Closure of Pakistan Consulate in Kabul impacts sick, elderly

Afghan police personnel stand guard outside Pakistan's embassy, in Kabul on November 4, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2019

Closure of Pakistan Consulate in Kabul impacts sick, elderly

  • The consular office in Kabul was closed over security reasons after several staff members were harassed by unknown people in Kabul, Pakistan’s Embassy announced late on Sunday

KABUL: Qasim Ali traveled all the way to Kabul, from the remote central highland of Afghanistan, to acquire visas for Pakistan for himself and his ailing mother for her quarterly backbone treatment in Islamabad. After nearly eight hours of driving from his village, perched in a hill near Bamiyan, Ali was informed on Tuesday that Pakistan had indefinitely shut its consulate section in Kabul a day earlier.
After waiting for several hours hoping to procure the visas, Ali had to travel to the eastern city of Jalalabad to try his luck.
“She will face total paralysis if I do not take her immediately to Pakistan, let us see if we can have visas in Jalalabad,” Ali, a 29-year-old shopkeeper, told Arab News outside the Pakistani Embassy, where scores of other people were waiting.
Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul said on Sunday that it was indefinitely closing its consular office in the Afghan capital due to security reasons, amid mounting tensions between the neighboring countries.
The closure comes as a huge blow to many Afghans, hundreds of whom apply daily for permits to travel to Pakistan where they seek medical treatment, goods and university education.
Before its closure, the consulate section used to issue visas for over 1,500 people, including elderly and sick people, on a daily basis. The recipients were either not confident about the standard of medical services in Afghanistan or found them too costly when compared to Pakistan.
“This affects all sorts of people, mostly the patients. It is really tough for people to go to consulates in other areas and get the visas on time,” Mohammad Ezat, a Kabul resident who lives near the embassy, said.
The consular office in Kabul was closed over security reasons after several staff members were harassed by unknown people in Kabul, Pakistan’s Embassy announced late on Sunday.
The visa section’s closure comes amid fresh tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries with uneasy historical ties over their border.
Last week, both exchanged fire along the disputed border region, leaving some people dead and wounded on both sides.
The shutdown also follows two months after Pakistan announced restricting visas for Afghans, saying it will issue them to only the sick, elderly people and traders, demanding Kabul to end what it said was a long practice of extortion of applicants outside the embassy.
On Sunday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Afghan charge d’affaires to convey concerns about the safety of its diplomats in Kabul.
The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement showed its “deepest objection and concern over the summoning of the Ambassador to Islamabad, by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence and the misconduct of the entity’s personnel and deems this action in clear contradiction with diplomatic norms and principles.”
Taj Mohammad Ahmadzada, an analyst, told Arab News: “The closure of the consulate and the firing along the border region will certainly add to the bitterness between the two neighbors and I think both governments need to find solution for them before escalation of hostilities.”
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both Islamic republics, have long been fraught, with Afghans blaming Islamabad for supporting the Taliban.
Pakistan denies it helps the insurgent group.
Tensions have soured further in recent days amid clashes along the border in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar.
Both sides have accused each other’s troops of cross-border shelling.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said six troops were wounded on Oct. 27 and 28 in “unprovoked mortar and heavy weapon firing” by Afghan soldiers.
Pakistani consular services remain open in Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif, according to the embassy spokesman, who recommended that applicants travel to Jalalabad if they needed a visa urgently.
– With inputs from AFP


Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

Updated 15 November 2019

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor temples

  • The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s tourists
  • Apsara authority plans to end the elephant rides by 2020
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia will ban all elephant rides at the country’s famed Angkor temple park by early next year, an official said Friday, a rare win for conservationists who have long decried the popular practice as cruel.
The Angkor archaeological complex in northern Siem Reap attracts the bulk of the kingdom’s foreign tourists — which topped six million in 2018 — and many opt for elephants rides around the ancient temples.
But these rides “will end by the start of 2020,” said Long Kosal, a spokesman with the Apsara Authority, which manages the park.
“Using elephants for business is not appropriate anymore,” he told AFP, adding that some of the animals were “already old.”
So far, five of the 14 working elephants have been transferred to a community forest about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the temples.
“They will live out their natural lives there,” Kosal said.
The company that owns the elephants will continue to look after them, he added.
Cambodia has long come under fire from animal rights groups for ubiquitous elephant rides on offer for tourists, also seen in neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
The elephants are broken in during training and rights groups have accused handlers of overworking them.
In 2016, a female elephant died by the roadside after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in severely hot weather.
The animal had been working for around 45 minutes before she collapsed.