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
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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.


Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

Updated 23 May 2019
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Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

  • The vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month
  • Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque is a focal point for Muslims in the cosmopolitan city-state and the vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month of Ramadan when people from all walks of life flock to its bustling bazaars.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter” with a mix of Malay, South Asian and Middle Eastern elements. Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim, according to the latest official data.

Arab Street — an area that includes Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street — is a hub for hipsters, vivid murals, Persian rug stores, shisha bars, perfumeries and textile shops, as well as being home to the distinctive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque. There is even an ornate archway welcoming people to explore the neighborhood and its distinctive shophouses, buildings that were used for working and living in. 

“We are more like brothers and sisters, rather than businesses. I know most of the customers and they know me too,” a 36-year-old biryani hawker who gave his name as Nareza told Arab News as he served a line of hungry clients.

Nareza said his stall’s signature dish was mutton biryani, made from a family recipe handed down through generations from his late grandmother. 

FASTFACT

Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim

“Dum biryani is a process of mixing meat and rice together in one pot, so the rice has a bit of the masala taste while the meat has a bit of the basmati rice fragrance,” he said, adding that he sold more than 300 portions of biryani a day. “I learned to make biryani from my father, who used to do charity work in the mosque. We make our own spices, we do not buy them from outside vendors. That is why the taste is different.”

The bazaar is packed with places selling food, drinks, decorations and homeware. The fare reflects Singapore’s international status, with eateries and stores selling kebabs, sushi and local Malay goodies.

But Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a fast-paced lifestyle, leading some to focus on preserving culture and heritage for future generations.

“We want to create awareness about the significance of Sultan Mosque to the Muslim community,” juice stall owner Riduan told Arab News, saying all sale proceeds were donated to the Sultan Mosque. “Arab Street is unique because you see a lot of different races coming here and it is also a tourist attraction. This is where we demonstrate we are Singapore society. Singapore is not just limited to skyscrapers such as Marina Bay Sands.”