Taliban special forces bring abrupt end to women’s protest

Afghan women's rights defenders and civil activists rally in front of the presidential palace in Kabul on Sept. 3, 2021, to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education. (REUTERS)
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Afghan women's rights defenders and civil activists rally in front of the presidential palace in Kabul on Sept. 3, 2021, to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their achievements and education. (REUTERS)
Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)
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Women gather to demand their rights under the Taliban rule during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)
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Updated 05 September 2021

Taliban special forces bring abrupt end to women’s protest

Taliban special forces bring abrupt end to women’s protest
  • Taliban members whitewashed murals Saturday that promoted health care, warned of the dangers of HIV
  • A Taliban cultural commission spokesman said the murals were spoiling the minds of the mujahedeen

KABUL, Afghanistan: Taliban special forces in camouflage fired their weapons into the air Saturday, bringing an abrupt and frightening end to the latest protest march in the capital by Afghan women demanding equal rights from the new rulers.
Also on Saturday, the chief of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, which has an outsized influence on the Taliban, made a surprise visit to Kabul.
Taliban fighters quickly captured most of Afghanistan last month and celebrated the departure of the last US forces after 20 years of war. The insurgent group must now govern a war-ravaged country that is heavily reliant on international aid.
The women’s march — the second in as many days in Kabul — began peacefully. Demonstrators laid a wreath outside Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry to honor Afghan soldiers who died fighting the Taliban before marching on to the presidential palace.
“We are here to gain human rights in Afghanistan,” said 20-year-old protester Maryam Naiby. “I love my country. I will always be here.”
As the protesters’ shouts grew louder, several Taliban officials waded into the crowd to ask what they wanted to say.
Flanked by fellow demonstrators, Sudaba Kabiri, a 24-year-old university student, told her Taliban interlocutor that Islam’s Prophet gave women rights and they wanted theirs. The Taliban official promised women would be given their rights but the women, all in their early 20s, were skeptical.
As the demonstrators reached the presidential palace, a dozen Taliban special forces ran into the crowd, firing in the air and sending demonstrators fleeing. Kabiri, who spoke to The Associated Press, said they also fired tear gas.
The Taliban have promised an inclusive government and a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. But many Afghans, especially women, are deeply skeptical and fear a roll back of rights gained over the last two decades.

 

For much of the past two weeks, Taliban officials have been holding meetings among themselves, amid reports of differences among them emerging. Early on Saturday, neighboring Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief Gen. Faiez Hameed made a surprise visit to Kabul. It wasn’t immediately clear what he had to say to the Taliban leadership but the Pakistani intelligence service has a strong influence on the Taliban.
The Taliban leadership had its headquarters in Pakistan and were often said to be in direct contact with the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Although Pakistan routinely denied providing the Taliban military aid, the accusation was often made by the Afghan government and Washington.
Faiez’ visit comes as the world waits to see what kind of government the Taliban will eventually announce, seeking one that is inclusive and ensures protection of women’s rights and the country’s minorities.
The Taliban have promised a broad-based government and have held talks with former president Hamid Karzai and the former government’s negotiation chief Abdullah Abdullah. But the makeup of the new government is uncertain and it was unclear whether hard-line ideologues among the Taliban will win the day — and whether the rollbacks feared by the demonstrating women will occur.
Taliban members whitewashed murals Saturday that promoted health care, warned of the dangers of HIV and even paid homage to some of Afghanistan’s iconic foreign contributors, like anthropologist Nancy Dupree, who singlehandedly chronicled Afghanistan’s rich cultural legacy. It was a worrying sign of attempts to erase reminders of the past 20 years.
The murals were replaced with slogans congratulating Afghans on their victory.
A Taliban cultural commission spokesman, Ahmadullah Muttaqi, tweeted that the murals were painted over “because they are against our values. They were spoiling the minds of the mujahedeen and instead we wrote slogans that will be useful to everyone.”
Meanwhile, the young women demonstrators said they have had to defy worried families to press ahead with their protests, even sneaking out of their homes to take their demands for equal rights to the new rulers.
Farhat Popalzai, another 24-year-old university student, said she wanted to be the voice of Afghanistan’s voiceless women, those too afraid to come out on the street.
“I am the voice of the women who are unable to speak.” she said. “They think this is a man’s country but it is not, it is a woman’s country too.”
Popalzai and her fellow demonstrators are too young to remember the Taliban rule that ended in 2001 with the US-led invasion. The say their fear is based on the stories they have heard of women not being allowed to go to school and work.
Naiby, the 20-year-old, has already operated a women’s organization and is a spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Paralympics. She reflected on the tens of thousands of Afghans who rushed to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15.
“They were afraid,” but for her she said, the fight is in Afghanistan.


For Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, experience of Syrian refugees in Scandinavia is a cautionary tale

For Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, experience of Syrian refugees in Scandinavia is a cautionary tale
Updated 21 min 24 sec ago

For Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, experience of Syrian refugees in Scandinavia is a cautionary tale

For Afghans fleeing Taliban rule, experience of Syrian refugees in Scandinavia is a cautionary tale
  • Scandinavia opened its arms to Syrian refugees in 2015, but attitudes have since hardened
  • The waves of people fleeing Afghanistan have brought the issue of European asylum policy to the fore

STOCKHOLM: Of the millions of Syrians displaced by civil war since 2011, a significant minority has managed to reach Europe, escaping not only violence and persecution but also forced army conscription and poverty.

Even in the initial phase of the arrival of the wave of humanity, many European countries closed their borders. But along with Germany, the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark were among the most welcoming.

In September 2014, images of the drowned toddler Alan Kurdi lying face down in the Mediterranean surf near Bodrum in Turkey drove home the terrible truth about the Syrian civil war.

A graffiti by artists Justus Becker and Oguz Sen depicts the drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi at the harbor in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on March 10, 2016. (AFP) 

That same month, the Swedish Migration Authority announced that all Syrian refugees applying for asylum would be granted permanent residency on arrival.

“Our assessment is that the conflict will not end in the near future,” Anders Danielsson, the agency’s director general, told national radio at the time. “Therefore, international law dictates that they should receive permanent residency permits.”

Following the announcement, the number of Syrians applying for asylum in Sweden rose from 30,000 in 2014 to 51,000 in 2015, according to government figures. Neighboring Denmark also saw an increase during 2015, processing about 21,000 asylum applications.

But six years on, the pendulum of public opinion has swung far in the opposite direction.

Along with Germany, the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark were among the most welcoming to Syrian refugees. (AFP file photo)

“Denmark went first down the nationalist-populist road, followed by Norway,” Swedish socialist MP Ali Esbati told Arab News.

Esbati fears his own country is beginning to follow suit. “This is due in part to many people in Sweden feeling that we did what we could in 2015 and took the responsibility that a rich country should take, while other countries did not.”

Indeed, as the situation in Afghanistan again brings the issue of European asylum policy to the fore, the political mood in Sweden is a far cry from the receptiveness of 2015.

“We will never go back to 2015. Sweden will not find itself in that situation again,” Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s prime minister, told the national daily Dagens Nyheter on Aug. 18, three days after the Taliban seized Kabul.

Afghans gather on a roadside near Kabul airport on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (AFP)

Esbati said that what upsets him most about the comments is the lack of acknowledgement of Sweden’s success in welcoming and integrating Syrians.

Among those who fled to Scandinavia in 2015 was Abdulla Miri. Desperate to avoid conscription into the Syrian regime’s armed forces, Miri chose to flee to Europe, promising his fiancee Nour he would get her out, too.

Refugee Abdulla Miri

“I’d paid so many bribes that my money was running out,” he said, speaking to Arab News at his home in Stockholm.

Miri recalls an incident soon after his arrival in Denmark en route to Sweden when he noticed two police officers watching him. “This was before I started to dress like a Scandinavian, so it was pretty obvious to them that I was a refugee,” he said.

“I thought I was in trouble, but the police officers helped me buy a ticket to Sweden. They knew that almost all the refugees wanted to cross the bridge to Sweden, so the three of us just laughed about the situation.”

Nine months later, Sweden granted Miri political asylum.

The Syrian refugee crisis began in March 2011 after a brutal regime crackdown on protests in support of a group of teenagers who were rounded up over the appearance of anti-government graffiti in the southern town of Daraa.

The arrests sparked public demonstrations throughout Syria, which were violently suppressed by security forces. The conflict quickly escalated and the country descended into a civil war that forced millions of Syrians from their homes.

Syrian refugees have sought asylum in more than 130 countries, but most live in neighboring states: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Turkey has the largest share of the refugee population, today sheltering around 3.6 million people.

European countries collectively host around a million Syrian refugees, with 70 percent hosted by just two countries: Germany with 59 percent and Sweden with 11 percent. Austria, Greece, the Netherlands and France host between 2 and 5 percent, while other countries host below 2 percent.

Most refugees from Middle Eastern and African states reach Europe by trekking overland from Turkey via Bulgaria and Romania, or by crossing the Mediterranean on rickety boats operated by people traffickers.

At least 1,146 people died attempting to reach Europe by sea in the first six months of 2021, according to the International Organization for Migration — more than double the number during the same period in 2020, when 513 migrants are known to have drowned.

Those who survive the perilous journey get a mixed reception. Many trying to reach the UK, for instance, tend to find themselves stranded at the French port of Calais in squalid makeshift camps. For the most part, those who choose to settle in Germany or the Nordic states are afforded international protection status.

INNUMBERS

6.6 million Syrian refugees worldwide, of whom 5.6 million are hosted by neighboring countries.

1,146 Asylum seekers who drowned attempting to reach Europe in the first 6 months of 2021.

Since the onset of the Syrian crisis in 2011, well over a million international protection decisions on applications by Syrians have been taken by asylum authorities in EU+ countries, according to UNHCR.

However, economic problems, a spate of Islamist terrorist attacks, and a sense that migrant communities have failed to fully integrate have led to a rise in right-wing populism in many European states, causing the welcoming spirit exhibited in 2015 to ebb away.

Nawal Abdo Hadid, a 62-year-old Syrian who lives in the quiet Copenhagen suburb of Gentofte, has been told her residency permit will not be renewed because the Danish authorities consider the situation in Syria no longer dangerous.

Nawal Abdo Hadid

“When I got the letter, I had a heart attack,” Hadid told Arab News. In addition to her heart problems, Hadid suffers from asthma, which makes it difficult to climb the three flights of stairs up to her one-room apartment. Her home is sparsely decorated, giving the impression of a life spent in perpetual limbo.

Hadid believes her return to Syria could be a death sentence because of her posts on social media that are critical of the government. A neighbor whom she accused of being a pro-Assad “criminal” has threatened Hadid and her son, who still lives in Syria with his six children.

“I haven’t seen my grandchildren for more than six years,” she said. “I’d rather die alone in Denmark than go back to Syria and put my son’s family at risk.”

Miri’s situation could not be more different. On receiving his Swedish citizenship in July 2017 after five years in the country, he flew to Beirut to marry Nour and then brought her home with him to Stockholm.

Although Sweden suffers from a shortage of affordable housing, the couple have been fortunate. A widower rented them the ground floor of his home in an affluent Stockholm suburb.

“Having him in our lives is a blessing,” Nour told Arab News. “I can always ask him for help and he is something of a father figure for us.”

Nawal Abdo Hadid's home in Sweden. (Supplied)

Nour, who studied English literature in Damascus and who loves the poet Lord Byron, has already begun to discover Swedish authors.

“Everything I don’t remember,” by the celebrated writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, himself the son of a Tunisian immigrant, has left a distinct impression. “He understands what moving between countries does to the soul,” Nour said.

Miri, who now uses his Swedish nickname “Abbe,” speaks flawless Swedish. Nour’s Swedish has a barely detectable Arabic accent although she struggles at times to find the right words.

Every year, on June 6, Miri hosts a Swedish National Day party for their friends. Native Swedes do not usually bother with the holiday, so the gatherings are something of a novelty.

“My Swedish friends don’t even call it National Day any longer,” he said. “They call it Abbe’s Day instead.”

Miri’s journey will be difficult for future asylum-seekers to mimic. On June 23, the Swedish parliament approved a new immigration bill that makes temporary residency permits the norm, just like the Danish system.

“We need an entirely new political (framework) in order for people to be included in society and to settle in,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, an immigration policy spokesperson for the conservative Moderate Party, recently told national radio.

“We have to start by decreasing immigration.”

Still, hope springs eternal. On the windowsill of Miri and Nour’s home sits a pile of books on pregnancy and parenthood. They arrived as a gift from a Swedish neighbor when she learned the couple were expecting their first child.

____________________

This is the first of a two-part series. Next: What Afghan asylum-seekers can expect.


Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India
Updated 17 October 2021

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: At least 25 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains in southwestern India, officials said Sunday, as rescuers scoured for survivors in muddy debris and the military flew in emergency supplies.
Residents were cut off in parts of the coastal state of Kerala as the rains, which started to intensify from late Friday, swelled rivers and flooded roads.
Some 11 bodies have been found so far in Idukki district and another 14 in Kottayam district, officials told AFP, after the areas were hit by landslides and flash floods.
Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 100 relief camps have been set up, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday.
The army, navy and airforce are assisting with flood relief and rescue operations. Officials could not say how many people were missing.
“It was my livelihood. Everything is gone,” a distraught man told Kerala news channel Manorama TV in Koottickal town in Kottayam, which was hit by a landslide.
“The hill broke off near us. There has been a lot of damage and loss. The house has gone. Children have gone,” a woman from Koottickal added.
Video shared on social media showed buses and cars submerged in floodwaters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and said authorities were working to help those who were affected or hit by the deluge.
The India Meteorological Department said the heavy rains, caused by a low pressure area over the southeastern Arabian Sea and Kerala, were expected to ease on Monday.
In northern India, some states including the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are forecast to experience “heavy to very heavy rainfall” in the next two to three days, the weather bureau said.
The northern weather system would be caused by a low pressure area over Afghanistan and its surroundings interacting with strong winds from the Bay of Bengal, it added.
In 2018, nearly 500 people were killed in Kerala when it was ravaged by the worst floods to hit the state in almost a century.


Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
Updated 17 October 2021

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed

Japan PM says Fukushima wastewater release cannot be delayed
  • The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami
  • The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades
TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister on Sunday said the planned mass disposal of wastewater stored at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cannot be delayed, despite concerns from local residents.
Speaking at his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would work to reassure residents nearby the plant about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Kishida’s brief tour of the facility by its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, focused on the ongoing decommissioning of the plant, and the massive amount of treated but still radioactive water stored there.
“I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour.
The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades.
The plan has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbors, including including China and South Korea.
Contaminated cooling water has continued to leak from the damaged reactors since the disaster. The water has been pumped up from basements and stored in about 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach their capacity late next year.
Japanese officials say disposal of the water is indispensable for the plant cleanup, and that its release into the ocean is the most realistic option.
Kishida said the government will do its utmost to address concerns the water disposal will hurt local fishing and other industries.
“We will provide explanation about the safety (of the disposal) from a scientific viewpoint and transparency in order to dispel various concerns,” Kishida said.
Japan has requested assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure the discharge meets global safety standards.

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
Updated 17 October 2021

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week

US and Canadian warships sailed through Taiwan Strait last week
  • China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory
  • China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1

TAIPEI: A US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait late last week, the American military said on Sunday, at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or more, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1.
The US military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbor China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
American Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. US allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including a British warship last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft — two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft — flew into the ADIZ again.


British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
Updated 17 October 2021

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports

British MP’s killer was referred to counter-terrorism scheme: Reports
  • Ali’s father, a former adviser to the PM of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody
  • Residents, including members of the Muslim community, heaped bouquets next to the police tape

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The attacker who fatally stabbed British lawmaker David Amess was referred to an official counter-terrorist scheme for those thought to be at risk of radicalization, according to media reports.
Police said late Saturday that detectives had until Friday, October 22, to question the suspect after he was detained under the Terrorism Act, which allowed them to extend his detention.
Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.
Police have said they are investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” The investigation is being led by Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command.
The BBC said it had received confirmation from Whitehall officials that the man’s name is Ali Harbi Ali.
Ali, a British citizen of Somali heritage, had been referred to Prevent, the UK’s scheme for those thought at risk of radicalization a few years ago, the BBC reported.
Ali is believed not have spent long on the program, which is voluntary, and was never formally a “subject of interest” to MI5, the domestic security agency, said the BBC.
Police and security services believe the attacker acted alone and was “self-radicalized,” The Sunday Times reported, while he may have been inspired by Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia.
Ali’s father Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, confirmed to The Sunday Times that his son was in custody, adding: “I’m feeling very traumatized.”
Police said they have been carrying out searches at three addresses in the London area in a “fast-paced investigation.”
The Sun tabloid reported that the attacker stabbed Amess multiple times in the presence of two women staff, before sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that he had booked an appointment a week ahead.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of mourners attended a candle-lit vigil at a sports field near the scene of the crime, holding a minute’s silence in the MP’s memory.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier visited the crime scene to pay his respects on Saturday, laying floral wreaths outside the church with the leader of the opposition, Labour leader Keir Starmer in a rare show of unity.
Residents, including members of the Muslim community, also heaped bouquets next to the police tape.
Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.
In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs and The Sunday Times reported that every MP could be granted security protection when meeting the public.
“We will carry on... We live in an open society, a democracy. We cannot be cowed by any individual,” Patel told journalists after laying a wreath for her fellow Essex MP.
Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP who tried to save a stabbed police officer during a 2017 terror attack near the Houses of Parliament, on Twitter urged a temporary pause in surgeries, or face-to-face meetings with constituents, until the security review is complete.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle in The Observer wrote that “we need to take stock” and review whether security measures introduced after Cox’s murder are “adequate to safeguard members, staff and constituents, especially during surgeries.”
MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.
But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to outburts of angry, partisan rhetoric.
Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.
A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath of Cox’s murder said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.
Amess, a Brexit backer, had written about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster,” published last year.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.
MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.
Unlike some MPs, Amess publicized meeting times for constituents on Twitter and held them in public places, while asking people to book ahead.