Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror

Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (AFP)
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Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (AFP)
A woman works in rural Afghanistan, where some women are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover, prioritizing peace over freedom. (AFP)
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A woman works in rural Afghanistan, where some women are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover, prioritizing peace over freedom. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2021

Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror

Afghanistan’s women fear the worst as Taliban advance sows alarm and terror
  • Since 2001 women have held key positions in institutions, run for the presidency and served as ambassadors
  • Educated women fearful of losing their freedoms and rights as ultraconservative Pashtun group eyes power

KABUL: With US-led forces set to leave Afghanistan by the end of August, the Taliban making rapid territorial gains, and uncertainty over the state of peace talks between the insurgent group and the government in Kabul, a critical question hangs over the fate of Afghan women’s liberties and hard-won rights.

After years of subordination, Afghan women came to enjoy unprecedented freedoms in the years after 2001 when US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime, which had imposed harsh curbs on civil liberties, barring women from education and most occupations outside the home.

In the absence of the Taliban, Afghan women have held key positions in various state institutions, have run for the presidency, and have served as lawmakers, ministers and ambassadors. Governing parties have not opposed such basic principles of democracy as gender equality and free expression.

 

 

The imminent departure of the last remaining foreign troops, therefore, is a source of considerable anxiety and tension for the middle class and educated women in Afghanistan’s urban areas, who fear that a return to power by the Taliban would deprive them of the freedoms they currently enjoy.

“Everyone now is afraid. We are all worried about what will happen,” Nargis, 23, manager of the newly opened Aryana fashion store in Kabul, told Arab News.




Nargis left her journalism to work in retail due to the increase in recent targeted attacks on media professionals. (Sayed Salahuddin/Arab News)

“People have witnessed one dark Taliban era. If they come again, certainly they will not allow women to work, and I will not be where I am today.”

Nargis has a degree in journalism, but due to a surge in targeted attacks on media workers in recent years, she decided she could not risk continuing in the profession.

As in any war-torn society, women suffer disproportionately in Afghanistan, which has frequently been ranked the worst place in the world to be a woman. Several female journalists, women’s rights activists, and women serving in the Afghan security forces have been murdered, either by suspected militants or by relatives in so-called honor killings.

Some Afghans who had hoped the Taliban would liberalize their more draconian policies following talks with the US and the Afghan government have been left disappointed by the restrictions the group has imposed in areas it has seized from Afghan forces since the start of the foreign drawdown.

They say the Taliban has ordered women to not venture outdoors without a male family member, to wear the all-enveloping burqa, and have barred men from shaving their beards, reminiscent of the group’s policies when it ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

“You see in the areas the Taliban is controlling they have imposed forced marriages, sexual slavery, and child marriages are rising,” Shukria Barakzai, a prominent women’s rights activist who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway, told Arab News.




Afghanis said the Taliban are forcing women to wear a burqa whenever they are outside. (File/AFP)

“They are taking young widows and young girls hostage. This is against the culture of Afghanistan, religion, and all rules of war. War crimes are happening now against the people of Afghanistan and especially against the women of this society.”

Taliban officials have rejected the charges, insisted that they have issued no such orders, and accused critics of trying to tarnish the group’s image.

While women in urban areas oppose constitutional and social changes that would significantly limit their rights obtained during the past two decades, some women, at least in rural areas, are indifferent to the prospect of a Taliban takeover.

These women do not feel connected to women of the urban elite, and would rather speak for themselves. Many of these rural, and even some urban, women consider peace as their main priority, even if it means sacrificing some rights that they are currently unable to exercise in any case.




Women in Afghanistan have enjoyed considerable freedoms in the absence of Taliban after 2001. (Sayed Salahuddin/Arab News)

“The so-called Afghan leaders speak about women’s rights merely to draw the West’s attention to keep them in power and provide them money because we have not seen their sisters and women on TV or with them in public areas,” Nasira Ghafoori, a tailor from Ghazni province, told Arab News.

“Some of them even feel ashamed to mention their daughters, sisters, and wives by name in public. Such leaders and other women who misuse the slogans of women’s rights have no place here. We are only interested in peace and ending the war.”

Not all Afghan women are ready to surrender their freedoms in the interest of peace. Maryam Durrani, a women’s rights activist who runs a gym for women and several education centers in southern Kandahar, the former seat of Taliban power, says she has had to limit her activities and partly close the gym following threats on social media since the Taliban made new inroads into the province.

“They threatened me, saying ‘we will kill you because of your activities.’ Unfortunately, because of that, as a precautionary measure, we have shut down the club to protect the lives of our customers,” Durrani, winner of the International Women of Courage Award 2012, told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

Taliban banned girls from studying and stoned women to death for crimes such as adultery.

Afghanistan’s parliament today has 68 female lawmakers, accounting for about 30 percent of the lower house.

More Afghan women were killed or wounded in the first half of 2021 than in the first 6 months of any year since 2009.

“The issue is not that the Taliban is coming back. It depends on the Taliban’s mentality and ideology. If their ideology has changed, then we may have some of the freedoms that we have now, but if they come with their past ideology, then it is clear women will not have a good time.”

The rise of the Taliban in 1996 had disrupted a long and uneven journey to women’s emancipation through education and empowerment. In the 1920s, Queen Soraya played an active role in the country’s political and social development alongside her husband, King Amanullah Khan. A bold advocate for women’s rights, she introduced modern education for women, one that included sciences, history, and other subjects.

After some setbacks, women in the 1960s helped draft Afghanistan’s first comprehensive constitution, which was ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. In 1965, four women were elected to parliament and several others became government ministers.

Women’s status improved rapidly under Soviet-backed socialist regimes of the late 1970s and 1980s. Parliament strengthened girls’ education and outlawed practices opposed by women. By 1992, despite the political upheavals wracking the country, Afghan women were full participants in public life.




Women demonstrators march toward to the governor office during a peaceful protest to mark International Women's Day in Herat on March 8, 2021. (File/AFP)

With the withdrawal of Western forces, not only is the fate of Afghanistan’s democratic institutions in peril but also the human rights of its women, going by reports streaming in from beleaguered districts.

Asila Ahmadzai, a senior journalist with Afghan news agency Farhat, says educated women in civil society, in the media, in rights groups, and involved in entrepreneurial pursuits have fled their homes in the northern and northeastern provinces that have fallen to the Taliban.

“The situation for women in Afghanistan now is very worrying because the Taliban is gaining ground. Due to the fear of the Taliban, educated women have moved to Kabul from the rural areas,” she told Arab News.

“No female activist, member of civil society, journalist or trader wants to live in Taliban-held areas because the Taliban do not allow them to work. The Taliban only allows girls to go to school up to the age of seven — not beyond that age. If the Taliban takes cities, educated women will then leave the country for good because they cannot afford to live under the group’s restrictions.”

Women such as Barakzai fear that the withdrawal of foreign troops, coupled with the failure to obtain guarantees from the Taliban that they would honor women’s rights as enshrined under the constitution, means that the situation for women and girls will be far worse if the group retakes power.




Taliban militants are expected to capture significant territory in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of young women and their families. (File/AFP)

Some have pinned hopes on the US-sponsored talks between Kabul and the Taliban and believe there will be pressure on the Taliban from outside to reform some of its views, especially from Washington, which has repeatedly reiterated the need to protect the gains made since the Taliban’s removal.

“In this era, there is no place for attempts to limit girls’ access to school or women’s rights in society, the workplace or governance,” Ross Wilson, the US chargé d’affaires to Kabul, tweeted last week in response to worrying reports from areas conquered by the Taliban.

“To the Taliban — welcome to 2021. Women and men have equal rights … halt your efforts to undermine the gains of the past 20 years. Join the 21st century.”

Critics, however, argue that the US has very little leverage over the Taliban’s attitudes and policies since it has failed to compel the Taliban to halt its attacks, which was a key component of the deal it struck with the group in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

“Whether government negotiators can force the Taliban not to weaken women’s rights and the opportunities of middle and upper-class urban women will largely depend on what happens in the war between the Taliban and the government,” Taj Mohammad, a Kabul-based analyst, told Arab News.

“Long gone are the days when US leaders justified the war and the invasion partly due to human and women’s rights issues.”

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Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin


Australia’s Scott Morrison: Canberra had ‘deep and grave concerns’ over French submarines

Australia’s Scott Morrison: Canberra had ‘deep and grave concerns’ over French submarines
Updated 59 min 14 sec ago

Australia’s Scott Morrison: Canberra had ‘deep and grave concerns’ over French submarines

Australia’s Scott Morrison: Canberra had ‘deep and grave concerns’ over French submarines
  • France is furious at Australia’s decision to withdraw from a multibillion-dollar deal to build French submarines
  • Canberra was unable to buy French nuclear-powered vessels because they require charging while the American submarines do not

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday the French government would have known Canberra had “deep and grave concerns” about French submarines before the deal was torn up last week.
France is furious at Australia’s decision to withdraw from a multibillion-dollar deal to build French submarines in favor of American nuclear-powered vessels, recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington and accusing its allies of “lying” about their plans.
Morrison said he understood the French government’s “disappointment” but said he had raised issues with the deal “some months ago,” as had other Australian government ministers.
“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack Class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest,” he told a press conference in Sydney.
Morrison said it would have been “negligent” to proceed with the deal against intelligence and defense advice and that doing so would be counter to Australia’s strategic interests.
“I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. Never will,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News Australia earlier on Sunday, Defense Minister Peter Dutton said his government had been “upfront, open and honest” with France that it had concerns about the deal, which was over-budget and years behind schedule.
Dutton said he understood the “French upset” but added that “suggestions that the concerns haven’t been flagged by the Australian government just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what was said publicly over a long period of time.”
“The government has had those concerns, we’ve expressed them, and we want to work very closely with the French and we’ll continue to do that into the future,” he said.
Dutton said he had personally expressed those concerns to his French counterpart, Florence Parly, and highlighted Australia’s “need to act in our national interest,” which he said was acquiring the nuclear-powered submarines.
“And given the changing circumstances in the Indo-Pacific, not just now but over the coming years, we had to make a decision that was in our national interest and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he added.
Canberra was unable to buy French nuclear-powered vessels because they require charging while the American submarines do not, making only the latter suitable for nuclear-free Australia, Dutton said.
With Australia’s new submarine fleet not expected to be operational for decades, Dutton said the country may consider leasing or buying existing submarines from the United States or Britain in the interim.
Australia will get the nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense alliance announced with the United States and Britain on Wednesday, in a pact widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.


Australia reports 1,607 COVID-19 cases as states learn to live with coronavirus

Australia reports 1,607 COVID-19 cases as states learn to live with coronavirus
Updated 19 September 2021

Australia reports 1,607 COVID-19 cases as states learn to live with coronavirus

Australia reports 1,607 COVID-19 cases as states learn to live with coronavirus
  • Victoria premier said a weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, whether or not there are new cases

MELBOURNE: Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases on Sunday as states and territories gradually shift from trying to eliminate outbreaks to living with the virus.
Victoria, home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, recorded 507 cases as its premier said a weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, whether or not there are new cases.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the state might reach that vaccination threshold around Oct. 26. About 43 percent Victorians have been fully vaccinated and just over 46 percent people nationwide.
“We will do so cautiously, but make no mistake, we are opening this place up. There is no alternative,” Andrews said. We “cannot perennially or permanently suppress this virus. Lockdowns have been about buying time to get to 70 percent and 80 percent vaccination.”
Many social distancing restrictions will remain and retail and hospitality venues will be limited, but people will be free to leave their house without a reason.
Andrews said the authorities aim to have 80 percent of the state’s eligible population fully vaccinated in time for the Nov. 2 Melbourne Cup, leaving the door open for crowds on track at Australia’s most famous horse race.
The COVID-19 plan follows a federal scheme that will end lockdowns at a 70 percent vaccination rate and gradually reopen international borders at 80 percent.
New South Wales has adopted a similar plan. Australia’s most-populous state reported 1,083 cases on Sunday as it uses lockdowns and vaccination blitzes to fight an outbreak of the Delta variant that began in mid-June.
The state, home to Sydney, eased some restrictions on gathering on Sunday. Some 52 percent of people have been vaccinated in New South Wales.
After eliminating COVID-19 outbreaks last year through lockdowns, border closures and strict public health measures, Australia has acknowledged in recent months that it may not be able to eradicate Delta outbreaks.
The country has had just over 84,000 coronavirus cases, but two-thirds of the infections have occurred this year, mostly since June. There have been 1,162 deaths COVID-19 deaths.


Indonesia retrieves most-wanted militant’s body from jungle

Indonesia retrieves most-wanted militant’s body from jungle
Updated 19 September 2021

Indonesia retrieves most-wanted militant’s body from jungle

Indonesia retrieves most-wanted militant’s body from jungle
  • The two men were fatally shot by a joint team of military and police officers in Central Sulawesi province’s mountainous Parigi Moutong district

PALU, Indonesia: The bodies of Indonesia’s most wanted militant with ties to the Daesh group and a follower, who were killed in a jungle shootout with security forces, were evacuated early Sunday to a police hospital for further investigation, police said.

The military earlier said the militants killed late Saturday were Ali Kalora, leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network that has claimed several killings of police officers and minority Christians, and another suspected extremist, Jaka Ramadan, also known as Ikrima.

The two men were fatally shot by a joint team of military and police officers in Central Sulawesi province’s mountainous Parigi Moutong district. It borders Poso district, considered an extremist hotbed in the province.

Several pictures obtained by The Associated Press from authorities showed an M16 rifle and backpacks laid near their bloodied bodies. The Central Sulawesi Police Chief Rudy Sufahriadi told a news conference on Sunday that security forces also seized two ready-to-use bombs from their backpacks, which also contained food and camping tools.

He said the bodies of Kalora and his follower have been evacuated to a police hospital in Palu, the provincial capital, after the rugged terrain and darkness hampered earlier evacuation efforts from the scene of the shootout in the forested village of Astina.

“We urged the other four wanted terrorists to immediately surrender and dare to take responsibility for their actions before the law,” said Sufahriadi, referring to remaining members of the East Indonesia Mujahideen who are still at large in the jungle on Sulawesi island.

The militant group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014, and Indonesia has intensified its security operations in the area in recent months to try to capture its members, particularly the leader, Kalora.

Two months ago, security forces killed two suspected members in a raid in the same mountainous district, several days after authorities claimed that Kalora and three group members planned to surrender. The surrender was reportedly canceled after other members rejected the plan.

Kalora had eluded capture for more than a decade. He took over leadership of the group from Abu Wardah Santoso, who was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members have been killed or captured since then, including a number of people from China’s ethnic Uyghur minority who had joined the Santoso-led group.

In May, the militants killed four Christians in a village in Poso district, including one who was beheaded. Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killings in March of two militants, including Santoso’s son.

Santoso was wanted for running a radical training camp in Poso, where a Muslim-Christian conflict killed at least 1,000 people from 1998 to 2002. He was linked to a number of deadly attacks against police officers and Christians.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has kept up a crackdown on militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.

Militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces, and people militants consider to be infidels, inspired by Daesh group tactics abroad.


Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction
Updated 19 September 2021

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction

Former Malaysia PM Najib Razak may seek re-election to parliament despite conviction
  • Najib Razak, who served as premier for nine years until 2018, was found guilty of corruption last year

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has not ruled out seeking re-election to parliament within the next two years, he told Reuters in an interview, undeterred by a corruption conviction that would block him from running.
Najib’s graft-tainted party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), clinched the premiership last month after it was ousted from power three years ago over a multibillion-dollar scandal. Opponents had expressed fears that party leaders facing charges could secure leniency once back in control.
Najib, who served as premier for nine years until 2018, was found guilty of corruption last year and sentenced to 12 years in jail over one of many cases over the misappropriation of funds from now-defunct state fund 1MDB. He has denied wrongdoing and has appealed the verdict.
He is still a member of parliament but the constitution bars him from contesting elections unless he gets a pardon or a reprieve from the country’s monarch.
But speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Najib challenged his disqualification saying: “It is subject to interpretation.”
“It depends on interpretation in terms of the law, the constitution and whatever happens in court proceedings,” Najib said.
Asked if he would contest the next elections due by 2023, he said: “Any politician who would want to play a role would want a seat in parliament.”


Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them
Updated 19 September 2021

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them

Haitians on Texas border undeterred by US plan to expel them
  • Department of Homeland Security have moved about 2,000 of the migrants from their camp to other locations Friday for processing and possible removal from the US

DEL RIO, Texas: Haitian migrants seeking to escape poverty, hunger and a feeling of hopelessness in their home country said they will not be deterred by US plans to speedily send them back, as thousands of people remained encamped on the Texas border Saturday after crossing from Mexico.
Scores of people waded back and forth across the Rio Grande on Saturday afternoon, re-entering Mexico to purchase water, food and diapers in Ciudad Acuña before returning to the Texas encampment under and near a bridge in the border city of Del Rio.
Junior Jean, a 32-year-old man from Haiti, watched as people cautiously carried cases of water or bags of food through the knee-high river water. Jean said he lived on the streets in Chile the past four years, resigned to searching for food in garbage cans.
“We are all looking for a better life,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that it moved about 2,000 of the migrants from the camp to other locations Friday for processing and possible removal from the US. Its statement also said it would have 400 agents and officers in the area by Monday morning and would send more if necessary.
The announcement marked a swift response to the sudden arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, a Texas city of about 35,000 people roughly 145 miles (230 kilometers) west of San Antonio. It sits on a relatively remote stretch of border that lacks capacity to hold and process such large numbers of people.
A US official told The Associated Press on Friday that the USwould likely fly the migrants out of the country on five to eight flights a day, starting Sunday, while another official expected no more than two a day and said everyone would be tested for COVID-19. The first official said operational capacity and Haiti’s willingness to accept flights would determine how many flights there would be. Both officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Told of the US plans Saturday, several migrants said they still intended to remain in the encampment and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left.
“In Haiti, there is no security,” said Fabricio Jean, a 38-year-old Haitian who arrived with his wife and two daughters. “The country is in a political crisis.”
Haitians have been migrating to the US in large numbers from South America for several years, many having left their Caribbean nation after a devastating 2010 earthquake. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the US border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.
Jorge Luis Mora Castillo, a 48-year-old from Cuba, said he arrived Saturday in Acuna and also planned to cross into the US Castillo said his family paid smugglers $12,000 to take him, his wife and their son out of Paraguay, a South American nation where they had lived for four years.
Told of the US message discouraging migrants, Castillo said he wouldn’t change his mind.
“Because to go back to Cuba is to die,” he said.
US Customs and Border Protection closed off vehicle and pedestrian traffic in both directions Friday at the only border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña “to respond to urgent safety and security needs” and it remained closed Saturday. Travelers were being directed indefinitely to a crossing in Eagle Pass, roughly 55 miles (90 kilometers) away.
Crowd estimates varied, but Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said Saturday evening there were 14,534 immigrants at the camp under the bridge. Migrants pitched tents and built makeshif t shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river.
It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border to wait while deciding whether to attempt entry into the US
The number of Haitian arrivals began to reach unsustainable levels for the Border Patrol in Del Rio about 2 ½ weeks ago, prompting the agency’s acting sector chief, Robert Garcia, to ask headquarters for help, according to a US official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Since then, the agency has transferred Haitians in buses and vans to other Border Patrol facilities in Texas, specifically El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley. They are mostly processed outside of the pandemic-related authority, meaning they can claim asylum and remain in the US while their claims are considered. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes custody decision but families can generally not be held more than 20 days under court order.
Homeland Security’s plan announced Saturday signals a shift to use of pandemic-related authority for immediate expulsion to Haiti without an opportunity to claim asylum, the official said.
The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians respond. They might have to decide whether to stay put at the risk of being sent back to an impoverished homeland wracked by poverty and political instability or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from fast-track expulsions.
DHS said, “our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey.”
“Individuals and families are subject to border restrictions, including expulsion,” the agency wrote. “Irregular migration poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of border communities and to the lives of migrants themselves, and should not be attempted.”
US authorities are being severely tested after Democratic President Joe Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies that Biden considered cruel or inhumane, most notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting for US immigration court hearings.
A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on humanitarian grounds.
Nicole Phillips, legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance, said Saturday that the US government should process migrants and allow them to apply for asylum, not rush to expel them.
“It really is a humanitarian crisis,” Phillips said. “There needs to be a lot of help there now.”
Mexico’s immigration agency said in a statement Saturday that Mexico has opened a “permanent dialogue” with Haitian government representatives “to address the situation of irregular migratory flows during their entry and transit through Mexico, as well as their assisted return.”
The agency didn’t specify if it was referring to the Haitians in Ciudad Acuña or to the thousands of others in Tapachula, at the Guatemalan border, and the agency didn’t immediately reply to a request for further details.
In August, US authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being expelled under the pandemic authority.