Washington: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made it clear that the United States is not in Afghanistan to rebuild the nation or teach Afghans how to deal with their women.
The secretary’s remarks came during two days of congressional hearings this week on the US State Department’s budget proposals.
“Remember, the Afghans will ultimately decide,” said the top US diplomat when Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, urged him to ensure that the agreement between the US and the Taliban protects the rights of the Afghan women.
Examine: ‘We never want to go back’: Afghan women fear cost of peace under Taliban
“I hope they (Afghan women) will make their voices heard … I hope the women of Afghanistan will demand that of their leadership,” he said.
“We want every woman’s voice to be heard […] I hope they’ll all do that.”
During the two-day discussions, Secretary Pompeo explained the purpose behind talks with the Afghan Taliban. The US is talking to the Afghan Taliban because they control “significant resources” in Afghanistan, he said.
Meanwhile, senior lawmakers explained why Washington must leave the war-ravaged country now. Even those who criticised the administration’s Afghan policy said they too wanted a withdrawal but in a more orderly fashion.
Reminding the chief American diplomat that the US has been at war in Afghanistan for 18 years, Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said: “I think even you have admitted there’s no military solution to Afghanistan. It’s a mess. It’s nation-building at its worst. The president, like myself, complains endlessly about the $50 billion we are wasting there every year.”
Senator Shaheen questioned the wisdom behind the Trump administration’s decision to hold direct talks with the Taliban, pointing out that despite the talks, the insurgents had continued their attacks on both US and Afghan government forces and were also refusing to hold direct talks with Kabul.
The US has already held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, and is preparing for the next round later this month, which may also include representatives of the Afghan government as members of a larger Afghan delegation.
“With respect to why we are talking to the Taliban, they control a significant amount of resources. And to get the reconciliation we need, to take down the violence level, the Taliban are going to have a say,” Secretary Pompeo said.
“We have extensive daily conversations,” the secretary said when the senator asked why the Afghan government was kept out of the talks.
“But they are not on the table,” Senator Shaheen interjected.
“To the extent that the negotiations are taking place, they are as much part of the table as anybody else. We are talking with the National Unity Government and speaking with the Taliban,” Pompeo responded.
“We are working to get the two of them in the room together. We think we are closer than we have been anytime in the last decade in achieving that. This will ultimately be a resolution that the Afghan people will have to achieve.”
Senator Shaheen interrupted him and asked: “Why do we believe the Taliban would be honest with us anymore today than they have been in the last 17 years?”
“Trust, but verify. It will be about actions on the ground,” said the secretary while explaining the Trump administration’s approach to the talks.
Sri Lanka police arrests 40 suspects; death toll climbs to 310
Colombo: The death toll from Easter Sunday’s horrific terror attacks in Sri Lanka is now 310, a police spokesman said Tuesday. Forty suspects have been arrested so far, he added.
Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena gave the military sweeping police powers in the wake of the bombings. A national emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly blasts. Few social media sites have been shut down. Armed security forces are patrolling the largely deserted streets in capital Colombo, even as a curfew went into effect on day 2.
The suicide bombings struck three churches and three luxury hotels Sunday in the island nation’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended in 2009.
Meanwhile, officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned about the attacks by the radical Muslim group weeks ago. The intelligence document, reports Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the National Thawheed Jama`ut group. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the horrific attacks.
Day after the blasts, Sri Lankan police found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in Colombo on Monday.
Thirty-one foreign nationals, including eight Indians, were killed in the blasts.
Security in southern states, especially in churches and religious places, has been strengthened following the terrorist. Security has also been stepped up in sensitive locations in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, and Goa as a precautionary measure.
Seven suicide bombers believed to be members of an Islamist extremist group are suspected behind the horrific blasts. Government’s spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said local Islamist extremist group called the National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) is suspected of plotting the blasts that struck three churches when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress and three five-star hotels.
“All suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals,” said Senaratne, who is also the Health Minister.
Investigators are now looking whether the group has international support. “There may be international links to them,” he added.
Israeli troops accused of shooting at handcuffed Palestinian
BEIT JALA: A hospitalised Palestinian teen said he was shot in his thighs by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed and blindfolded the latest in what a leading rights group portrayed as a series of unjustified shootings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.
The military said it was investigating last week’s incident, which it said took place as Palestinian youths were throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Osama Hajahjeh, 16, said he was trying to run from soldiers when he was shot Thursday. He said the incident began after a funeral for a school teacher in his village of Tekoa, who had been hit by a car driven by an Israeli while walking at a busy intersection.
Hajahjeh said school was let out early for students to attend the funeral. After the burial, he said he was tackled by a soldier who jumped out of an olive grove and forced him to the ground. He said his hands were cuffed and his eyes covered with a cloth blindfold.
After the arrest, he said he could hear Palestinian youths shouting at the soldiers, while soldiers yelled back in Arabic and Hebrew.
“I got confused” and stood up, he said. “Immediately, I was shot in my right leg. Then I tried to run, and I was shot in my left leg and fell on the ground,” he said, speaking from his hospital bed in the West Bank town of Beit Jala south of Jerusalem. Doctors said he is in stable condition.
A photo captured by a local photographer shows soldiers appearing to pursue a fleeing Hajahjeh with his eyes covered and hands tied behind his back.
The shooting set off a chaotic scene. Soldiers and Palestinians shouted at each other as the teen lay on the ground. One soldier took off the teen’s belt and used it as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
Amateur video shows a masked soldier screaming and pointing a pistol at a group of anguished Palestinians as the teen lies on the ground. Later, a soldier scuffles with residents as another soldier fires into the air. A soldier and two Palestinian men then carry away the teen to medical care.
In a statement, the military said the teen had been arrested after participating in “massive stone throwing” at Israeli forces.
“The detainee was held at a nearby spot and began running away from the force. The soldiers chased him, during which they fired toward his lower abdomen,” it said.
The statement did not say anything about him being blindfolded or cuffed, but said the military offered medical treatment after the shooting and was investigating the event.
Hajahjeh’s father, Ali, said he was thankful a soldier gave his son medical care. But he said his son never should have been shot to begin with. “Only a sick person would shoot a blindfolded boy,” he said.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the incident was the latest in a series of what it called unjustified shootings on Palestinian teens and young men. It says four Palestinians in their late teens or early twenties have been killed in the West Bank since early March.
The army has challenged the Palestinian witness accounts, but also frequently announces investigations into disputed cases.
B’Tselem has long criticised military investigations, saying they rarely result in punishments and alleging they’re used to whitewash abuses by troops.
“Like the previous four cases we investigated, this is an example of Israel’s reckless use of lethal fire, and the fact that the human lives of Palestinians count very little in the eyes of the army,” said Roy Yellin, a spokesman for the group.
US envoy returns after Taliban-Afghan talks scuttled
Kabul: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban has returned on a marathon trip for talks, despite disappointment after the militants failed to meet with the Afghan government, the State Department said.
Zalmay Khalilzad left on a journey that will run through May 11 and take him both to Afghanistan and Qatar, the usual venue for talks with the Taliban.
In the Qatari capital Doha, “he will continue to press forward on negotiations with the Taliban to reach a consensus on core national security issues, and urge their participation in an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue,” a State Department statement said, without directly confirming he would meet again with the Taliban.
Despite several rounds of talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s internationally recognized government.
Hopes for a breakthrough last weekend were dashed when a dialogue planned between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Doha collapsed at the last minute.
Ghani had announced a delegation of some 250 people from all walks of Afghan life, including government figures, but the Taliban rejected the lengthy list, saying the meeting was “not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced disappointment over the impasse during a call on Saturday with Ghani.
Pompeo “encouraged all sides to seize the moment and reach an understanding on participants, so that an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can be convened in Doha as soon as possible,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
President Donald Trump is eager to reach a solution to end the longest-ever US war, which dislodged the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP that the upcoming talks would focus on a timetable for pulling all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Khalilzad on his trip will also visit four other countries with deep interests in Afghanistan — Pakistan, India, Russia and Britain.
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