Ceasefire Should Be Established Between Afghan Government And Taliban On Eid al-Adha: Khalilzad

Kabul: Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said that he hoped a ceasefire would be established between the Afghan government and the Taliban on Eid al-Adha, during a regional conference in the Uzbekistan capital, Tashkent.

He made the remarks in an interview with the Associated Press and added that the Taliban’s interpretation of the US-Taliban peace agreement was that a political agreement should be reached before a ceasefire reached and both announced at the same time. However, he said that a temporary ceasefire should be provided now during Eid al-Adha. “As far as a temporary ceasefire is concerned, that is, a reduction in violence or a continuing reduction of the war, it may be that you know it is Eid al-Adha in the next few days. I hope a ceasefire is declared these days. Second, the ceasefire may extend beyond the days of Eid and then agree to reduce violence.”

The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan stressed that the Taliban could not achieve complete victory through war. Khalilzad warned that if the Taliban did not reach a peace agreement with the Afghan government, then the United States would not recognize the Taliban-led government coming to power militarily.

Khalilzad also referred to the Taliban’s takeover of more areas in Afghanistan. He expressed surprise at the Taliban’s rapid sweep through swaths of Afghanistan. The Afghan government accuses Taliban fighters of receiving foreign aid to seize more territory in Afghanistan, and officials this time openly named Pakistan.

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said in a speech on Friday in Tashkent that according to intelligence estimates, about 10,000 Pakistani and foreign fighters were killed in the past month. Ghani added that, according to credible documents, the Taliban had not severed ties with terrorist networks. “Intelligence estimates indicate the influx of over 10,000 jihadi fighters from Pakistan and other places in the last month, as well as, support from their affiliates and the transnational terrorist organizations,” President Ghani said at the summit named “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities.” “Contrary to the repeated assurances by Prime Minister Khan and his generals that Pakistan does not find a Taliban take over in Afghanistan in Pakistan’s interest, and assured of its use of force will use its power to influence to make the Taliban negotiate seriously, networks and organizations supporting the Taliban are openly celebrating the destruction of assets and capabilities of the Afghan people and state,” he said.

“To plunge Afghanistan into all-out war is to plunge the region into radical uncertainty. Pakistan, therefore, needs to be engaged coherently and urgently from the perspective of regional interest,” he concluded.

In his speech, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Islamabad had done everything in its power to encourage the Taliban to negotiate and resolve the crisis politically. He also denied the accusations of the President of Afghanistan and said, “President Ghani, let me tell you, the country that is suffering the most from the unrest in Afghanistan is Pakistan. It is very unfair for Pakistan to take responsibility for what is happening in Afghanistan. I travelled to Kabul. If I did not want peace. So why did I travel there?”

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan urged Afghanistan to consider Pakistan as a ‘partner of peace’. This was the second and the last day of the conference and immediately after his address, PM Khan held delegation level talks with Afghan President. Khan said Pakistan had made every effort for peace in Afghanistan, including bringing the Taliban to the dialogue table. However, he said the right time to engage the Taliban in negotiations was way before the pull-out of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan. “Why would the Taliban listen to Pakistan at a time when they are gaining victory after the withdrawal of troops,” he pointed out. Also, Pakistan’s Director General Inter-Services Intelligence Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed rejected the allegations of infiltration levelled by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

He said that the Afghan president had levelled unfounded allegations against Pakistan. “We want peace in the neighbouring country as a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and other countries,” Hameed said. He said that Pakistan is not supporting any faction in Afghanistan. We are interested in a negotiated settlement among all the Afghan groups.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has also denied allegations by Afghan Vice-President Amrullah Saleh that the Pakistan Air Force had issued an official warning to Afghan security forces to repel any action by the latter to dislodge the Taliban from the border crossing of Spin Boldak. Such allegations “undermine Pakistan’s sincere efforts to play its part in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led solution” for restoring peace in the war-torn country, said a statement issued by the Foreign Office on Friday.

Coinciding with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad’s optimism about a ceasefire, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, headed a delegation to the Qatari capital Doha on Friday to meet with Taliban representatives. A 10-member team of key Afghan politicians left Kabul on Friday afternoon for a trip to Doha to hold talks with the Taliban amidst escalating violence in Afghanistan.

Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, former vice-president Mohammad Karim Khalili, Ata Mohammad Noor, head of the splinter faction of Jamiat-e-Islami, chief negotiator Masoom Stanekzai, Salam Rahimi, Fatima Gailani and State Minister for Peace Affairs Sadat Mansoor Naderi are part of the team. former president Hamid Karzai accompanied the delegation till the Kabul airport where he talked to reporters along with Abdullah Abdullah.

Meanwhile, Abdullah said that the Afghan delegation who will meet the Taliban in Doha is an inclusive team and represents entire Afghanistan. Abdullah added that he believes that there is still a chance for peace despite the ongoing heavy fighting between government forces and the Taliban in various parts of the country. He said the Afghan delegation that visits Doha is an authoritative team.

Another Afghan delegation is expected to travel to Islamabad for a meeting on Afghanistan’s peace on Saturday.

During their stay in the State of Qatar they will talk and exchange views with the Republic’s Negotiation Team in Doha, the Taliban and the host country. Upon departure from Kabul, Dr. Abdullah stressed that the consensus representing the Islamic Republic, reflects the Afghan people’s aspirations and will not spare any opportunity to end the 43-year-old war and agony. Pointing to the current level of conflict across the country, Dr. Abdullah said that no one side alone can bring peace. He added that he had a detailed meeting with the Republic’s Negotiation Team in Doha. “We listened to their report and had an open exchange of views on the peace talks, and the ways to accelerate the process,” added Abdullah.

The Taliban delegation is said to be led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s political deputy. The agenda of the talks has not been officially announced yet, but earlier sources said that the Taliban had presented a package to the government and that the issues raised in Doha would also be discussed. The Taliban have offered a three-month ceasefire in exchange for the release of 7,000 prisoners. Transitional government, release of prisoners and ceasefire are on the agenda of talks between Afghan republic’s delegation and Taliban, source tells 1TV. HCNR spokesman wrote in a tweet that peace is possible only through negotiations and the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has gone to Doha with the real intention and will of peace.

In another development, the Afghan Peace Conference scheduled in Islamabad from 17-19 July has been postponed, the Pakistan ambassador for Afghanistan Pakistan ambassador Mansoor Khan said. He added that the new dates will be worked out after Eid.

Meanwhile, Qatar too has reiterated its commitment to continue supporting the peace process led and controlled by the Afghans, in order to consolidate the gains made in the course of the Doha negotiations in co-operation with international partners aimed at ending violence and achieving stability, comprehensive peace and development in Afghanistan. This came in a speech delivered by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad al-Muraikhi at the “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities” conference in Tashkent. Al-Muraikhi stressed that Qatar will continue its effort in bringing the point of view of the Afghan government and Taliban. He said that promoting peace, security, and development in Afghanistan will benefit the region and the world.

Al-Muraikhi expressed Qatar’s appreciation to the important role Uzbekistan plays in development in Afghanistan, which includes bolstering strategic roads. He said that these efforts will help enhance peace and security in Afghanistan in particular, and Central Asia in general. He said that this conference is taking place at a time when the world continues to face common economic and health challenges, which further demonstrates that regional and international co-operation is a must.

Also, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ in his video message to the High-level International Conference on Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, in Tashkent said, “Connectivity is central to trade, economic growth and sustainable development. But connectivity is not just about economics. It drives regional cooperation and encourages friendly relations among neighbours, near and far. Enhanced connectivity that is environmentally sustainable and based on the rule of law can contribute to building long-term peace, stability and prosperity in Central and South Asia. This is crucial now more than ever. The countries of Central and South Asia can only fully benefit from potential opportunities if the region at large is at peace. This places an even higher premium on the importance of active and collective engagement in support of Afghanistan’s peace and security.”

According to a joint statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday, it stated, “We hope for constructive talks between official Kabul and the Taliban with the aim of drafting coordinated approaches to the cessation of a lengthy war and development of Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and sovereign state,” the statement says. In this context, the ministers welcome efforts to achieve national reconciliation in Afghanistan at all dialogue venues, including the Istanbul process, with consideration for the results of the 9th Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process ministerial conference held in Dushanbe on March 30, 2021, the extended Troika (Russia, the US, China and Pakistan) and the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan.

Participants of the meeting noted that the current situation in Afghanistan causes deep concern due to the withdrawal of foreign troops from that country and the subsequent escalation of hostilities between government forces and the Taliban, especially in the northern provinces bordering on the Central Asian states. “At the same time, the ministers believe that, given this new geopolitical reality, it is necessary to look for ways to stabilize the military-political situation and establish peace in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA),” the ministers said.

“In this context, they urge all parties involved in the conflict in Afghanistan to refrain from the use of force and destabilizing actions with a view to creating favorable conditions for promoting peace,” the joint statement reads. “We are convinced that it is only possible to establish a comprehensive and durable peace in Afghanistan with direct, inclusive talks on a political settlement between the Afghans, under the leadership of the Afghan people, and with the more active assistance of states and international agencies to Afghanistan’s recovery in the post-conflict period.”

The ministers of the five Central Asian states and Russia strongly condemned terror attacks in Afghanistan, in which civilians are killed or injured. According to the top diplomats, the continued presence and activity of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levante (ISIS), Al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups is one of the key factors that foment instability in Afghanistan, including in some of its northern regions. “We are concerned about the expansion of drug crops and the high level of drug production and illegal arms trade. These are some of the main sources of income for terrorist groups and illegal arms turnover and we expect Afghanistan’s authorities to increase efforts on countering these threats,” the statement says.

Meanwhile, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of EU commission, said that lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan is a common goal and responsibility for the region and beyond during his meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday. He added that EU stands firmly in favour of an inclusive, Afghan owned peace process.

During the Tashkent conference, Borrell said the vision of regional connectivity is “facing a massive and urgent challenge”. “I am referring to the current developments in Afghanistan. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is crucial to the stability and development of the whole region,” he said. “Connectivity can be an essential building block for jobs, development and peace in Afghanistan, but today unhappily we are witnessing a different reality.” Also, while acknowledging that the conflict in Afghanistan makes building regional links more difficult, speakers including the Uzbek president were hopeful that the promotion of regional trade, bringing prosperity, new jobs and higher living standards in its wake, would contribute to lasting peace and stability in the region; there was consensus that a solely military solution to the violence in Afghanistan is not an option.

Also, even Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone conversation on Friday with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. Xi stressed that China firmly supports the Afghan government’s endeavor to safeguard national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, which is in the interests of the Afghan people and countries in the region. China always believes that political dialogue is the fundamental way to achieve national reconciliation and lasting peace in Afghanistan, Xi said, pledging China’s continued support for the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” principle, the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, and an early peaceful reconstruction of the country.

The Chinese side is glad to see that the Afghan government and relevant parties in Afghanistan have reached positive consensus during the recent dialogue in Tehran, he said. China, he added, hopes that both sides engaged in the dialogue will put the interests of the Afghan people first, and agree on a political solution through negotiation at an early date. China will, as always, play a constructive role in the process, Xi said.

President Ghani said that the Afghan government is dedicated to seeking a political solution to the current crisis and achieving lasting peace in the country. Noting that China has always been an important and positive force in maintaining regional security and stability, he said he looks forward to China continuing to play an important role in pushing for a political settlement of the Afghan issue.

Meanwhile, representatives of the United States, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed in principle to establish a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focused on enhancing regional connectivity.

The parties consider long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan critical to regional-connectivity and agree that peace and regional connectivity and mutually reinforcing. Recognizing the historic opportunity to open flourishing international trade routes, the parties intend to cooperate to expand trade, build transit links and strengthen business-to-business ties. The parties agreed to meet in the coming months to determine the modalities of this cooperation with mutual consensus, as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also strongly welcomed the EU parliament statement on 6th EU-Afghanistan Inter-parliamentary Meeting to support the Afghan Women. The statement states that “members fully support the requests from Afghan women to be more involved in the negotiations on the part of the Afghan Government, and in general, in the political life of the country.” The Afghan government remains strongly committed to empowering women and their active participation in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and Afghanistan’s political future. We also commend EU Parliament Members stance on urging Pakistan “to convince the Taliban to enter meaningful peace negotiations.”

The Afghan government calls on all regional and international partners to exert necessary pressure on the Taliban to return to the negotiating table to reach a political settlement and end the decades-long bloodshed in Afghanistan.

17 / July 2021
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