US special envoy returns to Kabul with renewed peace bid

Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah with Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan, and John Bass, US ambassador, in Kabul. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2019

US special envoy returns to Kabul with renewed peace bid

  • Taliban spokesman: Washington should sign deal instead of pursuing talks

KABUL: US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and local leaders in Kabul on Sunday to revive peace talks with the Taliban. However, the Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that the group would opt for a cease-fire after the US inks the peace deal, which is finalized and ready for signing.
Shaheen spoke to Arab News from Doha after a meeting in Moscow on Friday where all sides were urged to observe a cease-fire during the negotiations to enable participants to reach an agreement on Afghanistan’s political roadmap.
“Everything will happen. If the US signs the agreement there will be a cease-fire and reduction in violence. The countries asking the Taliban for a cease-fire should ask Americans for it,” he said.
He said Americans should respond to calls by Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials at the Moscow consultations as these countries “understand realities.”
Khalilzad’s trip is the first since US President Donald Trump called off the talks six weeks ago, amid growing criticism from the US Congress and other politicians on signing a deal with the militants which entailed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban pledged not to allow Afghan soil to be used against any country’s interests.
It follows his meeting with Taliban delegates in Pakistan three weeks ago and his discussions with regional leaders and NATO representatives in Brussels in recent days on the resumption of talks with the militants who have insisted on a total pullout of US troops.
“These countries should press the US to return to the peace process and sign the agreement. A draft of the agreement is with the US, Qatar and the Islamic Emirate. As we had agreed on the draft, there is no need for fresh negotiations,” Shaheen said.
He said that the Taliban and the US teams had agreed on a “plan of action” for the implementation of the agreement.
When asked about growing US pressure on the Taliban to declare a cease-fire or reduce violence for resumption of the talks, he said pressures will not work.
On whether Russia and China had asked the Taliban to declare a cease-fire when they visited the two countries this month, he said that they are making efforts for a political solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, an official in Ghani’s office confirmed to Arab News that Khalilzad met with Ghani, but refused to give further details about the content and atmosphere of the meeting.
Khalilzad was also scheduled to hold talks with Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai and other influential leaders, according to local media reports.
The US and Khalilzad have yet to comment about his talks, which follows a delay in announcing the results of last month’s presidential elections which saw the lowest turnout due to the threat of Taliban attacks.

FASTFACT

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s arrival in Kabul coincided with the announcement that preliminary results from recent presidential elections will be delayed for nearly a month.

Both Ghani and Abdullah are the front-runners in the election and any new government that will be created on the basis of the poll will be required to prioritize peace talks with the Taliban.
After his meetings with European and NATO delegates last week, Khalilzad in a statement said that war was not solution for Afghanistan.
Khallilzad said he “reviewed the current situation in Afghanistan and confirmed that a sustainable peace can only be achieved through a negotiated political settlement.”
He said the sides “urged all parties to take immediate and necessary steps to reduce violence and civilian casualties in order to create an environment conducive for peace.”
Before the US-Taliban talks broke off, both Khalilzad and the Taliban said they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some American security officials and Afghan government officials that a troop withdrawal could bring more conflict and a resurgence of Islamist militant factions.
Khalilzad’s trip follows visits by senior American officials to Kabul, where Ghani’s government was urged to form a team for talks with the Taliban, who have refused to talk with the government, denouncing it as a US puppet.
China has been trying to host an intra-Afghan dialogue meeting, but it has been delayed indefinitely because Kabul has yet to decide who should be going.
“Khalilzad has begun his new efforts for the peace process and that is why he came to Kabul to speak with government and other leaders about it,” Mohammed Jan Rasoulyar, an analyst, told Arab News.
“He is trying to get both sides to reduce the attacks so that peace talks can begin. We have to wait and see what comes out of the efforts in coming days.”
Wahidullah Ghazikhai, another analyst, said on the basis of the agreement with the Taliban, US troops are set to pullout from Afghanistan within a year and that the Taliban should be given a role in the future government.


Thailand to tout 'trusted' tourism in coronavirus era

Updated 7 min 20 sec ago

Thailand to tout 'trusted' tourism in coronavirus era

  • The government has rolled out a health certification system for hotels and restaurants so that travellers can be reassured
  • Thailand has banned international flights until at least June 30
BANGKOK: Thailand is positioning itself as a trusted destination for international tourists after travel restrictions ease, capitalising on its relative success in containing the coronavirus outbreak, industry officials say.
The Southeast Asian country, the first to report a virus case outside of China, wants to build on its reputation and remake its popular image as a destination for big tour groups.
"After COVID eases, we plan to refresh the country's image to a trusted destination where tourists will have peace of mind," Tanes Petsuwan, the Tourism Authority of Thailand's (TAT) deputy governor for marketing and communications, told Reuters.
The campaign, to be launched later in the year, will be aimed at young affluent travellers from places that are considered low-risk such as China, South Korea and Taiwan, Tanes said. It will highlight scenic beaches and parks, part of a "tourism bridge" that could emerge in Asia including Hong Kong and Japan.
The government has rolled out a health certification system for hotels and restaurants so that travellers can be reassured.
"The certificate is a tool to build trust and showcase Thailand as your amazing trusted destination," Tanes said.
Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has so far reported just over 3,100 cases and 58 deaths – far less than other major regional economies, except for Vietnam. Local transmission has waned, with the last recorded case on May 25.
The tourism industry, which accounts for 12 percent of the economy, collapsed after the outbreak escalated. Thailand welcomed 39.8 million foreign tourists last year but projects as few as 14 million for 2020.
Thailand has banned international flights until at least June 30, and foreign tourists aren't expected until later in the year. In the meantime, the government is drawing up a stimulus package to promote domestic tourism from July to October.
But when international travel resumes, Thailand will promote the "trust" concept, as hotels emphasise measures they are taking for safety and offer special packages.
Central Plaza Hotel Pcl, which manages 46 hotels and resorts across Thailand, will seal rooms once they are cleaned and disinfected so guests will be confident, deputy CEO Markland Blaiklock told Reuters.
"We may limit occupancy at 50% on some properties so guests experience social distancing that they are comfortable with," he said.
But it's unclear if travellers will be at ease before a coronavirus vaccine is available, which experts say is at least a year away.
For now, hotels will have to go the extra mile to tempt travellers.
Potjanee Darakamas of Oxford Acuity, which manages and operates hotels, cited private airport transfers, in-room spa services and packages around specific themes such as health retreats and activities tailor-made for individual guests.
"Hygiene is a must, so offering bespoke services will give boutique hotels with unique selling points an advantage over corporate operators."