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As Deadly Bombings Devastate Afghanistan, US-Taliban Peace Talks Continue

Top issues in the negotiations include a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, a series of bomb attacks devastated restaurants and other public spaces Monday in the eastern city of Jalalabad, injuring at least 66 people. The explosions took place on Afghanistan’s 100th Independence Day, following Saturday’s bloody suicide bombing at a wedding in Kabul that killed 63 people, wounding around 200 others. ISIS claimed the attack, which was the deadliest this year in Afghanistan. The bombings came as the U.S. and Taliban are reportedly close to a peace deal after months of talks between the two parties. Top issues in the negotiations include a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, where elections are set to take place next month. We speak with Lotfullah Najafizada, the news director of TOLO news, a 24-hour news channel based in Kabul.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Afghanistan, where a series of bomb attacks rocked restaurants and other public spaces Monday in the eastern city of Jalalabad, injuring at least 66 people. The explosions came as Afghanistan marks 100 years of independence from British rule. They followed Saturday’s bloody suicide bombing at a wedding in Kabul that killed 63 people, wounding 200 others. The attack, claimed by ISIS, was the deadliest this year in Afghanistan. This is the groom from the wedding.

MIRWAIS ELMI: [translated] I’ve lost hope. I lost my brother, my friends who came to join my wedding party. The celebration of Independence Day does not matter to me anymore. I don’t care whether the government is going to light up the city. It’s the independence night, and it’s dedicated only to the rich people who celebrate it. All those killed were laborers and poor people attending the ceremony. Rich people do not come to participate in poor people’s ceremonies.

AMY GOODMAN: The attack came as the U.S. and Taliban are reportedly close to a peace deal after months of talks between the two parties. The Afghan government, however, has not been a party to these negotiations. Afghanistan is due to hold elections next month. Top issues in the talks include U.S. troop withdrawal.

For more, we’re going to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we’re joined by Lotfullah Najafizada. He’s the news director of TOLOnews, a 24-hour news channel based in Kabul.

Thanks so much for joining us. Can you start off by talking about the horror this weekend in Kabul? The New York Times headline, “One Minute It Was an Afghan Wedding. The Next, a Funeral for 63.”

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Amy, this was a very tragic incident in Afghanistan, in Kabul in particular. We never had such a horrific attack in the capital in the past, when a suicide bomber walks into a wedding ceremony of, as the groom said, very poor people, detonating explosives and killing scores of people. The government confirmed at least 63, but we believe that it’s certainly more than that. Probably around a hundred civilians lost their lives, and about 200 more are wounded, some of them very, very critical.

This comes at a very critical time. We are in the midst of negotiations between the U.S. government and the Taliban, and we expect Afghan government to begin its own negotiations with the Taliban. And in the same time, Afghanistan, as you said in your introduction, is going to have its presidential elections, scheduled for next month.

AMY GOODMAN: So, also talk about what happened in eastern Afghanistan, in Jalalabad. And talk about who is responsible for these attacks, the suicide bombing that turned this wedding into a funeral, and what’s happened in Jalalabad.

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: To be very honest with you, we don’t know. A group called Daesh, or ISIS, claimed responsibility, in a fashion that’s not transparent and not, certainly, verifiable. Also in Jalalabad yesterday, there were rockets coming, and a lot of people were wounded there, and the celebration for the Independence Day was disrupted.

Also, the attack in Kabul, a couple of days earlier, was apparently claimed by Daesh, or ISIS, but it’s very, very difficult to say why this attack was carried out, why they have this animosity with the ordinary people of Afghanistan. As the groom said in his interview, there was no official dead, there was no known target which can be, well, quote-unquote, a “legitimate” target for terrorist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this, the backdrop of this, these negotiations that are going on between the United States and the Taliban, not including the Afghan government. These are called peace talks. You’ve been following these closely. Tell us where you were and what is happening in these talks. They are not getting a lot of attention in the United States.

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: The U.S. government has been engaged in direct negotiations with the Taliban for the past nine to 10 months, and that includes at least eight rounds of serious negotiations in Doha, led on the U.S. side by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and a group of Taliban representatives who reside in Doha. The Taliban and the U.S. believe that this will lead into direct negotiations between the Taliban and members of the government, as well as the larger Afghan society, who are living under the Islamic Republic flag today.

So, we expect that negotiations to begin very soon. Some reports suggest that it might be in Oslo, Norway, but that’s still to be seen. So, what we expect in the next week or so, an announcement where the U.S. and the Taliban finalize their first phase of negotiations, and the U.S. and the Afghan government to announce a joint declaration in which they will welcome and support the U.S. initiative and begin the direct talks with the Taliban.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the Afghan government not being included in these talks?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Well, the argument from the U.S. side, that we have heard so many times, is that the Taliban preferred to resolve their issues with the U.S. first and then engage with the Afghan government and the broader Afghan society. Some people, including the Afghan government, of course, wanted to begin their negotiations with the Taliban in parallel to the U.S. negotiations, or some groups preferred that they should talk to the Afghan government and the Afghan political groups first, and then the two of them together should talk to the U.S.

I think it’s just a matter of how you approach the peace process, and as long as it gets Afghanistan to a sustainable peace, I think the sequences, you know, can be — sequencing can be understood. But I think it’s important that the two tracks, the U.S.-Taliban, the U.S. and — the Taliban and the Afghan government and the Afghan political parties and the larger society, including civil society, media, women’s rights, of course, they all come to a final agreement in which Afghanistan will hopefully see peace, after four decades of senseless violence.

AMY GOODMAN: And the news that the Trump administration may withdraw thousands of U.S. troops in exchange for a ceasefire, Lotfullah?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: That’s what the Taliban say. The Taliban say this is an obstacle, that the U.S. presence is an obstacle, and, for them, a precondition to talk to the Afghan government and Afghan political groups. And apparently, there is no official, of course, announcement. We still expect that what the final announcement from the U.S. government and the Taliban would be on the posture of foreign forces in Afghanistan, but we’ve also heard report that this might include reduction of U.S. forces in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the elections that are coming up next month?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Yes, quite important. I think Afghanistan’s democratic journey began in 2001. We have had a couple of national elections, presidential elections, as well a couple of parliamentary elections and local elections, of course. I think it’s important for Afghanistan’s democracy to move forward and build on the journey that we have began almost two decades ago.

AMY GOODMAN: And who is running?

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: Well, about 18 people are running, including the incumbent President Ghani and his coalition partner, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Other candidates include a former fugitive, as well as someone who fought against this government for the first 17 years of the post-2001 Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined the peace process just two years ago. Now he’s running as a presidential candidate, which is quite incredible and demonstrates how far Afghanistan has come. Also, a former NDS, or national intelligence, chief, a former spy master, spy chief, is also running. So, it’s very crowded. It’s a very interesting scene. But one should not forget that the talks in Doha —

AMY GOODMAN: It’s almost as crowded as the Democratic president —

LOTFULLAH NAJAFIZADA: — that these talks have overshadowed —

AMY GOODMAN: It’s almost as crowded as the Democratic presidential candidate race here in the United States for president. We’re going to have to leave it there. Lotfullah Najafizada, I want to thank you for being with us, news director of TOLOnews. I’m Amy goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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