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

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.


Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Updated 17 min 22 sec ago

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.