Ghani to free Taliban inmates, removing final block for intra-Afghan talks

Afghan community leaders and politicians, above, gather to decide whether to release about 400 Taliban prisoners. (Press Office of President of Afghanistan via AFP)
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Updated 10 August 2020

Ghani to free Taliban inmates, removing final block for intra-Afghan talks

  • Some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday pledged to sign an order for the release of 400 Taliban prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom, removing the main hurdle for the launch of direct talks with the group.
The decision follows three days of deliberations by the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates and which said on Sunday that its decision was for the sake of the “cessation of bloodshed” and to remove the “hurdle for the peace talks.”
“Today, you made history. The nation was at a crossroads, and you made the path clear. Today, I will sign the decree, which I could not dare to do previously. I will sign the order for the freedom of 400 Taliban prisoners, and they will be freed,” Ghani said while addressing a crowd in Kabul later in the day.
He said that the “ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.
Ghani said there were “ambiguities” with regard to the peace process and “plots” intended to prevent Afghans from uniting, without naming any country or side specifically.
The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was a major precondition for a historic deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha, Qatar in February this year.
The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March and be followed by the crucial, intra-Afghan talks.

FASTFACT

Officials say dialogue could start within three days of release of remaining 400 prisoners.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the accord, had initially voiced his opposition to free the Taliban inmates.
However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 of them in a phased manner. Still, it refused to release the remaining 400, arguing they were responsible for some of the worst attacks and crimes in the country in recent years.
After the Eid Al-Adha prayers ten days ago, however, the embattled president announced he would let the Jirga decide the fate of the remaining prisoners whom the Taliban had insisted be freed before the start of the talks.
Former President Hamid Karzai, who was absent from the final two days of discussions at the Jirga, praised Ghani for removing the blockade with the Taliban, adding that he was “aware that the Taliban would begin direct talks three days after the release of their comrades.”
“I appreciate this measure of yours,” he said, referring to Ghani’s decision, “and will pave the ground for the start of talks.”
There was no immediate comment from the Taliban about the Jirga’s decision and Ghani’s announcement.
In a statement circulated among members of the Jirga, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Taliban had “committed to beginning direct negotiations” after the prisoners’ release and pledged to reduce violence as well.
“The US commends the participants of the Loya Jirga... to consolidate national support for peace. Following the timely release of these prisoners, the Taliban have committed to enter talks with the national team...The US intends to hold the Taliban to these commitments,” the statement said.
US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November, has been keen to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan as part of the Qatar agreement and use the pullout of forces and start of Afghan talks as examples of his successful foreign policies when wooing voters.
US officials have spoken about their frustration with regard to the prevalence of corruption and inefficiency in the Afghan government, in recent years, with Trump arguing that Afghans could decide the future of their own country and that “US troops should not be there as police.”
Experts, however, argue that there is more to the move than what meets the eye.
“The jirga’s decision was designed to give life support to Afghan political elites who have lost all credibility with the public,” Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the previous Afghan government told Arab News.
“This is a hefty price to pay just to get to the doorsteps of the negotiations’ room,” he said, referring to the release of 400 Taliban prisoners. “Talks with the Taliban will be long and drawn, and Kabul will have to make more concessions on its so-called red-lines once they start.”


Trump paid $750 in US income taxes in 2016, 2017: NY Times

Updated 28 September 2020

Trump paid $750 in US income taxes in 2016, 2017: NY Times

  • In 2017, Trump paid $145,400 in taxes in India and $156,824 in the Philippines
  • Trump relied on business tax credits to reduce his tax obligations in the US, says report

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House, according to a report Sunday in The New York Times.
Trump, who has fiercely guarded his tax filings and is the only president in modern times not to make them public, paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
The details of the tax filings complicate Trump’s description of himself as a shrewd and patriotic businessman, revealing instead a series of financial losses and income from abroad that could come into conflict with his responsibilities as president. The president’s financial disclosures indicated he earned at least $434.9 million in 2018, but the tax filings reported a $47.4 million loss.
The disclosure, which the Times said comes from tax return data it obtained extending over two decades, comes at a pivotal moment ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday and weeks before a divisive election against Democrat Joe Biden.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday at the White House, Trump dismissed the report as “fake news” and maintained he has paid taxes, though he gave no specifics. He also vowed that information about his taxes “will all be revealed,” but he offered no timeline for the disclosure and made similar promises during the 2016 campaign on which he never followed through.
In fact, the president has fielded court challenges against those seeking access to his returns, including the US House, which is suing for access to Trump’s tax returns as part of congressional oversight.
During his first two years as president, Trump received $73 million from foreign operations, which in addition to his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland included $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey. The president in 2017 paid $145,400 in taxes in India and $156,824 in the Philippines, compared to just $750 in US income taxes.
Trump found multiple ways to reduce his tax bills. He has taken tax deductions on personal expenses such as housing, aircraft and $70,000 to style his hair while he filmed “The Apprentice.” Losses in the property businesses solely owned and managed by Trump appear to have offset income from his stake in “The Apprentice” and other entities with multiple owners.
During the first two years of his presidency, Trump relied on business tax credits to reduce his tax obligations. The Times said $9.7 million worth of business investment credits that were submitted after Trump requested an extension to file his taxes allowed him to reduce his income and pay just $750 each in 2016 and 2017.
Income tax payments help finance the military and domestic programs.
Trump, starting in 2010, claimed and received an income tax refund that totaled $72.9 million, which the Times said was at the core of an ongoing audit by the IRS.
Rep. Richard Neal, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee who has tried unsuccessfully to obtain Trump’s tax records, said the Times report makes it even more essential for his committee to get the documents.
“It appears that the President has gamed the tax code to his advantage and used legal fights to delay or avoid paying what he owes,” Neal wrote in a statement. “Now, Donald Trump is the boss of the agency he considers an adversary. It is essential that the IRS’s presidential audit program remain free of interference.”
A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, and a spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on the report.
Garten told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate.”
He said in a statement to the news organization that the president “has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”
The New York Times said it declined to provide Garten with the tax filings in order to protect its sources.
During his first general election debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton said that perhaps Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he had paid nothing in federal taxes.
Trump interrupted her to say, “That makes me smart.”