Pakistan on Saturday announced waiving off the regulatory duty on Afghan exports – in a gesture to help boost the war-torn country’s economy.
During his visit to Kabul, Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had decided to waive off the regulatory duty, which was imposed in October last year on Afghan exports.
The exports include grapes (fresh and dried), apples, pomegranates, apricots, watermelons, melons, cucumbers, gherkins, prunes dried and figs.
In a statement, the Pakistan embassy said the waiver went into effect from June 8, 2018.
In the meantime, Pakistan’s export to Afghanistan has reached to a two-year high during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year despite relations remain strained on political level between the two neighboring countries, it has been reported.
The latest report from the State Bank of Pakistan shows the country’s exports to Afghanistan reached $1.282 billion during July-April 2917-18. This was higher than the figure of $956 million in the same period last year, according to Dawn News.
The source further added that during the last five years, the outgoing government never made any serious attempt to improve trade ties with the war-torn neighbor. With the penetration of Chinese products in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s share has been further reduced.
“In 2014-15, exports to Afghanistan were $1.699bn which fell to $1.230bn in FY16 before further declining to $1.165bn in FY17, reflecting the downward trajectory,” according to the report.
According to the latest report, Afghanistan imports mostly food products such as wheat flour, rice, meet, etc from Pakistan. However, up to 50 per cent of flour mills have now been closed due to low exports.
Pakistan’s textile products have historically had a large share in Kabul but the recent penetration of Indian and Chinese products has replaced the country from its traditional market of finished and unfinished textile products.
Lack of trust between parties to the Afghan conflict is the main stumbling block to peace. The Afghan sides of the war -- the government and Taliban, are therefore trying to associate each other with foreigners more than what is in reality. The Taliban allege that Afghan government does not have the independence and authority to make decisions, stressing that Americans are the decision-makers. They even view government’s peace efforts as “American conspiracy”. On the other side, Afghan government was insisting until recently that Pakistan had the Taliban in the palm of its hand. The government has always tried to talk to Pakistan for peace instead of the Taliban, a move that pushed the trust deficit to its highest. The first step towards peace is to eliminate this lack of trust.
However, the glad tidings and a positive development in this regard is the declaration of truce by Afghan government and the Taliban. Although both sides have announced a nearly unilateral ceasefire, it is a key trust-building measure that should have been taken far earlier. Following the government’s announcement of a weeklong unilateral armistice from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Taliban, with no mention of the government’s truce, have also called on fighters for first time in a statement to stop attacking Afghan forces over Eid days as per what they called order of their leadership. The Taliban have shown an unprecedented amenability in their statement, which also directs their local officials to release some government prisoners and facilitate visits for others with their families.
Trust building is an indispensible element for any peace talks to come to fruition. As long as the negotiating sides are not assured of the commitment and honesty of the opposing sides, talks will not lead anywhere. Now that all sides have come around to the view that Afghan conflict has no military solution, it is better to take other similar trust-building measures. It will gradually pave the way for direct peace talks between the warring sides, and finally put an end to the war, which is taking a heavy toll on Afghans on a daily basis. From the warm welcome of the truce by the people of Afghanistan, both Afghan government and Taliban should have now sensed how much Afghans crave peace. Through peace, both sides can win the hearts and minds of Afghan people, and there is no doubt that every side needs the support of people to come to power.
More than 500 convicted Afghans are ready to be extradited to their own country, Iran’s Ministry of Justice said on Saturday.
The Afghan convicts imprisoned in Iran are ready to be handed over to their own country's authorities, according to the Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Justice.
Deputy for Human Rights and International Affairs at Iran’s Ministry of Justice Mahmoud Abbassi said that four Iranian nationals --- convicted and imprisoned in Armenia ---were extradited to Iran within the framework of legal agreements between the two countries.
He added that the four Iranian nationals will spend the rest of their jail terms in Iranian prisons according to the bilateral agreements.
The Iranian official went on to say that other Iranian and Armenian convicts will be transferred to their own countries within the framework of the bilateral extradition treaties.
The Taliban, in a surprise move, on Saturday declared a three-day truce with Afghan forces on the occasion of Eidul Fiter. The group ordered its fighters in a statement not to attack Afghan forces during first three days of the Islamic festival.
Taliban said its fighters would not launch attacks against Afghan security forces but they would defend themselves if necessary.
On Thursday, President Ghani said in a video message that he was calling for a ceasefire with the Taliban after religious scholars on Monday issued a fatwa against the ongoing war in the country.
The Taliban meanwhile stated that its three-day ceasefire did not include foreign troops. The group ordered their fighters to continue attacks on foreign forces.
Taliban also ordered their shadow governors to identify prisoners in their custody, who could provide guarantees that they would not be a future threat to the group, to be released.
The Taliban also asked their fighters to make arrangements for families of prisoners to visit them during Eid days.
After the announcement, the group spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a local radio Spogmai FM that unarmed government employees, including security personnel, can visit areas under Taliban control during the ceasefire days. He reiterated in the exclusive interview that Taliban would not harm government employees as long as they did not pose a threat the militants.
Afghan government welcomed Taliban’s announcement. Mohammad Haroon Chakhansori, a spokesman for the president, in press conference on Saturday said that government would welcome any step that could prevent current bloodshed in the country. He hoped that the ceasefire would lead to direct peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban.
Meanwhile in his video message on Thursday, President Ghani said: “With the ceasefire announcement, we epitomize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.”
“This ceasefire is an opportunity for the Taliban to realize that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause,” Ghani said.
“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan announces a ceasefire from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-ul-Fitr following the historic ruling (Fatwa) of the Afghan Ulema,” he added.
On Monday, over 2,000 Afghan religious scholars from around the country issued a fatwa, an Islamic directive, saying “the ongoing war in Afghanistan is forbidden under Islamic law”.
Additionally, major partners of Afghanistan have welcomed the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by hailing it a positive step towards peace.
US Department, NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and US forces in Afghanistan, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Russian foreign ministry all together welcomed the announcement of the ceasefire.
President Ashraf Ghani will attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Qingdao, in eastern China's Shandong Province, on Saturday and Sunday.
The 18th SCO Summit is scheduled for June 9 to 10 in Qingdao.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the summit would discuss the fight against insurgency in Afghanistan and the region.
“We hope that all countries will cooperate with us in fighting terrorism and drug dealers. Another crucial issue for us is regional connectivity,” said Sebghatullah Ahmadi, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ongoing war in Afghanistan and its impact on countries in the region is one of the main concerns of the organization.
“Tajikistan has an active role in the security sector of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” said Yue Bin, Ambassador of China in Tajikistan.
He said being a neighbor of Afghanistan, Tajikistan has been affected by the influence of terrorists and that Tajikistan needs the support of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
“A decision should be made against the countries which have membership of the organization so that they stop funding terrorists and producing terrorists,” said Abdul Qadir Zazai Watandost, a member of the International Relations Committee of the Afghan parliament.
The office of the Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah meanwhile says Afghanistan needs regional and international cooperation in fighting terrorism.
“In order to eliminate terrorists whose threat is common, we need regional and international cooperation,” said Omid Maisam, the chief executive’s deputy spokesman.
President Ashraf Ghani, the acting foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani and other senior government officials will attend the summit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Kabul continues its efforts to get permanent membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
As President Ashraf Ghani announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban, his top envoy in Washington launched a frontal attack on the terrorist outfit accusing it of bringing death and destruction to the country.
“Afghans want peace and my generation are taking risks to stand for it. These Afghans and our security forces are our heroes. And we must say what has the Taliban put on the table: further death and destruction,” Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, told a Washington audience.
In his remarks to the US Institute of Peace, Mohib alleged that since January the Taliban have pursued a brutal new strategy of directly targeting civilians in crowded urban spaces, killing hundreds of innocent Afghans.
Shortly after the Afghan Ulemma issued a fatwa against terrorism this week, they were attacked, he said. The Taliban has attacked hospitals, schools, school children, sport teams civil society, organizations, media and journalists and citizens registering to vote, he said.
Mohib said that the Afghan government’s successful deal with the Hizb-e-Islami over a year ago, gives the Afghan government experience on how to structure a deal in what questions need to be addressed.
“We must create a reasonable consensus on peace, stability, and economic growth. The region can either be divided by conflict or united by sharing the economic benefit. There is a regional component to the conflict playing in Afghanistan, which the United States administration and the Afghan government are both taking very serious thing. So this element cannot be overlooked,” he said.
“We will maintain political stability and democratic integrity through elections which we will hold in October and again in 2019. This is not easy to do in the current security situation, but we will and we must,” he said. The Afghan people are proud of their right to vote and they're risking their lives to claim that right. “By casting a vote, we as a nation are marking out commitment to democracy so that peace will be maintained through the ballot not bullet,” Mohib said.
Also the government with the support from the international community must continue to earnestly and diligently implement President Ghani’s rigorous comprehensive reform agenda which is articulated in Afghanistan national peace and development framework, he said.
“Moving forward, we must stay the course of building those security forces in maintaining pressure on the Taliban while we keep the door open for peace talks. At the same time, we must continue to earnestly implement our reforms agenda to deal head on with corruption in our government; to deliver services, and to offer economic opportunities,” Mohib said.
“Sustainable peace will not be delivered in negotiations on and a political settlement with the Taliban alone. A political settlement is but one part of a complicated and layered process of achieving sustainable peace. What matters equally is the peace building work that proceeds a peace deal and the maintenance work that follows it,” said the Afghan Ambassador.
Former President Hamid Karzai has welcomed Afghan government’s decision of ceasefire and asked the Taliban to honor the step, according to a statement published by his office on Friday.
Days after a historic fatwa from top Afghan clerics against the ongoing conflict in the country, President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a ceasefire.
The government would observe the truce from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eidul Fitr, the president wrote on his Facebook page.
“We also welcome the unprecedented fatwa that only the state can declare jihad, thereby rendering violent campaign by any group is anything but a holy war,” Ghani said.
“Peace is the desire of every Afghan and it was the responsibilities of every Afghan to raise voice for peace and strongly support it,” read a statement from the Karzai office.
The former president asked the Taliban to honor the Afghan government decision of truce in order to create a pitch for durable peace in the country and the ongoing crisis comes to an end.
The United States intends to step up military operations against Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan during a temporary ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the top US general in Afghanistan said on Friday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced the first unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban, coinciding with the end of the Muslim fasting month. But that excludes other militant groups such as Islamic State.
The group has developed a stronghold in Nangarhar, on the porous eastern border with Pakistan, and become some of the country’s most dangerous militants since they appeared around the start of 2015.
“(Operations against ISIS) will continue, in fact will be even intensified during this period of ceasefire as we focus on ISIS,” US Army General John Nicholson, commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, told reporters.
Nicholson said the ceasefire could free resources for operations against Islamic State, but some would remain to monitor the Taliban and for force protection.
“We’re going to leave resources devoted to protecting our forces and watching the enemy, even those that participate in the ceasefire, as well as intensifying the pressure on ISIS,” Nicholson said.
Afghan commandoes, supported by US Special forces and American and Afghan air power, have been carrying out an operation against the militants in Nangarhar.
The ceasefire decision came after a meeting of Islamic clerics this week declared a fatwa, or ruling, against suicide bombings. One such bombing, claimed by Islamic State, killed 14 people at the entrance to the clerics’ peace tent in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
Nicholson said the ceasefire was “significant” because it was the first of its kind during the 17-year old war. The Taliban has not yet reacted to the announcement.
“I don’t know what the Taliban will do,” Nicholson acknowledged.
Privately, Western officials have expressed caution.
“I don’t think we have a feeling about it,” a NATO official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said when asked if there was optimism about the ceasefire.
Michael Kugelman, with the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said the ceasefire was largely symbolic.
“We should keep our expectations in check ... If anything, it will make the Taliban even stronger by giving it some breathing room and time to regroup and reload,” Kugelman said.
President Vladimir Putin says Russia has no plans to pull its military out of Syria, but isn't building permanent facilities there.
The troops "will stay there for as long as it is to Russia's advantage, and to fulfill our international responsibilities," Putin said during his annual televised call-in show on Thursday.
But, he added, "we are not building long-term installations there and, if necessary, can withdraw our servicemen quite quickly without any material losses."
Putin called the Syrian war "a unique experience" for Russian troops.
"Firstly, the use of our armed forces on the battlefield is ... a unique tool by which to improve our armed forces. No amount of military exercise could compare with the use of force in combat conditions," the Russian president said.
"Let me remind you that thousands of militants left Russia and the countries of Central Asia - with whom we do not have hard borders - and gathered on Syrian soil. It was better to deal with them there … liquidate them there, than let them come back here weapons in hand."
The Kremlin first launched air attacks in Syria in September 2015 in its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, turning the tide of the conflict in President Bashar al-Assad's favor.
When asked about the possibility of a "third world war", Putin responded the threat of an end to human civilization should be enough restraint, though he accused the United States of provocative moves.
"The threat of mutual destruction has always restrained participants of the international arena, prevented leading military powers from making hasty moves, and compelled participants to respect each other.
"US withdrawal from treaties on anti-ballistic missiles is an attempt to put an end to strategic parity, but we will respond to this," Putin said without elaborating.
US President Donald Trump has said he is open to inviting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the White House if he deemed next week's summit a success, while also signaling he was willing to walk away if he thought talks did not go well.
"Certainly if it goes well. I think it would be well received," Trump said on Thursday during a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"I think he would look at it very favorably so I think that could happen."
On Thursday, Trump repeated what he said last week that it was possible he and Kim could sign an agreement to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which was concluded only with a truce, not a peace treaty.
"We could sign an agreement, as you know that would be a first step ... We're looking at it, we're talking about it with a lot of other people," Trump told reporters. "That's probably the easy part. The hard part remains after that."
Trump added that he hoped someday US relations with Kim's secretive Pyongyang government could be normalized.
The main issue for the June 12 summit in Singapore is the US demand for North Korea to abandon a nuclear weapons program that now threatens the United States.
North Korea has rejected giving up its arsenal unilaterally, and defends its nuclear and missile programs as a deterrent against what it sees as US aggression.
The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday reemphasized Washington's stance going into the talks.
Pompeo said Trump will reject anything short of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
"President Trump is hopeful. But he’s also going into the summit with his eyes wide open," Pompeo said at a White House briefing after the Trump-Abe news conference.
Pompeo, however, added that the US would work to guarantee North Korea's security should it denuclearize.
Trump "is prepared to ensure a DPRK free of its weapons of mass destruction is also a secure North Korea," Pompeo said.
Pompeo plans to stay in the region following the summit to meet officials from Japan and South Korea and to travel to China, an important North Korean ally, to discuss the next steps involving Pyongyang.
Trump told reporters on Thursday he would quit the talks if he felt he must, and would ramp up US sanctions pressure on North Korea if the talks did not go well.
"I am totally prepared to walk away," he said.
Meanwhile, Pompeo, who has twice met Kim in Pyongyang, said he believes the North Korean leader is prepared to take "bold" steps to alter the course of his nation.
"He has indicated to me personally that he is prepared to denuclearize," Pompeo said.
"That he understands that the current model doesn't work, that he's prepared to denuclearize and that two, he understands that we can't do it the way we've done it before. That it has to be big and bold and we have to agree to making major changes."
Asked whether the two sides had narrowed their differences on how they defined denuclearization, Pompeo said they had, but he declined to give details.