Many Afghans pack their bags, hoping for the chance to leave

Many Afghans pack their bags, hoping for the chance to leave
Popal, a British citizen born in Afghanistan, poses for a portrait in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP)
Updated 14 October 2021

Many Afghans pack their bags, hoping for the chance to leave

Many Afghans pack their bags, hoping for the chance to leave
  • Some are not as concerned with the Taliban themselves but fear that under them, an already collapsing economy will utterly crash
  • The British Foreign Office said in a statement that it is working to ensure British nationals in Afghanistan are able to leave

KABUL: As their flight to Islamabad was finally about to take off, Somaya took her husband Ali’s hand, lay her head back and closed her eyes. Tension had been building in her for weeks. Now it was happening: They were leaving Afghanistan, their homeland.
The couple had been trying to go ever since the Taliban took over in mid-August, for multiple reasons. Ali is journalist and Somaya a civil engineer who has worked on United Nations development programs. They worry how the Taliban will treat anyone with those jobs. Both are members of the mainly Shiite Hazara minority, which fears the Sunni militants.
Most important of all: Somaya is five months pregnant with their daughter, whom they’ve already named Negar.
“I will not allow my daughter to step in Afghanistan if the Taliban are in charge,” Somaya told The Associated Press on the flight with them. Like others leaving or trying to leave, the couple asked that their full names not be used for their protection. They don't know if they'll ever return.
Ask almost anyone in the Afghan capital what they want now that the Taliban are in power, and the answer is the same: They want to leave. It’s the same at every level of society, in the local market, in a barbershop, at Kabul University, at a camp of displaced people. At a restaurant once popular with businessmen and upper-class teens, the waiter lists the countries to which he has applied for visas.
Some say their lives are in danger because of links with the ousted government or with Western organizations. Others say their way of life cannot endure under the hard-line Taliban, notorious for their restrictions on women, on civil liberties and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Some are not as concerned with the Taliban themselves but fear that under them, an already collapsing economy will utterly crash.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the United States and its allies in the frantic days between the Aug. 15 Taliban takeover and the official end of the evacuation on Aug. 30. After that wave, the numbers slowed, leaving many who want to leave but are struggling to find a way out. Some don’t have the money for travel, others don’t have passports, and the Afghan passport offices reopened only recently.
The exodus is emptying Afghanistan of many of its young people who had hoped to help build their homeland.
“I was raised with one dream, that I study hard and be someone, and I’d come back to this country and help,” said Popal, a 27-year-old engineer.
“With this sudden collapse, every dream is shattered. … We lose everything living here.”
When Popal was 5 years old, his father sent him to Britain with relatives to get an education. Growing up, Popal worked low-skill jobs, sending money back to his family, while studying engineering. He eventually gained British citizenship and worked in the nuclear sector.
A few weeks before the Taliban takeover, Popal returned to Afghanistan in hopes of getting his family out. His father once worked at a military base in Logar Province, where his mother was a teacher. His sisters have been studying medicine in Kabul.
The recent weeks have been tumultuous. His family’s home in Logar was destroyed by the Taliban, and they moved to Kabul. They believe it was because they refused to give information to relatives who are linked to the Taliban. One of his sisters went missing as she commuted between Kabul and Logar, and has not been heard from in weeks. The family fears it could be connected to warnings they received from relatives to stop the daughters from studies, Popal told the AP.
Popal has been in contact for weeks with British officials trying to arrange evacuations. But he said they told him he could not bring his parents and siblings. In early October, Popal managed to get out to Iran. Complaining that he's had no help from the British Foreign Office, he is making his way back to Britain, where he will try to find a way to bring out his family.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that it is working to ensure British nationals in Afghanistan are able to leave.
A former adviser to a senior Cabinet minister in Afghanistan’s ousted government said he was searching for a way out. The decision came after years of sticking it out through mounting violence. He survived a 2016 suicide bombing that hit a protest march in Kabul and killed more than 90 people. Friends of his were killed in an attack later that year on the American University of Afghanistan, killing at least 13.
In the past, he had opportunities and offers to go to the United States or Europe. “I didn’t take them because I wanted to stay and I wanted to work and I wanted to make a difference,” he said, speaking on condition he not be named for his protection.
Now he is in hiding, waiting for his opportunity to escape.
The American University of Afghanistan, a private university in Kabul, is arranging flights out for many of its students.
One student, a 27-year-old, recounted one attempt by the school to get evacuees to Kabul airport on Aug. 29, the second-to-last day when U.S. troops were there. In the chaos, buses carrying the students drove for hours around the capital, trying to find a route to the airport, he said. They couldn’t make it.
The student has been waiting for the past month for a spot on another flight arranged by the university for himself, his wife and two young children. He hopes that once out, he can apply for visas to the United States. His family has packed up everything in their house, covering their furniture with sheets to protect it from the dust. His parents are trying to get to the United Arab Emirates.
In Pakistan, at the Islamabad airport, a group of American University students, freshly arrived from Kabul, waited to cross through immigration. They will go on to sister schools in Central Asia.
But their families could not come with them, so they face the uncertain future alone for the moment.
Without her family for the first time ever, Meena, a 21-year-old political science student, cringed with humiliation as an airport official shouted rudely at the students.
“I don’t know my future. I had a lot of dreams, but now I don’t know,” she said, starting to cry.
She showed the school pen she brought with her because it has the flag of her country on it, the one now replaced in Afghanistan by the Taliban flag.
“We just burned our dreams ... we are just broken people.”


Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
Updated 28 October 2021

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
  • Border closed by Taliban due to ‘visa issues’: PAJCC chairman

KARACHI, Pakistan: The closure of one of Pakistan’s major border crossings with Afghanistan is costing local businesses up to 150 million Pakistani rupees ($854,000) per day in lost trade, commerce chiefs claimed on Wednesday.

Chaman is the second-largest commercial border point between the two countries and links the Balochistan province of Pakistan with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar.

It is one of the most regular trade routes used for the transportation of goods between the two countries.

The crossing, a vital source of customs revenue for the cash-strapped Taliban government in Afghanistan, has been closed for about three weeks, despite repeated protests by truckers and others stuck waiting at the border.

Muhammad Hashim Khan Achakzai, president of the Chaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “The border has been closed since the first week of this month which is costing us between 100 million and 150 million rupees per day.

FASTFACT

Suspension of cross-border commerce has driven an estimated 50,000 local traders out of business.

“Every day around 10,000 people travel on both sides of the border from Chaman,” he said, adding that some laborers and traders had been waiting more than 20 days for the border to reopen.

As Afghanistan sinks deeper into economic crisis, neighboring countries have been increasingly worried about a mass movement of refugees. Now, the closure of Chaman and interruptions to traffic at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as the suspension of Pakistan Airlines flights from Kabul, have left Afghanistan largely cut off.

Originally closed by Pakistani authorities due to security threats, disputes over issues ranging from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the validity of Afghan travel documents have prevented the reopening of the Chaman crossing, despite severe hardship to truckers and local farmers.

The border was briefly opened on Sunday night and people from both sides were allowed to cross over mainly on medical grounds. However, it was closed again and no movement of goods from either side has been allowed since, according to traders.

Pakistani officials said the issue was on the Afghan side and they expected it to be resolved within the next few days. A spokesperson for the Taliban was unavailable for comment.

Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “They (the Taliban) have some visa issues, that is why they have closed the border. They are saying they will open it in a couple of days.” 

In the meantime, however, at least 50,000 people in Chaman district who are linked to cross-border trade in a population of around 200,000 continue to suffer.

Jalaat Khan Achakzai, a local trader and former president of the CCCI, told Arab News: “The border closure has driven some 50,000 small and medium traders out of business.”

Traders said trucks carrying dry fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items were parked on both sides of the border.

“Around 2,000 trucks carrying loaded and empty containers are waiting. Traders are also incurring losses as they have to pay around $150 container detention charges to the shipping companies,” Achakzai said.

Jamaluddin Achakzai, also a local trader and former president of the CCCI, said: “Talks between local officials and people from Spin Boldak have taken place but without any outcome. It is vital to open the border which is impacting the livelihoods of more than half-a-million people on both sides. The transporters are selling the fuel, petrol, and diesel of their vehicles to survive.”

Some who have crossed the border said the condition of both Pakistani and Afghan transporters was worsening.

Ehtisham Mufti, a senior Pakistani journalist who recently traveled through the area to Kandahar, told Arab News: “The condition of Pakistani and Afghan truckers on the Afghan side is even more painful as they don’t have enough financial resources to survive. Human tragedy can be avoided if immediate measures are taken in time.”


Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
Updated 28 October 2021

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
  • UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war

BANGKOK, Thailand: Midday bombings near a busy government office injured at least nine people in Myanmar’s second biggest city on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest high-profile attack by militants opposed to the country’s military rulers.

Other attacks by foes of the government were also reported on social media and news websites sympathetic to the opposition. Shootings and bombings in Myanmar’s cities and armed clashes in the countryside are daily occurrences, and UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war.

Two explosions rocked an area near the Road Transport Administration Department in Mandalay, damaging at least 14 motorbikes, witnesses said by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted by security forces for speaking to the media.

A member of the Htarni Shae Rescue team said four people were hurt in the initial blast  five more from his and another rescue team when the second explosion took place after they arrived with ambulances. Such rescue teams are usually charity organizations and are common in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Video of the busy location posted online showed two columns of flames and smoke rising into the air as people ran in panic along the adjacent road.

A group calling itself the Special Attacking Force (Upper Burma) said on its Facebook page that it had carried out the bombing. It said it wanted to deprive the military government of revenue to buy bullets. The targeted office collects driving fees and taxes.

The group warned people to stay away from agencies that collect money for the government.

Similar opposition groups are active all over Myanmar, many calling themselves people’s defense forces.

Opposition to military rule has hardened in the months since the army seized power, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was first met by nonviolent demonstrations which were suppressed with deadly force by the army and police. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed about 1,200 civilians, a figure the government says is too high.

Protesters then began using more active self-defense as violence escalated on both sides. The government is now facing an insurgency in the cities, where militants’ actions typically include bombings and targeted killings, and in the countryside, where soldiers battle village militias and the established guerrilla forces of ethnic minorities that have sought greater autonomy for decades.

Wednesday’s attack in Mandalay was in support of a civil disobedience movement that seeks to deprive the state of workers and revenue. Civil servants have been encouraged to stay away from work and customers have been urged not to pay their electricity bills.

The Special Attacking Force said it had issued many warnings to the Road Transport Administration Department and other government offices that support the functioning of the government, called the State Administration Council.


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 27 October 2021

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”


France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
Updated 27 October 2021

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row

France releases list of possible sanctions against Britain in fishing row
  • France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain

PARIS: France on Wednesday released a list of sanctions that could come into effect from Nov. 2 if sufficient progress is not made in its post-Brexit fishing row with Britain and said it was working on a second round of sanctions that could affect power supplies to the UK.
France could notably step up border checks on goods from Britain and prevent British fishing boats from accessing French ports, if the situation regarding the fishing licenses did not improve, the Maritime and European Affairs Ministries said in a joint statement.


Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
Updated 27 October 2021

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA

Criminal charges against Alec Baldwin not ruled out: DA
  • Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies: ‘He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon — all options are on the table at this point’
  • Sheriff Adan Mendoza: ‘We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there’

LOS ANGELES: Criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin, who shot dead a cinematographer and wounded a director on the set of his latest movie, have not been ruled out, the local district attorney said Wednesday.
“He’s obviously the person that fired the weapon,” said Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, whose area of responsibility covers the set of “Rust.”
“All options are on the table,” she told a news conference, adding: “No one has been ruled out at this point.”
An investigation into last Thursday’s fatal shooting has recovered 500 rounds of ammunition from the set in New Mexico, Sheriff Adan Mendoza told reporters, adding detectives believe they were a mix of blanks, dummies and live rounds.
“We’re going to determine how those (live rounds) got there, why they were there, because they shouldn’t have been there,” Mendoza said.