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.


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.