Afghan president: Government must be ‘decision-maker’ in any peace deal

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a live TV broadcast at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan January 28, 2019. (Presidential Palace office/Handout via Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2019

Afghan president: Government must be ‘decision-maker’ in any peace deal

  • Ghani’s government has so far been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and US envoys to end more than 17 years of war
  • US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is due to meet Taliban representatives there again on Feb. 25

KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday no peace deal between the Taliban and the United States could be finalized without involving his government as “the decision-maker.”
Ghani’s government has so far been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and US envoys to end more than 17 years of war, with the hard-line Islamist movement branding his government a US puppet.
He made his remarks in a television interview as Afghan opposition politicians, including his predecessor Hamid Karzai, met Taliban representatives in Moscow.
“At the end of any peace deal, the decision-maker will be the government of Afghanistan,” Ghani told TOLO News, the country’s largest private television station.
“No power in the country can dissolve the government,” said Ghani, who added he was ready to “stand and defend our country.”
“Rest assured that no one can push us aside,” he said.
With both sides hailing progress in talks in Qatar last month, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is due to meet Taliban representatives there again on Feb. 25.
Ghani’s comments were some of the most extensive since he met Khalilzad in Kabul last week after the latest round of talks.
He said on Twitter early on Wednesday he had received assurances by phone from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Washington’s commitment to an “enduring partnership” with Afghanistan.
Their military partnership was “unwavering” and would remain until a lasting and inclusive peace was achieved, he said.
US President Donald Trump referred to the peace talks in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, describing the talks as “constructive” and that Washington would be able to reduce the number of US troops and focus on counter-terrorism efforts as they made progress.
“We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement — but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace,” Trump said.
Ceasefire, withdrawal
US officials say any withdrawal is contingent on a cease-fire — something the Taliban insists on happening first — and that the movement must be prepared to enter talks with the Afghan government to help create a durable peace.
After two years of intensified attacks by the Taliban on the Afghan government, military and foreign forces, they now control or contest nearly half of the districts across Afghanistan.
A cease-fire and the withdrawal of thousands of US-led NATO troops is on the table after Washington secured earlier assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies.
Western diplomats and security advisers believe a swift foreign pullout would put the stretched Afghan forces under severe strain.
“The Taliban said they are ready to sever ties with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and this is a good development,” Ghani said.
A US general told a Senate hearing shortly before Ghani’s interview was broadcast that the talks were in their early stages and the Afghan government would have to be part of any negotiated solution.
“I would characterise where we are in the process as very, very early in the process,” US General Joseph Votel, head of the US military’s Central Command, told a Senate hearing.
Votel also said the United States would need to continue to support Afghan security forces financially even if US troops withdrew.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and a separate counter-terrorism effort largely directed at groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries also participate in Resolute Support.


Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

Updated 5 min 58 sec ago

Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

  • The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election
  • The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday he would resign, lashing out at far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for pursuing his own interests by pulling the plug on the government coalition.
The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election after talks with parties in the coming days.
“I’m ending this government experience here... I will go to the president of the republic to inform him of my resignation,” Conte said after an almost hour-long speech to the Senate.
“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said after Salvini began his efforts to bring down the government in the hope of snap elections he believes will make him premier.
Conte was speaking following a week of fallout from Salvini’s decision to back out of the alliance between his League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on August 8, plunging Italy into political turmoil.
After Conte announced his intention to resign, Senate speaker Elisabette Casellati told Salvini to leave the government bench and join his party’s senators, where Salvini said: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”
“The Italians vote with their heads and hearts,” Salvini said, invoking the Virgin Mary to “protect the Italian people” and repeating his call for snap elections while also making a final appeal to M5S.
Caught on the back foot, Salvini last week made the surprise offer to back a key M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.
“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte said as League senators booed and hissed.
“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.
The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available.
A snap election, the forming of a new coalition without holding a new vote, and, although unlikely, the continuation of the current government would all be considered.
As leader of the far-right League, Salvini has proudly promoted his nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda and his blunt attacks against migrants, gay marriage and Islam have helped his party soar in opinion polls.
The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132 percent of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.
Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros ($5.54 billion) in interest on its debt.
Salvini’s plan for a snap election — more than three years early — had envisioned a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.
According to opinion polls, the League could form a coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia.
But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan, with a coalition between M5S and the opposition center-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.
While there is bad blood between the two parties, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.
A PD-M5S coalition could lead to the opposite of what Salvini intended — with him out of government altogether instead of being its sole leader.
Former PD premier Matteo Renzi on Tuesday said that he “would not be part” of a PD-M5S alliance, as many in the anti-establishment party resent him as part of the old elite.
According to some analysts, Conte could also stay on as premier while trying to form an alliance with PD.
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio sent an open letter on Tuesday calling for Conte to take this option, describing him as a “rare pearl, a servant of the nation that Italy cannot lose.”
Salvini has been furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about, although he made no mention of this call in the Senate.
But M5S founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor.”