Afghan government opposes Hekmatyar’s separate talks with Taliban

Hizb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2020

Afghan government opposes Hekmatyar’s separate talks with Taliban

  • Hizb-e-Islami chief announced that he would start his own negotiations with the Taliban while intra-Afghan discussions between Kabul and the group are underway
  • Government source says Qatari authorities accepted Hekmatyar’s bid but the US, which is facilitating the peace process, has blocked it

KABUL: The Afghan government opposes any separate negotiations outside of its own with the Taliban, a spokeswoman for the Peace Ministry said on Thursday, after a former prime minister announced his intention of starting talks with the group to help bring peace to the war-torn country.

Speaking at a think-tank in Islamabad during his visit to Pakistan on Wednesday, Hizb-e-Islami chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — a former warlord who fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and later served as the country’s prime minister — said he had decided to start his own negotiations with the Taliban. The statement came as peace talks between the Kabul government and the group, which have been underway in Doha, Qatar since September, appear to have made no headway.

Intra-Afghan talks began on Sept. 12 after a US-Taliban peace deal was signed in late February. Under the agreement, the US committed to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan by next year’s spring. In return, the Taliban promised to seek reconciliation with the Afghan government.

“Peace is a national process. The government has presented vivid mechanisms for participation of all political and social strata,” Najia Anwari, the spokeswoman for the Afghan Ministry of Peace, one of the key institutions handling the peace process, told Arab News.

“Similarly, the current government delegation is inclusive. The government’s responsible behavior with this national process leaves no room for individual approach,” she said.

An official close to the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) chairman Abdullah Abdullah — Afghanistan’s top envoy for the negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban — said that the Qatari authorities, which are hosting the intra-Afghan talks, had accepted Hekmatyar’s bid and even prepared the ground for his visit, but the US, which is facilitating the peace process, had blocked it.

The Hizb-e-Islami party leader will possibly be allowed to participate in the next round of talks, as part of a team under the umbrella of the HCNR, but not in his personal or factional capacity, the official said, asking not to be named.

He added that if Hekmatyar waas allowed to begin his separate outreach to the Taliban, other groups may come with their own bids and the whole process could fall apart.

During his Islamabad visit, Hekmatyar accused Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of trying to remain in power and called him a big hurdle in intra-Afghan dialogue, aimed at ending decades of conflict.

“We have decided to start our own negotiations with the Taliban. First, it would be between the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, and then all other political parties will join us,” he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News that he could neither confirm nor deny whether Hekmatyar had contacted leaders of the group to discuss his plan.

In the past the Taliban, the main insurgent group in Afghanistan, has openly rejected offers for forging any alliance with Hekmatyar. A highly controversial commander, the Hizb-e-Islami chief has been called by some the “Butcher of Kabul,” accused of being responsible for civilian deaths and the destruction of the city in the early 1990s during the civil war.

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

Updated 12 min 4 sec ago

Belgium tries Iranian diplomat over bomb plot

  • In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements

BRUSSELS: An Iranian diplomat goes on trial in Belgium on Friday accused of plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris, in a case that has stoked tensions with Tehran.
The case shines another uncomfortable light on Iran’s international activities just as it hopes to ease tensions with the United States after President Donald Trump tore up the 2015 nuclear deal signed by both countries and other world powers.
It also comes a day after a prisoner swap that saw the release of three Iranians jailed over a 2012 bomb plot in Thailand, in exchange for the freeing of an Australian-British lecturer imprisoned by Tehran for alleged spying.
In June 2018, Belgian authorities thwarted what they said was an attempt to smuggle explosives to France to attack a meeting of one of Iran’s exiled opposition movements.
Later that year, the French government accused Iran’s intelligence service of being behind the operation, a charge the Islamic republic has furiously denied.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old Iranian diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces life in prison if convicted.
The National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), which includes the People’s Mojahedin of Iran or (MEK), organized a rally in Villepinte outside Paris on June 30, 2018.
Several well-known international figures — including former US and British officials and Franco-Colombian former senator Ingrid Betancourt — and NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi were to attend.
On the same morning, Belgian police intercepted a Belgian-Iranian couple driving from Antwerp and carrying half-a-kilo of TATP explosives and a detonator.
The arrested couple, 36-year-old Nassimeh Naami and 40-year-old Amir Saadouni, join Assadi in the dock, alongside another alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, 57.
All four are charged with attempting to carry out a terrorist attack and taking part in the activity of a terrorist group. All face life sentences.
Assadi was arrested while he was traveling through Germany where he had no immunity from prosecution, being outside of the country of his diplomatic posting.
Arefani, an Iranian poet who had lived in Belgium for more than a decade, was arrested in France in 2018 after Belgium issued a European arrest warrant.

Counsel representing those targeted by the alleged attack say Arefani was close to Assadi, said to be the architect of the plot, and point to an Austrian SIM card found in his possession.
The two men deny any connection.
“We are looking at a clear case of state terrorism,” said lawyer Georges-Henri Beauthier, who is representing the interests of the NCRI, along with French colleague William Bourdon.
Dimitri de Beco, defense counsel for Assadi, has accused the civil plaintiffs of trying to turn the case into a political trial on behalf of the opposition movement.
According to Iran expert Francois Nicoullaud — a former French ambassador to Tehran — Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was surprised to learn about the failed attack.
“Visiting Europe at the time, he was absolutely furious to learn about this intelligence service operation, on which he hadn’t been consulted,” the diplomat told AFP.
At the time of the alleged plot, Rouhani was trying to maintain the support of European capitals for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration.
When Paris pointed the finger at Iranian intelligence, an Iranian spokesman voiced denial and alleged that opponents of the deal in “certain quarters” were attempting to frame Tehran.
That idea was dismissed by observers like Nicoullaud as a smokescreen. “It’s not serious,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to take two days, Friday and then Thursday next week. The court is then expected to adjourn to consider its verdict before ruling early next year.