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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

US Special Rep. for Afghanistan in Qatar amid heightened tensions in Kabul


Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces have escalated over the past week, with the insurgent group taking control of 85% of Afghanistan’s territories.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is returning to Qatar for the Afghan peace talks in hopes of reaching a political settlement, the Department of State announced on Saturday.

“In his travel, Ambassador Khalilzad will continue to engage in determined diplomacy and the pursuit of a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban,” read the statement, stressing the urgency to reach a political agreement in Afghanistan.

Qatar has been facilitating the Afghan peace process since September last year, but the talks have not witnessed any visible progress since then, with tensions continuing to rise in the the Asian country.

“The sooner the sides can agree to a negotiated settlement, the sooner Afghanistan and the region can reap the benefits of peace, including expanded regional connectivity, trade, and development,” said the state department.

Khalilzad departed the US on 9 July and is expected to make several stops in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, where he will be participating in an international conference hosted by the Uzbek government on regional connectivity.

The Washington official’s visit comes at a critical time, with the US withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan after two decades amid rising security concerns in the country over the Taliban’s territorial gains.

“America’s military engagement in Afghanistan is coming to an end. Our commitment to Afghanistan is not. We will work vigorously with all Afghan parties and regional and international stakeholders to try and help the sides find a path to ending this war,” tweeted Khalilzad.

According to Reuters, the Taliban confirmed that they gained control of 85% of Afghanistan territories. However, Afghan government officials dismissed the insurgent group’s claims, saying that it is part of its propaganda campaign launched by the Taliban.

Local Afghan officials also said that the fighters have captured an important district in Herat province as well as Torghundi, a northern town on the border with Turkmenistan.

“Claiming territory or claiming ground doesn’t mean you can sustain that or keep it over time,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the CNN on 9 July.

“And so I think it’s really time for the Afghan forces to get into the field – and they are in the field – and to defend their country, their people,” he added.

Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani held a phone call on Friday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to review the latest developments in Afghanistan.

“Spoke today with Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani about Qatar’s support for Afghanistan peace negotiations and its role in advancing peace and security in the region,” tweeted Blinken.

Humanitarian impact

Meanwhile, an official from the World Health Organization said on Friday that health workers in Afghanistan are struggling to get medicine and supplies into the war-torn country as medical facilities have come under attack, with several workers fleeing the country.

Iran hosts ‘surprise’ Afghan peace talks amid heightened tensions in Kabul

The WHO’s regional emergencies director Rick Brennan said that up to 18.4 million people in Afghanistan now require humanitarian assistance, including 3.1 million children at risk of acute malnutrition.

“We are concerned about our lack of access to be able to provide essential medicines and supplies and we are concerned about attacks on health care,” Brennan told a UN briefing in Geneva.

The WHO official also said that aid is expected to arrive by this week, consisting of 3.5 million Covid-19 vaccine doses vaccine doses and oxygen concentrators. The vaccines include 1.4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s donated by the US and AstraZeneca doses that are being supplied through the COVAX facility.

The US is now scheduled to remove all of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of August instead of the initial September 11 deadline announced by President Joe Biden in April this year.

Some 650 troops will remain in Kabul’s airport and to protect the US embassy in the country.

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