Taliban warned against peace deal without Kabul’s consent

The Afghan conflict has seen thousands of civilian and military deaths. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2019
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Taliban warned against peace deal without Kabul’s consent

  • President Ghani has insisted that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned
  • The Taliban has said it will hold talks with the government once the US fulfills its promise to withdraw troops from the country

KABUL: There can be no peace deal for Afghanistan without Kabul’s consent, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani told Arab News on Saturday, as talks continued between the US and the Taliban to end the years-long war.

Harun Chakhansur said the government was willing to negotiate with the armed group, which has refused to engage directly with Kabul and calls Ghani’s administration a puppet of the West.

Ghani has insisted that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, but his officials have been excluded from key meetings in Doha and Moscow.

“The government of Afghanistan is ready at any moment to engage in negotiations and strike a peace deal with the Taliban based on our constitutional framework and the road map presented by the president,” Chakhansur told Arab News, adding that the sooner a peace deal was agreed upon, the better it would be for the nation.

“Nothing regarding the peace process is executable unless agreed upon with the Afghan government. All prospects that lead to sustainable and lasting peace is the goal. Any possibility that undermines the main objective of sustainable peace will not be acceptable by the people and government of Afghanistan.

“But on the Taliban side there are some sticking points that need to be addressed ... if they are sincere about peace negotiations. Hurdles could only be discovered during the direct negotiation process between the Afghan government and Taliban.”

A Taliban spokesman said the group refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News. 

The Taliban has said it will hold talks with the government once the US fulfills its promise to withdraw troops from the country. 

US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives are expected to meet for further talks in Doha on Feb. 25.

The planned meeting follows last week’s talks between the Taliban and Afghan delegates in Moscow, where the two sides agreed on a total pullout of foreign forces from the country.

On Friday, Khalilzad said Washington hoped to reach a peace agreement with the insurgents before the Afghan elections in July. The already-delayed polls would be held as scheduled if the talks failed to make any headway, he added. 

There is speculation that, instead of the polls going ahead, an interim government will be formed with the Taliban’s participation. Ghani, who is standing for re-election, has objected to the the idea.

US President Donald Trump has not hidden his impatience to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and bring the costly war to an end. 

Washington has also sought assurances that Afghanistan will not be used as a base by terrorists to carry out attacks. 

 

No obstacle

Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst familiar with the workings of Taliban leaders and who was at the Moscow meeting, said the insurgents and Khalilzad may strike a peace deal in Doha on Feb. 25.

“The Taliban told me (in Moscow) they have no obstacle and that America has accepted their main demand, which is the pullout of the troops,” he told Arab News.

He said all participants at the Moscow meeting believed there would be no elections in July and that Ghani would have to give up his seat.

“Those who have earned wealth and power fear the repercussion of any peace deal. They fear the Taliban may go after them,” the analyst said. 

“At the Moscow meeting the Taliban clearly told the commanders and leaders that ‘we have to forget the past and move forward because we can’t wash blood with blood’,” Mozdah pointed out.

Another analyst, Harris Wadan, explained why there were doubts over the election and Ghani’s future. 

“One big perceived result after … Khalilzad’s talks with the Taliban was that Ghani has to go and the election is a distant event that might not happen, an interim government instead might be formed,” he told Arab News via email.

“The Afghan government’s role has shrunk, hence the future set-up (elections) will not be a priority and Trump has downgraded the role of Afghan government to stakeholder.” 


Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 33 min 4 sec ago
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Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.