Islamabad seeks political solution to Afghan conflict in Tashkent

Khawaja Muhammad Asif. (AP)
Updated 26 March 2018
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Islamabad seeks political solution to Afghan conflict in Tashkent

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will press for a political solution to the Afghan conflict in the two-day international peace conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent, a Pakistani official said on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif will represent Pakistan in the conference on “Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity.”
The forum in the Uzbek capital will begin on March 26, and will be attended by global and regional powers as well as Afghanistan’s neighbors, the foreign office said.
A Paksitani senior official, a member of the Pakistani delegation to the Tashkent conference, told Arab News that the main agenda is “peace and stability in Afghanistan by promoting cooperation for Afghan reconciliation and in counterterrorism and counter-narcotics.
“Our effort is that the conference should focus on the peace effort. We will plead that regional counterterrorism cooperation should be based on engagement, not criticism,” he said.
An Uzbek foreign ministry’s statement said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the conference.
The conference comes weeks after Ghani unveiled his peace strategy for talks with the Taliban insurgents. The plan includes recognition of the Taliban as a political party, allowing the group to open an office in Kabul, removing the names of Taliban leaders from the UN sanction list, and releasing Taliban prisoners.
The Taliban played down Ghani’s peace overture and in two letters to the American people and congressmen last month called for direct dialogue with the US to end the Afghan war, saying increased US military airstrikes under Trump’s new strategy have not “retaken even a single inch of land” from the insurgency.
Central Asian states have had only limited involvement in the Afghan issue, but the growing threat of Daesh and the prolonged war in Afghanistan have forced them to play an active role.
Uzbekistan says President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has organized the Tashkent conference jointly with the Afghan side as an important part of the country’s strategy to provide regional security and stability.
International and regional initiatives have failed to broker any peace negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban.
Besides the Kabul process, other initiatives include Moscow Format, the Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US, the International Contact Group on Afghanistan, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group and the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA).
Pakistani officials believe Uzbekistan is trying to “please both the US and Russia” in view of its relationship with both countries.
“The US and Afghanistan are seeing it as continuation of the Kabul process, while Russia is trying to use its influence over Uzbekistan to bring its point of view,” an official said.
A Pakistani official who is privy to the consultations underway in Tashkent said there will be no mention in the conference declaration of the presence of the foreign troops.
“The declaration will not talk about it,” he told Arab News.
An Uzbek foreign ministry statement said the conference will adopt the “Tashkent declaration” to suggest the peace process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and in accordance with the provisions of resolutions and decisions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
Among those invited to the Tashkent meeting are the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Special Representative of the Organization for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as foreign ministers of China, Russia, US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, India, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


UK Cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal

Updated 13 November 2018
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UK Cabinet to meet after Britain, EU reach draft Brexit deal

LONDON: Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said Tuesday.
After a year and a half of stalled talks, false starts and setbacks, negotiators agreed on proposals to resolve the main outstanding issue: the Irish border.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said the Cabinet would hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider the proposal. Its support isn’t guaranteed: May is under pressure from pro-Brexit ministers not to make further concessions to the EU.
Ambassadors from the 27 other EU countries are also due to hold a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
May told the Cabinet earlier Tuesday that “a small number” of issues remain to be resolved in divorce negotiations with the European Union, while her deputy, David Lidington, said the two sides are “almost within touching distance” of a Brexit deal.
Britain wants to seal a deal this fall, so that Parliament has time to vote on it before the UK leaves the bloc on March 29. The European Parliament also has to approve any agreement.
Negotiators have been meeting late into the night in Brussels in a bid to close the remaining gaps.
The main obstacle has long been how to ensure there are no customs posts or other checks along the border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
Irish national broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement involves a common customs arrangement for the UK and the EU, to eliminate the need for border checks.
But May faces pressure from pro-Brexit Cabinet members not to agree to an arrangement that binds Britain to EU trade rules indefinitely.
May also faces growing opposition from pro-EU lawmakers, who say her proposed Brexit deal is worse than the status quo and the British public should get a new vote on whether to leave or to stay.
If there is no agreement soon, UK businesses will have to start implementing contingency plans for a “no-deal” Brexit — steps that could include cutting jobs, stockpiling goods and relocating production and services outside Britain.
Even with such measures in place, the British government says leaving the EU without a deal could cause major economic disruption, with gridlock at ports and disruption to supplies of foods, goods and medicines.
On Tuesday, the European Commission published a sheaf of notices outlining changes in a host of areas in the event of a no-deal Brexit. They point to major disruption for people and businesses: UK truckers’ licenses won’t be valid in the EU, British airlines will no longer enjoy traffic rights, and even British mineral water will cease to be recognized as such by the EU.
The EU said Tuesday it was proposing visa-free travel for UK citizens on short trips, even if there is no deal — but only if Britain reciprocates.
“We need to prepare for all options,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said. On a deal, he said: “We are not there yet.”
Meanwhile, official figures suggest Brexit is already having an impact on the British workforce.
The Office for National Statistics said the number of EU citizens working in the country — 2.25 million— was down 132,000 in the three months to September from the year before. That’s the largest annual fall since comparable records began in 1997.
Most of the fall is due to fewer workers from eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004.
Jonathan Portes, professor of economics at King’s College London, said the prospect of Brexit “has clearly made the UK a much less attractive place for Europeans to live and work.”