US envoy says no talks with Taliban following Bagram attack

Afghan security forces take position at the site of an attack in a U.S. military air base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan December 11, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 December 2019

US envoy says no talks with Taliban following Bagram attack

  • The US resumed stalled peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar last week
  • Pre-dawn attack on US-run Bagram air base in Afghanistan lasted more than 10 hours

KABUL: The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced on Friday a pause from talks with the Taliban, after an abortive attack US-run military airfield Bagram, north of Kabul.

Khalilzad last week resumed the peace dialogue with the Taliban in Qatar, following President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to the Bagram base two weeks ago, during which he announced the restart of negotiations. He earlier called them off in September, after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed an American serviceman.

Like Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Trump also said a cease-fire was a must for relaunching the talks, while some US diplomats, including Khalilzad, viewed a reduction of violence as essential for the process to continue.

Wednesday’s pre-dawn attack on Bagram lasted more than 10 hours and forced the US military to use a jet fighter and helicopter gunships against Taliban fighters.

At least two Afghan civilians were killed and over 80 others, including five Georgian soldiers, were wounded in the fighting.

Khalilzad expressed his outrage over the attack during a meeting with Taliban delegates in Qatar, where the political headquarters of the Taliban are located, and at least 10 rounds of secret talks between the militant group and US diplomats have already taken place.

The Taliban “must show they are willing and able to respond to Afghan desire for peace,” Khalilzad said in a tweet early on Friday.

“We are taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic.”

A Taliban spokesman based in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, also in a tweet termed the meeting with Khalilzad as “very good and friendly,” adding both sides had decided to have a few days of break “for consultation.”

Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said the government stance vis-a-vis the talks was the same as what the Afghan president and Trump discussed during the latter’s recent visit to Bagram.

“Our position has been very clear. The Taliban must cease violence,” he told Arab News when asked to comment on the announcement of another pause in the talks.

There has been no pledge from the Taliban side or Afghan and US-led troops to halt attacks, neither when the talks were held in the past, nor during last week’s discussions.

Analyst Akbar Polad said the pause following the Bagram assault was a blow to the peace process and “means a continuation of fighting and more pressure on the Taliban in the future.”

“Either the Taliban do not know or are given false advice for launching attacks like (the one on) Bagram and claiming responsibility,” he told Arab News.

“The Taliban are given the illusion that they are the victors of the war, (that) they will replace the current government. When they conduct attacks, they will further face isolation in society as Afghans suffer the most, and because the Taliban refuse to talk with the government,” Polad said.

The resumption of talks last week, in the middle of a deepening political crisis over September’s presidential vote in Afghanistan, raised hopes of a possible breakthrough in the latest chapter of the war, which began with the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led campaign in late 2001.

A few weeks earlier, the Taliban and US exchanged prisoners – an American and Australian – both professors at American University of Afghanistan – for three militants jailed by the Afghan government.

The government has not been part to the talks because of objections by the Taliban.

President Ghani has been pushing for a truce before any talks – either between the Taliban and Americans, or between the Taliban and the government – take place.

The Taliban say they will announce a truce only after the US has agreed on a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan government, however, the militant group’s political leaders based in Qatar do not have much clout over Taliban military commanders in the field.


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 6 min 34 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.