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Revived Attempt At Afghan Peace Talks Between U.S.-Taliban Brings Hope

The Taliban spokesman claimed that besides Baradar's appointment, the Taliban leadership has made “multiple changes” in its military and civilian departments

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Afghanistan
A Taliban fighter sits on his motorcycle adorned with a Taliban flag on a street in Kunduz, Afghanistan. VOA

There are signs of progress in the ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar, leading some to think they could set the stage for a politically negotiated settlement to the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The talks opened Monday with the U.S. team led by Washington’s special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. Pakistani and Qatari envoys also are present.

As the discussions entered a fourth day Thursday, highly placed sources told VOA the two sides have covered “significant” ground in their bid to reach an understanding on the two most difficult issues being negotiated in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state, where the Afghan insurgent group operates its political office.

The Taliban announced at the outset that its representatives would be seeking a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. and NATO-led foreign troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban side would give assurances that Afghan soil would not be used to threaten the United States or any other country.

USA, Afghanistan, Peace Talks
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, now the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, speaks in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2016. VOA

Sources anticipate the Taliban could announce a temporary cease-fire in the event of progress on its key demand of a foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The peace dialogue started last summer and Pakistan reiterated Thursday it has brought the two sides to the table to help find a peaceful end to the increasingly bloody Afghan war. Islamabad insists it has convinced the Taliban to engage in a productive dialogue with the U.S. and the two negotiating teams would be solely responsible for its “success or failure.”

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Pakistan is represented at the talks but gave no further details about any possible breakthrough.

“Pakistan, as part of its shared responsibility, is facilitating the ongoing round of talks between [the] U.S. and the Taliban in Doha. Negotiations are between the two parties, that is the U.S. and the Taliban. Pakistan and Qatar are providing the necessary support and are facilitating the talks,” Mohammad Faisal noted.

Faisal insisted that “taking the Afghan peace process forward remained a shared responsibility.” He went on to say that “ultimately the intra-Afghan dialogue would be vital to agree upon the contours of a future Afghan policy where Afghanistan becomes a stable and prosperous country and at peace with its neighbors.”

Taliban, Afghanistan
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. VOA

It remains unclear whether U.S. negotiators have persuaded Taliban representatives to engage in direct talks with the government. The militants have long opposed recognizing the elected government, insisting it is illegitimate.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also have played their role in influencing the insurgents, and their representatives were present in the last round of U,S.-Taliban talks hosted by Abu Dhabi in December.

Diplomatic sources privy to the current negotiations tell VOA that because the U.S. has already shown willingness to draw down troops from Afghanistan, they believe “the Taliban will also have to concede something for an agreement” to move the process forward. If the Doha dialogue secures “even a limited conditional cease-fire,” the sources say, it would be a major development because it will “practically make a political reconciliation process irreversible.”

New head of Qatar office

Meanwhile, in what some observers call a significant development to win support of military commanders on the ground, the Taliban appointed its co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, as the new head of the Qatar political office conducting the meetings with Khalilzad,

Taliban, afghanistan, peace
Taliban fighters are seen in Shindand district, Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27 2016. VOA

A spokesman for the insurgent group, Zabihullah Mujahid, announced late Thursday that the induction of Baradar is meant to “strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations” with the American side. Additionally, Baradar will also serve as the deputy political affairs to Taliban chief Hibatullah Akundzada, Mujahid wrote in a statement released to media.

“With the appointment of the esteemed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the negotiation team of the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) will continue their talks with the United States and will not bring about any change,” noted the Taliban spokesman.

Baradar hails from southern Afghanistan and he is still believed to be highly respected among the Taliban. He had been under United Nations financial and travel sanctions since February 2001.

Also Read: Afghan Women Fear Recurring Oppression If Taliban Becomes Part Of The Government

The Taliban spokesman claimed that besides Baradar’s appointment, the Taliban leadership has made “multiple changes” in its military and civilian departments “so that the ongoing jihadi process and political efforts can develop positively.”

Baradar, a former Taliban military commander and close associate of the Islamist group’s founding leader Mullah Omar, had been in Pakistan’s custody for more than eight years before he was set free last October at Washington’s request, hoping his involvement in direct peace talks with the insurgent group would boost the peace process.

The senior Afghan insurgent leader was captured in 2010 in a joint raid by Pakistani and American security operatives against his hideout in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. He was the group’s second-in-command at the time of his arrest. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Has A Long To-Do List In Front Of Them

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left

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USA, Budget, Saudi Arabia, List, Gun
The Capitol Hill building is pictured in Washington, Sept. 5, 2019. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet) VOA

U.S. congressional lawmakers return to work this week with a lengthy agenda of contentious issues and only 41 legislative days left in the year to complete it.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House spent the past six weeks vacationing, taking official fact-finding trips and meeting with constituents and financial supporters. They now return to Capitol Hill facing problems that festered in their absence. Arguably the most pressing challenge will be funding the government ahead of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

Here is a list of the problems that will keep lawmakers busy heading into the 2020 presidential and congressional election year.

Budget

Lawmakers have just 13 working days to pass a batch of spending bills before government funding runs out at the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30.

USA, Budget, Saudi Arabia, List, Gun
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., smiles after vote on a hard-won budget deal that would permit the government to resume borrowing to pay all of its obligations and would remove the prospect of a government shutdown in October. VOA

Before the summer recess, the Democratic-controlled House passed 10 of the 12 annual appropriations bills to keep government departments and agencies operating and to fund defense and social service programs.

The Senate will immediately begin work on its version of the dozen spending bills.

In the unlikely event that both chambers manage to approve all 12 bills, House members and senators would have to reconcile differences in their bills before sending them to the White House for the president’s signature.

Congress and the president will almost certainly have to agree on one or more short-term funding bills to keep the government open until differences are worked out.

The last thing Republicans and Democrats want to see is a government shutdown heading into a crucial election year.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) “would be no more than 60 days,” meaning that — just as in 2018 — Congress would run into a budget battle at the end of the year.

Gun control

While Congress was out of session, the nation was wracked by three high-profile mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that renewed the call for legislative action on gun control. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unsuccessfully urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back into session in August.

USA, Budget, Saudi Arabia, List, Gun
President Donald Trump speaks at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The House Judiciary Committee plans to take action this week by drafting new gun control legislation that would, among other things, ban the sale of high-capacity bullet magazines.

The House passed background check legislation in February that has since languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. In the wake of the mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers called for the passage of “red flag laws” that allow law enforcement officials or family members to petition a court to remove weapons from high-risk individuals.

McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview recently that “If the president is in favor of a number of things that he has discussed openly and publicly, and I know that if we pass it, it’ll become law, I’ll put it on the floor.”

But President Donald Trump has provided little clarity on what kind of gun control legislation he would sign, while seemingly towing the line of the National Rifle Association, which opposes any gun control measures.

Trump initially tweeted, “Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people,” only to criticize red flag laws in a subsequent tweet and warn that gun laws are “a slippery slope” that would lead to the end of the Second Amendment. Without the president’s political cover, Senate Republicans are highly unlikely to brave a risky battle to pass such legislation.

Impeachment

The House is returning to work with the majority of the Democratic caucus either calling for impeachment proceedings to begin or stating publicly the president’s actions are deserving of impeachment. To date, 137 of 235 House Democrats and Congressman Justin Amash — the chamber’s lone independent — support impeachment.

 

USA, Budget, Saudi Arabia, List, Gun
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2019. VOA
 Pelosi has so far resisted the push for impeachment, emphasizing the need to win public support for the effort. A July 30 Quinnipiac University poll found that 32% of voters supported Congress beginning the process of impeaching Trump, with 60% of voters saying it should not begin those proceedings.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler muddled that message over the summer recess by telling CNN in an Aug. 8 interview that Democrats’ efforts to obtain evidence through numerous court filings already constituted “formal impeachment proceedings.”

But Democrats agree that a floor vote on impeachment cannot happen until rulings are handed down in numerous court cases in which Democrats are seeking key documents in the investigations into Trump’s finances and foreign dealings.

In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee announced plans to investigate allegations Trump violated campaign finance laws by paying “hush money” to cover up affairs with adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

ALSO READ: Russia Accuses Facebook, Google of Election Interference

Additional issues

Lawmakers could also consider ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — a top priority of Trump’s.

In an August “Dear Colleagues” letter, Pelosi said the House working group was in discussion with the Trump administration about the need to include environmental protections, lower prescription drug costs and strong labor standards among other concerns before the agreement could come up for a vote.

The Senate will also vote on a two-part resolution that will allow lawmakers to demand greater oversight over Trump administration arms sales to Saudi Arabia. (VOA)