Doubts over Afghan peace process and presidential poll

Afghan president's special peace envoy Mohammad Omer Daudzai speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Doubts over Afghan peace process and presidential poll

  • The Taliban has said it will talk to Kabul once the issue of foreign troop presence is settled

KABUL: Bashir Bezhen was among the first people to receive packages containing information for would-be Afghan presidential candidates. However, like many presidential hopefuls including incumbent Ashraf Ghani, he has yet to register.
Ghani’s unwillingness to register, according to Bezhen, casts doubt over the likelihood of holding an already-postponed presidential poll. There are fears the election could be delayed even further, beyond the revised date of July 20.
The uncertainty comes as US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad pushes for progress on peace talks with the Taliban and how to hold elections with the armed group’s participation.
Meanwhile, Kabul appears to have been sidelined in discussions about the country’s fate, with international stakeholders increasing their engagement with the Taliban and the US unilaterally mulling a drawdown of troops.
“Generally there are ambiguities and doubts about the peace process, especially when the government seems lost in the process and acts emotionally,” Bezhen told Arab News.
“These ambiguities have also affected the process of elections with fear of further delay and talk of an interim government. I have not registered (as a nominee) and the president like many others has not either. This shows people are skeptical.” He said that the involvement of foreign powers — and their pursuit of different agendas in the war-torn country — was also complicating the picture. “Too many butchers spoil the cow,” he added, recalling an old Afghan proverb.
Ghani has previously insisted he wants an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. His officials have also warned that nobody else can decide the fate of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has said it will talk to Kabul once the issue of foreign troop presence is settled.
Seddiqa Mubarez, a pro-government lawmaker, said keeping Kabul away from the talks showed it was the US that held influence over war and peace.
“The situation has become complex and people feel even more disappointed about the future,” she told Arab News.
Some have backed the idea of an interim government, believing it would reduce Ghani’s chance of winning the election.
Abdul Satar Saadat, who until recently was a legal adviser to the president, accused Ghani of sabotaging the peace process for his own ends.
“He (Ghani) wanted to bring peace and at the same time save his power too, but when he understood peace isn’t coming so easily, he is trying to sabotage it,” he told Arab News.
“He also doesn’t like Khalilzad as he thinks Khalilzad is an Afghan and at the end of the day he will be a hero, not Ghani. This leads to his fear that he will lose power and the credit for peace.”
He also said the Taliban was not gunning for peace because it believed it was close to winning the war as a US withdrawal loomed.
Neither Ghani nor Taliban officials returned calls for comment at the time of publication.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 22 March 2019
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.