Afghans agree on road map during Qatar talks

Members of Afghan delegations attend the second day of the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

Afghans agree on road map during Qatar talks

  • The Qatar meeting is the first time officials of Ghani’s government have taken part in direct negotiations with the group

DOHA, KABUL: At the close of their first major talks, Afghan delegates and the Taliban  agreed on a plan for peace and “minimizing civilian casualties to zero.”

The resolution, after two days of dialogue, was issued late on Monday.

There remains, however, no sign of the Taliban directly engaging in negotiations with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been excluded from various rounds of talks between the group and US diplomats, led by Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Taliban have called Ghani’s embattled administration a “US puppet.” Khalilzad said in Doha that substantial progress had been made between the militants and the US, but that the subject of negotiations remained “sensitive.”

Taliban sources, however, told Arab News both sides continue to differ over a time frame for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “If there is no threat to the US from Afghan soil, and if Afghans do not want US forces to stay in Afghanistan, we are ready to give up Afghanistan militarily,” Khalilzad said on Monday.

Afghan delegates reportedly accepted Taliban demands to approve a resolution adopted during the Moscow intra-Afghan conference in February. 

It called for the complete withdrawal of US forces from the country, the lifting of international sanctions on senior Taliban leaders, the release of prisoners and the recognition of the Taliban’s political offices in Doha.

Spokesman Suhail Shaheen described the Doha resolution as a “victory” for the group, adding: “Our official policy is to avoid civilian casualties.”

Government representative Ahmad Nadir Nadri said the delegates from Kabul gave up some of their demands to keep the peace process on track, telling reporters that face-to-face talks with the Taliban enabled them to defend the constitution, democracy, and the basic rights of the Afghan people.

The call to end civilian casualties came days after deadly attacks in Ghazni and Kabul killed and injured dozens of civilians, including school children.

“There were frank and emotional exchanges,” Hekmat Khalil Karzai, a former diplomat and one of the participants, said in a statement.

“All cried when a brave woman shared our collective pain and held everyone accountable … the dialogue brought us closer and also gave us a better understanding of the issues at stake.”

The Qatar meeting is the first time officials of Ghani’s government have taken part in direct negotiations with the group. Khalilzad, who is expected to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Tuesday, tweeted that the meeting “gives hope for further progress to end years of war and terrible suffering of (the) Afghan people.”

The resolution stated that: “All Afghans are committed to a united and Islamic country, putting aside all ethnic differences. Afghanistan shall not witness another war. The international community, regional and internal elements shall respect Afghans’ values accordingly.

“In order to facilitate effective intra-Afghan talks, the warring parties should avoid threats, revenge and conflicting words.”

However, despite the statement, fighting has continued between Taliban and government forces across the country.

Writer and analyst Zubair Shafiqi said that though the resolution was not binding, the meeting was a success.

“The fact that they pushed for reduction of violence, the release of prisoners and a halt to attacks on certain places is progress,” he told Arab News.

Fazl Rahman Orya, another analyst, said the meeting: “laid a good foundation for future genuine peace talks.”

“This can be used as pillar or foundation for future talks between Afghans, where we will have the world as guarantors. It was really a very good start,” he said.

Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

Updated 16 min 12 sec ago

Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

  • Tania Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration
  • ‘It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate’ these people

WASHINGTON: Tania Joya has devoted her life to “reprogramming” extremists and reintroducing them into society — a process she understands well as a “former Islamic militant” herself.
“My aim is for them to feel a sense of remorse and to train them so that they can be good citizens once they are released from prison, so they can adjust to society,” Joya said during a visit to Washington, to present a project on preventing extremist violence.
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She radicalized at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad.
In 2004, she married an American Muslim-convert, Yahya Al-Bahrumi (born John Georgelas). She began advocating for an Islamic state, for which her three children would be soldiers.
But in 2013, her husband took her and their children against her will to northwestern Syria to join militant insurgents. Joya reported her husband to US authorities and, after three weeks, fled Syria to the United States.
Joya settled in Texas, her husband’s home state. There, she changed her life, divorced and re-married.
Yahya, her first husband, joined the Daesh group, which would soon control large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. He was in charge of the group’s English-language propaganda, and Joya said he became the “highest-ranking American” in the Daesh group.
He died in 2017 during fighting in Mayadin, in northern Syria, as the so-called Daesh “caliphate” crumbled.
However, this created a new problem — Western militants or their spouses and children wanting to come home.
Joya realized that she had something to offer. “It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate” these people, she said.
“It’s reprogramming them and giving them a sense of hope in the political process.”
It’s also important to “get them to understand the psychology and the patterns... what led them to extremism,” understanding “the rejection many in the US and Europe faced growing up there, the cultural conflict, the crisis they went through,” she said.
“Once it’s all explained to them, very logically, they will accept it just as I did.”
Joya favors repatriating foreign rebels from the Middle East so they can be judged in their countries of origin.
While that is the US policy, many European countries such as France are wary of taking in the militants.
In May and June, 11 French nationals were sentenced to die in Iraq for their affiliation to Daesh.
Joya has campaigned for the return of Shamima Begum, who joined the militant group when she was just 15 but now wants to return home to Britain. However, Begum’s lack of remorse has turned public opinion against her, and the British government stripped her of her citizenship in February.
Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria have taken in some 12,000 foreign fighters from 40 different countries, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children whose fathers are militants.
Countries with militants stranded in refugee camps “are responsible for these individuals,” said Joya. “We can’t just push them off to the Middle East, to the Kurdish people... the abuses they’re facing in these camps are only confirming their beliefs of radicalization.”
Joya is participating in the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program organized by the Clarion Program, a US non-profit dedicated to educating people “about the growing phenomenon of Islamic extremism,” according to its website.
The PVE program provides “communication models” that offer “workshops for youth so that before a child is even indoctrinated or introduced to radical ideologies, they’ve really been inoculated” against religious and ideological extremism, said national program coordinator Shireen Qudosi.
“That goes from gangs, to radical ideologies: antifa, neo-Nazi groups, Islamist extremism,” she said.