Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan
  • He argued that in such a scenario, Afghanistan could face a “similar bloody and chaotic situation like the 1990s”

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to block the formation of a provisional government in Afghanistan after calls for the establishment of a temporary setup began to gain ground across the country.

“Be assured that as long as I am alive, they will not see the formation of an interim government. I am not like those willows that bend with the wind,” Ghani said on Saturday while speaking to family members of security forces who had been killed in recent attacks by the Taliban.

He argued that in such a scenario, Afghanistan could face a “similar bloody and chaotic situation like the 1990s” when an interim government replaced the then Moscow-backed administration.

Earlier, Ghani had said that he would transfer power to his successor only after his tenure ended in 2025.

He began his second term as president in March last year.

However, there has been much conversation on the need for a transitional government within Afghanistan, with Russia — which had hosted talks between the Taliban and nonstate Afghan actors twice in recent years — becoming the latest country to endorse the move.

An interim setup would be the ideal solution to end a protracted conflict in the country, Russia said.

“Moscow prefers that all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan agree on the establishment of an inclusive and transitional coalition government,” Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said in an interview with Sputnik last week.

Answering a question about the Taliban’s alleged plan to take complete control of Afghanistan, the Russian envoy stated that it would be a “bad scenario” if the Taliban insisted on such an approach.

He added that a delay in starting “real” peace talks had led to the “Taliban’s expansion of their area of influence” by exploiting the Afghan government’s reluctance to engage in a vital dialogue. The Taliban, he said, now controls 75 percent of Afghanistan’s territory.

Prior to Moscow’s statement, Mir Rahman Rahmani — the head of the Afghan parliament — a few factional chiefs and two government-appointed negotiators for the US-sponsored intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban had made similar demands.

Ghani’s latest remarks follow his talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Western leaders and senior officials from the newly installed US administration led by President Joe Biden in recent weeks.

Biden has vowed to review a historic deal — signed between Washington and the insurgent group in February last year — which, among other things, set a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Under the controversial accord, Ghani has also freed thousands of Taliban inmates who had been detained by the government and has engaged in peace talks with the group in Doha, Qatar.

However, in a significant U-turn last week, NATO said that foreign troops would only be withdrawn from the country “when the time was right,” providing much-needed relief to Ghani’s beleaguered and divided government, which is plagued by infighting over various policy measures regarding the peace process.

Stoltenberg said that NATO’s decision was due to the Taliban failing to meet a key criterion of the February accord — to reduce violence and sever ties with Al Qaeda — a charge strongly rejected by the insurgent group.

The Taliban, for their part, have abandoned the intra-Afghan talks with government emissaries and warned Washington against an extended presence of foreign troops in the country.

Experts, however, believe that Ghani might give up his seat of power sooner than later.

“President Ghani might have been told by delegates of some of the countries he has spoken with lately that talks with the Taliban have to be revived and that he might give up power ultimately,” Nasratullah Haqpal, an independent analyst and university teacher, told Arab News.

“Therefore, he is worried about the formation of an interim or transitional government. So now, in every event or session, he says, ‘I will not accept a provisional government at the cost of my life’,” Haqpal added.

Tameem Bahiss, a political analyst on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the formation of a provisional government would be a critical topic to revive during the intra-Afghan talks.

“Regional powers and Afghan opposition leaders have endorsed the formation of a provisional government. Neither the Taliban nor the US has outrightly rejected the notion of a provisional government,” he told Arab News.

“US think tanks and experts are suggesting incentives that could persuade the Taliban to reduce violence and possibly accept an extension for the deadline of the troops’ departure. Dissolving the current government and forming a provisional government will remain a viable option to persuade the Taliban to reduce and possibly end violence,” he added.

Meanwhile, an adviser for the former Afghan administration said the “world had lost the hope of holding transparent polls to elect Ghani’s successor,” citing allegations of fraudulent polls in the past few years.

“This has put Ghani’s presidency under a dark cloud of doubt, and the international community is no longer willing to finance another round of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan,” Torek Farhadi told Arab News.

Farhadi added that, on the other hand, foreign forces were considering an exit in May or a few months later, while several “well-known US experts, including those at the United States Institute of Peace, had warned the Biden administration that Ghani’s government might collapse under the weight of corruption, infighting and Taliban attacks if the US and NATO left now.

“The US, NATO and now Russia, Iran, Pakistan and possibly China believe that Afghanistan’s current situation should be addressed through a political settlement. This translates to forming a coalition government with the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan’s crisis from further endangering the national security of its neighbors,” he said.


Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
Updated 17 min 55 sec ago

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
  • Pakistani officials under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through: Customs officials
  • Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks

QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.
The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month.
“Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.
He said it would remain open six days a week.
Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.
They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish.
Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.
The reopening came hours after 46 Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions further north along the border following advances by Taliban insurgents taking advantage of foreign forces’ withdrawal.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding safe passage into Pakistan was given on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban — a charge Islamabad denies.
Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment on the soldiers’ crossing.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to make substantive progress since beginning in September last year.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had occurred in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.


Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 July 2021

Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Members of respective parliaments meet to discuss ways of enhancing Libyan-Italian cooperation

ROME: Intra-Libyan talks on adopting the legal framework for the country’s next general election began in Rome on Monday, July 26, and are expected to continue until July 29.

A source in the Italian Prime Minister’s office told Arab News that members of the Libyan special commission arrived in Rome on July 25, “to discuss … an electoral law for the next general elections” scheduled for Dec. 24, 2021.

The commission, which holds a largely technical role from a legal perspective, will present a proposal to the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk for its final approval.

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya.

Parliamentary spokesman Abdullah Blehik told Italian news agency Nova that House Speaker Aguila Saleh “will not participate in meetings aimed at developing a constitutional foundation for the parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Piero Fassino, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News: “We are very happy that the meetings will be held in Rome — it signals that the new democratic Libya sees Italy as a reliable partner on the path towards democracy and the final end of the violence in that country.”

Fassino recalled that in the past few weeks, several meetings had taken place between members of the Italian and Libyan parliaments, which were attended also by Saleh.

“When he met us, Aguila Saleh stressed that cooperation with Italy is very important as it is the closest European state to Libya, and there are so many common interests between the two states,” Fassino added.

“We believe that this meeting, starting today in Rome, shows another real sign of the wish to enhance our cooperation.”


New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
Updated 26 July 2021

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
  • PM Ardern: New Zealand could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless
  • The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand on Monday agreed to repatriate an alleged Daesh militant and her two young children, who have been detained in Turkey since February.
The decision follows a bitter dispute with Australia over which country needed to shoulder responsibility for the woman, who had been a dual citizen of both countries until Australia stripped her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws.
The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry. Turkey identified her only by her initials, S.A., while New Zealand media say she is Suhayra Aden, who was 26 at the time of her arrest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had taken into account its international responsibilities and could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless.
“I made very strong representations to Australia that she should be permitted to return there. Her family moved to Australia when she was 6 and she grew up there before departing for Syria in 2014 on an Australian passport,” Ardern said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Australia would not reverse the cancelation of citizenship.”
Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the woman lost her citizenship as a result of her own actions, and that ending citizenship for dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct was an integral part of Australia’s response to terrorist threats.
“The government’s first priority is always to protect the Australian community,” Andrews said in a statement.
Ardern said the safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders was the government’s paramount concern. She said there had been extensive planning with the police and other agencies.
“I can assure people great care is being taken as to how the woman and her young children are returned to New Zealand and how they will be managed in a way that minimizes any risk for New Zealanders,” Ardern said.
Authorities declined to say when the family would be repatriated, citing legal and security concerns.
Ardern said anybody suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should expect to be investigated under New Zealand laws, although the case remained a matter for the police.
New Zealand police confirmed an investigation was underway but declined further comment on whether the woman would face any criminal charges.


Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
Updated 26 July 2021

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
  • BJP has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014
  • Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration

BENGALURU: The chief minister of India’s Karnataka, the only state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in the country’s prosperous south, resigned on Monday in the latest political shake-up in the Hindu nationalist group.
B.S. Yediyurappa, a four-time chief minister of the state, home to India’s technology capital of Bengaluru, had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) form its first government in India’s southern region in 2008.
The party has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014. Aside from Yediyurappa’s resignation, Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration dented by a huge second surge in coronavirus infections.
Yediyurappa, 78, quit because he was older than its cut-off age of 75 years for ministerial positions, BJP spokeswoman Malavika Avinash said.
“I had no pressure from senior party leaders. I am voluntarily submitting my resignation,” Yediyurappa said in an emotional address broadcast live on local television channels.
Bengaluru hosts offices of big multinational companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Goldman Sachs.
Analysts said the BJP will have to move fast to name a successor or risk being outmaneuvered by the opposition.
“If the BJP cannot come up with a name soon enough, it would give the opposition a chance to swoop in,” said Narendar Pani, dean, School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
“The challenge for the BJP will be to find a successor who will have the same kind of pull and can bring various groups together.”
The BJP changed the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand twice this year, months ahead of local elections. Karnataka elections are due only in 2023.


Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
Updated 26 July 2021

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
  • The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff

SUNGAI BULOH, Malaysia: Hundreds of junior doctors at state-run Malaysian hospitals staged walkouts Monday demanding better conditions as the country faces its worst coronavirus outbreak yet.
Dressed in black and holding signs with slogans including “equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunity” and “we are your future specialists,” they protested at medical facilities nationwide.
The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff, even as they have found themselves on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
They complain of a lack of job security, poor benefits and that very few are eventually offered permanent positions.
We want “equal rights, to be a permanent doctor,” said a medic at a government hospital that treats virus patients outside Kuala Lumpur.
“We would definitely not be here if we were treated fairly... we should be appreciated for what we do,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The medic was among dozens who took part in the action at the hospital, which lasted around half an hour.
Local media reported that several hundred participated across the country, but some doctors complained they were threatened by police and senior hospital staff in a bid to halt the protests.
Those involved said senior doctors took over their duties before they walked out, to ensure that patient care was not jeopardized.
Malaysia is currently battling its most serious outbreak, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. Officials have reported over one million cases and about 8,000 deaths.
There are over 23,000 doctors on these contracts in Malaysia — about 45 percent of the total medical doctors in the public health care system, according to official estimates.
Last week, the government said it would extend junior doctors’ contracts for up to four years in a bid to forestall the protests.
But they stopped short of offering permanent jobs, and the organizers of Monday’s walkout criticized the move as “short-sighted.”