Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this file photo taken on July 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 June 2019
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Freed Taliban fighters will be ‘peace envoys,’ says Ghani

  • President defends release of 490 militants as goodwill gesture

KABUL: Afghanistan has freed hundreds of jailed Taliban fighters since Eid as a goodwill gesture, the government confirmed on Friday.
Feroz Bashari, head of the government media center, told Arab News that “490 Taliban fighters have been freed since Eid.”
Brushing aside widespread criticism of the move, President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that most freed prisoners “will return to the battlefield, but will serve as peace envoys.”
The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal. The militants so far have refused to hold direct talks with government delegates, while meeting with US officials on several occasions.
The prisoner release, the biggest since Ghani assumed office in late 2014, has become a controversial issue in the deeply divided government, which has lost tens of thousands of troops in battle since the Taliban intensified attacks.
In an apparent response to criticism over the freeing of prisoners, Ghani told a gathering at the presidential palace that he was responding to calls made by the traditional assembly, or Loya Jirga, in April when scores of people urged him to release Taliban inmates.
“We are not going backward with regards to peace and serving the people,” Ghani said. “I accepted your suggestion and that of the Loya Jirga. Most of the released prisoners will become peace ambassadors and will not return to war.”
Government officials said a number of the freed men had “incurable illnesses, and some were elderly who had almost completed their sentences.”
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, on Thursday described the prisoner release as “a good step,” but said that only 261 out of those freed were Taliban fighters. The rest were falsely arrested by government and US-led troops.

FASTFACT

The Taliban has long demanded that prisoners held in Afghan and US-run jails be freed as part of a possible future peace deal.

John Bass, US ambassador to Afghanistan, praised Ghani’s move, saying it will “improve the climate for a political settlement.”
“Lasting peace will be rooted in reconciliation and forgiveness by all,” he said. The prisoner release has been widely attacked around the country, however.
Farmarz Tamana, a presidential candidate, said that with the Taliban stepping up attacks in recent months, Ghani’s decision “will reduce motivation among security forces.”
Taghyan Sakai, a university professor who lost a close relative in a recent Taliban attack, said the release will “harm the spirit of soldiers.” The former captives will return to battle as other prisoners had done in the past.
Fauzia Koofi, a former lawmaker, said that Ghani had the right to free or reduce the jail terms of criminals and other prisoners, but not of “terrorists.”
Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, said the Taliban “has no intent and will for peace in Afghanistan.”


India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

Updated 22 September 2019

India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

  • India’s coast guard seized $42 million worth of ketamine

NEW DELHI: India’s coast guard has arrested six Myanmar men and seized $42 million worth of ketamine after spotting a suspicious vessel in the Indian Ocean near the Nicobar Islands.
The 1,160-kilogram drug haul came after coast guard aircraft spotted the boat, which had its lights off, on Wednesday in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the defense ministry said in a statement.
The boat’s crew did not respond to radio calls and the coast guard eventually boarded it, with officials finding “57 gunny bundles of suspicious substance” on Friday.
“Preliminary analysis ... revealed that the suspicious substance was ketamine and there were 1,160 packets of 1kg each onboard the vessel,” the ministry added.
The six Myanmar men and cargo were taken to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they were questioned by investigators.
They claimed they left Myanmar on September 14 and were due to rendezvous with another boat “operating near the Thailand-Malaysia maritime border line” on Saturday, the statement said.
The Nicobar Islands are located near Southeast Asia, off Myanmar’s coast.
Parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are in the lawless “Golden Triangle” zone, the world’s second-largest drug-producing region after Latin America.
Large amounts drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are churned out in remote jungle labs each year and smuggled across Asia and beyond.