Afghan chief executive slams president’s ‘wishlist’ peace plan

Afghan chief executive slams president’s ‘wishlist’ peace plan
Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah gestures as he speaks during an interview with AFP at the Sapedar Palace in Kabul on November 5, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 05 November 2019

Afghan chief executive slams president’s ‘wishlist’ peace plan

Afghan chief executive slams president’s ‘wishlist’ peace plan
  • Abdullah said it is imperative for any future talks to include negotiators from the Afghan government
  • Abdullah’s position, not mentioned in the constitution, was created to end ongoing disputes that threatened political collapse

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah dismissed Tuesday a new peace proposal by his election rival President Ashraf Ghani as an unrealistic “wishlist,” and again questioned the validity of thousands of votes from recent polls.
US President Donald Trump in September ended year-long talks with the Taliban amid ongoing insurgent violence, leaving Afghans wondering what comes next in the gruelling conflict.
Ghani’s team last month released a seven-point proposal meant to build on those talks and bring an end to Afghanistan’s 18-year-old war with the Taliban.
While some observers have praised aspects of the detailed proposal for its scope, they question whether certain elements — including a call for a month-long Taliban cease-fire before talks resume — are feasible.
“To be honest, nobody has taken that so-called seven-point plan as a plan... it’s rather a wishlist,” Abdullah said in an interview with AFP.
“Nobody is taking it seriously — neither the people of Afghanistan, nor anybody.”
The US-Taliban negotiations centered on the Pentagon pulling troops in return for Taliban security guarantees, but drew scorn from Ghani’s government, which was systematically cut out because the insurgents do not recognize the administration.
Abdullah said it is imperative for any future talks to include negotiators from the Afghan government, be it led by him or by Ghani.
Any negotiating team “has to be inclusive. Government has to be a part of that,” Abdullah, 59, said in his sprawling official compound next to the presidential palace in the center of Kabul.
Abdullah is locked in a bitter election race with his next-door neighbor Ghani.
The two rivals squared off in a first-round vote on September 28 and election officials have repeatedly delayed announcing initial results, citing various technical problems.
In 2014, Ghani and Abdullah fought a close and angry race that sparked widespread allegations of fraud and saw the US step in to broker an awkward power-sharing agreement between the rivals under a unity government.
Abdullah’s position, not mentioned in the constitution, was created to end ongoing disputes that threatened political collapse.
There are signs this year’s election risks a repeat of 2014, with both Ghani’s and Abdullah’s camps alleging fraud.
But Abdullah, who has previously said he believes he secured the most votes, said he would “absolutely” respect the result of recent polls — if the process is fair and transparent.
On Monday, his team said problems remained with about 300,000 of the 1.8 million votes that the Independent Election Commission has said are valid.
The IEC had failed to communicate to the public what is happening in the counting process, Abdullah said, and “they have not explained it transparently to our representatives... more transparency is needed.”
This year’s vote is supposed to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan’s young democracy, with a German firm supplying biometric machines meant to stop people from voting more than once.
But Abdullah said problems remain even with these high-tech votes, claiming that photos attached to some ballots had been taken from fake identity cards, and not actual voters.
Already, nearly a million of the initial votes cast have been purged owing to irregularities, meaning the recent election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.
With Afghanistan’s war the overarching concern, presidential candidates’ policy positions were often drowned out by US-Taliban talks, and for a while it looked like the election would get shunted aside to make way for ongoing negotiations.
When asked how he differs from Ghani, Abdullah said the president has proven himself to be a divisive figure who failed to live up to his promises, including his pledge to root out the rampant corruption endemic across the Afghan government.
He also accused Ghani of prioritising his grip on power over striving for peace.
Ghani’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
Updated 15 min 41 sec ago

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
  • Ghani’s remarks come days after the Pakistan army chief visits Kabul despite stalled negotiations
  • Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years

KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that Pakistan, which Kabul has long seen as a supporter of the Taliban, is not in favor of the group’s return to power in his war-battered country.

Concerns are mounting among the current Afghan administration because the complete US troop withdrawal, expected by September, could leave the country vulnerable to a Taliban takeover 20 years after it was ousted from power in a US-led invasion.

Ghani’s remarks came days after a visit from Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, to Kabul.

“Pakistan’s army, in utter clarity, announced that the revival of Islamic Emirate is not in Pakistan’s national interest,” Ghani said in a televised speech after Eid Al-Fitr prayers, marking the end of Ramadan.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the country’s name during Taliban rule from 1996-2001.

“Afghanistan’s peace and stability means peace and stability in the region,” the president said, adding the Pakistani general expressed his support for “the republic” — which is understood as Ghani’s government.

The Pakistani military did not immediately comment on Ghani’s statement. Its spokesperson also was not available when contacted by Arab News.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years. The Afghan government accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban which has been fighting to drive foreign troops out of the country and return to power.

While Pakistan has denied supporting the Taliban, its influence has been crucial in persuading the militants to join ongoing US-sponsored negotiations for a permanent ceasefire and power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan.

Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Kabul came as the negotiations have stalled for months and violent attacks in Afghanistan have been on the rise since the US missed a May 1 deadline to withdraw its soldiers under last year’s agreement between Washington and the Taliban.

“Pakistan is also not keen on seeing an extremist ideology taking root in Afghanistan. It represents a risk for the generals and Pakistan’s democracy as well,” Toreq Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, told Arab News.

“Pakistan wants a political settlement in Afghanistan where Taliban can be part of the governing structure and opposes a total takeover of power by the Taliban.”


Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr

Muslims around the world mark Eid al Fitr
  • For the second year Muslims celebrations are being impacted by COVID-19 restictions
  • In Gaza Muslims marked Eid despite the escalating violence with Israel

DUBAI: Millions of Muslims around the world performed Eid Al-Fitr prayers on Thursday with varying degrees of restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 and civil unrest.

Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from any form of food – liquid or solid – as well as not smoking during daylight hours.

There are some similarities in the way Muslims celebrate around the world, with prayers and where possible with family and friends.

In Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Muslims bake cakes, go on picnics and organize barbecues in forests.

In Gaza, Muslims still prayed together despite intense fighting with Israel.

 

 

And in China - where the government has been facing intense criticism for its treatment of minority Muslims - Beijing's Muslim community gathered for Eid al-Fitr prayers at the Niujie Mosque - the capital city's biggest and oldest mosque.

In Afghanistan a three-day ceasefire has been agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan forces, which came into force on Thursday.

Indonesia – the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation – has for a second year been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

 

 

Many mosques have had to be closed and restrictions on movements have impacted family reunions.

Even in non-Islamic countries, Muslims will attend local mosques to pray - but Thursday is normal working day and some will book the time off work to be with family - COVID–19 restrictions allowing.

For more images of Muslims welcoming Eid Al-Fitr click here.


Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf
Updated 13 May 2021

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf

Macron’s party pulls support from woman in Muslim headscarf
  • Sara Zemmahi is shown in a campaign poster with a white headscarf before the June elections
  • While France bans Muslim headscarves in classrooms, they aren’t forbidden in the public space or on campaign posters

PARIS: France’s long-standing debate over the Muslim headscarf has landed in a local political race, giving it a national message, with a decision by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party to withdraw its backing for a candidate because she was pictured in a poster with her head covered.
“I’m frankly pained by the decision,” Mahfoud Benali, the lead candidate on the list for a district in the southern city of Montpellier, said Wednesday of the move by Macron’s party to refuse support for Sara Zemmahi, a quality engineer, from his list.
Zemmahi is shown in a campaign poster with a white headscarf before the June elections. She was on a work trip and not immediately available to comment, Benali said on a TV talk show on Channel 8.
While France bans Muslim headscarves in classrooms, they aren’t forbidden in the public space or on campaign posters.
However, Stanislas Guerini, head of Macron’s LREM party, told radio station RTL Tuesday that, nevertheless, the party wouldn’t back Zemmahi, one of four people in the poster.
“We consider that ostentatious religious signs don’t have their place on posters, whatever the religion,” Guerini said.
The poster for the June 20 and 27 local elections shows two men and two female candidates, including Zemmahi, under the sign “Different But United For You.” On the bottom, it notes the candidates stand for the “presidential majority.”
The decision, which drew criticism from some members of Macron’s own party, underscored the divisiveness of France’s long-standing debate on headscarves, and secularism, and how it may play out in politics before next year’s presidential vote. Macron is expected to try to renew his mandate, and, if so, could find himself in a repeat of the 2017 race, facing off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
It was a tweet of the poster by the No.2 official in Le Pen’s National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, that brought the issue into the public eye, along with his remark: “That’s the fight against separatism,” a reference to Macron’s priority effort to rid France of political Islam and extremists.
In a later tweet, Bardella said the Muslim headscarf is “contrary to all our values” and his National Rally party “will forbid it in public.” He was clearly making a reference to an eventual victory of Le Pen in next year’s presidential race.


Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns

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

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns

Exclusion from US Census ‘weakens the Arab American voice,’ expert warns
  • 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.