Afghans express cautious optimism as historic talks begin

Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, talks with the media at Kabul International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 13 September 2020

Afghans express cautious optimism as historic talks begin

  • Insurgent group is likely to demand formation of interim administration

KABUL: Afghans were cautious in expressing hope on Saturday as historic US-brokered talks between the Taliban and government delegates began in Doha, Qatar, to end a decades-old conflict in Afghanistan.

“People are cautiously optimistic and happy, given there are lots of differences between the two sides and the fact that in the past peace deals were broken. But we hope that our leaders have learnt from the past 40 years of mistakes of war where we either fought among ourselves or were used by foreign powers,” Hafiz Abdul Qayoum, a former governor for Nuristan province, which lies nearly 340 km to the east of Kabul near the border with Pakistan, told Arab News.

He added that peace required “sacrifice, tolerance, and self-denial” and that the delegates must take into consideration the “wishes of the people” and not “debate over their interests.”

Saturday’s crucial talks were due to begin on March 10, but delays over an exchange of prisoners — 5,000 held by the Afghan government and 1,000 by the Taliban — and infighting among some leaders in Kabul hindered efforts to get the talks underway.

The negotiations follow a historic peace agreement between the Taliban and the US in late February this year, another condition of which is the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan by next spring after 19 years of war that began with the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

The plan for Saturday’s talks remains unclear, but Afghan government negotiators are expected to push the Taliban to declare a cease-fire. At the same time, the insurgent group is likely to demand the formation of an interim administration to replace President Ashraf Ghani who began his second five-year term in March.  

Other issues that are expected to feature in the discussions include the protection of social liberties, freedom of speech and women’s rights.

We hope that our leaders have learnt from the past 40 years of mistakes of war where we either fought among ourselves or were used by foreign powers.

Hafiz Abdul Qayoum, Former governor for Nuristan province

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would travel to Doha to take part in the peace talks.

Pompeo addressed the gathering on Saturday, while foreign ministers from a few countries, including Pakistan and India, and the heads of the UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation, joined in virtually.

After the conclusion of their speeches, Afghanistan’s former envoy to the UN, Mahmoud Saikal, said that all officials had one message to encourage Afghans to be more optimistic about the future — to give peace a chance.

“The time has come for Afghans to experience peace,” Saikal told Arab News, before counting the challenges, including regional rivalry over Afghanistan and infighting among Afghan leaders for power, as hurdles for the peace talks to be successful.

Lutfullah Mashal, a former government official who has served in various roles, said because, unlike the Taliban delegates, the Kabul negotiators had no authority to take the final decision on the fate of the talks without Ghani’s approval, the negotiations could “drag on and face some hurdles.”

“There are sharp differences over key issues, and they require lots of time to overcome and settle, but we have to be hopeful,” he said.

Abdul Rauf Shapoon, a lawmaker from the eastern Nangarhar province, agreed and said that Washington and the world, which had spent hundreds of millions of dollars and lost many lives since the Taliban’s ouster, “are tired of the continuation of the war and there is more global consensus to end it.”

“This consensus has made Afghans more hopeful, and by now the warring sides must also have come to this conclusion too that militarily there is no winner here,” he said, adding that the two sides have “great historical responsibility to make the talks succeed.”

“It is a historic opportunity to have them speak, talk and resolve the differences through negotiations and they have to make a historic decision for the cause of peace here,” he said.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as Ghani’s adviser for some time, said that given their military gains in recent months, the Taliban had a “plan B” in case the talks did not yield any fruit.

“The government will certainly hinder the creation of an interim administration and does not trust its foreign allies (US). The Taliban seem on high morale and in case plan A (the talks) goes nowhere, the Taliban will implement their plan B, which is fighting. Still, the Taliban insist that the only way to achieve peace is by the formation of an interim government,” he said.


Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.