The U.S. representative for Afghanistan reconciliation met with top Afghan officials in Kabul on Thursday as part of his latest trip of shuttle diplomacy in the region.
This is Zalmay Khalilzad’s third trip to his country of birth over the last few weeks, signifying the urgency in Washington to end the longest American war.
In a statement, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani appreciated Khalilzad’s efforts for peace and said the Kabul government has formed its negotiations team for the proposed talks.
Pakistan PM meets US peace envoy, pledges help on Afghan war
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met with a U.S. peace envoy on Wednesday and pledged his help to find a political settlement to the long-running war in neighbouring Afghanistan.The visit to Islamabad by Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative to Afghanistan, followed President Donald Trump's request for Pakistan's help in finding an end to the 17-year-old war between Taliban insurgents and the western-backed Afghan government.Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat who served as George W. Bush's ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by Trump three months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace in Afghanistan.Bahrain, Pakistan to hold joint counter-terror drill"The prime minister reiterated Pakistan's abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement," Khan's office said in a statement.Trump's overture to Khan followed an exchange of barbed tweets between the leaders last month.Officially allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have a complicated relationship, bound by Washington's dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan, where the United States still has 14,000 troops, but plagued by accusations Islamabad is playing a double game.U.S. officials have for years been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders, who Washington says are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table.Pakistan, Iran agree to enhance trade relationsThe U.S. and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of covertly sheltering Taliban, which Islamabad denies.Islamabad has promised in the past to work to help bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table, but this will be the first attempt for Khan's new government, in power since August.The Pakistani statement quoted Khalilzad as saying that the U.S. leadership looked forward to working with Pakistan in furthering the shared goal of peace. Pakistan invites Turkish investment in countryTrump asks Pakistan PM for help with Afghan peace talks
“Our will for ensuring peace in Afghanistan is serious,” Ghani said as quoted in a statement, adding that joint efforts can help Afghanistan achieve lasting peace.
On the diplomat’s side, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement, noting Khalilzad’s discussion with Afghan officials centered on his regional engagement and Kabul’s preparations for negotiations to reach a political settlement to the conflict.
The embassy announced the special representative left for Moscow for discussions on regional peace efforts.
This is the first time the U.S. diplomat has included Russia, charged by some Afghan officials of supporting the Taliban -- a claim rejected by Moscow--, in his itinerary.
More than 700,000 Afghans leave Iran as economy slows
More than 700,000 undocumented Afghans have returned from Iran this year as the Iranian economy tightens, with a knock-on effect on the Afghan economy, according to data from the U.N.'s migration agency.In a report covering the period up to Dec. 1, the International Organization for Migration said a total of 752,325 Afghans had returned from Iran and Pakistan, including 721,633 from Iran."Undocumented returns from Iran in particular are seeing a massive increase over previous years, largely driven by recent political and economic issues in Iran including massive currency devaluation," the IOM report said.Demand for Afghan labour in Iran's informal economy had drastically fallen, it added."As all Afghans typically send home their earnings in the form of monthly remittances, the Afghan economy itself, already evident in the drought affected provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, is suffering direct and immediate effects."Iranian media reports say many of the Afghans had returned or were seeking to enter Turkey to reach Europe after the fall of the Iranian currency, which has lost about 70 percent of its value this year.Iran emerged in early 2016 from years of global sanctions under a deal with world powers that curbed its disputed nuclear programme.But U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in May, calling it flawed to Iran's advantage, and reimposed far-reaching U.S. sanctions in phases, with the most damaging oil and banking penalties taking effect on Nov. 5.Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Reuters that increasing U.S. pressure on Iran would cause problems for Afghanistan.“The Trump sanctions will put the Iranian economy into a void, and is doing that. (The people) who will first lose a grip on their existence are the Afghan registered and unregistered refugees and migrants," he said.Last month the top U.N. humanitarian official in Afghanistan, Toby Lanzer, told reporters in Geneva that the U.N. had expected up to 700,000 Afghans to return from Pakistan this year, but very few had made the move, while the returns from Iran took the U.N. by surprise.
Traffic in Afghan capital blocked for second day as police battle strongman
Traffic in Kabul was blocked for a second successive day on Tuesday as police exchanged gun and rocket fire with the guards of a local strongman who resisted a police order for his eviction from a home in the Afghan capital's main business area.The incident in one of Kabul's most prosperous localities underlines the struggle of the Western-backed government to control powerful figures, whose armoured cars carrying heavily armed gunmen are a common sight on the city's streets.Afghan officials said at least one policeman was killed and six wounded in the gunbattle with the guards of Tamim Wardak, the owner of a security company whom some officials described as being related to a former defence minister.Government forces finally arrested Wardak and 18 of his armed men, said interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish, after additional forces were despatched to disarm the gunmen and end an impasse that had forced shops and schools nearby to shut.Turkish aid agency helps Afghan women with job skills"One of his guards has been killed, and three wounded, but Wardak and all his men are in custody," Danish added.The confrontation began on Monday afternoon, when Wardak's guards responded to the order for his eviction from a house he had illegally occupied for years by opening fire with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, security officials said.Some security officials in Kabul, who declined to be identified because they were not authorised to talk to the media, said Wardak was a relative of a former defence minister, Rahim Wardak.The former minister was not immediately available to comment.Danish added that the government was working on a plan to close all illegal security companies and round up armed men from all over Afghanistan. Trump asks Pakistan PM for help with Afghan peace talksUS drone kills Taliban commander in Afghanistan