In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

(From the left) Head of Afghanistan delegation and Deputy Chairman of High Peace Council, Hajji Din Mohammad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, pose for a photo during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

  • Aims to boost historical importance and diminish role played by US
  • Experts say all parties involved have vested interests and are just buying time

KABUL: Russia hosted a regional conference on Friday to explore solutions for a peaceful settlement of the US-led conflict in Afghanistan, one which experts say proliferated extremism in the country and turned it into an indirect battleground for various powers.
The one-day meeting, the first-of-its-kind to be held in Russia, is not expected to produce any quick results for Afghanistan’s complex war which began more than four decades ago. The meeting had been rescheduled several times because of US’ and Kabul’s reluctance to be part of the talks.
This time, however, Washington has sent a diplomat to attend the conference as an observer, while Kabul decided against assigning a delegation because of differences with Moscow. “The issue is that Russia, just like others, has its own goals and concerns about the war and wants to hear different solutions on how to end it,” Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst told Arab News. “It was a good occasion for all sides to have expressed their views,” he said, adding that Kabul missed a golden opportunity by not participating.
He added that Washington and Kabul’s unwillingness to send official delegations to the conference could result in bringing China and Central Asia closer to Moscow, who may argue that the US is unhappy with their intervention in finding a solution to the Afghan conflict.
Government officials did not return calls for a comment on Friday, but a statement released by the palace said that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, in a consultative meeting with a group of Afghan leaders on Thursday, emphasized that the peace process should be run and owned by the Afghans. 
Russia was a key foe of the Taliban government which ruled much of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 when the US toppled them from power. It also armed opposition forces looking to contain the spread of Islamist groups across the country.
However, in recent years, Russia has forged closer ties with the group and Pakistan, seen historically as a  key supporter of the Taliban and its Cold War-era rival. Russia has also held several rounds of military drills with Pakistani forces.
Just like the Taliban, Pakistan, and Iran, Moscow, too, wants the US-led troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and eyes Washington with deep skepticism, going as far as to blame it for the creation of Daesh. The US denies the charge; with its former top commander for Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson --  during a BBC interview earlier this year-- accusing Moscow of supplying arms and equipment to Taliban fighters.
Kamal Nasir Osoli, an Afghan lawmaker told Arab News that Russia wants to revive and boost its historical role in Afghanistan which dates back to more than seven decades. But at the same time, he said Moscow wanted a stable Afghanistan because a volatile and unsafe neighbor was a risk not just for Central Asia, but for Russia too.
“Russia is in a political confrontation with Britain and US elsewhere, but militarily involved in Syria. It wants to show that it is still a superpower by playing its cards in Afghanistan’s affairs too,” Ajmal Hodmand, a political science professor, said, adding that Moscow’s meeting was a good opportunity for the Taliban to show the Afghans that they have a global hold and are no longer isolated or reliant on Pakistan.
“The Taliban are showing that they have a political identity and are a force to be reckoned. Russia wants to pass on a message to its rivals that it can have an influence on Afghanistan and the Taliban and can use them against its rivals. Like the war here is a proxy one, the peace is becoming a proxy peace too,” he said.
He added that the resumption of efforts and a regional tour on part of US’ special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad was parallel to Moscow’s meeting -- Washington wanted Kabul to join hands with those countries which are closer to the US. There have been a series of meetings involving Taliban delegates and Europeans in recent years -- and most recently with representatives from the US -- about the prospect of the war.
Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence director of Afghanistan said all those involved in the process for peace were after their own interests. “More than 12 countries have their own so-called peace process for Afghanistan and they call it Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. In reality, much of it is aimed at connecting with terrorists and buying time for their homeland,” he said in a tweet on Friday, adding that “neither their intent nor their conduct for peace efforts is helping Afghanistan.”


EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

Updated 20 min 4 sec ago
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EU leaders meeting to endorse Brexit divorce deal

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for

BRUSSELS/LONDON: European Union leaders will meet on Nov. 25 to endorse a Brexit divorce deal but British Prime Minister Theresa May was mauled by opponents, allies and mutinous members of her party who warned the agreement could sink her premiership.
May won the backing of her senior ministers after a five-hour meeting on Wednesday though she now faces the much more perilous struggle of getting parliament, which has the final say, to approve the agreement.
It is unclear when that vote might happen.
“If nothing extraordinary happens, we will hold a European Council meeting in order to finalize and formalize the Brexit agreement,” European Council President Donald Tusk said after meeting EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
More than two years after the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU, May said the deal was the best the world’s fifth-largest economy could hope for and that the other options were leaving with no deal or thwarting Brexit.
But in a sign of just how hard the vote in the British parliament might be, Shailesh Vara, who backed EU membership in the 2016 referendum, quit on Thursday as a junior minister in May’s government.
“I cannot support the Withdrawal Agreement that has been agreed with the European Union,” Vara said as he resigned as a Northern Ireland minister.
“We are a proud nation and it is a sad day when we are reduced to obeying rules made by other countries who have shown they do not have our best interests at heart. We can and must do better than this.”
Nick Timothy, one of May’s former chiefs of staff, said her deal was a capitulation that parliament would reject.
“When parliament rejects the prime minister’s proposal, as surely it will, there will still be time for ministers to negotiate something better,” Timothy wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Timothy, who resigned after May’s botched gamble on a snap election that lost her party its majority in parliament, said Britain should use its security contribution as a bargaining chip to get a better deal.
May will give a statement to parliament on Thursday on the deal which she hopes will satisfy both Brexit voters and EU supporters by ensuring close ties with the bloc after Britain leaves on March 29.
The ultimate outcome for the United Kingdom remains uncertain: scenarios range from a calm divorce to rejection of May’s deal, potentially sinking her premiership and leaving the bloc with no agreement, or another referendum.
Getting a deal through parliament will be difficult. She will need the votes of about 320 of the 650 lawmakers.
“The parliamentary arithmetic has looked tight for some time,” Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients. “It now looks tighter, given signs of greater unity among those who object to the draft Agreement.”
“We’re in the Brexs**t — Theresa May’s soft Brexit deal blasted by ALL sides,” read the headline in The Sun, Britain’s best-read newspaper.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s government, said it would not back any deal that treated the British province differently from the rest of the United Kingdom.