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Any attempt against Doha agreement will end to failure

KABUL (TOLOnews): The Taliban in a statement on the first anniversary of the Doha agreement on Sunday said that it has done its part in the deal and that it is a practical way towards peace.

The Taliban said that any attempt to seek an alternative for the agreement will end to failure in peace efforts.

The Taliban urged the US to live up to its commitments to the Doha agreement. The Taliban once again demanded the release of their remaining prisoners and the removal of their names from the UN blacklist and said it would speed up intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

The Taliban said that they have fulfilled their commitments to the agreement, blaming “the other side” for violating the agreement and said the US has continued to bombings and operations.

On Feb. 29, 2020, US and Taliban representatives gathered in Doha, Qatar, to sign an agreement that would allow for the withdrawal of American troops in exchange for concessions by the group.

The concessions included opening peace talks with the government in Kabul and broken tie with terrorist groups like al-Qaida from using the country to launch attacks on America and its allies.

The US President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal with the Taliban as policymakers calling for a renegotiation of the agreement ahead of a May 1 deadline to pull all troops from the country.

Some 2,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan at about a dozen bases, alongside about 10,000 NATO troops.

Violence Remains High in Afghanistan A week ago, the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that an end to the US military involvement in Afghanistan hinges on a reduction in Taliban attacks.

“The violence must decrease now,” he told reporters in his first press conference as Pentagon chief.

Austin said there would be no “hasty” withdrawal.

“We want to do this methodically and deliberately,” he said as quoted by The Hill.

Austin said that he is “mindful” of the looming May deadline but indicated that it would not be reached as long as the Taliban are not meeting commitments.

This comes a day after NATO Defense Ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Brussels with no final decision taken about troops pullout from Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of the two NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday said that the military alliance will only leave Afghanistan when security conditions on the ground allow it. Stoltenberg said that at this stage, the alliance has not made a final decision about a troop presence in Afghanistan.

President Biden while addressing the Munich Security Conference has said that the US will work together with its allies in Europe and that his administration is fully committed to working with NATO allies on the way forward in Afghanistan.

There was a rise in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September, according to a report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office said five day ago.

The overall number of civilian casualties in 2020 of 8,820 (3,035 killed and 5,785 inured) fell below 10,000 for the first time since 2013 and was 15 per cent down on 2019.

The Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020 documented civilian casualties in the last quarter of the year.

The report said that the “anti-government elements (AGEs) in 2020 caused the majority of civilian casualties (62 percent), totaling 5,459 casualties – 1,885 killed and 3,574 injured with the Taliban responsible for most of these casualties (45 percent of the total) and Daesh responsible for 8 percent.” But the Taliban has rejected the report.

‘Hasty withdrawal’

US Senator Jack Reed said he favored seeking an extension of the May 1 deadline for withdrawing troops that President Donald Trump and the Taliban negotiated last year, The New York Times reported.

Reed said the United States should seek an extension of the deadline to give diplomats more time to negotiate an agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“To pull out within several months now is a very challenging and destabilizing effort,” he told reporters on a video conference call organized by George Washington University.

He added his voice to a growing number of national security specialists, including those on a bipartisan, congressionally appointed panel, who argue, in essence, for abandoning the May 1 timetable. Before this, Michael McCaul, a top US Republican, has said in an interview with CNN that President Biden needs to keep US troops in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from taking over.

“I think Afghanistan can be very important. I hope that the Biden administration I can work with them on this and talk to Secretary Blinken and the national security adviser about leaving a residual force there to protect the homeland and not allow the Taliban to take over their country,” the US congressman said.

A study group appointed by US Congress calls on the Biden administration to slow the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, remove the May 1 exit deadline and instead reduce the number of troops only as security conditions improve in the country.

The report finds that removing international forces by the May 1 deadline set in the US-Taliban peace agreement could lead to a civil war in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Study Group began its Congressionally mandated work in April 2020, just weeks after the US and the Taliban signed Doha agreement on the conditions for a US troop withdrawal that would end US’ long military engagement in Afghanistan.

“We have an interest in an Afghanistan that respects basic human rights. We do not, however, believe that securing these interests requires a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan,” the group said in the report. The report said that: “An immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result.”

Afghanistan Study Group makes following recommendations for the Afghan peace process: clarify the end state, reinforce the conditionality of a final US troop withdrawal, clarify the US commitment to the current Afghan state, work diplomatically to promote the success of the negotiation process and design an overarching regional diplomatic strategy.

The report has mentioned that a recognition that, in addition to conducting counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan forces, a key objective of the ongoing US military presence is to help create conditions for an acceptable peace agreement.

Close tie with al-Qaeda

Amidst doubts in the Taliban’s commitment to cut their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the Taliban last week has asked its members to avoid harboring foreign fighters and not allow them to join their ranks.

“All heads and mujahedeen are directed to avoid arbitrary move to bring in foreign nationals into their ranks or harbor them,” the Taliban said in a statement, a copy of which was seen by TOLOnews on Tuesday.

The group warns its fighters that anyone who makes such an attempt will be removed from their assignments, their group will be dissolved, “and will be referred to the military affairs commission for further punishment.” The Taliban has been under criticism by Afghan and US officials for keeping their ties with terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda. The Taliban has denied its relations with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

“We believe that the top leadership of al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection,” a UN official, Edmund Fitton-Brown, said earlier this month.

According to the UN monitoring team’s report in January, there are 200 to 500 al-Qaeda fighters across about 11 Afghan provinces.

The Taliban has committed in the Doha agreement to cut their ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The group has also vowed to reduce violence. However, Afghan and US officials have said that violence remains “too high” in the country despite the ongoing efforts for peace.

Doha talks

Attention has turned back to Doha and hopes have been renewed that the talks between both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations will resume, especially as–according to members of the Republic side–the Taliban in a recent meeting showed a “good spirit.”

This comes after a meeting was held between heads and some members of the negotiating teams in Doha on Monday evening that was focused on the continuation of the negotiations.

No new meeting has been held between the two sides since Monday.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Omar Daudzai, President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy for Pakistan, met senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad about the Afghan peace process.

“The Taliban came with a good spirit—we hope that this spirit remains the same—because they expressed a commitment for the talks to continue on a daily basis,” said Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a member of the negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

“The emphasis of the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan–as its working agenda– has been focused on ending the war and agreeing on a ceasefire in order to help the Afghan people obtain a benefit from this process and feel its impacts on their lives,” said Fawzia Koofi, a member of the negotiating team representing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the talks with the Taliban.

The republic’s negotiators expressed hope that an agreement is reached with the Taliban soon about the agenda of the talks.

The Taliban continue to insist on the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, but a democratic senator has warned about a hasty pullout.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a press conference m with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar in Moscow on Friday said the Taliban should enter meaningful talks and should reduce violence significantly.

He added that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and that the violence has to stop as soon as possible.

Lavrov said that Moscow was in contact with other countries involved in Afghanistan. He stated that the Taliban should avoid putting new demands in the talks.

Atmar says that his Russian counterpart has agreed that the return of the Taliban’s regime is unacceptable and that the group should resume meaningful talks and reduce violence significantly.

“We welcome Russia’s position. The Taliban shouldn’t be removed from the sanctions list unless they abide by their commitments toward peace,” Atmar said at the event.

On Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani said the international community has kept Afghans away from their fundamental right of peace over the last four decades, reiterating that the people of Afghanistan want permanent and dignified peace.

Addressing a ceremony on Armed Forces Day, Ghani said Afghan security forces have played a prominent role in fighting international terrorism and that they can protect the values the country has achieved over the last 20 years.

Referring to his recent address to the UN Security Council, President Ghani said: “My main sentence was that for the last 40 years, the international community has kept a massive nation away from their fundamental right which is peace and this is unacceptable.”

“We want peace and we want dignified peace and a peace that is ensured by the power of our security and defense forces and with the will of the people. This peace will come,” he said.

Ghani said the violence must end and that there should be no more bloodshed, and no one should remain deprived of education anymore.

He added that Afghans will decide on the next president and the next government.

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Taliban’s deputy head of military commission killed: MoD

KABUL (Khaama Press): Afghan Ministry of Defense stated Sunday, that security forces have killed the deputy head of the Taliban’s military commission and two other Taliban fighters in Baghlan province.

Security and defense forces conducted an operation in Nahrain district of Baghlan province yesterday, in which the deputy head of Taliban’s military commission and head of regional customs was killed along with two other Taliban members.

Mod added, 3 insurgents including Qari Zahidullah, the deputy head of the Taliban’s military commission were among the dead and further four Taliban militants are wounded during the skirmish.

Some weapons and ammunition belonging to the group were also destroyed, Afghan Defense Ministry reported.

This comes as the war in Afghanistan has intensified and besides many civilian and military casualties, Taliban casualties are also on the rise. Despite peace efforts, the battle across the country has raged and humans in Afghanistan are suffering heavily.

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Afghan parliament team visits Tajikistan

KABUL (TOLOnews): A parliamentary delegation led by Wolesi Jirga Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani departed for Tajikistan where they will meet senior Tajikistan officials including President Emomali Rahmon to discuss the Afghan peace process.

At least 20 lawmakers are accompanying Rahmani during in this trip.

Today’s trip marks the second parliamentary trip to Tajikistan. Some lawmakers said that Tajikistan has a key role in peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“Countries like Russia and other countries that have been under Russian influence can play an important in the Afghan peace process,” said MP Karim Atal.

Earlier, a number of Afghan politicians made separate visits to a number of countries in the region, including Pakistan. The trips were said to be aimed at discussing the peace process.

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Armed Forces Day: Troops on frontlines keep hope for peace

KABUL (TOLOnews): Afghan forces serving on the frontlines expressed their hope for peace in the country as the nation celebrated Armed Forces Day across the country by honoring the services of the men in uniform, calling them as “guardians” of Afghanistan.

TOLOnews’ Tamim Hamid visited Afghan forces on the frontlines in Kabul’s neighboring provinces where the troops said they are ready to welcome but meanwhile, they are prepared to defend the country and the people against any threat.

Nasrullah, an army service member in Logar, a relatively restive province east of Kabul, said every soldier at their outpost has their own story and ambition. “I call my fiancé whenever I am free,” Nasrullah said.

Mashooq, an army soldier in Surkhrod district in Nangarhar, said Afghanistan has many beautiful places that are worth visiting and he wishes to visit those places with his family one day.

“Our people spend their vocation in other countries. Our country has its own beauty. I hope someday our families can spend their vacation in our own country,” Mashooq said.

In Kunduz province, meanwhile, the loved ones of the fallen members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces paid visit to some outposts and handed flower and gifts to the troops.

“I have lost my uncle and my father. We have no caretaker now. I call on the Taliban to stop violence,” said Nasrin, the daughter of a fallen soldier in the northern province of Kunduz.

“How long should we destroy our own homeland? No outsider will come and build our country,” said Gulabuddin, a commander of the Afghan National Army in Kunduz.

“Let’s support our soldiers who protect our soil and dignity,” said Rohullah, brother of a fallen ANA officer in Kunduz.

The Armed Forces Day was also widely celebrated in Kabul. Security force members were gifted flowers while others donated blood to honor the sacrifices of the men in uniform.

“We thank them for their sacrifices. They sacrifice their blood to defend this nation and soil,” head of Kabul-based Bedari Millat political party, Maqsood Hassanzada, said.

“Those who have a special love for this three-colored flag of Afghanistan, those who believe that the territory of Afghanistan has the status of mother for them, they respect the security forces,” said Mohammad Zalmay Afghan, a civil society activist.

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Most imported medicine smuggled: Govt agency

KABUL (TOLOnews): Afghanistan’s Food and Drug Administration reported that a major portion of essential medicine entering the country is being smuggled in illegally.

The value of medicine imported into Afghanistan last year could be as much as $1 billion, but only around $44 million worth went through the Afghan customs procedures, said Ebrahim Shinwari, head of Afghanistan’s Food and Drug Administration.

“Who knows how much medicine will be imported into the country? Maybe, medicine costing 1$ billion will be imported. But statitistics from last year show medicine costing only $44 million was imported and registered in the country last year,” he said.

Executives in Farmaan Kaihan, a medicine-importing company in Afghanistan, says there is a mafia in the medicine business, and that 90% of medicine in the country is being imported illegally.

“I can prove with evidence that 90% of medicines are being illegally imported in the country while only 10 percent is brought in legally,” said Dr. Shafi, an employee in the company.

Officials at the union of medicine-Importing companies say that illegal medicine and drugs are being imported into the country through smuggling.

“Not hundreds but thousands of medicine containers are being imported into the country and distributed in markets, some of this medicine is illicit and not on the government’s authorized medicine list. This list exists from previous years and has not been reviewed yet,” said Asadullah Kakar head of the union.

There are few factories manufacturing medicines and drugs in the country, but only 6% of necessary medicine and pharmaceuticals consumed in Afghanistan are manufactured within the country, according to Afghanistan’s Food and Drug Administration.

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COVID-19: 19 new cases, one death reported in Afghanistan

KABUL (TOLOnews): The Ministry of Public Health on Sunday reported 19 new positive cases of COVID-19 out of 1,878 samples tested in the last 24 hours.

The ministry also reported one death and 45 recoveries from COVID-19 in the same period.

The new cases were reported in Kabul (4), Herat (2), Kandahar (1), Nangarhar (2), Kunar (7), Laghman (2) and Khost (1) provinces.

The ministry says the cumulative total of known COVID-19 cases is 55,733, the total number of reported deaths is 2,444, and the total number of recoveries is 49,333. So far, 298,149 samples have been tested in government centers and there are 3,956 known active COVID-19 cases in the country, data by the ministry indicates.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 globally is more than 2,526,080 and the number of known global coronavirus cases is 113,815,816, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Russia asks Taliban to enter meaningful talks

KABUL (Tolo News): Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a press conference m with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar in Moscow said the Taliban should enter meaningful talks and should reduce violence significantly. He added that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and that the violence has to stop as soon as possible.

Lavrov said that Moscow was in contact with other countries involved in Afghanistan. He stated that the Taliban should avoid putting new demands in the talks. “Our main message to the Taliban is to resume meaningful dialogue as soon as possible, avoid further escalation of violence to reach to a conclusion and respect the decisions of the UN Security Council,” Lavrov said.

Atmar says that his Russian counterpart has agreed that the return of the Taliban’s regime is unacceptable and that the group should resume meaningful talks and reduce violence significantly. “We welcome Russia’s position. The Taliban shouldn’t be removed from the sanctions list unless they abide by their commitments toward peace,” Atmar said at the event.

National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib briefed the UN Security Council’s 1988 Sanctions Committee, which oversees the implementation of UN sanctions on the Taliban and said that Afghanistan and the UN are working together on the imposition of sanctions on the Taliban through which they seek to reduce further violence by the group. “The NSA said UN sanctions are important in enforcing conditionality on the Taliban, which has used unprecedented violence against Afghan state and society, abused the privilege of travel exemptions to dodge talks, and broken promises not to enlist released convicts for terrorism,” Mohib said.

“Afghanistan will work with all our key partners and Security Council members to ensure that sanctions tools are used for their intended purpose of supporting peace by helping Afghanistan encourage peaceful behavior and deter violent activity by the Taliban,” he said. This comes as the Afghan Republic and the Taliban negotiators held their third meeting after over a month-long deadlock in the talks with the main focus on the agenda of the negotiators, officials said. The meeting was held in working group level that is aimed at finalizing the agenda of the negotiations.

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Afghans deprived of their right to peace for 40 years: Ghani

KABUL (Pajhwok): President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday that more than 90 percent of counterterrorism operations in the country were being conducted by the Afghan forces themselves. “Today’s Afghanistan is not what it used to be in the past defended by outsiders,” the president told a ceremony here marking the Armed Forces Day.

Ghani said the Afghan forces themselves were currently defending their homeland. He highlighted the progress made by the Afghan forces over the last two decades, saying: “We are close to self-reliance.” He called peace a fundamental right of the Afghans, who had been kept from achieving their goal over the last four decades. Tired of war and destruction, the Afghans yearned for lasting and dignified peace, he said.

The national security forces had played an essential role in combating international terrorism besides bravely safeguarding their motherland, the president added. About his recent speech to the UN Security Council, he said: “My main emphasis was that the global fraternity has kept our nation from realising fundamental right of peace and this is unacceptable to us.”

The president underlined the need for an immediate halt to violence and bloodshed in the country. The Afghans should no longer remain deprived of their right to education. With regard to the promotion of democracy in Afghanistan, Ghani said the sitting government and president had been elected by the people, who also elect their next leader. “It is the nation’s right and the security forces will ensure the legitimacy of change and election transparency.” The president hoped.

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Peace negotiators hold meeting following talks stalemate

KABUL (Tolo News): The Afghan Republic and the Taliban negotiators held their third meeting after over a month-long deadlock in the talks with the main focus on the agenda of the negotiators, officials confirmed. The meeting was held in working group level that is aimed at finalizing the agenda of the negotiations.

“Discussions were held around agendas of the two sides and their priorities regarding the agenda of the talks,” said Najia Anwari, spokesperson for the State Ministry for Peace Affairs. This comes as President Ghani met with ambassadors of NATO member nations in Kabul and discussions were focused on the peace process, the US’s decision to review the Doha deal and the NATO defense ministers conference, the Presidential Palace said.

In this meeting, President Ghani highlighted the role of Afghan forces in fighting terrorism and emphasized the need for a ceasefire, the Palace said. NATO ambassadors in the meeting reiterated the alliance’s longstanding support to ANDSF, peace, ceasefire, protection of gains and democracy in Afghanistan, the statement said.

However, the Taliban has been insisting that the US has violated the Doha agreement. The deputy leader of the group, Sirajuddin Haqqani, in an audio message to his supporters has accused the US of violating the Doha agreement and has said that the group has remained firm to its commitments in the deal.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, President Ghani’s special envoy for Pakistan, met with Pakistani officials in Islamabad about the Afghan peace process. Daudzai said that it seems that this time Pakistan is looking to contribute sincerely in the peace process.

He said that he has also shared a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan with the Pakistani officials that has focused on ceasefire by Pakistan’s cooperation and has sought Pakistan’s help to persuade the Taliban to continue the peace process. Daudzai said that Pakistan is concerned that the new US administration’s review of the Doha agreement could lead to changes in the text of the agreement and that the Taliban will not continue talks.

“They will read the text and will decide about it and will tell us that on which part they can support us and on what part they cannot. Then in the third phase, that will become a plan and will be implemented by the two countries,” said Daudzai. Daudzai added that Pakistan is moving towards a change, “but we cannot say that it will change as we use the term change or to say that we will soon see a ceasefire and peace.”

Meanwhile, Roha Rahmani, Afghan ambassador to the US, has said that there is a need for more pressure by the US on the efforts to continue the peace negotiations. “The path ahead is not easy, but it is not impossible. With the demonstrated resilience of the Afghan people and our allies’ commitment to security, camaraderie, and democracy, we can achieve durable peace together,” she said.

This comes as German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during an unannounced visit to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province said that Germany strongly supports the Afghan peace process. “Afghanistan urgently needs a settlement between the opposing groups of its society,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said according to a statement, as quoted by Reuters, adding that Berlin’s goal remained an orderly withdrawal of troops. According to Reuters report, Kramp-Karrenbauer has warned that a premature withdrawal of NATO troops could jeopardize peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and said NATO troops needed to prepare for Taliban violence should they stay beyond the end of April.

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UK supports Afghan govt’s fight against Taliban

KABUL (Tolo News): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a telephonic conversation with President Ashraf Ghani on reiterated his country’s continued support to the Afghan government’s fight against the Taliban, according to a statement by the British government.

“He (UK prime minister) reiterated the UK’s longstanding support for the Afghan government’s fight against the Taliban as part of the NATO coalition,” the statement said. “They agreed on the importance of making progress in peace talks to secure a sovereign, democratic and united Afghanistan, and to preserve the gains made by civil society and women and girls,” the statement reads.

The Presidential Palace said in a statement that Ghani and Johnson discussed bilateral relations and the Afghan peace process. The British prime minister assured President Ghani of his country’s continued support to the Afghan peace process, strengthened regional diplomacy, and UK’s support to Afghan forces, the Palace said. The statement says that the UK Prime Minister and President Ghani also discussed global efforts to tackle the pandemic and the rollout of vaccines in Afghanistan and the UK.