An Afghan peace envoy reportedly held secret talks with former Taliban officials in China last week in an effort to bring the insurgency to the negotiating table. The meeting was facilitated by Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
The two-day talks were aimed at discussing preconditions for a possible peace process, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources briefed on the matter by the parties.
“These were talks about talks,” one diplomat said.
The meeting, held on May 19-20 in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi, was facilitated by Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Although Afghanistan’s peace-negotiating body often holds talks with the Taliban, such high-level meetings are unusual, the WSJ reported.
The three former Taliban officials who attended are based in Pakistan and are close to the Taliban’s leadership council, based in Quetta.
The meeting was also attended by Chinese officials and members of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).
However, in a statement Sunday, the Taliban denied the meeting took place.
Pakistan’s support of a peace process is seen as crucial, as much of the Taliban leadership has been based in the country since 2001 – and its fighters have used border areas between the two countries as an operational base.
The meeting’s China location is also key, as Beijing has made increased efforts to play the role of mediator in the conflict, facilitating conversations between Afghanistan and the Taliban in regard to peace talks.
But relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are not without tension; Afghan and Western officials have repeatedly accused Islamabad of effectively controlling the Taliban insurgency – an allegation that Pakistan has denied, despite acknowledging it has some influence over the movement.
Previous efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table have failed. In June 2013, the Taliban opened an office in Qatar for the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’ It also raised the same white flag flown during the group’s five-year rule of Afghanistan – a move that angered then-President Hamid Karzai and the US, and led to the derailment of talks.
Afghanistan’s current president, Ashraf Ghani, has pushed for peace talks with the Taliban since being elected last year.
But despite regional efforts for peace negotiations, the Taliban is still taking part in a nationwide offensive, which has led to casualties on both sides. The movement insists that all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan as a precondition for negotiations.
The very country which brought the world one of the most brutal and intolerant religious ideologies – Wahhabism, while operating the most oppressive modern-day theocracy, is vying for the presidency of the UN Human Rights Council.
Saudi Arabia has come to represent many things over the decades – theocracy, oppression, brutality and even at times downright barbarism. And seeing how the Kingdom has become infamous for carrying out death sentences by beheading, it’s safe to say that upholding the principles of human rights is not exactly the regime’s forte.
Yet, King Salman, the new self-proclaimed custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, did not flinch when he declared on May, 20 that, “The Saudi Arabian government guarantees freedom of expression and opposes discrimination.”
The comment was aimed at Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Mufleh Al-Qahtani, president of the National Society for Human Rights, and other senior officials during their visit to Riyadh.
The King went on confidently, “The pillars of this state are built on Islamic law that calls for the protection of human rights; and governance in the country is based on justice, consultation and equality.”
But since those pillars the King is so keenly referring to are themselves based on the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam – a sect by its very nature reactionary and fiercely oppressive towards all it does not approve of or understand – Saudi Arabia’s justice system is merely a reflection of such dystopian ideology.
Wahhabism is actually so intrinsically violent and foreign to the concept of interfaith cohesion and peaceful social coexistence that it gave birth to the so-called jihadist movement that is currently holding the Middle East and North Africa hostage – Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
Wahhabism is a sect that came to be in the 18th century at the command of Mohammed Abdel-Wahhab. To put things further into historical context, the Wahhabis, or the Ikhwan as they called themselves then, under the banner of Wahhabism raided and ransacked both the holy city of Karbala (Iraq) and Medina before marching into Mecca as conquerors. Those “faithful” hordes turned Arabia crimson red to the swing of their blades as they pillaged and massacred along the way.
Fast forward a few centuries and Wahhabism is as bloodthirsty and intolerant as ever.
When all which is not Wahhabi Islam is considered apostasy, talks of equality and justice are as intangible as mirages – and yet the Kingdom would like the world to believe in its gospel of justice.
Not content with professing the righteousness of his rule, King Salman now harbors ambitions for the Kingdom to head the United Nations Human Rights Council.
On the very same week Saudi Arabia called for “experienced swordsmen” to join the Kingdom’s execution squad, reports confirmed Riyadh is preparing to lobby the United Nations to become the next head of the Human Rights Council, after Germany’s term end in 2016.
As Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch said, “that would be the final nail in the coffin for the credibility of the HRC.”
Neuer added rather eloquently, “Electing Saudi Arabia as the world’s judge on human rights would be like making a pyromaniac as the town fire chief.”
And indeed, in a country like Saudi Arabia, where women are no more than commodities to be traded off, where political prisoners are subjected to abject torture, and where beheadings are commonplace, the idea that such a regime could ever be granted such a position on the world stage rings with intolerable cynicism.
Since King Salman was declared the legitimate claimant to the throne of Saudi Arabia, 85 men and women have been put to death in macabre public displays. Among the Kingdom’s latest victims was a woman suspected of mental illness named Siti Zainab Binti Duhri Rupa. She was publicly beheaded in April.
Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International, said at the time in a statement: “Imposing the death penalty and executing someone with a suspected mental illness smacks of a basic lack of humanity.” But, of course, such condemnations and calls for restraint have mainly fallen on deaf ears since the Kingdom wields the most powerful weapon of all – petrodollars.
Saudi Arabia, it appears, cannot be made to abide by international standards, since international law does not hold sway over the Kingdom. If the world has somewhat come to terms with the principles of American exceptionalism, perhaps the era of all-encompassing Saudi impunity is now at hand – Saudi Orwellianism anyone?
And even if both the US and EU insist on courting Riyadh – for its coffers are home to billions of dollars in arm deals and other lucrative investments – it would be difficult to whitewash 85 state-sanctioned murders, one unilateral war on Yemen, and a brutal religious crackdown against the Kingdom’s Shia community.
And if, as King Salman claimed, “There is no difference between citizens or regions. All citizens are equal in rights and duties,” then why are religious figureheads like Sheikh Al Nimr languishing in prison?
Is it fairness when cluster-bombs are unleashed over Yemen’s northern region of Saada where, as it so happens, Zaidi Muslims are the majority – a branch of Islam Wahhabi clerics have branded as takfir (infidels)? Is it right when children are left to starve under a Riyadh-run blockade on Yemen?
Allowing the Kingdom to head the UN Human Rights Council would quite simply equate to rewarding inhumanity, but then again, since values such as civil liberties and human rights have become the latest casualties in the Western powers’ eternal ‘war on terror’, maybe a theme is beginning to emerge.
Back in 2013, the US and EU failed to oppose Saudi Arabia’s election to the council. Let us see how they hold up before the petrodollar super-power this time around.
Catherine Shakdam for RT.
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst and commentator for the Middle East with a special emphasis on Yemen and radical movements.
A consultant with Anderson Consulting and leading analyst for the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies, her writings have appeared in MintPress, Foreign Policy Journal, Open-Democracy, the Guardian, the Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye and many others.In 2015 her research and analysis on Yemen was used by the UN Security Council in a situation report.
By Ademu Sadik
Nations that are not under colonial rule should operate as sovereign states with the ability to make laws and take decisions that concern their citizens.
The responsibility of managing the affairs of the people in most countries are usually entrusted in the hands of certain persons who emerged either through elections or other selection processes depending on the laid down procedures for appointing leaders in such countries.
It will be a slur for any nation to diminish its status to the level that external bodies have to start dishing out instructions to it on how its affairs are run.
This could be the reason why the recent call by Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the closure of Turkish schools in Albania has continued to draw criticisms from citizens of that small Balkan country.
I think it is interesting to see the huge pressure from stakeholders, the press and civil society groups in Albania on their country’s government to clarify its position on the matter. At least, this clearly indicates that there are people who would not allow their nation become a colony of Turkey.
Like in Africa where Erdogan’s attempt to close Turkish schools was rebuffed, I am glad that the Albanians are following a similar path.
While reports have it that the Albanian government recently carried out a raid to clamp down on schools they deemed unfit, which led to the closure of 13 schools, the passion by Erdogan to have Turkish schools in the country to be shut down continues to baffle many people.
The Turkish president, who has not ceased making unsubstantiated allegations against his perceived opponents, had during his official visit to Albania called for the closure of the Turkish schools in the country, claiming that the schools were established by a terrorist organization.
But, keen followers of events in Turkey are not surprised by Erdogan’s tagging of the owners of Turkish schools (Hizmet movement) as a terrorist organisation. They are aware of the strained relationship between Erdogan and anybody linked with the Hizmet Movement. As such, Erdogan’s action is in furtherance of his deep-rooted hatred for the movement that is widely known for promoting inter-religious dialogue.
Informed analysts on activities in Turkey know that Erdoğan had accused the Hizmet movement of orchestrating a corruption investigation of his government when he was the Prime Minister of Turkey in 2013.
And, this recent move is a clear indication of a clandestine way of carrying out his continuous frustration of his perceived enemies, which further exposed his obsession with oppression..
For instance, Erdogan did not only approve of establishment of Turkish schools abroad, but he had in the past inaugurated some. It is on record that Erdoğan inaugurated one of the schools in Turkey, Turgut Özal College’s elementary school, on Feb. 17, 2005, during one of his official trips to Albania when he was prime minister of Turkey.
This is clear evidence that Erdogan is chasing those who have become a thorn in his flesh and his actions and inactions over time have shown that he is out to destroy them and their business interests.
Though it is an open secret that Erdogan is bent on this repressive act, analysts are worried that he had to do this without recourse to diplomacy or sense of responsibility.
Aligning with this line of argument were some parliamentarians in Albania, most of whom dismissed Erdogan’s claim that the schools in question were being established by a terrorist organization. They even went ahead to score the schools high by describing them as about the best schools that provide high quality education that is essential for the development of Albania.
It is only rational that the worried lawmakers had to call on their government to shun the claim of President Erdogan. For instance, Ben Blushi, a deputy from the ruling Socialist Party of Albania (PS), while addressing a session in the parliament recently, called on the government to reject Erdoğan’s request. Blushi rightly argued that Albania is not a province of Turkey. This is a clear rejection of a colonization attempt on Albania by Erdogan and his party, AKP.
Dismissing Erdogan’s allegation, Blushi categorically said the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) alone has the power to label an organization a terrorist group. This questions Erdogan’s declaration of the Hizmet Movement as a terrorist organization.
What Erdogan and his Ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) were trying to do can be seen as an attempt to colonise Albania using the bait of bringing Turkish investment to the country and to also further expand their fight against the Hizmet Movement which they assumed was responsible for exposing their corrupt practices.
Also, the Albanian Economy Minister, Arben Malaj, has made his views on the issue known. According to him, Erdogan’s call for the closure of those schools is an affront on the people of the country. He questioned Erdogan’s order to the Albanian government just as he wondered why schools that have provided qualitative education to such a great number of Albanian citizens should be mortgaged for Turkish investment, which he interpreted to be an attempt to transfer Turkish problems to Albania.
With this latest development, Erdogan and senior members of his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) seem to have lost touch with happenings in diplomatic circles. Hence, their obsession with cracking down on Hizmet movement continues to earn them more insults.
nSadik writes from Lokoja
[THE WHOLE WORLD HAS ITS HEAD BURIED IN THE SAND, when it comes to ISIS. No authority has protested in the past, nor do they protest today, the fact that ISIS is wholly a US/SAUDI-owned entity. They nurtured it together in the prison camps of Iraq and Saudi, until it was ready to stand on its own two legs in Syria. There is no surprise here, except for the great astonishment everyone experiences when learning the truth about this state-sponsored terrorism, and the fact that no government (‘cept Russia) dares to mention this dire truth.]
Calling it a global existential threat, Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has urged supporters to join the fight against the Islamic State, confirming that his Shiite militant group has been fighting the Sunni extremists all across Syria.
READ MORE: ‘No will’ to fight ISIS? US Defense Sec blasts Iraqi troops
“Today we are facing a kind of danger that is unprecedented in history, which targets humanity itself,” Nasrallah said Sunday during a televised broadcast referring to Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL).
“This is not just a threat to the resistance in Lebanon or to the regime in Syria or the government in Iraq or a group in Yemen,” the Shiite movement’s head continued. “This is a danger to everyone. No one should bury their heads in the sand.”
He called on volunteers to stand up against IS extremist fighters: “We invite everyone in Lebanon and the region to take responsibility and confront this danger and end their silence and hesitation and neutrality.”
First confession: Pentagon admits 2 Syrian children killed in US airstrikes
Nasrallah’s comments were made ahead of Monday’s anniversary of the retreat of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000.
The leader has confirmed for the very first time that Hezbollah members are fighting Islamic State together with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in various parts of Syria and not just around the border regions.
“We are fighting alongside our Syrian brothers, alongside the army and the people and the popular resistance in Damascus and Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and Qusayr and Hasakeh and Idlib,” he said. “We are present today in many places and we will be present in all the places in Syria that this battle requires.”
READ MORE: Mortar attack on Russian embassy in Damascus an ‘act of terror’ – Moscow
Nasrallah also expressed disappointment with the US-led coalition against Islamic State, saying it was not effective and had not stopped jihadists from moving around freely.
ISIS taking advantage of Syrian conflict, opposition & govt should cease fire – UN envoy tells RT
At the same time, he addressed the opposition, stressing that any support for the anti-Assad movement within Syria would only lead to more power in the hands of jihadists.
Sunni forces in Lebanon have been critical of Hezbollah’s role in Syria, as the group has not supported uprisings against Assad.
Lebanon is heavily affected by the Syrian conflict, as the majority of the refugees seeking shelter there are from the bordering war-torn state, with their number currently estimated at over 1.2 million.
The civil war in Syria started four years ago, when the Western-backed opposition began an armed rebellion against Assad’s government. By 2013, large portions of eastern Syria and western Iraq had fallen under control of militants from the Islamic State, which emerged amid the turmoil of the conflict, along with other extremist groups fighting against both Assad and the opposition. The conflict in Syria has claimed over 200,000 lives so far.
2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document: West will facilitate rise of Islamic State “in order to isolate the Syrian regime”
On Monday, May 18, the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch published a selection of formerly classified documents obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense and State Department through a federal lawsuit.
While initial mainstream media reporting is focused on the White House’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attack, a much “bigger picture” admission and confirmation is contained in one of the Defense Intelligence Agency documents circulated in 2012: that an ‘Islamic State’ is desired in Eastern Syria to effect the West’s policies in the region.
Astoundingly, the newly declassified report states that for “THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY [WHO] SUPPORT THE [SYRIAN] OPPOSITION… THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.
The DIA report, formerly classified “SECRET//NOFORN” and dated August 12, 2012, was circulated widely among various government agencies, including CENTCOM, the CIA, FBI, DHS, NGA, State Dept., and many others.
The document shows that as early as 2012, U.S. intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a U.S. strategic asset.
While a number of analysts and journalists have documented long ago the role of western intelligence agencies in the formation and training of the armed opposition in Syria, this is the highest level internal U.S. intelligence confirmation of the theory that western governments fundamentally see ISIS as their own tool for regime change in Syria. The document matter-of-factly states just that scenario.
Forensic evidence, video evidence, as well as recent admissions of high-level officials involved (see former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford’s admissions here and here), have since proven the State Department and CIA’s material support of ISIS terrorists on the Syrian battlefield going back to at least 2012 and 2013 (for a clear example of “forensic evidence”: see UK-based Conflict Armament Research’s report which traced the origins of Croatian anti-tank rockets recovered from ISIS fighters back to a Saudi/CIA joint program via identifiable serial numbers).
The newly released DIA report makes the following summary points concerning “ISI” (in 2012 “Islamic State in Iraq,”) and the soon to emerge ISIS:
- Al-Qaeda drives the opposition in Syria
- The West identifies with the opposition
- The establishment of a nascent Islamic State became a reality only with the rise of the Syrian insurgency (there is no mention of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State’s rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits; see section 4.D. below)
- The establishment of a “Salafist Principality” in Eastern Syria is “exactly” what the external powers supporting the opposition want (identified as “the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey”) in order to weaken the Assad government
- “Safe havens” are suggested in areas conquered by Islamic insurgents along the lines of the Libyan model (which translates to so-called no-fly zones as a first act of ‘humanitarian war'; see 7.B.)
- Iraq is identified with “Shia expansion” (8.C)
- A Sunni “Islamic State” could be devastating to “unifying Iraq” and could lead to “the renewing facilitation of terrorist elements from all over the Arab world entering into Iraqi Arena.” (see last non-redacted line in full PDF view.)
The following is excerpted from the seven page DIA declassified report (bold-facing is my own):
R 050839Z AUG 12
THE GENERAL SITUATION:
A. INTERNALLY, EVENTS ARE TAKING A CLEAR SECTARIAN DIRECTION.
B. THE SALAFIST [sic], THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, AND AQI ARE THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA.
C. THE WEST, GULF COUNTRIES, AND TURKEY SUPPORT THE OPPOSITION; WHILE RUSSIA, CHINA AND IRAN SUPPORT THE REGIME.
(C) Al QAEDA – IRAQ (AQI):… B. AQI SUPPORTED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION FROM THE BEGINNING, BOTH IDEOLOGICALLY AND THROUGH THE MEDIA…
4.D. THERE WAS A REGRESSION OF AQI IN THE WESTERN PROVINCES OF IRAQ DURING THE YEARS OF 2009 AND 2010; HOWEVER, AFTER THE RISE OF THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA, THE RELIGIOUS AND TRIBAL POWERS IN THE REGIONS BEGAN TO SYMPATHIZE WITH THE SECTARIAN UPRISING. THIS (SYMPATHY) APPEARED IN FRIDAY PRAYER SERMONS, WHICH CALLED FOR VOLUNTEERS TO SUPPORT THE SUNNI’S [sic] IN SYRIA.
(C) THE FUTURE ASSUMPTIONS OF THE CRISIS:
A. THE REGIME WILL SURVIVE AND HAVE CONTROL OVER SYRIAN TERRITORY.
B. DEVELOPMENT OF THE CURRENT EVENTS INTO PROXY WAR: …OPPOSITION FORCES ARE TRYING TO CONTROL THE EASTERN AREAS (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), ADJACENT TO THE WESTERN IRAQI PROVINCES (MOSUL AND ANBAR), IN ADDITION TO NEIGHBORING TURKISH BORDERS. WESTERN COUNTRIES, THE GULF STATES AND TURKEY ARE SUPPORTING THESE EFFORTS. THIS HYPOTHESIS IS MOST LIKELY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE DATA FROM RECENT EVENTS, WHICH WILL HELP PREPARE SAFE HAVENS UNDER INTERNATIONAL SHELTERING, SIMILAR TO WHAT TRANSPIRED IN LIBYA WHEN BENGHAZI WAS CHOSEN AS THE COMMAND CENTER OF THE TEMPORARY GOVERNMENT.
8.C. IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE STRATEGIC DEPTH OF THE SHIA EXPANSION (IRAQ AND IRAN)
8.D.1. …ISI COULD ALSO DECLARE AN ISLAMIC STATE THROUGH ITS UNION WITH OTHER TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, WHICH WILL CREATE GRAVE DANGER IN REGARDS TO UNIFYING IRAQ AND THE PROTECTION OF ITS TERRITORY.