Taliban’s political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev. (RAHMAT GAL/AP/FILE)
Updated 12 August 2018

Taliban’s political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan

  • The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan
  • Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war

ISLAMABAD: In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents’ political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.
Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country’s special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.
The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan to peace prospects and possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.
Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.
“The Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.
Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan.”
Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Daesh group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.
Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the US Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.
“What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.
“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said.
On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government’s armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government’s approval for the meeting.
“Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process,” said Taheri.
Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.
For Uzbekistan, the Daesh presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by Daesh in Afghanistan.
Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a US missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand Daesh influence in Afghanistan.
Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to Daesh when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan, not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors subsequently declared they would join the peace process.
Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who went over and joined Daesh after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year to live in self-imposed exile there.
Coincidentally, the rescue of Afghan Uzbeks from the battle with the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.


UK to reopen thousands of shops in easing of coronavirus lockdown, says Boris Johnson

Updated 25 May 2020

UK to reopen thousands of shops in easing of coronavirus lockdown, says Boris Johnson

  • From June 1, outdoor markets and car showrooms could be reopened
  • Johnson is keen to restart an economy which has been all but shut down since Britain entered a lockdown

LONDON: Britain will reopen thousands of high street shops, department stores and shopping centers next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, setting out a timetable for businesses as part of moves to ease the coronavirus lockdown.
He told a news conference that from June 1, outdoor markets and car showrooms could be reopened as soon as they are able to meet the COVID-19 secure guidelines, and all other non-essential retail from June 15 if the government’s tests are met.
Johnson is keen to restart an economy which has been all but shut down since Britain entered a lockdown to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, but also fears a second peak of infection if measures are eased too quickly.

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“Today, I want to give the retail sector notice of our intentions to reopen shops, so they too can get ready,” Johnson said. “There are careful but deliberate steps on the road to rebuilding our country.”
The government said shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, would be expected to be able to reopen from June 15, giving them three weeks to prepare.
It said that businesses would only be able to open from those dates once they had completed a risk assessment, in consultation with trade union representatives or workers, and are confident they are managing the risks.
“The high street sits at the heart of every community in the country,” Business minister Alok Sharma said in a statement.
“Enabling these businesses to open will be a critical step on the road to rebuilding our economy, and will support millions of jobs across the UK.”