US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

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Updated 29 September 2022

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert

US withdrawal doomed Afghan women to a dire future, says rights expert
  • Kevin Schumacher of Women for Afghan Women said of all the people in Afghanistan, women are suffering the most and face the greatest threats
  • ‘The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights,’ he added

Women in Afghanistan are in a dire situation as a result of the US withdrawal from the country last year, an official from leading international aid and advocacy group Women for Afghan Women said on Wednesday.

Of all the people in Afghanistan, it is women who are suffering the most and face the greatest threats, according to Kevin Schumacher, the organization’s deputy executive director.

US President Joe Biden ordered what turned out to be an abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the country in August 2021. Their departure left the way clear for the Taliban — a fanatical religious group that 20 years earlier had provided sanctuary for Al-Qaeda terrorists, including leader Osama bin Laden — to regain control of the country.

Schumacher said the US withdrawal has resulted in a massive reduction in international financial support for the country, the repercussions of which have included increases in levels of illiteracy and poverty, especially among women, who are bottom of the Taliban’s list of priorities.

“I would like us to think about what happened over the past 13 months in Afghanistan,” he said during an appearance on the Ray Hanania Radio Show. “We had a dramatic regime change in that country, as a result of which the international community decided to withdraw.

“All of a sudden, billions of dollars in aid and humanitarian assistance stopped and the international community decided to disengage with that country.

“Now you have hundreds of thousands of professionals, men and women, who used to work with international organizations or they were working in domestic circles but their business was funded directly or indirectly by the international community.

“All of these people, all of a sudden, find themselves in a situation where there is no money coming to the country anymore, there is a government in Kabul that is not recognized internationally, and people really have no idea what tomorrow will bring to them. Many countries decided not to have any diplomatic or business transactions with Afghanistan because so much is uncertain on the ground.”

The US withdrawal has caused financial crisis in Afghanistan, the effects of which have been particularly bad for women, Schumacher said. Prior to the US withdrawal, half of the country’s budget, $6 billion a year, came from international aid and this has been lost, he added, which has caused the support infrastructure women relied on to collapse.

“All of that has translated into a very chaotic financial situation in Afghanistan," Schumacher said. “A lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of people basically were on the verge of poverty to begin with.

“Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in Asia. If you look at UN statistics, average Afghans live on under $1,200 a year — and that is on a good day. All of a sudden you have billions of dollars of aid money that is no longer available.”

The situation in the country is now so bad, he added, it is almost impossible to gauge the extent of the Taliban’s oppression of women.

“The problem is no one wants to hear it; nobody follows up on that,” Schumacher said. “The majority of Afghan men, especially those empowered by the Taliban, are not interested in women’s rights.

“And the Taliban administration in general does not seem to care much about women’s rights, even despite the fact that the Taliban’s top leadership seems to be sensitive to this issue.

“So, you have a reality in which a lot of these women are forced into marriage out of poverty or are being sold into marriage or are being sold into hard labor.”

The Taliban administration is only interested in enforcing its strict interpretation of Shariah, without considering the needs of Afghan women, he added. Although the group claims it does not support forced marriages, the social structures that monitored the situation and provided support for women have collapsed.

“In theory, the Taliban insist that they are supportive of woman’s right to choose their husband,” Schumacher said. “But in reality there is no legal mechanism to advocate for women.

“If a woman is victimized by her own family or is forced into marriage, she has no place to go. There is no mediation system. There is no legal system. There is no shelter. Nothing exists because the Taliban authority forced us to shut down all those systems.”

Even before the Taliban came to power, Schumacher said, the UN reported that “70 percent of Afghan women had no access to education and were illiterate.” Now, with women being stripped of their rights completely by the Taliban regime, their future prospects have become even more grim, especially in the realm of education.

The high levels of illiteracy have created massive poverty among many Afghan women, he added, including the widows of men who fought in the various wars of the past 45 years, all the way back to the Soviet invasion in 1979. With no access to education, Schumacher said, they are unable to develop the skills and knowledge to support their families.

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit, Washington DC and Chicago and sponsored by Arab News. You can listen to the entire interview by visiting the Ray Hanania Radio Show website at www.ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
Updated 26 November 2022

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
  • China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns
  • Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night

Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!,” pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many Internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID-19 measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame-the-victim” attitude would make people angrier. “Public trust will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero COVID-19 policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a COVID-19 quarantine bus.
“Is there not something we can reflect on to make some changes,” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero COVID-19 policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.


Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
Updated 26 November 2022

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan to address first rally since being shot
  • The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Iman Khan was ousted
  • The rally will take place on a vast open ground between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is expected on Saturday to address thousands of supporters at his first public appearance since being shot earlier this month in an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor.
The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Saturday’s rally is the climax of a so-called “long march” by Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to press the government to call a snap election before parliament’s term expires in October next year.
“My life is in danger, and despite being injured I am going to Rawalpindi for the nation,” PTI quoted Khan as saying in a morning tweet.
“My nation will come to Rawalpindi for me.”
On Saturday, a video was circulating of aides posing with a now-removed blue cast that Khan wore on his right leg after the shooting.
The rally will take place on a vast open ground between the capital, Islamabad, and neighboring Rawalpindi — the garrison city that is home to the headquarters of the country’s powerful military.
Authorities have thrown a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent Khan’s supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
Khan-led protests in May spiraled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
Police said any attempt by PTI supporters to enter Islamabad this time would be firmly dealt with.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah — who Khan says was involved in the assassination plot — issued a “red alert” Friday warning of security threats to the rally.
“PTI still has the time (to cancel),” he said, listing Pakistan’s Taliban and Al Qaeda among the extremist groups that could harm Khan.
The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone wolf now in custody, with police leaking a “confession” video by the junk-shop owner saying he acted because Khan was against Islam.
But Khan, a former international cricket star with a playboy reputation before he married, said he has long warned the government would blame a religious fanatic for any attempt to kill him.
Saturday’s rally takes place two days after the government named a former spymaster as the next military chief.
General Syed Asim Munir’s appointment ended months of speculation over a position long considered the real power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.
Munir served as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency under Khan, but his stint ended after just eight months following a reported falling out.
Pakistan’s military, the world’s sixth-largest, is hugely influential in the country and has staged at least three coups since independence in 1947, ruling for more than three decades.
Since being ousted, Khan has staged a series of mass rallies across the country, drawing huge crowds.
Saturday’s gathering is expected to be one of the biggest yet.
Convoys of PTI supporters were streaming in from around Pakistan, with buses, trucks and cars bearing party flags.

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Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
Updated 26 November 2022

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts

Taliban’s treatment of women may be crime against humanity: UN experts
  • Treatment of women and girls may amount to ‘gender persecution’ under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party

GENEVA: The Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women and girls, including their exclusion from parks and gyms as well as schools and universities, may amount to a crime against humanity, a group of UN experts said on Friday.
The assessment by the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan Richard Bennett and nine other UN experts says the treatment of women and girls may amount to “gender persecution” under the Rome Statute to which Afghanistan is a party.
Responding to the assessment, Taliban Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said: “The current collective punishment of innocent Afghans by the UN sanctions regime all in the name of women rights and equality amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN experts said in a statement that women’s confinement to their homes was “tantamount to imprisonment,” adding that it was likely to lead to increased levels of domestic violence and mental health problems. The experts cited the arrest this month of female activist Zarifa Yaqobi and four male colleagues.
They remain in detention, the experts said.
The Taliban took over from a Western-backed government in August 2021. They say they respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.
Western governments have said the Taliban needs to reverse its course on women’s rights, including their U-turn on signals they would open girls’ high schools, for any path toward formal recognition of the Taliban government.
Separately, a spokesperson for the UN human rights office called for the Taliban authorities to immediately halt the use of public floggings in Afghanistan.
Ravina Shamdasani said the office had documented numerous such incidents this month, including a woman and a man lashed 39 times each for spending time alone together outside of marriage. Balkhi said the Taliban administration considered the statement by the United Nations and others by Western officials were “an insult toward Islam and violation of international principals.”


Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims
Updated 26 November 2022

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

Pakistan envoy helps UK charity raise $1.2m for flood victims

LONDON: The Consul General of Pakistan has been working with the UK-based humanitarian charity Penny Appeal to raise “life-changing funds” for communities hit by devastating floods across Pakistan.

“The Consul General of Pakistan, Mr. Ibrar Hussain Khan, honored the charity’s efforts to support the people of Pakistan by attending their fundraising dinners as the chief guest of honor, and making a special guest appearance on the charity’s live appeals which were aired on British Muslim TV,” Penny Appeal said in a statement.

“Khan has played a crucial role in driving the compassion and generosity of the public to secure more funds and extend Penny Appeal’s provisions across Pakistan,” it added.

Devastating floods since June have killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 7.9 million, and inflicted billions of dollars of damage. Pakistani authorities estimate property damage could be as high as $40 billion.

The £1 million ($1.2 million) cheque was presented to the consul general at the Pakistani consulate in Bradford by Penny Appeal’s founder, Adeem Younis.

“With the support of the Pakistani authorities on the ground, Penny Appeal have been working tirelessly across 16 flood-affected districts to deliver life-changing aid, in the form of hot food, safe drinking water, medical aid, shelter, and cash grants to those most in need,” Penny Appeal said.

So far, the charity has delivered over half a million liters of drinking water, distributed over 200,000 cooked meals, and continues to provide food, medical aid and hygiene kits daily.

The charity is now in phase two of its response and is working with the government to provide newly built homes, with 100 homes already being built to accommodate up to 1,000 people.

“Khan has been an incredible asset to the appeal and his passion for helping those in need knows no bounds,” Younis said.

“Thanks to people like him, we are making a real and lasting difference to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and I am particularly proud of the way we have united in our efforts both here in the UK and across Pakistan to help our brothers and sisters get through this calamity.’’

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EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat
Updated 26 November 2022

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat

EU ministers endorse new migrant plan after France-Italy spat



BRUSSELS: European interior ministers welcomed Friday an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals, after a furious row over a refugee rescue boat erupted between Italy and France.
France has accused Italy of failing to respect the law of the sea by turning away the NGO vessel earlier this month, triggering crisis talks in Brussels to head off a new EU dispute over the politically fraught issue.
All sides described the meeting as productive, although Czech interior minister Vit Rakusan, whose country holds the EU presidency, later said all participants had agreed that “more can and must be done” to find a lasting solution.
The ministers will gather again at a pre-planned December 8 meeting to pursue the “difficult discussion,” he said.
European Commission vice president Margaritis Schinas, the commissioner charged with “promoting our European way of life,” said Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc solution.
“We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by “populistic and europhobe forces.”
Numbers of asylum seekers are still far lower than the levels of 2015 and 2016, but the dispute has already undermined a stop-gap pact to redistribute arrivals more evenly around the 27-nation bloc.
Brussels has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers but the ugly row has brought the issue to the fore.
Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.
The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.
The row undermined the EU’s interim solution and led to Paris calling Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.
“The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvization,” Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.
“We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation.”
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said there was no reason for France to accept migrants relocated from Italy if Rome “does not take the boats, does not accept the law of the sea.”
Darmanin’s Italian opposite number Matteo Piantedosi played down the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting was “not dealing with individual cases or operational management.”
He said he had shaken hands with the French minister and that there was a “convergence of positions” allowing the ministers to resume discussion at the December 8 meeting.
Belgian counterpart Nicole De Moor called for “solidarity,” saying that Belgium was taking in more than its fair share of migrants leaving its reception facilities overwhelmed.
The previous plan was drawn up after Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores, like Italy and Greece, complained that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants.
A dozen EU members agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers — with France and Germany accepting 3,500 each — but so far just 117 relocations have actually happened.
On Monday, the European Commission unveiled a new action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean sea route.
It was not well-received by aid agencies. Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work.”
And a European diplomat said that plan “contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”
The ministers nevertheless accepted it and Schinas said it should prevent more crises as Europe once again attempts to negotiate a global migration plan that would have the force of EU law.
The plan would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.
While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.
Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.
Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi, meanwhile, complained that Turkiye is not complying with a 2016 migration agreement that includes taking back migrants who are not entitled to asylum.