Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains
Afghan militiamen join Afghan defense and security forces during a gathering in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 27 June 2021

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains

Afghanistan defends move to arm people against Taliban territorial gains
  • ‘Spontaneous local uprising forces’ will operate under scrutiny of security sectors, says Interior Ministry spokesman

KABUL: Afghanistan on Sunday defended its controversial decision to arm nearly 30,000 people to help troops limit the Taliban from making more territorial gains, which began with the phased withdrawal of US-led forces from the country on May 1.

“These are spontaneous local uprising forces to help national security and defense forces against the Taliban because these terrorists have committed brutalities in captured areas,” Tariq Arian, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Arab News on Sunday.

He said these armed groups were not militia forces and would operate “under the scrutiny” of security sectors.

“We are not concerned that they will change into a threat but, if they act against the spirit of security forces, we will prevent that.”

Government resources for those wishing to join the “national mobilization” initiative are being channeled through factional and ethnic leaders, some of whom are accused of heinous crimes.

Factional militia bosses have repeatedly challenged past governments, including the administration led by President Ashraf Ghani, who pushed for the establishment of a “united front” and supporting local forces to strengthen peace and “safeguard the republic system" during a meeting with former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban figures last week.

Arian added that 30,000 locals had either “unearthed their arms” or been given weapons and resources by Kabul. They belong to various regions where the predominantly ethnic Pashtun Taliban have captured several dozen districts from troops in recent weeks.

Defense Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said that most “volunteers” were from the north, where ethnic Hazara and Uzbek loyalists of warlords blocked the Taliban from capturing the area over two decades ago.

Thousands of militants were massacred, and an equal number of Taliban were reportedly left to suffocate in shipping containers after surrendering to the militias during a US-led invasion in 2001.

“The number of these people keeps rising,” Aman told Arab News.  “These are educated people who have picked up arms against the Taliban, and we can call them volunteers.”

Both officials said that the process of providing arms and resources to the locals “was not unchecked” and would not lead to another era of civil war similar to the 1990s after Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Sunday.

They have intensified their attacks in recent months, taking advantage of the reduced number of foreign forces amid an ongoing drawdown process which ends on Sept. 11.

The Taliban have overrun some strategic districts in the north, including in Kunduz where nearly 5,000 Afghan families fled their homes after days of fighting between the Taliban and government forces, according to media reports. There were also reports of an escalation in attacks in the provinces of Kandahar and Baghlan.

Ghani replaced his security chiefs last week amid increased Taliban gains, with newly appointed Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi calling on “patriots and people everywhere to stand alongside their security and defense forces,” while assuring of the government's support to “provide all equipment and resources.”

Some parliamentarians backed the move to arm locals, while others expressed concern about providing them with resources through militia bosses.

Mohammad Ibrahim Gheshtelai, an MP from southeastern Paktia province, explained why the initiative was a win-win for all.

“The nation had the desire to defend the country,” he told Arab News. “That is why they picked up arms by welcoming the government’s proposal. The government found a good source for defending the system. This is good for the survival of the system. Majority in the parliament support this, and there is no serious concern about it.”

However Ghulam Wali Afghan, a legislator from southern Helmand province, told Arab News that Kabul needed to make sure that the resources were not “misused by thieves, human rights abusers and criminals” as, otherwise, it would be civilians who suffered the most.

Some critics warned that relying on former ethnic militia leaders and informal local fighting groups could further weaken Kabul’s control over the military's effort and risk a revival of “abusive and predatory behavior by warlords” against whose narrative Ghani came to power in 2014.

“It is solidly clear that the immediate and long-term threat that militias will pose is for sure,” Zabihullah Pakteen, a political affairs analyst based in northern Afghanistan, told Arab News. “However, the government has no option but to opt for militias to stand against the Taliban. Genuine public uprising and militias are two different things, yet we do not see a mass public movement to counter the Taliban.”

Others pointed to the “dangerous” precedent being set by the government including ethnic leaders.

“The uprising movement, or making of militias, is very dangerous for now and the future of Afghanistan,” said Nasratullah Haqpal, a Kabul-based expert in political affairs, as several ethnic leaders had committed brutalities during the civil war in the past. “The public is concerned about this. Leaders benefit from this process, and it may stoke ethnic tension, and this has to stop,” he added.

In recent weeks, the Taliban have fiercely criticized the deployment of local groups by the government, referring to them as “arbakis” or former local militias who were notoriously abusive, and accusing them of “fanning the flames of war” to maintain a grip on power.

They also warned that such groups would receive “stern” treatment from Islamic authorities.


Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans
Updated 21 September 2021

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over govt’s back-to-school plans
  • Classroom return ‘experiment’ in low-risk COVID-19 areas draws mixed reactions

MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s thumbs-up for a limited return to classrooms for students in areas with low numbers of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases has been criticized by worried parents and teachers.

The leader’s approval for the resumption of in-person classes in “low risk” parts of the Philippines on Tuesday drew mixed reactions with some objectors urging the government to reconsider its decision.

The government said on Monday that for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak it would reopen nearly 120 schools as part of a “pilot” project.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the move was necessary because otherwise, “we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”

According to a report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Philippines was among 17 countries globally where schools had remained completely shut throughout the pandemic, highlighting what it described as “18 months of lost learning.”

Benjo Basas, national chairperson of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, an umbrella organization of public-school teachers’ associations, told Arab News that the Philippines’ decision was “untimely and dangerous” given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and would only put further pressure on an overwhelmed healthcare system.

He said: “Our government has yet to fix its COVID-19 response, and the more than 20,000 new cases posted almost every day over the past week can attest to that. If in-person classes will push through, it’s like putting people at risk, especially the children.”

On Tuesday, Filipino health authorities reported 16,361 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 2,401,916. Of those, 2,193,700 (91.3 percent) people had recovered, while 37,074 (1.54 percent) had died.

Basas pointed out that any resumption of face-to-face classes should be carefully planned, and the Department of Education must guarantee the safety of all participants before questioning who would be held accountable if someone gets infected at school.

“While we agree that there is no better alternative to face-to-face learning, the current pandemic situation does not allow for this. Education can be delayed. What is more important at the moment, is the lives and health of everyone,” he added.

During a press conference, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the pilot scheme would cover 100 public schools and 20 private institutions, limiting class sizes to 12 learners in kindergarten, 16 in grades one to three, and 20 at senior high school level.

Meanwhile, the classes would be limited to three- to four-hour sessions based on “consent from parents and guardians. If there are changes in the risk assessment, then we will stop it,” she added.

As per guidelines released on Monday, public schools would need to pass a “readiness assessment” before reopening while private schools would be subject to a joint validation by the departments of education and health.

The guidance said: “We reiterate our demand for a science-based and evidence-based risk assessment for all participating schools. These shall help determine their present condition and urgent needs for the safe conduct of in-classroom learning, which the government shall immediately address.”

Some parents, however, have said they would refuse to allow their children to become part of an “experiment.”

Lee Reyes, 36, who has three children in grade school, told Arab News she would never risk the health and safety of her sons and daughter.

“For what reason? (To protect them from) COVID-19? If some adults, despite being vaccinated, still get infected, what about unvaccinated children? Also, kids are kids. Grown-ups tend to forget social distancing, and some even take off their masks. So, no. I would rather spend time helping my children learn their lessons from home,” she said.

Another mother, Lei, 50, also voiced concerns over the safety of her children, one at college and vaccinated, and the other in junior high school and unjabbed.

She said: “If my eldest child has to commute every day, there is a risk. Or even if I let her stay at the dorm. Although I know I need to teach her to be independent, now is not the best time during a pandemic and the flu season.”

In a Facebook post, parent Bella Mel, said: “Better safe than sorry. Because if our children get sick, it will only be them who will suffer. And there’s no Department of Education to help shoulder the hospital bills. So why push for it? Let’s just accept this is the new normal.”


Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says
Updated 21 September 2021

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says

Adopt Urdu, learn Arabic ‘just like our ancestors,’ Pakistan’s top court says
  • ‘We will lose our identity,’ Supreme Court warns over the government’s failure to make Urdu official language, despite a 2015 order

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has said that Pakistan risked losing its identity due to the federal government’s failure to adopt Urdu as the official language of the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

On Monday, a three-member bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial presided over the hearing in a contempt of court case. In 2015, the top court ordered that the government adopt Urdu as its official language.

“Without a mother tongue and national language, we will lose our identity,” Justice Bandial was quoted by the Express Tribune newspaper as saying as he heard a case filed by lawyer Kokab Iqbal against Urdu not being used in Pakistan as the official language.

“In my opinion, we should also learn Persian and Arabic, just like our ancestors.”

“Article 251 of the Constitution mentions the mother language along with the regional languages,” the acting chief justice said as he also sought a reply from the Punjab government for failing to introduce Punjabi as an official language in the province.

The court sent notices to the federal and Punjab governments and adjourned the hearing for a month.

In June, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered that all official events and proceedings be held in Urdu.

“Henceforth, all the programs events/ceremonies arranged for the prime minister shall be conducted in the national [Urdu] language,” a notification issued in English by the prime minister’s office said. “Further necessary action to implement the above directions of the prime minister shall be taken by all concerned accordingly.”

Passed in 1973, the Pakistani Constitution specifies that the government must make Urdu the national language within 15 years. The law is yet to be implemented, and English has remained the choice for official communication. While dozens of languages are spoken in Pakistan, Urdu is its lingua franca, even though it is the first language of less than 10 percent of Pakistanis.

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Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders
Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders

Taliban names Afghan UN envoy, asks to speak to world leaders
  • Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday
  • The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the UN ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan’s government ousted last month by the Taliban

UNITED NATIONS: The Taliban have asked to address world leaders at the United Nations in New York this week and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s UN ambassador, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday. Muttaqi asked to speak during the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly, which finishes on Monday.
Guterres’ spokesperson, Farhan Haq, confirmed Muttaqi’s letter. The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the UN ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan’s government ousted last month by the Taliban.
Haq said the rival requests for Afghanistan’s UN seat had been sent to a nine-member credentials committee, whose members include the United States, China and Russia. The committee is unlikely to meet on the issue before Monday, so it is doubtful that the Taliban foreign minister will address the world body.
Eventual UN acceptance of the ambassador of the Taliban would be an important step in the hard-line Islamist group’s bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.
Guterres has said that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.
The Taliban letter said Isaczai’s mission “is considered over and that he no longer represents Afghanistan,” said Haq.
Until a decision is made by the credentials committee Isaczai will remain in the seat, according to the General Assembly rules. He is currently scheduled to address the final day of the meeting on Sept. 27, but it was not immediately clear if any countries might object in the wake of the Taliban letter.
The committee traditionally meets in October or November to assess the credentials of all UN members before submitting a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year. The committee and General Assembly usually operate by consensus on credentials, diplomats said.
Others members of the committee are the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
When the Taliban last ruled between 1996 and 2001 the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the UN representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.
The decision was postponed “on the understanding that the current representatives of Afghanistan accredited to the United Nations would continue to participate in the work of the General Assembly,” according to the committee report.

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Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
Updated 21 September 2021

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city

Rare campus massacre shakes Russian city
  • The attack , one of the worst in recent Russian history, has left Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock
  • School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities

PERM, Russia: Yuri Aydarov was about to start an algorithms class at his university in the central Russian city of Perm when he heard people running in the corridor.
Then he saw a gunman.
Aydarov, a lecturer at Perm State University, was one of the witnesses of a shooting spree in which an 18-year-old student killed six people and wounded nearly 30 on campus on Monday morning.
The attack — one of the worst in recent Russian history — has left the Urals city of around one million people reeling from shock.
Aydarov was able to protect his students by telling them to stay away from windows and forcing the auditorium doors shut with the help of a colleague.
He saw the black-clad shooter — identified as Timur Bekmansurov — walk by his auditorium through a window, saying he was wearing a “sort of helmet.”
“We stayed quiet,” Aydarov told AFP.
All 17 students and staff members who locked themselves in Aydarov’s auditorium survived.
Most of Bekmansurov’s victims — mostly aged between 18 and 25 — died in the corridor just outside.
After a day marred by chaos, staff and students at the university struggled to make sense of the violence.
Aydarov said that teachers from “around the world” who have survived similar ordeals have been reaching out to him on social media and it really “helps” him.
School shootings are relatively unusual in Russia due to tight security at education facilities and because it is difficult to buy firearms.
But the country has seen an increase in school attacks in recent years.
With lectures at the university canceled on Tuesday, students slowly emerged late from their dorms, traumatized by the mass shooting.
Holding back tears, they laid red carnations at a makeshift memorial at the gates of the university that they walk through every day.
Some recalled finding out there was an attacker in the building from social media, and not believing it before hearing shots.
Others were anxiously awaiting news from wounded classmates, with several of the most seriously injured airlifted some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) west for further treatment in Moscow.
The deans of all of the city’s universities also laid flowers at the gates of the campus in a show of solidarity.
“We feel support from the whole of Russia and that really helps,” said politics lecturer Ksenia Punina.
The attacker lay in a hospital across town, heavily injured during his detention. He was reportedly on a ventilator and had his leg amputated.
In May, another teenage gunman killed nine people in a school in Kazan, which lies between Perm and Moscow.
“When this happened in Kazan, I thought this could never happen here in Perm, it’s always calm here,” said medicine student Maria Denisova.
In recent years, similar attacks also took place in Moscow-annexed Crimea and the far eastern city of Blagoveshchensk.
On the day of the Kazan attack, President Vladimir Putin called for a review of gun control laws.
But some in Perm said more should be done to prevent gun violence.
“If it’s so easy for a boy to get hold of (a gun), I think it should be stricter,” said 20-year-old Denisova.
The head of the chemistry department, Irina Moshevskaya, said violence was a “systemic problem in our society,” blaming it on popular online culture.
Just opposite the heavily guarded campus is a shop selling hunting guns. It was closed on the day after the attack.
Moshevskaya said that staff were able to lock students inside science labs, avoiding more deaths.
One chemistry lecturer “used her laptop bag to make sure her auditorium’s doors were tightly shut,” she said.
Some students complained that one lecturer had continued his class despite being told an active gunman was in the building.
On the other side of the city, dozens queued at a blood donation center, responding to calls on social media to help the victims.
Most people in Perm praised the quick response of everyone on the campus.
“From first-aid nurses to senior university staff, everyone rose to the occasion,” said engineering lecturer and former policeman Aleksei Repyakh.


UK ‘marathon man’ raises awareness, money for Palestine in 4-part race challenge

UK ‘marathon man’ raises awareness, money for Palestine in 4-part race challenge
Updated 21 September 2021

UK ‘marathon man’ raises awareness, money for Palestine in 4-part race challenge

UK ‘marathon man’ raises awareness, money for Palestine in 4-part race challenge
  • Haroon Mota shot to prominence inspiring British Muslims to get active during COVID-19 lockdown, Ramadan
  • Aims to raise funds for Palestine by running marathons in Berlin, London, Chicago, New York over the next 2 months

LONDON: A British Muslim is set to begin a four-part marathon series to promote sport in the UK’s Muslim community and to raise money for people in Palestine.

Haroon Mota, from Coventry, nicknamed “marathon man” will run the Berlin Marathon on Sunday before competing in the London Marathon on Oct. 3, the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 10, and finally the New York Marathon on Nov. 7.

Initially, Mota said, running a marathon was something he wanted to do for personal reasons. But after running the 2011 Coventry Half Marathon and the 2012 London Marathon to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust charity, he said he was motivated to do more after noting “little representation of ethnic minorities” running alongside him.

“At first, running a marathon was something to tick off the bucket list,” Mota said. “While I have always been into sports and keeping fit, taking part in a marathon was supposed to be a one-off. Running also helped me deal with my grief after my father tragically passed away in a car accident.”

Mota initially put together a diverse team of fellow runners to take part in the Coventry Half Marathon and used social media to spread awareness of his intention. His personal Instagram account is now attracting more than 10,000 followers. 

He worked to spread awareness about the importance of exercise during the coronavirus lockdown to the Muslim community, which, he said, often felt exercise was not part of its “DNA.” He also worked to promote safe exercise during Ramadan and ran more than 260 kilometers — while fasting — to raise £50,000 ($68,300) for good causes.

For this year’s challenge, however, Mota was inspired to also help those who suffered as a result of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in May.

“To raise awareness of their plight, I have pledged to raise £50,000 to help provide emergency aid to those affected by the most recent airstrikes and violent attacks in Gaza, and also offer humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families who are struggling with harsh economic hardship,” Mota said.

“I am particularly looking forward to taking part in the London leg of my four-marathon challenge.

Mota is a fundraising manager at Islamic Charity Penny Appeal, has visited Palestine several times over the past few years, and learned more about the plight of its people.

“Witnessing their struggle first hand, this is a cause I feel very passionate about,” he said. “I am now even more driven and committed to helping their plight, and this is why I am running for them.”

Those wishing to donate to Mota’s cause can do so via www.justgiving.com/running4palestine. His progress can be tracked via social media using the hashtag #Running4Palestine.