Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’

Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’
Taliban representatives during the peace talks on Afghanistan held in Moscow. (TASS)
Updated 24 July 2019

Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’

Taliban ‘will visit Pakistan if formally invited’
  • Imran Khan: I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban will visit Pakistan in the “coming weeks” if a formal invitation is extended, it said on Wednesday, after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would meet Taliban leaders to persuade them to hold negotiations with the government in Kabul.

During an appearance at the US Institute of Peace on Tuesday, Khan said: “I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government.”

The US and the Taliban are getting closer to a deal expected to center on a US pledge to withdraw troops in exchange for a Taliban promise not to use its forces to interfere in US affairs. The group has refused so far to hold direct talks with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, which it considers a “puppet” regime.

Earlier this month, three Afghan government officials joined a delegation of over 50 people at an intra-Afghan conference in Doha, also attended by Taliban political envoys to discuss the future of the war-ravaged country. 

The Taliban insisted that the officials were only present in a personal capacity, and not as representatives of Ghani.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Wednesday a visit to Pakistan could take place in the coming weeks.

“We travel to other countries in the world and hold meetings,” he told Arab News via telephone from Doha. 

“Pakistan is a neighboring Muslim country. Members of the political office of the Islamic Emirate will visit Pakistan if a formal invitation is extended to us. We will discuss the issue of refugees and other related issues.”

There are now reports that Khan has discussed his plan to receive Taliban leaders in Pakistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has given his go ahead, despite requesting Islamabad not meet with the group several months ago.

Taliban and US representatives are scheduled to resume talks in the coming days to remove differences on a timeframe for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Even as talks continue, the Taliban and Afghan forces have continued fighting. Seven civilians were accidentally killed by the regime in an attack on a militant position south of the capital on Monday.


UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
Updated 6 min 29 sec ago

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter COVID-19 vaccine disinformation
  • A report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population
  • Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol

LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”