More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks
More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks
  • A police official blamed the Taliban for the attack
  • On Friday, a bomb explosion inside a mosque in Kabul, killed at least four people

KABUL: More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, days ahead of the first round of crucial intra-Afghan talks on June 15 aimed at finding ways to end a protracted war in the country.

In one of the attacks, a group of Taliban insurgents stormed a police post overnight and killed 10 officers in an area of the central Ghor province, Atta Mohammad Dehqanpur, a lawmaker from the province told Arab News.

“The Taliban were armed with small and heavy weapons and opened fire as some of the police were asleep,” Dehqanpur said.

Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, Tariq Aryan, confirmed the reports but told Arab News that there was no specific number of casualties.

“We have had contradictory figures on deaths. The Taliban had attacked the police post, and both sides have suffered casualties,” he said.

In the second attack, a commander for one of the factions, Abdul Wali Ekhlas, and seven of his friends were gunned down in an ambush in the southeastern Khost province, a spokesman for Khost’s police, Adel Haidar, told reporters in a message.

The motive behind the overnight attack against Ekhlas was not immediately clear, Aryan said.

In the third incident, which also took place last night, a woman and three members of her family were killed by unknown gunmen at their home in Logar province, which lies to the south of Kabul.

The Taliban, whose delegates are set to initiate peace talks with politicians, including members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government in the coming days, has not commented on the attacks. However, officials have not blamed the Taliban for the Khost and Logar violence.

Earlier on Saturday, a spokesman for Ghani’s national security adviser, Javid Faisal, accused the Taliban of killing 89 civilians and wounding 150 others in the past two weeks alone.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Faisal’s comments as “propaganda of the enemy” and instead blamed Kabul for killing civilians in its attack.

Despite efforts from both sides to initiate talks in the coming days, Taliban fighters and government forces have conducted attacks against each other in recent months, and affiliates of Daesh have also unleashed a series of attacks.

Daesh accepted responsibility for a bomb explosion, which occurred on Friday inside a mosque in the capital, Kabul, killing at least four worshippers, including the prayer leader.

It followed the killing of another prominent cleric in another mosque in Kabul some 10 days ago, in an attack also claimed by Daesh.

Unlike the past attacks perpetrated by Daesh, which mostly targeted Shiite mosques, both the clerics were Sunnis.

Observers believe that even if the Taliban and Kabul reach a settlement, peace will not be completely restored in Afghanistan and Daesh’s followers may continue their attacks.

“The overnight attacks may not have much impact on the talks and we do not know if all of them were conducted by the Taliban,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Both sides seem ready to initiate the talks and even if they succeed that may not be the end of the war in Afghanistan as Daesh is still active here,” he said.

The Taliban and the US inked a historical deal in Qatar at the end of February this year which pushes for a total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by next spring, with the Taliban pledging to cut ties with Al- Qaeda and other militants and not allow them to use their territory against any country, including US interests.

The government and the Taliban have exchanged prisoners in recent weeks, a condition set by the Taliban ahead of starting talks with Kabul.

Afghan officials in recent days have said that the first round of talks with the Taliban might happen online because of the coronavirus outbreak, or that they will possibly meet face-to-face in Qatar.


Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
Updated 18 January 2021

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
  • Indonesia planning to inoculate 181 million in nationwide vaccination drive

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government’s strategy to promote coronavirus vaccination is under fire after an influencer who received a vaccine jab last week was spotted violating health guidelines just a few
hours later.

Indonesia started the nationwide vaccination drive on Wednesday to inoculate 181 million of its 276 million people, after the national drug regulator authorized the emergency use of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech and the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs approved it as halal, or permissible under Islamic law.

President Joko Widodo, who was the first Indonesian to receive the vaccine, described the campaign as a “game changer,” amid hopes that achieving herd immunity would help to revive the economy, which has been reeling from the pandemic. 

Alongside officials and religious leaders, 33-year-old soap opera star Raffi Ahmad also received the jab. Government strategists hoped he would promote vaccine acceptance with his huge social media presence of some 50 million followers on Instagram and 19 million on YouTube.

However, soon after receiving his shot Ahmad was photographed at a party, without a face mask and violating social distancing measures imposed by the government to contain the virus spread. The photos quickly made the rounds on social media, provoking a backlash to the government’s campaign and resulting in a lawsuit against the celebrity.

“He was really careless. He is tasked with promoting the vaccination drive, but he failed to behave accordingly,” said David Tobing, an independent lawyer who has filed the case against Ahmad for “violating the regulations to control the pandemic and for public indecency.”

“I demand in my lawsuit that the court order Ahmad to stay at home for 30 days after he gets his second vaccine jab and to issue a public apology in national print and broadcast media,” Tobing told Arab News on Saturday. “I filed the lawsuit after I received a lot of feedback from the public, including COVID-19 survivors and those who have lost loved ones because of the coronavirus.”

Ahmad has apologized on social media, saying that he did not want to disappoint the president and the public after getting the privilege of being vaccinated, but justified going to the party as it was held at a private home and said that he taken the mask off only to eat. The first hearing against Ahmad is scheduled to be held at a district court in Depok near Jakarta on Jan. 27, Tobing said. He added that he is aware that Ahmad had apologized but the actor “did not seem to have any regret.”

In response to a question by Arab News at a press briefing after the incident, national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said that officials had reprimanded Ahmad over the blunder. He justified the involvement of celebrities in the vaccination campaign.

“When we have a major program like vaccination, we hope that a big influencer such as Raffi Ahmad can play a pivotal role to make sure young people will support the vaccination,” Adisasmito said.

Experts have criticized the government’s strategy, saying that Ahmad receiving the vaccine is unlikely to appease public concerns over the vaccine’s efficacy and possible side effects.

“Health professionals, religious figures and government officials have more credibility and integrity to promote this vaccination drive than influencers,” said Sulfikar Amir, a sociologist from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Amir, who initiated a petition in early December calling on the government to give vaccinations to all citizens when Jakarta was still planning to inoculate only selected groups, said that by appointing the celebrity influencer to promote immunization the government showed that it “has no ability to influence the public to take part in the vaccination drive.”

“This is not the same as promoting consumer goods that the influencers normally do,” he said. “It is about public health issues.”