US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’

US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’
Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council of National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, right, meets with US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul. (AFP)
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Updated 04 March 2021

US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’

US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’
  • Doha talks to be scrapped under draft plan to speed peace process, sources say

DOHA: The US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, reportedly suggested setting up a new government in Kabul during recent talks with key Afghan leaders, two sources privy to the matter told Arab News on Wednesday.

The reported proposal follows a deadlock in US-brokered talks that began in September last year between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar.

One of the key conditions of a historic deal signed between the US and Taliban last February was for Washington to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, and end America’s longest war.

However, uncertainty remains over whether international forces will pull out troops by May as initially planned after US officials reportedly said that President Joe Biden’s administration was conducting a review of the February accord signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban.

A subsequent NATO statement said that the troops would leave Afghanistan “when the time was right.”

They argue that US-led foreign troops need to remain in Afghanistan because the Taliban “has stepped up its attacks and seeks to regain power once again by force.”

The Taliban has denied the claims, adding that it remains committed to the deal, and warning that the US will face consequences if it seeks to breach the accord.

On Sunday, the US State Department said that Khalilzad and his team were visiting Kabul and Doha, where the Taliban have their political headquarters, to ensure “a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

The envoy’s discussions with Afghan leaders are the first since Biden assumed office in January this year.

On Wednesday, two sources — one close to former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the other a confidante of Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council of National Reconciliation — said that Khalilzad had submitted a draft plan for a “participatory government” to the two leaders and President Ashraf Ghani.

“He has shared this plan and expects a response,” one of the sources, who declined to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesperson for Ghani, and the Taliban refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News.

Under Khalilzad’s proposal, the Doha peace talks would be scrapped and an international gathering — similar to the Bonn conference, which was held soon after the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001 — would be summoned.

Rumours surrounding the formation of a transitional government have been doing the rounds in Afghan political circles in recent months, with Ghani’s beleaguered administration facing growing criticism for inefficiency, corruption, and failure to curb violence and Taliban attacks across the country.

Several factional leaders, including the head of parliament, Mir Rahman Rahmani, and government-appointed peace negotiators for the intra-Afghan talks have been pushing for Ghani to be replaced.

“I think there is no other way than this. A similar Bonn meeting is needed because the talks have stalled and there is no hope for a revival. Fighting has escalated,” Hamidullah Tokhi, an MP from southern Zabul, told Arab News.

But before that all groups must agree to a “permanent cease-fire and on the setup of the future government, its composition and how it would be created,” he added.

“It is natural that Ghani will have to sacrifice, and the Taliban, too, for the sake of peace. Do we have to lose 200 to 300 soldiers every day until his term is over and a similar number of Taliban and civilians?” he said.

Ghani began his second five-year term last year and has repeatedly vowed to block the formation of a provisional government in Afghanistan after calls for establishing a temporary setup began to gain ground.

“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 Feb. 21.

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

Earlier, the Afghan leader said that he would transfer power to his successor only after his tenure ended in 2025. Experts believe that there is no option left for Afghanistan.

“To secure peace, one needs first to fix an internal accord between Afghans,” Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former government and an advocate of a transitional administration, told Arab News.

“Afghanistan’s distressing situation has internal and regional drivers. We must obtain regional guarantees of non-interference from Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors and India. To arrange such guarantees, we need the US to take the lead before US and NATO leave, ” he added.

Farhadi said that if a “participative government” were formed, it would not accord all power to the Taliban, adding that “it is also a government where the decision-making process on resources and appointments are more democratic.”

“A Bonn type of meeting ensures everyone has a voice, including Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, plus the US, Russia and China and, of course, India. The international format offers a chance for all these players to be at the table. The outcome of the conference will gain legitimacy with a UN stamp and guarantee, ” he said.


Paphos summit: Israel will do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Iran on nuclear front

Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministry diplomats held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministry diplomats held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
Updated 16 April 2021

Paphos summit: Israel will do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Iran on nuclear front

Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot foreign ministry diplomats held meetings in Cyprus for two days starting from Friday. (Supplied/Greek MOFA)
  • Ministers discuss economic and security issues, the coronavirus pandemic, and possible travel corridors

PAPHOS: Israel will do “whatever it takes” to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons, foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Friday.

Speaking after a summit with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts and a senior representative from the UAE in Paphos, Cyprus, Ashkenazi said discussions centered around possibilities for building on prosperity and stability in the region.

“We also took time to discuss challenges that Iran and Hezbollah and other extremists pose to the stability of the Middle East and to the regional peace,” he said. “We will do whatever it takes to prevent this extremist ... success and definitely, to prevent this regime from having nuclear weapons.”

The Israeli, Emirati, Greek and Cypriot officials are holding meetings in Cyprus for two days from Friday.

Israel said the talks in Paphos on the island's west coast would be the first meeting of its kind involving the four nations, as part of efforts to advance regional strategic interests.

The ministers were also discussing economic and security issues, the coronavirus pandemic, and possible travel corridors to encourage tourism, Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

Cyprus said the unprecedented four-way talks, lasting into Saturday, would “take advantage of the prospects opened” by "the recent normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”

The UAE and Israel formalized ties last year, one of four deals the US brokered between Israel and Arab countries.

The talks also follow tensions between Turkey and its neighbours over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Cypriot ministry said the meetings would touch on the “pandemic and its effects, economic cooperation, energy (and) tourism,” among other issues, and aimed “to enhance peace, stability, and security in the wider region.”


Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government
Updated 16 April 2021

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government

Myanmar’s ousted MPs form new shadow government
  • Helming the so-called ‘National Unity Government’ is Aung San Suu Kyi, in her position as State Counsellor, and President Win Myint — who is also under house arrest
  • The junta has said anyone working with the CRPH is committing ‘high treason,’ and have announced arrest warrants for hundreds of prominent activists and politicians

YANGON: A “parliament” working in hiding to oust Myanmar’s junta from power announced a new shadow government Friday, with deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi at its helm alongside ethnic minority politicians.
The country has been in turmoil since the military detained Suu Kyi and seized power, triggering a massive uprising that the junta has sought to quell with lethal force.
Besides demanding for democracy’s return, protesters are also increasingly calling for more of a governing role for the country’s minority groups — which have long seen their voices marginalized by the ethnic Bamar majority.
The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) — a group of lawmakers mostly from Suu Kyi’s party attempting to govern underground via a shadow parliament — on Friday announced its leaders.
Helming the so-called “National Unity Government” is Suu Kyi, in her position as State Counsellor, and President Win Myint — who is also under house arrest and facing a barrage of charges from the junta.
They are flanked by a vice president who is ethnic Kachin and a prime minister who is ethnic Karen, said Min Ko Naing, a prominent democracy leader, in an address on the CRPH’s official Facebook page.
“We have organized a government which has the largest number of ethnic minority groups,” he said.
A list of appointed ministers also included prominent leaders from the Chin, Shanni, Mon, Karenni and Ta’ang ethnic groups.
The politicians were chosen based on results from the 2020 election, input from a nationwide anti-coup protest movement, and ethnic minority groups — including armed rebels in the country’s border territories, said Min Ko Naing.
“We have to pull it from the root... we must try to eradicate it,” he said, as he raised the three-finger salute — the symbol of resistance
“Only the people can decide the future.”
The junta has said anyone working with the CRPH is committing “high treason,” and have announced arrest warrants for hundreds of prominent activists and politicians — some of whom now hold positions in the new “National Unity Government.”
Myanmar has more than 130 official ethnic minority groups.
But the country’s political fate has long been tightly held by the Bamar majority — first under a nearly five-decade junta regime which forced a so-called “Bamarization” on minorities; and then under Suu Kyi’s administration.
Since the coup, more than 720 people have been killed in anti-coup unrest, according to the local monitoring group.


Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up
Updated 16 April 2021

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up

Pakistan appoints new finance minister in latest cabinet shake-up
  • Hammad Azhar, who was made finance minister less than a month ago, has now been replaced by Shaukat Tarin
  • Pakistan is currently working on national budget and on implementing economic reforms suggested by the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan appointed a new finance minister on Friday, replacing Hammad Azhar, who received the portfolio less than a month ago.

Shaukat Tarin, the new appointee, is a banker who also served at the same position from 2009 to 2010 under the Pakistan Peoples Party administration of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The news was announced by the newly appointed information minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain who shared the notification of the recent cabinet reshuffle in a Twitter post:

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has made changes in the cabinet, the details of these changes are attached.”

 

 

Azhar will now look after the Energy Ministry. He was given the additional portfolio of finance and revenue after Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was recently asked to step down last month over what the government described as rising inflation.

The change to the finance ministry comes at a time when the government is working on the annual budget which is likely to be presented in June. Pakistan's economic managers are also implementing structural reforms suggested by the International Monetary Fund to the country's economy.

Apart from the two cabinet changes, the prime minister also took the Economic Affairs Ministry from Makhdoom Khusro Bukhtiar and gave him the Ministry of Industries and Production.

Omar Ayub, who was previously supervising the Power and Petroleum Divisions, has now been tasked to take care of the Economic Affairs Ministry.

Senator Shibli Faraz has also been assigned the Ministry of Science and Technology which fell vacant when Chaudhry Fawad Hussain was appointed as federal minister for information and broadcasting.

“As info minister my task is to change misperceptions about Pak[istan] and highlight the vibrant effort of the Government,” Hussain wrote on Twitter.

 

 


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally
Updated 16 April 2021

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally
  • Jimmy Lai currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday over one of the city’s biggest ever protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old – who is currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law – has received a sentence for his activism.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis
Updated 16 April 2021

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis
  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.