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.”


India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

Updated 23 min 14 sec ago
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India’s Modi faces calls for resignation over French jet deal

  • Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
  • Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”

DELHI: India’s prime minister was under fire over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France after comments by former French President François Hollande. Hollande was quoted as saying Narendra Modi’s government had influenced the choice of a local partner.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
The opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, spent the past year alleging that the deal is a scam, in which India is overpaying for jets and the government is allowing a private company — billionaire Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense — to benefit instead of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
On Friday, Hollande, who cleared the intergovernmental deal when he was in office, was quoted as saying New Delhi had put pressure on Dassault to choose Reliance.
“We had no choice. We took the interlocutor that was given to us,” he was reported as telling the French news service Mediapart, fueling a political storm in India.
The Indian government, however, has insisted all along that it had nothing to do with Dassault’s decision to work with Reliance Defense.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip the Reliance Defense procured the contract .
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to ...Anil Ambani,” said Mr. Gandhi in a tweet.
Gandhi further tweeted: “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a ... SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defense forces. Modi Ji you dishonored the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Gandhi repeated the charge in a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday.
The BJP, however, says that there is no corruption.
“The fact that two sovereign heads of States negotiated a deal means that there is no room for corruption,” said Sudesh Verma, BJP spokesperson.
Talking to Arab News Verma emphasized that “the highest integrity was maintained in the deal. Now the Congress is not talking of corruption but favoritism. Merely by saying that Reliance Defense was favored by us would not cut any ice. These are insinuations and are irresponsible.”
Political analysts say that the BJP is “losing in the perception war.”
“No matter what the indian government says that perception is that the Indian government gave the offset contract to Anil Ambani, a guy who has no history of producing defense equipment,” says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi based political analyst.
He added: “The halo around Modi has been severely diminished after the recent revelations. This is something which it would be very difficult to live it down now.”