Ghani calls for government-led Afghan peace process as US-Taliban talks end 

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks to the media after arriving to register as a candidate for the upcoming presidential election at the Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2019

Ghani calls for government-led Afghan peace process as US-Taliban talks end 

  • On Tuesday night, US and Taliban representatives wrapped up longest round of peace talks with progress but no breakthrough
  • “Ownership of the peace process belongs to people and government,” Ghani says in televised address

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday any attempt to find a negotiated settlement to the 17-year-long Afghan war must be led by his government, a day after US and Taliban representatives announced that they were closer to finalizing a deal following 16 days of intensive talks.
On Tuesday night, US and Taliban representatives wrapped up their longest round of peace talks with progress but no breakthrough on two important elements: a promise from the Taliban that they would not allow militant attacks from Afghanistan and a US plan for the withdrawal of troops.
Talks are expected to resume in late March but no set date has been announced. 
The Taliban have so far refused to speak directly to the Afghan government which they consider a western-backed puppet regime. 
“The ownership of the peace process belongs to people and the government,” Ghani said in a speech aired on Afghan news channels. 
In six weeks, the president is expected to summon a Loya Jirga of hundreds of Afghan politicians and tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders to discuss negotiations with the Taliban and “work on the framework, limits and goals” of the peace process. 
Talks ended on a day on which Taliban insurgents stepped up pressure on the battlefield, killing 20 Afghan soldiers and capturing another 20 in western Afghanistan. In another province, officials said an airstrike killed both Taliban fighters and civilians.
About 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces carry out counter-terrorism operations.
The United States has been pushing the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and to talk with Afghanistan’s government.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted on Tuesday that he hoped to see a long-term cease-fire agreement and the start of direct talks between the government and Taliban soon.
Several officials from Ghani’s administration too hailed progress in peace talks so far.
Sibghat Ahmadi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the Afghan government welcomed the “recent progress made in negotiations between [US team led by special envoy Zalmay] Khalilzad and Taliban representatives.”
On Tuesday, Afghan-born Khalilzad tweeted about the progress also, saying the two sides “had detailed discussions to reach an understanding on issues that are difficult and complicated.”
The Taliban, who have since last year held multiple rounds of peace talks with Khalilzad and his team, also said progress had been made.
“This round of talks saw extensive and detailed discussions taking place regarding two issues that were agreed upon during January talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement. “Those two issues were the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing anyone from harming others from Afghan soil.”
“Progress was achieved regarding both these issues,” Mujahid said. “For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships.”
Retired General Attiqullah Amarkhail said the recent round of dialogue had created optimism and hope that a breaththrough would be reached in the next round.
“Optimism has gone up,” he said. “They [US and Taliban representatives] have agreed on two major issues and the other two matters [complete truce and the start of direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban] can take place at a later stage.”


Pakistan stays on FATF terrorism financing ‘gray list’

Updated 21 February 2020

Pakistan stays on FATF terrorism financing ‘gray list’

  • FATF urges Islamabad to swiftly complete full action plan by June 2020
  • Says it will ‘take action’ if Pakistan fails to comply

KARACHI: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering and terror financing watchdog, on Friday gave Pakistan until June 2020 to improve its anti-terrorism financing measures.
“The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by June 2020,” the global body said in a statement issued at a plenary meeting in Paris.
This is the second four-month extension given to Pakistan to implement the agreed action plan.
The global watchdog decided to keep Pakistan on its gray list until the country’s next progress review in June.
The FATF said it would “take action” if Pakistan failed to make progress in prosecuting and penalizing terrorism financing.
In response to the FATF decision, the Pakistani government reiterated its commitment to taking all necessary action required.
“A strategy in this regard has been formulated and is being implemented,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance said in a statement.
“(The) FATF reviewed progress made by Pakistan toward implementation of the Action Plan, while acknowledging the steps taken by Pakistan toward implementation of the Action Plan and welcoming its high level political commitment,” the statement read.
The ministry said that during the last reporting period, Pakistan had made “significant progress” in the implementation of the 27-point FATF plan, which was demonstrated by the completion of nine additional action items.
While noting the improvements, the FATF expressed concerns over Pakistan’s failure to complete the action plan in line with the agreed timelines and “in light of the TF (terrorism financing) risks emanating from the jurisdiction.”
“Pakistan was required to completely ban terror outfits, take measures to control cash flows, and make laws to curb money laundering,” Muzamil Aslam, a Pakistani economist, told Arab News. “Now it is political will to take measures by June 2020 to get the country out of gray list.”
Ahead of the FATF meeting, Pakistan sentenced Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed to five and a half years in prison on terrorism financing charges. The move was seen as a demonstration of compliance with FATF recommendations.
Pakistan managed to avoid the FATF’s balcklisting thanks to support from friendly countries, including Malaysia, Turkey and especially China.
Ahead of the FATF summit, Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, said that “China and other brotherly countries have supported Pakistan throughout the process in terms of guiding the country to improve its frameworks.”
Pakistan was placed on FATF’s gray list of countries with inadequate control over curbing money laundering and terrorism financing in 2018.

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