Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

In this file photo, Afghan alleged former Taliban fighters carry their weapons before handing them over as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad on Feb. 24, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018

Taliban open to talks with any side for Afghan solution

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban, apparently shifting its long-held stance, says it will negotiate with any side to find a way to end the US-led 16-year-old war in the country.
The move came days after Mohammed Ismail Khan, a former anti-Taliban leader who served as governor of western Herat and later as a Cabinet minister, urged the group to initiate talks with former guerrilla factions after the militants failed to officially reject President Ashraf Ghani’s peace overture last month.
“As a principle, the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) welcomes all efforts aimed at finding a true solution to the ongoing problems of our country,” a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, wrote in a statement on the group's website reacting to Ismail Khan’s call.
Last month, the Taliban twice spoke of its desire to hold direct talks with Washington, which it regards as its main adversary because US-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
US officials in response told the Taliban to start talks with Ghani’s government, which the Taliban considers a stooge of Washington and with whom it has repeatedly refused to meet.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis, on a visit to Kabul last week, said the Afghan war had no military solution and that some elements within the Taliban were interested in talks with Kabul.
In a move seen as a change from the Taliban’s past policy, Mujahid said the Taliban was open for talks with any side, but it neither mentioned nor excluded the government.
“Since Mr. Ismail Khan -– as the representative of former jihadi leaders –- has sought a response from the Islamic Emirate to their offer of talks and reaching an understanding, the Islamic Emirate wants to make it clear to everyone seeking an end to the ongoing tragedy (invasion of our country) and who do not support the invaders, be they jihadi personalities or otherwise, (that it will) meet with the Political Office to exchange views about ending foreign occupation, establishing an Islamic system and reconciliation.”
In response to the statement, a spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Arab News: “In the past the Taliban used to reject immediately any offer made by our side. The government is waiting to hear the Taliban’s official stance as to whether they reject or accept the government’s proposal.
“The general trend in Afghanistan, in the region and the world, is that they support the government’s stance. The Taliban have no alternative but to accept what the people, the region and the world expect from them, otherwise they will face more isolation.”
Reacting to Mujahid’s comments, Ismail Khan said his offer and the Taliban response was a new development.
Speaking to Arab News by phone from Herat, Ismail Khan said he would discuss the Taliban response with jihadi leaders, including his allies in the Jamiat-e-Islami party, and will issue a reply later.
“Let us ponder on this. We will not discuss this issue further because we do not want the process to face difficulty. We will have a subsequent program on this and will announce it.”
Ismail Khan is a veteran of the war against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Despite serving as governor in the former government and also as a Cabinet minister, unlike many former guerrilla leaders he has openly remained an opponent of the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Known as the “Lion of Herat” by some for his resistance against the Soviet occupiers, Ismail Khan fought against the Taliban when the latter emerged and advanced on his southwestern fiefdom in the 1990s and later was even imprisoned by the Taliban.
Later, Ismail Khan managed to flee the Taliban jail, having been treated with respect by members of the group in jail too. He was not so deeply involved in the civil war and has remained out of tribal and ethnic tension in recent years in Afghanistan.
Several other guerrilla leaders, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined Ghani’s government last year, have on various occasions urged the Taliban to start peace talks. But the Taliban has never given a positive response to their call.
Giving a positive reply to Ismail Khan’s overture is seen as a unique step by the Taliban.
“I think it (the response) was their (the Taliban’s) evaluation that we raised this call with sincerity to let us honestly save this country,” Khan said when asked how the Taliban happened to hail his call.

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

This handout photo taken on June 2, 2018, shows Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gesturing as he gives his departure speech at the Manila International airport. (AFP)
Updated 35 min 47 sec ago

Philippine activists welcome EU call for probe into rights abuses under Duterte government

  • European lawmakers urge Filipino authorities to drop charges against acclaimed journalist, opposition senator

MANILA: Philippine human rights groups on Friday welcomed a European Parliament resolution denouncing extrajudicial killings and abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

The document, adopted on Thursday, called for an “independent international investigation” into human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, when Duterte took office.

It urged EU member states to support the resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan described the resolution as a “welcome step toward reckoning and accountability over the Duterte administration’s blatant disregard of its obligation to uphold human rights and civil liberties in the country.”

The group also called on the international community to continue to stand with human rights defenders in the Philippines and the Filipino people “who suffer in this worsening crisis of political repression and state violence under this increasingly tyrannical regime.”

The European Parliament condemned extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations related to Duterte’s controversial war on drugs, which according to official figures has led to around 6,000 suspected drug offenders being killed by security forces. Rights groups, however, suggest the death toll may be much higher.

European lawmakers also urged Philippine authorities to renew the broadcast license of the country’s TV giant ABS-CBN and for charges to be dropped against acclaimed journalist and CEO of the Rappler news website, Maria Ressa, and detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

In addition, the European Parliament expressed “serious concern” over the new Anti-Terrorism Act enacted in July, which criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.”

It also granted the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists, allow authorities to make detentions without charge, and wiretapping.

Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said she hoped the EU resolution would “enjoin other governments and the international community at large to continue to take a strong stance in denouncing the Duterte administration’s attacks on human and people’s rights in the Philippines.”

She added: “The sham drug war has continued to kill the poor with impunity while human rights defenders face vilification, violence, and death for their work in exposing these human rights violations even in the middle of a pandemic (COVID-19).

“Domestic mechanisms have been ineffective and there has been outright failure in bringing the perpetrators of these gruesome crimes to justice. These attacks cannot continue, and the European Parliament’s resolution is a strong statement from the international community that there would be consequences for these abuses.”

EU lawmakers also called on the European Commission to suspend the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which provides tariff perks for Filipino goods, if there was no “substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

In response to the resolution, Filipino Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “We are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” adding that the scheme was helping the country address poverty.

The president’s office, Malacanang Palace, said in a statement that the government was in talks with the UN on a framework to support national efforts to “uphold the human rights-based approach in governance.”