Afghan leader rejects foreign interference as talks advance

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks after offering Eid al-Adha prayers at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019. (AP)
Updated 12 August 2019
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Afghan leader rejects foreign interference as talks advance

  • Ghani insisted that next month’s presidential election is essential so that Afghanistan’s leader will have a powerful mandate to decide the country’s future
  • US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is seeking a peace deal by Sept. 1, weeks before the vote

KABUL: Afghanistan’s president on Sunday rejected foreign interference as the United States and the Taliban appear to be closing in on a peace deal without the Afghan government at the table.
President Ashraf Ghani spoke during the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha and as US and Taliban negotiators continue their work in the Gulf nation of Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office.
Speaking after the Eid prayers, Ghani insisted that next month’s presidential election is essential so that Afghanistan’s leader will have a powerful mandate to decide the country’s future after years of war.
“Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends, nemeses or neighbors. The fate of Afghanistan will be decided here in this homeland,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to intervene in our affairs.”
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is seeking a peace deal by Sept. 1, weeks before the vote. The two sides are expected to agree on the withdrawal of some 20,000 US and NATO troops in return for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would not be a base for other extremist groups.
Few details have emerged, but Khalilzad and the lead Taliban negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, have been traveling in recent days to brief several countries involved in the process on the latest developments.
“I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war,” Khalilzad said on Twitter, adding that negotiators were working toward a “lasting & honorable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country.”
The Taliban spokesman in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, who has said a deal is expected at the end of this round of talks, also issued an Eid message expressing the hope that Afghanistan “will celebrate future Eids under the Islamic system, without occupation, under an environment of permanent peace and unity.”
No major violence was reported in Afghanistan on Sunday.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, dismissing it as a US puppet, and on Tuesday they declared the Sept. 28 election a “sham.” They warned fellow Afghans to stay away from campaign rallies and the polls, saying such gatherings could be targeted. A day later the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that targeted security forces in Kabul. The attack killed 14 people and wounded 145, most of them civilians.
The Taliban control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the US-led invasion toppled their five-year-old government in 2001 after the group had harbored Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. More than 2,400 US service personnel have died in Afghanistan since then.
Ghani, stung by being excluded from the peace talks, on Sunday pleaded for national unity.
“Peace is the desire of each Afghan and peace will come, there shouldn’t be any doubt about it,” he said. “But we want a peace in which each Afghan has dignity. We don’t want a peace in which Afghans wouldn’t have dignity. We don’t want a peace that would cause people to leave their country. We don’t want brain drain and we don’t want investment drain.”
A peace deal would be followed by intra-Afghan talks, but it is not clear whether the Taliban would agree to talk to Kabul government members in their official capacity or only as ordinary Afghans, as in the past.
The US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. The American and allied troops that remain are conducting strikes on the Taliban and the local Daesh affiliate, and working to train and build the Afghan military.
President Donald Trump has publicly expressed his exasperation with America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and a desire to bring troops home.


Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

Updated 1 min 56 sec ago

Israeli army raids offices of Palestinian NGO

  • Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah
  • No staff were in the office at that time as thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers were seized

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Israel’s army raided the offices of a prominent Palestinian NGO early Thursday, its director said, in an operation Amnesty International said aimed to “crush peaceful activism.”
Israeli soldiers forced their way into the offices of prisoner support group Addameer in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah at around 2:00 am, the organization’s director Sahar Francis said.
No staff were in the office at that time, she said, but Israeli forces seized thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including five computers.
“They searched the whole office,” Francis said.
Addameer works to support Palestinian prisoners in both Israeli and Palestinian prisons.
Israeli right-wing activists accuse it of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to request for comment on the raid.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East Director Saleh Higazi condemned the “chilling raid,” labelling it an Israeli attempt “to crush peaceful activism and silence NGOs.”
“This was a sinister and calculated attack designed to curtail Addameer’s vital human rights work,” he said in a statement.
The NGO, which documents allegations of abuse in Israeli prisons, has been raided twice before, most recently in 2012.
Francis said that time they had smashed the door and also seized computers.
“We never got back the things they stole in 2012, despite making a request,” she said.
An Addameer employee has also been detained without charge since last year under Israel’s administrative detention laws, Amnesty said.
Higazi said the raid was part of an intensifying Israeli campaign against civil society organizations.
Human Rights Watch’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories is currently fighting an Israeli expulsion order over allegations he called for a boycott of Israel.
The country in 2017 passed a law banning entry to foreigners supporting a boycott.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since a 1967 war.
The office is in a part of the West Bank nominally under full Palestinian control, but the Israeli army regularly carries out raids in such areas.