Kabul cancels Taliban meeting in Doha

Zalmay Khalilzad said he was disappointed that Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 April 2019

Kabul cancels Taliban meeting in Doha

  • President’s office says talks off following disagreement with Qatar
  • The meeting would have been the first of its kind since the Taliban was ousted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001

KABUL: A major meeting between the Afghan Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was cancelled on Friday, after disagreements with the host nation, Qatar.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had announced the names of a 250-strong delegation to travel to Doha on Tuesday, to hold discussions with the militant group over ending the country’s 17-year conflict.

The trip was delayed on Thursday, however, before Ghani’s office declared it was off in a statement on Friday morning, following suggestions the Qatari government had rejected a number of members of the delegation at the last minute. An alternative list of delegates suggested by Doha “was not acceptable to the Afghan government,” leading it to pull out of the talks.

“The Qatari government sent a new list which was not balanced in terms of involvement of the people of Afghanistan … it was a disrespect to the national will of the Afghan people,” the statement said.

“Politicians meeting with President Ghani agreed that the act by the Qatari government is not acceptable, and the Doha conference was cancelled.”

The meeting would have been the first of its kind since the Taliban was ousted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001, and came amid pressure from Washington to find a diplomatic solution to hostilities. US President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up tension in recent months by beginning the process of withdrawing troops from the country.

Talks in Qatar were initially proposed following repeated pushes by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, for an intra-Afghan meeting including Ghani’s government.

A number of closed-door talks between the Taliban and Khalilzad had previously been held in Doha, but representatives of Ghani’s government, at the request of the militants, were not invited.

“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Khalilzad said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”

The Taliban responded to the news in a statement, saying that it remained committed to peace talks in Doha, blaming Kabul for the failure of the meeting.

“The (Taliban) negotiation team … worked day and night, exercised self-restraint and showed flexibility to the highest level, but since the Kabul administration created obstacles to this effort, responsibility falls upon their shoulders,” the statement said.

Indonesia eager to ease restrictions despite ongoing pandemic

Updated 30 May 2020

Indonesia eager to ease restrictions despite ongoing pandemic

  • Government deploys police and military personnel in public places

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government is in the process of easing the restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spending most of last week in preparations to reopen the economy. This comes despite an uptick in new infections that has brought the total number of cases to more than 25,000 across the archipelago on Saturday.

“We still have important, strategic agendas that remain a priority for our national interests and that should not be halted,” President Joko Widodo said during a Cabinet meeting on Friday.

To ensure citizens abide by guidelines — such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing — the government has deployed 340,000 police and military personnel to monitor the situation in over 1,000 public places in four provinces and 25 regencies and municipalities across the country.

Experts, however, are divided over the government’s decision to involve the military in dealing with the pandemic.

“The military have been a part of the government’s response to the pandemic since the beginning. So far, they have not overstepped their role,” Stanislaus Riyanta, University of Indonesia’s intelligence and security analyst, told Arab News, adding that “public discipline” was necessary for the virus-containing measures to work.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the university, echoed Riyanta’s statements.

“Compliance with the health protocols in public places is the only vaccine we have right now. We have no other choice but to adopt these measures,” Riono said.

However, Asfinawati Ajub, human rights advocate and chairwoman of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation disagrees, adding that such reasons are not enough to deploy military personnel and that the policy was “ill-intended.”

On Thursday, Minister of Tourism Wishnutama Kusubandio said that regions that had been declared safe to reopen would need at least one month to implement health protocols. Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi discussed issuing social distancing guidelines to open places of worship.

But Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, another epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the nationwide anti-virus measures, in general, were not enough to curb the spread of the virus, let alone allow for an easing of restrictions.

“We can review the measures based on each region’s capacity to contain the virus, such as controlling the spread, isolating the infected, or identifying imported cases,” he said.

On Friday, West Java Gov. Ridwan Kamil said that after imposing province-wide, large-scale social restrictions, new cases had dropped significantly and that a majority of regencies and municipalities in the province — the third-most infected in Indonesia — could start easing some restrictions.

The government said that the reproduction rate of new cases in virus-stricken Jakarta had dropped to a more controllable level and that if this remained consistent for at least two weeks, it would be safe to lift some restrictions.

As of Saturday, there were 557 new infection cases, increasing the national tally to 25,773, while the death toll rose to 1,573 with 53 new deaths reported, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

While 10 provinces did not report any new positive cases, five provinces — East Java, Jakarta, South Sulawesi, Central Kalimantan, and West Java — recorded the highest number of new infections.

“In Jakarta, not all of the 101 new cases were from residents in the city but rather from returning migrant workers who had arrived in Jakarta airport and had to be tested. Those who tested positive for COVID-19 were recorded in Jakarta's data,” Yurianto said.

Jakarta will continue implementing its large-scale social restrictions until June 4, a deadline that has been extended for the third time since it was first declared on April 10. East Java has emerged as a new COVID-19 hotspot, with new clusters popping up in the province.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital and Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, remained the worst-hit in the province, despite the extension of large-scale social restrictions.

“City residents have not been complying with restrictions. Many Surabayans cannot work from home. They have to go out to earn their living,” Nunung Pramono, a freelance tour guide in Surabaya, told Arab News.