Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

An Afghan refugee distributes sweets on the outskirts of Peshawar to celebrate the step toward peace agreed between Taliban, US and Afghan forces. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Afghans hope for peace amid ‘violence reduction’ week

  • The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas
  • US troops withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban during the talks

KABUL: Weary Afghans exhausted by decades of conflict expressed optimism on Saturday that a week-long reduction in violence could lead to a longer-lasting peace in the country.
Jubilant residents had danced in Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad’s public areas, as music blared from giant loudspeakers following news of the agreement between the Taliban and the US.
The armed group has committed to preventing suicide attacks, rocket fire and bombings — a key US demand ahead of a peace deal due to be signed on Feb. 29.  “We are smelling peace, let us welcome with good tidings this reduction of violence,” Mohammad Dad, a 46-year-old vegetable vendor in Kabul, told Arab News.
The US-Taliban agreement follows nearly a year and a half of concerted and secret talks between the two groups in Doha. The reduction of violence — if successful — would be followed by a gradual departure of foreign troops from the country and the start of an intra-Afghan dialogue.
The troop withdrawal is a tit-for-tat condition set by the Taliban, which has refused to engage with President Ashraf Ghani and his government.
Quli Beg, a university student in Kabul, welcomed news of the partial and unofficial truce as well as the prospect of peace deal being signed.
“The atmosphere is charged with optimism,” he told Arab News. “We fought against foreigners or among ourselves for over 40 years. Let us all give peace a chance and we have to unite and work for our country.”
The Taliban have ordered its fighters to refrain from visiting cities or government-controlled areas. A reduction in violence would also allow thousands of war-displaced people to visit their relatives in areas that were previously considered unsafe.
Sharifullah, who is one among tens of thousands of people displaced in the past 19 years, said he would try to travel from Kabul to the southern Helmand province after nearly 10 years.
“I have not seen my home, (my) village for a long time and I look forward to going there to see what has happened and see if we can return at some stage,” he told Arab News. “All Afghans, except warmongers here and outside, want peace.”
But there is scepticism in some quarters. “We pray that this leads to a total cease-fire, but at the same time since the a superpower is the main side of the deal, all Afghans must be vigilant and act prudently as superpowers during the course of history have acted cunningly and are skillfully cruel,” Karim Khuram, chief of staff for former President Hamid Karzai, tweeted.
Violence-reduction week comes at a time of increased political uncertainty in Afghanistan after the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that incumbent Ghani was the winner of last September’s disputed presidential election.
His arch-rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who has shared power with him for more than five years, also claimed victory. He has warned that he will form his own government, alleging that the IEC has not invalidated tens of thousands of fraudulent votes cast in Ghani’s favor.
“The opportunity for peace is at our doorstep and I hope we exercise maximum responsibility towards it,” Omar Zakhilwal, a former minister, wrote.


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”