Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths

Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths
A deminer holds a mortar bomb as he scans a combat zone in the Afghan province of Bamiyan. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths

Future of talks unclear after Afghan security forces deaths
  • Taliban claim responsibility for assault that killed 25

KABUL: Taliban guerrillas have killed up to 25 members of the Afghan security forces in the Ghazni province, officials said on Sunday.

It is the latest sign of an escalation in attacks by insurgents even as the fate of peace talks with the US remains unclear.

While members of the provincial council of Ghazni said that 25 local military staff on the payroll of the Defense Ministry died in the assault on Saturday in the Qarabagh district, the ministry put the losses at nine.

There were conflicting accounts about the nature of the attack.

A ministry spokesman in Kabul said that the incident may have been caused by a group of Taliban infiltrators or defectors. 

He said that an investigation had been launched to determine the exact cause of the incident.

Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni’s provincial council, told Arab News that the insurgents had stormed the security forces’ posts when they were asleep. 

The Taliban also said that militants had staged attacks on the posts, putting deaths among the forces at 32.

“Our information suggests that 25 local military forces were killed in this attack; it is a big tragedy,” Faqiri said.

Ghazni lies on a strategic highway linking Kabul with the southern region and beyond and has been the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting since the start of the year between the Taliban and Afghan forces, backed by US-led troops.

In the face of rising Taliban attacks and as part of a move to stop forces being overstretched and instead serve as a mobile unit, the Defense Ministry established the local military force last year in some parts of the country.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The talks resumed last week after US President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to Bagram more than two weeks ago.

• Trump pushed for a resumption after calling off talks in September following the death of an American soldier in Kabul.

The force is supposed to be composed of former and retired army officers and act as a local police force. Its creation has been controversial in Afghanistan because members can misuse their power in a tribally divided country.

The reported toll of the latest Taliban attack in Qarabagh is the highest in a single strike since Thursday when US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced a pause in the talks with militants following the latter’s abortive massive assault on a US-run major base in Bagram.

Khalilzad expressed outrage about the attack.

The talks resumed last week after President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit to Bagram more than two weeks ago. Trump pushed for a resumption after calling off talks in September following the death of an American soldier in a Taliban attack in Kabul.

Trump has said that a truce is a must for the resumption of the talks, a key demand of President Ashraf Ghani who was left out of all rounds of the discussions.

However, Khalilzad and some other US officials have spoken about a reduction in violence.

Dr. Wais Wardak, an Afghan analyst based in the US, said that in a clear change of policy, Washington was pushing for a truce as a pre-condition.

“I think this time the peace negotiations with the Taliban are more challenging than the previous nine rounds,” he told Arab News.

“This time, a cease-fire or reduction of violence has become a priority for Washington and its European allies who want a clear and pragmatic commitment from the Taliban that they are serious about the peace process …”

Dr. Wardak added: “On the other hand, just like Khalilzad, the Taliban negotiators in Qatar are also under a different sort of pressure from those Taliban who see their interest in fighting rather than peace or diplomacy. Their logic is that fighting is the only means they have at their disposal and that’s how they can assert pressure on the NATO, Afghan government and the Afghan people, which could ultimately land them a better deal.”

The Taliban have rejected a truce in the past, arguing that the group will observe it only after US commits itself to a timetable for withdrawal from the country.

“The talks are in a state of limbo now. The rising of Taliban attacks may have more negative impact on the talks,” Taj Mohammed Ahmadzada, another analyst, said in Kabul.


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 35 min 17 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”