Differences emerge in Taliban leadership as interior minister makes public criticism

Minister of Interior affairs of Afghanistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, speaks at the interior ministry in Kabul. (File/AFP)
Minister of Interior affairs of Afghanistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, speaks at the interior ministry in Kabul. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 February 2023
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Differences emerge in Taliban leadership as interior minister makes public criticism

Minister of Interior affairs of Afghanistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani, speaks at the interior ministry in Kabul. (File/AFP)
  • Taliban spokesman says criticism should be told in private 
  • Taliban are divided into two factions, expert says 

KABUL: Major differences have emerged within the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, experts said on Monday, after a senior official described the country’s situation as “intolerable” over the weekend.

Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani is in the spotlight following a critical comment on the current situation in Afghanistan during a public event on Saturday.

“The current situation is intolerable. If the public situation becomes worse and unstable, it is our responsibility to bring them closer to us,” Haqqani said.

The statement comes as Afghanistan plunges deeper into a humanitarian and economic crisis following the Taliban takeover in 2021. It also follows increasingly restrictive edicts targeting women that are seen as further isolating the country from the international community.

The minister’s remarks prompted a response from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, who said that criticism of any leader or official should be said in private.

The latest developments, experts said, show how the Taliban are facing major differences within their leadership.

The Taliban are divided into two factions, said Hamza Momain Hakimi, a political science lecturer at the Salam University in Kabul.

One faction represents a minority but comprises powerful members, who hold important positions in Afghanistan and are “imposing their own narrow narrative from Islam,” Hakimi told Arab News.

The other faction represents a vast majority, he said, which refuses the minority opinion on many issues, including women’s role in Afghan society and policies related to their work and education.

“Such a statement from powerful people like Sirajuddin Haqqani shows clearly that there are factions within the Taliban,” Hakimi said. “There is a majority and there is a minority, but unfortunately, that minority is more powerful than the majority.”
Haqqani’s remarks also conveyed the concerns of the Afghan people, said Mohibullah Sharif, an Afghan political expert based in Kabul.

“Those are words and meanings that express what the Afghan people want,” Sharif told Arab News. “There is no doubt that there was a clear difference in the Islamic and political view of the leaders of the Taliban movement and currently among the leading personalities of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Experts say these emerging differences might pave way for an internal conflict.

“The Afghan people want these differences between the leading personalities to end easily and safely because the problems between them will lead to a serious conflict in the country and Afghanistan will return to the civil war that occurred in the 90s,” Sharif said.

Sayed Baheir Sadat, an Afghan expert based in Germany, said the division within the Taliban is a big problem for the group and could potentially increase.

“This could again signal the risk of an internal war between Afghans,” Sadat told Arab News.

“If the Taliban want to take over the government and the people, they should engage with internal and international standards, so that they may have the world’s support,” Sadat added. “Otherwise, it will collapse soon.” 


Saudi Arabia praises contribution of Filipinos to Kingdom’s development

Saudi Arabia praises contribution of Filipinos to Kingdom’s development
Updated 26 September 2023
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Saudi Arabia praises contribution of Filipinos to Kingdom’s development

Saudi Arabia praises contribution of Filipinos to Kingdom’s development
  • Workers from the country began to arrive in the Kingdom in the early 1970s
  • President is expected to visit KSA in October

MANILA: The Saudi ambassador to the Philippines has praised the contribution of Filipinos to the development of the Kingdom during celebrations in Manila to mark the Kingdom’s National Day.

Workers from the Philippines began to arrive in Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s. Most of them were engineers who helped build highways across the Kingdom.

Today, more than 800,000 of them live in Saudi Arabia, making it the preferred destination for overseas Filipino workers.

“The Kingdom appreciates the contributions of overseas Filipino workers in various areas, which have played a crucial role in the Kingdom’s advancement,” Ambassador Hisham Al-Qahtani said during a ceremony commemorating the 93rd Saudi National Day on Monday evening.

“We greatly value the mutual support and collaboration between our countries, as seen through our active participation in regional and international forums, enhancing economic cooperation and fostering a strong partnership.”

Saudi Arabia and the Philippines will mark the 54th anniversary of bilateral ties next month, and Al-Qahtani extended his best wishes to the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Marcos is expected to visit Saudi Arabia in October to attend the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, which will be held in Riyadh.

“His visit will further strengthen the strong, friendly, and vibrant relations that happily exist between our two countries and peoples,” said Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Antonio Morales, who represented Secretary Enrique Manalo during the National Day event.

“I am confident that our countries can continue working together and build upon our strong bilateral ties with a shared vision of inclusive progress and sustainable growth.”

Saudi Arabia has been seen in the Philippines as “the epitome of a nation with a vision for the future,” Morales said.

“The whole world now sees Saudi Arabia as a model of bridging the past and the future where heritage and history are intertwined with urbanism, cultural shifts, and international competitiveness. The Kingdom’s foresight towards a thriving economy and a vibrant society will open up opportunities for a brighter tomorrow.”


Indonesians celebrate closer ties with Kingdom at Saudi National Day ceremony

Saudi Ambassador Faisal Abdullah Amodi and top Indonesian leaders inaugurate Saudi National Day celebrations in Jakarta.
Saudi Ambassador Faisal Abdullah Amodi and top Indonesian leaders inaugurate Saudi National Day celebrations in Jakarta.
Updated 26 September 2023
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Indonesians celebrate closer ties with Kingdom at Saudi National Day ceremony

Saudi Ambassador Faisal Abdullah Amodi and top Indonesian leaders inaugurate Saudi National Day celebrations in Jakarta.
  • Relations expected to reach ‘strategic level’ when Indonesia’s president visits Riyadh in October
  • Top Indonesian leadership took part in Saudi National Day celebrations in Jakarta

JAKARTA: Indonesians welcomed increasing interactions with Saudi Arabia as they took part in celebrations to commemorate the Kingdom’s 93rd National Day in Jakarta on Monday.

Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority nation and a country of 270 million people, has been a staunch supporter of Saudi Arabia and its leadership. A Lowy Institute survey showed in 2021 that of all world leaders, Indonesians held the most confidence in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi-Indonesian ties span centuries, but have only recently gained momentum, when King Salman arrived in Indonesia in 2017. The trip was historic as the first by a Saudi monarch since King Faisal bin Abdulaziz visited Jakarta in 1970.

In the past six years, high-level bilateral exchanges have been on the rise on the political level and in business, especially after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took part in the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, when Indonesia held the group’s rotating presidency in 2022.

Both countries expect to boost their ties even more when President Joko Widodo visits Riyadh next month.

The upcoming trip was announced by Saudi Ambassador Faisal Abdullah Amodi and Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas during a ceremony held in Jakarta as part of events hosted by the Kingdom around the world to mark its National Day.

The Indonesian president’s visit “is expected to contribute effectively to the relations between the two countries reaching a strategic level,” Amodi told the audience, which included Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, the former president and leader of the ruling party, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the former vice president, Jusuf Kalla, Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.

As Widodo is scheduled to meet the crown prince, Indonesia hopes the trip will “open up an even more strategic cooperation between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia,” Quomas said.

“Brotherhood between our countries will be even stronger in the coming years.”

The National Day ceremony, which featured traditional Saudi sword dancing, a display of the Kingdom’s megaprojects under Vision 2030 and a performance by the Saudi School in Jakarta, has already brought Saudis and Indonesian closer together.

“Both countries are highly respectful of one another, and I think that’s why all these top officials like Megawati, Jusuf Kalla, Prabowo and Ma’ruf Amin were all here,” Fay Kadaroesman, vice president of Women’s International Club Jakarta, told Arab News. “I can tell that relations are very close, and it’s really good.”

For Subhan Cholid, head of the Indonesian Hajj Organization Committee, the ceremony was an opportunity to meet Saudis and forge new friendships.

“With this event we were able to meet, talk, and chat,” he said. “We could meet and celebrate together, be a part of a shared National Day celebrations.”

And the sentiment was mutual.

Jameel Saeed Kabbarah, vice chairman of the board of directors of the Cooperative Maritime Business Association, who arrived in Indonesia from Jeddah for a family vacation, was for the first time celebrating National Day outside the Kingdom.

“It’s good to see different people. The world is very small nowadays,” he said. “I’m very proud to be part of this crowd and celebrate this great occasion of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”


Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says

Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says
Updated 26 September 2023
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Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says

Polish minister must tone down criticism of migration film, court says
  • The black-and-white film shows a family from Syria and a woman from Afghanistan thrown backwards and forward across the border by brutal guards indifferent to their suffering
  • The movie drew a furious response from conservatives in Poland even before its release in Polish cinemas on Friday

WARSAW: Poland’s justice minister must not compare film director Agnieszka Holland or her work to authoritarian regimes, a Warsaw court said on Tuesday, after the minister likened Holland’s film depicting the Belarus border migrant crisis to Nazi propaganda.
With migration a key issue ahead of Oct. 15 elections, the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) have pushed Holland’s award-winning film ‘Green Border’ to center stage in the campaign, condemning its portrayal of the treatment of migrants at the border and accusing Holland of insulting people who were protecting their country.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro compared the film to Nazi German propaganda, spurring Holland to demand an apology and threatening court action in the absence of one.
In his post on social media network X, Ziobro said: “In the Third Reich, the Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today they have Agnieszka Holland for that.”
The black-and-white film shows a family from Syria and a woman from Afghanistan thrown backwards and forward across the border by brutal guards indifferent to their suffering, as activists struggled to try to bring them to safety.
After the court’s ruling on Tuesday, Holland’s lawyers Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram and Michal Wawrykiewicz wrote on X: “As Agnieszka Holland’s representatives, we would like to inform you that the District Court in Warsaw has issued an order prohibiting Zbigniew Ziobro from speaking about Ms. Holland and her works, comparing them to criminal authoritarian regimes.”
The movie drew a furious response from conservatives in Poland even before its release in Polish cinemas on Friday.
Holland hit back at the criticism in an interview with private broadcaster TVN24 on Monday, labelling the government “a disgrace to Poland” and their actions against her work “unprecedented.”
Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said Holland and her legal team were in effect blocking Ziobro’s right to free speech.
“Minister Ziobro and every citizen has a right to present their views and opinions,” he told Reuters. “Ms Holland wants to refuse him this right.”
Migrants, largely from North African and the Middle East, started flocking to the border in 2021 after Belarus, a Russian ally, opened travel agencies in the Middle East offering an unofficial route into Europe, a move Brussels said was designed to create a crisis. Poland has refused to let them cross.


Bulgarians accused of being Russian spies appear in UK court

Bulgarians accused of being Russian spies appear in UK court
Updated 26 September 2023
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Bulgarians accused of being Russian spies appear in UK court

Bulgarians accused of being Russian spies appear in UK court
  • They did not enter a plea at this stage and were remanded in custody until their next appearance at London’s Old Bailey court on Oct. 13
  • Prosecutor Kathryn Selby told Westminster Magistrates’ Court the defendants were accused of being part of an organized network

LONDON: Five Bulgarian nationals accused of being part of a Russian spying network in Britain, tasked with carrying out surveillance and obtaining information about targets, appeared by videolink in a London court on Tuesday.
The three men and two women are accused of conspiring “to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state” between Aug. 30, 2020 and Feb. 8, 2023.
Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31, Ivan Stoyanov, 31, and Vanya Gaberova, 29, all Bulgarian nationals who lived in London and Norfolk, were arrested by counterterrorism police in February this year.
They did not enter a plea at this stage and were remanded in custody until their next appearance at London’s Old Bailey court on Oct. 13.
Roussev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova had already been charged with identity document offenses and are due to appear at the Old Bailey on Thursday over those allegations.
Describing the charges, prosecutor Kathryn Selby told Westminster Magistrates’ Court the defendants were accused of being part of an organized network which had carried out surveillance and hostile action on behalf of Russia against specific targets, including for potential abductions.
Selby said Roussev’s home was the group’s alleged operating hub in Britain, and said the network had been given tasking by a person known as Jan Marsalek.
Marsalek, the former chief operating officer for collapsed payments company Wirecard, is wanted by German police over alleged fraud and his whereabouts are currently unknown.
He has not been charged with any crime in Britain but was named as an alleged co-conspirator in the charges against the five Bulgarians. The office of Marsalek’s lawyer declined to comment. Britain has been seeking to take tougher action on external security threats and potential spies, and in July passed a national security law, aiming at overhauling its means of deterring espionage and foreign interference with new tools and criminal provisions.
At the time, the government labelled Russia as “the most acute threat” to its security.
There has been no response from the Russian embassy in London to the news of the accusations.
Last November, Britain’s domestic spy chief said more than 400 suspected Russian spies had been expelled from Europe, striking the “most significant strategic blow” against Moscow in recent history.


Azerbaijan seeks ‘war crime’ suspects in sea of Karabakh refugees

Azerbaijan seeks ‘war crime’ suspects in sea of Karabakh refugees
Updated 26 September 2023
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Azerbaijan seeks ‘war crime’ suspects in sea of Karabakh refugees

Azerbaijan seeks ‘war crime’ suspects in sea of Karabakh refugees
  • The toll threatened to rise because dozens were being treated in critical condition and many remained unaccounted for
  • Yerevan has warned of possible “ethnic cleansing” by Azerbaijan

LACHIN CORRIDOR, Azerbaijan: Azerbaijani borders guards on Tuesday sought out “war crime” suspects in a sea of Armenian refugees flooding out of Nagorno-Karabakh after Baku claimed control of the separatist statelet in a lightning offensive last week.
The number of people who entered Armenia along the so-called Lachin Corridor following the operation has now surpassed 19,000, and was growing one day after a massive fuel blast on the edge of the rebel stronghold of Stepanakert rose to 20.
The toll threatened to rise because dozens were being treated in critical condition and many remained unaccounted for.
Most of the victims were stocking up on fuel for the trip down the only road connecting the impoverished and historically disputed region with Armenia.
Yerevan has warned of possible “ethnic cleansing” by Azerbaijan — a close ally of Armenia’s arch-nemesis Turkiye — after Baku launched a 24-hour blitz that forced the rebels to agree to disarm last Wednesday.
Armenians, mostly Christian, and Azerbaijanis, mostly Muslim, have fought two deadly wars over the mountainous territory since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse.
The area is now populated by up to 120,000 ethnic Armenians but is internationally recognized as part Azerbaijan.
The bad blood between the sides runs deep, with the first war in particular witnessing alleged massacres of civilians and gross human rights abuses by both sides.
An AFP team allowed to access the Lachin Corridor on an Azerbaijani government-organized tour saw that most of the people crossing the border were women, children and the elderly.
The few Armenian men in their 20s and 30s coming out Tuesday were forced to stare into a camera for identification at the last Azerbaijani border post.
“Azerbaijan intends to apply an amnesty to Armenian fighters who laid down their arms in Karabakh,” an Azerbaijani government source told AFP.
“But those who committed war crimes during the Karabakh wars must be handed over to us,” the source said.
Armenia said early Tuesday that more than 19,000 refugees had fled since the first group arrived in the country on Sunday.
AFP reporters on both sides of the border saw hundreds of cars piled high with belongings moving slowly along the jam-packed road.
Some of the vehicles crept along on flat tires and many simply walked past the last Azerbaijani checkpoint.
“They expelled us,” one man said as he walked past the Azerbaijani soldiers.
Yanik Zakaryan, 37, took part in last week’s fighting.
Now he was resting on the Armenian side of the border, grateful to Russian peacekeepers who have been patrolling the region since Azerbaijan clawed back swathes of the disputed territory in a six-week war in 2020.
“We fought well, but at one point we found ourselves surrounded,” Zakaryan told AFP. “The Russians came to get us out.”
Adding to the humanitarian drama, the separatist government on Tuesday said 13 bodies were found at the scene of a fuel depot blast on Monday and seven more people had died of their injuries.
It said 290 people had been hospitalized and “dozens of patients remain in critical condition.”
Armenia’s health ministry said it had sent a team of doctors to the rebel stronghold of Stepanakert by helicopter.
The Azerbaijani presidency said Baku had also sent medicine to help the wounded, and opened a special humanitarian corridor for Red Cross teams.
The European Union pledged to provide five million euros in humanitarian assistance.
The victims’ treatment was being complicated by shortages of medication that emerged during a nine-month blockade Azerbaijan had imposed to bring the region to heel.
Azerbaijan turned on the electricity of the rebel stronghold Stepanakert on Sunday, switching it to its own power grid as part of a “reintegration” drive.
Envoys from Baku and Yerevan were in Brussels on Tuesday to pave the way for the first meeting between their leaders since last week’s offensive on October 5.
The separatists said Tuesday that said 208 people had died in last week’s fighting.
The sides have since held two rounds of closed-door talks mediated by Russia focused on putting the region under Baku’s control.
But Azerbaijan’s forces have still not entered Stepanakert, occupying the strategic hights overlooking the rebel stronghold.
Many there are tormented by debates on whether to stay or go, which have also spilled out onto social media.
Some say that they cannot live under the authority of Azerbaijanis, while others argue that leaving now means that Armenians might never be able to return, losing the region for good.
Sveta Moussaylyan, 50, said this was the fourth time she has been forced to move due to decades of strife and changes in control over tiny hamlets.
“I’m not that old, but I’ve already seen so much!” she said.