Taliban ready for second round of talks with US

One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Taliban ready for second round of talks with US

  • Taliban officials recounted details of a meeting held in July with Alice Wells, Washington’s top envoy to the region
  • One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban are ready for a second round of talks with the US, possibly this month, which is likely to focus on prisoner exchange, confidence building measures, and ways to move from back-door meetings to formal negotiations, said Taliban officials in separate interviews in recent days.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, Taliban officials recounted details of a meeting held in July with Alice Wells, Washington’s top envoy to the region.

One of the officials said the meeting ended with a plan to meet again in September. The US has refused to confirm or deny that meeting.

Both the US and Afghan government have insisted that talks on Afghanistan’s future would be Afghan-led, while direct talks between Washington and the Taliban — which the insurgents have long demanded — are said to be a stepping stone toward Afghan-to-Afghan talks. The Taliban have sought direct talks to settle US concerns about the Taliban’s participation in Afghanistan’s future as well as the presence of NATO and the US in the country.

The official, who spoke to The Associated Press from Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, said they are waiting on Washington for a second meeting date.

During the July meeting, the Taliban asked for recognition of their political office in the Qatar capital of Doha as well as an end to restrictions against its top leaders before the start of the formal negotiations, they said.

The Taliban repeated their longstanding demand for the release of its prisoners in jails in Afghanistan, claiming as many as 2,000 are being held.

Washington has long been demanding the release of prisoners held by the Taliban including American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, two professors at the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in August 2016 as they returned to their compound.

In a statement posted on its official website, the Taliban last month took the unusual step of withdrawing security promises to the International Committee of the Red Cross, saying the ICRC had failed to help prisoners in Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi jail who were on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

The Taliban statement was unusual in that it was a rare time that the insurgent group threatened punitive action for alleged behavior that was not Taliban-specific, but rather a general condemnation for a job it said was being poorly done.

The same statement warned all international organizations operating in Afghanistan to “understand that if they indulge in trivial or other irrelevant activities instead of focusing on the main needs of the oppressed people, the Islamic Emirate will treat them in a similar fashion as the decision taken against the Red Cross.”

Meanwhile, Taliban officials said talks between the US and Taliban are at a preliminary stage, still sorting out the simplest of details such as an agenda of formal talks, where those talks might be conducted and who would participate.

Still, Taliban officials said the July meeting covered a gambit of issues ranging from a US request for a two-month cease fire to allow for peaceful parliamentary elections scheduled for next month in Kabul, to a visit by Taliban officials to prisoners in government custody. No agreement was reached on either.

Taliban officials said the details of the July meeting were shared with the Taliban leadership council representative Nooruddin Turabi, who traveled to Qatar for the briefing. It wasn’t clear from where Turabi travelled but the leadership council is believed to be headquartered in Pakistan, even as Islamabad denies providing the insurgents with safe havens.

During the Taliban rule that ended in 2001 with the US-led invasion Turabi served as justice minister as well as the much-feared Minister of Protection of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.


Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

Updated 17 November 2018
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Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

  • Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads
  • Buber will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019

KABUL: Booking a ride that picks you up from your doorstep has been a dream for many Afghans for a long time. The dream is now coming true. After the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads, a private national firm came up with a local solution: Buber.
Currently on its test run, the service will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019.
Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Buber driver, says the initiative in a congested city where violence and criminal activities have been part of daily life for years, is a relief for both clients and drivers.
“It is very convenient for both sides, the customer does not need to walk to a street, wait for taxi in cold or hot weather and bargain with a taxi he or she does not know,” Dawlatzai told Arab News. “We go to their homes and drop them at their favored destination, which saves both sides time and hassle.”
He has been with Buber for two months and has taken around employees of Afghanistan’s Holding Group (AHG) that owns Buber, which in Dari means “Take me”.
AHG’s headquarters near the ancient Darul-Aman palace is tucked away behind blast walls with a sprawling compound that enjoys far better security measures than many state institutions which are the targets of routine attacks by militants in Afghanistan.
The security precautions at AHG include a series of body searches by armed guards as well as scanners and the layers of checks that make it look as if the compound is in top-secret location.
There is a different world and mood inside, and for a moment you may think that this is not Afghanistan, given the pace of its work and manner of efficiency. Groups of young sleek men and women are busy typing away on computers or discussing their regular daily activities.
AHG hopes to gallop and make Afghanistan catch up with the revolution in the field of technology that has spread across the globe in recent years.
Staff at AHG say that since its launch in 2009 the company has provided professional business services to more than 700 organizations across Afghanistan. Its clients range from small companies, non-profits and corporations to development institutions and government customers. It offers a range of services that include legal and human resources support and assistance with licensing, visas, payroll, taxation, audit and procurement.
Now, AHG is working on its new innovation, Afghanistan Technology Services (ATS), which covers Hisab (accounting) and Buber, online taxi ordering similar to Uber.
The Hisab application allows customers to pay online power and water bills and order goods for home delivery, as well as paying for Buber.
The online car ordering has been operating in Afghanistan for several years, but business is tailing off for the other two firms, which according to officials had not managed to develop an advanced application.
“Technology is taking over each and every thing across the world, we do not want to be behind those guys and we would like to reach somewhere and rebuild Afghanistan. This is our mission, to rebuild Afghanistan,” said Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber’s senior manager.
Until its launch in January Buber is on a test run to make sure that the application works smoothly. It has enlisted 500 vehicles, with Kabul being the immediate target, and with the intention to expand to other major cities later.
Not many will be able to afford the Buber service: Smart phone owners and literate people are its target.
Even the drivers will have to be literate.
In a country where there is no fixed rate for taxis and customers usually bargain, Buber will have fixed prices and can come to a customer’s desired address for pick up.
In a country riven by violence and crimes, such as abductions, Buber can offer peace of mind to clients as it has a tracking mechanism which clients can share with anyone they want to for their safety, AHG officials said.
“The problem for now in the market is the security concern. We have this facility for the user as well as the driver that allows them to be able to track users through our GPS,” Naeabkhail said.
Drivers will be registered with full details for security measures and they can help the police with information if anything happens to a client between pickup and drop-off.
The application can be a great help for the customer to avoid congested areas and routes where there is protest or there has been an attack, officials said, adding this will save time for the client and money for the driver, as well as reducing pollution.
“This application is very challenging application, nobody else has it, it is not easy for others to build it easily. Afghans have developed the application themselves,” Naeabkhail said.
Roadblocks created by officials, some embassies, foreign troops and factional leaders are the key challenges and Buber hopes to address that with the help of Google, he said.
“The main challenge that we face is the map, because Afghanistan is not mapped very well. We would like the support of Google if they are willing to help us … it is like general support for the public at large and also for any company that comes later and invests.”