Taliban positive on peace deal with Washington

Taliban want an end to the presence of US intelligence networks, pledging in return to not allow Afghan soil to be used against any country or US interests. (Reuters/File)
Updated 28 August 2019

Taliban positive on peace deal with Washington

  • Agree to establish ‘safe zones’ for the group once US forces leave

KABUL: The Taliban hopes to finalize a peace deal with US diplomats soon in a move that could end a decades-old conflict in Afghanistan, the group’s spokesman told Arab News on Tuesday.

Taliban emissaries and US diplomats, led by Washington’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, began their ninth round of talks in Qatar recently, after US President Donald Trump assigned the Afghan-born diplomat with the task of finding a peaceful solution to the war and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Ahead of the resumption of Tuesday’s discussions, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban based in Qatar, tweeted: “We will try to finalize the last points of agreement.”

Later on Tuesday, several Afghan media reports, citing unnamed sources, said that both the US and Taliban negotiators had agreed to establish “safe zones” once American forces start leaving Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been absent from all nine rounds of talks, rejected reports of the creation of “safe zones” for the insurgents.

“We are not of this opinion, that is not our understanding from the talks between the Taliban and the Americans,” Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s spokesman, told Arab News.

“On the contrary, our expectation is that any progress should lead to peace and cessation of war, a cease-fire that brings peace across Afghanistan and direct talks between the Taliban and the government,” he added.

US diplomats have yet to comment on the matter.

FASTFACTS

• Taliban want complete withdrawal of all foreign forces in Afghanistan.

• The group also wants an end to US intelligence networks.

• The US is insisting on signing the deal with the Taliban before Sept. 1.

The news follows a Reuters report quoting unnamed Taliban officials, which said that Washington will stop providing aid to Afghan forces who rely on the US and the West to bankroll the war.

Commenting on the matter from Qatar, Khalilzad rejected the report in a tweet: “A Reuters report quoting two unnamed Talib commanders alleges we will cease support of the Afghan forces as part of any agreement. Not true!”

No one should be “intimidated or fooled by propaganda,” he added.

“Let me be clear: We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement w/ the Talibs. All sides agree Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations,” the second part of his tweet read.

The talks in Qatar have been shrouded in secrecy, even as the Taliban have publicly said that they will fight until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan and a timetable for their departure is set. 

The group has also demanded an end to the presence of US intelligence networks and contractors in the country, pledging in return to not allow Afghan soil to be used against any country or US interests.

There have been contradictory comments by US officials and even Trump, with some saying that there will be a reduction of troops while warning against a hasty pullout.

Meanwhile, Trump, who until now had insisted on a complete departure of troops, has been reported saying Washington would seek to retain its intelligence officials in Afghanistan.  

The US is insisting on signing the deal with the Taliban before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of the crucial presidential elections.

Ghani says his priority is the polls, and that a strong elected government can negotiate from a position of strength with the Taliban.

Some of his rival candidates have been pushing for the creation of an interim government. “The Taliban is not interested in holding talks directly with Kabul,” Shohab Hakimi, a nominee, was quoted as saying.

“The people know that the Taliban are not prepared for talks with the government and establishment of peace can only happen by the establishment of an interim government,” Murad Ali Murad, a deputy candidate, said on Tuesday.


UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

Updated 15 September 2019

UK’s Boris Johnson likens himself to The Incredible Hulk

  • Johnson said he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what
  • “The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the Mail

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has compared himself to The Incredible Hulk in a newspaper interview emphasizing his determination to take Britain out of the European Union next month.
Johnson faces considerable legal and political hurdles but told the Mail on Sunday he will meet the Oct. 31 deadline no matter what.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets,” he told the widely read tabloid, invoking the comic book and film character known for formidable but destructive strength.
Johnson remains defiant even though Parliament has passed a law requiring him to seek an extension to the deadline if no deal is reached by mid-October. He has also lost his working majority in Parliament and been told by Scotland’s highest court that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal.
Johnson portrays himself as more convinced than ever that Britain will break with the EU at the end of October.
He will have a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg on Monday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to try to modify the Irish backstop that has been a main sticking point, but EU leaders did not seem impressed by Johnson’s invocation of the Hulk.
The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the comments showed a lack of maturity.
“Even to Trumpian standards the Hulk comparison is infantile,” he tweeted. “Is the EU supposed to be scared by this? The British public impressed?“
Juncker, who has downplayed hopes of a breakthrough at Monday’s meeting, also expressed alarm that many people in Britain seem to feel a British departure without a deal with the EU would be a positive thing.
“It would be terrible chaos,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio. “And we would need years to put things back in order. Anyone who loves his country, and I assume that there are still patriots in Britain, would not want to wish his country such a fate.”
The Oct. 31 deadline looms large because Johnson has not said he will seek another extension if no deal is reached, despite legislation passed by Parliament shortly before it was suspended.
Britain’s Supreme Court this week will rule on whether Johnson overstepped the law when he shut the legislature for a crucial five-week period.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been enjoying a revival, voted overwhelmingly at their party conference Sunday to end the Brexit process entirely if they come to power.
Party leader Jo Swinson said Article 50, which triggered Brexit, would be revoked if she becomes prime minister.
The party gained an important member Saturday with the defection of Sam Gyimah, a former Conservative minister. He is the sixth legislator to switch allegiance and join the Liberal Democrats this year.
Johnson also continues to take flak from former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Cameron said in an interview published Sunday that Johnson didn’t really believe in Brexit when he broke ranks and led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU. Cameron had been expecting Johnson’s help during the hard-fought campaign.
Cameron says of Johnson: “The conclusion I am left with is that he risked an outcome he didn’t believe in because it would help his political career.”
Cameron is giving interviews to gain publicity for his upcoming memoirs.