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.


Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

Updated 22 September 2018
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Some see signs of hope on North Korea as Trump heads to UN

  • In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea
  • The two leaders have turned from threats to flattery

WASHINGTON:North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “little rocket man” no more. President Donald Trump isn’t a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
In the year since Trump’s searing, debut UN speech fueled fears of nuclear conflict with North Korea, the two leaders have turned from threats to flattery.
And there’s fresh hope that the US president’s abrupt shift from coercion to negotiation can yield results in getting Kim to halt, if not abandon, his nuclear weapons program.
Trump will address world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday on the back of an upbeat summit between South and North Korea, where Kim promised to dismantle a major rocket launch site and the North’s main nuclear complex at Nyongbyon if it gets some incentive from Washington.
North Korea remains a long, long way from relinquishing its nuclear arsenal, and the US has been adding to, not easing, sanctions. Yet the past 12 months have seen a remarkable change in atmosphere between the adversaries that has surprised even the former US envoy on North Korea.
“If someone had told me last year that North Korea will stop nuclear tests, will stop missile tests and that they will release the remaining American prisoners and that they would be even considering dismantling Nyongbyon, I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” said Joseph Yun, who resigned in March and has since left the US foreign service.
Since Trump and Kim held the first summit between US and North Korean leaders in Singapore in June, Trump has missed no chance to praise “Chairman Kim,” and Kim has expressed “trust and confidence” in the American president he once branded “senile.”
But progress has been slow toward the vague goal they agreed upon — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which has eluded US presidents for the past quarter-century. The US wants to achieve that by January 2021, when Trump completes his first term in office.
Although Kim won’t be going to New York next week, meetings there could prove critical in deciding whether a second Trump-Kim summit will take place any time soon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho for a meeting in New York, and Trump will be consulting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, fresh from his third summit with Kim this year. It was at that meeting in Pyongyang that the North Korean leader made his tantalizing offers to close key facilities of his weapons programs that have revived prospects for US-North Korea talks.
Yun, who spoke to reporters Friday at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, said the US goal of achieving denuclearization in just two years is unrealistic, but the offer to close Nyongbyon, where the North has plutonium, uranium and nuclear reprocessing facilities, is significant and offers a way forward.
That’s a far cry from last September. After Trump’s thunderous speech, Yun’s first thought was on the need to avoid a war. The president vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if the US was forced to defend itself or its allies against the North’s nukes. “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” the president said.
His blunt talk triggered an extraordinary, almost surreal, exchange of insults. Kim issued a harshly worded statement from Pyongyang, dubbing the thin-skinned Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard.” A day later, the North’s top diplomat warned it could test explode a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.
Tensions have eased hugely since then, and cracks have emerged in the international consensus on pressuring North Korea economically to get it to disarm.
The US accuses Russia of allowing illicit oil sales to North Korea. Trump has also criticized China, which has fraternal ties with the North and is embroiled in a trade war with the US, for conducting more trade with its old ally. Sanctions could even become a sore point with South Korea. Moon is eager to restart economic cooperation with North Korea to cement improved relations on the divided peninsula.
All that will increase pressure on Washington to compromise with Pyongyang — providing the incentives Kim seeks, even if the weapons capabilities he’s amassed violate international law. He’s likely eying a declaration on formally ending the Korean War as a marker of reduced US “hostility” and sanctions relief.
That could prove politically unpalatable in Washington just as it looks for Kim to follow through on the denuclearization pledge he made in Singapore.
Frank Aum, a former senior Pentagon adviser on North Korea, warned tensions could spike again if the US does not see progress by year’s end, when the US would typically need to start planning large-scale military drills with South Korea that North Korea views as war preparations. Trump decided to cancel drills this summer as a concession to Kim.
“Things can flip pretty quickly,” Aum said. “We’ve seen it going from bad to good and it could fairly quickly go back to the bad again.”