Afghan leader visits Pakistan to discuss peace

Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. (AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2020

Afghan leader visits Pakistan to discuss peace

  • ‘No link’ with Doha talks stalemate, says spokesman

KABUL: A top Afghan politician will travel to Pakistan on Monday to strengthen bilateral ties and discuss the ongoing peace process with the Taliban, officials said on Sunday.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who is chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, is expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, lawmakers, and “could hold talks with military leaders” during his three-day visit to Pakistan.

“The goal of the trip is to seek regional cooperation for the strengthening of the peace process, bilateral relations, regional consensus and requesting cooperation and assistance to bear fruit for peace and cease aid for terroristic groups,” Faraidoon Khawzoon, Abdullah’s spokesman, said.

The visit follows an invitation from Khan and takes place amid ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha.

Talks between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators began on Sept. 12, but they have failed to make headway due to a lack of consensus on the agenda and terms and conditions for the agreement.

Khawzoon said Abdullah’s trip had “no link with the stalemate in the talks,” which were initially set to take place in March this year based on a historic peace deal that was signed between the US and the Taliban.

The February accord is expected to lead to the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from Afghanistan by next spring.

Experts said that there was more to Abdullah’s Pakistan visit than met the eye.

Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan government adviser, said that with US President Donald Trump pushing for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, Pakistan wanted to play a positive role in ensuring stability in Afghanistan so that the millions of refugees living on its soil could return home.

“With every deadlock in peace talks such as the current one in Qatar, Pakistan gets a chance to exhibit its influence on Afghan affairs if it can reason (with) the Taliban for some compromise,” he told Arab News.

He added that Islamabad was also worried about the role and impact of “peace spoilers” on the Qatar talks.

“The spoilers, supported by Pakistan’s foes, might take the current Doha talks off its course … Therefore, Pakistan advises everyone to stay the course and Pakistan will work in time toward stability in Afghanistan with a friendly government in Kabul.”

Kabul negotiators at the Qatar talks insist that the Taliban must announce a cease-fire before signing any agreement, while the Taliban say that the issue can be included in the agenda. 

Both parties have yet to draw up a framework for the discussions before engaging in serious talks to end decades of conflict in Afghanistan.

Abdullah’s visit comes after a call between Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday when the Pakistani leader urged all Afghan stakeholders to seize the “historic opportunity” and work toward an inclusive and comprehensive political agreement.

He added that Pakistan would fully support the decisions made by the Afghan people regarding their future.

“In his call, Prime Minister Khan stressed that his country supports a cease-fire for enduring peace in Afghanistan,” Ghani’s office said on Friday. “President Ghani extended an invitation to the prime minister for a visit to Afghanistan which was accepted by the prime minister.”


US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 31 October 2020

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.