Taliban to deal with Pakistan as ‘brotherly neighbor’ in future

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, center, with Afghanistan's acting Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid, left, and Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019

Taliban to deal with Pakistan as ‘brotherly neighbor’ in future

  • We do not adopt or change our policies due to pressure: Zabihullah Mujahid
  • The US, Taliban and regional stakeholders have of late held multiple rounds of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban leaders have rubbished claims that they only entered peace talks with the US because of pressure from Pakistan.

The insurgents say it was the Americans who approached the Taliban to join the US around the negotiating table in a bid to end the long-running conflict in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed reports that Islamabad had forced them to start dialogue, and said the current direct talks taking place with US officials were in line with the Taliban’s own strategy.

“We do not adopt or change our policies due to pressure from anyone. I have not seen any pressure,” Mujahid told Arab News. “The ongoing talks taking place (in Qatar) are in accordance with our agenda.”

The Taliban’s outgoing chief negotiator Sher Abbas Stanekzai said last week that the next round of talks, aimed at bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, will be held in Qatar on Feb. 25. Those discussions are likely to focus on a plan for the withdrawal of foreign troops and ways to prevent the country from being used for terrorism in the future. 

“The perception about the use of pressure (by Pakistan) is false,” Mujahid added. “We had told the Americans to talk to us instead of starting war even before the invasion. Then we opened political office in Doha in 2013 for political talks with the Americans, as the war option was not in the interests of the US. But the US was unwilling to agree to our proposal and instead preferred war.

“It is the US which has started negotiations with us, so it is a change in the US approach to come to the negotiation table. Our stance has always been that war has been imposed on us.”

Mujahid said that in future the Taliban would seek to deal with Pakistan as a “brotherly neighbor” and strengthen relations based on mutual respect. “We want similar relations with other neighboring countries.”

The spokesman described Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s recent offer to give the Taliban an official office in Afghanistan, as “misplaced.”

“We do not beg anyone to give us an office in our own country. We presently control over half of Afghanistan and if we want to, we can open an office and center anywhere,” Mujahid said.

Political solution 

The US, Taliban and regional stakeholders have of late held multiple rounds of talks aimed at finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict. US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is on his latest six-nation tour to the region in a bid to secure a peace deal with the group before the Afghan presidential elections slated for July this year. 

The Taliban had until now refused to talk to the Afghan government and appear to be seeking a key role in the new political order of the country. 

Foreign affairs experts do not believe Pakistan could have put pressure on the Taliban to join the peace process.

“Pakistan may be encouraging the Taliban to sit at the negotiation table because the war in Afghanistan has also affected our country,” former Pakistani Ambassador Asif Durrani told Arab News on Monday.

“The Taliban are not naïve enough to accept pressures, but I think they will do whatever is good for Afghanistan,” said Durrani. “They (Taliban) are Afghans, and Afghans are fiercely independent people, so the impression of pressure is a move to malign the Taliban.”

Defense analyst, retired Brig. Said Nazir Mohmand, on Monday told Arab News that any attempt to pressurize the Taliban could “create problems for Pakistan.”

“It was the stated policy of the Taliban that they will only talk to the US as they consider them an occupation force. So, I do not think there was any pressure on them (the Taliban) as the US agreed to start negotiations with them,” Mohmand added.

“But there is a possibility that Pakistan may have used its leverage on the Taliban and convinced them to focus on a political solution.”

11 million North Koreans are undernourished: UN investigator

Quintana said collective farming and the failure to allow farmers to benefit from individual plots of land is further exacerbating food insecurity. (AFP)
Updated 53 min 27 sec ago

11 million North Koreans are undernourished: UN investigator

  • The resumption of Mt Kumgang tours has been repeatedly mentioned as a possibility by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in recent years

UNITED NATIONS: Food insecurity in North Korea “is at an alarming level,” with nearly half the population — 11 million people — undernourished, the UN independent investigator on human rights in the country said Tuesday.
Tomas Ojea Quintana told the General Assembly’s human rights committee that 140,000 children are estimated to be suffering from “undernutrition,” including 30,000 who “face an increased risk of death.”
Quintana said the government, which has primary responsibility for ensuring access to food, “is violating its human rights obligations due to its failing economic and agricultural policies.”
In addition, he said, “climate conditions, infertile land, natural disasters and the negative impact of sanctions have contributed to further food insecurity.”
More broadly, Quintana said he has seen no improvement in North Korea’s human rights situation during his three years as special rapporteur.
“The country’s economic resources are being diverted away from the essential needs of the people,” he said. “Pervasive discrimination in the public distribution system means that ordinary citizens, especially farmers and people in rural areas, have not been receiving any rations.”
Quintana said collective farming and the failure to allow farmers to benefit from individual plots of land is further exacerbating food insecurity.
“At the same time, the government has failed to put in place conditions where people can securely engage in trade and exchange in marketplaces without facing criminalization, extortion and other forms of abuse,” he said. Nonetheless, he added, the vast majority of North Koreans “are now engaged in such market activity for their survival.”
Ironically, he said, the government’s failure to regulate nascent market activity is creating increasing inequality based on wealth, “where only those with money have access to basic rights such as education, health care, freedom of movement and adequate housing.”
Quintana said severe restrictions on basic freedoms continue to be widespread, including surveillance and close monitoring of civilians.
“North Korean people continue to live in the entrenched fear of being sent to a political prison camp,” called a kwanliso, he said.
“If you are considered to be a spy of the hostile countries or a traitor, when in reality you are simply exercising your basic human rights, you can be suddenly taken by agents of the Ministry of State Security to a kwanliso and never be seen again,” Quintana said. “Suspects’ families are never informed of the decisions or of the whereabouts of their relatives.”
On the issue of North Koreans who have fled to China, Quintana said in the past six months he has received information from family members living in South Korea of an increasing number of these escapees being detained in China.
He said any North Korean who escapes should not be forcibly returned because there are substantial grounds they would be tortured or subjected to other human rights violations.
“I appreciate the government of China’s increased engagement with me on this concern, and I hope that this will lead to greater compliance with international standards,” he said.
Quintana said North Korea has accepted 132 recommendations from other UN member states, including one “to grant immediate, free and unimpeded access to international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups, including prisoners.” He said this could lead to the first international access to places of detention, “and could therefore be an opportunity to improve prison conditions.”