Afghan president proposes constitution review and truce as part of peace bid with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners, saying he would be ready to accept a review of the constitution as part of a pact with the Taliban. (Reuters)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Afghan president proposes constitution review and truce as part of peace bid with Taliban

KABUL: Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday declared his readiness to review the constitution and enforce a cease-fire as part of his much-touted peace deal with the Taliban to end the Afghan war.

But Ghani reiterated his long stance that the group must “respect the law” and “recognize” the national unity government that came to power more than three years ago following a deal brokered by the US.

“The national unity government seeks to strike a truthful and sustainable peace deal with conciliatory Taliban,” Ghani said during the launch of a regional conference in Kabul, designed to set up the framework for peace talks.

Based on the offer, Ghani said he would recognize the Taliban as a political group that can take part in the elections, free its inmates following the completion of legal procedures and seek international aid for finding jobs for Taliban combatants following the creation of a “legal framework for peace.”

Ghani preferred Kabul to be the venue for the talks, but said the Taliban could choose any Islamic country. He said Kabul would try to remove sanctions against the Taliban and facilitate its visas and passports to enable its emissaries to participate in the negotiations.

His offer is similar to a peace deal he struck with fugitive Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who abandoned the insurgency after more than four decades of war and joined the government last year.

The Taliban militants could not be reached immediately for comment.

The movement has in the past repeatedly said it is ready to hold talks with Washington, but not with the Afghan government.

Ghani’s offer comes a day after the Taliban said it was ready to speak with Washington to find a peaceful solution.

The Taliban proposal is the second one in two weeks.

Despite a surge of attacks under the new administration in Washington in recent years, the Taliban is able to conduct brazen attacks in urban areas.

Waheed Mozhdah, a political analyst who has taken part in past indirect talks with the Taliban and knows many of the group’s leaders, said he found nothing new in Ghani’s offer that would persuade the Taliban to join the peace process.

“I carefully listened to the speech and found nothing interesting or new which the Taliban will welcome,” he told Arab News.

“It was just a repeat of what has been said in the past under the name of a new peace plan. When the government says the Taliban needs to recognize the government, that itself is a precondition for the talks.”

Najib Mahmoud, a political science professor in Kabul, believes that the president in his speech was trying to keep a balance between war and peace, but the unity within the national unity government is more important at this stage as “the Taliban are stronger when the government is divided.”

He said: “First the president needs to make peace with regional figures in the north and south who are part of the government and then, from a position of strength, start talks with the Taliban.

“What he said today is nothing new and important, and nothing that would result in peace any time soon as the Taliban are stronger.”


Five dead following US Border Patrol car chase in Texas

Updated 38 min 44 sec ago
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Five dead following US Border Patrol car chase in Texas

  • The chase began after a Border Patrol agent noticed three vehicles traveling in a caravan and suspected smuggling
  • Four victims were pronounced dead on the scene and a fifth was pronounced dead after being airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio

BIG WELLS, Texas: Five immigrants died and several others were injured on Sunday when their vehicle careened out of control while being chased by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas about 90 miles (145 km) north of the Mexican border, officials said.
Some of the injured were ejected from a Chevy Suburban packed with 14 people that was traveling up to 100 miles per hour (160 kph), Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd told reporters.
The sport utility vehicle skidded off the road and then attempted to get back onto the highway, but the driver overcorrected and the vehicle flipped over, ejecting several people, Boyd said.
"We've seen this many, many times, in not only this county but other counties along the border," Boyd said. "This is a perfect example of why our borders need to be secure."
The chase began after a Border Patrol agent noticed three vehicles traveling in a caravan and suspected smuggling, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement. Border Patrol agents stopped two of the vehicles and made multiple arrests, but the third vehicle continued, the statement said.
"The driver did not stop and the attempt to stop the vehicle was taken over by a Dimmit County Sheriff's office deputy. The vehicle rolled over a short distance later on highway 85 near Big Wells, resulting in multiple injuries and fatalities," the statement said.
Four victims were pronounced dead on the scene and a fifth was pronounced dead after being airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio, Boyd said. A sixth person was in very critical condition with potentially life-threatening injuries, he said.
Television images showed the smashed vehicle missing at least two wheels, with debris strewn across the road at the Big Wells city limit.
The driver, who was not hurt, was arrested, Boyd said. It was not immediately clear what charges he will face.