Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan government

Afghanistan’s government on Sunday accused the Taliban of increasing its attacks. (AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan government

  • Spokesman for insurgent group accuses Kabul of making ‘excuses’ to delay talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government on Sunday accused the Taliban of increasing its attacks, casting doubt on future negotiations with the insurgent group.

A promise of future peace talks was part of a historic peace deal signed in February between the Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar. But negotiations have already been delayed twice because of disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban. The talks were expected to pave the way for a total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by next year.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said the “intensification of violence by the Taliban lately,” which also claimed civilian lives, “damages hopes for the start of the talks and stable peace in the country.”

It follows a statement by Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, who said in a statement last night that the escalation of Taliban attacks was the “main cause for the postponement of the talks.”

He said: “The Taliban have intensified their violence in many parts of Afghanistan, disrupting the process of direct talks and making it harder.”

Mohib’s spokesman, Javid Faisal, said on Saturday that in the past week alone, the Taliban had staged attacks in 16 of the country’s 34 provinces, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 civilians.

He did not give an estimate of casualties sustained by government forces. However, official data released last month showed that hundreds of army and police personnel died during Taliban attacks in June.

The Taliban has rejected the claims of the government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed Kabul for several strikes which “led to the fatalities among non-combatants.”

These include a rocket attack at a cattle market in southern Helmand in June, where human rights groups say dozens of civilians, including children, were killed.

“A political solution is the only alternative that we have for ending the war and changing the situation in Afghanistan. No hindrance should be created against this,” Mujahid told Arab News on Sunday.

He accused Kabul of blocking the start of peace talks by not releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition demanded by the insurgent group ahead of negotiations.

While Kabul has freed over 4,000 Taliban prisoners, it said last week that it would not release 600 of them, “as they had committed various types of crimes.”

Mujahid described the government move as “one excuse after the other.”

He said: “The release of the rest of the prisoners is a must. If the process of release of prisoners is not completed, the talks cannot begin, and there is a possibility that fighting will intensify and then we will have to settle the conflict through military means.”

Experts warn that Ghani’s government is under increasing pressure.

Former diplomat and analyst Ahmad Saeedi said Ghani is under pressure from Washington, which “wants to show that it is keen to conduct talks, but from the other side wants this process to continue for five years,” until Ghani’s term ends.

“Ghani wants the Taliban to join his government, while the Taliban consider his government fragile, arguing that if he does not engage in talks, then they will take power by force after the US pulls out troops,” Saeedi said.

Another analyst, Taj Mohammad, said the lack of progress in setting a fixed time for the talks was a blow for the peace process and “showed that the actual negotiations would be highly complicated and difficult.”

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US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 15 min 6 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.