Kabul confirms attendance for US-proposed talks in Turkey, Moscow

Kabul confirms attendance for US-proposed talks in Turkey, Moscow
Officials in President Ashraf Ghani’s administration could not confirm who would comprise the Afghan government delegation. (Press Office of President of Afghanistan/AFP)
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Updated 14 March 2021

Kabul confirms attendance for US-proposed talks in Turkey, Moscow

Kabul confirms attendance for US-proposed talks in Turkey, Moscow
  • Both conferences will see participation from Washington, China and Pakistan

KABUL: Kabul government delegates will participate in a US-proposed and UN-led conference in Turkey, and a separate meeting in Russia, to expedite the stalled Afghan peace process, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.

“Representatives of the government of Afghanistan will take part in both meetings. Consultations are going on as to who will attend them,” Gran Hewad, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told Arab News.

Last week on Tuesday, Kabul said that it was “considering” Russia’s offer to host the talks two days after the leak of a letter from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to President Ashraf Ghani over the impasse.

Blinken’s letter had included an urgent proposal to help restart discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which began in Doha, Qatar, in September last year but failed to make any headway.

Besides Afghan government emissaries, the March 18 meeting in Russia and the Turkey conference slotted for April will also host delegates from the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), factional and influential leaders, and representatives from the US, China and Pakistan.

While officials in Ghani’s administration could not confirm who would comprise the Afghan government delegation, the Taliban said that it was “mulling over participation in both conferences.”

“So far, politically responsible people have not come up with a new stance. Our position is the same that we have received an invitation for both, and it is under deliberation,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Arab News on Sunday.

Russia’s offer to host the conference comes a week after US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, shared a proposal with key Afghan leaders, including Ghani, for the formation of a participatory government — which would include Taliban members — as part of efforts to end Washington’s engagement in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.

Khalilzad’s proposal was circulated ahead of a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from Afghanistan, based on a controversial accord signed between former American President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

Moscow, similarly to Iran and Pakistan, has been pressing for the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan for years. Russia recently hosted two rounds of talks between the Taliban and influential national leaders, besides being a vocal supporter for forming a new government to replace Ghani, whose second term ends after four years.

Ghani has repeatedly said that he is against the idea and vowed to oppose the set-up “at the cost of my life.”

His resistance prompted Blinken’s letter to Ghani — a copy of which was published by several media houses last Sunday — asking the Afghan president to “develop constructive positions” on Khalilzad’s proposals to “jumpstart the flailing peace process.”

The letter pressed upon the urgency for a new government in Afghanistan to break a stalemate in the Doha talks between the Taliban and Kabul government representatives, which have been riddled with disputes.

The US secretary of state has been pushing for a UN-facilitated conference with international stakeholders, including proposals to arrange a discussion between the Taliban and Kabul to form a negotiated settlement and enforce a cease-fire.

The letter also made it clear to Ghani that US President Joe Biden’s administration continued to consider a “full withdrawal” of the 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline, as negotiated by the Trump administration during a controversial deal signed with the Taliban in February last year.

“I must also make clear to you, Mr. President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, the US has not ruled out any option. We are considering the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1, as we consider other options,” Blinken said in the letter.

Some of the letter’s proposals included the formation of a participatory government that would eventually transfer power to a permanent government “following the adoption of a new constitution and national elections.”

In a recent speech, however, Ghani said that the “transfer of power after the election is a principal for us that will not be compromised,” arguing that the formation of an interim government would “descend the country into a chaos like the 1990s” when the former communist regime collapsed after the departure of ex-Soviet troops.

Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh reiterated Ghani’s stance last week when he said: “The West and America have the right to decide about their troops in Afghanistan, but it is also our right not to make a deal and compromise on the destiny of 35 million Afghans based on others’ timetable.”

Shortly after Saleh’s statement, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar adopted a softer tone and told the BBC that the letter was “not a matter of concern for Kabul. We allowed for this in our diplomacy — that such contacts are made — therefore, I don’t see it as a type of offense or indifference.”

The minister added that government leaders would “debate on the letter and proposal, discuss it with national leaders and offer a response later.”

Experts, however, believe that Kabul was “avoiding a confrontation in the global arena” by agreeing to participate in both conferences.

“The Afghan government has avoided a first collision with the international community. It will get somewhat tricky now. Merely accepting to attend is one thing, but who will do so is more important,” Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former government, told Arab News.

He added that Ghani “could be reluctant to attend the meetings” as officials from his administration had refused to divulge more details about the key participants.

Afghan political leaders, however, welcomed the move, with former president Hamid Karzai saying in an interview with the Associated Press that the US draft for a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban was the “best chance to accelerate stalled peace talks between the country’s warring sides.”

“Afghans themselves are in a hurry for peace,” he said.

Ahmad Samin, an Afghan analyst and former adviser for the World Bank, agreed, telling Arab News: “The United States has made it clear that there is only one political solution to the Afghan war, in which international support is required for peace negotiations.”

He added that there was “growing frustration and hesitation” to continue a partnership with the current Afghan government, “which is riddled with corruption, human rights abuses and a dependency on foreign aid without any economic or political development.”

“These are factors that don’t make for a reliable partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. This translates as additional pressure by the United States for regional involvement in future peace negotiations,” Samin said.


‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
Updated 13 sec ago

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
  • Around 7,000 people evacuated to Britain
  • Refugee describes ‘horrific’ airport scenes

LONDON: Prince William has told Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Britain that they were welcome in the country and praised their bravery after risking their lives working alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The prince visited families housed in a hotel for refugees evacuated from Kabul this year.

He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved at short notice: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn't be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”

The hotel, which is unnamed for security reasons, hosts around 175 refugees who are waiting on the government to find them long-term accommodation.

The prince was met with applause by the refugees on his arrival.

One Afghan, Hussain Saeedi Samangan, told the Daily Mail that he and his family’s escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their UK quarantine hotel, but said they felt very welcome in Yorkshire and were optimistic of a “bright, exciting future” in Britain.

Samangan added that he never believed Kabul would fall to the Taliban.

“It took everyone by surprise. You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we were lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had a smoother path to get here.”

Asked by the prince whether he thought this generation of the Taliban would be different, he replied: “No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn't trust them.”

Another Afghan, 33-year-old Kabul airport firefighter Haroom Shahab, told the royal that he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 meters in order to get on a plane to the UK.

He described “horrific” scenes with thousands of people hurtling toward the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.

“They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,” he said. “We were trying to get out of the country because our lives have been torn to shreds. When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.”

Shahab said he hoped to take up his old profession once again and become a firefighter in the UK.

Britain evacuated around 7,000 people from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August and September this year. 

The government has pledged to continue to bring those who worked alongside British or NATO forces during the 20-year occupation into the UK from Afghanistan.


Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
Updated 30 November 2021

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
  • Passenger told that nobody else had spoken up because they were “scared because he is Muslim”
  • British Transport Police: We are aware of a social media video showing a hate incident on-board the District line

LONDON: Police are investigating video footage that emerged of a Muslim man being subjected to Islamophobic abuse on the London Underground.

The man was reciting verses from the Qur’an on Saturday when he was told by another passenger that “this is a Christian country” and his prayers were disrespecting him and others on the train.

Police are now investigating the incident, which was caught on camera, after the footage surfaced online. In the clip, no other passengers expressed any dissatisfaction with the man’s prayers.

The aggressor said: “You're not going to do it (recite the Qur’an) on public transport where I am sitting. You don't even have the decency to ask me if you can do it.”

The Muslim passenger replied: “I don’t need your permission.”

And the furious commuter then told him: “You need my permission to invade my privacy in my space.” 

The Muslim passenger responded: “You are over there and I’m over here,” to the man, who is seen sitting opposite him on the small carriage.

The man behind the camera was then told: “You have no respect for other people.” 

When the man, who was shouting, was told that nobody else on the train had a problem with his recital, the man said that the reason that nobody else was telling him to stop was that they were “too scared because you are a Muslim.”

Writing later on social media, the Muslim passenger said: “This passenger opposite me had an issue with me reading the Quran in a public space. Nobody seemed bothered but him to be frank.

“I told him to move if he was that pressed or to shut up, but he did neither. He just wanted me stop reading the Quran because he believes ‘we shouldn't be allowed to read our prayers on TfL.’”

He added: “I ignored him and continued my recitation, yet he went out of his way to follow me off the train and complain to London Underground.”

A British Transport Police spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of a video posted on social media showing a hate incident on-board a District line Tube between Mile End and Monument stations. Officers are actively investigating this incident.”


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 30 November 2021

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • First genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by Daesh, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.


Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.