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.

 


Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan FM sees 'very limited' prospect of India dialogue

  • Says difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy" in Kashmir
  • Complains about India redrawing electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan's new foreign minister said Thursday there was little scope for dialogue with India as he denounced actions by the historic rival in divided Kashmir.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, visiting the United Nations weeks after his appointment under a new government, said it was difficult to deal with a country that is "implementing a racist policy in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir."
"Having said that, we are very cognizant of the fact that economic activity, dialogue, diplomacy are ultimately the ways and means for countries to engage with each other and resolve disputes," he told reporters.
"I just note that, particularly at the moment, given this aggressive, hostile behavior, the practical space for that happening is very limited," he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government in 2019 stripped the special status of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority but a large and historic Hindu minority population.
Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of a famous political dynasty, also complained about India's recent redrawing of electoral constituencies that critics say dilutes Muslims' vote in the Himalayan territory partially controlled by Pakistan.
Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan in 2015, a year after taking office, but relations have plunged in recent years.
Analysts say that India is hoping for more pragmatic steps with Pakistan's new prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, whose own political family has a history of being able to deal diplomatically with India.
But India described an exchange of letters between Modi and Sharif as a diplomatic courtesy and insisted that Pakistan stop supporting "cross-border terrorism."
Bhutto was visiting the United Nations for a meeting on food security and met on the sidelines Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 


Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

Updated 7 min 51 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan to announce timing of anti-government long march in Multan today

  • Khan plans to bring ‘a sea of people’ to Islamabad while seeking early elections
  • The former prime minister has vowed to protest until fresh polls are announced

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is expected to announce the date for his anti-government long march to Pakistan’s federal capital at a power show in Multan on Friday, according to a video clip of him addressing his supporters which was shared by one of his aides on Twitter.

Last month, Khan became the first prime minister in Pakistan’s history who was driven out of power in a no-confidence vote.

He has since accused the United States of orchestrating the downfall of his administration with the help of his political rivals, saying that Washington was vexed at his desire to pursue an independent foreign policy.

US officials have repeatedly denied the allegation.

“Our last political gathering before the Islamabad march will take place tomorrow [on Friday] in Multan,” he can be seen telling a group of his supporters in a video clip shared by Usman Dar who advises him on youth affairs.

“I will announce the day when my entire nation must reach Islamabad,” he said, adding the actual objective of the march was to secure “real freedom” for Pakistan.

Khan, who is also the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has called for early elections in the country while promising to hold political protests until the new government announces the date for the next polls.

Khan previously warned the government that a “sea of people” would arrive in Islamabad on his call.


On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

Updated 7 min 17 sec ago

On US visit, new Pakistani foreign minister defends ex-PM Khan’s Russia visit

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says Khan could not have foreseen the beginning of the war during his visit
  • Pakistani FM describes India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s status as an insult to the United Nations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday defended Imran Khan for visiting Moscow the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, saying the former prime minister could not have foreseen that the war was going to begin during his visit.

The timing of Khan’s trip to Russia annoyed Western nations who were trying to internationally isolate Putin’s administration for launching the war in his neighborhood. The heads of various foreign missions in Pakistan also wrote a joint letter to the country’s previous administration, urging it to condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine soon after the invasion.

Pakistan’s new foreign minister, who is currently in New York to attend a global food security conference at the United Nations headquarters, told a news conference he would “absolutely defend” the former prime minister.

“Pakistan’s [former] prime minister conducted that trip as part of Pakistan’s foreign policy and without knowing … at the time that the current conflict would start,” he said. “I believe it is very unfair to punish Pakistan [for that visit].”

Pakistan’s foreign office also maintained in the past that Khan’s Russia visit had been in the making for a long time, adding it was not possible to postpone it shortly before it was scheduled to start.

The former prime minister, who was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote last month, said he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy by strengthening relations with Russia and China which led to the downfall of his administration under an international conspiracy hatched by the United States.

His assertion has been repeatedly denied by US officials.

“Pakistan is not part of any conflict,” Bhutto-Zardari said while reiterating his country’s position on the war in Ukraine. “Pakistan would not wish to be part of any conflict. We would like emphasize on the importance of peace and dialogue.”

Asked about India’s decision to revoke the semi-autonomous status of the disputed Kashmir region, he described it as an insult to the United Nations its Security Council resolutions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government annulled Kashmir’s special constitutional status on August 5, 2019, to annex the Muslim-majority state with the rest of the Indian union.

The administration in New Delhi more recently published a list of redrawn political constituencies for the Himalayan territory under its control earlier this month, giving greater representation to the region’s Hindu areas while paving the way for fresh elections.

“The actions of August 5, 2019, and May 5, 2022, by India in illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir is not only an insult to the people of Kashmir but is an insult to the United Nations and to the Security Council’s resolutions,” he said.


Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

Updated 19 May 2022

Three killed as fire in world’s largest pine nut forest in Pakistan enters tenth day

  • The fires have affected different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in Pakistan’s southwest
  • National Disaster Management Authority helicopter arrived today to extinguish fire with little luck

QUETTA: A massive forest fire that has been raging for ten days in different parts of the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountains in southwest Pakistan intensified on Wednesday, with three people reported dead as provincial and federal disaster management authorities struggled late into Thursday to douse the flames.

The fire has consumed hundreds of trees dotting the Koh-e-Sulaiman — a mountain range connecting the Pakistani provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and forced residents of nearby villages to move to safer locations.

The Koh-e-Sulaiman region is home to the world’s largest Chilghoza (pine nuts) forest, annually producing about 640,000 kilograms of the edible seed. It also houses different species of animals and birds, including chukar partridges, ibex goats and rabbits, which are under threat from the fires.

The first fire started on May 9 in Musakhail district, lasting over a week and affecting pine nut trees in a 22 kilometers radius. The fire had barely died down when a second blaze erupted late on Wednesday in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani, with three locals killed as they tried to help in rescue operations.

“Three local residents who tried to extinguish the fire got killed,” the top administrative official of the area, Zhob division commissioner Bashir Bazai, told Arab News. “Four people are still stranded as the district administration is making efforts to retrieve the bodies and rescue the stranded individuals.”

Smoke engulfs a pine nut forest in the Koh-e-Sulaiman mountain range in the Saraghalai area of district Sheerani in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Locals helping with the rescue operation said neither provincial nor federal authorities were equipped to handle the disaster.

“The federal and provincial departments dealing with the fire are not trained and equipped to extinguish the fire in the Saraghalai area since the flames are too high,” local activist Salmeen Khpalwak, who works on climate change and environmental protection projects in the area, told Arab News on Thursday. “The fire is heading toward villages and many families have migrated to safe locations.”

Firefighters and residents extinguish a fire that erupted in pine nut forest in district Musakhail in Pakistan's Balochistan province on May 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Forest Department Zhob)

Khpalwak said nearly 24 villages situated in the pine nut forest were currently in danger. He said the fire in Musakhail broke out during a thunderstorm when lightning hit but the reason behind the Saraghalai blaze was not yet known.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sent a helicopter on Thursday to extinguish the fire, local officials said, though it was unable to put out the fire as it could not fly at a low altitude due to thick smoke and the mountainous terrain.

Muhammad Younus, who works with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said the NDMA had been requested to provide another helicopter due to the intensity of the fire.

“This morning, a helicopter splashed 3,500 liters of water fetched from the Sabakzai Dam about 45 kilometers away from the area engulfed in fire,” Atique Khan Kakar, a forest officer, told Arab News, “though it did not work.”


Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

Updated 19 May 2022

Amid economic crisis, Pakistan imposes ‘complete’ ban on imported cars, luxury items

  • Decision taken to “save precious foreign exchange,” PM Sharif says
  • Information minister says government has finalized fiscal management plan 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government on Thursday announced a complete ban on imported cars and non-essential items in a latest effort to tackle a growing economic crisis in the country.  

Pakistan is currently facing dwindling foreign exchange reserves, as its currency continues a downward spiral against the US dollar and a deal for the revival of a $6 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hangs in the balance.  

On Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced his decision to ban non-essential items, saying the move would help Pakistan save “precious foreign exchange.”

“We will practice austerity and financially stronger people must lead in this effort so that the less privileged among us do not have to bear this burden,” he tweeted.  

Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb announced the government had finalized a fiscal management plan to deal with the economic crisis.  

“Yesterday, it was decided that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, all non-essential and luxury items will be banned completely,” she said. “These include food items, luxury items and all imported cars.”

Aurangzeb said Pakistan was currently facing “an emergency situation” and Pakistanis would see the impact of difficult decisions on foreign exchange reserves within two months.  

She said the government attached the highest priority to decreasing Pakistan’s dependency on imports and introducing an export-oriented economic policy.  

“Local industry, local producers and local industries in Pakistan will benefit from this [policy],” she said. “This economic plan will also promote employment in the country.”

The minister announced the government’s decision to ban imported mobile phones, home appliances, dry fruits, fruits, crockery items, private weapons, shoes and chandeliers.  

Other banned items include decoration pieces, sauces, frozen meat, sanitary ware, doors, window frames, fish, frozen fruits, carpets, reserved food items, tissue papers, furniture, makeup and shampoo items, confectionary, luxury mattresses and sleeping bags.