table. Pakistan for its part has used its diminished but still significant influence over the Taliban to ensure that they do not undermine the delicate peace process by escalating hostilities to unacceptable levels. So far the main parties have generally adhered to swap of hundreds of prisoners and are close to meeting each other’s complete demand-list in this regard thus crossing another signpost. The Taliban have met Pakistani officials last week in Islamabad whereas the Trump administration has been wielding their clout over Kabul to keep them positively engaged in the process. This delicate diplomatic dance may become a complex tango when an intraAfghan dialogue starts. The date has already been shifted from 2nd of September to another day when the prisoner swap is completed. This dialogue, whenever it starts, means that all ethnic and political shades will form a composite team that will talk to the Taliban, who themselves have to bring with them all the representatives of groups fighting Kabul. The outcome of this phase is crucial to hammer out broad outlines of a peace deal. Pakistani officials believe that for the process to have come thus far itself is a remarkable thing. Predictably, they give much credit to themselves for keeping the Taliban in the game of negotiations. That may be so, but Pakistan’s own interests in stabilising Afghanistan are deep. These interests now coincide with the Trump administration’s desperation for a marketable foreign policy success close to the elections. If the Americans leave Afghanistan without any commitment to manage what follows in the wake of the withdrawal, Pakistan will bear the extreme brunt of it. Spread of violence will inevitably spill onto Pakistan territory. Ideological brothers inside Pakistan Terror groups operating as free agents and mercenaries can bring their deadly agendas to its soil. This in turn can increase Pakistan’s dependence on the Taliban to manage its northwestern border. This can be a dangerous proposition as their ideological brothers inside Pakistan will be hard to control. Pakistan has experienced in the 90s how the Taliban rule in Afghanistan promotes right wing forces in its own backyard and what grim social political consequences it entails. More important, a solid face-saver to Washington in the shape of a peace deal can go a long way to prove Pakistan’s credentials as a being part of the solution undermining the virulent criticism of detractors at the Capitol Hill that Islamabad is part of the problem. brought back, leaving a very light intel In sum, Islamabad needs this peace and operational footprint in process to succeed as much as the Afghanistan. Trump administration does or even the His intelligence and defence subordinates Taliban do, since they see a free and don’t submit to this goal. They see open political space for them extending this as a disastrous rollback of US military all the way to Kabul once the Americans power from a crucial region where leave. China and Russia continue to expand But this winding road is littered with their zones of influence. roadblocks. Start with the Kabul government. India, Pakistan’s arch rival, would not Ashraf Ghani sees himself being want to see Pakistan come out of the reduced to invisibility in the big matrix process smelling like roses and the rise of these negotiations. of the Taliban to cause its diplomatic The Taliban refuse to recognise his and military investment of decades in government as a legitimate entity. With Kabul to come to nothing. truncated influence and a diminishing The intra-Afghan dialogue itself has US backing, Ashraf Ghani and his close tricky hurdles to jump over. There are associates want to ensure that the un-answered questions about US withdrawal, Taliban don’t get an easy deal from all of interim set-up, new elections this. and before these, modifications in the Intrusive toehold in Afghanistan Afghanistan constitution to accommodate In fact, they want the Americans to new ground realities. maintain an intrusive toehold in More certain past peace attempts have Afghanistan so that the Taliban’s fallen apart on less complex grounds expanding power has a counterweight in than the one Afghanistan is experiencing place. at present. As always Afghanistan’s Interestingly, not everyone in the US negotiators and their guarantors, wants to cut a deal and run. There is a including Pakistan, are skating on very tug of war between President Trump thin ice. and the US deep state on how much Their ardent hope is that the fragile should Washington concede in this surface does not crack till the final round peace process. is over. As always there are no guarantees President Trump wants to win an election and wants every US soldier to be that it won’t. Russian invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, this unfortunate country has petitioned for peace and normality at least a dozen times only to relapse into more chaos and mayhem. There are good reasons, therefore, to be sceptical about the latest attempts at forging a peace deal between the Taliban and the Kabul government that may allow a final US troops withdrawal and the beginning of another phase of healing and reconstruction of a torn and broken.But Pakistani officials are unusually upbeat about the outcome. The country’s military and intelligence heads are pushing hard to keep the process going and sources close to them say that the progress is notable. Much of this optimism grows out of recent developments starting from the agreement between the Americans and the Taliban February this year. The agreement on conditional US pull out in return for reduction in violence, among other things, bound Kabul’s recalcitrant government led by the duelling duo Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah not to leave the negotiating Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan after gaining independence implemented new land policy and land reforms. The collapse of the dependent economic system of the Soviet Union drove Azerbaijan, like other republics, to a grave economic crisis. The only right way to get the republic out of this crisis was to form the economy with new economic bases in a short time, supplying the population with agricultural products and food. To assure all this it needed to carry out land reforms. Like all other issues important to start the new life of independent Azerbaijan, the implementation of land reforms is linked to the name of great leader Heydar Aliyev. On 15 June 1993, Heydar Aliyev was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan, and on 24 June, by a resolution of the National Assembly, he proceeded to fulfill the authorities of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. On October 3, 1993, as a result of the nationwide vote, Heydar Aliyev was elected President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Independent state building, ensuring security and territorial integrity, restoration of the economy, democratic development, the establishment of international relations of Azerbaijan, and its integration into the world community were the key priorities of Heydar Aliyev’s national development strategy. The great leader initiated and led the development of land reform programmes after long discussions and the legal base was created in the base of this programme for implementing land reforms. In 1993-2003, under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev agrarian reforms and land reforms were carried out in the Republic of Azerbaijan, development of agriculture, production of agricultural outputs intensified, First, material welfare of producers lifted, production conditions improved, wish of Azerbaijani ploughman to become a landowner come true, lands were freely given to villager serves as Azerbaijan's central bank, empowered to issue of national currency, the Azerbaijani manat, and to supervise all commercial banks. The first years of independence were extremely difficult for the Republic of Azerbaijan. The country was facing Armenia’s expanding aggression and the collapse of the economy. By the end of the hostilities in 1994, Armenians illegally controlled up to 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh itself. During the war many atrocities were committed including the massacres at Malibeyli and Gushchular, the Garadaghly massacre, the Agdaban, and the Khojaly genocide. Furthermore, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed and more than a million have been displaced. Four United Nations Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874, and 884) demanded "the immediate withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan. In the first years of its independence, i.e. till 1993 economy of Azerbaijan was seriously damaged by frequent change of political power, incompetence of the power, anarchy, and chaos. On the other hand, the involvement of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the war by Armenia, arrival of refugees from occupied districts in other districts, spending fantastic money on military operations hardly damaged the economy that was on the edge of crisis. These processes left the country in the mid 1993 face to face with civil war and collapse. As a result of a crisis in the government, the country was on the verge of a civil war and faced the peril of losing independence, the people of Azerbaijan demanded to bring Heydar Aliyev to power, and the then leaders of Azerbaijan were obliged to officially invite Heydar Aliyev to Baku. Just in such a critical moment national leader Heydar Aliyev began fulfilling his historical mission – the salvation of and new land-ploughman relations promoted. After 1993 the people of Azerbaijan were saved from economic crisis, military-political confrontation, social decline, cultural depression, and moral erosion. To turn an independent Azerbaijan into a modern, powerful state with sustainable economic development, national leader Heydar Aliyev determined the oil strategy, which was the base for the fundamental transformation of the political and economic reforms. This strategy ensured the involvement of foreign investors in the development of Azerbaijan’s oil fields, diversification of routes of transportation of crude oil, effective management of oil revenues and Azerbaijan`s entry into a new stage of development.--- Two-thirds of Azerbaijan is rich in oil and natural gas and there are many pipelines in Azerbaijan. Under the leadership H.E Heydar Aliyev, one of the landmark agreements in Azerbaijan`s 20th-century history due to its political, economic and strategic importance - the Agreement on the Joint Development and Production Sharing for the Azeri and Chirag Fields and the Gunashli Field in the Azerbaijani Sector of the Caspian Sea“The Contract of the Century” was signed on September 20, 1994. The $7.4 billion agreement involved 11 international oil companies (AMOCO, BP, McDermott, UNOCAL, SOCAR, Lukoil, Statoil, TPAO, Pennzoil, Ramco, Delta) representing 7 countries (Azerbaijan, USA, UK, Russia, Turkey, Norway, and Saudi Arabia) as contractor parties. They soon established several working structures - the Steering Committee, Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), and the Advisory Council. The Contract of the Century was ratified on December 12, 1994, by the parliament of Azerbaijan. Although according to initial evaluations Azeri, Chirag fields, and Deepwater part of the Gunashli field had 511,000,000 tons of crude oil, further evaluations set oil reserves at 1,072,000,000 tons. The Contract of the Century paved the way for the signing of another 26 contracts with 41 oil companies from 19 countries. The structural formation of Azerbaijan's political system was completed by the adoption of the new Constitution on 12 November 1995. According to Article 23 of the Constitution, the state symbols of the Azerbaijan Republic are the flag, the coat of arms, and the national anthem. The state power in Azerbaijan is limited only by law for internal issues, but for international affairs is additionally limited by the provisions of international agreements. The Constitution of Azerbaijan states that it is a presidential republic with three branches of power – Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The legislative power is held by the unicameral National Assembly and the Supreme National Assembly in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The Parliament of Azerbaijan, called Milli Majlis, consists of 125 deputies elected based on majority vote, with a term of 5 years for each elected member. The elections are held every five years, on the first Sunday of November. The Parliament is not responsible for the formation of the government, but the Constitution requires the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers by Milli Majlis. Despite facing many initial issues Azerbaijan has risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the form of a sovereign diplomatic state having friendly diplomatic ties with many countries including Pakistan. Azerbaijan’s balanced foreign policy and great policies under the leadership of Heydar Aliyev has helped it to tackle all its problems faced in the early 1990s. of Soviet Union Azerbaijan gained independence in 1991, despite facing many problems in the early 1990s. Azerbaijan was able to tackle them and preserved its national integrity along with forming a balanced foreign policy. On October 18, 1991, when Azerbaijan gained its independence it declared itself the political and legal successor of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and demonstrated its commitment to its ancient traditions of statehood. Soon it restored state symbols of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The Armed Forces of the Republic of Azerbaijan were created according to the Law on the Armed Forces of 9 October 1991. Soon after independence, Azerbaijan became a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. The banking system of Azerbaijan consists of the Central Bank of Azerbaijan, commercial banks, and non-banking credit organizations. The National (now Central) Bank was created in 1992 based on the Azerbaijan State Savings Bank, an affiliate of the former State Savings Bank of the USSR. The Central Bank against the decision of Loya Jirga. Moreover, Afghan government has also accused Taliban for not releasing its prisoners. “If we take this bold step, releasing all these guys, all these bad people, why are the Taliban not releasing our captives, which is a very small number?” government spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi told The Associated Press. Negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan authorities were expected within days of Loya Jirga’s approval of the release of 400 Taliban prisoners. While Afghan authorities freed 80 Taliban prisoners on August 13, there have been no further releases since then. President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said "two countries had shared their concerns and reservations" about six or seven prisoners among the 400. "The Afghan government is working with its partners to address the concerns about these prisoners," he told reporters. France is "firmly opposed to the liberation of individuals sentenced for crimes against French nationals, especially soldiers and humanitarian workers," the French foreign ministry said on August 15. "We have consequently asked Afghan authorities not to proceed with the liberation of these terrorists." Bettina Goislard, a French employee of the UN's refugee agency, was murdered by two Taliban militants in 2003, and a former Afghan soldier had killed five French troops and injured 13 others in 2012 in Kapisa province. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said he had lobbied against the release of a former Afghan army soldier who went rogue and killed three Australian partners. President Ashraf Ghani has himself warned that the 400 militants were a "danger to the world". Their release is part of a prisoner swap agreed in February between the Taliban and Washington as a precondition for peace talks. That deal stipulated that Kabul release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held by the militants. Afghan authorities say they too have released almost all prisoners, except those remaining from the 400. The Taliban claim to have released all the 1,000 captives, but Sediqqi said the insurgents were still holding some Afghan soldiers. "They should have completed this release by now. This exchange cannot be a one-way road," Sediqqi said, adding Taliban violence remained "very high". The Taliban have said they are willing to begin peace talks "within a week" after all 400 prisoners are freed, and blamed Kabul for delaying the negotiations. "The matter is stalled because the other side is not releasing the remaining prisoners despite promises," Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP. Distracted by multiple other happenings and with declining interest in Afghanistan, US President Donald Trump still remains focused on getting American forces out of the country. Under pressure from the US, the traditional Afghan grand Council, Loya Jirga, voted for release of 400 prisoners on August 09, but urged the Taliban to adopt a ceasefire. "In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the Jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban," Jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced on August 09. The Jirga urged the government to give assurances to the population that the released prisoners would be monitored and would not be allowed to return to the battlefield, adding that foreign fighters should be sent back to their respective countries. The council’s decision to free the Taliban prisoners did not come as a surprise, as delegates were urged by the US at the start of the council, or Jirga, on August 07 to take “this difficult action” so that negotiations could begin to bring an end to the war. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had pushed for the release of the detainees, while recognising the decision would be "unpopular”. The prisoners included 44 fighters of particular concern to the US and other countries for their role in "high-profile" attacks. Five are linked to the 2018 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that killed 40 people, including 14 foreigners. Chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad was quick to herald Jirga's decision, tweeting: "With these bold steps, after 40 years of war, a historic opportunity for peace is now possible; one that benefits all Afghans and contributes to regional stability and global security." Calling the Jirga's decision "a good step, a positive step." Amid continued violence, the US continues to press for the peace process to move forward, five months after intraAfghan negotiations were scheduled to begin on March 10. Khalilzad said the two sides are to meet in Doha, after the prisoner releases "in the next few days", he expects negotiating teams to travel to Doha "and from there the immediate start of intra-Afghan negotiations". Former president Hamid Karzai told the Jirga he understood that the talks "would begin within two to three days" after the prisoners are released. President Donald Trump's repeated commitment to pulling out American forces has undermined the Afghan government's negotiating position. Time is on Taliban’s side. Though Trump is keen to pull-out troops he is also committed to “always have a presence” in Afghanistan for counterterrorism. According to JP Lawrence, Taliban negotiators are likely to oppose any proposal to retain a lasting US counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan during their upcoming peace talks with the Afghan government. Prospects of any sort of retention of foreign military presence is a nonstarter among Taliban leadership as well as their rank and file. According to a White House press briefing in February, Trump envisions Taliban helping the US fight Daesh. Some lawmakers, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, have also proposed leaving a compatible residual US force to prevent the country being used again as a launch-pad for global terrorism. Divergence of end objective from both sides is phenomenal that betrays achieving early and or lasting peace. With a pattern of one step forward and to backwards, Taliban are proving pretty shrewd negotiators, not only capable of timing out Trump’s current term but also the next one if at all he stands returned on November 08, 2020. And with Joe Biden in White House, they could seek a new start up. President Hamid Karzai has declined to join the government sponsored team for intra-Afghan dialogue. His team now comprises of 16 male and five female delegates. The Taliban side has also finalized a negotiating team that is to have sweeping decision-making powers in upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations. According to Alexander Zemlianichenko of the Associated Press, Maulvi Hibatullah Akhunzada has “hand-picked the 20-member team, 13 of whom come from the Taliban’s leadership council.” Team will have the “authority to set agendas, to decide strategy and even to sign agreements with the political leadership of the Afghan government”. In the meanwhile, a Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – the head of the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Doha has visited Pakistan to discuss the way forward in the Afghan peace process. "Yes, we have invited the Afghan Taliban delegation to visit Pakistan to discuss the way forward in the Afghan peace process," the foreign office spokesperson stated. However, according to a recent Foreign Policy South Asia Brief, by Ravi Agrawal, start of intra Afghan talks is once again uncertain as prisoner release has once again stalled. France and Australia have objected to the release of several Taliban prisoners accused of killing French and Australian nationals and soldiers. Afghanistan’s government is withholding the release of the final tranche of 320 Taliban prisoners, going National Herald Tribune, Friday, September 4, 2020
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