Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi look on after signing a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in fighting terrorism in Kabul, Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 December 2018

Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.

Sudan protesters show resilience, employ Arab Spring tactics

Updated 21 January 2019

Sudan protesters show resilience, employ Arab Spring tactics

  • Activists challenging President Omar Al-Bashir’s autocratic rule say they have learned from their Arab Spring counterparts and introduced tactics of their own
  • Sudan did not experience the mass street protests that swept several Arab nations in 2011

CAIRO: The anti-government protests rocking Sudan for the past month are reminiscent of the Arab Spring uprisings of nearly a decade ago. Demonstrators, many in their 20s and 30s, are trying to remove an authoritarian leader and win freedoms and human rights.
Activists challenging President Omar Al-Bashir’s autocratic rule say they have learned from their Arab Spring counterparts and introduced tactics of their own. That and their persistence appear to pose a real threat to the 29-year rule of the general-turned-president.
Sudan did not experience the mass street protests that swept several Arab nations in 2011. At the time, Sudan was preoccupied with the secession of the mainly animizt and Christian south, which was taking with it most of the country’s oil wealth.
In 2013, a spike in fuel prices sparked protests in Sudan that were brutally squashed, with rights groups saying at the time that about 200 demonstrators were killed.
More than five years later, Sudan is engulfed by unrest once more.
Again, price hikes were a trigger. Protesters reached by The Associated Press painted a picture of resolve born out of despair, mainly from worsening economic conditions that many Sudanese blame in large part on mismanagement and widespread corruption.
“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.
Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.
Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces
“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.
They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.
They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime” and “erhal!” — Arabic for “leave!“
Participants have mostly been in the high hundreds or low thousands, not the tens or hundreds of thousands seen in Egypt or Yemen in 2011, but Sudan’s protest leaders don’t see a reason for concern.
“All that we do now is to prepare Sudan’s streets, so when zero hour arrives, the entire country will be ready to go out on the streets,” said Aseel, a 25-year-old activist.
Authorities in Sudan have used tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and batons to quell the unrest. They have imposed emergency laws and night-time curfews in some cities and suspended classes in schools and universities in others. They have arrested opposition leaders, doctors, journalists, lawyers and students along with some 800 protesters.
Recently, police stormed a hospital in the greater Khartoum area where injured protesters were taken. Police fired tear gas inside the facility’s yard, according to Amnesty International and activists.
“When we take our wounded to hospital, we pretend to be calm and collected so we don’t attract the attention of plainclothes security agents stationed there,” said one protester.
The protesters said they organize on social media, just like protesters did across the region in 2011. They try to elude the police by either giving gathering points codenames known only to protest leaders or publicizing false locations to mislead the authorities.
They also have secured free-of-charge medical care for the wounded in a handful of private Khartoum clinics and use donations to settle medical bills for those admitted to other hospitals.
Rights groups say at least 40 people, including children, have been killed in the clashes, most by gunshot wounds. Al-Bashir’s government has acknowledged only 24 deaths.
Al-Bashir has ordered an investigation into the “recent events” — a thinly veiled reference to the deaths — following demands by rights groups and Western nations, including the United States, that his government probe the use of live ammunition and bring the culprits to justice. A similar probe into the death of the protesters in 2013 came to nothing.
But despite the use of live ammunition and what protesters say is the excessive use of tear gas the protests have continued longer than rounds of anti-government unrest in 2012 and 2013. They have drawn many women — unusual for conservative and overwhelmingly Muslim Sudan — and stayed peaceful except early on when protesters damaged property.
Despite fears of arrest and the danger posed by live fire, “we have no choice but to resist,” said protester Abdul-Metaal Saboun, 25, an unemployed university graduate.
Saboun was detained for three days early in the protests, which were sparked by price rises and shortages, but which soon shifted to demands that Al-Bashir step down.
“There is little we can do about snipers except that some of us search rooftops or scream ‘sniper’ when we spot one, so people take more care,” he said.
He said he was tortured during detention. “There is nothing that makes me frightened of them anymore,” Saboun said, explaining why he agreed to have his full name published.