US envoy denies Taliban claim on foreign troop withdrawal 

Taliban political chief Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, center, attends the “intra-Afghan” talks in Moscow Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 07 February 2019
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US envoy denies Taliban claim on foreign troop withdrawal 

  • To be clear, no troop withdrawal timetable exists, said the US envoy
  • The Taliban refuses to meet the Afghan government, dismissing it a puppet of the West, and insists that foreign troops must leave the country

KABUL: The US special envoy to Afghanistan on Thursday denied Taliban claims of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Senior Taliban negotiator Abdul Salam Hanafi said that US diplomats had agreed to remove half of the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of April and that the withdrawal process had already begun.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad denied this assertion, tweeting: “I’ve heard some Taliban officials claim we have a troop withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan ... To be clear, no troop withdrawal timetable exists.”

There were six days of peace talks in Doha — where Hanafi said the timetable had been set — but there have also been talks elsewhere as the insurgents meet top officials from Asia, Europe and beyond to reach a political settlement aimed at ending the war.

Claim

The Taliban refuses to meet the Afghan government, dismissing it a puppet of the West, and insists that foreign troops must leave the country.

Hanafi made the troop withdrawal claim in Moscow, where Taliban delegates held talks with prominent Afghan politicians. Kabul objected to the meeting, with one army general describing at as a “white coup” against the government. 

“It was like a white coup and a warning for Ghani. His rivals, influential politicians and power brokers had taken part in it and agreed on certain things,” one army general who served in Ghani’s administration told Arab News, requesting anonymity.

“Ghani seems to be left alone and will be dealt with in future talks as one side to the conflict rather than as a government.”

The Taliban’s top negotiator in Moscow Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said after the meeting that there would be no cease-fire until the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The sides agreed on an assurance to the international community that Afghanistan would not be used as a terror base against any other nation, and that women had the right to education and work in line with Islamic principles. 

They “called for the protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles, and to undertake efforts to attract international assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s infrastructure.”

They also agreed for the next intra-Afghan meeting to be held in Doha, with some pushing for the participation of Ghani’s government. Some at the Moscow meeting demanded the formation of an interim government to replace Ghani instead of holding presidential elections in July.

The presidential palace in Kabul said the Moscow moot was a futile exercise. In a short statement issued late Wednesday, the government said the talks “hold no weight” as delegates attending the meeting in Moscow had no executive authority and that the gathering was only political and academic talks. 

The Moscow gathering was considered a blow to Ghani, as various factions and ethnic groups had put aside their differences in his absence.

Analyst Ahmad Shuja referred to the remarks of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who emphasized the importance of intra-Afghan-dialogue and for the creation of “conditions for the government, other leaders and Taliban to sit together and negotiate a peaceful settlement.”

Shuja saw Pompeo’s comments as a change in stance from the US.

“The US emphasizes intra-Afghan dialogue, but does not assert the Afghan government’s leading role in the peace process. The US treats the Afghan government as a member of one of the groups engaged during the talks,” he told Arab News.

Those in the six-day Doha meeting included former President Hamid Karzai, Ghani’s key challenger in presidential elections, former Interior Minister Haneef Atmar, regional power brokers and technocrats.

Trump has repeatedly spoken about the need for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, where it has been bogged down in a conflict with the Taliban and other groups since late 2001.

He appointed Khalilzad to engage with the Taliban in order to find a negotiated settlement.


UK core pay growth strongest in nearly 11 years, but jobs growth slows

Data showed the unemployment rate remained at 3.8 percent as expected. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 July 2019
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UK core pay growth strongest in nearly 11 years, but jobs growth slows

  • Core earnings have increased by 3.6 percent annually, beating the median forecast of 3.5 percent
  • The unemployment rate fell by 51,000 to just under 1.3 million

LONDON: British wages, excluding bonuses, rose at their fastest pace in more than a decade in the three months to May, official data showed, but there were some signs that the labor market might be weakening. Core earnings rose by an annual 3.6 percent, beating the median forecast of 3.5 percent in a Reuters poll of economists. Including bonuses, pay growth also picked up to 3.4 percent from 3.2 percent, stronger than the 3.1 percent forecast in the poll. Britain’s labor market has been a silver lining for the economy since the Brexit vote in June 2016, something many economists attribute to employers preferring to hire workers that they can later lay off over making longer-term commitments to investment. The pick-up in pay has been noted by the Bank of England which says it might need to raise interest rates in response, assuming Britain can avoid a no-deal Brexit. Tuesday’s data showed the unemployment rate remained at 3.8 percent as expected, its joint-lowest since the three months to January 1975. The number of people out of work fell by 51,000 to just under 1.3 million. But the growth in employment slowed to 28,000, the weakest increase since the three months to August last year and vacancies fell to their lowest level in more than a year. Some recent surveys of companies have suggested employers are turning more cautious about hiring as Britain approaches its new Brexit deadline of Oct. 31. Both the contenders to be prime minister say they would leave the EU without a transition deal if necessary. A survey published last week showed that companies were more worried about Brexit than at any time since the decision to leave the European Union and they planned to reduce investment and hiring. “The labor market continues to be strong,” ONS statistician Matt Hughes said. “Regular pay is growing at its fastest rate for nearly 11 years in cash terms and its quickest for over three years after taking account of inflation.” The BoE said in May it expected wage growth of 3 percent at the end of this year.