Afghan envoys marooned abroad after Taliban’s sudden return

Afghan envoys marooned abroad after Taliban’s sudden return
Above, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul on Sept. 7, 2021 announcing leaders of their new government. (AFP)
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Updated 16 September 2021

Afghan envoys marooned abroad after Taliban’s sudden return

Afghan envoys marooned abroad after Taliban’s sudden return
  • The Islamist militant movement had sent messages to all of its embassies telling diplomats to continue their work

The Taliban’s abrupt return to power has left hundreds of Afghan diplomats overseas in limbo: running out of money to keep missions operating, fearful for families back home and desperate to secure refuge abroad.
The Islamist militant movement, which swiftly ousted Afghanistan’s Western-backed government on Aug. 15, said on Tuesday that it had sent messages to all of its embassies telling diplomats to continue their work.
But eight embassy staff who spoke on condition of anonymity, in countries including Canada, Germany and Japan, described dysfunction and despair at their missions.
“My colleagues here and in many countries are pleading with host nations to accept them,” said an Afghan diplomat in Berlin, who feared what might happen to his wife and four daughters who remain in Kabul if he allowed his name to be used.
“I am literally begging. Diplomats are willing to become refugees,” he said, adding he would have to sell everything, including a large house in Kabul, and “start all over again.”
Afghanistan’s missions overseas face a period of “prolonged limbo” as countries decide whether to recognize the Taliban, said Afzal Ashraf, an international relations expert and visiting fellow at Britain’s University of Nottingham.
“What can those embassies do? They don’t represent a government. They don’t have a policy to implement,” he said, adding that embassy staff would likely be granted political asylum due to safety concerns if they returned to Afghanistan.
The Taliban, who enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law with punishments like amputations and stonings during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, have sought to show a more conciliatory face since coming back to power.
Spokespeople have reassured Afghans that they are not out for revenge and will respect people’s rights, including women’s.
But reports of house-to-house searches and reprisals against former officials and ethnic minorities have made people wary. The Taliban have vowed to investigate any abuses.
A group of envoys from the deposed government issued a first-of-its-kind joint statement, calling on world leaders to deny the Taliban formal recognition.
Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday that the Taliban had sent messages to all Afghan embassies telling them to continue work.
“Afghanistan invested in you a lot, you are assets of Afghanistan,” he said.
One senior Afghan diplomat estimated there were around 3,000 people either working in the country’s embassies or directly dependent on them.
Ousted president Ashraf Ghani’s toppled administration also penned a letter to foreign missions on Sept. 8 calling the Taliban’s new government “illegitimate” and urging embassies to “continue their normal functions and duties.”
But these calls for continuity do not reflect the chaos on the ground, embassy staff said.
“There is no money. It is not possible to operate in such circumstances. I am not being paid now,” a source at the Afghan embassy in Canada’s capital Ottawa said.
Two Afghan embassy staffers in New Delhi said they were also running out of cash for a mission serving thousands of Afghans who are trying to find ways home to reunite with families or need help applying for asylum in other countries.
Both staffers said they would not return to Afghanistan for fear of being targeted due to their connections to the previous government, but would also struggle to get asylum in India where thousands of Afghans have spent years seeking refugee status.
“I have to just sit tight for now in the embassy premises and wait to exit to any nation that is willing to accept me and my family,” one said.
Some of Afghanistan’s envoys have openly criticized the Taliban.
Manizha Bakhtari, the country’s Austria ambassador, regularly posts allegations of human rights abuses by the Taliban on Twitter, while China envoy Javid Ahmad Qaem warned against believing Taliban promises on extremist groups.
Others are lying low, hoping that their host countries will not rush to recognize the group and put them at risk.
Several Afghan diplomats said they would be closely watching the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations in New York next week where there is uncertainty who will fill Afghanistan’s seat.
United Nations credentials give weight to a government, and no one has yet formally claimed Afghanistan’s seat. Any move seen as legitimizing the Taliban might empower the group to replace embassy staff with their own, the diplomats said.
In Tajikistan, some embassy staff managed to bring their families across the border in recent weeks and they are considering converting the embassy into residential premises to house them, a senior diplomat there said.
And, like peers spread out across the globe, they have no plans to return home with the Taliban back in power.
“It’s very clear that not a single Afghan diplomat posted overseas wants to go back,” said a senior Afghan diplomat in Japan. “We are all determined to stay where we are and maybe many countries will accept we are a part of a government that is in exile.”


Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
Updated 24 October 2021

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike

Husband of detained Iranian-British woman on hunger strike
  • Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London
  • He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance

LONDON: The husband of UK charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained more than five years in Iran, has gone on a hunger strike again after a court decided she has to spend another year in prison.
Richard Ratcliffe started his fast on Sunday outside the British government’s Foreign Office in central London.
He plans to maintain a “constant vigil” by sleeping in a tent outside the building’s main entrance in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure the release of his wife and other detained dual British-Iranian nationals, Amnesty International said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe served five years in prison after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
In May, she was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 — a decision upheld this month by an appeals court. The verdict includes a one-year travel ban, meaning she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran until 2023.
Ratcliffe went on a 15-day hunger strike two years ago outside the Iranian Embassy, a move he credits with getting their 7-year-old daughter Gabriella released.
“We are now giving the UK government the same treatment. In truth, I never expected to have to do a hunger strike twice. It is not a normal act,” Ratcliffe said on his change.org petition.
He said Iran remains the “primary abuser” in Nazanin’s case, but the “UK is also letting us down.”
“It is increasingly clear that Nazanin’s case could have been solved many months ago – but for other diplomatic agendas. The PM needs to take responsibility for that.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, and was arrested as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
Iran doesn’t recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe can’t receive consular assistance.


Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
Updated 24 October 2021

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout

Taliban kill three ‘Daesh kidnappers’ in shootout
  • The clash erupted in Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building
  • An interior ministry spokesman said the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings

HERAT: Taliban forces fought a three-hour gun battle with a group of alleged Daesh kidnappers on Sunday, killing three of them, officials said.
The clash erupted in the western Afghan city of Herat when the new Taliban government's fighters cornered the gang in a high-rise building, Herat Police Command said in a statement.
Local residents said they heard light and heavier weapons used in the fighting. Police said three Daesh members were killed and two Taliban were wounded in the clash.
Videos circulating on social media appeared to show that at least one suspect was shot dead after he had been detained and disarmed, during a scuffle with his captors.
The footage also showed victorious Taliban forces driving through town with three corpses exposed on the back of a pick-up truck, as cheering supporters followed on scooters.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti tweeted the three Daesh-Khorasan members were involved in major kidnappings across Herat province.
"Special forces surrounded them, and they started firing. The men were killed in a shootout with security forces."
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August, overthrowing the previous US-backed government, and have vowed to restore stability after a 20-year war.
But their efforts have been undermined by a series of attacks claimed by Daesh-K, another hardline Sunni extremist group that has a bitter rivalry with the Taliban.


Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
Updated 24 October 2021

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit

Man shot dead in Kashmir as security tight for minister’s visit
  • The victim, a milk seller in Kashmir, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month
  • Amit Shah, India’s home minister, has been in Kashmir since Saturday

SRINAGAR: Indian paramilitaries shot dead a civilian in Kashmir on Sunday, residents said, as authorities tightened security across the disputed territory for a visit by a top Indian minister.
The victim, a milk seller in the southern Kashmir Valley, is the 12th civilian killed by militants or security forces this month as attacks increase in the Muslim-majority region.
New Delhi has about 500,000 troops and paramilitaries in Kashmir seeking to contain a rebel movement agitating for independence or the region’s merger with Pakistan.
Police said the man was hit in “crossfire” during “militant action” near a police paramilitary camp in the village of Zainapora and that the incident was being investigated.
Villagers told AFP the man had been fatally shot without provocation.
Amit Shah, India’s home minister and effective deputy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been in Kashmir since Saturday, adding to security concerns.
It is Shah’s first trip to the Himalayan region — also claimed by Pakistan — since New Delhi canceled Kashmir’s semi-autonomy in August 2019 and placed it under direct rule.
His visit follows a series of targeted killings by militants, with minority Hindus and Sikhs as well as migrant workers from elsewhere in India the main targets.
Sandbag bunkers have been erected across Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar and snipers positioned on rooftops around the building where Shah is staying.
Police have in recent days impounded hundreds of motorbikes in the city and intensified checks on pedestrians including women and children. Motorbikes have been used for drive-by killings.
India’s chief of defense staff General Bipin Rawat said security monitoring was being intensified to thwart attacks by rebels.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.
Rebels launched an insurgency in 1989 and the fighting has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.


Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
Updated 24 October 2021

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’

Ethiopia launches air strike on Tigray’s ‘western front’
  • The seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region this last week

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military launched an air strike on a rebel-held facility in Tigray’s west on Sunday, a government official said, the seventh aerial bombardment in the war-hit region in a week.

“Today the western front of (Mai Tsebri) which was serving as a training and military command post for the terrorist group TPLF has been the target of an air strike,” government spokeswoman Selamawit Kassa said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been locked in a war against the TPLF since last November, though Tigray itself had seen little combat since late June, when the rebels seized control of much of Ethiopia’s northernmost region and the military largely withdrew.

But on Monday Ethiopia’s air force launched two strikes on Tigray’s capital Mekele that the UN said killed three children and wounded several other people.

Since then there have been three more strikes on Mekele and another targeting what the government described as a weapons cache in the town of Agbe, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the west.

The strikes coincide with ramped-up fighting in Amhara region, south of Tigray.

They have drawn rebukes from Western powers, with the US last week condemning “the continuing escalation of violence, putting civilians in harm’s way.”

A strike Friday on Mekele forced a UN flight carrying 11 humanitarian personnel to turn back to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and the UN subsequently announced it was suspending its twice-weekly flights to the region.

The conflict has spurred fears of widespread starvation, as the UN estimates it has pushed 400,000 people in Tigray into famine-like conditions.


Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
Updated 24 October 2021

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government

Islamists suspend march under agreement with Pakistan government
  • Pakistan government had agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader
  • The head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak party was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad

LAHORE: A radical Islamist party agreed Sunday to suspend for three days its march of thousands toward the capital Islamabad after Pakistan agreed to drop pending charges against the party's leader.
Party supporters Saturday departed the eastern city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas into the crowd. The group began its journey a day earlier with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, head of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party. Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Raja Basharat, provincial law minister, told The Associated Press that under the agreement Punjab will withdraw charges against Rizvi and release all those detained during the protest march by Tuesday.
Rizvi had been detained pre-emptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It was unclear when he would be released.
Basharat also said the agreement stipulates that the federal government will honor a previous agreement with the TLP to address diplomatic ties with France over the publication of the caricatures.
Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, confirmed the minister’s account and said thousands of party supporters will stay in the town of Mureedke waiting for the release of party leaders and members who have been detained.
Pakistan Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters that the TLP's demand that the French ambassador to Pakistan be expelled over the caricatures would be taken to a parliamentary committee in the coming days.
Basharat, Ahmed and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri took part in the talks with the TLP executive council.
Violent clashes erupted between security forces and the Islamists in Lahore killing at least two police and injuring about a dozen, police said. Saifi claimed four party supporters were killed by police fire and “many” others were injured. Police said the demonstrators torched several police vehicles there.
Ahmed said the government was unaware of any deaths of TLP supporters.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.