World Tour Reporting from around the globe

Afghanistan and the Taliban hail progress in talks

International | Uncertainty remains over the insurgent group’s commitment to peace
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/16/19, 05:57 pm

A group of delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban last week approved a “roadmap for peace” during a conference on ending the 18-year civil war. The meeting produced one of the most detailed peace plans yet, but uncertainty remains over the absence of a cease-fire agreement and the Taliban’s commitment to the discussions.

About 70 delegates, including women, civil society members, government officials, and some members of the insurgent group, attended the conference in Doha, Qatar. In a joint statement, both sides committed to setting up an Islamic legal system, defending women’s rights, and ensuring representation for all ethnic groups. The nonbinding statement said all sides will refrain from attacking public institutions and targeting civilians and will release “elderly, incapacitated, and ill prisoners.” They also pledged to avoid inflammatory comments to “not fuel the conflict and revenge.”

German special envoy on Afghanistan Markus Potzel said the meeting was only the first step and told Afghan-based Tolo News that subsequent conferences are expected to happen in Uzbekistan or Europe.

The United States toppled the Taliban’s leadership in 2001 and maintains about 14,000 troops in the country. The Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province continue to carry out attacks on civilians and security forces. Previous efforts to hold talks between the Taliban and Afghan government failed because the Taliban called Afghan government officials “American puppets” and refused to sit down with them.

Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, explained that the delegates attended the latest conference in their personal capacities “in order to circumvent the Taliban’s rejection of direct talks with the Afghan government.”

Despite the progress, the agreement failed to lay out a clear stance on a cease-fire, a major concern for civilians. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded 581 civilian deaths from January to March from insurgents, pro-government forces, and airstrikes. Taliban insurgents on Saturday killed three security officials and 10 other people in an attack on a commercial building in the western Baghdad province.

“Too often the Taliban’s words and deeds are contradictory, as the many civilian casualties in attacks that targeted military installations showed,” Ruttig said. “But neither have critics shown any realistic alternative on how to end the 40-year war—which is the most bloody worldwide—without talking and compromising with the Taliban.”

U.S. Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States is hopeful the talks can result in a more detailed framework by Sept. 1, ahead of the Afghan presidential elections slated for Sept. 19. The Taliban and the United States, led by Khalilzad, are also holding talks in Qatar to discuss the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Associated Press/Photo by Pills Kolo Associated Press/Photo by Pills Kolo Bodies of victims in Karida, Papua New Guinea, on Monday

Tribal conflict in Papua New Guinea leaves 30 dead

At least 30 women and children died last week in Papua New Guinea in one of the worst upticks in tribal violence.

The attack on July 8 began early in the morning in the village of Karida in Hela province. At least two of the murdered women were pregnant.

Community health worker Philip Pimua told The Guardian he was in his house when the gunfire started and he saw some homes burning, “so I just ran away and hide in the bush. Then later on, about 9 or 10, I came back and saw bodies chopped into pieces and houses were burnt.”

Provincial Gov. Philip Undialu told Reuters the violence was retaliatory and some of the victims had offered shelter to people targeted by an earlier attack weeks ago. “Both attacks were made in an innocent community where people were not expecting it, and all of us are in a state of shock.”

Tribal violence displaces thousands of people each year in the country.

Prime Minister James Marape condemned the attack on Facebook: “In memory of the innocent who continue to die at the hands of gun-toting criminals, your time is up.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Chamila Karunarathne (file) Associated Press/Photo by Chamila Karunarathne (file) Bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April

Christians see potential for revival after bombings

Months after the deadly Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, some Christians say attitudes toward them have shifted for the better, making it easier to share their faith.

Wendy Nagle of Global Disciples told Mission Network News that one of their facilitators says the country is more accepting of Christians in the wake of the tragedy. “As they offered forgiveness, their country just couldn’t believe the response,” Nagle told MNN, noting that Buddhist and Muslim leaders told Christians they would have sought revenge for the bombings. “They were literally in awe of the forgiveness that was being offered by the Christian churches.” Now, Christians are meeting and speaking publicly in a country where it used to be difficult to share Christianity, she said.

Joy Mariaratna, a Claretian priest in Sri Lanka, told Crux in late May he had seen “an intense thirst” for faith since the attacks that killed more than 250 people, adding, “These bombs have rekindled in their hearts a desire for Jesus Christ.” —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Jossy Ola (file) Associated Press/Photo by Jossy Ola (file) Men identified by Nigerian police as Boko Haram fighters in Maiduguri, Nigeria

Child recruits into terrorism surpass 8,000 in Nigeria

Two Nigeria-based extremist groups have recruited more than 8,000 children since the start of an insurgency in 2009, the United Nations reported last week. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) have used children as combatants and forced girls to marry, among other violations of international law. “Due to the difficulties associated with collecting reliable data, it is likely that these figures are underestimated,” the group said.

On June 17, one boy and two girls set off suicide explosives in Borno’s Kodunga village, killing at least 30 people.

Boko Haram’s insurgency began in northeast Borno state, and the group continues with sporadic attacks. ISWAP emerged as an offshoot of Boko Haram in 2016 under the leadership of Abu Mus’ab Al Barnawi over disagreements about targeting civilians. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Malcolm Foster Associated Press/Photo by Malcolm Foster Pakistani refugees and asylum-seekers at an Urdu-speaking church on the outskirts of Bangkok

Thai immigration police seize 51 Pakistani Christians

Immigration officials in Thailand raided several homes in Bangkok on July 8, arresting 51 Pakistani Christians requesting asylum, UCA News reported. Authorities took the men, women, and children to an immigration detention center known for its squalid conditions. “They even took sick old people who can’t walk anymore,” a Pakistani Christian asylum-seeker told the news site. Another said officers “roughed up” some Christians during the arrests.

Hundreds of fearful Christians have fled Islamic Pakistan for Thailand but live in limbo because they came on now-expired tourist visas. Thailand considers them illegal immigrants rather than asylum-seekers. —J.A.S

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

Read more from this writer