latest “peace deal” details


interview by der spiegel (german news magazine)

with zalmay khalilzad

found in the march 15, 2020 ariana news


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…



u.s. troops begin foreboding exit


by kathy gannon & rahim faiez

associated press via stars & stripes

march 9, 2020


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



is there a poor loser here?

dueling afghan leaders

both declare

themselves president


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


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


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.


by rahim faiez and tameem akhgar for the associated press.

ap correspondent kathy gannon contributed from islamabad.



nato at the podium


secretary general jens stoltenberg

nato (afghanistan)

29 feb. 2020




NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

at a ceremony preceeding the

Joint Declaration

between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

in regards to the signing of an agreement between the United States and

the Taliban


President Ghani,
Secretary Esper,
Distinguished guests,
I am honoured to join you here in Kabul.
To mark the start of this new chapter for Afghanistan.
In a statement that we have just released,
all NATO Allies welcome this step towards peace.

The agreements between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
and between the United States and Taliban,
promise to end decades of devastating conflict.
And to pave the way for negotiations among Afghans,
as they begin to build a better future for all.
This is a victory for peace.
And a victory for the Afghan people.
Through their bravery and determination,
and the support of the international community,
Afghanistan is a very different country today than it was in 2001.
It is no longer a safe haven for international terrorists.
Terrorists who conducted the attacks against the United States,
and threatened people across the globe.
The security we have helped the Afghan forces to build has underpinned political, economic and social progress.
Child mortality has dropped dramatically.
Life expectancy has increased significantly.
And millions more Afghans are in school, including girls.

Today we see women’s representation at all levels.
And freedom of the press being expressed everyday.
20 years ago all of this would have been unthinkable.
I have seen this transformation,
from despair to hope,
driven by a deep desire for peace,
in the eyes of every Afghan I have met.
From political and military leaders to journalists and artists.
And from special operations forces to female fighter pilots.

The challenge now is to preserve these gains.
The price of peace cannot be to sacrifice progress.
Peace will only be sustainable if the human rights of all Afghans – women, men and children – are protected.
NATO Allies and partners will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Afghanistan.
As we have done since 2001.
Over the years, under the NATO flag, hundreds of thousands of troops from North America, Europe and countries around the whole world have been deployed to Afghanistan.

Thousands of troops from NATO Allies and partners remain in Afghanistan today,
to continue to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and Afghan institutions.
Over the years we have provided critical funding to support the Afghan security forces.
And we will continue this funding.
Thanks to our training and financial backing, the Afghan security forces have become stronger and more professional.
And we will continue to support them as they build a safer and more secure Afghanistan.

To support this process and to support the peace process,
NATO will reduce its presence in Afghanistan,
step-by-step and conditions-based,
reflecting the progress we see on the ground.
NATO Allies and partners went into Afghanistan together.
We will adjust our presence together.
And when the time is right, we will leave together.
This will only happen when we are sure that the Afghan forces no longer require our support,
and that Afghanistan will never again become a platform for international terrorists.

The path to peace is long and hard.
And there may be setbacks.
We have already paid a high price.
So I pay tribute to those who have served so bravely.
And sacrificed so much.
In particular the Afghan security forces.
And the people of Afghanistan.
Whose strength and determination have laid the foundations for peace.
And I say to the Afghan people,
the international community stands with you.
NATO stands with you.
Now is not the time to waver.
Or to jeopardise the progress made.
The time for peace is now.
So I urge all Afghans to seize this historic moment.
To build a truly inclusive Afghanistan.
And to unite in the pursuit of lasting peace.



will leadership rivalry undermine peace?


by shereena qazi

with reporting by mohsin khan mohmand in kabul

february 22, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


chief executive of afghanistan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


shrouded in controversy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some analysts have accused Abdullah of pursuing narrow political interests.

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

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

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

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