Taliban open talks to form inclusive govt

Published August 19, 2021
KABUL: In this handout photograph released by the Taliban, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council and former government negotiator with the Taliban, meet on Wednesday.—AP
KABUL: In this handout photograph released by the Taliban, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, senior Haqqani group leader Anas Haqqani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council and former government negotiator with the Taliban, meet on Wednesday.—AP

• Karzai, Abdullah meet Anas ahead of final negotiations with Baradar
• One killed over flag controversy in Jalalabad
• Ashraf Ghani emerges in UAE

KABUL: Amid rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan with the Taliban’s sudden sweep to power after a gap of over two decades, former president Hamid Karzai and senior official in the ousted government Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday met the Taliban as part of efforts to have final negotiations with the top political leader of the group Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to form an inclusive government.

But many Afghans remain deeply sceptical, as the Taliban quashed a rare public show of dissent in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where dozens of people who had lowered the white Taliban flag in an attempt to raise the national flag were baton-charged. Video footage later showed the Taliban firing into the air and attacking people with batons to disperse the crowd. A local health official on condition of anonymity said at least one person was killed and six were wounded.

While the officials of the Western-backed ousted government and the Taliban work to shape a future government, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) disclosed that Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who fled the Taliban advance on Sunday, and his family were in the country. The UAE is one of the three nations, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which had recognised the previous Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

A Taliban official said Taliban commander and senior leader of the Haqqani network Anas Haqqani met ex-president Karzai, who was accompanied by the old government’s main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, for talks on Wednesday. The Taliban official, who declined to be identified, gave no further details.

However, a spokesman for Karzai, Mohammad Yusof Saha, said the talks were part of preliminary meetings that would facilitate eventual negotiations with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the top Taliban political leader.

Since the US had branded the Haqqani network, an important faction of the Taliban, a terrorist group almost a decade ago, its involvement in a future government could trigger international sanctions.

Before the Wednesday meeting, Britain’s chief of the defence staff Nick Carter said he was in contact with former president Karzai who he said would meet the Taliban on Wednesday. “We have to be patient, we have to hold our nerve and we have to give them the space to form a government and we have to give them the space to show their credentials,” Carter told the BBC.

“It may be that this Taliban is a different Taliban to the one that people remember from the 1990s.”

“It’s less repressive. And indeed, if you look at the way it is governing Kabul at the moment, there are some indications that it is more reasonable.”

Some British army veterans and many Afghans, though, were doubtful, as the Taliban’s action in Jalalabad fuelled their fears.

Just a day before Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which commemorates the end of British rule in 1919, a number of people gathered in the eastern city of Jalalabad to raise the national flag after lowering the Taliban flag, a white banner with an Islamic inscription, as a mark of protest. Babrak Amirzada, a reporter for a local news agency, said he and a TV cameraman from another agency were beaten up by the Taliban as they tried to cover the unrest.

Footage later showed the Taliban firing into the air and attacking people with batons to disperse the crowd. A local health official said at least one person was killed and six were wounded.

Meanwhile, videos from the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, a stronghold of the Northern Alliance militias that allied with the US against the Taliban in 2001, appear to show potential opposition figures gathering there. It is the only province that hasn’t yet fallen to the Taliban. Those figures include members of the deposed government vice president Amrullah Saleh, former defence minister Gen Bismillah Mohammadi and Ahmad Massoud. But it is unclear at the moment if they intend to challenge the Taliban.

While the Taliban pressed ahead with their efforts to form an inclusive government, the UAE announced that it is hosting former president Ashraf Ghani “on humanitarian grounds”. His whereabouts had been unknown since he had fled Afghanistan at the weekend.

“The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds,” the ministry said in a brief statement.

In his last years in office, Ghani watched as he was first cut off from talks between Washington and the Taliban that paved the way for the US exit from Afghanistan, and then forced by his American allies to release 5,000 hardened insurgents to lock down a peace deal. Dismissed as a “puppet” by the Taliban, Ghani was left with little leverage during his final months in the presidential palace.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021

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