Violence, insecurity threaten Afghan economy as investors flee war-torn country

Violence, insecurity threaten Afghan economy as investors flee war-torn country
Growing insecurity, political instability, and a lack of confidence in Afghanistan’s future has driven hundreds of businessmen out of the country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 April 2021

Violence, insecurity threaten Afghan economy as investors flee war-torn country

Violence, insecurity threaten Afghan economy as investors flee war-torn country
  • Official says capital flight last year led to almost $1.5 billion in losses

KABUL: Growing insecurity, political instability, and a lack of confidence in Afghanistan’s future has driven hundreds of businessmen out of the country, leading to almost $1.5 billion in losses last year for the already fragile economy, the deputy head of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI) told Arab News on Sunday.
“In 2020 alone, unfortunately, based on our estimates, 1,500 small-scale traders, investors and businessmen left the country because of infighting among government leaders, rising insecurity and corruption,” Khan Jan Alokozai said.
“Our unofficial estimates indicate that there was capital flight of at least $1.5 billion that was sent or taken overseas for investment last year,” he added.
Alokozai traced the investors’ exit to late 2014, when Afghanistan saw a drastic drawdown of US-led troops, resulting in infighting between President Ashraf Ghani and the then chief executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah following allegedly fraudulent elections where both claimed victory.
The power struggle between the two leaders was further exacerbated during the 2019 polls that allowed the Taliban to gain ground, even as regional commanders and self-proclaimed ethnic leaders “pushed for their type of future government.”
It also follows a deadlock in the intra-Afghan peace talks between Ghani’s government and Taliban representatives. The talks began in September last year and have failed to make any progress in the peace process.
Fearing a repeat of events due to internal divisions within the government — which led to the fall of the Moscow-backed communist regime in the 1990s, following the departure of the former Soviet Union’s troops — Alokozai said that a majority of investors had opted to settle in Turkey instead, with “60 percent of the private sector shutting down their activities in Afghanistan in recent years.”
He added: “These traders have bitter experiences from the fall of Dr. Najib (communist-era president), which happened as a result of an internal war, and they want to leave now.
“About 60 percent of the private sector has ended activities in recent years. Factories have closed, and only those involved in businesses such as food and fuel items operate. We had some $15 billion in our annual circulation, but it has dropped to $6 or $7 billion now,” he added.
The losses have trickled down to the tertiary level as well, since most Afghan investors and traders “spend 25 percent of their income on bodyguards and armored vehicles, apart from the losses they incur due to daily violence across the country and the payment of bribes,” Alokozai said.
He cited the example of a leaked video of Minister of Finance Khalid Payenda telling officials that “$1 million is looted from the customs division in the western city of Herat alone every day.”
Alokozai added that recent developments surrounding the deadline for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan has also affected the market, “not because of the possibility of the return of the Taliban,” but due to fears that the departure could push the country “back into a civil war.”
He said: “There is a big mistrust among leaders and people about the future of the country and anarchy in government. The traders are not afraid of the return of the Taliban. There will be some social restrictions, but overall the Taliban have treated the business community well, because they do not allow corruption and mafia activities.”
Saifuddin Saihoon, a Kabul-based economic expert, agreed, and said that the loss of capital and investors would have a “long-term impact on the economy of Afghanistan,” which has relied on foreign funds since the Taliban’s ouster in the US-led invasion of 2001.
“This causes the economy to slow down, closure of factories and joblessness, and gradually an economic crisis, as well as psychological fears about the future of the country,” Saihoon told Arab News.


India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths
Updated 14 min 16 sec ago

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths

India reports record for single-day coronavirus deaths
  • India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began
  • The government on Monday announced that 17 new labs will help track variants

NEW DELHI: India’s total virus cases since the pandemic began swept past 25 million as the country registered more than 260,000 new cases and a record 4,329 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
The numbers reported Tuesday follow a trend of falling cases after infections dipped below 300,000 for the first time in weeks a day earlier.
Active cases in the country also decreased by more than 165,000 on Tuesday – the biggest dip in weeks. But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still swamped by patients.
India has recorded nearly 280,000 virus deaths since the pandemic began. Both the number of deaths and total reported cases are thought to be vast undercounts.
The government on Monday announced that 17 new labs will help track variants, boosting India’s genome sequencing abilities as concern grows over a potentially worrisome variant first detected here. The variant may spread more easily but the country has lagged behind in doing the testing needed to track it and understand it better.
The variant first identified in India has prompted global concern – most notably in Britain, where it has more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections.


127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy
Updated 18 May 2021

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy

127 missing after vessel sinks in India cyclone: navy
  • The vessel was carrying 273 people when it started drifting on Monday

MUMBAI: Some 127 people were missing Tuesday after a vessel adrift off Mumbai’s coast sank during Cyclone Tauktae, the Indian navy said as two ships and helicopters were deployed to assist in the search.
The vessel was carrying 273 people when it started drifting on Monday as strong winds battered India’s western coast, sending huge waves crashing onto its shores and turning roads into rivers.


Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan
Updated 18 May 2021

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan

Hong Kong temporarily suspends operations at representative office in Taiwan
  • Tensions between the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government and Taiwan have risen since pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s representative office in Taiwan has temporarily suspended operations, a Hong Kong government spokesperson said on Tuesday, adding only that the decision was not related to the rise in coronavirus cases there.
Tensions between the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government and Taiwan have risen since pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 and China imposed a sweeping national security law last year to quell the unrest, prompting many activists to leave the city.
Taipei has criticized the law and opened a local office to help people who may want to leave Hong Kong.
Last year, Taiwanese officials in Hong Kong were told their visas would not be renewed unless they signed a document supporting Beijing’s claim to Taiwan under its “one China” policy, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau announced the decision to suspend the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taiwan without providing an explanation. It said requests for assistance would be handled through hotlines and via the Hong Kong government website.
“The suspension is not related to the pandemic situation in Taiwan. We do not have anything further to add,” a Hong Kong government spokesperson said.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it was working on a response on the matter.


Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
Updated 18 May 2021

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition

Afghan Taliban ready for talks — on one condition
  • Group insists final negotiations to end Afghanistan war are held in Doha

KABUL: Afghan Taliban delegates were on Monday reportedly ready to take part in US-sponsored talks with the Kabul government in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

Zabihullah Mujahid told Arab News: “The talks should not pave the ground for interference from any side.

“This matter is under deliberation ... we, without doubt, say that the Istanbul meeting should be conducted in conformity with the wishes of the Afghan people and should have no imposition aspect.”

However, he said that the final negotiations should be held in Doha, Qatar where both sides resumed stalled discussions on the peace process several days ago.

“This is an opportunity for peace, and we will participate in it on the basis of our conditions ... continuation of the talks in Doha is a good point for ending the war,” he added.

The development follows the group’s decision to snub the Turkey talks after American President Joe Biden said he would be extending the US-led foreign troops’ presence in Afghanistan until Sept. 11.

Initially, all troops were to have left the country by May 1 based on a key condition for a landmark accord signed between the Taliban and US delegates in Doha more than a year ago.

Mujahid did not elaborate on the conditions for the talks to resume and said that the Taliban leadership was “pondering over them.”

He pointed out that the two conditions demanded by the group for participation in future discussions included the “release of the remaining 7,000 Taliban inmates held by Kabul and delisting of their leaders from the UN blacklist.”

Mujahid added that the Taliban had discussed the conditions with Washington which had “pledged to facilitate” the group on both issues, although no date had yet been set for the talks. Fatima Morchal, a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, welcomed the news.

HIGHLIGHT

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the negotiators’ position, making a U-turn on the group’s recent decision to boycott the long-awaited discussions.

“It is a good thing; we have always said we will participate. The agenda and timing of the meeting have yet to be finalized, and we will attend it,” she told Arab News.

The Istanbul talks were rescheduled for April 24, before the Taliban announced that they would not participate in any meetings on Afghan peace until all foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

Under Biden’s announcement, US-led troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending the most protracted conflict in America’s history, which began nearly 20 years ago with the Taliban’s ousting in 2001.

The group has accused Washington of breaching the deal by delaying the troops’ exit, resulting in an escalation of violence across Afghanistan – with hundreds of lives lost, including civilians – which both the Taliban and the Kabul government have blamed each other for.

Fighting resumed on Monday in a number of major Afghan provinces at the end of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban during the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday.

Two weeks ago, US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Doha deal with the Taliban, warned that Washington would abandon its push to form an interim government to replace Ghani if the Taliban insisted on boycotting the Istanbul talks.

The Istanbul meeting, under the auspices of the UN, seeks to draw a roadmap to end more than four decades of conflict in Afghanistan, ahead of the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that recently Washington had “secretly shown flexibility to the Taliban” on the date of departure for the remaining troops and could “complete the pullout process either in June or July.”

The Taliban, in return, had to “express leniency for attending the Istanbul meeting,” he said.

“The Taliban would have been blamed by ordinary Afghans for refusing to participate in the Istanbul talks. They now have a condition, want to begin the initial talks in Istanbul, but that the serious decisions and last decisive decisions be taken in Doha,” Ghazikhail added.

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “The Taliban are making sure they have a diplomatic presence in the (Istanbul) talks because the process of delisting them from the UN sanctions list requires to continue talks and for freeing their 7,000 prisoners.”

He said that Kabul also wanted to attend the Istanbul meeting to “give people hope that peace talks are continuing,” but added that in reality “the positions are so far apart that peace talks might continue for years. Both sides are preparing for more war. But it is clear that both sides have actors in the peace theaters as well … the sad part is civilians will suffer.”


Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
Updated 18 May 2021

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests

Indonesia halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch for toxicity tests
  • Precautionary measure follows the death of a 22-year-old man one day after receiving jab

JAKARTA: Indonesia has temporarily suspended the use and distribution of an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine batch pending sterility and toxicity tests by the Drug and Food Monitoring Agency (BPOM), the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

The ministry announced the move following advice from the National Commission on Post-Immunization Accidents to carry out the tests.

It follows the death of a 22-year-old man in East Jakarta, who suffered from a high fever and eventually died after receiving his first jab earlier this month.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a Health Ministry spokesperson for the national COVID-19 vaccination program, said that the suspension of the batch would not deter the use of other AstraZeneca batches in the jabs program, which began four months ago.

“We continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine because it provides a much greater benefit. The suspension is the government’s precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the vaccine,” Tarmizi said, adding that the test results are expected to be released no later than two weeks.

The commission recommended the drug monitoring agency conduct the tests. Its chairman, Hindra Irawan Satari, said that the commission “did not have enough data to determine” whether the man’s death was related to the vaccine from the suspended batch, which he received a day before his demise.

The batch consisted of 448,480 doses and is part of the 3,852,000 doses Indonesia received from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility’s vaccine distribution scheme on April 26.

The ministry said that the vaccine batch in question had been distributed in the capital city, Jakarta, among the military, and in the North Sulawesi province.

Tonang Dwi Ardyanto, an epidemiologist of the clinical pathologist association PDS PatKlin said while the suspension was necessary, it would slow down the national vaccination progress.

“We hope the test results will come out soon so that the matter is clear,” he told Arab News on Monday.

“We are well aware that there is no vaccine or medicine that is 100 percent safe, but we just have to look for the ones with the least possible risks,” he added.

Indonesia received 6.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were distributed to seven provinces, with Bali and East Java getting a majority of the share.

The Oxford jab is a small fraction compared to more than 68 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine used in the government’s vaccination program.

A study conducted by the Health Ministry from January to March on health workers who received the Sinovac vaccine showed that it is “almost 100 percent effective in protecting them from infections, hospitalization, and death.”

Pandji Dhewantara, the ministry’s lead researcher, said last week that two shots of the Sinovac vaccine “provided 98 percent protection against death” in the 128,290 health workers who were monitored for the study.

Dhewantara added that the vaccine was 94 percent effective in protecting health workers from being infected with COVID-19 and 96 percent effective in preventing them from being hospitalized.

“We can conclude from this study that vaccination is important to reduce the risks of someone being infected by COVID-19,” he added.

A private vaccination scheme, coordinated by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, through which private entities can pay to inoculate their employees and families, will be using China’s Sinopharm and CanSino vaccines, with Russia’s Sputnik expected to be added.

The scheme is expected to commence on Tuesday, with almost 18,000 private entities registered to inoculate about 8.6 million people from labor-intensive manufacturing companies to micro-enterprises with as few as three employees.

Indonesia aims to inoculate 181.5 million people out of its 270 million population, which it expects to complete by the end of the year. But four months into the program, only 8.8 million people have received the second dose of their vaccines, just five percent of the targeted population.