Direct talks between US officials and the Taliban are advancing in Qatar, aimed at ending the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for the first time met the US special representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, on March 4. (Al Jazeera) In a parallel process being brokered by Russia, Taliban representatives and Afghan politicians opposed to President Ashraf Ghani met in Moscow last month. The Taliban refuse to recognize Ghani's government, calling it a "puppet" of the US. (Al Jazeera) But advocates for Afghan women view both these sets of talks with increasing skepticism, voicing their concern that hard-won rights could be bargained away.
Twin explosions have left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed a few seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government, The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). More than 1.5 million ARMM residents voted "yes" to BOL ratification, while some 199,000 voted "no." Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu—by a vote of some 163,500 to 137,630.
A Turkish court has sentenced academic Müge Ayan to two years and one month in prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organization for signing a petition calling for a peaceful end to Turkey's three-decades-old conflict with Kurdish rebels, independent news site Diken reported Jan. 21. A former anthropology professor at İstanbul's Bilgi Univresity, Ayan is among the 1,128 signatories of a petition that criticized heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army in predominantly Kurdish cities in the country, including long curfews and the use of heavy weaponry, after a two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) broke down in July 2015.
Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá Jan. 17 that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. An explosives-laden vehicle invaded the grounds of the academy before it detonated. The driver, who was killed, was identified by authorities as an ELN explosives expert. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, which had been suspended for the peace talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested and extradited. The ELN one day later took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest."
US officials say the timetable for Donald Trump's withdrawal of all 2,000 troops from Syria has been extended from 30 days to four months. The statements came a day after Trump met with his ally Sen. Lindsay Graham, a critic of the withdrawal order, who was apparently instrumental in getting the president to blink—amid the predictable irruption of blustering and face-saving tweets. The New York Times, in reporting the policy shift, states: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in protest over Mr. Trump's decision, said that leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State, betray its Syrian Kurdish-Arab allies on the ground, and cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies." But the leadership of the Kurdish autonmous zone of Rojava in Syria's east see a more imminent threat from Turkey, which is preparing to cross the border to expunge the revolutionary Kurdish forces. Residents of the Rojava town of Kobane, near the border, have launched a "human shield" encampment to block any incursion by Turkish forces. At the border village of Qeremox, the unarmed encampment was organized by Kobane's autonomous administration, and has been joined by international supporters. (EA Worldview, ANF)
Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque has not returned to the dialogue table with the ELN guerillas, insisting they first liberate all hostages. The guerillas have released several captives over the past weeks, but nine are still believed to be held—mostly noncombatants. One of these released was only 16 years old. Interpol has issued a "red notice" for members of the ELN Central Command, incluiding top commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino." (EFE, Nov. 6; El Espectador, Nov. 3; PanAm Post, Nov. 2; Semana, Sept. 20) Rumaldo Antonio Barrientos Taborda AKA "Gurre," a top ELN regional commander, was reported killed in an operation by the army's elite Héroes de Tarazá unit in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia department Nov. 1. (El Espectador, Nov. 1)
Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar, Oct. 12. The Taliban said in a statement (PDF) that their delegation met with US special adviser for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. The statement said the two sides discussed the prospects for an end to the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, and the return of "true peace" to the country. (Khaama Press, Long War Journal, Oct. 13) These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an Aug. 25 air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. (CNN, Sept. 3) Earlier in August, more than 200 ISIS fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, after a two-day battle that was a decisive victory for the Taliban. (NYT, Aug. 1)
Following up on his pledge to address the matter within 30 days of taking office, Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque spoke this week about his conditions for resuming his predecessor's peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's last significant guerilla group that remains in arms. Duque listed three conditions: the concentration of guerilla fighters in pre-determined areas (akin to the "concentration zones" used in the FARC demobilization), the liberation of all captives held by the guerillas, and a firm time-table for the dialogue process. The president spoke just days after the ELN freed three soldiers who had been taken captive the same week Duque was inaugurated last month in Arauca department. But some 20 other captives remain in the guerillas' hands, including six soldiers who were also seized a month ago in Chocó department.