Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

In this file photo, Afghan alleged former Taliban fighters carry their weapons before handing them over as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad on Feb. 24, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban, apparently shifting its long-held stance, says it will negotiate with any side to find a way to end the US-led 16-year-old war in the country.
The move came days after Mohammed Ismail Khan, a former anti-Taliban leader who served as governor of western Herat and later as a Cabinet minister, urged the group to initiate talks with former guerrilla factions after the militants failed to officially reject President Ashraf Ghani’s peace overture last month.
“As a principle, the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) welcomes all efforts aimed at finding a true solution to the ongoing problems of our country,” a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote in a statement on the group's website reacting to Ismail Khan’s call.
Last month, the Taliban twice spoke of its desire to hold direct talks with Washington, which it regards as its main adversary because US-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
US officials in response told the Taliban to start talks with Ghani’s government, which the Taliban considers a stooge of Washington and with whom it has repeatedly refused to meet.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a visit to Kabul last week, said the Afghan war had no military solution and that some elements within the Taliban were interested in talks with Kabul.
In a move seen as a change from the Taliban’s past policy, Mujahid said the Taliban was open for talks with any side, but it neither mentioned nor excluded the government.
“Since Mr. Ismail Khan -– as the representative of former jihadi leaders –- has sought a response from the Islamic Emirate to their offer of talks and reaching an understanding, the Islamic Emirate wants to make it clear to everyone seeking an end to the ongoing tragedy (invasion of our country) and who do not support the invaders, be they jihadi personalities or otherwise, (that it will) meet with the Political Office to exchange views about ending foreign occupation, establishing an Islamic system and reconciliation.”
In response to the statement, a spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Arab News: “In the past the Taliban used to reject immediately any offer made by our side. The government is waiting to hear the Taliban’s official stance as to whether they reject or accept the government’s proposal.
“The general trend in Afghanistan, in the region and the world, is that they support the government’s stance. The Taliban have no alternative but to accept what the people, the region and the world expect from them, otherwise they will face more isolation.”
Reacting to Mujahid’s comments, Ismail Khan said his offer and the Taliban response was a new development.
Speaking to Arab News by phone from Herat, Ismail Khan said he would discuss the Taliban response with jihadi leaders, including his allies in the Jamiat-e-Islami party, and will issue a reply later.
“Let us ponder on this. We will not discuss this issue further because we do not want the process to face difficulty. We will have a subsequent program on this and will announce it.”
Ismail Khan is a veteran of the war against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Despite serving as governor in the former government and also as a Cabinet minister, unlike many former guerrilla leaders he has openly remained an opponent of the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Known as the “Lion of Herat” by some for his resistance against the Soviet occupiers, Ismail Khan fought against the Taliban when the latter emerged and advanced on his southwestern fiefdom in the 1990s and later was even imprisoned by the Taliban.
Later, Ismail Khan managed to flee the Taliban jail, having been treated with respect by members of the group in jail too. He was not so deeply involved in the civil war and has remained out of tribal and ethnic tension in recent years in Afghanistan.
Several other guerrilla leaders, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined Ghani’s government last year, have on various occasions urged the Taliban to start peace talks. But the Taliban has never given a positive response to their call.
Giving a positive reply to Ismail Khan’s overture is seen as a unique step by the Taliban.
“I think it (the response) was their (the Taliban’s) evaluation that we raised this call with sincerity to let us honestly save this country,” Khan said when asked how the Taliban happened to hail his call.


Pakistan’s national airline to formally invite newlywed British royals to visit

Updated 22 May 2018
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Pakistan’s national airline to formally invite newlywed British royals to visit

  • Formal invitation letter will be delivered to the British High Commission, PIA spokesperson tells Arab News
  • Pakistan International Airlines hopes that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will visit the northern areas of the country, just as Princess Diana did in 1991

KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will formally invite Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the newlywed British royal couple, to visit the scenic northern areas of the country, the airline’s spokesman told Arab News on Monday.
“We have prepared the official draft of the invitation that will be delivered to the British High Commission in Pakistan on Tuesday,” said Mashood Tajwar, the spokesperson of the country’s national flag carrier.
“We are offering them to visit and enjoy the beauty of the northern areas of Pakistan on behalf of our managing director,” he added, saying that the royal couple would also enjoy the warm hospitality of the people of Pakistan.
In an apparent marketing move, PIA had earlier invited the newlyweds via a Twitter message to experience the splendor of the country’s northern areas, reminding them of Princess Diana’s four-day solo trip to the region in September 1991.
The princess had visited Peshawar and Chitral where she was presented with the area’s traditional cap, adorned with a beautiful feather, and an embroidered coat.
PIA also posted a picture of her wearing Gilgit-Baltistan’s traditional dress and sitting with two local children. The airlines offered to send the royal couple one of its aircraft if they accepted the invitation.
“We watched the Royal Wedding and remembered Princess Diana and her trip to the northern areas of Pakistan, and we thought how wonderful it would be for the newlyweds to visit our northern splendors as well. So, Prince Harry and Princess Meghan, we are ready, just let us know when,” PIA tweeted.
The invitation drew mixed responses on social media.
Some people expressed their readiness to welcome the royal couple, with some saying it was a nice gesture.
But others lambasted the airline for what they thought was its poor performance. “By the time they get to Lahore, the royal couple will have their first child,” mocked one social media user.
The country’s loss-making national flag carrier is aggressively working towards rebuilding its public image. However, it has been losing around Rs45 billion ($389.3 million) per year and its accumulated losses are estimated to be about Rs316 billion.
Recently, the Economic Coordination Committee approved a Rs20 billion bailout package for PIA — the fifth of its kind in one-and-a-half years.
The government has developed a strategic business plan to improve the performance of the airlines. The plan will prioritize segregation of non-core functions from core functions, product improvement, route rationalization, and cost reduction/optimization. It will also develop HR capability and modernize its IT systems.
PIA has refurbished its fleet of 32 aircraft. It has also abandoned unprofitable routes and increased the number of flights on profitable routes such as Saudi Arabia and China.