Afghan Grand Assembly to be convened despite boycott

President Ashraf Ghani had proposed holding a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) to draw up a mechanism for dialogue with the insurgents. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2019

Afghan Grand Assembly to be convened despite boycott

  • Nearly 2,500 people from across Afghanistan will participate in the three-day Loya Jirga
  • The boycott reveals a fresh rift in the already divided government

KABUL: Despite a boycott by prominent politicians and senior government officials, a key assembly to decide the future of peace talks with the Taliban will be held as scheduled on April 29, organizers said on Tuesday.

With the Afghan government excluded from various rounds of peace talks between the Taliban and US representatives, President Ashraf Ghani had proposed holding a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) to draw up a mechanism for dialogue with the insurgents.

Nearly 2,500 people from across Afghanistan will participate in the three-day Loya Jirga, which has been summoned in the past to debate vital issues such as choosing a president or declaring war.

The first Loya Jirga was held three centuries ago, with the last one convened in 2013 to decide on a time frame for the US troop presence in the country.

Holding a Loya Jirga is a tradition followed by ethnic Pashtuns, who are a majority in Afghanistan and have been the country’s traditional rulers for much of the past three centuries.

But a sizeable number of the Afghan political elite, such as Ghani’s rivals in the upcoming presidential election and several senior figures in his government, have said they will boycott the meeting amid claims that the president had not consulted them.

The boycott reveals a fresh rift in the already divided government, but organizers told Arab News that the event will go ahead as planned.

Sayed Ali Kazimi, a spokesman for the Loya Jirga, said the priority is to form a consensus on a mechanism for talks with the Taliban.

Mohammad Haneef Atmar, Ghani’s arch rival and his former national security adviser, tweeted on Monday that the Loya Jirga would be a “state-managed” gathering that “was not going to further the cause of peace … in any way.”

Atmar added: “In all likelihood it is aimed at sabotaging the critical efforts for peace that are currently underway.”

A few presidential candidates said Ghani plans to use the Loya Jirga to extend his term in office by two years when his tenure ends in May. But Kazimi said: “That won’t be the case.”

Analyst Ahmad Saeedi told Arab News that the Loya Jirga “will be held, but not on a balanced and nationwide basis.”

Lawmaker Lailluma Wali Hakmi said “pro-government individuals” and loyalists of powerful factions have been picked as delegates.

“They’ve picked only very few people who have roots within society and are impartial … Almost all of them are people who have factional power,” she told Arab News.

“I think the result will be negative because people’s hopes and plans for peace won’t be echoed.”

The Taliban, which has made a series of battlefield gains despite a surge in attacks by US and Afghan forces in recent years, were invited to the Loya Jirga but refuse to attend.

But the group, which has resisted including the Afghan government in talks it has held with US diplomats, has accepted to take part in a meeting in Qatar in the coming days that will include government officials.

The Afghan presidential palace said 250 people, including Cabinet ministers, lawmakers, and members of civil society and women’s groups, will attend the meeting in Qatar.

Saeedi said the presence of 250 people versus 15 Taliban delegates will be a challenge for the government because the 250 will express diverse views while “the Taliban will speak with one voice.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said women will participate in the Qatar meeting, but did not specify on whose behalf.

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.