Taliban say they won’t work with US to contain Daesh

Taliban say they won’t work with US to contain Daesh
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the talks will also revisit the peace agreement the Taliban signed with Washington in 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Taliban say they won’t work with US to contain Daesh

Taliban say they won’t work with US to contain Daesh
  • Senior Taliban officials and US representatives are to meet Saturday and Sunday in Doha
  • Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AP there would be no cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active Daesh group in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban on Saturday ruled out cooperation with the US to contain extremist groups in Afghanistan. They staked out an uncompromising position on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between the former foes since America withdrew from the country in August.
Senior Taliban officials and US representatives are to meet Saturday and Sunday in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials from both sides have said issues include reining in extremist groups and the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have signaled flexibility on evacuations.
However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AP there would be no cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active Daesh group in Afghanistan. IS has taken responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a suicide bombing Friday that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims and wounded dozens as they prayed in a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz.
“We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Shaheen said, when asked whether the Taliban would work with the US to contain the Islamic State affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.
IS has carried out relentless assaults on the country’s Shiites since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as the terror group that poses the greatest threat to the United States for its potential to stage attacks on American targets.
The weekend meetings in Doha are the first since US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence as the Taliban overran the country. The US has made it clear the talks are not a preamble to recognition.
The talks also come on the heels of two days of difficult discussions between Pakistani officials and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Islamabad that focused on Afghanistan. Pakistani officials urged the US to engage with Afghanistan’s new rulers and release billions of dollars in international funds to stave off an economic meltdown.
Pakistan also had a message for the Taliban, urging them to become more inclusive and pay attention to human rights and minority ethnic and religious groups.
Afghanistan’s Shiite clerics assailed the Taliban rulers following Friday’s attack, demanding greater protection at their places of worship. The IS affiliate claimed responsibility and identified the bomber as a Uyghur Muslim. The claim said the attack targeted both Shiites and the Taliban for their purported willingness to expel Uyghurs to meet demands from China. It was the deadliest attack since US and NATO troops left Afghanistan on Aug. 30.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could be a harbinger of more violence. Most of the Uyghur militants belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has found a safe haven in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan for decades.
“If the (IS) claim is true, China’s concerns about terrorism in (Afghanistan)— to which the Taliban claims to be receptive— will increase,” he tweeted following the attack.
Meanwhile, the Taliban began busing Afghans who had fled from the insurgents’ blitz takeover in August and were living in tents in a Kabul park back to their homes in the country’s north, where threats from IS are mounting following the Kunduz attack.
A Taliban official in charge of refugees, Mohammed Arsa Kharoti, said there are up to 1.3 million Afghans displaced from past wars and that the Taliban lack funds to organize the return home for all. He said the Taliban have organized the return of 1,005 displaced families to their homes so far.
Shokria Khanm, who had spent several weeks in one of the tents in the park and was waiting Saturday to board the Taliban-organized bus back home to Kunduz, said she isn’t concerned about the growing IS threat in the northern province.
“At least there we have four walls,” she said but added that she was nervous about the future after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government troops had destroyed her house.
“Winter is on the way. There is no firewood. We need water and food,” she said.
During the Doha talks, US officials will also seek to hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the US military or government and other Afghan allies, a US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record about the meetings.
The Biden administration has fielded questions and complaints about the slow pace of US-facilitated evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.


France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
Updated 8 sec ago

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
PARIS: France will begin a gradual lifting of Covid restrictions from February 2 amid “encouraging signs” that the wave of infections due to the omicron variant is ebbing, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday.
Even though authorities registered a record 464,769 new daily cases on Tuesday, Castex said the implementation of a “vaccine pass” starting Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues would allow an easing of tighter rules imposed since December.
In a first step, the audience capacity limits for concert halls, sporting matches and other events — 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outdoors — will be ended from February 2.
Working from home will also no longer be mandatory for eligible employees, and face masks will not be required outside, Castex told a press conference alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.
“We are a bit more confident in saying we can relax some of these constraints and let people return to life as normal as possible,” Veran said.
Previously, the health pass could also be obtained with a recent negative Covid test, a possibility the government ended in its bid to convince more people to get Covid jabs — Castex said 93 percent of French adults now had at least one dose.
“Since the announcement of the vaccine pass, one million French people have gotten vaccinated. That’s good, but it’s not enough,” he said, adding that booster shots would be extended to children aged 12 to 17 starting Monday.
In a second stage, nightclubs that have been shut since December will be allowed to reopen on February 16, and standing areas will again be authorized for concerts and sporting events as well as bars.
Eating and drinking will again be allowed in stadiums, movie theaters and public transport on that date.
Castex also said he hoped to be able to ease face mask rules for children in schools after winter vacation breaks in late February.
Some 17,000 classes are currently shut across France after students or staff caught the virus, and parents must get a series of tests for exposed children before they are allowed to return.
The highly contagious omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections, but the number of Covid patients in intensive care has been falling since early January, to around 3,850 people currently.
“We have seen that incidence rates are still rising, but we also know that the omicron variant results in fewer serious cases than the Delta variant,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said earlier Thursday.
“There are hopes the omicron wave could peak soon,” he added.
Castex insisted that studies have shown omicron to be less dangerous than other virus variants, which have prompted several governments worldwide to pull back on restrictions.
The British government said Wednesday that most restrictions would be lifted starting next week, including the requirement for a Covid pass proving vaccination to enter public venues, citing data that showed infections had peaked.
Spain’s government is also pushing to begin treating Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu — though Castex warned against underestimating the threat from the virus.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also insisted this week that the pandemic was “nowhere near over,” warning that new variants were still likely to emerge.

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
Updated 20 January 2022

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
  • Israeli Army Radio said Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv
  • Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel, has repeatedly called for end to occupation of Palestinian territories

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Thursday denied reports by Israeli media that officials from the two countries had recently held meetings in Tel Aviv.

Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel and has repeatedly called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 war.

Israel’s Army Radio reported on Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv to discuss strategies related to the coronavirus pandemic but gave no details about when the meeting had taken place.

Addressing a virtual press conference, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said: “What we can emphasize here is that there was no interaction between officials of the two countries, because we do not have diplomatic relations.”

He pointed out that despite the lack of formal ties, people-to-people interactions had taken place, including Indonesian pilgrims visiting religious sites in Jerusalem.

“But between governments, let me emphasize there are no formal interactions,” he added. “Please differentiate things that are official in nature and business relations or people-to-people, which are out of the government’s hands.”

Faizasyah said Indonesia’s stance on the Palestinian issue remained unchanged and its government was actively working “for Palestinian independence under the frame of a two-state solution.”

Last year, the Israeli ambassador to Singapore said Tel Aviv would be willing to work toward establishing ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim-majority nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei — in the wake of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco agreeing to normalize relations with Israel under US-brokered deals.

During a visit to Jakarta last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Indonesian officials the possibility of normalization, a move Indonesia said it had declined to take.

“Indonesia’s foreign minister conveyed Indonesia’s consistent position toward Palestine, in which Indonesia will always stand with Palestine in the struggle for justice and independence,” Faizasyah said at the time.


Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
Updated 46 min 4 sec ago

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
  • Partition in 1947 following India’s independence from Britain triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history
  • Brothers Sikka and Sadiq Khan, who remained on opposite sides of India-Pakistan border, were reunited last week

PHULEWALA: In August 1947, as British India was being partitioned into two independent states, Sikka Khan’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village — which became the Indian part of Punjab — and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which became part of Pakistan. 

Just two-years-old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. The family was to be reunited soon. The parents only wanted to wait until it was safe for the toddler to travel. 

But the promise of being together again was cut short by a bloody orgy of violence and communal rioting that marred one of the biggest forced migrations in history. Following the partition in 1947, about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, fearing discrimination and violence, swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives. 

It was in these circumstances that Sikka and Sadiq lost their father, mother — who committed suicide when she found out about her husband's death — and the bond that was only restored last week. 

“I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Jan. 10.

Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. After the partition, the site found itself on the Pakistani side of the hastily drawn-up border.

The brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict.

“It was an emotional moment for us, and I could not believe that I was meeting my brother and his family,” Sikka told Arab News in Phulewala village, where he has remained since 1947. 

“Life has given me the opportunity to reunite with my brother and I don’t want to live without him,” he said. “I need the company of my brother more than ever before. I want to live the rest of my life with my elder brother.”

They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka. 

The YouTuber and the doctor helped the brothers meet virtually.

“The brothers for the first time saw each other over a video call two years ago,” Singh told Arab News. “Since then, they have remained in touch with each other through WhatsApp.” 

They have been talking to each other at least 15 minutes every day, but it took them two years to meet in person as even the visa-free Kartarpur corridor was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until late last year.   

“The opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November last year allowed us the opportunity to organize the meeting between the brothers,” Singh said. 

When he arrived in Kartarpur on Jan. 10, Sikka, who does not have his own family, was accompanied by a dozen villagers from Phulewala. 

“For me, my village has been family,” he said, as he chatted to Sadiq through a video call. “Now I want to go to Pakistan and live with my elder brother for some time. I hope the Pakistani government gives me a visa.” 

Sadiq, too, wants to go to his birthplace.   

“I want to meet Sikka in his village,” he said during the video call with his brother. “We want to live together and make up for the time we have lost.”


Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
Updated 20 January 2022

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
  • A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women's protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated
  • The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban stormed an apartment in Kabul, smashing the door in and arresting a woman rights activist and her three sisters, an eyewitness said Thursday.
A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women’s protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated.
The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, for women. A person from the neighborhood who witnessed the arrest said about 10 armed men, claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department, carried out the raid on Wednesday night.
Shortly before she and her sisters were taken away, footage of Paryani was posted on social media, showing her frightened and breathless and screaming for help, saying the Taliban were banging on her door.
“Help please, the Taliban have come to our home . . . only my sisters are home,” she is heard saying in the footage. There are other female voices in the background, crying. “I can’t open the door. Please . . . help!”
Associated Press footage from the scene on Thursday showed the apartment’s front door, made of metal and painted reddish brown, dented and left slightly ajar. The occupants of a neighboring apartment ran inside their home, not wanting to talk to reporters. An outer security door of steel slats was shut and padlocked, making it impossible to enter Paryani’s apartment.
The witness said the raid took place around 8 p.m. The armed men went up to the third floor of the Kabul apartment complex where Paryani lives and began pounding on the front door ordering her to open the door.
When she refused, they kicked the door repeatedly until it opened, the witness said. “They took four females away, all of them were sisters,” the witness said, adding that one of the four was Paryani, the activist.
The witness spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing Taliban reprisal.
The spokesman for the Taliban-appointed police in Kabul, Gen. Mobin Khan, tweeted that Paryani’s social video post was a manufactured drama. A spokesman for the Taliban intelligence, Khalid Hamraz, would neither confirm nor deny the arrest.
However, he tweeted that “insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people is not tolerated anymore” — a reference to Sunday’s protest during which the protesters appeared to burn a white burqa, the all-encompassing traditional head-to-toe female garment that only leaves a mesh opening for the eyes.
Hamraz accused rights activists of maligning Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and their security forces to gain asylum in the West.
Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them directed at women. Women have been banned from many jobs, outside the health and education field, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
At Sunday’s demonstration in Kabul, women carried placards demanding equal rights and shouted: “Justice!” They burned a white burqa and said they cannot be forced to wear the hijab. Organizers of the demonstration said Paryani attended the protest, which was dispersed after the Taliban fired tear gas into the crowd of women.
Paryani belongs to a rights group known as “Seekers of Justice,” which organized several demonstrations in Kabul, including Sunday’s. The group’s members have not spoken publicly of her arrest but have been sharing the video of Paryani.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the crackdown, saying that since taking over Afghanistan five months ago, the Taliban “have rolled back the rights of women and girls, including blocking access to education and employment for many.”
“Women’s rights activists have staged a series of protests; the Taliban has responded by banning unauthorized protests,” the watchdog said in a statement after Sunday’s protest.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, with local and international television crews covering demonstration often detained and sometimes beaten.
Also Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asking the Taliban to investigate a recent attack on a documentary film maker Zaki Qais who said two armed men, who identified themselves as Kabul police officials, entered his home and beat him. One tried to stab him, according to Steven Butler, the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
“Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers must immediately launch an investigation to identify and bring to justice those who attacked journalist Zaki Qais,” said Butler. “The Taliban’s continued silence on these repeated attacks on journalists undermines any remaining credibility of pledges to allow independent media to continue operating.”
Last week the CPJ sought information on an attack on another Kabul-based journalist, Noor Mohammad Hashemi, deputy director for the nonprofit Salam Afghanistan Media Organization, who was beaten up by three unidentified men.


Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study
Updated 20 January 2022

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study

Sputnik V shows higher omicron-antibody levels than Pfizer in preliminary study
  • The joint Russian-Italian study compared the blood serum of people who had received the different vaccines
  • "Today the necessity of third booster vaccination is obvious," the preliminary study published on Jan. 19 said

MOSCOW: A small preliminary laboratory study has shown that levels of omicron-neutralising antibodies of people vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine did not decline as much as of those who had Pfizer shots.
The joint Russian-Italian study — funded by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets Sputnik V abroad — compared the blood serum of people who had received the different vaccines.
Researchers said samples taken three to six months after the second dose of a vaccine have shown that the levels of antibodies in recipients of two doses of Sputnik V were more resistant to omicron than in those vaccinated with Pfizer.
It included 51 people vaccinated with Sputnik V and 17 after two shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Today the necessity of third booster vaccination is obvious,” the preliminary study published on Jan. 19 said.
The preliminary study, that will seek certification by peer review, showed that omicron-specific neutralizing antibodies were detected in the blood serum of 74.2 percent of the people vaccinated with Sputnik and in 56.9 percent of those vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNtech.
An earlier preliminary study by the Gamaleya Institute, the developer of Sputnik V, showed that a booster shot of Sputnik Light vaccine provided a stronger antibody response against omicron than the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine alone.
omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States. But the variant has only now began to hit Russia, where the daily nationwide new infections spiked to 38,850 on Tuesday from 33,899 the day before.
Russia has so far officially recorded more than 1,600 cases of the variant and has mobilized its health system to tackle an increase in cases but authorities said they realized that there are many more cases related to omicron.