Monday December 17, 2018
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12000 NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan

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New Delhi: Entering into its 15 years of turmoil, Afghanistan still needs NATO support to live in a ‘peaceful environment’. Jens Stoltenberg, alliance head of NATO, announced on Wednesday that over 12,000 security troops would stay put in Afghanistan for an extended year till 2016 to eliminate any threat of the country becoming a terrorist safe haven.

The initial plan of the organisation was to vacate Afghanistan by now, but reality seldom matches schedules. Now, NATO is considering to keep troops till next year and extend its funding of the Afghan security forces till 2020.

NATO’s resolute backing assistance and training operation were expected to end this year but Taliban battlefield victories, particularly their recent brief detention of the northern city of Kunduz, stimulated a radical re-think.

Stoltenberg, after a talk with foreign ministers, endorsed the decision and said in an interview with Reuters, “Today, NATO allies and Resolute Support operational partners have agreed to sustain the Resolute Support presence … during 2016.”

The US and NATO forces were to progressively retreat their forces from Afghanistan In 2011 and hand over the undertakings in 2014 to the Afghans. Although, US and NATO troops succeeded in removing themselves from prime focus to a rather supporting role, but they still stayed there in the name of a new mission till 2015 and the timetable has now been stretched further.

The US President Barak Obama had announced from the White House on May 2014, that by the end of 2016, merely a rudimentary force of Americans would persist in Afghanistan. A year and a half later, in October 2015, Obama announced a change in plan that the US would continue with 9,800 US armed forces in the country through “most of 2016” and 5,500 through 2017.

Contrasting the US, NATO never mentioned a time frame to end its “Resolute Support” in the training mission of Afghanistan. The non-combat force comprises of troops from some 40 countries, including NATO members, the US and their partners.

NATO does aim at seeing Afghanistan free of external forces and be self-sufficient to maintain peace in the country not later than 2024 and take “full financial responsibility” for their individual security forces, according to a statement given in 2012 by the forces.

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U.S. Welcomes Pakistan’s Actions Towards Peace in Afghanistan

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan"s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The United States said Saturday it welcomes actions Pakistan is taking to promote a negotiated solution to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

The acknowledgement came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his country has arranged another round of Washington’s peace talks with the Afghan Taliban scheduled for Monday.

“The United States welcomes any actions by the Pakistani government to promote greater cooperation, including fostering negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghans,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Kabul told VOA.

US negotiator

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has met, and will continue to meet, with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan, the spokesperson added.

Neither Khan nor the U.S. spokesperson have disclosed the possible venue for the upcoming meeting with Taliban officials.

Some Afghan sources say Monday’s meeting will take place in Islamabad, but no official confirmation is available.

USA, afghanistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad, who is visiting regional countries to gather support for Afghan peace talks, is to lead the U.S. delegation in talks with insurgent representatives. This will not be the first time Khalilzad has met with the Taliban.

Since taking office in September, the special U.S. envoy has held two publicly known rounds of preliminary discussions with insurgent negotiators in Qatar, where the Taliban runs its so-called political office. The talks have been for the sake of talks, according to insurgent and other sources aware of the meetings.

Trump’s letter to Khan

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote a formal letter to Khan asking for his help to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations. A day later, Khalilzad visited Islamabad where he met with Khan and his military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to follow-up on Trump’s request, Pakistani officials say.

Speaking in northwestern city of Peshawar on Friday, Khan said the U.S. has changed its tune by requesting help instead of saying Islamabad is not doing enough, as U.S. officials have previously insisted.

“By the grace of Allah, the dialogue is now happening inshallah [God willing] on the 17th [Khan did not mention the month] and Pakistan has facilitated the talks between America and the Taliban,” Khan said. He did not share further details.

taliban, afghanistan
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

Khan recounted Friday that critics used to mock him as “Taliban Khan” for saying the Afghan war could not be ended without political negotiations but now all key stakeholders are jointly working to pursue a political settlement to end the violence in Afghanistan.

“If peace were achieved, God willing, Peshawar will change and become a hub of commerce and tourism, as things around the 2,500 years old living city are likely to change,” Khan said Friday.

Ambassador Khalilzad is 13 days into an 18-day visit to the region. He has traveled to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium and plans to visit the U.A.E. and Qatar.

Withdrawal an issue

Pakistani officials privy to the U.S. interaction with the Taliban have told VOA that until now no progress has been achieved because the insurgents adamantly demand “a date or timeframe” for all foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban decides to participate in an intra-Afghan peace process.

Also Read: What to Make of Taliban’s Continued Rare Silence on Ghani’s Peace Offer? 

U.S. officials have long maintained Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan with covert support from the country’s intelligence agency. Washington has been urging Islamabad to use its influence to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

Pakistani officials say their influence over the Taliban has significantly declined over the years because the insurgents have gained control over large areas of Afghanistan and continue to pose serious battlefield challenges for U.S.-backed Afghan security forces. (VOA)