Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

The Kurdish community in Germany denounced on September 17, 2018 a "ban" by the Berlin authorities of a planned protest at the Brandenburg Gate on September 29, 2018 in Berlin against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File/AFP/John Macdougall)
Updated 26 September 2018

Erdogan, Merkel to meet amid tensions, protests

  • It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014
  • Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pay a state visit to Germany this week as the two countries seek to rebuild ties after a series of sharp spats but the controversial trip is likely to be overshadowed by protests.
It will be Erdogan’s first official visit to Germany since becoming president in 2014, and follows a prolonged bout of tensions sparked by Berlin’s criticism of his crackdown on opponents in the wake of a failed 2016 coup.
“The main goal of this visit is to completely leave behind this period (of tensions),” Erdogan told Turkish media.
The Turkish leader will land in Berlin Thursday and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel over the following two days.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will welcome him with military honors and a state dinner at Bellevue Palace on Friday — which several opposition politicians have vowed to boycott. Merkel too will be notably absent.
On Saturday, Erdogan will travel to Cologne to open one of Europe’s largest mosques, commissioned by the Turkish-controlled Ditib organization.
Commentators have been quick to point out that Erdogan’s push for a fresh start comes as the Turkish economy is struggling and relations with the United States have worsened.
Thousands of Erdogan critics have vowed to take to the streets across Germany to protest everything from Turkey’s record on human rights and press freedom to its offensive against Kurdish militia in Syria.
Some 10,000 people are expected to rally under the motto “Erdogan Not Welcome” in Berlin on Friday alone.
With no shortage of political and economic issues hanging over the visit, the shadow of football also looms large.
Turkey and Germany are locked in a bitter race to host the Euro 2024 tournament, with the winner to be announced the day Erdogan arrives.
Germany’s bid has been clouded by Turkish-origin player Mesut Ozil’s resignation from the national team over perceived racism — a move praised by Erdogan.
Relations between the two NATO countries plummeted after Turkish authorities arrested tens of thousands of people in a mass purge over the attempted putsch against Erdogan, including some who were also German nationals.
But a gradual rapprochement began after German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel was freed earlier this year, while journalist Mesale Tolu was allowed to return to Germany last month. Both still face terror-related charges in Turkey.
Merkel, whose country is home to a three-million-strong Turkish community, has repeatedly stressed the importance of good relations with Ankara, a partner she relies on to help stem the flow of migrants arriving on European shores.
But Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper said it was too soon to roll out the red carpet for Erdogan, who just 18 months ago accused Berlin of “Nazi practices” for blocking rallies supporting him ahead of a referendum that gave him sweeping new powers.
“Now that Turkey is grappling with a currency crisis and its economy has hit rock-bottom, Erdogan wants to be our friend again,” it said in an editorial.
“This is too much pomp and ceremony for Erdogan. We’re not there yet.”
Erdogan said he would use the visit to press Germany for “more efficiency” in the fight against “terrorist groups” like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the coup.
Other topics on the agenda will likely be Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid and its role in the conflict in Syria.
To help smooth over the diplomatic reset, Erdogan could dangle the promise of a major project to modernize Turkey’s rail infrastructure.
Der Spiegel weekly reported that German giant Siemens was in talks to lead the potential 35-billion-euro deal ($40 billion), but it was unclear whether Berlin would help finance it.
In a sign of the contentious nature of his visit, Erdogan is not scheduled to make any big public speeches in Germany.
Die Welt reporter Yucel, who spent over a year behind Turkish bars, condemned Berlin for “inviting a criminal to a banquet.”
“The German government is betraying all those in Turkey who long for a free, democratic and secular society,” he said.

Pakistan willing to use ‘little influence’ it has with Afghan Taliban to help peace talks

Updated 4 min 36 sec ago

Pakistan willing to use ‘little influence’ it has with Afghan Taliban to help peace talks

  • Islamabad says ready to host direct negotiations between Kabul and Taliban
  • Pakistan foreign minister headed to Afghanistan for high-level talks on Dec. 15
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is willing to use its “little influence” with the Afghan Taliban to resurrect faltering peace talks between the Kabul government and the insurgency, foreign office officials said, just days before Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is scheduled to visit Kabul to meet with top civilian and military leaders.

US officials have long pushed Pakistan to use its influence with Taliban leaders, who Washington says are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table and end a 17-year war. Islamabad vehemently denies it is covertly sheltering Taliban leaders.

“We can facilitate the peace process by using our little influence over the Afghan Taliban,” a foreign office official with knowledge of the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

“Pakistan is willing to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table but obviously is not in a position to forge a peace agreement with them. The modalities and all other relevant things are to be decided by the US as it is the major stakeholder,” he said.

However, he said that the Taliban seemed “least interested” in engaging with the Afghan government at a time when the next presidential elections were scheduled to be held in April next year. He said the US and Afghanistan had to mutually decide if they wanted to delay the presidential elections so the present dispensation could better engage with the Taliban or if they wanted a new government with a full five-year mandate to broker a peace deal.

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump asked for Pakistan’s help with Afghan peace talks in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“The peace process has started and the good thing is that the US has finally agreed to find a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict,” foreign office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal told Arab News. “Pakistan is ready to play its role and our foreign minister will convey this to the Afghan leadership.”

Addressing a ceremony in Multan last week, Foreign Minister Qureshi said it was a testament to the robustness of Pakistan’s foreign policy that the US had asked for assistance in resolving the Afghan conflict, adding that he would visit Kabul on Dec. 15 to hold talks with the “Afghan leadership on political reconciliation and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan is committed to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, the minister added.

During last week’s visit to Pakistan of the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Islamabad had expressed its willingness to host direct talks between representatives of the Afghan government and leaders of the Taliban if all stakeholders, including the US, agreed on a common agenda for the meeting.

“We have conveyed this to the US during the recent visit of Zalmay Khalilzad, but obviously nothing is final at this stage as different options for peace in Afghanistan are being explored,” the foreign office official said.

Last month, Khalilzad said that he hoped a peace deal would be reached by April 2019. But Afghan Taliban militants have repeatedly said that they have not accepted any deadline and that a three-day meeting in Qatar between their leaders and Khalilzad in October ended with no agreement.

In July 2015, Pakistan arranged the first official meeting of representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban in Murree, a hill resort near Islamabad. Observers from the US and China also attended the talks. The process was, however, scuttled after the death of Taliban chief Mullah Omar, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate into disarray.

Last week, the Afghan president constituted a 12-member committee to hold direct talks with the Taliban, but they have yet to get a nod from the militants.

Rahimullah Yousufzai, an expert on Taliban affairs, said that Pakistan can help to arrange meetings of the Taliban with the US and the Afghan government by using its influence but “there is still a long way to go.”

“The Taliban are seeking a schedule of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and until the US agrees to that, there are little chances of moving ahead,” he told Arab News, adding that Pakistan could facilitate negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban as it had in the past but “nothing more than that.”

“Taliban’s international recognition has increased manifold in the past years and they are now least dependent on Pakistan’s help,” Yousafzai said.

A senior security official privy to talks said that no peace deal was possible without the ownership of the process by the Afghan people: “Right now, the biggest question is, do the Afghan people even accept this process?”