India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
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Updated 29 November 2020

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
  • Colombo trilateral forum ends with pledge to improve intel sharing
  • Bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019

COLOMBO: India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval concluded a three-day visit to Colombo on Sunday after “fruitful discussions” with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on trade, new investments and security amid plans to bolster bilateral ties with the island nation.
“Had a fruitful discussion with Shri @Ajitdovalkumar, NSA #India this evening. National Sec, Sec in the Indian Ocean, new Indian investments, continuation of infrastructure proj. & strengthening bilateral relations between #SriLanka & #India were the areas discussed at the meeting,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
In a separate tweet after the meeting, the High Commission of India in Colombo acknowledged the “productive discussion” between the two officials.
“NSA Ajit Doval called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa & had a productive discussion. NSA Doval expressed hope that the India-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship would diversify and deepen further under the strong leadership of PM @narendramodi and President @GotabayaR @MEAIndia,” it said.
As one of Sri Lanka’s closest neighbors, India is among its top investors with cumulative investments amounting to more than $1.2 billion since 2003. 
According to the Indian Board of Investment, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019.
Sri Lankan tourists are among the top 10 sources of revenue for India’s tourism sector, with more than 107,360 tourist visas issued by the High Commission of India in Colombo last year. However, tourism has suffered a setback since the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent global travel ban in March.
Doval took part in a trilateral forum with Maldivian Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi and Kamal Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, on Saturday, with officials from Mauritius and Seychelles attending virtually.
In a joint statement after the meeting, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense said that the 4th National Security Adviser-level trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation meeting had been revived after a six-year gap to expand the scope of intelligence sharing, including terrorism and cybersecurity, based on “common security threats.”
The first meeting was held in 2011 and, later, in New Delhi in 2014.
“We were able to resolve several maritime problems, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking and general security,” Brig. Chandana Wickremesinghe, a ministry spokesperson, told Arab News.
Current observers Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles “will become permanent members soon,” he added.
“The Indian Ocean commands 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, has 80 percent of the world’s shipborne energy transport, and facilitates 46 percent of the world’s merchandise trade — maritime security remains one of our highest priorities,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said during his opening address at the forum.
The three countries also agreed to improve intelligence sharing and “focus on issues such as terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and climate change,” the statement said.
Muheed Jeeran, a lobbyist, told Arab News that the forum took place at the “right time” when other countries “were looking for a berth in the Indian Ocean.”
“The representatives of the three countries would have chalked out the preventive measures that could be adopted in case of a third-party interference,” Jeeran said.
Regional security “will lead to peace in the Indian Ocean,” he added.

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide
Updated 15 April 2021

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide

Pakistan to ban religious party after deadly protests nationwide
  • Arrest of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan head sparks nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD, KARACHI: The Pakistan government on Wednesday said it had sent a proposal to the federal Cabinet to impose a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life through nationwide protests.

Demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, was arrested on Monday.

Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that protesters had killed two policemen and injured another 340 during violent attacks on law enforcement forces.

“We have decided to slap a ban on the TLP,” he said. “A file (for the purpose) is being dispatched to the federal Cabinet for formal approval.”

“The police personnel who were kidnapped (by the protesters) have also reached back to their respective police stations,” he said, adding that demonstrators had blocked ambulances and obstructed oxygen supply to the hospitals as a third wave of the coronavirus swept through the country.

The minister also ruled out negotiations with the protesters and said their demands would not be met.

On Sunday, a day before his arrest, TLP chief Rizvi had threatened the government with protests if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Rizvi had called on the government to honor what he said was a commitment made to his party in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of the Prophet, which enraged Muslims around the world.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan said that it had only committed to debating the matter in parliament.

The interior minister congratulated law enforcement officials for clearing all blocked roads, including motorways, in eight to 10 hours.

“They (the protesters) were well prepared and wanted to reach Islamabad at any cost,” Ahmed said, adding that the government had tried its best to resolve the issue through negotiations, but failed to convince TLP leaders.

“We are banning them not for any political reason, but due to their character,” he said, adding that if the government met the TLP’s demands, it would send the world a signal that Pakistan was an “extremist state.”

Earlier in the day, the interior minister had said while chairing a meeting to review the violence: “The writ of the state must be ensured at any cost.”

Law minister and spokesperson for the Sindh government, Murtaza Waha, said that 254 people had been arrested and detained in the province since Monday.

He told Arab News: “254 have been arrested and detained whereas 15 FIRs (police reports) have been registered.”

Pakistani Taliban come out in support of TLP 

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban came out in support of the TLP protesters, congratulating them for putting up resistance against security forces.

“(We) pay them (the TLP) tribute for their courage and showing the military organizations their place,” the Taliban said in a statement. “We assure them that we will make them (the government) accountable for every drop of the martyrs’ blood,” they added, referring to TLP claims that its supporters had been killed in clashes with authorities.

The Pakistani Taliban, a different entity from the Afghan Taliban and fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government, are an umbrella of the militant group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has broken into many divisions.

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, forcing its members into shelter in Afghanistan or flee to urban Pakistan.

“We want to remind them (the TLP) that this government and security institutions are always untrustworthy, breachers of promise and liars so they should not be trusted and military effort is the only solution to this problem,” the Taliban statement said.

In a press conference on Tuesday evening, science and technology minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said: “No group or party must even think of dictating to the government or the state . . . If a state allows this, then it will disintegrate and there will be chaos.”

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, TLP told the government: “You will have to expel the French ambassador under all costs . . . The country will remain jammed until the French ambassador is expelled.”

In a separate statement, the TLP said that its protests would continue until Rizvi was released. 



On Tuesday, the government of Punjab said that troops of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) were “required with immediate effect till the request of de-requisition.”

Rangers were deployed in the cities of Rahim Yar Khan, Sheikhupura, Chakwal and Gujranwala, the circular said.

Lahore police spokesperson, Rana Arif, told the daily Dawn newspaper that protesters had beaten a police constable to death in Lahore’s Shahdara area on Tuesday, as a result of which a police case had been registered against TLP leaders and supporters. Police had also registered a case against Rizvi on terrorism and other charges, Arif said.

“Over 300 policemen in Punjab, including 97 in Lahore, had sustained injuries, many of them serious, after violent protesters attacked them with clubs, bricks and firearms,” Dawn reported. “The Gujrat district police officer and Kharian deputy superintendent of police were among the injured.”

“Hundreds of protesters and policemen were injured and thousands of TLP activists and supporters were arrested and booked for attacking law enforcement personnel and blocking main roads and highways,” Dawn added, saying four people, including a policeman, had been killed.

Police said that four policemen had been shot by armed TLP protesters, and the use of firearms by demonstrators had taken law enforcement agencies by surprise.

“In Lahore alone, four policemen were shot at and injured by the armed men of the TLP in the Shahpur Kanjran area. Similarly, two police constables were shot at and injured in Faisalabad,” Dawn reported. It added: “Two video clips from Lahore in this regard showed policemen, Imran and Aslam, being rushed to a hospital with bullet wounds. In another video clip, an on-duty policeman was seen calling for help to dispatch more forces, saying they had come under armed attack by the protesters in Shahpur Kanjran.”

“The TLP armed men opened fire on the police and our four constables were injured,” Lahore DIG (operations) Sajid Kiani told reporters on Tuesday evening.

Under a standing order, he said, unarmed police had been deployed and allowed only to use anti-riot gear against protesters. “But it shocked us that the TLP men used guns against the anti-riot force,” Kiani said.

Giving one example, Kiani said that when police reached Shahpur Kanjran to clear the national highway, announcements were made in nearby mosques urging TLP followers to take on police.

“Within 10 minutes, some 200 people joined those already present and attacked police,” he said, adding that Lahore police had lodged 19 cases against protesters and cleared the areas of Shahdara, Imamia Colony, Thokar Niaz Baig, Babu Sabu and some parts of Ring Road by Tuesday evening.

Police also conducted an operation in the Chungi Amar Sidhu area to rescue Model Town SP (operations) Dost Mohammad Khosa and five other policemen from protesters holding them hostage at a power grid station.

The Shahdara and Thokar areas of Lahore also turned into battlefields after hundreds of TLP supporters took several policemen hostage.

In Shahdara, a constable died from head and chest injuries after protesters tortured him with clubs, police said.

Police said that TLP activists had occupied and blocked 22 main roads, intersections and areas of Lahore, while reports of violence had also come from Faisalabad, Sheikhupura, Rahim Yar Khan, Sahiwal and Gujrat.

Reports from other parts of Punjab suggested TLP supporters had occupied more than 100 points, roads and major intersections of various cities of the province.

More than 1,400 activists of the TLP have been arrested across Punjab, a Punjab police spokesperson told Dawn, saying police had launched major operations, cleared nearly 60 roads and areas, and registered multiple police cases against supporters, representatives and leaders of the TLP.

Speaking to Arab News, Muhammad Ali, a TLP spokesperson in Karachi, said that at least six workers of the party had died and a large number were wounded after being fired on by law enforcement agencies. Hospital and rescue sources only confirmed two deaths.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the TLP said seven of its supporters had been killed by police, but the figures could not be independently verified.


Saad Rizvi became the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November last year after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.

Tehreek-e-Labiak and other religious parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of expression.

Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe the depictions are blasphemous.

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

Taliban to boycott peace talks until all foreign troops exit Afghanistan

Taliban to boycott peace talks until all foreign troops exit Afghanistan
Updated 15 April 2021

Taliban to boycott peace talks until all foreign troops exit Afghanistan

Taliban to boycott peace talks until all foreign troops exit Afghanistan
  • Biden’s new dateline also throws into doubt the future of US-backed talks in Turkey on April 24

KABUL: The Taliban on Wednesday said they would no longer participate in peace talks for Afghanistan until all US-led troops withdrew from the country, amid reports that President Joe Biden was expected to delay the May 1 deadline by four months. 

“This is our stance: until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate (the name of the Taliban’s government) will not participate in any conference that shall make a decision on Afghanistan,” Dr. Mohammad Naeem, the group’s Qatar-based spokesman, told Arab News on Wednesday. 

According to a plan disclosed by US officials on Tuesday, Biden is expected to withdraw remaining troops by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked Washington’s longest conflict in history — instead of May 1, as agreed upon by the Trump administration and the Taliban in a controversial deal more than a year ago. 

Since assuming office, Biden has said he would review the Qatar accord, saying in recent weeks that it would be “a tough move” to abide by the May 1 deadline. 

As per the agreement, the Taliban halted attacks on US-led troops but increased strikes on Afghan government forces who rely on the US for air and intelligence support, and financial and logistical resources. 

The Taliban had also warned Washington of consequences if it decided to extend the deadline for withdrawal.

In recent months, President Ashraf Ghani’s government urged Biden to withdraw troops on a condition-based agreement but not before the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire. 

Ghani’s spokesmen were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday. 

However, Waheed Omar, an adviser for Ghani, tweeted on Wednesday that Biden is expected to talk to the Afghan president “in the near future to officially share details of the new withdrawal plan.” 

He added: “Until then, we will not comment on the details.”

In another tweet, he said: “We will respect any decision taken by the US government with regards to their troops. ANSDF (Afghan National Security Defense Forces) has been defending our people with high morale the past two years and have recently conducted close to 98 percent of operations independently.”

He added: “They are fully capable of doing that in the future.”

However, during an open session on Wednesday, the head of the Afghan parliament raised alarm about the country’s future after the departure of American troops. 

“With the current situation, the conditions for the withdrawal of foreign troops are not fair,” Mir Rahman Rahmani said. 

“The withdrawal of foreign forces in the current situation would worsen the situation and will lead to a civil war,” he added. 

On Wednesday, NATO officials meeting in Brussels said the alliance was also likely to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan, according to media reports. 

Biden’s new dateline also throws into doubt the future of US-backed talks in Turkey on April 24, which several observers said could be one of the final international efforts to broker peace between the insurgent group and the Afghan government. 

Proposed by Washington, Turkey was expected to host the intra-Afghan talks to prevent a total collapse of the US-sponsored negotiations which began in Doha in September last year, but this plan failed to materialize. 

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan government-appointed negotiator for the intra-Afghan talks in Qatar last year, said that Washington “needs to work with the Taliban to attend Turkey’s conference. 

She told Arab News that: “The Taliban need to get engaged in the negotiations to pave the way for the withdrawal; meaningful negotiations will pave the way for the withdrawal.”

Ahmad Samin, a former adviser for the World Bank, agreed and said that Afghanistan is “heading to a crisis in the face of a total collapse of talks as the Taliban will endeavor to seize power again.”

He told Arab News: “The Biden administration is frustrated with the Afghan government, which is too corrupt, and the majority of American people want to end the endless Afghan war.”

Samin added: “The Taliban are taking advantage of the situation. I believe the Taliban are not interested in power sharing, and they will try to go for full victory, which will result in catastrophic internal conflict. Everything regarding Afghanistan’s future is uncertain, and no one knows what will happen.”

Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another

Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another
Updated 37 min 31 sec ago

Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another

Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another
  • Both countries have launched bold initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and prioritize renewables
  • Saudi Aramco recently shipped “blue” ammonia to Japan in a demonstration of clean energy cooperation

DUBAI / BOGOTA: Late last year, Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister of Japan, unveiled a major policy shift, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and realize a carbon-neutral society by 2050.

As Saudi Arabia launches its own ambitious environmental initiatives, experts say the two countries have much to learn from one another as both the Kingdom and Japan remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Japan is the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, making timely steps towards renewable energy use and cuts in fossil fuel imports imperative for the country to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth, says Japan's PM Yoshihide Suga. (AFP)

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said in his first policy address to parliament. “We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Building on Suga’s speech, Japan presented its “Green Growth Strategy in line with Carbon Neutrality in 2050” in December, setting out an industrial policy that marries economic growth with environmental protection.

As part of his plan, Japan will energize research and development in solar cells and battery technology, promote carbon recycling, and expand digitalization of the economy. Infrastructure projects, including vast offshore wind farms, are already in the pipeline.

“Achieving the aim of carbon-neutrality by 2050 will require Japan to substantially accelerate the deployment of low-carbon technologies, address regulatory and institutional barriers, and further enhance competition in its energy markets,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its March 2021 country report.

Suga’s carbon-cutting plans could be as trailblazing for East Asia as Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives, unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 27, could prove for West Asia.

The Saudi Green Initiative calls for regional cooperation to tackle environmental challenges and includes plans to generate 50 percent of the Kingdom’s electricity using renewables by 2030 and to eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions. The Middle East Green Initiative likewise sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent across the region.

There are also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land, while across the wider region there are plans for 50 billion trees and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.

These initiatives are designed to work in tandem with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s commitment to diversifying its economy away from oil, empowering its citizenry and opening up to global visitors and investors.

Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University and a former managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, said Saudi Arabia’s regional approach in mitigating climate change is unique.

“This is the reason why numerous countries from South Asia to West Asia have voiced their support and expressed willingness to join the initiative,” he told Arab News, adding: “If there is room for a country like Japan to cooperate and collaborate, it should definitely benefit both parties in its effort to address climate change.”

Japan’s transitional experience could prove instructive for other economies, both advanced and developing, eager to cut their own emissions.

Roland Kaeppner, executive director of hydrogen and green fuels at NEOM — Saudi Arabia’s forthcoming smart-city project — believes Japan’s biggest challenge now is adapting its highly developed economy and embedded legacy infrastructure to meet its low-carbon commitments.

“All developed and developing economies need to be able to meet their nation’s energy needs while combating climate change,” he told Arab News.

“Since nuclear has dropped out of the energy mix in Japan, it has exacerbated the problem and increased reliance on energy imports. However, they have developed clear road maps to change the mix and meet environmental targets.”

An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12, 2011. (JIJI Press photo via AFP)

Japan suspended its nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster pending a safety review. As a result, Japan’s already heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels ballooned further.

In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 88 percent of Japan’s total primary energy supply — the sixth-highest share among IEA countries.

Although there remains widespread public mistrust of nuclear power, the Japanese government sees its reactors as a realistic means of meeting its carbon-neutral goals. It now intends to raise the share of its power sourced from nuclear to between 20 and 22 percent by 2030.

Kaeppner said one way Japan hopes to clean up its legacy infrastructure is through decarbonization of its coal-fired plants using clean ammonia as a fuel additive. It also has a detailed hydrogen strategy, which the NEOM experts considers one of the world’s most advanced.

Indeed, hydrogen is expected to play a central role in Japan’s clean energy transition. By 2030, Japan aims to have 800,000 fuel cell vehicles, more than 5 million residential fuel cells and to establish an international hydrogen supply chain, according to the IEA.


  • In Oct. 2020, Japan said it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and become a decarbonized society by 2050.
  • In Dec. 2020, Japan unveiled a Green Growth Strategy in line with Carbon Neutrality in 2050.
  • The Green Growth Strategy identifies 14 sectors with high-growth potential toward the 2050 targets.

It is also experimenting with large-scale power generation based on hydrogen — all of which will provide valuable lessons for the international energy community.

“Japan’s willingness to embrace innovation while pursuing its targets is probably at the heart of creating a strong renewable energy mix, which can be seen by their ambitious strategic hydrogen road map,” Kaeppner said.

Saudi Arabia is well placed to serve these new demands. Saudi Aramco has already shipped 40 metric tons of “blue” ammonia to Japan in a widely commended demonstration of clean energy cooperation.

Blue ammonia, created from the byproducts of current fossil fuel production and usage, is 18 percent hydrogen, making it a viable alternative energy source. In fact, hydrogen power is a key facet of the NEOM project.

“NEOM goes one step further in creating a market which is completely carbon-free and is at the core of NEOM’s approach to build on a 100 percent sustainable supply chain,” Kaeppner said.

Japan’s transition will be a long slog, no matter the level of interest shown by politicians, the private sector, and civil society, said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook.

This handout picture taken April 8, 2020 shows a tulip field managed by Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture. (Photo by Handout / Sakura City / AFP) 

“Japanese corporations lead the world in green technologies, such as hybrid automobiles, while both citizens and the state have endeavored to clean up polluted skies and waterways, reduce greenhouse emissions and adopt the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle,” she told Arab News.

And yet, Japan has a long history of deforestation, industrial pollution, rampant consumerism, wasteful state infrastructure projects, controversial stances on whaling and, of course, a heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels.

“Like many nations, Japan struggles to balance economic growth and environmental protection,” Abella said. “Unlike many nations, however, it has the affluence and motivation to develop green policies, technologies and practices.”

She added that “an over-supply of energy, a lack of strategic direction from policymakers, the economic effects of COVID-19, and continued dependence on fossil fuels” could pose challenges for other countries.

Still, Japan, with its ambitious government targets, political stability and solid regulatory and legal framework, is a model undoubtedly worthy of emulation.


Twitter: @CalineMalek

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards

Biden announces end of US troop deployment to Afghanistan

Biden announces end of US troop deployment to Afghanistan
Updated 14 April 2021

Biden announces end of US troop deployment to Afghanistan

Biden announces end of US troop deployment to Afghanistan
  • “It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home,” Biden said
  • Blinken also spoke by phone with Pakistan’s army chief on Wednesday and discussed the peace process

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden declared on Wednesday he plans to end the longest US war and that it is “time for American troops to come home” from Afghanistan, as he looks to close out 20 years of US military involvement there even as critics warn that peace is not assured.
In a White House speech, Biden set a goal of withdrawing all 2,500 US troops remaining in Afghanistan no later than Sept. 11, with the final withdrawal beginning on May 1. By pulling out without a clear victory, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats,” Biden said. “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
“It is time to end America’s longest war. It is time for American troops to come home,” he said.
Sept. 11 is a highly symbolic date, coming 20 years to the day of Al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that prompted then-President George W. Bush to launch the conflict. The war has cost the lives of 2,400 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion. US troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.
Meeting NATO officials in Brussels earlier, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said foreign troops under NATO command in Afghanistan will leave the country in coordination with the US withdrawal by Sept. 11, after Germany said it would match American plans.
Blinken also spoke by phone with Pakistan’s army chief on Wednesday and discussed the peace process, according to a statement from the media wing of Pakistan’s military.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he has spoken with Biden and he respects the US decision. Ghani added that “we will work with our US partners to ensure a smooth transition” and “we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts.”
The Democratic president had faced a May 1 withdrawal deadline, set by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who tried but failed to pull the troops out before he left office. Biden’s decision will keep troops in Afghanistan past that deadline, but officials suggested troops could fully depart before Sept. 11.
There is a summit planned about Afghanistan starting on April 24 in Istanbul that is due to include the United Nations and Qatar.
The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by US-led forces, said it would not take part in any meetings that would make decisions about Afghanistan until all foreign forces had left the country. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday called on the United States to adhere to the deal the group reached with Trump’s administration.
“If the agreement is committed to, the remaining problems will also be solved,” Mujahid wrote on Twitter. “If the agreement is not committed to ... the problems will certainly increase.”

Arab doctor leads team developing vaccine against all types of coronavirus

Arab doctor leads team developing vaccine against all types of coronavirus
Updated 14 April 2021

Arab doctor leads team developing vaccine against all types of coronavirus

Arab doctor leads team developing vaccine against all types of coronavirus
  • Dr. Lbachir BenMohamed heads a team of scientists at University of California Irvine
  • Vaccine targets the proteins shared by all coronaviruses

LOS ANGELES: An Arab-led team of scientists at University of California Irvine (UCI) is developing an injection that by the end of the year could address all forms of coronavirus. 

“It’s a vaccine that is directed not only against SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19,” said Dr. Lbachir BenMohamed, director of cellular and molecular immunology at UCI. “But it is a vaccine that is targeting the previous outbreaks as well as the outbreaks that are going to come in the years to come.”

Where existing vaccines target spike proteins that are specific to a particular strain, BenMohamed’s team is targeting the proteins shared by all coronaviruses, including those that have not yet reached humans.

“Being Arabic from Maghreb, from Morocco, I am of course very proud that I represent the Arab world in this field of pan-coronavirus vaccine,” he said. “To my knowledge, I’m probably the only Arab who is developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine.”

Their work is being funded by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s branch of the National Institute of Health, and has so far prevented COVID-19 from replicating in and killing lab mice. Once completed, he hopes the vaccine would be administered like a flu shot. 

“I am hoping once we vaccinate people with this pan-coronavirus, the immunity would stay two years, three years, or four years or maybe more so that people will just get a shot every five years and they get protected from the next pandemic.”

After facing multiple outbreaks, including 2012’s MERS and the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. BenMohamed encourages the Arab world to stop importing vaccines and begin developing their own. 

“They have the resources to do it and they have people who are competent both inside and outside the Arab World,” Dr BenMohamed told us. “If they get together and get this institute of vaccinology and immunotherapy, they can be independent when it comes to developing vaccines and immunotherapy. And that is the message, and as an Arab I am here to help if they need my help on this area.”