Lone female negotiator ‘surprised’ at lack of women at Moscow Afghan talks

Lone female negotiator ‘surprised’ at lack of women at Moscow Afghan talks
Habiba Sarabi
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Updated 22 March 2021

Lone female negotiator ‘surprised’ at lack of women at Moscow Afghan talks

Lone female negotiator ‘surprised’ at lack of women at Moscow Afghan talks
  • Officials, campaigners say limited participation of women in crucial dialogue “tokenistic”

KABUL: Habiba Sarabi said was “deeply surprised” to learn that she was the only female negotiator on a 12-member team of Afghan government and political leaders at a recent two-day meeting in Russia.

The talks, an attempt to avert the collapse of intra-Afghan talks that started in Doha last year, began on Thursday to discuss Afghanistan’s peace process and its future, including women’s rights.

Besides government and Taliban emissaries, the conference was also attended by representatives from the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), factional and influential leaders, and the US, China and Pakistan — none of whom were women.

Sarabi, a prominent politician and rights advocate, was broadly critical that so few women were being con suited in the peace process.

“The war has been fought by men generally, and they think they can also make peace, which is a mistake,” Sarabi told Arab News, recalling a part of her comments during the meeting.

“Women have given great sacrifices, and make up 50 percent of society; without their participation, there will be no genuine peace,” she said, adding that she had complained directly to her Russian hosts for not inviting more women.

“I said ‘you are inviting only those who have military, political might or lead parties and have a good economy, but unfortunately ignore the women’,” Sarabi claimed, adding that her hosts had replied sarcastically: “You talk so much as the sole woman in the room; imagine what would have happened should there have been more women.”

The Moscow talks mark the start of several meetings on the Afghan peace process, with another round scheduled to take place in Turkey next month.

They began ahead of a May 1 deadline for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan, and amid efforts to end a stalemate in the Doha talks between Taliban and Kabul government representatives in September, which have been riddled with disputes.

With just six weeks left before the deadline, several sections of Afghan society said it was “unacceptable” for only one woman to attend the Moscow meeting.

“Only one woman was allowed to be in the room where a nation’s future was being decided. No man left the meeting as a sign of protest or criticized (it) in any other way. No solidarity with women. Misogyny in its peak,” Freshta Karim, a woman rights campaigner, tweeted on Friday.

Since the Taliban’s ousting in 2001, Afghan women have regained the right to education, to vote and to work outside their homes.

Still, it is not an easy place to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and maternal mortality prevalent across the country, particularly in rural areas.

However, access to public life has improved, especially in the capital Kabul, where thousands of women work, and more than a quarter of Parliament is female.

Reacting to the lack of Afghan female representation at the talks, Ali Mohammad Latifi, a renowned journalist, wrote that Kabul “keeps talking about gains,” flagging a “red line” where women’s rights are concerned, but “rarely puts words into meaningful action.”

Naheed Ahmad Farid, a lawmaker from western Herat, agreed, tweeting on Friday that a “male-dominated Afghan peace process is unacceptable.”

Besides Sarabi, three other female negotiators, including women’s rights activist Fawzia Koofi, have participated in the peace process since September.

And while Sarabi said she was disappointed with Moscow, she added that Turkey, which will write the next chapter of the negotiations, has pledged to ensure “a greater share for Afghan women’s participation.”

Moscow sent individual invites to participants, based on recommendations from the Afghan government and the HCNR led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani picked Sarabi from among four participants to represent his government, but no other factional leader, or Abdullah, chose a woman representative.

The presence of several factional leaders, such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who have been accused of serious human rights abuses, has also raised concerns.

“I was surprised to see that unfortunately, these leaders only think about themselves and their participation, and it is not only the government but our institutions such as the High Peace Council,” Koofi, who represented Kabul during the intra-Afghan talks in Qatar, told Arab News.

“If you look at our allies, in Moscow, actually there were no woman from those countries that are our friends and our supporters of peace … it is an international phenomenon to undermine, ignore and deny women participation in such a process like peace and security,” she added.

Koofi, who survived two assassination attempts, said it was essential to keep fighting for a more equal, just and stable future for Afghanistan after decades of war, adding that the presence of female negotiators “makes a big difference” based on “my six months of engagement” in the Qatar talks.

“I think regional countries need to engage and involve more women to set an example for the Taliban that it is ok to include women,” she said.

The onus, Koofi added, was also on world powers who have “long counted on factional and traditional leaders” to finalise the participant list, as this will further “dilute the role of the few women involved” in the peace process.

“Unfortunately, the approach has always been tokenistic,” she told Arab News.

Others said that the voices of female war victims had never been represented in any meetings on Afghan peace.

“During the past two decades (since the US invasion), the issue of women’s rights has been raised merely as a slogan,” Aryan Youn, a lawmaker from eastern Nangarhar, told Arab News.

“Donors and sponsors of conferences should choose women who have a good understanding of women’s pains and sufferings because they have lost sons, husbands and family members in the war ... not the ones who talk of their freedom and are invited again and again to such meetings,” Youn added.

“You cannot compare the women rights situation in Afghanistan to that of America and Europe,” she added.

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Updated 19 October 2021

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  • Defense attorney says the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat

TYLER, Texas: A Texas nurse was convicted Tuesday of capital murder in the deaths of four patients who died after prosecutors say he injected them with air following heart surgeries.

The Smith County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding William George Davis, of Hallsville, guilty of capital murder involving multiple victims. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase, which was scheduled to start Wednesday.
Davis, 37, was accused of injecting air into the four patients’ arteries after they underwent heart surgery at the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler in 2017 and 2018. During recovery from their surgeries, the four — John Lafferty, Ronald Clark, Christopher Greenway and Joseph Kalina — suffered unexplained neurological problems and died.
During the trial, Dr. William Yarbrough, a Dallas-area pulmonologist and professor of internal medicine, explained to the jury how injecting air into the arterial system of the brain causes brain injury and death.
Yarbrough said he was able to determine there was air in the arterial system of the victims’ brains by viewing images from brain scans — something he said he had never before observed in his decades in medicine.
He ruled out blood pressure problems or any other causes of death besides the injection of air, and said it must have happened after the surgeries because the complications occurred while the patients were in recovery.
Defense attorney Phillip Hayes told the jury that the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat who was only charged because he was there when the deaths occurred.
Prosecutor Chris Gatewood said during closing arguments that Davis “liked to kill people.” And prosecutor Jacob Putnam said the hospital hadn’t changed any of its procedures and hadn’t had any similar incidents since Davis left.


Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

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Updated 19 October 2021

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Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
  • Hazrat Wali was stabbed to death last week when a fight broke out near his college
  • He is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year

LONDON: A boy, 16, has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee, Hazrat Wali, in London last week.

The 16-year-old from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, appeared in court via video link from the young offender’s institution where he is being held.

He confirmed his identity and was told that his plea hearing would be held on Jan. 11, 2022. Wali’s brother and foster mother attended the brief hearing on Tuesday. 

The youth defendant was remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

Police are continuing to investigate the stabbing, which is said to have occurred when a fight broke out in a field near Wali’s college in west London.

Wali was an Afghan refugee who came to Britain two years ago, according to the Evening Standard. An unnamed relative told the free London daily newspaper: “He came here to study, he was living all on his own in London. His immediate family are all back in Afghanistan.

“I saw him in hospital. He had a fight is all that I had heard,” the relative added.

Witnesses say a teacher from the school ran over to give the teenager CPR in an attempt to save his life. While he administered first aid, Wali is said to have told the teacher the identity of the person that stabbed him. Wali died in hospital soon after.

Wali is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year.


Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

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Updated 19 October 2021

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  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
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‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
  • Warning of ‘lone wolf’ attacks follows murder of British MP by man believed to have been radicalized online
  • Nick Aldworth: ‘lt’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it’

LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.

Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.

His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.

Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.

“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.

“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.

“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.

“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.

During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.

British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.

Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.

“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.

“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.


UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
Updated 19 October 2021

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
  • Sir Laurie Bristow’s urgent cables raise questions over British handling of mass evacuation
  • Two months before the takeover, Bristow predicted the Taliban would ‘escalate its campaign’ only after international military withdrawal was irreversible

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, sent repeated warnings of the imminent Taliban threat ahead of the militant group’s takeover of the country, diplomatic cables show.

The revelations prove that the UK was aware of the threat posed by the Taliban, raising questions over the decision to evacuate from the war-torn country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on a holiday to Crete at the time of the takeover, despite the urgent messages sent by Bristow.

A freedom of information request saw the cables relayed to The Times newspaper, which revealed in detail the messages sent by Bristow and his deputy, Alex Pinfield.

A cable sent on June 28 saw the ambassador note that US aerial firepower was the central force deterring the Taliban from entering Afghan cities. Bristow said: “It (The Taliban) is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US airpower.

“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.

“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”

But US President Joe Biden, less than a week later, on July 2, ordered a military withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

A month later, on Aug. 2, the effects of the declining US presence in the country were seen in a cable sent by Bristow, where he said: “The gloves are off ... we are entering a new, dangerous phase of the conflict.”

When the Taliban appeared prepared to stage an assault on their first city, he added, warning: “If that happens, the impact on already fragile political unity, military, and public confidence and sentiment will be significant.

“The UK legacy in Helmand may add fuel to the public debate in the UK over relocating those who have worked for us during the last two decades in Afghanistan.”

The ambassador also warned of the threat posed to the capital, Kabul, which until the takeover was largely insulated from the conflict raging elsewhere in the country.

In response to the revelations, a government source said: “While the situation in Afghanistan was clearly deteriorating, the Taliban’s final advance on Kabul was significantly faster than anyone predicted.

“Despite an extremely difficult situation on the ground, months of intensive cross-government planning allowed us to deliver the biggest evacuation in living memory, bringing 15,000 people, including 7,000 British nationals and their families, to safety.”

Another source defended the government’s decisions, saying that Bristow’s cables were only “a fraction of the advice going to ministers.”

As a result of The Times report, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, himself a former army officer, demanded that the UK Foreign Office reveal the full extent of the decisions it made in light of Bristow’s warnings.

Smith said: “I’m glad the ambassador was telling the Foreign Office but the question now is what did Raab do and did anybody in the government say to the US ‘this is going to be a disaster if you close Bagram?’

“Did we, at any stage, say to them ‘Do not close Bagram?’”