Taliban demands release of ex-commander’s son ahead of peace talks

An undated photo of Anas Haqqani. (AN photo)
Updated 13 February 2019

Taliban demands release of ex-commander’s son ahead of peace talks

  • Premature to say if insurgents will participate in the Afghan presidential poll, spokesman says
  • The US is yet to announce its team of negotiators for the upcoming round of dialogue

PESHAWAR, KABUL: The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday issued a list with the names of representatives who will participate in the next round of peace talks with US diplomats on February 25 in Doha, Qatar. 

The group comprises 14 people led by Abbas Stanikzai. However, the son of a prominent Taliban leader -- who is currently lodged in jail in Afghanistan -- is named in the list, with the group demanding his immediate release prior to the talks. 

Anas Haqqani is the son of a prominent and former Taliban leader, late Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was the chief of the Haqqani network which is known to be behind several major attacks on the US and Afghan forces. However, Anas’s role in the network is not clear. He was arrested during an overseas trip and has been languishing in an Afghan jail since 2014.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that “Anas should be freed because he was a student and was arrested during a trip in Jordan by Americans. He has not committed any crime."

"He is a member of the negotiators' team and the Americans should free him,” Mujahid told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed that Anas had been detained by Kabul, adding that the government had no immediate plans to release him. “Anas Haqqani is in prison and no decision has been taken about his freedom.”

The Taliban spokesperson said that the US had yet to announce the names of its team. However, the two sides were in contact with each other. 

He said that “following the directions by Amir-ul-Momineen Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, Mullah Biradar Akhund, leader of political negotiation team Qatar, has announced the fresh Taliban team for talks with the US".

The Taliban team includes Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the team while Maulvi Zia-ur-Rehman Madni, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanfi, Sheikh Shahabuddin Dilawar, Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor, Mullah Abdul Manan Umari, Maulvi Amir Khan Mutaqi, Mullah Muhammad Fazil Mazloom, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Maulvi Mati-ul-Haq, Mullah Muhammad Anas Haqqani, Mullah Noorullah Noori, Maulvi Muhammad Nabi Umari and Maulvi Abdul Haq Wasiq are the other representatives on board.

President Ghani, whose government has until now been excluded from the peace talks based on the Taliban's insistence, is running for a second term by contesting the presidential polls in July while Washington wants to allow the peace talks with Taliban to succeed so the group can also participate in the election process at a later stage, US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad hinted in his previous trip to the region.

Mujahid said that it was premature for the Taliban to say if the group would be participating in the presidential ballot unless a peace deal is struck.

“I can’t say anything at this point (whether to take part in Afghan presidential election). We will take a decision once the talks yield results,” he told Arab News, adding that any polls held under "occupation" will be "bogus" and "have no result".

The focus of the past rounds of the U.S.-Taliban talks has been on a complete withdrawal of troops with the Taliban pledging not to allow the Afghan soil to be used against U.S. interests. 

The next round of talks are crucial as they will be followed by another meeting involving Taliban emissaries and influential Afghan politicians, including two presidential nominees in March.

The first major meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians was held in Moscow last week where they agreed on a complete pullout of foreign troops. 

According to media reports, Khalilzad on Sunday embarked on a fresh round of trips to several countries --- including Pakistan, Germany, Qatar, Turkey, and Afghanistan --- to discuss the U.S.'s strategy for the peace process.

The US State Department has stated that the trip is part of latest peace overtures by President Donald Trump's administration to seek a negotiated settlement to the long-running Afghan war. 

Khalilzad had hoped that a peace agreement could be reached before Afghanistan’s presidential ballot. However, he had said that there is still a long way to go before inking a final deal.

Pakistan posts first quarterly current account surplus in more than 5 years

Updated 21 October 2020

Pakistan posts first quarterly current account surplus in more than 5 years

  • The country’s surplus reached $73 million due to increase in exports, remittances — SBP
  • PM Khan describes the development as ‘great news,’ saying the government is ‘heading in the right direction finally’

KARACHI: Pakistan posted a current account surplus of $73 million in September 2020, making it the first quarterly surplus in more than five years, the country’s central bank and experts said on Wednesday.
“In September, the current account posted a surplus for a third successive month,” the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a statement. “The surplus reached $73 million against a deficit of $278 million a year earlier. As a result, the current account recorded a surplus of $792 million in Q1-FY21, the first quarterly surplus in more than 5 years.”
Previously, the country had recorded a quarterly surplus in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015.
Reacting to the development, Prime Minister Imran Khan declared it as “great news” in a Twitter post, adding that his government was “heading in the right direction finally.”
He continued that the economic achievement was made due to a 29 percent growth in exports and nine percent growth in remittances over the previous month.

Despite the recent upswing in shipments abroad, the SBP data show that the country’s exports suffered a decline of 10.4 percent and stood at $5.35 billion during July-September 2020 as compared to the $5.98 billion during the same period in the last fiscal year (FY20).
The imports also declined by three percent to $10.61 billion, according to the SBP data.
Explaining the current situation, the central bank said that the current account surplus owed to buoyancy in remittances and a broad-based rebound in exports.
“The importance and benefit of current account surplus is that it strengthens the country’s external position,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News, adding: “If your external position becomes stronger then it strengthens the currency and attracts investment that eventually reduces inflation.”
Pakistan’s external position has strengthened the national currency which has appreciated by more than Rs5 against greenback since May 2020.
“Our national currency is appreciating due to a consistent inflow of remittances — about $2 billion per month for the last four months — lower oil imports, extension in the suspension of debt payment by G-20 and stronger exports outlook due to better performance than peers on the COVID-19 front,” Samiullah Tariq, head of research at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment (PKI), told Arab News.
Some experts, however, give credit to chaning international circumstances, pointing out that Pakistan’s trade partners like the United States and European Union have gradually come out of lockdowns which has also led to greater demand of Pakistani textiles and other products.
“The improvement in the external account is due to the international factors and it has very little, if anything, to do with the domestic policy,” Khurram Hussain, business editor of Dawn newspaper, told Arab News.
The other major factor that contributed to the external account surplus is the growth in remittances due to the international travel restrictions since people now send money to their home countries through banks instead of relatives or friends who cannot do international travel too frequently.
“Both are leading factors that contributed to the current account surplus and have an international relevance,” Hussain added.