Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

Afghan security forces keep watch at the side of bomb blast in Kabul last month. (Reuters/File photo)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

  • Khalilzad said the US was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue

WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for Afghanistan sounded upbeat on Monday about the chances for peace talks starting between the Kabul government and the Taliban militant group but suggested further prisoner releases were needed first.
Speaking to reporters, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also sought to play down an independent UN experts report that ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain close despite the Taliban’s pledge to cut such links.
Khalilzad, who helped broker a Feb. 29 US-Taliban troop withdrawal agreement, said the Afghan government has freed 2,400 to 2,500 Taliban prisoners since that pact was reached and the militant group has freed more than 400 government detainees in return.
“We are in a good place,” Khalilzad said, adding that levels of violence in Afghanistan have remained relatively low since May’s Eid Al-Fitr cease-fire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Under the US-Taliban deal — to which the Afghan government was not a party — the United States committed to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021. US troop strength already is down to nearly 8,600, US and NATO officials said last week.
Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 government prisoners were to have been freed by March 10, when talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban were to have begun.
Khalilzad said the United States was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue and “we are hoping that violence will stay low. So with the release of prisoners, we can begin inter-Afghan negotiations.”


UK PM says was obese but lost weight since virus scare

Updated 56 min 34 sec ago

UK PM says was obese but lost weight since virus scare

  • Boris Johnson: I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight
  • The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed Tuesday he was obese when he contracted coronavirus earlier this year, but after losing weight said he now felt much better.
The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19, and there have been swirling questions about his health ever since.
“I am fitter than I was before, it may irritate you to know,” he said, when asked by a reporter about his health following a speech on education.
“I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight.
“When you reach 17 stone six (around 111 kg, 244 pounds) as I did, at a height of about five foot 10 (around 1.78 meters), it’s probably a good idea to lose weight, so that’s what I’ve done. And I feel much much better.”
An online calculator provided by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) suggests that a man with Johnson’s age, weight and height would have a body mass index (BMI) of 34.9 — classing him as obese.
It is not the first time Johnson has boasted about his health, using a newspaper interview in June to make the “butcher’s dog” analogy and even doing push-ups to prove his fitness.
But the issue has returned as a talking point amid disquiet among his Conservative lawmakers over his handling of a new uptick in coronavirus cases.
The outbreak has so far killed 42,000 people in Britain — the worst toll in Europe.
Johnson has recently been spotted running with a personal trainer in a park near his Downing Street office. As London mayor between 2008 and 2006, he was a keen cyclist.