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.”


Cyclone kills 33 in India with thousands in relief camps

The aftermath of cyclone Gaja is seen in Tamil Nadu, India November 16, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 min 25 sec ago
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Cyclone kills 33 in India with thousands in relief camps

  • Most deaths were caused by flooding, house collapses and electrocution

NEW DELHI: A powerful cyclone in southern India has killed at least 33 people, caused massive damage to homes and roads and drove tens of thousands of people into relief camps, officials said.
India’s navy assigned two ships and a helicopter for relief work as state authorities rushed drinking water, food and paramedics to nearly 82,000 people who took shelter in more than 400 state-run camps.
They were evacuated from areas in the path of Cyclone Gaja, which struck six districts of Tamil Nadu state on Friday with heavy rains and winds that reached 90 kilometers (55 miles) per hour.
Rescuers found 13 bodies Friday and an additional 20 on Saturday, said Edappadi Palaniswami, the state’s top elected official. Most deaths were caused by flooding, house collapses and electrocution.
The cyclone uprooted 30,000 electricity poles and more than 100,000 trees, he said. Nearly 10,000 workers were trying to restore electricity supply to the worst-hit areas, he said.
Palaniswami said a large number of goats, deer and wild animals had also perished in the flooding over the past two days.
Coconut trees over thousands of acres (hectares) of farmland have been uprooted, according to Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, a farmers’ organization.
Tamil Nadu state is prone to cyclones that develop in the Bay of Bengal.