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Anup Chetia’s participation will legitimise peace talks

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New Delhi: As speculation continues that deported ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia will join the talks between the terror group and the central government, a senior member of the pro-talks group and the organisation’s “foreign secretary”, Sashadhar Choudhury, has said this will only legitimise the peace process and not necessarily bring about any qualitative change.

“Qualitatively I do not think there is going to be any change from the current status if Chetia joins the peace talks. However, if Chetia joins then the peace process will be legitimised more than the existing one,” Choudhury, whose real name is Sailen Choudhury, told IANS.

Chetia was deported to India on Nov 11 by Bangladesh, where he was arrested in 1997. He is currently in CBI custody.

Stressing that the existing pro-talks faction of ULFA, who entered into peace negotiations with the central government in 2010 after several top leaders were arrested, has submitted its agenda and debated on the points that can be agreed on, Choudhury said that it now depends on the government if it wants to resolve the Assam problem or not.

Recently, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said that the government is planning to soon wind up the talks. The proposed date for the next round of peace talks between ULFA’s pro-talk faction, the Centre and the Assam government is November 24 in New Delhi.

Choudhury, who along with other senior leaders of the pro-talks faction, including the organisation’s ex-chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has been granted bail by the Guwahati High Court since 2010, said, “I do not think that the government is trying to intentionally delay the peace process but if it wants a quick solution, it needs to speed up.”

One of the reasons that are believed to have paralysed the talks is the demand for tribal status for six communities – Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutiya, Moran, Muttock and the Adivasi tea garden workers who are recognised as tribals in other states. The communities together account for 20 percent of the electorate in the state and play a decisive role in more than 40 of the 126 assembly constituencies in six districts of upper Assam.

Asked if the deportation of Chetia will isolate Paresh Baruah, the “commander-in-chief” of ULFA’s military wing, Choudhury said: “I am not the right person to speak on this. We have no relationship with him, but then, it should not be considered that there is any contradiction between us in terms of ideology.”

“The only point where we differ is on having talks with the government. Nobody from this group has any contact with him. It is the Government of India who can have relations with Paresh Baruah. So it’s up to the government and Paresh Baruah’s organisation to deal with, even if any confrontation may arise,” Choudhury said.

Sounding supportive of Chetia for showing willingness towards the peace process, the 50-year-old leader stated that the government has assured a solution on the tribal status issue by December.

Speaking to a news agency, Raju Baruah, the former “deputy Commander-in-chief” of the military wing, said, “Previously, we had contacted Anup Chetia and then many more letters have been sent to us by him showing his eagerness to join the peace process. We can finalise everything only after meeting Chetia.”

Asked if Paresh Barua would be backed if the negotiations fail, Raju, whose real name is Hitesh Kalita said, “We are the central body and we keep our commitment that we will involve ourselves with with the government only through negotiations.”

(IANS)

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U.S. Envoy Advances Peace Talk Efforts In Afghanistan

The U.S. fulfilled a major Taliban demand last year of talking directly to the Americans, in an effort to jumpstart a peace process.

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USA, afghanistan, taliban, peace talks, pakistan
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Zalmay Khalilzad, the man responsible for overseeing America’s negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, arrived Tuesday night in Kabul, after making stops in India, the United Arab Emirates, and China. He is expected to visit Islamabad next.

His outreach to regional players continues despite what seems like a setback in talks with the Taliban.

“The [dialogue] process has halted for now so the venue and the date for a future meeting are not known,” a senior Taliban official who is privy to the developments confirmed to VOA earlier this week when asked whether their peace talks with the U.S. were still on track.

Talks scheduled with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia earlier this month were called off by the insurgent group after it came under pressure by the host government to meet with representatives of the current Afghan government.

Afghanistan, Peace Talks
A general view of the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, May 2, 2015, site of several past negotioations with the Taliban. VOA

The insurgent group pushed to change the venue to Doha, Qatar, but later canceled those talks as well over disagreements on the agenda.

The last significant round of talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban was held in December in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the host government also took part in that round.

The Afghan government sent a delegation to Abu Dhabi in hopes of joining the talks, but the Taliban refused to meet them.

The group so far has resisted pressure from multiple actors, including the U.S., to meet with the Kabul administration, calling it a “puppet” regime unable to deliver on their demands.

The U.S. goal, according to a statement issued by its embassy in Kabul, is to “encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement.”

Afghanistan, Peace Talks
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, right in backgroud, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, left in background, meet in Kabul, Nov.10, 2018. VOA

Khalilzad will meet with President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah Abdullah, and political leaders to “discuss the next steps in U.S. efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” the statement added.

 

A feud among Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar also seems to be damaging the process, say various media reports. According to the Reuters news agency, Saudi and UAE diplomats refused to take part in any meeting held in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an unofficial political office. The two countries severed ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing the Gulf state of funding militants – a charge Doha denies.

In December, it was reported that President Donald Trump told the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of 7,000 American military personnel from Afghanistan, which would reduce the U.S. presence in the country by half.

Also Read: Peace Talks With The U.S. Stalled: Taliban

The U.S. fulfilled a major Taliban demand last year of talking directly to the Americans, in an effort to jumpstart a peace process. Since then, several rounds of negotiations between the two have been held, albeit without the Kabul administration.

Meanwhile, security in Afghanistan continues to present a major challenge. An attack in Kabul Monday killed several people and wounded dozens of others. (VOA)