Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed. (AP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

  • The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
  • President Ghani said the coalition should help the government resolve key national issues.

KABUL: Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed.
The Grand Coalition of Afghanistan includes First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who recently returned from 14 months in exile, Second Deputy Executive Chief Mohammad Mohaqiq, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, key regional strongmen and former Cabinet ministers.
Dostum’s unexpected participation in the alliance comes amid reports of a stalemate in talks with Ghani over the release of one of the vice president’s commanders.
His arrest a few weeks ago sparked massive anti-government protests in the north, and led to Dostum’s return to put an end to them.
The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
The coalition “marks a major display of unity in which Afghanistan’s core political and social forces have converged to bring democratic changes in accordance with our peoples’ will and needs, for a democratic, all-inclusive and stable Afghanistan,” Rabbani said.
The alliance said its focus is primarily on “growing instability, poverty and ethnic divisions” in the country, among other issues.
Ghani recently said he will run for a second term in next year’s presidential election, which will be followed by long-delayed parliamentary polls.
With the Taliban gaining ground, and the Ghani administration losing its writ over hundreds of polling stations due to rising violence and deepening divisions within the government, many believe that neither election will be held as announced.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the de facto ruler of the northern Balkh province, said at the launch of the alliance: “Afghanistan is on the verge of collapsing due to the ineffectiveness of government leaders.”
Nearly 4 million people, out of 9 million registered by the government-appointed election body, are “fake voters,” he added.
Dostum said the alliance comprises different political and ethnic groups, which “articulated peace, stability and a constructive role to improve the current state of affairs.”
Mohaqiq also lashed out at the government during the launch of the alliance, describing the current situation in Afghanistan as “worrisome.”
People are fleeing their homes due to insecurity, and a significant part of the country is under militant control, he said.
Ghani said the alliance should help his administration overcome challenges. “The NUG (national unity government) welcomes pragmatic approaches, suggestions and plans by political parties, coalitions and civil society, provided they’re in accordance with the law and wishes of the people,” said a statement released by the president’s office.
“Given the current circumstances, elections, peace and reconciliation are top priorities of the NUG.”
Ghani said his administration pays utmost importance to achieving consensus between the government and political parties.
Constructive ideas and proposals by these groups can help the government and the people to achieve critical national objectives, he added.
Waheed Mozhdah, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that the formation of the alliance is a “serious challenge for Ghani,” and a sign of how his “wrong policies” alienated senior government members and reconciled old rivals.
“This is a major development. It’s in fact the formation of a front against Ghani, who has failed to reach peace with the Taliban, leading the US to try to hold direct talks with the group,” Mozhdah said.
“It’s highly likely that the elections won’t be held, so the alliance is bracing itself to block any extension of Ghani’s power when his mandate expires,” he added.
“Afghanistan is an unpredictable place. Unless things change, the chance of Ghani winning another term is doomed to failure.”
Atta Nasib, a pro-Ghani parliamentary candidate, said the alliance has nothing to offer common Afghans.
The factions that are part of the coalition had forged similar ones in the past, but without any impact, he added.
“Welcome to the New Grand Coalition of the same old tried and tested telepathic superheroes riding high on jihadi ballistic missiles,” Nasib tweeted.
“For once I’m curious to learn more about issue-based politics that this fragile coalition claims to bring to the table.”


US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided by the ACLU of Montana, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a U.S Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish last year. (AP)
Updated 16 February 2019
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US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre

LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”