Afghan government hopes to vet peace deal between US, Taliban before it is finalized

Representatives from Taliban and Afghan opposition have met in Moscow early February. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 August 2019
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Afghan government hopes to vet peace deal between US, Taliban before it is finalized

  • US and Taliban representatives have reportedly reached a final settlement and are working out its modalities
  • President Ashraf Ghani’s administration has been kept out of the negotiation process by the Taliban

KABUL: The government of Afghanistan hopes to vet and approve the agreement between the United States and Taliban before American officials put down their signatures on it, a senior official in Kabul said on Saturday as media reports suggested US diplomats and Taliban insurgents were close to a final settlement in their ongoing round of talks in Qatar.
Led by Zalmay Khalilzad, US officials have held at least nine rounds of talks with the Taliban since President Donald Trump appointed Khalilzad as his envoy last summer to negotiate a deal with the militant group to end the 18-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Representatives of President Ashraf Ghani’s administration have been kept out of the negotiation process since the Taliban view the government in Kabul as Washington’s puppet regime and have refused to speak directly to it.
“The Afghan government expects that it [agreement] will be shared before it is finalized and signed,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News on Saturday.
He added the Afghan government could not say when the deal would be signed.
As per the agreement, the Taliban want all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a mutually agreed timeframe. The group, in return, will not allow any violent entity to use Afghan soil against any foreign country.
There are some 14,000 American troops and several thousand soldiers from other foreign countries, apart from civil and military contractors, in Afghanistan. American and Afghan officials have long warned against a total pullout of troops since they fear the Taliban will strive to regain power and push the country back into chaos.
However, the Trump administration has only spoken about cutting down the number of troops in the country without committing itself to total withdrawal.
Echoing the comments of some US officials, including Khalilzad, Seddiqi said the departure of troops would be conditions-based and would not follow the timeline the Taliban have demanded so far.
“Force reduction will be based on conditions,” he said. “The terrorist threat still persists and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major attack anywhere in the world.”
“We must deny terrorists free ground in Afghanistan because they can turn it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces and their continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense apparatus will be key to our success,” he continued.
The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports that claimed that the group’s former and current officials were optimistic about a deal with Washington.
“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper from Doha over the phone on Friday. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism.”
Earlier, another Taliban spokesman said in a message that US top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen Scott Miller, had also participated in the talks, which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.
Washington wants to sign a deal before September 1, weeks ahead of the crucial and controversial presidential vote in Afghanistan. Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the electoral contest is his priority while some other politicians believe that peace will have to come first and the vote will have to be delayed.
Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and the US wanted to sign the deal before the presidential election, adding that the presidential contest could damage the level of trust between the two sides and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.
“Because of this, both sides are doing their best to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” Saadat told Arab News.


UAE citizens in Pakistan cast votes as balloting begins for Federal National Council

Updated 22 September 2019
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UAE citizens in Pakistan cast votes as balloting begins for Federal National Council

  • More than 200 UAE citizens in Pakistan are expected to cast their vote
  • Half of the council this year is expected to be women: UAE envoy

ISLAMABAD: The UAE envoy to Pakistan was the first to cast his vote on Sunday at the UAE embassy, as balloting began for the country’s citizens residing or working abroad to elect a political candidate to represent them in the Federal National Council (FNC), a parliamentary body for the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
According to UAE officials, more than 200 of the country’s citizens live in Pakistan including over 60 residing in the capital, Islamabad.
“This is the fourth election for the Federal (National) Council in UAE, and we are really proud of this democracy process in UAE,” Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salem Al-Zaabi, UAE Ambassador to Pakistan said while speaking to Arab News during the balloting session at the embassy in Islamabad.
The UAE has more than 118 diplomatic missions around the world which have set up polling booths for citizens to cast their votes, Al-Zaabi said.
“The (polling for the FNC) election in Pakistan will be held in Islamabad and at the consulate in Karachi on September 22 and 23. The big election in UAE will be held between October 2 to 4, followed by results... announced on October 5,” the UAE Ambassador said.
FNC, as per the provision of the UAE Constitution, was established in 1971 and comprises of 40 members representing the Arab peninsula’s seven Emirates; with Abu Dhabi and Dubai having the most number of seats followed by Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, and less populated Fujairah, Ajman, and Umm al Quwain with the least.
In the past, all members were appointed by the emirates’ respective rulers, but in 2006 the method was revised to introduce a partial form of democracy that allows the people of UAE to elect 20 FNC members through an electoral process.
“We started in 2006 and now we are in 2019 and this year it is totally different because half of this council will be women. UAE and its leadership support women empowerment and encourages females to be part of the country’s legislative decisions,” Al-Zaabi said.
The Ambassador, widely known for his philanthropic activities in Pakistan and his continued efforts to strengthen fraternal ties between the two countries said: “We have reached our goals to support democracy and encourage the people in UAE to be part of this democratic process.”