Taliban travel from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan for talks

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended Friday. (File photo: Reuters)
Updated 12 August 2018

Taliban travel from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan for talks

  • The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan
  • The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of the Taliban’s increasing political presence in the region, the head of the militant group’s political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.
Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as its special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.
The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.
Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Saturday that discussions covered everything from international troop withdrawal to peace prospects to possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and electricity.
Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.
“Taliban also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan,” he said in the statement.
Uzbek’s Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit saying “the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan. “
Still, the meetings are significant coming as the Taliban ramps up pressure on Afghanistan’s Security Forces with relentless and deadly attacks and Washington holds preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, who view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Daesh group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.
Still, Andrew Wilder, vice president of Asia programs at the US Institute of Peace said Washington would welcome a “constructive” Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.
“What wouldn’t be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government,” he said.
“High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the Afghan government risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return,” Wilder said.
There was no immediate comment from the Afghan government, but neither the Taliban nor the Uzbek foreign ministry statement mentioned the Afghan government.
For Uzbekistan, the Daesh presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by Daesh in Afghanistan.
Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a US missile strike in Pakistan in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand Daesh influence in Afghanistan.
Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to Daesh when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan not far from the border with Uzbekistan. The rescued Uzbek warriors declared they would join the peace process. Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan’s Vice President Rashid Dostum who had gone over to IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and fled to Turkey in May last year.
Coincidentally their rescue from the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with Ghani’s government.


At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

Updated 06 May 2021

At a Toronto hospital staff exhausted, angry

  • Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants
  • At the week's end more than 2,200 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million

TORONTO: Intensive care nurse Farial says the health care system in Canada’s Ontario province is nearing the breaking point as it fights a fast-moving new wave of Covid-19 infections.
The caregiver at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital is looking after two patients in their 60s who are on ventilators.
“We’re overwhelmed,” she told AFP, conveying the feelings of her peers who often say they feel powerless against a tidal wave of new cases, and angry at times — especially with the Ontario government’s arguably slow response and with Ontarians who are not following public health orders to contain the coronavirus.
“We’re stretched thin. We’re tired and exhausted. Just exhausted.”
Ontario is now the epicenter of the outbreak in Canada, led by more virulent variants. The latest surge in the number of cases was so big that authorities this week dispatched the military and the Red Cross to help care for critical patients.
“It’s the worst wave I’ve ever seen,” says head nurse Kimisha Marshall. “We have younger patients coming in, sicker and lots more patients coming in.”
“We’re short of nurses. We had some nurses that left, but also we have nurses that are getting sick, too,” she adds.
At the week’s end, there were more than 2,200 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the province of 14 million. Nearly 900 patients were listed in critical condition.
Medical staff have been redeployed from other wards to the ICU to lend a hand, and transferring patients to facilities in less affected areas has alleviated some of the pressure on this Toronto hospital.
But more than a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, “the team is tired,” comments Raman Rai, head of the intensive care unit where a few children’s drawings thanking caregivers hang on the walls, bringing a glimmer of cheer.
At times overcome by a deep sadness, Rai says: “You see people who have not only lost a loved one, but who have lost several members of their family. It is very hard.”
More than 60 percent of patients in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit on Wednesday were being treated for Covid-19. In one of the rooms, relatives and a priest gathered around a patient’s bed, praying.
Every day, several more patients must be placed on ventilators. On Wednesday, a 52-year-old man with low blood oxygen levels was intubated by a team of four caregivers fully dressed in protective gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
“He was so scared, he could barely breathe,” recounts Melody Baril, who performed the intubation.
“You try and give them a little bit of hope,” she says, “but the death rate is so high, once you get to this point.”
More than 8,000 people in Ontario have died from Covid-19, representing one-third of the nationwide pandemic death toll. The number of cases in the province has risen to over 450,000, or almost 40 percent of the total in Canada.
After peaking in mid-April, the number of new daily infections has fallen slightly over the past 10 days and a vaccine rollout is accelerating. But the number of patients in intensive care continues to rise.
Fearing the crisis will persist, some caregivers say they are angry with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government — which has faced a storm of criticisms over its pandemic response of late — but also against a segment of the population that has stubbornly resisted following public health restrictions.
“I feel frustrated,” says nurse Sarah Banani. “I think perhaps things could have been shut down harder and faster as we saw the variants take hold within the population.”
“I think we all feel we have been let down a little bit by society,” comments physician Jamie Spiegelman, adding that many health care providers “feel powerless to change things.”
“When I go outside and see traffic, people in a shopping center not taking the necessary precautions, that’s a letdown,” he says.
“We’re sick of patients with Covid-19 dying.”


Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

Updated 06 May 2021

Sweden passes one million cases as virus spread tops EU

  • Sweden now has among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, said health official
  • With 1,002,121 covid19 cases recorded since the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data

STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday announced it had recorded over one million cases of Covid-19, nearly a tenth of the population, as the Nordic nation struggles to rein in a third wave of the virus.
“In Sweden we now have among the highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of microbiology at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a press conference.
Tegmark Wisell noted however that there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.
With 1,002,121 cases of the novel coronavirus recorded since the start of the pandemic, 9.85 percent of the population has contracted the virus, according to official data compiled by AFP.
The Public Health Agency published a series of projections, with the most likely scenario showing the virus spread starting to subside in mid-May before reaching “very low levels” in July and August.
The Scandinavian country has famously never imposed the type of lockdown seen elsewhere in Europe, controversially relying on mostly non-coercive measures.
It has however gradually tightened restrictions since November, including a ban on alcohol sales after 8:00 p.m. and on public gatherings of more than eight people.
Since March, cafes, bars and restaurants have also been required to shut their doors by 8:30 pm.
Despite being in the midst of a third wave of cases, the rise in deaths has been much slower in recent weeks, with 156 deaths in the last seven days, which authorities say is the result of the rollout of vaccines among vulnerable groups.
The total number of deaths associated with Covid-19 since the start of pandemic reached 14,158 on Thursday, putting Sweden in the middle of the pack in Europe, although well ahead of its Nordic neighbors Finland, Norway and Denmark,
European mortality statistics however also show that Sweden had a lower than average excess mortality in 2020, compared to the rest of Europe.


Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

Updated 06 May 2021

Delhi’s popular autorickshaws become COVID-19 ambulances

  • Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the healthcare system
  • Delhi government and a non-profit organization kitted out over 12 autorickshaws with sanitizers and masks while oxygen cylinders are provided based on need

NEW DELHI: It’s not the most conventional way to get to hospital, but with Delhi running short of ambulances, authorities have turned some of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheeled autorickshaws into makeshift ambulances to ferry COVID-19 patients.
Actual ambulances are hard to come by as a devastating surge in cases overwhelms the health care system.
Families have had to make their own arrangements including paying exorbitant amounts to private ambulance operators to take the sick to hospital.
The Delhi government, in association with a non-profit organization, has kitted out more than a dozen autorickshaws with hand sanitizers and face masks, while oxygen cylinders are provided on a need basis. The service, which began officially on Tuesday, is free.
Autorickshaw driver Raj Kumar has taken patients to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, Delhi’s largest facility, which is overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
“We must all help each other out at this time of need to get out of this situation,” said Kumar, who wears a PPE suit. There is a plastic partition between him and the passengers at the back.
“If everyone stays home because they are scared, then who is going to help those in need?“
Mohit Raj, founder and executive director of the Turn Your Concern into Action foundation, said the response so far had shown the scheme needed more vehicles.
“Now we are getting calls not just of COVID patients but from front-line workers who are unable to find patient conveyance, as well as from people with other ailments,” he said.
Raj added he has received requests from other parts of the country to start services there.


Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

Updated 06 May 2021

Gunmen kill former TV presenter then escape in Afghanistan

  • Former TV present Nimat Rawan was shot at noon by two assailants who escaped with his mobile phone
  • Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well

KABUL: Gunmen killed a former Afghan TV presenter on Thursday as he was traveling in the southern city of Kandahar, a provincial official said, adding to fears for press freedom in the war-wrecked country.
Nimat Rawan was shot at noon, provincial spokesman Baheer Ahmadi said, by two assailants who were able to escape with his mobile phone.
Security officials have told several other journalists in the area that extremists are targeting them as well, he added.
The killing heightens worries over the fate of Afghan journalists as US troops pullout. Many fear violence will spike and reprisals will be taken out against those who worked with foreign forces.
Rawan was a former presenter for the well-known local channel Tolonews. He had been working in the Finance Ministry’s media office, media watchdog Nia said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it comes a day after the Taliban issued a threat to Afghan journalists it considered too close to US-backed security agencies.
In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Afghan journalists against giving “one-sided news in support of Afghanistan’s intelligence,” or otherwise “face the consequences.”
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Since 2006, as many as 76 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, according to UNESCO.
Last year alone at least 15 were killed, and earlier this year, three women employed by media outlets were killed in eastern Afghanistan. The Daesh group has claimed responsibility for some of the killings, including that of the three women. The majority of the targeted journalists have been women.
The government blames a resurgent Taliban — who now control or hold sway over half the country — for many of the targeted killings. The insurgents, meanwhile, claim the Afghan intelligence service is carrying out these attacks so as to blame the Taliban.


Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

Updated 06 May 2021

Former Ugandan rebel commander Ongwen sentenced to 25 years in prison

  • Dominic Ongwen was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape and sexual enslavement
  • Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence

AMSTERDAM: Judges at the International Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced a former Ugandan child soldier who became a commander of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army to 25 years in prison.
Dominic Ongwen, who was taken into ICC custody in 2015, was convicted in February of 61 crimes including rape, sexual enslavement, child abductions, torture and murder.
Presiding Judge Bertram Schmitt said the panel of judges had considered sentencing Ongwen to life imprisonment, the court’s harshest punishment, but had sided against it due to the defendant’s own personal suffering.
Led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the LRA terrorized Ugandans for nearly 20 years as it battled the government of President Yoweri Museveni from bases in northern Uganda and neighboring countries. It has now largely been wiped out.
Ongwen was abducted by the group as a 9-year-old boy and forced into life of violence. At the same time, the judges found, he knowingly committed a vast range of heinous crimes as an adult, many of them against defenseless children and women who had been forced into slavery.
He was “a perpetrator who willfully brought tremendous suffering upon his victims, however, also a perpetrator who himself has previously endured extreme suffering at the hands of the group of which he later became a prominent member and leader,” Judge Schmitt said.
Prosecutors had demanded he get at least 20 years in prison, while his defense argued he should get no more than a 10-year sentence because he was traumatized as a child soldier.
The sentence can be appealed.