Afghan Taliban ‘not excluding Pakistan from peace talks’

Afghan Taliban ‘not excluding Pakistan from peace talks’
Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said Pakistan has fulfilled its task of coaxing the Taliban to the table for dialogue. (Supplied photo)
Updated 27 January 2019

Afghan Taliban ‘not excluding Pakistan from peace talks’

Afghan Taliban ‘not excluding Pakistan from peace talks’
  • Pakistan ‘has done its job of bringing insurgents to the negotiating table’, says Pakistan general
  • This week the Taliban resumed stalled peace talks with US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, Qatar

RAWALPINDI, Paklistan: The head of the Pakistan army’s media wing has said that the Afghan Taliban are not excluding Pakistan from US-led talks in Doha seeking a negotiated end to the Afghan war. 

Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, in an interview with Arab News, said that Pakistan was a facilitator and had fulfilled its task of coaxing the Taliban to the table for dialogue. 

This week the Taliban resumed stalled peace talks with US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha, where they have long maintained an office. The dialogue, originally meant to run over two days, entered its sixth day on Saturday, raising hopes that the latest efforts to find a mechanism to end the 17-year Afghan war might be the most serious yet. 

Hopes of a settlement also increased due to a recent reshuffle in the Taliban team, with senior leaders including Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar put into key positions.

The US has long pressured Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table. 

“The Taliban are not excluding Pakistan from the peace process,” Ghafoor said during the interview on Friday evening. “We are a facilitator. We have done our job of bringing them to the negotiating table. What is discussed and how the process moves forward will depend on progress during every meeting.”

Asked if the Taliban had refused to meet Khalilzad in Islamabad, Ghafoor said: “There are so many factions and stakeholders involved in the process. Coordination takes time. One faction or party gets out of coordination, (which) can result in changes in schedule or place.”

He said that Pakistan had pushed for the dialogue to restart but had “no preference for time or place.”

Taliban sources have told the media that the Doha talks have focused on a road map for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and a guarantee that the country will not be used for hostile acts against the US and its allies.

The Taliban have so far refused direct talks with the Kabul government, which it views as an illegitimate, foreign-appointed force. Ghafoor said that there was as yet no certainty about whether the insurgents could be persuaded to engage with the Afghan government but added that progress from the meetings would determine all outcomes. 

He also discussed fears about how Afghan government forces would withstand the Taliban threat without US military support if US President Donald Trump acted on his desire to bring home half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan should not go into turmoil” when US forces leave, the army’s media chief said: “The US should leave Afghanistan as friends of the region, with a commitment to assist Afghanistan in becoming self-sustaining and help in socio-economic development.”

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Islamabad also fears that increased turmoil in Afghanistan would mean more sanctuaries there for Pakistani Taliban (TTP) militants who have lost control of all territory in Pakistan since a major counter-terrorism operation was launched after a 2014 attack on an army school.

Pakistan has also fenced off part of its porous 2,500 km border with Afghanistan to prevent incursions by the Pakistan Taliban who have waged a decade-long insurgency in the South Asian nation.

Ghafoor said that the Afghan government did not currently have the capacity to eliminate all sanctuaries given that it was embroiled in fighting an insurgency, but once the Taliban entered the political mainstream, Kabul would be in a better position to tackle groups such as the Pakistan Taliban and the Middle Eastern Daesh. 

“If there is peace in Afghanistan and greater control of the area by Afghan forces, it will be difficult for TTP to continue their sanctuaries there,” the military spokesman said. 

The general dismissed fears that the US would lose interest in Pakistan once it exited Afghanistan, or be free to take harsh actions when it no longer needed Islamabad’s help to end the conflict.

“Pakistan has always remained relevant and will continue to be relevant,” Ghafoor said. “And when the US leaves Afghanistan, it will leave acknowledging Pakistan’s role in ending the conflict. Our relationship shall further strengthen.”

But as Pakistan’s ties with the US have soured in recent years over the war in Afghanistan, Islamabad has turned to neighboring China. The countries are partners in the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) of infrastructure and energy projects that Beijing touts as the flagship program in its vast Belt and Road Initiative.

Responding to media reports that Pakistan was building military jets, weapons and other hardware with funds received under the CPEC umbrella, Ghafoor said that the corridor was “purely an economic project.”

“We have separate defense cooperation with China but that has nothing to do with CPEC,” he said. “We had F-16 deals with the US. That was our requirement. Later, we have jointly made the JF-17 Thunder with China. Like any sovereign country, Pakistan takes decisions suiting its national interest.”

Speaking about a growing protest movement by Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtuns who want the army to remove land mines and check-posts from the country’s northwest where most Pashtuns live, and who allege extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and “disappearances” of young Pashtun men — which the army denies — Ghafoor said: “Till such time that the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) is peaceful and they stick to their genuine demands, which are natural in a post-conflict environment, the state is committed to taking care of them.”

Asked about PTM leaders Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar who, along with the movement’s founder Manzoor Pashteen, have emerged as the strongest voices against alleged military high-handedness, Ghafoor said that the demands of the Pahstun people were genuine and the state was committed to addressing them.

“But instigating people against institutions is neither within the law nor a public sentiment,” he said. “Once we have fulfilled the genuine demands which are already in the overall plan, then we will see how to deal with anyone who still tries to exploit.”

Ghafoor said that the movement was being exploited by Pakistan’s enemies, in a veiled reference possibly to arch-rival India and neighboring Afghanistan: “When there are fault lines, then enemies will always try to exploit them. So there is an effort to exploit PTM, whether with their connivance or not.”

The general warned that India needed to “stop using proxies against us,” adding that “just as we are concerned that an unstable Afghanistan is not in our interest, India should also know that an unstable Pakistan is not in its interest. They need to change their behavior.”

Responding to a question about an extension in military courts set up by Parliament in 2015, and criticized for their lack of transparency, Ghafoor said that the courts were a “national requirement” because the country’s civilian judicial infrastructure was ill-equipped to deal with terrorism cases.

Ghafoor said that verdicts could be appealed at several levels, including in military appellate and civilian courts, and those on death row had the right to file mercy petitions with the army chief and the president of Pakistan. 

“Military courts proceed as per law; there is a laid-down legal process with full transparency. Courts decide on evidence and not emotions,” the army’s media chief said. However, he added, “should the Parliament decide that military courts are not needed, then they will not be renewed.”

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
Updated 48 min 15 sec ago

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
  • Dan Newey traveled to Syria to join Kurdish forces
  • Home Office: ‘We have consistently warned’ against UK nationals, residents going to Syria ‘for any reason’

LONDON: The father of a British man arrested fighting Daesh alongside Kurdish forces has said his family is being “persecuted.”

Dan Newey, 28, was detained by police when he landed at Heathrow airport in London earlier this year. He had traveled to and fought on the border region between Syria and Turkey.

Newey’s father Paul told British newspaper Metro that Dan had fought with the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Paul was arrested on suspicion of funding terrorism after sending his son £150 ($211).

The case against him collapsed at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales, but former YPG fighters still face arrest even though it is not a banned group in Britain.

Newey traveled to the Syrian border region against advice from the UK Foreign Office. He has previously claimed that he worked closely with British and US forces.

Paul said his son “flew back into Heathrow and got arrested straight away under terrorism laws. He’s been on bail ever since. They’re looking into it but in the meantime he’s just been left in limbo. He can’t go to work and he can’t sign on.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel — this could go on for years and we feel we’re being persecuted despite my son having risked his life to protect British interests.”

Paul said his son was prevented from speaking to the media due to his legal situation in the UK.

In November, Newey said he was “exhausted” after spending almost two years in Syria, but remained because he wanted to continue fighting Daesh. 

He added: “We survive this and then have another war when we go home. Lots of people don’t manage. I know many people that struggled to reintegrate, struggled to come to terms with the things they’d seen here, and the treatment of us by the Crown Prosecution Service makes it worse. People have taken their own lives. We’re not the criminals. We’re doing the right thing.”

A UK Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. We have consistently warned against UK nationals and residents travelling to Syria for any reason.

“Those who become involved in fighting abroad, including fighting against Daesh alongside Kurdish groups, can expect to be arrested on return and investigated to establish if they pose any risk and whether they have committed any offences.”

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor
Updated 46 min 44 sec ago

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

THE HAGUE: British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in Wednesday as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, pledging to reach out to nations that are not members of the court in his quest to end impunity for atrocities and to try to hold trials in countries where crimes are committed.
Khan, a 51-year-old English lawyer, has years of experience in international courts as a prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney. He takes over from Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, whose nine-year term ended Tuesday.
“The priority for me, and I believe that’s the principle of the Rome Statute, is not to focus so much on where trials take place, but to ensure that the quest for accountability and inroads on impunity are made,” Khan said, referring to the treaty that founded the court, in his first speech after taking his oath of office.
“The Hague itself should be a city of last resort,” he said. “Wherever possible, we should be trying to have trials in the country or in the region.”
Khan said he wanted to work with countries that are not among the court’s 123 member states to achieve justice. World powers the United States, Russia and China are not members and do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
“My conviction is that we can find common ground in the quest and in the imperative to ensure we eradicate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Khan said.
Most recently, Khan led a United Nations team investigating atrocities in Iraq, telling the Security Council last month that he uncovered “clear and compelling evidence” that Islamic State extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014.
In the past, he has defended clients at international courts including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. ICC prosecutors dropped charges against Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta of involvement in deadly post-election violence in their country.
Khan begins his nine-year term as the court’s prosecution office is struggling to keep up with demands for investigations. The court prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in nations unable or unwilling to carry out their own prosecutions.
He said he wants to reform the office and immediately address what he called a “gender and geographical imbalance” among its staff. He also said prosecutors, who have lost several high profile cases in recent years, have to improve their performances in court.
“We have to perform in trial,” Khan said. “We cannot invest so much. We cannot raise expectations so high and achieve so little so often in the courtroom.”
His predecessor told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that there is “a serious mismatch” between what the prosecutor’s office needs to do its work and what it is getting from the court’s member nations.
“We have more or less had an explosion of cases that we are supposed to be handling, but we cannot do it without adequate resources,” Bensouda told the AP.
She also had a warning for Khan that there are “attempts at every side, every corner, to politicize the actions of the prosecutor.”
Among the most politically charged investigations Khan inherits are those in Afghanistan — where prosecutors are pursuing cases against all sides in the country’s conflict, including allegations of crimes by American troops and foreign intelligence operatives — and in the Palestinian territories, where alleged abuses by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants are being probed.
Bensouda said every case the court opens “is politically charged one way or the other. So we are aware of that. But it should not be part of our decision-making.”
Human Rights Watch had a similar message for Khan.
Bensouda’s decisions to launch investigations in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories “reinforced the office’s independence,” said Liz Evenson, associate international justice director at the rights group. “Karim Khan should build on his predecessor’s efforts to ensure that those most responsible for grave crimes are held to account, regardless of their power or position.”

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines
Updated 16 June 2021

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

Malaysia says China to contribute 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Wednesday China had agreed to contribute 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines made by its drugmaker Sinovac BioTech to the Southeast Asian country.

“This timely contribution will bolster the vaccination process and assist the ongoing rollout of Malaysia’s National COVID-19 Immunization Programme,” Hishammuddin said.

Face to face: Biden, Putin upbeat as Geneva summit starts

Face to face: Biden, Putin upbeat as Geneva summit starts
Updated 16 June 2021

Face to face: Biden, Putin upbeat as Geneva summit starts

Face to face: Biden, Putin upbeat as Geneva summit starts
  • For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric
  • Arrangements for the meeting have been carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides

GENEVA:  US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin square up on Wednesday for their first meeting since Biden took office with deep disagreements likely and expectations low for any breakthroughs.
Both have said they hope their talks in a lakeside Geneva villa can lead to more stable and predictable relations, even though they remain at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
For four months, the two leaders have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.
Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol to argue that the US has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.
Now, the pair will meet for their first face-to-face as leaders — a conversation that is expected to last four to five hours. In advance, both sides set out to lower expectations.
Even so, Biden has said it would be an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.
“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are.”
Arrangements for the meeting have been carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated by both sides.
Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.
Putin and his entourage will arrive first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next come Biden and his team. Swiss President Guy Parmelin will greet the two leaders.
The three will spend a moment together in front of the cameras, but only Parmelin is expected to make remarks, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
Biden and Putin first will hold a relatively intimate meeting joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side will have a translator.
The meeting will then expand to include five senior aides on each side.
After the meeting concludes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.
Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.
He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an “autocrat,” and conventional politicians like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.
But with Putin, whom the president has said is a “killer” and has “no soul,” Biden has long been wary. At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five US presidents, is not without talent. Biden this week suggested that he is approaching his meeting with Putin carefully.
“He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden told reporters. “And I have found that he is a — as they say...a worthy adversary.”
There are hopes of finding small areas of agreement.
No commitments have been made, but according to the senior administration official, there are hopes that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective postings following the meeting. Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.
Both ambassadors will be in Geneva during Wednesday’s meeting.
Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control by holding “strategic stability” talks — a series of government-to-government discussions meant to sort through the many areas of disagreement and tension on the national security front.
The Biden team will press its concerns on cybersecurity. In recent months, Russia-based hackers have launched crippling attacks on a major US oil pipeline and a Brazil-headquartered meat supplier that operates in the US
The Russian side has said that the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is an internal political matter and one area where Putin won’t engage Biden. But the senior Biden administration official said there “is no issue that is off the table for the president,” suggesting Navalny will come up.
The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
Biden has prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon arriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.
“I am always ready,” Biden said.

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
Updated 16 June 2021

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial

Indonesia takes the bite out of dengue fever with mosquito trial
  • Authorities hope to repeat dramatic success of three-year Yogyakarta study

JAKARTA: Indonesia is hoping a major trial in regions plagued by dengue fever will reduce the number of disease-carrying mosquitoes and lower the incidence of the viral illness in the country.

The trial involves the release of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria, which stops the insects from transmitting the dengue virus, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.

A similar experiment from 2017 to 2020 in Yogyakarta, a city of 3.6 million people on Java, led to a dramatic fall in the number of new dengue cases, with numbers falling by up to 77 percent.

The number of patients with mild dengue symptoms also fell by 86 percent in areas of the city where mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia were released.

The results of the study, conducted by the World Mosquito Program (WMP) at Monash University in Australia and Indonesia’s Gadjah Mada University, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month.

However, Didik Budijanto, the health ministry’s director of zoonotic disease prevention, told Arab News that while the ministry welcomed the study, further tests will be needed before the strategy is adopted.

Denpasar in Bali is among locations where further tests are planned, he said.

According to the Bali health agency, 1,803 cases and three deaths were registered on the resort island from January to May.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital Denpasar is among the two most infected regions on the island, where 364 out of 962,900 residents were infected with the disease.

Trials were held in Yogyakarta to see how the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes affected the incidence of dengue among 8,100 city residents, aged between three and 45, who took part.

According to the WMP, over 4,500 dengue patients were hospitalized in the city in the five years before the trial.

However, experts believe the number could be as high as 14,000, with 2,000 people needing hospital treatment every year.

Indonesia records an estimated 7-8 million dengue cases out of the more than 50 million that occur worldwide annually. As of May, the country reported 13,372 cases with 134 deaths.

Scott O’Neill, WMP’s program director, said that the test results proved that the strategy could significantly reduce dengue numbers.

Joint principal investigator Adi Utarini, from Gadjah Mada University, said that she is optimistic that cities across Indonesia can live without dengue in the future.

“The trial’s success allows us to expand our work across Yogyakarta and into neighboring urban areas,” she said.

However, Budijanto said that the government will carry out further checks before the trial is expanded.

“We just want to make sure science and technology do not outpace regulations and the people can still benefit from it,” he said.

Budijanto told a press conference to mark ASEAN Dengue Day on June 15 that the government had set a target to reduce the national dengue incidence rate to below 37 per 100,000 population and the number of fatalities by 0.2 percent by 2030.

In 2018, the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases launched a petition demanding that the World Health Organization follow ASEAN’s move by declaring a World Dengue Day, focusing global efforts on tackling the disease which threatens up to half the world’s population. The petition has collected over 26,500 signatures.

“Growing population densities, unplanned urban development, poor water storage, and unsatisfactory sanitary conditions are all common factors that contribute to the worsening burden of this mosquito-borne disease — not just for ASEAN, but for many countries around the world,” the society said in its online petition.