Tolo News – Taliban form new peace negotiating team ahead of Qatar talks

Reports indicate that Taliban’s chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai will lead the Taliban team.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 12 February 2019. The Taliban on Tuesday announced the formation of a 14-member peace negotiating team ahead of fresh round of peace talks with the US envoy in Doha, Qatar later this month.

In a statement, the group said that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy head of Taliban’s Qatar office has assigned the team in line with the guidance of group’s leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Taliban’s negotiating team is expected to hold talks with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on 25 February in Doha.

Reports indicate that Taliban’s chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai will lead the Taliban team. Stanakzai previously served as head of Taliban’s Qatar office.

The rest member of Taliban’s negotiating team is Mawlawi Ziaurrahman Madani, ex-Taliban governor for Kunduz, Maelawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, former minister of education, Shahabuddin Delawar, member of Taliban’s Qatar office who also served as Taliban’s envoy to UAE, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansour, ex-minister of agriculture, Mullah Abdul Manan Omari, brother of Taliban’s founding leader Mullah Omar, Mawlawi Amir Khan Mutaqi, ex-minister of information and culture who now serves as head of Hibatullah’s office, Mullah Mohammad Fazel Mazloom, former deputy minister of defense, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhaw, ex-governor of Herat, Mawlawi Mati-ul-Haq, member of Taliban’s leadership, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Omari, member of Qatar office, Mullah Abdul Haq, ex deputy head of Taliban’s intelligence and Mohammad Anas Haqqani, brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani and member of Haqqani network.

But, Anas Haqqani is currently under the custody of the Afghan government.

Taliban has asked for his immediate release.

But, the Afghan government has said that Anas Haqqani is in jail and that so far no decision has been made for his release. The Afghan government has said that those who have committed crimes against the people of Afghanistan will be dealt with in accordance with the laws of Afghanistan.

“It seems that the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces and the issue that threats will not be posed against other countries will dominate key topics at the meeting,” said political analyst Wahid Muzhdah.

“Main agenda pursued by Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad is how to create the platform for an intra-Afghan dialogue so that the delegation of the Afghan government and the Taliban enter into talks,” said Omid Maisam, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s deputy spokesman.

Meanwhile, there are some reports that Khalilzad has had a meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Pakistan’s Karachi city. But Afghan government said that in the fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban, the priority will be the issue of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“We welcome any move for peace. We also support Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad’s peace efforts and watch it closely that how it leads to peace,” said Mohammad Mohaqiq, second deputy chief executive.


Dawn – ‘I’m ready for talks ─ are they?’: Foreign Minister Qureshi throws down gauntlet on dialogue with Delhi

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday said that the Pakistani government is ready for talks with India

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 07 February 2019. In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Qureshi was asked by Dominic Waghorn on World View whether Pakistan had plans to liberate Kashmir.

“The prime minister is saying ‘wake up’.

The situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir is deteriorating by the day. And it isn’t just the prime minister, the United Nations and the All-Parties Parliamentary Group constituted by the House of Commons are all saying that; voices in India are talking about how they’re losing, how they’re alienating Kashmiris and that it’s a lost cause.

So this voice is growing all over,” the foreign minister responded.

Waghorn noted that “there are many in Kashmir who don’t want freedom on Pakistani terms”, to which Qureshi said: “Fine, let’s have a plebiscite. Let the people decide. That’s a commitment, that’s a commitment by India as part of the UN agenda. Give the people the right to self-determination, and whatever they decide, Pakistan will accept.”

The host observed that the back and forth between Pakistan and India had continued “for decades”, and asked why both sides “won’t sit down in the spirit of friendliness”.

“Through your programme, I’m telling the Indians ‘Let’s sit and talk’. I’m ready. Are they?” Qureshi challenged.

‘Everyone needs to realise Afghanistan has changed’

Waghorn, referring to the ongoing Afghan peace talks, asked Qureshi what he expected to happen in the current situation, “When the Taliban get into power, will they allow the Al Qaeda back in under their coattails?”

Qureshi said he didn’t think so. “It’s not in their interest to do that. They are smart people, they want to get on, they want to rebuild their country,” he explained.

“It’s been ravaged, for decades they’ve been in a war situation. Any nation, any people would want reconstruction, education, health, happiness, prosperity, livelihoods. They’re not any different from us,” he told Waghorn.

The interviewer was curious as to whether re-integrating the Taliban back into the Afghan political system meant “women back under the burqa”.

The foreign minster was quick to dispel this notion. “Not at all. Afghanistan has changed over the years. The sooner everyone realises this, the better.”

“You cannot lock women up anymore, you cannot bar them from education. Those days are gone,” he asserted.

Waghorn wondered whether it was a “naive expectation” to assume the Taliban were “new and improved”.

“I think they’re realistic, pragmatic, and that they’ll move on,” Qureshi stated.

Tolo News – Moscow talks draw mixed reactions among Afghans

Ghani said he will make his judgment about Moscow talks after the outcomes are made known.

Sharif Amiri

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 06 February 2019. The Moscow Talks have drawn a mixed response from members of the public with some saying the two-day meeting between influential Afghan politicians and members of the Taliban could help the peace process, while others say the talks could have a negative impact on the process.

The two-day summit is currently underway in the Russian capital, without Afghan government representation.

One Herat resident, Arifa Sabor, said each person attending the meeting was there for themselves and not to defend national interests.

“Everyone’s stance is based on his own demands, I do not think they will reach a result,” said Sabor.

A Kabul resident concurred but felt the talks could have a negative impact on the overall process.

“The Moscow meeting not only does not have a positive effect but will have negative effects. Because they (delegates) follow their personal interests,” said Faridon Frotan, a Kabul resident.

“Participants at Moscow talks should consider the national interests,” said Ahmad Fahim Farjam, another Herat resident.

President Ashraf Ghani meanwhile said on Tuesday he will not make assumptions about the Moscow talks and will only comment once the outcomes have been released.

Speaking to TOLO News, Ghani said he is following the talks and the standpoints of the delegates but will comment only later.

“Those who have gone to Moscow, should think about what they will say there. They have gone to Moscow, but the point is what will they say in Moscow. (Only once I know) will I comment in this regard, I will not prejudge,” said Ghani.

Ghani also said changes might be made to government’s negotiating team if necessary.

This 12-member team was established recently to negotiate with the Taliban. However, until now, the insurgent group has refused to talk with government.

“If it was necessary, there is no problem (members will be changed). But first we should reach the stage on what will negotiations involve.”

Ghani said the negotiating team’s authority was specific and they were not fully authorized to make decisions on all the issues related to the peace talks.

Sources close to the Taliban have meanwhile said changes to the team could help the process.

“Neutral people should be on the team. If the members are only government people, then I do not think that it will be acceptable for the other side,” Sayed Akbar Agha, a former member of Taliban said.

Dawn – Talking Afghan peace

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 30 January 2019. In what is being described as the most tangible step forward in the Afghan peace talks, US officials and the Afghan Taliban seem to have come close to a deal on a draft framework that could bring to an end America’s longest war.

Although there are still major obstacles in the way, sustained negotiations between the two sides have paved the path to a final agreement on the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

Significantly, the breakthrough came after the talks had hit a frustrating stalemate earlier, with the Taliban threatening to pull out from the negotiations entirely, leading to a toughening of the US tone.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief American negotiator, had even indicated that the US would increase military pressure in order to force the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.

It all happened after a meeting between US and Taliban representatives late last year in Abu Dhabi, and attended by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ended on a positive note. However, the Taliban’s refusal to meet representatives of the Kabul government who were present in the city clouded the outcome and the mood.

Some reports suggested that Khalilzad had received guarantees from Saudi Arabia that the Taliban would enter into direct talks with the Kabul government. But at the last moment, the Taliban backed out of their promise and reinforced reservations among various Afghan factions that the peace process would go nowhere without the Taliban showing some flexibility.

The Taliban turndown particularly infuriated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who had sent his national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, to the UAE.

Yet another setback to the fragile negotiating process came when the Taliban rejected a January meeting expected to take place in Saudi Arabia. The Taliban officials said there was no decision taken on the location.

At the core of the Taliban refusal was a long-held suspicion of US motivations. The Taliban accused the US of duplicity and of reneging on the agreement reached in previous meetings.

A major point of contention stalling the talks was the insistence of the Taliban that the US should stick to what it claims was the ‘agreed agenda’ of discussing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing Afghan soil from being used against other states.

The Americans have now backed out and are unilaterally adding new subjects. The ice was finally broken after hectic behind-the-scene diplomatic efforts, with Islamabad reportedly playing a major role in persuading the Taliban to return to the table.

US-Taliban talks: As hopes rise of a deal, what comes next?

Initially, the meeting between the Taliban and US officials was to take place in Islamabad, but the media report leaking the news led to the venue being shifted to Doha. The talks that continued for six days finally produced remarkable results it would seem, with both sides apparently showing flexibility.

A change in the Taliban negotiating team may have also contributed to the breakthrough. In the midst of the marathon Doha negotiations, the Taliban appointed Mullah Baradar Akhund, a deputy of Mullah Omar and co-founder of the Islamist militia as the chief negotiator.

Mullah Baradar who had been held by Pakistani authorities for more than a decade was released only months ago; he remains one of the most powerful and respected insurgent leaders, despite having been in custody for so long. He has also been elevated to second position in the Taliban hierarchy.

His appointment manifested the seriousness the Taliban assign to the peace negotiations. Another factor behind Mullah Baradar’s elevation is believed to be the respect he commands with and his influence over Taliban field commanders whose support would be critical to any peace agreement.

His heading the team has certainly given greater authority to the Taliban negotiators.

Now it all depends on the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire and sitting across the table with the Kabul government. The persistent Taliban refusal to negotiate with representatives from Ashraf Ghani’s government has so far remained a major stumbling block in taking the peace process forward.

But there appears to be a strong possibility of the insurgents agreeing to an intra-Afghan dialogue after a framework deal. A ceasefire could follow the talks. But there is still a long way to go before a comprehensive agreement among all stakeholders can be reached.

Exiting Afghanistan, however, remains the biggest foreign policy challenge for Washington. Although it has been an unwinnable war, America’s departure may not be that easy. Complete withdrawal may have its own complications.

The 17-year-long war has left the country more divided. With their battlefield victories and expanding territorial control, the insurgents have certainly gained the upper hand as the Afghan endgame comes closer.

The recent large-scale attacks, launched by the Taliban, targeting Afghan military personnel and installations have given the insurgents a further boost.

There is no indication of them holding back their guns until the Americans agree to a time frame for complete troop withdrawal. In fact, there could be an escalation in the Taliban’s military offensive in spring. It will be a fight-fight and talk-talk situation.

America’s desperation to pull out is itself seen as a victory for the Taliban who have gained greater international recognition over the years.

That has also fuelled apprehension among other Afghan groups inside and outside the government. A major challenge for Khalilzad would be to take all those groups on board.

President Ashraf Ghani’s speech in Davos is indicative of the gap that exists between America’s exit plan and the Kabul government’s concerns.

There is increasing apprehension that the withdrawal of the American forces could further empower the Taliban and plunge Afghanistan into another round of civil war. These concerns are valid and any peace deal with the Taliban must address those fears.

Then there is also a need for a regional agreement guaranteeing non-interference in Afghanistan. The involvement of regional countries has fuelled civil wars in Afghanistan. Though there has been a significant breakthrough, it is not going to be a smooth path to peace in Afghanistan.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Tolo News – Women concerned over their rights post peace deal

A number of women said the Taliban should promise to respect women’s rights after joining the peace process.

Haseba Atakpal

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 29 January 2019. A number of Afghan women on Tuesday said Taliban should promise that once a peace deal is reached with the Afghan government, they will not scrap or violate women’s rights.

Based on statistics, 30 percent of university graduates are now women and every year 100,000 female students graduate from school.

Also, in total there are 756 female journalists working in the media in the country.

The women said these are the achievements that they are worried might be ignored in a post-peace deal government.

The women said the Taliban should respect women’s rights and respect the past achievements.

Arezo Shinwari, one of the women, said when Taliban took over Kabul she was a Grade 4 student in Kabul.

Then she, along with her family, moved to Pakistan where she continued her education and gained a master’s degree.

Now she works for a company in Kabul and said she is worried if Taliban returns she might not be able to continue her job.

“All our demands should be considered in the peace process. This is what all the Afghan women want,” said Shinwari.

Hashima Sharif is a resident of eastern Nangarhar province and works in a government department there.

She said the Taliban must promise that they will respect women’s rights if there is a peace deal.

“Government should be very serious in the peace process. Those who want to make peace with us, should consider our national interests 100 percent,” said Sharif.

These women also said they have not been given an important role in the peace talks.

Responding to the women’s concerns, Hasina Safi, a member of the government’s negotiating team said women’s demands will be considered in the talks.

“Women are a big part of society and we cannot ignore them. They have their influence in the peace process and they are involved in the process,” said Safi.

These latest remarks come on the heels of six days of talks between the US and Taliban last week in Qatar where the two sides reportedly agreed on some issues.

BBC News – Taliban talks: Will negotiations lead to peace in Afghanistan?

The “significant progress” said to have been made during six days of talks between US officials and the Afghan Taliban suggests that both sides are serious about trying to find a peaceful solution to a 17-year conflict that has scarred Afghanistan.

But with the Taliban currently refusing to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, and negotiations relating to “unsolved matters” still to continue, what has actually been agreed during the meetings in Qatar?

Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent, and senior Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai, look at what we know so far about the talks, and what it could mean for the future of the country and the foreign forces operating there.

How significant were the talks?

Both the Taliban and US officials have said “progress” was made in the latest set of talks in Qatar, and despite continuing violence on the ground in Afghanistan, there seems to be a growing momentum to the peace negotiations.

Leading analyst Ahmed Rashid told the BBC the talks were “enormously significant” and that “we’ve never been as close… to an end to the civil war in Afghanistan”.

The talks lasted for six days, longer than any of the other previous set of discussions that have been held during recent months.

In the middle of the talks last week, the Taliban announced one of the group’s founding members, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, would be appointed the new head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, after recently being released from detention by Pakistani authorities.

Mr Rashid said Mullah Barader “had a record of wanting peace and stability” and could help persuade grassroots members to accept any deal that is reached.

What was discussed?

The “progress” made seems to relate to two key issues:

When will American-led forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan?

A commitment from the Taliban that the group will not allow international jihadist groups like al-Qaeda to use the country as a base in the future.

A senior Taliban official who attended the talks told the BBC that both sides had agreed to form two committees to draw up detailed plans on how to implement agreements in principle on these topics.

The Taliban leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committees would “identify routes for the withdrawal, and how much time is needed. We suggested six months, but are flexible”.

He said the committees would also produce concrete proposals on how the Taliban can sever any links with al-Qaeda, and would start work within the next week. The Taliban source added that another meeting with the US would likely take place in early February.

Another source in the Taliban told the BBC that once an agreement had been drawn up, they would attempt to get other countries or international organisations to act as guarantors for it.

What about a ceasefire?

Both sides have said further talks are necessary to resolve outstanding issues.

What remains unclear is how a ceasefire fits into current discussions. The Taliban position seems to be one that can only be declared once a withdrawal date for international forces has been agreed.

A separate high ranking Taliban official suggested that the group was nervous about agreeing to a ceasefire before having established a firm settlement, as it could be difficult to convince grassroots fighters to take up arms again, after having laid them down.

The other crucial issue is when the Taliban will agree to begin talking directly to the Afghan government. The Taliban official said the “committees” due to be established would also produce recommendations on this.

So far, the insurgents have only engaged with the US, dismissing the administration of President Ashraf Ghani as “puppets.”

What’s the Afghan government’s view?

In pointed comments at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland earlier this week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had lost their lives since he took office in 2014.

“It shows who is doing the fighting,” he said.

When asked about the progress of talks in Qatar, President Ghani responded tersely that the aim of the meetings was “to bring the Afghan government and the Taliban into face-to-face discussions and negotiations, then the larger issues of the US presence and other international issues will be addressed”.

Counting the cost of Trump’s air war in Afghanistan

Many analysts have interpreted those comments as revealing a concern amongst Afghan authorities that they are being excluded from the discussions amidst the rush to bring the conflict to an end. US President Donald Trump is believed to be growing increasingly frustrated by the continued US presence in the country.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation who has led talks for the American side, seemed aware of these concerns when he tweeted he was travelling to Kabul to brief President Ghani and said that any deal “must include an intra-Afghan dialogue”.

The discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban are likely to be even more complicated and delicate than the discussions that have been held so far.

They would have to include agreements on the role of women’s rights and democracy in an Afghanistan where the ultra-conservative Taliban are a significant part of the political mainstream.

What happened in previous peace talks?

Previous attempts at peace have failed in their early stages.

In 2015, talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban in Pakistan broke down after news emerged of the death of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, with whose authority the Taliban team was supposedly meeting.

Whilst in 2013, talks in Qatar were cancelled when the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai was angered by the presence of a Taliban flag at the group’s offices in Qatar, and felt his authority was being undermined.

Tolo News – The Peace Process should not be at the cost of human rights

Zaman Sultani writes that there is a clear and pressing desire for an end to the hostilities in Afghanistan.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 19 January 2019. There is suddenly a rush to establish a peace process in Afghanistan. The United States of America has installed Zalmay Khalilzad, a special envoy, who has been shuttling between various regional capitals, seeking to rally different stakeholders.

At the same time, President Ashraf Ghani appears to be running a parallel effort, which began with his “Achieving Peace: The Next Chapter in the Afghan-lead Peace Process” proposal at the Geneva Conference late last year. Neither effort, however, has addressed key human rights concerns.

There is scarcely any representation of women, just three women have been included in the government’s negotiation team of 12 people. There is no word on how the process will ensure victims of war crimes access reparations, let alone how it will ensure accountability for perpetrators.

There is no mention of how the limited but important gains on human rights, including women’s and minorities’ rights, will be preserved.

For more than 40 years now, the Afghan people have endured perpetual human rights violations. They have suffered gross human rights violations and abuses such as civilian casualties caused by all sides in the conflicts including through the targeting of civilians or civilian objects, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and the destruction of property.

Fleeing conflict in desperation, they have been internally displaced or forced to seek safety abroad as refugees. Afghans have lost their property, assets, and savings. When the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001, they specifically targeted religious and ethnic minorities.

In recent years, we have seen armed groups continue to target Afghanistan’s minorities in large scale bombings that amount to war crimes. And yet this catalogue of injustice, which is stretching into its fifth decade, wasn’t enough for either the USA or the Afghan authorities to consult the victims when they decided to sue for peace.

Breaking with a history of human rights violations, the subsequent Afghan government committed itself to dispensing with brutal and medieval punishments, letting women and girls educate themselves and work, and liberating religious minorities from a fate that cruelly consigned them to the status of second class citizens.

Many key advances were made on these fronts, and they could now be in danger of being rolled back unless necessary pre-conditions are set in negotiating peace agreement.

However, there was limited consideration given to addressing crimes under international law committed by all parties to the conflicts in the country, denying the victims even minimal redress.

Consider, for example, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s nationwide consultation conducted in 2004 on transitional justice, which sought to address past abuses as mandated by the then government of President Hamid Karzai.

Following the consultation exercise, a report entitled “A Call for Justice” was published. It led to the development of the “Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan Action Plan”. However, the government failed to follow through on its own commitments.

There was also the case of the Amnesty Bill (Law on National Reconciliation, Public Amnesty and National Stability) passed by the Afghan parliament cemented a climate of impunity, granting immunity to the accused and destroying hopes for accountability.

In 2008, the government gazetted the Amnesty Bill for political reasons ahead of the presidential election the following year. The international community was happy to look the other way.

The failure to implement effective justice mechanisms paved the way for individuals reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for atrocity crimes, including notorious warlords, to be elevated into positions of power.

Partly because of a lack of capacity, the Afghan government was not able to investigate and prosecute people accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This pattern of neglect was followed by the National Unity Government that was established in 2014. In 2016, President Ashraf Ghani began courting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and finalized a deal with the onetime fugitive, in a deal that was later dangled before the Taliban as proof of how the government was prepared for forgetting the armed group’s excesses if only it was prepared to enter power-sharing negotiations.

Prisoners from Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami were released according to the 2016 agreement, without any investigation into their possible involvement in crimes against international humanitarian law over the decades.

The message to the victims was clear: their grievances will not be addressed. Despite being a state party to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Afghan government is failing to take meaningful measures to facilitate the court’s investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since 2003, when Afghanistan joined the ICC.

As the brave and dignified actions of the peace marchers demonstrates, there is a clear and pressing desire for an end to the hostilities that have caused so much bloodshed and pain in Afghanistan over the past four decades. But efforts to achieve sustainable peace cannot ignore or cement impunity and must not perpetuate the very human rights violations that have fueled the conflict.

Sustainable peace will require accountability, and not a reward to those who are guilty of denying girls education, journalists the ability to do their jobs, women the ability to move around freely and work, those who discriminate against and target ethnic and religious minorities while denying human rights defenders the space to fight for the rights of those unable to speak out for themselves.

Afghanistan deserves peace that will put the human rights of the Afghan people at its heart. Without the protection of those rights, will the peace process even be worthy of its name?

Zaman Sultani is a South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

Tolo News – Road to peace will require Afghans-Taliban talks: Khalilzad

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 16 January 2019. Khalilzad says US wants to have a comprehensive relationship with Afghanistan “that honors the sacrifice of the last 17 years”.

The United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held a roundtable discussion at the US Embassy with Afghan media on Wednesday.

Khalilzad, who is in Kabul on his third multination tour on Afghan peace, said he had met with Afghan officials in Kabul this morning to discuss peace and security, the US Embassy said in a statement. He praised Afghan security forces, saying their role is vital as “we move towards peace”.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with other Afghans, including the government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” he said.

He also talked about a Taliban statement on the peace process.

Taliban in a statement on January 15 said the United States is not discussing troop withdrawal with the group and that the US is bringing “new issues” in talks agenda. Taliban warned that “they will have to suspend the peace talks if the situation prevails”.

Taliban criticized “tactical pressure” by the US on the group through other countries and says that the address for talks with the Taliban is their political office in Qatar.

“If the Talibs want to talk, we can talk. If they want to fight, we can fight,” Khalilzad said. “We hope that the Talibs want to make peace. But if they do not choose to come to the table, if they choose to continue fighting, the United States will stand with the Afghan people and the Afghan government and support them.

We in the coalition are proud of our support to Afghan security forces. Afghan security forces and military pressure are important in this phase.”

Khalilzad said the United States “never wants permanent military bases in Afghanistan”. “What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, to continue our partnership with Afghanistan, and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us,” he added.

The US special envoy also talked about the next date for Talks with the Taliban.

“We’re hopeful it will happen very soon. That’s what we’re working towards,” he said.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Tuesday for the third time in less than four months. His third multi-nation trip on Afghan peace was started on January 8 and will continue through to January 21, the US Department of State has said.

Tolo News – Zarif’s Taliban comments spark backlash from Afghan Government

President’s deputy spokesman said in a Facebook post that Iranian foreign ministry officials have become spokesmen for Taliban.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 10 January 2019. In response to a recent statement by the Iranian foreign minister about the role of the Taliban in the future government in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman Shahhussain Murtazavi in a Facebook post has said that Iranian foreign ministry officials have turned into Taliban spokesmen.

In an interview with India’s NDTV on Wednesday Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it is impossible to have a future Afghan government without a role for the Taliban. However, he said the group should not have a dominant role in a future Afghan government, which will be formed after a possible peace deal between Kabul government and the militant group.

“I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban. But we also believe that the Taliban do not have, should not have, a dominant role in Afghanistan. Of course, at the end of the day that is a decision the Afghans need to make,” Zarif said.

Murtazavi said that Iran favors the ideology of Mullah Omar, the late founder of Taliban group and said that Iran strongly fears a democratic Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani has said he does not accept peace at the price of delaying the presidential elections. “I am ready for any kind of sacrifice for peace, but a sustainable peace, not at the price of delaying the elections,” said Ghani.

It was better for Iran, instead of hearing the voice of the Taliban, to hear the voice of its political opponents. He said that Iran fears the current freedom in Afghanistan has become a model for Iran.

“Certainly, such statements create division between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and this would have a negative impact on our relations.

We hope that all world and regional countries respect the leadership and ownership of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” said Sibghatullah Ahmadi, spokesman to Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

Earlier this month, Taliban confirmed that the group had visited Tehran on issues around peace and security in Afghanistan.

Later, Iranian media announced that the talks were designed to set parameters for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“A Taliban delegation was in Tehran yesterday (Sunday). They had comprehensive negotiations with the Iranian deputy foreign minister,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.

This comes after Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on December 28 that Iranian officials had met with the Taliban and that details were shared with the Afghan government on Shamkhani’s trip to Kabul last week.

Some political analysts meanwhile have said the Taliban are continuing their insurgency to get a role in political power.

“The Taliban are fighting to take on the power, peace will not be restored in Afghanistan until the Taliban do not join the political power,” said political analyst Jawed Kohistani.

But, the High Peace Council (HPC) has called on Pakistan to take solid steps towards peace in Afghanistan.

“Steps taken by Pakistan are not sufficient, Pakistan as a neighboring country needs to do its homework for the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Sayed Ehsan Tahiri, spokesman to HPC.

This comes at a time when President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Representative on Regional Affairs for Consensus on Peace, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, expressed hopes that the war, which has ravaged Afghanistan for over 17 years and cost the United States about $1 trillion, will end in 2019.

Daudzai summed up his optimism in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, saying: “We are naming 2019 as a year of peace for Afghanistan.”

“We have never named a year as the year of peace. Now, from the High Peace Council’s address, we are naming 2019 as the year of peace in Afghanistan. And I am pretty sure we will get there,” he said.

There is speculation that Iranian officials, during their recent trips to Afghanistan, have rallied for more roles to be considered for Iran in the peace negotiation talks in Afghanistan.

Iran officials also said they had the ability to bring Taliban to the peace table. Iran’s Shamkhani had also said Taliban were ready to lay down their arms.

The remarks come amid increasing efforts by the Afghan government and the international community, the United States at the top, on finding a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.

In line with these efforts, the Afghan president’s special envoy Daudzai is on a four-day visit in Islamabad where he has met with Pakistani officials and will hold other meetings in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has also started another multi-nation trip on Afghan peace in which he will visit India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Hindu – Afghan Taliban, USA to sit down to peace talks on Wednesday: sources

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 08 January 2019. The talks will be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and USA special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Afghan Taliban representatives and USA officials will sit down to two days of peace talks on Wednesday in Qatar but Afghan government officials will not be involved, senior Taliban members said.

The Taliban have rejected numerous requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary in the 17-year war and that Kabul is a “puppet” regime.

The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by USA-led troops, called off their meeting with the USA officials in Saudi Arabia this week because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.

The talks will be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and USA special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

After mutual consultations, we are going to meet USA officials in Doha on Wednesday. The meeting will continue for two days, Wednesday and Thursday, said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani and Iranian officials said they were trying to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials.

Another senior Taliban leader confirmed the Qatar meeting and said no other country would be involved.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took part in the last round of talks in December.

“This time we want to hold talks with the American officials,” said a Taliban leader based in Afghanistan, adding that they would discuss a USA withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of their leaders.

The war in Afghanistan is Americas longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.

The United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014, but still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

Reports last month about USA President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul which depends on the United States and other foreign powers for military support and training.

The USA Embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.