Taliban dismiss Afghanistan’s peace talks offer

File photo of The Taliban’s political bureau in Doha, Qatar. On Sunday, Reuters quoted the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying that his movement has rejected Kabul’s offer of talks next month in Saudi Arabia. Mujahid said that the Taliban will only meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year. (AP/file)
Updated 30 December 2018
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Taliban dismiss Afghanistan’s peace talks offer

  • The Taliban have refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government
  • Representatives from the Taliban, the US and regional countries met this month in the UAE for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan

KABUL/PESHAWAR: The Taliban have rejected Kabul’s offer of talks next month in Saudi Arabia where the militants, fighting to restore strict Islamic law in Afghanistan, will meet US officials to further peace efforts, a Taliban leader said on Sunday.
Representatives from the Taliban, the United States and regional countries met this month in the UAE for talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
But the Taliban have refused to hold formal talks with the Western-backed Afghan government.
“We will meet the US officials in Saudi Arabia in January next year and we will start our talks that remained incomplete in Abu Dhabi,” a member of the Taliban’s decision-making Leadership Council told Reuters. “However, we have made it clear to all the stakeholders that we will not talk to the Afghan government.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said the leaders of the group would not talk to the Afghan government.
The militants have insisted on first reaching an agreement with the United States, which the group sees as the main force in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have intensified after Taliban representatives started meeting US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this year. Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times to discuss the withdrawal of international forces and a cease-fire in 2019.
But the United States has insisted that any final settlement must be led by the Afghans.
According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission published in November, the government of President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, less than at any time since 2001. The Taliban say they control 70 percent of the country.
A close aide to Ghani said the government would keep trying to establish a direct line of diplomatic communication with the Taliban.
“Talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” the aide said on condition of anonymity. “It is important that the Taliban acknowledge this fact.”
US President Donald Trump has announced a pullout of American troops from Syria, a decision that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, and there have been reports that he is considering a partial pullout from Afghanistan.


Hungary hits Soros, Juncker in new media campaign

Updated 20 February 2019
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Hungary hits Soros, Juncker in new media campaign

  • The campaign provoked a furious reaction from prominent EU politicians
  • EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dismissed the campaign as "fake news"

BUDAPEST: Hungary launched a new anti-immigration media campaign on Tuesday in which it accused George Soros and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker of allegedly supporting illegal migration, but which Brussels immediately dismissed as "fake news".
According to the Hungarian government's Facebook page, the media blitz — funded with taxpayers' money — is expected to include billboard posters featuring images of the liberal US billionaire Soros and a smiling Juncker above the words: "You too have a right to know what Brussels is preparing".
"They want to bring in the mandatory settlement quota; weaken member states' rights to border defence; facilitate immigration with a migrant visa," it continues.
The campaign provoked a furious reaction from prominent EU politicians, including from Joseph Daul, president of the European People's Party grouping which includes both Juncker and right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party.
In a series of tweets, Daul condemned the campaign, calling its claims "deceitful, misleading and... not based on facts".
Daul denounced Hungary's attacks on Juncker and defended him as a "true Christian Democrat and a real European leader".
He went on to remind Hungary that "decisions in Brussels, including on migration, are taken collectively by EU governments" and the European Parliament, both of which include Hungarian representatives.
The presence of Fidesz within the EPP has long been a source of controversy but there have been no official moves by any of the other centre-right parties in the grouping to expel it.
Orban's government, which has frequently clashed with the EU on migration, has regularly undertaken similar campaigns in the past, including "Let's Stop Brussels" and "Don't let Soros have the last laugh."
In recent years, Orban has blasted the Hungarian-born 88-year-old philanthropist and investor as a "public enemy" for allegedly backing uncontrolled mass immigration.
At the same time, Orban's government has frequently been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in its campaigns against Soros, claims it denies.
In recent months, pro-Orban media have also attacked Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini — the author of a critical report about Hungary that formed the basis of EU legal action against Budapest -- and Juncker's deputy Frans Timmermans.
"Brussels continues to want to support illegal immigration," Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, told reporters in Budapest on Tuesday.
"Hungarians need to know about this, that's why the latest information campaign has been launched," he said, denying it is part of the upcoming European Parliament election campaign.
Kovacs said plans in "drawers in Brussels" included hikes in financial funding of NGOs and the creation of a special migration fund.
EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dismissed the campaign as "fake news".
"The Hungary government campaign beggars belief," he told a briefing in Brussels.
"It is shocking that such a ludicrous conspiracy theory has reached the mainstream to the extent it has. There is no conspiracy. Hungarians deserve facts, not fiction," he said.