‘We must heal now’: US expats in the Middle East react to Biden triumph

‘We must heal now’: US expats in the Middle East react to Biden triumph
Biden took the 20 electoral college votes needed to claim victory over President Donald Trump and become the 46th president of the US. (File photo: AFP)
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Updated 08 November 2020

‘We must heal now’: US expats in the Middle East react to Biden triumph

‘We must heal now’: US expats in the Middle East react to Biden triumph
  • Tears of joy as some Americans celebrate Democrat win — while others support Trump’s claim that it’s not over
  • Many see long, challenging road ahead for Biden to bring US out of present gloom

DUBAI: The deep divide in the US in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election was clearly on display as American expatriates in the Middle East responded to Joe Biden’s poll victory.

For many, there was relief when major networks gave Pennsylvania to the Democrat challenger. By winning the state, Biden took the 20 electoral college votes needed to claim victory over President Donald Trump and become the 46th president of the US.

It also made Trump only the 11th president in the history of the US who has failed to secure a second term.

However, for others, Biden’s claim of victory was premature and, more than 10,000 km from Washington’s halls of power, they were defiantly supporting both Trump’s refusal to concede and his claims of voter fraud in mail-in ballots.

For all Americans in the Middle East, it had been a long five days of anticipation and little sleep with the future of the nation hanging in the balance.

Biden’s supporters in the region expressed dismay at four years of presidential attacks on democratic institutions, the vulnerable, immigrants and religious minorities, together with what they claimed was Trump’s use of division to wield power.

This had resulted in a negative perception of Americans abroad, they said.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ election win has implications for Americans living all over the world,” said Liberty Jones, who is from Washington and is public relations director of luxury retailer Tiffany & Co. “I’ve seen firsthand here in Dubai how the perception of Americans has negatively changed the past four years.

“Trump has made the world question our morality, our respect for our fellow man, and our esteemed position as a country of opportunity and discovery.”

However, on the red side of the divide, some US citizens in the Gulf say they were hoping Trump would remain in the White House, mainly to encourage stability in the Middle East. Iran’s aggressive policies in the region meant they welcomed Trump’s tough stance against Tehran and saw it in sharp contrast to the soft approach of Barack Obama’s administration, in which Biden served as vice president.

Youssef Beydoun, UAE chairman of Republicans Overseas, told Arab News that the election is not over, regardless of what the media say.

“The media does not decide who the president is,” Beydoun said. “Moreover, not all states have finished counting, and there are suspected irregularities and fraud in several states. If we go back in history, we can see that the same scenario took place in 2000 when the media declared Al Gore as the winner and then Bush was officially sworn in as president.”

This was a historic election on many fronts. A record number of Americans voted, with some predictions suggesting the final figure will be almost 160 million. More than 100 million ballots were cast during the early voting period.

Americans abroad expressed pride in such numbers, which they said revealed a country looking for change but also trusting in the democratic process.

“I burst into tears when it was confirmed, honestly. I haven’t slept well since he has been in power,” said Anne-Shelton Aaron, who lives in Cairo and is a former chair of the Democrats Abroad group in Switzerland.

“Trump was a disturbing and destructive force, a bully with no empathy who took away the dignity of his role. I am sad at how much he managed to destroy, how many people supported him in the Republican Party and how many people voted for him.

“I am deeply relieved that we can start the healing process and that the world can see that our democratic system does work, even if it was weakened.”

Joy Buckner, who runs an educational consultancy in Dubai, said: “I’m proud of what happened in my country today, democracy prevailed. A record number of voters turned out to have their voices heard, and all of this during a global health pandemic. It makes me hopeful for the future.”

Buckner said that as a black woman, she was most moved by the election of Harris as the first female vice president.

“For her to be a woman of color brings a feeling of pride that is hard to describe,” she said.

Despite the record voter turnout, the effectiveness of the US voting system was questioned by several expats, who said that electoral reform was essential.

“The results of this election and the way it played out have strengthened my belief that we urgently need electoral reform,” said Jones. “I’m ecstatic that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have won — but this is overshadowed by my fear that the antiquated electoral process and gerrymandering will continue to drive division, infighting and political scheming in the country.”

Ali Khalaf, who is from Washington but has lived in Dubai since 2007, said: “When you have the highest number of votes counted for either party, was it a surprise showing by Trump? It’s hard to evaluate.

“Exit polls are not accurate because a lot of the votes that were coming in were absentee votes so can you really exit poll those? This election was ultimately a rejection of Trump. He lost by more than the popular vote that he lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. We have yet to see Georgia and North Carolina, which also may flip (Democrat).”

Many expats also expressed unease at the challenging road ahead, particularly since Trump is likely to wage legal battles in a bid to cling to the White House.

“Even though we have a new president, Trumpism will be there for a while,” said James Ruiz, a health care company director based in Abu Dhabi.

Originally from New York, Ruiz describes himself as a Republican but voted for Biden in this election.

“Right now, we need to heal and unify the nation, and get past its division,” he said.

“For Biden, it is crucial to get past the challenges of the pandemic, because you can’t build an economy and keep it sustained if you can’t solve the COVID-19 problem. Providing public health care for all throughout the pandemic will be critical to rebuilding, growing and sustaining the economy.

“Biden has 100 days and needs to prove he can do this very quickly.”

Michele Tarnow, originally from New York and now working as CEO of Alliance Care Technologies in Dubai, said the divisions in the US cannot be overestimated.

“Trump has severed for now the ability of people to have civil conversations,” she said. “This also impairs the ability to look for real solutions to problems.

“The calls for social justice that emerged after the world watched the death of George Floyd have been met with division fueled by Trump.”

Tarnow added that Biden and Harris “have their work cut out to build bridges” while stemming the rise of COVID-19.


What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
Updated 57 min 27 sec ago

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda

What we know about the Taliban’s political agenda
  • While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far

KABUL: A month after seizing power following a lightning offensive in Afghanistan, the Taliban this week completed their interim government — but their political agenda is still unclear.
The lack of clarity is fueling concern among Afghans and the international community that the hard-line Islamists are heading toward imposing the same brutal policies against women and opponents seen in their previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
While much remains opaque, here is what we know about their political program so far.
This is one of the most eagerly awaited areas of Taliban policy.
How the all-male leadership treat women is expected to be critical to any resumption of suspended Western economic aid on which the country depends.
Since their return to power on August 15, the group have said they will respect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic sharia law, without elaborating. During their last rule, women were forced to wear all-covering burqas, and barred from work or study except in rare circumstances.
Most have been told not to return to work until the Taliban have ironed out “new systems,” while some are staying home out of fear of future reprisal attacks for being a working woman.
Girls are allowed to go to primary school but have been excluded from secondary school.
The Taliban says the measures are temporary, but many are distrustful of the group.
Afghan women studying at private universities can return to single-sex classrooms with strict conservative rules imposed on attire.
Upon taking power, the Taliban said journalists — including women — can continue to work.
“We will respect freedom of the press because media reporting will be useful to society and will be able to help correct the leaders’ errors,” a Taliban spokesman told Reporters Without Borders.
A month later, the tone has changed. According to RSF, the group have imposed 11 rules on Afghan journalists that they must now obey.
One of them is a ban on broadcasting “material contrary to Islam” or considered “insulting to public figures.”
The rules could be used for the persecution of journalists and open the door to censorship, RSF said.
Even before the announcement of these new guidelines in mid-September, many journalists had fled the country.
Those who were unable to leave remain in hiding at home for fear of reprisals.
Some Afghan journalists were briefly arrested or beaten on the sidelines of recent anti-Taliban protests.
During their first stint in power, the Taliban were infamous for their strict interpretation of sharia law, banning music, photography, television, and even children’s games such as kite-flying.
The group dynamited giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan months before they were ousted from power.
This time, the Taliban have yet to issue official decrees regarding entertainment and culture.
“Music is forbidden in Islam,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times last month.
Music schools have closed and some players have smashed their instruments.
Libraries, museums and galleries are also shuttered, with heritage experts deeply concerned about whether ancient artifacts will be protected and access to literature allowed.
This is one of the most pressing challenges the new regime will have to tackle.
Afghanistan is facing a financial crisis following the takeover, with much of the international aid that had propped up the economy frozen.
The Taliban’s economic program is still extremely vague.
“We are going to be working on our natural resources and our resources in order to revitalize our economy,” Mujahid said.
But it remains to be seen how the Taliban will find the funds to pay civil servants’ salaries — or to support critical infrastructure to keep the lights on, water running and telecommunications working.
In the midst of a liquidity crisis and at a time when the population was already struggling to make ends meet, the movement said it had turned the page on corruption, which tainted the previous government.
Many Afghans have reported an increased sense of security since the Taliban took over and fighting ended.
But it has moved to crush dissent, breaking up protests led mainly by women by firing shots into the air and later effectively banning all demonstrations.
The Taliban have also warned that “anyone who tries to start an insurgency will be hit hard,” a message to resistance forces in Panjshir, who were defeated earlier this month.
They have also said they would eradicate the local branch of jihadist group Daesh, which has claimed a number of bomb attacks over the past few weeks.
As for drugs, Taliban spokesperson Mujahid promised that the new government would not turn Afghanistan, the world’s leading producer of opium, into a real narco-state.
Certain sports were allowed under the Taliban’s first government, but they were strictly controlled and only men could play or attend matches.
The new sports chief of the Taliban government, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, said they would allow around 400 sports “permitted by the laws of Islam” — but declined to clarify if women could participate in any of them.
The statements of other Taliban members sowed confusion, leaving sportswomen and the country’s athletes fearing a step backwards.
Some of them have already fled and found refuge abroad.


Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness
Updated 25 September 2021

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

Imran Khan paints Pakistan as victim of US ungratefulness

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Imran Khan sought to cast Pakistan as the victim of American ungratefulness and an international double standard in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
In a prerecorded speech aired during the evening, the Pakistani prime minister touched on a range of topics that included climate change, global Islamophobia and “the plunder of the developing world by their corrupt elites” — the latter of which he likened to what the East India Company did to India.
It was for India’s government that Khan reserved his harshest words, once again labeling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government “fascist.” But the cricketer turned posh international celebrity turned politician was in turn indignant and plaintive as he painted the United States as an abandoner of both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
“For the current situation in Afghanistan, for some reason, Pakistan has been blamed for the turn of events, by politicians in the United States and some politicians in Europe,” Khan said. “From this platform, I want them all to know, the country that suffered the most, apart from Afghanistan, was Pakistan when we joined the US war on terror after 9/11.”
He launched into a narrative that began with the United States and Pakistan training mujahedeen — regarded as heroes by the likes of then-President Ronald Reagan, he said — during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces — millions of refugees and new sectarian militant groups — when the Soviets and the Americans left in 1989.
Khan said the US sanctioned its former partner a year later, but then came calling again after the 9/11 attacks. Khan said Pakistan’s aid to the US cost 80,000 Pakistani lives and caused internal strife and dissent directed at the state, all while the US conducted drone attacks.
“So, when we hear this at the end. There is a lot of worry in the US about taking care of the interpreters and everyone who helped the US,” he said, referring to Afghanistan. “What about us?”
Instead of a mere “word of appreciation,” Pakistan has received blame, Khan said.
Despite Khan’s rhetoric espousing a desire for peace, many Afghans have blamed Pakistan for the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan because of close links. The United Nations in August also rejected Pakistan’s request to give its side at a special meeting on Afghanistan, indicating the international community’s shared skepticism.
In his speech, Khan echoed what his foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told The Associated Press earlier this week on the sidelines at the UN: the international community should not isolate the Taliban, but instead strengthen the current Afghan government for the sake of the people.
He struck an optimistic tone about Taliban rule, saying their leaders had committed to human rights, an inclusive government and not allowing terrorists on Afghan soil. But messages from the Taliban have been mixed.
A Taliban founder told the AP earlier this week that the hard-liners would once again carry out executions and amputated hands — though this time after adjudication by judges, including women, and potentially not in public.
“If the world community incentivizes them, and encourages them to walk this talk, it will be a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.
Khan also turned his ire on that same community for what he perceives as a free pass given to India.
“It is unfortunate, very unfortunate, that the world’s approach to violations of human rights lacks even-handedness, and even is selective. Geopolitical considerations, or corporate interests, commercial interests often compel major powers to overlook the transgressions of their affiliated countries,” Khan said.
He went through a litany of actions that have “unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million strong Muslim community,” he said, including lynchings, pogroms and discriminatory citizenship laws.
As in years past, Khan — who favors delivering his speeches in his British-inflected English, in contrast to Modi’s Hindi addresses — devoted substantial time to Kashmir.
“New Delhi has also embarked on what it ominously calls the ‘final solution’ for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” Khan said, rattling off a list of what he termed “gross and systematic violations of human rights” committed by Indian forces. He specifically decried the “forcible snatching of the mortal remains of the great Kashmiri leader, ” Syed Ali Geelani , who died earlier this month at 91.
Geelani’s family has said authorities took his body and buried him discreetly and without their consent, denying the separatist leader revered in Kashmir a proper Islamic burial. Khan called upon the General Assembly to demand Geelani’s proper burial and rites.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and has been claimed by both since they won independence from the British empire and began fighting over their rival claims.
He said Pakistan desires peace, but it is India’s responsibility to meaningfully engage.
Modi is set to address the UN General Assembly in person on Saturday, a day after a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden.

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Huawei CFO leaves Canada after agreement with US over fraud charges, detained Canadians head home

Huawei CFO leaves Canada after agreement with US over fraud charges, detained Canadians head home
Updated 25 September 2021

Huawei CFO leaves Canada after agreement with US over fraud charges, detained Canadians head home

Huawei CFO leaves Canada after agreement with US over fraud charges, detained Canadians head home
  • Meng Wanzhou indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant’s business dealings in Iran.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou flew home to China on Friday after reaching an agreement with US prosecutors to end the bank fraud case against her, relieving a point of tension between China and the United States.
Within hours of the news of the deal, two Canadians who were arrested shortly after Meng was taken into custody in December 2018 were released from Chinese jails and were on their way back to Canada. Beijing had denied that their arrests were linked.
The years-long extradition drama has been a central source of discord in increasingly rocky ties between Beijing and Washington, with Chinese officials signaling that the case needed to be dropped to help end a diplomatic stalemate between the world’s top two powers.
The deal also opens US President Joe Biden up to criticism from China hawks in Washington who argue his administration is capitulating to China and one of its top companies at the center of a global technology rivalry between the two countries.
Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a US warrant, and indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant’s business dealings in Iran.
In an exclusive on Friday, Reuters reported that the United States had reached a deferred prosecution agreement with Meng. Nicole Boeckmann, the acting US Attorney in Brooklyn, said that in entering into the agreement, “Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution.”
The agreement pertains only to Meng, and the US Justice Department said it is preparing for trial against Huawei and looks forward to proving its case in court.
A spokeswoman for Huawei declined to comment.
A person familiar with the matter said Meng — the daughter of Huawei founder, Ren Zhengfei — had left Canada on a flight to Shenzhen.
The two Canadians, businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, had been held in China for more than 1,000 days. In August, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in brief remarks late on Friday the two men had left Chinese airspace just minutes before. He was not asked whether the two countries had struck a bilateral deal.
“I want to thank our allies and partners around the world in the international community who have stood steadfast in solidarity with Canada and with these two Canadians,” he said.
At a hearing in Brooklyn federal court on Friday, which Meng attended virtually from Canada, Assistant US Attorney David Kessler said the government would move to dismiss the charges against her if she complies with all of her obligations under the agreement, which ends in December 2022. He added that Meng will be released on a personal recognizance bond, and that the United States plans to withdraw its request to Canada for her extradition.
Meng pleaded not guilty to the charges in the hearing. When US District Court Judge Ann Donnelly later accepted the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng sighed audibly.
A Canadian judge later signed Meng’s order of discharge, vacating her bail conditions and allowing her to go free after nearly three years of house arrest.
She was emotional after the judge’s order, hugging and thanking her lawyers.
Speaking to supporters and reporters on the steps of the court afterward, Meng thanked the judge for her “fairness” and talked of how the case had turned her life “upside down.”
Meng was confined to her expensive Vancouver home at night and monitored 24/7 by private security that she paid for as part of her bail agreement. Referred to by Chinese state media as the “Princess of Huawei,” she was required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor her movements, which became fodder for the tabloids when it hung above her designer shoes.
Articles published by Reuters in 2012 and 2013 about Huawei, Hong Kong-registered company Skycom and Meng figured prominently in the US criminal case against her. Reuters reported that Skycom had offered to sell at least 1.3 million euros worth of embargoed Hewlett-Packard computer equipment to Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator in 2010.
Reuters also reported numerous financial and personnel links between Huawei and Skycom, including that Meng had served on Skycom’s board of directors between February 2008 and April 2009. The stories prompted HSBC to question Meng about Reuters findings.
Huawei was placed on a US trade blacklist in 2019 that restricts sales to the company for activities contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests. The restrictions have hobbled the company, which suffered its biggest revenue drop in the first half of 2021, after the US supply restrictions drove it to sell a chunk of its once-dominant handset business before new growth areas have matured.
The criminal case against Meng and Huawei is cited in the blacklisting. Huawei is charged with operating as a criminal enterprise, stealing trade secrets and defrauding financial institutions. It has pleaded not guilty.
A Canadian government official said Ottawa would not comment until the US court proceedings were over.
Huawei has become a dirty word in Washington, with China hawks in Congress quick to react to any news that could be construed as the United States being soft, despite Huawei’s struggles under the trade restrictions.
Then-President Donald Trump politicized the case when he told Reuters soon after Meng’s arrest that he would intervene if it would serve national security or help secure a trade deal. Meng’s lawyers have said she was a pawn in the political battle between the two super powers.
Republican China hard-liners in Congress called Friday’s deal a “capitulation.”
“Instead of standing firm against China’s hostage-taking and blackmail, President Biden folded,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton said in a statement.
Senior US officials have said that Meng’s case was being handled solely by the Justice Department and the case had no bearing on the US approach to strained ties with China.
During US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s July trip to China, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng insisted that the United States drop its extradition case against Meng.
US officials have acknowledged that Beijing had linked Meng’s case to the case of the two detained Canadians, but insisted that Washington would not be drawn into viewing them as bargaining chips.


Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan
Updated 24 September 2021

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan

Taliban vow to ‘suppress’ Daesh presence in Afghanistan
  • Daesh will become major threat if world shuns Taliban rule, say experts

KABUL: A senior Taliban official has said the group will “suppress” Daesh fighters operating in Afghanistan, as experts warned the militants were likely to increase their activity and attacks.
After toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul mid-August, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have faced a deadly attack on the capital’s airport and bomb blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad, all claimed by Daesh-Khorasan, or Daesh-K, the local affiliate of the group that originated in Syria.
Daesh emerged in Afghanistan in late 2014 but its strength has declined from its 2018 peak after a series of heavy losses inflicted by both the Taliban and US forces. The group denounced the Taliban’s takeover of the country, criticizing their version of Islamic rule as insufficiently hardline.
As Daesh-K’s strength is now estimated by the UN to be fewer than 2,000 militants, compared with at least 100,000 Taliban fighters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid downplayed the threat earlier this week by saying the group had no “effective presence” in Afghanistan.
“Soon they would be suppressed,” another spokesman Bilal Karimi, who is a member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Thursday. “We assure the people that any group which wants to confront us would be grounded.”
But experts forecast that Daesh would soon become a major threat to the stability of Taliban rule, especially if the new government remained shunned by the rest of the world.
“The Taliban will see a sharp (increase in) activity of ISIS-K (Daesh-K) shortly,” Ahmad Saeedi, a political expert based in Kabul, said. “The Taliban regime has not been recognized by the world so far, and this is a potential threat.”
The Taliban were facing a “series of movements by anti-Taliban forces that had a special place in the previous regime, such as the remnants of the former army,” Saeedi added. “With this situation, it is likely that the Taliban will not be able to continue their rule for more than a year.”
Other anti-Taliban groups, including the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan supported by some members of the previous administration, may join forces with Daesh, he said, and the combined challenges could lead to a “premature collapse” of the Taliban government.
Col. Hekmatullah Hakimi, a former officer of the Afghan army, also listed opposition groups as the possible future ranks of Daesh.
“It is possible that several resistance affiliates will join the ranks of ISIS-K and line up against the Taliban,” he said.
The threat may increase further if the Taliban continued sowing fear among those rejecting them.
“Their enemies would increase daily,” Kabul-based international relations expert Wais Naseri told Arab News. “Military confrontation against the Taliban is 100 percent possible, and that military resistance will form in the not-too-distant future.”


The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan
Updated 24 September 2021

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

The day music died: Grim future awaits Afghanistan’s refugee musicians in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: The day the Taliban entered the Afghan capital on Aug. 15, Rafi Haneef knew he had to flee immediately.
The very next day, the harmonium player and dozens of his fellow musicians from Kabul crossed over into neighboring Pakistan through the Chaman border, fearing violence and persecution from a hard-liner group that banned most forms of music when it previously ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.
Since returning to power as US soldiers withdrew from the country last month, the Taliban have told Afghans, and the international community, that they will uphold rights and allow cultural activities within the confines of Islamic law.
But Afghans artists have no hope they will play again under a Taliban government.
“The entire music industry collapsed the day the Taliban appeared in Kabul on Aug. 15,” Haneef told Arab News in an interview this week from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, in the country’s northwest. “The Taliban consider music haram, or forbidden, but we can’t live without music.”
Sadiq Sameer, a player of the lute-like instrument called the rubab, said he fled Afghanistan the day after the Taliban captured Kabul, leaving behind a 10-member family, including his six children. His cherished rubab is also lost in Kabul.
Sameer was a known figure in Afghanistan and a regular performer at private events and on major TV channels like ToloNews and Shamshad TV.
“That morning when I left my family was the most terrible of my life,” Sameer said. “At my family’s insistence, the next morning after the Taliban seized power in Kabul, I somehow managed to cross over the Chaman border and reached Peshawar after a 24-hour perilous journey.”
The concerns of Sameer’s family are not unfounded.
The dangers facing musicians in Afghanistan were brutally highlighted in the final months of the Taliban insurgency, when the group carried out targeted attacks on those it said had betrayed its vision of Islamic rule.
Since the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan, members of an all-female orchestra have either left the country or destroyed their instruments and gone into hiding. In Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, the group issued a formal order against radio stations playing music and female announcers last month. International media has shown footage of armed Taliban fighters guarding the shuttered Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
There have been other changes that point to the austere tone of the new Taliban rulers.
Colorful signs outside beauty parlors have been whitewashed, traditional dress has replaced jeans and radio stations have switched from their normal menu of Hindi and Persian pop and call-in shows to somber patriotic music.
Even in Pakistan, things will not be easy for artists like Haneef who had to leave his instruments behind.
“I can’t do anything else except music because my family background is music,” Haneef said. “My father was a music teacher, and my brothers and cousins are all musicians.”
In Afghanistan, he said he was able to earn a decent living by playing up to 20 wedding parties and other events a month.
“I fled Kabul for Peshawar with only two suits,” Haneef said. “Now, I’m worried about how to feed my kids.”
Sameer echoed the sentiment, saying he had lived a “happy life” in Kabul as a performer and teacher of the rubab but was now “miserable” in Peshawar where he was temporarily staying at the house of a friend.

“How long can you stay as a guest with someone? I’m in deep trouble, worrying about my future and my family in Kabul.”

The only thing he had to look forward to was moving his family to Pakistan so they could “face all odds together.”

“My life is shattered and I’m at God’s mercy without any hope for a better tomorrow,” Sameer said.

The future looks grim indeed since work will not be easy to find in Pakistan, particularly in its northwest where the music industry has been badly hurt by years of militant violence and now the pandemic.

In the early 2000s, after conservative religious parties sympathetic to the Taliban rode to power in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital, they banned music on public transportation and concerts at Nishtar Hall, Peshawar’s only theater venue. Landlords were forced to evict musicians from the Dabgari neighborhood in

Peshawar’s old city, where they had lived for generations, and turned a blind eye to attacks on music shops.

At least 13 prominent artists, particularly female Pashtun singers, were killed by Pakistan’s indigenous Taliban movement between 2008 and 2017, the heyday of the insurgency, according to a report published by major Pakistani newspaper The News. Most were killed in or near Peshawar city.

And now, the pandemic has destroyed whatever was left of an already dying industry in the region.

Ajmal Khan, a director at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Culture, said Afghan musicians would be eligible for a planned Rs500 million ($3 million) grant to support provincial artists.

“We will very soon release the grant to disburse among musicians,” Khan said. “We will also help Afghan musicians.”

It was unclear when the grant would be distributed, but civil society members were skeptical it would reach Afghan artists.

“I don’t think the KP government will extend a helping hand,” Rashid Khan, chief of the Hunari Tolana Welfare Society, told Arab News.

The organization, which supports performers, is planning to seek help from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Programme.

“We’re preparing a proposal to request that the UNHCR and UNDP financially support our artist guests from Afghanistan,” Khan said.

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