Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks

Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks
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Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Siraj ul Haq with the visiting Afghan scholars’ delegation in Islamabad. (JI photo)
Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks
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Afghan Ulema delegation seeks mediation by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Afghan scholars met Sami-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Sunday. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)
Updated 03 October 2018

Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks

Pakistani religious leader agrees to host Taliban peace talks
  • A seven-member Afghan delegation met Pakistan’s religious-politico leader, Maulana Sami-ul-haq, asking him to help to bring the Taliban to the dialogue table
  • Haq is the head cleric of the religious seminary where many Taliban leaders graduated from, and has agreed to host dialogue between Afghanistan and the Taliban for lasting regional peace

ISLAMABAD: Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the father of the Afghan Taliban, says he has offered his religious school in Pakistan as a venue for possible talks between the Taliban and Afghan government-sponsored peace council and religious scholars to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Afghan scholars, who were in Pakistan this week to meet Pakistani religious leaders about holding conferences of clerics in Islamabad and Kabul on the war in Afghanistan, met Sami-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Sunday.

Many Taliban leaders studied in Sami-ul-Haq’s religious school, “Darul Uloom Haqqania,” in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak, and he is believed to have a certain degree of influence over the Taliban. 

The seven-member Afghan delegation, comprising members of the High Peace Council and the ulema council, met Sami-ul-Haq, chief of his own faction of Jamiat ulema-e-Islam party, and sought his help in restoring peace in the war-ravaged country.

“The Taliban and the Afghan ulema should hold closed-doors meetings and I offer my madrassa Haqqania for their face-to-face talks. They should first sit, pave the way for removing mistrust and address each other’s concerns,” Haq told Arab News. 

He said that he had a two-and-half hour meeting with the Afghan clerics about this on Sunday.

“They sought my mediation with the Taliban and empowered me to make a decision. I told them that this is a complicated issue and foreign powers are involved and they will not accept this. But I assured them to convey their opinion to the Taliban and the Taliban’s response to them. I will make efforts to broker your meeting,” the JUI-S leader told the Afghan delegation.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid refrained from commenting when a query was posted about whether the Taliban would accept Sami’s mediatory role.

However, an Afghan religious scholar, who had previously held a position in the Taliban group, said that the Taliban did not have any contact with the JUI-S leader. 




Taliban statement on the scholars initiative for talks with the Taliban. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)

The Afghan embassy also refused to provide on-the-record comments about whether the Afghan side offered mediation to Sami-ul-Haq. However, a source close to the talks confirmed that the mediation was part of the discussion.

“Sami-ul-Haq told the delegation that the Taliban want an impartial mediator and our people then told him you should come forward and mediate,” the source told Arab News.

The Taliban wrote a letter to Pakistani scholars last week to stay away from the meeting and later issued a statement to dismiss the move as a “plan of the Americans to exert religious pressure on the Taliban.” The Urdu-language letter was made available to Arab News.

“The Islamic Emirate once again calls on all sincere and independent religious scholars of Afghanistan and Pakistan to boycott the said conferences and not become victims of American strategies and intelligence plots. Do not give a new meaning and concept to the Afghan Jihad after 17 years and do not lend indirect support for the American occupation,” the Taliban statement said on Sept. 29.

Experts believe that Haq is irrelevant as the Taliban have new fighters and the Taliban leaders have long been out of his religious seminary’s clout.

“Sami-ul-Haq may be helpful but logically he is irrelevant and pinning hopes on him is unrealistic,” Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based think tank Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), told Arab News on Tuesday.

Afghan scholars held detailed discussions with Pakistan’s internationally recognized religious scholar Maulana Taqi Usmani, chief of Ansar ul Ummah Fazal ur Rehman Khalil, Maulana Iderees, Hanif Jhalandari and chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr. Qibla Ayaz.

Both sides did not issue any statement and refused to offer any official comment on their talks when Arab News approached them.

The Afghan delegates also had a breakfast meeting with Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj-ul-Haq in Islamabad on Monday and a statement issued by the Haq’s seminary said that the party leader backed intra-Afghan dialogue.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who traveled to Kabul last month, agreed with Afghan officials on a meeting of scholars and foreign ministry officials to discuss the agenda for a joint conference of the scholars to issue a joint decree on violence in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has long been urging Pakistan to use religious scholars, who have influence on the Taliban, for peace in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani scholars had been reluctant to sit with the Afghan scholars in view of the Taliban opposition to such meetings. 




Taliban letter to the scholars in Pakistan arguing them not to mediate. (Photo courtesy: Sami-ul-Haq's office)

 


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 8 min 39 sec ago

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.


Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
Updated 35 min 47 sec ago

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
  • Youngster stranded on Greek island has reportedly tried to hang himself twice
  • Alleging abuse including sexual assault, he wants to join his brothers in Britain

LONDON: An expert medical report has warned that a young asylum seeker who has been blocked from joining his brothers in Britain is at high risk of suicide.

Samir, whose name has been changed for his safety and security, is stranded in Greece away from his family.

He fled his home country in 2019 after reportedly enduring torture and detention, and has been living alone on the island of Samos.

He was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was a child.

He is appealing the decision, but was refused access to Britain by the Home Office, which denied him access to the family reunion process to join his two brothers. His brothers are both refugees in Britain, arriving in February this year.

His application was rejected because the Greek authorities determined that he was an adult, but Samir argues that he is 17.

Immigration authorities in Greece also said there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship between Samir and his family. His lawyers in Britain are challenging the decision on both grounds.

Samir previously told The Independent newspaper about the horrendous conditions he was facing on the fringe of his refugee camp, saying he was being bullied and abused, and enduring sexual assault from an older man.

Lawyers said he has tried to hang himself twice, and has had no access to any mental health support.

A medical report written by Prof. David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, found that Samir is in a “complex chronic traumatized state.”

Bell assessed Samir via video link, writing that he suffers from a “severe depressive disorder.”

Bell concluded on July 29 that it is “clear” Samir will continue to suffer from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive.”

Bell added that Samir is within the worst 5 percent of the approximately 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.

He said in the report submitted to court in Britain that it is “absolutely essential” that Samir is “removed from this environment from a mental point of view as soon as possible” and “transferred to the UK to be with his brothers.”

Rebecca Chapman, Samir’s barrister, argued on Tuesday that the Home Office had failed to adequately consider his situation and vulnerabilities through its denial of his right to family life.

Representing the Home Office, lawyer Simon Murray disputed the accusations, saying the department’s decisions were made lawfully.

The asylum seeker’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, said: “Samir is living out the reality of what it means to rely on so-called legal ‘safe’ pathways before entering the UK: Inordinate delays and relentlessly hostile litigation conduct from the Home Office.”

She added: “Notwithstanding the very real risk of physical harm Samir continues to face, there is likely to be a long term impact to his mental health as a consequence of living in a chronically traumatised state whilst in perpetual fear for over a year and a half. This cannot be considered a ‘safe’ route for Samir.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”


7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
Updated 04 August 2021

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
  • Aya Hachem was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ amid dispute between businesses
  • Family: ‘Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through’

LONDON: Seven men have been convicted of murdering a Lebanese law student in Britain after she was shot in a drive-by shooting amid a dispute between rival tyre firms.

Aya Hachem, 19, was shot dead from a car in Blackburn, northern England, on May 17 last year while walking to collect groceries. 

The court heard that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when Feroz Suleman, 40, was orchestrating an attempt to assassinate a rival businessman.

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Lancashire Police)

Suleman was captured on CCTV cameras loitering outside RI Tyres to watch the shooting of Pachah Khan, who headed the neighboring Quickshine Tyres business.

Anthony Ennis, 31, drove past Khan’s premises three times with 33-year-old gunman Zamir Raja.

Their Toyota passed Quickshine Tyres for a fourth time at 3 p.m. when Raja opened fire at Khan, missing his first shot — which struck the window behind him — before firing a second round that hit Hachem.

The jury at Preston Crown Court found Suleman guilty of her murder and of the attempted murder of Khan. 

Raja and Ennis were also convicted of murder and attempted murder, alongside their accomplices Kashif Manzoor, 26, Ayaz Hussain, 35, Abubakr Satia, 32, and his brother Uthman Satia, 29.

The jury found 26-year-old Judy Chapman, Uthman’s girlfriend, guilty of manslaughter, but not guilty of Khan’s attempted murder.

 

Hachem had recently finished her second-year law exams at the University of Salford when she was murdered. She had planned to train as a barrister after completing her studies.

Her father Ismail emigrated to Britain 10 years ago. Hachem was one of four children, and was described by her parents as “the most loyal, devoted daughter.”

Her older brother Ibrahim said her death felt like “a piece of your soul that got taken away” as he heard of the court’s decisions. 

“After nearly a year and a half, they’ve got what they deserve,” he said. “They can’t hurt anyone any more. But my sister isn’t coming back. Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through.”

A statement from the family welcoming the verdict said: “To our dear beautiful angel in heaven, we know you are in a better and more beautiful place.”

Hachem’s murderers will be sentenced on Thursday. Chapman is expected to be sentenced in October.


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria
  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.