US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said this weekend that former president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to leave Afghanistan without warning took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.
In an exclusive interview with Ariana News, Khalilzad said that the night before his departure, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to Ghani on the phone.
He said Ghani had not given any signal as to his intentions.
“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said.
However, he implied that had Ghani stepped down as president in the lead up to the IEA’s takeover, things could have been very different.
One of the key reasons however for the breakdown of peace talks between Ghani’s government and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) was that the former president wanted the IEA to be included in the existing government as opposed to a new government being formed, as per the agreement with the United States.
“There were different reasons for the lack of major progress in the negotiations;
“The main one was that there was a long, huge, big gap between the two sides around a political settlement and agreement,” Khalilzad said.
According to him, efforts were made to move the process forward and some progress was made in certain areas.
“But I think the main issue was that the US and the Taliban had reached an agreement over the formation of a new Islamic government.
“The government of Afghanistan wanted the Taliban to be integrated into the former government instead of forming a new government,” he said.
According to him, this would have resembled the government of national unity after the 2014 elections which saw former president Ashraf Ghani and former CEO Abdullah Abdullah sharing power.
Khalilzad said a trilateral agreement was suggested between Ghani, Abdullah and the IEA.
However, Ghani’s opinion was that the country’s Constitution did not allow for such a move.
“For a long time, they (government) assumed if they insisted on this, the Taliban would eventually agree to it.
“The Taliban was in favor of the formation of a new Islamic government. Some Taliban wanted the establishment of the 1990s Emirate while some others were in favor of a new (inclusive) government,” he said
Khalilzad also said that after coming into power, US President Joe Biden “thought that he could reject the deal which was signed during (former president Donald) Trump’s tenure or bring changes to it and this caused the negotiations to be postponed”.
However, once Biden announced his decision to stick to the deal made during Trump’s tenure, and withdraw all troops, “changes came in the balance on the battlefield”.
Touching on the issue of terrorism, Khalilzad said the overall picture has changed and that al-Qaeda’s footprint in the country had been reduced significantly.
He said terrorists were no longer confined to one base but were today spread out around the world.
“They can be found in small and large groups in different countries around the world.
“Therefore, Afghanistan is not what it used to be in terms of the threat of terrorism,” he said adding that currently, only a small number of al-Qaeda members are present in the country.
He said the number did not warrant the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.
Khalilzad also stated that after the deal had been signed in February last year between the US and the Taliban, Washington would not have withdrawn had Americans been targeted.
“The US troops would not have pulled out from Afghanistan if an American had been killed by the Taliban after the agreement,” he said.
A critical question around the collapse of the former government was however the sudden change of heart by the Afghan military, he said adding that in the days leading up to the fall of Ghani’s government, “unexpected things happened, where they (soldiers) did not fight”.
Khalilzad explained that in the hours before the takeover of Kabul by IEA forces, a meeting was underway in Doha between the US, the IEA and the republic.
He said an agreement was reached that the IEA would not attack Kabul and would instead give the then Afghan government two weeks, from August 15, to travel to Doha, meet with all parties concerned, and agree to the formation of a new government.
He said the delegation from the republic would have included former president Hamid Karzai and Abdullah.
“And an agreement would have been made on an inclusive government; but the (former) government would have remained in place in those two weeks.”
Khalilzad stated that the delegation would have been authorized to sign off on an agreement with the IEA.
However, this meeting never took place, nor was any deal signed. Instead, Afghanistan’s then-president, Ghani, fled the country and security forces disintegrated within hours.
Khalilzad confirmed a security and government vacuum immediately emerged which led to the decision that the IEA forces would move into Kabul to secure the capital but stated that Ghani’s sudden, unannounced, departure took everyone, including Washington, by surprise.
“A night earlier the (US) Secretary of State had spoken to the president of Afghanistan; the president of Afghanistan did not signal any intention to leave.
“Everyone including the US were shocked when this happened,” he said adding that Ghani might have thought his life was in danger.
Had Ghani however resigned in order to bring peace to Afghanistan, and allowed the establishment of a new government, “it could have been a historic step”.
“The name of the president could have been written in gold in the history of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that only Ghani can answer the question on why he chose to do it this way.
On whether the US will recognize the IEA government, Khalilzad said this all depends on the IEA – if they stick to the commitments they made.
“The world is waiting to see if the Taliban (IEA) will fulfill the commitments they have made, and if they do, the normal relationship between the world and the Taliban (IEA) will be established,” Khalilzad said.
However, Khalilzad said that Afghanistan is in need of urgent humanitarian aid and has pledged an additional $64 million. He said that not only was the war an issue but unemployment, drought, COVID and a low level of economic activity were also contributing factors to the current situation.
He said discussions are currently underway in various countries and within the United Nations on getting Afghanistan’s assets released.
Khalilzad pointed out that the war in Afghanistan has ended and that fears of a civil war were unfounded. This was “a positive point”, he said.
Drawing a parallel to the civil war that broke out following the withdrawal of Soviet Union troops in 1989, he said “the government at the time could not form an inclusive government, igniting civil war.
“But I hope the bad experience will not be repeated and an inclusive government will be set up,” he said adding that “if they (IEA) go through with their promises, it will be a positive era for the future of Afghanistan.”
CLICK HERE to watch the full interview with English subtitles.
UN food agency cuts rations to 2 million Afghans as funds dry up
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) had to cut rations to another two million Afghans this month and is warning of a “catastrophic” winter if funding runs out with little food for remote communities in place, the agency’s country director said.
The cut in rations comes amidst growing alarm over shrinking aid for Afghanistan, where a UN humanitarian response plan is only about a quarter funded, even after the budget was downgraded in the face of funding shortfalls.
WFP funding for food and cash assistance is expected to run out by the end of October and the agency has had to steadily cut assistance through the year to 10 million Afghans.
The positioning of food to areas that will be cut off in winter has also been limited. The WFP said if no funding comes through, 90% of remote areas in need will be cut off without food and even in accessible locations, people will get no supplies during the harsh weather.
“That is the catastrophe that we have to avert,” WFP Afghanistan Country Director Hsiao-Wei Lee told Reuters.
About three-quarters of Afghanistan’s people are in need of humanitarian aid as their country emerges from decades of conflict under an internationally isolated IEA administration that took over as US-backed foreign forces withdrew in 2021.
Development assistance that for years formed the backbone of government finances has been cut and the administration is subject to sanctions and central bank assets abroad have been frozen.
Restrictions by the Islamic Emirate on women, including stopping most female Afghan humanitarian staff from working, are an obstacle to formal recognition and have also put off donors, many of whom have turned their attention to other humanitarian crises.
“What I do in my engagements with them is remind them that at the end of the day, we must focus on those who are most in need,” Lee said of donors.
“The cost of inaction is ultimately borne and paid for by the most vulnerable and poor mothers and children.”
Three million people are now getting food aid but after October, they might be getting nothing.
The WFP needs $1 billion in funding to provide food aid and carry out planned projects until March, Lee said.
For Kabul resident Baba Karim, 45, the cash he has got twice this year from the WFP has been a vital supplement to the less than $2 a day he earns working odd jobs at a market with a push cart.
“I’m so worried about what will happen next, now that the assistance has ended,” said the father of five.
“I lie awake at night worrying about the future of my children.”
Pulisic scores again to help Milan thrash Torino, Roma slump to Verona loss
AC Milan forward Christian Pulisic struck to set Stefano Pioli’s side on their way to a 4-1 thrashing of Torino in their opening home game of the season in Serie A on Saturday, while Hellas Verona snatched a 2-1 victory over visitors AS Roma.
Pulisic’s opener, two Olivier Giroud penalties and a close-range lob by Theo Hernandez moved Milan provisionally top after they got off to a winning 2-0 start at Bologna on Monday.
“An excellent match, the weekly work made us level up,” Pioli told DAZN. “The team has made an important journey in recent years and top-level reinforcements have arrived… A good group is forming in terms of attitude, availability.”
U.S. international Pulisic looks set to become a new idol at the San Siro after his move from Chelsea as he put Milan ahead in the 33rd minute by firing home from close range in front of a capacity crowd for his second goal in two games, Reuters reported.
Torino defender Perr Schuurs temporarily spoiled the mood when he leveled three minutes later with a first-time effort but that was the visitors’ only shot on target all night.
Giroud restored Milan’s lead with a penalty minutes before halftime, calmly firing the ball into the roof of the net after the hosts were awarded a penalty for handball.
Hernandez chipped goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic to add the third in first-half stoppage time following a couple of one-twos with Rafael Leao before Frenchman Giroud converted another spot kick in the second half after Schuurs’ foul on Leao.
Torino, who were held to a 0-0 draw at home by newly-promoted Cagliari on Monday, lacked the ideas to pose any danger in front of Mike Maignan’s goal as Milan kept the ball and continued pushing to increase the scoreline.
Jose Mourinho’s Roma fell short at Verona who were quick to take the lead when midfielder Ondrej Duda scored from close range in less than four minutes after visiting goalkeeper Rui Patricio saved a fierce long-range shot by Filippo Terracciano.
Roma had a golden chance to equalize shortly after through midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini who controlled the ball on the edge of the box but his low shot went inches wide, Reuters reported.
Instead, Verona doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time through forward Cyril Ngonge who left the Milan defense standing as he netted on the counter with a solo run.
Algeria midfielder Houssem Aouar pulled one back for Roma after the break but the visitors were unable to rescue a draw despite Verona finishing with 10 men following an 84th minute red card for Isak Hien for a foul on Andrea Belotti.
Verona, who secured another season in Serie A via a relegation playoff last term, are provisionally second after winning their opening match at Empoli 1-0.
“We conceded an avoidable goal which intimidated us a bit … (but) these matches create mentality and a strong identity,” new Verona manager Marco Baroni told a press conference.
Roma, who were still without Mourinho as he serves a 10-day touchline ban for criticising a referee at the end of last season, have one point after being held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Salernitana last weekend.
Wagner chief on passenger list of crashed plane
The head of the Wagner group, which in June attempted to topple Russia’s military leadership, was registered to fly on a plane that crashed Wednesday, Russian news agencies said.
The whereabouts of Yevgeny Prigozhin were yet to be officially confirmed, but news of the crash that is believed to have left no survivors triggered reactions from Ukraine and the United States, AFP reported.
The incident took place exactly two months since Prigozhin’s rebellion — seen as the biggest challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authority since he came to power — and as uncertainty has surrounded the fate of Wagner and its controversial chief.
Russia’s ministry for emergency situations on Wednesday announced the crash of a private plane travelling between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
According to preliminary information, all 10 people on board died, including three crew members, the ministry said.
Russian news agencies later reported Prigozhin on the list of passengers of the plane.
“The plane that crashed in the Tver Region listed Yevgeny Prigozhin among its passengers, (Russia’s aviation agency) Rosaviatsia said,” TASS news agency reported, with RIA Novosti and Interfax issuing similar reports.
Videos on Telegram channels linked to Wagner posted footage — that AFP could not independently confirm — showing the wreckage of the plane burning in a field.
Rosaviatsia said it set up a special commission to investigate the crash of the Embraer – 135 (ЕВМ-135BJ) belonging to MNT-Aero.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said it opened an investigation into the crash.
The bodies of eight people have been found so far at the site of the crash, RIA Novosti said citing the emergency services.
Putin was meanwhile giving a speech for the 80th anniversary of the Kursk battle in World War II.
He did not mention the crash and hailed “all our soldiers who are fighting bravely and resolutely” in the special military operation in Ukraine.
But rumors of Prigozhin’s death reached other capitals, with Kyiv and Washington reacting.
“I don’t know for a fact what happened, but I’m not surprised,” US President Joe Biden said.
“There’s not much that happens in Russia that (President) Putin’s not behind. But I don’t know enough to know the answer.”
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said on social media that the plane crash was “a signal from Putin to Russia’s elites ahead of the 2024 elections. ‘Beware! Disloyalty equals death’.”
During the offensive in Ukraine, launched on February 24, 2022, Prigozhin — who previously operated in the shadows — came into the spotlight.
He spearheaded the capture of several Ukrainian towns including Bakhmut — and harshly criticised Russia’s conventional military leadership.
But Prigozhin was locked in a bitter months-long power struggle with the defence ministry that he accused of trying to “steal” Wagner’s victories.
Tensions degenerated into a short-lived rebellion on June 23 and 24.
Thousands of mercenaries took up weapons and marched from southern Russia towards Moscow with the aim of toppling the country’s military leaders.
The mutiny ended with a deal, mediated by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, under which Prigozhin was expected to move to neighbouring Belarus with some of his men.
Some of the fighters went to Belarus where they began training the ex-Soviet country’s special forces.
But the fate of Prigozhin remained unclear: he seemed to enjoy a certain amount of freedom and took part in a meeting at the Kremlin where he refused to cede command of his mercenary group.
Still, he mostly remained out of the public eye.
His Telegram channel — where he usually communicated — has been inactive since the end of June.
Wagner-linked Telegram channels instead purportedly relayed rare messages.
On Monday, video circulated showing him apparently in Africa, which he vowed to make “freer”.
The group maintains a strong military presence in Africa, where it has partnered with several nations, including Mali and the Central African Republic. – AFP
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