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Imran Khan: Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan, but we will not host US bases

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Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States — but as US troops withdraw, we will avoid risking further conflict, writes Imran Khan.

Our countries have the same interest in that long-suffering country: a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists. We oppose any military takeover of Afghanistan, which will lead only to decades of civil war, as the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and yet must be included in any government for it to succeed.

In the past, Pakistan made a mistake by choosing between warring Afghan parties, but we have learned from that experience. We have no favorites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from the outside.

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Our country has suffered so much from the wars in Afghanistan. More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the United States provided $20 billion in aid, losses to the Pakistani economy have exceeded $150bn. Tourism and investment dried up. After joining the US effort, Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups. US drone attacks, which I warned against, didn’t win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries.

While I argued for years that there was no military solution in Afghanistan, the United States pressured Pakistan for the very first time to send our troops into the semiautonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, in the false expectation that it would end the insurgency. It didn’t, but it did internally displace half the population of the tribal areas, 1 million people in North Waziristan alone, with billions of dollars of damage done and whole villages destroyed. The “collateral” damage to civilians in that incursion led to suicide attacks against the Pakistani army, killing many more soldiers than the United States lost in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, while breeding even more terrorism against us. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, 500 Pakistani policemen were murdered.

There are more than 3 million Afghan refugees in our country — if there is further civil war, instead of a political settlement, there will be many more refugees, destabilizing and further impoverishing the frontier areas on our border. Most of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group — and more than half the Pashtuns live on our side of the border. We are even now fencing this historically open border almost completely.

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If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again. We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price. Meanwhile, if the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?

The interests of Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan are the same. We want a negotiated peace, not civil war. We need stability and an end to terrorism aimed at both our countries. We support an agreement that preserves the development gains made in Afghanistan in the past two decades. And we want economic development, and increased trade and connectivity in Central Asia, to lift our economy. We will all go down the drain if there is further civil war.

This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government. We know that if the Taliban tries to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed. We hope the Afghan government will also show more flexibility in the talks, and stop blaming Pakistan, as we are doing everything we can short of military action.

This is also why we were part of the recent Extended Troika” joint statements, along with Russia, China and the United States, unambiguously declaring that any effort to impose a government by force in Kabul would be opposed by us all, and also would deprive Afghanistan access to the foreign assistance it will need.

These joint statements mark the first time four of Afghanistan’s neighbors and partners have spoken with one voice on what a political settlement should look like. This could also lead to a new regional compact for peace and development in the region, which could include a requirement to share intelligence and work with the Afghan government to counter emergent terrorist threats. Afghanistan’s neighbors would pledge not to allow their territory to be used against Afghanistan or any other country, and Afghanistan would pledge the same. The compact could also lead to a commitment to help Afghans rebuild their country

I believe that promoting economic connectivity and regional trade is the key to lasting peace and security in Afghanistan. Further military action is futile. If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, once synonymous with the “Great Game” and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional co-operation.

Imran Khan is the prime minister of Pakistan. First published in The Washington Post.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: MEPs discuss what to do next

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People at risk following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan should be given help, MEPs said in a debate on the country’s future, World.

Members stressed the need for the EU to help people leave the country safely in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power, during the debate on 14 September. “All those in the focus of the Taliban - whether they are activists, women’s rights advocates, teachers or civil servants, journalists - we have to ensure that they can come to us,” said Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany).” He also said neighbouring countries must be supported in helping the arriving refugees.

Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, Spain) said it is important to look at how to stabilise the country and protect the rights of Afghans. “We have established a centre in Madrid to support those who worked with us in Afghanistan and their families and relations and we need to do much more of this and establish a proper humanitarian corridor supported by the External Action Service so that the thousands of people who are still in Afghanistan can get the requisite visas and leave the country safely.”

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Mick Wallace (the Left/Ireland) deplored the fact that the fight against terrorism has led to innocent people being killed or forced to migrate. “Europe now needs to provide sustainable refuge to those who have fled the mess we helped to create.”

“What we have seen in Afghanistan is certainly a tragedy for the Afghan people, a setback for the West and a potential game-changer for international relations," said foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

“To have any chance of influencing events, we have no other option but to engage with the Taliban,” he added, explaining that engagement doesn’t mean recognition.

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Some of the speakers during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan
Some of the speakers during the debate  

Other MEPs said it was not only about getting people out of Afghanistan, but also about looking after those remaining in the country. "We have to secure the lives of Afghan change makers and civil activists and to save millions facing poverty and famine," said Petras Auštrevičius (Renew, Lithuania). "Afghanistan should not be led by radical mullahs, but by the educated, open-minded and (those) oriented towards the common good of Afghans."

Jérôme Rivière (ID, France) looked beyond Afghanistan to the impact on the EU. “Member states have to protect themselves and to protect their populations. The people of Europe should not be subjected to more migration such as the one that followed Syrian conflict. Like you, I am concerned about the fate of civilians and women in Afghanistan and I do not like to see the Islamists rise to power, but I refuse another wave of migration from Afghanistan.”

Tineke Strik (Greens/EFA, the Netherlands) suggested it is time to reflect and learn from this debacle to create a stronger and effective foreign policy. “The Afghan people face an enormous humanitarian disaster, shortages of food, water and other basic needs. Those Afghan people were counting on us. So let us do whatever we can to protect them against the Taliban terror,” she said, calling for EU-coordinated evacuations, humanitarian visas and access to aid. “Help the people and prevent any type of recognition of the Taliban as long as human rights are at risk," she said.


Anna Fotyga (ECR, Poland) called for a multilateral, international approach to Afghanistan, as was done 20 years ago: “I think that multilateralism is the way to solve this problem. Now we have to have as broad as possible efforts and a concrete strategy for Afghanistan.”

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Afghanistan

EU says it has no option but to talk to Taliban

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The European Union has no option but to talk to Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers and Brussels will try to coordinate with member governments to organize a diplomatic presence in Kabul, the top EU diplomat said on Tuesday (14 September), writes Robin Emmott, Reuters.

"The Afghan crisis is not over," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (pictured) told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. "To have any chance of influencing events, we have no other option but to engage with the Taliban."

EU foreign ministers have set conditions for re-establishing humanitarian aid and diplomatic ties with the Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan on 15 August, including respect for human rights, particularly women's rights.

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"Maybe it's a pure oxymoron to talk about human rights but this is what we have to ask them," he said.

Borrell told EU lawmakers that the bloc should be prepared to see Afghans trying to reach Europe if the Taliban allow people to leave, although he said he did not expect migration flows to be as high as in 2015 caused by Syria's civil war.

The European Commission plans to secure funding from EU governments and the common budget of €300 million($355m) both this year and next to pave the way for resettlement of around 30,000 Afghans.

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Afghanistan

Taliban deny their deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar, is dead

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Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, speaks during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari

The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders has been killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumours about internal splits in the movement nearly a month after its lightning victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul, writes James Mackenzie, Reuters.

Sulail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, issued a voice message rejecting claims he had been killed or injured in a clash.

"He says it is lies and totally baseless," Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.

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The Taliban also released video footage purportedly showing Baradar at meetings in the southern city of Kandahar. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

The denials follow days of rumours that supporters of Baradar had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the border with Pakistan and was blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.

The rumours follow speculation over possible rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the United States.

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The Taliban have repeatedly denied the speculation over internal divisions.

Baradar, once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time and was not part of the ministerial delegation which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.

The movement's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has also not been seen in public since the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.

Speculation over Taliban leaders has been fed by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement's founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, setting off bitter recriminations among the leadership.

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