Taliban’s political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev. (RAHMAT GAL/AP/FILE)
Updated 12 August 2018
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Taliban’s political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan

  • The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan
  • Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war

ISLAMABAD: In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.
Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.
The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.
Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.
“The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.
Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan.”
Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Daesh group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.
Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the US Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.
“What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.
“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said.
On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.
“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri.
Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.
For Uzbekistan, the Daesh presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by Daesh in Afghanistan.
Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a US missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand Daesh influence in Afghanistan.
Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to Daesh when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.
Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who went over and joined Daesh after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.
Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.


More US sanctions on Myanmar for rights abuses

Rohingya refugees queue at an aid relief distribution centre at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar on August 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 54 sec ago
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More US sanctions on Myanmar for rights abuses

  • The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority and most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights
  • The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove more than 140,000 people

WASHINGTON: The US Treasury on Friday slapped sanctions on members of the Myanmar security forces for their alleged role in violent campaigns against ethnic minorities across the troubled nation in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar security forces have engaged in ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses, said Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “Treasury is sanctioning units and leaders overseeing this horrific behavior as part of a broader US government strategy to hold accountable those responsible for such wide-scale human suffering.”
The Trump administration earlier imposed sanctions on the chief of Myanmar’s western military command, but has faced pressure from human rights groups and lawmakers to impose more sanctions on those involved in a crackdown that began in August 2017 in western Rakhine State where 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority fled brutal army operations.
The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove more than 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remained until last year’s violence.
The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority and most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights. Myanmar, however, has staunchly denied that its security forces have targeted civilians in so-called clearance operations in Rakhine State on Myanmar’s west coast.
Friday’s action sanctions four commanders with the Myanmar military and border guard police plus two military units for their alleged involvement in ethnic cleaning in Rakhine and other human rights abuses in Burma’s Kachin and Shan states. Those sanctioned are: military commanders Aung Kyaw Zaw, Khin Maung Soe, Khin Hlaing and Thura San Lwin; and members of the 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions.
The sanctions block any property they own within US jurisdiction and prohibit US citizens from engaging in transactions with them.