Taliban say Supreme Council stopped negotiators from visiting US

Head of Political Office of Taliban Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai (R) and chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (L) attend peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, Russia May 30, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 08 September 2019

Taliban say Supreme Council stopped negotiators from visiting US

  • US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad suggested Taliban political representatives should go to US
  • Controversy over cease-fire led to breakdown of talks, say Taliban

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban Rahbari Shoura – or Supreme Council – recently stopped the group’s negotiating team from visiting the United States since any interaction with the Americans in Washington would have been viewed as abject surrender, a Taliban leader privy to the shura’s decision told Arab News on Sunday.
The revelation was made only a few hours after US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban at Camp David due to the group’s ongoing campaign of violence in Afghanistan.
“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” he said in a tweet, adding: “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!”
Talking on condition of anonymity after the breakdown of US-Taliban talks, the senior member of the Afghan militia informed it was US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who had suggested the visit to the Taliban political representatives during the ninth round of talks last month in which both sides finalized a draft agreement to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
“But when the suggestion was shared with the shura, the Amir Al-Mu`minin [Maulvi Haibtullah] and other members rejected the proposal,” he said.
The Taliban leader added the head of the group’s political office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and a majority of the Qatar office members supported the proposal, but it was opposed by the shura that also condemned the willingness of several members to travel to the US.
Meanwhile, a Taliban negotiator admitted that differences over cease-fire during the ninth round of US-Taliban negotiations was one of the major reasons for the cancelation of talks in Qatar by President Donald Trump.
He said Khalilzad insisted the Taliban should declare cease-fire across Afghanistan, a suggestion rejected by the Taliban negotiators as it would have constituted a deviation from the group’s earlier understanding.
The Taliban had previously agreed to declare a cease-fire in those areas from where the foreign forces were considering to begin the withdrawal process, he added.
However, the US envoy came up with the new demand last month which was declined by the Afghan faction.
“The Taliban rejected Khalilzad’s demand and reiterated their position on the issue. They also said the cease-fire would be decided during the intra-Afghan dialogue that was planned to begin two weeks after the announcement of the US-Taliban peace agreement,” he said.
The US wanted the Taliban to declare cease-fire at the start of the talks in Qatar in October last year, but the Afghan group had concerns that Washington was trying to reduce the militia’s fighting capability while American and NATO forces were still stationed in Afghanistan, said the Taliban official.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had also told Arab News in a series of audio messages on Saturday that there was no agreement with the Americans that the group would not carry out attacks against them. “But when the peace deal is signed, [we] will honor whatever decisions are made in the agreement,” he added.

 


Maulana Fazlur Rehman goes online ahead of his ‘Azadi March’

Updated 47 min 38 sec ago

Maulana Fazlur Rehman goes online ahead of his ‘Azadi March’

  • The religio-political party recently trained 5000 activists to use social media
  • The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was the first political faction that skillfully used social media in Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistan’s local Geo news channel announced on Wednesday it could not broadcast a press conference by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F), a religio-political faction, due to the instructions released by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
Rehman’s JUI-F party recently announced to launch an anti-government movement by the end of the month, saying its members would march toward the federal capital, Islamabad, to dislodge the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration.
Within an hour of the announcement on Geo, ‎#PoliticizedPEMRA was trending on Twitter.
“I texted a caption and hashtag to my team and it went viral on the social media platform,” Muhammad Sami Swati, head of the social media wing of the JUI-F, told Arab News.
Swati added he had also directed his recently trained team of over 5000 activists to share the livestreaming link of Rehman’s press conference as well.
“In just a little while, about 100,000 Facebook visitors were watching it,” he said.
The JUIF chief wants Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and has threatened to march on Islamabad on October 31. Although other opposition parties have declined his request for a sit-in, all leading political factions, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), have endorsed the march and decided to participate in it.
Recently, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) also dismissed a plea against the protest.
“The entire country will be our war zone,” Rehman said in his news conference that was not allowed to be broadcast on Wednesday. “The war will end only when the government falls.”
“The JUI-F has never received its due share [of coverage], but this time it’s a complete blackout, forcing us to turn to social media to reach out to the public,” Swati, who heads a team of 5000 trained activists and 450,000 registered workers, said.
He added that his party had a massive Facebook presence, but it “recently turned to Twitter” due to the impact of that social media platform. “I recently held workshops in Karachi, Hyderabad and Larkana cities of Sindh where I also shared the party’s ‘code of conduct’ with the workers,” Swati informed.
Shamsuddin Amjad, social media director of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, said religious factions had always focused on social media due to little coverage in print and on television. “We have found a blessing and power in social media websites. They enable every citizen to become a journalist. The wars of narrative are fought on social media,” he said.
Atif Rauf, head of the PML-N social media wing, said that censorship in mainstream media was pushing parties toward social media.
“People want to read and hear the truth and the mainstream media admits that it cannot air or publish it,” Rauf told Arab News, adding: “Several prominent journalists who were not allowed to express themselves on their news networks launched their own YouTube channels, reflecting that social media in Pakistan is more truthful than the country’s mainstream media.”
According to the Global Digital Report released by “We are Social” and “Hootsuite” in January this year, 37 million of the 202.7 million Pakistanis are active social media users.
The figures provide a perfect opportunity to political parties, said social media influencers.
“Political parties use social media not only because mainstream media is being stifled but also because much of the battle of narratives and perceptions has shifted from mainstream to social media,” said Omar R Qureshi, a journalist, social media influencer who has also served as a media consultant to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Qureshi said the opposition parties, however, relied more heavily on social media now.
Arsalan Taj Ghumman, one of the pioneers of the PTI social media team, said the party in power could not ignore social media, either.
“The party in power needs more social media engagement as you have to keep your vote bank intact against all odds. When the mainstream media starts questioning your performance you need to have a strong social media engagement,” Ghumman said.