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.


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.