Disputes over Kabul guest list threaten Afghan peace meeting

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani speaks with Afghan delegations at the Presidential palace in Kabul on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Presidential Palace via Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2019
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Disputes over Kabul guest list threaten Afghan peace meeting

  • Taliban mocks government ‘wedding party’ delegation
  • President’s isolation in peace process continues

KABUL: A crucial meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban on how to end the war could be dead in the water before it begins, as disputes and disarray broke out over the guest list.

The landmark meeting, due to be held in Doha at the weekend, will bring together senior government officials from Kabul and the insurgents for the first time in the peace process.

But the Taliban has already said it will be meeting these delegates in the Qatari capital as private individuals, not as representatives of the administration.

The Taliban dismisses the government in Kabul as a puppet of the West, refusing to meet its representatives and isolating President Ashraf Ghani from peace talks that have previously been held with the US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and other parties.

And, days before the Doha ice-breaker is due to start, the government’s guest list of 250 has angered some and drawn ridicule from others, including the Taliban. Some on the list have said they will not go.

Kabul’s list comprises political elites, family members of war victims, tribal chiefs, former government officials, members of civil society as well as state officials. There are also 52 women on the list.

The Taliban is sending a delegation of 25.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Qatar had “no plans for accepting so many people from Kabul and neither is such participation normal in such conferences.”

The event was “an orderly and prearranged conference ... not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” he said in a statement.

The Taliban furthermore said it would be talking to delegates as “private individuals” and not as government representatives, and that only a limited number of individuals would be selected as final participants in the talks.

Some of those on Kabul’s list said they would not go.

Atta Mohammed Noor, a northern regional strongman whose ties with President Ashraf Ghani have hit an all-time low, said the government had drawn a “narrowly mined” list that included Ghani’s favorites.

He is boycotting the talks.

Amrullah Saleh, who has served in top security positions and is Ghani’s first deputy for the presidential elections, is also staying away despite being on the list.

“I remain grateful to President Ashraf Ghani for adding me on the list of speakers to represent … Afghanistan in the Doha conference,” Saleh said in a statement.

“However, I won’t attend. The Taliban is the only and the biggest obstacle to peace as it continues a campaign of massacre and destruction.”

The UN Security Council earlier this week condemned the Taliban’s spring offensive, which would only result in “more unnecessary suffering and destruction” for the Afghan people.

The Security Council urged “all parties to the conflict to seize the opportunity to begin an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue” and negotiations that resulted in a political settlement.

But an intra-Afghan dialogue will be difficult to achieve even without the Taliban’s resistance to the government, and senior journalist Tahir Qairy pointed to the differences in Ghani’s circle.

“There is not even a shared and mutual understanding between the president and his future hopeful VP” on the meeting, he told Arab News.

Another journalist, Mujib Mashal, tweeted: “Afghan delegation’s departure ... has been delayed as the list issue has become a big mess - 1st among each other & now with Taliban. But event at this point is still on for Saturday morning start (though list issue will be hard to resolve between now and then).”

He later tweeted that the line-up had been a divisive issue for the political elite in Kabul. “Peace talks overlapping with national elections means every little move is caught up in domestic political jostling, every player wanting a piece.”

If the Doha meeting goes ahead it will be the first major interaction between the Taliban and members of Ghani’s government, although the group met Afghan politicians in Moscow earlier this year.

The Doha meeting following several rounds of closed-door talks between the Taliban and US diplomats in recent months, where the two sides made progress over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban agreeing to not allowing Afghan soil to be used against any country.

On Wednesday, Ghani addressed many of the participants heading to Doha.

“You are undertaking a mission for which our nation has waited almost for 40 years, and that (mission) is a dignified peace,” he told them.

“For the first time, we have the opportunity to hold comprehensive debates with the opposite side,” he said, flanked by former President Hamid Karzai and other prominent members of Afghanistan’s political elite.

Lawmaker Hafeez Mansoor, one of those going to Doha, told Arab News the meeting was aimed at “building trust between the sides and an opportunity to have them express their feelings on how the war can come to an end.”


Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.