British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation
Protesters gather around a car with the Taliban flag raised atop it during the anti-Pakistan protest in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 October 2021

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

British envoy in Kabul as Taliban seek to break isolation

KABUL: A senior British envoy held talks with top Taliban officials in Kabul on Tuesday — the first since foreign forces evacuated from Afghanistan — as the country’s new masters seek a path out of international isolation.
The hard-line Islamist movement declared a new regime after overrunning the capital in August and ousting the US-backed government.
But after 20 years of war the aid-reliant country faces economic collapse, with major donors pausing funding and no emergency support in place.
The new rulers have been courting hesitant foreign powers in a bid to restart cash flows to the country, where civil servants and health care workers have gone months without salaries.
Taliban officials tweeted pictures of the first meeting between Simon Gass, Britain’s special representative for Afghanistan, and deputy prime ministers Abdul Ghani Baradar and Abdul Salam Hanafi.
The British team, which flew in on a flight facilitated by Qatar, secured the release of Ben Slater, a former British soldier who was detained by the Taliban on the Pakistani border last month as he tried to escort Afghan refugees to safety.
He flew out of Kabul with the British delegation, a UK government official said.
The two sides discussed how Britain can help Afghanistan battle terrorism and a deepening humanitarian crisis — and provide safe passage for those who want to leave the country, a UK government spokesperson said.
“They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls,” the spokesperson added, adding that Gass was joined by Martin Longden, charge d’affaires at the now evacuated UK mission to Afghanistan.
The Taliban, notorious for their brutal and oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, have faced a backlash after effectively excluding women and girls from education and work across the country.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the meeting “focused on detailed discussions about reviving diplomatic relations between both countries.”
But a UK official was more cautious, stressing that the visit did not represent recognition or “legitimacy” for the Taliban, but rather opening a channel of communication and contact building
“We’re being really realistic,” the official said. “It’s good to be able to get in and get out safely. It’s about pragmatic dialogue, securing safe passage, humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism.”
Western governments have warned that the Taliban must form an “inclusive” government and respect human and women’s rights if they are to be formally recognized.
Neighbouring Pakistan, however, has been pushing for the international community to engage with the new rulers and help stabilize a country threatened by famine.
The Taliban have made some gestures toward international respectability, while insisting on their right to return to a government based on their hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.
Tuesday saw another example of the kind of practices that feed international concern.
In the western province of Herat the Taliban hung up the bodies of three alleged criminals after a man killed them when they entered his home, deputy governor Mawlawi Shir Ahmad MuHajjir told AFP.
Graphic images posted to social media showed the three corpses hoisted from two cranes in the Obe district in northeast Herat.

But in signs the Islamists may be trying to soften their public image after 50 days in power, the Taliban announced at a stage-managed rally that some women civil servants have been called back to work.
Interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti told AFP that all staff of the passport department “including female employees” were asked to return to their offices.
The spokesman said the ministry intended to start issuing Afghan passports again after the system broke down with the fall of the previous government.
Girls also returned to some secondary schools in a northern province, Taliban officials and teachers said, despite them remaining barred from classrooms in much of the country.
A video posted by the group’s spokesman Suhail Shaheen showed dozens of schoolgirls in black, some wearing white head scarves and others with black face veils, sat in chairs waving Taliban flags.
Education ministry official Mohammad Abid said there had been no policy change from the interim central government, telling AFP on Tuesday: “High schools still remain closed for girls.”
The Taliban, which have permitted girls to attend primary school, have said girls will return to secondary schools once their security and strict gender segregation under sharia law can be ensured.
Several teachers and a head teacher in Kunduz city, the provincial capital, told AFP that girls at high schools in some districts had gone back to classes.


Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
Updated 9 sec ago

Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
  • The new apples on the Indian market have devalued Kashmir’s fruit sector
  • Worth $1.34 billion, the apple industry contributes up to 10 percent of Kashmir’s GDP

NEW DELHI: Tajamul Habib Makroo was hoping a bumper crop of apples this year would help him recover from huge losses due to early snowfalls in the previous harvest season, but now he says a new crisis is looming: The arrival of cheap Iranian fruits, which growers like Makroo fear could upend horticulture in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Concentrated in the southern Shopian district, the state’s apple industry contributes 1.8 million tons of the fruit, or 80 percent of India’s annual production, and involves over 5 million workers in the region.

With annual production worth about $1.34 billion, it saw a sudden drop in value last year, when cheap Iranian apples entered the Indian market via Afghanistan, which boasts a free trade agreement with New Delhi.

“Today’s market is very down, rates are down because the apples coming from Iran have brought the apple prices in India down,” Makroo, who has orchards in Sugan village, Shopian, told Arab News.

He said the Iranian apples have slashed the price of local produce in half.

“Earlier, I used to get 1,200 rupees ($16) per box, today the rate is 600,” Makroo added. “The rate we are getting is not able to cover production costs.” In early January, the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-cum-Dealers Union, an apex body representing Kashmiri fruit growers, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to save the industry.

Bashir Ahmad Bashir, the union’s president, said Iranian apples were cheap due to international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

“We have taken up the matter with the Indian government when we came to know about it and warned the government that if the products come to India from Iran, (the) Indian horticulture industry will suffer a lot,” Bashir told Arab News, adding that imposing duties on Iranian fruits could help save the domestic industry.

Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said a lack of intervention would deal a major blow to the local economy. “It’s 8 percent to 10 percent of our GDP of Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “When unemployment is a big challenge for Jammu and Kashmir in this situation the government should take strong notice of it and should defend our people.”

 

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Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 24 January 2022

Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
  • 25.9% of Britons feel negatively toward them, 18.1% support banning Muslim immigration
  • ‘Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: Muslims are the second “least-liked” group in the UK, according to a new study that reveals the shocking extent of Islamophobia in the country.

The study, by researchers at the University of Birmingham, found that roughly one in four Britons hold negative views of Muslims and Islam — the highest of any group apart from gypsies and Irish travelers.

Over a quarter of people — 25.9 percent — feel negatively toward Muslims, and just under 10 percent feel “very negative.”

Significantly more Britons hold negative views of Islam in the survey of 1,667 people than they do of other religions.

That translates into much higher support for a hypothetical policy that bars all Muslim migration to Britain.

Nearly one in five people — 18.1 percent — support banning all Muslim migration to the UK, and 9.5 percent “strongly support” that idea.

The study found that Britons are very willing to pass judgment on Islam, but are extremely unlikely to have any real knowledge of the religion.

“British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught,” said the study.

“In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgment, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic.”

This finding — that Britons know less about Islam but are more willing to pass judgment on the faith — “says something about how prejudice works,” Dr. Stephen Jones, author of the study and a researcher focusing on British Muslims, told Arab News.

“We tend to associate prejudice with ignorance, but that’s too simple. Instead, prejudice is a kind of miseducation: Many people in this country think they know what Islam is about, and what Muslims believe, in a way that they admit they don’t for other non-Christian religions.”

Islamophobia is so widespread in Britain, Jones said, that it has become socially acceptable. That is why the report dubs it “the dinner table prejudice” — because people will openly and freely admit to their anti-Muslim prejudice, in a way that they are unlikely to with other religious or ethnic groups.

Jones said: “What I think surveys like this into public attitudes tell us is that not only do Muslims suffer discrimination, but that public hostility toward Muslims is on some level publicly accepted. It’s not just that Muslims suffer from Islamophobia, but that this discrimination isn’t publicly recognized.”

The research makes a series of policy recommendations to address the prevalence of Islamophobia in the UK, including acknowledging that “systemic miseducation about Islam is common in British society and forms an important element of Islamophobia.”

It added: “Government and other public figures should publicly acknowledge and address the lack of public criticism that Islamophobic discourses and practices trigger.”

The report lands at a sensitive time for the ruling Conservative Party, with former Cabinet Minister Nusrat Ghani announcing that she was removed from her position because her “Muslimness” made her colleagues uncomfortable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into her removal, but he has himself previously faced accusations of Islamophobia, including by comparing women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes.” 

Shaista Aziz, an anti-racism and equalities campaigner, told Arab News: “Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism and it has deep-seated and historic roots in the UK. Yet Islamophobia continues to be denied as a form of racism by many across all spheres of society, including in politics, the media and academia.”

She added: “This report provides further nuanced evidence of how pernicious and mainstream Islamophobia is, and how those in power are refusing to recognize this racism.

“Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism, and one that overwhelmingly remains overlooked, denied and unchallenged.”


Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
Updated 24 January 2022

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
  • Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously

BERLIN: A lone gunman wounded several people at a lecture theater in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg on Monday, police said.
Police said in a brief statement that the perpetrator was dead, but didn’t give details of how that happened. They had earlier asked people on Twitter to avoid the Neuenheimer Feld area of Heidelberg, where the city’s university campus is located.
Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously. The university’s press office declined to give any details on the shooting and referred all inquiries to police.
Police said the weapon used in the shooting was a long-barreled firearm.
Heidelberg is located south of Frankfurt and has about 160,000 inhabitants. Its university is one of Germany’s best-known.


Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule
Updated 24 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule
  • Crowds in the capital Khartoum were heading toward the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese protesters rallied Monday calling for civilian rule and demanding justice for those killed in crackdowns since a military coup nearly three months ago, an AFP correspondent said.
Crowds in the capital Khartoum were heading toward the presidential palace, an area which security forces had sealed off ahead of the march.
Anti-coup demonstrations since the October 25 military power grab have left at least 73 people killed and hundreds wounded, according to medics.


Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
Updated 24 January 2022

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
  • Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen tried to pose as Syrian refugee to gain entry to UK
  • He had 2 asylum claims rejected before blowing himself up in November 2021

LONDON: A man who blew himself up in an attempted attack on a women’s hospital in England was rejected for an asylum application six years before the failed bombing, it has emerged.

Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen died after his homemade bomb detonated in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in November 2021. He was the only person killed or harmed.

A series of papers obtained by the BBC and other news outlets reveal new information about the years leading up to his failed attack, and raise questions about the UK’s asylum system.

Al-Swealmeen, 32, first visited Britain in 2013, when he entered on a visitor’s visa and was fingerprinted — a crucial step that later helped authorities uncover a string of lies he told as he sought asylum.

He returned to the UK in May 2014 with a Jordanian passport, but falsely claimed to be of Syrian heritage in his asylum applications, according to the papers.

A judge heard at the time that an Arabic-language expert identified his speech patterns to be Iraqi, and that his story of oppression and suffering in Syria was unlikely to be a retelling of his own experience.

“His account of his time in Syria gives the impression of someone quoting information that is in the public domain rather than having first-hand experience,” ruled the judge when rejecting his application for asylum. 

“The appellant did not identify himself with any particular faction or indicate that he would be at risk other than in a general sense.”

An appeal against the decision was then dismissed in 2015. Al-Swealmeen applied again in 2017 under a new name, and was once again rejected in 2020.

He appealed that rejection last year, but a decision on that appeal was never made because months later he was killed in his attack on the hospital.

It is not clear why he was not removed from Britain after his asylum claims were rejected and his falsehoods exposed.

The documents also detailed a slew of mental health issues he was struggling with, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also emerged that Al-Swealmeen had been imprisoned in Iraq for a serious assault, and had previous convictions in Liverpool for possession of an offensive weapon. 

He was caught waving a knife at passers-by in a Liverpool underpass, and was detained under the Mental Health Act.

The Home Office did not comment on the specific circumstances of Al-Swealmeen’s case, but told the BBC that it is “fixing the broken asylum system” in its current legislation.

A spokesperson said: “The new plan for immigration will require people to raise all protection-related issues up front, to tackle the practice of making multiple and sequential claims and enable the removal of those with no right to be in our country more quickly.”