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Afghan Government in Secret Talks with Taliban to end the War in Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has recently concluded a peace deal with the Hizb-e-Islami insurgent faction led by controversial warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

FILE - An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier mans his position at an outpost in Babaji area of Lashkar Gah Helmand province, Afghanistan.VOA

Islamabad, October 18, 2016: Senior Afghan government and Taliban representatives reportedly have held at least two secret meetings in recent days in a bid to resume a long-awaited peace dialogue to end the war in Afghanistan.

A source within the National Unity Government (NUG) in Kabul has confirmed to VOA the interactions took place in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, where Taliban political negotiators are based. But he declined to discuss further details.

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The Guardian newspaper disclosed the ground-breaking meetings in an exclusive article published Tuesday, saying they were held in September and October, in which Afghan intelligence chief Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai sat face-to-face with Mullah Abdull Manan Akhund, brother of the deceased Taliban founder and long-time leader, Mullah Omar.

The British paper quoted an unnamed Taliban official as claiming a senior American diplomat was present in the Qatar meetings, though the U.S. government has not commented on the reported claim.

The main spokesman for the Islamist insurgency, Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by VOA for his reaction to the reported meetings, said he was busy with war-related activities but had seen the newspaper report.

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“I have sought information from our political officials and will share it with you as soon as I get it. Until then, I cannot offer any comments,” Mujahid said when asked about the reported meetings.

A preliminary round of peace talks between the warring sides took place in Pakistan, July of 2015. U.S., Chinese and Pakistani officials were also present, but that process broke down after it was revealed that Taliban chief Mullah Omar had been dead for over two years.

The killing of Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a U.S. drone strike this past May in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, diminished any remaining hopes for resuming the Afghan peace process.

The Taliban, under its new chief, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, has since intensified insurgent activities across Afghanistan, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan security forces and making significant territorial gains.

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has recently concluded a peace deal with the Hizb-e-Islami insurgent faction led by the controversial warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Under the agreement, the second largest rebel group has agreed to quit violence in return for allowing its fugitive leaders, including Hekmatyar to return to Afghanistan and take part in the national political process.

Ghani was able to secure financial pledges of around 15 billion dollars at this month’s donors’ conference in Brussels to sustain the Afghan reconstruction process for the next four years. But partner nations at the meeting underscored the need for a peaceful settlement to the conflict to ensure permanent stability in Afghanistan. (VOA)

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FIFA World Cup 2018: Indian Cuisine becomes the most sought after in Moscow

Indian cuisine in FIFA World cup
Indian dishes available in Moscow during FIFA World Cup 2018, representational image, wikimedia commons

June 17, 2018:

Restaurateurs Prodyut and Sumana Mukherjee have not only brought Indian cuisine to the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018 here but also plan to dish out free dinner to countrymen if Argentina wins the trophy on July 15.

Based in Moscow for the last 27 years, Prodyut and Sumana run two Indian eateries, “Talk Of The Town” and “Fusion Plaza”.

You may like to read more on Indian cuisine: Indian ‘masala’, among other condiments spicing up global food palate.

Both restaurants serve popular Indian dishes like butter chicken, kebabs and a varied vegetarian spread.

During the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

The Mukherjees, hailing from Kolkata, are die-hard fans of Argentina. Despite Albiceleste drawing 1-1 with Iceland in their group opener with Lionel Messi failing to sparkle, they believe Jorge Sampaoli’s team can go the distance.

“I am an Argentina fan. I have booked tickets for a quarterfinal match, a semifinal and of course the final. If Argentina goes on to lift

During the World Cup, there will be 25 per cent discount for those who will possess a Fan ID (required to watch World Cup games).

There will also be gifts and contests on offers during matches in both the restaurants to celebrate the event.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia
FIFA World Cup 2018, Wikimedia Commons.

“We have been waiting for this World Cup. Indians come in large numbers during the World Cup and we wanted these eateries to be a melting point,” he added.

According to Cutting Edge Events, FIFA’s official sales agency in India for the 2018 World Cup, India is amongst the top 10 countries in terms of number of match tickets bought.

Read more about Indian cuisine abroad: Hindoostane Coffee House: London’s First Indian Restaurant.

Prodyut came to Moscow to study engineering and later started working for a pharmaceutical company here before trying his hand in business. Besides running the two restaurants with the help of his wife, he was into the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

“After Russia won the first match of the World Cup, the footfall has gone up considerably. The Indians are also flooding in after the 6-9 p.m. game. That is the time both my restaurants remain full,” Prodyut said.

There are also plans to rope in registered fan clubs of Latin American countries, who will throng the restaurants during matches and then follow it up with after-game parties till the wee hours.

“I did get in touch with some of the fan clubs I had prior idea about. They agreed to come over and celebrate the games at our joints. Those will be gala nights when both eateries will remain open all night for them to enjoy,” Prodyut said.

Watching the World Cup is a dream come true for the couple, Sumana said.

“We want to make the Indians who have come here to witness the spectacle and feel at home too. We always extend a helping hand and since we are from West Bengal, we make special dishes for those who come from Bengal,” she added. (IANS)