US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad left for Doha on Friday to address the issue of intra-Afghan peace talks, the US State Department said in a statement Saturday.
According to the State Department, Khalilzad will also visit Islamabad, Kabul, Norway and Bulgaria.
In Doha and Kabul, Khalilzad will press for resolution of the remaining issues ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations, specifically final prisoner exchanges and reduced violence.
In Islamabad, Khalilzad will seek Pakistani support in the effort to advance intra-Afghan negotiations.
In Oslo and Sofia, Khalilzad will update NATO Allies on the Afghan peace process, the statement read.
According to the State Department, “the parties are closer than ever to the start of Intra-Afghan Negotiations, the key next step to ending Afghanistan’s 40-year long war. Although significant progress has been made on prisoner exchanges, the issue requires additional effort to fully resolve.”
The issue of prisoners has become a sticky point in the past few weeks. Of the 5,000 prisoners the Taliban sought to be released, the Afghan government has already freed 4,400.
However, on Saturday, acting Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar was quoted as having said the Afghan government would not release the remaining Taliban prisoners as these individuals had been involved in “unjustifiable war crimes, and smuggling.”
In an interview with an Indian TV network, Atmar said that the obstacles to the start of talks between Afghans was the lack of reduction of violence by the Taliban and the release of prisoners of this group.
In order to resolve the issue, Atmar stated that the government told the Taliban to submit another list of prisoners so that the government could decide on their release.
However, sources close to the Taliban say the Taliban’s position is based on a peace agreement with the United States and that it is unchangeable.
UN Security Council to meet over situation in Afghanistan
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is scheduled to hold a meeting on Tuesday that will focus on the current situation in Afghanistan.
UNSC members are expected to discuss economic, humanitarian and security concerns.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) spokesman Bilal Karimi said the IEA welcomed meetings that are held with the aim of cooperating with the government and people of Afghanistan.
He also said that Afghans expect cooperation and that such meetings must be held in accordance with international laws and principles.
However, the IEA still does not have a designated UN representative – one year after taking control of the country.
Instead, Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who assumed leadership of the Afghan mission to the UN in December last year, will address the security council members.
The IEA does not however recognize him as the legitimate envoy to the UN.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Faiq said that he would address the security council meeting and speak on behalf of Afghans.
“On behalf of Afghans, in this important meeting, like always, I would like to raise the voice of my nation,” he said.
In September last year, the IEA asked the UN to accredit Suhail Shaheen, the head of the IEA’s political office in Qatar, as the new ambassador.
But in December, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in which it indefinitely delayed a decision over the rival claims to the representative seat for Afghanistan.
At the time, the IEA criticized the UN’s failure to decide on this issue, saying it was ignoring the rights of the Afghan people.
Influential Muslim cleric al-Qaradawi dies at 96
Senior Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, who was based in Qatar, died on Monday, according to a post on his official Twitter account.
The cleric was an Egyptian Islamic scholar and was chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
He was best known for his programme al-Sharīʿa wa al-Ḥayāh (“Sharia and Life”), broadcast on Al Jazeera, which has an estimated audience of 40–60 million worldwide.
He is also known for IslamOnline, a website he helped to found in 1997 and for which he served as chief religious scholar.
Al-Qaradawi published more than 120 books, and received eight international prizes for his contributions to Islamic scholarship, and is considered one of the most influential Islamic scholars today.
Al-Qaradawi has long had a prominent role within the intellectual leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian political organization, although he repeatedly stated that he was no longer a member. He has over the years been critical of Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
US spy satellite launched into orbit from California
A classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket on Saturday.
The NROL-91 spy satellite lifted off at 3:25 p.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California’s Santa Barbara County, AP reported.
It was the last launch of a Delta 4 from the West Coast. Additional launches are planned from Florida before the Deltas are replaced by ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rockets.
The Delta IV Heavy configuration first launched in December 2004. This was the 387th flight of a Delta rocket since 1960 and the 95th and final launch from Vandenberg.
The National Reconnaissance Office is the government agency in charge of developing, building, launching and maintaining U.S. spy satellites that provide intelligence data to policymakers, the intelligence community and Defense Department.
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