KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security Monday on Washington deciding “abruptly” to withdraw its troops.
“The reason for our current situation is that the decision was taken abruptly,” he told parliament, adding he had warned Washington the withdrawal would have “consequences.”
Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban
UN human rights chief says there is evidence the Taliban government has not kept its promise to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the US
Updated 19 September 2021
Every night in yet another house in Afghanistan’s capital, a US green card-holding couple from California take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban.
They’ve moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them in and feed them. Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, restricted to a couple of rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for the children that has the added benefit of keeping them quiet.
All of it goes on during the agonizing wait for a call from anybody who can help them get out. A US State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them they were being assigned a case worker, but they haven’t heard a word since. They tried and failed to get on a flight and now are talking to an international rescue organization.
“We are scared and keep hiding ourselves more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”
Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the US military’s chaotic withdrawal — that includes US citizens, permanent US resident green-card holders and visa applicants who aided US troops during the 20-year war.
Those contacted by AP — who are not being identified for their own safety — described a fearful, furtive existence of hiding in houses for weeks, keeping the lights off at night, moving from place to place, and donning baggy clothing and burqas to avoid detection if they absolutely must venture out.
All say they are scared the ruling Taliban will find them, throw them in jail, perhaps even kill them because they are Americans or had worked for the US government. And they are concerned that the Biden administration’s promised efforts to get them out have stalled.
When the phone rang in an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the US green card holder who answered — a truck driver from Texas visiting family — was hopeful it was the US State Department finally responding to his pleas to get him and his parents on a flight out.
Instead, it was the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller said, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards. The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”
That was enough to send the man fleeing from the Kabul apartment where he had been staying with his mother, his two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger because he had worked for years for a US contractor overseeing security guards.
“They are hopeless,” said the brother in Texas. “They think, ‘We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is here to help us.’ They’ve been left behind.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified to Congress this past week that the US government had urged US citizens and green cards holders to leave Afghanistan since March, even offering to pay for their flights.
Blinken said the US government does not track US green card holders in Afghanistan but he estimated several thousand remain in the country, along with about 100 US citizens. He said the US government was still working to get them out.
As of Friday, at least 64 American citizens and 31 green card holders have been evacuated since the US military left last month, according to the State Department. More were possibly aboard a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, but the administration did not release figures.
Neither the US nor the Taliban have offered a clear explanation why so few have been evacuated.
That is hardly encouraging to another green card holder from Texas, a grandmother who recently watched from a rooftop as militants pulled up in a half-dozen police cars and Humvees to take over the house across the street.
“The Taliban. The Taliban,” she whispered into the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and kids are screaming. They’re dragging the men to the cars.”
She and her husband, who came to Kabul several months ago to visit relatives, are now terrified that the Taliban will not only uncover their American ties but those of their son back in Texas, who had worked for a US military contractor for years.
Her son, who is also not being named, says he called US embassy officials in Kabul several times before it shut down, filled out all the necessary paperwork, and even enlisted the help of a veteran’s group and members of Congress.
He doesn’t know what more he can do.
“What will we do if they knock on the door?” the 57-year-old mother asked on one of her daily calls. “What will we do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
Asked in a recent interview if he believed that, the son shot back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell her?”
The Taliban government has promised to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the United States. But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there is evidence they are not keeping their word. She warned Monday that the country had entered a “new and perilous phase,” and cited credible reports of reprisal killings of Afghan military members and allegations of the Taliban hunting house-to-house for former government officials and people who cooperated with US military and US companies.
AP reporters in Afghanistan are not aware of any US citizens or green card holders being picked up or arrested by the Taliban. But they have confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and military were taken in for questioning recently and released.
The California family, which includes a 9-year-old girl and two boys, ages 8 and 6, say they have been on the run for the past two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment asking about the Americans staying there.
The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother got a special immigrant visa because she worked for US-funded projects in Kabul promoting women’s rights. Now, the mother says both she and her daughter have been wearing burqas each time they move to their next “prison-home.”
The father, who worked as an Uber driver, has been having panic attacks as they wait for help.
“I don’t see the US government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said the children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging daily texts with the family.
Distraction has become the mother’s go-to tool to shield her children from the stress. She quizzes them on what they want to do when they get back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.
Their daughter hopes to become a doctor someday, while their sons say they want to become teachers.
But distraction is not always enough. After a relative told the daughter that the Taliban were taking away small girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her dad puffed himself up and said he could beat the Taliban, making her laugh.
The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but later texted her principal.
“This life is almost half-death.”
PESHWAR: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a banned militant group, has rejected Islamabad’s amnesty offer unless the government agrees to impose Shariah or Islamic law in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.
The group is an umbrella organization of various militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and is responsible for attacking military and civilian targets, especially along the country’s border with Afghanistan.
Islamabad has been particularly worried about the group’s fighters crossing over from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory ever since the Afghan Taliban swept across Afghanistan in a lightning offensive and captured power last month.
Last week, Pakistani President Dr. Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the government could pardon the group’s members if they laid down arms, abandoned the group’s ideology and adhered to the country’s constitution.
However, in a statement on Friday, the TTP said: “Pardon is usually offered to those who commit crimes, but we are quite proud of our struggle.”
“We can offer conditional amnesty to our enemy if they promise to implement Shariah in the country,” it added.
Adnan Bhittani, a senior security analyst based in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told Arab News that the recent release of the group’s fighters from Afghan prisons after the Taliban’s capture of Kabul had emboldened the armed faction to increase its attacks in Pakistan.
“TTP has up to 6,000 fighters who can create mayhem in different parts of Pakistan,” he said.
So far, there has been no response from the Pakistan government to the group’s statement.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is an umbrella organization of various militant groups fighting to overthrow the Pakistan government and is responsible for attacking military and civilian targets, especially along the country’s border with Afghanistan.
However, senior opposition leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, criticized the government’s “policy of appeasement” in a Twitter post, saying it would come to haunt the country in the future.
Since returning to power, the Afghan Taliban has repeatedly assured Pakistan it will not allow its territory to be used by militants to attack any nation.
Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in violence launched by the militant group in the past two decades.
The group has accepted responsibility for several high-profile attacks in Pakistan, including an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in which 134 children were killed in 2014 and an assassination attempt on activist and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai when she was a schoolgirl.
Franco-American tension over submarine deal puts fresh strain on trans-Atlantic ties
France feels excluded from AUKUS and robbed of chance to land a lucrative submarine deal
Macron recalls ambassadors from the US and Australia for consultation in show of anger
Updated 19 September 2021
LONDON: The reaction of France to the new trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US brings to mind a powerful cartoon published by an American newspaper during the Trump years, when the US president was ruling by executive order to evade Congress.
The cartoon, which appeared in the Buffalo News, depicted the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the US, stabbed in the back not with a dagger but with the president’s pen. Just like Lady Liberty in this cutting depiction, the French must feel as though a dagger is buried between their shoulder blades.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday likened the new Indo-Pacific security alliance, known as AUKUS, to a “stab in the back” and the sort of betrayal that “is not something allies do to each other.”
Because of “the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on Sept. 15 by Australia and the United States,” Le Drian announced that Paris would immediately recall its ambassadors to the US and Australia for consultation.
French grievances over the deal relate both to its strategic and financial implications. Paris was not only excluded from the Indo-Pacific strategy but has also lost out on a hugely lucrative contract with Australia to build nuclear submarines. Canberra is tapping American tech instead.
The new alliance, announced during a virtual meeting of US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has ignited a firestorm of criticism from France.
While many observers in Washington applauded the pact as a clear challenge to China, others warned that the agreement marks the beginning of a new arms race in the region, or perhaps even a strategic blunder hot on the heels of America’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle.
Since taking office, Biden has sought to reset America’s frigid relations with its oldest European allies, yet the AUKUS move appears to have had the opposite effect, alienating France and the wider EU.
It has also exposed a potential rift between the US and its European allies on how to handle the growing influence of China. Differing positions on whether to confront or cooperate with Beijing might, as the New York Times recently put it, “redraw the global strategic map.”
The timing of the AUKUS deal could not have been more critical, coming as it did on “the eve of the publication of the EU strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and as Paris has risen as the main EU strategic actor in the region,” wrote Benjamin Haddad, director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council.
He predicts the new dynamic will “create a blow to transatlantic strategy in the region and create a lasting hurdle in US-French relations.”
Next week, the White House is due to host the first in-person meeting of leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a strategic alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India. “The Quad,” as it is known, is another important pillar of Biden’s China policy.
Beijing views the Quad, and the new AUKUS, as a “clique based on a Cold War ideology and detrimental to the international order.” China’s regional rival India, meanwhile, predictably welcomed the new alliance.
Although Biden, Johnson and Scott did not mention China in their AUKUS announcement, the pact was described in the US as part of the president’s policy to “refocus” American national security and to reorient its military posture toward the Chinese threat.
The administration has sought to justify its abrupt departure from Afghanistan on the grounds that it needs to pool its resources to address the threat emanating from China. Critics might have given the Biden team the benefit of the doubt had the new strategic architecture in the Indo-Pacific not come at the expense of US-French relations.
France has good reason to be upset. The new deal with Australia, described as “historic” by the US media and “another step by Western allies to counter China’s strength,” torpedoed the largest military contract Australia has ever awarded — a deal for nuclear submarines worth 90 billion Australian dollars ($65.5 billion), signed in 2017 with the French defense contractor Naval Group.
The US media played down the French reaction to AUKUS and chose not to ruminate over what sort of message the deal might send to America’s allies elsewhere. Instead it focused on the historic nature of the sharing of US nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia.
Defense News hailed the deal as the first time the US has shared this type of technology with any ally since the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958.
Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, likewise drew a parallel between the new pact and the Eisenhower administration’s policy of sharing nuclear technology with the UK, a policy that caused French President Charles de Gaulle to decry “Anglo-Saxon nuclear cooperation and propelled France to develop its own nuclear capabilities.”
Indeed, much like de Gaulle, French President Emmanuel Macron might well interpret the AUKUS deal as a deliberate Anglo-Saxon snub that undermines its strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific.
France is not a minor player in the region. It is the only European country with a big presence in the Indo-Pacific, including about 7,000 soldiers on active deployment.
Cutting France out of the new strategic architecture represents a blow both to Paris and to Macron, who had prided himself on fostering a good relationship with Biden. The perceived snub could backfire badly for the Anglo-Saxon trio by pushing the French president to seek alliances elsewhere.
Many observers had expected more from the Biden administration after its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the damage this caused to America’s global standing and perceptions of its commitment to its allies. Instead, AUKUS looks like more of the same.
Biden’s secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, is a francophone who grew up in Paris and has long enjoyed good relations with the French. This had raised hopes of a new flourishing of ties between the two governments. Instead, relations have hit rock bottom.
The perceived betrayal seems all the more cruel when one takes into consideration how much America has gained from its French connection during the war on terror. In Africa especially, it is French forces who have led operations against Daesh affiliates. Only this week, Macron announced the assassination of Adnan Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi, the leader of Daesh in the Sahara, who had been accused of killing four Americans.
In Washington, foreign policy watchers currently interpret the rift with Paris as a “tactical error and not a strategic mistake.” But the French beg to differ.
When Blinken recently posted a tweet calling France a “vital partner” in the Pacific, Gerard Araud, the outspoken French former ambassador to Washington, responded sarcastically: “We are deeply moved.”
As Washington sets about redrawing the strategic map in the Indo-Pacific, it would perhaps be wise not to take its oldest friendships for granted. Indeed, if America cannot be counted on to stand by its allies, Washington could find itself short of friends when push comes to shove.
SpaceX capsule with world’s first all-civilian orbital crew splashes down off Florida
The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel
Updated 19 September 2021
FLORIDA: The quartet of newly minted citizen astronauts comprising the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission safely splashed down in the Atlantic off Florida’s coast on Saturday, completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, parachuted into calm seas around 7 p.m. EDT, shortly before sunset, after an automated re-entry descent, SpaceX showed during a live webcast shown on its YouTube channel.
The return from orbit followed a plunge through Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that sent temperatures surrounding the outside of the capsule soaring to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius). The astronauts’ flight suits, fitted to special ventilation systems, were designed to keep them cool if the cabin heated up.
Applause was heard from the SpaceX flight control center in suburban Los Angeles as the first parachutes were seen deploying, slowing the capsule’s descent to about 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) before splashdown, and again as the craft hit the water.
SpaceX recovery boats were shown approaching the water-proof Crew Dragon as it bobbed upright in the ocean, while retrieval teams clambered over the capsule, attaching rigging before hoisting it out of the water. The crew members will be removed from the capsule once it has been placed safely on the floating recovery vessel.
After undergoing medical checks at sea, the four amateur astronauts will be flown by helicopter back to Cape Canaveral to be reunited with loved ones, SpaceX said.
Camera shots from inside the cabin showed them sitting calmly strapped into their seats.
SpaceX, the private rocketry company founded by Tesla Inc. electric automaker CEO Elon Musk, supplied the spacecraft, launched it from Florida and flew it from the company’s suburban Los Angeles headquarters.
The Inspiration4 team blasted off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral atop one of SpaceX’s two-stage reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
Within three hours the crew capsule had reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) — higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope, and the farthest any human has flown from Earth since NASA’s Apollo moon program ended in 1972.
It also marked the debut flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight and earn amateur astronaut wings.
The Inspiration4 team was led by its wealthy benefactor, Jared Isaacman, chief executive of the e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, who assumed the role of mission “commander.”
“That was a heck of a ride for us,” he radioed from the capsule moments after splashdown. “We’re just getting started.”
He had paid an undisclosed but reportedly enormous sum — put by Time magazine at roughly $200 million — to fellow billionaire Musk for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
Isaacman was joined by three less affluent crewmates he had selected — geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42.
Isaacman conceived of the flight primarily to raise awareness and donations for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arceneaux was a patient and now works.
The Inspiration4 crew had no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which was operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
SpaceX already ranked as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.
Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Blue Origin, inaugurated their own astro-tourism services in recent months, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s three days in orbit.
NEW DELHI: Manzoor Kundroo wistfully traces his fingers over the intricate woodwork that lines the interiors of the King’s Ring, his family-owned heritage houseboat and one of many stationed on the iconic Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir.
It has been the pride of his family for more than 80 years and their main source of revenue but fell into disrepair after a 2009 Kashmir High Court directive banned construction work in the area as part of an environmental policy to protect Dal.
Authorities were also asked to reduce houseboat numbers and not to renew licenses. The order proved devastating for Kundroo and hundreds like him — with owners banned from repairing them, many houseboats began to sink.
A part of King’s Ring sank a few months ago. Today, its woodwork is rotting, and the carpets stink, but Kundroo says he has no money to keep it afloat.
“The boat needs urgent repair work for it to be used, but I have a family to take care of. The money we used to earn from the houseboat was more than enough for us and the boat’s maintenance. Now, it’s not possible,” Kundroo, 39, told Arab News.
A houseboat is a redesigned boat that serves as a home for tourists with amenities on offer; charges vary based on the facilities provided.
They were first built on Dal Lake in the late 19th century as a place for Europeans — banned by the Kashmir king from owning land in the region — to reside in.
Over a century later, houseboats rose to more than 3,000 and were often featured in Bollywood films, becoming a tourism mainstay in the disputed Kashmir region.
With political unrest, COVID-19 curbs impacting tourism to the area, hundreds are unable to repair the houseboats due to limited finances, rigid government policies.
Before they hit rock bottom, the Kundroo family used to earn $800 a month by renting the facility to local and foreign tourists who visited the picturesque valley and its must-see attractions.
Nowadays, however, he and his extended family of 11 reside in an area adjacent to the houseboat, struggling to make ends meet.
There are over 950 houseboats in Srinagar that are part of an industry that has been an intrinsic part of Kashmir’s cultural heritage for over 150 years, despite decades of conflict in the hotly contested region that India and Pakistan claim in entirety but rule in part.
But the aftermath of political unrest in the past two years and loss of tourism to the valley due to the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown hundreds of houseboat owners like Kundroo into the deep end.
Driven by the industry’s plight, the government in April said it would allow owners to repair houseboats if they cleared their dues, such as power and water bills, and acquired a No Objection Certificate for repair work, which often takes months to process.