Despite talks suspension with Taliban, Khalilzad back in Qatar

In this file photo, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad attends the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in Doha on July 8, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 15 December 2019

Despite talks suspension with Taliban, Khalilzad back in Qatar

  • Bagram attack was in retaliation to night raids and attacks by US and allies: Taliban spokesman
  • Khalilzad met with FM Qureshi and army chief while in Pakistan and welcomed Islamabad’s support in Afghan peace process

ISLAMABAD: US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Qatar on Saturday, after a brief visit to Pakistan a day earlier, an American official said. 
On Wednesday, days after US and Taliban negotiators sat down to revive peace talks for the first time since September, Taliban militants attacked the main US military base north of Kabul at Bagram, killing two and injuring at least 73 people. On Friday, both sides announced a pause in talks, with Khalilzad flying out to Pakistan almost immediately.
But the official declined to comment on whether the US envoy would resume talks with the insurgent group now that he had returned to Qatar.
Earlier on Friday, Khalilzad had expressed outrage over the Bagram attack on Twitter and said:
“Taliban must show they are willing & able to respond to Afghan desire for peace. We’re taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic,” he tweeted.
But Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the attack was in retaliation to night raids and attacks by the US and its allies. 
“They (American side) raised the Bagram attack and we also mentioned aerial strikes, night raids and drone attacks by the US and its allies that kill our innocent Afghans,” Shaheen told Arab News on Friday.
“We had called for a pause in the talks as we want to consult our leaders and take their advice,” he said.
“I understand that the people have criticism as to why Taliban carry out attacks during the negotiations. But the people do not know that most of the attacks are in reaction to their (foreign forces) attacks and raids,” Shaheen continued.
Despite US calls for a reduction in violence, there has so far been no let-up in Taliban attacks and Afghan officials said on Saturday that Taliban infiltrators killed 23 Afghan security personnel in Ghazni province on Friday.
During his brief Pakistan visit, Khalilzad held meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other government officials and welcomed Pakistan’s support and facilitation in the Afghan peace process, the US embassy said in a statement late Friday.
“He (Khalilzad) welcomed Pakistan’s support for a reduction in violence, cease-fire, and a successful conclusion of intra-Afghan negotiations as well as regional support for these goals. He also underscored the economic and security benefits peace can bring to the region,” the statement said.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 17 min 59 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.