Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks
Many civilians in Afghanistan have viewed the peace talks as possibly the last international push in the reconciliation process. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 April 2021

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks

Afghans count human cost of war, urge leaders to attend Turkey talks
  • Nearly 111,000 civilians killed, injured in country’s decades of conflict

KABUL: Afghan teenager Habibullah finally stopped counting on his fingers at 27 – the number of his close relatives killed during four decades of conflict in the country.

“That’s how many I can recall. I may have forgotten two or three, but can you imagine losing at least 27 family members and relatives in the war? And I am not alone; there are some who have lost many more relatives,” he told Arab News.

Similar to many Afghans, the 19-year-old, who makes a living selling fruit and vegetables in the capital Kabul, has never witnessed peaceful times. And his family mourns its losses with numerous others.

According to UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan data, nearly 111,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the country’s prolonged conflict, and that figure is only since it began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.

Habibullah’s family victims of war include his sister, two brothers, an uncle, and his grandfather, all dying in aerial or suicide attacks.

Channeling arms and resources to their proxies, both Russia and the US have led separate invasions of Afghanistan, with Washington’s presence surpassing 19 years in one of the world’s most protracted and complicated theaters of war.

Habibullah, who fled drought in his village in the northern Samangan province to work in Kabul, was counting his losses a day after Turkey postponed a crucial meeting on the Afghan peace process to mid-May, without explaining the reasons why.

Many civilians in Afghanistan have viewed the peace talks as possibly the last international push in the reconciliation process. The planned April 22 Istanbul meet was part of Washington’s efforts to prevent a total collapse of the US-sponsored intra-Afghan talks which began in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and Afghan government delegates in September last year but have failed to make progress.

Last week, the Taliban said they would be boycotting Wednesday’s meeting and future conferences on Afghan peace until all American-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan.

The group’s move followed an announcement by US President Joe Biden delaying the deadline for the total military pullout from May 1 to Sept. 11 – a key condition and basis for a historic agreement inked between former American President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban more than a year ago. The Taliban halted attacks on foreign troops as per the accord but have accused Washington of breaching the crucial part of the deal.

Ordinary Afghans now fear that the war could escalate if Kabul and the Taliban fail to reach a consensus on the country’s future during the Turkey meeting.

“The survivors of war, ordinary Afghans want peace. Our leaders, on all sides, need to sacrifice their demands for the sake of poor people like us,” Habibullah said.

The meeting, already delayed once, had sought to facilitate a future political roadmap for Afghanistan, including the formation of an interim government that would also include the Taliban and end Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s second term in office, which is set to expire in 2024.

Ali Reza, a 46-year-old bus conductor, said Biden’s move to extend US troops’ presence in the country showed “that America has no good intention to end the war in Afghanistan and must be held responsible.”

He told Arab News: “The Taliban want total power, Ghani does not want to leave power, and America makes excuses one after the other for its goals. We, the ordinary people, are stuck in the middle and make sacrifices every day.”

Reza added that similar to other Afghans, his demand for peace was “from our leaders, not America because it is an invader,” and he urged Kabul not to miss the opportunity for peace “and make good use of Turkey’s conference for the survival of Afghanistan.”

Bibi Raihana, 53, who works at a private factory in Kabul, said that the Afghan leaders would be “doomed in history” if they failed to settle the country’s problems “through understanding and talks.”

She added: “Afghans have suffered the most in aliens’ wars. When we can make peace with foreigners, why not make it among ourselves? I hope they agree on peace for the sake of God and the poor people of this land.”


Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report
Updated 17 May 2021

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report
  • Greenpeace: Turkey is Europe’s ‘largest plastic waste dump’
  • Waste being dumped instead of recycled

LONDON: About 40 percent of the UK’s plastic waste exports were sent to Turkey last year, Greenpeace has revealed.

Investigators from the environmental activist group found that instead of being recycled, some of the 210,000 tons of waste was dumped by roads, in fields and in waterways.

Greenpeace urged the British government to “take control” of the situation, and described Turkey as Europe’s “largest plastic waste dump.”

The group said it had found plastic waste from UK supermarkets at all of the 10 sites it visited across southern Turkey.


COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
Updated 17 May 2021

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
  • It is less resistant to existing jabs than South African variant: Oxford team
  • Scientist warns slow European vaccine rollout could open door to new variants

LONDON: Approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Indian variant (B.1.617.2), a study by scientists at Oxford University has found.

“It looks like the Indian variant will be susceptible to the vaccine in the way that other (variants) are,” Prof. Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford, told Times Radio in the UK.

“The data looks rather promising. I think the vaccinated population are going to be fine. And we just need to pump our way through this.”

The study, led by Oxford’s Prof. Gavin Screaton, looked at two vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca — and found that both create sufficient antibodies to neutralize the Indian variant in enough incidences to drastically reduce hospitalizations and fatalities.

It also found that B.1.617.2 is less resistant to vaccines than the South African variant, and is more similar to the Kent and Brazilian variants.

“If you do the lab experiment, which is you take plasma serum from someone who’s received the vaccine and you look to see its ability to neutralize the virus, that’s a highly effective way of telling whether you’re going to be protected or not,” Sir John said.

“It looks OK. It’s not perfect but it’s not catastrophically bad. There’s a slight reduction in the ability to neutralize the virus, but it’s not very great and certainly not as great as you see with the South African variant. It’s rather close to the Brazilian version where the vaccine serum seems to be very effective in neutralizing the virus,” he added.

“The antibodies you’ve made after you’ve had the vaccine, which are floating around in your blood, are good enough to neutralize the virus if you get it.”

But Sir John warned that the lack of vaccinations across Europe and elsewhere means the continent is more susceptible to variants, and the possibility remains that more could emerge due to a lack of immunization and increased transmission.

“There are very broad swathes of Europe that are largely unvaccinated. So they’re pretty vulnerable to new variants — be it Indian or otherwise — sweeping across the continent and leaving very, very high levels of disease,” he added.


Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel
Updated 17 May 2021

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel
  • Left-wing figures urge president to move away from unconditional support for Tel Aviv
  • Ocasio-Cortez: ‘If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to?’

LONDON: Pressure is mounting on US President Joe Biden from left-wing Democrats in Congress to change his administration’s stance on Israel.

Criticism of Tel Aviv has increased in recent days following a wave of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Prominent Democrats have urged Biden to limit military aid to Israel and put more pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cease operations.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Saturday: “I don’t care how any spokesperson tries to spin this, the US vetoed the UN call for ceasefire. If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to? How can they credibly claim to stand for human rights?”

Several members of the Democratic Party have described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as similar to that of African Americans by various police departments.

“We oppose money going to fund militarized policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma,” said Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist.

“Until all our children are safe, we will continue to fight for our rights in Palestine and Ferguson (Missouri).”

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern at airstrikes that “resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets.”

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout his political career, and has reportedly met with every one of its prime ministers since Golda Meir in 1973.

He has repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks, and has rejected suggestions that the US use military aid to apply pressure on Tel Aviv.

“The idea that we would (with)draw military assistance from Israel on the condition that they change a specific policy I find to be absolutely outrageous,” he said.

On Sunday, Biden said Palestinians and Israelis “equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”


Three killed in knife attack in Russian city of Yekaterinburg

Three killed in knife attack in Russian city of Yekaterinburg
Updated 17 May 2021

Three killed in knife attack in Russian city of Yekaterinburg

Three killed in knife attack in Russian city of Yekaterinburg
  • Police detained a man who had attacked people with a knife

MOSCOW : Three people were killed in a knife attack on Monday near a train station in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the TASS news agency cited law enforcement as saying.
Police detained a man who had attacked people with a knife, the report said. The stabbings happened amid an argument over alcohol, a law enforcement agency was cited as saying.


India coronavirus cases drop below 300,000 for first time in weeks

India coronavirus cases drop below 300,000 for first time in weeks
Updated 17 May 2021

India coronavirus cases drop below 300,000 for first time in weeks

India coronavirus cases drop below 300,000 for first time in weeks
  • But COVID-19 infection and fatality numbers are almost certainly undercounts

NEW DELHI: For the first time in weeks, India’s daily cases dropped below 300,000, continuing a decline as the country battles a ferocious surge of COVID-19.
The health ministry said around 280,000 cases and 4,106 deaths were confirmed in the last 24 hours. Both numbers are almost certainly undercounts.
India’s west coast state of Gujarat is bracing for a severe cyclone that is affecting its coronavirus measures. Cyclone Tauktae has already caused deadly flooding and is expected to make landfall late Monday or early Tuesday. Gujarat has suspended its vaccination drive for two days.
But India’s overall vaccination efforts are also struggling. Ever since the country opened vaccinations to all adults this month, the pace of administering doses has plunged, with many states saying they don’t have enough stock to give out. Over the last month, cases have tripled and deaths have jumped by six times — but vaccinations have dropped by 40 percent.
The southern state of Karnataka has suspended vaccinations for the 18-44 age group in government-run centers, and a number of states are looking into directly getting shots from overseas to fill a domestic shortage.
On Sunday, health officials said around 5 million doses will be sent to the states this week.
India has the second-highest caseload after the US with more than 24 million confirmed infections and over 270,000 fatalities.