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.”


New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

This handout photo from the Pike River Family Reference Group taken on and recieved by AFP on May 21, 2019 shows family members and workers hugging after the re-opening of the entrance to the Pike River Mine where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion in 2010 in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

  • The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Crews in New Zealand on Tuesday reentered an underground coal mine where a methane explosion killed 29 workers more than eight years ago, raising hopes among family members that they might find bodies and new evidence that leads to criminal charges.
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was killed in the explosion, said the families had been fighting for this ever since the Pike River mine exploded.
“We did it. We won,” she said.
She said it had been a “hugely emotional” day for the families and it was a moving experience to watch people going back into the mine. She said they hope the crews can recover electronic equipment that indicates what went wrong, much like the black box in a plane.
“The families are all hoping that the team going in, with their forensic expertise, will find new evidence for future prosecutions against those who allowed the mine to blow up in first place,” she said.
Nigel Hampton, a lawyer who is acting for the families, said that if they discover what ignited the methane, it could help link acts of negligence with the deaths of the miners and result in charges such as manslaughter.
“There’s still a long way to go yet, but it’s possible,” he said.
Two workers escaped the mine after the deadly November 2010 explosion. After several more explosions, the mine was sealed shut with a concrete barrier.
New Zealand’s previous conservative government concluded the mine remained too unsafe to reenter. But the liberal government elected in 2017, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reconsidered.
“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability,” said Andrew Little, the minister responsible for Pike River reentry. “That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned.”
The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall. It remains unclear how many miners were on either side of the rockfall at the time of the explosion or how many bodies might be recovered.
New Zealand police said they’ll be examining any new evidence from the mine, which they could use to file charges.
An earlier investigation concluded the Pike River Coal company had exposed miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. The report found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels before the disaster.
The company, which went bankrupt, didn’t contest labor violation charges against it.
Labor violation charges against former chief executive Peter Whittall were dismissed after he and the company made a financial settlement, a development which angered many of the grieving families. New Zealand’s Supreme Court later ruled the settlement was unlawful.
Whittall moved to Australia about five years ago.