Afghans agree on road map during Qatar talks

Members of Afghan delegations attend the second day of the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha on July 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

Afghans agree on road map during Qatar talks

  • The Qatar meeting is the first time officials of Ghani’s government have taken part in direct negotiations with the group

DOHA, KABUL: At the close of their first major talks, Afghan delegates and the Taliban  agreed on a plan for peace and “minimizing civilian casualties to zero.”

The resolution, after two days of dialogue, was issued late on Monday.

There remains, however, no sign of the Taliban directly engaging in negotiations with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been excluded from various rounds of talks between the group and US diplomats, led by Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Taliban have called Ghani’s embattled administration a “US puppet.” Khalilzad said in Doha that substantial progress had been made between the militants and the US, but that the subject of negotiations remained “sensitive.”

Taliban sources, however, told Arab News both sides continue to differ over a time frame for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “If there is no threat to the US from Afghan soil, and if Afghans do not want US forces to stay in Afghanistan, we are ready to give up Afghanistan militarily,” Khalilzad said on Monday.

Afghan delegates reportedly accepted Taliban demands to approve a resolution adopted during the Moscow intra-Afghan conference in February. 

It called for the complete withdrawal of US forces from the country, the lifting of international sanctions on senior Taliban leaders, the release of prisoners and the recognition of the Taliban’s political offices in Doha.

Spokesman Suhail Shaheen described the Doha resolution as a “victory” for the group, adding: “Our official policy is to avoid civilian casualties.”

Government representative Ahmad Nadir Nadri said the delegates from Kabul gave up some of their demands to keep the peace process on track, telling reporters that face-to-face talks with the Taliban enabled them to defend the constitution, democracy, and the basic rights of the Afghan people.

The call to end civilian casualties came days after deadly attacks in Ghazni and Kabul killed and injured dozens of civilians, including school children.

“There were frank and emotional exchanges,” Hekmat Khalil Karzai, a former diplomat and one of the participants, said in a statement.

“All cried when a brave woman shared our collective pain and held everyone accountable … the dialogue brought us closer and also gave us a better understanding of the issues at stake.”

The Qatar meeting is the first time officials of Ghani’s government have taken part in direct negotiations with the group. Khalilzad, who is expected to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Tuesday, tweeted that the meeting “gives hope for further progress to end years of war and terrible suffering of (the) Afghan people.”

The resolution stated that: “All Afghans are committed to a united and Islamic country, putting aside all ethnic differences. Afghanistan shall not witness another war. The international community, regional and internal elements shall respect Afghans’ values accordingly.

“In order to facilitate effective intra-Afghan talks, the warring parties should avoid threats, revenge and conflicting words.”

However, despite the statement, fighting has continued between Taliban and government forces across the country.

Writer and analyst Zubair Shafiqi said that though the resolution was not binding, the meeting was a success.

“The fact that they pushed for reduction of violence, the release of prisoners and a halt to attacks on certain places is progress,” he told Arab News.

Fazl Rahman Orya, another analyst, said the meeting: “laid a good foundation for future genuine peace talks.”

“This can be used as pillar or foundation for future talks between Afghans, where we will have the world as guarantors. It was really a very good start,” he said.

Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

Updated 6 min 47 sec ago

Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

  • Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires
  • Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life

ALTO RIO GUAMA INDIGENOUS RESERVE, Brazil: Deep in the Amazon rainforest, there is talk of a looming conflict over land. The men in the Tembe indigenous group sometimes daub themselves in traditional war paint and patrol the forest. They carry bows and arrows, but feel increasingly vulnerable as they brace for run-ins with illegal loggers.

Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires, usually set to clear land, devastated large areas of the Brazil’s Amazon region in past weeks. Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life.

The problem is old — and escalating. On Aug. 27, Tembe people who had repeatedly warned loggers to stay out of their reserve took action. On a forest trek, men from the Tekohaw village spotted loggers using chain saws, trucks and tractors to cut down and haul trees. The indigenous warriors recorded video. Then they intervened, letting the loggers flee before burning their machinery.

“We destroyed their machinery because they have been destroying our lives for a long time. Our life is the forest,” said Ronilson Tembé. On a recent jungle patrol, he was camouflaged from head to foot with leaves and carried a large red horn to summon companions.

The Tembe are proud of their triumph, but worry about retaliation. Police are monitoring makeshift sawmills around their land after the Tekohaw village chieftain filed reports of death threats. “Every day that passes, the invasion comes closer to our village,” said the chieftain, Sergio Muxi Tembé. He wore a colorful headdress of macaw and other feathers and a traditional bone bracelet on his wrist, next to a Casio digital watch.

“We don’t want to be killed by bullets,” he said. “We want the federal government to assume its responsibility and guarantee the right that we have to live in our lands, to live in peace.” Their 1,080-square-mile (2,766-square-kilometer) Alto Rio Guama homeland is officially protected. But in reality, it’s under siege by loggers who try to extract prized hardwood in a Brazilian state that is one of the Amazon’s largest producers and exporters of timber.

Like other Amazon states, Para has also been hit by thousands of fires that have intensified international concern about the world’s largest rainforest, considered a vital bulwark against climate change. An Associated Press team traveled for days in the Amazon to document the fires and deforestation on the remote indigenous reserve, which can only be reached by river or on rough roads.

On a recent day, a boa constrictor slithered in the sun on a red dirt road leading to Tekohaw, where about 600 members of the tribe live on the banks of the Gurupí River. Their life mixes tradition and modernity. Villagers fish for piranhas, hunt for birds, and pick fruits and take materials for traditional medicine from jungle trees, while some watch television or log on to the Internet on phones inside thatched-roof huts.

Like elsewhere in Brazil, stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 sharply curbed deforestation in the Amazon. The rate began climbing after that, and ramped up further as the fires escalated in early August, according to Brazilian state monitors.

Amid an international outcry, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some fires and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for 60 days. However, he had previously promised to loosen protections for indigenous lands as a way to develop Brazil’s economy, a pledge that critics say has stoked clashes.

Bolsonaro believes past allocations of land to indigenous people were excessive. About 14 percent of Brazil is indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, according to the president. Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in Washington last week that the opening of the Amazon to development is “the only way to protect the forest.”

One expert on Brazil said the plight of the Tembe people is the direct outcome of government policy. “This leads to a situation where the lawlessness of the Amazon region ... becomes such that the livelihood of the indigenous people is under a real threat. And they don’t have a lot of capacity to defend themselves,” said Monica de Bolle, a Brazil expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“These are the people who live off the land, who do substance farming. They are very much aware of the environment around it and how to maintain it because that’s how they sustain their livelihood,” said de Bolle, who recently testified before US Congress about the Amazon.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week that deforestation in the Amazon “is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them.” It blamed Brazil’s government for failing to protect the rainforest and people trying to protect it.

Those networks can “coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, kill those who seek to defend the forest,” Human Rights Watch said. It based its report on interviews with indigenous people and others in the Brazilian states of Para, Maranhao and Rondonia.

In Brazil’s Congress, lawmaker Edmilson Rodrigo from Para state made a call to defend the Amazon’s indigenous people, including the Tembe. “Land grabbers, miners, loggers have taken their lands and they’ve reacted by trying to protect it,” he said.
Women of the Tembe tribe said their men will suffer casualties if they get into a fight with loggers likely to have firearms. They hope an international donor can provide the men with bulletproof vests.

“Our husbands go to look out after our lands, and this is our only weapon,” said Anailde Tembe, the chieftain’s wife. She lifted a bow and a sheaf of feathered arrows.