Taliban, US form joint working groups on troops withdrawal

Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai at a conference in Moscow on Feb. 5. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2019

Taliban, US form joint working groups on troops withdrawal

  • Taliban political office spokesman Suhail Shaheen speaks to Arab News
  • Says all other issues to be discussed after decision on withdrawal of troops

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban and the United States have formed joint working groups to finalize details of a draft agreement, including the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used against the U.S. and its allies, a senior Taliban official said on Saturday.

Marathon peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban in Qatar last month ended with signs of progress toward the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to more than 17 years of war. This week, Russia hosted peace talks in Moscow between the Taliban and opposition Afghan politicians.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, told Arab News the working groups would meet in a week or two to prepare reports for the next round of talks in Doha, to be held later this month.

The outgoing head of the Taliban political office, Sher Abbas Stanekzai, has said the next meeting is scheduled for February 25.

“We have been demanding complete withdrawal of all foreign forces, which was an important issue for us,” Shaheen said. “The second issue was related to American concerns that Afghan soil should not be used for terrorism against them in future.”

“Both sides agreed to form joint working groups. So we are satisfied about the outcome of the talks in the sense as we will be working on the two issues – troops withdrawal and to counter terrorism threat in future – and the committees will draft the agreement and explore ways for implementation of the agreements,” he added.

The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until late 2001 but were ousted by Afghan opposition forces, backed by U.S. forces, for harbouring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

They have since been fighting to drive out foreign forces and defeat what they consider to be a foreign-backed government in Kabul. Over the years, fighting has spread to most regions of the country and many thousands of people are killed every year.

Asked why the Taliban were not accepting calls for ceasefire, Shaheen said the issue of ceasefire and establishing sustainable peace were a part of the negotiations but “we are now discussing withdrawal of foreign troops. We have not yet reached any understanding on this issue. Other issues will be discussed after we reached agreement on the withdrawal of the foreign troops.”

“When we decide the external aspect of the problem, then we will focus on other issues,” said Shaheen.

The Taliban reiterated last week their long-held demand that all foreign troops get out of Afghanistan, rejecting a suggestion by U.S. President Donald Trump of a lingering U.S. focus on counter-terrorism after troops are drawn down.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, told Arab News on Saturaday the working groups would meet in a week or two to prepare reports for the next round of talks, to be held later this month. (Photo/Supplied)

“We have clearly stated in our meetings that all troops, which means all categories and under any name, stationed in Afghanistan, will leave,” Shaheen said.

The Taliban spokesman clarified remarks by senior Taliban negotiator Abdul Salam Hanafi that the U.S. had agreed to call back half of its 14,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, and said there was no agreement on a time-frame for the withdrawal.

He said Hanafi had been merely referring to American media reports which suggested that half of the troops would be withdrawn by April.

“There is no agreed timetable for the withdrawal of the American forces. It depends on the U.S. side whether it withdraws or not,” Shaheen said. “No agreement has yet been agreed upon but we are working on options to agree on a time-table. We will work on it in the near future and we will determine a time table.”

Shaheen also said the Taliban do not intend to abolish Afghan security forces like the national army or police but would reform them so they could defend and protect the nation.

When asked about the remarks by the Taliban chief negotiator to abolish the constitution, Shaheen said:

“Our opinion is that the constitution was drafted and approved under the shadow of the American B-52 bomber planes. So we want a constitution drafted in an environment of freedom. All Afghan ulema and scholars should debate and finalize a draft and the constitution should be Islamic as we are 100 percent Muslims in Afghanistan so we will keep in mind its Islamic and Afghan values which reflect values of our society.”

“We do not say that we do not accept the constitution. Our opinion is that the constitution is a necessity for the society and we accept its importance and it should be [drafted] in an environment of freedom.”

About the Moscow conference this week, he said all participants had unanimously called for the withdrawal of the foreign forces and agreed that the system in Afghanistan should be Islamic.

“The conference was important in the sense that the participants collectively made these two demands so I consider it an important development,” Shaheen said. “This is also important that all Afghans agreed on important issues only in two days.”

'No food left in the sea': Pakistani fishermen fearful as Chinese trawlers dock at Karachi port 

Updated 19 October 2020

'No food left in the sea': Pakistani fishermen fearful as Chinese trawlers dock at Karachi port 

  • Fisherfolk forum says government plan to allow Chinese to carry out deep-sea fishing in territorial waters could render millions jobless 
  • Federal government says bottom trawling will not be allowed under new fishing policy

KARACHI: A pressure group that represents Pakistani fishermen has said a government plan to allow Chinese companies to carry out deep-sea fishing in the country’s territorial waters could threaten the survival of at least three million people who depend on the sea for livelihood.
Last month, 12 Chinese deep-sea trawlers docked at the port of Karachi, unleashing fear among local fishermen who say commercial fishing vessels and bottom-trawling would deplete fish stocks in the exclusive federal sea zones off the Sindh and Balochistan provinces. 
Bottom trawling - dragging nets across the sea floor to scoop up fish - stirs up the sediment lying on the seabed, displaces or harms some marine species, causes pollutants to mix into plankton and move into the food chain and creates harmful algae blooms or oxygen-deficient dead zones.
The coastal line of Sindh and Balochistan is 1,050 km long, Mohammad Ali Shah, Chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, told Arab News last week, saying around three million fishermen relied on the sea to survive. 
A new fishing policy is expected but yet to be revealed by the government, he said. 
“The deep-sea trawler policy has not yet been approved but before that they [China] have brought these trawlers,” Shah said, calling the arrival of the Chinese vessels at Karachi port last month ‘illegal.’ 

In this undated photo, fishing vessels of Fujian Fishery Company move from the Gwadar port towards Karachi, Pakistan (Photo courtesy: Fishermen Cooperatives Society)

In 2018, the government enacted a deep-sea fishing licensing policy that both fishermen's representative bodies and provincial government bodies opposed, calling it a constitutional violation and an encroachment on the livelihoods of fishermen in the coastal provinces.
Fears about foreign fishing companies eating up local communities are not new.
For years, fishermen in the southwestern city of Gwadar in Balochistan province - a flagship of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - have protested against foreign trawlers. 
Tensions first began to mount when the Fisheries Department disclosed its plan to issue licenses to various foreign fishing vessels to operate in an exclusive economic zone in 2016.
But last week, the federal minister for maritime affairs, Ali Haider Zaidi, told Arab News the country’s new deep-sea fishing policy would not allow Chinese trawlers to engage in unregulated deep-sea fishing. Bottom trawling, he said, would be banned under the new policy.
“Importing boats is not illegal,” he said. “How you use them has to be regulated.”
Pakistan divides its sea into three zones, where zone-3 (from 20 to 200 nautical miles) is controlled by the federal government. Up to 12 nautical miles (zone-1) is the domain of the provinces Sindh and Balochistan and between 12 to 20 nautical miles the sea is declared a buffer zone. 

Fishermen remove fish from a net at the Clifton beach in Pakistan's port city of Karachi on Oct. 6, 2020. (AFP/File)

Local fishermen are not allowed to fish in zone-3 and foreign fishing vessels are not permitted to fish in the other two zones under the existing policy.
The Fishermen's Cooperative Society (FCS), which issued the permit to the Chinese trawlers, said the Chinese fishing vessels would not use the destructive bottom trawling method and instead help ‘upgrade’ Pakistan’s fishing industry and export.
Official figures put the annual value of Pakistan’s fish exports at roughly $450 million.
“Bringing Chinese trawlers for deep sea fishing is in line with the government’s deep-sea fishing policy and aimed at upgrading and modernizing fishing, besides providing job opportunities to local fishermen,” Abdul Berr, Chairman of the Fishermen's Cooperative Society, told Arab News.
“Around 3,500 fishermen will get employment opportunities with the arrival of the world’s latest fishing boats and modern small boats,” Berr said. 
He added: “First, 70 percent of the staff at trawlers and processing facilities will be local. There will be no fishing in provincial territorial waters. The trawlers will bring all their catch to Karachi where it will be processed in factories and then exported.”
Small local fishermen would receive modern fiber boats on ‘easy instalments,’ Berr said, a step towards replacing their obsolete boats.
But Sindh’s minister for livestock and fisheries, Abdul Bari Pitafi, said the mega fishing ships would wipe out sea-life, even if they were only operating in the federal government’s zone-3.
“We will...also oppose its [trawlers’] operations in zone-3 because they will just wipe out sea-life including the fish’s seed,” Pitafi told Arab News.
In 2016, a survey carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that more than 72 percent of the fish stock in Pakistan’s coastal areas had already declined.
“One trawler does a catch that is equal to a catch by 100 of our fishing boats,” Younus Khaskheli, a fisherman, said. “And their fishing net is the most dangerous one, because it hunts thousands of tons of fish.” 
Tens of thousands of fishing boats are registered in Pakistan, he said, with fishermen from Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even Bangladesh fishing in these waters.
“Our sea stock will end; the country will lose the income of billions and our fishermen will become jobless,” Khaskheli said. “There won’t be any food left in the sea.”