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Canadian PM Justin Trudeau rebuffs calls for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s Resignation

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Tamil Fest
Justin Trudeau attended the Tamil Fest organized in Toronto. Wikimedia

Ottawa, May 2, 2017: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rebuffed resignation calls for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan over his “architect comments for a 2006 offensive against the Taliban, media reports said.

Trudeau and his embattled minister endured a withering question-period offensive on Monday as opposition MPs accused Sajjan of “stolen valour” for overstating his role in planning Operation Medusa in Afghanistan, The Toronto Star.

Opposition parties trained their sights squarely on Sajjan, who apologised again in the House of Commons.

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The Operation Medusa was one of the bloodiest and most pivotal battles of the Afghan war.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called it a “cardinal sin” in the military circles for stealing valours of others.

“How much more does the Prime Minister need to hear before he understands why our men and women in uniform have lost confidence in the Minister,” Ambrose said.

Trudeau, however, would not be moved from his talking points.

“The Minister made a mistake,” the Prime Minister said repeatedly. “He acknowledged his responsibility and apologised for it; that’s what Canadians expect when one makes a mistake,” The Toronto Sun reported.

Trudeau went on to insist that Sajjan had served his country with distinction in a number of capacities, including as a police officer and as a soldier. As a Minister, he added, “He has my full confidence.”

Sajjan, for his part, later rose and repeated his apology.

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What Sajjan didn’t do is explain his “mistake,” which Ambrose noted he’d made twice – once in 2015 and again two weeks ago during his India visit.

As such, his apology did little to assuage the opposition, with both the Conservatives and the Democratics calling on Trudeau to sack him.

“It’s not an error when you keep repeating the same lie,” New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair said after question period.

In speech in New Delhi on April 18, Sajjan told the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation that he had been the “architect” of Operation Medusa, which the Minister has since retracted.

“On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was kind of thrown in an unforeseen situation and became the architect of an operation… where we removed about 1,500 Taliban fighters,” Sajjan said in his speech.

Sajjan was a Major with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan during Operation Medusa, and received a special commendation.

Hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed or captured over a two-week period. Twelve Canadians were also killed in the fighting. (IANS)

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Taliban Seeking Recognition of Qatar Office Ahead of Fresh Talks With US

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials.

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Taliban, Qatar
FILE - In this photo released by the Afghan Presidential Palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks to U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The Taliban says it hopes ongoing negotiations with the United States would bring a long-demanded formal recognition for the insurgent group’s “political office” in Qatar, insisting it would help accelerate consultations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The Taliban has been informally running the office in Doha, the Qatari capital, since 2013, but the host country has not allowed it to use the facility for any public dealings under objections from the Afghan government.

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team in recent months have held several meetings with Taliban envoys mostly in Doha. The two sides are set to meet there again on Feb. 25 to build on “significant progress” they made in six days of marathon talks in January.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, in an interview told VOA that all their meetings with U.S. interlocutors and other foreign delegations take place in different hotels, making it difficult for his group to timely share details or progress with media.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Suhail Shaheen, then-deputy ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, gives an interview in Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 14, 2001. VOA

“We have raised this issue the U.S. delegation,” he said.

Shaheen noted that the Taliban last week held its first formal “intra-Afghan” dialogue in Moscow with a large group of prominent opposition leaders from Afghanistan, and a follow-up meeting of those consultations is scheduled for next month in Doha.

“The delegation from Afghanistan, of course, would come to the office (if it is recognized) and we will have a meeting with them and exchange views about the current peace process and how the Afghan issue can be resolved,” he observed.

No government envoys attended the Moscow meeting because the Taliban refuses to talk to Afghan officials, declaring the Kabul administration an illegal entity or American “puppets.” The rigid insurgent stance has also forced the U.S. to exclude President Ashraf Ghani from the dialogue process.

Ghani slammed the gathering in the Russian capital as an unauthorized dialogue and an attempt by his political opponents to gain power.

On Monday, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, while addressing a weekly meeting of cabinet ministers, blamed “stubbornness of the Taliban” for being the main and only reason behind the war. He criticized the insurgent group for indulging in “propaganda” instead of joining “real talks” with the government. He did not elaborate.

Taliban, Qatar
FILE – Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 4, 2019. VOA

Abdullah’s remarks came a day after President Ghani made an offer to the Taliban to open an office in Afghanistan for conducting talks with his government.

Shaheen dismissed the offer and criticism as an attempt to “harm and derail” the current peace process. “Afghanistan is our own country and we don’t need permission from anyone to open an office there. By making such offers at this stage, they [Ghani government] are trying to harm the peace efforts,” Shaheen said.

The Taliban controls or influences nearly half of Afghanistan, but its leaders and fighters remain under attack from U.S.-backed Afghan ground and air forces. The insurgent group is opposed to ceasing its battlefield attacks until all foreign forces withdraw from the country.

Khalilzad, while delivering a public talk in Washington last week, said that after many conversations, the U.S. has reached “an agreement in principle” with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees that no terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghan soil for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

“Similarly, we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible U.S. [troop] withdrawal as part of a package deal,” he noted.

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Taliban spokesman Shaheen said that both sides also agreed to appoint two working groups to flesh out these undertakings and bring them to the table for the meeting scheduled for this month in Doha. He anticipated further progress in the upcoming round of talks and vowed to again raise with U.S. delegates the issue of granting formal recognition to the Taliban’s office, because his group is determined to carry forward Afghan peace talks in Doha.

There was no U.S. response available to the Taliban’s demand. (VOA)