Afghan peace parley faces gridlock over cease-fire

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The invigorated yet delicate peace talks in Afghanistan face a gridlock as the warring parties fail to pick between cease-fire and a reduction in violence as the way forward.

Sources privy to the developments told Anadolu Agency the Taliban are only inclined toward "reduction in violence" with little or no explanation of what would this amount to.

The Afghan government, however, stands firm on the demand for an all-out ceasefire ahead of the resumption of a formal peace parley.

– Moving from formal parleys to private dialogue

Washington’s top man for these talks, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, met in private with Taliban’s deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Qatari capital Doha last week. This was the first time they met since formal talks between them were suspended following a Taliban attack on the biggest American base, Bagram airfield in the war-ravaged country in December.

“I underscore once again that a meeting between Ambassador Khalilzad and Taliban does not mean the talks have resumed, but it would be just to listen to them [Taliban] what they have to say after internal consultations with their leadership in Pakistan,” a western diplomat in Kabul told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.

In September 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a proposed peace deal with the insurgents last minute over the killing of a U.S. soldier in the Afghan capital Kabul. As per non-classified figures by the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, at least 20 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2019.

Prior to this, Khalilzad had almost clinched a deal — disliked by the Kabul government — with the insurgents after a marathon nine-month round of talks in Qatar.

The latest casualty for the Americans came on Jan. 11 when at least two U.S. service members were killed and two others wounded when their military convoy vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in the restive southern Kandahar province.

“The Taliban continue to resist stopping the violence, before they secure an outcome from negotiations, which is their return to power. They seek to recreate the Emirate [Taliban regime 1996-2001], in which they are dominant party ruling Afghanistan,” the diplomat said.

Taliban’s Qatar office spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, declined to comment on the recent developments.

– 2020, year of happenings

In the views of Nicholas Kay, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, the year 2020 should be a different year for Afghanistan.

“We welcome all efforts toward a cease-fire/reduction in violence. It is an integral part of building confidence between parties to the conflict. But it's also something the Afghan people have been demanding for some time. Those demands must be finally met,” he told Anadolu Agency.

The U.S. presidential elections are due for 2020 while the final results for the Sept. 28 Afghan presidential polls are also expected this year.

A former insurgent commander with close ties to the Taliban in east of Afghanistan, however, played down prospects for a quick-fix in the raging Afghan conflict now in its 19th year amid a volatile regional situation.

“The conflict has been evolving into a Cold War of new sort between the U.S. and the Russian camp with Iran and Pakistan backing the Taliban politically and militarily,” said the foreign rebel leader who asked not to be named.

He also pointed toward differences in at least three major groups within the Taliban, the Quetta Shura, the Peshawar Shura and the Miranshah Shura, with sometimes diverging views further complicating the likelihood of a cease-fire.

The killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike has further added to the already strained regional situation with voices of concerns rising in Afghanistan about a dreadful spillover of Tehran’s anger at the Americans deployed here.

Afghanistan’s former spymaster, Rahmatullah Nabil, has warned of dire consequences if a peace deal is not reached before spring 2020.

In a series of tweets, he said given the recent developments in the region, if the U.S.-Taliban peace deal is not finalized by this spring/summer and Afghan political elite failed to form a national consensus based on national interests, it will not be a surprise that the Taliban may be provided man-portable air-defense systems, which will be a game changer for them in the Afghan conflict.

Back in the 1980s, it was the U.S. Stinger missiles supplied to the Afghan Mujahideen that turned the tables on the then pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.

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By Handan Kazanci

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey on Thursday confirmed 926 additional recoveries as the country began easing measures against the novel coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister.

The total number of recoveries from the disease hit 131,778 as 926 more patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data.

The country's death toll from the outbreak rose to 4,630 as Turkey reported 21 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Turkey conducted over 54,000 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to more than 2.2 million, said Koca.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to resume international flights to 40 countries gradually as of June 10, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said Thursday.

International flights from Turkey will carry passengers first to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece, Karaismailoglu said in a statement.

Turkey suspended all international flights on March 28 amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions worldwide.

- Global coronavirus developments

A low death toll was once again recorded Thursday as France recovers from the coronavirus pandemic which plagued the country over the last three months, according to the latest statistics reported by the Health Ministry.

The country registered a total of 46 deaths in hospitals Thursday, a drop of 39 cases over those reported Wednesday.

Italy on Thursday reported 88 more fatalities from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 33,689 as authorities unveiled new guidelines to prevent crowded summer spots like beach resorts from becoming new virus hotbeds.

The slowing trend in the number of deaths registered in May continued in early June, confirming that the peak of the crisis has been passed.

Face masks on English public transport will be mandatory from June 15, the British government announced Thursday, as a further 176 people died from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

British authorities announced that the UK-wide death toll from COVID-19 is now 39,904.

As Spain prepares for its state of emergency over COVID-19 to last until June 21, the Health Ministry reported Thursday that 195 more people were infected with the coronavirus and five more had died.

The number of infections diagnosed Wednesday was down slightly from the 219 people who tested positive Tuesday but up from Monday and Sunday. In total, 240,660 infections have been confirmed in the country.

Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza announced Thursday the arrival of medical supplies sent by Turkey to help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines had been delivered for detecting the virus.

- George Floyd Memorial service

Hundreds of mourners on Thursday attended the first of several memorials for George Floyd – an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

The service at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota was attended by Floyd's family and Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the family, as well as celebrity guests.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged demonstrators joining protests over the death of George Floyd to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Speaking at his daily press briefing, Cuomo said around 30,000 people have taken part in the statewide protests demanding justice for the killing of the unarmed black man in police custody.

Of them, 20,000 were involved in rallies in New York City.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens not to overlook the racism problem in Germany while intensely discussing racism and police brutality in the US after the death of George Floyd.

"This murder of George Floyd is very, very terrible. Racism is something terrible,” Merkel said Thursday evening in an exclusive interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

“Racism has always been present, but sadly we also have this [problem]. We should first sweep in front of our own door,” she stressed.

- Other developments

Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including exploration and drilling activities, to further benefit from natural resources, Turkey’s president said in a meeting with Libya’s prime minister Thursday.

The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj took place at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have reached a consensus on expanding their cooperation areas on the territory of Libya.