Afghan politicians, Taliban try to revive peace talks

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, introduces the Taliban delegation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, ahead of their meeting, in Moscow on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 29 May 2019
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Afghan politicians, Taliban try to revive peace talks

  • ‘The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan’
  • The Taliban refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate

KABUL: Prominent Afghan politicians and Taliban delegates met in Moscow on Tuesday to revive peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long war. The Taliban have refused to engage with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider a puppet regime, and insist on a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Zamir Kabolov, Russia’s special representative for Afghanistan, told delegates in Dari to find “a solution through the Afghan way” to end the fighting.
It is the second such gathering to be held in Moscow in recent months since the US appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as its special envoy for Taliban peace talks, even as President Donald Trump pushes for a troop drawdown.
The meeting is being held as Russia commemorates the 100th anniversary of its diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, which it invaded in the 1980s.
Ghani has not sent anyone from his government as a representative, but Kabul’s ambassador to Moscow will represent Afghanistan at the diplomatic ceremony, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi told reporters.
The head of the High Peace Council, Karim Khalili, is in Moscow but not on behalf of the government, a spokesman for the body told Arab News.
Similar to the previous round of meetings in Russia, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other prominent Afghan politicians will be at the meeting.
The Taliban have sent a 14-member delegation. It is led by the militant group’s deputy head Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has previously held closed-door talks with Khalilzad in Doha.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told Arab News that the group’s delegates would hold “closed-door meetings with senior Russian officials.”
Afghan officials could not say if Kabul’s envoy to Moscow would meet the Taliban.

HIGH LIGHT

It is the second such gathering to be held in Moscow in recent months since the US appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as its special envoy for Taliban peace talks, even as President Donald Trump pushes for a troop drawdown.

Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, a political analyst, said the Moscow meeting showed Russia’s growing interest in Afghanistan.
“Russia has an interest in the region and Afghanistan has high importance for it. Any further deterioration of security here will impact Central Asia and subsequently Russia,” he told Arab News.
Fazl Rahman Orya, another commentator, said that Russia, the US, China and Europe had reached a consensus on the Afghan peace process. He added that meetings in Doha or Moscow did not cancel each other out, rather they were aimed at boosting dialogue on the Afghan side.
“The Moscow meeting is another step in growing efforts for start of a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue. It is another positive step, but we have to wait for its results,” he told Arab News.
A major meeting between the Taliban and Kabul was abruptly cancelled last month after disagreements with the host nation, Qatar, over names on the list.
It would have been the first meeting of its kind since the Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001, and came amid mounting pressure from Washington to find a diplomatic solution to hostilities.


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.