Afghanistan’s women and minorities learning to live with tension and uncertainty

Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on August 2, 2021 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. (AFP)
Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on August 2, 2021 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. (AFP)
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Updated 30 August 2021

Afghanistan’s women and minorities learning to live with tension and uncertainty

Afghan women take part in a gathering at a hall in Kabul on August 2, 2021 against the claimed human rights violations on women by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. (AFP)
  • Strict gender segregation was enforced by the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001
  • Memories of oppressive rules and street justice are a cautionary tale for Afghan women and minorities

DUBAI: Both during and after the recent takeover of Afghanistan, Taliban officials strenuously sought to project a responsible and tolerant image of the group, almost 20 years after its removal from power.

Addressing the news media on Aug. 18 in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid pledged that the new government would respect the rights of women and grant amnesty to those who had resisted them, while promising that Afghanistan would never again become a safe haven for terrorists.

His comments echoed those of Shahabuddin Delawar, a senior Taliban negotiator, who said in Moscow on July 9 that the group would ensure that women and girls have the right to work and education, provided that those rights do not contravene the tenets of Islam.

Yet memories of Taliban rule in Afghanistan before the US invasion of 2001 remain as a cautionary tale, through photos and videos of militants flogging defenseless women encased in burqas, kneeling in the dust.

From 1996 to 2001, strict gender segregation was enforced by the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group that had filled the power vacuum in Afghanistan following a protracted, multisided civil war.

Once it had implemented its interpretation of Shariah, women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative, while girls over the age of seven were denied an education and often ended up being married off to much older men.

The system of gender apartheid instituted by the Taliban meant that women were required to wear the burqa every time they went out of the house. The garment, which fit tightly over the head and extended all the way to the ankles, made the Afghan woman almost formless and unidentifiable in public.

Those who defied the rules and moral norms faced harsh punishment, often involving public flogging. For more serious transgressions — such as adultery — the practice of stoning was commonplace.




Afghan women march with banners to protest the recent public execution of a young woman for alleged adultery, in Kabul. (AFP/File Photo)

Almost two decades later, Taliban officials such as Mujahid and Delawar, and spokesman Suhail Shaheen, are signaling that the group has smoothed its notoriously rough edges.

However, few Afghans are convinced, if the rush for seats on Western evacuation flights from Kabul airport is any indication. Fewer still are willing to speak openly about the issue, fearing reprisal.

“Everyone is waiting to see what will happen under the Taliban,” one Kabul resident told Arab News, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Women are going out of their homes now, but they are all wearing the hijab. Before it was different. Some wore it and others didn’t. Now they all wear it because they are afraid of the Taliban.”

Another Kabul-based woman, also speaking anonymously, said: “We don’t expect everything to be the same as it was before. There will be some change. We are waiting to see clarification on these policies issued by the Taliban.”

Many Afghans want to believe, ignoring their instincts, that the Taliban will be more moderate this time around. However, anecdotal reports of atrocities occurring across the country have kept the public on edge.

“There were rumors over the last week that single women outside of Kabul have been taken and married off,” a spokesperson for one organization working in Afghanistan told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“The key thing to remember is not that the Taliban is saying one thing and doing another necessarily. The Taliban is not one body yet.”

Indeed, a statement on Tuesday from a Taliban spokesman declared that women should stay at home for the time being because some of their fighters have” not yet been taught how to properly behave.”

Masuda Sultan, an Afghan-US entrepreneur and human rights advocate, told Arab News: “It is not clear if this applies to all women or women in some positions.




Afghan women attend a work-place literacy course in Kabul in the 1980s when the country was ruled by the Mocow-backed Kabul communist government. During its 14 years rule, the communist regime provided vast opportunities for women to encourage their social participation in the otherwise strictly conservative Afghan society. (AFP/File Photo)

“Most women are not leaving their homes and are scared. People are being very careful. Recent news reports indicate the Taliban has recommended staying home for now. It’s like military rule now. They said women’s salaries would be paid but more training was needed for their own people.”

Women are not the only people in Afghanistan concerned about what happens next. Ethnic minorities, particularly the Hazara, a predominantly Shiite group concentrated in the country’s central mountainous region of Hazarajat, also faced persecution under the first Taliban regime.

Constituting about 10 to 20 percent of the population, the Hazara were relegated to the bottom rungs of the social order, which was topped by the Pashtun, an ethnicity from which the Taliban drew the bulk of its support.

Other ethnic groups — the Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Sadat, Kyrgyz and Pamiri peoples — are also unsure of where they stand.

FASTFACTS

* 80% - Proportion of recently displaced Afghans who are women and children.

* Rights monitors have called for inquiries into reported Taliban abuses.

* Afghan women and minorities fear past atrocities will be repeated.

The Hazara certainly have reason to be fearful again. After taking control of Ghazni province, Taliban militants killed nine Hazara men between July 4 and July 6 in the village of Mundarakht in Malistan district, according to human rights monitor Amnesty International.

Witnesses said that six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death. Human Rights Watch has urged the UN Human Rights Council to investigate similar reports of Taliban violence in the lead-up to the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul.

Afghans say that how the Taliban handles the rights of women and minorities going forward will depend very much on the kind of government that takes shape as the group tightens its grip on power.

“Even though the Taliban have taken over most of the country, they haven’t actually formalized a political agreement. At the same time they face governance challenges,” said Sultan.

“We need and want to see good policies on women and girls. The Taliban have issued statements stating women and girls will have rights within Shariah law. Many people have been taking a wait-and-see approach.”




Internally displaced Afghan women, who fled from the northern province due to battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces, gather to receive free food being distributed at Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul in August. (AFP)

When US forces conclude their scheduled withdrawal on Aug. 31, the many sources of international aid and finance that kept the Afghan economy afloat since 2001 are expected to dry up.

Taliban leaders face the prospect of an economic implosion with serious humanitarian implications unless they can quickly broker new trade deals or non-Western powers throw them a lifeline.

According to UNHCR estimates, about 80 percent of the roughly 550,000 people internally displaced in recent weeks are women and children. Up to a third of Afghans were already considered food insecure at the start of 2021. Now the country is grappling with its second drought in three years.

UN agencies have warned of widespread food shortages across Afghanistan as early as September without urgent intervention.

“Afghanistan is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis,” Sultan told Arab News. “There are 18 million people in need of emergency aid. The World Food Program said that they cannot get food into the country because Kabul is currently closed to commercial flights.”




 A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021. (AFP)

For the past several weeks, the international community has given its undivided attention to the evacuation effort and chaos at Kabul airport. Less attention has been paid to the much bigger swath of the population that is unable or unwilling to leave.

“While the eyes of the world now are on the people being evacuated and the planes leaving, we need to get supplies in to help those who are left behind,” Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s regional emergency director, told Reuters.

The WHO has called for empty planes to be diverted to its warehouses in Dubai to collect supplies on their way to pick up evacuees. There are also plans for a “humanitarian air bridge,” Brennan added.

The general consensus is that the Taliban can still build goodwill among international donors by not impeding the evacuation process and by matching their reassuring words with actions.

“The Taliban said that people can go back to work, but the dust hasn’t settled yet,” said Sultan. “Everyone is still waiting to see what will happen.”

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
Updated 16 October 2021

China launches second crewed mission to build space station

China launches second crewed mission to build space station
  • Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022
  • With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit

JIUQUAN, China: China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts — two men and one woman — to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel,” blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).
The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.
China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe — the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.
“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”
He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.
Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first traveled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.
She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.
Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.
After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.
China, barred by US law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.
China’s space program has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States. (Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)


Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
Updated 16 October 2021

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns

Philippines to deport, blacklist foreigners who join election campaigns
  • Presidential and vice-presidential election is scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022

MANILA: Foreigners involved in political campaigning in the Philippines could face deportation, especially if their activity involves electioneering, immigration authorities have said, as the Southeast Asian nation prepares for next year’s presidential election.
The presidential and vice-presidential polls are scheduled to be held on May 9, 2022. Registration for candidates closed on Oct. 8, but the list of presidential hopefuls is not yet final as substitutions may take place until Nov. 15.
Among those seeking to succeed President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term will end in June, are the current vice president, and Duterte critic, Leni Robredo, former boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, former actor and now Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa — who was the chief implementor of Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs” campaign — and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“Foreigners joining mass actions and protests including election campaigns is disrespectful to our prescribed laws and is considered a violation of their stay in the Philippines,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said earlier this week. “Those foreigners … found guilty of such acts, especially electioneering, shall be deported and blacklisted, perpetually barring them from returning to the Philippines.”
Morente said the authorities have zero tolerance for non-citizens “meddling in the internal affairs of the Philippines as a sovereign nation.
“We are sending this early reminder as we have encountered so many deportation cases of foreigners who have engaged in political activities in the past,” he added.

Political activities
In 2018, four foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country on charges of participating in political activities. Among them was Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who had lived in the Philippines for nearly three decades and who had publicly denounced Duterte’s deadly anti-drug campaign.
In 2013, Dutch activist Thomas van Beersum was deported after he was photographed shouting at a Filipino police officer as he joined a protest held during the annual presidential state of the nation address.
Another foreign national, Canadian student Kim Chatillon-Miller, was deported the same year, also for joining an anti-SONA demonstration.
Around 62 million Filipinos over the age of 18 are expected to take part in next year’s presidential vote, which will coincide with general elections.
Politicians from across the country will vie for more than 18,000 positions — at the Senate, House of Representatives, party-list groups, and the national and sub-national administration.


Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program
Updated 16 October 2021

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

ISLAMABAD: An animal sanctuary in the Pakistani capital claims to be the first in the country to introduce a dedicated trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program to deal with
stray dogs.
The initiative is aimed at using humane methods to manage thousands of free-roaming dogs in Islamabad often seen by authorities and the public as a threat due to their aggressive behavior and them carrying diseases such as rabies.
The Comprehensive Disaster Response Services Benji Project Animal Sanctuary in the city has estimated there are at least 3 million stray dogs in Pakistan, with upward of 50,000 culled each year.
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has said that more than 80,500 cases of dog bites are reported by basic health units across Pakistan annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that up to 5,000 people die of rabies in the country
every year.
The solution adopted by authorities in most major Pakistani cities is culling of the animals either by shooting them or feeding them poisonous food.
But animal rights groups have advocated vaccination and spaying methods as a better, more humane alternative.
The CDRS Benji Project is testing out one such solution with Pakistan’s first dedicated TNVR program, aimed at reducing both the number of stray dogs and the suffering they have been subjected to for decades, while also making them safer through vaccination, and training to be less aggressive.
“We realized that TNVR is the only way that we can help in reducing, humanely, the number of dogs that roam the streets,” project director Quatrina Hosain told Arab News.
“We have no idea what kind of level of poisoning takes place or shooting takes place ... but one estimate is that it’s upward of 50,000 dogs being killed every year. And that is not the solution,” she said.
She pointed out that the sanctuary’s latest arrivals were 15 puppies brought in from Rawalpindi after their mothers were poisoned.
“It (culling) is cruel and inhumane, because they don’t differentiate between nursing mothers, pregnant dogs, and it is just a terrible thing to do. I believe that nobody wants to kill dogs, but they don’t want the dogs to multiply at the level that they are. So TNVR is the only humane way,” Hosain added.
A single female dog can deliver more than a dozen puppies a year, or more than 80 over her lifetime, according to animal rights NGO Four Paws International. Without loving homes to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical care, puppies and kittens — in Pakistan and countries around the world without adequate care for strays — are frequently left to fend for themselves.
Born under less-than-ideal conditions, most of the pups do not survive their first weeks of life — during the winter months many freeze to death, starve when their mothers are killed by traffic, are attacked and eaten by other animals, and sometimes deliberately killed by humans.
CDRS wants to change this, which is why it set up a dedicated facility just a short drive away from Islamabad’s Gulberg Greens neighborhood.
Staff at the facility said that strays were an integral part of the larger ecosystem, particularly for their scavenger roles in removing leftover food such as carcasses and agricultural and city waste. They also help reduce rat populations.
The project is so far a humble beginning, but sanctuary workers are hopeful for more support from authorities and the public. They noted that Turkey was a good example to follow.
CDRS veterinarian, Dr. Hasnain Raza, said: “TNVR was implemented in Turkey some 20 years back, and it has shown very positive results in the country, so we are trying to implement that model in Pakistan. This is a model facility for showing people that it can work, and it is worth trying.
“But we can’t do it alone. In collaboration with the public sector and the private sector, together, we can make sure that animals are cared for in Pakistan.”


Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
Updated 15 October 2021

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
  • Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week
  • Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist

NEW YORK: The lawyer for an Afghan man awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court on charges that he commanded the Taliban fighters responsible in the killing of three American soldiers said Friday it was “preposterous” to charge his client in deaths that occurred in a war the US started.
Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client, Hajji Najibullah, pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week.
Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
But the new indictment accused him of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for a fatal ambush of the three service members in Afghanistan in 2008.
The attack killed Matthew L. Hilton, of Livonia, Michigan; Joseph A. McKay, of Brooklyn, and Mark Palmateer, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Najibullah was also charged with playing a role in the downing of a US military helicopter later in the same year.
Gombiner said evidence will show the allegations are not true.
The lawyer said the deaths of American soldiers was an “immense tragedy.”
“Nobody disputes that,” Gombiner said.
But he said it “is preposterous” that his client should be held responsible for murder in a US courtroom for the death of “American soldiers fighting in a war commenced by the United States.”
US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla interrupted Gombiner, accusing him of having “gone off on a huge P.R. campaign.”
She added: “I want you to talk to me and not the press.”
The lawyer, however, said prosecutors were to blame for publicizing the charges through a news release “that was circulated around the world.” The lawyer noted that he refused to comment when reporters asked him about the new charges.
Assistant US Attorney David Denton told the judge that Gombiner was raising arguments “that have been raised and dismissed before, particularly as it relates to the Taliban.”
Najibullah, 45, was extradited to the United States last year to face charges including hostage taking, conspiracy and kidnapping.
The original indictment charged him with orchestrating the abduction of David Rohde, who then worked for The New York Times, and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, when they were on their way to interview a Taliban leader.
Both men made a dramatic escape from a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas more than seven months after their Nov. 10, 2008, kidnapping. Their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was a third kidnapping victim. He escaped a few weeks after Ludin and Rohde.

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Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
Updated 15 October 2021

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
  • Both women were found dead in Kenya this week
  • Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes

NAIROBI: Cynthia Makokha was a 17-year-old student and volleyball player. Agnes Tirop was a 25-year-old rising athletics star, who finished fourth in the 5,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics and had won two World Championship bronze medals.
Both women were found dead in Kenya this week, and while their murders are not linked they have shone a spotlight on violence against women, which the government says has grown worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tirop was found in her bed at her home in the town of Iten, with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Police on Thursday arrested a man they described as her husband, whom they called “the main suspect.”
Makokha, who was a student at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi, was raped, killed and then dumped in a river. She had been on her way to visit family in Western Kenya on Oct. 4 when she disappeared. Her body was found days later.
One suspect is in custody, Mumias East sub-county police commander Stephen Mwoni told Reuters.
Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes, and a third of Kenyan girls experience some form of sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
“I’m scared,” said 17-year-old Latifah Shaban, who shared a bunk bed with Makokha. She said Makokha often woke up at 3am, cracked the hallway door open, and used that light to study. “I’ve heard a lot of rape cases. I’m just always scared about men… it’s worse,” she said.
The school’s dorms are only a few months old, created to help protect the girls, many of whom come from vulnerable living situations, administrators said.
“As much as we are trying to ensure that the girls are safe, outside they…. are not safe,” said Claris Akinyi, the school’s principal.
Tirop’s family told Kenya Television Network that she had separated from the man suspected of killing her because she suspected he had cheated on her when she was competing in Japan.
Police say that after Tirop’s murder, they found a new athletics trophy, still carefully wrapped, in her living room.
On social media, fellow athletes and politicians shared messages of condolence, as did sportswear manufacturer Adidas and the World Athletics governing body.
“Agnes was an incredible person, a record breaking athlete and a beloved member of our family,” Adidas posted https://twitter.com/adidasrunning/status/1448344158087827457?s=20 on Twitter.
At Makokha’s school, rows of seated girls passed around tissues to wipe their tears as they remembered their fellow student. One girl untied her sweatshirt from around the waist to cry into it; another clutched a poster saying: “STOP KILLING.”