US troop pullout focus of next talks: Taliban

In this file photo, US troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Updated 22 April 2019

US troop pullout focus of next talks: Taliban

  • The next round of talks is expected to take place in Doha in the coming weeks

KABUL: Upcoming talks between the Taliban and the US will focus on the timetable for pulling all foreign forces from Afghanistan, according to a senior Taliban member.

The Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP that previous negotiations with Washington saw the two sides agree to a total withdrawal, with only the details needing to be fleshed out.

“In our last round of talks with the US side, we agreed with them on withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan,” Shaheen said in Doha.

In return for a withdrawal, he said the Taliban have committed to preventing terror groups using Afghanistan as a safe haven or for launching attacks on other countries.

“But still there are some details to be discussed, and this discussion will take place in our next round of talks and that is about (the) timetable of the withdrawal of forces from the country and other details,” Shaheen said.

The next round of talks is expected to take place in Doha in the coming weeks, but no dates have been formally announced.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the talks for Washington, said after the latest round ended that “real strides” had been made, but he insisted no agreement was reached on when the US and other countries might leave Afghanistan.

Afghan-to-Afghan talks were scheduled to start on Friday in Qatar, but were scuttled after a falling out over who should attend.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani over the weekend to express Washington’s disappointment over the indefinite postponement of Afghan talks with the Taliban and to condemn the insurgent’s latest “spring offensive.”

The gathering would have marked the first time that Taliban and Kabul government officials sat together. It was considered a significant first step toward finding a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict, and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country.

The State Department said Pompeo called Ghani on Saturday over the postponement and also condemned the recent Taliban announcement of starting another offensive this spring.

The announcement itself was just a show of strength since the Taliban have kept up relentless near-daily attacks even during the harsh winter months, inflicting staggering losses on the embattled Afghan military and security forces. Many civilians also loss their lives in the cross-fire.

In his phone call with Ghani, Pompeo encouraged both sides to agree on participants, saying the talks are Afghanistan’s best chance at peace.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.