US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’

Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council of National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, right, meets with US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 04 March 2021

US envoy ‘pushing for new Kabul leadership’

  • Doha talks to be scrapped under draft plan to speed peace process, sources say

DOHA: The US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, reportedly suggested setting up a new government in Kabul during recent talks with key Afghan leaders, two sources privy to the matter told Arab News on Wednesday.

The reported proposal follows a deadlock in US-brokered talks that began in September last year between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar.

One of the key conditions of a historic deal signed between the US and Taliban last February was for Washington to withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, and end America’s longest war.

However, uncertainty remains over whether international forces will pull out troops by May as initially planned after US officials reportedly said that President Joe Biden’s administration was conducting a review of the February accord signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban.

A subsequent NATO statement said that the troops would leave Afghanistan “when the time was right.”

They argue that US-led foreign troops need to remain in Afghanistan because the Taliban “has stepped up its attacks and seeks to regain power once again by force.”

The Taliban has denied the claims, adding that it remains committed to the deal, and warning that the US will face consequences if it seeks to breach the accord.

On Sunday, the US State Department said that Khalilzad and his team were visiting Kabul and Doha, where the Taliban have their political headquarters, to ensure “a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

The envoy’s discussions with Afghan leaders are the first since Biden assumed office in January this year.

On Wednesday, two sources — one close to former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the other a confidante of Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council of National Reconciliation — said that Khalilzad had submitted a draft plan for a “participatory government” to the two leaders and President Ashraf Ghani.

“He has shared this plan and expects a response,” one of the sources, who declined to be named since he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesperson for Ghani, and the Taliban refused to comment on the matter when contacted by Arab News.

Under Khalilzad’s proposal, the Doha peace talks would be scrapped and an international gathering — similar to the Bonn conference, which was held soon after the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001 — would be summoned.

Rumours surrounding the formation of a transitional government have been doing the rounds in Afghan political circles in recent months, with Ghani’s beleaguered administration facing growing criticism for inefficiency, corruption, and failure to curb violence and Taliban attacks across the country.

Several factional leaders, including the head of parliament, Mir Rahman Rahmani, and government-appointed peace negotiators for the intra-Afghan talks have been pushing for Ghani to be replaced.

“I think there is no other way than this. A similar Bonn meeting is needed because the talks have stalled and there is no hope for a revival. Fighting has escalated,” Hamidullah Tokhi, an MP from southern Zabul, told Arab News.

But before that all groups must agree to a “permanent cease-fire and on the setup of the future government, its composition and how it would be created,” he added.

“It is natural that Ghani will have to sacrifice, and the Taliban, too, for the sake of peace. Do we have to lose 200 to 300 soldiers every day until his term is over and a similar number of Taliban and civilians?” he said.

Ghani began his second five-year term last year and has repeatedly vowed to block the formation of a provisional government in Afghanistan after calls for establishing a temporary setup began to gain ground.

“As long as I am alive, they will not see the formation of an interim government. I am not like those willows that bend with the wind,” Ghani said on Feb. 21.

He argued that in such a scenario, Afghanistan could face a “similar bloody and chaotic situation like the 1990s” when the then Moscow-backed administration replaced an interim government.

Earlier, the Afghan leader said that he would transfer power to his successor only after his tenure ended in 2025. Experts believe that there is no option left for Afghanistan.

“To secure peace, one needs first to fix an internal accord between Afghans,” Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former government and an advocate of a transitional administration, told Arab News.

“Afghanistan’s distressing situation has internal and regional drivers. We must obtain regional guarantees of non-interference from Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors and India. To arrange such guarantees, we need the US to take the lead before US and NATO leave, ” he added.

Farhadi said that if a “participative government” were formed, it would not accord all power to the Taliban, adding that “it is also a government where the decision-making process on resources and appointments are more democratic.”

“A Bonn type of meeting ensures everyone has a voice, including Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, plus the US, Russia and China and, of course, India. The international format offers a chance for all these players to be at the table. The outcome of the conference will gain legitimacy with a UN stamp and guarantee, ” he said.


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

Updated 45 min 6 sec ago

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

  • NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it was time for NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the alliance would work on an adaptation phase, after Washington announced plans to end America’s longest war after two decades.
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.
NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.


Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

Updated 14 April 2021

Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

  • Prince Philip died at the age of 99
  • The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has returned to royal duties, four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

The 94-year-old British monarch attended a retirement ceremony for a senior royal official on Tuesday, according to the Court Circular, the official record of royal engagements.

The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning for Philip, who died Friday at the age of 99. The palace has said members of the royal family will “undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances” during the mourning period.

The queen attended a ceremony at Windsor Castle for Lord Chamberlain Earl Peel, who has retired as the royal household’s most senior official. He oversaw arrangements for the funeral of Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, until handing over to his successor days before the duke’s death.

Philip’s funeral will take place Saturday at Windsor Castle, with attendance limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions.

Servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force will take part in the funeral procession, and Philip’s coffin will be borne to St. George’s Chapel at the castle on a specially adapted Land Rover, which he designed himself.


Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

Updated 14 April 2021

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

  • The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days

BERLIN: Germany on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking provocation with its troop build-up along the border with Ukraine.
“My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television.
“Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game,” she added.
The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days, with the United States saying that troop levels are at their highest since 2014, when war first broke out with Moscow-backed separatists.
Moscow has said it sent troops to its western borders for combat drills because of “threats” from transatlantic alliance NATO.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer voiced doubt at Moscow’s claim.
“If it is a maneuver like the Russian side says, there are international procedures through which one can create transparency and trust,” she said, adding that Germany was monitoring developments very closely.
Ukraine has so far reacted in a “sober” manner, said the minister, stressing that NATO stands by Kiev’s side.
“We are committed to Ukraine, that is very clear,” she said.
At the same time, she said, it is also clear that Moscow “is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from NATO, to have a pretext to continue its actions.”


Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

Updated 14 April 2021

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

  • Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February
  • The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for another two years, despite threats of sanctions from the international community.
State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by parliament.”
Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — after months of deadlock over the holding of elections in the fragile nation.
However the speaker of the Senate slammed the move as unconstitutional, and the resolution was not put before the upper house, which would normally be required, before being signed into law.
Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi said it would “lead the country into political instability, risks of insecurity and other unpredictable situations.”
Farmajo and the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September that paved the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.
But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse.
The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023 — the first such direct poll since 1969 — which Somalis have been promised for years and no government has managed to deliver.
A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead.
The United States, which has been Somalia’s main ally in recovering from decades of civil war and fighting Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the move to extend Farmajo’s mandate.
“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabab,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
He said the implementation of the bill would compel the US to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations... and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.
A coalition of opposition presidential candidates said in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace and unity” of the country.
In February some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.
The country also still battles the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab Islamist militant group which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.
Al-Shabab retains parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.
Somalia still operates under an interim constitution and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.
The 59-year-old Farmajo — whose nickname means cheese — was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017.
The veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived off and on for years in the United States had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world’s most notorious failed state, and fight corruption.
However observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.


LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

Updated 14 April 2021

LEGO’s heart-warming Ramadan greeting goes wrong as toymaker mistakes holy month for Eid

  • Despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr
  • The picture attached with the LEGO congratulatory Ramadan tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem

LONDON: Every year just before Ramadan begins, congratulations and greetings are widely circulated to family, friends, employees and the general public to celebrate the commencement of the holy month.

Some businesses make use of this celebratory period by sending out Ramadan greetings while simultaneously marketing their products. Yet, despite the fact that Ramadan has been observed each year for more than 14 centuries, a few companies are still mistaking the holy month of Ramadan for Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

Indeed, on the first day of Ramadan this year, the toy company, LEGO, tweeted what is likely intended to be a Ramadan greeting that reads: “Make it a celebration to remember with a LEGO set and open the door to quality family time spent together.”

So far so good, right? Well not necessarily, because the picture attached with the tweet displayed a text showing “Eid Mubarak” instead of Ramadan Kareem, or any other traditional Ramadan greeting.

Although people were not hugely disturbed by the mistake, most comments on the greeting acknowledged the effort from the part of LEGO, but highlighted that Eid is not due for another 30 days.