23 September 2019

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Friday August 30, 2019
Kabul (BNA) In an interview with DW, Shaharzad Akbar, head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, said that any US-Taliban deal that undermines the basic rights of Afghan civilians should be avoided.
Shaharzad Akbar: The Taliban leadership claims that its views on human rights have undergone a transformation in recent years. But if you look closely, you don't see a big change in their position. The Taliban, for instance, claim that they now have a much lenient approach toward women's rights in comparison to their stance during their rule in Afghanistan (from 1996 to 2001). But reports from the areas that are under the Taliban's control show a different picture. They prove that the group continues to deal with women in a similar manner.
Also, the Taliban have been demanding the implementation of Islamic laws in Afghanistan. We asked them in Qatar: Which Afghan laws did they consider un-Islamic? They didn't say anything specific. They also didn't tell us which laws they wanted to repeal.
All laws in Afghanistan comply with Islamic teachings. The fact that the Taliban have a problem with these laws shows that they believe in a strict interpretation of Islam that they want to impose on Afghans.
That is why we believe that the Taliban's position on human rights is a cause for concern as we don't see any shift in the group's long-held position on the issue.
A UN report has blamed the Taliban for the majority of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The US and the Taliban are now trying to finalize an agreement in Doha to end the 18-year-long war. Rights activists say that a possible deal will be unjust to the victims' families. What is your stand on this issue?
The people's voices must be heard. It is mostly civilians that have died in Taliban attacks. Having said that, I must add that it is not just the Taliban that have inflicted civilian casualties; international forces, too, are responsible for them. That is why, if we ignore the element of justice in a potential agreement, Afghanistan will not have lasting peace.
Read more: Taliban-US hold fresh talks in Doha amid peace deal hopes
We must ensure that all these crimes are investigated. If that does not happen, we can't end the cycle of revenge in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) cannot force the negotiating sides to include criminal investigations in the peace process, but we can conduct polls to tell them what the people really want.
It is a matter of concern that the future of Afghanistan is being discussed without the participation of Afghans. It shows that the negotiating parties do not feel accountable to the people of Afghanistan. The Afghan government should provide details of these negotiations to Afghan citizens. But as Kabul is not involved yet, it can't.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, has stated time and again that the ongoing talks in Doha are not focused on Afghanistan's internal issues. He says that those issues will be discussed during intra-Afghan talks later. But in my view, the US-Taliban talks in Doha will have consequences for Afghanistan's internal situation as well. Therefore, human rights activists have serious concerns about the ongoing negotiations in Doha.
The AIHRC wants the basic rights of Afghan citizens safeguarded in the ongoing peace process. It should be a priority. It is important for us because the process could determine which direction Afghanistan would take in the future.
We want the assurance that the voices of ordinary Afghans are heard during the peace talks. Any deal between the US and the Taliban that possibly undermines the basic rights of Afghan civilians should be avoided.

Friday August 30, 2019
Kabul (BNA) The top U.S. military officer said Wednesday it’s too early to talk about a full American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, injecting a cautionary note as U.S. peace talks with the Taliban appear to be near a final agreement.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that any U.S. deal with the Taliban will be based on security conditions on the ground and that Afghan forces aren’t yet able to secure the country without help from allied forces.
"I'm not using the withdraw word right now," Dunford said. "It's our judgment that the Afghans need support to deal with the level of violence" in the country today.
After nearly 18 years of war, Afghanistan’s government expects that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will soon update officials in Kabul on the progress of peace talks with the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman has said that they’re close to a final agreement. But even as the talks go on, there are persistent attacks by the Taliban across Afghanistan, and an affiliate of the Islamic State group has taken hold in the country and has been expanding its base.
Even if Khalilzad is able to close a deal, it will remain for the Afghan government to negotiate its own peace agreement with the Taliban. Part of those talks will be determining a role for the Taliban in governing the country that it ruled before U.S. forces invaded in October 2001.
The Taliban, which now control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since their 2001 defeat in the U.S.-led invasion, have dismissed the Afghan government as an American puppet.
The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. They are performing two missions: advising and assisting Afghan defense forces and combating extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
President Donald Trump has campaigned on getting the U.S. out of the war, but efforts to withdraw U.S. troops have been slowed because military leaders argue that there is still a need for American counterterrorism forces as well as the ongoing campaign to train the Afghan troops.
Dunford and Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke at a joint news conference — the first time in exactly one year since a defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman have appeared together before Pentagon reporters.
Asked repeatedly about any U.S. plans to leave a counterterror force in Afghanistan, both Dunford and Esper batted the questions away.
"We reserve the right to keep all options on the table," Esper said when asked about continuing strikes on the Taliban. "But look, clearly we have a plan going forward. The key to resolve this conflict is a political agreement. We are on that path right now, and we are hopeful that we can reach some type of conclusion."
Dunford said that at some point the Afghans may be able to provide for their own defense without requiring direct U.S. military support.
"But we're not prepared to have a specific conversation about when that may be or what capability would be associated with what operating environment," he said.
Dunford, however, said that Trump has been clear that Afghanistan must not again be used as a sanctuary for terrorists who can attack America.
Al-Qaida insurgents used Afghanistan as a base from which to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States. A month later, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan, where they have remained ever since, making it the longest war in American history. More than 2,400 American service members have died in the conflict.

Friday August 30, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Moscow is concerned about the double standards demonstrated by the West toward the presence of Daesh in Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.
"Undoubtedly, fight against terrorism should be free of double standards... There is alarming information... that some Western colleagues have double standards in relation to this terrorist organisation banned by the UN Security Council and try to use them to accomplish their unilateral geopolitical tasks in Afghanistan," Lavrov told a press conference after talks with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Sputnik reported.
The foreign minister also commented on US President Donald Trump's call on Russia and other regional powers, including India, to step up the fight against Daesh in Afghanistan.
"Fight against terrorism and drug trafficking that funds it — all of this is in the focus of our position on Afghanistan. And the goal of all our efforts, which we have undertaken in both the Moscow format and Russia-US-China format — we would like to involve other countries in the work [in this format], including India, Pakistan, and Iran  — all of these efforts are aimed at facilitating a political settlement that would be accepted by all ethnic, religious and political groups and that would be based on broad national consensus, while eliminating threat of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking from Afghanistan", Lavrov added.
Conflict-stricken Afghanistan has long been afflicted by fighting between government troops and Taliban militants, in addition to groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, Daesh and other insurgents.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the recent explosion at a wedding in Kabul that killed over 80 people and left another 180 injured.

Thursday August 29, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah met with Iranian ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Reza Bahrami here at the Sapidar Palace yesterday. According to BNA report, both sides discussed enhancing bilateral cooperation, peace process and holding of the upcoming presidential elections. According to another report, Dr. Abdullah also met US ambassador to Kabul John Bass in his office on Tuesday. During the meeting, the US ambassador reiterated his country’s support to Afghan government and the peace process. Meanwhile, the Chief Executive said transparent elections and ensuring lasting peace was the main demands of Afghans.

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