Pakistan airline suspends Afghan operations citing Taliban interference

Pakistan airline suspends Afghan operations citing Taliban interference
Passengers board Pakistan International Airlines’ first commercial international flight, since the Taliban retook power, at the airport in Kabul on Sept. 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Pakistan airline suspends Afghan operations citing Taliban interference

Pakistan airline suspends Afghan operations citing Taliban interference
  • Taliban earlier warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut ticket prices
  • Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely limited since Kabul airport was reopened last month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspended flights to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday after what it called “heavy handed” interference by Taliban authorities, including arbitrary rule changes and intimidation of staff.
The suspension came as the Taliban government ordered the airline, the only international company operating regularly out of Kabul, to cut ticket prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.
“We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy handedness of the authorities,” a spokesman said.
Earlier, the Taliban warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut ticket prices, which have reached levels increasingly out of reach for most Afghans.
With most international airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for flights to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have been selling for as much as $2,500 on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before.
The Afghan transport ministry said in a statement prices on the route should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate” or the flights would be stopped.
It urged passengers and others to report any violations.
Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely limited since Kabul airport was reopened last month in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of more than 100,000 Westerners and vulnerable Afghans following the Taliban victory.
PIA said that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions and “highly intimidating behavior” from Taliban commanders.
It said its country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours at one point and was only freed after the Pakistan embassy in Kabul intervened.
With a mounting economic crisis adding to worries about Afghanistan’s future under the Taliban, there has been heavy demand for flights out and the main passport office in Kabul has been besieged by people trying to get travel documents since it reopened this month.
Demand for flights has been further pushed by repeated difficulties at land border crossings into Pakistan.


Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
Updated 13 sec ago

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
  • The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,”

ROME:  Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has called for the EU to draw up “clear and adequately financed” plans for the handling of Mediterranean migration routes.

Speaking to the Italian Senate, he said it was essential that the issue was addressed at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,” starting with the one between Italy and the shores of North Africa.

He said the EU should, “pay attention to the specificity of maritime borders and the effective political stability of Libya and Tunisia.”

A diplomatic adviser to the prime minister’s office told Arab News: “Without a proper stabilization of those two countries, no action can be effective. This is why PM Draghi at the upcoming European Council meeting will call on the EU to play a primary role.”

Draghi pointed out that during the summer, Italy had continued to meet its international rescue obligations in protecting migrants at sea. “We did it with humanity and in order to defend European values of solidarity and hospitality.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year, said the country’s Ministry of Interior, almost double the number arriving over the same period last year.

Referring to the refugees, particularly those coming from Afghanistan, Draghi said that “Europe should do more. It should follow the model of the so-called humanitarian corridors.”

Addressing the Italian senators, Draghi added: “I intend to propose that the commission must update the heads of state and government in each European Council on the degree of implementation and advancement of commitments undertaken.

“Only in this way will we be able to answer to our parliaments, and above all our citizens, on the progress made at European level, and of what still remains to be done.”


Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
Updated 6 min 11 sec ago

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
  • Man who killed MP David Amess had previously been discharged from Britain’s deradicalization program, Prevent
  • Government recently missed a deadline for a review of the program

LONDON: Britain’s counter-radicalization program is facing renewed scrutiny after it emerged that the man who murdered an MP late last week had received extensive support from the Prevent program before having his case closed.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that Ali Harbi Ali, who stabbed MP David Amess to death last Friday, was first referred to the deradicalization intervention scheme Prevent in 2014 over concerns that he was being drawn toward a radical Islamist ideology.

Ali was later sent on to a more intensive deradicalization program, Channel, designed to intervene against individuals viewed as most vulnerable to terrorist ideology and recruitment.

He voluntarily accepted a referral to the scheme and completed its processes.

This involved having his vulnerability assessed and accepting support, a source told the Guardian. The source said: “He went through the process and was discharged. He was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”

Seven years later, Ali murdered Amess, and the attack has been confirmed as a terrorism-related incident.

The Amess attack, and some that came before it, have prompted questions over the effectiveness of the Prevent program once an at-risk individual is enrolled in the deradicalization course.

The program was already under review when Ali killed Amess, following a wave of attacks in the mid to late 2010s that saw dozens of people die to terrorism across Britain — including many children in the Manchester arena bombing, and another MP, Jo Cox, who was shot dead in her constituency. Some attackers had been referred to Prevent and completed its courses.

The government missed the deadline for that review, meant to be Sep. 30, 2021, in the weeks leading up to Amess’ killing.

The results of the review will be published more than three years after it was undertaken. Not only was the review designed to ensure that people vulnerable to terrorist ideology were safeguarded effectively, but also to address criticisms that Muslims were unfairly targeted at higher rates than the wider population.

Out of 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2020, more than half were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Around a quarter of referrals were due to concerns over Islamist radicalization, and 22 percent related to right-wing radicalization.

The largest age group was children and young people aged 20 and under, including 1,559 children under the age of 15.

In the wake of Amess’ killing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would ensure Prevent is “fit for purpose.” 

“Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that, we have to learn, we obviously constantly have to learn, not just from incidences that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs,” said Patel.


Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
Updated 20 October 2021

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister

Philippine drug war review doubts police ‘self-defense’ claims: Justice minister
  • Around 154 officers had been identified for ‘possible criminal liability’ over police operations
  • Three policemen were sentenced in 2018 to prison for killing a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep

MANILA: The Philippine government’s review of dozens of deadly drug war operations has cast doubt on police claims they acted in “self-defense,” a top official said Wednesday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced this month that around 154 officers had been identified for “possible criminal liability” over police operations carried out during President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
Most of the 52 cases reviewed by the Justice Department and made public Wednesday were drug war operations that ended in the fatal shooting of the suspect.
“Most... indicate circumstances that do not support the police officers’ claim of self-defense,” Guevarra said in a text message.
“That is why we have endorsed these cases to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) for a proper case build-up.”
Most of the officers involved in the cases had been recommended for demotion or temporary suspension by the police internal affairs service.
In one incident, the suspect was shot 15 times after allegedly firing at police, who received a 31-day suspension from duty.
Guevarra last year told the United Nations Human Rights Council that an inter-agency review of 5,655 deadly anti-drug operations was under way.
His announcement came after the UN human rights office released a damning report on the drug war.
Carlos Conde, Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Philippines, said the reviewed cases showed the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”
Duterte was elected in 2016 on a promise to get rid of the Philippines’ drug problem, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if officers’ lives were in danger.
At least 6,191 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations conducted since July 2016, according to the latest official data.
Rights groups estimate tens of thousands of mostly poor men have been killed in the crackdown.
International Criminal Court judges authorized in September a full-blown investigation into the anti-narcotics campaign, saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
Guevarra told AFP the Justice Department’s actions were not “to impress or influence the ICC, but because it is the right and just thing to do.”
“Time and resources permitting, the DOJ will also look into the files of the thousands of other cases where no liability was found (by police internal affairs),” he said.
While defending the drug war, police chief General Guillermo Eleazar on Wednesday urged victims to “cooperate in holding policemen who committed abuses accountable for their action.”
Three Philippine policemen were sentenced in 2018 to decades in prison for murdering a teenager during an anti-narcotics sweep, the first and only conviction so far against officers carrying out Duterte’s war on drugs.
Duterte said this month he would prepare his defense against an ICC probe, after previously insisting he would not cooperate.


Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
Updated 20 October 2021

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week

Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray hit by air strike for second time this week
  • Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center
  • Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike

ADDIS ABABA: An air strike hit the capital of Tigray region in northern Ethiopia on Wednesday morning, regionally controlled television said, reporting the second attack on the city of Mekelle this week.
Tigrai Television, controlled by the region’s Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), reported the attack targeted the city center.
It posted photographs of what appeared to be plumes of billowing smoke, but it was not immediately possible for Reuters to geolocate the photographs. The TV station said in a statement on Facebook that the strike was at 10:24 a.m. (0724 GMT).
Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Legesse Tulu, did not immediately answer a phone call requesting comment on the reported strike. It was not immediately possible to reach the spokesperson for the TPLF.
The two sides have been fighting a war for almost a year that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million.
A humanitarian source in Mekelle told Reuters the strike was in an area of the city called 05 Kebelle — an area near the a cement factory on the city’s outskirts.
The strike hit around 10:30 a.m., the source said.
The report of a strike comes two days after two air strikes hit the city. Rebellious Tigrayan forces accused the Ethiopian government of launching the strikes. Though a government official initially denied any strikes, state-run media later reported the air force conducted an attack.
The news follows intensified fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ethiopian-offensive-two-northern-regions-intensifies-tigrayan-forces-say-2021-10-13 in two other Ethiopian regions, where the central government’s military is trying to recover territory taken by the TPLF, which recaptured Mekelle and most of the rest of Tigray several months ago.
“The federal air strikes on Mekelle appear to be part of efforts to weaken Tigray’s armed resistance, which has recently made further gains in eastern Amhara region, with fighting ongoing in some areas,” said Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“Along with superior manpower, control of the skies is one of the few remaining areas of military advantage for the federal government,” Davison said.


Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’
Updated 20 October 2021

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’

Taiwan says odds of war with China in next year ‘very low’
  • Taiwan has repeatedly said that it will defend itself if attacked, but wants to maintain the status quo with China
TAIPEI: The odds of war with China in the next year are “very low,” a top Taiwanese security official told lawmakers on Wednesday, amid heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the island.
Taiwan has repeatedly said that it will defend itself if attacked, but wants to maintain the status quo with China even as it complains of repeated sorties by the Chinese air force in its air defense identification zone, or ADIZ.
“I think generally, within one year, the probability of war is very low,” National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong told a parliamentary defense committee meeting.
“But there are many things you still have to pay attention to, called contingent events.”
Earlier this month, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not be forced to bow to China, but reiterated a desire for peace and dialogue with Beijing.
Barring any “contingent events,” Chen said, “in the next one year, two years, or three years, during President Tsai’s term, I think there won’t be a problem.”
Chen cited the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of an unexpected event that has fundamentally changed society.
“Nobody expected that,” he said.
Earlier this month China mounted four consecutive days of mass air force incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ, which covers a broader area than Taiwan’s territorial air space. Taiwan monitors and patrols ADIZ in order to give it more time to respond to any threats.
While China’s aircraft did not enter into Taiwan’s airspace, flying primarily in the southwestern corner of its ADIZ, Taiwan views the increased frequency of incursions as part of Beijing’s intensifying military harassment.
China defended its military activities as “just” moves to protect peace and stability, blaming the tensions on Taiwan’s “collusion” with foreign forces — a veiled reference to the United States.
Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said last week that Taiwan will not start a war with China but will “meet the enemy full on.”
Military tensions with China are at their higher point in more than 40 years, Chiu said earlier this month, adding China will be capable of mounting a “full scale” invasion by 2025.