Taliban on diplomatic blitz after Afghan peace talks stall

The Taliban have been on a diplomatic blitz since peace talks with the Afghan government stalled in Qatar last month and the Biden administration said it plans to review a U.S.-Taliban agreement signed last February, 2020.

ISLAMABAD, February 5, 2021: The Taliban have been on a diplomatic blitz since peace talks with the Afghan government stalled in Qatar last month and the Biden administration said it plans to review a U.S.-Taliban agreement signed last February. The flurry of activity including Taliban visits to Iran and Moscow, and a planned trip to Turkey comes as the Afghan government’s negotiating team warned this week that if the Taliban fail to resume the talks, the government could recall its team from Doha.

The peace talks resumed in early January in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office, but quickly halted, marred by a spike in violence across Afghanistan, with the warring sides blaming one another. A Taliban official said the talks stalled after the Taliban demanded the government side accept a new “inclusive Islamic system" that includes all “tribes and groups" in Afghanistan language that indicates the Taliban seek guarantees that Islamic rule would be in place in post-war Afghanistan.

The government instead demanded the Taliban first join the current political system and declare a cease-fire, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. However, Nader Nadery, a government negotiator, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it was the Taliban who have until now refused to return to the negotiating table. He denied any discussions over competing agendas.

In Kabul, deep divisions have emerged between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political opponents over what some see as Ghani's unwillingness to consider a power-sharing deal with the Taliban that could prematurely end his presidency, before 2024. Ghani's opponents have set up a 21-member parliament committee to possibly meet separately with the Taliban, accusing Ghani of stalling peace talks to remain in power. Ghani's supporters, meanwhile, say the committee us trying to unseat the president.

The Pentagon said last week that the Taliban’s refusal to meet commitments to reduce violence in Afghanistan is raising questions about whether all U.S. troops will be able to leave by May as required under the U.S.-Taliban deal. The deal calls for all international troops to pull out, but only if the Taliban honor a promise to abandon their connection with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and guarantee that their territory would not be used to attack the U.S. or its allies.

“A political settlement needs to happen before the exit of foreign troops because after their exit, chances of agreement among Afghans is slim to none,” increasing prospects for a civil war, said Torek Farhadi, a political analyst. The Taliban have threatened to step up their their war if U.S. and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan after the May deadline. Since the agreement signed last February under former President Donald Trump, the Taliban have not attacked U.S. and NATO troops but accuse the U.S. of breaking its promise not to carry out preemptive attacks. The U.S. denies the allegations and says it has responded to Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces.

Afghanistan seeking air-trade corridor with Sri Lanka

KABUL, Jan 8, 2021 (The Kabul Times): President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani late on Tuesday (7), accepted credential of Sri Lankan new ambassador, Gagan Blatsinghala. During the ceremony, the Afghanistan President said his country wanted to tighten trade relations via an air-corridor with Sri Lanka like the one with India, said a statement from the presidential office the other day.

The president said Sri Lanka has good entities to train nurses and enjoys high experiences in the field of agriculture and his country was interested to use the experiences, the statement quoted. The new Sri Lankan ambassador expressed pleasure over his new mission in Afghanistan and pledged to try his best to help relations between the two countries get further improved.

Officials: Attacks Around Afghanistan Kill at Least 23

KABUL, Jan 7, 2021 by: Afghanistan Attacks in Afghanistan left at least 23 civilians and security forces dead, officials said Thursday, even as Afghan negotiators were in Qatar to resume talks with the Taliban aimed at finding an end to decades of conflict. In southern Uruzgan province, a suicide car bomber detonated a vehicle full of explosives early Thursday near a military base, killing six security forces, said a provincial council member who was not authorized to speak with the media.

Mohammad Karim Karimi, deputy head of the provincial council in Uruzgan, confirmed the attack on the military base in Tirin Kot, the provincial capital, but couldn’t provide an exact death toll. He said the explosion was so strong it sent shock waves through the city. In southern Helmand province, at least five civilians were killed and five others wounded in a suspected airstrike late Wednesday on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, according to Attaullah Afghan, head of the provincial council. He said the casualties included children and women.

Abdul Nabi Elham, provincial governor, said officials were investigating to determine whether the assault was an airstrike or some other type of attack. No one immediately claimed responsibility for either attack. In northern Kunduz province, Taliban fighters stormed a military checkpoint killing at least 12 security personnel, said a provincial official who was not authorized to speak with the media. He said about 10 other security forces were missing and may have been taken into custody by the Taliban during the attack. The official said reinforcements were dispatched to the area outside the provincial capital Kunduz.

Two military vehicles were destroyed and weapons and ammunition from the checkpoint were seized by the insurgents, he added. Inamuddin Rahmani, spokesman for the provincial police chief in Kunduz, confirmed the Taliban attack. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack and said Taliban fighters killed around 15 security forces and arrested 11 others.

Mujahid said seven security forces were killed at the checkpoint and eight others from reinforcement units were also killed. An Afghan negotiating team is in Qatar's capital of Doha to resume talks aimed at finding an end to decades of relentless conflict even as violence has spiked across the country. The stop-and-go talks come amid growing doubt over a U.S.-Taliban peace deal brokered by outgoing President Donald Trump.

Efforts on to Prevent Second Wave of COVID-19

KABUL, Dec 16, 2020:: Afghanistan government is striving to prevent a second wave of coronavirus in the country, said Ministry of Public Health on Wednesday. “We have solid preparations to see there is no second wave of COVID-19 virus,” said Minister of Public Health Dr. Ahmad Jawad Osmani. Addressing the media at a conference with other high-ranking government officials, he said beds for coronavirus patients have doubled to more than 2,000 and special COVID-19 wards have been opened in all hospitals in Kabul city and across the country.

“Moreover, five committees have been formed to manage all operations to stem a second wave in the winter season,” he reckoned. About the vaccine, Dr. Osmani said Afghanistan will be acquiring enough vaccines for 20% of the country’s population till end of 2021 with the help from the World Bank and Asian Bank. He called upon the nation to help the government prevent a sudden spike in coronavirus infections by obeying health laws, wearing masks and avoiding crowds.

Addressing the media, Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs Mohammad Qasem Halimi also encouraged the public to obey health recommendations. He added that mosques will be ordered to stop hosting funeral ceremonies in order to avoid large public gatherings. President Ghani has also chaired an emergency coronavirus meeting on Wednesday in which he stressed on the need to prepare for a sudden spike in COVID-19 which may hit the country. President Spokesman Sediq Seddiqi in a tweet said the president discussed immediate issues such as oxygen supplies, test capacities, training of the first responders, re-directing resources, mobilizations of a whole government and partnership approach and making immediate decisions with relevant officials.

“The president said we should not allow any stress on our medical system, shall unwrap uncertainty, draw clearer conclusions and have a coherent strategy to deal with the 2nd wave. He said we should avoid any wishful thinking and fragmentation and understand the constraints,” added Seddiqi. According to health ministry, Afghanistan had 230 new coronavirus cases and 16 fatalities in the past day, making it 49,970 total cases since the outbreak of the virus. Some 148 patients have recovered from the virus as well, amounting to 38,648 total recoveries. Over 2,017 Covid patients have died since the pandemic hit Afghanistan, said the ministry on Wednesday.