India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control

Afghan Border Police personnel keep watch near the Durand line at Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province. (File/AFP)
Afghan Border Police personnel keep watch near the Durand line at Spin Boldak, in southern Kandahar province. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2021

India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control

India pulls out staff from Kandahar consulate as Taliban widen control
  • Move follows spike in violence in southern Afghan city 
  • New Delhi says evacuation a temporary measure, operations to continue through local staff

KABUL: New Delhi has temporarily evacuated staff from its consulate in Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar, where the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in recent weeks, official Afghan sources and India’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
“We were informed about this and told that as a precautionary move, India had to pull out the staff temporarily,” one of the sources from Kandahar, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News.
Officials from the Interior Ministry in Kabul refused to comment on the evacuation, which comes a week after New Delhi, Turkey, Pakistan and Russia had to either recall staff or halt operations at their consulates in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif due to the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains in the area.
However, Gran Hewad, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, told Arab News that the protection of diplomatic missions was “of high importance” for the government and that an “increase in the Taliban’s unprecedented attacks” had prompted some nations to take precautionary measures for security reasons.
New Delhi said on Sunday it was “closely monitoring the evolving security in Afghanistan.”
“The safety and security of our personnel is paramount. Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesman at India’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.
He added that India’s consulate in Kandahar was being run by local staff temporarily.
While the source in Kandahar had no further details about the evacuation, Indian media reports said that around 50 diplomats and security personnel had been pulled out due to the “deteriorating security situation” in the southern region, which is considered to be the group’s birthplace and its main stronghold.
The Taliban have widened control amid the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is expected to be completed next month.
In recent weeks, the group has overrun several areas bordering five countries — Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan – and captured key border crossings through which Afghanistan conducts most of its trade with Iran and Turkmenistan.
The group said on Friday they had taken control of “85 percent of territory in Afghanistan,” a claim dismissed by Afghan government officials as foreign forces, including the US, withdraw from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of fighting.
According to sources privy to the Kandahar evacuation and as cited by the Indian media, a special Indian Air Force aircraft was sent on Saturday to bring back the staff.
India has remained a key regional player in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001 and has invested nearly $3 billion in aid and reconstruction activities in the war-torn country.
New Delhi enjoys close ties with Kabul, while Pakistan has played a crucial role in facilitating the Afghan peace process since last year. Both accuse each other of running a proxy war in Afghanistan.
During the Taliban’s five-year rule, an Indian passenger plane was hijacked by a Pakistani militant outfit and brought to Kandahar. It was released days later after a ransom was paid to the group.
In recent years, the Indian mission and other establishments have come under the Taliban’s attack in Kabul and elsewhere.
The Taliban have repeatedly assured foreigners they will not be harmed, vowing to protect foreign missions and NGOs in its controlled and newly captured areas.
“No harm will come from our side to any foreign diplomatic mission. They can stay freely; it is essential. We pose no threat to them, but if any country decides to leave or shut operations, then it is their decision,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Arab News.
Experts, however, said other reasons could be at play for India’s decision to evacuate its consulate staff.
“New Delhi’s long skepticism about the Taliban, past attacks against its interests and fear of the presence of Pakistani militants among the Taliban who may harm India have prompted it to evacuate the staff from Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif,” Taj Mohammed, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.
“Other countries have improved their ties with the Taliban, but not India. So, it will take time for India to be assured that the Taliban will not cause them any harm, and that shall happen when both sides engage in dialogue,” he added.

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‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence
Updated 23 sec ago

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence

‘Unfortunate incident, not ambush’ caused Beirut protest violence
  • Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns used in street battles; soldier probed over shooting person down

BEIRUT: The bloody gun battles that took place last week in the streets of Beirut were caused by an “unfortunate incident, not an ambush,” the country’s Defense Minister Maurice Selim said Monday. 
Last Thursday’s clashes killed seven people and wounded 32, after a protest against the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion turned violent.
Supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, who want Judge Tarek Bitar removed from the case, carried out the protest. 
Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces party, which backs Bitar, of firing on the people at the protest.
But Selim told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation: “The demonstration deviated from its course and clashes broke out. The circumstances of what happened remain to be determined by the ongoing investigation, which relies on facts and evidence to hold those responsible accountable.”
The site of the armed clashes was between the Shiite-dominated neighborhood of Shiyah and the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Rummaneh, with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades used.
Security footage at one of the entrances to the Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhood went viral, upending claims about demonstrators being subjected to deliberate sniper fire from the rooftops of residential buildings. 
The footage showed a member of the Lebanese army shooting at a person who insisted on bypassing the military checkpoint and entering Ain Al-Rummaneh. 
There was chaos when this person was shot down. People threw stones and there was an exchange of fire.
Army command said: “The soldier who fired the shots is under arrest and is being investigated by the competent judiciary.”
So far, 20 people from both sides of the violence have been arrested.
Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan accused the Lebanese Forces of “committing a massacre” against peaceful demonstrators, despite the video showing a soldier shooting at them.
“Hezbollah believes the criminal and killer to be the Lebanese Forces. But the resistance, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will not be drawn into a civil war, as they are aware of this malicious conspiracy implemented by the Lebanese Forces,” he added.
The incident has turned into a political as well as judicial dilemma.
Ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are abstaining from Cabinet sessions until Bitar is taken off the probe and until “the perpetrators and those involved in the Tayyouneh incident, the gunmen, snipers, their operators, their commanders, their chiefs, and everyone who has anything to do with this matter are brought to justice,” Hajj Hassan said.
Lebanon’s administration has been inoperative since last Friday. Friday was a national day of mourning, followed by the weekend.
All institutions will resume their work on Tuesday including parliament, which is holding a plenary session and restoring the immunity of MPs, especially those that Bitar had called for questioning.
MP Qassem Hashem, from the Development and Liberation bloc, denied news about an expedited draft law to establish an exceptional judicial body whose jurisdiction would look into the decisions, procedures and arrests carried out by Bitar, with the exception of the indictment he issued to reach the public trials before the Judicial Council.
“This matter contradicts the constitutional principles that we are keen to abide by. The draft law needs a constitutional amendment and this is not on the table,” Hashem said.
President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have insisted on the independence of the judiciary and have called for non-interference in judicial affairs.
It is not within the power of the Supreme Judicial Council to dismiss Bitar or to force him to take a certain course in the investigation.
However, Bitar’s course of investigation is still subject to pressure. 
On Monday, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian expressed his fear over coexistence, the National Accord Document, and the constitution.
“We should adhere to justice, but according to a clear path so that people are not divided over justice, as well as over politics” he said and warned of this “suicidal path” which everyone was “enthusiastically” jumping at. 
He called it an atmosphere that reminded people of the beginning of the civil war. 
“Every sane Lebanese should refrain from engaging in suicidal actions, and insist on the constitution, coexistence, and civil peace. Fighting in the street is forbidden, whatever the reason. Solutions can be reached through peaceful means, not by using uncontrolled weapons in the streets, especially in the capital, killing people and violating their sanctities.”
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said that harming national peace and neighborliness was unacceptable, regardless of its source.
“We refuse to go back to arbitrary accusations, sectarian mobilization, attempts to isolate, compromise settlements, fabricate files against this group or that, choose scapegoats, and replace justice with revenge.”
He stressed the need to abide by the law and the judiciary, and avoid political, sectarian and partisan interference. “We need to respect the judiciary’s independence and let it correct what must be corrected by its judicial methods.”
Al-Rai called on the Cabinet to convene, as every minister should respect judicial authority, and exercise their responsibility in the name of the Lebanese people, not in the “name of influential figures.”
“Force does not frighten the believers in Lebanon. There is no weak party in Lebanon. We are all strong by our right to exist freely and our loyalty to the homeland without any interference.”


Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
Updated 16 min 10 sec ago

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
  • Wasiullah, 17, says he entered world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys

PESHAWAR: A young inventor from Pakistan’s northwest has designed “smart shoes” for visually impaired people that warn them with a sound or vibration about any obstacle on their path within a radius of 120 cm.
Hailing from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Wasiullah, the 17-year-old inventor, told Arab News he had entered the world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys.
“Visually impaired people will no longer need walking sticks or guides after smart shoes acquire popularity,” Wasiullah, who goes by a single name, said. “The shoes are fixed with an ultrasonic sensor and Arduino board to keep blind people safe while they are walking. Such individuals can get a prior notification of any looming hindrance.”
Local physics teacher Muhammad Farooq said Wasiullah was his most brilliant student and that he had planned to design a new type of a wheelchair to help visually impaired people navigate their surroundings, but that he could not do it due to financial constraints.
Budget restrictions did not stifle his inventiveness, though, and when he designed the shoes earlier this year, it was reward for his perseverance.
“I still believe he has the potential to emerge as a leading scientist if he gets proper coaching and opportunity,” Farooq said.
One such opportunity, which would also help Wasiullah afford higher education in the field of science, could be introducing his invention to the market.
“Smart shoes for visually impaired people are available in foreign countries,” Farooq said. “But their prices are beyond the reach for many in this country. The government should own the project because the shoes Wasiullah has made are comparatively cheaper.”
Mian Sayed, a social activist from Swat, has seen Wasiullah’s smart shoes and is positive that they could even become an export product.
“I knew Wasiullah, who is one of the brilliant students (who) can bring laurels for the country,” Sayed added. “The shoes invented by him can even be exported if the project is owned by the government.”
Wasiullah said a pair of his smart shoes could cost about 4,500 rupees ($26), but he would not be able to finance production himself as he also needs to finance his college studies.
An opportunity may come from the local government.
Sajid Shah, head of the provincial directorate general of science, told Arab News the shoes will soon be evaluated by experts.
“After evaluation by our scientists,” he said, “our department will promote the project of smart shoes invented by Wasiullah for commercial purposes.”

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Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term
Updated 13 min 17 sec ago

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term
  • Duterte inaugurated the reconstructed Grand Mosque of Marawi

MANILA: Four years after pro-Daesh militants captured Marawi, leading to months of fighting with the Philippine Army that reduced the city to ruins, the chief reconstruction official said on Monday the restoration process should be completed by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in June.
The siege of the lakeside town on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, and lasted five months, leaving more than 1,100 people dead. It was the military’s toughest and longest conflict since the Second World War.
Marawi suffered widespread damage during the fighting, which forced more than 100,000 residents from their homes in the predominantly Muslim city, according to International Committee of the Red Cross estimates.
“The Task Force Bangon Marawi, along with its 56 implementing agencies, remains on track in completing all infrastructure projects included in the master development plan within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte,” Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Eduardo Del Rosario, head of Task Force Bangon Marawi, an inter-agency task force in charge of reconstruction, told Arab News.
“Rehabilitation of public infrastructures in the city is now 75 to 80 percent complete,” he added.
As Marawi marked the fourth anniversary of its liberation from the Daesh-affiliate militant Maute group on Saturday, Duterte inaugurated the reconstructed Grand Mosque of Marawi.
“This place holds historical and cultural significance in the lives of the Maranaos, who will rejoice as a nation as the Grand Mosque of Marawi brings hope to our Muslim brothers and sisters,” the president said, as the mosque reopened for public use.
So far five of the city’s 30 mosques have been rebuilt, according to Del Rosario, who said the reopening of the Grand Mosque was a symbol of the Duterte administration’s “full commitment to rehabilitate Marawi.”
During the mosque’s reopening, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao MP Zia Alonto Adiong said the end of the 2017 conflict in Marawi had “left behind so much death and destruction,” but added its residents had been determined to “rise from the ashes of war” and rebuild their communities.
“I am hopeful that in our lifetime, we will see the rise of a better Marawi, a Marawi City with stronger and more resilient communities as its core foundation,” Adiong said.
But the majority of the displaced still cannot return to their homes. Most are living with relatives, while others remain stuck in evacuation centers.
Del Rosario was unable to say whether their houses would be restored by the end of Duterte’s term.
While the reconstruction task force was created in 2017, the city’s rehabilitation has been a process marred by delays.
“The people of Marawi all wish to go home,” Mindanao Party List Representative Amihilda Sangcopan said after the reopening of Grand Mosque, as she called for the restoration of houses to be fast-tracked. “Let us give them the chance to feel the normalcy of life back, a life they used to have four years prior.”


Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
Updated 18 October 2021

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, accused of stabbing David Amess to death on Friday
  • His father faced death threats from extremists while working for Somali government

LONDON: The father of the suspect accused of murdering British MP David Amess is said to “despise terrorists” after being targeted himself with death threats by Somali extremists.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, from London, is being held by police over the suspected murder of Amess on Friday.
Ali is estranged from his parents, the Daily Mail reported, and his father Harbi Ali Kullane is said to “despise terrorists” after his time working alongside the Somali prime minister before coming to the UK in 1996.
A security source told the Daily Telegraph that Kullane was himself involved in countering extremist narratives while working with the Somali government.
The source said: “He was quite involved in countering Al-Shabaab’s message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government.”
Ali was referred to Britain’s counterterrorism program five years ago after his teachers noticed his views becoming increasingly radical.
Estranged from his family, the young man was enamored with hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who had himself been jailed on terrorism-related charges until recently.
Choudary’s videos, his former friends told The Sun, turned Ali from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”
Kullane has reportedly been in contact with British security services, who are analyzing Ali’s phone and looking for an explanation as to his movements and thought processes ahead of the sudden attack.
Officials are reportedly not yet clear on why the man chose Amess as the target, but a government insider told the Daily Telegraph: “He was unlucky. He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.”
Amess, 69, was stabbed 17 times during the attack, which took place during his surgery — weekly open meetings in which politicians meet their local constituents.
The attack has raised questions in Britain over the effectiveness of its de-radicalization program Prevent, which was already under review after a string of other terrorist incidents.
There have also been concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions to daily life might have radicalized more individuals, as people are spending more time alone and online.
“Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists,” a security source told the Daily Telegraph.


UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
Updated 18 October 2021

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
  • Survey: Thousands of Muslims miss out on university every year because they cannot access Shariah-compliant finance
  • Implementation of Islamic loan system a ‘question of political priority,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: MPs, campaigners and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday urging him to take action that would end the annual exclusion of thousands of British Muslims from higher education.

A survey by the Muslim Census, published on Monday, found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to university every year because the loans they rely upon to fund their studies bear interest.

“There is a genuine and widespread need for ASF (alternative student financing), and its absence is leading to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, Islamic Finance Guru CEO Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, a student finance campaigner.

It is religiously prohibited for Muslims to borrow or lend money upon which interest is paid. This means British-Muslim students are forced to pay up to £9,000 ($12,361) per year upfront for their education, as well as cover all their own living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options.

A further one in six self-financed their education, which “resulted in severe restrictions with regards to which course and university they decide to attend,” it said.

Extrapolated to the UK’s Muslim population as a whole, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students are forgoing a university education every year, while close to 6,000 are forced to self-fund.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to deal with the inequity in access to education for Muslims, saying: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to university because they cannot get a student loan simply because of their religion.”

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still being forced to choose whether to pursue an education or stick to the principles of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“This is really important to our community, but we’ve so far felt like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the prime minister to see that this is a big issue,” she said.

“There are thousands and thousands of students who have the grades, the ambition, the aspiration, but because they don’t feel like they can compromise on their religious convictions, they’re left with no option,” she added.

“Four out of five Muslims who do take out loans feel conflicted by it, but they’re in a position where they feel like they can’t do anything else about it.”

Omar Shaikh, managing director of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that the creation of a financing system for British Muslims is “workable” and that its creation is a matter of politics, not practicality.

“UKIFC was appointed by the Department of Education to put together a detailed product that’s efficiently implementable and works at parity with the existing student loans system,” he said. 

“Following various workshops and input from the Student Loans Co., Shariah scholars, the Department for Education and lawyers, we were successfully able to create a workable pragmatic structure. We know it can be done and isn’t onerous to do so,” he added.

“It’s now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government progressing matters, and commend the Department for Education for driving this inclusive policy.”