Diplomacy

Afghan government sets sights on remaining challenges to peace

Salaam Times and AFP

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Taliban prisoners change their clothes during the process of potential release from Pul-e-Charkhi prisonon the outskirts of Kabul July 31. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- The Afghan government is working to remove obstacles to peace, say officials, amid the stalled release of Taliban prisoners and an attack on a women's right activist and negotiator.

The release of 400 militants -- expected to be the last step before intra-Afghan talks -- received approval on August 9 by a loya jirga, whose members said they wanted to pave the way for talks to begin in Doha, Qatar, and a possible ceasefire.

So far, a group of 80 prisoners have been freed.

The Taliban have said they will participate in intra-Afghan peace talks once the prisoner release process is completed.

The Afghan government is working to remove challenges in the way of peace, Acting Foreign Minister Muhammad Hanif Atmar said Sunday (August 16).

The international community has some considerations with respect to releasing remaining Taliban prisoners, but the Afghan government is committed to overcoming those challenges and to begin direct talks with the Taliban, he said.

Atmar's comments came after France on Saturday (August 15) asked the Afghan government not to release Taliban prisoners who were convicted of killing French citizens.

"France is particularly concerned by the presence, among the individuals liable to be released, of several terrorists convicted of killing French citizens in Afghanistan," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said earlier last week he had lobbied for a former Afghan army soldier, who went rogue and killed three Australian colleagues, to stay in jail.

Painful memories

The decision to release hundreds of the Taliban's most dangerous prisoners has stirred painful memories for the loved ones of those killed in Afghanistan's war.

President Ashraf Ghani has said the United States-backed release is a necessary development highlighting the "cost" of making peace.

But for some victims' families, it is a step too far.

It "felt like being stabbed in the heart with a knife", said Juma Khan, 77, as he recalled watching Afghan leaders gather to debate and eventually approve the release.

Khan's son, Aziz Ahmad Naween, an IT specialist, was killed in a massive truck bombing near the German embassy in May 2017 while heading to work. He was 24.

"We all want peace, but they never asked for our opinion, the victims," Khan said.

"That was the worst day of my life. I fell unconscious on seeing the body of my young son in a coffin," he told AFP at his home in Kabul.

The Afghan government has already freed about 5,000 Taliban prisoners under a swap fleshed out in a deal between the United States and the insurgents in February.

While the former inmates have pledged not to pick up arms, Ghani acknowledged some of the 400 being released likely "pose a danger both to us and to (America) and to the world".

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday (August 14) he also said that the families of those killed by the militants had paid a heavy price.

"The cost of releasing these 5,000 prisoners meant, among other things, denying justice and healing for the families of those they murdered," Ghani wrote.

"We have paid with our lives -- tens of thousands of Afghan lives, including even our tiniest, most precious and innocent lives," he added.

However, Abdul Rahman Sayed, whose 34-year-old brother Ahmad Farzam was killed in a 2018 attack at Kabul's luxurious Intercontinental Hotel, is ready to forgive and move on for the sake of peace.

"If I, as the brother of a victim of this war, object to releasing the killer of my brother, then this war is going to continue forever," Sayed, a resident of Kandahar, said.

"Now is the time for forgiveness and tolerance," he said.

Attack on Koofi

Meanwhile, trailblazing Afghan women's rights campaigner Fawzia Koofi, a member of the negotiating team that will hold peace talks with the Taliban, was shot and wounded near Kabul, officials said August 15.

Gunmen opened fire on Koofi, 45, and her sister August 14 when they were returning from a meeting in Parwan Province, Interior Affairs Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian told AFP.

Koofi, a former member of parliament and outspoken critic of the Taliban, was shot in her right hand, he said, adding that she was in stable condition.

The Taliban denied involvement.

The shooting drew strong condemnation from Ghani -- who described it as a "cowardly attack", according to his spokesman Sediq Seddiqi.

Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the national reconciliation council, called on Afghan authorities to bring "the perpetrators of the attack to justice".

The chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, condemned the "horrific attack".

"Worrying pattern of targeted attacks that can negatively impact confidence in peace process," she wrote on Twitter.

In recent months, gun attacks against human rights activists and prosecutors have taken place in Kabul.

Koofi survived a previous assassination attempt in 2010, when gunmen fired at her as she was returning to the capital after an International Women's Day event.

She was among the few women in a pan-Afghan delegation that held several rounds of unofficial dialogue with the Taliban in 2019.

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The Afghan government has been too much tolerant of Taliban, but the group has not repented. They kill civilians and militaries every day. The government must take a decisive action against Taliban. Otherwise the situation will get worse.

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What kind of peace is it, which does not come? People have really been tired. It has been a week now since Kunduz-Takhar highway was blocked on the face of travelers, and it has faced the people of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces with difficulties, but the government has not been able to reopen the highway. Taliban must announce the ceasefire, because all the demands of this group were met. The release of the prisoners, withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and other matters of this group with the United States are going forward successfully, but so far the group has not prepared to announce a nationwide ceasefire. Every day, tens of Afghan security forces are cruelly martyred by Taliban. The United States also pulled itself out and left Afghanistan in war. The United States should have brought a peace before it withdrew, because twenty years ago, it overthrew one regime in Afghanistan and replaced it with another, and now the United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan, but it is not clear whether the government will be taken over by Taliban or ISIS. If Taliban regime was bad, why America destroyed it twenty years ago? Before there was even a relative security in this country. Now the situation is very concerning. We ask the international community to handle the problems of Afghanistan; otherwise, the problems of Afghanistan will spread to other countries too.

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