Taliban met with US envoy during visit to Islamabad

Taliban met with US envoy during visit to Islamabad
An anonymous source said Zalmay Khalilzad had an informal meeting with Taliban. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 October 2019

Taliban met with US envoy during visit to Islamabad

Taliban met with US envoy during visit to Islamabad
  • The meeting did not involve formal negotiations and was intended to build relations
  • Pakistan played a “big role” in making the meeting happen

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: A Taliban delegation met US special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad on Thursday, two sources told Reuters, the first known contact between the two sides since US President Donald Trump called off talks last month.
Sources cautioned the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, did not represent a resumption of formal negotiations.
“The Taliban officials held a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad...all I can tell you is that Pakistan played a big role in it to convince them how important it was for the peace process,” a senior Pakistan government official told Reuters, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
He added the contact, which was confirmed by a second source, did not involve formal negotiations on the peace process, but were interactions aimed at building confidence. He declined to elaborate further on the content of the discussions.
The US Embassy in Islamabad and State Department in Washington declined to comment on whether a meeting had taken place. A State Department spokesperson said that Khalilzad had spent “several days” in Islamabad this week for consultations with authorities in Pakistan.
The spokesperson said Khalilzad’s meetings while in Islamabad did not represent a re-start to the Afghan peace process.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, would not confirm or deny that Taliban had met Khalilzad, adding that the Taliban delegation was still in Islamabad for meetings on Friday.
Trump halted the talks with the Taliban, aimed at striking a deal allowing US and other foreign troops to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, following the death of a US solder and 11 others in a Taliban bomb attack in Kabul.
The Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders, had earlier met Pakistan’s foreign minister in Islamabad on Thursday and both sides called for a resumption of the talks as soon as possible.
The United States has long considered Pakistan’s cooperation crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and the latest developments follow a meeting last week between Trump and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The US and Taliban said last month, shortly before talks broke off, that they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some US security officials and within the Afghan government that a US withdrawal could lead to more conflict and a possible resurgence of Islamist militant factions.


Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice’

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice’
Updated 13 May 2021

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice’

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice’
  • During a discussion on the Ray Hanania radio show, they said this lack of official recognition means the community misses out on many benefits
  • Currently the census does not allow people to identify as Arab or Middle Eastern; instead they are forced to identify themselves as white

Experts warned on Wednesday that the lack of recognition and inclusion in the US Census continues to undermine the strength of the Arab American community.

Because the demographics of their community are not precisely measured, Arabs in the US fail to benefit from more than $80 billion in Federal grants, and they are excluded from policies designed to enhance political representation, professor Edmund Ghareeb and researcher Matthew Jaber Stiffler said during a discussion broadcast live on the Ray Hanania radio show. Even their sense of community pride is undermined, they added.

Currently the census does not have an option that allows people to identify as Arab or Middle Eastern. Instead they are forced to identify themselves as white.

Ghareeb, an author and specialist on Arab American affairs, and Stiffler, who works with the Arab American National Museum in Detroit, agreed that this “census exclusion” is preventing Arab Americans from fully enjoying the benefits of life in America.

“The way race and ethnicity is collected on the census is directed by the Office of Management and Budget, and because of that it applies to all federal agencies,” said Stiffler, who also leads a national research initiative through the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), the nation’s largest not-for-profit Arab American grassroots social-service agency.

 

“For instance at the office of Minority Health, which is a federal agency, Arab Americans cannot get grants to study the health of Arab Americans because we are not considered a minority — we are considered a part of the white community. It is not just the census, it is the fact that Arabs are not counted all across all of the government.”

 

Ghareeb, who has taught at the American University in Washington, Georgetown University and George Washington University, said the damage caused by this long-running failure of the census to recognize Arab ethnicity has been significant.

 

“The census is important primarily because, right now, Arab Americans are not able to participate as fully as other communities in getting government positions, for example, or support in the health area and the unemployment area,” he said.

 

“Of course, for some it is more important than that: it is the recognition and identity of your own community.”

Ghareeb and Stiffler identified a number of ways in which Arab Americans lose out because their ethnicity is not recognized by the census. They said, for example, that it affects the community’s political clout, access to federal funding, its sense of community pride, and leads to marginalization by mainstream businesses and industries, including the mainstream news media.

“It is really tough because it really impacts everything, from education to health to political representation,” Stiffler said. “The Arab American community does not see itself. We don’t even know how many of us there are. We have estimates but they range from 2.5 million to 4.5 million.

 

“So I think it is really about seeing us, and seeing us in the industries that we are in. We know Arab Americans are very entrepreneurial but if you go to all of the federal business indexes, Arab Americans are not listed as being a group that owns businesses. So it is really hard to see the impact that Arab Americans have made, if we are not counted.”

Ghareeb said part of the problem lies in the varied nature of the community itself, which includes people from 22 Arab nations but also reflects the sub-ethnicities within each country. He added that the community needs to become more active and more demanding of its rights.

“It’s important because of the politics as well, especially when it comes to foreign policy and what is going on in the region,” he said. “I think that when Arab Americans have a voice they will also have more of a voice to influence American foreign policy. All of these things are extremely important.”

 

As a topical example of a way in which Arabs are excluded from official consideration as a distinct community in the US, Stiffler cited the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Southeast Michigan, ACCESS, the largest Arab American community non-profit, has given 20,000 doses of the COVID vaccine in the past few weeks,” he said.

“If you go onto the Michigan State dashboard — it would take some work but you could find this information — it says that of those 20,000 doses, two were (given to Arabs) because that is just the way (it is): it is very difficult to get Arabs identified in any of this data. So it looks like only two Arabs were vaccinated by ACCESS and not what was more likely 15,000.” 

 

Both experts said they favor a “MENA” category for identification, rather than “Arab,” because this would allow each individual Arab identity to be included. A MENA category has been considered as a category for ethnicity but its inclusion was stymied by lack of support from sitting presidents, who have the power to influence the contents of the census without seeking congressional approval.

Ghareeb noted that census categories for Asians and Southeast Asians were added as a result of presidential directives.

“There is no doubt that the Arab American community is losing some important benefits that other communities have achieved,” he added. “My preference based on what the science and the data tells us is right now is that MENA is the best category.

 

“And the way the census was going to do it was they were going to have MENA (as an option), but it was going to be a write-in option. You could put anything on that line — Iranian, Lebanese, Chaldean — and then they were going to count all of that. So not only would we get the MENA count but we would get the disaggregated counts of all these other ethnicities and nationalities so we would know who everybody is.

 

“It was going to be wonderful. Of course, that didn’t happen. But I think the broader the category, the better. Let people self-identify under that and we will count everybody that way.”

 

•  The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 radio at 8 a.m. on Wednesday mornings. Hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper in the Middle East, the show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews. The radio podcast is available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.


Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao
Updated 13 May 2021

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao
  • Filipino president warns of ‘an all-out offensive’ if situation does not improve

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday called on local leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the national government bring peace to the center of the region. 

During a visit to the 6th Infantry Division’s headquarters in Maguindanao, Duterte urged the officials to do more to prevent atrocities committed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other militant groups in their area. 

The president’s message follows a recent attack by BIFF — a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — in the Datu Paglas town of Maguindanao. 

Senior leaders of the MILF now head the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which is the interim regional government of the BARMM. 

“The violence is very much present,” Duterte said, adding: “I am begging you to help me because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody, and it will be sad. I do not want that.”

He added that militant groups should not continue to commit atrocities because if he orders the military to strike back, he will “not withdraw it, and this could mean loss of more lives.”

The president said: “Please do not give them the sanctuary ... Do not wait for me to call you to Malacañang if there are intelligence reports,” adding that he had done “everything to ensure the creation of the BARMM” and was willing to expand “what is necessary for an effective governance of the region.”

He said: “But the monkey wrench of the whole situation now is the BIFF, and they continue to inflict not only small harm. They continue to burn, ambush, detonate bombs. It’s really full-blown terrorism.”

He also asked that anyone who could approach and engage with the BIFF to do so. 

“If there is still a chance for you to cross the line and talk to them ... do not commit atrocities that could no longer be stomached by the government.”

Duterte’s visit to Maguindanao comes three days after BIFF members led by Ustadz Sulaiman Tundo attacked Datu Paglas and briefly occupied the town’s public market on Saturday. 

The group, which belonged to the BIFF faction under Mohiden Animbang (also known as Commander Kagi Karialan), was eventually repelled by government forces. 

Karialan’s group has been the target of a military crackdown after receiving reports of the group planning to conduct attacks in nearby towns in Maguindanao. 

Following Saturday’s strike, BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim issued a statement condemning the group’s atrocities. 

“We will not tolerate any act that threatens peace and order,” he said. 

“As a region that is just beginning a chapter of healing and justice, attacks like the one today are nothing but a mere attempt to distract everyone from the gains of the peace process. We will not let violence prevail and make sure that we protect our people who have gone through so much over the past decades,” he added. 

Drawing attention to the holy month of Ramadan, Ebrahim said: “We must be reminded of its teachings that form part of who we are as Muslims and as Bangsamoro.”

He added: “The Bangsamoro government will closely monitor the situation. The MILF forces on the ground are directed to uphold the primacy of the peace process and work closely with their counterparts from the military and the police to protect the gains of the peace process.”

In January, Ebrahim told Arab News that hundreds of local militants from Daesh-inspired groups in the southern Philippines were considering giving up their weapons and returning to normal lives, as the government’s anti-terror programs in BARMM continue to thrive.

Since its inception two years ago, the BARMM government has overseen the decommissioning of thousands of fighters from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). 

The BIAF is the military wing of the MILF, once the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines. 

On Wednesday, the Western Mindanao Command said sustained military operations had resulted in the killing of four BIFF gunmen under the Karialan faction during an early morning clash in the outskirts of Datu Paglas.

Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, said troops had recovered the bodies of the slain militants.


Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban
Updated 13 May 2021

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban
  • Some defy safety rules to celebrate end of Ramadan with families despite spike in virus cases

JAKARTA: Indonesians are preparing for a second successive year of muted Eid celebrations after the government rolled out new travel restrictions aimed at combating a spike in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

The Southeast Asian nation has witnessed a steady rise in virus infection rates over the Ramadan holiday season and on May 6 imposed a 12-day nationwide travel ban in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, Jakarta police said on Tuesday that an estimated 1.5 million people had still left the capital city by car to travel to their hometowns throughout Indonesia’s main island of Java, although the exodus was in stark contrast to the usual 8 million in pre-pandemic years.

The country’s transport ministry said almost 138,000 vehicles had driven out of Jakarta each day since the start of the travel ban.

Those staying in the capital were on Tuesday rocked when regional governments in Jakarta and its satellite cities made a joint last-minute announcement restricting people from traveling within the urban areas during the Eid holidays starting Wednesday.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan ordered shopping centers, restaurants, public places, entertainment venues, and even cemeteries, to close down until Sunday to prevent public gatherings during the holidays.

Indonesians also celebrate Eid by paying respects to deceased family members by praying at their graves.

Police set up checkpoints to monitor people traveling in and out of Jakarta to its suburban areas, which administratively are under neighboring West Java and Banten provinces.

The move has left Jakarta residents faced with the prospect of being unable to celebrate Eid with family members often only a 30 to 60-minute drive away.

“The government realizes that the Eid travel ban is not perfect in its implementation, but we still carry out the policy in accordance with the regulations,” national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told a press briefing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there were reports of some travelers going the extra mile to meet relatives in defiance of the ban.

On the first day of the travel restrictions, police discovered a group of people hiding under vegetables in a truck during an inspection at Cikampek toll road, which connects Jakarta to cities across Java.

Others took the less-traveled routes, known as the rat road, to get to their destination despite the journey taking more time.

By the third day of the ban, police said at least 70,000 vehicles had been turned back from 318 checkpoints throughout the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali.

Aang Surmana, who works as a garbage collector in South Jakarta, told Arab News that he managed to reach his hometown in Tegal, Central Java, on Wednesday afternoon, after traveling on a motorcycle with his son for eight hours, as opposed to the regular travel time of six hours.

“I dodged the checkpoints by taking detours on village roads, and I tried to blend in like locals by traveling light, with just a small bag, so we didn’t look like we were traveling long distance with big bags,” he said.

Java, Indonesia’s most populated island where about half of its 270 million people live, has been contributing about 60 to 70 percent to the national COVID-19 caseload, with authorities saying people traveling out of the island to less-infected regions could lead to a surge in local infections.

Adisasmito said: “COVID-19 is not just Java’s problem. There could be a surge in cases in regions out of Java, even in less crowded and populated areas. If we don’t anticipate it, you could bring COVID-19 to your hometowns even though there were no cases there previously.”

On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 4,608 new infections, registering an average of 5,000 cases daily in recent weeks.

On Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that three new variants of COVID-19 – from the UK, South Africa, and India – had been detected and were a cause for concern.

Nadia Yovani, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the rationale of COVID-19 prevention measures of avoiding mass gatherings defied the norms that Indonesians ascribed to festivities with their extended family members during the Eid holiday.

“Despite the hassles in the travel, people still travel to celebrate Eid, pandemic or not. It is part of their struggles to fulfill their spiritual needs to conclude Ramadan by celebrating it with their families,” she said.

“In pandemic times, authorities and spiritual leaders should introduce a new perspective on how to celebrate Eid with a different format than the usual one,” she added.


West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes
Updated 12 May 2021

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes
  • China’s U.N. Mission sent notes to many of the U.N.’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event”
  • Britain’s U.N. Ambassador called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”

UNITED NATIONS: Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority.
They also demanded unimpeded access for UN experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.”
China’s UN Mission sent notes to many of the UN’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event.” And China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock at their support, urging them to “think twice” and withdraw it.
He warned that if they don’t, it will be “harmful to our relationship and cooperation.”
At the meeting, Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
“The evidence, from a growing number of credible sources — including satellite imagery, survivor testimony and publicly available Chinese Government documents — is of grave concern,” said Woodward, who previously was the UK ambassador in China. “The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups. Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”
In recent years, an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Most are Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group. Authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture.
The Chinese government has flatly rejected the allegations. It has characterized the camps, which it says are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law in order to support economic development and combat extremism. China saw a wave of Xinjiang-related terrorist attacks through 2016.
Organizers said there were 152 participants in Wednesday’s event, including 51 countries, and speaker after speaker called on China to end its abuses against the Uyghurs.
Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen thanked “all the co-sponsors who came together despite some massive Chinese threats.”
He urged them to remain committed “until the Uyghurs can live again in freedom, until they are no longer detained, no longer victims of forced labor and other human rights abuses, until they can exercise freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Heusgen appealed to China to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “and tear down the detention camps.”
“If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you finally grant unimpeded access to the (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights?” he asked.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration “will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crime against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
“And we will keep working in concert with our allies and our partners until China’s government respects the universal human rights of all its people,” she said.
Uyghur human rights activist Jewher Ilhan spoke about her father Ilham Tohti, a noted economist who has called for autonomy for Xinjiang and is serving a life sentence on separatist-related charges. “We don’t even know if he’s alive,” she said.
“Hundreds of thousands, even millions of Uyghurs are still being targeted,” said Ilhan, who now lives in the United States. “The fate of my father and my community is in the world’s hands now. We all need to join together and take action to stop this humanitarian crisis from continuing.”
A Chinese diplomat countered, saying: “I make it clear that China is here to tell the truth, it doesn’t mean in any way we recognize this event.”
He then showed a short video and said: “The truth is, it‘s not about human rights in Xinjiang, it’s about using Xinjiang as a political tool to contain China. The US and some of its allies make a presumption of guilt, and then fabricate so-called evidence.”
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, whose organization recently concluded that China’s atrocities amount to the crime against humanity of persecution, said the challenge is what to do about it.
“Beijing clearly calculates that through censorship, propaganda, intimidation, and threats it can somehow avoid accountability,” he said, pointing many actions including its “extraordinary lengths of disinviting people” from Wednesday’s event, its “endless charade” that has prevented Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet from visiting Xinjiang, and UN inaction.
Roth expressed disappointment that Bachelet, who was invited to the event, turned down the invitation. “I’m sure she’s busy. We all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today. I certainly wasn’t deterred by the commute — all the way to my laptop,” he said.
“The good news is that the tide seems to be turning,” he said, pointing to more countries condemning China’s crimes. But he said more must be done.
Roth called for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Xinjiang, for moving discussions to the UN Security Council, for seeking avenues to justice including the use of universal jurisdiction, and for considering creation of an international investigative mechanism similar to those for Syria and Myanmar.
“The true test of the significance of today’s event will be the follow-up steps that we all take,” he said.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the persecution of the Uyghurs is “a critical test” for the international human rights system to investigate allegations of “massive violations” by a government against its own people and hold those responsible accountable.
She called “the silence, fear and timidity” of Bachelet’s office and the UN Secretariat “frankly unacceptable and a breach of their mandate, as are the silence of many states.”
Callamard said supporting a multilateral response to what is happening in Xinjiang is not about “picking sides in a fight with China or supporting the US or anyone else, it is about fighting for human rights.”


Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom
Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom
  • Ministry working with Saudi officials to meet demand from Vision 2030 overhaul

KARACHI: Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — the ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills, a top Pakistani official told Arab News on Tuesday.
“I have already directed my ministry to identify the economic sectors at the heart of the Saudi initiative along with the skillsets required to capture the greatest number of emerging employment opportunities,” Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, special adviser to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis, told Arab News.
The Vision 2030 program was launched by the Kingdom to reduce its dependence on oil by diversifying the economy and turning the country into a global industrial hub.
Saudi authorities are investing $320 billion to develop the Kingdom’s non-oil sector, including a string of mega-projects and “smart cities” offering inhabitants further innovation in their respective fields.
Bukhari said that his ministry will coordinate with Pakistan’s National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and relevant Saudi organizations on “mutual skill recognition” to utilize future demand.
The ministry is working with Saudi officials to develop a standardized labor contract for Pakistani nationals, he added.
Saudi Arabia is home to over 2 million Pakistani migrants and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.
Pakistani expatriates in the Kingdom sent home $5.7 billion between July-March 2021, supporting the country’s balance of payments and ensuring stable foreign reserves.
In an interview with Pakistan’s state-owned news channel on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan praised the role of Pakistani expatriates in the development and progress of his country.
“We have a very ambitious plan, Vision 2030,” he said. “Under that plan, we expect to grow significantly the employment base in the Kingdom. That means, of course, that there will be significant opportunities for additional employment for Pakistani nationals.”
The Saudi foreign minister invited the Pakistani business community to benefit from the emerging investment opportunities in the Kingdom.
“We also hope that Pakistani businesses will continue to increase their investment in the Kingdom because there are some very successful entrepreneurs who I think will find excellent and exciting opportunities,” he said.
Prince Faisal also highlighted labor reforms to provide foreign workers with flexible job opportunities.
“We have recently undergone significant labor reforms which have improved the flexibility of third-country labor within the Saudi labor market. They are now free to transfer their work from one employer to another,” he said.
Pakistani experts say the country needs to train its workforce to meet market requirements in other countries.
“Apart from the construction sector, foreign countries are now demanding knowledge-based labor,” Haroon Sharif, member of the prime minister’s task force on economic diplomacy, told Arab News.
“It is imperative we provide new and specialized training to our workforce in view of the changing demand in international markets, and our universities can play a pivotal role in that,” he said.
“We can also achieve the desired objective by involving the countries for which we are training our labor force.”

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