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Desperate for peace in Afghanistan

International | U.S. pulling out all the stops to get the Taliban to the negotiating table
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/11/18, 03:42 pm

The United States has asked for Pakistan’s help in bringing the war in Afghanistan to a diplomatic conclusion despite the Taliban’s almost daily attacks in the country. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met last week with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad. Ahead of Khalilzad’s visit, President Donald Trump sent an official letter to Khan, seeking his support in finding an end to the war.

In a televised address, Khan said peace in Afghanistan is also in his country’s interest: “We will try our best to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with America.” The United States and Afghanistan have long accused Pakistan of not cracking down on the Taliban, with its headquarters in southwestern Pakistan.

Khalilzad is on an 18-day trip to drum up support for the peace process from Uzbekistan, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and other allies. The United States and NATO hope to clinch an agreement with the Taliban ahead of the April 20 presidential election in Afghanistan, but analysts call it unlikely.

The Taliban, on its end, shows little desire for peace. It continues to stage regular attacks, mostly targeting Afghan security officials. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Oct. 30 said more than 1,000 members of Afghan security forces died or sustained injuries in August and September alone. The Taliban insurgency also has killed more than a dozen U.S. service members this year.

U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, nominated to command the forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee last week that the 17-year war is now at a stalemate and the Afghan forces still need U.S. help.

“If we left precipitously right now, I do not believe they would be able to successfully defend their country,” he said.

During a Nov. 28 United Nations conference in Geneva, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani laid out a roadmap of his plans for peace talks, including a 12-member negotiating team and a five-phase process that includes dialogue with regional and international actors.

The Taliban retorted that any meeting with the country’s officials is a “waste of time.” The group views the U.S.-backed government in Kabul as a dysfunctional Western puppet and has refused repeated offers to negotiate with it. The militants maintain they want the “occupying” U.S. and other Western forces out of the country, but it’s unclear what they can offer in return, especially since they won’t acknowledge the authority of the existing Afghan government.

“I think the U.S. and the West have backed themselves into a corner because they’ve talked about how desperate they are to reach an agreement right before the elections in April,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Roggio called the timeline for the peace talks “highly unrealistic,” since both sides have yet to agree on the optimal outcome. “The U.S. can leave, or they continue fighting. Neither of them is an optimal solution,” he said.

At a Wednesday meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to stay the course and said the increased violence could be a positive sign. “Sometimes there is an uptick, an increase in violence because different parties try to gain the best possible position at the negotiating table,” he said. “So it may actually become worse before it becomes better.”

Associated Press/Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis Associated Press/Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

Unfriendly terms

Ukraine’s Orthodox clerics are set to finalize the formation of a new, independent church at a meeting this weekend.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the Saturday meeting as authorities coerced priests into conforming to the change, which is mostly politically driven. Poroshenko said the church gathering will adopt a new charter and choose a leader.

The rift between the Ukrainian and Russian churches grew in October after the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople granted independence to the Ukrainian church over complaints that its Russian counterpart worked with the Kremlin and supported rebels in the country’s East. Russia in return, said it would split from the patriarchate.

Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency searched the churches and homes of Russian Orthodox priests earlier this month. On Wednesday, the SBU said it questioned 12 priests in the Rivne and Sarny dioceses on charges of treason and inciting religious hatred. The priests included Metropolitan Pavel, the father superior of the Pechersk Lavra monastery. “There is a pressure on me personally, threats are being heard, all sorts of attacks not only on me, but also on other bishops and priests,” he said in a statement. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Fareed Khan Associated Press/Photo by Fareed Khan Protesters at a Nov. 8 rally in Karachi, Pakistan, against the acquittal of Asia Bibi

Backing Bibi

Pakistan authorities initiated a crackdown on leaders and members of the radical Islamist Tehreek-Labaik Pakistan party last month, according to UCA News.

Officials arrested thousands, including founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose party protested for days following the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian, who was charged with blasphemy against Islam. Despite a deal to end protests, Rizvi called for more demonstrations and promoted violence, VOA reported. Rizvi and other leaders were charged under anti-terrorism and sedition laws. If convicted, they could face life sentences.

“No one who halts the country, incites hatred and issues Islamic decrees to kill others should be spared,” Salman Abid, a Pakistan-based political expert, told VOA. “It is against the law and the constitution.”

Although a Pakistani official denied the arrests were connected to Bibi’s case, William Stark of International Christian Concern saw a possible link. The crackdown could be part of the government “putting its ducks in a row” to release Bibi for asylum in another country. She has been in government-protected hiding in Pakistan since the acquittal on Oct. 31. —Julia A. Seymour

Permanent home

Six refugee families stranded for 20 years at a British military base in Cyprus received permanent residency last week from the United Kingdom.

The families are part of a group of 75 people from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria who departed from the coast of Lebanon in a fishing boat in 1998, hoping to enter Italy. Smugglers abandoned the boat near the coast of Cyprus when its engine failed.

The British government had refused them entry, arguing the UN Refugee Convention does not apply to its bases in Cyprus. Leigh Day, the law firm representing the six families, applauded the settlement. “Instead of being welcomed into the U.K. as refugees, they have been left in limbo for 20 years, raising their families in substandard housing riddled with deadly asbestos and void of an official identity,” said Tessa Gregory, a lawyer at the firm. —O.O.

Killer colonel?

Congolese officials arrested an army colonel in the 2017 killing of two United Nations investigators. Prosecutor Timothy Mukuntu told Reuters that authorities charged Col. Jean de Dieu Mambweni in the deaths of American Michael Sharp, 34, and Swede Zaida Catalan, 36. They were investigating clashes between the army and the Kamwina Nsapu militia in Congo’s Central Kasai province in March when they were killed. Villagers found their bodies in a shallow grave.

In one of Catalan’s recordings, Mambweni gave the investigators the contact information of a translator two days before their deaths, Reuters reported.

Mambweni earlier denied any involvement in the mission. Congolese authorities initially blamed the militia and arrested about 24 fighters. But the government later said it could not exclude state agents as suspects. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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    Posted: Wed, 12/12/2018 09:49 pm

    I never had any opportunity to deploy to "the 'Stan" as many US troops call Afghanistan. It remains after all this time a pre modern tribalist culture with rampant drug addiction and child sodomy practices which would make any US diocese deviant blush beet red. Because we cannot muster up the man power or political will to radically alter the culture paradigm there, I'm afraid the Talib leadership is correct: were US forces to vacate now, the hapless Afghan central govt (which on a good day controls Kabul) would immediately implode.

    Had I been GW Bush in 2003 I would have offered the Pakistani govt basing privileges in that nation. And if the Pakistanis declined to contribute boots on the ground or jets in the air I would have pitched the same basing privilege opportunity to the Prime Minister of India