BBC News – Taliban talks: Will negotiations lead to peace in Afghanistan?

The “significant progress” said to have been made during six days of talks between US officials and the Afghan Taliban suggests that both sides are serious about trying to find a peaceful solution to a 17-year conflict that has scarred Afghanistan.

But with the Taliban currently refusing to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, and negotiations relating to “unsolved matters” still to continue, what has actually been agreed during the meetings in Qatar?

Secunder Kermani, the BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent, and senior Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai, look at what we know so far about the talks, and what it could mean for the future of the country and the foreign forces operating there.

How significant were the talks?

Both the Taliban and US officials have said “progress” was made in the latest set of talks in Qatar, and despite continuing violence on the ground in Afghanistan, there seems to be a growing momentum to the peace negotiations.

Leading analyst Ahmed Rashid told the BBC the talks were “enormously significant” and that “we’ve never been as close… to an end to the civil war in Afghanistan”.

The talks lasted for six days, longer than any of the other previous set of discussions that have been held during recent months.

In the middle of the talks last week, the Taliban announced one of the group’s founding members, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader, would be appointed the new head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, after recently being released from detention by Pakistani authorities.

Mr Rashid said Mullah Barader “had a record of wanting peace and stability” and could help persuade grassroots members to accept any deal that is reached.

What was discussed?

The “progress” made seems to relate to two key issues:

When will American-led forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan?

A commitment from the Taliban that the group will not allow international jihadist groups like al-Qaeda to use the country as a base in the future.

A senior Taliban official who attended the talks told the BBC that both sides had agreed to form two committees to draw up detailed plans on how to implement agreements in principle on these topics.

The Taliban leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committees would “identify routes for the withdrawal, and how much time is needed. We suggested six months, but are flexible”.

He said the committees would also produce concrete proposals on how the Taliban can sever any links with al-Qaeda, and would start work within the next week. The Taliban source added that another meeting with the US would likely take place in early February.

Another source in the Taliban told the BBC that once an agreement had been drawn up, they would attempt to get other countries or international organisations to act as guarantors for it.

What about a ceasefire?

Both sides have said further talks are necessary to resolve outstanding issues.

What remains unclear is how a ceasefire fits into current discussions. The Taliban position seems to be one that can only be declared once a withdrawal date for international forces has been agreed.

A separate high ranking Taliban official suggested that the group was nervous about agreeing to a ceasefire before having established a firm settlement, as it could be difficult to convince grassroots fighters to take up arms again, after having laid them down.

The other crucial issue is when the Taliban will agree to begin talking directly to the Afghan government. The Taliban official said the “committees” due to be established would also produce recommendations on this.

So far, the insurgents have only engaged with the US, dismissing the administration of President Ashraf Ghani as “puppets.”

What’s the Afghan government’s view?

In pointed comments at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland earlier this week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had lost their lives since he took office in 2014.

“It shows who is doing the fighting,” he said.

When asked about the progress of talks in Qatar, President Ghani responded tersely that the aim of the meetings was “to bring the Afghan government and the Taliban into face-to-face discussions and negotiations, then the larger issues of the US presence and other international issues will be addressed”.

Counting the cost of Trump’s air war in Afghanistan

Many analysts have interpreted those comments as revealing a concern amongst Afghan authorities that they are being excluded from the discussions amidst the rush to bring the conflict to an end. US President Donald Trump is believed to be growing increasingly frustrated by the continued US presence in the country.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation who has led talks for the American side, seemed aware of these concerns when he tweeted he was travelling to Kabul to brief President Ghani and said that any deal “must include an intra-Afghan dialogue”.

The discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban are likely to be even more complicated and delicate than the discussions that have been held so far.

They would have to include agreements on the role of women’s rights and democracy in an Afghanistan where the ultra-conservative Taliban are a significant part of the political mainstream.

What happened in previous peace talks?

Previous attempts at peace have failed in their early stages.

In 2015, talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban in Pakistan broke down after news emerged of the death of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, with whose authority the Taliban team was supposedly meeting.

Whilst in 2013, talks in Qatar were cancelled when the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai was angered by the presence of a Taliban flag at the group’s offices in Qatar, and felt his authority was being undermined. – SIT summons five killer cops including former SSP Charanjit Sharma; asked to appear for questioning on 29 January 2019.

Sikh24 Editors

Faridkot – Panjab – India, 27 January 2019. On 25 January, the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Congress led Punjab government to probe sacrilege cases reportedly issued summons to the former Moga SSP Charanjit Sharma and four other police officials asking them to appear on January 29.

The move came in an immediate response to the High Court’s verdict rejecting the petitions challenging the SIT by Killer cops on 25 January 2019.

Sharing the development with media, SIT head IG Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh said that the SIT has summoned these police officers for questioning as they are prime suspects in these incidents. He added that the SIT has questioned more than 200 suspects and witnesses in Kotkapura and Behbal Klan incidents.

IG Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh further informed that as soon as the questioning of these police cops is completed, the SIT will file challan in the judicial court of Faridkot under Section 173 of the CrPC without any delay.

It may be recalled here that the Punjab & Haryana High Court had rejected the petitions challenging the SIT and seeking CBI probe into the sacrilege incidents and police firing incidents of Kotkapura and Behbal Klan on January 25.

The Court had also approved the legitimacy of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission constituted by the Congress led Punjab government for investigating these cases.

Kralingse Veer – Guru Nanak Gurdwara – To Capelsebrug

Langar, Cha, Pakore
30 December 2018

Theodorus Singh Teekgur

Jarnail Singh – Harjinder Singh

Harjinder Singh being offered more goodies

Divan Hall

Guru Nanak Gurdwara
Ottergracht 6
3064 LN Rotterdam
Zuid-Holland, The Netherlands

To Capelsebrug
30 December 2018

Leaving Rotterdam – Kralingseveer
Entering Capelle aan den IJssel

To Capelsebrug Metro

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

American Sikh Council – Save Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara from the modernizing brigade!

Kartarpur Sahib in the last 30 days has seen intense construction activity based on the master plan that the Pakistan government has promised to implement as part of the ‘Kartarpur Corridor’ agreement with its neighboring country on the East.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has extended an olive branch to Sikhs in East Punjab and the diaspora, to break the ice and change the vitiated atmosphere of the past. All governments talk of peace but rarely do politicians act upon realistic initiatives which can bring about long term change and amity.

PM Imran Khan must be thanked again for his sagacity to open the doors to Kartarpur Sahib and other historic Sikh gurdwaras across Pakistan with more ease.

Now that there seems to be sea change in the relgio-political atmosphere, Sikh businessmen with deep pockets from the UK, US and other places seem to be descending upon Kartarpur Sahib in droves hoping to cash in on the influx of visiting Sikhs from everywhere. This is the last thing that the Sikhs need!

It is understandable that the Pakistan government is trying to find various cooperative ways to move the needle forward to promote religious tourism but it is critical, that in all the excitement the most important element should not be lost; i.e., that the complete preservation of Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara complex and the surrounding environment needs to be kept in its pristine state.

Sikhs want to see, touch and feel the holy ground as it was 500 years ago so that it touches the soul with indescribable feelings of multiple emotions and recharges the Sikh spirit.

That simply cannot happen with a modernized upgraded version of the five centuries old deeply religious site which tugs at the heart of every Sikh.

There are nearly 200 historic gurdwaras currently in Pakistan and most in need of serious repair and many are either abandoned and/or being used as offices/homes by squatters. Most of the gurdwaras are owned by the Pakistan Evacuee Trust Property Board and operated by the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandak Committee.

In the recent days well-wishers of the ‘panth’ have started an online petition, which has already garnered over 8,800 signatures but we have to continue to get as many more as possible.

Sikhs everywhere can do the following:

Keep up the support going by signing the above petition.

Have every organization across the diaspora send a request to the Prime Minister of Pakistan via registered letter(s) – His Excellency Imran Khan, Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Islamabad, Pakistan, and the email is . The petition contains the overall suggestions that can be used to send the letter(s).

All the historic Gurdwaras are being torn down and gaudy marble laced buildings are replacing and completely destroying precious living history of the Sikh Faith with the original physical structures, the trees, the immediate landscape is being purposely destroyed by the ‘powers to be’ with the help of their sinister proxies, who are primarily ‘kar-sewa gangs’ prevalent in East Punjab.

Even the SGPC and DGPC, is hand in glove in destroying any vestiges of old history relating to the Sikh Gurus and other important historical figures, all in the name of saving and beautifying these historic gurdwaras.

It will be a travesty if the same heart-breaking ultra large marbleized complexes are constructed in West Punjab, because it goes against the grain of everything that Guru Baba Nanak stood for in his lifetime – namely, simplicity!

The American Sikh Council (ASC) sincerely appeals and requests the Pakistan government to make sure that the entire Kartarpur Gurdwara complex is ‘maintained in its present state’, without adding anything new and/or changing the original architecture in any shape or form.

Any changes and/or additions to accommodate visitors from lodging to restrooms and more must be done at a distance, i.e., completely outside the village of Kartarpur, and outside the 100 plus acres of land/forest areas around the river Ravi that belonged to Guru Sahibji, while retaining as much of its originality as possible, to be preserved for future generations.

ASC reiterates that Sikhs everywhere yearn to visit the Kartarpur Sahib and see the fields that our wondrous ‘Guru’ tilled with his own hands, the place where he lived, the trees he sat under and feel and touch their forehead on the same dusty soil that our ‘Guru’ walked on!

The American Sikh Council (ASC) again thanks the Prime Minister Khan and his government for opening the Kartarpur corridor and putting in so much effort in planning this unique peacebuilding concept.

The American Sikh Council (ASC) strongly supports every effort to maintain and preserve the original integrity of all the nearly 200 historic Gurdwaras, including the Kartapur Sahib complex across Pakistan.

The Hindu – Soon, you can see what Harappans looked like

Experts recreating faces of five skeletal remains; results will be out in 2 months

Ashok Kumar

Gurugram – Haryana – India, 26 January 2019. Have you ever wondered what the people from the Harappan civilisation, more than 8,000 years ago, looked like ? Were they any different from modern day humans in appearance or did they look the same? Interestingly, it may not be long before one can have the answer to these questions.

Koreans roped in

A team led by Professor Vasant Shinde, Vice-Chancellor, Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Deemed University, Pune, is on the brink of recreating the faces of a few skeletal remains, dug up during the excavation of a Harappan site at Haryana’s Rakhigarhi village in Hisar, in collaboration with South Korean scientists.

Dr Shinde told The Hindu that his team was recreating the faces of five skeletal remains and the results would be available within the next two months, soon after the publication of the paper in a journal after its review by experts.

The archaeologist, who along with his 25-member team, comprising experts from different fields, had excavated the site from 2012-16, said they had dug up cemeteries in a targeted excavation to find about 40 human remains.

However, most of the remains were found to be unfit for facial recreation.

“We needed complete skeletal remains in a good condition,” he said. “And we were lucky to find five, three males and two females,” he added.

The skeletal remains were CT scanned and the data fed into a programme developed by the Korean scientists to fill them “layer by layer with blood and flesh to show as to what the Harappan people looked like”, said Dr. Shinde, explaining the forensic facial reconstruction technique.

He added that the tentative results were already available. “We can, therefore, soon answer questions on physical similarities between the modern day population and the Harappan people,” he added.

While the technique in itself is not new, with forensic scientists having helped investigators probe crimes by recreating faces using this technology, it will be the first instance when it will be used in India for the ancient population.

The technique has also been used to recreate faces for the inhabitants of Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations, but never for the Harappan population.

Dr. Shinde also shared that the analyses of the DNA collected from the skeletal remains was at an advanced stage and the findings would be published soon. He rubbished reports that the findings were being delayed due to political pressure, contending that DNA analysis was a lengthy process.

Besides, he added, the samples was very small and the signatures were very weak. “Whatever little we have in terms of DNA data, that needs to be properly authenticated, scientifically analysed and interpreted before it is made public,” contended the professor.

Rakhigarhi is one of the largest sites of the Harappan civilisation and the major objectives behind the excavation there, according to Dr. Shinde, were to trace its beginnings and to study its gradual evolution from 6000 BCE to 2500 BCE, besides protecting it from encroachment by the locals since the village is settled exactly on top of it.

“Another aim was to find out who the Harappan people were. There was a lot of debate whether they had come from West or were locals. We wanted DNA for this and started excavation at burial sites,” said Dr. Shinde.

However, the findings from excavation have now largely substantiated that the Harappans were locals, said Dr. Shinde, explaining that the excavation hinted at the gradual evolution of the Harappans proving that they were locals.

“The structural activity, pottery, jewellery and other crafts seem to have evolved gradually. They did not immediately start with town and villages but started with circular structures to evolve to rectangular ones and then arranged them in a pattern in the third stage before setting up cities in the fourth stage. It substantiates the hypothesis that they were locals and did not come from outside, contrary to the view held by some scholars,” said Dr. Shinde.

He said that Harappans, credited with several present day traditions such as the folded hands greeting or namaste, chicken tandoor, use of the bindi and yoga, also seemed to have started the marriage system.