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.


Campaigning for Sri Lanka presidential election ends

Updated 14 November 2019

Campaigning for Sri Lanka presidential election ends

COLOMBO: Campaigning for Sri Lanka’s Nov. 16 presidential elections came to an end on Wednesday.

Competition is tight between the United National Front’s (UNF) candidate, Sajith Premadasa, and former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

Rajapaksa’s final rally took place in the town of Homagama on Wednesday evening, while Premadasa concluded his campaign in Colombo.

Thus far, 35 candidates have submitted their nominations, while two — Milroy Fernando and Dr. I.M. Illyas — have openly urged supporters to vote for Premadasa.

In comments to the media on Wednesday, Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, said all candidates have been requested to attend a special meeting on Thursday to be briefed about the electoral process, including the counting of votes and the announcement of results.

The commission urged the candidates not to partake in any promotional activities on social media.

It has received 3,729 complaints pertaining to vandalism and violation of laws, leading up to the elections, with 27 cases of violence reported. Additionally, 3,596 election law violations were reported.

To address these concerns, the commission is setting up complaints offices at the Elections Secretariat in Rajagiriya and all other district offices.

Ali Sabry, chief legal adviser to Gotabaya, told Arab News that a proven track record will propel Gotabaya to victory.

Sabry added that Gotabaya is taking credit for eliminating terrorism in Sri Lanka. Industry and Commerce Minister Rishath Bathiudeen, who was involved in Premadasa’s political campaign, told Arab News that he is hopeful about his candidate’s chances.

Bathiudeen, who is the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress, said Premadasa would garner 95 percent of the Muslim vote and a majority of Tamil votes.

Azath Salley, leader of the National Unity Alliance, said: “The majority of the Tamil and Muslim communities are with … Premadasa.”

Meanwhile, the chair of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, N. M. Amin, said this is the first time that incidents of election violence are few and far between.

Meanwhile, a group deployed by the Commonwealth to observe the presidential elections has called on stakeholders to demonstrate a commitment to a “peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive” poll.

The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) was invited by the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to observe the poll.

The COG will receive briefings from relevant stakeholders including election management officials, representatives of political parties, civil society groups, the police, members of the international community, citizens and international observers.

In a statement, COG Chair Prosper Bani said: “As independent observers, we will remain objective and impartial in discharging our duties. The Group’s assessment will be its own and not that of any Commonwealth member country. We hope that our group’s presence will support the strengthening of democracy in Sri Lanka.”