Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

Taliban militants and Afghan security forces have been engaged in heavy fighting in Ghazni province over recent days. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Afghan Taliban considering Eid holiday ceasefire

  • No decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option
  • In January, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban are considering announcing a ceasefire during next week’s Eid holiday, despite heavy fighting seen over recent days in the central Afghan city of Ghazni, two senior Taliban officials said.
They said no decision had been taken but senior leaders would meet either on Tuesday evening or Wednesday to discuss the option, which was being pushed by some Muslim states and other parties with good relations to the movement.
If agreed, it may be announced in Ghazni province, where the Taliban say they control most of the districts around the provincial capital.
Prior to the fighting in Ghazni, which has killed and wounded hundreds, there had been strong hopes of a repeat of the three-day truce during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday in June, the most concrete sign of progress toward peace since talks between the government and Taliban broke down in 2015.
The government said last month it was considering offering a ceasefire during Eid Al-Adha, the annual feast of sacrifice, which begins next week but has so far not confirmed the offer and there has been no response from the Taliban.
“Our friends are advising us that we should announce a four-day ceasefire for the upcoming Eid Al-Adha so that the people of Afghanistan can peacefully celebrate their Eid like they did two months ago,” one of the Taliban officials said.
“As usual there would be divided opinion on a ceasefire like we faced last time during Eid-al Fitr but our supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada would then play his role and would either announce the ceasefire or may ask the fighters to continue their fight,” said the official, a member of the Shoura, or leadership council.
Another Taliban leader said he hoped their leadership might announce a ceasefire as last time it had helped win hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, with unarmed fighters and soldiers seen mingling on the streets of Kabul and other cities.
“The demand is for one week but our leadership may announce four days of ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to buy sacrificial animals and celebrate Eid Al-Adha in a peaceful environment,” he said.
Asked who the “friends” were, the first official said the Taliban had friends and allies in many parts of the world.
In January, President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions and the US has dropped its previous refusal to talk to the Taliban, saying it would be willing to participate in an Afghan-led process.
Taliban officials say they have spoken directly to the top US official on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office and a delegation traveled to Uzbekistan this month to discuss issues including peace.


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.