Ex-Afghan spy chief: Qatar eroding peace efforts

Newly freed Taliban prisoners gather at Pul-i-Charkhi prison in Kabul on Tuesday. They are part of hundreds released by the Afghan government. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Ex-Afghan spy chief: Qatar eroding peace efforts

  • Rahmatullah Nabil claims that Qatar wants to undermine the role of UAE and KSA

KABUL: The advent of an abrupt troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign could leave the country with heightened conflict and the region in chaos, Afghanistan’s former intelligence chief has warned.

Under the Feb. 29 peace deal signed between the Taliban and the US in Qatar, Washington has already begun withdrawing troops from the country and, by spring next year, all personnel will be gone.

Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, said that  Washington was poised to give a significant role in Afghan affairs to its Cold War era ally, Pakistan, despite the fact that Islamabad had been a key supporter of the Taliban — at the time of the Soviet withdrawal from the country, Pakistan used the Taliban as a proxy to advance its doctrine of strategic depth. 

“If the deal is such that the destiny of Afghanistan is placed in Pakistan’s hands in exchange for the guarantee of withdrawal of US troops that are immune from attacks ... I dare say that this deal cannot be implemented but will lead to more intensive war in Afghanistan and the region,” he told Arab News on Wednesday.

He said that if the move was for Trump to be able to use the election slogan “I ended the war in Afghanistan” that he was “not very optimistic” about the prospect of peace.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has consistently called for an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace and reconciliation process, and an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue as the only way to realize the Afghan national reconciliation, leading to prompt end of the prolonged conflict.

“It is critical that the intra-Afghan negotiations commence at the earliest, culminating in a  comprehensive and inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 17, adding: “Pakistan reiterates its commitment to continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors.”

Trump, who has declined to set a timetable for complete troop withdrawal, said the US had been in Afghanistan long enough. “We can always go back if we want to,” the president said during a news conference on Wednesday.

The Pentagon was preparing for Trump to withdraw thousands of troops before the presidential election in November, US media reported on Wednesday.

Since the Taliban halted attacks on foreign troops as per the Qatar accord, US officials no longer argue that the pullout will be conditional, which means that the US may not wait for the start of intra-Afghan talks before completing its military withdrawal.

Nabil, who served initially as chief of the Presidential Protection Force before serving for five years as general director of Afghanistan’s spy agency until 2015, also said that Qatar was playing its part in the “New Great Game” to find a footstep in Afghanistan, which is why the oil-rich nation had given shelter and provided funds to Taliban leaders in Doha and allowed them to own businesses there.

“They (Qatar) want to be part of regional game in the meantime, and want to undermine the role of the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Nabil said.   

The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not respond to Arab News’ request for comment as to how he viewed the US withdrawal, and whether Trump’s administration had shared plans and details surroundin it with Kabul.

Said Azam, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that the post-US withdrawal period in Afghanistan would see other regional powers, such as India, Iran, Russia and China, fight for their interests.

The International Crisis Group, in a report following the Doha deal, said: “The impact of a US military withdrawal on the Afghan government would extend beyond its security forces’ fate; any negative shift in the country’s already tenuous security situation could prompt an end not only to civilian and humanitarian assistance, but also to vital foreign commercial investments.

“The (Doha) agreement made the withdrawal contingent on Taliban compliance with anti-terrorism commitments but not explicitly contingent on a successful Afghan peace process. The deal commits the Taliban to starting peace talks with other Afghans but does not speak to scenarios in which talks might fail to begin or to generate momentum,” it added.


New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

Updated 25 min 42 sec ago

New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

  • More than 57,000 infections recorded in 24 hours; COVID-19 has claimed 130,000 lives in the US
  • Trump dismisses deluge of new cases as "great news", says "our testing is so massive and so good"

WASHINGTON: Another record number of coronavirus cases overshadowed the start of America’s Independence Day weekend Friday as the surge in infections prompted Britain to blacklist travelers from the US, intensifying its isolation.

With beaches closed from coast to coast and officials urging Americans to stay home, the somber mood heading into what is usually a weekend of barbecues and sunshine underscored the struggle to extinguish COVID-19 at the epicenter of the global pandemic.

“It is an unbelievable trajectory,” said Faisal Masud, director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, which officials say is dangerously close to being overwhelmed.

Touching almost every country on Earth since it emerged in China late last year, the coronavirus has infected at least 10.9 million and killed 522,000 globally, shattering previously buoyant economies and bringing public life to a standstill.

But while Europe and much of Asia have largely managed to bring the virus under control — so much so that England was preparing to reopen pubs, restaurants and cinemas — in the US it has claimed nearly 130,000 lives amid a sharp resurgence of cases which top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said “puts the entire country at risk.”

The world’s largest economy broke its record for new cases for the third day in a row Friday, with more than 57,000 infections in 24 hours. It’s expected to record its three millionth infection next week, with cases rising the south and west particularly.

US President Donald Trump — at Mount Rushmore for a fireworks celebration with thousands of attendees in close quarters and masks not required — has so far dismissed the deluge of new cases.

In a tweet late Thursday he said the rise was because “our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” calling that “great news.”

He added: “Even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN.”

But his predecessor Barack Obama called for Americans to be “safe and smart.”

“It’s going to take all of us to beat this virus. So wear a mask. Wash your hands. And listen to the experts, not the folks trying to divide us,” he tweeted Friday.

The World Health Organization called on countries hit by serious outbreaks to “wake up” to the realities.

“People need to wake up. The data is not lying,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told journalists in Geneva.

“It is never too late in an epidemic to take control.”

At least 14 states are seeing their weekly averages hit record highs heading into the holiday weekend, the Washington Post reported.

In Florida, where new cases are hovering at around 10,000 daily, Miami’s usually-crowded South Pointe Beach was closed Friday save for patrolling police and a wandering cat.

Beaches in Los Angeles will also be closed over the weekend, and Major League Baseball officially canceled its 2020 All-Star Game on Friday, the first time since World War II that the mid-season showcase — which had been set for July 14 — has been scrapped.

The US closures stand in stark contrast to Britain and Europe, once the epicenter of the virus but now restarting businesses and lifting travel restrictions, trying salvage the summer tourist season.

Pubs in England reopen on Saturday for the first time since late March — as restaurants, cinemas, galleries, museums and hotels also prepare to welcome back customers.

Travelers arriving into England from more than 50 nations — but not the US or mainland China — will from July 10 no longer be required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation.

The decision follows the European Union, which earlier this week left the US, Brazil and Russia off its final list of nations safe enough to allow their residents to enter its borders.

The European Union meanwhile authorized the use of the anti-viral drug remdesivir for COVID-19 — the first treatment approved to deal with the disease — although the United States has bought most of the global stock.

Europe is also beginning a reckoning on its virus response. French prosecutors said they were launching an inquiry into former prime minister Edouard Philippe’s handling of the virus crisis, following his resignation Friday.

But despite optimism the economic fallout is still unfolding: Air France said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Cases have been skyrocketing across Latin America.

The region now has the second most cases in the world with 2.73 million, ahead of Europe on 2.71 million but behind North America.

Brazil, the region’s largest economy, has 1.5 million confirmed cases and 63,000 deaths, second only to the United States.

Nevertheless, popular tourist city Rio de Janeiro authorized bars, restaurants and cafes to reopen at 50 percent capacity, while President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday watered down a law requiring the wearing of face masks in public places.

Cases also continue to surge in the Middle East, where worst-hit Saudi Arabia passed 200,000 infections. Countries across Africa meanwhile forged ahead with plans to reopen, despite steadily rising cases.

In Asia, however, swift lockdowns have largely made progress — including in Beijing, which said Friday it was lifting most travel restrictions after successfully containing a new outbreak.

China also vowed to gradually phase out the slaughter and sale of live poultry at food markets.

The virus is believed to have emerged at a market that sold live animals in the central city of Wuhan late last year.