Afghanistan’s only non-Muslim candidate vows to fight for justice for all

Afghanistan’s only non-Muslim candidate vows to fight for justice for all
Avtar Singh Khalsa campaigning in blue turban for Afghanistan's Parliamentary elections. He is the only non-Muslim candidate in the poll. (AN Photo)
Updated 28 June 2018

Afghanistan’s only non-Muslim candidate vows to fight for justice for all

Afghanistan’s only non-Muslim candidate vows to fight for justice for all
  • Avtar Singh Khalsa tried to fill up the only slot for a non-Muslim minority in the last round of parliamentary elections
  • Seat was abolished by a majority vote of the lawmakers until the current government, in a decree, ordered its return for the shrinking Hindu and Sikh community who lived in Afghanistan long before the arrival of Islam

KABUL: When Avtar Singh Khalsa tried to fill up the only slot for a non-Muslim minority in the last round of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan years back there was an outcry from many Muslim candidates.
The seat was abolished by a majority vote of the lawmakers until the current government, in a decree, ordered its return for the shrinking Hindu and Sikh community who lived in Afghanistan long before the arrival of Islam, and dominated the country’s economy and trade.
With a large number of incumbent MPs under fire for enriching themselves rather than addressing the needs and grievances of supporters, this time Khalsa has not only received the backing of Hindu and Sikh minority, but also the support of Muslims he does not know.
“If I succeed, my first job will be to try to help the widows and the impoverished people from any part of the country. I will try to work for the unity of all Afghans who live under the flag of Islam here,” Khalsa told Arab News in an interview in his office in Kabul’s main joint temple.
“God has created us all. We are like a garden: there are pomegranate trees, apricot, peach…trees, God has created us like these trees, He could have created us all Muslims, Hindus,” he said speaking of religion and tribes as more of an identity than a societal status.
The country is like a mother and a mother wants her elder child to be the servant of all of her children, he added. “I will serve all, my focus will not be the Sikhs and Hindus (alone),” he said.
The 53-year-old has been the chief custodian of Hindu and Sikh temples, as well as their leader for years.
His second priority will be to get the government to allocate plots for Hindus and Sikhs to build clinics, hospitals and small businesses to create jobs.
The projects will be funded by rich Afghan Hindus and Sikhs who — like millions of other Afghans — have been living overseas as refugees for decades, he said.
“They are fed up living abroad and are proud to be called Afghans. Even in India (the birthplace of Hindusism) they are called Afghans. They desperately want to come, but need assurances and means to invest and work,” he said.
Wearing a dark blue turban and with the long beard characteristic of many Sikhs, Khalsa said that after more than four decades of war and foreign interventions, Afghans need unity more than anything else.
He proudly recalled serving as an officer in the Soviet-backed communist government of Afghanistan and how his Muslim neighbors took care of his family members who were wounded and killed in a rocket attack on a fateful day in southeastern Paktia province.
“I lost eight family members of mine that day while some were wounded. But the help and care I got from my neighbors then was unique and even my fellow Sikhs would not have been more helpful than my Muslim neighbors,” he said.
For Khalsa, as for many Sikhs and Hindus, the Moscow-backed government led by the late president Mohammad Najibullah, was a champion of their rights and freedom.
They started to flee Afghanistan during the civil war that erupted in the 1990s, when there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared to around just a few thousand in recent years.
When warring factions fought over Kabul, razing neighborhoods in deadly rocket barrages, the two communities became targets, partly because of their religion, but also because they did not have a militia of their own for protection.
Many escaped when armed men stormed their temples in various parts of the country, and tore their religious book to avenge the destruction of a mosque by Hindu fanatics in India.
After complaining of extortion, intimidation, kidnappings, theft and even rape, those with the means, fled to India where they live as aliens requiring visas, like other foreigners.
Khalsa has deep nostalgia for the Taliban government who, like rest of his fellow community men, view the Islamists as helping their communities to regain their usurped properties, enforce rule of law and security.
“For days and nights, we were not locking our house doors, no one dared to enter or steal our house. The Taliban did not harass or suppress us,” he said.
He complained that corruption and injustice have been on the rise both in the current government and the administration that took over when the US ousted the Taliban in 2001.
He laments how billions of dollars in foreign aid since the fall of the Taliban was wasted and squandered both by donors and the powerful Afghans.
Like many of his countrymen, he believes that the US is protecting its vested interests in Afghanistan, so wants to manage a controlled chaos in the country.
“If America wants and shows sympathy, it can bring peace here. Afghanistan has been turned into a battleground between rival countries and a testing laboratory for their weapons. Our mines are looted and people are killed every day,” said Khalsa.


Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in past 4 months

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in  past 4 months
Updated 54 sec ago

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in past 4 months

Third Taliban leader killed in Peshawar in  past 4 months
  • The slain Taliban commander oversaw military deployments in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province

ISLAMABAD: A senior Taliban leader, Mullah Nek Muhammad Rehbar, was killed in Peshawar on Monday in an attack by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorbike, a police official and two Taliban leaders told Arab News.

“A probe has been launched to determine the motive behind the incident,” the police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Arab News.

Three others accompanying Rehbar, 35, were also injured in the attack, according to the police official.

The slain Taliban commander oversaw military deployments in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Its governor, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, tweeted about the attack, which Daesh has claimed responsibility for.

Rehbar was scheduled to return to his native Afghanistan after he and other key commanders were summoned by top Taliban leaders to their respective areas in the war-torn country.

Rehbar’s brother, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, was also killed in Peshawar, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, during a shooting incident about 15 years ago.

Afghan analysts say the slain Taliban commander had fought against Daesh militants in Nangarhar, which could be the main reason behind the attack in Peshawar.

Zakir Jalali, a security analyst, said Taliban officials are easier to target when they live as refugees in other countries. Jalali told Arab News that Rehbar had resisted Daesh fighters in the Khogyani district of Nangarhar and the group decided to kill him because he was considered a “soft target” inside Pakistan.

The slain commander was the third Taliban leader to be killed in Peshawar during the past four months. Maulvi Abdul Hadi, the Taliban governor for Laghman, was assassinated in Peshawar in February. In January, another Taliban leader, Abdul Samad Mullah Toor, was killed near the city.

Several senior Taliban commanders, including the group’s chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour, were also killed in US drone attacks in the past.

Unidentified gunmen shot dead Nasiruddin Haqqani, the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban deputy chief, near Islamabad in November 2013.

A former senior Taliban figure, Maulvi Abdul Raqeeb, who was known to be in favor of peace talks with the Hamid Karzai administration, was gunned down in Peshawar in February 2014.

Meanwhile, a former Taliban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmayeen, died of COVID-19 in Peshawar in January. Mutmayeen had served as the Taliban spokesperson since 1994 after Mullah Omar launched the movement in Kandahar.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Mutmayeen’s death and conveyed the insurgent group’s condolences to his family.


Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges
Updated 20 April 2021

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges

Indian capital running out of medical oxygen as pandemic surges
  • PM Modi speaks of virus 'storm' overwhelming country as new daily infections exceed 200,000 for six days running
  • A local hospital with over 500 COVID-19 patients on oxygen has enough supplies for only four hours, Delhi's health minister

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities said Delhi hospitals would start running out of medical oxygen by Wednesday as PM Narendra Modi said a coronavirus “storm” is overwhelming India’s health system.
Major government hospitals in the city of 20 million people had between eight and 24 hours’ worth of oxygen while some private ones had enough for just four to five hours, said Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia.
“If we don’t get enough supplies by tomorrow morning, it will be a disaster,” he said, calling for urgent help from the federal government.
Modi said the federal government was working with local authorities nationwide to ensure adequate supplies of hospital beds, oxygen and anti-viral drugs to combat a huge second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation was manageable until a few weeks ago. The second wave of infections has come like a storm,” he said in a televised address to the nation, urging citizens to stay indoors and not panic amid India’s worst health emergency in memory.
“The central and state governments as well as the private sector are together trying to ensure oxygen supplies to those in need. We are trying to increase oxygen production and supply across the country,” he said.
Modi faces criticism that his administration lowered its guard when coronavirus infections fell to a multi-month low in February and allowed religious festivals and political rallies that he himself addressed to go ahead.
India, the world’s second most populous country and currently the hardest hit by COVID-19, reported its worst daily death toll on Tuesday, with large parts of the country now under lockdown amid a fast-rising second surge of contagion.
The health ministry said 1,761 people had died in the past day, raising India’s toll to 180,530 — still well below the 567,538 reported in the United States, though experts believe India’s actual toll far exceeds the official count.
“While we are making all efforts to save lives, we are also trying to ensure minimal impact on livelihoods and economic activity,” Modi said, urging state governments to use lockdowns only as a last resort.
DELHI RUNNING OUT OF OXYGEN
One local hospital with more than 500 COVID-19 patients on oxygen has enough supplies for only four hours, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said late on Tuesday.
Tata Group, one of India’s biggest business conglomerates, said it was importing 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen and help ease the shortage in the country.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection has said https://bit.ly/2Qg99IY all travel should be avoided to India, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a visit to New Delhi that had been scheduled for next week, and his government said it will add India to its travel “red list.”
Several major cities are already reporting far larger numbers of cremations and burials under coronavirus protocols than those in official COVID-19 death tolls, according to crematorium and cemetery workers, the media and a review of government data.
Delhi reported more than 28,000 fresh infections on Tuesday, the highest daily rise ever, with one in three people tested returning a positive result.
“The huge pressure on hospitals and the health system right now will mean that a good number who would have recovered, had they been able to access hospital services, may die,” said Gautam I. Menon, a professor at Ashoka University.
On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 259,170 new infections nationwide — a sixth day over 200,000 and getting closer to the peak of nearly 300,000 seen in the United States in January.
Total coronavirus cases in India are now at 15.32 million, second only to the United States, with epidemiologists saying many more infectious new variants of the virus were one of the main factors behind the latest surge in cases.


France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
Updated 15 sec ago

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
  • The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion

PARIS: France on Tuesday paid tribute to Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier,” while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.
The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in the Sahel region of Africa.
“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.
The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces toward its capital, N’Djamena.
Defense Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop.”
Deby’s son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council as both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.
The statement by the French presidency underscored “the importance of the transition taking place under peaceful conditions.”
There should also be “a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, and allowing the rapid return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions,” it added.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was important that the transition would lead “after a limited period of time” to the establishment of a civilian and inclusive government to serve Chad’s people.
Deby had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990, but was a key partner in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, where France’s 5,100-strong Barkhane force is deployed.


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 20 April 2021

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.