Daily Archives: August 18, 2018

Taliban Chief: US Offers to End Afghan War ‘Neither Rational Nor Practical’

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, The fugitive Taliban leader renewed his call Saturday for direct talks with the United States, dismissing as impractical and unacceptable “propositions” he asserted Washington has offered to promote a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

Malawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, in a message to his followers ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid, has for the first time offered some details of a recent preliminary meeting between Taliban and American officials.

Senior diplomat for the region, Alice Wells, led the U.S. delegation in the July 23 talks in Qatar, where the Taliban operates its so-called Political Office.” But neither side shared any detail until now.

The Taliban confirmed and described the discussions as useful, saying they were aimed at paving ground for future contacts between the two sides. But the insurgents shared no other details until now. Afghan government officials did not participate in the talks reportedly due to opposition from the Taliban.

Akhundzada explained the demand for direct peace talks with the U.S., saying the ongoing war is the birth-child of American occupation and only Washington can determine a deadline for the withdrawal of all American and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

But in order to avoid responsibility for this war, the Americans propose options other than constructive negotiations that are neither rational nor practical; rather it is these same propositions that prolong this war for America, make it costlier and nudge it towards failure.

Akhundzad did not elaborate on exactly what options U.S. officials put on the table. But Washington maintains it is ready to support and facilitate an intra-Afghan peace process under the leadership of the government in Kabul, cautioning that no solutions imposed from outside could help end the conflict.

The Taliban dismisses Afghan rulers as stooges of America and refuses to engage in any intra-Afghan talks until all foreign forces leave the country.

The Taliban chief asserted that Washington’s readiness for a sincere, transparent and results-oriented direct dialogue will be viewed by his group as a sound step by America and accepting the Afghan ground realities.

But negotiations must be sincere and productive, free from any fraud and deception and must revolve around the core issue and not be used for propaganda or misleading the common thinking, said Akhundzada.

The Taliban controls or hotly contests nearly half of the 407 Afghan districts. The insurgents have in recent weeks captured new territory and inflicted massive battlefield casualties on embattled Afghan security forces.

The Taliban last week came close to capturing the strategically important southeastern city of Ghazni before they were forced to retreat by Afghan forces with support from U.S. airpower after several days of deadly fighting.

The clashes reportedly killed 500 people, including Afghan forces, insurgents and civilians, beside causing massive destruction in the historic city.

In June, the Islamist insurgency for the first time in the 17-year war had ceased hostilities for three days, allowing Afghans to peacefully celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The unprecedented temporary cease-fire coincided with the Afghan government’s unilateral cease-fire. The mutual gesture, though temporary, enabled Afghan soldiers and Taliban insurgents to interact, share Eid greetings and gifts, suggesting both sides were tired of the prolonged conflict.

But the Taliban swiftly dismissed those assertions and insisted its cease-fire was meant primarily to discredit “propaganda” the insurgency was not a unified force and did not have control over its field commanders.

Afghanistan and the rest of the Islamic world are preparing to celebrate another annual festival next week, known as Eid-ul-Adha.

There are hopes the warring sides may again observe a cease-fire to ease sufferings of ordinary Afghans, although Taliban chief Akhandzada in his Saturday’s Eid message did not hint at any such undertaking.

Afghan officials said Saturday President Ashraf Ghani was consulting his aides, civil society representatives and government peace negotiators on whether or not the government should halt counter-insurgency operations during the upcoming Eid festivities.

According to findings of a European Union-funded survey released Saturday, more than 90 percent of Afghans want the government and the Taliban to observe a permanent cease-fire.

Source: Voice of America

Taliban Chief: US Offers to End Afghan War ‘Neither Rational Nor Practical’

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN, The fugitive Taliban leader renewed his call Saturday for direct talks with the United States, dismissing as impractical and unacceptable “propositions” he asserted Washington has offered to promote a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

Malawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, in a message to his followers ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid, has for the first time offered some details of a recent preliminary meeting between Taliban and American officials.

Senior diplomat for the region, Alice Wells, led the U.S. delegation in the July 23 talks in Qatar, where the Taliban operates its so-called Political Office.” But neither side shared any detail until now.

The Taliban confirmed and described the discussions as useful, saying they were aimed at paving ground for future contacts between the two sides. But the insurgents shared no other details until now. Afghan government officials did not participate in the talks reportedly due to opposition from the Taliban.

Akhundzada explained the demand for direct peace talks with the U.S., saying the ongoing war is the birth-child of American occupation and only Washington can determine a deadline for the withdrawal of all American and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

But in order to avoid responsibility for this war, the Americans propose options other than constructive negotiations that are neither rational nor practical; rather it is these same propositions that prolong this war for America, make it costlier and nudge it towards failure.

Akhundzad did not elaborate on exactly what options U.S. officials put on the table. But Washington maintains it is ready to support and facilitate an intra-Afghan peace process under the leadership of the government in Kabul, cautioning that no solutions imposed from outside could help end the conflict.

The Taliban dismisses Afghan rulers as stooges of America and refuses to engage in any intra-Afghan talks until all foreign forces leave the country.

The Taliban chief asserted that Washington’s readiness for a sincere, transparent and results-oriented direct dialogue will be viewed by his group as a sound step by America and accepting the Afghan ground realities.

But negotiations must be sincere and productive, free from any fraud and deception and must revolve around the core issue and not be used for propaganda or misleading the common thinking, said Akhundzada.

The Taliban controls or hotly contests nearly half of the 407 Afghan districts. The insurgents have in recent weeks captured new territory and inflicted massive battlefield casualties on embattled Afghan security forces.

The Taliban last week came close to capturing the strategically important southeastern city of Ghazni before they were forced to retreat by Afghan forces with support from U.S. airpower after several days of deadly fighting.

The clashes reportedly killed 500 people, including Afghan forces, insurgents and civilians, beside causing massive destruction in the historic city.

In June, the Islamist insurgency for the first time in the 17-year war had ceased hostilities for three days, allowing Afghans to peacefully celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The unprecedented temporary cease-fire coincided with the Afghan government’s unilateral cease-fire. The mutual gesture, though temporary, enabled Afghan soldiers and Taliban insurgents to interact, share Eid greetings and gifts, suggesting both sides were tired of the prolonged conflict.

But the Taliban swiftly dismissed those assertions and insisted its cease-fire was meant primarily to discredit “propaganda” the insurgency was not a unified force and did not have control over its field commanders.

Afghanistan and the rest of the Islamic world are preparing to celebrate another annual festival next week, known as Eid-ul-Adha.

There are hopes the warring sides may again observe a cease-fire to ease sufferings of ordinary Afghans, although Taliban chief Akhandzada in his Saturday’s Eid message did not hint at any such undertaking.

Afghan officials said Saturday President Ashraf Ghani was consulting his aides, civil society representatives and government peace negotiators on whether or not the government should halt counter-insurgency operations during the upcoming Eid festivities.

According to findings of a European Union-funded survey released Saturday, more than 90 percent of Afghans want the government and the Taliban to observe a permanent cease-fire.

Source: Voice of America

Surge in Taliban Attacks Keeps US, Afghan Guessing on Peace Talks

Taliban insurgents unleashed a fresh wave of attacks across Afghanistan this week, overrunning at least two Afghan military bases and launching a sustained attack on a key city, in a multifront show of strength that left hundreds dead and threatened to upend recently begun peace talks with Washington.

As recently as last month, it appeared efforts to end the war were gaining traction, amid reports that American and Taliban officials had held a series of initial meetings in Qatar. The talks had followed a three-day cease-fire in June between the Taliban, the U.S. and the Afghan government.

But starting last week, the Taliban mounted a nationwide offensive, beginning with an attack on the strategic city of Ghazni, less than 100 kilometers from the capital, Kabul. After days of fighting, U.S. and Afghan forces appeared to regain control of most parts of the city. But the attack left as many as 500 people dead, destroyed much of Ghazni’s infrastructure, and again exposed Kabul’s security vulnerabilities.

The Taliban then overran two Afghan military bases in the northern provinces of Faryab and Baghlan, killing or capturing dozens of government forces. Insurgents also conducted major attacks in the provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan. Separately, an Islamic State suicide attack on a school killed at least 34 people Wednesday in a Shiite neighborhood of Kabul.

‘Upping the ante’

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis played down the importance of the Ghazni attack, insisting the Taliban failed to seize any territory in what he called “principally an information operation to grab a lot of press attention.”

“This is what we’ve seen before in insurgencies, when there’s going to be a negotiation or a cease-fire, [insurgents] try to up the ante. This enemy does it by murdering innocent people,” Mattis said.

It’s not clear whether the Taliban offensive will derail talks with Washington, which are still in the very early stages. Several reports suggest the Taliban-U.S. discussions are preparatory in nature, essentially talks about future peace talks. But that still may represent progress, as the U.S. appears to be relaxing its opposition to the Taliban’s demand that it negotiates only with the Americans, not the Afghan government.

“[The Taliban] want to gain as much territory as they can and make sure militarily they’re in a secure position” in case the talks move to a more advanced stage, said Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to Canada and France.

‘They believe they are winning’

But it’s far from certain that the Taliban is interested in genuine peace talks, says Seth Jones, a former senior Pentagon official in Afghanistan who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“They are willing to talk � that’s pretty common in any insurgency. But to seriously sit down and negotiate, I see no evidence of that right now,” said Jones, who added he’s been in contact with Afghan and U.S. officials involved in the preparatory discussions with the Taliban.

“This is just the prosecution of a war. What we’ve seen in the last couple years is the Taliban trying to focus on urban areas they consider vulnerable. We saw it in Kunduz two years ago and I think in the case of Ghazni this was an attempt to take districts around the city and then to push in fighters,” Jones said.

Although the Taliban often attack key cities, they have been unable to control urban areas for longer than a few days or even hours before being repelled, often with the help of U.S. airstrikes, as in Ghazni.

As of May, the Taliban controlled or influenced 19 percent of Afghan territory, mostly rural areas, according to U.S. military figures, while 22 percent of the country is contested.

U.S. military officials call the war a stalemate. But the Taliban’s battlefield successes may be incentive enough to keep fighting, says Thomas Johnson, an Afghanistan specialist who teaches national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

“I don’t believe the Taliban are interested in sincere negotiations. They believe they are winning,” said Johnson, author of the book Taliban Narratives.

Intel failure

The ongoing violence is a further blow to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, just months ahead of a parliamentary election. The Ghazni attack was particularly embarrassing, as the government apparently failed to act on months of repeated warnings of Taliban fighters massing in the area.

“This was a major intel, plus security failure,” said one Afghan government official in Kabul, who did not wish to be identified because he was not authorized to comment on the matter. “People think that Taliban want leverage for the negotiations. But the fact is, that the country still remains fragile.”

The violence comes almost exactly a year after the White House announced its new Afghanistan strategy. Under the new strategy, the U.S. military no longer will impose timelines for withdrawal, an approach that effectively commits the U.S. indefinitely to the conflict.

The plan also involves a massive surge in airstrikes. Through the first half of 2018, the U.S.-led coalition has dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than any other year stretching back to 2004, according to publicly available Pentagon data.

But the biggest problem with the U.S. strategy, according to Jones, is that the Trump administration has not been able to persuade Pakistan to end its support for Afghan militants.

“The U.S. has really done nothing to dislodge the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan. They have an entire leadership structure on the other side of the border,” he said.

Pakistan’s role in the conflict resurfaced again this week, when Afghan officials reported finding Pakistanis and other foreign fighters among the dead insurgents in Ghazni. Islamabad has denied playing any role in the Ghazni attacks.

“We are all outraged,” said Wazhma Frogh, a women’s rights activist and member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. She says the Taliban wouldn’t be able to carry out such sophisticated attacks without the help of Pakistan. Unless the trajectory of the conflict changes, Frogh says, many are concerned Afghanistan will return to a level of violence not seen since the 1990s civil war.

But with the Taliban seemingly determined to fight on, and the U.S. insisting it is digging in for the long-term, it’s not clear things will change anytime soon.

Source: Voice of America

Abdulla Al-Tamimi named Qatar’s flag bearer for Asian Games 2018

Jakarta, Aspire Academy graduate Abdulla Al Tamimi will be Qatar’s flag bearer, leading Team Qatar into Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta for the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Saturday, 18th August.

Expressing his gratitude to lead Team Qatar, Al Tamimi said I’m so excited to carry the flag and lead the Qatari delegation into the opening ceremony of the Asian Games. I cannot express how proud and happy I am to represent my country at the largest sport event in Asia and I would like to thank everyone who has supported me. I will do my best during the competition next week and I hope to make Qatar proud. Watch us tomorrow at the Opening Ceremony and support Team Qatar.”

In 2012, Al Tamimi became the reigning world No.1 in the World Squash Federation’s junior circuit rankings (Under-19). He has also won several prestigious titles including the Under-19 Qatar Youth Open Championship in 2012 and the Under-19 Dutch Junior Open in July 2013. He also finished fourth in the World Youth Championship which took place in Poland in July 2013.

He continued to maintain his outstanding performance and Al Tamimi achieved a career best world ranking of 37 after reaching the second round of the World Squash Championships in Manchester in 2017. And more recently, Al Tamimi ranked 28 in the world after winning the 2018 Malaysian Open in July 2018.

Team Qatar’s squash players including Al Tamimi will be competing from August 23 in Jakarta.

The Opening Ceremony will take place on August 18 and broadcasted on Al Kass Channels at 3pm Doha time.

Source: Qatar Olympic Committee

Abdulla Al-Tamimi named Qatar’s flag bearer for Asian Games 2018

Jakarta, Aspire Academy graduate Abdulla Al Tamimi will be Qatar’s flag bearer, leading Team Qatar into Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta for the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Saturday, 18th August.

Expressing his gratitude to lead Team Qatar, Al Tamimi said I’m so excited to carry the flag and lead the Qatari delegation into the opening ceremony of the Asian Games. I cannot express how proud and happy I am to represent my country at the largest sport event in Asia and I would like to thank everyone who has supported me. I will do my best during the competition next week and I hope to make Qatar proud. Watch us tomorrow at the Opening Ceremony and support Team Qatar.”

In 2012, Al Tamimi became the reigning world No.1 in the World Squash Federation’s junior circuit rankings (Under-19). He has also won several prestigious titles including the Under-19 Qatar Youth Open Championship in 2012 and the Under-19 Dutch Junior Open in July 2013. He also finished fourth in the World Youth Championship which took place in Poland in July 2013.

He continued to maintain his outstanding performance and Al Tamimi achieved a career best world ranking of 37 after reaching the second round of the World Squash Championships in Manchester in 2017. And more recently, Al Tamimi ranked 28 in the world after winning the 2018 Malaysian Open in July 2018.

Team Qatar’s squash players including Al Tamimi will be competing from August 23 in Jakarta.

The Opening Ceremony will take place on August 18 and broadcasted on Al Kass Channels at 3pm Doha time.

Source: Qatar Olympic Committee