Taliban want Haqqani’s son released ahead of talks

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul on Feb. 11. (Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2019

Taliban want Haqqani’s son released ahead of talks

  • Washington still to name negotiators for peace parleys
  • Haqqani was arrested during an overseas visit and has been kept behind bars since 2014

PESHAWAR, KABUL: Afghan Taliban leaders on Tuesday called for the immediate release of the son of a late militant chief, to allow him to take part in crucial peace talks.

Anas Haqqani, whose father Jalaluddin was the prominent commander of the Haqqani insurgency network behind numerous attacks on US and Afghan forces, appeared on a list of names of Taliban representatives to attend the next round of negotiations with US diplomats aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has named 14 delegates, led by Sher Abbas Stanekzai, to join talks slated for Feb. 25 in Doha. However, the negotiating team includes Anas Haqqani who is currently being held in an Afghan jail, and the group has demanded he be freed in time for the peace talks.

Haqqani was arrested during an overseas visit and has been kept behind bars since 2014, but his role in the network is not clear.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said: “Anas should be freed because he was a student and was arrested by Americans during a trip to Jordan. He has not committed any crime. He is a member of the negotiators’ team and the Americans should free him,” Mujahid told Arab News.

Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed that Haqqani was being held by Kabul but said the government had no immediate plans to release him. “Anas Haqqani is in prison and no decision has been taken about his freedom,” Chakhansuri said.

Mujahid said the US had yet to announce the names of its negotiators but added that the two sides were in contact with each other. 

The Taliban team named for the Doha talks consists of chief negotiator Stanekzai, Maulvi Zia-ur-Rehman Madni, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanfi, Sheikh Shahabuddin Dilawar, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor, Mullah Abdul Manan Umari, Maulvi Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Muhammad Fazil Mazloom, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Maulvi Mati-ul-Haq, Mullah Muhammad Anas Haqqani, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Muhammad Nabi Umari and Maulvi Abdul Haq Wasiq.

Ghani, whose government up until now had been sidelined from the peace discussions on the insistence of the Taliban, is aiming to secure a second term in office at the presidential polls in July.

Washington wants to allow the peace talks with the Taliban to succeed so that the group can also participate in the election process at a later stage, a point US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, hinted at in his last trip to the region.

Mujahid said that it was too early for the Taliban to say if the group would be participating in the presidential ballot, unless a peace deal is struck.

“I can’t say anything at this point. We will take a decision once the talks yield results,” the Taliban spokesman added.

He said any polls held under “occupation” would be “bogus” and “have no result.”

The focus of recent rounds of US-Taliban talks has been on the withdrawal of troops from the country, with Taliban officials pledging not to allow Afghan soil ever again to be used against US interests. 

The success of the latest discussions in Doha is seen as vitally important to the peace process, as it will be followed in March by another meeting involving Taliban emissaries and influential Afghan politicians, including two presidential nominees.

The first major get-together of Taliban and Afghan politicians was last week in Moscow, where the sides agreed on a complete pullout of foreign troops. 

According to media reports, Khalilzad on Sunday embarked on a fresh round of diplomatic trips lasting until Feb. 28 and involving visits to countries including Pakistan, Germany, Qatar, Turkey and Afghanistan, to discuss the Trump administration’s aim of seeking a negotiated settlement to the long-running Afghan war. 

Khalilzad had hoped that a peace agreement could be reached before Afghanistan’s presidential ballot. However, he had said that there is still a long way to go before a final deal is signed.

Anti-Muslim sentiment emerges after Sri Lanka attacks

Updated 55 min 7 sec ago

Anti-Muslim sentiment emerges after Sri Lanka attacks

  • Intelligence officers ignored warnings, says Islamic body
  • There have been reports of attacks on Muslim homes and businesses

COLOMBO: The people of Dharga Town, Sri Lanka, are familiar with violence and loss. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots killed four, injured dozens and a left behind a trail of torched homes and businesses.
Now, almost a week after deadly terror attacks devastated the tropical island, the Muslims in Dharga Town are afraid following Daesh’s claim for the bombings.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about what they (the terrorists) are going to get from this. What have they gained? They’ve lost everything,” 38-year-old businessman M. Imthias told Arab News outside Meera Masjid. “We’ve already been through this, and we know the pain, fear, and emotions they (the Catholics) are going through.”
The Daesh claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic extremist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were thought to be behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. More than 350 people were killed and around 500 were wounded in the Easter Sunday violence.
Muslims in Dharga Town fear that efforts to rebuild after the 2014 violence are in vain. Anti-Muslim sentiments are emerging and are fueled by remarks from government officials, such as Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena saying the bombings were retaliation for last month’s New Zealand mosque bloodshed.
There have been reports of attacks on Muslim-owned shops, homes, and a mosque in Sri Lanka. There have also been renewed calls to ban the burqa, citing security reasons and Islamist extremism.
But there is also anger toward the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ), the group initially identified as being responsible for the attacks. Dharga Town residents told Arab News they believed the perpetrators carried out the attacks for personal reasons, not religious ones, as Islam forbids suicide.
The mood in the town is sombre. Shutters are drawn across windows and stores, including supermarkets, are closed. Men gather in small groups along the road, and the area has an increased military presence. People say perpetrators of the assault should face the death penalty.
Around 20 people in Dharga Town belong to the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaath (SLTJ), a faction unpopular with the wider Muslim community. Six SLTJ members were arrested on Tuesday afternoon. The mosque — a shack-like structure — did not open for prayers afterwards. Dharga Town residents opposed the SLTJ establishing a community in the area because of their orthodox ways.
“They wanted to build a mosque, but we didn’t allow it. In the end, they built that place with the iron sheets, and conduct their prayers there,” a village elder, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News. “If they come for prayers, or engage with us in anything, they always try to push their beliefs on us. What they call Islam is completely different from what we practice.”
The NTJ was ostracized by the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulema (ACJU), Sri Lanka’s highest body of Islamic scholars. The organization relayed its suspicions about the NTJ to authorities.
“On Jan. 3, we visited intelligence officers and handed over files with all the details of the perpetrators urging them to take necessary action to stop the NTJ. This was completely ignored,” an ACJU scholar said.
The situation in Sri Lanka remains tense, with nightly curfews and reports of bomb threats. There is also confusion after the Defense Ministry said the NTJ was not behind the attacks, leaving the public afraid about the possibility of another splinter group.
But there are calls for calm, too.
“There is no such anger among us,” Sister Manuja, who survived the St. Sebastian Church bombing, told Arab News. The Catholic community would not seek vengeance, she added. “We are very quiet, very simple people.”