WASHINGTON: The United States said that it was exploring “all avenues” to advance the Afghan peace process, but “it is doing so in close consultation” with the Afghan government. The New York Times reported earlier that the Trump administration had asked its diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban, shifting away from its earlier policy of no direct contacts with the militants.
Later, Gen John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, also confirmed that Washington was ready to hold direct talks with the Taliban. “The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” a spokesperson for the US State Department told Dawn when asked to comment on these reports.
“Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government.”
The NYT, however, reported that “the Trump administration has told its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban”. The move was “a significant shift in American policy in Afghanistan, done in the hope of jump-starting negotiations to end the 17-year war”, the report added.
“Our Secretary of State, Mr [Mike] Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces,” Gen Nicholson told the Reuters news agency in Kabul.
The Taliban have long demanded direct talks with the Americans as they claim that the US-backed government in Kabul did not have the power to consider their main demand: the withdrawal of “all foreign troops from Afghanistan”.
The United States, however, insists that the Taliban must talk to the Afghan government if they want to be included in the peace process.
Washington also insists that it could only play a supportive role in the talks. The statement sent to Dawn did not deny US media reports but said that whatever avenues Washington was exploring for furthering the Afghan peace process, it was done so in consultation with the government in Kabul.
The US media noted that the decision to reach out to the Taliban followed the Eid ceasefire in Afghanistan, which allowed Taliban fighters to mingle with Afghan security forces on the streets of Kabul and other cities. The “unprecedented scenes” encouraged officials in both Kabul and Washington to seek direct talks with the Taliban, the reports added.
A recent report by an official US agency, Office of the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, points to another factor that might have persuaded Washington to seek direct talks. The report states that while the Afghan government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, the Taliban control 59. The remaining 119 districts are contested between the two.
Taliban resumes peace talks with US envoy in Qatar
Islamabad :The Taliban and the United States resumed talks in Doha, Qatar with an aim to end the stalemate over the participation of Afghan government in the negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman in a statement said, “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha.”
Doha meeting happened as the Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan intelligence agency — National Directorate of Security — installation in Maidan Shahr, Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of security personnel.
The two sides — US and Taliban — had last met in December 2018 in Abu Dhabi in a meeting facilitated by Pakistan and observed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. It had been agreed at the meeting that the engagement process would be continued. But, arranging the next round of talks became difficult due to the Taliban’s inflexibility over negotiating with the Afghan government. The Taliban have, meanwhile, been insisting that US should instead withdraw its forces and release Taliban prisoners.
There was no word from the US side on the Taliban claim after the latest meeting in Doha that US had agreed to discuss withdrawal plans.
Recently, the Afghan Taliban while rejecting media reports of possible talks with the US in Islamabad and reiterated that they will not deal directly with the Afghan Government.
11 die as ships with Indian, Turkish crews catch fire in Kerch Strait
Moscow:Two ships carrying Indian, Turkish and Libyan crew members had caught fire in the Kerch Strait separating Crimea from Russia, killing at least 11 people, media reports said on Tuesday.
The fire broke out off Russia’s territorial waters. Both vessels were flying Tanzanian flags. One of them was a liquefied natural gas carrier and the other a tanker. The fire broke out as the two ships were transferring fuel from one to the other.
One of the ships, the Candy, had a 17-member crew–nine Turkish citizens and eight Indian nationals.
The other, the Maestro, had a 15-member crew–seven Turkish nationals, seven Indian citizens and an intern from Libya, Russian news agency Tass quoted maritime authority as saying.
At least 11 sailors had died, Russian Maritime Agency was quoted by RT news, a Russian television network.
“Presumably, an explosion occurred (on one of the vessels). Then the fire spread to another vessel. A rescue tug is en route,” said a spokesman for the Russian Maritime Agency.
Some three dozen sailors managed to escape the burning ships by jumping off the vessels.
Twelve people have so far been rescued from the sea. Nine sailors were still listed as missing, the spokesperson said.
Severe weather conditions at sea had prevented rescue ships from taking victims to the shore for medical treatment, the report added.
The Kerch Strait is a key waterway that holds strategic importance for both Russia and Ukraine.
It is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine that allows ships leaving the port city of Mariupol to access the Black Sea.
It’s also the closest point of access for Russia to Crimea, a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014. A Russian-built bridge over the Kerch Strait opened in May last year. PTI
Pak shares Kartarpur draft pact, calls India ‘urgently’ to finalise deal
Lahore/New Delhi: Pakistan said it has shared a draft agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor with India and invited New Delhi to “urgently” send a delegation to Islamabad to “negotiate and finalise” the proposal.
The proposed agreement aims at facilitating travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Gurudwara in Narowal, nearly 4 km away from Gurdaspur border on the Indian side.
“The draft agreement between the two governments has been shared with New Delhi through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a statement.
The move is in line with Pakistan’s policy of promoting inter-faith harmony and religious tolerance and Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood, he added.
Pakistan has appointed Director-General (South Asia and SAARC) as the focal person on its side and requested India to designate its focal person soon.
Pakistan also invited India to “urgently send a delegation to Islamabad to negotiate and finalise the agreement”, Faisal said.
He also tweeted, “Continuing with PM Imran Khan’s initiative, Pakistan, today, shared the proposed draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor with India. Indian delegation invited to visit Islamabad for an expedited conclusion of the agreement. Keeping promises – Work in progress on Kartarpur Corridor on Pakistan side.”
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on November 26 last year laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district.
Two days later on November 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the corridor at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore.
The decision to build the corridor – from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border – was taken by the Union Cabinet on November 22.
The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur.
The corridor was a long-pending demand of the Sikh community. Pakistan had committed to open the corridor in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.