Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

In this file photo, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (R) holds up the hand of his vice-presidential candidate Abdul Rashid Dostum during an election campaign rally in Mazar-i-sharif on June 3, 2014. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

  • Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan
  • The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh

KABUL: Demonstrators who had blocked border crossings and various state facilities as part of nearly three weeks-long anti-government move in northern Afghanistan, ended their protests on Monday after exiled first Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum made an appeal on his arrival, residents and officials said.

“After what you can call appeal or order of Dostum, we have ended the protests, life is returning to normalcy,” Ahmad Tawab, a protester from the north told Arab News by phone.

Dostum, who was exiled by President Ashraf Ghani’s government over allegations of sexual abuse, returned home on Sunday to a rapturous reception from supporters as well as officials and is set to resume his duties as normal.

Dostum was greeted by hundreds of people, including women, some senior government officials, among them his political allies on a red carpet which was put on the tarmac of Kabul airport next to the stairs of the chartered plane that brought him from Turkey.

Some kissed his hands, others tried to get near him amid tight security with several TV stations showing live his arrival.

But as his convoy of armoured motorcades left the airport, a suicide bomber blew himself up moments later. 

Kabul police chief Daud Amin said that has been 19 killed, mostly security forces, and 60 were wounded.

Speaking to a big crowd in the garden of his spacious office, Dostum said presidential elite force were among the casualties.

Wearing a khaki suit with a necktie, the bespectacled burly former militia leader termed the arrest of his senior commander in the north by government Nizamuddin Qaisari as an “unfair move”. He said will talk with Ghani tomorrow and will raise the issue of the arrest.

Dostum who until recently, spoken against peace talks with Taliban, told the crowd that he was in favor of negotiations with the militants.

“I as the first Vice President, consider peace with the Taliban more important than any other thing,” he said. He called on his fellow ethnic Uzbek supporters to end the protest in north, allow reopening of schools, state institutions and border crossings which they had closed since the start of the protests nearly three weeks ago.

Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan by his ethnic Uzbek supporters, who blocked several border crossings and government institutions, and threatened to boycott the long-delayed October elections.

The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh in the north recently.

Dostum’s supporters accuse Ghani of having sidelined him. The protests were triggered by the arrest of Qaisari, accused of severe human rights abuses and threatening to kill provincial officials.

In a video, government troops were seen beating Qaisari’s handcuffed guards during his arrest, stoking further anger. Haroon Chakansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said Dostum had gone to Turkey for nearly 14 months for unspecified medical treatment.

Accusations that Dostum had ordered his guards to sexually abuse and torture political rival Ahmad Eschi will be handled independently by the courts, Chakansuri said. Dostum supporters say the allegations about Eschi are a conspiracy. Ghani picked Dostum, the self-proclaimed leader of ethnic Uzbeks, as his running mate in the 2014 elections.

Ghani last year blocked Dostum’s return from exile when he tried to fly home to form an opposition alliance including senior government members. The ethnic Uzbek vote is essential for any candidate in the presidential elections slated for next year. Ghani has said he will stand for office again.

“I think the government wants to hunt two pigeons with a shot,” said Inayatullah Kakar, an Afghan researcher.“It (Dostum’s return) will make the north tensions calm … then he will be part of the upcoming elections ...”


Pakistan opposition takes prime minister to task over IMF deal

Updated 16 October 2018
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Pakistan opposition takes prime minister to task over IMF deal

  • The daily dithering has paralyzed the economy and precipitously devalued the rupee, says Sen. Sherry Rehman
  • Govt has instilled a sense of 'comfort and confidence' in the markets, says official spokesman

KARACHI, Pakistan: Questioning the government’s lack of perspicacity to avoid “painful economic decisions,” Pakistan’s opposition said on Monday that it was shocked at Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inability to avert a crisis, if any.  

“We have serious questions about this kind of strategy, where just the daily dithering has not just paralyzed the economy and precipitously devalued the rupee, but hugely compounded the crisis in the country’s public finances,” Sen. Sherry Rehman, former leader of the opposition in the Senate, told Arab News.

The reaction follows Finance Minister Asad Umar’s comments on Saturday wherein he said that “the government will have to take tough decisions that would be painful for people,” signaling a possible hike in utility prices, following Pakistan’s decision to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout program. 

Opposing the decision, Rehman said: “We are shocked at the lack of a plan for a crisis we all saw looming. Now the slash and burn of utility prices is going to cause severe economic hardship. It’s one thing to have promised a completely different Pakistan, but another to not present alternative plans at least to manage the inflationary impact…on the most socially vulnerable sectors of Pakistan.”

Defending the move, Dr. Farrukh Saleem, government’s spokesman on economy and energy issues, said that the government has instilled a sense of “comfort and confidence” in the markets, not only within Pakistan but outside the country too, which was not possible without approaching the IMF for financial help. “IMF gives one prescription to those who avail its program, which includes an emphasis on increasing exports and curtailing imports and an end of subsidies,” he said.  Adding that the country’s “circular debts have gone up to 1.3 trillion rupees” — inherited from previous governments in the past 10 years — Dr. Saleem said that it was up to Imran Khan’s administration to do away with the liabilities as otherwise “the burden would eventually be shifted to consumers.”

“The government did not raise the gas rates for the last four years despite repeated requests from the concerned departments. Someone will have to swallow bitter pills of last 10 years,” he said. 

The stock market was jubilant following Pakistan’s decision to approach the IMF. However, investors’ newly acquired confidence was quickly replaced with concern as details emerged about the terms and conditions attached with the bailout program, resulting in a 750-point plunge in the benchmark KSE 100 index on Monday.

“Panic selling continued in the quarter earnings season amid a major fall in global equities and investor concerns for likely surge in interest rates and rupee depreciation with the potential IMF loans bailout package,” said Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive of Arif Habib Group. 

Pakistan has devalued its currency for the fifth time by 27 percent since December 2017, with analysts and stakeholders expecting another markdown as the IMF deal gathers steam.

“Its first impact would be in the currency market and the currency would be further devalued. With the devaluation of the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, the prices of almost everything would start increasing especially those of imported goods,” Zafar Paracha, general secretary of Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.  Another community that is expected to bear the brunt of the decision is the country’s industrialists and traders who said they could foresee an impact on the price of inputs and raw materials.

Junaid Esmail Makda, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The finance minister should take the country’s business community into confidence before taking the ‘painful decision’ because if the government comes up with harsh decision without taking us into the loop it would have a disastrous impact.” 

He further warned that such a decision would be unfavorable not just “for foreign investors but for local investors too” who might move their assets to other countries.  

However, Dr. Saleem continued to remain optimistic.

Reiterating the fact that the steps taken by the government to mitigate the impact of the IMF’s conditions would yield results, he said: “The government is working to increase exports to stabilize foreign exchange and starting a housing project that would spur economic activities in the backdrop of a growing demand of allied industries.”