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.
Health officials and experts meet in Kabul over spread of lumpy skin disease
A seminar was held in Kabul on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing spread of lumpy skin disease (LSD) in livestock in Afghanistan.
Experts from Kabul University, along with representatives of the Ministries of Public Health, Agriculture and Livestock and municipalities met Tuesday to discuss the dangers of this virus.
Delegates attending the seminar pointed out the need to prevent the spread of the disease in the country.
According to health officials, this virus is transmitted by some species of mosquitoes, ticks and other blood-feeding insects but is not transmitted to humans.
“This virus has spread from eastern and southeastern provinces such as Laghman, Nangarhar and Kunar, but currently, this virus does not have a vaccine, and fortunately, this disease does not transmit to humans,” said Shirshah Sadat, dean of Kabul University’s Faculty of Veterinary Sciences.
Nasir Ahmad, the representative of the Ministry of Public Health also said: “This virus is problematic for food health, especially for people suffering from malnutrition.”
“This virus is transmitted from one animal to another by mosquitoes and flies and the source of its transmission should be eliminated, and quarantine and vaccines are said to be good ways to fight this disease,” said Asadullah Samadi, a university professor.
The representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock said that a campaign to curb the spread of this virus will be launched in cooperation with international organizations in all provinces in the near future.
The virus has in recent years been detected in Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman and southeastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Logar and Ghazni.
The disease was endemic in many African countries for years, but spread to other parts of the world over the years. The disease first appeared in South Asia in July 2019, with Bangladesh reporting an outbreak. A month later, it was identified in India – which has the world’s largest bovine population – and then in China.
The infection is caused by the Capripox virus – which is genetically similar to the viruses that cause goat pox and sheep pox – and has been termed “an emerging threat to livestock worldwide” by health experts.
Two IEA forces and 4 Daesh fighters killed in Kabul clash
Four Daesh militants were killed and a fifth was arrested in an operation in Kabul on Wednesday.
According to Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), forces had conducted a raid on an “important nest of the enemy” in Karte-e-Sakhi area in PD3.
The operation was launched at about 11.30am but a shootout between IEA and Daesh militants broke out, which lasted several hours. The situation was eventually brought under control and a cache of weapons and ammunition was recovered.
Mujahid said in a series of tweets that the Daesh cell had been planning to attack Shiites in the Kart-e-Sakhi area during the upcoming Muharram.
Meanwhile, the ministry of interior said in a statement that two security personnel, including a policewoman, were killed in the standoff and four IEA soldiers were wounded.
Iranian energy ministry delegation to visit Kabul over water rights
Iran is reportedly sending a delegation from the ministry of energy affairs to Afghanistan to discuss their water share rights regarding the Helmand River.
According to Iran’s IRNA news agency, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in a phone conversation that he is dispatching the delegation in the near future in order to resolve issues around water.
IRNA reported that Amirabdollahian raised the issue of recent heavy rainfall in Afghanistan and expressed hope that the “artificially created obstacles” in the way of the flow of water towards Iran will be eliminated and Iran will receive its water share from the Helmand River.
Amirabdollahian also reportedly told Muttaqi that receiving their share of water will be an important index for Kabul in terms of showing how committed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is about meeting “their international commitments”, IRNA reported.
Amirabdollahian said the people of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan and their representatives in Parliament are seriously demanding their share of water and that unless the issue is resolved quickly, “it will affect the other issues in bilateral cooperation negatively”, IRNA reported.
According to IRNA, Muttaqi in turn welcomed the delegation’s upcoming visit and said Afghanistan is committed to giving Iran their share of water from the Helmand River, which flows into the country.
Amirabdollahian said that a joint team of technicians will survey the river’s path and ensure both countries benefit from the water.
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