Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan

Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan
Afghan militiamen join Afghan defence and security forces during a gathering in Kabul. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 10 August 2021

Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan

Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan
  • The United States — due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war — has all but left the battlefield

KABUL: The Taliban were in control of six Afghan provincial capitals on Tuesday after a blitz across the north that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for the relative safety of Kabul and other centers.
The insurgents now have their eyes on Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, whose fall would signal the total collapse of government control in a region that has traditionally been anti-Taliban.
Government forces are also battling the hard-line Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashto-speaking provinces from where the Taliban draw their strength.
The United States — due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war — has all but left the battlefield. However, its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been sent to Qatar to try and convince the Taliban to accept a cease-fire.
Khalilzad “will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive,” the State Department said, and “help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
Officials from Afghanistan’s most vested neighbors — Pakistan, China and Iran — would also attend meetings there.
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was down to the Afghan government and its forces to turn the tide, saying there was “not much” the United States could do to help.
Michael Kugelman, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, doubted Washington had the means to anything.
“I fear that the Taliban (are) just so strong and the Afghan military is so beleaguered right now, it’s going to be hard to find some type of momentum-changer from the US,” he said.
The Taliban have appeared largely indifferent to peace overtures, and seem intent on a military victory to crown a return to power after their ouster 20 years ago in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
As fighting raged, tens of thousands of people were on the move inside the country, with families fleeing newly captured Taliban cities with tales of brutal treatment at the hands of the insurgents.
“The Taliban are beating and looting,” said Rahima, now camped out with hundreds of families at a park in the capital Kabul after fleeing Sheberghan province.
“If there is a young girl or a widow in a family, they forcibly take them. We fled to protect our honor.”
“We are so exhausted,” added Farid, an evacuee from Kunduz who did not want to be further identified.
In the northern city of Kunduz that was captured by the Taliban over the weekend, residents said shops had begun to reopen in the center as insurgents focused their attention on government forces who had retreated to the airport.
“People are opening their shops and businesses, but you can still see fear in their eyes,” said shopkeeper Habibullah.
Another resident, living close to the airport, said there has been heavy fighting for days.
“The Taliban are hiding in people’s houses in the area and government forces are bombing them,” said Haseeb, who only gave his first name.
“From the window of my house, I can see women, children and men all leaving. Some of them are barefoot... some are pulling crying children with them.
The Taliban earned notoriety during their first stint in power from 1996-2001 for introducing a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that barred girls from education and women from work.
Crimes were punished by public floggings or executions, while a host of activities — from playing music to non-religious TV — were also banned.
They have given little indication of how they would rule if they take power again, apart from to say it would be according to the Qur'an, and opponents fear losing hard-won rights.
Following the capture of Aibak on Monday, the insurgents have now overrun five provincial capitals in the north, sparking fears the government has lost its grip on the region.
They have also taken Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, in the southwest.
On Monday, the Taliban said they were moving in on Mazar-i-Sharif — the largest city in the north and a linchpin for the government’s control of the region — after capturing Sheberghan to its west, and Kunduz and Taloqan to its east.
But Fawad Aman, spokesman for the ministry of defense, said Afghan forces had the upper hand there.
“Great success,” he tweeted.

Related


Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’
Updated 9 sec ago

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’

Philippines president-elect says Duterte urged him to uphold ‘war on drugs’
  • Outgoing leader Rodrigo Duterte began a crackdown on drug suspects when he assumed power in 2016
  • Between 12,000 and 30,000 suspects have been killed since, international rights groups estimate

MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday that his predecessor had asked him to uphold his “war on drugs,” a controversial anti-narcotics campaign that has led to the deaths of thousands of Filipinos.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte began a crackdown on drug suspects when he assumed power in 2016.

According to official data, over 6,000 Filipinos have been killed in the anti-drug campaign. International rights groups estimate the death toll to be between 12,000 and 30,000.

In the first media address since his proclamation as the next president, Marcos said that Duterte told him it was important that the campaign continue.

“I fully appreciate what he said,“ the new leader told reporters. “The drug problem in the country continues to be a problem and we must continue to look that way.”

He said that Duterte had told him to proceed with the campaign on his own terms.

“‘Continue the anti-drug (war) that I started. Do it your own way. Do what you want with it, just don’t set it aside because it will be the youth who will suffer. Their lives would be ruined,’” he added, quoting Duterte.

The Philippines has come under pressure from the UN to investigate allegations of systematic killings as part of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

International Criminal Court investigators launched a probe into the war on drugs in September last year, saying it appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population,” and could amount to a crime against humanity.

The inquiry was suspended two months later to assess a deferral request from the Philippines government and has not resumed since.

Marcos, the son and namesake of the late Philippines dictator, and his running mate Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of the incumbent president, were declared winners of a May 9 election, succeeding Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo, who will complete their six-year terms on June 30.

It was not immediately clear how Marcos plans to implement the anti-drug campaign, but one of his electoral promises was a continuation of Duterte’s policies.

The incoming administration’s nominated executive and press secretaries did not respond to repeated attempts on Thursday to reach them.


Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
Updated 12 min 19 sec ago

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
  • Khan addresses rally after clashes between demonstrators and police, hundreds of arrests
  • Ex-PM had urged supporters to march on Islamabad, stay there until government dissolved

ISLAMABAD: Normalcy resumed in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Thursday after Imran Khan, the ousted former prime minister, called off a protest march, giving the government six days to dissolve assemblies and announce fresh elections.
On Thursday morning, thousands of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who had gathered at D-Chowk in front of Parliament from different parts of the country, especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, dispersed peacefully following Khan’s address.
This followed a long day of political drama that included clashes between demonstrators and police, and the arrests of hundreds of Khan supporters nationwide.
“We are leaving for our homes now, but will come back again on Khan’s call to topple the government,” Hassan Shirazi, a demonstrator from Pakpattan city, told Arab News.
Shortly after the protest ended, the Islamabad’s district administration started removing shipping containers to unblock all roads in the federal capital and adjoining Rawalpindi. Police and other law enforcement personnel requisitioned from other provinces were also seen packing up and boarding buses to return to their stations.
The administration also reopened Jinnah Avenue, the main protest venue, and all other roads in Islamabad, including Srinagar Highway and Islamabad Expressway. The main Murree Road in Rawalpindi has also been reopened for both sides of traffic, according to the Islamabad Traffic Police.
Entry into the Red Zone, which houses important buildings like Parliament and the Supreme Court, is still restricted.
Meanwhile, the federal government filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking contempt of court proceedings against Khan for what it says was a violation of the court’s directions.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday ordered the government and the PTI to constitute negotiating committees and meet at 10 p.m. to finalize modalities for the peaceful and safe conduct of Khan’s long march to the capital. Negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other’s representatives did not show up.
The court had also ordered the government to designate a spot where the protesters could rally. However, protesters converged at D-Chowk instead and Khan held his rally on Jinnah Avenue.
Police fired teargas, baton-charged and detained supporters of Khan on Wednesday to stop them from reaching the capital to demand fresh elections. Clashes were also reported in multiple other cities, including the southern port city of Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore, and the government called in the army to maintain law and order in the capital.
Khan, ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, had urged supporters to march on Islamabad and alleges he was pushed from power in a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by the US, refusing to accept the new government.
“I am giving you (the government) six days; if you don’t announce elections I will come back to Islamabad again with all Pakistanis,” he said as he addressed supporters before ending his protest.
“(The) government has tried every method to crush our Azadi (freedom) March; they used teargas on peaceful protest, our homes were raided and privacy of the homes were violated,” Khan said.
“However, I have seen the nation free itself of fear of slavery.”
Khan started his anti-government march from Peshawar on Wednesday morning while the government blocked all roads leading to the capital and rounded up supporters.
Videos shot by an Arab News reporter on Wednesday evening showed thousands of Khan supporters walking down the capital’s Blue Area business zone toward D-Chowk while police fired tear gas at them, before charging them with batons.
Supporters had lit fires all the way down the road to D-Chowk in an apparent bid to neutralize the effects of the tear gas, but police said on Twitter they had set fire to trees and vehicles.
“Police called the fire brigade. Some places were set on fire while the protesters again set the trees on the Express Chowk,” the police said. “Security in the Red Zone has been beefed up.”
Other video clips on social media platforms also showed a burning metro station in the city surrounded by hundreds of PTI supporters, while a mob torched a prison van in Karachi after clashing with police.
Local TV footage showed police fighting with Khan’s supporters in Lahore, beating them and, in some places, breaking vehicle windscreens and bundling people into police vans.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police had carried out a total of 4,417 raids on Khan supporters’ homes, offices and rallies, and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were later freed.
“We haven’t stopped anyone from exercising their constitutional and legal right to hold a rally or take part in democratic politics,” Sanaullah said, “but we can’t allow anyone to sow violence and chaos.”
 


UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women

UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women
Updated 26 May 2022

UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women

UN rights envoy says Taliban must reverse restrictions on Afghan women
  • Bennett expressed concerns over access to education after the Taliban made a U-turn on allowing girls to go to high school in March
  • Taliban deputy spokesman Inamullah Samangani denied human rights concerns

KABUL: The United Nations rights envoy in Afghanistan said on Thursday the country faces “severe” human rights challenges and called on Taliban authorities to reverse growing restrictions on women and investigate attacks against religious minorities.
Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan spoke to reporters at the end of an 11-day visit to the country, his first since his position was created.
“I urge the authorities to acknowledge human rights challenges that they are facing and to close the gap between their words and the deeds,” he said.
Bennett expressed concerns over access to education after the Taliban made a U-turn on allowing girls to go to high school in March and this month announced that women must cover their faces, to be enforced by punishing their closest male relatives.
“Directives on maharams (male guardians), enforcing a strict form of hijab and strong advice to stay at home feed the pattern of absolute gender segregation and making women invisible in society,” he said.
Taliban deputy spokesman Inamullah Samangani denied human rights concerns, saying authorities had paid attention to the issues mentioned and were working on the issue of girls’ secondary education.
Bennett also called for investigation of attacks targeting Afghanistan’s Shia and Sufi religious minorities, a trend he said bore “hallmarks of crimes against humanity.” Recent months have seen more attacks on mosques and other civilian targets, some of which have been claimed by Daesh.
The militant group said it was behind three explosions in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday that killed at least 15 in predominantly Shia areas.
Another, unclaimed, blast the same day tore through a Sunni mosque in the capital Kabul, killing at least five people.

Related


EU urged to act over Bulgarian pushbacks of asylum seekers

EU urged to act over Bulgarian pushbacks of asylum seekers
Updated 26 May 2022

EU urged to act over Bulgarian pushbacks of asylum seekers

EU urged to act over Bulgarian pushbacks of asylum seekers
  • HRW claimed authorities had been “beating, robbing, stripping, and using police dogs” to attack Afghan and other asylum seekers and migrants before pushing them back to Turkey
  • HRW’s Michelle Randhawa: The EU should ensure that Bulgaria immediately stops the illegal and dehumanizing pushbacks at its borders and allow asylum seekers access to fair procedures

LONDON: An international human rights organization has urged the EU to act over reports of Bulgarian authorities engaging in “illegal pushbacks” of asylum seekers along the country’s border with Turkey.

Human Rights Watch claimed authorities had not only been refusing to conduct formal interviews and asylum procedures but had been “beating, robbing, stripping, and using police dogs” to attack Afghan and other asylum seekers and migrants before pushing them back to Turkey.

Refugee and migrant rights officer at HRW, Michelle Randhawa, said: “Bulgarian authorities are brutally and summarily pushing back migrants and asylum seekers.

“The European Union should ensure that Bulgaria immediately stops the illegal and dehumanizing pushbacks at its borders and allows asylum seekers access to fair asylum procedures.”

The latest episode follows July’s unanimous decision of the European Court of Human Rights that the Bulgarian government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights after its illegal pushback of a Turkish journalist without conducting a risk assessment or allowing the removal to be challenged.

Bulgaria’s own human rights watchdog, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee recorded 2,513 pushbacks of nearly 50,000 in 2021, more than trebling the number recorded a year earlier.

HRW interviewed 15 men, 14 of whom claimed Bulgarian police, “or men believed to be Bulgarian police,” beat them either on Bulgarian territory as well as in the course of forcibly returning them to Turkey, with 10 of the men claiming they had been stripped and robbed.

The one man who did report having been beaten or witnessed any beatings was travelling with his wife and three children at the time, and said he was taken directly to the border.

Of those interviewed, 12 said police dogs were used in the process of being pushed back, with five reporting having themselves been bitten or witnessed someone within the group they were being held with being bitten.

One interviewee said: “There was a man (in our group) who started speaking Bulgarian. That man had worked in Bulgaria for three or four years and that’s how he knew the language, the police asked him questions, then they released the dog on him. He was begging in Bulgarian for them to stop the dog.

“(We all) saw it, his hands were bleeding, after this attack, police were scaring this person with the dog. The dog’s leash was in their hands, and they would pretend to release it.”

Bulgarian authorities have failed to respond to HRW’s request for comment, while the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) told the NGO that the 192 officers it had posted along Bulgaria’s borders, “must follow the Frontex code of conduct.”

Frontex said: “The code of conduct states that, ‘throughout their operational duties and within the confines of their mandate and powers, participants in Frontex operational activities commit to ensure assistance to, in particular, vulnerable persons and persons seeking international protection.’

“All Frontex deployed officers have a clear responsibility to identify and refer the persons in need of international protection, medical assistance, unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking in human beings, and other persons in a vulnerable situation to the national authorities for appropriate assistance.”

However, Frontex is itself embroiled in scandal with its former executive director, Fabrice Leggeri, having resigned at the end of April after a year-long investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office concluded that he and other Frontex staff members had covered up details on the use of illegal pushbacks.

HRW urged European institutions to hold the Bulgarian government accountable for its breaches of European law.

Randhawa added: “At a time when Bulgarian officials are welcoming Ukrainian refugees by disseminating information to them about temporary protection and living in Bulgaria, they are brutally mistreating Afghans and other asylum seekers at their border.

“Bulgarian authorities should extend the same understanding and dignified treatment to all asylum seekers as they are doing for Ukrainians.”


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to seek ‘huge’ investment from Middle East

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to seek ‘huge’ investment from Middle East
Updated 26 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to seek ‘huge’ investment from Middle East

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka to seek ‘huge’ investment from Middle East
  • New environment minister says Sri Lanka will look for a long-term credit facility for oil supplies
  • Sri Lanka has been enduring shortages of food, fuel, medicines and other essentials for months

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka will seek investment from Middle Eastern countries, particularly in the petroleum sector, its new environment minister has said, as the island nation confronts its worst economic crisis in memory.

Unable to pay for imports, Sri Lanka has been enduring shortages of food, fuel, medicines and other essentials for months.

While the government negotiates a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund, the country officially defaulted on its debts last week. It must repay about $25 billion in foreign loans by 2026, but the finance ministry said earlier this month that its usable foreign reserves had plummeted to $25 million.

Naseer Ahamed, who on Tuesday assumed duties as environment minister and also oversees Middle Eastern affairs, told Arab News that his immediate priority was to attract “some huge strategic investment” and to request a loan from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf for the purchase of petroleum products.

“Sri Lanka is looking at getting a long-term credit facility for the supply of crude oil, gas oil, gasoline, jet A-1 and energy gas to tide over the present crisis,” the former student of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, said. “If we can get that support from Middle Eastern countries, I am sure that we can overcome this financial crisis.”

Foreign inflows are crucial for Sri Lanka, where the devastating economic crisis — the worst since independence in 1948 — has triggered widespread demonstrations across the country since March.

The Middle East is also important for the island nation as a major source of remittances, as it is home to one million Sri Lankan nationals — 66 percent of the country’s migrant workers.

“They bring home the largest percentage of the $7 billion remitted to our national coffers,” Ahamed said. “What I am looking at is to further strengthen the relationship.”

The former chief minister of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province is also planning to pursue environmental cooperation with Saudi Arabia, especially under its Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives launched last year to reduce carbon emissions.

“Since the launch of Vision 2030 in 2016, the Kingdom has taken significant steps to scale up its climate action and environmental protection,” Ahamed said.

“Now that I have taken the Ministry of Environment, we will explore how best Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka cooperate with each other in the successful implementation of the Saudi Green initiatives.”