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Afghan leaders, Taliban attend peace talks in Moscow

MOSCOW: Moscow on Friday hosted international talks on Afghanistan aimed at kick starting direct negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban militant group, both of whom sent delegations.

Russia hopes “through joint efforts to open a new page in the history of Afghanistan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as the talks opened at a Moscow hotel on Friday morning.

He said that the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an “important contribution” aimed at creating “favourable conditions for the start of direct talks.”

“I am counting on you holding a serious and constructive conversation that will justify the hopes of the Afghan people,” he said before the talks continued behind closed doors.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP that the militant group was sending five representatives.

They will not hold “any sort of negotiations” with the delegation of Kabul administration, he said.

“This conference is not about holding negotiations with any party whatsoever – rather it is about finding a peaceful solution to the issue of Afghanistan,” he added.

This is the first time that a Taliban delegation is taking part in such high-level international meeting, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday.

The Taliban is banned from operating Russia as it is classified as a “terrorist organisation”.

The Afghan delegation is made up of four representatives of the High Peace Council, a government body responsible for reconciliation efforts with the militants, spokesman Sayed Ihsan Taheri said.

The Afghan foreign ministry has emphasised that the council does not represent the Afghan government at the meeting, however.

Moscow said it had invited representatives from the United States as well as India, Iran, China, Pakistan and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Pakistan, which has long been accused of providing support to the Afghan Taliban, would “definitely” attend, foreign ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal told AFP.

The US embassy in Moscow was sending a representative to observe the discussions.

The Moscow meeting was initially scheduled to take place in September but was postponed after Kabul insisted that the process should be Afghan-led.

The meeting comes at a sensitive time.

Newly appointed US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been trying to convince the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the war and there are fears the Russian meeting could derail those efforts.

A US government watchdog last week said Kabul’s control of Afghanistan had slipped in recent months as local security forces suffered record casualties while making minimal or no progress against the Taliban.

Pakistani delegation in China to finalise modalities for economic cooperation

Pakistan and china flag

Secretary Finance Arif Ahmed Khan and State Bank of Pakistan Governor Tariq Bajwa are part of the delegation which met top Chinese officials on Friday.

The talks follow Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to China, during which 15 agreements and MoUs were signed to enhance cooperation in economy, trade and other sectors.

During the visit, the two sides agreed to elevate Pakistan-China all-weather strategic cooperative partnership to new heights.

PM Imran Khan had on Thursday apprised his cabinet of the “successful” maiden visit to China, saying that Beijing had assured Islamabad “of every kind of assistance”, and that Pakistan would reap its benefits in the days to come.

Separately, a 15-member Chinese delegation paid a visit to the National Assembly today and met with Speaker Asad Qaiser.

The delegation, led by Zhang Chunxian, discussed matters of mutual interest with the NA speaker.

During the meeting, Qaiser pointed out that Pakistan has benefited greatly from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and was told that by Chunxian that China wishes to see Pakistan prosper and flourish.

Angela Merkel’s legacy: has she saved or destroyed Europe?

Angela Merkel’s approach to a problem, wrote one of her biographers, is “to sit it out”. Rather than entertain grand ideas of a “historic mission” or “strategic vision”, she aims to “solve today’s problems, in a way that ensures she stays in power”.

The German chancellor, once described by Forbes as the world’s most powerful woman, managed that for 13 years. She has been measured, cautious, methodical, pragmatic, sometimes maddeningly noncommittal and seemingly always in control.

But this week, weakened by plummeting polls, an unpopular and ineffective coalition, dire performances in recent state elections and increasingly acrimonious in-fighting among her centre-right alliance, she conceded defeat.

The dignified, matter-of-fact announcement of her coming departure, however, was Merkel all over, as was the orderly two-stage exit she plans, first surrendering her 18-year leadership of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) next month, then stepping down as chancellor in 2021, at the end of her fourth term.

It might not work. The election of a conservative Merkel critic such as Friedrich Merz, the current front runner, as the party’s head would see her go before election day, many believe. Further big losses by the CDU’s coalition partners, the Social Democratic party (SPD), in coming state elections could also mean her government collapses as early as next year.

But whether or not Merkel sees out her last mandate, a battle royal is under way over her legacy. For her defenders, the chancellor is a calm, unflappable, non-ideological consensus builder who brought stability to her country and the EU in a string of major crises.

She is, they say, a fundamentally decent politician who fought for democratic values; whose civil, level-headed persona represents all that the posturing populists now challenging Europe’s unity in countries like Hungary and Italy – and the one in the White House – do not.

Her critics say that on major policy questions she is indecisive, unknowable and panders to public opinion. They describe her as a tactician but not a strategist, with no real vision; unwilling and unable to challenge old German orthodoxies or change the political weather.

Perhaps most damningly, they suggest that her analytical, rational, non-partisan and ultimately technocratic style of leadership may, in the end, have actually precipitated the collapse of Europe’s political centre and helped pave the way for the populists.

“Politicians have to be effective and credible, and Merkel has been both,” says one of her supporters, Constanze Stelzenmüller, of the Brookings Institution. “She built relationships of trust – she had a relationship of trust even with Alexis Tsipras.”

At the peak of the eurozone crisis, when most of northern Europe wanted the Greek prime minister to be told his country had to leave the common currency, Merkel demurred, Stelzenmüller says, saying it would have been “a betrayal of the European project. She gains people’s trust because she has clear values.”

Those values are plain, supporters say, in Merkel’s determination to impose sanctions after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, her decision to welcome more than one million migrants into Germany in 2015, and her response to Donald Trump’s election (she pointedly offered him cooperation “based on the values of democracy, freedom, respect for the law and the dignity of all human beings”).

And that thorough, lead-from-behind, won’t-be-rushed style? “It’s exactly what you want running a major power in the centre of Europe,” insists Stelzenmüller. “You have to build support, you can’t just ‘decide and do’. Imagine if you tried.”

Others, however, are not so sure. “Much of what we think we know about Merkel is either spin or speculation,” says Hans Kundnani, senior research fellow at Chatham House. “The extraordinary thing is, after 13 years in the chancellery we still don’t really know who she is.”

Certainly there is something about Merkel’s unremarkable personality that resonated with many Germans, who have sound historical reasons for disliking excessive political passion. As one diplomat puts it: “Policies were never the point of Merkel. What Germans knew about her character outweighed what they didn’t know about her ideas.”

For Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics at Princeton university, many Germans saw Merkel as “an eminently reliable and highly analytical civil servant, not as a politician who has ever systematically staked out a vision for the country”.

Her frequent U-turns (on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, for example), “could only have been pulled off by someone seen as more of a civil servant-in-chief, who chose the most seemingly reasonable course of action, beyond partisan commitments,” Müller argued in Foreign Policy magazine.

But this managerial style of politics is not just out of step with a populist age, says Kundnani, but helped create it. The radical far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) emerged “in direct response to Merkel’s statement, regarding the Greek bailout, that there was ‘no alternative’,” he says. “It basically said: ‘Yes there is’.”

Merkel’s hard line on enforcing austerity was popular in Germany but almost certainly helped fuel support for populist movements in southern Europe, while her 2015 open borders policy – based, Kundnani believes, as much on a misreading of German opinion as on compassion – boosted the German anti-immigration party.

Kundnani sees Merkel as a cynical operator, who is “Machiavellian” in her ruthless sidelining of political opponents and who acts generally in the way she believes will most appeal to voters. (Her statement on Trump can also be seen in that light, he says: “There are points to be scored in Germany by standing up to a US president.”)

As Europe’s de facto leader for so many years, her failure to do more to create a real architecture for European integration, or – more recently – to take bold steps to secure with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, the institutional future of the euro, will not be viewed kindly by future historians, critics say.

Merkel’s defenders note the constraints placed on German chancellors, who have far less real power than French or US presidents, by their country’s political structure and strong constitutional court. “She’s not inscrutable; you just have to know her,” says Stelzenmüller. “Nor is she a populism enabler. She’s been a bulwark against it.”

But it could just be that her style of politics has left voters feeling deprived of real democratic choice – and encouraged the ongoing splintering of Europe’s politics. “We don’t yet know,” says Kundnani, “whether Merkel will go down in history as the woman who destroyed Europe, or saved it.”

PM Imran orders immediate inquiry into assassination of Maulana Sami Ul haq

CHINA: Prime Minister Imran Khan has condemned the assassination of former senator Maulana Samiul Haq and has sought immediate inquiry into the incident.

Expressing his grievance over Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) chief’s assassination, the premier stated that the country has been deprived of a significant leader and a religious scholar, adding that his services will always be remembered.

In a statement from Beijing, where he currently is on an official visit to China, the prime minister has sought a report and directed that an investigation be carried out immediately to capture the perpetrators.

Also, President Arif Alvi has expressed sorrow over the martyrdom of Sami Ul Haq and sympathy with the aggrieved family over the tragic incident.

The President paid tribute to Maulana Haq’s religious social and political services.

Senior religious scholar Sami Ul Haq has been assassinated at his residence in Rawalpindi where he was found stabbed dead on Friday evening, Haq’s son confirmed the report.

“He was trying to reach the protest in Islamabad but came back home due to roads being blocked. He was resting in his room during Asar time when his driver-cum-guard went out for 15 minutes,” Haq’s son Maulana Hamidul Haq said.

“When he returned, he found Maulana Samiul Haq dead in his bed and his body covered in blood.”

Hamid added that his father had been stabbed multiple times.