OIC summit, Saudi Arabia helped connect Afghanistan to world: Taliban envoy

Special OIC summit, Saudi Arabia helped connect Afghanistan to world: Taliban envoy
Afghanistan's envoy to Pakistan, Sardar Ahmed Khan Shakib, during the interview with Arab News in Islamabad on Tuesday. (AN photo)
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Updated 12 January 2022

OIC summit, Saudi Arabia helped connect Afghanistan to world: Taliban envoy

OIC summit, Saudi Arabia helped connect Afghanistan to world: Taliban envoy
  • Extraordinary session of OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers hosted by Pakistan in December focused on Afghan economic crisis
  • Saudi Arabia pledged $266m in aid to organization’s Humanitarian Trust Fund for Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s envoy to Pakistan has praised the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for working to connect the country to the outside world and lauded Saudi Arabia for its crucial humanitarian assistance.

Afghanistan has been facing a looming humanitarian disaster since the Taliban took control in mid-August, a situation that prompted the US and other donor states to cut off financial assistance and isolate the country from the global financial system.

The sudden suspension of aid and access to banking has left nearly 23 million Afghans facing extreme levels of hunger and 9 million at risk of famine, according to UN agencies.

On Dec. 19, the OIC held the 17th extraordinary session of its Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad. The meeting, called by Saudi Arabia, focused on the economic crisis in Afghanistan and was also attended by delegations from the EU, and the P5+1 group of the UN Security Council, comprising the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

At the summit’s conclusion, OIC member states agreed to establish a humanitarian trust fund to channel assistance, appoint a special envoy, and work together with the UN in the war-ravaged country.

“It (the OIC meeting) was a channel to connect Afghanistan with the world,” Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Sardar Ahmed Khan Shakib told Arab News earlier this week, in his first media interview since assuming office.

“Through the OIC conference, we were able to show to the world the true picture of the situation in Afghanistan.”

Shakib added that Saudi Arabia had been the most generous aid contributor among OIC member states.

During the OIC’s session in Islamabad, Saudi Arabia pledged SR1 billion ($266 million) in aid to the OIC fund for Afghanistan. It has also dispatched immediate help through King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to assist Afghans amid the economic meltdown.

“Saudi Arabia is very cooperative and has helped Afghans more than any other OIC member state,” he said. “Six aircraft full of humanitarian assistance packages from Saudi Arabia, including clothes, and food have already reached the Afghans in need.”

A KSrelief convoy of goods was also sent to Afghanistan via a land route from Pakistan.

Islamabad has as well announced a 5 billion rupee ($28.4 million) medical, food, and humanitarian aid package for its landlocked neighbor.

“The Pakistani government and other organizations, including traders and community members, have also sent assistance and are still trying to fully support the Afghan people,” Shakib said.

He added that 2,000 tons of wheat from Pakistan had already arrived in Afghanistan and expressed hope that other countries that had pledged help would deliver on their promises.

“Some assistance has already reached and been distributed among Afghans,” he said. “But it is still not enough.”

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Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe
Updated 58 min 5 sec ago

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe
  • NATO will be ‘strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea’

MADRID: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced US reinforcements of NATO forces in Europe, saying the alliance is needed more today “than it ever has been.”
NATO will be “strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea,” he said at a summit of the transatlantic alliance being held in Madrid.


Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
Updated 29 June 2022

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
  • Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features

TAIPEI: Taiwan on Wednesday rebuffed a complaint from the Philippines about live fire drills around a Taiwan-controlled island deep in the South China Sea, saying it had the right to do so and always gives issues a warning of its exercises.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, in a message on Twitter late on Tuesday, lodged a “strong objection over the unlawful live fire drills” to be carried out by Taiwan this week around the island, known internationally as Itu Aba.
Taiwan calls the island Taiping and the Philippines calls it Ligaw Island.
The department said the island belonged to the Philippines.
“This illegal activity raises tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea,” it said.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement the island was part of the territory of the Republic of China — Taiwan’s formal name — and that it enjoyed all relevant rights accorded by international law.
“Our country has the right to conduct routine exercises on Taiping Island and related maritime areas. In order to ensure the safety of maritime traffic and fishing boats operating in adjacent maritime areas, we notify the relevant regional countries in advance before each live-fire drill,” it said.
Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features also claimed, entirely or in part, by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Philippines normally complains most vociferously about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including what Manila says is illegal fishing.
The Philippines, like most counties, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but there are close cultural and economic links and Taiwan is home to about 160,000 Filipinos, most of them migrant workers.
The maps China bases its South China Sea claims on date to when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China government ruled China before it fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Taiwan also controls the Pratas Islands at the very northern end of the South China Sea.


Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India
Updated 29 June 2022

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India
  • The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop
  • The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims

NEW DELHI: Tensions were high in India’s western Udaipur city Wednesday, a day after police arrested two Muslim men accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat in a brutal attack that highlights a dramatic escalation of communal violence in a country riven by deep religious polarization.
The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men who also filmed the attack and posted it online, police said, warning that the incident could inflame religious tensions and lead to violence. The video showed the tailor taking measurements of one assailant before he attacks Lal from behind and stabs at his throat with a cleaver.
TV reports aired video of Lal lying on the ground with his throat slit. The two men later claimed responsibility for the killing in another video and accused Lal of blasphemy. They also threatened to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same manner, brandishing the blood-stained weapons they used to attack Lal.
Local media reported the victim had purportedly shared a social media post supporting a suspended spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who made controversial remarks on the Prophet Muhammad last month.
The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as a spate of attacks by Hindu nationalists on minority groups — especially Muslims — who have been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to interfaith marriages. More recently, Muslim homes have also been demolished using bulldozers in some Indian states, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” against the minority group.
These tensions escalated in May when two spokespeople from Modi’s party made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Both were later suspended by Modi’s party after it led to severe diplomatic backlash for India from many Muslim-dominated countries. The controversy also led to protests in India that turned violent in some places after demonstrators pelted stones at police. At least two people were killed.
Experts worry that the latest incident could worsen India’s religious fault lines that critics say have deepened since Modi came to power in 2014.
“This gruesome incident could lead to escalated religious tensions across India, especially with the ruling party espousing a very strident Hindu majoritarian cause,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public policy think tank.
“It is unlikely that this government or leadership would go out of its way to tell supporters to not get provoked, to urge for calm and peace,” he said.
Attacks on people accused of alleged blasphemy are common in neighboring Muslim majority countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. But in India, where religious tensions often boil over into sporadic riots and deadly protests, incidents of brutal killings of this nature are rare.
In May, a Hindu man in the southern city of Hyderabad was stabbed to death in public by his Muslim wife’s relatives. Last year, a Muslim man was beheaded by members of a vigilante group on orders of his girlfriend’s Hindu family because they didn’t approve of their interfaith marriage. In Rajasthan state in 2017, a Hindu man brutally killed a Muslim laborer and shared a video of the victim being hacked to death and then set on fire.
Police said both accused were arrested within hours of Lal’s death, but in a bid to calm frayed nerves in parts of the city, authorities suspended Internet services in Rajasthan state and banned large gatherings. Authorities also rushed additional police into the city to counter any religious unrest.
India’s home ministry has dispatched a team of its anti-terror agency to Rajasthan to investigate whether the killing had any links to terrorist groups. So far, the state police have not charged the two arrested men with terrorism.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot ensured a speedy investigation into Lal’s killing. He said the criminals will be punished and urged people not to share the video on social media because of its highly inflammatory content.
“I again appeal to all to maintain peace,” Gehlot said Tuesday in a tweet.


Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
Updated 29 June 2022

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
  • Many restaurants in Shanghai were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases began rising

SHANGHAI: Restaurants and eateries in China’s largest city Shanghai begun reopening their doors to diners on Wednesday, bringing widespread relief to an industry that was badly hit by the city’s two month COVID-19 lockdown.
Large chains such as hot pot brand Haidilao, fine dining establishments and family owned eateries had started scrubbing tableware and getting uniforms laundered since Saturday when authorities announced the curbs were lifting, a month after the city’s lockdown eased on June 1.
“It’s a very good feeling,” said Oli Liu, co-owner of tapas restaurant chain Brownstone as he prepared to open his five outlets for indoor dining on Wednesday.
“With indoor dining we can make money...Until now we could do takeaway and delivery but the commissions we have to pay (to delivery platforms) means we can’t make money from that.”
Many restaurants in the city of 25 million were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai began rising. While some were able to resume food deliveries in the midst of the lockdown, others remained shut throughout.
The reopening, however, is far from straightforward. Some owners said they had not yet received the green light from their districts and are required to cap customer numbers at 50 percent as well as a limit each session to 90 minutes.
All restaurant staff will also be required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing, while diners have to show proof of a PCR test taken within three days to enter.
Local media reports have also suggested dining parties should nominate a “leader” who will be responsible for their table, though it’s unclear what might happen if guests later test positive.
Complying with such onerous rules will not be easy, and many eateries already have or are expected to call it quits, said Stefan Stiller, chef-owner of fine dining restaurant Taian Table, who added that he expects restrictions to be in place in some form for the rest of the year.
For his three-star Michelin restaurant that only seats 30 at capacity and specializes in 10 to 12 course tasting menus that typically take several hours to complete, meeting the criteria is “not so easy ... but we will manage somehow,” he said.
But many diners are eager to get back into restaurants after months of mostly eating at home.
One of the first customers through the door at Brownstone’s Lujiazui location at lunchtime on Wednesday was a Shanghai resident surnamed He.
“Normally at home I don’t cook... I have especially missed eating out,” he said. “For so long I missed eating many things — crayfish, barbecue, drinking beer.”


NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance faces its “biggest challenge” since World War II. (AFP)
Updated 29 June 2022

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’

NATO chief says alliance facing ‘biggest challenge’
  • Stoltenberg said at the start of the NATO summit in Madrid that the allies are meeting “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced”

MADRID: Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered Europe’s peace and driven NATO to pour troops and weapons into eastern Europe on a scale not seen since the Cold War.
Members of the alliance have also sent billions in military and civilian aid to Ukraine. The 30 NATO leaders will hear directly from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is likely to ask them to do even more when he addresses the gathering by video link.
Money could be a sensitive issue — just nine of NATO’s 30 members currently meet the organization’s target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
The war has already triggered a big increase in NATO’s forces in the east, and allies are expected to agree at the summit to increase the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops by next year. The troops will be based in their home nations, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Stoltenberg said NATO was undertaking “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
The leaders are also set to publish NATO’s new Strategic Concept, its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals.
Russia is set to be declared the alliance’s number one threat, but the document will also set out NATO’s approach on issues from cybersecurity to climate change — and the growing economic and military reach of China. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests, a reflection of the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region.
The summit opened with one problem solved, after Turkey agreed Tuesday to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. In response to the invasion, the two Nordic nations abandoned their long-held nonaligned status and applied to join NATO as protection against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia — which shares a long border with Finland.
Stoltenberg said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will issue a formal invitation Wednesday to the two countries to join. The decision has to be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “absolutely confident” Finland and Sweden would become members.
Stoltenberg said he expected the process to be finished “rather quickly,” but did not set a time on it.