Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on Sept. 19, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team

Taliban name deputy ministers, double down on all-male team
  • Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says that women might be added later

KABUL: The Taliban expanded their interim Cabinet by naming deputy ministers Tuesday, but failed to appoint any women, doubling down on a hard-line course despite the international outcry that followed their initial presentation of an all-male Cabinet lineup earlier this month.

The international community has warned that it will judge the Taliban by their actions, and that recognition of a Taliban-led government would be linked to the treatment of women and minorities. In their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Taliban had barred girls and women from schools, work and public life.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid defended the latest additions to the Cabinet at a news conference Tuesday, saying it included members of ethnic minorities, such as the Hazaras, and that women might be added later.

Mujahid bristled at international conditions for recognition, saying there was no reason for withholding it. “It is the responsibility of the United Nations to recognize our government (and) for other countries, including European, Asian and Islamic countries, to have diplomatic relations with us,” he said.

He also said that the Taliban has funds to pay government salaries ‘but needs time.’

The Taliban have framed their current Cabinet as an interim government, suggesting that change was still possible, but they have not said if there would ever be elections.

Mujahid was also asked about the recent restrictions imposed on girls and women, including a decision not to allow girls in grades six to 12 to return to classrooms for the time being.

Mujahid suggested this was a temporary decision, and that “soon it will be announced when they can go to school.” He said plans were being made to allow for their return, but did not elaborate.

Boys in grades six to 12 resumed their studies over the weekend.


New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
Updated 5 sec ago

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
  • Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago
WELLINGTON: New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland’s two-month lockdown.
Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.
“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”
New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland’s lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.
Ardern has also embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated. That’s included a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots, more than 2 percent of the New Zealand’s population of 5 million.
Ardern has promised to outline a path out of lockdown for Auckland based on vaccination numbers.
The government has previously talked about the importance of getting 90 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, including a high proportion of Maori, who have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
But that goal remains some distance away, with 85 percent of eligible people having had at least one dose and 67 percent fully vaccinated. The numbers are lower among Maori.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said he was concerned that contact tracers in Auckland would soon become overwhelmed. He said lawmakers needed to consider temporarily reimposing stricter lockdown rules as a circuit breaker.
“There are burning embers all over the city,” Baker said. “They have lifted the wet blanket of the strong lockdown, and people are getting lockdown fatigue.”
Baker said he thought it was possible for the government to continue eliminating the outbreak outside of Auckland, provided it kept in place strict border controls around the city.
He said the most important goal in any reopening would be to ensure the health system was not overrun.
Health officials on Tuesday also said they had authorized people with weakened immune systems to get a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine and were recommending they do so.

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign
Updated 45 min 2 sec ago

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign
  • The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after US and South Korean envoys met in Washington
  • The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country
SEOUL: North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, pulling Japan’s new prime minister off the campaign trail.
The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after US and South Korean envoys met in Washington to discuss the nuclear standoff with North Korea on Monday. Spy chiefs from the United States, South Korea, and Japan were reported to be meeting in Seoul on Tuesday as well.
The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country, which has pressed ahead with military development in the face of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
One ballistic missile was launched about 10:17 a.m. local time from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo cited an unnamed military source as saying the government was “assuming that it was an SLBM test,” without elaborating.
North Korea has also launched other types of missiles from that area.
“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement.
South Korea’s national security council held an emergency meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the test, urging the North to resume talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that two ballistic missiles had been detected, and that it was “regrettable” that North Korea had conducted a string of missile tests in recent weeks.
There was no immediate explanation from South Korea’s JCS for the conflicting number of missiles detected.
Kishida canceled scheduled campaign appearances https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-kicks-off-election-campaign-support-ruling-ldp-dips-2021-10-19 in northern Japan, and the deputy chief cabinet secretary told reporters that Kishida was planning to return to Tokyo to deal with the missile situation.
South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said daily routine liaison calls with the North were conducted normally on Tuesday.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who is a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul, said the latest test involved one of the recently unveiled SLBMs.
The North displayed new Pukguksong-4 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-military-analys-idAFKBN2H40KJ and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-politics-idUSKBN29J2YG during its military parades in October and January, respectively, and a previously unseen, smaller missile https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-military-analys-idAFKBN2H40KJ was spotted at last week’s defense fair in Pyongyang.
The series of recent launches as well as the opening of the unusual military show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-threatens-upstage-skorea-defense-expo-with-duelling-military-show-2021-10-14 in Pyongyang suggest that North Korea may be resuming military and international affairs after nearly two years of focusing inward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group.
“North Korea’s renewed testing of ballistic missiles suggests the worst of domestic hardship between summer 2020-2021 could be over,” he said on Twitter.
“Pyongyang tends to focus on one big strategic issue at a time, so the renewed testing could suggest military – later foreign policy – now priority.”
The launch came as the intelligence chiefs of the United States, South Korea, and Japan were due to meet in Seoul to discuss the standoff with North Korea, amid other issues, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a government source.
The US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, said that he would visit Seoul for talks this week.
“The US continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue,” Kim said after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Washington on Monday. “We harbor no hostile intent toward (North Korea), and we are open to meeting with them without preconditions.”
The missiles tested recently by North Korea appear aimed at matching or surpassing https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-southkorea-analys-idCAKBN2BM0G8 South Korea’s quietly expanding arsenal, analysts have said.
Last month South Korea successfully tested an SLBM https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/skorea-successfully-tests-submarine-launched-ballistic-missile-blue-house-2021-09-15, becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system. North Korea test fired a missile launched from a train on the same day.
This month the two Koreas held duelling defense exhibitions aimed at showcasing their latest weaponry amid a spiralling arms race.
As news of Tuesday’s missile launch broke, representatives of hundreds of international companies and foreign militaries were gathered in Seoul for the opening ceremonies of the International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX).
It is set to be South Korea’s largest defense expo ever, organizers said, with displays of next-generation fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, drones, and other advanced weapons, as well as space rockets and civilian aerospace designs.
South Korea is also preparing to test fire its first homegrown space launch vehicle https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/spy-satellites-mobile-networks-skorea-hopes-new-rocket-gets-space-program-off-2021-10-15 on Thursday.
Though analysts say the South Korean rocket has few potential applications as a weapon, such tests are unlikely to be welcomed in North Korea, which has complained of a double standard in which its own space program is criticized overseas as a front for military missile development.

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
Updated 19 October 2021

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
  • China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns
  • Japan said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon

BEIJING: China said Monday its launch of a new spacecraft was merely a test to see whether the vehicle could be reused.
The launch involved a spacecraft rather than a missile and was of “great significance for reducing the use-cost of spacecraft and could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
China’s space program is run by its military and is closely tied to its agenda of building hypersonic missiles and other technologies that could alter the balance of power with the United States.
“China will work together with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space and the benefit of mankind,” Zhao said.
Zhao’s comments on the test conducted in August came days after China launched a second crew to its space station. Their six-month mission, when completed, will be China’s longest crewed space mission and the three-person crew will set a record for the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts.
Alongside its space program, China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns as Beijing becomes increasingly assertive over its claims to seas and islands in the South China and East China Seas and to large chunks of territory along its disputed high-mountain border with India.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price would not comment on intelligence about the August test but noted the US remained concerned about China’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities, including delivery systems for nuclear devices.
These developments underscore that (China), as we said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” Price told reporters Monday in Washington.
He said the US was engaging with China about its nuclear capabilities and would continue to maintain the US’s deterrent capabilities against threats to the United States and its allies.
US ally Japan, one of China’s chief regional rivals, said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Monday called it a “new threat” that conventional equipment would have difficulty dealing with. He said Japan will step up its detection, tracking and shooting-down capability of “any aerial threat.”
China appears to be rapidly pushing development of hypersonic nuclear weapons to gain strike capability that can break through missile defenses, Matsuno said.
He criticized China for increasing its defense spending, particularly for nuclear and missile capabilities, without explaining its intentions.
“China’s rapidly expanding and increased military activity at sea and airspace has become a strong security concern for the region including Japan and the international society,” Matsuno said.
 


Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 
Updated 19 October 2021

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 
  • Anticipated influx coincides with hardening attitudes toward asylum-seekers in Sweden, Denmark and Norway
  • Housing shortages, street crime and poor integration blamed for Scandinavian coolness toward refugee admissions

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: As Europe braces for a steady influx of Afghan refugees fleeing the return of the Taliban and economic chaos, a recent shift in political rhetoric indicates Scandinavian countries are less willing to help asylum seekers now than they were in 2015, when they offered sanctuary to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.

More than 123,000 Afghan civilians were evacuated from Kabul airport by US forces and their coalition partners between August 15, when the Taliban seized the capital, and August 31, when the last foreign troops left the country.

Many of those who fled were taken to emergency processing centers in Spain, Germany, Qatar and Uzbekistan. The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee their country by the end of the year, with many looking to Europe as a potential sanctuary.

Afghans desperately try to board a departing US military cargo plane at Kabul Airpoirt in September when the Taliban sized control of the country. (AFP file photo)

However, opinions in the once welcoming Scandinavian states of northern Europe appear to have changed over the past six years, with the people there increasingly reluctant to open the doors to asylum-seekers.

“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 newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Aug. 18, three days after the Taliban seized Kabul.

Indeed, as the situation in Afghanistan again brings the issue of European asylum policy to the fore, attitudes across Scandinavia appear to be hardening.

“Denmark first went down the nationalist-populist road, followed by Norway,” Swedish socialist MP Ali Esbati, who long predicted Sweden would follow suit, told Arab News.

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

Even before the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan, more than 550,000 people in the country were forced to flee their homes this year due to fighting, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. In addition to the deteriorating security situation, Afghans have also been contending with a severe drought and food shortages, leading to huge levels of internal displacement.

In 2020 almost 1.5 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and about 780,000 to Iran, according to UNHCR. Germany was third on the list of destinations, with 180,000 Afghans heading there, while Turkey took in 130,000.

Following the fall of Kabul, by early last month about 125,000 Afghans had applied for asylum in Turkey, 33,000 in Germany and 20,000 in Greece.

French authorities have indicated they will accept some refugees but have not specified how many. German authorities also did not specify a number but Chancellor Angela Merkel said 40,000 people still in Afghanistan might have the right to seek asylum in Germany.


Read the first part of the report: No country for asylum-seekers 


The UK said it will take in 5,000 Afghans this year as part of a scheme to resettle 20,000 over the next few years. Austria, Poland and Switzerland said they will not accept any Afghan refugees and have been actively bolstering border security to prevent attempts to enter the countries illegally.

As for Scandinavia, the picture is unclear. Having earned praise for accepting thousands of Syrians at the height of the European refugee crisis in 2015-16, authorities in Sweden, Norway and Denmark appear less willing to bear the burden this time. In fact, the governments of the three nations have not guaranteed even those Syrians already granted asylum the right to remain.

Housing shortages and rising crime levels have led to a hardening of attitudes in Scandinavian countries, including Sweden. (AFP)

This increasingly unwelcoming attitude appears to have developed for a number of reasons, including a shortage of housing and a feeling of embitterment toward other EU member states who have failed to accept their share of responsibility for refugees.

A rise in crime is also a factor. In Sweden, for example, first- and second-generation migrants are overrepresented in crime statistics. While the Swedish National Council on Crime Prevention has repeatedly cautioned that there is a difference between correlation and causation, immigration and crime are nevertheless now inextricably linked in the minds of many voters.

The same is true in Denmark. In Copenhagen, social media influencer and political hopeful Hussain Ali said it is time to break with the cultural trait of “berøringsfrygt,” which translates as a “fear of touching” sensitive topics.

Fans greet and fist-bump Hussain Ali (left), with Copenhagen City Hall in the background. (Supplied)

Ali, a Dane of Iraqi heritage, is running for a seat in the city assembly on a conservative ticket. His impassioned social media posts railing against the failures of integration regularly attract thousands of likes. He recently suggested that all non-citizens convicted of crimes should be deported.

“There are so many young people who live in a bubble of resentment toward Denmark because they feel alienated,” he told Arab News. “They are stuck between Danish culture and the culture of their parents’ home countries.

“I tell them that if they brought their anti-social attitude back to Syria, for example, they would not last more than a minute without being punished. In the Middle East, you respect your elders — that’s part of their heritage that their parents should be teaching them.

“They are also creating damaging stereotypes and prejudice. Many of my friends are judged based on their skin color. People make assumptions about me at first sight.”

INNUMBERS

123,000 - Afghan civilians evacuated from Kabul airport, August 15-31.

1,200 - Afghans deported from the EU in the first half of 2021.

While some might consider Ali a firebrand or an upstart, his message has clearly struck a chord with many. When he walks around Copenhagen he is regularly fist-bumped by young supporters. But not all of the attention he receives is positive.

As he sat outside a kebab shop during our interview, a young man who appeared to have an immigrant background shouted at him: “You’ve sold your soul.” Ali tensed up but remained seated.

“That guy is probably just frustrated and stuck in a situation where he doesn’t have an outlet for his creativity and ambition, despite all the opportunities in Denmark,” he said later.

Syrian refugees react to Denmark's decision to repatriate, initiating a sit-in in front of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark. (AFP File/Getty Images)

Although the hardening of attitudes in Sweden and Norway has been less marked than it has been in Denmark, the mood is clearly swinging in a similar direction.

“The trajectory is quite typical, really,” said Esbati, the Swedish MP. “First a nationalist-populist party starts banging its one-issue drums on migration.

“Then it gets some sort of breakthrough in the media and in elections, followed by the conservative parties moving toward the (nationalist-populist) position. And finally the social-democrats and other left-leaning parties shift over time in the same direction.”

On June 23, the Swedish parliament approved a new immigration bill that makes temporary residency permits the norm, just like the Danish system.

Danish flags wave in the spire of the Danish Parliament building in Copenhagen. Denmark has gone down the nationalist-populist road, rejecting asylum seekers from Afghanistan. (AFP file photo)

“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, said during a recent appearance on national radio. “We have to start by decreasing immigration.”

As European states wrestle with their collective conscience about how best to balance their duty to protect vulnerable civilians with a desire to preserve their national identities, the growing appeal of the populist right in Scandinavia and elsewhere can only reduce the options available to Afghans who are too frightened to return home.

The stories of Syrians with firsthand experience of the welcome mat being pulled out form under them do not inspire confidence.

Hamdi and Sama Al-Samman were threatened by Syrian regime at the end of 2011 for giving food, clothes and blankets to internally displaced families in their native Damascus.

“I knew we’d get in trouble,” Sama said. “But I couldn’t avoid helping those families.”

Hamdi Al-Samman arrived in Denmark in October 2014 after fleeing the Syrian regime. (Supplied)

She added that she began sleeping in her clothes in case the family had to flee in the middle of the night. When the situation became untenable in January 2013, the couple took their three children to Egypt.

From there, Hamid, an electrician by trade, headed to Europe, arriving in Denmark in October 2014.

“We chose Denmark because it would take just one year for the children and me to join him,” Sama said. “In Sweden, the family reunification process would take longer.”

Hamdi found work easily and, since joining him, Sama has been studying Danish so she can work in the preschool education system. Their daughter, Noor, who is in her final year of high school, wants to become an architect.

“Denmark has an amazing emphasis on education,” said Sama. “Our children have opportunities here that they would never have in Syria. Our daughter has opportunities because of gender equality.”

The family’s relief was short-lived, however. In January this year, Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s prime minister, said her goal is to reduce the number of asylum-seekers to zero. A few months later, the Al-Sammans were informed that their temporary residency permits will not be renewed. They are appealing against the decision.


Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
Updated 18 October 2021

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
  • Wasiullah, 17, says he entered world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys

PESHAWAR: A young inventor from Pakistan’s northwest has designed “smart shoes” for visually impaired people that warn them with a sound or vibration about any obstacle on their path within a radius of 120 cm.
Hailing from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Wasiullah, the 17-year-old inventor, told Arab News he had entered the world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys.
“Visually impaired people will no longer need walking sticks or guides after smart shoes acquire popularity,” Wasiullah, who goes by a single name, said. “The shoes are fixed with an ultrasonic sensor and Arduino board to keep blind people safe while they are walking. Such individuals can get a prior notification of any looming hindrance.”
Local physics teacher Muhammad Farooq said Wasiullah was his most brilliant student and that he had planned to design a new type of a wheelchair to help visually impaired people navigate their surroundings, but that he could not do it due to financial constraints.
Budget restrictions did not stifle his inventiveness, though, and when he designed the shoes earlier this year, it was reward for his perseverance.
“I still believe he has the potential to emerge as a leading scientist if he gets proper coaching and opportunity,” Farooq said.
One such opportunity, which would also help Wasiullah afford higher education in the field of science, could be introducing his invention to the market.
“Smart shoes for visually impaired people are available in foreign countries,” Farooq said. “But their prices are beyond the reach for many in this country. The government should own the project because the shoes Wasiullah has made are comparatively cheaper.”
Mian Sayed, a social activist from Swat, has seen Wasiullah’s smart shoes and is positive that they could even become an export product.
“I knew Wasiullah, who is one of the brilliant students (who) can bring laurels for the country,” Sayed added. “The shoes invented by him can even be exported if the project is owned by the government.”
Wasiullah said a pair of his smart shoes could cost about 4,500 rupees ($26), but he would not be able to finance production himself as he also needs to finance his college studies.
An opportunity may come from the local government.
Sajid Shah, head of the provincial directorate general of science, told Arab News the shoes will soon be evaluated by experts.
“After evaluation by our scientists,” he said, “our department will promote the project of smart shoes invented by Wasiullah for commercial purposes.”

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