Afghan President invites Pakistan PM to Kabul for fence-mending talks

In this file photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with a foreign delegate at the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Feb. 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Afghan President invites Pakistan PM to Kabul for fence-mending talks

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered an invitation to Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to visit Kabul as part of a move to reset ties that have sharply deteriorated between the two uneasy neighbors over Islamabad’s alleged support for the Afghan Taliban.
Ghani made the offer on Saturday to visiting Pakistani National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua in Kabul. He is on a one-day visit after Ghani spoke nearly three weeks ago of his desire to improve ties with Islamabad when he announced his peace talks overture to the Taliban insurgents too.
“This is to initiate state-to-state comprehensive dialogue,” Ghani said in a tweet after meeting Janjua at the presidential palace.
A spokesman for the President, Dawa Khan Meenapal, said the focus of today’s meeting between Ghani and Janjua was the former’s offer of an olive branch to the Taliban, made at a regional meeting in the Afghan capital some three weeks ago and called the “Kabul Process.”
“At the meeting, the Pakistani National Security Adviser spoke about Pakistan’s backing for the Kabul Process,” Meenapal told Arab News.
He could not comment if the Pakistani NSA had made any pledge to persuade the Taliban delegates to speak with Ghani’s government or will hand over several former Taliban leaders who have been languishing in Pakistani jails for years as part of a goodwill gesture to Kabul.
The visit of Pakistan’s NSA and Ghani’s offer to Abbasi come less than a week after the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during a visit to Kabul that there was no military solution to the Afghan war and that elements within the Taliban were interested in initiating peace talks with Kabul.
Mattis’ utterances come after weeks of heavy bombardment of areas concentrated with suspected militants and their alleged drugs laboratories as part of Washington’s new war strategy announced last summer.
The militants have focused most of their attacks on urban areas, which some say proves their ability to strike back and to show that Kabul and the US military have not been able to crush its might.
So far the Taliban has refused to indicate whether the group will accept Ghani’s offer or turn it down as it has done several times in the past.
But the movement twice last month showed readiness to engage with the United States, which in an invasion toppled the radical Islamist government from power in late 2001 and whom it sees as the main adversary.
At the same time the militants have stepped up their attacks and on Saturday in a suicide car attack one of the group’s bombers in Kabul killed several locals.
The target of the strike seemed to have been a compound used by foreigners and there was no immediate report of casualties among the foreigners from the strike.
The visit of Pakistan’s NSA and Ghani’s offer to its PM came as Abbasi held an unscheduled meeting with US Vice President Michael Pence about the Afghanistan conflict in Washington on Friday, ANI reported.
A half-hour one-on-one meeting took place at Pence’s residence at the US Naval Observatory near the Pakistan embassy in Washington, as reported by the Dawn.
They discussed the on-going peace process between the Afghanistan ruling party led by Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban, it said.
During the meeting, Abbasi assured Pence of Pakistan’s “sincere commitment” to the efforts to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan while highlighting Pakistan’s successful efforts in combating terror within its own territory.


Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Updated 35 min 58 sec ago
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Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

BUNNIK, Netherlands: Prosecutors investigating the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 said on Thursday they had identified the missile used to shoot down the plane as coming from a Russian military unit.
The airliner was hit by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, with 298 people on board, two-thirds of them Dutch, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists. All aboard died.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the crime squad of the Netherlands’ national police, said the missile had been fired from a carrier belonging to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade.
“All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces,” he told a televised news conference.
Russia has denied involvement in the incident. There was no immediate comment from Moscow on the investigative development.
In an interim update on their investigation, prosecutors said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.
“We have a lot of proof and a lot of evidence, but we are not finished,” said chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
He said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments. The question of whether members of the 53rd Brigade were actively involved in the downing of the plane remains under investigation, he said.
Westerbeke called on witnesses, including members of the public, to help identify members of the crew that was operating the missile system. He also asked for tip-offs in determining what their orders were and in identifying the officials in charge of the brigade.
A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
Dutch prosecutors said in September 2016 that 100 “persons of interest” had been identified in the investigation, while Australian and Malaysian officials had initially expressed hope that suspects’ names would be made public in 2017.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal to oversee criminal complaints stemming from the incident.