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.


US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

This file photo taken on July 19, 2018, shows Myanmar's Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, saluting to pay his respects to Myanmar independence hero General Aung San and eight others assassinated in 1947, during a ceremony to mark the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon. (AFP)
Updated 41 min 12 sec ago
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US imposes sanctions on Myanmar commander in chief over Rohingya abuses

  • A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh
  • A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday announced sanctions on the Myanmar military’s Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders it said were responsible for extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims, barring them from entry to the United States.
The steps, which also covered Min Aung Hlaing’s deputy, Soe Win, and two other senior commanders and their families, are the strongest the United States has taken in response to massacres of minority Rohingyas in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It named the two others as Brig. Generals Than Oo and Aung Aung.
“We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said a recent disclosure that Min Aung Hlaing ordered the release of soldiers convicted of extrajudicial killings at the village of Inn Din during the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in 2017 was “one egregious example of the continued and severe lack of accountability for the military and its senior leadership.”
“The Commander-in-Chief released these criminals after only months in prison, while the journalists who told the world about the killings in Inn Din were jailed for more than 500 days,” Pompeo said.
The Inn Din massacre was uncovered by two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.
The US announcement came on the first day of an international ministerial conference on religious freedom hosted by Pompeo at the State Department that was attended by Rohingya representatives.
“With this announcement, the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military,” said Pompeo, who has been a strong advocate of religious freedom.

“GROSS VIOLATIONS“
“We designated these individuals based on credible information of these commanders’ involvement in gross violations of human rights.”
A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators have said that Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson and was executed with “genocidal intent.”
The State Department has so far stopped short of calling the abuses genocide, referring instead to ethic cleansing and a “well-planned and coordinated” campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities.
“He (Pompeo) has not come to the point at which he has decided to make a further determination. Generally our policies are focused on changing behavior, promoting accountability, and we have taken today’s actions with those goals in mind,” a senior State Department official told reporters, asking not to be named.
The military in Myanmar, where Buddhism is the main religion, has denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and says its actions were part of a fight against terrorism.
A declaration of genocide by the US government could require Washington to impose even stronger sanctions on Myanmar, a country with which it has competed for influence with regional rival China.
The senior State Department official said Washington hoped the latest steps would strengthen the hand of the civilian government in Myanmar in its effort to amend the constitution to reduce military influence in politics.
“Our hope is that these actions ... will help to further delegitimize the current military leadership, and can help the civilian government gain control of the military,” he said.
The Trump administration had thus far imposed sanctions on four military and police commanders and two army units involved in the abuses against the Rohingya and had been under pressure from US Congress to take tougher steps.
A United Nations investigator said this month that Myanmar security forces and insurgents were committing human rights violations against civilians that may amount to fresh war crimes.