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Pakistan Press ( 23 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press On US-Brokered Israel-UAE Accord, Arab Spring and Afghanistan Peace Process: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 December 2020


By New Age Islam Edit Desk

23 December 2020

• US-Brokered Israel-UAE Accord: A Glimmer of Hope in the Violent and Complex Middle East

By Muhammad J. Siddiqui

• Bitter Spring - A Decade On From What Was Dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’

By Mahir Ali

• Jane Austen’s World Resembles Pakistan

By Rafia Zakaria

• Pakistan and the Afghan Peace Process

By Mehreen Naushad

• The Long-Drawn Violence in Afghanistan

By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah

• The Long-Drawn Violence in Afghanistan

By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah

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US-Brokered Israel-UAE Accord: A Glimmer Of Hope In The Violent And Complex Middle East

By Muhammad J. Siddiqui

23 Dec 2020


MANY have hailed the recent US-brokered Israel-UAE accord as a glimmer of hope in the violent and complex region of the Middle East. But despite its broad appeal to strengthen economic and cultural ties between the two countries, it fails to address the Palestinian question, hence dampening all hopes of this document becoming a global template for future agreements of Israel with countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (comprising six Middle Eastern monarchies) endorses and stands behind this accord. Historically, GCC members have been strong supporters of the Palestinian cause, and their sympathies with the same are unconditional. So why has the GCC decided to change course now?

The major blame for the GCC’s frustration with the Palestinian leadership can be attributed to the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah and their past allyship with key GCC rivals such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. But this agreement lays the foundation of a united alliance against Iran and its proxies within the Middle East. With America’s blessing, the GCC has adopted a new multipronged strategy aimed at intensifying the pressure on Iran. First, they plan on engaging the European countries to dismantle Hezbollah’s influence in the Middle East. This would be supported by full and unconditional logistical support of Israel that would be ready to go to extremes to settle its long-running feud with Iran.

Following the Iranian threat is the anxiety of GCC members over the incoming Biden administration in the United States. There is high anticipation that the Biden administration would hold the GCC monarchies accountable over their track record of violating human rights, whether it be war crimes in Yemen, freedom of speech at home, alleged terrorist financing or the lack of religious freedom. If this escalates, it could well see an internal regime change or perhaps a pathway to a controlled democracy.

Similarly, with the departure of Donald Trump, Israel will be losing one of its greatest allies and would be in need of a strong collective bargaining agreement from within the region to manage the new president’s administration. A formidable GCC alliance with Israel and India would garner enough support in the US Congress to retain the existing status quo until a major global crisis takes place and their geopolitical stature is restored.

Apart from these external threats, a crash in the global resource and service industry (primarily tourism) has left every member of the GCC in a major economic crisis. With overpriced real-estate projects that were financed by now cash-strapped banks, coupled with state enterprises including luxury airlines posting massive losses, GCC members desperately need help in terms of liquidity and investment. The recent withdrawal of cash deposits from Pakistan followed by massive lay-offs in the ranks of the construction-related labour force in the Gulf is nothing more than a reflection of the GCC’s staggering financial stress and over-leveraged economy. However, to attract investors in the GCC, the volatility in the region has to decrease and GCC members will be forced to curtail their notorious interference in the internal affairs of their neighbours.

With these regional developments, some analysts insist that Pakistan should accept Israel and reap numerous benefits related primarily to its ties with the US. However, Pakistan’s recent history, trust deficit and interactions with the US indicate that the country’s relationship with the US will remain transactional for the foreseeable future, and any further capital investment or techno­logical transfer to Pak­­­­­is­tan would re­­quire enhanced due diligence with the balance of power always favouring India.

Whatever the case, while GCC members, including those that are home to the most sacred cities for Muslims, are seeking the patronage and protection of Israel, perhaps they should be looking closely at poverty-struck Afghanistan, where ill-equipped, barefooted Afghans, recently handed the majestic global superpower its first decisive defeat of the 21st century. Members of the GCC must learn to be self-reliant when it comes to matters of defence, embrace open societies, and abolish the centuries-old tribal form of governance that still exists.

Pakistan and Bangladesh should expect Israel to come bearing an olive branch, as it is aware of the large population, women’s empowerment, exuberant youth and the abilities of these nations. Yet hopefully, the price of Pakistan’s acceptance of Israel will be significantly higher than that of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and would include a clear pathway to the independence of the glorious land of Palestine.

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Muhammad J. Siddiqui is an international banker based in Toronto.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1597343/different-course

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Bitter Spring - A Decade On From What Was Dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’

By Mahir Ali

23 Dec 2020


EVEN in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid, many people don’t look back kindly on Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire 10 years ago this month.

It was an act of despair rather than rebellion. He had a family of eight to feed. Being deprived of his only means of livelihood — his fruit cart — by officious representatives of the state was more than Bouazizi could bear. His self-immolation sparked protests across Tunisia. Ten days after Bouazizi succumbed to his burns on Jan 4, 2011, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia (where he died last year). Even more amazingly, though, events in the relatively small North African state resonated widely across the region as pent-up political and socioeconomic frustrations bubbled to the surface.

The tensions exploded most spectacularly in Egypt, with spontaneous mobilisations centred on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Hosni Mubarak was the next head of state to be toppled, after 30 years at the helm. Popular rebellions also erupted in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Even in countries with little or no unrest, the ruling elites panicked.

A decade on from what was dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’, it is neither unusual nor inappropriate to ask: but what good came of it, after all?

The horrifying trajectory of Yemen, Syria and Libya speaks for itself — although in both cases it is worth taking into account the liberal doses of foreign intervention. Egypt’s story is very different, but nonetheless deeply depressing. There, a short-lived experiment in representative government, somewhat blighted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s dismal administration, made way all too swiftly for a return to strongman rule. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime is widely viewed as even more repressive than the Mubarak variant.

Tunisia is often held out as the sole instance where the changes wrought in 2011 have been institutionally entrenched to some degree. It has had close calls, but managed to crawl back from the brink. Yet economic conditions remain precarious and corruption remains rife. Tunisians are among the most eager recruits to the jihadist cause, as well as the most numerous contributors to the refugee flow towards the Italian coast. Hardly a happy ending.

A recent report in The Guardian quotes a roadside bread seller in the Tunisian hinterland, 60-year-old Aisha Quraishi, as looking back on Ben Ali’s ouster in these words: “We won a little freedom. Under him we couldn’t speak. But does this affect my life? I want freedom and dignity. Can’t I have both?” The direct or subtle response from most Middle Eastern regimes would be a simple ‘no’. The continuing tragedy across much of the region is that for large segments of the population neither freedom nor dignity is a viable option.

Historically, the unwritten compact between authoritarian regimes and their populations could occasionally be summed up as: keep quiet and your basic needs will be met. That is generally unfeasible in the age of neoliberal capitalism. The lesson autocrats would like their subjects to draw from the Arab Spring is that resistance is futile.

A recent YouGov survey carried out in nine countries across the region suggests that most people acknowledge things are in many respects worse than they were 10 years ago. At the same time, though, many of them don’t regret the uprisings.

The absence of any obvious alternatives was among the factors that blighted the Arab Spring. The protests may have been very successfully coordinated on social media, but there was no organisation behind them, no opposition parties that could channel the largely organic mobilisations. In Egypt, the Muslim Brother­­hood, taken by surprise, eventually took advantage of the vacuum — even though its ideology was anathema to the vast majority of protesters — with ultimately disastrous consequences.

The tendency of authoritarian regi­mes to crush all dissent often works all too well, with the result that when it comes to the crunch the seething masses are rudderless. Hence, once the dust has settled, the usual suspects — often in uniform, or at least closely affiliated with the economic elite and the military hierarchy — are invariably waiting in the wings. And it’s back to square one for those agitating for democracy and socioeconomic change.

The extent of foreign intervention, whether from near or afar, also matters a great deal. In the past decade, Middle East’s turmoil has been exacerbated by the Saudi, Iranian, Israeli, Qatari, Turkish and Emirati role, and equally if not more by American, European and Russian machinations, to say nothing of the arms sales that fuel the conflicts.

So, is there no scope for hope? Just last year, political changes followed uprisings in Algeria and Sudan that echoed the Arab Spring. Pockets of unrest sporadically emerge here and there. But cosmetic change doesn’t count and, from an optimistic standpoint, the real thing could still be decades away.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1597342/bitter-spring

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Jane Austen’s World Resembles Pakistan

By Rafia Zakaria

23 Dec 2020

I FIRST read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Grade 7 or 8 and immediately loved it. I had good reasons; Austen’s world seemed very much to resemble the one that I saw around me in Pakistan. The first line of the novel, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”, reflected the concerns of mothers and grandmothers, and the general narrative of life, played out in the domestic and usually all-female interiors of this or that person’s house, reflected the goings-on of my own extended family.

I am, of course, not the only one to have swallowed whole this seeming resemblance as a reason to love Jane Austen. There have been movies, notably Bride and Prejudice, and a handful of books that situate the catty and gossipy and the ever-righteous cast of women into the South Asian context, all to great effect.

For all these reasons, I was shocked when I learned that the whole Austen enterprise — its gleeful promotion by foreign book editors who want South Asians to appear as modified versions of themselves — is a colonialist trap.

The evidence is plentiful. First, when South Asian authors produce Jane Austen fan fiction set in South Asia, they prove the colonial thesis: the South Asian present is really just a version of (in this case) the British past.

The consequence of such productions is that they situate formerly colonised countries in South Asia at a rate of progress that is slower than that of the Western world. After all, if all of us are simply living out what the British did hundreds of years ago during the era of the British Empire, we are backward and they are forever further along.

The second reason is the politics of Jane Austen herself. A close look at Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park reveals an erasure or, at best, a fleeting mention of how the great fortunes of men like Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley have been earned, and how the massive estates on which they live (and which the Bennet sisters Jane and Elizabeth marry into) have been procured.

Since this is the Empire period, this largesse is connected inextricably to what Britain happened to be doing abroad. In simple terms, it was the plunder in the colonies that made such lives, such estates, men like Darcy and Bingley, possible. Sometimes it is what a novelist doesn’t include that is important; in this case, Austen erases the dirty origins of things, presenting English country life as not only idyllic but as morally righteous.

This bit of moral righteousness is also important. Austen’s heroines — sheltered girls as they are — spend a great deal of time agonising over and ironing out what the right thing to do is. At the same time, the larger injustice being carried out abroad (some of the novels are situated around times when there were rebellions in many colonies) in the name of Britain is made invisible.

The central concerns are figuring out whom to marry, the necessity of marrying and, of course, the morality of angling for a rich husband. In focusing on the micro politics of Darcy and Bingley, everything else is obscured from view. White and Western fans of Austen are entirely willing to overlook all this, but given the fact that the land that is today Pakistan is one of the places that was plundered and divided by the purveyors of Empire, we should refuse to forgive Austen’s racist and colonist sins.

Finally, a word about what Austen-worship and the proliferation of would-be Austen stories say about Pakistanis as the formerly colonised. Like the cossetted women of Austen’s domestic dramas, the middle and upper middle-class women in Pakistan are only too used to lives where the injustice behind their own comfort are obscured.

The servants who clean homes and wash clothes rarely appear in the ever-slicker domestic dramas that are set in front of television viewers. The cultural message is easily absorbed; like Austen’s heroines, who never ask how the money is made or whether the farmers in the countryside are happy with the arrival of Bingleys and Darcys, Pakistani women keep quiet and do not ask the questions that must be asked.

Literature presents a lens through which to view the world, but when the lens suggests seeing less, not noting how the lives of others not as fortunate are impacted by actions and livelihoods, it is not worthy of adoration or emulation. Austen is one offender, but she is hardly the only one. Presenting her case here is representative of how stories of the British past carry within their bones the unquestioned architecture of colonialism.

Rejecting does not mean a cancellation of all literature that goes against the current decolonising project. It is instead a call to understand how we were made invisible and continue to remain invisible. Seeing how unmentionable the actual inhabitants of the colonies were in most British literature from the Age of Empire must direct us to consider deeply the mini-colonialisms of our own lives.

It is all very well to get lost in the dramas about who loves who and who will marry who, but it is time all women began to go beyond just that. The people, the servitude, the injustice, the inequality, that makes lives of leisure possible deserves more consideration. December, with its weddings and parties — which are continuing apace despite a global pandemic — is an excellent time to start. Domestic dramas are not the sum total of our post-colonial lives, and Pakistan’s present is not and never will be Britain’s abhorrent past.

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Rafia Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1597344/the-questions-never-asked

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Pakistan and the Afghan Peace Process

By Mehreen Naushad

December 23, 2020


On December 2, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban announced that they had made a breakthrough in the Intra-Afghan Dialogue. The two parties have concluded a written agreement that lays down how the procedure moves for future discussions in the peace process on substantive issues such as a ceasefire.

With the peace process nearing its conclusion, the leading question that comes to mind with regard to Pakistan facilitating the Afghan Peace Process is: what is Pakistan going to get out of a stable Afghanistan? It obviously wants to dispel the international community’s perception of Pakistan as a state-sponsoring terrorism that provides safe haven, intelligence and military aid to terrorist groups. Additionally, Pakistan also wants to improve its relations with major regional powers including Afghanistan, US, Russia, and the European Union.

It is the firsBy t time that Pakistan’s hopes and role in attaining peace and security in South Asia aligns with the interests of the international community. All previous attempts at ending the long-drawn and bloody armed conflict in Afghanistan, and stabilizing the region, were unsuccessful. This may be attributable to Pakistan’s previously strong support of a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan. However, it seems Pakistan is done playing favorites in the peace process. A shift towards negotiation and compromise from military initiatives by Pakistan can be seen. In this respect, we see Pakistan’s long-term policies also start to shift.

Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan Peace Process is quite beneficial to the state. By being back at the negotiating table with the major regional powers, Pakistan hopes to improve its relations with other states. It provides Pakistan with the opportunity to attain one of its primary foreign policy aims with respect to Afghanistan – to establish a network of regional allies.

Furthermore, Pakistan hopes to work in collaboration with Afghanistan to suppress terror groups and alleviate the international community’s claims of state sponsored terrorism. This has a chance of affecting Pakistan’s position with the Financial Action Task Force, and can also lead to increased trade and possibly the reinstatement of economic aid flowing into the country.

In order to improve its ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan should hope for a friendly government in Kabul. Pakistan has made a concerted effort to appear as a non-biased actor in the Afghan Peace Process by not positioning itself with one party. During a strife between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the Doha negotiations, Pakistan opted to not intervene. Instead, Pakistan formally acknowledged President Ashraf Ghani as the new president of Afghanistan, and expressed its desire to work closely with the Afghan government in the future. This has also improved Pakistan’s credibility before the international community in its commitment to ensuring a propitious outcome from the Intra-Afghan Dialogue.

Improving its bilateral relations with Afghanistan is of utmost importance to Pakistan, in the context of India. Although India may not be an active participant in the peace process, it nonetheless has its own interests in Afghanistan’s stabilization. India has always had good ties with Afghanistan’s elected governments. Its interests in Afghanistan are simply to use its territory to keep a check on Pakistan’s power and influence in the region. By establishing a strong relationship with both the Afghan government and the Taliban, Pakistan can reduce India’s economic, political and security influence in Afghanistan.

Accordingly, Pakistan should hope for a mixed government to be established in Afghanistan. A Taliban-led government may lean more towards Pakistan in the political landscape, but Pakistan should not want them to be in complete control. A 1990s Afghanistan on Pakistan’s western front would lead to the resurgence of terrorism and militancy in the region by empowering terrorist groups in Pakistan such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

However, the peace process has created a false sense of security in the region. The times following a successful conclusion of the peace progress and post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan present a number of challenges for Pakistan’s national security.

The withdrawal of international forces creates a space for stronger militant groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other neighboring countries to try to grab control over the region. We already see this happening. The US declaration of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021, has led to different militant groups in Pakistan gravitating towards each other to form an alliance.

The convergence of these terrorist groups only spells disaster for Pakistan’s national security, particularly in light of a lack of comprehensive policy following the US troops withdrawal. There are also chances of a full-blown civil war erupting in Afghanistan with different factions being supported by regional powers such as India and Russia, thus pushing Pakistan back into a state of armed conflict on its western border.

Following the US Afghanistan Peace Agreement, 12 violent attacks were carried out in Pakistan against security forces of Pakistan which are attributable to the TTP and its affiliated groups. These proscribed organizations have uncovered newfound incentives with the looming withdrawal of troops, leading to a sudden rise in the terror attacks. This is a reflection of what post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan would look like for the region.

India may also see the deteriorating peace and security in the region as opportunity to continue pressing its narrative of Pakistan being a state that is sponsoring terrorism. This could prove to be a costly challenge to Pakistan’s credibility post the Afghan Peace Process, which only recently it seems to be regaining due to its due role as a facilitator and negotiator in the Intra-Afghan Dialogue. Pakistan cannot withstand more backlash from the international community for not doing enough in curbing terrorism. Pakistan’s grey-listing in the FATF has already caused considerable damage to its economic and political credibility.

Pakistan’s role in the Afghan Peace Process between the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban is very crucial. The future of peace and security in the region is dependent upon the role Pakistan chooses to play in the Afghan Peace Process – will it hamper or drive the peace process forward.

Pakistan will benefit more from adopting the role of a facilitator in the Afghan Peace Process and a stable Afghanistan. However, it would be foolish to assume that once the peace process concludes, the region would stabilize overnight. The challenges to Pakistan’s national security will continue for years after. Thus, it is imperative that Pakistan adopts a concrete foreign policy in Afghanistan and continues to monitor the socio-economic and political landscape to mitigate the effects of the said challenges.

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Mehreen Naushad is a freelance contributor, and holds an LLM degree.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/762800-pakistan-and-the-afghan-peace-process

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The Long-Drawn Violence In Afghanistan

By Syed Akhtar Ali Shah

December 23, 202

Afghanistan has been under fire ever since the Saur Revolution because of undue foreign interference as well as the doings of many of her own leaders — tribal and political. During these years the self-appointed jihadis of all hue from all over the world flocked to that land to fight America’s war under the policy of containment of communism (USSR) modified with Reagan’s Doctrine.

Having achieved their strategic objective of USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan — also helped by the policy of glasnost of Gorbachev — the United States, forgetting the holy jihad, abandoned Afghanistan to her own fate. Hence, what followed was a sustained period of chaos in Afghanistan.

The land having remained under turmoil was eventually taken over by the Taliban on gun point, of course propped up and supported by outside forces. The Taliban government soon gained notoriety as a pariah state and epicentre of terrorism due to Al Qaeda. Most acts of terrorism were traced to Afghanistan, orchestrated by Al Qaeda. The events of 9/11 were a game changer, as the US and the Europeans in particular realised that Al Qaeda was a serious threat to their social order and vital national interests. Demands were made to hand over Osama bin Laden, but Mullah Omar and his associates refused to do so.

On refusal, the US and NATO, under a UN mandate, landed with boots on ground announcing to bring the offenders to justice. New governments consisting of divergent shades ascended power followed by successive elections to the office of president and the Loya Jirga, with a new political system based upon a written constitution.

America’s focus was more on the dismantling of the Al Qaeda network than on Taliban. The Taliban made tactical retreat to areas conducive for them in order to preserve their manpower. The US, however, during this period has been successful in achieving the strategic goal of incapacitating the Al Qaeda. But, on the other hand, the Taliban sprang up from their safe havens and started a new cycle of violence and gained control in peripheral areas, eventually challenging the Afghan government’s legitimacy.

Having debilitated the Al Qaeda, the US no longer considered them a threat. Through backchannel diplomacy, the US got in touch with the Taliban, eventually inking the Doha Agreement, seeking guarantees from the Taliban that they would not allow their soil to be used against the US and her allies. In return, she gave assurances of gradual withdrawal with certain conditionalities, although annexures were also added but not disclosed. However, the government of Afghanistan was kept out of the new development. The second part of the agreement pertained to the intra-Afghan dialogue without spelling out modalities.

The agreement was hailed by many as a step for peace but without any guarantee from the Taliban to stop violence within Afghanistan, the land continued to burn. Despite all appeals from international forums, the Taliban remained belligerent, using all means for violence. The incidence of violence jacked up with enormous intensity, with a stated objective to have maximum leverage at the negotiation table.

Even in a hostile environment, the formation of the High Council for Reconciliation by the Afghan government provided impetus to negotiations with the initial meetings of the council and the Taliban. But again, snags appeared due to no clear agenda and both sides taking a hard line on the future political setup of Afghanistan, with the Taliban insisting on exclusive power and enforcement of the Hanafi jurisprudence as the main law, while the other side not agreeing due to the diverse religious outlooks present in the society.

After lengthy deliberations, the ice broke on December 2, as both parties mutually agreed to continue with the ongoing group discussions in order to achieve the goal of comprehensive peace. Not only the US but also other stakeholders welcomed the move as a chance to halt violence.

The breakthrough is an obvious boaster to the Afghan government, as it has enhanced its legitimate status. Agreement on procedures and agenda is a leap forward toward sustainable peace, helping both sides to arrive at substantial issues, including confidence building measures such as ceasefire, also known as Teega in Afghan parlance.

The 21-point code reached between the two sides revolves around four basic principles. Amongst those the Doha Agreement of February 29, 2020, will form the basis of negotiations, with a focus on durable peace. This will not include any subject that is against the sacred and blessed religion of Islam or the interests of the country. In case differences emerge in the interpretation of Shariah law, a joint committee of the negotiation teams would make a decision. The other agreed principles were respect for the other side, not to be in haste and to listen to each other with patience. Committed to prepare verified minutes and to release only agreed upon statements; maintain confidentiality, not to re-open the decided issue and not to allow anyone in the room except the negotiators.

The recent development may be taken as a first step towards a 1,000-mile hazardous journey with many ups and downs. The success of the dialogue depends upon reaching a common ground and cessation of violence. The issue of Hanafi jurisprudence or any other should not be a big problem. Pakistan is pursuing a Constitution stating Islam as a state religion with a proclamation that no law shall be against the Quran and Sunnah. However, this provides a democratic system carrying the principles of pluralism. The same model can also be adopted over there.

The Taliban must agree to a political setup providing equal chance for all the political groups to participate in the elections in order to have durable peace. The insistence for exclusive power will only cause alienation, leading either to dictatorship of the Taliban or continued fire in the form of violence. The recipe is common ground.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/2277005/the-long-drawn-violence-in-afghanistan

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