Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks
Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada also want “other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs.” (AFP file photo)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks
  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

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After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan
Updated 15 sec ago

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan

China conducts fresh military drills around Taiwan
  • Beijing calls drills a ‘deterrent’ against Washington and Taipei
BEIJING: China said Monday it organized fresh military drills around Taiwan, in what Beijing called a “deterrent” against Washington and Taipei on the back of a visit to the island by a United States congressional delegation.
“On August 15, the Eastern Theater of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army organized a multi-service joint combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan,” said the Chinese military in a statement.

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
Updated 9 min 14 sec ago

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
  • North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the US

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “audacious” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program while avoiding harsh criticism of the North days after it threatened “deadly” retaliation over the COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
In a speech celebrating the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling the two countries partners in navigating challenges to freedom and saying their shared values will help them overcome historical grievances linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule before the end of World War II.
Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory over COVID-19 but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. The North insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”
North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that North Korea’s threat portends a provocation, which could possibly be a nuclear or major missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say the North may stir up tensions around joint military exercises the United States and South Korea start next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key for peace in the region and the world. If North Korea halts its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a process of denuclearization, the South will respond with huge economic rewards that would be provided in phases, Yoon said.
Yoon’s proposal wasn’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has been accelerating its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program leader Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, providing assistance for establishing infrastructure for the production, transmission and distribution of electrical power, and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.
“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and carry out initiatives to allow for international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting that such programs would “significantly” improve North Korean lives.
Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which derailed in early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its testing activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
Experts say Kim is intent on exploiting a favorable environment to push forward his weapons program, with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons demonstrations also underscore brinkmanship aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating badly economic benefits and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
The US and South Korean governments have also said the North is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its ICBMs.


Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
Updated 29 min 20 sec ago

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
  • Country marks the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed Japan’s no-war pledge at a somber ceremony Monday as his country marked the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat, but he did not mention Japanese wartime aggression.
In his first address as prime minister since taking office in October, Kishida said Japan will “stick to our resolve to never repeat the tragedy of the war.”
Kishida did not mention Japanese aggression across Asia in the first half of the 20th century or the victims in the region. The omission was a precedent set by the assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe, who had pushed to whitewash Japan’s wartime brutality.
Kishida largely focused on the damages Japan suffered on its turf — the US atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massive firebombings across Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity that the country enjoys today is built on the suffering and sacrifices of those who died in the war.
Beginning in 2013, Abe stopped acknowledging Japan’s wartime hostilities or apologizing in his Aug. 15 speeches, scrapping the tradition that began in 1995.
Emperor Naruhito repeated his “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime actions in a nuanced phrase in his speech, like his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the wartime emperor, Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.
Some 900 participants observed a minute of silence at noon during the ceremony held at the Budokan arena. The crowd was reduced from about 5,000 before the pandemic, participants were asked to wear masks, and there was no singing of the national anthem.
While Kishida on Monday stayed away from praying at the Yasukuni Shrine and sent a religious ornament instead, three of his Cabinet members visited — Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba earlier Monday and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
“I paid respects to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for the national policy,” Takaichi told reporters, adding that she also prayed so that there will be no more war dead in Ukraine.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno defended their Yasukuni visits by saying that “In any country, it is natural to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives to their nation,” but that they decided to pray as “private citizens.”
“There is no change to Japan’s policy of strengthening its ties with its neighbors China and South Korea,” Matsuno said.
Victims of Japanese actions during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism because it honors convicted war criminals among about 2.5 million war dead.
The visits sparked criticisms from China and South Korea.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over the Yasukuni visits which it said beautifies Japan’s past invasions. The ministry urged Japanese officials to “look squarely” at history and demonstrate their “sincere” remorse with action.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, on Sunday after Nishimura’s visit, criticized it as “Japanese government’s erroneous attitude toward historical issues.” Wang also urged Japan to “deeply reflect” on its wartime aggression and act responsibly to gain trust of its Asian neighbors and the larger international community.


‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
Updated 15 August 2022

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics

‘Shadow government’ scandal roils Australian politics
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accuses Scott Morrison of ‘tin-pot activity’
  • Scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government

SYDNEY: Revelations that Australia’s ex-prime minister secretly appointed himself to several ministerial posts during the pandemic sparked a political firestorm Monday, with his successor promising a rapid investigation.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese accused Scott Morrison of “tin-pot activity” after it emerged the former leader had made himself minister of health, finance and resources, among other positions, without informing colleagues, parliament or voters.
Describing Morrison’s actions as “extraordinary and unprecedented,” Albanese said Monday he had sought legal advice from the solicitor-general and would be briefed later today.
“This is a sort of tin-pot activity that we would ridicule if it was in a non-democratic country,” Albanese said. “Scott Morrison was running a shadow government.“
In some cases, Morrison made himself a co-minister without telling the cabinet members he had already appointed to those positions.
The scandal has shone a light on the opaque nature of decision-making inside Australia’s government — and raised questions about whether more stringent democratic safeguards are needed.
It is still not clear how many posts Morrison held, but local media reported that he took on the resources portfolio and used his power to axe a significant gas project off Sydney’s coast.
Morrison’s conservative coalition lost power in May elections, ending nearly a decade of center-right rule in the country.
In Australia, elected politicians are selected by the prime minister before being sworn in by the governor-general in a formal ceremony that is usually publicly recorded.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey described the allegations as “bizarre” and said it raised possible legal challenges to some of the former government’s decisions.
“The secrecy involved in this is just simply bizarre. I mean, you know, you just wonder what’s wrong with these people, if they have to do everything in secret,” she said.
“It’s just utterly inappropriate. We live in a democracy, which requires transparency.”


Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
Updated 15 August 2022

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal

Philippines in talks to buy US helicopters after dropping Russia deal
  • Cancelation of contract was precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine
  • The Philippines at the tail-end of a five-year modernization of its outdated military hardware

MANILA: The Philippines is looking to buy heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the United States, after scrapping a deal with Russia worth 12.7 billion pesos ($227.35 million) in order to avoid sanctions, Manila’s ambassador to Washington said on Monday.
In June, days before President Rodrigo Duterte ended his six-year term, the Philippines scrapped a deal to buy 16 Mi-17 Russian military transport helicopters because of fears of US sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“This cancelation of this contract is precipitated mainly by the war in Ukraine. While there are sanctions expected to come our way, from the United States and western countries, obviously it is not in our interest to continue and pursue this contract,” ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez told journalists in a virtual forum.
Moscow says it is conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Romualdez said the Chinooks would replace existing hardware used for the movement of troops and in disaster preparedness in the Southeast Asian country.
The United States is willing to strike a deal for the amount the Philippines was set to spend on the Russian helicopters, Romualdez said, adding the deal with Washington will likely include maintenance, service and parts.
The Philippines is pursuing discussions with Russia to recover its $38 million down payment for the helicopters, the delivery of which was supposed to start in November next year, or 24 months after the contract was signed.
The Philippines is at the tail-end of a five-year, 300 billion-pesos modernization of its outdated military hardware that includes warships from World War Two and helicopters used by the United States in the Vietnam War.
Aside from military deals, the Philippines, under new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also wants increased economic exchanges with the United States including in fields of manufacturing, digital infrastructure and clean energy, including modular nuclear power, Romualdez said.