Talks in trouble as Taliban slam Afghan guest list

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani speaks with delegations at the presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2019

Talks in trouble as Taliban slam Afghan guest list

  • Kabul wanted 250 people to take part in Doha parleys
  • The intra-Afghan dialogue comes as part of the effort, but the US is not believed to be attending

KABUL: An upcoming conference between Afghan representatives and the Taliban appeared to be in trouble on Wednesday even before it begins, with the militants deriding Kabul’s plan to send 250 delegates — several of whom have already dropped out.

President Ashraf Ghani’s administration had announced on Tuesday a list of people from all walks of Afghan life, including some from the government, that it wants to send to the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha this weekend.

But the Taliban poured scorn on the lengthy list, saying it was not “normal” and that they had “no plans” to meet with so many people.

“The creators of (the) Kabul list must realize that this is an orderly and prearranged conference in a far-away Khaleeji (Gulf) country and not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban also continue to insist they will not be negotiating with Kabul at the conference, and any administration officials are involved merely in a “personal capacity.”

Further doubts were cast when some of those Ghani said would attend the conference announced they would not go.

Ghani’s own running mate Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghan intelligence and a longtime Taliban critic, was among them.

The Taliban “should agree to direct & focused negotiations with the Afghan government,” he tweeted.

Atta Mohammad Noor, a key opposition figure and former governor of Balkh province, had also been included on the list, which was meant as an inclusive representation of Afghan society.

But Noor slammed the delegation as politically biased toward Ghani.

“We won’t be attending the talks with this running order,” Noor tweeted on Wednesday, adding he viewed the list as Ghani’s “intentional act to sabotage the peace efforts.”

A senior Taliban commander based in Pakistan told AFP that the mammoth delegation showed the “Americans and their puppet Afghan government are not serious about the peaceful settlement of the issue.”

Ghani met with the delegates on Wednesday, giving no indication of any trouble, saying: “We and the Afghan nation expect you to return home successfully and proudly from meeting with the Taliban in Qatar.”

The US has been holding separate bilateral peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha as part of a months-long peace push led by Washington.

The intra-Afghan dialogue comes as part of the effort, but the US is not believed to be attending.

Taliban expert Rahimullah Yusufzai said that while the Afghan government needs to be inclusive in who it sends to Doha, “this is not realistic.”

“I have seen in the list people who have no influence. You have to pick and choose, 250 is not manageable,” Yusufzai said.

“The Afghan government is under pressure. With the elections coming, they don’t want to make anyone angry. There are alliances to keep in mind,” he added, referring to presidential elections set for September.

Yusufzai predicted the conference would be postponed, and that finding a new date might be tough before Ramadan begins next month.


Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

Updated 18 min 27 sec ago

Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

  • Hubei doubles Wednesday’s number of reported new cases
  • Global stock markets, US business activity hit

BEIJING/SEOUL : The coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in Chinese prisons, authorities said, as cases climbed outside the epicenter in Hubei province, including 100 more in South Korea and a worsening outbreak in Italy where officials announced the country’s first death.
A total of 234 infections among Chinese prisoners outside Hubei ended 16 straight days of declines in new mainland cases. Another 271 cases were reported in prisons in Hubei — where the virus first emerged in December in its now locked-down capital, Wuhan.
US stocks sold off and the Nasdaq had its worst daily percentage decline in about three weeks on Friday as the spike in new coronavirus cases and data showing a stall in US business activity in February fueled investors’ fears about economic growth. The rise in coronavirus cases sent investors scrambling for safe havens such as gold and government bonds.
Chinese state television quoted Communist Party rulers as saying the outbreak had not yet peaked amid a jump in cases in a hospital in Beijing.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in the Chinese capital neared 400 with four deaths.
China has reported a total of 75,567 cases of the virus to the World Health Organization (WHO) including 2,239 deaths. In the past 24 hours, China reported 892 new confirmed cases and 118 deaths.
US activity in the manufacturing and services sectors stalled over growing concern of the potential toll of the virus, a survey of purchasing managers showed on Friday.
The IHS Markit flash services sector Purchasing Managers’ Index dropped to its lowest since October 2013, signaling that a sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the US economy was in contraction for the first time since 2016.
Data also showed Japan’s factory activity suffered its steepest contraction in seven years in February, underlining the risk of a recession there as the impact of the outbreak spreads. Asian and European stocks also fell.
The impact of the outbreak on global growth “may be large” given China’s role in the world economy, and may stress financial markets just as tensions over a US-China trade war did in 2019, Bank of England policymaker Silvana Tenreyro said on Friday.
The outbreak may curb demand for oil in China and other Asian countries, depressing prices to as low as $57 a barrel and clouding growth prospects across the Middle East, the Institute of International Finance said.
The WHO warned that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread of the epidemic was closing after cases were reported in Iran and Lebanon.
An outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy worsened on Friday as officials announced and 78-year-old man was the first Italian to die after being infected. The man was among 17 confirmed cases, including the country’s first known cases of local transmission.
The virus has emerged in 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 11 people, according to a Reuters tally.
“There still is a chance we can focus principally on containment, but it’s getting harder because we’re getting secondary chains of transmission in other countries now,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a US infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University.

South Korea hot spot
The spike in cases in jails in the northern province of Shandong and Zhejiang in the east made up most of the 258 newly confirmed Chinese infections outside Hubei province on Friday.
Authorities said officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks had been fired and the government had sent a team to investigate the Shandong outbreak, media reported.
Hubei, adding to case-reporting confusion, doubled the number of new cases it initially reported on Wednesday to 775 from 349. The lower number was a result of going back to counting only cases confirmed with genetic tests, rather than including those detected by chest scans.
South Korea is the latest hot spot with 100 new cases doubling its total to 204, most in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million, where scores were infected in what authorities called a “super-spreading event” at a church, traced to an infected 61-year-old woman who attended services.
South Korean officials designated Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo county as special care zones where additional medical staff and isolation facilities will be deployed. Malls, restaurants and streets in the city were largely empty with the mayor calling the outbreak an “unprecedented crisis.”
Another center of infection has been the Diamond Princess cruise ship held under quarantine in Japan since Feb. 3, with more than 630 cases accounting for the biggest infection cluster outside China. Australia said on Saturday that four more of its nationals evacuated from the cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus in addition to two individuals previously identified.
Some 35 British passengers were due to arrive back home on Saturday after spending more than two weeks stuck on the quarantined.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that of 329 Americans evacuated from the ship, 18 have tested positive for the virus.
A second group of Chinese citizens from Hong Kong who had been aboard the Diamond Princess have been flown home from Japan, Xinhua News reported.
In the Iranian city of Qom, state TV showed voters in the parliamentary election wearing surgical masks after the country confirmed 13 new cases, including two deaths. Health officials on Thursday called for all religious gatherings the holy city of Qom to be suspended.
Ukraine’s health minister joined evacuees from China for two weeks’ quarantine in a sanatorium on Friday in a show of solidarity after fears over the possible spread of coronavirus led to clashes between protesters and police.