Taliban reject Kabul talks in wake of deadly attack

Afghan security forces and investigators gather at the site of a suicide bomb attack outside British security firm G4S’ compound in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2018

Taliban reject Kabul talks in wake of deadly attack

  • Suicide strike on security compound ‘a clear rejection of Ghani peace plan’
  • Extremists could take part in Afghan presidential election, US special envoy suggests

KABUL: A Taliban suicide attack on a security compound in Kabul this week that killed 10 people was designed to overshadow Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s latest peace initiative, observers believe.

The strike came as international delegates were ending a major conference on Afghanistan in Geneva where Ghani outlined his road-map for peace with the extremists.

In an attack that lasted several hours, Taliban assailants, including suicide bombers, targeted a compound occupied by G4S, a firm that provides security for the British Foreign Office in Afghanistan.

A British national was believed to be among the victims of the attack.

Observers said that the Taliban attack sought to overshadow Ghani’s peace plan at the Geneva summit, and to show foreign diplomats that his National Unity Government was incompetent and weak.

The attack was also a clear rejection of the Afghan leader’s roadmap for peace.

On Thursday, the Taliban issued a statement ruling out talks with Kabul to end the war that began with the ousting of the militant group in a US-led military campaign 17 years ago.

Outlining his peace road-map, Ghani told the Geneva forum that an elected government chosen after the presidential election next April would be in a better position to implement the plan.

The peace deal would protect the constitutional rights of all citizens, including women, he said.

Ghani also said that he was willing to review the constitution.

The peace plan was the result of months of consultation with people across Afghanistan, he said.

“We have formed the required bodies and mechanisms to pursue a peace agreement. We are now moving ahead into the next chapter of the peace process,” Ghani said.

“The Afghan people need an elected government with a mandate to obtain ratification, implement the peace agreement, and lead the social reconciliation process.”

Ghani’s administration has rejected proposals by US that the polls be delayed so that talks between Washington and the Taliban can produce tangible results.

The Taliban has refused to hold talks with Kabul.

“During his speech, Ashraf Ghani declared setting up a negotiation team that will talk with the Islamic Emirate (Taliban). He also forwarded proposals about negotiations that were beyond his capabilities,” the Taliban said in a statement.

“The policy of the Islamic Emirate about negotiations is very clear. The Islamic Emirate, as a representative of its nation, has waged war against the American invaders for the past 18 years. It considers talking to powerless and foreign-imposed entities as a waste of time because impotent sides do not possess the capacity to make decisions,” it said.

Ret. Gen. Attiqullah Amarkhail said that the peace roadmap contained little to inspire confidence in an end to the fighting.

The Taliban attack and subsequent statement dashed any hopes that the militant group would consider talks with Kabul, he said.

The attack was a blow to Kabul, too.

“Our government does not learn from its mistakes and experiences to put troops on high alert when there is a leading foreign visitor in town or when government leaders are abroad attending a key conference such as Geneva,” Amarkhail told Arab News.

“With this attack, the Taliban showed the world at large and the Afghan people that the government in Kabul is weak and incompetent, and that helping it is waste of resources and time,” he said.

Meanwhile, after his tour of the region and talks with the Taliban, Washington’s new envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that he hoped to see a deal with the Taliban before the presidential elections set for April 20, 2019.

“Ideally, of course, it would be good to have an agreement with the Taliban first and then have the presidential election, because then the Taliban would also participate in a possible election,” he told PBSO News Hour on Wednesday.

“It is possible (for the Taliban to take part). Is it likely? We will have to see.”

Khalilzad said that Washington was keen to see the Afghan war end and wanted to ensure the country did not become a “platform for international terrorists against the US.”

He also said that the Taliban were not seeking a monopoly on power in Afghanistan.

At least 10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships

Updated 54 min 55 sec ago

At least 10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships

  • Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors
  • The strait connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea

MOSCOW: Ten crew died and another 10 were missing presumed dead in a fire that broke out on two ships while they were transferring fuel in the Black Sea, Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Tuesday.
The vessels which caught fire on Monday have the same names as two Tanzania-flagged ships, the Maestro and Venice, which last year were included on a US sanctions advisory as delivering fuel to Syria.
Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors, a spokesman for the Transport Ministry’s maritime unit said. The focus had switched from a rescue operation to a search for bodies, he added.
The spokesman said the vessels, which had a combined crew of 32, were still on fire and rough no attempts were being made to put out the blaze because of rough sea conditions.
Russian maritime officials said on Monday that the vessels were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel in the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia.
On Nov. 20 last year, the US Treasury Department added nine Russian and Iranian individuals and companies on its sanctions list for participating in the shipment of petroleum to Syria.
It also issued an advisory note warning of the potential sanctions risk for any entities involved in such shipments which listed 35 ships, including the Maestro and Venice, as having delivered oil to Syria between 2016 and 2018.
Reuters reported in December that both the Maestro and Venice continued operations after the Treasury announcement, and regularly entered Crimea’s Temryuk port, according to Refinitiv data.
In the port, liquefied petroleum gas of Russian and Kazakh origin is transferred onto tankers for export, via the Kerch Strait.
The strait, between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea.
In November, Russia detained three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews in the vicinity of the strait, fueling tensions between the two countries. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.