Afghan president faces flak for Eid truce offer

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 August 2018

Afghan president faces flak for Eid truce offer

  • President Ashraf Ghani announced a three-month-long Eid truce with the Taliban on Sunday while marking Afghanistan's 99th Independence Day
  • The Taliban, in turn, announced the release of captured government soldiers on Eid Al-Adha but are silent over truce offer

KABUL: Taliban militants on Monday refrained from openly accepting, or rejecting, President Ashraf Ghani’s three-month-long conditional ceasefire. Dozens of Afghans, however, marched in protest in Kabul against Ghani’s offer, saying the insurgents did not deserve a truce.

The US, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among countries that hailed President Ghani’s proposal, made on Sunday evening.

The Taliban had earlier accepted Ghani's truce offer during Eid Al-Fitr and announced a halt to fighting and thousands of them entered government-held areas to celebrate the post-Ramadan festival.

Spokesmen for the Taliban said their leadership had given no instruction whether the group will indeed declare a truce this time around.

The Taliban did say that several government troops captured by the insurgents would be freed on the occasion of Eid and that their release was not linked to Ghani's offer.

A spokesman for Ghani, Haroon Chakhansuri, said on Monday that no Taliban troops were among those the government plans to free on Eid Al-Adha.

Officials at the office of Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said no unilateral truce would be allowed along the pattern of last Eid. At that time, the Taliban observed only three days of ceasefire and attacked government forces across the country while the government enforced a longer truce.

Without the other side's willingness to halt fighting, the ceasefire would be meaningless, they said.

The spokesman for the government-appointed High Peace Council (HPC), Sayed Ehsan Taher, said the body’s findings showed that people wanted a permanent ceasefire between the government and the Taliban.

Afghan lawmakers claim the government seeks a prolonged truce because it is unable to hold both the parliamentary elections slated for October and the presidential election in six months’ time.
Despite international support for Ghani’s ceasefire offer, a group of people in Kabul, led by former intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, staged a protest against it.

“The Taliban only bring the forces of evil into our cities. They only bring death, destruction, and chaos,” one protester, Ejaz Malikzada, said.
Forgetting the crimes of Taliban militants is tantamount to participating in their crimes, said some of the lawmakers in Ghani's administration. Family members of hundreds and thousands of Taliban victims have neither forgiven nor forgotten the atrocities, said one of the lawmakers who asked for anonymity.
“Our city is our home, not a haven for filthy terrorists. The Taliban only bring death and destruction. In a matter of one week, Taliban terrorists murdered 1,000 Afghan National Security Forces and civilians. We cannot let all that blood go in vain,” said Saleh.
The protesters called on the general public not to allow the Taliban to enter government-held areas. Some locals in northern Baghlan province have even vowed to shoot any Taliban on sight if they enter government-held areas as they did the previous time.

Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 30 min 25 sec ago

Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.