Ghani to quit ‘only after polls’ as US mulls new government

Ghani to quit ‘only after polls’ as US mulls new government
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday that he would move forward based on ‘realities instead of sentiments’ for a ‘lasting and fair peace.’ (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 18 March 2021

Ghani to quit ‘only after polls’ as US mulls new government

Ghani to quit ‘only after polls’ as US mulls new government
  • Remarks a departure from his pledge to oppose an interim setup at any cost

KABUL: President Ashraf Ghani has vowed to step down from power, but only after elections are held in Kabul — even as pressure mounts on the Afghan head of state to form an interim government that includes the Taliban.

“If the Taliban are ready for elections tomorrow, we are also ready . . .  But I am not ready to transfer the power to my successor without elections,” he said during an official event late on Tuesday.

“Forty-two years of war is enough; we also have the right to live in peace like other civilized nations of the world,” Ghani said.

His remarks came a day after talks with US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who earlier this month had shared a proposal with key Afghan leaders, including Ghani, for the formation of a participatory government — which would include Taliban members — as part of efforts to end Washington’s engagement in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.

Khalilzad’s proposal was circulated ahead of a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops from Afghanistan, based on a controversial accord signed between former American President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

Government and Taliban delegates are set to attend Russia-sponsored talks on Thursday — to expedite the peace process — and another international UN-led conference in Turkey, in April, as part of the proposed US plan for an interim setup before elections are held.

Besides Taliban and Afghan government emissaries, Thursday’s meeting in Russia will host delegates from the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), factional and influential leaders, and representatives from the US, China and Pakistan.

Ghani, who assumed his second, five-year-term in office more than a year ago amid allegations of poll fraud, said on Tuesday that he would move forward based on “realities instead of sentiments” for a “lasting and fair peace.”

HIGHLIGHT

His remarks came a day after talks with the US special envoy for Afghanistan, who earlier this month proposed the formation of a participatory government which would include Taliban members.

This is despite the 71-year-old leader repeatedly vowing to oppose an interim setup “at the cost of my life.”

Ghani’s comments on Tuesday are his first since a letter addressed to him by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was leaked to the public nearly two weeks ago.

Blinken’s letter to Ghani — a copy of which was published by several media houses — urged the Afghan president to “develop constructive positions” on Khalilzad’s proposals to “jump-start the flailing peace process.”

The letter pressed upon the urgency for a new government in Afghanistan to break a stalemate in the intra-Afghan talks, which began in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and Kabul government representatives in September, and have been riddled with disputes.

The letter said that even with the continuation of US financial assistance to Afghan forces after an American withdrawal, there was concern “that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” and that he was sharing this so that Ghani “understands the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter.”

The letter and Khalilzad’s proposal has caught many confidants of Ghani by surprise because Kabul long expected that the new government in Washington would reconsider the deal the former administration made with the Taliban and would keep its troops in Afghanistan for some years to come.

Ghani’s government has come under fire at home and abroad over its perceived inefficiency, poor management of affairs, rampant corruption and an inability to curb crime and advances by Taliban insurgents.

Ahmad Shah Katawazi, a writer and former diplomat, said that Kabul and Washington needed to exercise caution and “compromise” on some issues as the country went through a critical phase.

“Flexibility and compromise from both sides will be a rational approach given the current uncertain scenario the country is facing,” he told Arab News.

Tabish Forugh, a US-based Afghan analyst, said that Ghani would not be able to “stand against US policy” but was “trying his luck to remain relevant” in the case of an interim set-up.

“Perhaps more than anyone else in his administration, Ghani knows that he cannot stand in the way of the US proposed political settlement with the Taliban,” he told Arab News.

Forugh added that while Ghani “lacks what it takes to block the proposal both at the national and international level,” he was pushing to secure a deal for the “survival of state institutions.”

“Ghani will ultimately, under US pressure, compromise on peace if Washington forces the Taliban to accept Ghani’s leadership of the transitional government, a period he considers crucial to the safeguarding of certain democratic gains and his future in Afghanistan’s politics,” Forugh said.

Toreq Farhadi, an adviser to the former government, agreed but added that holding polls in Afghanistan “was out of the question” under the current circumstances.

“The president of Afghanistan asking for elections now might be an indication that he is totally unaware of the citizens’ security situation in the country,” he said.


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 18 sec ago

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • It was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by IS, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”


4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.


Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.


India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
Updated 30 November 2021

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening

India advises states to step up COVID-19 testing; Mumbai delays school reopening
  • State governments warned last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic

BENGALURU: India’s health ministry said on Tuesday states should ramp up COVID-19 testing as the world battles the new coronavirus variant omicron, while some cities delayed the reopening of schools as a precautionary measure.
The ministry also said the omicron variant “doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT (testing),” appeasing some concerns among domestic health workers that changes in the spike protein of the virus could lead to conventional tests failing to detect the variant.
It comes as the ministry warned state governments last week that a recent fall in testing could undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic.
While India has not reported any omicron cases yet, authorities are studying the sample of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after recently returning from South Africa to see if he is infected with the omicron or another variant.
Also on Tuesday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said it was delaying reopening schools for younger children to Dec. 15 instead of Wednesday as a precautionary measure given the global situation involving omicron. In-person classes for senior students began about two months ago.
The city of Pune, which is also located in the western state of Maharashtra, has also postponed the reopening of schools, local media reported.
After battling a record jump in infections and deaths in April and May, cases have come down substantially in India.
Its COVID-19 cases rose by 6,990 on Tuesday — the smallest increase in 551 days — to 34.59 million. Only the United States has reported more total infections.
Deaths rose by 190, taking the total to 468,980, health ministry data showed.


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
Updated 30 November 2021

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
  • About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated
  • Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs

ATHENS: Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over in a move to quell a resurgent virus that is burdening a frail health care system.
Authorities said those who failed to comply from Jan. 16 would face a recurring monthly fine of 100 euros.
Tuesday’s announcement marks an EU-wide first in targeting a specific age group. Other countries make vaccines mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups of workers.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he struggled with the decision but it was necessary to protect more than half a million elderly Greeks who had failed to get the jab.
“Its the price to pay for health,” he said.
About 63 percent of Greece’s 11 million population is fully vaccinated. While vaccine appointments have picked up in recent weeks, health ministry data shows there are 520,000 people over the age of 60 who have failed to get a jab.
“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party, faulted the measures as being punitive and financially excessive.
“This hasn’t happened anywhere,” it said.
Mitsotakis did not say how authorities would enforce the rule. A 100 euro fine is a hefty chunk of the average monthly 730 euro pension.
“(The decision) tortured me, but I feel a heavy responsibility in standing next to those most vulnerable, even if it might fleetingly displease them,” he said.
Greece this month barred unvaccinated people from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms as daily COVID-19 cases hit record highs.
It has recorded 931,183 infections and 18,067 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.