Tory politician’s call for UK to engage with Taliban widely criticized

In a two-minute video posted on Twitter on Monday, MP Tobias Ellwood said the UK should “rethink and reengage” with the Taliban. (Screenshot/Twitter/@Tobias_Ellwood)
In a two-minute video posted on Twitter on Monday, MP Tobias Ellwood said the UK should “rethink and reengage” with the Taliban. (Screenshot/Twitter/@Tobias_Ellwood)
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Updated 18 July 2023
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Tory politician’s call for UK to engage with Taliban widely criticized

Tory politician’s call for UK to engage with Taliban widely criticized
  • Tobias Ellwood says British authorities should ‘rethink and reengage’ with the regime in Afghanistan and argues that it has achieved a peace in the country ‘not seen since the 1970s’
  • Critics, including some from his own party, said he was ignoring the plight of Afghan women, journalists and activists, who reportedly have been imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban

LONDON: The chair of the UK Parliament’s Defence Select Committee has been criticized by fellow Conservative politicians, a Labour Party candidate and Afghan activists for suggesting that British authorities should establish diplomatic ties with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

In a two-minute video posted on Twitter on Monday, MP Tobias Ellwood said the UK should “rethink and reengage” with the Taliban, and argued the regime had achieved a peace “not seen since the 1970s.”

The “first step” for the UK should be to reopen its embassy in the country, he added, and the second is for Westminster to “get real,” because otherwise the future for Afghanistan “could be war again or life as a Chinese vassal.”

However, critics said Ellwood was ignoring the plight of women in the country, whose freedoms and rights have been greatly restricted, along with that of journalists and activists, who reportedly have been imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban.

“Last night, following a visit to Afghanistan, (Ellwood) posted an utterly bizarre video lauding the Taliban’s management of the country — something which was described by a fellow member of the Defence Committee to me, barely an hour ago, as a ‘wish you were here’ video,” Conservative politician Mark Francois, who is also a member of the committee, told the House of Commons.

“He made no mention of the fact that the Taliban was still attempting to identify and kill Afghan citizens who helped our armed forces, and also makes no specific mention of the fact that young girls in Afghanistan don’t even have the right to go to school under that government.

“I wish to make plain, on behalf of the committee, that he was speaking for himself even though he used the title as chairman of the committee in a number of associated articles. Not in our name.”

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith described the video as “not a very welcome statement,” The Independent reported.

Tom Hayes, the opposition Labour Party’s prospective candidate for Ellwood’s Bournemouth East constituency, said “the clock is being turned back” on progress in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime and added: “It is deeply concerning that any British MP, let alone the chair of the Defence Select Committee, should be doing PR for a brutal, medieval dictatorship that oppresses women, restricts press freedoms and attacks civil and political rights.

“Girls are banned from attending secondary schools. Women are banned from attending and teaching at universities. Women are prevented from working.

“When the current MP talks about advocating the importance of reestablishing diplomatic ties with the Taliban, I’d love to know how much engagement he has had with the girls and the women who are being treated not as second-class citizens but as fourth-class citizens.”

Shaharzad Akbar, an Afghan human rights activist and chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said: “I guess critical-thinking skills are not a requirement for MPs. It is past time for visiting officials to talk to women, to detained and tortured journalists and activists, to members of marginalized groups when they visit Afghanistan, and to not deny the ongoing ‘gender apartheid.’”

In a message posted on Twitter, Zehra Zaidi, an Afghan activist and lawyer, wrote: “Were Afghan women spoken to before the trip to Afghanistan and did they engage with women whilst there? This video comes across as promotional material for the de facto authority. Women are erased from public life.”

Ellwood defended his comments, saying he was “far from being a Taliban appeaser” but that during his recent visit to Afghanistan he had to “grapple with the harsh reality of the West’s strategic missteps.”


Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing

Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing
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Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing

Italian coast guard recovers 14 more bodies of shipwreck victims off Calabria, dozens still missing
  • Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy
ROME: The Italian coast guard has recovered 14 more bodies from last week’s shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 34 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens are still missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, recovered on Friday, were transferred to a port in Calabria. Three coast guard ships were active in the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the motorboat had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight last Sunday, about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The latest deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
Updated 22 June 2024
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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
  • The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June

SEOUL: A nuclear-powered United States aircraft carrier arrived Saturday in South Korea for a three-way exercise stepping up their military training to cope with North Korean threats that escalated with its alignment with Russia.
The arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group in Busan came a day after South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest a pact reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week that pledges mutual defense assistance in the event of war. South Korea says the deal poses a threat to its security and warned that it could consider sending arms to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion as a response — a move that would surely ruin its relations with Moscow.
Following a meeting between their defense chiefs in Singapore earlier in June, the United States, South Korea and Japan announced Freedom Edge. The new multidomain exercise is aimed at sharpening the countries’ combined response in various areas of operation, including air, sea and cyberspace.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June. South Korea’s military didn’t immediately confirm specific details of the training.
South Korea’s navy said in a statement that the arrival of Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates the strong defense posture of the allies and “stern willingness to respond to advancing North Korean threats.” The carrier’s visit comes seven months after another US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, came to South Korea in a show of strength against the North.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group also participated in a three-way exercise with South Korean and Japanese naval forces in April in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China’s territorial claims are rising.
In the face of growing North Korean threats, the United States, South Korea and Japan have expanded their combined training and boosted the visibility of strategic US military assets in the region, seeking to intimidate the North. The United States and South Korea have also been updating their nuclear deterrence strategies, with Seoul seeking stronger assurances that Washington would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally from a North Korean nuclear attack.


Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
Updated 22 June 2024
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Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
  • China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense ministry said Saturday it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a day after Beijing said “diehard” advocates of Taiwan’s independence could face the death penalty.
China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
It has stepped up pressure on Taipei in recent years and held war games around the island following last month’s inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te.
On Saturday, Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft and seven naval vessels operating around Taiwan during the 24-hour period leading up to 6:00 a.m. (2200 GMT).
“32 of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a line bisecting the 180-kilometer (110-mile) waterway that separates Taiwan from China.
The ministry added that it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly.”
The latest incursion came after China published judicial guidelines Friday that included the death penalty for “particularly serious” cases of “diehard” supporters of Taiwanese independence, state media reported.
On May 25, Taiwan detected 62 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, the highest single-day total this year, as China staged military drills following the inauguration of Lai, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist.”


Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
Updated 22 June 2024
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Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
  • More than two years into the conflict, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday said Russia had launched a “massive” overnight attack on energy infrastructure in the country’s west and south.
“Equipment at (operator) Ukrenergo facilities in Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions was damaged,” the energy ministry said, adding that two employees were wounded and hospitalized in Zaporizhzhia.
It said this was “the eighth massive, combined attack on energy infrastructure facilities” in the past three months.
More than two years into the Russian invasion, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity and forced Kyiv to impose blackouts and import supplies from the European Union.
Ukrainian authorities on Thursday said energy infrastructure, including a power station, had been damaged in a major overnight attack which left seven employees wounded.
DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, said the strikes caused “serious damage” at one of its plants.
Russian attacks have destroyed half of Ukraine’s energy capacity, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky said this week that all hospitals and schools in Ukraine must be equipped with solar panels “as soon as possible.”
“We are doing everything to ensure that Russian attempts to blackmail us on heat and electricity fail,” he said Thursday.
DTEK chief executive Maxim Timchenko warned that Ukraine “faces a serious crisis this winter” if the country’s Western allies do not provide military aid to defend the energy network.
Zelensky has repeatedly urged Ukraine’s allies to send more air-defense systems to protect the country’s vital infrastructure.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Washington would prioritize deliveries of anti-air missiles to Kyiv, ahead of other countries that have placed orders.
Zelensky said in a message on X he was “deeply grateful” for the US move.
“These additional air defense capabilities will protect Ukrainian cities and civilians,” he wrote.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
Updated 22 June 2024
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”