Afghan rivals resume talks for peace

Representatives from the government, civil society and Taliban attended the talks. (AFP)
Updated 08 July 2019

Afghan rivals resume talks for peace

  • US aims to sign a political deal with Taliban before Afghan presidential polls
  • Nearly 70 representatives are attending the two-day meeting

DOHA: Dozens of powerful Afghans resumed talks with the Taliban on Monday in Doha, where a possible cease-fire is on the table along with key issues such as women’s rights.
Stakes are high for the talks which follow a week of US-Taliban negotiations with both sides eyeing a resolution to the bloody 18-year conflict.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the Afghan gathering “has been a long time coming” and praised the country’s “government, civil society, women, and Taliban” for coming together.
Washington has said it wants to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of Afghan presidential polls due in September to allow foreign forces to begin to withdraw.
Around 70 delegates are attending the two-day gathering which has been organized by Germany and Qatar.
“History will remember those who were able to set their differences aside for the sake of the country” said Germany envoy Markus Potzel as he opened the gathering Sunday.
A German source confirmed the second day of talks got underway just before 0600 GMT.
Delegate Asila Wardak, a member of the High Peace Council established by former president Hamid Karzai to engage with Taliban elements, said “everybody is emphasising on a cease-fire” during Sunday’s session.
The Taliban spoke about “women’s role, economic development, (and) the role of minorities” in a future settlement, she added.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said on Twitter that he looked “forward to a constructive dialogue.”
The so-called intra-Afghan meetings follow six days of direct US-Taliban talks that have been put on hold for the two day Afghan conference and are set to resume Tuesday, according to both sides.
US lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said Saturday that the latest round of US-Taliban talks “have been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs.”
The Taliban said they were “happy with progress.”
The United States is not participating directly in the two-day Afghan summit, which is being attended by political heavyweights, government officials and at least six women.
The Taliban, who have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, have stressed that those attending are only doing so in a “personal capacity.”
Ghani’s administration, which the Taliban consider a puppet regime, has also been excluded from the direct US-Taliban talks.
Sunday and Monday’s gathering is the third such meeting following landmark summits in Moscow in February and May.
An agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to extremists.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.
But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Ghani’s administration remain unresolved.


EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

Updated 13 December 2019

EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

  • EU is concerned about the rapid speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe
  • Johnson has until July 1 to request for a trade talks extension

BRUSSELS: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned of the tight timing for securing a trade deal with Britain, hours after Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a crushing election victory.
“The time frame ahead of us is very challenging,” von der Leyen said, following a discussion by EU leaders on the way forward after Brexit, now expected on January 31.
On the “first of February, we go to work,” she said.
EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the 27 member states would not accept a deal blindly, stressing that the bloc would insist that Britain respect European norms to win the deal.
“There is no question of concluding a deal at any price, said Michel, who coordinates EU summits, after the talks.
“Negotiations are over when the results are balanced and guarantee respect for the different concerns,” the former Belgian premier said.
“We have a way of doing things based on experience, transparency and maintaining unity” in the EU, he added.
EU is worried about the breakneck speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.
In a text released after the talks, the 27 EU leaders called for “as close as possible a future relationship with the UK” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU’s best interest,” conclusions added.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talks extension.
If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020, with Britain in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, endangering its economy.