Sanctions on Iran have negative impact on Afghanistan

A policeman prevents journalists from walking near the site of a suicide attack on prison employees' vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 31, 2018. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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Sanctions on Iran have negative impact on Afghanistan

  • Tehran has eased the visa restrictions too in order to persuade Afghans wishing to go there, according to residents

KABUL: For years just after dawn, both during harsh winter days or hot summer times — men, women and children routinely used to jostle to join the long queue outside Iran’s embassy in Kabul to get a visa for traveling to the country.
The increased rush prompted Tehran to put in place certain restrictions for Afghan travelers such as financial guarantees and return flight tickets.
It would take at least one week for the luckiest ones to get their visa approved and there were hundreds of other Afghans who daily sneaked into neighboring country through illegal and hazardous ways overland.
They escaped to Iran either because of war or poverty back home, for a family reunion or used its territory as transit for making it to Turkey and beyond to Europe.
But since the slapping of US financial and economic sanctions on Iran in August, the numbers of Afghans wishing to travel to Iran has drastically dropped down.
Tehran has eased the visa restrictions too in order to persuade Afghans wishing to go there, according to residents. Afghans who used to go to Iran, legally or illegally for labor jobs, are returning in big numbers and as do some of the Afghan refugees to lived there for decades because of the colossal devaluation of Iran’s currency against dollar or foreign money.
Afghanistan’s economy has also been suffering as a result of crippling US sanctions on Iran since Tehran has been the major trade partner of Afghanistan which imports nearly $2 billion of goods and fuel annually, according to traders.
The effects of the sanctions are hugely felt in Afghanistan’s western region, particularly, Herat, they said.
“Unfortunately, the sanctions have had a direct impact in the western region in terms of imports, exports and transit,” Saad Khatebi, the chief of the Chambers of Commerce of Herat told Arab News.


South Korea debates military service exemptions

Updated 10 min 3 sec ago
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South Korea debates military service exemptions

  • The bulk of South Korea’s 599,000-strong military are conscripts, with all able-bodied men obliged to serve for 21 months
  • In an opinion poll most respondents — 52.4 percent — wanted exemptions reduced or terminated entirely

NONSAN, South Korea: Despite generating almost $4 billion a year for the South Korean economy, the seven floppy-haired members of K-pop boy band BTS will still have to perform nearly two years of mind-numbing military service.
But the likes of Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-min and award-winning pianist Cho Seong-jin are entitled to exemptions, prompting calls for an overhaul of the controversial pass system.
The bulk of South Korea’s 599,000-strong military — who face off against Pyongyang’s 1.28 million Korean People’s Army — are conscripts, with all able-bodied men obliged to serve for 21 months.
They are forbidden access to mobile phones, have to fulfill endless hours of tedious sentry duties — often in remote locations — and are largely confined to their bases, opening the possibility of exploitation and abuse by more senior soldiers.
“I think three out of 10 conscripted men on average struggle very much in every day military life, mainly because it couldn’t be more different from their civilian life,” said Kang Sung-min, a 25-year-old college student, who performed his service in the military police.
But not everyone is required to submit to the ordeal. Olympic medalists — of any color — and gold-winners at the quadrennial Asian Games are automatically exempted, along with artists who come first or second in 27 listed global contests, such as Cho, who won the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition.
The highest-profile recent beneficiary is Spurs’ Son, who broke down in tears of joy when the Taeguk Warriors defeated Japan 2-1 after extra time in September’s Asian Games football final to spare him a potentially career-threatening stint in the military.
Son was among no fewer than 42 athletes who secured dispensations by winning gold in Indonesia — a tally widely resented by young Korean men obliged to interrupt their studies or delay their careers to do their duty.
As controversy mounted the government launched a review of the exemption system which Jung Sung-deuk, deputy spokesperson for the Military Manpower Administration, said was focused on “reducing its scope.”
In an opinion poll most respondents — 52.4 percent — wanted exemptions reduced or terminated entirely.
But at the same time some are suggesting the system — which aims to reward those who “raise the national profile” — grants athletes excessive privileges for one-off achievements, and should be extended to cover pop stars, given the cultural and economic benefits they generate.
BTS topped the US Billboard album charts twice in 2018 with “Love Yourself: Tear” and “Love Yourself: Answer,” becoming the country’s best-known and most valuable musical export, complete with a legion of adoring female fans known as the “BTS Army.”
In December the Hyundai Research Institute in Seoul estimated the boy band were worth more than $3.6 billion a year to the South Korean economy, and the reason that one in every 13 foreign tourists visited the country in 2017.
South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said the current exemption policy gives certain specific groups unjustified advantages.
“If opera singers are eligible for exemption, then pop singers should also be on the principle of fairness,” said Ha, who is 50 but has long maintained that K-pop is more significant than classical music in promoting Korean culture worldwide.
The current rapprochement on the peninsula raises the prospect that the South may one day no longer need a conscript army.
But as things stand, hundreds of K-pop fans often gather to wish their heroes luck as they join the military — and entertainment careers can be destroyed if musicians are seen as trying to evade service.
Popular 1990s K-pop singer Steve Yoo became a US citizen in 2002, automatically forfeiting his South Korean nationality and with it his military obligations.
Public sentiment was outraged, and two weeks later the justice ministry barred Yoo from entering the country — a ban that remains in place to this day.
Similar views remain commonplace among South Koreans, who expect that every man will do his duty.
At the Nonsan military training center south of Seoul, hundreds of young men report for conscription every Monday, their mothers clasping their newly shaved heads in tearful farewells.
New soldier Choi Doo-san said it made “absolutely no sense” to even consider granting pop stars exemptions.
“Every man here contributes to the defense of the country by doing military service,” said the 20-year-old, who has taken a break from his studies in electrical engineering studies at Howon University to enlist.
“They can always make a comeback afterwards.”