Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this file photo taken on July 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 June 2019
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Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

  • President defends release of 490 militants as goodwill gesture

KABUL: Afghanistan has freed hundreds of jailed Taliban fighters since Eid as a goodwill gesture, the government confirmed on Friday.
Feroz Bashari, head of the government media center, told Arab News that “490 Taliban fighters have been freed since Eid.”
Brushing aside widespread criticism of the move, President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that most freed prisoners “will return to the battlefield, but will serve as peace envoys.”
The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal. The militants so far have refused to hold direct talks with government delegates, while meeting with US officials on several occasions.
The prisoner release, the biggest since Ghani assumed office in late 2014, has become a controversial issue in the deeply divided government, which has lost tens of thousands of troops in battle since the Taliban intensified attacks.
In an apparent response to criticism over the freeing of prisoners, Ghani told a gathering at the presidential palace that he was responding to calls made by the traditional assembly, or Loya Jirga, in April when scores of people urged him to release Taliban inmates.
“We are not going backward with regards to peace and serving the people,” Ghani said. “I accepted your suggestion and that of the Loya Jirga. Most of the released prisoners will become peace ambassadors and will not return to war.”
Government officials said a number of the freed men had “incurable illnesses, and some were elderly who had almost completed their sentences.”
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, on Thursday described the prisoner release as “a good step,” but said that only 261 out of those freed were Taliban fighters. The rest were falsely arrested by government and US-led troops.

FASTFACT

The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal.

John Bass, US ambassador to Afghanistan, praised Ghani’s move, saying it will “improve the climate for a political settlement.”
“Lasting peace will be rooted in reconciliation and forgiveness by all,” he said. The prisoner release has been widely attacked around the country, however.
Farmarz Tamana, a presidential candidate, said that with the Taliban stepping up attacks in recent months, Ghani’s decision “will reduce motivation among security forces.”
Taghyan Sakai, a university professor who lost a close relative in a recent Taliban attack, said the release will “harm the spirit of soldiers.” The former captives will return to battle as other prisoners had done in the past.
Fauzia Koofi, a former lawmaker, said that Ghani had the right to free or reduce the jail terms of criminals and other prisoners, but not of “terrorists.”
Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, said the Taliban “has no intent and will for peace in Afghanistan.”


Duterte ‘seriously considering’ cutting ties with Iceland over UN rights probe

Updated 16 July 2019
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Duterte ‘seriously considering’ cutting ties with Iceland over UN rights probe

  • Iceland spearheaded a resolution that asked the UN’s top human rights body to look into the Philippines' deadly anti-drug crackdown
  • Philippine police have killed more than 6,600 suspected drug dealers in sting operations since Duterte took office in 2016.

MANILA: The Philippine president is “seriously considering” cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland, which spearheaded a resolution that asked the UN’s top human rights body to look into the thousands of deaths of suspects under his anti-drug crackdown.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters late Monday that the Iceland-initiated resolution which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in a vote last week in Geneva showed “how the Western powers are scornful of our sovereign exercise of protecting our people from the scourge of prohibited drugs.”
Panelo says President Rodrigo Duterte “is seriously considering cutting diplomatic relations with Iceland” for initiating the “grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow, and maliciously partisan” resolution.
Human rights groups, however, have lauded the resolution as crucial to helping end the drug killings and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The Philippines’ highest-ranking lawmaker said on Monday a UN resolution to probe the country’s bloody war on drugs should be ignored, and its chief backer Iceland be investigated instead for human rights abuses in allowing abortion.
“They have more unborn babies that they have aborted or killed. There are more killings in abortion than the drug pushers who are fighting the police,” Senate President Vicente Sotto told ANC news channel.
The Nordic nation lacks moral grounds to lecture the Philippines on human rights, Sotto said. “So we should disregard that resolution.”
His remarks are the latest in a series of comments from lawmakers urging the government to not cooperate after the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday adopted Iceland’s resolution to investigate thousands of deaths under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.
Police have killed more than 6,600 suspected drug dealers in sting operations since Duterte took office in 2016. Critics and rights group said authorities summarily execute suspects, which the police deny.
“The criminals can fight back, the babies cannot. What human rights are they talking about?” Sotto said, adding that drug dealers that fight back and destroy families lose their human rights.
His comments about abortion echoed those made by incoming Senator Imee Marcos, the daughter of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rights groups, which hailed the UN vote as a step toward accountability, point out that the bloody anti-narcotics campaign is marked by systematic cover-ups, planted evidence and impunity.
The president’s spokesman on Monday warned countries not to meddle with the state’s affairs.
“All incidents in the war on drugs are tallied, recorded. All they have to do is ask us, not to pre-judge us,” presidential spokesman Spokesman Panelo told a regular news conference. “It behoves them to render respect to a sovereign state.”
Duterte on Friday mocked Iceland as an ice-eating nation without understanding of his country’s problems.