Afghan government unveils negotiating team for Taliban talks

Afghan government unveils negotiating team for Taliban talks
Outgoing Commander of Resolute Support forces and United States forces in Afghanistan, US Army General John Campbell, right, and head of Afghan government peace negotiating team Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai, left, March 2, 2016 file photo. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 27 March 2020

Afghan government unveils negotiating team for Taliban talks

Afghan government unveils negotiating team for Taliban talks
  • Move a crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the table and getting a floundering, US-led peace process back on track

KABUL: The Afghan government has finalized a 21-member team — including five women — who will negotiate with the Taliban in upcoming talks aimed at ending Afghanistan’s 18-year-old conflict, officials said Friday.
The move is a crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the table and getting a floundering, US-led peace process back on track.
Under a deal signed by the US and the Taliban last month, the insurgents agreed to commit to starting talks with the Afghan government and discuss a possible cease-fire.
Up until now, the Taliban has refused to meet with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, calling him an American stooge.
In return for starting talks and other commitments, the US and foreign partner forces will withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 14 months.
The negotiating team was supposed to be unveiled weeks ago, with the “intra-Afghan” talks with the Taliban meant to get underway March 10 in Oslo.
But Kabul has been gripped by a fresh political crisis, with Ghani’s legitimacy being challenged by his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has also proclaimed himself president.
The negotiating team will be led by former Afghan intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai, who as a Pashtun shares a tribal identity with the Taliban.
While there was no immediate indication of whether Abdullah supports the team’s composition, it includes Batur Dostum whose father Abdul Rashid Dostum — a notorious former warlord — is a staunch Abdullah ally.
In a statement, Afghanistan’s peace ministry said Ghani “wishes the delegation success and calls on them to consider, at all stages of negotiations, the best interest of the country, the shared values of the Afghan people, and the principle stand of the country for a united Afghanistan.”
Among the five women delegates is Habiba Sarabi, deputy leader of the government’s High Peace Council. Sarabi is a Hazara, the predominantly Shiite ethnic group that the Taliban have repeatedly targeted.
Another woman delegate is Fawzia Koofi, an ethnic Tajik and a woman’s rights activist who has been a vocal Taliban critic.
During their reign across much of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the Taliban forced women to stay at home, banned female education and frequently executed women on flimsy allegations of adultery.
It is not clear when or where the “intra-Afghan” talks will start. Given the coronavirus pandemic, officials say there is a chance they could begin via videoconference.
On Wednesday, the government said it would meet directly with Taliban members to discuss a massive prisoner swap that would see the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 from the government side.
That exchange had also been agreed in the US-Taliban deal, even though Ghani is not a signatory.
The US has left Ghani little choice but to get on board with the deal, and this week Washington cut $1 billion in US aid amid continued bickering between Ghani and Abdullah, and has threatened deeper cuts if Kabul does not resolve its political infighting.


UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly
Updated 23 January 2021

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly
  • PM Boris Johnson had previously said evidence showed higher mortality rate 
  • Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant carries with it a higher mortality rate

LONDON: The discovery of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant in the UK should not alter the response to the pandemic, scientists say, despite fears that it could prove more deadly.
Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant, thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible, carries with it a higher mortality rate.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “some evidence” the variant had “a higher degree of mortality” at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, adding it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. 
That came after a briefing by the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said there was a “realistic possibility” of an increased risk of death.
Prof. Peter Horby, Nervtag’s chairman, said: “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity ... and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But infectious disease modeller Prof. Graham Medley, one of the authors of the Nervtag briefing, told the BBC: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.
He added: “In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.”
Dr. Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling for the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he was “quite surprised” Johnson had made the claim.
“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” he added.