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.

German police suspected of supplying ammunition to anti-Muslim extremists

German police suspected of supplying ammunition to anti-Muslim extremists
German police found over 60,000 ammunition cartridges in raids against Nordkreuz members across the country. (File/Reuters)
Updated 59 min ago

German police suspected of supplying ammunition to anti-Muslim extremists

German police suspected of supplying ammunition to anti-Muslim extremists
  • Extremist group Nordkreuz was stockpiling weapons to seize power during an expected armed Muslim uprising
  • Germany has struggled to contain rising violence from country’s far right

LONDON: At least 20 German police officers are suspected of stealing service-issue pistol, submachine gun and sniper rifle ammunition and giving it to a shooting range linked to a far-right extremist group.

Nordkreuz, the group at the center of the investigation, was stockpiling weaponry, ammunition and other supplies in the belief that Germany would collapse into civil war amid an armed Muslim uprising.

Its 50 or so members, thought to include army and police officers, had planned to exploit the chaos of civil war by seizing power through a military coup using weapons stashed in “safe houses” across the country, according to messages sent on an encrypted messaging app.

A police raid on one of the group’s founders, a police officer known as Marko G, 50, uncovered 55,000 cartridges for various weapons.

That stash included 90 sniper rifle bullets believed to have been stolen from a special forces armory in the south-eastern state of Bavaria.

In a separate raid on other Nordkreuz members, authorities found 7,000 more cartridges for various weapons stolen from a Saxony armory.

Prosecutors say the ammunition was handed to the Baltic Shooters range in the town of Gustrow, in the northeast of the country, in exchange for unauthorized firearms lessons.

Seventeen officers from the police special forces unit in Saxony, and at least three from its Bavarian counterpart, are under investigation.

Petric Kleine, president of Saxony’s state police force, said: “These allegations feel like a slap in the face for my agency. I’m furious and disappointed that a whole special operations unit not only deliberately ignored their orders, but that some of them abused our trust for their criminal activities.”

The Gustrow shooting range is said to have been used as a hub for Nordkreuz. Marko G periodically worked there as a firearms instructor, and was given a 21-month suspended sentence for violating weapon laws.

The investigation into Nordkreuz has also drawn in one of Germany’s top competitive shooters.

Frank Thiel, a 42-time national shooting champion across various events, ran classes at Baltic Shooters and has provided officially sanctioned training to elite police and army special operations units from Germany and across the world. One shooting magazine described him as a mentor to the “crème de la crème of elite units.”

Thiel was briefly a member of Nordkreuz but denied any extremist leanings. He was added to a Nordkreuz chat group in 2015, but left after a month after realizing that “the group is moving in a direction that isn’t mine.” Thiel is currently being treated as a witness, not a suspect, in the Nordkreuz investigation.

Germany has worked to counter the growing influence of the country’s far and extreme right. A 2019 report by the Interior Ministry warned of an estimated 24,000 far-right extremists in the country, nearly 13,000 of them inclined toward violence.

In October 2019, a right-wing terrorist shot dead two people near a synagogue in the city of Halle, and in February 2020, a neo-Nazi committed two mass shootings at shisha bars in the town of Hanau, killing nine people, all of whom had an immigrant background.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi hit with new criminal charge

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi hit with new criminal charge
Updated 12 April 2021

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi hit with new criminal charge

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi hit with new criminal charge

YANGON: Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with a fresh criminal charge on Monday, her lawyer said.
“She has been charged in six cases altogether — five charges in Naypyidaw and one in Yangon,” Min Min Soe told AFP, saying the latest charge was under the country’s natural disaster management law.

US cop accused of force against Black Army officer fired

US cop accused of force against Black Army officer fired
Updated 12 April 2021

US cop accused of force against Black Army officer fired

US cop accused of force against Black Army officer fired
  • Police officer caught on camera pepper-spraying army officer
  • Caron Nazario says he was also threatened with execution

RICHMOND, Virginia: One of two police officers accused of pepper-spraying and pointing their guns at a Black Army officer during a traffic stop has since been fired, a Virginia town announced late Sunday, hours after the governor called for an independent investigation into the case.
The town of Windsor said in a statement that it joined calls from election officials, including Gov. Ralph Northam, in requesting an investigation by Virginia State Police into the December 2020 encounter in which two Windsor officers were accused of drawing their guns, pointing them at US Army second lieutenant Caron Nazario and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution.
Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was also pepper-sprayed and knocked to the ground by the officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, according to the lawsuit he filed earlier this month against them.
The two sides in the case dispute what happened, but Crocker wrote in a report that he believed Nazario was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop.” Attorney Jonathan Arthur told The Associated Press that Nazario wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area.
In the statement Sunday, Windsor officials said an internal investigation opened at the time into the use of force determined that department policy wasn’t followed. Officials said disciplinary action was taken and Gutierrez has since been fired.
Officials added that departmentwide requirements for additional training were also implemented beginning in January.
“The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department,” the statement said. “Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light. Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”
Northam called the December 2020 encounter “disturbing” in a tweet Sunday, adding that he directed State Police to review what happened.
“Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Northam said in his statement calling for a review of the actions.
The Windsor police chief didn’t respond to messages sent through the police department’s Facebook page over the weekend.
Windsor is about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.

Afghan models highlight war stories on Kabul runway in fashion show first

Afghan models highlight war stories on Kabul runway in fashion show first
A group of Afghan models participated in Afghanistan's first fashion show in Kabul to depict the plight of war victims in the country. (Photo by Haqiqi Fashion)
Updated 12 April 2021

Afghan models highlight war stories on Kabul runway in fashion show first

Afghan models highlight war stories on Kabul runway in fashion show first
  • Organizers wanted to show ‘bitter and harsh reality’ of conflict

KABUL: After nearly a week of planning, 12 Afghan models walked the runway on Saturday as part of the country’s first fashion show to highlight the impact of the decades-long conflict.

Dressed in blood-stained shrouds to resemble war victims, two women and 10 men took part in the first round of “The Shroud Fashion Show.”

Event organizer Ajmal Haqiqi said there were plans to host similar events in the future.

“Through this event, we wanted to show the bitter and harsh reality of the ongoing situation in our country, to show the impact of suicide bombers, blasts and attacks,” Haqiqi told Arab News on Sunday. “We will hold more of such programs among the public, on the streets, and in this way draw the attention of our leaders and the world that Afghans more than any other nation badly need and deserve peace.”

Haqiqi Fashion, which he set up 13 years ago, is the country’s first modelling agency.

He said the main idea behind the event was to draw attention to the “war’s calamities.”

“People want and need peace. It was a campaign to emphasise peace, not on modelling or peace for modelling,” Haqiqi added.

Some Afghans went on social media to show their support for the event.

“Afghans are tired of the war and use any medium to show that,” school student Sayed Sameer posted on Facebook. “The fashion show was one way.”

A group of Afghan models participated in Afghanistan's first fashion show in Kabul to depict the plight of war victims in the country. (Photo by Haqiqi Fashion)

There have been more than 40 years of fighting in Afghanistan, claiming the lives of an unknown number of people.

More than 100 civilians and members of the security forces died last week, according to estimates released by Tolo News on Saturday, and the US said in a February report that civilian casualties had seen a sharp uptick since peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives began in Doha last September.

According to a UN report, 3,035 Afghan civilians lost their lives last year. It blamed the Taliban for most of the deaths, but did not say how many insurgents and government forces had been killed during the same period.

The US, which has led a coalition of foreign troops since the Taliban’s ousting in 2001, has been trying for months to persuade the militants and the government to agree on a future political roadmap that would pave the way for the group to participate in an interim administration.

Later this week Turkey, at the request of the US, will host a major conference between the two sides to accelerate the peace process.

While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government has shown a willingness to attend the conference, the Taliban have yet to confirm their participation at the meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for April 16.

Ghani, whose second term will end in 2024, has vehemently rejected Washington D.C.’s proposal to form an interim government but, in recent months, it has offered to organize a snap election.

“One of our key goals was to draw the attention of participants in Turkey’s meeting that our only demand is peace,” Haqiqi added. “We want peace for everyone, not for our models alone.”


France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
Updated 11 April 2021

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
  • Europe Minister Clement Beaune says Turkey set 'trap' for Ursula von der Leyen
  • Erdogan's snub dubbed 'sofagate' has sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Europe

PARIS: France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday that Turkey had set a “trap” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by forcing her to sit off to the side on a visit to Ankara, in a photo-op faux pas quickly dubbed ‘sofagate’.
The Turkish presidency’s failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council chief Charles Michel was “an insult from Turkey,” Beaune said on RTL television.


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“Turkey behaved badly,” he added, calling it “a Turkish problem done deliberately toward us... we shouldn’t be stirring up guilt among Europeans.”
Von der Leyen’s being shunted aside prompted recriminations from European capitals to Turkey, but also within Brussels.
For its part, Ankara insists the incident was down to tangled wires between the Council and Commission, separate EU institutions.
Michel’s staff claimed they had no access to the meeting room before the Tuesday event, but also highlighted that the Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol.
“It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I’d rather place the blame on the one who laid it,” France’s Beaune said.
Echoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Erdogan a “dictator” in response to the sofa incident, Beaune charged that there was “a real problem with lack of respect for democracy and an autocratic drift in Turkey” that should prompt Europeans to be “very firm with the Turks.”
Nevertheless, “in future, it would be good if there was one single presidency of the European executive,” Beaune acknowledged.
“We need stronger European institutions.”