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Afghan Taliban says ‘post-occupation’ discussed with Iran

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Kabul : The Taliban discussed Afghanistan’s “post-occupation situation” with Iran in their latest meeting, the group said , as Tehran makes a more concerted and open push for peace ahead of a possible US drawdown.

The remarks come after Iran confirmed on Monday that the Taliban had visited Tehran for a second round of talks in just a few days that are aimed at ending the 17-year conflict.

The Taliban delegation discussed with Iran “the post-occupation situation, restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region”, the militants said in a statement posted on social media and emailed to journalists.

 

It signals a growing confidence among the Taliban for US troops to pull out of Afghanistan, after US officials last month told various media outlets that President Donald Trump had decided to slash the number of boots on the ground.

There have been reports in the past of talks between Iran and the Taliban, but they have typically been denied by Tehran.

Tehran’s peace push will be viewed with concern by hawks in Washington, who fear that Trump’s planned withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan will cede regional influence to Iran.

The Taliban also met with the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the United Arab Emirates earlier in December as part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to end the war.

But the Taliban refused to meet a delegation from Afghanistan. The group said on Saturday its representatives would not meet “with those of the Kabul administration” at the next meeting expected to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi will travel to Afghanistan in the next two weeks, the foreign ministry said, without giving further details.

Iran and Afghanistan share a nearly 960-kilometre border, and have had a complex relationship in recent years.

Tehran has long supported its co-religionists in Afghanistan, the Shia Hazara minority, who were violently persecuted by the Taliban during its rule in the 1990s.

Iran worked alongside the US and Western powers to help drive out the Taliban after the US-led invasion in 2001.

But there have been allegations, from Western and Afghan sources, that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have in recent years established ties with the Taliban aimed at driving out US forces from Afghanistan.


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International

Imran Khan reshuffles cabinet amidst mounting criticism over govt performance

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Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan reshuffled his Cabinet amidst mounting criticism at the lackluster performance of the government.

The key ministry of interior was assigned to former ISI officer, Brig (retd) Ijaz Shah who was recently appointed as minister for parliamentary affairs.

He was a confidant of former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly named him among three people who were a threat to her life.

 

Shah was elected as a member of Parliament in last year elections.

Azam Swati, who stepped down last year as minister of science and technology for allegedly using his influence over police to register a case against a poor family, made a comeback and appointed as minister for parliamentary affairs.

Among other changes, information minister Fawad Chaudhry was made minister for science and technology and petroleum minister Ghulam Sarwar made minister for aviation.

Mohammad Mian Soomro would cease to hold portfolio of aviation and would be just the minister for privatisation. Minister of State for Interior and Shehryar Afridi was shifted and appointed as Minister of State for States and Frontier Regions.

Dr Zafarullah Mirza was appointed as Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Health Services in place of Amir Kiani who was sacked.

Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan was appointed as Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Nadeem Babar appointed as SAPM on Petroleum Division.

The Prime Minister has not appointed a new finance minister and instead planning to appoint an advisor on finance. Several names were making rounds for the key post. Those being discussed included Dr Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, Dr Hafiz Pasha and Shaukat Tareen. It is the first major reshuffle in the Cabinet since Khan became the prime minister eight months ago.

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213 died in Libya clashes, says WHO

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Washington: A total of 213 people have been killed and 1,009 others injured in the fighting between the UN-backed Libyan government and the east-based Army in and around the capital Tripoli so far, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

“Tripoli toll is now 213 dead and 1,009 wounded. WHO medical teams continue assisting surgical staff at local hospitals,” WHO tweeted.

“Two more ambulances have been damaged. WHO calls on all parties in Libya to protect civilians, health workers and health facilities,” the agency said.

 

The Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, has been leading a military campaign since early April to take over Tripoli where the UN-backed government is based.

Libya has been struggling to make a democratic transition amid insecurity and chaos ever since the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

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Peace talks postponed after Taliban object to size of Afghan delegation

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KABUL: A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.
The talks were set to begin in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”
Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.
“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.
“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid said, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.
The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with US officials.
Ghani said on Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.
A senior government official said Afghan-to-Afghan peace talks are in jeopardy.
The talks between Afghan and Taliban officials at the same table for the first time have been considered a significant first step towards finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The senior official said negotiations went awry after President Ashraf Ghani opposed a list of participants announced by the Qatar government, which is sponsoring the talks. The list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday.
The list differs in part from Ghani’s list of 250 people, according to the senior government official.

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