Afghan Taliban not serious about peace, says government chief

Afghan Taliban militants celebrate the Eid ceasefire in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province in June 17. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2018
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Afghan Taliban not serious about peace, says government chief

  • ‘Recently there are renewed efforts in terms of the international community and especially the US’
  • ‘Our experience as of now has been that they (the Taliban) have not shown any intention to get seriously engaged in the peace negotiations’

PARIS: The Taliban in Afghanistan have not yet shown any sign they are serious about ending their 17-year insurgency despite US efforts to push a fresh peace process, the country’s de facto prime minister said.
Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as “chief executive” of the unity government in Kabul, struck a far more skeptical tone about the prospects of a deal than his political rival, President Ashraf Ghani, and his Western counterparts.
Ghani said earlier this month it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban, while the US envoy to the country even raised the possibility of a breakthrough before presidential elections in April.
“Recently there are renewed efforts in terms of the international community and especially the US,” Abdullah said during a wide-ranging interview in Paris that also covered his own political ambitions.
“We are not judging it too prematurely, but I would say that our experience as of now has been that they (the Taliban) have not shown any intention to get seriously engaged in the peace negotiations,” he added.
The comment on Wednesday came after the latest atrocity targeting civilians in Kabul when a bomber killed 55 people at a banquet hall at a ceremony to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Abdullah, a political veteran of the fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s and Taliban rule in the 90s, called it “beyond comprehension.”
Beleaguered Afghan security forces are also suffering an unprecedented level of casualties across the country where the Taliban and the Daesh group are stepping up attacks.
Returning to Kabul on Thursday after a three-day trip to France, Abdullah said he expected to be briefed fully about the latest round of talks between US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, which are believed to have taken place in Qatar last week.
Whatever the outcome, he argued that Afghanistan should hold its presidential election as scheduled next April despite a recent upsurge in violence and suggestions from some that it should be delayed.
“My idea is to stick to the timing, make it work, because it’s part of the system and legitimacy of the system depends on the elections,” he said. “At the same time, continue the efforts on peace with full vigor.”
He downplayed any suggestion of a pre-election breakthrough with the Taliban.
“It will be very surprising if that happens, but should it happen ... that would be welcomed by the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
Abdullah has kept up suspense about his own political ambitions after twice running for president in 2009 and 2014 in campaigns that ended bitterly amid accusations of fraud.
After being beaten in 2014 by Ghani, Abdullah agreed to become prime minister of the unity government in a US-brokered deal — but the rivalry between the two men continues.
“I will actively be involved one way or another, but I have not made that final decision,” Abdullah said when asked if he would run in 2019.
Looking ahead to next April’s vote, Abdullah was candid about the lack of progress made in correcting the weaknesses in Afghanistan’s fraud-plagued electoral system.
He said he was “disappointed” by parliamentary elections in October, which were marred by a shambolic rollout of new biometric polling technology and missing or incomplete voter lists.
“Our expectations for the parliamentary elections and the conduct of them was much higher, and the people’s expectations were much higher,” he said.
There were thousands of complaints lodged against the Independent Electoral Commission, although four million voters did defy the security worries to turn out and cast a ballot.
The unity government had pledged to tackle problems that have repeatedly undermined faith in Afghan elections since the US-led invasion in 2001 overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
But Abdullah suggested that these efforts, like in other areas, have been hit by the fractious nature of decision-making in the multi-party government.
“It was the commitment of the unity government in 2014... that we will start implementing reforms. We started very late. Why did we do that?” he asked.
Abdullah’s defeats in 2009 and then again in 2014 — when he won the first round but slumped to a surprise defeat in the second — led to political crises which threatened to unravel the country’s fragile political system.
Should observers fear another tainted poll?
“There were a lot of lessons from the parliamentary elections. Should we and other relevant institutions deal with them thoroughly and seriously we can have and we should have better elections than in 2014,” he said.


MH17 crash probe set to name suspects

A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 18, 2014. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 June 2019
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MH17 crash probe set to name suspects

  • Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in the war in the east, which erupted after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president and Russia annexed Crimea

THE HAGUE: International investigators are on Wednesday expected to announce charges against several suspects in the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine five years ago in an attack which killed all 298 people on board.
The Dutch-led probe has said it will first inform families, and then hold a press conference to unveil “developments in the criminal investigation” into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.
The breakthrough comes nearly a year after the investigators said that the BUK missile which hit the plane had originated from a Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
The airliner traveling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was torn apart in mid-air on July 17, 2014 over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Tuesday that four people would be named over MH17, including senior Russian army officers.
“The names will be announced. Charges will be brought, Zerkal said, adding that a Dutch court would then “start working to consider this case.”
Zerkal added that the transfer of weapons like the BUK anti-aircraft missile system “is impossible without the (Russian) top brass’s permission” and said others would have been involved beyond those being charged.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack — which includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — has declined to confirm that it will announce charges.
The Netherlands and Australia said last May that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster, after the findings on the origin of the missile were announced. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 were Australian.
Moscow has vehemently denied all involvement.
Dutch broadcaster RTL, quoting anonymous sources, said the suspects could be tried in absentia as Russia does not extradite its nationals for prosecution.
“I expect there will be important new information. That means the inquiry is advancing,” Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, was quoted as saying by broadcaster NOS on Friday.
“It’s the first step to a trial.”
Investigative website Bellingcat said separately it will also name “individuals linked to the downing of MH17” on Wednesday. It said its reporting was “totally independent and separate from the JIT’s investigation.”

The JIT said last year that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile from the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade based in Kursk, but that they were still searching for suspects.
They showed videos and animation of the BUK launcher as part of a Russian military convoy, using video clips found on social media and then checked against Google Maps, as it traveled from Kursk to eastern Ukraine.
Investigators said they had also identified a ‘fingerprint’ of seven identifying features that were unique to the BUK including a military number on the launcher.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era and had not been returned to Russia.
The Netherlands said it would study the information but added that details previously provided by Russia — such as the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet near the airliner on radar images — were incorrect.
Ties between Moscow and The Hague were further strained last year when the Dutch expelled four alleged Russian spies for trying to hack into the Dutch-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in the war in the east, which erupted after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president and Russia annexed Crimea.
Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.