US envoy: Afghan peace process entering ‘new stage’

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry official Aftab Khokher with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 10 June 2019

US envoy: Afghan peace process entering ‘new stage’

  • Khalilzad meets Ghani, other politicians after his talks in Islamabad, Brussels
  • “In the end only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country”

KABUL: The Afghan peace process is entering a new stage, according to the US special envoy for reconciliation as he stressed the need for the country’s warring parties to formally meet and start their negotiations.

Talks to end the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan have been foundering as the Taliban refuses to meet Kabul representatives as it says the government is a puppet of the West. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad says it is essential that the two sides come together.

An ice-breaker in April was canceled by Kabul after disagreements with the host nation Qatar. There is due to be an intra-Afghan meeting in Germany later this month.

Khalilzad, who arrived in Kabul late Sunday, met President Ashfraf Ghani and other politicians after his latest round of talks in Pakistan, Germany and Brussels.

“Good to be back in #Afghanistan. Plan to be here for some time on this trip. Will be consulting widely. Peace talks are entering a new stage and Afghans must be engaged more than ever. #AfghanPeaceProcess,” he tweeted to his 73,000 followers.

“Good meeting w/ Pres @AshrafGhani & his team. Discussed building further intl consensus for #peace. Also regional requirements & implications for peace including recent positive movement in AfPak relations & opportunities peace will provide for regional connectivity &development. As #AfghanPeaceProcess talks continue to progress, we agreed preparation for intra-Afghan negotiations now is essential.”

He briefed Ghani on his European trips and future plans, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace.

“The conversations of President Ghani and Dr. Khalilzad were mostly focused on intra-Afghan dialogue and both sides expressed happiness about the role of Germany in this regard and hoped for the earliest start of the first round of intra-Afghan dialogue,” read the statement. “The two sides hoped that the intra-Afghan talks will begin as soon as possible.”

Last month Germany said it had been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart the peace process.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Reuters reported Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Markus Potzel as saying. 

“In the end only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

Khalilzad was appointed last summer and has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban, who are fighting to drive out US-led troops.

The focus of his meetings, held without Ghani’s officials, has largely been on the Taliban’s insistence of a complete drawdown of foreign troops in return for a guarantee from the militants that they will not use Afghanistan against any nation or Washington’s interests.

Ghani has been infuriated by the exclusion of government representatives from these meetings. He is standing for re-election, and Afghan politicians and Khalilzad want to hold the polls after a successful outcome of the talks so the Taliban can take part in the vote.

Analyst Fazl Ahmad Orya said Khalilzad’s current trip to Kabul was more important than his previous ones because he had built a consensus in the region and among major foreign powers about the peace process.

“He now wants to lay a foundation of talks among Afghans as his next step and the first major such meeting is scheduled to be held in Germany,” Orya told Arab News.

Politician and former presidential adviser Shahzada Masood said there were too many ambiguities and not enough details about the special envoy’s work. 

“Khalilzad has had no progress in his past rounds of meetings with the Taliban and he needs to share and clarify the details of his meetings with the Taliban in order to put an end to the ambiguity about the country’s future.”

He said foreign troop presence and the fate of the country after the peace deal were among the issues that needed addressing.

Khalilzad said on June 6 that the US and NATO would make a shared decision on remaining in Afghanistan or leaving the country.

Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 41 sec ago

Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.
The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.
Hundreds of protesters sat on and along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.
Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.
After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.
The night before, as protesters reached the march’s end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.”
“The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said.
Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.
“This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!” the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.
Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.
“It doesn’t really matter because the next one would be just as evil,” said Kayley Fung, 27.
Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.
She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators.
Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.
Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.