US envoy: Afghan peace process entering ‘new stage’

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry official Aftab Khokher with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 10 June 2019
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US envoy: Afghan peace process entering ‘new stage’

  • Khalilzad meets Ghani, other politicians after his talks in Islamabad, Brussels
  • “In the end only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country”

KABUL: The Afghan peace process is entering a new stage, according to the US special envoy for reconciliation as he stressed the need for the country’s warring parties to formally meet and start their negotiations.

Talks to end the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan have been foundering as the Taliban refuses to meet Kabul representatives as it says the government is a puppet of the West. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad says it is essential that the two sides come together.

An ice-breaker in April was canceled by Kabul after disagreements with the host nation Qatar. There is due to be an intra-Afghan meeting in Germany later this month.

Khalilzad, who arrived in Kabul late Sunday, met President Ashfraf Ghani and other politicians after his latest round of talks in Pakistan, Germany and Brussels.

“Good to be back in #Afghanistan. Plan to be here for some time on this trip. Will be consulting widely. Peace talks are entering a new stage and Afghans must be engaged more than ever. #AfghanPeaceProcess,” he tweeted to his 73,000 followers.

“Good meeting w/ Pres @AshrafGhani & his team. Discussed building further intl consensus for #peace. Also regional requirements & implications for peace including recent positive movement in AfPak relations & opportunities peace will provide for regional connectivity &development. As #AfghanPeaceProcess talks continue to progress, we agreed preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations now is essential.”

He briefed Ghani on his European trips and future plans, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace.

“The conversations of President Ghani and Dr. Khalilzad were mostly focused on intra-Afghan dialogue and both sides expressed happiness about the role of Germany in this regard and hoped for the earliest start of the first round of intra-Afghan dialogue,” read the statement. “The two sides hoped that the intra-Afghan talks will begin as soon as possible.”

Last month Germany said it had been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart the peace process.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Reuters reported Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Markus Potzel as saying. 

“In the end only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

Khalilzad was appointed last summer and has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban, who are fighting to drive out US-led troops.

The focus of his meetings, held without Ghani’s officials, has largely been on the Taliban’s insistence of a complete drawdown of foreign troops in return for a guarantee from the militants that they will not use Afghanistan against any nation or Washington’s interests.

Ghani has been infuriated by the exclusion of government representatives from these meetings. He is standing for re-election, and Afghan politicians and Khalilzad want to hold the polls after a successful outcome of the talks so the Taliban can take part in the vote.

Analyst Fazl Ahmad Orya said Khalilzad’s current trip to Kabul was more important than his previous ones because he had built a consensus in the region and among major foreign powers about the peace process.

“He now wants to lay a foundation of talks among Afghans as his next step and the first major such meeting is scheduled to be held in Germany,” Orya told Arab News.

Politician and former presidential adviser Shahzada Masood said there were too many ambiguities and not enough details about the special envoy’s work. 

“Khalilzad has had no progress in his past rounds of meetings with the Taliban and he needs to share and clarify the details of his meetings with the Taliban in order to put an end to the ambiguity about the country’s future.”

He said foreign troop presence and the fate of the country after the peace deal were among the issues that needed addressing.

Khalilzad said on June 6 that the US and NATO would make a shared decision on remaining in Afghanistan or leaving the country.


Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

Updated 40 min 51 sec ago
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Nigeria death toll rises in Boko Haram triple suicide bombing

  • Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga

Thirty people were killed late Sunday in a triple suicide bombing in northeast Nigeria, emergency services reported, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram militant group.

Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga, 38 kilometers from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where football fans were watching a match on TV.

“The death toll from the attack has so far increased to 30. We have over 40 people injured,” Usman Kachalla, head of operations at the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said on Monday.

An earlier toll from the blasts, the bloodiest in months, gave 17 dead and 17 wounded.

The attack happened around 9:00 P.M., Ali Hassan, the leader of a self-defense group in the town, said.

The owner of hall prevented one of the bombers from entering the packed venue.

“There was a heated argument between the operator and the bomber who blew himself up,” Hassan said by phone.

Two other bombers who had mingled among the crowd at a tea stall nearby also detonated their suicide vests.

Hassan said most of the victims were from outside the soccer viewing center.

“Nine people died on the spot, including the operator, and 48 were injured,” Hassan said.

Kachala said the high number of fatalities was because emergency responders had been unable to reach the site of the blast quickly.

Nor were they equipped to deal with large numbers of wounded.

“Lack of an appropriate health facility to handle such huge emergency situation and the delay in obtaining security clearance to enable us deploy from Maiduguri in good time led to the high death toll,” he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack bore the imprint of Boko Haram, which has led a decade-long campaign to establish a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

The last suicide attack was in April this year when two female suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the garrison town of Monguno, killing a soldier and a vigilante and injuring another soldier.

Konduga has been repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers from a Boko Haram faction loyal to longtime leader Abubakar Shekau.

The faction typically carries out suicide attacks against soft civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, often using young women and girls as bombers.

The militants are believed to sneak into the town from the group’s haven in nearby Sambisa forest.

Eight worshippers were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the town last July.

Boko Haram insurgency has claimed 27,000 lives and forced some two million to flee their homes.

The violence has spilled into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting the formation of a regional military coalition to battle the insurgents.