On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal

On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal
In this file photo birds flyover the city of Kabul, Afghanistan. The Taliban further termed the Doha deal as a “historic accord,” and one that had created a practical framework for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2021

On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal

On Doha deal anniversary, Taliban pushing US for total troop withdrawal
  • Any move to replace historic accord is ‘doomed to fail,’ militant group warns
  • Demands follow rumors Biden administration looking to ‘review’ deal

KABUL: The Taliban on Sunday demanded that the US complete its troop withdrawal process from Afghanistan by May 1, in line with a historic agreement signed between the two sides in Doha last year

The militant group warned that any move to replace the deal was “doomed to fail.”

“The Islamic Emirate (the name of the Taliban’s former government) is committed on its part to all contents of the agreement and views its implementation as the sole effective tool for resolving the Afghan issue and establishing peace, that shall be realized under the shade of an Islamic system,” it said in a statement.

The demands were issued on the anniversary of the controversial deal that followed almost a year and half of secret talks between the Taliban and US delegates. The insurgent group has said that its fighters had not attacked foreign troops and major Afghan cities since signing the agreement.

“The Islamic Emirate also calls on the other party to the agreement to honor its own commitments towards security and stability in Afghanistan by implementing all parts of the agreement,” the group said.

The Taliban further termed the Doha deal as a “historic accord,” and one that had “created a practical framework for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan.”

It added: “If any other pathway is pursued as a replacement, then it is already doomed to fail.”

The Taliban’s statement follows repeated comments by officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration that Washington will review the deal signed under former President Donald Trump’s watch.

In addition, NATO delivered a recent announcement saying that it would withdraw foreign troops from Afghanistan “when the time was right,” suggesting that the Taliban had not abided by the accord.

Besides US and NATO officials, the Afghan government has also insisted that the Taliban have not severed their relationship with Al-Qaeda, nor reduced violence — two critical components of the Doha deal — allegations that the Taliban have vehemently denied.

While the militant group pushed for the total departure of all foreign troops and overseas contractors by May 1, 2021, the Doha deal also served as a catalyst for the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani’s government to begin intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar by March 10 last year.

The talks finally began six months later, amid an intensification of violence that both Kabul and the Taliban have blamed on one another.

The crucial negotiations have faced several setbacks — the latest being a plan by Washington to review the deal.

Rahmatuallah Andar, a spokesman for the office of Ghani’s national security advisor, said that the Doha talks had failed to meet expectations.

“Afghans have not gained the expectations they had from Doha deal for peace and security. This agreement so far only has ensured the Taliban’s cease-fire with the US,” he told Arab News.

He added that the Taliban’s relationship with Afghans was “still confined to killing, terror and horror.”

Andar said: “So far, there is no hope for Afghans in this deal. Even the intra-Afghan talks have been stopped because of the Taliban. If seen from the perspective of Afghanistan, the time has been wasted in the hope of peace, while heavy material and heavy casualties have been inflicted on Afghans.”

Taliban representatives were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.

However, despite the government blaming the Taliban for a surge in violence and failing to pursue negotiations, Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed High Council of Peace, said that officials are “still hopeful for the peace process.”

He said: “A year on since the Doha deal, we are still hopeful that the opportunity created for peace is not wasted, and that the war ends in Afghanistan and talks are pursued earnestly, so that a political compromise acceptable to all is created.”

On the other hand, Afghan, US and NATO officials have warned that any resumption of serious intra-Afghan talks will require foreign troops to remain in the country until the Taliban end their violent attacks.

The UN said last week that 3,035 Afghan civilians had been killed in 2020 due to a surge in violence since the signing of the Doha deal a year ago — a 15 percent spike from the previous year.

“Since the Doha deal, more than 350,000 Afghans have been internally displaced by the violence,” Abdul Basit Ansari, an advisor for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told Arab News.

Meanwhile, with the fate of the Doha deal in limbo, some fear an imminent escalation of violence in Afghanistan.

“The US may want to extend the presence of the troops, and the Taliban may oppose it altogether. This will mean fighting and a serious drop in the trust both sides have built in recent years, with so much difficulty,” Taj Mohammad, an Afghan analyst and former journalist, told Arab News.

Tameem Bahiss, an analyst and expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan, agreed, adding that while the US and Taliban have blamed each other for breaching the Doha deal, neither side has come forward to nullify the agreement.

“The Biden administration is ‘reviewing’ the Doha agreement. In the meantime, experts are calling for an extension to the May 1 deadline,” he said.

“It seems very unlikely that the Taliban will agree to an extension. If Biden unilaterally decides to stay past the deadline, this could propel the Taliban to walk away from the negotiation table and pursue power through violent means.”

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US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea

US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea
Updated 31 min 17 sec ago

US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea

US Navy says seizes huge weapons cache in Arabian Sea
DUBAI: The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said Sunday it had seized a huge cache of illicit Russian and Chinese weapons from a stateless dhow sailing in international waters of the North Arabian Sea.
The Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey intercepted the vessel and discovered the cargo during a routine boarding, in a two-day operation on May 6-7.
“The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenades launchers,” it said in a statement.
The arms are in US custody and their source and intended destination is under investigation, it said.
The Fifth Fleet said the Monterey was in operation for 36 hours, providing security for boarding teams.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness, and after questioning, its crew was provided food and water before being released.”
The statement did not indicate where the vessel may have come from, but said the US Navy’s regular patrols in the region “disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity.”

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts
Updated 09 May 2021

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts

Afghans begin burying dead from bloody school blasts
  • The Taliban deny involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year

KABUL: Dozens of young girls were being buried Sunday at a desolate hilltop cemetery in Kabul, a day after a secondary school was targeted in the bloodiest attack in Afghanistan in over a year.
A series of blasts outside the school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, and wounded over 100 in Dash-e-Barchi, a west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Hazara Shiites.
The government blamed the Taliban for the carnage, but the insurgents denied responsibility and issued a statement saying the nation needed to “safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions.”
Saturday’s blasts came as the United States military continues to pull out its last 2,500 troops from the violence-wracked country despite faltering peace efforts between the Taliban and Afghan government to end a decades-long war.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian told reporters that a car bomb detonated in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada girls school on Saturday, and when the students rushed out in panic, two more devices exploded.
Residents were shopping ahead of this week’s Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the blasts occurred.
On Sunday, relatives began burying the dead at a hilltop site known as “Martyrs Cemetery,” where victims of attacks against the Hazara community are laid to rest.
Hazaras are Shiite Muslims and considered heretic by extremist Sunnis. Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Afghan population.
Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Taliban.
“This savage group does not have the power to confront security forces on the battlefield, and instead targets with brutality and barbarism public facilities and the girls’ school,” Ghani said in a statement after the blasts.
The Taliban denied involvement, and insist they have not carried out attacks in Kabul since February last year, when they signed a deal with Washington that paved the way for peace talks and withdrawal of the remaining US troops.
But the group has clashed daily with Afghan forces in the rugged countryside even as the US military reduces its presence.
The United States was supposed to have pulled all forces out by May 1 as agreed with the Taliban last year, but Washington pushed back the date to September 11 — a move that angered the insurgents.
The leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, reiterated in a message released ahead of Eid that any delay in withdrawing the troops was a “violation” of that deal.
“If America again fails to live up to its commitments then the world must bear witness and hold America accountable for all the consequences,” Akhundzada warned in Sunday’s message.
He said also that the nation should give particular attention to the healthy and literate growth of children.
The nation “must safeguard and look after educational centers and institutions,” he said.
The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, called Saturday’s blasts “abhorrent.”
“This unforgivable attack on children is an assault on Afghanistan’s future, which cannot stand,” Wilson tweeted.
The Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood has been a regular target of attacks from Sunni Islamist militants.
In May last year, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight raid on a hospital in the area that left 25 people dead, including 16 mothers of newborn babies.
Ghani had blamed the Taliban and the militant Daesh group for that attack.
On October 24, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a tuition center in the same district, killing 18 people in an attack that was claimed by Daesh.


India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
Updated 09 May 2021

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount

India’s daily COVID-19 deaths near record, calls for nationwide lockdown mount
  • India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours
  • Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections

MUMBAI: India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted.
India’s health ministry reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.
India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher.
Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 death toll of 4,187 fatalities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see 1 million COVID-19 deaths by August.
Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.


Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean
Updated 09 May 2021

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

Large Chinese rocket segment disintegrates over Indian Ocean

BEIJING: A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-ton object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China’s new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

But the US space agency NASA and some experts said China had behaved irresponsibly, as an uncontrolled re-entry of such a large object risked damage and casualties.

“After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has re-entered the atmosphere,” the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives.

It added that most of the segment disintegrated and was destroyed during descent.

The US military’s Space Command said the rocket “re-entered over the Arabian Peninsula at approximately 10:15 p.m. EDT on May 8 (0215 GMT Sunday).”

“It is unknown if the debris impacted land or water.”

Monitoring service Space-Track, which uses US military data, said that the location in Saudi Arabia was where American systems last recorded it.

“Operators confirm that the rocket actually went into the Indian Ocean north of the Maldives,” it tweeted.

The segment’s descent matched expert predictions that any debris would have splashed down into the ocean, given that 70 percent of the planet is covered by water.

Because it was an uncontrolled descent, there was widespread public interest and speculation about where the debris would land.

American and European space authorities were among those tracking the rocket and trying to predict its re-entry.

Objects generate immense amounts of heat and friction when they enter the atmosphere, which can cause them to burn up and disintegrate. But larger ones such as the Long March-5B may not be destroyed entirely.

Their wreckage can land on the surface of the planet and may cause damage and casualties, though that risk is low.

Last year, debris from another Chinese Long March rocket fell on villages in the Ivory Coast, causing structural damage but no injuries or deaths.

That, and the one that came down Sunday, are tied for the fourth-biggest objects in history to undergo an uncontrolled re-entry, according to data from Harvard-based astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The uncertainty and risks of such a re-entry sparked accusations that Beijing had behaved irresponsibly.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested last week that China had been negligent, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson echoed that after the re-entry on Sunday.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” Nelson said in a statement.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

To avoid such scenarios, some experts have recommended a redesign of the Long March-5B rocket – which is not equipped for a controlled descent.

“An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely,” McDowell tweeted.

“It appears China won its gamble (unless we get news of debris in the Maldives). But it was still reckless.”

Chinese authorities had downplayed the risk, however.

“The probability of causing harm to aviation activities or (on people and activities) on the ground is extremely low,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into space exploration to boost its global stature and technological might.

The launch of the first module of its space station – by the Long March rocket that came down Sunday – was a milestone in its ambitious plan to establish a permanent human presence in space.


Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
Updated 09 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Permitted to hold Eid prayers, sermons 3 times in Muslim minority countries due to COVID
  • He said it was permitted due to coronavirus restrictions and lack of mosques

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti said it was permitted to repeat Eid prayers and sermons three times to accommodate three separate congregations in Muslim minority countries due to coronavirus restrictions and to prevent the spread of the virus.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh, also the head of the Council of Senior Scholars and the Committee for Islamic Research and Issuing Fatwas, said the decision was also based on the lack of mosques and chapels outside major cities.
In response to a question on the permissibility of Muslim minority countries performing the Eid prayer and sermon three times due to the large number of worshipers in light of precautionary measures and the lack of mosques, Sheikh Abdulaziz said: “It is not permitted to repeat the Eid prayer in one prayer hall for one congregation after another without necessity or urgency,” but added that we are in unprecedented times.
The Grand Mufti said some scholars permitted it when necessary and according to our current situation with the coronavirus pandemic and the precautionary measures, the preservation of public health is one of the main objectives of Sharia law.