Taliban to deal with Pakistan as ‘brotherly neighbor’ in future

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, center, with Afghanistan's acting Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid, left, and Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019

Taliban to deal with Pakistan as ‘brotherly neighbor’ in future

  • We do not adopt or change our policies due to pressure: Zabihullah Mujahid
  • The US, Taliban and regional stakeholders have of late held multiple rounds of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban leaders have rubbished claims that they only entered peace talks with the US because of pressure from Pakistan.

The insurgents say it was the Americans who approached the Taliban to join the US around the negotiating table in a bid to end the long-running conflict in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed reports that Islamabad had forced them to start dialogue, and said the current direct talks taking place with US officials were in line with the Taliban’s own strategy.

“We do not adopt or change our policies due to pressure from anyone. I have not seen any pressure,” Mujahid told Arab News. “The ongoing talks taking place (in Qatar) are in accordance with our agenda.”

The Taliban’s outgoing chief negotiator Sher Abbas Stanekzai said last week that the next round of talks, aimed at bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, will be held in Qatar on Feb. 25. Those discussions are likely to focus on a plan for the withdrawal of foreign troops and ways to prevent the country from being used for terrorism in the future. 

“The perception about the use of pressure (by Pakistan) is false,” Mujahid added. “We had told the Americans to talk to us instead of starting war even before the invasion. Then we opened political office in Doha in 2013 for political talks with the Americans, as the war option was not in the interests of the US. But the US was unwilling to agree to our proposal and instead preferred war.

“It is the US which has started negotiations with us, so it is a change in the US approach to come to the negotiation table. Our stance has always been that war has been imposed on us.”

Mujahid said that in future the Taliban would seek to deal with Pakistan as a “brotherly neighbor” and strengthen relations based on mutual respect. “We want similar relations with other neighboring countries.”

The spokesman described Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent offer to give the Taliban an official office in Afghanistan, as “misplaced.”

“We do not beg anyone to give us an office in our own country. We presently control over half of Afghanistan and if we want to, we can open an office and center anywhere,” Mujahid said.

Political solution 

The US, Taliban and regional stakeholders have of late held multiple rounds of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict. US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is on his latest six-nation tour to the region in a bid to secure a peace deal with the group before the Afghan presidential elections slated for July this year. 

The Taliban had until now refused to talk to the Afghan government and appear to be seeking a key role in the new political order of the country. 

Foreign affairs experts do not believe Pakistan could have put pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process.

“Pakistan may be encouraging the Taliban to sit at the negotiation table because the war in Afghanistan has also affected our country,” former Pakistani Ambassador Asif Durrani told Arab News on Monday.

“The Taliban are not naïve enough to accept pressures, but I think they will do whatever is good for Afghanistan,” said Durrani. “They (Taliban) are Afghans, and Afghans are fiercely independent people, so the impression of pressure is a move to malign the Taliban.”

Defense analyst, retired Brig. Said Nazir Mohmand, on Monday told Arab News that any attempt to pressurize the Taliban could “create problems for Pakistan.”

“It was the stated policy of the Taliban that they will only talk to the US as they consider them an occupation force. So, I do not think there was any pressure on them (the Taliban) as the US agreed to start negotiations with them,” Mohmand added.

“But there is a possibility that Pakistan may have used its leverage on the Taliban and convinced them to focus on a political solution.”

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 59 min 29 sec ago

Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.