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)
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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.


Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai
Updated 24 min 4 sec ago

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

NEW DELHI: Experts said on Monday that a discovery of uranium was no cause for concern as it did not pose a security threat.
The comments came a day after India’s counterterrorism organization, the National Investigative Agency (NIA), took over the probe of a case involving the recovery of more than 7kg of natural uranium in Mumbai.
“I see a remote possibility of such uranium being misused to pose a threat to the nation,” Rajiv Nayan, a New Delhi-based expert on nonproliferation and arms control at the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) think tank, told Arab News.
“Theoretically, the possibility of misuse is there, but only details will tell when the persons reveal why they were carrying the natural uranium,” Nayan added.
On May 5, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the western Indian state of Maharashtra arrested two individuals for the possession of 7.1 kg of natural uranium worth $3 million in Mumbai.
The ATS lodged a case against Jigar Jayesh Pandya, 27, and Abu Tahir Afzal Choudhary, 31, before sending the samples to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai — India’s premier nuclear research facility — for testing.
On Thursday, the BARC confirmed that the substance was natural uranium.
According to officials, the duo was attempting to sell the uranium online when the ATS sent a fake customer and secured a substance sample. On Sunday, the NIA took control of the case and registered it under Section 24(1)(a) of the Atomic Energy Act (1962), which makes the possession of uranium without a license illegal and invites stringent punishment.
Both the ATS and the NIA were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Monday. However, according to media reports, Tahir’s father owns a scrapyard in the Mankhurd area of Mumbai and bought a truck full of factory waste two years ago. The uranium was reportedly among other forms of industrial waste found on the vehicle. This is not the first time authorities have recovered the radioactive material, with Ajay Sahni, a New Delhi-based security expert and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, saying that “such seizures of uranium have taken place.”
Sahni told Arab News: “In the late 1990s or early 2000s, a couple of scrap dealers had picked up quantities of uranium and arrested them. These are low-level people who have accidentally come across a certain amount of uranium and hope to make a little bit of money out of it.”
He added: “I don’t think it raises any basic question of critical security importance. It raises questions of how such material is handled and safeguarded in the country.”
However, he warned that “if it falls into the wrong hands it can be used for very dangerous ends.
“We don’t know the details. It could depend on the nature of individuals and possible connections with terrorists or whether this could have been acquired by terrorists.
“They are not interested in using it for any particular purpose, or they were trying to make money. It depends where something like this goes.”
Sahni termed the find as a “failure” of India’s security system to manage or guard the uranium flow.
“This is a failure of the security system, but it is not easy to say whether it represents a major security failure,” he added.


Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
Updated 10 May 2021

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
  • Arrests a result of ‘intensified intelligence operations’ and close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces

MANILA: The Philippine military on Monday said that close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces led to the arrest of two notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leaders involved in high-profile crimes.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the two arrested ASG sub-leaders as Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, who led the kidnapping of several local and foreign nationals, including two European birdwatchers.

Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., Wesmincom commander, said that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) responded to information provided by the Philippine military’s Joint Task — Force Sulu (JTF-Sulu) about the presence of the ASG militants in the area, after which a special police operation was launched.

At 3 a.m. on May 8, Bensio and Binda were arrested in Jalan Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, Sabah, while six of their followers were also nabbed in the operation.

JTF-Sulu commander, Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, said that the arrest of the suspects was a result of intensive intelligence build-up conducted by the 4th Marine Brigade under the command of Col. Hernanie Songano.

Gonzales said that Bensio was involved in the 2012 kidnapping of birdwatchers Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, and Ewold Horn, a Dutch national.

Vinciguerra was rescued after he managed to escape from his captors when government troops attacked the jungle camp where they were being held in 2014.

Horn, on the other hand, was kept hostage by the bandit group for seven years and was killed by one of his guards when he tried to escape during a clash between the group and soldiers in March 2019.

Meanwhile, Bensio and Binda were both part of the group that snatched three Indonesian fishermen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, on Sept. 23, 2019.

All three were rescued in separate operations conducted by the military a few months later.

Besides the foreign nationals, at least 10 Filipinos were kidnapped by the suspects.

Gonzales said that Bensio and Binda’s group were also involved in armed clashes with the military in Sulu, including the encounter in July 2011 at Sitio Tubig Magtuh, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul town where a young Marine officer, 2Lt. Michael Baladad was beheaded.

Songano said: “These ASG personalities moved to Sabah around March this year.”

“We have been closely monitoring the activities of this Eastern Sulu kidnap-for-ransom group as it is highly possible that they intend to make Sabah their staging point for their kidnapping activities,” he said in a statement.

“They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area,” he said.

Vinluas agreed, adding that intensified intelligence operations and the community’s support, along with the constant coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the ESSCOM, contributed to the “successful neutralization” of the ASG sub-leaders and their cohorts.

“The arrest of suspects is a big blow to the ASG,” he said, commending JTF-Sulu and ESSCOM for the “aggressive measures taken to ensure that these terrorists will not be able to conduct horrendous activities anymore, particularly off the waters of Sabah.”

Gonzales warned the group against hampering peace in Sulu.

“Whether they seek refuge in nearby provinces or outside our area of operations, if they have caused atrocities or continue to spoil our peace initiatives here in Sulu — they will surely be made accountable and face the rule of law,” he said.


UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
  • 29 attacks have been foiled in the past 4 years
  • Metropolitan Police: ‘People are becoming increasingly radicalized online’

LONDON: British police have issued a fresh terror warning as potential targets become more crowded after COVID-19 measures continue to ease.

Metropolitan Police — London’s police force — has reminded Britons that terrorist capabilities have not weakened over the course of the pandemic.

Twenty-nine attacks have been foiled in the past four years — 18 Islamist, 10 extreme right-wing, and one described as left-wing, anarchist or single-issue terrorism (LASIT).

“During the pandemic and the various lockdowns we’ve seen, the terrorist intent and capability has remained unchanged and people are becoming increasingly radicalized online,” said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist.

“What has been missing to date is the opportunity for some of those terrorists to transact whatever they might wish to do, because there have been far fewer crowded places,” he added.

“Terrorists haven’t stopped planning attacks or radicalizing vulnerable people online, and now we’re easing out of lockdown.”

Britain has not endured a terror attack since the Reading stabbing on June 20, 2020, when Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah fatally knifed three victims meeting in a park. He was handed a whole-life prison term in January.

The UK’s current terror threat level stands at substantial. Twist said terror police officers are dealing with a threat that is mostly “focused on crowded spaces and creating mass casualties.”

He added: “We haven’t seen a significant shift away from that. In lockdown, there are far fewer venues with a lot of people.”

The number of anti-terrorist hotline reports has dropped significantly, with terror arrests falling to their lowest level in a decade over the past year.

Twist said Islamist terrorism remains Britain’s biggest threat, but warned that concerns over far-right extremism continue to grow.

Some 55 percent of the 185 terror arrests in 2020 were believed to be jihadists, with 23 percent far right and 22 percent filling the LASIT or unclassified groups.

Twist said top security officials are concerned that COVID-19 has created an environment where “extremists find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalize vulnerable people.”

He added that the pandemic’s effect on economic inequality and the growth of conspiracy theories has given fuel to extremists, who prey on people in vulnerable positions.

In light of the added risk, police have asked hospitality venues and reopening businesses to carry out risk assessments on indoor areas and outdoor spaces.


New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals
Updated 10 May 2021

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals

New scheme fast-tracks refugee nurses into English hospitals
  • First 14 refugees include people who fled from Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, Myanmar
  • Britain’s National Health Service suffers from chronic shortage of nursing staff

LONDON: Nurses from refugee backgrounds are being recruited to work in English hospitals on a fast-track scheme to help the country against COVID-19.

The first-of-its-kind scheme, piloted in St. John’s Hospital in Liverpool, provides a four-week training course to bring refugee nurses up to speed with British practices, before introducing them to the workforce.

Under current rules, nurses who have fled their homeland and arrived in the UK are not allowed to practice their craft while their application for refugee status is being processed — this can sometimes take months or years.

The new course helps nurses who have arrived in the UK to re-enter the workforce, and props up the number of nurses working for the National Health Service (NHS).

Run in partnership with charity Refuaid, the first 14 refugees include people who have fled Lebanon, Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere.

Walid Jarad, 31, a Palestinian from Lebanon, had worked as a nurse in an intensive care unit for six years, but had been unable to work for the last year while applying for asylum in Britain.

“I have so much experience in exactly the area that was needed,” he told the BBC. “I’ve worked with so many isolated patients in intensive care respiratory units. My experience is completely relevant and I just couldn’t use it.”

Having completed the four-week course, he said it felt “totally amazing” to be back doing the job he loves.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “I am delighted to welcome these healthcare workers into the NHS, and incredibly proud of the work they have done over recent weeks and months to prepare for the challenge.”

The NHS suffers from a chronic shortage of nursing staff — a situation that became particularly acute during the height of the pandemic.

The vacancy rate for registered nurses exceeded 10 percent in June, and registered nurses accounted for 45 percent of all vacancies in NHS hospitals in England.

May said: “While the NHS will provide a safe and secure place to work, the public and patients will benefit from the skills and expertise these individuals can bring, and I hope this pilot cohort will build the way for hundreds more refugees to become part of our NHS family.”


British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
Updated 10 May 2021

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
  • Marriam Ahmad told she might not wake up after contracting COVID-19
  • She woke up naturally less than a day after giving birth

LONDON: A British Muslim woman said she is “grateful” for safely having a baby after she was placed in a coma due to complications from contracting COVID-19, describing it as a “miracle.”

Marriam Ahmad, 27, from the Welsh city of Newport, went into hospital in January after testing positive for the disease. 

Ahmad, who was 29 weeks pregnant at the time and suffers from asthma, did not expect to be in hospital long, but her condition deteriorated quickly.

“All of a sudden, my oxygen mask was on a much higher setting — I couldn’t hear properly,” she told the BBC. “It was very loud. I had someone washing my face, looking after me. I was very weak.”

As her condition worsened, she was told that her baby would have to be delivered prematurely by Caesarean section. A few hours later, a decision was made to place her in an induced coma.

She was warned that her baby might not be strong enough to survive, and that she might not wake up from the coma.

“It just happened so quickly. It was within about five minutes, they told me ‘you’re going on a ventilator, you’re having a c-section, the baby’s going to come out, you’ll be unconscious, you might not make it. Say goodbye’,” Ahmad said.

“I facetimed my parents and I was crying. It was only like a two-minute phone call — my mum was like ‘what are you talking about?’ I was lonely and I was scared. I didn’t even speak to my husband or my son.”

Her husband, who was looking after their 1-year-old son Yusuf, was called by a doctor to inform him of developments. Their baby was born on Jan. 18, 2021, weighing just 1.17 kg.

Surprisingly, Ahmad woke from her coma naturally less than a day later — but was unable to see her baby due to their conditions and COVID-19 restrictions. For the next few days, nurses brought Ahmad photos and videos of her baby.

“I had no idea what happened. I woke up — obviously I could see there was nothing in my stomach anymore and I was in a lot of pain,” she said, adding that staff members became deeply invested in her baby’s wellbeing. 

Ahmad and her husband decided to name their daughter Khadija. “In the Islamic faith, Khadija is a very strong, independent woman,” she said.

“From my point of view, my Khadija was very strong. She didn’t have issues, for someone being preterm at 29 weeks. They were telling me all the complications. She didn’t have any of those. It was a miracle.”

Khadija spent eight weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit before she was allowed home. After three and a half months, she weighed nearly 4 kg.

“I am just so grateful — that she’s still alive, that I am still alive,” Ahmad said. “Even though it was such a horrific, traumatic experience, I just found myself being even more grateful for the little things. Just spending time with family.”