Taliban leader, former Afghan president begin crucial talks on new government

Taliban leader, former Afghan president begin crucial talks on new government
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center left, and senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani, center right, meet in Kabul on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 19 August 2021

Taliban leader, former Afghan president begin crucial talks on new government

Taliban leader, former Afghan president begin crucial talks on new government
  • Haqqani meets with Karzai, who is part of a council formed after Kabul fell
  • Taliban delegation led by Mullah Baradar arrived in Afghanistan Tuesday evening

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Anas Haqqani, a key member of the Taliban, on Wednesday, as top Taliban leaders arrived in Afghanistan to begin crucial talks for the formation of a new government.
The Haqqani Network, which was branded a terrorist group by the US in 2012, is an important faction of the Taliban who captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, in a stunning takeover on Sunday, returning to power nearly 20 years after being toppled in a US-led invasion.
As the Taliban encircled Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani flew out of the country and later posted on Facebook that he left to avoid bloodshed in the capital, without saying where he had gone.
Since then, an Afghan government council comprising Karzai, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hizb-e-Islami political and paramilitary group, and Abdullah Abdullah, the old administration’s main peace envoy, have been seeking to draw out a future roadmap for Afghanistan.
The Taliban delegation led by Baradar, head of the group’s political office in Qatar, arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday evening, onboard a Qatari military plane that landed in southern Kandahar province, the group’s stronghold.
During an overnight press conference in Kandahar, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhaw, a member of the Taliban team, said that the delegation “will hold consultations and discussions with local and other leaders about the formation of an inclusive government.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Yusof Saha, a spokesman for Karzai, told the Associated Press that preliminary meetings with the Taliban team would facilitate talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader.
No other details were available.

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A Taliban source in Kandahar, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News that the Taliban delegation is expected to travel to Kabul later in the day, where Baradar “will also meet with a group of ethnic Afghan strongmen,” who have served in key government positions in the past.
The start of crucial talks between the Taliban and government officials comes amid warnings from major world powers opposing the Taliban’s reinstatement of an Islamic Emirate when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were accused of imposing harsh and repressive policies.
The Taliban insist they have changed and, in recent days, have vowed not to seek revenge, uphold women’s rights in the framework of Islamic law, ensure media freedom and offer amnesty for government officials in Afghanistan.
Unlike their past regime, which lived in global isolation — with only Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia recognizing their government — the Taliban, in recent months, have repeatedly said they are not after a “monopoly of power” and would form a government “acceptable to all ethnic groups.”
Since the Taliban’s takeover on Sunday, the US has frozen billions in Afghan revenues, blocking the Taliban from accessing money, while several countries have warned against holding back much-needed aid for the war-torn and cash-strapped nation until the Taliban sees through its promise for an “all-inclusive” government.
A source close to the Taliban told Arab News that Baradar — in his early 50s and whose name means “brother” — was most likely to head an interim government and take charge of the country.
However, a Kabul-based analyst, Wahidullah Ghazikhail, told Arab News that he was not “optimistic” of the two sides reaching an agreement soon.
“There will be meetings and discussions, but there won’t be any quick breakthrough as all sides will bargain because this is not a simple issue,” he said.
“They would talk about changing the constitution among other matters that would highly likely be very difficult. I am not very optimistic that they will reach an agreement soon,” he added.
Amid the uncertainty, thousands of Afghans have tried to flee the country in recent days, with the Taliban taking over the civilian side of the Kabul international airport on Tuesday.
Hundreds of people were gathered outside the airport on Wednesday, according to media reports.


Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE

Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE
Updated 8 sec ago

Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE

Japan’s Hayashi strongly condemns Houthis, pledges cooperation with UAE
  • Foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa expressed his condolences to those who lost their lives and their bereaved families

TOKYO: Japan’s foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, in a telephone talk on Friday Jan. 28 with Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), strongly condemned the series of recent attacks against Abu Dhabi which were claimed by the Houthis.

With regards to the Houthis’ attacks on January 17 which resulted in casualties, minister Hayashi expressed his condolences to those who lost their lives and their bereaved families, and prayed for the swift recovery of those who were injured in the incident, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said on Friday evening.

During the talks, minister Hayashi expressed Japan’s commitment to continue to actively contribute to the stability of the Middle East region in coordination with the UAE and other countries concerned.

The two ministers confirmed that they will continue to further promote their bilateral cooperation in various fields, as 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UAE.

* This article originally appeared on arabnews.jp. Read it here.


Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate
Updated 28 January 2022

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate

Le Pen’s campaign hit by niece calling rival far-right Zemmour a better candidate
  • Marechal told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt's far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy
  • "Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls)," Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal, a popular figure among far-right French voters, on Friday said Eric Zemmour was a better presidential candidate, piling woes onto a campaign already troubled by the defection of two EU lawmakers.
Le Pen ranks second or third in opinion polls that show a tussle among right and far-right candidates to win a second-round runoff spot against President Emmanuel Macron in the April elections. Macron himself is leading polls and seen as likely to secure the other spot.
Marechal, a 32-year old former lawmaker, told Le Parisien and Le Figaro in separate interviews that she considers her aunt’s far-right rival Zemmour had adopted a better strategy, even though he is currently running fourth in opinion polls.
“Unlike Marine Le Pen, Zemmour still has ample room to rise further (in polls),” Marechal told Le Figaro newspaper.
She said that because he was new to politics and was seeking to bridge gaps between parties, Zemmour was better placed to get wide-ranging support than Le Pen’s party, which other parties, including on the mainstream right, often shun.
Her comments went to the heart of a debate that could re-define France’s right and far-right for years to come.
Marechal, once a rising star in the Le Pen family’s National Rally party, quit politics five years ago.
She said on Friday she wanted to return but hadn’t quite decided yet whether to rally with Zemmour’s campaign for fear it would revive feuds that had torn the Le Pen family and the party apart for years.
But the divisions she said she wanted to avoid creating were immediately clear with her aunt’s reaction.
“It’s brutal, it’s violent, it’s tough for me,” a visibly moved Le Pen told CNews, adding it was “painful” on a person level and “incomprehensible” politically.
The 53-year-old veteran politician noted that polls showed her and not Zemmour as likely to reach the second round in April, in a repeat of the 2017 match that Macron won.
While the National Front — rebranded National Rally — has dominated the French far-right for decades, first led by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie and then by her since 2011, it has always failed to reach power beyond a few municipalities.


Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
Updated 28 January 2022

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount
  • US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action
  • “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said

MOSCOW: Russia’s top diplomat said Friday that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it wouldn’t allow the West to trample on its security interests, amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.
US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s leader a day earlier that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
“There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a live interview with Russian radio stations. “But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies warily eyed a buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine, worrying that Moscow was preparing to attack. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans, but has demanded that NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance roll back deployments of troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.
The US and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war.
Russia’s official response to those proposals will come from President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has said there was “little ground for optimism.”
Lavrov echoed noted that grim note Friday.
“While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council on Friday, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian leader may also discuss his reaction to the US rejection with French President Emmanuel Macron during their video call the same day.
Lavrov noted that the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft. He said that Russia proposed discussing those issues years ago — but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.
While he described the US offers as reasonable, he emphasized that Russia’s main concerns are to stop both NATO’s expansion and the deployment of the alliance weapons near Russia’s borders. He noted that international agreements say that the security of one nation must not come at the expense of others’ — and that he would send letters to ask his Western counterparts to address that obligation.
“It will be hard for them to wiggle out from answering why they aren’t fulfilling the obligations sealed by their leaders not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” he said.
As tensions build, Washington warned Moscow of devastating sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties targeting top Russian officials and key economic sectors. Several senior US officials also said Thursday that Germany would not allow a newly constructed pipeline — which is meant to bring gas directly from Russia — to begin operations if Russia invades Ukraine.
Asked about possible sanctions, Lavrov said that Moscow had warned Washington that their introduction would amount to a complete severing of ties.
While Moscow and the West are mulling their next steps, NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
Russia has launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic. Russian troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising Western fears that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north. The Ukrainian capital is just 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with Belarus.
Despite the alarming rhetoric, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that the total number of Russian troops near Ukraine — about 130,000 — is comparable to Moscow’s military buildup in the spring of 2021, when Moscow eventually pulled its forces back after massive military exercises.
“We haven’t observed any events or actions of military character that significantly differ from what was going on last spring,” with the exception of the deployment to Belarus, Reznikov said.
But that has so far not reassured many in the West. Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Thursday’s call that the US believed there was a high degree of likelihood that Russia could invade when the ground freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorized to comment publicly.
While concerns rise about an invasion, Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Following the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement have stalled.


UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas
Updated 28 January 2022

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas

UK foreign office pledges to release Afghanistan cash after aid chief pleas
  • London announces more than $130m in aid to ease Afghan humanitarian crisis
  • 1m children could die from acute malnutrition: Ex-UN official

LONDON: The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has pledged to release nearly £100m ($133m) in emergency funds to Afghanistan following impassioned pleas from two former aid chiefs, who warned that a million children could die from acute malnutrition.

Last August, the British government promised to double its aid spent in Afghanistan, but so far only £145 million out of £286 million has been disbursed, leaving roughly half the money unspent, just months before the end of the financial year in April. On Thursday Sir Mark Lowcock, a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, urged London to release the rest of the money.

He told Sky News: “It’s not at all appropriate to enforce a sort of collective punishment on the total population of the country because you don’t like the regime that those people haven’t chosen. Where is the rest of that money, what are they waiting for?”

Baroness Valerie Amos, also a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, also warned: “There will be 3 million children under 5 who will face acute malnutrition by March. Of those, a million children will die.”

Following those urgent pleas, the Foreign Office pledged to released £97m of emergency aid to Afghanistan for winter, which the department said would provide more than 2.7 million people with food, health services, and water.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The UK continues to provide vital humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. We have doubled UK aid this year to save lives, protect women and girls and support stability in the region.

“The funds announced today will mean essential food, shelter and health supplies will reach those who are most in need.”

Billions of dollars of Afghan money is currently frozen in assets by foreign governments as the US and its allies grapple with how they should deal with the Taliban regime.

Lowcock said Afghanistan’s own cash could be used to pay teachers and health workers directly. The UN is seeking $5.9 billion to help solve the humanitarian crisis.

“This is a significant requirement but the good news is quite a lot of it could be funded from Afghanistan’s own resources,” said Lowcock.

He added that while people “are right to be concerned” by the Taliban, the price is being paid by innocent children and women.

Reports have emerged that impoverished and desperate Afghans have resorted to selling their own organs, or in some cases their children, in order to feed themselves and their families.

Amos said: “We have to find a way of restoring the economy in Afghanistan without getting money into the hands of the Taliban, and we have plenty of experience of doing this.”

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Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
Updated 28 January 2022

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east

Death toll from Storm Ana rises to 86 as another storm brews to Africa’s east
  • Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall
  • Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction
JOHANNESBURG: Tropical Storm Ana has killed at least 86 people across southern and eastern Africa, with recovery operations still ongoing as another storm threatened more severe weather.
Storm Ana passed over Madagascar on Jan. 22, adding to days of already intense rainfall. The country declared a state of disaster on Thursday night, reporting a rise in the death toll from Ana to 48, with people killed by landslides and collapsing buildings or washed away.
Ana then made landfall in Mozambique on Jan. 24, where 18 have been reported dead, before moving inland to Malawi, where it triggered massive power cuts. Malawi’s death toll rose to 20 on Thursday.
Across all three nations, Ana has affected hundreds of thousands of people and lead to widespread flooding and destruction, according to the United Nations.
“This latest storm...is a blunt reminder that the climate crisis is very much a reality,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF Representative in Mozambique.
The region has been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, destroying homes, infrastructure and crops and displacing large numbers of people.
In some cases, communities still recovering are hit again, compounding the impacts. Experts say storms are becoming stronger and more frequent as waters warm due to climate change, with rising sea levels also making low-lying coastal areas vulnerable.
Another storm, dubbed Batsirai, is now traveling toward Africa’s east coast.
Meteo France on Friday described Batsirai as a small system that presented no immediate threat to a group of islands to the east of Madagascar, including the French territory of Reunion, because it was still days away.
However, it said the evolution of Batsirai’s intensity and trajectory remained uncertain. Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology warned Batsirai still had the potential to evolve into a severe tropical storm.