Afghan politicians, Taliban try to revive peace talks

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, introduces the Taliban delegation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, ahead of their meeting, in Moscow on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 29 May 2019

Afghan politicians, Taliban try to revive peace talks

  • ‘The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan’
  • The Taliban refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate

KABUL: Prominent Afghan politicians and Taliban delegates met in Moscow on Tuesday to revive peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long war. The Taliban have refused to engage with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider a puppet regime, and insist on a complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.
Zamir Kabolov, Russia’s special representative for Afghanistan, told delegates in Dari to find “a solution through the Afghan way” to end the fighting.
It is the second such gathering to be held in Moscow in recent months since the US appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as its special envoy for Taliban peace talks, even as President Donald Trump pushes for a troop drawdown.
The meeting is being held as Russia commemorates the 100th anniversary of its diplomatic ties with Afghanistan, which it invaded in the 1980s.
Ghani has not sent anyone from his government as a representative, but Kabul’s ambassador to Moscow will represent Afghanistan at the diplomatic ceremony, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi told reporters.
The head of the High Peace Council, Karim Khalili, is in Moscow but not on behalf of the government, a spokesman for the body told Arab News.
Similar to the previous round of meetings in Russia, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other prominent Afghan politicians will be at the meeting.
The Taliban have sent a 14-member delegation. It is led by the militant group’s deputy head Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has previously held closed-door talks with Khalilzad in Doha.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told Arab News that the group’s delegates would hold “closed-door meetings with senior Russian officials.”
Afghan officials could not say if Kabul’s envoy to Moscow would meet the Taliban.

HIGH LIGHT

It is the second such gathering to be held in Moscow in recent months since the US appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as its special envoy for Taliban peace talks, even as President Donald Trump pushes for a troop drawdown.

Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, a political analyst, said the Moscow meeting showed Russia’s growing interest in Afghanistan.
“Russia has an interest in the region and Afghanistan has high importance for it. Any further deterioration of security here will impact Central Asia and subsequently Russia,” he told Arab News.
Fazl Rahman Orya, another commentator, said that Russia, the US, China and Europe had reached a consensus on the Afghan peace process. He added that meetings in Doha or Moscow did not cancel each other out, rather they were aimed at boosting dialogue on the Afghan side.
“The Moscow meeting is another step in growing efforts for start of a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue. It is another positive step, but we have to wait for its results,” he told Arab News.
A major meeting between the Taliban and Kabul was abruptly cancelled last month after disagreements with the host nation, Qatar, over names on the list.
It would have been the first meeting of its kind since the Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001, and came amid mounting pressure from Washington to find a diplomatic solution to hostilities.


Probe reveals Pakistani crime boss spied for Iran in 2014

Updated 10 July 2020

Probe reveals Pakistani crime boss spied for Iran in 2014

  • A military court convicted Baloch for espionage and sentenced him to 12 year

KARACHI:  A Pakistani ganglord suspected of being behind a criminal empire of extortion, kidnapping and drug trafficking, has confessed to spying for Iranian intelligence agencies in 2014, according to a report released by Pakistan’s provincial government in Sindh this week.

The report said Uzair Jan Baloch was also convicted of spying this April by a military court and sentenced to 12 years in prison, according to a June 13 letter written by the senior superintendent of Karachi Central Jail.

A copy of the letter was seen by  Arab News, though the Pakistani military could not be reached to confirm if Baloch had been convicted by an army tribunal.

Baloch, for years considered close to politicians within Sindh’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is currently accused in at least 59 criminal cases, according to police records. 

He is allegedly being held at a makeshift jail at the Karachi office of the paramilitary “Rangers” force. The PPP denies any links with the gang leader.

In 2016, Baloch was interrogated by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising police, Rangers, and a number of civilian and military intelligence agencies. Officials said he admitted spying for Iran and being involved in 59 acts of murder, kidnapping, extortion and attacks on law enforcement.

FASTFACT

Longtime fugitive Uzair Jan Baloch was arrested by Interpol in Dubai in 2014.

According to the report, Baloch told the investigation that he obtained a fake Iranian birth certificate in the late 1980s and an Iranian identity card and passport in 2006.

The report details how he met a man named Haji Nasir in the Iranian city of Chabahar in 2014. Nasir offered to arrange a meeting between Baloch and Iranian intelligence officers.

“On the consent of the accused a meeting with Iranian intelligence officers was arranged by Haji Nasir in which the accused was asked to provide certain information about (Pakistan) armed forces officials,” the JIT report, which is publicly available, said.

It added: “The accused is found involved in espionage activities by providing secret information and sketches regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents, which is a violation of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.”

For years, Baloch thrived in Sindh’s teeming capital of Karachi, a key figurehead in the city’s notorious gang wars.

However, in 2006 he fled to Iran to escape an operation against street gangs in Lyari, one of Karachi’s most dangerous neighborhoods at the time.

He returned to Pakistan for a number of years, during which he even took part in a local government election, but he once again escaped to Iran in 2013 when Pakistan’s powerful paramilitary Rangers launched an armed operation to bring down Karachi’s soaring crime rates.

Baloch is believed to have also lived in Oman briefly before being arrested by Interpol in Dubai in December 2014.

In January 2016, Rangers announced that they had taken Baloch into custody in Karachi. The arrest surprised many who thought he was already in jail after being detained in Dubai.

The JIT report said after Baloch confessed to spying for Iran, he was handed over to the Pakistani military to be tried.

In a Twitter post in 2017, the head of the Pakistani military’s media wing said Baloch had been taken into custody under the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. However, the army has not revealed any details of his subsequent trial before a military court.

But a letter by the senior superintendent of the Karachi Central Jail in response to an anti-terrorism court said he was sentenced to 12 years in jail in April this year after being convicted for spying.

The letter, dated June 13, said: “Uzair Ali was convicted by the Lt. Col. Commanding Officer of the 1st Self-Propelled Medium Regiment Artillery on April 4 2020, in Pakistan Army Act section 59 (civil offenses), read with section 3 (penalties for spying) of the Official Secret Act and sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 12 years.”

Pakistani military courts hold secretive trials but verdicts are often publicly announced by the army’s media wing, known as the ISPR.

Arab News asked the ISPR about Baloch’s conviction but did not receive a response.

Sindh Home Secretary Usman Chachar also did not respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office did not reply to text messages asking whether Pakistan had taken up the issue of Baloch’s confessed espionage with Iran.

Muhammad Ahmedi, the consul general of Iran in Karachi, did not respond to email and WhatsApp queries regarding the JIT report.

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