attacks in urban centres, will not be part of the deal between the US and the Taliban.

~~~

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/envoy-returning-doha-taliban-peace-talks-190820173131453.html

~~~

the doha agreement

paving the way for

the taliban takeover of afghanistan

& enforcement of shari’a

.

~~~

by Tufail Ahmad

MEMRI daily brief

July 12, 2019

~~~
.

Introduction

At the July 7-8 talks in Doha, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization), backed by Qatar and the U.S., emerged victorious, extracting major advantages from Afghan delegates and the international community. A key Taliban advantage was that they held on to the Islamic Emirate’s long-standing position of not recognizing the elected government of Afghanistan as a legitimate entity. While the Afghan delegates, including those from the government, were forced to attend the talks in their personal capacity, the Taliban representatives came to the table as the Taliban.

As per a statement issued by Qatar, Dr. Mutlaq bin Majid Al-Qahtani, the Qatari Special Envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, announced the “success” of the talks, stating: “We are very pleased today to reach a joint statement as a first step to peace.” The “success” and the “first step to peace” which Al-Qahtani spoke of belong to the Taliban and shari’a, not to the democratic government in Kabul, not to Afghan women who suffered under the Taliban’s shari’a rule during the 1990s, and not to common Afghans whose civil liberties are at stake in Doha.

The Afghan Taliban – as a result of the Doha talks which were sponsored jointly by Qatar and Germany – marched closer to their stated objectives of enforcing Islamic shari’a rule in Afghanistan and of restructuring the Afghan government institutions, including the military, to their liking. As discussed below, the Taliban’s realization of their objectives at the Doha talks are clearly seen in four versions of the so-called joint statement agreed to, perhaps under the U.S. pressure, by the Afghan delegates.

Three Versions Of The Doha Agreement And The Taliban’s Own Version

At the official level, there are three versions of the joint statement (henceforth, Agreement) in Pashtu, Dari, and English. However, the Islamic Emirate also published a fourth version in Urdu on its official Urdu-language website. In Point 3 of the Agreement, the Urdu version inserts a sentence – which does not exist in the English version – noting that Afghans made sacrifices “so that all international, regional, and national parties [to the Afghan situation] should become respectful toward the great tenets of our millat [Islamic Ummah].”

The seventh round of the ongoing U.S.-Taliban negotiations were paused to accommodate the July 7-8 talks between the Taliban and the Afghan delegates. In Point 4-b, the English version says that the participants support the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and believe that “an effective and positive outcome from the negotiations will be fruitful for Afghanistan.” Contrary to this, the Urdu version says the participants believe that the U.S.-Taliban talks are an “effective and positive step toward ending the ongoing war thrust upon Afghanistan.”

The English version has nine points, with Point 4, Point 5, and Point 8 having respectively two, four, and eight sub-points. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, released the “unofficial translation” of the Agreement via Twitter and acknowledged in a tweet that there was “some confusion about translations…” In a tweet to Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan student of international relations expressed concern that the original Pashtu statement has “ten points.” In the Urdu version, Point 6 and Point 7 have been combined, making it an eight-point document.

The Doha Agreement – A Blueprint For Shari’a Rule

All the versions of the Agreement have some differing points. Point 6 of the English version assures Afghan women of their fundamental “rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs” of Afghanistan as per Islamic values. It does not “contain any reference to one of the key issues for the Taliban – their demand for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces…”

On the contrary, the Pashtu version of the Agreement includes “references to the withdrawal of foreign troops as part of the roadmap,” but it does “not include any reference to guarantees for women’s rights.” The Dari version, like the English one, includes “references to guaranteeing women’s rights,” but does “not mention the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.” Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Islamic Emirate’s Political Office in Doha, has said that the Pashtu version is the original. The Agreement is non-binding.

Since the Pashtu version does not talk of women’s rights, it leaves the Afghan Taliban ample space to implement their own view of what women’s rights are. The Urdu version, which is the Taliban’s official version published on their website, mentions “women’s rights” and “protection of the rights of religious minorities” in accordance with “Islamic principles.”

Both these rights are understood by jihadi groups differently from the way they are understood by democratic nations. For example, women’s rights mean segregation of women in offices, schools, colleges, and all other spheres of public and home life. Similarly, jihadi groups agree to the “protection of the rights of religious minorities” only in such situations when Islam is in power and minorities live as dhimmis, second-class citizens, and agree to pay jizya, a tax on non-Muslims.

In Doha, the Taliban did not agree to a long-standing demand from the Afghan government that they agree to a ceasefire for meaningful progress to be made in Afghanistan. However, in all versions, the parties are committed to “minimiz[ing] the civilian casualties to zero.” This is an important point, but it is also a surrender to the Taliban. Effectively, it means that the Islamic Emirate has declined to agree to any form of ceasefire.

This point also means that after the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, the Islamic Emirate will continue to fight against Afghan soldiers, as it does now. Also, the fact that the Islamic Emirate forced the delegates not to attend the event as representatives of the Afghan government means that the Taliban are unwilling to adopt a flexible approach on vital points. A day before the talks, the Islamic Emirate issued a statement in which it insisted that the Afghan delegates would participate “in their personal capacities.”

There are points indicating that the Taliban have won this round of the talks with the Afghan delegates. For example, Point 8-a of the English version of the agreement commits the parties to “institutionalizing [an] Islamic system in the country for the implementation of comprehensive peace” – effectively planting the seeds for shari’a rule in Afghanistan. In Point 2, the agreement talks of “Islamic sovereignty” for Afghan people. As per Point 8-d, the participants also agreed to “reform in the preservation of fundamental institutions, defensive [sic, defense] and other national entities” of Afghanistan, effectively demanding a restructuring of Afghan government institutions to suit the Taliban’s ideological objectives.

The Inclusion Of Moscow Declaration

In Point 9, the Agreement says: “We acknowledge and approve the recent resolution of intra-Afghan conference held on 5 and 6 Feb 2019 in Moscow.” So, the Doha Agreement incorporates the Moscow resolution. In Moscow, the Taliban delegation had refused to accept a woman as the head of the state of Afghanistan because Islam does not permit women to head a state. At that time, Fawzia Koofi, a female Afghan lawmaker who attended the Moscow conference, had welcomed the Taliban’s promise that “women would not be stripped of their rights and would be allowed to serve as prime minister — though not as president.”

The story does not end here. In the Islamic Emirate’s view, the actual peace process will start sometime later, the timing of which is unclear. For it, the U.S.-Taliban negotiations and the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan delegates do not constitute the beginning of the peace process. In Moscow, the Taliban delegation had made this point clear, stating “before the beginning of the peace talks, some preliminary steps must be taken that are essential for peace.” This point from the Moscow talks is retained in the Doha Agreement.

It says the participants agree “on a roadmap for peace based on following conditions,” one of which, in Point 8-b, being the “Start of the peace process simultaneously with the accomplishment of all terms and conditions set forth.” While Al-Qahtani, the Qatari special envoy who announced the “success” in Doha, sees the Agreement as the “first step to peace,” the Islamic Emirate does not see it even as the “start” of the peace process in Afghanistan.

Two Mornings After The Doha Agreement

On July 10 – two days after the Doha Agreement – the Afghan Taliban returned to their usual tactics and accused the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani of supporting the Islamic State (ISIS), using U.S. private security firm Blackwater (now known as Academi) to kill civilians, and “trying to prolong the U.S. invasion” of Afghanistan. “The ground beneath the feet of Ashraf Ghani is shrinking not just militarily but also diplomatically [as a result of the Doha Agreement],” the Islamic Emirate wrote in a statement and celebrated the exclusion of the Afghan government from the Doha talks, saying: “The decision to not include the regime in the peace talks is a slap in the face to the regime leadership…”

Vowing to establish shari’a rule in Afghanistan, it wrote: “No matter what the puppet regime does, the stance of the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is clear which is to strive for the cause of Allah and to remove the rule of tyrants and overthrow the disbelief and ignorance and re-establish the rule of shari’a in Afghanistan which is the will of Afghan nation.” The Islamic Emirate especially singled out democracy as an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan, stating: “[I]t is not possible to escape from the physical barriers that the enemies have placed in our country… by embracing democracy.” It added: “The solution lies in the change of the cruel system [democracy] built by the occupiers.”

It reaffirmed commitment to jihad: “Military and political jihadi action is the effective remedy for demolishing the walls of the external occupiers and… [their] internal clients in Afghanistan.” It added: “Every Afghan knows that jihad against the current regime is the shortest and most correct way to change the situation.” The Doha Agreement shines for one outstanding point: it does not meet any demands by the Afghan government and the international community, while it becomes an instrument for the enforcement of the Taliban’s shari’a-based objectives in Afghanistan.

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamization and Counter-Radicalization Initiative

~~~

https://www.memri.org/reports/doha-agreement-%E2%80%93-paving-way-talibans-takeover-afghanistan-and-enforcement-sharia-based

~~~

Tulsi

for u.s. president

~

Behold

Laka

Standing

On

The

 Mountain

~

     With eyes closed he grew numb under the cold shower in the TAMC barracks, and pretended he was standing under an icy waterfall in the mountains.  The hot water was not working this Saturday morning ~ again.

     With a towel tied around his waist he was stepping across the hallway to his cave-like room when Pvt. 1 Tom Weasel stopped him and said, “Wanna smoke a joint, Duty?”

     “No no no no,” replied PFC Donald Duty, invigorated from the cold shower.  “I don’t smoke it no mo’.”

     “Well, how you gonna be mellow if you don’t smoke it no mo’?” said Weasel.

     “I chant,” said Duty ~ and he locked himself up in his room.  He put on some clothes, opened the curtain, twirled open the window, sat down in front of a most beautiful sky and let the trade winds kiss his cheek.  Sure enough, he began to chant:

     “Ku ana ‘o Laka i ka mauna,

     Noho ana ‘o Laka i ke po ‘o oka ‘ohu.

     ‘O Laka kumu hula,

     Nana i ‘a ‘eka waokele…”

     Outside, a misty cloud white and purple upon the hilltop, gently tumbled forward.  The cloud transformed into a pretty face with depthless eyes and a supple body with graceful moves.  It was obvious ~ Laka, the hula goddess, had arrived ~ and was dancing in the sky!

     From the colorful lei hanging from her neck and tossing to and fro, there fell a flower.  It landed on the window pane in front of Duty.  “Mahalo, my beloved,” said Duty.

     He reached for the flower.  As soon as he touched it, the flower turned into a diving mask and snorkel.  Duty whispered to the suddenly clear blue sky, “Ah, I know what I’m going to do today!”

     With swimming trunks rolled up in a towel and Laka’s gift in his hand, Duty darted out of the barracks.  Sp4 Joe Honor and Sp4 John Country were about to drive away in Country’s automobile.  Duty flagged them down.

     “What’s up?” said Duty.

     “We’re going snorkeling!” replied Honor and Country in baritoned chorus.

     “Oh, can I go?  Oh, please, guys, please!”

     “Hop in,” smirked Country.

     In a cove about a half mile on the other side of Waimea Falls, located on the North Shore, the three off-duty TAMC soldiers floated around above another world ~ Fish World ~ and occasionally dove deeply into it ~ all day long.  The surface of the sea was smooth as glass and you could see forever ~ even underwater.  The many colored fishes were sassy as could be.

     Later back at the barracks, played out and cleansed of worry, Duty stepped around two MPs and a drug detection dog ~ German Shepherd type ~ in the hallway.  The dog was howling in front of Weasel’s barracks-room door.

~

https://www.tulsi2020.com

~

from

her

secret agent

bred in

DUTY WORLD

~

afghan rivals to meet in bid for peace

~~~

news agencies

aljazeera

1 Jul 2019

~~~

Rival Afghans will meet starting on Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months.

The international efforts to bring warring Afghan sides to the negotiating table comes as the Taliban, which has been fighting the West-backed Kabul government, killed 16 in the latest attack in the capital.

The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been holding a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, aimed at bringing the 18-year-old war to an end.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump said in an interview that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strong intelligence presence in the country to counter what he termed the “Harvard of terrorists.”

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. A previous attempt to bring the armed group together with government officials in Doha collapsed in April in a dispute over attendees.

Germany, a key player in international support for the post-Taliban government, and Qatar, which maintains contacts with the armed group, said that they jointly extended invitations for a dialogue in Doha on Sunday and Monday.

‘Direct engagement between Afghans’

The Afghans “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing,” Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement released on Monday by the US.

“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” he said.

“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans,” he said.

But the Taliban spokesman insisted that they would not to talk to the Kabul government.

The meeting comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a previously unannounced visit last week to Kabul where he voiced hope for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The ambitious time frame would allow a deal before Afghanistan holds elections in September, which Western officials fear could inject a new dose of instability.

Trump wants to pull all US troops from Afghanistan, believing that the US’s longest war – launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks – no longer makes military or financial sense.

But he said the US will “be leaving very strong intelligence, far more than you would normally think,” in an interview with the Fox New Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“It just seems to be a lab for terrorists … I call it the Harvard of terrorists,” Trump said.

The Taliban have refused to halt their violence, believing that they have an upper hand as the US is eager to leave.

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded – including 50 children – after the Taliban hit the defence ministry with a powerful bomb.

Gunmen then stormed a nearby building, triggering a gun battle with special forces. Most of the injured children were hurt by flying glass, officials said.

‘Seeking consensus’

Save the Children branded the attack “utterly deplorable,” warning that “children’s smaller bodies sustain more serious injuries than adults” and that the trauma of such attacks can stay with them for years.

Washington condemned the “brazen” and “callous” attack, but continued the seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha that started on Saturday.

“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Taliban’s office in Qatar.

Under a peace deal, the US plans to pull its roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban would provide assurances that they would never allow their territory to be a base for foreign attacks – the primary reason for the US invasion in 2001.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator with the Taliban, said that dialogue among Afghans was an essential part of a peace deal.

“Mutual acceptance, seeking consensus, and agreeing to resolve political differences without force is what is needed to learn from the tragedy of the last 40 years,” Khalilzad said, referring to Afghanistan’s nearly incessant conflict since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

“I wish participants success,” he tweeted.

~~~

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/taliban-afghan-rivals-set-meet-fresh-bid-peace-190702021725938.html

~~~

a synopsis of the u.s./taliban peace talks

~~~

by Shereena Qazi

Aljazeera

29 June 2019

~~~

United States officials and Taliban representatives are meeting in Qatar’s capital for a seventh time since October in a bid to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

The latest round of direct talks, which got under way in Doha on Saturday, is focused on four key issues: a Taliban guarantee that it will not allow fighters to use Afghanistan to launch attacks outside the country, the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led military coalition for sheltering al-Qaeda, the group blamed for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The Afghan government, however, is not involved in the talks as the Taliban has refused to negotiate with it, deeming it illegitimate and a “puppet” of the US.

Following the end of the sixth round of negotiations with the Taliban in May, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “faster progress” was needed as “the conflict rages” and “innocent people die”.

But analysts say peace has never been closer in Afghanistan since the talks between the US and the Taliban began.

Separately, three meetings have been held since 2017 in Moscow between the Taliban and senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai.

Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council in Kabul with politicians and tribal, ethnic and religious leaders to discuss the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha.

But as these initiatives remain in the spotlight, deep divisions among the Afghan government and politicians complicate efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan.

What has been agreed to so far in US-Taliban talks?

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who served as US ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009), Iraq (2005-2007) and Afghanistan (2003-2005), is leading the US side in the Doha talks.

The Taliban is represented by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s office chief, and cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released in October last year from a Pakistani prison.

The Taliban has long demanded the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, which has been a sticking point in the meetings between the US and the group in Doha.

In previous rounds of talks, the two sides had agreed on a “draft framework” that included the withdrawal of US troops, a discussion on Taliban’s commitment that the Afghan territory would not be used by international “terror” groups, and that a ceasefire would be implemented across the country.

But the Taliban insists it will not commit to any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

The sixth round of talks last month ended with “some progress” on a draft agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops, according to a Taliban official.

Khalilzad said at the time the talks with the Taliban on ending Afghanistan’s war were making slow but steady progress, while signalling a growing frustration with deadly attacks in the country.

“We made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war. We are getting into the nitty-gritty. The devil is always in the details,” Khalilzad said.

“However, the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

In June, both sides said there was an understanding on the withdrawal but the details, including a timeline, had not been worked out yet.

This week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to Kabul that the US was close to wrapping up the draft agreement with the Taliban on counterterrorism. He hoped a peace agreement could be reached by Sept 1.

Why is the Afghan government excluded?

The Taliban has long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which has repeatedly invited the group for talks with no success.

Washington also initially tried to get the Taliban to agree to talking with Kabul. When the Taliban refused to budge, the US was left with no option but to enter into the talks.

The group has given several reasons on why it is not willing to talk to the Afghan government.

Since the Taliban was overthrown by the US-led military intervention in 2001, the Taliban maintains that the country has been occupied by foreign forces.

It says the Kabul government has no real power and considers it a “puppet regime”. The group says any engagement with the government would grant it legitimacy.

In June, Ghani decreed the formation of a peace ministry, headed by his top aide, Abdul Salam Rahimi, to encourage direct talks with the Taliban.

What can cause US-Taliban talks to collapse?

Dawood Azami, an academic and journalist who works as a multimedia editor at BBC World Service in London, said a peace deal could only be possible when both parties were flexible and willing to make concessions.

“The lack of consensus in Kabul, the failure of the Afghan government and the non-Taliban Afghans in general, to agree on the appointment of an inclusive and authoritative negotiating team able to negotiate with the Taliban will prove a major challenge and could result in a breakdown,” he said.

“I think the next phase of talks among the Afghans [generally termed as intra-Afghan dialogue] will prove more challenging than the first [US-Taliban talks]”.

Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat and ex-UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, said if any peace deal was to happen, there would be several hurdles before it was implemented, which he felt was a sign of its possible collapse.

“The deal-breakers are the possibility of exceptionally violent and gruesome Taliban attacks; the refusal of Afghan government to go along; a refusal of the Tajiks and Hazaras to accept a deal [even if approved by President Ashraf Ghani]; and a Taliban belief that it can prevail militarily without a deal,” he said.

“But the biggest deal-breaker may be an inability of the Taliban negotiators to get all the factions of the Taliban to follow any peace document that is signed.”

Galbraith said the US President Donald Trump administration’s determination to withdraw, regardless of the consequences, was probably the single most important factor in making a US-Taliban deal possible.

Why is Taliban refusing calls for ceasefire?

Intense fighting continues across the country even as the Taliban remains in talks with the US. The group now controls or holds influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001.

“As the peace talks are entering an important phase, the Taliban want to maximize their leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table,” Azami said.

“In addition, the Taliban leadership is under pressure from their military commanders not to agree to a ceasefire before achieving a tangible goal.”

The armed group has also said on several occasions that there will be no ceasefire until the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

When the loya jirga (grand council) called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and Taliban during the holy month of Ramadan, Ghani agreed to a truce provided it was not “one-sided”.

However, the Taliban rejected the call for a ceasefire, saying waging a war during Ramadan had “even more rewards”.

In an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan’s largest private television station, Khalilzad said last month that any peace agreement with the armed group would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war.

“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war, not peace,” Khalilzad said.

What is the Afghan president’s loya jirga?

Last month, the Afghan president held a loya jirga, a grand assembly which brought together more than 3,200 participants, including politicians, tribal elders and other prominent figures from across the country.

The council, which sought to hammer out a shared strategy for future negotiations with Taliban, ended with delegates demanding an “immediate and permanent” ceasefire.

The meeting, traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances, was held in a bid to build consensus among various ethnic groups and tribal factions over restoring peace in Afghanistan.

However, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Ghani, and Karzai, the former president, were among a number of senior figures who boycotted the gathering, accusing the president of using it for political ends ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September 28.

On its website, the Taliban said there had been progress in negotiations with the US and the loya jirga was an “obstacle for ending occupation” and was “sabotaging the authentic peace process”.

Moscow talks

In February this year, a two-day conference was held in the Russian capital between the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians in a bid to lay down a plan for ending the war.

The meeting in Russia was the first public contact in years between the Taliban and prominent Afghans, including Karzai.

But Ghani dismissed the Moscow talks, saying those attending carried no negotiating authority.

In May, a delegation of Taliban negotiators, who met Afghan politicians in Moscow, said “decent progress” was made at talks but there was no breakthrough.

“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s Baradar said.

What if the peace talks collapse?

A United Nations report released earlier this year said that 2018 saw the highest number of civilians killed in Afghanistan’s war than any other year on record.

Civilian deaths jumped by 11 percent from 2017 to 3,804 people killed, including 927 children, and another 7,189 people wounded, according to the UN figures, as suicide attacks and bombings wreaked havoc across Afghanistan.

In another report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in May, Afghan and international forces, including NATO, killed more civilians in the first three months of this year than the Taliban or fighters from other armed groups.

At least 305 civilians were killed by pro-government forces between January and March, 52.5 percent of all deaths in that period.

With the spike in violence, there is a growing desperation for peace among ordinary Afghans. “If the talks collapse, fighting will further intensify and the Afghan people will suffer more,” Azami said.

“The Taliban would try to increase their territorial control and put maximum pressure on the Afghan government by attempting to capture cities, including provincial capitals and taking control of major highways,” he said.

Azami said the Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a “possible security vacuum in which groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL found fertile ground”.

“Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but to the whole region and rest of the world,” he said.

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https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/taliban-talks-peace-afghanistan-190510062940394.html

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russia wants to help too

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by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Arab News

June 9, 2019

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Russia hosted the second intra-Afghan meeting in less than four months as it continues to seek a role as a credible mediator for ending the Afghan conflict.

The first meeting, which brought together Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition politicians, was held in Moscow in February. It was a landmark event because the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue is considered essential for national reconciliation.

The second intra-Afghan dialogue organized on May 28-29 was a repeat of the previous one, but with a crucial difference. It was the first time Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy leader and head of the movement’s political commission in Qatar, came face to face with prominent Afghan politicians, including Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar, Ata Mohammad Noor, Younas Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, following his release last October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody. It was also his first visit to Russia, which has used its growing contacts within the Taliban to step up its own diplomatic initiative for ending the Afghan war.

Moscow timed the intra-Afghan conference with the 100th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. This is a remarkable turnaround in the relations between the two countries as the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile USSR in December 1979 to prop up a struggling Afghan communist regime had fueled a fierce war of resistance until 1989.

The Taliban took home happy memories from the first intra-Afghan conference in Moscow as the joint declaration issued on the occasion endorsed major Taliban demands. It called for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders’ names from the UN Security Council blacklist.

The second intra-Afghan meeting in Moscow, however, didn’t reach any agreement, and caused disappointment as Afghan politicians unsuccessfully pushed the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. As some delegates reported, the two sides worked on a 12-article joint statement, but disagreement about the cease-fire caused them to merely issue a short press release. 

The statement said both sides discussed important issues linked with the destiny of the Afghan people including the continuation of intra-Afghan talks, cease-fire, release of prisoners and women’s rights, among others. Without elaborating, it noted that some progress had been made on a number of issues, but no agreement was made “because reaching agreements needed more discussions.” 

So the discussions will continue in the next round of intra-Afghan talks likely to be held in Qatar. An earlier plan to convene a broader intra-Afghan conference in Qatar involving representatives of the Afghan government didn’t materialize as the Taliban objected to the large size of the delegation coming from Kabul. The Taliban also did not want the Afghan government to play the lead role in finalizing a list of 250 delegates to attend the Doha meeting. Besides, they had imposed the condition that all participants, including Afghan government officials, would participate in their personal capacity. 

Though Russia has twice managed to hold an intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, the process was incomplete due to the absence of the internationally recognized Afghan government. 

Despite facing isolation at home due to growing internal opposition and abroad on account of his government’s non-representation in the Taliban-US talks in Doha and intra-Afghan meetings in Moscow, President Ashraf Ghani made the point that only his elected government had the mandate to make decisions about the peace process and Afghanistan’s future. 

It cannot be kept out forever, even though the twice delayed presidential election, now due on Sept. 28, has created uncertainty about who will eventually represent the government in the peace process. 

Russia has an abiding interest in Afghanistan due to its regional proximity. As former Afghan president Karzai noted, relations between the two countries are among the oldest and most important.

Though the Taliban are officially a terrorist organization in Russia, that didn’t stop Moscow from engaging with the group and inviting its leaders to meetings in a bid to make itself relevant to the Afghan peace process. 

The US also made an effort in April to engage its rivals, Russia and China, to reach a consensus on efforts to end the Afghan conflict. But global politics and regional rivalries could pose problems as the US, Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran and India, vie for influence in determining Afghanistan’s future.

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Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view.
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