For girl student in Balochistan, empowerment comes on two wheels in boy’s outfit

For girl student in Balochistan, empowerment comes on two wheels in boy’s outfit
Disguised as a boy, Khadija tul Kubra, 17, drives her father to his workplace at Sariab Road, Quetta, Balochistan. (AN photo by Saadullah Akhter)
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Updated 09 July 2021

For girl student in Balochistan, empowerment comes on two wheels in boy’s outfit

For girl student in Balochistan, empowerment comes on two wheels in boy’s outfit
  • Khadija tul Kubra has been riding a motorcycle since high school, she aims to improve women’s mobility in the conservative region

QUETTA: Disguised as a boy, Khadija tul Kubra uses her motorbike to drop off her siblings at school every day, riding down the crowded roads and alleyways of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
The 17-year-old has a quest: Increasing women’s mobility in a region where it is traditionally restricted.
Social norms and safety concerns limit women’s mobility across Pakistan, where general commuting and travel activity is estimated to be 80 percent dominated by men, according to a 2016 London School of Economics study on gender inequality in transportation.
Things are even worse in Balochistan, Pakistan’s most impoverished province, where in Quetta alone traffic police registered 28,700 motorcyclists in 2021 — none of them women. Police data shows only three motorcycle licenses have been issued to female drivers in Quetta since the 1990s. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistic, female labor force participation in Balochistan is only 5.06 percent of the total population of women in the province, the lowest rate in the country.
“Here, many girls have to skip their studies due to transportation problems,” Kubra told Arab News. “I must disguise myself as a boy to avoid attention on roads, so I wear a male outfit with a cap, gloves, boy’s shoes, glasses.”
Kubra has been riding since 2015, when she passed her high school exams. The third child of 12 siblings, she is now responsible for driving her younger brothers and sisters to school, after which she goes to attend university, covering about 22 km on her bike every day.
She learned to ride a bike from her father, Ghulam Qadir Bugti, a teacher at the Sariab Mill Boys High School in Quetta.
“Khadija had a passion for motorcycle riding when she was just 10,” Bugti said. “When I realized I couldn’t afford school transport for my children, I decided to teach Khadija bike riding. I always wanted my children, particularly my daughters, to get educated.”
It was Bugti’s idea that Kubra disguise herself as a boy, he said: “I was afraid for my daughter Khadija, that she would have to bear negative comments and she might be hit by someone or chased by wandering boys.”
While girl riders remain invisible on the streets of Quetta, police say they will support them if they come forward.
“We will support them and plan for their training,” Senior Superintendent Police Traffic Gul Said Khan Afridi told Arab News. “We have many female traffic police officers performing duties at various points in Quetta and they have been assisting female drivers. If girl motorcyclists will be on roads, definitely traffic police would be available for their protection and assistance.”
But for that to happen, there must be a change in mindset, Kubra said, saying she had started by asking the parents of her university friends to allow their daughters to drive.
“It empowers us. Through this easy ride we could reach everywhere we want without facing hurdles or harassment on public transportation,” she said.
“I hope one day I can ride my bike in the streets of Quetta in my own girl’s dress,” she said. “I want to see more girls riding with me in the city in their own clothes.”

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EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
Updated 31 min 7 sec ago

EU to aid Lithuania amid swelling migrant flows

Ylva Johansson. (Supplied)
  • Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings

LONDON: EU officials have pledged millions of euros to Lithuania to help it tackle a migrant crisis that it blames on the government of neighboring Belarus and its President Alexander Lukashenko.
Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner of Home Affairs arrived in Lithuania on Sunday, a day on which a record 287 people walked into the EU territory from neighboring Belarus — more than three times as many as in the whole of last year.
“This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory,” Johansson said.
“Lithuania, the EU, the Schengen states must prevent illegal access to this area. That is why we, the whole EU, support Lithuania to defend our common external border with Belarus,” said Johansson.
So far this year, 3,832 migrants have been detained in Lithuania. That compares with 81 for the whole of 2020. More than two-thirds of the arrivals are Iraqi citizens.
Iraqi airlines have increased flights from Baghdad to Minsk from two to four a week from this month and are also starting flights from Basra, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.
Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing the border crossings.
It says the influx is an act of retaliation by Lukashenko.

This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. We must show that there is no free access to EU territory.

Ylva Johansson

Since his election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the West denounced as rigged, he has cracked down on opposition protests in his country, and his main election challenger fled to Lithuania.
The Lithuanian state border guard service announced on Monday that its capacity to accommodate new immigrants has reached its limit and urged the government to relocate people to other facilities.
“We have managed this until now, but I must admit we have reached the limit of our possibilities” said director of the service Rustamas Liubajevas.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte expressed hope the European Commission will be able to handle the rapidly deteriorating situation.
“The first task is to reduce the potential of the flow itself. The biggest expectation here is for the EU to be able to use its negotiating position with the Iraqi government” said Simonyte.
Johansson promised Lithuania would not be left alone.
“I will send a delegation that will spend a few days here to discuss in detail the possibility of funding a good border protection system that includes monitoring and protection against illegal migrants,” she said, adding that €20-30 million will be allocated to this purpose by 2022.
The Lithuania government wants to build a physical barrier with Belarus, which it estimates will cost more than €100 million.
EU funding is not usually permitted to finance the building of border barriers or fences.
“We will eventually build it no matter how much aid is sent by the EU. The border must be protected” Simonyte said.

 


Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
Updated 02 August 2021

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12

Germany to offer COVID-19 shots for all kids over 12
  • ‘Everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups’ said German Health Minister
  • Children and teenagers can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation

BERLIN: Germany will start offering coronavirus vaccinations for all children and teenagers aged 12 and older, top health officials said Monday.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said after a meeting with the 16 German state health ministers that “we keep our promise: everybody who wants can get vaccinated in the summer — we have enough vaccines for all age groups.”
“Therefore, children and teenagers ... can decide to get vaccinated after a medical consultation and thus protect themselves and others,” he added.
The government’s push to get Germany’s youth vaccinated comes two months after the European Medicines Agency recommended that the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech be expanded to children 12 to 15. Last week, the EU drug regulator also cleared the vaccine made by Moderna for the same age group.
So far, however, the country’s standing committee on vaccination, the Stiko, has been reluctant to give the go-ahead for all youngsters and only explicitly recommended the vaccination for the age group between 12 and 16 if they suffer from certain chronic illnesses. The committee says that not enough study results are yet available on possible long-term effects of the vaccine on the younger ones, but has also said it may update its recommendation as more data becomes available.
But as schools across the country are starting to open again after the summer vacations, and given the vulnerability of young unvaccinated people to the quickly spreading delta variant, pressure has been mounting to get more children 12 and older vaccinated. Politicians have been lobbying to get the younger ones immunized against COVID-19 quickly to prevent renewed school closures in the fall.
Therefore, the 16 state top health officials on Monday decided that healthy children and teenagers should now also be able get the jab at vaccination centers or their pediatricians’ practices. As for all age groups, the vaccinations remain voluntary.
So far, 20 percent of those between 12 and 17 have received at least one shot in Germany and nearly 10 percent are fully vaccinated.
The country’s family minister said the decision “is an important step so that children and teenagers can be protected from a coronavirus infection in the best possible way.”
“Many parents have been insecure about whether they should vaccinate their children because so far there was no clear recommendation,” Christine Lambrecht added. “The decision for a broad vaccination offer for those aged between 12 to 17 can now help them.”
There are large disparities in the access to vaccination for youths across Europe. While countries like Estonia, Denmark and France are actively encouraging families to vaccinate their children before the new school year begins, others such as Sweden and the United Kingdom have yet to begin mass vaccinations for those under 18.
Also Monday, state health ministers decided to start offering booster shots for especially vulnerable groups in September. They said all people who got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots could get a refresher shot with an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna from September on.


Afghan president calls for ‘war against Taliban’ as peace hopes crumble

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 26 sec ago

Afghan president calls for ‘war against Taliban’ as peace hopes crumble

Afghan security personnel and Afghan militia fighting against Taliban, stand guard in Enjil district of Herat province on July 30, 2021. (AFP)
  • Taliban describe Ashraf Ghani’s speech, security plan as ‘nonsense’ bid to ‘control dire situation’

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday called for a national uprising and “war against the Taliban,” accusing the group of having no intention of working toward a negotiated peace settlement.

During a parliamentary session, Afghanistan’s leader also unveiled an American-supported security plan aimed at curbing Taliban advances.

The group has made major territorial gains in recent months after US-led foreign forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan on May 1 following 20 years of occupation.

But Ghani’s announcement has raised concerns in some quarters over the chances of a peace deal now ever being reached and only heightening the prospect of a prolonged conflict.

In his speech, which was broadcast live, Ghani said: “Our enemy not only took any step toward peace but also considered our sincerity and honesty as weakness.”

Details of his security plan have not yet been made public, but the president, whose second term in office is set to expire in 2024, pointed out that it would “change the situation of war in six months.”

In a statement on Monday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Ghani’s speech as “nonsense.”

He said: “It’s an attempt to control his fears and dire situation … declarations of war, accusations, and lies cannot prolong Ghani’s life, his time has run out, God willing.”

Ghani noted that his administration had shown “flexibility” and taken “steps that no government in the world would dare” for the sake of a “compromise” with the Taliban, such as releasing Taliban prisoners under a US-facilitated peace process that began in Doha, Qatar more than a year ago.

“Unfortunately, the conclusion in the rank of the republic, our negotiating team (for talks with the Taliban) is that the Taliban in their conscience have no belief for a lasting and just peace unless there is change on the war front,” Ghani, 72, said.

He added that his government had the “financial and political support of Washington” for the security plan and told MPs and senators to “mobilize” resources for “war against the Taliban.”

He said: “My concentration today is on national unity and oneness. Today, we are facing a major national test … every delegate and senator has ties with thousands of people. Use your strong networks today to form a national mobilization to give a decisive response to the enemy and their backers.”

Without directly naming the US, Ghani linked the current escalation of the war in Afghanistan to a “hasty process” of engaging in talks with the Taliban and exerting “pressure” on the Kabul government, which was sidelined from the subsequent Doha deal between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and the Taliban.

Violence has recently escalated throughout Afghanistan, with the Taliban capturing several districts and vital border crossings. The Pentagon has estimated that the group now controls more than half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers.

As the remaining foreign troops continued to depart Afghanistan under a process expected to be completed in the next few weeks, Ghani said a lack of preparedness on the part of Afghan forces and weakness in its middle leadership ranks had led to loss of territory to the Taliban.

In recent days, the Taliban have concentrated their attacks on major cities in western Herat, Kandahar, and adjacent Helmand in the south.

The group’s advances in the past three months prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, impose night curfews in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces, and arm locals to fight the Taliban.

None of his controversial measures, however, appear to have been effective in driving the Taliban out of the captured areas.

Ghani told Parliament that Afghanistan was “facing a wave of unprecedented terrorism,” and accused the Taliban of being “more violent” and brutal than when the group ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 before being toppled from power in a US-led invasion.

Hamida Akbari, a lawmaker from Wardak province who was present for Ghani’s speech in Parliament, told Arab News that the president’s announcement would lead to a “prolonged war.”

He said: “(Ghani) made the announcement of war. We expected that he would have a new plan and thought he would try to reduce the tension. This means prolongation of the war.”

Some experts, however, said Ghani’s speech showed desperation to hang onto power.

Torek Farhadi, an analyst and adviser to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News: “Ghani’s speech to Parliament sounded like a person who has lost a few chess games with friends and foes but is insisting on a last game where he promises to win.

“Afghans are not spectators; they are paying for both sides’ warmongering with their lives. Ghani should be thinking of passing power to a third side for salvaging of Afghanistan from the current crisis,” he said.


Wife of Briton detained in Iran urges PM to secure his release

A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 02 August 2021

Wife of Briton detained in Iran urges PM to secure his release

A British-Iranian dual citizen being held prisoner in Iran has lost access to a phone, depriving him of his lifeline to sanity and the outside world, according to his wife. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Family: Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, has been in ‘hell’ since his detention 4 years ago
  • ‘It has been more than a year since our family requested a meeting with the prime minister. He is apparently unable to meet us’

LONDON: The wife of a British citizen held in an Iranian jail for four years has pleaded with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to show he “genuinely cares” by securing his release.

Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, has been in “hell,” his family said, since he was arrested on a visit to Iran and later convicted of spying for Israel — charges he denies.

He is now four years into a 10-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, which is often used for detained dual nationals.

During his time in jail, there have been serious concerns about Ashoori’s health, particularly as COVID-19 ravaged Iran’s prison system.

In a letter to The Times, his wife Sherry Izadi insisted that the charges against him are entirely fabricated, and accused Johnson of avoiding a request for a meeting to discuss the case.

“Boris Johnson says that the plight of Anoosheh ... ‘remains a top priority.’ Yet actions speak louder than words,” Izadi wrote.

“It has been more than a year since our family requested a meeting with the prime minister. He is apparently unable to meet us.”

Johnson did meet with Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, last year. She remains in detention in Iran, and is currently on bail and living in her parents’ Tehran home while she awaits news of her fate.

Last month, an Iranian newspaper suggested that Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe were being considered for a prisoner swap along with American detainees, but this was publicly denied by the US.

The British Foreign Office said it has raised Ashoori’s case with Tehran. A spokesperson said: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable and is a stain on Iran’s international reputation. We urge the Iranian authorities to do the right thing and release the detainees.”

Tehran faces regular criticism for its treatment of foreign nationals, particularly those with dual Iranian citizenship.

“Having citizens with deep connections to other cultures and countries is an asset, not a criminal offense,” said Human Rights Watch.

“But Iran’s security apparatus has apparently made the despicable decision to use these individuals as bargaining chips to resolve diplomatic disputes.”


US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes
Updated 02 August 2021

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes

US, UK embassies in Afghanistan accuse Taliban of possible war crimes
  • Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, told Reuters that tweets containing the accusations were "baseless reports"
  • U.S. Embassy in Kabul tweeted accusing the Taliban of killing dozens of civilians in Kandahar province

KABUL: The US and British embassies in Kabul said on Monday the insurgent Taliban may have committed war crimes in southern Afghanistan by carrying out revenge murders of civilians, a charge denied by the insurgents.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban negotiating team member based in Doha, told Reuters that tweets containing the accusations were “baseless reports.”
The US Embassy in the capital Kabul tweeted a statement accusing the Taliban of killing dozens of civilians in the area of Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province. The statement was also tweeted by the British embassy.
“These murders could constitute war crimes; they must be investigated & those Taliban fighters or commanders responsible held accountable,” the US Embassy tweeted.
In a second tweet, it said: “The Taliban’s leadership must be held responsible for the crimes of their fighters. If you cannot control your fighters now, you have no business in governance later.”
The tweets, accompanied by calls for a cease-fire, stepped up the United States’ public criticism of the group as US troops withdraw and the Taliban goes on the offensive.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Afghanistan would become a ‘pariah state’ if any future Taliban rule in Afghanistan resulted in atrocities against civilians.
The insurgents gained control last month of the strategic area of Spin Boldak, which lies at a border and trade crossing with Pakistan, and heavy fighting has taken place since as Afghan forces try to recapture the area.