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

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.”

New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

Updated 25 March 2019

New Zealand orders top-level inquiry into mosque massacres

  • "One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said
  • Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday ordered an independent judicial inquiry into whether police and intelligence services could have prevented the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15.
Ardern said a royal commission -- the most powerful judicial probe available under New Zealand law -- was needed to find out how a single gunman was able to kill 50 people in an attack that shocked the world.
"It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to how this act of terrorism occurred and how we could have stopped it," she told reporters.
New Zealand's spy agencies have faced criticism in the wake of the attack for concentrating on the threat from Islamic extremism.
Instead, the victims were all Muslims and the massacre was allegedly carried out by a white supremacist fixated on the belief that there was an Islamist plot to "invade" Western countries.
"One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more," Ardern said.
"New Zealand is not a surveillance state ... but questions need to be answered."
Ardern ruled out New Zealand re-introducing the death penalty for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant, 28, who was arrested minutes after the attack on the mosques and has been charged with murder.
She said details of the royal commission were being finalised, but it would be comprehensive and would report in a timely manner.
It will cover the activities of intelligence services, police, customs, immigration and any other relevant government agencies in the lead-up to the attack.
The gunman livestreamed the attack online, although New Zealand has outlawed the footage as "objectionable content".
Ardern reiterated her believe it should not be aired.
"That video should not be shared. That is harmful content," she said when questioned about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan showing excerpts of the footage at campaign rallies for local elections this month.
Erdogan had angered both Wellington and Canberra with campaign rhetoric about anti-Muslim Australians and New Zealanders being sent back in "coffins" like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, a World War I battle.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters travelled to Istanbul to meet Erdogan and address an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Peters said OIC members were full of praise for the support New Zealand had offered its small, tight-knit Muslim community in the wake of the killings.
"A number of them were weeping and sobbing at the demonstration (of support) by non-Muslim New Zealand towards the Muslim victims," he told reporters.
"It was dramatic and I was told by countless ministers that they've never seen anything of that type."
The body of an Indian student killed in the Christchurch mosque attacks, meanwhile, was returned Monday to her grieving family in Kochi, where relatives remembered a bright young woman dedicated to her studies.
Ansi Alibava, 25, was the first of at least five Indians shot dead on March 15 to be repatriated.
The family planned to hold a funeral ceremony for the masters student in their nearby hometown of Kodungallur.