Wheel of history turns full circle as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban 

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021 after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)
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Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021 after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)
Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021 after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)
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Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021 after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)
Taliban fighters and local people sit on a captured Afghan National Army (ANA) Humvee vehicle on a street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Taliban fighters and local people sit on a captured Afghan National Army (ANA) Humvee vehicle on a street in Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
Residents watch as conquering Taliban fighters enter Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Residents watch as conquering Taliban fighters enter Jalalabad province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
Victorious Taliban fighters display their RPG weapons as they enter Laghman province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 17 August 2021

Wheel of history turns full circle as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban 

Wheel of history turns full circle as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban 
  • Departure of President Ghani following the Taliban’s entry into Kabul marks the end of government’s resistance
  • Now that they have the upper hand, Taliban leaders are expected to decide what the next government will look like

DUBAI: After being denied a share of power for almost 20 years, the Taliban has regained its political footing in one fell swoop, dislodging the government from the few provinces over which it held sway before entering the capital Kabul.

On Sunday, its fighters claimed they had seized the key city of Jalalabad in the east and the adjacent areas of Laghman and Maidan Wardak, about 20 km to the west of Kabul. The last pockets of resistance in Mazar-i-Sharif had been crushed by the Taliban the previous night. By dusk on Sunday, the hardline Islamist group had more areas under its control than ever before.

With the latest sweep, which followed on the heels of a surge in attacks, the Taliban controls all key border crossings of Afghanistan with neighboring countries. Besides Kabul, they have captured all major cities and most of the airports.




Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz and Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sit at the Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul on August 10, 2021. (AFP)

Middle-class, educated Afghans have been gripped by a mix of feelings — uncertainty, panic, terror, pessimism and even optimism — as the US prepares to abandon the country to its once and future rulers. Older Afghans have bitter memories of the Taliban’s puritanical policies during its rule from 1996 to 2001.

Opinion

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The group’s promises of a new era of peace have yet to be tested. Zabihullah Mujahid, its spokesman, said the group ordered its fighters to enter Kabul on Sunday to prevent looting as policemen had left their posts empty. “The Mujahidden of the Islamic Emirate has no intention of entering Kabul by force or war, but is holding talks with the other side for a peaceful entrance to Kabul,” he said.

He did not explain who the “other side was” but assured Afghans that “life, honor and property of people will be protected” before ordering the Taliban to “remain at the gates of Kabul and avoid revenge.”

Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister, said in a video message that talks were underway on the formation of a transitional government.

“The people of Kabul should not worry, the city is secure. Whoever causes disorder will be dealt with decisively. The security of the city is guaranteed, the city will not be attacked … and the deal is to transfer power peacefully to the leadership of a transitional administration. Kabul is safe, be assured,” Mirzakawa said in a recorded speech.

Since the Taliban now have the upper hand, they are expected to decide what the next government will look like. Two Taliban officials told Reuters news agency there would be no transitional government and that the group expected a complete handover of power.




Abdullah Abdullah (center, front), head of Afghanistan's high Council for National Reconciliation, walks down a hotel lobby during the talks in Qatar's capital Doha on August 12, 2021. (AFP)

Earlier on Sunday, Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, announced that President Ashraf Ghani left the country as the Taliban circled the outskirts of Kabul.

“The former Afghan president has left the nation,” AFP quoted Abdullah as saying.

While an eventual takeover of the country by the Taliban was widely expected, what caught everyone by surprise was the speed of the government’s capitulation. Without the military support of the US and NATO, senior officials of the Afghan Armed Forces evidently reckoned they were fighting a losing battle.

“People think like other parts of the country, the Taliban will take Kabul too because morale is low among troops, people are tired of war and the soldiers are not willing to sacrifice their lives for the corrupt leaders of Kabul,” retired Col. Mohammad Hassan, a security analyst, told Arab News.




Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani was forced to flee Kabul as Taliban forces captured the capital on August 15, 2021. (AFP)

On Saturday, a defiant President Joe Biden released a statement defending and explaining the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the White House days before that, he said the US was keeping the commitments it had made to Afghanistan, such as providing close air support, paying military salaries and supplying Afghan forces with food and equipment.

“They’ve got to fight for themselves,” Biden said.

However, the haste with which US forces pulled out was viewed by politicians and ordinary people as an insult to the country, especially after the sacrifices both Americans and Afghans had made in blood and treasure for two decades.




A US CH-46 Sea Knight military transport helicopter flies over Kabul on August 15, 2021 to evacuate US embassy staff. (REUTERS/Stringer)

A wartime Afghan interpreter who worked for Washington told the BBC the US “turned its back” on him. The man, whose name was changed for security reasons, said: “The president of the US said, ‘as you stood with us, we will stand with you.’ So right now, where are they? There’s no mercy for the linguists. The Taliban has said before, interpreters were the eyes and ears of the Americans — so the punishment will be different for us.”

He said although his services had saved numerous American lives, his application for a US visa in 2016 was rejected due to “lack of faithful and valuable service.”

The sense of betrayal and abandonment is not confined to people who served the coalition forces. Abdul Bostani, who left Afghanistan as a teenager to flee from the Taliban, said the world has turned its back on the Afghans.

“The international community … promised (the) people of Afghanistan a safe and secure country 20 years ago, but we’ve been let down and this will have serious consequences to the rest of the world,” he said.




Residents of Kabul celebrate and escort Northern Alliance fighters entering the Afghan capital Kabul, Afghanistan, on November 13, 2001. (REUTERS/File Photo) 

In recent days, social media posts showed citizens and residents of Kabul lining up outside banks, foreign embassies and in visa processing offices in an attempt to flee the country before the Taliban closed in.

Nepal appealed for the evacuation of an estimated 1,500 citizens working as security staff with embassies and aid groups in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Western countries ramped up efforts to evacuate their representatives from the country. The US Embassy in Kabul sent a security alert on Sunday warning that the situation in the capital, including at the airport, was unstable.




Members of the 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul as part of a 600-strong UK-force sent to assist the rescue of British nationals in Afghanistan. (MoD via AP)

“There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing US citizens to shelter in place,” the embassy said.

Madeleine Albright, who served as the first female US secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, said saving lives has to take priority.

“We must focus on saving lives in Afghanistan. As the US works to evacuate those at special risk from the Taliban, I am grateful to Albania, Canada, Kosovo and North Macedonia for offering refuge to Afghan allies, esp women & civil society leaders. I hope & expect others to follow,” Albright said on Twitter.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel laureate who was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012, echoed Albright’s concerns. “We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians,” she said.

Some regional powers, it seems, have reached a modus vivendi with the Taliban. China has received a Taliban delegation. Uzbekistan, Iran, Russia and Pakistan have welcomed the Taliban’s return to Kabul in what they referred to as a peaceful manner, and willingness to share power with other political actors.

The Biden administration believes that its concerns in Afghanistan have been addressed to the extent that Taliban leaders have pledged not to allow any militant group to use Afghan territory against Washington or any other country in the world.

The US presumably believes it has achieved its goals and will be able to deal with any future government in Kabul that does not threaten its interests, even if it does not comply with international conventions on human rights any more than the regimes in North Korea, Myanmar and Iran do.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
Updated 45 min 3 sec ago

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

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PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 15 August 2022

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 15 August 2022

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.


One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2022

One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Countries have refused to recognize the new government
  • Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since Taliban seized power

KABUL: Afghanistan’s acting Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund called on the international community to improve relations with the country on Monday as the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power.

After the Taliban captured Kabul last August and US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning takeover marked the end of two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their soil.

The Taliban had declared Aug. 15 a national holiday just a day earlier, following a year that saw improved security but also increasing uncertainties about the country’s future.

With the new government still struggling to gain recognition from the international community a year later, the acting premier has urged for better relations.

“The world must improve its relations with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We are not a threat to any country,” Akhund said in a statement.

“Other countries should also have positive political and economic engagement with Afghanistan.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments’ refusal to recognize the Taliban has kept the country isolated.

The aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since the Taliban took over, with billions of dollars in foreign aid suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

On Monday, Taliban soldiers celebrated the anniversary with marches on the streets of Kabul as they carried their flags of the Islamic Emirate and played anthems.

“This is the day of the victory of right over wrong and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation,” Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The country is safer compared to when the Taliban were fighting against US-led troops and their Afghan allies, even as a local offshoot of the Islamic State has carried out several attacks in the past year.

But the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the country, where nearly 20 million people out of the 38 million population are facing acute hunger.

Forty-year-old Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper at Kabul’s commercial area of Pul-e-Surkh, went about his daily business on Monday morning, despite the national holiday.

Amid increasing hardships, feeding his family is what matters most for Ali.

“We have to work every day to earn some income and feed our children. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, no one cares much about ordinary people,” Ali told Arab News.

“There are so many anniversaries. This is just another one. When we have enough food on our destarkhan, that’s the best celebration for us,” he said, referring to the meal-setting placement on the ground or floor that is commonplace across Afghanistan.  

The day prompted questions about the future for 21-year-old Shamsia Amini, whose dream of becoming a soccer player was shattered last year when the Taliban barred women from all sports.

“So many women’s aspirations were put on hold for an uncertain time. We don’t even know whether we will have a future under the Taliban,” she told Arab News.

Women’s rights have been curtailed in the past year, as women were ordered to wear face coverings in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education. Education has also been limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges was one of the key demands made by the international community.

“We should all, men and women, remember Aug. 15 as a dark day for Afghan women,” she added.

Qasim Haqmal, a Taliban soldier based in Kabul, told Arab News that the victory and freedom the group gained a year ago was what Afghans wanted.

“We are trying our best to serve the people the best way possible,” Haqmal said. “I ask people to have some patience.”