Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban
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Updated 19 September 2021

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban

Fearful US residents in Afghanistan hiding out from Taliban
  • UN human rights chief says there is evidence the Taliban government has not kept its promise to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the US

Every night in yet another house in Afghanistan’s capital, a US green card-holding couple from California take turns sleeping, with one always awake to watch over their three young children so they can flee if they hear the footsteps of the Taliban.
They’ve moved seven times in two weeks, relying on relatives to take them in and feed them. Their days are an uncomfortable mix of fear and boredom, restricted to a couple of rooms where they read, watch TV and play “The Telephone Game” in which they whisper secrets and pass them on, a diversion for the children that has the added benefit of keeping them quiet.
All of it goes on during the agonizing wait for a call from anybody who can help them get out. A US State Department official contacted them several days ago to tell them they were being assigned a case worker, but they haven’t heard a word since. They tried and failed to get on a flight and now are talking to an international rescue organization.
“We are scared and keep hiding ourselves more and more,” the mother said in a text message to The Associated Press. “Whenever we feel breathless, I pray.”
Through messages, emails and phone conversations with loved ones and rescue groups, AP has pieced together what day-to-day life has been like for some of those left behind after the US military’s chaotic withdrawal — that includes US citizens, permanent US resident green-card holders and visa applicants who aided US troops during the 20-year war.
Those contacted by AP — who are not being identified for their own safety — described a fearful, furtive existence of hiding in houses for weeks, keeping the lights off at night, moving from place to place, and donning baggy clothing and burqas to avoid detection if they absolutely must venture out.
All say they are scared the ruling Taliban will find them, throw them in jail, perhaps even kill them because they are Americans or had worked for the US government. And they are concerned that the Biden administration’s promised efforts to get them out have stalled.
When the phone rang in an apartment in Kabul a few weeks ago, the US green card holder who answered — a truck driver from Texas visiting family — was hopeful it was the US State Department finally responding to his pleas to get him and his parents on a flight out.
Instead, it was the Taliban.
“We won’t hurt you. Let’s meet. Nothing will happen,” the caller said, according to the truck driver’s brother, who lives with him in Texas and spoke to him afterwards. The call included a few ominous words: “We know where you are.”
That was enough to send the man fleeing from the Kabul apartment where he had been staying with his mother, his two teenage brothers and his father, who was in particular danger because he had worked for years for a US contractor overseeing security guards.
“They are hopeless,” said the brother in Texas. “They think, ‘We’re stuck in the apartment and no one is here to help us.’ They’ve been left behind.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified to Congress this past week that the US government had urged US citizens and green cards holders to leave Afghanistan since March, even offering to pay for their flights.
Blinken said the US government does not track US green card holders in Afghanistan but he estimated several thousand remain in the country, along with about 100 US citizens. He said the US government was still working to get them out.
As of Friday, at least 64 American citizens and 31 green card holders have been evacuated since the US military left last month, according to the State Department. More were possibly aboard a flight from Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, but the administration did not release figures.
Neither the US nor the Taliban have offered a clear explanation why so few have been evacuated.
That is hardly encouraging to another green card holder from Texas, a grandmother who recently watched from a rooftop as militants pulled up in a half-dozen police cars and Humvees to take over the house across the street.
“The Taliban. The Taliban,” she whispered into the phone to her American son in a Dallas suburb, a conversation the woman recounted to the AP. “The women and kids are screaming. They’re dragging the men to the cars.”
She and her husband, who came to Kabul several months ago to visit relatives, are now terrified that the Taliban will not only uncover their American ties but those of their son back in Texas, who had worked for a US military contractor for years.
Her son, who is also not being named, says he called US embassy officials in Kabul several times before it shut down, filled out all the necessary paperwork, and even enlisted the help of a veteran’s group and members of Congress.
He doesn’t know what more he can do.
“What will we do if they knock on the door?” the 57-year-old mother asked on one of her daily calls. “What will we do?”
“Nothing is going to happen,” replied the son.
Asked in a recent interview if he believed that, the son shot back, exasperated, “What else am I supposed to tell her?”
The Taliban government has promised to let Americans and Afghans with proper travel documents leave the country and to not retaliate against those who helped the United States. But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said there is evidence they are not keeping their word. She warned Monday that the country had entered a “new and perilous phase,” and cited credible reports of reprisal killings of Afghan military members and allegations of the Taliban hunting house-to-house for former government officials and people who cooperated with US military and US companies.
AP reporters in Afghanistan are not aware of any US citizens or green card holders being picked up or arrested by the Taliban. But they have confirmed that several Afghans who worked for the previous government and military were taken in for questioning recently and released.
The California family, which includes a 9-year-old girl and two boys, ages 8 and 6, say they have been on the run for the past two weeks after the Taliban knocked on the door of their relative’s apartment asking about the Americans staying there.
The family moved to Sacramento four years ago after the mother got a special immigrant visa because she worked for US-funded projects in Kabul promoting women’s rights. Now, the mother says both she and her daughter have been wearing burqas each time they move to their next “prison-home.”
The father, who worked as an Uber driver, has been having panic attacks as they wait for help.
“I don’t see the US government stepping in and getting them out anytime soon,” said the children’s elementary school principal, Nate McGill, who has been exchanging daily texts with the family.
Distraction has become the mother’s go-to tool to shield her children from the stress. She quizzes them on what they want to do when they get back to California and what they want to be when they grow up.
Their daughter hopes to become a doctor someday, while their sons say they want to become teachers.
But distraction is not always enough. After a relative told the daughter that the Taliban were taking away small girls, she hid in a room and refused to come out until her dad puffed himself up and said he could beat the Taliban, making her laugh.
The mother smiled, hiding her fear from her daughter, but later texted her principal.
“This life is almost half-death.”


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.”


Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
Updated 15 October 2021

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
  • Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution
  • "I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems," German Chancellor said

BRUSSELS: The European Union should resolve its differences by talking to each other rather than through court decisions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, responding to a question on the dispute with Poland over the rule of law.
“We are all member states of the European Union, which means we have the duty always to try to find compromise — without giving up our principles, obviously,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the central tenet of the European Union and fueling talk that Poland could one day quit the 27-nation bloc.
Poland’s right-wing populist government has clashed regularly over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence with the European Commission, triggering a series of European Court of Justice cases.
“I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems,” Merkel said. “It is certainly right that, from time to time, cases have to be decided by the European Court of Justice.”
The chancellor, who will leave office once a new German coalition is formed, said she was concerned by the number of cases ending up at the EU’s top court.
De Croo said he was on the same page as Merkel
“This could become a big issue, but we could prevent it becoming a big issue if we engage ... I think that just criticizing and finger-pointing from the outside is not going to lead us anywhere,” he said.