Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Afghan government sets condition for peace talks with Taliban

  • Insists on a cease-fire to gauge unity among members of the insurgent group

KABUL: In a clear sign of shifting strategies, Afghanistan’s government on Tuesday said that the Taliban should declare a one-month cease-fire before the restart of any peace negotiations.

The announcement follows the resumption of efforts by US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to revive Washington’s talks with the Taliban.

This was after US President Donald Trump’s decided to abruptly call off the discussions last month, just as both parties were nearing the signing of a deal after a year of intensive talks that had seen Kabul being excluded from the start due to the Taliban’s objection.

In the past, President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which relies on the US military as well as financial aid, had set no conditions for holding talks with the Taliban.

However, on Tuesday, Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, said that the government was insisting on setting a condition because events from the past year showed that “the Taliban were not united, have no control over the war … and some of Taliban’s major commanders have joined Daesh.”

“We have put the condition not with an intention of blocking peace, our purpose is that they have to show … and it is important that the Taliban should prove how much control they have over their commanders and warriors,” Mohib told a news conference in Kabul.

The Taliban had no immediate comment. While holding talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban has always insisted that the group will announce a truce only after Washington sets a timetable for a complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban and Ghani’s government observed a few days of cease-fire during Eid-Ul-Fitr last year when thousands of Taliban fighters had flooded urban areas, including Kabul, before joining the battleground and broadening their attacks.

The truce was the first-of-its kind in the latest chapter of the US-led war that began 18 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting.

Mohib said that Khalilzad’s visit this week, the first since he resumed his mission of reviving the talks with the Taliban, was not about peace in the country, but about the exchange of prisoners, which includes a US and an Australian teacher from the American University in Kabul who were kidnapped in 2016 and are held by the Taliban.

He did not elaborate further and did not say what the Taliban’s demands were in return for the freedom of the pair.

But in recent weeks, Taliban sources said that Anas Haqqani, son of a former prominent Taliban leader, was among those that the group had demanded to be set free. Anas, who was captured outside Afghanistan by US officials years ago, is held in an Afghan government-run jail.

Mohib said that Kabul was keen to attend an intra-Afghan conference hosted by China in which Taliban delegates are expected to participate. He said that it had asked Beijing to hold it after the announcement of the Afghan presidential election results that have been delayed twice.

Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

Updated 20 September 2020

Thai protesters challenge monarchy as huge protests escalate

  • Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment

BANGKOK: Openly challenging the monarchy of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, thousands of protesters marched in Bangkok on Sunday to present demands that include a call for reforms to curb his powers.
Protesters have grown ever bolder during two months of demonstrations against Thailand’s palace and military-dominated establishment, breaking a longstanding taboo on criticizing the monarchy — which is illegal under lese majeste laws.
The Royal Palace was not immediately available for comment. The king, who spends much of his time in Europe, is not in Thailand now.
The marchers were blocked by hundreds of unarmed police manning crowd control barriers.
Protest leaders declared victory after handing police a letter detailing their demands. Phakphong Phongphetra, head of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said on a video broadcast from the scene that the letter would be handed to police headquarters to decide how to proceed.
“Our greatest victory in the two days is showing that ordinary people like us can send a letter to royals,” Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, told the crowd before it dispersed.
At the biggest demonstration in years, tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday cheered calls for reform of the monarchy as well as for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and a new constitution and elections.
Shortly after sunrise on Sunday, protesters cemented a plaque near the Grand Palace in Bangkok in the area known as Sanam Luang, or Royal Field.
It reads, “At this place the people have expressed their will: that this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said police would not use violence against protesters and it was up to the police to determine and prosecute any illegal speech.
Bangkok authorities would need to determine whether the plaque is illegal and if it is it would need to be removed, Bangkok’s deputy police chief Piya Tawichai told reporters.
Far from all Thais support the new plaque, which resembles one that had commemorated the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and which was removed from outside a royal palace in 2017, after Vajiralongkorn took the throne.
Prominent right-wing politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said the actions of the protesters were inappropriate and that the king was above politics.
“It didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “These actions are symbolically against the king, but the king is not an opponent.”
Thai authorities have said criticizing the monarchy is unacceptable in a country where the king is constitutionally “enthroned in a position of revered worship.”
Protests that began on university campuses have drawn increasing numbers of older people. That includes red shirt followers of ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who had clashed for years with pro-establishment yellow shirts before Prayuth seized power in 2014.
“The new generation is achieving what their parents and grandparents didn’t dare. I’m very proud of that,” said Somporn Outsa, 50, a red shirt veteran. “We still respect the monarchy, but it should be under the constitution.”
Protesters say the constitution gives the king too much power and that it was engineered to allow Prayuth to keep power after elections last year. He says that vote was fair.
The next protest is scheduled for Thursday. Protest leaders called on Thais to take Oct. 14 off work to show their support for change.
“Radical change is hard in Thailand, but the movement has at least kept the momentum going,” said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University.