Taliban chief calls for aid as deadliest earthquake in decades jolts Afghanistan

Taliban chief calls for aid as deadliest earthquake in decades jolts Afghanistan
In this photo released by a state-run news agency Bakhtar, Afghans look at destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Taliban chief calls for aid as deadliest earthquake in decades jolts Afghanistan

Taliban chief calls for aid as deadliest earthquake in decades jolts Afghanistan
  • Wednesday’s quake, deadliest since 1998, struck near border with Pakistan
  • At least 1,000 people were killed in two districts of Paktika province alone

KABUL: The Taliban chief called on Wednesday for international assistance after the deadliest earthquake in decades struck eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 1,000 people, with warnings that the death toll is likely to rise.

The 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit rural, mountainous areas of Paktika and Khost provinces near the Pakistani border on Tuesday night, flattening homes as people slept inside.

Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika, told reporters that more than 1,000 people were killed and more than 1,500 others injured in the Gayan and Barmal districts of Paktika alone. He said that the figures were expected to increase.

In an emergency meeting, the Afghan government approved 100 million Afghanis ($1.1 million) for relief efforts, but as the country is already facing a financial and humanitarian crisis, the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, called on the international community for help.

“We also ask the international community, aid organizations and humanitarian agencies to support the people of Afghanistan during this great disaster, and help the victims as much as possible,” he said.

Offers of immediate assistance came from Pakistan. Tremors were also recorded in the country, but authorities did not report damage or casualties. The Pakistani foreign office said that it was working to extend aid.

The earthquake was the deadliest in Afghanistan since 1998, when magnitude 6.5 tremors killed more than 4,000 people in Takhar province in the country’s north.

Sakhi Rahman, a resident of Paktika, told Arab News that medical facilities in the province were overwhelmed by casualties.

“We may have a maximum of 300 to 400 hospital beds in the whole province,” he said. “We need ambulances and helicopters to transfer the wounded to Kabul and other provinces where they can receive proper and timely treatment.”

Another resident, Ahmad Gul, said that dozens of people were killed in every village of the mountainous area.

“The disaster is very big. We have minimum facilities available in the province,” he said. “We must leave everything else and pay attention to saving more people.”

Rescuers were rushed to the area, but the response is complicated by the fact that many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August, as US-led forces withdrew following two decades of war.

In response to the Taliban takeover, many nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan, paralyzing its banking sector and cutting billions of dollars worth of development aid.

Abdul Fatah Jawad, head of the Afghan aid group Ehsas Welfare and Social Services Organization, told Arab News that international help was urgently needed.

“UN agencies, international organizations and charity foundations must give priority to providing emergency assistance to the provinces hit by last night’s earthquake,” he said.

“The government alone isn’t going to be able to address this massive calamity.”
 

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Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 6 min 45 sec ago

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 55 min 5 sec ago

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2022

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

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Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Updated 01 July 2022

Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada joined religious, tribal leaders at first loya jirga since Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
  • Gathering took place after number of ex-administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad

KABUL: The reclusive Taliban chief on Friday pardoned members of Afghanistan’s former Western-backed administration during a rare public appearance and joined thousands of religious and tribal leaders gathered in Kabul from throughout the country.

Some 3,500 representatives, including members of minorities, arrived in the Afghan capital on Thursday for the first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, a grand assembly traditionally held by Afghans to reach a consensus on important political issues.

The conference took place after a number of former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country.

In Friday’s speech at the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada said he had pardoned them but did not see their future in the country’s administration.

“I don’t hold them accountable for their past actions,” he told the loya jirga participants, the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported.

“But amnesty doesn’t mean including them in the government.”

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

Akhundzada has been the Taliban ultimate authority since 2016. Rarely seen in public, he has long kept a low profile. His last public appearance was in Kandahar city during Eid prayers in May, but the congregation could not see him and only heard his voice.

His direct appearance before the loya jirga participants was confirmed by government spokesmen and Abdul Wahid Rayan, the chief of Bakhtar News Agency.

“He sat on the stage facing the audience and gave his speech,” Rayan told Arab News.

During the Kabul gathering, Akhundzada called on investors to return to the country and gave them security assurances, saying that dependence on foreign aid could not revive the country’s economy.

Afghanistan has been facing an economic and humanitarian disaster since the Taliban takeover, which prompted the US and other donor states to cut off financial assistance, freeze the country’s $10 billion assets, and isolate it from the global banking system.

“I ask businessmen to come to Afghanistan without any fear and invest in making factories, because foreign aid will not help boost our economy,” Akhundzada said.

The loya jirga was called by the Taliban to forge national unity, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

Prof. Naseer Ahmad Nawidy, political science lecturer at Salam University in Kabul, said Akhundzada’s speech had delivered, “clear messages about tolerance, unity, obedience, and solidarity to members of the Taliban while acknowledging their sacrifices.”

He told Arab News: “This is promising and will boost the confidence of the Taliban about their leadership.”

However, he added that no perspective was provided about the country’s future, including “women’s rights, girls’ education, economic opportunities, utilizing technical expertise of all Afghans in governance, and optimism to the youth.”


Arab Americans losing major benefits from US Census’ ‘discriminatory’ exclusion

Arab Americans losing major benefits from US Census’ ‘discriminatory’ exclusion
Updated 01 July 2022

Arab Americans losing major benefits from US Census’ ‘discriminatory’ exclusion

Arab Americans losing major benefits from US Census’ ‘discriminatory’ exclusion
  • No access to federal grants for minority business and congressional political empowerment programs, says Samer Khalaf, ADC national president
  • ‘Critical data needed for treatment of COVID-19, disability, mental health and other medical issues’

CHICAGO: The continued exclusion of Arab Americans from being counted in the decennial US Census is “another form of discrimination,” resulting in the loss of financial benefits and critical data needed for healthcare and other programs, according to Samer Khalaf, national president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

During an interview on The Ray Hanania Show on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, the ADC leader said that while he favors using the term “Arab” on the census, the community consensus to use MENA, or Middle East and North African, has the support of the Biden administration and cuts through the many divisions in the community.

Being excluded in the census, Khalaf said, has resulted in Arab Americans losing benefits — from receiving federal grants to being included in congressional political empowerment programs.

 

“It’s not just that we lost things. We never got anything that we were entitled to get. It’s not just a financial aspect. There hasn’t been a National Institute Health Study on the Arab community, ever. And the reason why is because there are no reliable data that can be used in the study because we are not counted. We have become the invisible minority,” Khalaf told Arab News.

“So, there are things other than financial that we are not getting. We don’t know what our COVID infection rates are. We don’t know what the percentage of our community is vaccinated because that data is simply not collected. It is beyond just financial detriment to our community. We have lost a lot of stuff … we don’t even realize.”

Khalaf emphasized: “It (the census exclusion) is discrimination because it is basically keeping us out of a lot of the programs that we think we are entitled to. Moreover, it is treating us as if we don’t exist. Literally as we don’t exist at all in this country and that is the biggest problem that we have.”

Khalaf said that over the years the diversity of the Arab world and Middle East has actually played against the US government embracing the term “Arab” as the possible designation on a future census, possibly in 2030. That’s why the emphasis has been on “MENA.”

 

“The ADC’s always number one preference is ‘Arab.’ That’s always been the case. We use the term and will use the term, and continue to use the term in the future. Our biggest (concern), again, what we thought the big picture was, is that as long as we were counted as a separate and distinct group, Arab (or) MENA, we just need to be counted,” Khalaf said.

“We want the issue to be transformed away from what (term is) to be used, to be that we are counted. Let’s step aside (from) the issue and what terms we are going to use and at least get the issue of being counted done and out of the way. That’s why we, as an organization, said fine. If it is going to be MENA, as long as we are counted, we are okay with that.”

Khalaf said that the Arab community has failed to receive its share of federal government support which ranges from funding to political recognition, and support for cultural and health programs. 

One example of how Arabs have been marginalized, Khalaf said, is in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic’s impact on Arab Americans. He said that the government has instead asked the Arab community to gather the necessary community data that is needed to qualify Arab families and businesses for COVID-19 relief.

 

“One of the pushbacks we are getting from the federal government is … that there are no statistics, or there are no numbers as to how many Arab American businesses are there. Where are they located? Are they successful? They want to know from us do we have issues getting loans. Are our interest rates higher than others because of discrimination? That information is not available,” Khalaf said.

“They went to us and charged us to collect that information. So the ADC right now is doing a study. We are trying to collect data. We are asking Arab American business owners all over the country to fill out a questionnaire that we have on our website which is on ADCRI.org. 

“Business owners can go there and fill out a questionnaire. It will be anonymous so nobody knows who they are. But at least we can now get the data and take that data to the government and say hey look, here is the data we have for you. Now give us the minority business designation.”

“It changed and transformed the landscape. So we did see issues regarding our own businesses. We saw other problems develop because of COVID. And a lot of that had to do more or less with our community unable to sort of fully tap all the benefits that the federal government and state government are offering to the individuals. 

“And some of that was because of our own lack of knowledge. Some of it was because of the barrier to our language, language barriers. And some of it was the fact that as a community, we are not recognized. We are still classified as White. So we were (by) definition not even able to get some of those benefits.”

Khalaf said that exclusion from the census as “Arab” or “MENA” “holds us back,” and Arabs have become an “underserved community” when it comes to providing resources to address challenges that face all communities, including family services, domestic violence, disability, mental health and healthcare. 

“We are denied the resources for us to know how these issues impact our community and how serious they are,” he said.

Khalaf said that the Arab community came close to being fully included in the census during the administration of President Barack Obama, but noted that former president Donald Trump blocked it. President Joe Biden, he said, is “reviewing it.”

 

“Chances are it is going to happen. It is a matter of time. But we need to be vigilant,” Khalaf said.

“We need to hold the census and OMB — and don’t forget that the OMB is an important player in all of this, the Office of Management and Budget. OMB is the one that defines the classification, and we need to hold their feet to the fire and say this was a done deal and you were about to do it if not for the former administration.”

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.