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

Trucks loaded with supplies wait in line after a road was closed by traders in protest against the closing of  a crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Reuters)
Trucks loaded with supplies wait in line after a road was closed by traders in protest against the closing of a crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (Reuters)Border closed by Taliban due to ‘visa issues’: PAJCC chairman
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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.

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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.”


Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
Updated 37 sec ago

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
  • Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan participated
  • Modi says five Central Asian republics key to India’s vision of ‘integrated and stable extended neighborhood’

NEW DELHI`: India held its first summit with five Central Asian states on Thursday to address joint concerns over Afghanistan, and to develop regional security cooperation.

Held virtually, Thursday’s summit, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi,was also attended by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“Our aim and concerns for regional security are the same,” Modi said in his opening remarks. “We are all worried about the happenings in Afghanistan. In this context our cooperation for regional security and peace are all the more important.”

Like India, three of the Central Asian republics — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan — also border Afghanistan.

Modi, the first Indian leader to visit all five Central Asian countries, said they are key to New Delhi’s vision of “an integrated and stable” extended neighborhood.

“We have to prepare an ambitious roadmap for our cooperation, through which, in the next three years, regional connectivity cooperation will be able to adopt an integrated approach,” he said.

As other global powers look to cement their grip on the region following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Indian government has been largely sidelined, while other players such as Pakistan and China have been increasingly involved in Afghan politics on both domestic and international fronts.

Foreign policy experts see the summit as “significant” in view of the situation in Kabul.

“The Central Asian countries’ importance has increased very significantly as a result of what has happened in Afghanistan,” India’s former ambassador to Kazakhstan, Ashok Sajjanhar, told Arab News.

“After the departure of the NATO and American troops, it’s the regional countries’ responsibility to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that India and the Central Asian republics are “on the same page and want an inclusive government in Afghanistan, respect for rights of minorities, and women and children.”

Anil Trigunayat, former Indian ambassador to Russia, said the summit provides “excellent reconnect for the sharing of ideas and concerns and a future roadmap with our extended neighborhood,” adding that “the developments in Afghanistan are mutual interests for New Delhi and the Central Asian republics.”

Thursday’s summit follows a lower-level security meeting on Afghanistan that India hosted in November, where, besides officials from the five post-Soviet republics, representatives from Russia and Iran were also present.


Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February
Updated 12 min 3 sec ago

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February
  • Health minister says government will no longer be focusing on the number of new cases but on the rate of hospitalization
  • Survey shows 86 percent of Indonesians have already acquired COVID-19 antibodies

JAKARTA: Indonesia is bracing for COVID-19 cases to peak by the end of February, its health minister said on Thursday, as the country faces a third wave of infections driven by the omicron variant.

Home to 270 million people, Indonesia recorded its first case of the highly transmissible variant in December. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast the number of daily cases there to surpass 387,000 by April.

“If we started at the end of December, maybe the peak will occur at the end of February or early March,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told reporters.

He added that the government would be changing its approach to focus on the rate of hospitalization rather than the number of reported cases as omicron was less severe than the delta variant that swept the country last year and overwhelmed its medical facilities.

“Omicron will increase fast and high, there is no need to be surprised, no need to panic,” Budi said, adding that Indonesians were “adequately protected.”

While fewer than half the population are fully vaccinated, a government-commissioned survey showed in early January that 86 percent of Indonesians had acquired COVID-19 antibodies.

The country reported 8,077 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, a near tenfold increase in just two weeks.

However, Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said the official numbers did not give an accurate picture of the infection rate, given Indonesia’s limited testing and tracing capabilities.

“For sure, the current numbers, the government figures, still do not reflect even half of the real cases,” he told Arab News.

He said he expected the hospitalization rate to increase in the coming weeks, and as face-to-face learning had resumed at schools, the government should consider closing them again until at least March, as “it’s too dangerous for kids.”

“Otherwise, we will see many cases among children, not only in hospitalization but also mortality.”


Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
Updated 27 January 2022

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
  • The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight
  • Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport

ATHENS: Greece will allow music in restaurants and bars again and extend their operating hours as it lifts some of the restrictions imposed last month now that coronavirus infections and the pressure on hospitals are easing, authorities said on Thursday.
The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, following a surge of cases over the Christmas holidays due to the fast-spreading omicron variant.
“We have decided to scale back the restrictions, taking into consideration the course of the pandemic in terms of cases which have been declining in recent weeks,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said in a televised statement.
He said that despite ongoing pressure on the health system, the rate of hospital admissions and discharges and a shorter duration and less severe illness for the omicron variant compared to Delta allowed authorities to ease the curbs.
Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport.
Greece reported 19,712 new cases on Thursday. Infections have been easing since a record high of around 50,000 in early January.
A total of 23,083 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported since February 2020 and 1,867,935 cases out of a population of 11 million people.


Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
Updated 27 January 2022

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release

Muslim man who ended London knifeman’s fatal attack on ex-wife appeals for release
  • ‘Abraham’ ran down attacker in car in ‘heroic’ action but was charged on suspicion of murder
  • London’s Metropolitan Police is facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior

LONDON: A Muslim man who ran over and killed a knifeman who was stabbing his ex-wife to death has urged police to abandon the case against him after he was charged on suspicion of murder.

The 26-year-old Chechen, named Abraham, intervened in the stabbing in West London, and has been labeled a hero for his actions, the Mail Online reported.

On Monday, Leon McCaskie, a 41-year-old who was known to police over abusive and angry behavior, attacked his former wife, Yasmin Wafah Chkaifi, 43, with a knife.

Abraham, who was driving nearby, saw the attack and rammed into McCaskie with his car.

But despite his efforts to save the defenseless woman, Abraham was charged and bailed until next month on a murder charge. It has left him “living in a nightmare,” according to his friends.

Abraham said: “I do not see why I, as the person who tried to assist in the defense of other human beings, remain arrested and on bail under suspicion of murder.”

Anger over his treatment has grown, with more than 20,000 people signing a petition demanding the case against him be dropped.

His lawyer, Mohammed Akunjee, issued a statement on behalf of Abraham. “I witnessed a man repeatedly stabbing a defenseless woman on the pavement a short distance in front of my car,” it said.

“I drove my vehicle toward the attacker in order to get him away from the woman he was attacking. I did not intend to harm the attacker. I only intended to protect those being attacked.

“My vehicle struck the attacker and he was taken under my car, causing it to stall. I could not reverse my car to free him. I and the other passersby attempted to lift the car away from the attacker so we could provide the man with first aid.

“Unfortunately we were unsuccessful with this and I have since learned that both the young lady and her attacker have died. I am deeply sorry that the man I tried to stop from attacking other people has died.

“It was never my intention to harm him, I just wanted to stop him from hurting anybody further. My only regret is that God did not allow me to be present at the scene sooner so that my intervention may have saved the life of the young woman concerned.

“I have asked my solicitor to contact the Metropolitan Police to request that they consider de-arresting me and begin treating me as a witness to a tragic event rather than as a criminal as they currently are.”

Abraham’s friends said he was in shock over the incident.

One said: “If he ever sees anyone in trouble he will always try to help. He’s a good Muslim man and couldn’t bear to see the woman being attacked.

“He was on his way to a job and stopped to do the right thing. He’s in shock about what happened. It’s been a nightmare for him.”

Another said: “This guy is a family man with children and was just doing the right thing. It was instinct and an act of human kindness.

“He is one of the most peaceful and good people I’ve ever met. He would never walk away when somebody needs help.

“He risked his life to save this poor woman. Police should praise him and let him go to his little children and wife.”

London’s Metropolitan Police said Abraham had been “fully cooperative” after being arrested following the incident.

The force is also facing criticism after it was revealed that it had been warned over McCaskie’s potential for violent behavior.

Chkaifi was increasingly concerned that McCaskie would try to kill her after learning that he had planted secret cameras in her home.

“He’s had cameras in my house recording me for months. He’s stolen my mail, my phone and has access to all my personal data. I think he will kill me.”

Chkaifi had filed a police report over the stalking allegations.

McCaskie was also convicted of obstructing a police officer and driving without insurance in 2017.

Chkaifi was a qualified childminder and was studying for a master’s degree.

A friend said of the slain mother: “She was a good soul. It’s very rare in life you come across a good soul. She always had a happy disposition. She was just a lovely person.”

Another said: “She was incredibly kind, hospitable and an amazing cook and dancer. She had a bubbly personality and a confidence about her that was so attractive.

“She was proud of her Moroccan heritage and a spiritual woman. We spoke about Islam, identity and social justice. She was a good person.”


Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
Updated 27 January 2022

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon

Diaspora in Brazil reconnecting with Lebanon
  • Renewed interest caused by socioeconomic crisis, Port of Beirut blast
  • Embassy urging Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in upcoming elections

SAO PAULO: The ongoing Lebanese socioeconomic crisis, and the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut in August 2020, have led many Lebanese Brazilians to show greater interest in the Arab country’s affairs.

Over the past couple of years, Lebanese Brazilians — whose numbers are estimated at between 3 million and 10 million — have promoted drives to assist Lebanon’s people, and have become more involved in its politics.   

This trend was intensified by a campaign launched in 2021 by the Lebanese Embassy in Brasilia to encourage Lebanese citizens living in Brazil to register to vote in elections scheduled for May.

“Many Lebanese Brazilians know very little about Lebanon. But now I think people are more conscious and trying to be informed,” said trader Nagib Makhlouf, 69, who was born in Brazil but has Lebanese citizenship.

He has already taken part in three Lebanese elections: Two in the country — he used to visit to see his mother, who lived there — and one from Brazil.  

“Lebanon is in such bad shape that many people in Brazil are outraged with the situation. I know a group of 10 Lebanese Jews who decided to register and vote for the first time,” Makhlouf said.

Lebanese-born Lody Brais, a community leader who helped publicize the embassy’s campaign, said more and more young Lebanese Brazilians have been manifesting their wish to get involved with Lebanon and help it overcome its crises.

“The diaspora’s vote may help change Lebanese politics. People have lost confidence in politicians,” added Brais, who helped collect food and medicines to be donated to Beirut after the explosion.

“Many descendants who have relatives there sent them money. Everybody was concerned for the victims.”

At the time, lawyer Hanna Mtanios Hanna Jr., honorary consul of Lebanon in the Brazilian city of Goiania, received dozens of calls during his COVID-19 confinement from people who wanted to do something to help Beirut.

“Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Lebanese immigrants would call me saying they had a family connection with the country and wanted to help. Since then, their ties with Lebanon have been growing,” he said.

Lawyer Maggie Chidiac, 58, who has family in Lebanon, told Arab News that it is perceptible how living conditions in the country have declined in recent years.

“We’ve been sending them food and medicines. Community associations and churches usually coordinate donations,” she said.

“The people are facing terrible challenges. We know it because we’re always in touch with them through the internet.”

Communication between Lebanese and their Brazilian relatives have served to inform the latter about Lebanon’s politics, Chidiac said.

“Their reports and opinions are very important for us because they help us understand their situation,” she added.

One of the institutions that coordinated the donations campaign in 2020, the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce — known by the Portuguese acronym CCAB — not only funded healthcare items that were sent by Brazil’s government to Beirut, but also launched money-donation drives.

“The Lebanese consulate in Rio de Janeiro organized a music concert in which Brazilian musicians played with the Beirut orchestra,” said Mohamad Orra Mourad, CCAB’s vice president of international affairs.

“It was televised, and people could donate money to one of our accounts during the show. It all was sent to the Lebanese Red Cross.”

A Brazilian plane carried 6 tons of food, medicines and healthcare items, including mechanical ventilators.

CCAB was awarded a medal by Brazil’s government in December due its efforts in that campaign.

Mourad said the Lebanese Embassy met with Lebanese-Brazilian business leaders in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last year, and asked them to find a way of contributing to the Lebanese economy.

“We’ve been organizing informal gatherings and discussing forms of answering that request, which can include an investment fund, for instance,” Mourad said.

CCAB will establish a juridical entity that can centralize donations for Lebanon and plans to launch different initiatives, including a program to train businesspeople in the country. Mourad said it also intends to connect Lebanese and Brazilian startups.

“We’ve been pushing for ratification of a commercial agreement between Lebanon and Mercosur,” he added, referring to the South American trade bloc. With ratification, “the commercial exchange could rapidly increase.”

Mourad believes that if more Lebanese Brazilians obtain Lebanese citizenship, they will feel more connected to the country and may decide to invest in it.

“The revived interest among Lebanese Brazilians can certainly lead businessmen to invest in Lebanon,” he said.

“But that will only happen if Lebanon can demonstrate that it will work to overcome instability.”