Rival presidential ceremonies jeopardise talks, say Taliban

Updated March 09, 2020

Email

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani as seen on Dec.ember 22, 2019. — AP/File
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani as seen on Dec.ember 22, 2019. — AP/File

KABUL: The Taliban militant group said peace talks with the Afghan government this week were unlikely to take place because rivals for the presidency were both holding swearing-in ceremonies on Monday (today), and urged them instead to focus on an end to the war.

The United States is trying to push the Afghan government toward talks with the Taliban, due to begin on Tuesday, under an agreement signed in Doha last month.

But the threat of parallel governments is jeopardising the nascent process to end a war that has killed tens of thousands of people since the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan just weeks after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001.

In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission declared incumbent Ashraf Ghani as the winner of September’s presidential election, but his bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a government.

Provincial council member, two bodyguards killed in Kabul

Both Abdullah and Ghani, have issued invitations to parallel swearing-in ceremonies on Monday.

“We don’t think they will make it to getting ready for the intra-Afghan talks on March 10, because of ... the disagreement between the politicians that is even leading to two swearing-in ceremonies,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

“Instead of swearing in, we want them to focus on intra-Afghan talks. We call upon them to leave the internal disagreements, stop the swearing in, and work for peace.”

He added another major factor was that no practical steps had been taken to implement a condition as part of the US-Taliban agreement that the government would release 5,000 prisoners, a demand that Ghani has rejected.

Nevertheless, meetings between prison officials from both sides took place in Doha on Saturday and Sunday, Mujahid said, the first known contact between Afghan government officials and the Taliban since the militants signed the troop withdrawal agreement with the United States on Feb 29.

A presidential spokesman declined to comment on whether the meeting took place.

While insisting they were not formal intra-Afghan talks, Mujahid said the meetings covered technical aspects of the prisoner release, such as preparing a list of detainees and their identifying details.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding talks with camps of both Abdullah and Ghani to try and broker a solution to the impasse, diplomatic and political sources have said.

Meanwhile, an Afghan provincial council member and two of his bodyguards were killed by gunmen on Sunday in Kabul, officials said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. But it came just days after the militant Islamic State (IS) group killed at least 32 people at a ceremony in Kabul attended by prominent political leaders. The gunmen opened fire on Naser Ghairat’s vehicle and also wounded his driver, according to Ferdaws Faramrez, spokesman for Kabul’s police chief. Ghairat was a councilman from Logar province, which lies just to the south of the capital. Many provincial council members have homes or even keep their families in Kabul.

Afghan officials also confirmed on Sunday that unknown gunmen had killed at least seven civilians and wounded 17 others in the western Herat province.

The attack took place early on Saturday, according to Jailani Farhad, spokesman for Herat’s governor. Again, no one claimed responsibility for the attack. Proposed peace talks between the insurgents and the Kabul government are looking flimsier by the day, with fighting raging across Afghanistan and no one sure about what comes next.

The loosely worded, four-page agreement signed in Doha was meant to set the conditions for a complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within just 14 months — and end the longest war in US history.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020