Pakistan says Afghan peace talks ‘complex’ amid hopes for breakthrough

Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation calls on Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan at the prime minster office in Islamabad on Jan. 18, 2019. (PID photo)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Pakistan says Afghan peace talks ‘complex’ amid hopes for breakthrough

  • Taliban deny meeting US special envoy in Islamabad
  • After initial flurry of meetings, dialogue now stalled

ISLAMABAD, KABUL: US-backed peace talks with the Afghan Taliban are part of a "complex process," Pakistan's foreign office spokesman said on Saturday, as insurgents rejected reports they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad. 
Since their last meeting in Abu Dhabi in December, dialogue between the US and the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement to an 18-year-long war in Afghanistan has largely stalled, particularly over the US insistence that insurgents talk directly with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. 
The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with the Kabul government which they see as an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime, and consider their main adversary to be the US, which invaded the country in 2001 and toppled their rule. 
“It [negotiations] is a complex process. It isn’t a casual thing and cannot be decided in a meeting or two,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal told Arab News on Saturday, calling the peace talks “a sensitive issue that needs to be handled carefully.”
Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to pursue diplomatic efforts to push forward talks with the Afghan Taliban and met with top civilian and military leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“I look forward to concrete progress,” Khalilzad tweeted after his meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister, adding that Pakistan had assured him of support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long been pushing Pakistan to lean on Taliban leaders, who they say are based inside Pakistan, to bring them to the table for talks. Pakistani officials deny offering safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and say their influence on the group has waned over the years.
“Pakistan fully supports the process and is playing its role for a negotiated settlement,” the foreign office spokesman said. “Negotiations are underway and nothing can be ruled out at this stage.” 
Khalilzad has held at least three rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months, with the last round taking place in the United Arab Emirates in December, in the presence of representatives from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In a statement sent to media, the Afghan Taliban rejected Pakistani media reports that Taliban officials had met with Khalilzad in Islamabad.
“The rumors about a meeting between representatives of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) with American envoy Khalilzad in Islamabad are not true,” Zabihullah Mujahid said. 
A Taliban leader told Reuters peace talks with the US delegation could resume if a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders were the only issues discussed. 
“The Taliban seem unwilling to revive talks with the US until a schedule of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is given to them,” Taliban affairs expert Rahimullah Yousufzai said. “Pakistan is using its influence, but nothing concrete is achieved so far.”
Indeed, to avoid pressure from Pakistan, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban have said they prefer to hold talks with the U.S. envoy in Qatar where the Taliban have had an office for years.
For now, talks have stalled and there is no clarity on when they will be resumed.  
"Peace efforts have indeed run into some difficulties, perhaps because the initial facilitating and confidence building steps were burdened by over-enthusiastic demands and unrealistic expectations," said Omar Zakhilwal, a former Afghan ambassador to Islamabad. "Suspicions and rivalries among regional stakeholders have also not helped."


Nothing wrong with Trump camp taking Russian help, says Giuliani

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago
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Nothing wrong with Trump camp taking Russian help, says Giuliani

  • Democrats have accused Trump of benefiting from Russian interference in the 2016 US election
  • Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, says that accepting negative information about a political opponent is common
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani insisted Sunday there was “nothing wrong” with the president’s 2016 campaign taking information from the Russians, as House Democrats pledged stepped-up investigations into campaign misconduct and possible crimes of obstruction detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report .
Giuliani called the Trump campaign’s effort to get political help from representatives of the Russian government possibly ill-advised but not illegal.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” Giuliani said, referring to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a lawyer linked to Russia. The Trump campaign was seeking harmful information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Sunday news shows offered the latest back and forth following the long-anticipated release on Thursday of Mueller’s 448-page redacted report on his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and made no decision on obstruction of justice.
Giuliani rebutted Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who said in a statement on Twitter Friday he was “sickened” by the findings in Mueller’s report that cited details on how the Trump campaign welcomed political dirt from Russia.
Giuliani said Romney should “stop the bull,” saying that accepting negative information about a political opponent is common. “I would have advised, just out of excess of caution, don’t do it,” he said. Nevertheless, “there’s no crime.”
Pressed about whether there is a something wrong about using information stolen by foreign adversaries, Giuliani said, “It depends on the stolen material.”
Trump, who spent the holiday weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, asserted in tweets Sunday that he had been fully cleared by Mueller’s report and that Democrats’ continued efforts to investigate him will prove politically costly.
“Despite No Collusion, No Obstruction, The Radical Left Democrats do not want to go on to Legislate for the good of the people, but only to Investigate and waste time. This is costing our Country greatly, and will cost the Dems big time in 2020!” he tweeted.
Mueller explicitly did not exonerate Trump in the report on the question of obstruction, citing in part Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president shouldn’t be indicted.
Not ruling out impeachment, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House committee that would hold impeachment hearings, said he remained puzzled why Mueller did not bring charges of criminal conspiracy against those in the Trump Tower meeting.
“All you have to prove for conspiracy is that they entered into a meeting of the minds to do something wrong and had one overt act. They entered into a meeting of the minds to attend a meeting to get stolen material on Hillary (Clinton). They went to the meeting. That’s conspiracy right there,” said Nadler, D-N.Y.
Nadler said it was now up to Congress to investigate after the special counsel said it did not establish enough evidence to bring charges of criminal conspiracy, yet detailed 10 allegations of Trump’s attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation that left open whether Trump broke the law.
Asked whether the offenses are impeachable, Nadler told NBC, “If proven, some of this would be impeachable, yes.” He said Democrats’ current focus is to “go where the evidence leads us.”
Nadler has subpoenaed the Justice Department for the full, unredacted report and said Sunday he was adding former White House counsel Don McGahn to the list of people he would call to testify before his committee, along with Mueller and Attorney General William Barr. According to the special counsel’s report, McGahn was among the Trump aides who effectively halted Trump’s efforts to influence the Russia investigation, rebuffing his demand to set Mueller’s firing in motion.
Nadler has said he expects the Justice Department to comply with the subpoena for the full report by May 1, the same day Barr is to testify before a Senate committee and one day before Barr is to appear before Nadler’s panel. Nadler summoned Mueller to testify by May 23.
Democratic leaders are under mounting pressure from the party’s rising stars and some 2020 presidential contenders, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Julian Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary, to start impeachment proceedings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is pushing for a step-by-step approach to the House’s oversight of Trump and has refused to consider impeachment without public support, including Republicans. Pelosi is convening House Democrats on Monday to assess next steps.
Sen. Mike Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said it would be a “mistake” for Democrats to pursue further investigations that could lead to impeachment proceedings, arguing that the American public won’t stand for it after Mueller failed to conclude that crimes had been committed.
“It’s time to move on,” said Lee, R-Utah.
Giuliani said Trump’s legal team was weighing whether it would release a detailed written rebuttal to the Mueller report.
“It may become necessary, whether they go ahead with the hearings or not, whether other issues are raised by different people — there’s probably a point at which we’ll use it. Right now we think the public debate is playing out about as well as it can,” he said.
In the redacted report, Mueller said he considered bringing charges over the Trump Tower meeting but ultimately did not obtain admissible evidence that the campaign officials involved knew the actions were illegal. The meeting had raised questions about whether Trump Jr. and others violated the federal ban on foreign contributions to American political campaigns.
“On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful,” the report stated. “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.”
Giuliani spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “Fox News Sunday” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Nadler also appeared on NBC. Lee was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”