Afghan President invites Pakistan PM to Kabul for fence-mending talks

In this file photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with a foreign delegate at the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Feb. 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018

Afghan President invites Pakistan PM to Kabul for fence-mending talks

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered an invitation to Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to visit Kabul as part of a move to reset ties that have sharply deteriorated between the two uneasy neighbors over Islamabad’s alleged support for the Afghan Taliban.
Ghani made the offer on Saturday to visiting Pakistani National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua in Kabul. He is on a one-day visit after Ghani spoke nearly three weeks ago of his desire to improve ties with Islamabad when he announced his peace talks overture to the Taliban insurgents too.
“This is to initiate state-to-state comprehensive dialogue,” Ghani said in a tweet after meeting Janjua at the presidential palace.
A spokesman for the President, Dawa Khan Meenapal, said the focus of today’s meeting between Ghani and Janjua was the former’s offer of an olive branch to the Taliban, made at a regional meeting in the Afghan capital some three weeks ago and called the “Kabul Process.”
“At the meeting, the Pakistani National Security Adviser spoke about Pakistan’s backing for the Kabul Process,” Meenapal told Arab News.
He could not comment if the Pakistani NSA had made any pledge to persuade the Taliban delegates to speak with Ghani’s government or will hand over several former Taliban leaders who have been languishing in Pakistani jails for years as part of a goodwill gesture to Kabul.
The visit of Pakistan’s NSA and Ghani’s offer to Abbasi come less than a week after the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during a visit to Kabul that there was no military solution to the Afghan war and that elements within the Taliban were interested in initiating peace talks with Kabul.
Mattis’ utterances come after weeks of heavy bombardment of areas concentrated with suspected militants and their alleged drugs laboratories as part of Washington’s new war strategy announced last summer.
The militants have focused most of their attacks on urban areas, which some say proves their ability to strike back and to show that Kabul and the US military have not been able to crush its might.
So far the Taliban has refused to indicate whether the group will accept Ghani’s offer or turn it down as it has done several times in the past.
But the movement twice last month showed readiness to engage with the United States, which in an invasion toppled the radical Islamist government from power in late 2001 and whom it sees as the main adversary.
At the same time the militants have stepped up their attacks and on Saturday in a suicide car attack one of the group’s bombers in Kabul killed several locals.
The target of the strike seemed to have been a compound used by foreigners and there was no immediate report of casualties among the foreigners from the strike.
The visit of Pakistan’s NSA and Ghani’s offer to its PM came as Abbasi held an unscheduled meeting with US Vice President Michael Pence about the Afghanistan conflict in Washington on Friday, ANI reported.
A half-hour one-on-one meeting took place at Pence’s residence at the US Naval Observatory near the Pakistan embassy in Washington, as reported by the Dawn.
They discussed the on-going peace process between the Afghanistan ruling party led by Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban, it said.
During the meeting, Abbasi assured Pence of Pakistan’s “sincere commitment” to the efforts to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan while highlighting Pakistan’s successful efforts in combating terror within its own territory.


Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Updated 31 min 21 sec ago

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday

BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.