trump’s peace deal & taliban violence

afghan security forces & citizens putting up with lots o’ nasty taliban!

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by Mujib Mashal

New York Times

June 28, 2020

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KABUL Afghanistan ~ Two employees of Afghanistan’s human rights commission were killed in Kabul on Saturday as a bomb attached to their vehicle exploded, the latest in a rising number of targeted killings in the Afghan capital.

From assassinations of religious scholars and assaults against cultural figures to widespread Taliban attacks across the country, the rise in violence is sapping the brief optimism from an American agreement with the Taliban.  Under that deal, the United States would withdraw its troops, paving the way for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides to end the war in a hoped-for political settlement.

The peace deal has hit a wall over a prisoner exchange that was supposed to enable direct talks.  Instead, the violence has intensified.

In a statement, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said one of its vehicles was struck by a magnetic bomb on Saturday morning killing two employees who were on their way to work.

The victims were identified as Fatima Khalil, 24, a donor coordinator for the commission who had recently completed a degree from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, and Jawid Folad, a longtime driver at the commission.

“So far no group has claimed responsibility, and the perpetrators of this brutal attack are not clear,” the statement said.

Afghan and American officials say the war has entered a complicated period of uncertainty with an emboldened  insurgency aided by regional powers exerting pressure on a struggling government by cranking up bloody attacks, often without claiming them.

In a sign of the complexity of the war zone, U.S intelligence recently concluded that the Taliban were receiving bounty money from Russian intelligence for targeting American and coalition forces last year even as they negotiated peace with the United States.

The deal, signed in February, included the exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners for 1,000 Afghan forces within 10 days of its signing.  That exchange, which was met with resistance from the Afghanistan government, is only now nearing completion with the release of nearly 4000 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban agreed not to attack American targets but refused a cease-fire with Afghan government forces, leaving that to direct negotiations between the Afghan sides.  However, American officials said there was an informal understanding with the insurgents that they would reduce their attacks by 80 percent.  Afghans have been increasingly frustrated that they haven’t seen that reduction in violence, and the United States, focused on President Trump’s urgency to get out of the war, has done little to hold the Taliban to it.

The Afghan National Security Council said June had seen the deadliest week of  the war, with 291 Afghan soldiers killed in Taliban attacks in one week.  Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the Taliban attacks in the past three months rose nearly 40 percent compared with the same period last year.

“We have had deep concern since the agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban was signed,” said Haidar Afzaly, the head of the Afghan Parliament’s Defense Committee.  “The only group that has benefited from that is the Taliban, who are seeing their prisoners released.”

He said the Taliban, who were set back by frequent airstrikes in 2019, “are emboldened now” and “have expanded their attacks.”

Officials say the Taliban are also exploiting the grey areas of the battlefield complicated by remnants of a weakening Islamic State and the rising presence of criminal networks as the coronavirus outbreak further damages the country’s struggling economy.

The Taliban have increasingly subcontracted assassinations and targeted killings to criminal networks in the cities, a senior Afghan security official said, putting pressure on the country’s intelligence agency and law enforcement.  In the countryside, the Taliban are continuing bloody attacks in the open, but they have refrained from publicizing the attacks to avoid a direct clash with the United States so as not to endanger the withdrawal of American troops.

In a sign of the conflict’s complexity, among the latest victims targeted for assassinations were five prosecutors with the Afghan attorney general’s office who were fatally shot on their way to the Bagram prison to help release Taliban prisoners.

The killings added to a long list of assassinations, including two of the most prominent religious scholars in Kabul, who were killed by explosions inside their mosques.  Another explosion struck the family of the renowned Afghan writer and poet Assadullah Walwaliji, killing his wife Anisa and teenage daughter Alteen.

“The investigation into the killing of one scholar hadn’t been completed when they martyred a second one,” said Mawlawi Habibullah Hasam, the head of an Afghan religious scholars’ union.

“We have told the government very clearly ~ if, God forbid, another scholar is martyred, then we have no other choice but to directly blame the government as the murderer.”

“They are responsible for security,” Mr, Hasam said.  “You can’t just put up a Facebook statement and say this group did it.  What are you here for then?”

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every step should be measured

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editorial

afghanistan times

june 21, 2020

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The progress of the peace process in Afganistan has been promising recently.  Thousands of prisoners have been released by the Afghan government and the Taliban, a move that contributes somewhat to the trust-building between the warring sides. Reports of the possible launch of intra-Afghan talks by the end of June are circulating in the media, with Doha of Qatar having been finalized and agreed upon by the sides as the venue for the all-Afghan negotiations.  In a recent development, head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, informed that Washington has reduced its troops number to 8,600 in Afghanistan.  This measure marks the fulfilment of the first phase pullout obligation under the U.S.~Taliban agreement signed in February this year.  All these steps gradually build up and advance the peace process.  As the U.S.~Taliban peace pact also calls for the full withdrawal of the U.S. military from the country by May 2021, it is based on some conditions, including severing ties with terrorist groups.  McKenzie referred to this provision, saying it was an “aspirational” commitment, but also conditional:  “Conditions would have to be met that satisfy us that attacks against our homeland are not going to be generated from Afghanistan.”  Meanwhile, it wasn’t long before the Taliban renewed their commitmet to honor the peace pact, saying Afghanistan wouldn’t be used against anyone.  “They should not be concerned,” said the group’s spokesman.  Although the small steps towards peace are significant, the conditions-based approach to withdrawal and peace in Afghanistan so far is laudable. This is as there are concerns that this approach is just a pretext.  There are already reports that the Trump administration is mulling over at a range of options to pull out all of its troops from Afghanistan, most likely at an early date.  The haste in this regard stems from the fact that President Trump is targeting this November, when the U.S. presidential election is scheduled, to present the bringing home of soldiers as an achievment to the public and thus secure votes.  Therefore, the only concern crossing Afghans’ minds is that such pretexts of conditions-based approach are not focused on U.S. interests alone.  To put it clearly, some believe that there is a high probability that the Trump administration might withdraw before the scheduled date and after the election is conducted, it would use the card of the terrorism to re-deploy some troops into Afghanistan.  If the country really wants to extricate itself from Afghanistan, peace is the only face-saving way to achieve that end.  And if not, pretexts of conditions are there to make the withdrawal ambiguous and open-ended.  Thus, every step taken in this regard should be measured and deliberate in order to avoid jeopardizing the whole peace process and the progress made so far.  The worst-case scenario could be making peace a means to secure U.S. interests and ignore those of Afghanistan.

latest “peace deal” details

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interview by der spiegel (german news magazine)

with zalmay khalilzad

found in the march 15, 2020 ariana news

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DER SPIEGEL: As the special representative of U.S. President Donald Trump, you signed an agreement with the Taliban in late February. What did you achieve?

Khalilzad: We achieved several United States objectives: First, the Taliban have made commitments that they were not prepared to make before. These include a break with al-Qaida; not to host or support any terrorist groups that would threaten the security of the United States and its allies; and reducing violence. And that they will sit down with a national and inclusive Afghan negotiating team to chart a future political roadmap for their country together and finalize a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

DER SPIEGEL: The next step is supposed to be peace negotiations between the official Afghan government and the Taliban. But Kabul finds itself gripped by a serious political crisis. Two candidates for president have declared themselves winners of the election and held inaugurations. And they both control rival elements of the country’s security forces. How dangerous is the current situation?

Khalilzad: It is dangerous. The Independent Electoral Commission has declared Ashraf Ghani the winner of the presidential election. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah does not accept the results and has raised valid concerns about the electoral process. It is important that the current political crisis does not devolve into violence. Potential violence stemming from the political crisis would have a negative impact on the security forces, on the peace process and on Afghanistan as a whole. We are working day and night to encourage all sides to make sure this does not happen.

DER SPIEGEL: By last Monday, the newly elected government was supposed to have appointed a negotiating delegation. Because of the political crisis following the presidential election, though, that didn’t happen. What’s the next step?

Khalilzad: As I said, this moment holds dangers. But there is also the opportunity for a major advancement in the peace process – if President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah can agree on an inclusive government led by President Ghani, and if that inclusive government can, with other political leaders, name a national negotiating team. From there, inter-Afghan negotiations with the Taliban can begin and the future political roadmap developed. The results of those negotiations would apply and hopefully put us on the road to a lasting peace for the Afghan people.

DER SPIEGEL: What role can be played by Afghanistan’s allies? What can Germany do?

Khalilzad: Germany has offered to host or co-host intra-Afghan negotiations and support our effort to end the current political crisis and encourage the Afghans to form an inclusive national negotiating team. Germany can also support our efforts to push the Taliban to embrace the progress made in the last 18 years and to respect universal values, including the rights of women. It can also encourage other EU countries to do the same. That would be a meaningful contribution.

DER SPIEGEL: In 14 months, U.S. troops and international forces are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan…

Khalilzad: …only if the Taliban stick to their commitments. It’s very important to understand that the Taliban have to do their part. This is a conditions-based agreement. We will not look away if they commit a violation.

DER SPIEGEL: (the mysterious question!)

Khalilzad: That question is not part of our agreement with the Taliban. But we have told them clearly that this is a red line for the Europeans and other allies, and that we would not accept a return to the 1990s with its support of terrible practices. The Taliban cannot count on U.S. or European assistance if they do not respect fundamental internationally recognized rights and human rights. If they do not respect those standards, we will not support them. They would not be accepted as legitimate actors in Afghanistan.

DER SPIEGEL: You are married to a committed feminist and came to Kabul many years ago as ambassador to build a modern country. How frustrated were you when you ended up having to negotiate with the radical Islamist Taliban after all?

Khalilzad: Of course, I would have liked to have seen more progress on the political process. But Afghanistan has also made a lot of strides. I am hopeful a successful peace process will improve the future of this country, politically, economically and socially.

DER SPIEGEL: What does that mean in practice?

Khalilzad: It is perfectly legitimate for certain groups to want the “X” system, and for another group to want the “Y” system. But it must be a system that allows the coexistence of both groups. Violence cannot be the arbiter of political disagreement…

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https://ariananews.co/en

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u.s. troops begin foreboding exit

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by kathy gannon & rahim faiez

associated press via stars & stripes

march 9, 2020

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Tuesday, taking a step forward on its peace deal with the Taliban while also praising Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s promise to start releasing Taliban prisoners after he had delayed for over a week.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed Feb. 29 was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country’s future.

But Ghani and his main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies Monday. Abdallah via the elections complaints commission had charged fraud in last year’s vote. The dueling inaugurations have thrown plans for talks with the Taliban into chaos, although Ghani said Tuesday that he’d start putting together a negotiating team.

The disarray on the Afghan government side is indicative of the uphill task facing Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as he tries to get Afghanistan’s bickering leadership to come together. In an early Tuesday tweet, Khalilzad said he hoped the two leaders can “come to an agreement on an inclusive and broadly accepted government. We will continue to assist.”

U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Sonny Leggett said in a statement Tuesday the military had begun its “conditions-based reduction of forces to 8,600 over 135 days.”

Currently the U.S. has about 13,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — 8,000 of whom are involved in training and advising Afghanistan’s National Security Forces, while about 5,000 are involved in anti-terror operations and militarily supporting the Afghan army when they are requested.

Ghani had been dragging his feet on releasing some 5,000 Taliban prisoners, something agreed to in the U.S.-Taliban deal. Ghani promised Monday to announce a decree to free the prisoners after the U.S. and a number of foreign dignitaries appeared to back his claim to the presidency by sending their representatives to his inauguration.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement Monday saying, “We also welcome President Ghani’s announcement that he will issue a decree March 10 on Taliban prisoner release.”

Taliban officials said late Monday that a flurry of biometric identifications were being conducted on Taliban prisoners, hinting at a mass release, according to prisoners currently in lockup. The Taliban officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media.

Sohail Shaheen the Taliban’s spokesman in Doha where the insurgent group maintains an office, tweeted Tuesday the names of the 5,000 prisoners are with an “American delegation and the list cannot be manipulated,” without elaborating.

In his tweet, Shaheen said any prisoners handed over will be verified before being accepted. The Associated Press contacted a Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi Jail on the outskirts of Kabul who said four Taliban had been released Monday and another three Tuesday. The seven had completed their sentence, said Maulvi Niaz Mohammad in a telephone interview.

They were not part of the 5,000 on the Taliban prisoner list, he said. Mohammad, who had also been interviewed by The AP in the prison in December, is in telephone contact with the Taliban’s Prisoners Commission, which is headed by Maulvi Nooruddin Turani, a former Taliban justice minister and a violent enforcer of the Taliban’s strict code of conduct.

Meanwhile, Pompeo said he “strongly opposed” the establishment of a parallel government in Kabul, despite early signs of one emerging. Abdullah had quickly sent his vice presidents to occupy the official offices Monday, ahead of Ghani’s plan to send his vice presidents to their offices Tuesday.

Pompeo warned against “any use of force to resolve political differences.” Both candidates — but particularly Abdullah — are backed by warlords with heavily armed militias, underscoring fears they could use force to back their candidate.

The U.S. has said its partial troop withdrawal over an 18-month period provided for in the deal will be linked to the Taliban keeping their promises to help fight terror in Afghanistan, but not to the success of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Over the weekend, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the insurgent group was committed to its agreement with the U.S. and called on Washington to do its part to make sure its prisoners were freed.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that took place during Ghani’s inauguration ceremony. IS also claimed a brutal attack last week on a gathering of minority Shiites that killed 32 and injured scores more. The U.S. in reaching its deal with the Taliban said it expected the Taliban, which has been battling Afghanistan’s ISIS affiliate, to further aid in the effort to defeat ISIS.

Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report

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https://www.stripes.com/news/middle-east/us-starts-troop-pullout-seeks-end-to-afghan-leaders-feud-1.621808

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is there a poor loser here?

dueling afghan leaders

both declare

themselves president

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kabul’s political crisis continued to deepen with ashraf ghani and abdullah abdullah both holding rival inaugurations

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by rahim faiez & tameem akhgar
the diplomat
march 10, 2020

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Afghanistan’s rival leaders were each sworn in as president in separate ceremonies on Monday, throwing plans for negotiations with the Taliban into chaos and creating a dilemma for the United States as it figures out how to move its peace deal with the Taliban forward.

The U.S.-Taliban deal signed just over a week ago was touted as Washington’s effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan and was seen by many Afghans as the best opportunity yet for bringing an end to relentless wars.

But the sharpening dispute between President Ashraf Ghani, who was declared the winner of last September’s election, and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who charged fraud in the vote along with the elections complaints commission, threatens to wreck the next key steps and even risks devolving into new violence.

The rivals held simultaneous inauguration ceremonies, each packed with his supporters — Ghani’s in the presidential palace and Abdullah’s next door in the Sapedar Palace.

Even as Ghani was winding up his thank you speech, blasts of rocket fire were heard hitting near the presidential palace. “We have seen bigger attacks. Don’t be afraid of just two blasts,” Ghani said, raising his hands and urging rattled participants to stay in their seats. The perpetrators of the fire were not immediately known, but the scene hiked worries that the split will open the door to violence.

In a sign of international support for Ghani, his ceremony — aired on state TV — was attended by Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, General Austin S. Miller, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well as a number of foreign dignitaries including the U.S. Embassy’s charge d’affaires and Tadamichi Yamamoto, the U.N. Secretary General’s personal representative to Afghanistan.

At Abdullah’s inauguration, aired on private Tolo TV, among those present were so called “jihadi” commanders, who participated in the brutal civil war of the 1990s and were among those who allied with the U.S.-led coalition to topple the Taliban in 2001.

Both candidates — but particularly Abdullah — are backed by warlords with heavily armed militias, underscoring fears they could use force to back their candidate. The rival claims to be president have the potential to further split and weaken Afghanistan’s fragile institutions, including the military, if they demand their authority be recognized.

When Washington and the Taliban insurgents signed their accord on February 29, the next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions, including the Taliban, would negotiate a road map for their country’s future. They are looking to hammer out such thorny issues as women’s rights, free speech, and the fate of tens of thousands of armed men on both sides of the 18-year war.

Those negotiations were set to open Tuesday in Oslo, but the political chaos in Kabul makes it a near impossibility. Ghani said he will announce his team Tuesday, though it appears Abdullah may also announce his negotiating team.

At the dueling inaugurations, both men offered their peace plan. Abdullah said he had no preconditions for talks and promised his team would be inclusive, but did not elaborate. Ghani said he understood that another promise of a reduction of violence would come from the Taliban in exchange for the release of their prisoners. There was no comment from the Taliban to this and previously they said their earlier commitment was only for seven days and a ceasefire would be part of negotiations.

The United States has said its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan over an 18-month period provided for in the deal will be linked to the Taliban keeping their counterterrorism promises, but not to the success of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government

Afghanistan’s election commission declared incumbent Ghani as the winner of September’s vote. His former partner in a unity government, chief executive Abdullah, as well as the election complaints commission say the results are fraught with irregularities. As a result, both Ghani and Abdullah declared themselves winners.

The dueling inaugurations took place despite last-minute shuttle diplomacy by Khalilzad, who reportedly went back and forth between the two Afghan rivals into the early hours Monday. He asked both sides to delay their inaugurations three days to sort out the stalemate, a senior member of Abdullah’s team, Basir Salangi, told Tolo TV. Abdullah reportedly said he was ready, but only if Ghani also agreed.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed, in response to questions from The Associated Press, said late Sunday that the Taliban were still committed to the deal, but said the dueling presidential inaugurations “are not good for the Afghan nation.”

Until now the Taliban have refused to sit with Ghani’s government. There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

As well as competing candidates, Khalilzad still has to get some agreement on a prisoner release, which was supposed to be settled before the intra-Afghan negotiations could begin. The U.S.-Taliban deal said 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 captives from the government side would be freed as a goodwill gesture ahead of the talks.

Ghani has said he won’t release the Taliban prisoners, even as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on all sides to stop posturing and free their prisoners, some of whom have already served their sentences. Pompeo called on all sides get on with talks about the country’s future.

The Taliban spokesman told AP that the group wants their prisoners released and were ready to free the captives they’re holding. Mujahed said they did not want to see a delay but reiterated that if it occurred “we remain committed to the agreement.”

In a tweet, Afghanistan’s former deputy foreign minister, Jawed Luddin, thanked Washington for trying to sort out Afghanistan’s political turmoil while calling the squabbling “a mess.”

“Thank you, USA, for trying to sort out our political crisis — yet again. We know you must be sick of it — as are we Afghans,” Luddin said.

“You and us both had a hand in bringing about the mess that is today’s Afghan politics. But I wish we Afghans felt half as responsible for the mess as you do,” he added.

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by rahim faiez and tameem akhgar for the associated press.

ap correspondent kathy gannon contributed from islamabad.

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https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/dueling-afghan-leaders-both-declare-themselves-president

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