Khalilzad seeks support to shake up Afghan peace process, warring parties object

U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 March 2021

Khalilzad seeks support to shake up Afghan peace process, warring parties object

  • Zalmay Khalilzad is on a visit to Kabul, Doha and other regional capitals, his first since under Joe Biden's administration
  • Peace negotiations in Doha are making little progress and violence in Afghanistan escalating

KABUL/ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: The US special envoy to Afghanistan proposed a shakeup of the stalled peace process this week, including an interim government and a conference of key players, according to diplomatic and political sources, but his plan faced immediate objections by the warring sides. 
Afghan-born US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is on a visit to Kabul, Doha and other regional capitals, his first since US President Joe Biden’s administration began reviewing its options for the peace process and as time runs out before a May 1 US troop withdrawal deadline. 
With peace negotiations in the Qatari capital making little progress and violence in Afghanistan escalating, Khalilzad is trying to build consensus around alternative options with all Afghan sides and key regional players, sources said.
“(The United States) thinks Doha isn’t working and needs impetus and an alternate approach,” said one diplomatic source who closely follows the process.
In Kabul, Khalilzad met Abdullah Abdullah, the chief peace envoy, President Ashraf Ghani and other political and civil society leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai.
Three diplomatic sources, two sources on the teams of political leaders who met with Khalilzad and two international sources in Kabul said one of the envoy’s main proposals was an interim government arrangement, referred to as a participatory or representative government.
A former Afghan government official familiar with the matter said Khalilzad shared a document detailing the power-sharing proposal and that it revised a paper he circulated in December.
Another proposal was a meeting with a similar format to the 2001 Bonn conference, to involve representatives from a wide range of Afghan parties meeting in person while international agencies and diplomats push them to a solution.
Anti-Taliban leaders met under international auspices in the German city of Bonn after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the insurgents from power and agreed on a provisional administration and a roadmap for forming a permanent government and writing a new constitution.
“We’re considering a number of different ideas that might accelerate the process,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Friday.
“The United States is not making any formal proposals and is continuing to review all relevant options for future force posture — and all means all,” a State Department spokesperson said on Saturday. “Ambassador Khalilzad has discussed a range of ways to move the diplomacy forward, nothing more.”
The two international sources said Khalilzad is asking the United Nations to take a lead role and call the conference.
Spokespeople for the UN mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two of the sources said the conference could be held in Turkey, but a third cautioned that location might meet resistance from Western nations and other countries including Germany and Uzbekistan were being considered.

CHALLENGES AHEAD
Khalilzad’s plans immediately encountered objections from both the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Ghani made a fiery speech in Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday, repeating his refusal to step aside for an interim government. “Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan” he said, warning any transfer of power would have to take place through elections as required by the constitution.
Two international officials in Kabul said Ghani’s fierce opposition would be a problem for the plan.
“The problem here is that Ghani can blame the United States directly ... by challenging his legitimacy and considering an interim government it implies they are undermining the democratic process,” one of the officials said.
A Taliban leader in Doha who spoke on condition of anonymity said Khalilzad raised the possibility of an interim government and a conference with the insurgents’ negotiating team, as well as asking for a cease-fire or reduction in violence by 60-70%.
“Khalilzad has come with some ideas and his top agenda is the intra-Afghan dialogue to deliver some tangible results and very soon,” he said.
He said the Taliban would not join an interim government, but was not opposed to one being formed.
“We would recommend people with a good reputation for the interim government and this set up would need to work for at least two years to depoliticize all the government departments, including the security establishment,” he said.
They could consider the reduction in violence, but not a cease-fire, the Taliban leader said, and had asked Khalilzad to pressure the Afghan government to release 7,000 more Taliban prisoners.
“We don’t believe any other conference in any country would help resolve the Afghan conflict,” he said.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said they had not yet seen the plan, but if an alternative to talks in Qatar was sought, “it is doomed to failure.”
Two sources said Khalilzad was expected to visit Islamabad, Pakistan, a key player in the peace process, on his trip.
The envoy was the architect under President Donald Trump’s administration of a February 2020 deal between Washington and the Taliban, which envisaged the Afghan government and Taliban negotiating a peace agreement and setting a final withdrawal of foreign forces by May 1. 

 


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

Updated 31 min 39 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.