Thursday, January 31, 2019
By Peter Baker
While the Kabul government was a client of the Soviet Union, the new president, Hafizullah Amin, had something else in mind. “I think he wants an improvement in U.S.-Afghan relations,” Mr. Blood wrote in a cable back to Washington. It was possible, he added, that Mr. Amin wanted “a long-range hedge against over-dependence on the Soviet Union.”Mr. Blood’s newly published cable sheds light on what really drove the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan only two months after his meeting with Mr. Amin. Spoiler alert: It was not because of terrorism, as claimed this month by President Trump, who said the Soviets were right to invade. Among the real motivations, the cable and other documents suggest, was a fear that Afghanistan might switch loyalties to the West.
“This was a key moment that raised the Soviet sense of threat,” said Thomas S. Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University that recently obtained the cable through the Freedom of Information Act and posted it online on Tuesday. “It’s a fascinating case study of the necessity in all of these international affairs of putting yourself in the other guy’s place — what does it look like over there?”
The origins of the Soviet invasion offer lessons for a history-challenged Mr. Trump as he negotiates an end to the United States’ own war in Afghanistan, now 17 years old. An American envoy reported Monday that he has reached a draft framework for peace with the Taliban.A hardscrabble land of breathtaking beauty and unimaginable brutality, torn by religious, ethnic and tribal divisions and stuck in a virtually medieval reality, Afghanistan has been at the center of geopolitical contests for centuries — and high on the American priority list since the Soviet invasion of December 1979.
That intervention ruptured relations between the superpowers as President Jimmy Carter suspended grain sales to the Soviet Union and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He also began a military buildup later accelerated by President Ronald Reagan, and American support for the mujahedeen rebels helped drive the bloodied Soviets out in 1989.
Some of the United States’ allies in that war, however, later switched sides, and Afghanistan became a haven for Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, President George W. Bush sent forces to topple the Taliban government. His successor, President Barack Obama, temporarily sent even more troops.
But Mr. Trump argues that it is time to leave. During a cabinet meeting in early January where he discussed plans to withdraw half of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan, Mr. Trump said other countries should pick up the slack, including Russia.
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” he said of the 1979 invasion. “They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight.”
No other American president has endorsed the Soviet aggression, and Mr. Trump’s fanciful version of history drew widespread mockery. But Mr. Blanton, who researched the issue with Svetlana Savranskaya, a senior analyst at the archive, said initial American interpretations of Soviet motivations were wrong, as well.In a memo to Mr. Carter two days after the invasion, his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, suggested it stemmed from “the age-long dream of Moscow to have direct access to the Indian Ocean” — although it would require further territorial claims by Moscow even if it did conquer landlocked Afghanistan.
The more conventional understanding was the desire by the Kremlin to prop up a fellow Communist state.
“If they lost Afghanistan to the West, they would be losing more than a strategically placed country on their borders,” said Michael Dobbs, whose book “Down With Big Brother” chronicled the last years of the Soviet Union. “They would effectively be acknowledging that history can be reversed, setting the stage for the disintegration of the entire empire.”
Mr. Blood’s cable suggests that Mr. Amin was open to a realignment that stirred fears in Moscow of another Egypt, which broke from the Soviet orbit in 1972. During their 40-minute meeting on Oct. 27, 1979, Mr. Amin, speaking English, said he wanted to draw closer to the United States, where he once studied.
“He then went on, with considerable eloquence, to stress his personal commitment to improving U.S.-Afghan relations, expressing his affection for the U.S. acquired during his residence in our country,” Mr. Blood wrote.
Mr. Amin denied that the Soviets called the shots. “He was declaiming how he could never sacrifice Afghan independence to any foreign demands, including from the Soviets,” Mr. Blood wrote.
The American diplomat came away with a positive view of Mr. Amin. “The man is impressive,” Mr. Blood wrote. “His survival to date is by itself impressive, as is the air of quiet self-confidence he exudes. Clearly, he is aware of the mortality rate of Afghan leaders; several times he said ‘even if I am killed tomorrow.’ He masks his ruthlessness and toughness quite well by his soft-spoken manner.” Still, Mr. Blood was cautious, recommending no seismic shift immediately while the United States assessed Mr. Amin’s staying power. In Moscow, however, the meeting was noticed with alarm.
“We have been receiving information about Amin’s behind-the-scenes activities which might mean his political reorientation to the West,” Yuri V. Andropov, the K.G.B. chief, told the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev in a handwritten memo in December 1979. “He keeps his contacts with the American chargé d’affaires secret from us.”
The Andropov memo was made public in 1995 when Anatoly F. Dobrynin, the longtime ambassador to the United States, went to the Russian archives and transcribed documents for a project by the Norwegian Nobel Institute. At a meeting on Dec. 8, 1979 — also transcribed by Mr. Dobrynin — Mr. Andropov and Dmitri F. Ustinov, the defense minister, cited the dangers of American missiles being deployed in Afghanistan.“The picture Andropov is painting in early December is that if Amin did a flip, it would totally change the geopolitical balance in South Asia,” Mr. Blanton said. “It would be as if Mexico became a base for Soviet short-range missiles. How would we feel?”Mr. Blood’s cable has been mentioned publicly before. Henry S. Bradsher, a longtime foreign correspondent who wrote the book “Afghanistan and the Soviet Union,” published in 1983, obtained a copy of a version that had been sent to the United States Embassy in Iran, was shredded during the hostage crisis and was later pieced back together. But the United States government finally released an official copy to the National Security Archive and in a new State Department history of the era published last month.
In a 1989 oral history, Mr. Blood kept quiet about the possible change in the relationship. Instead, he focused on an episode earlier in the year when the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph “Spike” Dubs, was kidnapped in Kabul and killed during a rescue attempt.
“Washington asked me to seek an appointment with Hafizullah Amin who was the president and the leader,” Mr. Blood, who died in 2004, said in the oral history. “About the only thing they wanted to tell him was that he couldn’t expect any resumption of aid until he could satisfy us about their role in Spike’s death.”Rodric Braithwaite, the last British ambassador to the Soviet Union and the author of “Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-89,” said on Monday that it had long been known that the Kremlin worried that Mr. Amin was turning to the United States, but said Soviet leaders had multiple motives for the invasion.“It’s difficult to weight all the considerations,” he said, “but the Russians’ main concern was to ensure that a country on their vulnerable southern border, which they had cultivated for decades, didn’t become hostile.”
The Kremlin was also angered that Mr. Amin had not only toppled President Noor Muhammad Taraki, who had its backing, but had him killed. On Dec. 12, 1979, the Politburo approved a miliary intervention with no debate as Mr. Brezhnev and the others signed a handwritten decision memo titled “On the Situation in ‘A.’”
The Soviets tried to kill Mr. Amin only to botch it. The day after the “A” memo was signed, a K.G.B. operative slipped poison into his Coca-Cola, but the carbonation diluted the toxic agent. A couple of weeks later, the K.G.B. poisoned his food, but the Soviet Embassy in Afghanistan, unaware of the plot, sent doctors to save him. Only when thousands of Soviet troops poured into Afghanistan did they finally dispatch the troublesome leader, this time during crossfire.
The invasion was intended to be a quick operation, as in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. But resistance to the Soviets was fierce and unrelenting. The realignment Mr. Blood broached took place as a result, with the United States coming to the aid of the Afghan rebels. It was, however, a realignment that would not last.
Justin Trudeau Offers Asylum To Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian ...Pakistani Christian Tried For Blasphemy, Headed To Canada: Family Friend
By Amardeep Bassey
She spent years in solitary confinement.
He said Canadian diplomats are making the necessary arrangements and that Bibi "is looking forward to her new life in a new country."
It is hoped Bibi will join two of her daughters, who have already been secretly transported to Canada, Chowdhry said.
Security concerns are still paramount. Even in Canada, Asia's life is in potential danger.
Wilson Chowdhry, British Pakistani Association Canada's Global Affairs department would not confirm Chowdhry's update, but said that Bibi's case is a "priority" for the Canadian government.
"Canada is prepared to do everything we can to ensure the safety of Asia Bibi," Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Brittany Fletcher said on Tuesday. "We urge the Government of Pakistan to take all necessary steps to keep her safe. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and must be fully respected."
Speaking on background, officials told HuffPost Canada they are actively working to secure her release but won't confirm details due to safety concerns for Bibi and diplomats.
Chowdhry, a close friend of the Bibi family who travelled the world trying to secure her asylum, said Bibi was moving to a secret and "relatively remote" part of Canada.
"Security concerns are still paramount. Even in Canada, Asia's life is in potential danger."
'Canada is a welcoming country': Trudeau
'Safe and secret location'
- By Diana Chandler
The acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who escaped death from a disputed blasphemy conviction in Pakistan, has stirred optimism as a legal victory and caution over her safety.
The Pakistan Supreme Court upheld Bibi’s acquittal Jan. 29. The three-judge panel ruled against Islamic extremists who challenged the court’s October decision to free Bibi.
The Pakistan Supreme Court upheld Bibi’s acquittal Jan. 29. The three-judge panel ruled against Islamic extremists who challenged the court’s October decision to free Bibi.
Bibi, who had lived in hiding in Islamabad since November, planned to travel to Canada to join family members already in Pakistan, a friend who requested anonymity told the Associated Press. She was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and would have been the first woman executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
“I am really grateful to everybody,” the friend quoted Bibi as saying, the AP reported. “Now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters.”
As Muslim extremists continue to threaten Bibi’s life, her attorney and others are calling for the prosecution of those who falsely accused the 53-year-old mother of five in 2009. Other advocates urge protection of the 3.9 million Christians who live as minorities in Pakistan and for the protection of the Supreme Court justices who upheld Bibi’s freedom.
In advance of the verdict, hundreds to perhaps thousands of Muslim extremists who threatened Bibi and her supporters were jailed, according to varying reports, and remain in custody. Few protested after the latest ruling, according to reports. “The Supreme Court judges have given very clear observations on punishment for perjury,” Malook told Morning Star News. “Although there’s already a law against recording concocted testimonies, it’s important that the state implement it in letter and spirit to discourage people from leveling false allegations against others.”
Joseph Francis, a Christian politician and religious liberty advocate in Pakistan, voiced similar sentiment.
“This is a very good decision, but I think those who falsely implicated Bibi, wasting precious years of her life, should be prosecuted and sent to jail,” Francis, leader of the Pakistan Christian National Party, told AP. “Such a sentence will prevent others from falsely implicating innocent people in blasphemy cases.”
Bibi’s accusers should be jailed for life, were it not for the sensitivity of the case, Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa told AP. Two government leaders who advocated for Bibi’s release during her ordeal, federal minister for minority affairs Shabbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, were murdered in 2011 for supporting her.
“The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow,” AP quoted Khosa as saying. More than 50 people accused of blasphemy have been killed by angry mobs and others in Pakistan, according to official counts.
Religious liberty advocate Amnesty International called for the court to be protected and urged the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
“This shameful delay in enforcing Asia Bibi’s rights only reinforces the need for the Pakistani government to repeal the blasphemy laws as soon as possible,” Amnesty’s South Asia representative Rimmel Mohydin said, “as well as other laws that discriminate against religious minorities and put their lives in danger.”
Pakistan has “a duty to protect against threats of violence to harm religious minorities or the lives of judges or other government officials,” Mohydin said in a Jan. 29 press statement.
While the verdict is good news, said International Christian Concern (ICC), Christians in Pakistan now suffer a heightened threat. “Our prayers now are with Asia and her family as they are in extreme danger until they are safely out of Pakistan,” ICC Regional Manager William Stark said in a press statement. “We are also very concerned for the safety of Pakistan’s Christian community at large. Asia’s case remains highly sensitive and the ignition point for many acts of religious hatred.”
Open Doors, which ranks Pakistan as the fifth most dangerous nation in the world for Christians, praised the verdict as a powerful message and upheld Bibi as a respected citizen among Christians.
“Bibi is a much loved and prayed for woman,” Open Doors quoted a partner in Pakistan as saying. “What happens to her impacts the whole Christian community.”
Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 on charges of insulting the prophet Mohammad while working in a field as a day laborer in 2009. When Bibi offered a coworker a cup of water, the woman said Bibi’s Christianity made the water ceremonially unclean. This set off a chain of false accusations related to Bibi’s beliefs and backed by Muslim clerics. Bibi refused to convert to Islam. Since 1986 when Pakistan updated its blasphemy laws, at least 150 Christians, 564 Muslims, 459 Ahmadis and 21 Hindus have been jailed on blasphemy charges, according to Open Doors.
More than 40 people convicted of blasphemy are currently on death row or serving life sentences in Pakistan, according to the American Center for Law and Justice, which had advocated for Bibi’s release. Hundreds are serving or have served prison terms ranging from three years to 10 years.
Pakistani curriculum schools in Dubai are on the lowest categories while Indian curriculum schools are shining with top ranking in the latest report of schools’ inspection conducted by the government of Dubai.
One of the two Pakistani curriculum schools in Dubai has upgraded its ranking while the others’ standing declined in 2018-19, according to the schools’ inspection body of Dubai, Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
Pakistan’s Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum School in Dubai slightly improved its ranking from “weak” to “acceptable” after eight years, a report by the schools’ inspection regulator Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) revealed.Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum School is the only Pakistani school in Dubai that is run by the government of Pakistan through its consulate in Dubai. While the ranking of another Pakistani-curriculum school Pakistan Education Academy went down from “acceptable” to “weak”. The ‘Pakistan Education Academy’ runs under private governing body.
The performance of the schools is divided in five categories (1) Outstanding (2) Very Good (3) Good (4) Acceptable and (5) Weak. Unfortunately, both Pakistani curriculum schools are in the last two categories, although, Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum School has finally showed some upward trend after eight years of inspection.
On the other hand, total of 73 per cent students attending Indian-curriculum schools in Dubai are receiving 'good' quality of education or even better, according to the KHDA report.The 2018-2019 'Indian Curriculum Schools' report showed that 31 out of 35 Indian-curriculum schools were inspected by the KHDA. This year, 21 schools were rated 'good' or better, compared to 18 schools last year.
One school was rated 'outstanding', 15 were rated 'good', five were 'very good', nine were 'acceptable', and one was 'weak'. The KHDA report suggested the Pakistani curriculum schools to improve teaching standards provide a wider skill-base of governors and make them more accountable for the improvement in learning resources and school standards.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Legislators say the war was never approved by US Congress, argue US should halt its support for Saudi-UAE offensive.A bipartisan group of US politicians pledged to advance legislation in Congress that would block further support by the American military for the Saudi-UAE war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The measure enjoys broad support among Democrats and a number of key Republicans, but would face a likely veto by President Donald Trump suggesting delays and high-level negotiations with the White House ahead.Public opinion in the US has turned against the war because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as well as the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.Politicians supporting the measure believe they can generate enough support in Congress to overturn a presidential veto which would force Trump to apply pressure on Riyadh.
"When Yemenis see 'Made in USA' on the bombs that are killing them, it tells them the United States of America is responsible for this war," Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.
"This is not a message the United States should be sending to the world. The United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic Saudi regime with a dangerous and irresponsible military policy."
A similar anti-war measure passed the Senate by a 56-41 margin in December as the prior session of Congress was winding down.
Advocates now plan to push the bill in the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives to generate momentum for action in the Senate, where it must be approved again over likely opposition from Republican leaders."The preference is to start this in the House, get a big vote in the House and then bring it over to the Senate," Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has been a critic of the US role in Yemen, told Al Jazeera.
US military had provided crucial aerial refueling for Saudi-UAE jets that were also using US-made weapons to inflict devastating attacks on Yemen.On November 10, the US Defense Department said it was suspending aerial refueling and the US pressed Saudi Arabia to agree to a UN-brokered ceasefire.A US-based humanitarian group, International Rescue Committee, warned on January 30 that the ceasefire is breaking down as clashes between Houthi rebels and government forces increase.
By Benazir Jatoi
Children are dying in Yemen, one of the poorest of all Middle Eastern countries, not due to a natural tragedy, but because of a manmade civil war between a coalition led by powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, against Houthi rebels, who are said to be backed by Iran. Many analysts see this as Saudi Arabia at war with its arch-rival, Iran. A proxy war between the two regional powers, whose animosity with each other goes back decades. Saudi Arabia is carrying out this economic warfare in Yemen, with the express backing of the Yemeni government. Yemen is being attacked by air and sea, courtesy of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of destroying its economy and stifling every point of entry into the country. This includes the blockade of the major port on the Red Sea, which is the main route used for aid and humanitarian assistance into Yemen.
The obvious question is why has Saudi Arabia involved itself in a conflict that began as an internal Yemeni dispute? Saudi Arabia’s justifies its involvement in the conflict by saying Houthi rebels attacked them and they are responding to this aggression, while at the same time providing assistance to which they see as the legitimate government of Yemen. The Saudis have also said, and have been saying, that victory for them is around the corner. So far victory has been seen for neither the Saudis nor the Houthi rebels. The United States, Saudi Arabia’s longstanding allay, is the provider of most of the heavy machinery and weapons used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. America, however, has up until late last year said and done nothing about Saudi Arabia’s disproportionate response to Houthi rebels in its proxy war in Yemen. Whether it was Obama in power or now Trump, the Saudis have carried out their war in Yemen with impunity. And in that Saudi Arabia is literally getting away with murder. In fact, not just America’s but the world’s attention has been everywhere else but on Yemen. America and other Western countries have kept silent and allowed the Saudis to do as they please — damn the human rights violations and the dying children. Why then has it taken so long for Western powers to talk about Yemen? Because to talk about Saudi Arabia and its royal family’s actions does not suit anyone’s interest. However, the recent brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has led to increased scrutiny on the foreign policy action of Saudi Arabia. Since Jamal Khashoggi’s death, Washington’s lawmakers have been keen to increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia and have begun talking about the need for a ceasefire in Yemen. They have also begun discussing the possible halting to arms sales to the Saudis. There has also been a shift in Western media reporting of the conflict — more of it, more focused, more critical of the Saudis. And of the Americans for their silence. This deserved increased media attention on Yemen has shown us the extent of the misery of Yemen’s children; the children’s sunken faces, bodies that look like x-rays, so pronounced are the rib cages and bones — it is as if the children’s facial expression are consumed with concentration on the arduous task of simply surviving.
However, even though the conflict has been in the limelight recently, with superpowers like America and regional powers like Saudi Arabia involved — not to mention the arms industry and its vast profits — the war in Yemen is much bigger than us. We are removed from it for far greater reasons then just geography. It is also difficult to see that countries, particularly Western countries, who profess to be beacons of human rights, will actually demand an end to the war or to go as far as hold Saudi Arabia accountable. With the veto power at the UN, it is difficult to see even the UN being able to hold powerful nations to account on this. I recently posed, to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President at a lecture in Islamabad, the question of whether it is time to re-assess the role of UNGA if conflicts like Sudan, Palestine and Yemen carry on without any foreseeable resolution. Her Excellency Ms Garces’s answer included that despite a difficult situation, progress was being made in Yemen.
Progress then is certainly a relative word for onlookers and laypersons. For those of us not in positions of power or influence, for the sake of the children of Yemen, we must ask ourselves whether we really are too insignificant to say or do anything? People power, which has shown to be effective in many parts of the world, should demand the end of this horrific conflict. Everyone must have a way to register their protest and use social media as a collective, global voice to protest. People everywhere must speak truth to power and put pressure on their elected representatives that the war, even when far away from their shores and daily lives, must end, and end now. Nations, no matter how small, also have a moral consciousness and they must exercise it — in bilateral discussions and at larger multilateral forums. This year must be dedicated to the dying children of Yemen.
By Ahmed Rashid
On Thursday, the Taliban appointed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who founded the movement with Mullah Mohammad Omar in 1993, as the chief negotiator in the peace talks with the United States, being held in Qatar.
Mr. Baradar, who was also appointed as deputy to the Taliban chief Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to travel soon to Doha to join the peace talks with the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.Mr. Baradar is revered among the Taliban as a charismatic military leader and a deeply religious figure who still reflects the origins of the Taliban movement, when it was founded to end the Afghan civil war and warlordism in the mid-1990s.He was the first senior Taliban leader to see the futility and waste of war and held secret peace talks in 2009 with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and indirectly with the United States and the NATO forces.
Pakistan, then the principal backer of the Taliban, brought these tentative negotiations to an end by arresting Mr. Baradar in February 2010 in Karachi and exposing the interlocutors. In arresting him, Islamabad sent out a harsh message to the Taliban and the Afghan government not to engage in political processes that contradicted its policy in Afghanistan. Mr. Baradar’s arrest created intense antagonism between Kabul and Islamabad and was deeply resented by the Taliban, which revered Mr. Baradar as one of their founder leaders.
After pressure from the United States and Qatar, Pakistan released Mr. Baradar in October after eight and a half years. He stayed in the country for medical treatment. Mr. Baradar’s release and his subsequent elevation as the chief negotiator have raised hopes that Pakistan’s attitude to the peace process and its military’s antipathy to the Taliban leaders seeking peace has clearly changed.
Pakistan has been politically isolated in the region for its unwillingness to help end the Afghan war. And the damage done by the Pakistani Taliban, a collective of jihadist groups, which attacks targets in Pakistan and then retreats into Afghanistan, has changed Islamabad’s calculus. The ongoing talks between the Americans and the Taliban have made it clear that the Taliban will no longer support or give sanctuary to terrorist groups from outside Afghanistan.Western diplomats in Islamabad now praise the military for facilitating rather than hindering Mr. Khalilzad’s mission. Whether Pakistan’s support for the peace process is a strategic change of direction that will affect the broader region remains to be seen, but Pakistan’s military has reached out to Indian military and civilian leaders to restart talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Apart from Pakistan’s support for Mr. Khalilzad’s mission, the stature of Mr. Baradar within the Taliban movement does bolster the chances of peace. I met Mr. Baradar in the late 1990s after the Taliban had captured Kabul. He had been governor of Herat province and was the deputy minister of defense for the Taliban when the group fell in 2001.Mr. Baradar was a moderate on social issues and argued for maintaining relationships with the West and Afghanistan’s neighbors. The hard-liners among the Taliban under the influence of Osama bin Laden had forced Western aid agencies to leave Afghanistan, and the country faced a severe famine and economic crisis. Mr. Baradar argued against isolating Afghanistan and cutting off all aid. He was aware of his country’s dependence on financial aid from the West.
Although he had opposed the presence of bin Laden in Afghanistan after Mullah Omar gave him sanctuary in 1996, Mr. Baradar stayed close to Mullah Omar in Kandahar after their regime fell.
Owing to his impeccable record of service to the Taliban cause, no other Taliban leader will be able to contradict Mr. Baradar if and when he takes steps toward peace. He is also the most likely figure to sell peace to the more militant Taliban commanders, who are inclined to continue fighting and want to claim total victory and impose a Shariah system on the country as they did in the 1990s.
The United States will benefit from his presence in the Qatar talks, as Mr. Khalilzad and his colleagues will be speaking to a prominent and decisive Taliban leader who can make decisions.
Mr. Khalilzad’s team has made significant headway, and American and Taliban officials have “agreed in principle to the framework” of a peace deal in which the Taliban promise not to host terrorist groups in the future and to help the United States rid Afghanistan of the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The deal could lead to a full pullout of American troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
Major questions remain to be resolved. The Taliban want an American troop withdrawal announced and their prisoners freed from Afghan jails as an immediate first step. The Americans have won a pledge from the Taliban that Afghan soil will never be used again by terrorist groups. The United States is also insisting on a Taliban cease-fire with both American and Afghan forces and an agreement to start talks on the future political setup with President Ashraf Ghani and the Kabul government.
So far the Taliban have refused to meet with Mr. Ghani and his government, describing them as mere stooges. Such a political position is unsustainable if the Taliban are really serious about ending the war. Mr. Baradar has a history of speaking to all Afghan leaders and he might be able to persuade the Taliban to reconsider the position.
And the promise of continued economic aid from the United States and NATO countries once a peace agreement is reached could be an important factor in persuading the Taliban to conclude a peace agreement.Despite the acute differences among the regional players — Iran and the Gulf States, India and Pakistan, and Pakistan and Afghanistan — there is now a growing consensus on seeking an end to the war in Afghanistan. The long war has proved devastating to the neighboring states as terrorist groups find sanctuary in an increasingly lawless Afghanistan and the implementation of economic infrastructure projects is hindered.Mr. Khalilzad’s experience with his country of birth, which stretches back to the Reagan administration during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has undeniably helped. The Afghan people are now hopeful for the first time in decades that the 40-year-long war may just possibly be coming to an end.
By Shamil Shams
Pakistan's top court has upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges, but the grave injustice that kept the Christian woman in prison for almost a decade demands introspection, says DW's Shamil Shams.
The Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday to dismiss an appeal against Asia Bibi's acquittal is commendable. The top court judges have shown immense courage in their decision to uphold their October 31, 2018, verdict that freed the impoverished Christian woman from a decade-long incarceration.
It was not an easy decision, let's be fair. We are aware of the sensitivity surrounding the blasphemy issue in Pakistan. Two top politicians in Pakistan had been murdered in broad daylight for speaking in Bibi's favor. There are many examples of violent mobs lynching alleged blasphemers. Lawyers and judges supporting blasphemy victims are openly threatened by extremists. Then there are religious groups that use blasphemy laws to gain more political clout. Therefore, the credit for Bibi's "freedom" definitely goes to the judiciary.
We must also not forget that the nature of the blasphemy case against Bibi was not just legal; it involved a number of political issues, mainly the executive's incapacity to rein in Islamists and deviate from the state's ultra-Islamic narrative. Pakistani lawmakers have shied away from tackling the controversial blasphemy laws that have resulted in brutal murders and countless imprisonments in the past two decades. Politicians have always tried not to confront Islamists, who have immense street power to paralyze the country, as we have seen in the past.
Prime Minister Imran Khan's six-month-old government will be maligned by the religious right for the court's decision, but the cricket star-turned-politician has shown a great deal of commitment in upholding the rule of law. It surely clears some stains from his government's November 2018 deal with Islamists that allowed the review petition against Bibi's acquittal.
Just delayed is justice denied
But the decision should not conceal the sordid fact that Bibi, a mother of five, lost her 10 prime years behind bars. It shows that Pakistan's legal system must be reformed, and that blasphemy laws should be debated in parliament without any fear of Islamists.
The landmark decision has definitely paved the way for Bibi's exit from Pakistan, a country where religious hardliners bay for her blood. But we must not turn a blind eye to the fact that the court freed Bibi by using the same blasphemy laws that put her in jail in the first place. The Supreme Court acquitted Bibi — and then rejected the appeal against her acquittal — on the basis of a lack of witnesses. In a country like Pakistan, false accusations and witnesses are not hard to come by.
Pakistan, thus, must make sure that no person should simply be arrested on the basis of accusations and claims. Therefore, while we must respect that most Pakistanis are sensitive about blasphemy, legal loopholes must be removed to ensure that an innocent person doesn't have to suffer the way Bibi did.
The way forward
Many Western countries have offered Bibi asylum, hence it is highly likely that she will leave the country very soon. Her daughters are reportedly in Canada, and that's the place where Bibi could end up. She could possibly take refuge in Europe, where she has many supporters.
It is time for Bibi to start a new life. Both Christian and Islamic traditions greatly value forgiveness, and it would not be surprising that Bibi would forgive her tormentors — both people and the state. But Pakistan definitely owes an apology to Bibi. And the best way to do so would be to make sure that no other person falls victim to the blasphemy laws ever again.