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ICG spells out US policy challenges involving peace talks and Taliban

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(Last Updated On: February 5, 2021)

While peace talks present an opportunity for the US to extricate itself from a decades-old conflict in Afghanistan, they will also pose one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for the Biden administration, the International Crisis Group reported in its latest briefing this week.

The ICG stated that after the February 2020 deal between the US and the Taliban, peace talks took six months to start – and have only inched forward slightly. According to the group in light of this, “it is far from clear where negotiations are headed.”

The group pointed out that in accordance with the agreement, the US agreed to withdraw international forces from Afghanistan in return for the Taliban cutting ties with terrorist organizations, reducing violence and entering negotiations with Afghanistan.

But while violence levels have remained high, it has also emerged that there are wide divergences among negotiating parties on substantive issues and the Taliban are resistant to scaling back attacks while talks proceed, the group’s briefing read.

“At the moment, discussions are virtually stalled while the parties wait for signals from the new US administration on its commitment, or lack thereof, to the nascent peace process.”

The ICG stated that a political settlement is the best solution and that there is a path open to achieving this – albeit a narrow path.

They urged the Biden administration however to urgently signal its commitment to continue supporting the peace process.

The group stated: “President Biden has little to lose in continuing to test the feasibility of reaching a political settlement. Conversely, an abandonment of negotiations would incur high costs: the likely return of the Taliban to unrestricted warfare (including targeting US personnel), as well as the loss of at least tacit support for US policy from Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China and other neighbours.”

But with this in mind, the ICG said the Biden administration will need to seek an extension to the troop withdrawal deadline.

“This is not enough time for the new administration to set its policy course and evaluate Taliban compliance with the counter-terrorism assurances it provided in the February deal.

“Nor is it sufficient time for the Afghan parties – who, for instance, spent three months negotiating a brief set of procedural rules for talks – to notch any meaningful agreements,” the group stated in its briefing.

They suggested this be extended by at least six months – also as the new administration needs to establish a regional diplomatic framework to support the peace process and the outcome of any peace settlement.

ICG pointed out that the new Biden administration also needs to determine whether it intends to maintain an indefinite, if small, military presence in Afghanistan for counter-terrorism purposes.

“A decision in favour of a persistent military presence would, at some point, be the death knell of the peace process because the Taliban are unlikely to consent to it,” ICG stated.

In addition, Russia, China and Iran would reject a continued US presence and could take steps to complicate it, the group stated.

“For Biden to keep troops in Afghanistan under those circumstances would make his administration the author of the next chapter of the so-called forever wars that began after the 11 September attacks, which will enter their third decade later this year,” the group stated.

However, it was suggested that the Biden administration’s top priority should be to keep the peace process going and buy the time it will need to face the decisions coming its way.

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US to provide $55 million in additional aid for immediate earthquake assistance: Blinken

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

In response to the deadly earthquake that struck eastern Afghanistan last Wednesday, the United States, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), will provide nearly $55 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to meet urgent needs of people affected. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the United States would provide the additional funds for immediate humanitarian assistance. 

The new funding brings total US humanitarian assistance to over $774 million in the last year, Blinken added.

According to a statement issued by USAID on Tuesday, this additional assistance includes support for USAID partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to continue to reach earthquake-affected people with urgently needed shelter materials, water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, and other relief items. 

“These vital supplies include emergency shelter kits, cooking pots, jerry cans for water collection and storage, blankets, solar lamps, clothing, and other household items. In addition, this support will provide hygiene kits, menstrual hygiene supplies, and water treatment kits. 

“Given that the area impacted by the earthquake was already experiencing an acute watery diarrhea outbreak, this relief will help mitigate a larger waterborne disease outbreak in the aftermath of this disaster, when there is greater risk given the lack of access to safe water,” the statement read. 

The US response came just hours after the United Nations launched an emergency appeal for $110 million to provide lifesaving assistance to more than 360,000 Afghans who were affected by last week’s earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said early Tuesday that the new appeal is part of this year’s Humanitarian Response plan, which calls for $4.4 billion, but is massively underfunded at just over one third.

“We and our partners are borrowing supplies, personnel, and resources from other humanitarian programmes,” UNOCHA said in a statement.

Wednesday’s earthquake killed over a thousand people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Paktika and Khost provinces.

“I’m appealing to the world — please help. We need money. We need funding. We need support to resolve this tragedy,” Ramiz Alakbarov, UN resident relief coordinator for Afghanistan, said in a video message while visiting an area in Paktika province.

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IEA to hold ‘Grand Assembly’ in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is scheduled to hold a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, for three days starting Wednesday, and will bring together almost 3,000 mainly religious scholars from across all 34 provinces. 

According to IEA officials, the participants, which include two religious scholars and one further representative from every district, are expected to present suggestions to the leadership of the IEA on ways to resolve challenges currently facing the country.

The assembly will be held in the Loya Jirga hall in Kart-e-Mamourin in Kabul city.

So far the agenda of this Loya Jirga has not been announced officially but according to sources, a number of issues will be tabled including that pertaining to matters of national importance, and maybe the issue of reopening girls’ schools.

“In such gatherings we can solve many problems and the participation of women is essential to address their rights and problems; girls’ schools must be reopened and the current crisis in all sections must be solved,” said Dewa Patang, a women’s activist. 

The main agenda will reportedly focus on finding solutions to current crises in the country, sources said.  

“Based on the information that I have, all participants who are invited to this gathering are scholars and patriots who are committed to their country and Islam,” said Toryali Hemat, a political analyst.

Members of the public meanwhile feel the Loya Jirga members should present possible solutions to resolving problems in the country – both economic and social – in order to draw a clear road map for the future of the country. 

Historically, a Loya Jirga has been convened in order to elect a new head of state, approve a new constitution or resolve critical issues.

Loya jirgas have reportedly been organized since the rise to power of the Hotak dynasty in the early 18th century. 

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Pakistan to pay for imported coal from Afghanistan in rupees

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(Last Updated On: June 28, 2022)

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has approved the import of coal from Afghanistan in rupees instead of US dollars, saying the move will help the country save precious foreign exchange.

Sharif on Monday chaired a meeting on improving the transportation system of coal imported from Afghanistan in the country, the Express Tribune reported.

He expressed deep concern over the rising price of coal on the international market, saying it was the main reason for generating expensive electricity from coal-fired power plants in the country.

“The coal imported from Afghanistan in rupee terms will not only generate cheap electricity but also help save the country’s precious foreign exchange,” Sharif said.

The prime minister was informed that import of coal from Afghanistan would save more than $2.2 billion annually.

Sharif also directed the Ministry of Railways to take all necessary steps to ensure prompt delivery of coal imported from Afghanistan to power plants.

The PM ordered the formation of a committee of all officials concerned headed by the defence minister to expedite the import process.

Esmatullah Burhan, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told a press conference on Tuesday that Pakistan was a good market for coal exports, which should not be lost.

He said that revenue from coal exports under IEA rule were far higher than under the last government.

Ahmad Wali Haqmal, finance ministry spokesman, said tax on coal exports was increased to 30% from 20%.

The official said that until now coal was being sold at $90 per ton, but from now on it will be sold at $200 per ton.

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