US envoy hails Taliban leader’s remarks on talks

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US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation (left), is accompanied by Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Additional Secretary Aftab Khokhar as he arrives at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on June 2, 2019. (AFP)
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Municipality workers clean the site of explosions in Kabul on Sunday. One of the blasts hit a bus carrying university students in western Kabul. (AP)
Updated 03 June 2019

US envoy hails Taliban leader’s remarks on talks

  • Khalilzad goes to Pakistan in an attempt to restart peace process

KABUL: US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Pakistan on Sunday to restart the elusive peace process, a day after the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Hebatullah spoke about his readiness for talks.

After his visit to Pakistan, which some say has clout over the Taliban, Khalilzad is expected to travel to the UAE, Germany, Kabul and Qatar. Qatar has hosted at least five rounds of talks between Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Khalilzad in the past few months.

In a message issued on the occasion of Eid, Hebatullah said that the Taliban keeps “open the doors of understanding and negotiations” while vowing to fight until foreign troops pull out from Afghanistan. He said that the group was not after a “monopoly of power but wants all Afghans to have a role in it.”

He also gave assurances that the “rights of male and female compatriots will be given to them under the shade of a sound Islamic government” that will be created in Afghanistan in the future.

Hebatullah’s comments are the first on the peace process since Khalilzad assumed office more than six months ago, as Washington’s envoy seeks to end America’s conflict in Afghanistan, its longest war in its history which it began by ousting the Taliban from power.

In a tweet before arriving in Pakistan, Khalilzad hailed Hebatullah’s initiative.

“The Taliban leader’s Eid statement provides some welcome support for the Afghan peace process and desire to participate in dialogue with other Afghans and in a final political settlement that will require power sharing. All good things.”

In his message, Hebatullah did not announce any truce for Eid as happened last year, when the Taliban followed suit after President Ashraf Ghani declared a cease-fire during one of Muslims’ key festivals. He extended it for several more days after that, but called it off when the Taliban resumed their attacks.

A spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussien Murtazawi, told Arab News that he was not aware of another truce being announced by the government in the coming days.

He could not say what sort of impact Hebatullah’s insistence on a troop pullout will have on the peace process and could not comment about Khalilzad’s trip.

Ghani’s government was apparently infuriated at being left out of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban.

Farooq Bashar, a university professor, said Khalilzad had made no progress during various rounds of talks with the Taliban because the group still insists on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but recalling the slow pace of talks during the Vietnam war he said there was still hope ahead.

“The issues of peace and national reconciliation are always complicated and take time. The Taliban have their conditions for peace and Washington has its own terms and all sides try to impose their conditions on the others,” Bashar told Arab News.

He said the Taliban have had the upper hand in the talks. In their meetings with various Afghan politicians in recent months, the group showed that it was not relying merely on Pakistan.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, who runs a think tank, said the prolongation of the talks and its inconclusiveness adds further to the unprecedented political and security instability that Afghanistan has been facing in recent months.

He said Ghani’s focus was not on the peace process, from which he had been left out, but on his re-election for the delayed presidential polls slated for September. He said this posed another challenge for peace.

“Ghani wants that election be held first and peace talks later. … If the election takes place before peace talks, it is clear that Ghani is the winner by having the entire governmental facilities in his hands.”

4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

Updated 16 July 2019

4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

WASHINGTON: Defiant in the face of widespread censure, President Donald Trump escalated his demand for four Democratic congresswomen of color to leave the US “right now,” stoking the discord that helped send him to the White House and claiming “many people agree with me.”
The four lawmakers fired back, condemning what they called “xenophobic bigoted remarks” and renewing calls for Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.
Trump had called on the four to “go back” to their “broken and crime-infested” countries in tweets that have been widely denounced as racist . His remarks were directed at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens, and three of the four were born in the US
The episode served notice that Trump is willing to again rely on incendiary rhetoric on issues of race and immigration to preserve his political base in the leadup to the 2020 election. He shrugged off the criticism.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said Monday at the White House. “A lot of people love it, by the way.”
At the Capitol, there was near unanimous condemnation from Democrats and a rumble of discontent from a subset of Republicans, but notably not from the party’s congressional leaders.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump’s campaign slogan truly means he wants to “make America white again,” announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments . The resolution “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments” and says they “have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”
In response, Trump tweeted anew Tuesday about the four congresswomen: “Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!“
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s White House nominee in 2012 and now one of the president’s most vocal GOP critics, said Monday that Trump’s comments were “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying.”
Trump dug in. “If you’re not happy in the US, if you’re complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now,” he said.
His words, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, may have been partly meant to widen the divides within the House Democratic caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies. And while Trump’s attacks brought Democrats together in defense of their colleagues, his allies noted he was also having some success in making the progressive lawmakers the face of their party.
The Republican president questioned whether Democrats should “want to wrap” themselves around this group of four people as he recited a list of the quartet’s most controversial statements.
At a news conference with her three colleagues, Pressley referred to Trump as “the occupant of our White House” instead of president.
“He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve,” she said, encouraging people “not take the bait.” Pressley said Trump’s comments were “a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people” — prescription drug prices, affordable housing, health care.”
Omar, a naturalized US citizen born in Somalia, accused him of “openly violating” the Constitution and sounded the call for impeachment proceedings.
Ocasio-Cortez said Trump “does not know how to defend his policies and so what he does is attack us personally.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said his party would also try to force a vote in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Trump, who won the presidency in 2016 in part by energizing disaffected voters with inflammatory racial rhetoric, made clear he has no intention of backing away from that strategy in 2020.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” he tweeted Monday afternoon. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!“
Trump has faced few consequences for such attacks in the past. They typically earn him cycles of wall-to-wall media attention. He is wagering that his most steadfast supporters will be energized by the controversy as much, or if not more so, than the opposition.
The president has told aides that he was giving voice to what many of his supporters believe — that they are tired of people, including immigrants, disrespecting their country, according to three Republicans close to the White House who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Trump singled out Omar, in particular, accusing her of having “hatred” for Israel and expressing “love” for “enemies like Al-Qaeda.”
“These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country,” he said.
Omar, in an interview, once laughed about how a college professor had spoken of Al-Qaeda with an intensity she said was not used to describe “America,” “England” or “The Army.”
Republicans largely trod carefully with their responses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president who golfed with him over the weekend, advised him to “aim higher” during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” even as he accused the four Democrats of being “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American.”
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said “I don’t think that the president’s intent in any way is racist,” pointing to Trump’s decision to choose Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, as his transportation secretary.
Chao is one of the few minorities among the largely white and male aides in high-profile roles in Trump’s administration. She is the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who declined comment Monday on Trump’s attacks.
Among the few GOP lawmakers commenting Monday, Rep. Pete Olson of Texas said Trump’s tweets were “not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people” in his district. “I urge our President immediately disavow his comments,” he wrote.
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll from February 2017, half of Americans said the mixing of culture and values from around the world is an important part of America’s identity as a nation. About a third said the same of a culture established by early European immigrants.
But partisans in that poll were divided over these aspects of America’s identity. About two-thirds of Democrats but only about a third of Republicans thought the mixing of world cultures was important to the country’s identity. By comparison, nearly half of Republicans but just about a quarter of Democrats saw the culture of early European immigrants as important to the nation.