Envoy to Afghanistan says US not ‘cutting and running’

The US currently has 14,000 troops in the US. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 July 2019
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Envoy to Afghanistan says US not ‘cutting and running’

  • The envoy said the US is looking for a term-relationship with Afghanistan
  • The new talks covered a number of topics, one of which is that Taliban will not become a staging ground for militants again

WASHINGTON: Amid talk of a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US envoy talking to the Taliban said Thursday that America is not “cutting and running” from its longest war and that women will continue to have seats in peace talks to end nearly 18 years of fighting.
Zalmay Khalilzad addressed an audience in Washington on a video link from Qatar where a two-day all-Afghan conference concluded Tuesday with a statement that offered a roadmap for the country’s future. The Washington event was heavily focused on raising the voices of women who fear any peace accord with the Taliban will rollback gains they’ve made and return them to the days of repressive Taliban rule.
“We would like to leave a very positive legacy here,” said the US envoy, who was born in Afghanistan. “We are not cutting and running. We’re not looking for a withdrawal agreement. We’re looking for a peace agreement. And we’re looking for a long-term relationship and partnership with Afghanistan.”
The Taliban refuses to meet with the current Afghan government, but there are ongoing discussions about peace.
Khalilzad has held eight rounds of US talks with the Taliban and there have been all-Afghan meetings, including the last one in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where Afghans from all walks of life met to discuss grievances and find common ground about the future for their nation.
A statement released at the end of the conference said that a post-war Afghanistan would have an Islamic legal system, protect women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values,” and ensure equality for all ethnic groups.
Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asian Affairs, who attended the event at Georgetown University, said no current or future Afghan government should count on international donor support if it “restricts, represses or relegates Afghan women to second-class status.”
In his talks with the Taliban, Khalilzad said there has been progress on four fronts: getting assurances from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not become a staging ground again for militant groups like Al-Qaeda or the Daesh; the withdrawal of US troops, which currently number 14,000; having an all-Afghan dialogue to reach agreement on a peaceful future; and a permanent cease-fire to end the fighting.
He wants the US talks with the Taliban to reach fruition by Sept. 1, which would allow the withdrawal of US and NATO troops. That would open the door to more difficult negotiations.
That’s where the many sides of Afghanistan’s protracted conflict would sit down to hammer out the details of what an Islamic system will look like, what constitutional reforms would be made and what would become of the many local militias affiliated with the country’s powerful warlords. Those talks also would have to tackle how women’s rights fit into the definition of the “Islamic values.”
Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the United States, expressed hope for peace, but said there’s still no dialogue between the Taliban and the current Afghan government. She predicted tough periods of negotiation ahead and said whatever deal is made needed to be implemented by a “strong central government.”
The talks have created both optimism and anxiety, especially among women.
Ghizaal Haress, assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan who spoke via Skype from Kabul, said the Taliban must guarantee that the rights of women and minorities, which currently are protected in the Afghan constitution, are preserved.
“If we leave it to broad interpretation or to the broad idea of women’s ‘Islamic values’ then we’re going to be in trouble as we have experienced it” under Taliban rule in the past, she said.
Asila Wardack, a member of the Afghan peace council who attended the conference in Doha, said it appears the Taliban are embracing more modern views of women. Via Skype from Kabul, she said she still worries that they have not changed their hard-line ideology and claimed a deeper trust between the parties was needed for the negotiations to be successful.
Doha was the first time Wardack had met the Taliban negotiating team.
“They approached us. They didn’t shake hands,” she said.
Later, Wardack said two of the Taliban representatives walked up to the women at the conference and said they had heard that a group of “dangerous women” were going to be at the meeting.
“They literally used the word ‘dangerous women,’” Wardack said. She said one Taliban member then said: “Please don’t give us a hard time.”


Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

In this Wednesday, March 20, 2019 file photo, a woman prays at the Potocari memorial center for victims of the Srebrenica genocide, in Potocari, Bosnia and Herzegovina. (AP)
Updated 20 July 2019
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Dutch court cuts state’s liability for Srebrenica deaths

  • The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II

THE HAGUE: The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday slashed the state’s liability for 350 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, saying peacekeepers had only a “slim” chance of preventing their deaths.
The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified residents who had sought safety in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the besieged Muslim enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995.
The lightly armed Dutch troops eventually became overwhelmed and shut the gates to new arrivals before allowing Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Ratko Mladic to evacuate the refugees.
The men and boys were separated and taken in buses to their deaths, their bodies dumped in mass graves.
Judges, however, on Friday reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent the Dutch state’s responsibility for compensation to the families in a case brought by the Mothers of Srebrenica victims’ organization.
The 350 were among the almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the genocide at Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II and the darkest episode in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
“The Dutch State bears very limited liability in the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’ case,” the Supreme Court said. “That liability is limited to 10 percent of the damages suffered by the surviving relatives of approximately 350 victims.”

After the ruling, Mothers’ president Munira Subasic, who lost family members including her son, husband and father in the massacre, expressed disappointment.
“Today we experienced humiliation upon humiliation. We could not even hear the judgment in our own language because we were not given a translator,” she told AFP.
At Srebrenica “every life was taken away 100 percent. There is little we can do with 10 percent, but yes, the responsibility still lies where it does.”
“I only have two bones. I have found less than 10 percent of his body,” she added, referring to her teenage son.
The Dutch government accepted responsibility, saying it was relieved that “finally there was some clarity.”
A Dutch court originally held the state liable for compensation in 2014. In 2017 the appeals court upheld that decision before it was referred to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had said in 2017 that the Dutch actions meant the Muslims were “denied a 30 percent chance of avoiding abuse and execution,” and thus the Dutch state was liable for 30 percent of damages owed to families.
The Supreme Court agreed that “the state did act wrongfully in relation to the evacuation of the 5,000 refugees” in the compound, including 350 Muslim men the Bosnian Serbs were unaware of.
It said the Dutch peacekeepers “failed to offer these 350 male refugees the choice to stay where they were, even though that would have been possible.”
But explaining the decision to reduce the liability, the Supreme Court said that “the chance that the male refugees would have escaped the Bosnian Serbs had they been given the choice to stay was slim, but not negligible.”
Reacting to the ruling, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said in a statement the cabinet would “examine how to best implement the liability for damages suffered by the relatives in such a way it does justice to the Supreme Court ruling.”

In a swipe at the failure of other foreign powers to act during the 1995 crisis, the top court added that the “chance of Dutchbat (the Dutch UN mission) receiving effective support from the international community was slim.”
Former Dutchbat soldiers attending the case said they were disappointed on behalf of the victims’ families.
“I think the final judgment is a bit disappointing, especially when you see the court ruling of 30 percent and now it’s downgraded to 10 percent,” said Remko de Bruijne, a former Dutch blue helmet who served at Srebrenica.
“I think that’s not fair for the Mothers of Srebrenica but, on the other hand, now it’s clear,” he told AFP.
Srebrenica has cast a long shadow over The Netherlands, forcing a the government to resign in 2002 after a scathing report on the role of politicians in the episode.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently serving a life sentence in jail in The Hague after being convicted of genocide over Srebrenica and war crimes throughout the 1990s.
Ex-military chief Mladic, 76, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” is currently appealing a life sentence on similar charges at an international tribunal in The Hague.
Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic’s long-time patron during the war, was on trial in The Hague at the time of his death in 2006.