US still aims to push Taliban into Afghan peace talks

Afghan security personnel arrive at a site after a car bomb exploded near the old Ministry of Interior building in Kabul on January 27, 2018, killing at least 17 people and wounding 110 others, in an attack claimed by the Taliban. (AFP)
Updated 30 January 2018
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US still aims to push Taliban into Afghan peace talks

KABUL/PESHAWAR: The United States aims to press the Taliban on the battlefield to convince them that they will have to negotiate peace, a senior US diplomat said on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump rejected talks following a series of attacks.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump condemned the Taliban for recent carnage in the Afghan capital Kabul, and said the United States was not prepared to talk now. He pledged to “finish what we have to finish.”
Trump’s comments suggested he sees a military victory over the Taliban, an outcome that US military and diplomatic officials say cannot be achieved with the resources and manpower he has authorized.
But US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told a news conference in Kabul there was no change in the US policy of forcing the Taliban through military pressure into talks.
Trump’s comments were a reflection of the violence over recent days which indicated “at least some members of the Taliban are not interested in having a discussion about a peaceful future,” Sullivan said.
“That doesn’t change the long-range strategy of our policy which it to be firm militarily to convince the Taliban, or significant elements of the Taliban, that there isn’t a military solution to the security situation here, that ultimately peace and security of Afghanistan will be determined by peace talks.”
Trump last year ordered an increase in US troops, air strikes and other assistance to Afghan forces.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this month the strategy was working and pushing the insurgents closer to talks.
That was before a suicide bomber penetrated the highly guarded center of Kabul on Saturday and detonated an ambulance laden with explosives, killing more than 100 people and wounding at least 235.
That attack followed a brazen Taliban assault on the city’s Intercontinental Hotel on Jan. 20, in which more than 20 people, including four Americans, were killed.
The Taliban said the attacks were a message to Trump that his policy of aggression would not work.
’WAR-MONGERING’
Earlier, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban had crossed a “red line” with attacks in Kabul and lost the chance for peace, and had to be defeated.
“We have to look for peace on the battlefield,” said the spokesman, Shah Hussain Murtazawi.
The surge of violence has also raised new questions about US relations with Pakistan, weeks after Trump denounced it for what he said was its failure to crack down on Taliban safe havens on its soil, and ordered big cuts in security aid.
Pakistan denies accusations that it fosters the Afghan war, and has condemned the recent attacks in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and defeat the US-backed government, said earlier they never wanted to talk to the United States anyway.
“Their main strategy is to continue war and occupation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
“Donald Trump and his war-mongering supporters must understand that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you insist upon war, our mujahideen will not welcome you with roses,” he said.
The United States believes the Haqqani network, a faction within the Taliban, was behind Saturday’s bomb blast in Kabul.
It and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, and the Haqqani network in particular, as assets to be used in its bid to limit the influence of old rival India in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment on Trump’s rejection of peace talks but its embassy in Kabul cited Pakistani clerics as declaring suicide attacks unIslamic. (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)


Politician Anwar Ibrahim lauds Malaysian reform movement

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago
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Politician Anwar Ibrahim lauds Malaysian reform movement

  • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is making good on his promises by replacing key government officials
  • Anwar Ibrahim was speaking at a press conference with former Indonesian President Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie

JAKARTA: Malaysia’s reform movement is on the right track, the country’s veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim said on Sunday at a press conference with former Indonesian President Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie.
A week after he was sworn in, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is making good on his promises by replacing key government officials with those who are committed to reform, Ibrahim added.
He was in Jakarta for a two-day visit at the invitation of Habibie, who ushered in reform in Indonesia after three decades of dictatorship.
“Indonesia’s experience of transforming from the old system was able to change society into a democratic system,” Ibrahim said.
A team from Malaysia should evaluate and review Indonesia’s experience in reform, from Habibie’s administration to that of current President Joko Widodo, Ibrahim added.
Key government institutions in Malaysia, such as the judicial system, should be led by officials who are committed to reform and willing to serve the people, he said. Habibie said both countries can learn from each other about reform.
Ibrahim said he told Mohamad that the probe against former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over the alleged misuse of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) should be in accordance with the law.
“I firmly told… Mahathir to follow the law. Do not punish before we have a thorough investigation,” said Ibrahim. “Do not repeat what they did to me. Just do it according to the law.”
He said Mohamad gave assurances to Razak that the judges will be free from any political influence, and he advised the former prime minister to find a good lawyer.
The visit was Ibrahim’s first trip abroad since he was released from jail and cleared of all sodomy charges last week.