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Trump ‘serious’ about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Taliban say

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Washington : US President Donald Trump is serious about getting out of Afghanistan, the Taliban told AFP , outlining the “Islamic system” comprising “all Afghans” that the group says it hopes to establish under any peace deal.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid spoke to AFP via WhatsApp a day after the US said talks with the militants are “on the right path”, fuelling speculation of a breakthrough in the 17-year conflict.

The US president’s apparent eagerness to pull troops out has weighed on the negotiations, which culminated with six straight days of meetings in Qatar last week.

 

“An agreement was reached on a principle framework … which, if implemented, and if the Americans take honest steps and stick to it truthfully, then God willing we are hopeful that the Americans will end the occupation of Afghanistan,” Mujahid said.

“It appears that Trump is serious,” the Taliban spokesman continued.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad also spoke this week of a “draft framework” for a deal, though he warned that major hurdles — including any US withdrawal — remain.
Experts have hailed the development as a milestone in the conflict.

But it has prompted concerns from Afghans and observers who feared foreign troops could withdraw before a lasting peace is reached between the insurgents and the government in Kabul.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, imposing their brutal interpretation of Shariah law on the country until they were toppled in the US invasion of 2001.

They have since fought an insurgency demanding foreign troops leave and an Islamic state be re-established.

Mujahid said a foreign withdrawal was the first goal.

“Secondly, we want the establishment of an Islamic system,” he continued, dampening tentative hopes among Afghans that the insurgents would agree to participate in the existing democratic system built since 2001.

He said they would establish such a system through “negotiations with different political sides, even if they have so far been under the umbrella of the invaders”.
If the government in Kabul will not stand in the way, he added, “then of course there will be no need for war”. Mujahid said the insurgents are not seeking to monopolise power.

“Inshallah (God willing) all Afghans, including different political sides” can take part, he told AFP.

Such a system would be based on the principle of shura, or council, with Islamic experts making decisions and “representatives of people and scholars” contributing.
Mujahid said the group was “100 per cent hopeful” of establishing such a system.

He admitted that the Taliban regime of the 1990s experienced “a lot of economic, social and security problems” — a key one being how to separate men from women.

Under the Taliban, women were largely confined to their homes, venturing outside only with a male escort and hidden beneath a burqa.

Girls education was banned and women were prohibited from the workplace save in some few areas such as medicine.

Now, the militants “don’t oppose the education of women”, Mujahid said.

“We will try to provide a safe environment for the education and work of women,” he told AFP, adding “whatever is permissible for women in Islamic Sharia will be allowed”.

Many women have spoken to AFP of their fears that a peace deal could come at the cost of the few, hard-won rights they have managed to establish in the deeply patriarchal, conservative country since 2001.

Mujahid said the next round of talks with the US will again take place in Doha starting February 25. The US has said talks will continue, but not confirmed any date.

Khalilzad tweeted late Thursday that both sides had made “significant progress on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal”.

But that “doesn’t mean we’re done”, he continued, adding work continues on both issues as well as a ceasefire and convincing the Taliban to speak to the Afghan government — all issues on which attempts at peace negotiations have foundered in the past.


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International

Two States only just solution for Israel-Palestine conflict: UN chief

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United Nations: A “peaceful and just solution” to the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict can only be achieved through creation of two States living side-by-side in peace and security, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, asserting that there is no plan B.

In his address to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1975, Guterres said on Friday that “based on relevant UN resolutions, long-held principles, previous agreements and international law”, Jerusalem should be the capital of both States.

“Unfortunately, over this past year, the situation has not moved in that direction”, he rued, pointing to protests that began along the border fence with Gaza last year that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded by Israeli security forces.

 

He also cited “security incidents and provocations by Hamas and other militants in Gaza”, including the launching of rockets and incendiary kites that dangerously escalated the situation.

“Thanks to the UN and Egyptian mediation efforts, a major escalation was avoided”, he said, appealing to Hamas authorities in Gaza to “prevent provocations”.

The UN chief said under International Humanitarian Law Israel too has a responsibility to exercise “maximum restraint”, except as a last resort.

Guterres said he regretted Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, saying “I hope an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve this long-standing and valuable arrangement”.

“Palestinians have endured more than a half-century of occupation and denial of their legitimate right to self-determination” with both sides continuously suffering from “deadly cycles of violence”, the Secretary-General said.

He indicated that leaders bore the responsibility to reverse this negative trajectory and pave the way toward peace, stability and reconciliation.

Guterres praised the Committee for keeping the focus on the ultimate objective of a “peaceful solution with two States coexisting in peace and security” as the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

“As I have said repeatedly, there is no Plan B,” Guterres said.

He underscored that the UN firmly supports Palestinian reconciliation and “the return of the legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza” as “an integral part of a future Palestinian State”.

Noting that the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be immediately addressed, he detailed that some two million Palestinians remained mired in increasing poverty and unemployment, with limited access to adequate health, education, water and electricity, leaving young people with “little prospect of a better future”.

“I urge Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods, which also hamper the efforts of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, without naturally jeopardising legitimate security concerns,” Guterres said.

Lauding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for its “critical work” in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and across the region, he called on the international community to “significantly” increase efforts to revitalise Gaza’s economy.

Touching upon the risk of further unrest in the West Bank, the UN chief flagged that Israeli construction and settlement plans have expanded, including in East Jerusalem.

“Settlements are illegal under international law”, he asserted.

“They deepen the sense of mistrust and undermine the two-State solution”.

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International

Five killed in US industrial park shooting

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Washington: Five persons have been killed and several others injured after a gunman opened fire at an industrial park in the US state of Illinois, police said.

The gunman was also killed, a police spokesman said. He added that five police officers also sustained injuries after being hit by gunfire.

The attack took place in Aurora, a suburb about 65 km from Chicago, the BBC reported.

 

It comes a day after the first anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

The shooting is reported to have happened at Henry Pratt Company, a manufacturing firm that makes valves for large water pipes.

Police named the gunman as Gary Martin, 45, who they said was an employee at the industrial park.

Bill Donnell, an elected official in Aurora, told CNN that a number of civilians had been wounded in the shooting.

Chris Southwood of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police described the Aurora officers who attended and were shot at as “courageous”.

“(These) officers and their colleagues did not hesitate to literally put their lives on the line today to stop further bloodshed,” Southwood said in a statement.

An employee at nearby Capitol Printing told ABC7 they had hid in a closet when the shooting began.

Witness John Probst, who works at the plant, told ABC7 that he saw the attacker, whom he recognised as a colleague.

He said the man was carrying a handgun equipped with a laser sight, but this has yet to be confirmed by officials.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth said: “This is a scary, sad day for all Illinoisans and Americans.”

US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident, according to White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

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International

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s first visit to Pak delayed

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Islamabad: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s arrival in Pakistan on his first official visit to the country has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. He was scheduled to reach Islamabad on Saturday but due to a slight change, he will arrive on Sunday, according to the Foreign Office.

However, the programmes of his stay in Pakistan will remain unchanged, it said. Prince Mohammad, who is also the deputy prime minister and minister of defence, will be conferred with Nishan-e-Pakistan – the highest civilian award — during his visit to the country, the Express Tribune reported.

A top official said that the arrival has been delayed by a day for “unknown reasons”. Preparations have been made to give an “unprecedented warm welcome” to the Saudi Prince who will be received personally by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members at the Nur Khan Airbase, the report said.

 

Abdul Razzak Dawood, Advisor to prime minister on trade, said investment deals worth USD 10-15 billion dollars would be signed during the trip. On the top of the list is an agreement to set up an oil refinery in Pakistan. Elaborate security arrangements have been planned during the visit of the powerful heir to the Saudi throne.

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