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Peace talks ‘under threat’ as Taliban prepare for major spring offensive

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Unusually intense fighting in the winter by Taliban insurgents has spurred Afghan government preparations for more violence in the warmer spring, which international players fear will further endanger the nation’s fragile peace process, Reuters reported.

This comes after a sharp increase in attacks by the group since the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha in February last year. 

General Scott Miller, the head of US forces and the NATO-led Resolute Support mission told Reuters that “Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms.”

“It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan,” he said.

Typically fighting quietens down during the snowy winter months before the Taliban launch a “spring offensive” around March. However, this winter, fighting has been intense. 

Miller said that the fighting now was an indicator that not only would there be a spring offensive – a move many diplomats view as against the spirit of the Doha agreement – but that it could be more intense than before, Reuters reported.

This also comes as negotiations have largely stalled in Doha in recent weeks and Taliban leaders have left Qatar, a senior state department official said, leading to growing fears that talks could be on the brink of collapse.

“If the violence isn’t reduced, it’s going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises,” Miller said.

The Afghan government has instructed security forces to carry out a comprehensive troop restructuring and design operations to prepare for a “tough and hard” spring offensive, two government sources told Reuters.

They added that Afghanistan’s special forces from different institutions such as the military and police are being streamlined to operate under one command. Highly experienced commanders have been appointed to key areas, and security forces were planning to conduct more airstrikes to avoid losses on the ground.

An Afghan National Security Council spokesman said they were “ready for any kind of war”, though they remained in “active defence” mode.

Four Taliban sources said that most of their commanders had in recent weeks cut short annual training sessions after being called back to the battlefield to prepare for intensive fighting.

Three residents in areas dominated by the Taliban in north-eastern Afghanistan had noticed a pick-up in the group’s activity in recent weeks, telling Reuters they had seen Taliban fighters moving en masse, holding meetings in mosques and beginning food and recruitment drives.

“In the past two weeks the topics Taliban preachers preach, especially on Friday prayers… have changed,” said a tribal elder from Kunduz province who asked not to be named for security reasons. “They preach about… fighting against invasion, and they openly invite people to join them. It’s a clear message that they are preparing for another fight this spring.”

A member of what the Taliban considers its special forces told Reuters that the group was preparing to act when there was an announcement about foreign troops.

“If they don’t leave Afghanistan on the preset date then the USA, NATO and the world will face a dangerous war, a war that never happened in the past 20 years,” he said.

A Taliban spokesman did not reply to a request for comment on the spring offensive.

The administration of US President Joe Biden is reviewing its plans for Afghanistan, including whether to stick to the May 1 deadline in the troop withdrawal agreement former President Trump’s administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020.

Miller said his command recognised that foreign forces could be a target if the Taliban view the deal as breached.

Experts and diplomats see a vanishing window of opportunity for talks to survive, although sides say they are committed negotiating, Reuters reported.

“Talks seem already very close to falling apart,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute. “The trouble is that (Washington) seems to grossly underestimate just how bad things could get and how quickly that could happen.”

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Over 5,000 Afghan immigrants deported from Iran, Pakistan

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The Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation (MoRR) announced Saturday the expulsion of more than 5,000 Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

The ministry said in a post on X that 4,881 refugees were expelled from Iran and 775 from Pakistan.

The Ministry of Refugees stated that the returnees entered the country on Thursday and Friday.

These refugees entered the country through the Torkham and Spin Boldak borders after being expelled.

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Tajikistan stands against IEA’s inclusion in SCO activities: Russia

A Tajik official, however, has said that Kabulov has incorrectly presented Tajikistan’s position in this regard.

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Tajikistan has expressed opposition to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) activities, Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said.

The issue was discussed at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Council held in Kazakhstan’s Astana on May 20-21.

“Russia and the majority of participants favoured resuming this contact group’s work. Our Tajik partners still have certain reservations, but we hope they will reconsider their stance soon,” Kabulov said referring to the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, RIA Novosti reported.

A Tajik official, however, has said that Kabulov has incorrectly presented Tajikistan’s position in this regard.

“We note Mr. Kabulov’s incorrect presentation of Tajikistan’s position on the issue of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group activities,” Ahmad Saidmurodzoda, Tajikistan’s National Coordinator for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), told Asia-Plus.

“Within the framework of the SCO, Tajikistan have consistently emphasized the need to discuss Afghanistan issues.  As far as the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group activities are concerned, Tajikistan has never opposed the resumption of activities of this group; on contrary, our side draws attention to the fact that Afghanistan received the status of observer at the SCO in 2012, while protocols on the establishment of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group were signed with the authorities of this country in 2005 and 2018,” Saidmurodzoda said.      

He further noted that in this context, the Tajik side, including during the SCO foreign ministers’ meeting, had proposed “at this stage to launch an expert discussion of Afghan issues in the SCO format.” 

 

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Pakistan’s foreign minister calls for revival of SCO contact group for Afghanistan

 

SCO foreign ministers discuss promotion of stability in Afghanistan

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Iranian presidential candidate vows to prevent entry of Afghan migrants if elected

Pezeshkian added that those already residing in Iran should be regulated.

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Masoud Pezeshkian, a presidential candidate in Iran, has vowed that he will shut the borders to Afghan immigrants if elected.

Pezeshkian added that those already residing in Iran should be regulated.

“It should not be denied that a large number of Afghan brothers play an effective role in Iran’s economy or have sacrificed in the imposed war…but their presence in Iran should be regulated and disciplined,” he said.

He also said that his government would enter into negotiations with European countries to admit some refugees or pay for their presence in Iran.

“The West must shoulder responsibility for what it has done in Afghanistan and which has led to the migration of millions of Afghans,” he said. “There is no reason for the Iranian people to pay for the wrong policies of others.”

Iran’s presidential election is slated to be held on June 28.

 

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Iranian official: Will fight illegal immigrants like in war

Iran tells illegal immigrants to return home as no welfare services provided

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