Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
The earthquake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2022

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
  • Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people
  • Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid

ISLAMABAD: Afghan finance and central bank officials from the Taliban-led government departed for Qatar on Wednesday to meet with a US Treasury department official, after last week’s deadly earthquake highlighted how critical relief efforts have stumbled under the weight of the country’s spiraling economic woes.
Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people, according to UN figures, though the Taliban put the death toll at closer to 1,150, with thousands injured. The UN says 155 children are among those killed in what was the deadliest earthquake to hit the impoverished country in two decades.
The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces.
News of a meeting between Taliban government officials and US officials was confirmed by Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Hafiz Zia Ahmad, who said the Afghan delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi. He said the officials will meet in Doha, Qatar with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and officials from the US Treasury Department to discuss Afghanistan’s economic and banking sectors.
The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that senior Biden administration officials are working with Taliban leadership on a mechanism to allow Afghanistan’s government to use its central bank reserves to deal with the country’s severe hunger and poverty crises while erecting safeguards to ensure the funds are not misused.
The Biden administration froze some $9 billion in foreign Afghan central reserves after the Taliban seized power last August, prompting a chaotic and deadly withdrawal of US and NATO allied forces, as well as more than 100,00 Afghans and others.
The international sanctions that followed choked off bank transfers for months into the country, even for many aid groups still operating there. Afghans have since struggled to withdraw money from local banks and tens of thousands of public sector employees continue to see their salaries delayed as the Taliban leadership seeks ways to collect taxes and other fees to keep the government running.
No government has yet recognized the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan. The former insurgents have resisted international pressure to maintain the previous rights gained by Afghan women, instead imposing restrictions on women’s dress and limiting access to schools for teenage girls.
Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid. The UN and an array of overstretched aid agencies in the country have tried to keep Afghanistan from the brink of collapse, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which is paying the salaries of health care staff and the operational costs of more than 30 hospitals across the country.
Overstretched aid agencies said the earthquake underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital foreign reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine.
Authorities and charities are struggling to access the far-flung region where the quake struck, and appear overwhelmed by the scale of the damage and the daunting task of debris removal, let alone reconstruction.
Survivors have had to dig through debris with their bare hands to search for missing loved ones as the ground continues to rumble with more aftershocks.


Protests as Ruto declared winner of disputed Kenya vote

William Ruto speaks after being declared the winner of Kenya's presidential election in Nairobi, Kenya August 15, 2022. (REUTERS
William Ruto speaks after being declared the winner of Kenya's presidential election in Nairobi, Kenya August 15, 2022. (REUTERS
Updated 9 sec ago

Protests as Ruto declared winner of disputed Kenya vote

William Ruto speaks after being declared the winner of Kenya's presidential election in Nairobi, Kenya August 15, 2022. (REUTERS

NAIROBI: William Ruto was declared the winner of Kenya’s close-fought presidential poll on a day of high drama Monday, with violent protests in his defeated rival’s strongholds, claims of rigging and a split in the commission that oversaw the vote.
As tensions ran high after his narrow victory in the August 9 race against Raila Odinga, the 55-year-old president-elect issued a conciliatory message, vowing to work with “all leaders.”
“There is no room for vengeance,” said Ruto, who will become Kenya’s fifth president since independence from Britain in 1963. “I am acutely aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck.”
The dispute will test Kenya’s stability after previous elections in the East African political and economic powerhouse were blighted by claims of rigging and vicious bouts of deadly violence.
Ruto secured 50.49 percent of the vote in his first-ever attempt at the top job, just ahead of Odinga on 48.85 percent, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission head Wafula Chebukati said after an anxious days-long wait for results.
He will succeed his estranged boss President Uhuru Kenyatta, 60, the son of Kenya’s first post-independence leader, who has served two terms and could not run again.

But it was yet another bruising defeat for 77-year-old Odinga, the veteran opposition leader who had hoped it would be fifth time lucky as he ran with the support of former foe Kenyatta and the weight of the ruling party machinery behind him.
Odinga was nowhere to be seen on Monday, but his party agent described the election as “shambolic,” saying it had been marred by irregularities and mismanagement.
Odinga has accused his opponents of cheating him out of victory in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, and analysts say it is likely he will appeal to the Supreme Court over this year’s results.
“It is not over till it is over,” Odinga’s running mate Martha Karua said on Twitter.
Chaos erupted at the IEBC’s national tallying center in Nairobi before the results were announced, with chairs hurled and scuffles between party rivals.
Four of the IEBC’s seven commissioners disowned the results, saying the process was “opaque” but without elaborating.
In Odinga’s lakeside stronghold of Kisumu, angry supporters took to the streets, hurling stones, setting fire to tires and building roadblocks, with police responding with tear gas.
“We were cheated,” Isaac Onyango, 24, said on a street sealed off by two large bonfires and broken rock.
Protests also erupted in slums in Nairobi where Odinga is popular, with police firing live rounds, although no casualties were reported.
Several African leaders offered their congratulations to Ruto, while the US embassy in Kenya reserved its plaudits instead for the people of Kenya and the IEBC.
It called on party leaders to urge their supporters to refrain from violence, and for any concerns about the election to be resolved through “existing dispute resolution mechanisms.”

The row over the results is likely however to further dent the IEBC’s reputation after it had faced stinging criticism over its handling of the 2017 election which was annulled by Kenya’s top court in a historic first for Africa.
Chebukati, who was also in charge of the IEBC in 2017, insisted he had carried out his duties according to the law of the land despite facing “intimidation and harassment.”
Despite a divisive campaign and swirling disinformation, polling day had passed off generally peacefully.
But turnout was historically low at around 65 percent of the 22 million registered voters, with disillusionment over corruption by power-hungry elites prompting many Kenyans to stay home.
Power transfers can be fraught in Kenya, and any challenge to the Supreme Court will leave the country of about 50 million people facing weeks of political uncertainty.
It is already struggling with soaring prices, a crippling drought, endemic corruption and growing disenchantment with the political elite.
Ruto, a shadowy rags-to-riches businessman, had characterised the vote as a battle between ordinary “hustlers” and the Kenyatta and Odinga “dynasties” who have dominated Kenyan politics since independence from Britain in 1963.
With memories of previous post-poll violence still fresh, Odinga and Ruto had pledged to accept the outcome of a free and fair election, and air their grievances in court rather than on the streets.
If there is no court petition, Ruto will take the oath of office in two weeks’ time.
But no presidential ballot has gone uncontested in Kenya since 2002.
Any challenge must be made within seven days to the Supreme Court. The country’s highest judicial body has a 14-day deadline to issue a ruling, and if it orders an annulment, a new vote must be held within 60 days.
In August 2017, the Supreme Court annulled the election after Odinga rejected the results that gave Kenyatta victory, with dozens of people killed by police in the protests that followed.
Kenyatta went on to win the re-run after an opposition boycott.
The worst electoral violence in Kenya’s history occurred after a disputed vote in 2007, when more than 1,100 people were killed in bloodletting between rival tribes.

 


Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them
Updated 16 August 2022

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

WASHINGTON: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sued the US Central Intelligence Agency and its former director Mike Pompeo on Monday, alleging it recorded their conversations and copied data from their phones and computers.
The attorneys, along with two journalists joining the suit, are Americans and allege that the CIA violated their US constitutional protections for confidential discussions with Assange, who is Australian.
They said the CIA worked with a security firm contracted by the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was living at the time, to spy on the WikiLeaks founder, his lawyers, journalists and others he met with.
Assange is facing extradition from Britain to the US, where he is charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing US military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Robert Boyle, a New York attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the alleged spying on Assange’s attorneys means the WikiLeaks founder’s right to a fair trial has “now been tainted, if not destroyed.”
“The recording of meetings with friends, with lawyers and the copying of his attorneys’ and friends’ digital information taints the criminal prosecution because now the government knows the contents of those communications,” Boyle told reporters.
“There should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities,” he said.
The suit was filed by attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.
They all visited Assange while he was living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London under political asylum, since withdrawn.
The suit named the CIA, former CIA director and former US secretary of state Pompeo, and the security firm Undercover Global and its chief executive David Morales Guillen.
It said Undercover Global, which had a security contract with the embassy, swept information on their electronic devices, including communications with Assange, and provided it to the CIA.
In addition it placed microphones around the embassy and sent recordings, as well as footage from security cameras, to the CIA, the suit alleges.
This, the attorneys said, violated privacy protections for US citizens.
Assange is awaiting a ruling on his appeal of the British extradition order to the United States.
The charges he faces could bring a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The suit said that Spain-based Undercover Global was recruited to work with the CIA in 2017 by officials from the Las Vegas Sands casino group.
Las Vegas Sands was at the time controlled by the late tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a powerful conservative backer of the Republican Party who, the suit said, “had cooperated with the CIA on similar matters in the past.”
The suit said that while Undercover Global controlled security at the embassy, each visitor had to leave their electronic devices with a guard before seeing Assange.
“The information contained on the plaintiff’s devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA,” they said.
“Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange,” the suit alleged.
It said the defendants became aware of the spying only when the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2019 that Morales and Undercover Global were under criminal investigation in Spain.
El Pais revealed information on the London operations that had previously been sealed in the case.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
Updated 15 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

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PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 15 August 2022

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 15 August 2022

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.