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, Thursday, June 30, 2022. (AP)
Zabiullah Mujahid, left, the spokesman for the Taliban government, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, June 30, 2022. (AP)
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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.”


Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
Updated 13 sec ago

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage

Indonesian fruit pickers on English farm at risk of debt bondage
  • The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco
  • Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector

LONDON: Indonesian workers picking berries on a farm supplying four popular UK supermarkets say they have been burdened with debts of up to £5,000 ($6,071) to work in Britain per season.

Pickers at the farm in Kent, south-east England, were initially given zero-hours contracts, and at least one was paid less than £300 a week after the cost of using a caravan was deducted, The Guardian reported.

The farm supplies berries to Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco.

The fees the laborers paid to secure work included flights and visas. But many said they also faced thousands of pounds in extra charges from Indonesian brokers who promised them substantial earnings. This despite it being illegal to charge workers fees for finding them jobs under UK law.

One worker described how he had staked his family home in Bali as surety on the debt and was worried he would lose it.

“Now I’m working hard only to pay back that money. I cannot sleep sometimes. I have a family who need my support to eat and meanwhile, I think about the debt,” he said.

Brexit and the war in Ukraine have created chronic labor shortages in the UK’s agricultural sector, with many desperate farms and recruitment agencies forced to source labor from outside Europe, where it can be harder to track the methods local brokers use to find workers.

The revelations highlight the prospect of fruit pickers being trapped in debt bondage which would prevent them from leaving work for fear of financial ruin. Migrant rights experts said the situation put workers at risk of what was essentially forced labor.

The Home Office and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority are examining the allegations, while the supermarkets have launched an urgent investigation.

Hundreds of Indonesian farm workers have been recruited to work in Britain this summer on seasonal worker visas, the immigration route created to tackle a shortage of farm workers after the UK left the European Union.

Pickers were sent to Clock House Farm, which supplies berries to major supermarkets.

Clock House said it was “deeply concerned” by the allegations and would “not have entered into an agreement with, or taken workers from, any entity that was involved in such activity (the charging of fees).”

It said it was working with authorities to investigate the claims.


Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
Updated 14 August 2022

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul
  • Indian diplomats were recently sent back to the embassy in Afghanistan
  • New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Kabul, experts say 

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry has welcomed the “upgrade” of India’s diplomatic representation in Kabul, as the Taliban administration continued to struggle for recognition by the international community a year after it took over Afghanistan.

India had closed its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August, but New Delhi deployed a technical team earlier this year in June to coordinate their humanitarian efforts and assess the security situation in the country. 

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed on Friday that a batch of diplomats, except for the ambassador, was recently sent back to the embassy in Kabul to address a number of issues, such as humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as development projects. 

The Taliban administration has welcomed the move and promised security and immunity for Indian diplomats in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes India’s step to upgrade its diplomatic representation in Kabul,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

“The Afghan government hopes that upgrading diplomatic representation and dispatching diplomats would strengthen Afghan-India relations leading to the completion of unfinished projects by India and the commencement of new vital projects.” 

Though India was one of the few countries that opposed the reconciliation process with the Taliban in the past, experts said on Sunday that New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Afghanistan. 

“India is keen to engage with the Taliban as New Delhi believes that the Taliban government is going to stay for over five years this time or maybe longer,” Farid Mamundzay, Afghan ambassador to India appointed by the previous government, told Arab News. 

“So it’s important for India’s geopolitical interest to forget the past and form new working relations with Kabul.

An Afghan Foreign Ministry official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media told Arab News that India did not want to be left behind its geopolitical rivals.

“India wants to have its own direct lines of communication to the Afghan government, as well as to counter Pakistani and Chinese influence in Afghanistan,” the official said.

India recently opposed plans by China and Pakistan to involve third countries in their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure project, after Beijing and Islamabad agreed to extend the program to Afghanistan. New Delhi said last month that the proposed participation of third countries on those projects “directly infringes on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

India’s efforts to improve relations with the Taliban government are aimed at protecting its own interests, Torek Farhadi, analyst and advisor to the former Afghan government, told Arab News. 

“When it comes to the Taliban, India will instrumentalize them against Pakistan when it is convenient for New Delhi,” he said. 

“What we need to understand about India is that it is a pragmatic player, driving toward its own interests.” 


Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals
Updated 14 August 2022

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals

Former candidate for Michigan governor defends Biden, says more than criticism is needed to achieve goals
  • During “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday, El-Sayed told Arab News that Arab and Muslim Americans must run for office

CHICAGO: Former candidate for Michigan governor, Abdul El-Sayed, has defended US President Joe Biden, saying that Arab and Muslim Americans can’t simply focus their energies on criticism and must instead engage in positive focused activism, embrace consensus and achieve the policies they want.

El-Sayed ran for the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor in August 2018. Although he did not win, coming second with more than 30 percent, or 342,179 votes behind Gretchen Whitmer who became governor, El-Sayed was able to raise many important issues on behalf of the Arab and Muslim community.

During “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” on Wednesday, El-Sayed told Arab News that Arab and Muslim Americans must run for office but need to look beyond “differences that separate our (Arab and Muslim) communities” and focus instead on finding solutions rather than only expressing criticism.

 

“I think he is a good-hearted man whose intentions are in the right place. He has had some real successes in office and he has made some really courageous decisions for which he has suffered politically,” El-Sayed said.

“The decision to pull us out of Afghanistan, even though the pullout itself could have gone a lot better. The decision to finally pull us out of 20 years of war was an important decision and the courage in doing that should not be undermined. At the same time, I do think that his efforts and his intentions are one thing, and the politics, the political process, is another. I think sometimes we pay too much attention to the individual, the personality occupying the political power, and less to our role in shaping that. And so, if we want different policies out of the president, different policies out of the Congress, then the question we have to ask ourselves is what are we doing for it?“

El-Sayed added that the real question Arab and Muslim Americans must focus on is how they are leveraging power around that person to move their politics and move their policy.

“I have been to too many dinner parties where politics is discussed and the president is either praised or mocked, regardless of whom the president is. And then you ask, what are we doing to shape their policies and we act as if politics is something that happens in a glass house that we can’t actually engage with,” El-Sayed said.

“We see what’s happening inside but we can’t penetrate the walls. When actually, the privilege of growing up in a place like this and being and living in a place like this is that we can influence that and we have to. So, whatever you feel about the president’s politics whether abroad or here at home, the question we ought to be asking ourselves is what are we doing to shape those politics? If we want better health care, what are we doing to drive for it? If we want better access to affordable prescription drugs, what are we doing to get there?“

El-Sayed said the only way to be successful in American politics was to get involved, be open, and focus on the solutions not the disagreements that often divide the Arab and Muslim community in America.

A Democrat, El-Sayed also urged Americans not to simply focus on the negative aspects of politics, addressing growing concerns Arab-Americans and Muslims are having with President Joe Biden because of some inconsistencies in his approach to the Middle East and Arab World issues.

 

“I think sometimes we are more concerned with disagreeing with what someone said than finding the opportunities to agree and really promoting what we agree on. Part of it, it has gotten harder with the nature of our public conversation that has become so intermediated by social media, which promotes the disagreements rather than the places of agreement,” El-Sayed said.

“So, we tend to see a lot more of what we disagree with and that just enriches our disagreement rather than trying to find and preach what we agree on and hope that we can persuade people to come to see it our way, if not today then tomorrow. That implies that we are still listening. We are still talking. We are interacting with each other. But far too often, we find those points of disagreement and we use them as a pretext to end a conversation and then we find ourselves down on islands rather than working together to build a unified voice for the well-being of our particular community, for the well-being of our particular country, for the well-being of the world.”

Finding consensus and focusing on solutions rather than criticism was critical to political success, he said.

 

“There is always more that can be done. In the first place, I would say, let’s find the opportunities for agreement. What are those places where we all agree? What does that agreement look like? And how do we make that the framework for where we go moving forward?” El-Sayed said.

“The second thing I would say is that rather than concentrating on identities, let’s concentrate on the ideals that we bring to the table. It is important for us to come together as an Arab-American community. Personally, that is important to me as is my faith. And at the same time, both of those things come together with a certain level of ideals that they imprint upon me. The ideal of hospitality. The ideal of hope and inspiration. The ideal of justice. And let’s frame our engagement around those ideals.

El-Sayed said that it was easier for him to rise above tribal tendencies and engage the Arab community in a wider manner because he is Egyptian and there were so few Egyptian Americans in Michigan.

He believes that Arab Americans are still breaking through the barriers they brought with them from their original homelands when they came to America.

“A lot of our communities come from places where the opportunity to voice your positions or perspectives are muted at best and can wind you up in jail or worse. So, I think there is a real fear in engaging in the system. Sometimes that means people just stay quiet,” El-Sayed said. “Or it means that people engage in a politics of clientelism, meaning we have to find someone from outside of our community who is going to carry our interests. There are other interests they trumpet and those are going to be the ones they voice and we are just going to have to put up with it.” 

A physician, epidemiologist, educator, author, speaker and podcast host, El-Sayed is also a commentator at CNN. His newsletter, The Incision, examines the trends shaping current debates. He is the author of three books, including “Healing Politics: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic” (Abrams Press, 2020). He is a senior fellow at the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and a scholar-in-residence at Wayne State University and American University, where he teaches in the area of public health, public policy and politics. 

El-Sayed has a bachelor degree in biology and political science from the University of Michigan (2007), a doctorate in philosophy in public health from the University of Oxford (2011), and a masters degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (2014).

El-Sayed said that he was currently focused on his family and young child and is not thinking about running for office again, although he has not ruled it out in the future.

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 show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support

Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support
Updated 14 August 2022

Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support

Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support
  • “He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,” his agent, Andrew Wylie, said
  • Suspect pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at court appearance on Saturday

CHICAGO: The literary agent for Salman Rushdie — attacked by a pro-Iran activist at an event in New York state on Friday — said that the author had been taken off his ventilator, was able to talk and had been making jokes.

Hadi Matar, 24, arrested for the attack, was charged but denied bail as prosecutors argued that he had international support for his actions.

Rushdie’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, told media on Sunday that the author, the subject of a death fatwa issued by the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 33 years ago, remained hospitalized due to serious injuries.

Wylie had previously described Rushdie’s condition as bleak, noting that the author was in a “critical condition,” that he was “likely to lose an eye,” and had suffered damage to his arm and his liver.

The news about the improved condition of Rushdie, 75, however, encouraged hope and tempered the attack as a failed attempt by the extremist Iran regime, accused of fostering terrorism around the world.

The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree. He was arraigned on Saturday night at Chautauqua County Jail in New York.

Bail for Matar was denied with prosecutor’s arguing that Matar had international support and could easily flee the country.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt told Judge Marilyn Gerace that the fatwa issued by Iran in 1989 “plays an important role for bail consideration because his resources don’t matter to me . . . the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that’s adopted and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County . . . Even if this court sets a million-dollar bail, we stand a risk that this bail could be met because of that.”

Matar, who is from Fairview, New Jersey, is scheduled to appear again in court on Friday. He is being represented by a New York public defender assigned to represent him by the court.

Calls for a crackdown on Iranian terrorism and violence escalated as police continued to investigate Matar’s motives and possible ties to supporters of Iran’s regime.

Matar’s Facebook page and social media included photos of Khomeini and other Iran regime leaders.

“The stabbing of Salman Rushdie was not a spontaneous act,” said Ali Safavi, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, who strongly condemned the attack. “Over 30 years ago, Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s ruling theocracy, issued a fatwa to murder him. His successor Ali Khamenei confirmed it and state institutions set a $3.5 million reward. Lesson to be learned is that appeasement backfires and emboldens terrorism.”

Former US president, Bill Clinton, wrote on Twitter: “Salman Rushdie has lived his life courageously and refused to let intimidation silence him, his art, and what he stands for. I am keeping him in my thoughts and praying for his recovery.”

Clinton’s post drew criticism from some writers, who accused the former president of turning a blind eye to violence against Muslims and Palestinians, but stopped short of praising Matar.

Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state, tweeted: “I’m horrified by the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie and praying for his speedy recovery. As he once wrote: ‘A poet’s work (is) to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep’.”

Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel issued a statement offering thoughts and prayers for Rushdie’s recovery.

“The small tranquil community of the Chautauqua Institution has been shaken to its core by an act of violence, which has reverberated across Chautauqua County and western New York. It is disappointing that we live in a society where we cannot listen to the differences of others, especially in a place like the institution where thinkers and problem-solvers from around the world come to share their stories,” Wendel said.

“I thank all of the emergency and law enforcement agencies who have done a tremendous job in responding to this horrific event. It is through their quick response that they were able to mitigate the situation and capture the alleged assailant.”

Author Stephen King posted on Twitter that the attack had depressed him: “I’m trying to cheer myself up this afternoon. What happened to Salman Rushdie preys on my mind.”

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, a strong critic of President Joe Biden, turned the debate to politics, attacking Biden’s efforts to reach an accord with Iran on nuclear weapons.

“Iran has been plotting for the death of Salman Rushdie since 1989 and offered a bounty to anyone who assassinates him. Yesterday, he was attacked on stage. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is open to having additional talks with this dangerous, terrorist regime,” Blackburn wrote on Twitter.

Rushdie was about to address the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center and summer resort near Buffalo, New York, when he was attacked. Rushdie was planning to speak about America being a place of “asylum for writers and other artists in exile.”

Police said that Matar had a pass to attend the presentation at the gated institution community but that passes were available to anyone.


At least 1 dead, 20 injured in explosion at Armenian market

At least 1 dead, 20 injured in explosion at Armenian market
Updated 14 August 2022

At least 1 dead, 20 injured in explosion at Armenian market

At least 1 dead, 20 injured in explosion at Armenian market

YEREVAN: An explosion at a retail market in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Sunday sparked a fire, killing one person and injuring 20, the emergency situations ministry said.
The blast, the cause of which was not immediately known, ripped through the “retail market in Surmalu. According to preliminary information it started a fire. There are victims,” the ministry said.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed a thick column of black smoke over the market and successive detonations could be heard.
The ministry said there were 10 firefighting trucks on the spot and another 10 were on their way.