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.

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 4 min 13 sec ago

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”