Ghani seeks ownership of Afghan peace talks

Ghani seeks ownership of Afghan peace talks
Afghan security forces keep watch at the site of an attack in Kabul on March 7. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2019

Ghani seeks ownership of Afghan peace talks

Ghani seeks ownership of Afghan peace talks
  • US, Taliban say consensus reached on vital part of agreement
  • The ownership of the peace process belongs to people and the government,” Ghani said

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that Afghanistan’s peace process 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, after the conclusion of the fifth and longest round of talks in Doha, Qatar, both the Taliban and US officials said that they had reached a consensus on the vital parts of the agreement, which pushes for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. 

In return, the Taliban have agreed not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for militant activities against the US or any other country.

The US chief negotiator and its peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, flew back to Washington on Tuesday night to brief Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the details of the meeting, even as the Taliban’s representatives said that they wanted to consult with the group’s leadership too. Both groups are expected to meet in Doha by the end of March.

“We want permanent peace … the ownership of the peace process belongs to people and the government,” Ghani said.

The president is expected to summon a Loya Jirga, or grand gathering, in six weeks’ time to “work on the framework, limits and goals of the peace.”

Ghani, who is seeking re-election in July’s presidential polls, said that the elections were imperative for peace and stability in the country. He urged Afghans to participate in the vote, which has already been delayed once.

Meanwhile, several officials from his administration hailed the progress of the peace talks.

Sibghat Ahmadi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the Afghan government welcomed the “recent progress made in negotiations between Dr. Khalilzad and Taliban representatives.”

Meanwhile, Haroon Chakhansuri, Ghani’s spokesperson, said in a statement that they “welcome US efforts in the Afghan peace process.”

“We hope to witness a long-term comprehensive cease-fire with the Taliban, and hope that direct negotiations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban begin soon,” he said.

The Doha dialogue follows sustained US military efforts for subduing the Taliban on the battlefield as part of US President Donald Trump’s 2017 strategy. 

However, despite an increased presence of US troops and an escalation of attacks by Afghan and US troops, the insurgents have continued to gain more ground.

Since assuming office, Trump has spoken on several occasions of his desire to ensure a complete pullout of US troops from Afghanistan — after nearly 17 years of the war — and appointed Khalilzad to initiate discussions with the Taliban for the process.

On Tuesday, Afghan-born Khalilzad tweeted about the progress of the peace talks after the latest round of talks.

“My time here was well spent. We made progress, and we had detailed discussions to reach an understanding on issues that are difficult and complicated,” he said, without divulging any other details. 

However, reports circulated on Wednesday that a truce and the Taliban’s negotiations with Ghani’s government were part of the Doha discussions.

The Taliban, for their part, have repeatedly insisted that they will not engage in direct talks with Kabul, suggesting that Ghani send his delegates instead.

The militants held their first direct and major discussions with non-state Afghan actors and major politicians — including Ghani’s archrivals — a few months ago in Russia, infuriating Kabul.

“This round of talks saw extensive and detailed discussions taking place regarding two issues that were agreed upon during the 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. For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships.”

Atiqullah Amarkhail, a retired general, said that the dialogue had created hope for success and a breakthrough in the next round of talks.

“Optimism has gone up about the closeness of peace. They have agreed on two major issues and the other two matters (truce and start of talks between Kabul and Taliban) can take place at a later stage,” Amarkhail told Arab News.

After 17 years of US presence and 40 years of constant war in Afghanistan, attaining peace was a complicated process and one that would take time, he said.


UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
Updated 10 min 52 sec ago

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
  • A report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population
  • Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol

LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”