Taliban declare Afghanistan ‘free, sovereign’ nation, vow ‘good relations’ with rest of world

Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military's withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 01 September 2021

Taliban declare Afghanistan ‘free, sovereign’ nation, vow ‘good relations’ with rest of world

  • Afghans question life under new rulers as Taliban take control of Kabul airport

KABUL: The Taliban on Tuesday declared Afghanistan a “free and sovereign” nation and vowed to maintain “good relations” with the rest of the world following the departure of the last US troops from Kabul airport.
The group took control of the capital’s airport after the US on Monday ended its 20 years of occupation, cementing the Taliban’s return to power after their ouster in 2001.
Celebratory gunfire echoed around Hamid Karzai International Airport as Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed Washington’s withdrawal as an “historic moment,” while pledging to bring security to the war-torn country.
Speaking to reporters at Kabul airport on Tuesday, he said: “We do not have any doubt that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a free and sovereign nation. America was defeated.”
And he promised Afghans that the group would “protect our freedom, independence, and Islamic values.”
The Taliban took control of Kabul in a lightning offensive two weeks ago, toppling the government in a bloodless siege as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Since then, thousands of people camped outside the US-controlled airport with diplomats, foreign aid workers, and civilians desperate to leave the country ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden for American forces to pull out.
Scenes of deadly chaos ensued with hordes of people in and around the facility trying to board flights, amid fears the Taliban would reinstate their harsh and repressive style of governance as they did during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, before being toppled in a US-led invasion.
Chaotic evacuation measures by the US and its allies saw more than 123,000 people leave Kabul up until Monday when US troops reportedly destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armored vehicles, and disabled air defenses.
Several were killed as security officials fired on the tarmac to control crowds thronging to the airport in the past two weeks, while nearly 180 died in a suicide attack claimed by Daesh-Khorasan on Thursday.
Since returning to power, the Taliban have vowed to form an “all-inclusive government,” respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them, and ensure Afghanistan did not become a haven for terrorists.
The assurances, however, have done little to allay civilians’ fears, with many feeling that while Washington had left the country, Afghanistan now faced many new challenges.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul, told Arab News: “There is nothing special about today. Banks are not working, we have no money, and there is no government to respond to the needs of Afghan citizens.”
He pointed out his concerns over the “critical state” of the economy and its impact on his livelihood. “Earlier, I would sell at least 5,000 goods per day, but now I can sell only 500.”
Others recalled the “tragic and horrible moments” of the past 20 years, and worried about “black days” ahead.

Nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans have lost their lives in America’s longest conflict, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
These included nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians, more than 400 aid workers, and 72 journalists, with fears mounting over the state of minorities in the nation of 38 million people that for two decades had survived on billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Ali Reza Husseini, a 24-year-old resident of the Taimany area of Kabul, told Arab News: “For the public, nothing has changed, still we are in fear. We believe that minority rights will not be given by the Taliban.”
The situation was “delicate and problematic” for Afghan journalists too, with 72 killed in the past and “dozens looking to escape by any means, with the help of smugglers.”
Mumtaz Haidari, 55, a media rights activist, told Arab News: “No one would stay here. We know that our entrances are shut, and there is no hope, so we are looking for the alternatives to flee by land and become an immigrant in neighboring countries.”
On Monday, the Taliban told Arab News they were “committed” to allowing Afghans with valid documents to travel out of the country but urged them “to stay and work for the nation’s development.”
Experts, however, said the next few days would be the true litmus test for Afghanistan’s new rulers.
Abdul Waheed Farzayee, 34, a political analyst based in Kabul, told Arab News: “Today is the first day that Afghanistan is without foreign forces present. We are hopeful that the Taliban would fulfill their commitments given to Afghan citizens.”
He added that while the US’ departure from Afghanistan was “a reality,” the Taliban needed to form a new government “with the presence of all political players in the country.”
Qais Zaheer, an international expert based in Kabul, told Arab News that Washington’s exit had thrown the country into “mass political and military chaos.”
He said: “We have no government, and there is a political-economic gap. We hope that in the upcoming days we will have a government. But still there are some doubts on the Taliban’s policies.”


Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

Updated 13 August 2022

Afghan migrants continue to face abuse from Iranian border guards, traffickers

  • Hundreds of Afghans are trying to cross the Iranian border every day
  • Allegations of mistreatment in Iran have been on the rise since last year

KABUL: When Mohammad Parwiz was trying to cross from Iran to Turkey in search of a better life, he was caught by Iranian police guards and subjected to forced labor before being deported back to Afghanistan.

Parwiz is just one among hundreds of Afghans trying to cross the Iranian border every day to find employment abroad. He is also one of an increasing number to face abuse in the process.
Iran has for decades hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country. The number jumped to 5 million from nearly 4 million last year, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry data, as economic restrictions imposed on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August 2021 triggered unprecedented levels of poverty.
“As embassies closed in August last year, I had no other way but to go to Iran illegally,” Parwiz, a 22-year-old from the northern Baghlan province, told Arab News.
“I stayed in Iran for three months working at my relative’s bakery. My friends and I were caught by a border police patrol close to Turkey’s border.
“We were kept in jail for 12 days where we were forced to do hard labor and if we didn’t, they would hit us. We wouldn’t get proper food during that time. They constantly threatened us that if we come to Iran again, we may get killed. After 12 days of forced labor, humiliation, abuse and torture by Iran’s police, we were sent back to Afghanistan.”
Allegations of mistreatment of Afghans in Iran have been on the rise since last year. Reports include abuse not only by the Iranian police, but also human traffickers.
Ahmad Jalil, a 19-year-old from Laghman province, tried to leave Afghanistan and go via Iran to Turkey, from where he wanted to reach Europe with a group of 15 other teenagers.
“We paid a lot of money to the trafficker here but when we entered Iran through the border in Nimroz province during the night, we were received by another person after walking in the desert for hours,” he said.
The second smuggler asked them for more money.
“The trafficker would abuse us and would beat some of us,” Jalil said. “He even threatened us with death.”
Eventually, Jalil was abandoned and managed to return to Afghanistan on his own.
“We have cases of Afghan migrants being abused, beaten up and even killed,” Sayed Hazratullah Zaeem, a commissioner at Islam Qala, a border town in Herat province, near the Afghanistan–Iran border, told the Afghan media on Thursday.
Abdullah Qayoum, an official of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation in Herat, confirmed the reports of abuse.
“Afghans who want to go there (Iran), some of them are sent back after being tortured,” he said.
In April, videos circulated on social media showing civilians being manhandled by men dressed like Iranian security forces sparked a wave of demonstrations targeting Iranian diplomatic missions in Kabul and Herat, and a diplomatic protest by Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities.
“The border police in Iran are so brutal. For them we are not even humans,” said Mohammad Karim, a recent graduate from Kabul, who tried to cross from Iran to Turkey earlier this year.
He did not manage to reach his destination after he was injured in a car accident as his traffickers tried to evade Iranian police.
“If they saw our vehicle in the desert, they would shoot at us,” he said.


Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

Updated 13 August 2022

Ukrainian minister says Russia blocking access to medicines

  • Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages

KYIV: Ukraine’s health minister has accused Russian authorities of committing a crime against humanity by blocking access to affordable medicines in areas its forces have occupied since invading the country 5 1/2 months ago.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko said Russian authorities repeatedly have blocked efforts to provide state-subsidized drugs to people in occupied cities, towns and villages.
“Throughout the entire six months of war, Russia has not (allowed) proper humanitarian corridors so we could provide our own medicines to the patients that need them,” Liashko said, speaking at the Health Ministry in Kyiv late Friday.
“We believe that these actions are being taken with intent by Russia, and we consider them to be crimes against humanity and war crimes that will be documented and will be recognized,” the minister said.
The Ukrainian government has a program that provides medications to people with cancer and chronic health conditions. The destruction of hospitals and infrastructure along with the displacement of an estimated 7 million people inside the country also have interfered with other forms of treatment, according to United Nations and Ukrainian officials.
The war in Ukraine has caused severe disruptions to the country’s state-run health service, which was undergoing major reforms, largely in response to the coronavirus pandemic, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade on Feb. 24.
The World Health Organization said it recorded 445 attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities as of Aug. 11 that directly resulted in 86 deaths and 105 injuries.
But Liashko said the secondary effects were far more severe.
“When roads and bridges have been damaged in areas now controlled by the Ukrainian forces... it is difficult to get someone who had a heart attack or a stroke to the hospital,” he said. “Sometimes, we can’t make it in time, the ambulance can’t get there in time. That’s why war causes many more casualties (than those killed in the fighting). It’s a number that cannot be calculated.”


Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

Updated 13 August 2022

Two more ships depart from Ukraine — Turkey’s defense ministry

ANKARA: Two more ships left from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Saturday, Turkey’s defense ministry said, bringing the total number of ships to depart the country under a UN-brokered deal to 16.
Barbados-flagged Fulmar S left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port, carrying 12,000 tons of corn to Turkey’s southern Iskenderun province, it said. The Marshall Island-flagged Thoe departed from the same port and headed to Turkey’s Tekirdag, carrying 3,000 tons of sunflower seeds.
The statement added that another ship would depart from Turkey on Saturday to Ukraine to buy grains.

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

Updated 13 August 2022

Taliban violently disperse rare women’s protest in Kabul

  • Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts

KABUL: Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hard-line Islamists’ return to power.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
About 40 women — chanting “Bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.
The protesters carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.
“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” chanted the protesters, many of them not wearing face veils, before they dispersed.
Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters.
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone on long trips, and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Azkhundzada, even ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.


‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

Updated 13 August 2022

‘Dead fish everywhere’ in Germany, Poland, after feared chemical waste dump

  • In Poland, the government has come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action
  • Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned

SCHWEDT, Germany: Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the Oder river running through Germany and Poland, sparking warnings of an environmental disaster as residents are urged to stay away from the water.
The fish floating by the German banks near the eastern town of Schwedt are believed to have washed upstream from Poland where first reports of mass fish deaths were made by locals and anglers as early as on July 28.
German officials accused Polish authorities of failing to inform them about the deaths, and were taken by surprise when the wave of lifeless fish came floating into view.
In Poland, the government has also come under heavy criticism for failing to take swift action.
Almost two weeks after the first dead fish appeared floating by Polish villages, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that “everyone had initially thought that it was a local problem.”
But he admitted that the “scale of the disaster is very large, sufficiently large to say that the Oder will need years to recover its natural state.”
“Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” added the Polish leader, as German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke urged a comprehensive probe into what she called a brewing “environmental disaster.”
Standing by the riverbank, Michael Tautenhahn, deputy chief of Germany’s Lower Oder Valley National Park, looked in dismay at the river on the German-Polish border.
“We are standing on the German side — we have dead fish everywhere,” he told AFP.
“I am deeply shocked... I have the feeling that I’m seeing decades of work lying in ruins here. I see our livelihood, the water — that’s our life,” he said, noting that it’s not just fish that have died, but also mussels and likely countless other water creatures.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
The Oder has over the last years been known as a relatively clean river, and 40 domestic species of fish make their home in the waterway.
But now, lifeless fish — some as small as a few centimeters, others reaching 30-40 cm — can be seen across the river. Occasionally, those still struggling to pull through can be seen flipping up in the water, seemingly gasping for air.
Officials believe that the fish are likely to have been poisoned.
“This fish death is atypical,” said Axel Vogel, environment minister for Brandenburg state, estimating that “undoubtedly tons” of fish have died.
Fish death is often caused by the distortion of oxygen levels when water levels are too low, he explained.
“But we have completely different test results, namely that we have had increased oxygen level in the river for several days, and that indicates that a foreign substance has been introduced that has led to this,” he said.
Tests are ongoing in Germany to establish the substance that may have led to the deaths, but there are early indications of extremely high levels of mercury — although authorities said final results are still pending.
In Poland, prosecutors have also begun investigating after authorities came under fire over what critics said was a sluggish response to a disaster.
Tautenhahn said the disaster would likely carry consequences for years to come.
“If it is quicksilver, then it will also stay here for a long time,” he said, noting that mercury does not disintegrate but would then remain in the sediments.