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Posts Tagged ‘Islamic world

US ‘begins talks’ with the Taliban

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A report claims that the Obama administration has launched exploratory contacts with senior leaders of the Afghan insurgency

The Afghan conflict has not lacked peace initiatives in the past few years. There have been at least a dozen back-channel contacts with the Taliban brokered by a mix of governments, institutions or individuals. But until now, it has been a cottage industry, producing reports but no tangible gains.

The talks are said to be the legacy of the late US envoy, Richard Holbrooke.

Many of those involved in these encounters predicted that there would be no way of knowing whether the Taliban leadership was interested in making a deal until Washington decided to engage with it directly. That now appears to have happened.

A report by Steve Coll in the current edition of the New Yorker reports that:

The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.

There are few details. We do not learn which Taliban figures are taking part, though Mullah Omar is apparently not involved. Nor is it clear whether the contacts are being orchestrated on the US side by the state department or the White House. Coll gives credit for inspiring them to Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan who died in December.

According to European diplomats, Barack Obama has told his national security staff that 2011 should be the year in which the political track towards a resolution takes precedence over the military approach. The US-Taliban contacts, if confirmed, signal that Washington is no longer content to leave the pace of political progress to the Afghan government that has little incentive in a settlement that would almost certainly put it out of business.

The next step will be a meeting of the international contact group early next month in Jeddah, where the special envoys (including Holbrooke’s replacement, Marc Grossman) will be hosted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Such meetings are generally too large and unwieldy to yield concrete results, but the OIC’s role this time will be widely seen as a blessing from the Islamic world for the search for a negotiated solution, important in turn for drawing in major Taliban figures. Holbrooke is said to have seen the OIC’s agreement to play host as a major coup and had been excitedly briefing Hillary Clinton on the development when he was taken ill.

The other big hope is that now there is news of direct US-Taliban talks, other regional players, Pakistan and Iran in particular, will play a more engaged role in multilateral talks, for fear of being left behind by a ‘peace train’ that might finally be leaving the station.

US pastor’s plans for Quran burning condemned worldwide

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The Times of India

PARIS: The planned mass burning of copies of the Quran in the US state of Florida drew worldwide condemnation on Wednesday, with the Vatican saying it would be “an outrageous and grave gesture.”

Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the most senior US official to speak out against the burning scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, branded the plan by a little known evangelical church as “disgraceful.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was “deeply disturbed” by the planned burnings and said they “cannot be condoned by any religion.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the move was “abhorrent” and “simply wrong.”

“If a fundamentalist, envangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Quran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong,” Merkel said in a speech.

” Europe… is a place where freedom of belief, of religion, where respect for beliefs and religions, are valuable commodities,” Merkel said at an event honouring a Danish cartoonist whose 2005 drawing of the Prophet Mohammed offended many Muslims and sparked protests around the world.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the planned act, while Arab League chief Amr Mussa dubbed Pastor Terry Jones a “fanatic” and told AFP he was urging Americans to oppose the “destructive approach.”

Jones’s Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to mark Saturday’s ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning Qurans as they remember almost 3,000 people killed by al-Qaida hijackers.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said in a statement: “Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection”.

The Vatican council said “deplorable acts of violence” like those in New York and Washington could not be counteracted by such acts.

“Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion.”

The White House added its voice to warnings that the move could trigger outrage around the Islamic world and endanger the lives of US soldiers.

“It puts our troops in harm’s way. And obviously any type of activity like that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday.

He was reiterating comments by top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents.

The United Nations’ top envoy for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, earlier said it would harm his staff if “such an abhorrent act were to be implemented, it would only contribute to fuelling the arguments of those who are indeed against peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”

“It could also put in jeopardy the efforts of so many Afghans and foreigners who are trying to assist Afghanistan to find its own way to peace and stability within the framework of its own culture, traditions and indeed religion.”

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group representing aid groups in Afghanistan, said ts members in the war-wracked country could be killed if Jones goes ahead with his “irresponsible” plan.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, who met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said the top US law enforcement official described as “idiotic and dangerous” the Florida church’s plan.

Police reportedly cannot intervene until Jones’s followers actually light the 200 Qurans.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official, Essam al-Erian, said in Cairo that the Florida ceremony would be a “barbaric act reminiscent of the Inquisition” and would “increase hatred towards the United States in the Muslim world.”

A top official of Cairo’s Al-Azhar university, which US President Barack Obama referred to as a “beacon of learning” in an appeal for reconciliation with Muslims, warned that the plan risked destroying ties.

“If the government fails to stop this, this will be the latest manifestation of religious terrorism, and it would ruin America’s relations with the Muslim world,” said Sheikh Abdel Muti al-Bayyumi, who sits on the Sunni Muslim seat of learning’s highest council, the Islamic Research Academy.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said the burning of the Quran contradicted Christian teachings.

In Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas movement, called on the US administration in a statement “to stop this crime before it takes place.”

Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, a senior religious expert from Iran’s holy city of Qom, said in a statement carried by Iranian media: “The decision to insult this sacred book, is an insult to all (religious) sanctities especially prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Virgin Mary.

Jordan’s powerful Islamist opposition also condemned the plans as “a declaration of war.”

The German church founded by Jones denounced the plans as “shocking.”

“We want to distance ourselves fully from this plan and from Jones,” said Stephan Baar from the “Christian Community of Cologne” in western Germany.