Afghan Taliban not serious about peace, says government chief

Afghan Taliban militants celebrate the Eid ceasefire in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province in June 17. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2018

Afghan Taliban not serious about peace, says government chief

  • ‘Recently there are renewed efforts in terms of the international community and especially the US’
  • ‘Our experience as of now has been that they (the Taliban) have not shown any intention to get seriously engaged in the peace negotiations’

PARIS: The Taliban in Afghanistan have not yet shown any sign they are serious about ending their 17-year insurgency despite US efforts to push a fresh peace process, the country’s de facto prime minister said.
Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as “chief executive” of the unity government in Kabul, struck a far more skeptical tone about the prospects of a deal than his political rival, President Ashraf Ghani, and his Western counterparts.
Ghani said earlier this month it was “not a question of if, but when” an agreement would be reached with the Taliban, while the US envoy to the country even raised the possibility of a breakthrough before presidential elections in April.
“Recently there are renewed efforts in terms of the international community and especially the US,” Abdullah said during a wide-ranging interview in Paris that also covered his own political ambitions.
“We are not judging it too prematurely, but I would say that our experience as of now has been that they (the Taliban) have not shown any intention to get seriously engaged in the peace negotiations,” he added.
The comment on Wednesday came after the latest atrocity targeting civilians in Kabul when a bomber killed 55 people at a banquet hall at a ceremony to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Abdullah, a political veteran of the fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s and Taliban rule in the 90s, called it “beyond comprehension.”
Beleaguered Afghan security forces are also suffering an unprecedented level of casualties across the country where the Taliban and the Daesh group are stepping up attacks.
Returning to Kabul on Thursday after a three-day trip to France, Abdullah said he expected to be briefed fully about the latest round of talks between US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, which are believed to have taken place in Qatar last week.
Whatever the outcome, he argued that Afghanistan should hold its presidential election as scheduled next April despite a recent upsurge in violence and suggestions from some that it should be delayed.
“My idea is to stick to the timing, make it work, because it’s part of the system and legitimacy of the system depends on the elections,” he said. “At the same time, continue the efforts on peace with full vigor.”
He downplayed any suggestion of a pre-election breakthrough with the Taliban.
“It will be very surprising if that happens, but should it happen ... that would be welcomed by the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
Abdullah has kept up suspense about his own political ambitions after twice running for president in 2009 and 2014 in campaigns that ended bitterly amid accusations of fraud.
After being beaten in 2014 by Ghani, Abdullah agreed to become prime minister of the unity government in a US-brokered deal — but the rivalry between the two men continues.
“I will actively be involved one way or another, but I have not made that final decision,” Abdullah said when asked if he would run in 2019.
Looking ahead to next April’s vote, Abdullah was candid about the lack of progress made in correcting the weaknesses in Afghanistan’s fraud-plagued electoral system.
He said he was “disappointed” by parliamentary elections in October, which were marred by a shambolic rollout of new biometric polling technology and missing or incomplete voter lists.
“Our expectations for the parliamentary elections and the conduct of them was much higher, and the people’s expectations were much higher,” he said.
There were thousands of complaints lodged against the Independent Electoral Commission, although four million voters did defy the security worries to turn out and cast a ballot.
The unity government had pledged to tackle problems that have repeatedly undermined faith in Afghan elections since the US-led invasion in 2001 overthrew the Taliban government in Kabul.
But Abdullah suggested that these efforts, like in other areas, have been hit by the fractious nature of decision-making in the multi-party government.
“It was the commitment of the unity government in 2014... that we will start implementing reforms. We started very late. Why did we do that?” he asked.
Abdullah’s defeats in 2009 and then again in 2014 — when he won the first round but slumped to a surprise defeat in the second — led to political crises which threatened to unravel the country’s fragile political system.
Should observers fear another tainted poll?
“There were a lot of lessons from the parliamentary elections. Should we and other relevant institutions deal with them thoroughly and seriously we can have and we should have better elections than in 2014,” he said.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.