Afghan govt seeks Pakistan’s help to extend truce with Taliban

Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak, left, and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security Director (NDS) Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai attend a joint news conference in Kabul. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Afghan govt seeks Pakistan’s help to extend truce with Taliban

  • The Taliban’s leader offered to hold direct talks with the US to resolve the conflict through dialogue.
  • Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring and sheltering the Taliban and other militant groups, which Islamabad denies.

KABUL: The Afghan government is seeking Pakistan’s cooperation in extending a temporary truce that it recently announced with the Taliban, hoping that the move will pave the way for direct talks with the group, Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said on Thursday.

The request was made on Tuesday during the visit of a Pakistani military delegation that coincided with Kabul’s declaration of the truce, Barmak added.

“There is hope that with the talks that we had with the Pakistani delegation, the truce will prolong,” he said.

“We asked them to cooperate in the extension of the truce between us and the Taliban and other groups, and provide the means for talks.”

Barmak did not comment on Pakistan’s response to the request. Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring and sheltering the Taliban and other militant groups, which Islamabad denies.

Kabul hopes that the Taliban will abide by its pledge of a three-day truce, which will start on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr and came in response to the government’s truce, Barmak said.

There were a number of Taliban attacks against government forces in various parts of the country in the past three days since Kabul announced its unilateral truce, he added.

While conceding government losses in those attacks, he denied reports that the toll stood at nearly 100.

Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, who was ambassador to Pakistan under the Taliban government, said the truce is the start of a “big process,” and expressed hope that it will be extended.

In an Eid message, Taliban leader Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada said the group’s fight is to end the US military presence in Afghanistan.

The only way to save the country is for the US military and “other occupying forces” to leave Afghanistan so an independent, Islamic government “can take root,” he added.

The Taliban has “kept the doors of understanding and negotiations open,” he said, urging the US to hold direct talks with the group.

If the US believes in a peaceful resolution, it must resolve the crisis through dialogue, Akhundzada added.


British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

Updated 20 June 2018
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British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

  • MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019
  • The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with her pro-EU MPs on Wednesday over parliament’s role in the final Brexit deal, which could influence her entire negotiation strategy.
MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019.
May says she expects to get an agreement with Brussels, but warned that any attempt to tie her hands could undermine the ongoing negotiations.
She averted a rebellion by pro-EU MPs in her Conservative Party on the issue of parliamentary powers last week with a promise of a compromise, but within days they had rejected her proposal as inadequate.
Instead they worked with peers to introduce their own amendment to the unelected upper House of Lords, which agreed it by a landslide on Monday.
The amendment now returns to MPs in the elected lower House of Commons, where Conservative rebels will ally with opposition parties in a bid to finally make it law.
May’s spokesman refused to say if he believes the government has the numbers to win the vote, but made clear that no more concessions would be forthcoming.
“We cannot accept the amendment on a meaningful vote agreed in the Lords,” he said, adding that it “would undermine our ability in the negotiations to get the best deal for the country.”
“We will be retabling our original amendment,” he said, adding: “We hope that all MPs will be able to support the government’s position.”
The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament.
May commands only a slim majority in the 650-seat Commons, made possible through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
A victory for the pro-EU rebels would embolden them ahead of debates next month on Britain’s future trading relationship with the European Union, which they are seeking to keep as close as possible.
It would likely anger euroskeptics, who accuse the rebels of seeking to thwart Brexit.
They are also becoming increasingly frustrated with the withdrawal process under May’s leadership.
Leading Conservative rebel Dominic Grieve denied he was trying to undermine the government or stop Brexit, but warned that if parliament rejected the final Brexit deal, there would be a crisis.
“That’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat,” he told Sky News television.
“The very reason I’ve prompted this amendment is to provide a mechanism to make sure that we don’t come to government collapse immediately.”
But euroskeptic Conservative MP Graham Stringer said Grieve and his supporters were only interested in “sabotaging the whole process.”
“The purpose of the latest Grieve ruse is to give parliament the power to delay or stop Brexit,” he said.
Despite agreement on Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights, the Brexit talks are progressing slowly, and there are few hopes of a breakthrough at an EU summit later this month.
Both sides are still publicly aiming for an agreement in October, but this is looking more and more difficult.
Negotiations are currently stalled on how to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, and neighboring EU member Ireland when Britain develops its own trade and customs policies.
“Serious divergences” remain over Northern Ireland, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Tuesday after a final round of talks between London and Brussels ahead of the European summit.
The British government has also yet to decide on what it wants from the future economic relationship.
It has been clear about one area, security cooperation — but many of its proposals were on Tuesday knocked back by Barnier.
He said Britain could not stay in the European Arrest Warrant, take part in meetings of policing agency Europol or access EU-only police databases.
“We need more realism about what is and what is not possible,” he said.