Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’

Taliban representatives during the peace talks on Afghanistan held in Moscow. (TASS)
Updated 24 July 2019

Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’

  • Imran Khan: I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban will visit Pakistan in the “coming weeks” if a formal invitation is extended, it said on Wednesday, after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would meet Taliban leaders to persuade them to hold negotiations with the government in Kabul.

During an appearance at the US Institute of Peace on Tuesday, Khan said: “I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government.”

The US and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal expected to center on a US pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to use its forces to interfere in US affairs. The group has refused so far to hold direct talks with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, which it considers a “puppet” regime.

Earlier this month, three Afghan government officials joined a delegation of over 50 people at an intra-Afghan conference in Doha, also attended by Taliban political envoys to discuss the future of the war-ravaged country. 

The Taliban insisted that the officials were only present in a personal capacity, and not as representatives of Ghani.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Wednesday a visit to Pakistan could take place in the coming weeks.

“We travel to other countries in the world and hold meetings,” he told Arab News via telephone from Doha. 

“Pakistan is a neighboring Muslim country. Members of the political office of the Islamic Emirate will visit Pakistan if a formal invitation is extended to us. We will discuss the issue of refugees and other related issues.”

There are now reports that Khan has discussed his plan to receive Taliban leaders in Pakistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has given his go ahead, despite requesting Islamabad not meet with the group several months ago.

Taliban and US representatives are scheduled to resume talks in the coming days to remove differences on a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Even as talks continue, the Taliban and Afghan forces have continued fighting. Seven civilians were accidentally killed by the regime in an attack on a militant position south of the capital on Monday.

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.