Afghan govt forms 15-member team to negotiate with Taliban

In this file photo, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad at the US Institute of Peace, in Washington. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2019

Afghan govt forms 15-member team to negotiate with Taliban

  • US envoy: While striking deal with Taliban, US will sign separate pact with Kabul

KABUL: As the US and the Taliban inch closer toward signing a peace deal, the Afghan government announced formation of a 15-member team for direct talks with the group.

Kabul is yet to release names of the delegation’s members, which US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has insisted be inclusive, representing various Afghan sides with senior government members as its members.

The Taliban, who have held at least seven rounds of talks with Khalilzad and other US diplomats since last year without any involvement of Kabul officials, have always insisted that the group would not hold direct talks with the government and that its delegates be part of a nationwide team.

“Political, social and ethnic diversity have been observed within the 15-member delegation which will represent the Islamic Republic in peace negotiations while taking into account the values and achievements of the Afghan people,” the newly formed Ministry for Peace Affairs said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Khalilzad said he was on his way to the negotiations venue in Qatar and was ready to close a deal to end the war that began in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

“I’m off to Doha, with a stop in Islamabad. In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on,” Khalilzad said in a tweet.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that there were some “minor details to be discussed” and that the group was hoping there would not be any obstacle in the final breakthrough.

“But it also depends how serious the Americans are (in signing the final deal),” Mujahid told Arab News.

The Taliban have been pushing for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the issue has been the focus of various rounds of talks between the two sides. Taliban delegates have in the past repeatedly pressed the US to agree on setting a timetable for troop pullout.

BACKGROUND

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran American diplomat, was appointed last year to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any point since their ouster.

However, Khalilzad clearly said in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News on Thursday: “We will not reach peace until there is a complete agreement and the concerns of all stakeholders vis-a-vis the peace agreement are addressed and a complete and permanent truce is announced.”

“We have not reached an agreement with the Taliban (on a timetable for troop withdrawal) and certainly it is an issue in which the Kabul government also has a say. One of the issues that has not been  decided on is this one.”

While striking a deal with the Taliban, Khalilzad said Washington will sign a separate agreement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, but gave no further details.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran American diplomat, was appointed last year to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any point since their ouster.

The Taliban have consistently been adamant that they would not talk to the Afghan government about the future of the country until Washington agreed to withdraw its troops.

Khalilzad has been in Kabul, where he met President Ashraf Ghani, top security officials, senior opposition leaders, diplomats and civil society members to discuss the peace process before striking a deal with the Taliban.

“Wrapping up my most productive visit to Afghanistan since I took this job as Special Rep. The US and Afghanistan have agreed on next steps,” he said on Twitter.

The Afghan government, which relies on US funding and troops for its security, says a hasty troop pull-out is risky for the country.

President Donald Trump, ahead of the US election next year, is keen to withdraw US troops, and US diplomats say they are pushing for a final deal to be signed ahead of September while controversial Afghan presidential polls are slated for Sept. 28th.

A number of presidential Afghan nominees say they would prefer to see peace first and to hold the polls when the Taliban can also participate, but Ghani who is standing for re-election says the vote should be the priority.

Former President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday that while the US reliance on Pakistan for peace and its push for striking separate deals with the Taliban and the government had to be questioned, Afghans need to take charge of the peace process.

He also spoke about the need to postpone the elections until after the peace deal.

“I want the election when it is in our hands,” he commented. “I am in no-way optimistic for (presidential) elections but consider it a conspiracy… Afghans don’t own this election. We can have a fair election when we have (full) authority of this land,” Karzai said told a news conference.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

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