Monday March 18, 2019
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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)

Next Story

White House Condemns Any Link of President Donald Trump to Accused New Zealand Shooter

Trump was widely attacked in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 when he equated white supremacists with counter-protesters, saying "both sides" were to blame and that there were "fine people" on both sides of the protest.

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U.S.
In this Jan. 2, 2019, file photo White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. VOA

The White House on Sunday rejected any attempt to link President Donald Trump to the white supremacist accused of gunning down 50 people at two New Zealand mosques.

“The president is not a white supremacist,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the “Fox News Sunday” show. “I’m not sure how many times we have to say that. Let’s take what happened in New Zealand [Friday] for what it is: a terrible evil tragic act.”

Donald Trump
The statement renewed criticism that Trump has not voiced strong enough condemnation of white nationalists. VOA

Alleged gunman Brenton Harris Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, said in a 74-page manifesto he released shortly before the massacre unfolded at mosques in Christchurch that he viewed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” but did not support his policies.

The statement renewed criticism that Trump has not voiced strong enough condemnation of white nationalists.

Asked Friday after the mosque attacks whether he sees an increase in white nationalism, Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.” He said he had not seen the manifesto.

Mulvaney said, “I don’t think it’s fair to cast this person as a supporter of Donald Trump any more than it is to look at his eco-terrorist passages in that manifesto and align him with [Democratic House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi or Ms. Ocasio-Cortez,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman.

“This was a disturbed individual, an evil person,” he said.

Donald Trump
“The president is not a white supremacist,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the “Fox News Sunday” show. “I’m not sure how many times we have to say that. Let’s take what happened in New Zealand [Friday] for what it is: a terrible evil tragic act.” VOA
Scott Brown, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, told CNN that he gave no credence to Tarrant’s comments about Trump in the manifesto, saying the accused gunman “is rotten to the core.” Brown said he hopes Tarrant is convicted “as quickly as he can be” and the key to his prison cell thrown away.

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Trump was widely attacked in the aftermath of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 when he equated white supremacists with counter-protesters, saying “both sides” were to blame and that there were “fine people” on both sides of the protest.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of numerous Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination to oppose Trump in the 2020 election, said on Twitter after the New Zealand attack, “Time and time again, this president has embraced and emboldened white supremacists and instead of condemning racist terrorists, he covers for them. This isn’t normal or acceptable.” (VOA)