‘No deadlock:’ Afghan officials deny talks impasse on one-month anniversary

Afghan National Army soldiers march during a recent ceremony at a military base in the Guzara district of Herat province amid ongoing talks to end the conflict. (AFP)
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Updated 12 October 2020

‘No deadlock:’ Afghan officials deny talks impasse on one-month anniversary

  • Experts say delay in start of main negotiations ‘not an encouraging sign’

KABUL: Kabul officials on Sunday said that negotiations with the Taliban had not reached a stalemate, despite both sides disagreeing on a mechanism for the crucial intra-Afghan talks that end in a month.

“One month on since the talks began in Qatar, we have not been able to agree (on the road map for the talks), yes; however the key part is that we still talk formally and informally,” Nader Nadery, a government-appointed negotiator told Arab News from Doha, Qatar on Sunday.

“None of us (the Taliban and government teams) have said that ‘we have stopped meeting and we will not meet,’ that has not happened, and we are working to meet soon,” he said.

The long-delayed negotiations, which began on Sept. 12 in the Qatari capital, are a crucial part of a historic deal signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year and include a pledge by US President Donald Trump to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan and work toward ending America’s longest war.

Striking an optimistic note, Najia Anwari, a spokesman for the Afghan government’s Peace Ministry in Kabul, said that there “was no deadlock in the talks” and that the peace process “after so many years of war, will always be complicated and would require time.”

“We are trying to enter into the negotiations with a good method and hopefully will in the coming days finalize the road map and hammer out the differences of views that have existed between the Taliban and government negotiators,” she told Arab News.

However, a source familiar with the matter and requesting anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that a “supporting group” comprising mediators and diplomats from foreign countries, based in Qatar, were planning to intervene if no progress was made in settling the differences that have delayed the start of the main talks so far.

A spokesman for the Taliban was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.

The intra-Afghan talks coincide with an internal dispute among government leaders in Kabul over the negotiations, as well as the recent escalation in bloody attacks across the country.

Government officials have long maintained that the Taliban have stepped up their attacks since the signing of the February accord with the US, and intensified them after the start of the intra-Afghan talks.

However, unlike in the past, they “do not publicly take credit for it” now.

Examples of high-profile attacks include an assassination attempt on the governor of the eastern Laghman province last week, which killed eight people, and a massive bomb attack outside a government compound in the adjacent Nangarhar province, which left 15 people dead.

On Saturday, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said that the Haqqani network, considered the backbone of the Taliban’s military wing — in collaboration with Daesh — was responsible for an attack on first VP Amrullah Saleh in Kabul last month.

Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on Sunday that “contrary to the past, the Taliban have certainly increased their attacks” since the Qatar talks began.

Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to Ghani, told Arab News that after signing the deal with Washington, the Taliban consider themselves as “victors of war.”

As a result, “the more there is a delay in talks, the better it is for them as Kabul will be weakened by their attacks,” and this way they do not have to “share power with any side should they take over the country after the US-led troops departure.”

“The Taliban are after a major victory, and at the same time the leadership of the government are not paying any price of the war because their families are overseas and war can improve their economy,” he said.

However, similar to sentiments echoed by ordinary Afghans and other experts, Wahed Faqiri, a US-based Afghan analyst, described the stalemate in talks as worrying.

“The month-long deadlock in talks is indeed not an encouraging sign. Although many predicted that the intra-Afghan talks would not be easy, no one anticipated this level of difficulties,” he said.

Dr. Shaida Abdali, a presidential candidate and Afghanistan’s ambassador to India until last year, said that the process of talks was a “rocky and bumpy road” and a “trust deficit” between the two sides had added to the “talks’ complexities.”

“There could be different calculations on both sides about the timing and prospects of peace talks. However, I am still hopeful that they will be able to find a way out,” she said. “What is crucial here is the perception that the support of the international community might wear thin if the process lingers on for too long. Therefore, there is a need for a sense of urgency on both sides — not to lose the opportunity of carrying along with the world community for continued support during the peace talks, and in the post-peace-building efforts in Afghanistan.”

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

Updated 13 min 55 sec ago

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.