Afghan-Pak peace deal in six months

Updated 05 February 2013
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Afghan-Pak peace deal in six months

LONDON: The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan said yesterday they would work to reach a peace deal within six months, while throwing their weight behind moves for the Taleban to open an office in Doha.
Following talks hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari also urged the hardliners to join the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
But with no Taleban representative at the tripartite talks and with the militants still refusing to talk to Kabul, analysts said the commitment by the three leaders risked being one-sided.
They had a private dinner on Sunday and then full talks on Monday at Cameron’s Chequers country retreat near London, amid growing fears that a civil war could erupt when international troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
“All sides agreed on the urgency of this work and committed themselves to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of a peace settlement over the next six months,” they said in a joint statement issued by Cameron’s office.
“They supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taleban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan-led peace process,” the statement said.
Karzai had previously shunned the idea of a Taleban office in Doha because of fears that it would lead to the Kabul government being frozen out of talks between the United States and the Taleban.
The joint statement also said that the Afghan and Pakistani leaders had agreed arrangements to “strengthen co-ordination” of the release of Taleban detainees from Pakistani custody.
Afghan peace negotiators have welcomed Pakistan’s release of dozens of Taleban prisoners in recent months, a move they believe could help bring militants to the negotiating table. There was no immediate reaction from the Taleban.
The summit was the third trilateral meeting in a year following meetings in Kabul in July and New York last September — but the first in which Pakistani and Afghan army and intelligence chiefs took part.
Cameron, whose country is the second biggest contributor of troops to Afghanistan with 9,000 troops still in the country, appealed directly to the Taleban to join the reconciliation process.
“Now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful, political process in Afghanistan,” he told a press conference after the talks.
Karzai told the press conference he hoped in future to have “very close, brotherly and good neighborly” relations with Pakistan, which has been regularly accused by both Kabul and Washington of helping to destabilize Afghanistan.
Support from Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan’s 1996-2001 Taleban regime, is seen as crucial to peace after NATO troops depart — but relations between the neighbors remain uneasy despite some recent improvements.
Zardari said it was in Islamabad’s interests to support the initiative.
“Peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan. We feel that we can only survive together,” he said. “We cannot change our neighborhood or our neighbors.” Pakistani political and security analyst Hasan Askari dismissed as “too ambitious” the prospect of securing in six months a settlement to end more than 11 years of war.
The lack of Taleban involvement in the talks was a particular problem, he said.
The Taleban in March 2012 suspended contacts with American representatives in Qatar over a potential prisoner exchange and opening a liaison office in the Gulf state, and publicly refuses to negotiate with Kabul.
Askari said the most realistic achievement in London would be better cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose relations for years have been clouded by mutual blame for violence plaguing both countries.
Asked whether there could be a peace deal in six months, Askari said: “I don’t expect that, it would be a major upset of the calculation.”


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 49 min 37 sec ago
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UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.

MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.