Sunday January 20, 2019
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Yet another attack on Indian Consulate in Afghan city of Jalalabad

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Photo: http://newsworldindia.in/

A suicide attack targeted India’s diplomatic compound in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, with explosions and gunfire rattling the area.

A suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-filled vehicle outside the entrance gates of the Indian consulate compound at about noon (local time), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Smaller explosions and gunfire followed as other militants attempted to storm into the compound after the initial blast.

RFE/RL’s correspondent reported seeing the bodies of four dead gunmen on the ground outside the compound walls after their battle with security forces ended.

Authorities said later that five gunmen and the suicide car bomber were killed.

They said two civilians were killed in the violence and 19 were injured.

In New Delhi, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said the “consulate has been targeted but everyone is safe” within the compound, which is in a neighborhood that also includes diplomatic offices of other countries.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but both the Taliban and rival Islamic State (IS) militants have a strong presence in the area.

In fact, IS militants have had a growing presence in Nangarhar province during the past year and are challenging the Taliban there.

The diplomatic quarter in Jalalabad, the capital of the province, has been repeatedly attacked in recent months.

In January, IS militants claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Pakistan’s consulate in Jalalabad – the first major IS attack in the city.

India helped overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan.

But New Delhi’s presence in Afghanistan has irked Islamabad, which has previously alleged that India’s intelligence agency works undercover in the country to undermine Pakistan.

India’s embassy in Kabul was targeted by a suicide car bomber in July 2008 in an attack that killed 58 people.

U.S. intelligence officials suggested that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency played a role in the attack – an allegation that Islamabad strongly denies.

Wednesday’s attack in Jalalabad came as U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson formally took over command of NATO-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Nicholson replaced the outgoing Gen. John Campbell, who told reporters in Kabul that there “is still much work to be done” in Afghanistan.

Campbell said Afghan security forces have “come far, but they still need” NATO’s help.

Delegates from Afghanistan, China, the United States, and Pakistan said after meeting in Kabul last week that direct peace talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul were expected to start in Islamabad during the first week of March.

But since that announcement, Taliban militants have increased their attacks across Afghanistan — prompting President Ashraf Ghani to say that his government would not negotiate with extremists who kill innocent Afghan civilians.

Published with permission from BenarNews.

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Pakistan Increases Efforts To Save The U.S.-Afghanistan Peace Talks

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Imran going around world begging for funds: Sindh CM, VOA

Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.

The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua led their respective delegations in talks in Islamabad, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.

It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”

Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.

Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.

“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.

The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.

Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.

He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.

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A general view of the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, May 2, 2015, site of several past negotioations with the Taliban. VOA

The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.

Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.

The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.

Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.

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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

Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.

U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.

Also Read: Peace Talks With The U.S. Stalled: Taliban

“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication. (VOA)