Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 16, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 February 2021

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan

Do or die: President Ghani rejects idea for interim government in Afghanistan
  • He argued that in such a scenario, Afghanistan could face a “similar bloody and chaotic situation like the 1990s”

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to block the formation of a provisional government in Afghanistan after calls for the establishment of a temporary setup began to gain ground across the country.

“Be assured that as long as I am alive, they will not see the formation of an interim government. I am not like those willows that bend with the wind,” Ghani said on Saturday while speaking to family members of security forces who had been killed in recent attacks by the Taliban.

He argued that in such a scenario, Afghanistan could face a “similar bloody and chaotic situation like the 1990s” when an interim government replaced the then Moscow-backed administration.

Earlier, Ghani had said that he would transfer power to his successor only after his tenure ended in 2025.

He began his second term as president in March last year.

However, there has been much conversation on the need for a transitional government within Afghanistan, with Russia — which had hosted talks between the Taliban and nonstate Afghan actors twice in recent years — becoming the latest country to endorse the move.

An interim setup would be the ideal solution to end a protracted conflict in the country, Russia said.

“Moscow prefers that all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan agree on the establishment of an inclusive and transitional coalition government,” Russia’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said in an interview with Sputnik last week.

Answering a question about the Taliban’s alleged plan to take complete control of Afghanistan, the Russian envoy stated that it would be a “bad scenario” if the Taliban insisted on such an approach.

He added that a delay in starting “real” peace talks had led to the “Taliban’s expansion of their area of influence” by exploiting the Afghan government’s reluctance to engage in a vital dialogue. The Taliban, he said, now controls 75 percent of Afghanistan’s territory.

Prior to Moscow’s statement, Mir Rahman Rahmani — the head of the Afghan parliament — a few factional chiefs and two government-appointed negotiators for the US-sponsored intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban had made similar demands.

Ghani’s latest remarks follow his talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Western leaders and senior officials from the newly installed US administration led by President Joe Biden in recent weeks.

Biden has vowed to review a historic deal — signed between Washington and the insurgent group in February last year — which, among other things, set a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Under the controversial accord, Ghani has also freed thousands of Taliban inmates who had been detained by the government and has engaged in peace talks with the group in Doha, Qatar.

However, in a significant U-turn last week, NATO said that foreign troops would only be withdrawn from the country “when the time was right,” providing much-needed relief to Ghani’s beleaguered and divided government, which is plagued by infighting over various policy measures regarding the peace process.

Stoltenberg said that NATO’s decision was due to the Taliban failing to meet a key criterion of the February accord — to reduce violence and sever ties with Al Qaeda — a charge strongly rejected by the insurgent group.

The Taliban, for their part, have abandoned the intra-Afghan talks with government emissaries and warned Washington against an extended presence of foreign troops in the country.

Experts, however, believe that Ghani might give up his seat of power sooner than later.

“President Ghani might have been told by delegates of some of the countries he has spoken with lately that talks with the Taliban have to be revived and that he might give up power ultimately,” Nasratullah Haqpal, an independent analyst and university teacher, told Arab News.

“Therefore, he is worried about the formation of an interim or transitional government. So now, in every event or session, he says, ‘I will not accept a provisional government at the cost of my life’,” Haqpal added.

Tameem Bahiss, a political analyst on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the formation of a provisional government would be a critical topic to revive during the intra-Afghan talks.

“Regional powers and Afghan opposition leaders have endorsed the formation of a provisional government. Neither the Taliban nor the US has outrightly rejected the notion of a provisional government,” he told Arab News.

“US think tanks and experts are suggesting incentives that could persuade the Taliban to reduce violence and possibly accept an extension for the deadline of the troops’ departure. Dissolving the current government and forming a provisional government will remain a viable option to persuade the Taliban to reduce and possibly end violence,” he added.

Meanwhile, an adviser for the former Afghan administration said the “world had lost the hope of holding transparent polls to elect Ghani’s successor,” citing allegations of fraudulent polls in the past few years.

“This has put Ghani’s presidency under a dark cloud of doubt, and the international community is no longer willing to finance another round of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan,” Torek Farhadi told Arab News.

Farhadi added that, on the other hand, foreign forces were considering an exit in May or a few months later, while several “well-known US experts, including those at the United States Institute of Peace, had warned the Biden administration that Ghani’s government might collapse under the weight of corruption, infighting and Taliban attacks if the US and NATO left now.

“The US, NATO and now Russia, Iran, Pakistan and possibly China believe that Afghanistan’s current situation should be addressed through a political settlement. This translates to forming a coalition government with the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan’s crisis from further endangering the national security of its neighbors,” he said.


Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day; two dead, several hurt

Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day; two dead, several hurt
Updated 21 min 37 sec ago

Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day; two dead, several hurt

Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day; two dead, several hurt
  • Two dead as police crack down
  • UN envoy says he will fight on

Myanmar police shot and killed two protesters on Sunday and wounded several as they cracked down in a bid to end weeks of demonstrations against a Feb. 1 military coup, a doctor and a politician said.
Police opened fire in the town of Dawei, killing one and wounding several, politician Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from the southern town. The Dawei Watch media outlet also said at least one person was killed and more than a dozen wounded.
Police also fired in the main city of Yangon and one man brought to a hospital with a bullet wound in the chest had died, said a doctor at the hospital who asked not to be identified. The Mizzima media outlet also reported that death.
Police and the spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Myanmar has been in chaos for a month since the army seized power and detained elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.
The coup, which stalled Myanmar’s progress toward democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
In Yangon, several people, some bleeding heavily, were helped away from protests, images posted earlier by media showed.
It was not clear how they were hurt, but media reported live fire. The Myanmar Now media group said people had been “gunned down” but did not elaborate.
Police also threw stun grenades, used tear gas and fired into the air, witnesses said.
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing has said authorities have been using minimal force to deal with the protests.
Nevertheless, at least five protesters have died in the turmoil. The army said a policeman has been killed.
The crackdown appears to indicate a determination by the military to impose its authority in the face of widespread defiance, not just on the streets but more broadly in areas such as the civil service, municipal administration, the education and health sectors and media.

’RUNNING’
Police were out early on Sunday, taking positions at main protest sites in Yangon as protesters, many clad in protective gear, began to congregate, witnesses said.
They moved swiftly to break up crowds.
“Police got out of their cars and started throwing stun grenades without warning,” said Hayman May Hninsi, who was with a group of fellow teachers in Yangon. They fled to nearby buildings. “Some teachers got hurt running.”
Doctors and students in white lab coats fled as police threw stun grenades outside a medical school elsewhere in the city, posted video showed.
Police in the second city, Mandalay, fired guns into the air, trapping protesting medical staff in a city hospital, a doctor there said by telephone.
Saturday brought disturbances in towns and cities nationwide as police began their bid to crush the protests with tear gas, stun grenades and by shooting into the air.
State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested on Saturday. It said police had given warnings before using stun grenades to disperse people.

’INSTIL FEAR’
Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said people were battling to overcome the fear they had lived with for a long time.
“This fear will only grow if we keep living with it and the people who are creating the fear know that. It’s obvious they’re trying to instil fear in us by making us run and hide,” she said. “We can’t accept that.”
The police action came after state television announced that Myanmar’s UN envoy had been fired for betraying the country after he urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup.
MRTV said he had been fired in accordance with civil service rules because he had “betrayed the country” and “abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador.”
The ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, was defiant. “I decided to fight back as long as I can,” he told Reuters in New York.
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed by the ambassador’s “act of courage,” adding on Twitter, “It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action.”
Myanmar’s generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.
Suu Kyi’s party and supporters said the result of the November vote must be respected.
Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during military rule. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
The next hearing in her case is set for Monday.


US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
Updated 28 February 2021

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

US authorizes Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
  • The J&J vaccine is the third to be greenlighted in the US after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s were provisionally approved in December
  • US President Joe Biden hails 'exciting news' but urge Americans not to let guard down

WASHINGTON: The United States on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine for emergency use, giving the nation a third shot to battle the outbreak that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
The single-shot vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19, including against newer variants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said before giving it a green light.
“This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
But he urged Americans to remain vigilant with anti-virus curbs such as social distancing, warning that new variants of the virus still posed a threat.
“But we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable,” he said.
A third vaccine is seen as a vital means to ramp up the immunization rate in the United States, where more than 500,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus.
In large clinical trials, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease was 85.9 percent in the United States, 81.7 percent in South Africa, and 87.6 percent in Brazil.
Overall, among 39,321 participants across all regions, the efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 85.4 percent, but it fell to 66.1 percent when including moderate forms of the disease.
Crucially, analyses of various demographic groups revealed no marked differences across age, race, or people with underlying conditions.
The J&J vaccine is the third to be greenlighted in the United States after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s were provisionally approved in December.

Practical advantages
Over 65 million people in America have so far received at least one shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — but unlike those, the J&J vaccine requires just one dose, and is stored at fridge temperatures, offering logistical and practical advantages.
The J&J shot appears less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot regimens, which both have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19 from the classic coronavirus strain.
All three have been shown to fully protect against hospitalizations and death, however.
Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post the two earlier vaccines were tested months before the emergence of “variants of concern” that could affect the efficacy, meaning the Pfizer and Moderna results were not an “apples to apples” comparison with the J&J shot.
There was a hint, based on preliminary data, that the J&J vaccine might be effective against asymptomatic infection — though the company said it needs to do more research.
The company has announced it aims to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, with 100 million by June — though the US is pushing to expedite that timeline.
The J&J vaccine uses a common-cold causing adenovirus, which has been genetically modified so that it can’t replicate, to carry the gene for a key protein of the coronavirus into human cells.


US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium
Updated 28 February 2021

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium

US Justice Department to appeal judge’s order on eviction moratorium
  • The CDC eviction moratorium was signed in September by President Donald Trump
  • President Joe Biden until March 31 to give tenants a breathing spell as the pandemic continues

WASHINGTON: The Justice Department said Saturday it will appeal a judge’s ruling that found the federal government’s eviction moratorium was unconstitutional.
Prosecutors filed a notice in the case on Saturday evening, saying that it was appealing the matter the to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On Thursday, US District Judge J. Campbell Barker ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority and that the moratorium was unlawful.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” the judge wrote.
The CDC eviction moratorium was signed in September by President Donald Trump and extended by President Joe Biden until March 31.
Barker, who was nominated by Trump in 2018 to serve in the Eastern District of Texas, stopped short of issuing an injunction in the case. Several property owners had brought the litigation arguing that the federal government didn’t have the legal authority to stop evictions.
“The federal government cannot say that it has ever before invoked its power over interstate commerce to impose a residential eviction moratorium,” Barker wrote. “It did not do so during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. Nor did it invoke such a power during the exigencies of the Great Depression. The federal government has not claimed such a power at any point during our Nation’s history until last year.”
State and local governments had approved eviction moratoriums early in the pandemic for many renters, but many of those protections have already expired.
To be eligible for protection, renters must have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate they’ve sought government help to pay rent; declare that they can’t pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm that they are likely to become homeless if evicted.


Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
Updated 28 February 2021

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal

Armenian President Sarkisian rejects army chief’s dismissal
  • Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan

YEREVAN: Armenian President Armen Sarkisian said on Saturday he had refused to sign a prime ministerial order to dismiss the army’s chief of staff, deepening a national political crisis.
The ex-Soviet nation has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November, sealing a humiliating defeat to Azerbaijan after six weeks of fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Divisions widened Thursday when Pashinyan defied a call by the military to resign, accused the army of an attempted coup, and ordered the chief of the general staff Onik Gasparyan to be fired.
On Saturday, Armenian President Sarkisian said in a statement that he would not back the sacking.
“The president of the republic, within the framework of his constitutional powers, returned the draft decree with objections,” the presidency said.
It added that the political crisis “cannot be resolved through frequent personnel changes.”
Earlier in the day, 5,000 opposition protesters waving Armenian flags and calling for Pashinyan’s resignation gathered for the third day running outside the parliament in Yerevan.

BACKGROUND

Armenia has faced turmoil since Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a Moscow-brokered peace accord in November.

Some protesters have now set up camp there.
“Today Pashinyan has no support. I call on the security services and the police to join the army, to support the army,” said former premier Vazgen Manukyan, who has been named by the opposition to replace Pashinyan.
“I am sure that the situation will be resolved within two to three days,” he told the crowd.
Pashinyan has faced fierce criticism since he signed a peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that broke from Azerbaijan’s control during a war in the early 1990s.
The agreement was seen as a national humiliation for many in Armenia, but Pashinyan has said he had no choice but to agree or see his country’s forces suffer even bigger losses.


India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
Updated 27 February 2021

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea

India urged to provide refuge to Rohingya plucked from sea
  • Abide by international laws to deal with refugees rescued near Andaman Islands, Human Rights Watch says
  • New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people”

NEW DELHI: Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday called on India to abide by international laws in protecting refugees a day after New Delhi said it had rescued 81 Rohingya stranded in Indian waters.
“India should abide by its international obligations to offer all protection and access to the UN refugee agency,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.
On Feb. 11, nearly 90 Rohingya from the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh boarded a small boat for Malaysia, Anurag Srivastava, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement.
Four days later, on Feb. 15, “the boat’s engine broke down, and the boat drifted toward the southern Indian islands of Andaman and Nicobar.”
Eight people lost their lives, and one drowned.
Two days later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to “all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress.”
On Friday, New Delhi announced that it had rescued the stranded refugees.
“When we learned of the boat in distress, we immediately dispatched two coast guard ships to provide food, water and medical assistance to the occupants of the boat. Seven of them were administered IV fluids,” the statement said.
It added that since most of “the occupants of the boat have ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh,” New Delhi was in talks with Dhaka “to ensure their safe and secure repatriation.”
The HRW, however, said that India needed to do more to abide by its “international obligations” and should not “pass the buck.”
India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which mandates refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. Nor does it have any domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including some Rohingya from Myanmar.
“Whether it is India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh or other countries in the region, governments need to protect the Rohingya refugees instead of trying to pass the buck,” Ganguly told Arab News.
She added that the “primary responsibility” for the plight of the Rohingya lay with Myanmar and that “these governments should join the international community to ensure that the Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily, with safety and dignity.”
Meanwhile, the New Delhi-based Rohingya Human Rights Initiative (RHRI) demanded that the Indian government “grant a status of refugees to the stranded people.”
“Rohingya stranded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are not Bangladeshi; they are hapless refugees. India, being a big country, should shelter these stranded people till the situation normalizes in Myanmar,” RHRI founder Sabber Kyaw Min said.
Min was referring in part to a coup d’etat by the Myanmar military on Feb. 1, which has led to the declaration of a state of emergency by the ruling regime and widespread, nationwide protests.
He called on the Indian government to disclose the refugees’ whereabouts.
“I was in touch with some of the refugees and their relatives till Wednesday, but since then their phones have been off. Rohingya are suffering. New Delhi should demonstrate large-heartedness in accommodating the refugees in the same way Bangladesh has demonstrated,” Min added.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a federally administered archipelago lying between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Both Myanmar and Thailand have coastlines along the eastern edge of the sea.
In 2012, some Rohingya refugees were rescued from near the islands and provided medical care and attention, before being sent back to Myanmar.
However, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime assumed office in New Delhi, India has taken a harder line over providing admission and shelter to any Rohingya refugees.
Denis Giles of the Andaman Chronicle, an English newspaper based in Andaman’s capital Port Blair, was the first to break the story about the stranded refugees and alert the world about the crisis.
Giles, who covered the Rohingya rescue operations in 2012, said that this time “there is a big difference.”
“They were properly treated, and the administration used to ask social organizations to help them out, but now no one wants to talk about that. There is a hush now,” Giles told Arab News.
“Earlier, we would know where they are being kept, which hospitals they are being treated at but this time, we are completely in the dark.”
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution at the Myanmar military’s hands in the Buddhist-majority country.
The Rohingya endured decades of abuse in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.
Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal under which thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine.
The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in August 2017 following a military crackdown on the ethnic minority group.
According to the UN, by the end of 2020, 866,457 Rohingya refugees had been registered at 34 camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh due to a joint initiative by Dhaka and the UNHCR.