Doubts over Afghan peace process and presidential poll

Afghan president's special peace envoy Mohammad Omer Daudzai speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Doubts over Afghan peace process and presidential poll

  • The Taliban has said it will talk to Kabul once the issue of foreign troop presence is settled

KABUL: Bashir Bezhen was among the first people to receive packages containing information for would-be Afghan presidential candidates. However, like many presidential hopefuls including incumbent Ashraf Ghani, he has yet to register.
Ghani’s unwillingness to register, according to Bezhen, casts doubt over the likelihood of holding an already-postponed presidential poll. There are fears the election could be delayed even further, beyond the revised date of July 20.
The uncertainty comes as US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad pushes for progress on peace talks with the Taliban and how to hold elections with the armed group’s participation.
Meanwhile, Kabul appears to have been sidelined in discussions about the country’s fate, with international stakeholders increasing their engagement with the Taliban and the US unilaterally mulling a drawdown of troops.
“Generally there are ambiguities and doubts about the peace process, especially when the government seems lost in the process and acts emotionally,” Bezhen told Arab News.
“These ambiguities have also affected the process of elections with fear of further delay and talk of an interim government. I have not registered (as a nominee) and the president like many others has not either. This shows people are skeptical.” He said that the involvement of foreign powers — and their pursuit of different agendas in the war-torn country — was also complicating the picture. “Too many butchers spoil the cow,” he added, recalling an old Afghan proverb.
Ghani has previously insisted he wants an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. His officials have also warned that nobody else can decide the fate of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has said it will talk to Kabul once the issue of foreign troop presence is settled.
Seddiqa Mubarez, a pro-government lawmaker, said keeping Kabul away from the talks showed it was the US that held influence over war and peace.
“The situation has become complex and people feel even more disappointed about the future,” she told Arab News.
Some have backed the idea of an interim government, believing it would reduce Ghani’s chance of winning the election.
Abdul Satar Saadat, who until recently was a legal adviser to the president, accused Ghani of sabotaging the peace process for his own ends.
“He (Ghani) wanted to bring peace and at the same time save his power too, but when he understood peace isn’t coming so easily, he is trying to sabotage it,” he told Arab News.
“He also doesn’t like Khalilzad as he thinks Khalilzad is an Afghan and at the end of the day he will be a hero, not Ghani. This leads to his fear that he will lose power and the credit for peace.”
He also said the Taliban was not gunning for peace because it believed it was close to winning the war as a US withdrawal loomed.
Neither Ghani nor Taliban officials returned calls for comment at the time of publication.


Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

Updated 16 January 2019
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Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

  • Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO
  • Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete”

WASHINGTON: Fresh doubts surfaced Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO, after he was reported to have discussed a desire to pull out of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO — the historic alliance that forms the backbone of the West’s post-World War II security order — and that he wanted to withdraw, The New York Times reported.
He has often blasted members of the 29-nation partnership for not paying more into their national defense budgets.
Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a tumultuous summit in July, he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US remains “100 percent” committed to NATO.
At the summit the president said the US “commitment to NATO is very strong” and “tremendous progress has been made” by allies and partners.
“That has not changed,” Pahon said in a statement.
“NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic security.”
In Brussels, a NATO official also highlighted Trump’s comments from the July summit.
“The United States is strongly committed to NATO and to transatlantic security,” the official told AFP.
“The US has significantly boosted its commitment to the defense of Europe, including with increased troop commitments.”
Turning 70 this year, NATO has underpinned Western security in Europe for decades, first countering the Soviet Union and then Russian expansionism.
A US withdrawal from NATO would be a strategic gift of epic proportions to Russia, which is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump win.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was a staunch proponent of NATO and repeatedly visited its Brussels headquarters, where he sought to reassure allies about America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Mattis quit last month, and observers see a shrinking coterie of advisers around Trump willing to push back against him.
The US Congress, including Trump’s own Republican Party, would likely push back against any effort to withdraw from NATO.
The only country to have ever invoke Article 5, NATO’s collective defense principle, was America following the September 11, 2001 attacks.