Karzai: Afghan government should lead peace talks

Updated 29 January 2013
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Karzai: Afghan government should lead peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s president warned on Tuesday that all efforts at peace talks with the Taleban should go through the government, and appealed on the country’s powerbrokers not to engage in such negotiations if the authorities are sidelines.
Hamid Karzai insisted the government — and not foreign powers — must lead the talks if the country is to have any hope of emerging from a decade of fighting as a strong and unified nation.
He said some Afghan powerbrokers and prominent political figures had been approached by foreign powers to hold talks through side channels, rather than working through the High Peace Council set up by the Afghan government.
“All our politicians must know that the peace process will only have a good result if we are unified and the process goes forward and the process will go forward through the High Peace Council,” Karzai said.
The president said participating in talks with the Taleban without the government would weaken the country and urged all to refuse those offers.
Bombings and fighting have continued to rock the country as officials make the slow steps toward peace negotiations.
In the latest violence, gunmen on Tuesday shot and killed Mushtaq Sadat, the head of a district government in the eastern Kapisa province. Qais Qaderi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said Sadat was shot in front of his house as he walked out to pray at the neighborhood mosque.
Taleban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assassination in a text message to The Associated Press.
The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago and has been hobbled by distrust between the Afghan government and the United States. Karzai has repeatedly decried foreign, and specifically American, efforts to jumpstart the talks while keeping the Afghan government in the dark.
On Tuesday, Karzai upbraided his Western allies for trying to undermine what he said had to be an Afghan process.
Though he referred mostly to the interference of “foreigners” in general, Karzai at one point directly targeted the United States, which is in the process of negotiating terms for its long-term presence in the country.
“We told American government during our recent visit that no foreigners should try to hold the Afghan peace process in their hands,” Karzai said.
Since US-backed talks broke down last March in a dispute over the release of five Taleban detainees held in American custody at a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the High Peace Council has tried to take a greater role.
The Taleban, meanwhile, have established a presence in Qatar and the council says they are hoping to be involved in talks with those in the Doha office.
“I want to call on the Taleban and our politicians not to let the foreigners cheat them. Peace is only possible from one source: the High Peace Council, which includes all Afghans, all parties,” Karzai said.
Karzai spoke Tuesday at a conference about water management, where he first talked about the need for clean water systems and then broke off to address what he described as a “very important issue” — the varied attempts at peace talks with the Taleban.


American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen and Mormon missionary, is pictured in this still image taken from a selfie video which he posted on Facebook during a riot at the Helicoide detention center in Caracas, Venezuela, obtained by Reuters May 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 54 min 21 sec ago
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American jailed in Venezuela for 2 years arrives in US

  • The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela
  • Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President

WASHINGTON: Joshua Holt, who traveled to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry a Spanish-speaking Mormon woman but soon found himself jailed and later branded the CIA’s top spy in Latin America, was set free by the anti-American Maduro government on Saturday in what his family called “this miracle.”
Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport. In video tweeted by the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the couple enter a room to be greeted by the Utah Republican before a hug-filled and tearful reunion with his parents, Laurie and Jason Holt.
When he departed the Caracas airport earlier in the day, Holt told The Associated Press that the ordeal had left him “exhausted.”
Their release came one day after an influential US senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration says runs a “dictatorship” and just won re-election in a “sham” vote.
Months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Maduro preceded their return. Yet Holt’s release had seemed unlikely even a week ago.
President Donald Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a “hostage” and said he expected to host Holt and his family at the White House on Saturday evening. “Good news about the release,” he wrote. The US contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.
The White House learned from Corker, R-Tennessee, on Friday of Holt’s impending release, according to a US official who has closely followed Holt’s plight and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
Holt and his wife were reunited at the Caracas airport with her daughter from a previous relationship, and all three boarded a chartered flight to Washington. “We are on our way home,” Corker tweeted.
Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said their release was a goodwill gesture that followed months of dialogue between the Maduro government and US lawmakers.
“We’re praying that this type of gesture ... will allow us to strengthen what we’ve always sought: dialogue, harmony, respect for our independence and respect for our sovereignty,” he said.
Holt, now 26, set out for the South American country in June 2016 to marry a woman he met online while he was looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish. He had planned to spend several months in Caracas that summer with his new wife and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the US
Instead, the couple was arrested that June 30 at her family’s apartment in a government housing complex on the outskirts of Caracas. Authorities accused him of stockpiling an assault rifle and grenades, and suggested that his case was linked to other unspecified US attempts to undermine Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.
They were held in a notorious Caracas prison, run by the secret police, that also is home to dozens of top Maduro opponents jailed during the past few years of political unrest in the country. Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention.
Until Trump’s tweet on Saturday, the US had stopped short of publicly calling Holt a “hostage.”
Holt’s release looked unlikely a week ago, when he appeared in a clandestinely shot video railing against the Maduro government and saying his life was threatened in a prison riot. In retaliation, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, a powerful Maduro ally, said on state television that Holt was the CIA’s top spy in Latin America.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke to Trump at length Friday night and later said the couple’s release “will in no way change US policy toward the dictatorship in Venezuela.”
The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela for Maduro’s decision to go forward with the presidential election last week.
The US government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela in light of their already strained relations, but eventually raised Holt’s case with the highest levels of the Venezuelan government and decried his treatment in prison.
Corker was seen live on state TV on Friday shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. Corker left an hour later; neither the senator nor the president made any statements.
Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said her son and his wife were wrongly accused. She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son’s incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.
Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, including kidney stones and respiratory problems. He was depressed and at one point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.
In their statement, the Holt family said, “We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle.”