Afghans urge international support amid Taliban bans

Special Afghans urge international support amid Taliban bans
An Afghan woman is checked by a nutritionist at a clinic run by the WFP, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (AP Photo)
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Updated 30 January 2023

Afghans urge international support amid Taliban bans

Afghans urge international support amid Taliban bans
  • UN, aid organization officials have visited country this month
  • Needs of Afghanistan a ‘priority,’ top UN aid chief said last week 

KABUL: Afghans are calling for more international support following increasingly restrictive edicts issued by the Taliban administration, as the US special representative for Afghanistan began a trip on Monday aimed at refining an international response to support the country.

The Taliban has introduced a series of restrictions on Afghan women since taking control of the country in 2021, including barring women from university and secondary schools. Authorities in December ordered all NGOs to ban women employees, though those in health were allowed to return to work earlier this month.

The moves drew widespread condemnation, with high-ranking UN officials and leaders of major international organizations visiting Afghanistan this month to try and reverse the Taliban’s crackdown on women and girls.

Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West will travel to Pakistan, Germany and Switzerland on a mission to “consult with partners, Afghans and humanitarian relief organizations,” the US Department of State said in a statement, in one of the latest efforts to address the situation in the South Asian country.

“SRA West will work with counterparts to refine a unified regional and international response that reflects a collective commitment to Afghan women and girls’ rights, and access to vital aid,” the statement added.

Afghans are hopeful that West’s trip could benefit Afghanistan, with some urging the international community to increase pressure on the Taliban.

“No doubt this mission will help in the case of Afghanistan. I believe if this mission is implemented in a way to find a solution for the misery of Afghan people it will most definitely work,” Mohibullah Sharif, an Afghan political expert based in Kabul, told Arab News.

“However, if like previously, the mission is only for securing the interests of regional and international players, this will bring no good for Afghans and will worsen the situation.”

Life in Afghanistan has grown increasingly difficult for women, said Shamsia Hassanzadah, a member of the Afghan Women’s Network and former director of Star Education Center in Kabul, who was affected by the ban on women working for NGOs.

“Women in NGOs should be allowed to work because a woman’s work is very important for their family economy,” Hassanzadah told Arab News, adding that she was the breadwinner in her family.

“We want the international community to bring further pressure on the current government of Afghanistan and we believe such steps and measures will help to decrease the Taliban’s restrictions toward Afghan women,” she added.

“It will also prevent or even stop the Taliban from issuing further decrees against women’s education and employment in Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan needs more support from the UN and the global community, according to women’s rights activist Farimah Nikkhwah, who was also affected by the recent ban.

“In the current situation, Afghanistan needs the special attention of the UN and the international community to prevent the negative and illogical actions of the Taliban,” Nikkhwah told Arab News.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said last week following a Kabul visit that Taliban ministers are working on new guidelines to allow women more freedom in humanitarian work.

“The needs of Afghanistan, for us, are of the highest importance because of its people, because of its obvious, deserved priority for us in our humanitarian world. The need for Afghanistan to be properly serviced by humanitarian operations is also a global priority,” Griffiths told AFP in an interview.

When it comes to Afghan girls’ education, pleas are also coming from within the country, said Dr. Hatef Mokhtar, head of the Afghanistan International Strategic Studies Center.

“Afghans want Afghanistan to come out of isolation,” Mokhtar told Arab News.

“The opening of Afghan girls’ schools is not the voice of the world, but it is the voice of the Afghans themselves. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should take this issue seriously and open the girls’ schools as soon as possible.”

Ex-VP Pence jumps into 2024 White House race

Ex-VP Pence jumps into 2024 White House race
Updated 06 June 2023

Ex-VP Pence jumps into 2024 White House race

Ex-VP Pence jumps into 2024 White House race
  • Pence has spent much of the last two years touring early-nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to reinforce his political vision as a “Christian, conservative, Republican — in that order”

WASHINGTON: Republican former vice president Mike Pence launched his bid for the 2024 presidential nomination on Monday, offering a traditionalist alternative to the battle royale being waged by populists Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
The evangelical Christian filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission ahead of an official declaration Wednesday in the early voting state of Iowa — joining an already crowded field.
Pence, 63, honed his reputation as an unstintingly loyal deputy who stuck with Trump throughout a scandal-plagued four years and brought the religious right into the tent.
But he became a pariah in Trumpworld after rejecting the Republican leader’s demands that he overturn the 2020 election in his role as president of the Senate.
Berated constantly by Trump after Joe Biden’s victory — and even heckled at a conservative conference with chants of “traitor!” — Pence continued to praise the tycoon in public.
That eventually changed after Trump’s torrent of false claims of election fraud led to a mob chanting for Pence to be hanged at the US Capitol.

Pence has spent much of the last two years touring early-nominating states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to reinforce his political vision as a “Christian, conservative, Republican — in that order.”
His entry doesn’t much change the dynamics of the race, which is divided into three lanes — runaway leader Donald Trump, Trump’s closest rival and sitting Florida governor DeSantis, and everyone else.
Pence is framing himself as a traditional Republican, concerned with fiscal responsibility and family values, who can deliver Trump’s economic policies without the drama.
But he has also pointed to some clear blue water between the pair, as he allies himself strongly with Ukraine and refuses to rule out cuts to welfare payments.
While his politics are popular among Republicans, critics question whether Pence has a constituency in a party that is more focused now on populism and cultural politics than traditional conservatism.
And voters sympathetic to his decision to stand up for the Constitution have other candidate choices, such as the proselytizing Christian Tim Scott who do not bring with them the baggage of the Trump years.
“We all give (Pence) credit for certifying the election,” Republican strategist Sarah Longwell told Politico.
“But he also stood next to Donald Trump and normalized and validated him for four years while Trump ran roughshod over the presidency.”

DeSantis has consistently been polling almost 20 points above Pence and is hoping to outflank Trump from the right.
But the Florida governor’s poor showing in head-to-head polls has opened the floodgates, with Chris Christie due to announce on Tuesday, joining former governors Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum in the race.
Like Haley and DeSantis, Pence has appeared determined to avoid conflict with Trump in hopes of wooing his former supporters should the cascade of criminal investigations targeting the former president take him out of the race.
The lower-ranked candidates have also pointed out that there is a long way to go in the race, and that Trump was trailing in the low single digits at this point in the 2016 cycle.
Democrats watching from the sidelines pointed to Pence’s socially conservative agenda as an abortion hard-liner who has opposed same-sex marriage as evidence that he would drag the contest to the right.
“In Mike Pence’s own words, he was a member of the extreme Tea Party ‘before it was cool,’ and he hasn’t slowed down since,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison.
Zee Cohen-Sanchez, a left-leaning election strategist who has worked with progressives like Bernie Sanders, said Pence’s break with Trump over the insurrection was a double-edged sword.
“Despite allegations and charges against Trump, his base remains strong and given Pence essentially turned against Trump, these voters will not support him,” she told AFP.
“The majority of other Republicans support DeSantis, who has a track record conservatives are excited about and they see him as a powerful alternative to Trump.”


US defense secretary discusses upgrading ties with India to counter China

US defense secretary discusses upgrading ties with India to counter China
Updated 05 June 2023

US defense secretary discusses upgrading ties with India to counter China

US defense secretary discusses upgrading ties with India to counter China

NEW DELHI: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday discussed upgrading partnership with India, a major arms buyer, and set a roadmap for cooperation for the next five years as both countries grapple with China’s economic rise and increased belligerence, officials said.

Austin’s visit comes as India strengthens its domestic defense industry by acquiring new technologies and reducing reliance on imports, particularly from Russia, its largest supplier of military hardware despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Austin and his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, explored ways of building resilient supply chains, a statement from India’s Defense Ministry said. They decided “to identify opportunities for the co-development of new technologies and co-production of existing and new systems and facilitate increased collaboration between defense startup ecosystems of the two countries.”

They also discussed regional security issues and committed to strengthening operational collaboration across all military services, with an eye to supporting India’s leading role as a security provider in the Indo-Pacific, the statement said.

The new roadmap for US-India defense industrial cooperation will fast track technology cooperation and co-production in areas such as air combat and land mobility systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, munitions and the undersea domain, said a US Department of Defense press release.

“This initiative aims to change the paradigm for cooperation between US and Indian defense sectors, including a set of specific proposals that could provide India access to cutting-edge technologies and support India’s defense modernization plans,” it said.

The discussions also included cooperation in space, cyberspace, and artificial intelligence. Austin also met with India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

“I’m returning to India to meet with key leaders for discussions about strengthening our Major Defense Partnership. Together, we’re advancing a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin tweeted after his arrival in New Delhi on Sunday.

Austin, who is on his second visit to India, was expected to lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington on June 22, which has fueled speculation about a possible announcement of defense contracts.

India is looking to buy 18 armed high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. for an estimated $1.5 billion to $2 billion, said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst. The UAVs would likely be deployed along its restive borders with China and Pakistan and in the strategic Indian Ocean region, Bedi said.

Indian media reports said a joint production and manufacture of combat aircraft engines, infantry combat vehicles, howitzers and their precision ordnance were discussed last month in Washington at a meeting of the US-India Defense Policy Group.

Senegalese man warned of gun violence the day he was shot dead in riots

Senegalese man warned of gun violence the day he was shot dead in riots
Updated 05 June 2023

Senegalese man warned of gun violence the day he was shot dead in riots

Senegalese man warned of gun violence the day he was shot dead in riots
  • Sixteen people have died in the deadliest unrest in Senegal in decades

DAKAR: El-Hajji Cisse was busy on Friday, the day he was killed, tweeting hundreds of times as riots erupted beyond the walls of his compound in a busy suburb of Senegal’s capital Dakar.

In one post, the 26-year-old student warned his 1,700 followers about security forces firing live rounds at protesters. In another, he shared first aid tips for people wounded on the streets.

Offline he helped too, showing elderly neighbors how to ease their discomfort from inhaling mouthfuls of tear gas, said his younger brother Djimbala Ba.

“He spent his time in the service of others,” said Ba, 24, who burst into tears during an interview at the home where he and his brother used to share a bed in a small side room. “He was a good patriot.”

At around 9 p.m. on Friday, after a bowl of couscous and milk, Cisse braved the short walk to a mosque to pray as security forces and rioters clashed nearby, said Ba, and another friend, Cheikh Ndiaye.

Minutes later, he was shot.

Sixteen people have died in the deadliest unrest in Senegal in decades, triggered by a prison sentence handed down to opposition leader Ousmane Sonko that could rule him out of presidential elections in February. Sonko denies wrongdoing.

His supporters say the charges were politically motivated and have taken to the streets in their thousands, hurling rocks at security forces, setting cars and buildings alight and ransacking supermarkets and gas stations.

Police have responded with tear gas and what rights groups have described as excessive force.

Five hundred people have been arrested, the government says.

Security forces deny firing on protesters or using excessive force.

Cisse had planned to study in Canada, Ba said.

He often sported the jersey of his favorite football team, Real Madrid. 

As the riots intensified on Friday, he spent hours on his phone in the Grand Yoff neighborhood firing off tweets railing against a partial internet shutdown.

His profile became a mirror of the chaos and anger that brewed outside.

In one of his last posts, just before 6 p.m., he pleaded to Twitter owner Elon Musk to help reconnect people in Senegal to the web.

About three hours later, Cisse was returning from the mosque when he was shot in the shoulder a few meters from home, Ba, Ndiaye and two other friends said.

A video on TikTok shows what they say is Cisse lying motionless on the ground as a man tries to apply pressure to his upper arm.

A crowd then carries him toward a hospital.

Turkish forces arrive in Kosovo to bolster NATO-led peacekeepers after recent violence

Turkish forces arrive in Kosovo to bolster NATO-led peacekeepers after recent violence
Updated 05 June 2023

Turkish forces arrive in Kosovo to bolster NATO-led peacekeepers after recent violence

Turkish forces arrive in Kosovo to bolster NATO-led peacekeepers after recent violence
  • Violent clashes with ethnic Serbs a week ago left 30 international soldiers — 11 Italians and 19 Hungarians — and more than 50 demonstrators injured

ISTANBUL: A Turkish commando battalion requested by NATO has arrived in Kosovo to assist in quelling recent violent unrest in the Balkan country.

The Turkish Defense Ministry shared a video on Sunday showing troops wearing the insignia of the Kosovo Force, a NATO-led peacekeeping mission established in 1999, departing Turkiye and arriving in Kosovo.

Violent clashes with ethnic Serbs a week ago left 30 international soldiers — 11 Italians and 19 Hungarians — and more than 50 demonstrators injured. 

The injuries the soldiers suffered included fractures and burns from improvised explosive incendiary devices.

The clashes grew out of an earlier confrontation after ethnic Albanian candidates who were declared the winners of local elections in northern Kosovo entered municipal buildings to take office and were blocked by Serbs. Ethnic Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted the votes.

Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades, with Belgrade refusing to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. 

The violence near their shared border has stirred fear of a renewal of a 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives and resulted in the KFOR peacekeeping mission. 

Turkiye was one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty and has maintained close relations with the country since the late 1990s.

After the soldiers were injured last week, NATO said it would send an additional 700 troops to northern Kosovo. Around 500 members of Turkiye’s 65th mechanized infantry brigade will make up the bulk of the NATO reinforcements, the military alliance said on Monday.

The Turkish battalion will initially be stationed at Camp Sultan Murat in Prizren, Kosovo, and remain in Kosovo “for as long as necessary,” NATO said.

“Turkiye is an important and highly valued ally, making key contributions to NATO. This includes troops for our peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, which is even more important now, when tensions are high. I thank Turkiye for sending reinforcements to northern Kosovo, following the recent unrest,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Sunday.

The government of Kosovo and representatives of the country’s ethnic Serb minority exchanged tit-for-tat conditions to de-escalate the situation.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the government might consider holding fresh elections in four northern cities with majority Serb populations but not before gangs responsible for violence leave.

The ethnic Serb Srpska List Party said it would participate in new municipal elections but that the government needed to first withdraw special police forces from northern Kosovo and proceed with establishing an association of majority Serb communities.

Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s envoy for Kosovo-Serbia talks, arrived in Pristina on Monday to meet with top leaders. KFOR currently consists of almost 3,800 troops, including some 350 from Turkiye. 

The Turkish commando battalion will be joining the peacekeeping mission as a reserve unit.

Cost of UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill could hit £6 billion in next two years

Cost of UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill could hit £6 billion in next two years
Updated 05 June 2023

Cost of UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill could hit £6 billion in next two years

Cost of UK government’s Illegal Migration Bill could hit £6 billion in next two years
  • Sources told the BBC the legislation will be costly and complex
  • The bill aims to make it easier to detain and deport people who enter the country illegally

LONDON: The cost to UK authorities of detaining and deporting people over the next two years under the country’s controversial new Illegal Migration Bill could reach £6 billion ($7.5 billion), according to internal government projections obtained by the BBC.

The bill, passed by the House of Commons in April, includes mechanisms designed to make it easier to detain people who enter the UK illegally, particularly those who cross the English Channel on small boats, and send them back to their home countries or third-party nations.

The Conservative government has not revealed the projected costs associated with the legislation. However, the BBC reported on Monday that the Home Office estimates it will have to spend between £3 billion and £6 billion on detention facilities, accommodation and deportations.

Home Office sources said the bill will be costly and complex, with one insider admitting that implementing it will be a “major logistical challenge.” A senior government source told the BBC the bill could constrain public spending.

Home Office officials hope the legislation will act as a deterrent and that as the number of people being detained falls over time, so too will the costs. The Treasury is publicly supporting the policy but insiders are said to be concerned that the deterrence aspect has not been sufficiently proven. One Home Office source close to the bill described this deterrence effect as an “unknown factor” that cannot be predicted.

Jon Featonby, chief policy analyst at the Refugee Council, told the BBC: “The Home Office is clearly aware that so-called deterrence measures simply don’t work, and it is preparing to detain thousands of desperate people who will end up on our shores in search of protection.

“Until refugees fleeing violence and persecution are given a safe pathway to seek asylum in our country, they will continue to risk their lives to get here.

“Instead of moving forward with this hugely expensive and unworkable crackdown on refugees seeking safety in the UK, the government should be focusing on creating a system that protects the right to claim asylum and that prioritizes both compassion and control.”

Rob McNeil, the deputy director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told the BBC that the big question is whether the bill will deter anyone from trying to enter in the UK. He pointed out that the costs are already “very, very high,” and said that if asylum claims were processed quicker, there would be fewer migrants in the system.

Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow home secretary, told the BBC: “The Conservatives are in total chaos on asylum and their new bill is a sham that will make the soaring costs far worse.”

The bill has faced a backlash within the ruling Conservative Party and in the House of Lords, where it is currently being debated. The government said it will release its economic impact assessment of the bill in due course.