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

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.”


Foreign students fret over being sent home after US visa rule

Updated 08 July 2020

Foreign students fret over being sent home after US visa rule

When the phone rang Tuesday morning, Raul Romero had barely slept.
The 21-year-old Venezuelan, on a scholarship at Ohio’s Kenyon College, had spent hours pondering his options after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that international students taking classes fully online for the fall semester would have to transfer to a school with in-person classes or leave the country.
A college employee called Romero to say he would not be immediately affected, but warned that a local outbreak of COVID-19 could force the school to suspend in-person classes during the year. If that happened, he may need to go home.
Romero is one of hundreds of thousands of international students in the United States on F-1 and M-1 visas faced with the prospect of having to leave the country mid-pandemic if their schools go fully online.
For some students, remote learning could mean attending classes in the middle of the night, dealing with spotty or no Internet access, losing funding contingent on teaching, or having to stop participating in research. Some are considering taking time off or leaving their programs entirely.
Reuters spoke with a dozen students who described feeling devastated and confused by the Trump administration’s announcement.
In a Venezuela beset by a deep economic crisis amid political strife, Romero said his mother and brother are living off their savings, sometimes struggle to find food and don’t have reliable Internet at home.
“To think about myself going back to that conflict, while continuing my classes in a completely unequal playing field with my classmates,” he said. “I don’t think it’s possible.”
And that’s if he could even get there. There are currently no flights between the United States and Venezuela.

WORKING REMOTELY WON’T WORK
At schools that have already announced the decision to conduct classes fully online, students were grappling with the announcement’s implications for their personal and professional lives. Blindsided universities scrambled to help them navigate the upheaval.
Lewis Picard, 24, an Australian second-year doctoral student in experimental physics at Harvard University, has been talking nonstop with his partner about the decision. They are on F-1 visas at different schools.
Harvard said Monday it plans to conduct courses online next year. After the ICE announcement, the university’s president, Larry Bacow, said Harvard was “deeply concerned” that it left international students “few options.”
Having to leave “would completely put a roadblock in my research,” Picard said. “There’s essentially no way that the work I am doing can be done remotely. We’ve already had this big pause on it with the pandemic, and we’ve just been able to start going back to lab.”
It could also mean he and his partner would be separated. “The worst-case scenario plan is we’d both have to go to our home countries,” he said.

’CAN’T TRANSFER IN JULY’
Aparna Gopalan, 25, a fourth-year anthropology PhD student at Harvard originally from India, said ICE’s suggestion that students transfer to in-person universities is not realistic just weeks before classes begin.
“That betrays a complete lack of understanding of how academia works,” she said. “You can’t transfer in July. That’s not what happens.”
Others were considering leaving their programs entirely if they cannot study in the United States, and taking their tuition dollars with them. International students often pay full freight, helping universities to fund scholarships, and injected nearly $45 billion into the US economy in 2018.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me to pay for an American education, if you’re not really receiving an American education,” said Olufemi Olurin, 25, of the Bahamas, who is earning an MBA at Eastern Kentucky University and wants to pursue a career in health care management.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking,” she said. “I’ve been building my life here. As an immigrant, even if you are as law-abiding as it gets, you still are always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you.”
Benjamin Bing, 22, from China, who was planning to study computer science at Carnegie Mellon in the fall, said he no longer feels welcome in the United States. He and his friends are exploring the possibility of finishing their studies in Europe.
“I feel like it’s kicking out everyone,” he said, of the United States. “We actually paid tuition to study here and we did not do anything wrong.”