Opinion

Afghans make a run for the border as Taliban promise ‘all-inclusive’ govt ‘within 2 weeks’

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, center, speaks to the media at the airport in Kabul on Wednesday, after the US pulled all its troops out of the country. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2021

Afghans make a run for the border as Taliban promise ‘all-inclusive’ govt ‘within 2 weeks’

  • Group leaders complete talks on formation of new administration

KABUL: Thousands of Afghans made a run for the borders on Wednesday as Taliban militants cemented their grip on the country and finalized plans to form a government.

Kabul’s airport is out of action and Afghans fearful of Taliban reprisals are seeking safe passage overland into neighboring Iran, Pakistan and Central Asian states.

At Torkham, a border crossing with Pakistan just east of the Khyber Pass, a Pakistani official said: “A large number of people are waiting on the Afghanistan side for the opening of the gate.”

Thousands also gathered at the Islam Qala post on the border with Iran. “I felt that being among Iranian security forces brought some kind of relaxation for Afghans as they entered Iran, compared with the past,” said one Afghan who crossed over.

Uzbekistan’s land border with northern Afghanistan remained closed but its government said it would assist Afghans in transit by air once flights resume.

The Taliban is talking with Qatar and Turkey about how to run Kabul airport, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, but it could take days or weeks to finalize those negotiations.

More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in the Western airlift after the Taliban seized the city on Aug. 15, but tens of thousands at risk remained behind. Germany alone estimates that up to 40,000 have a right to be evacuated to Germany if they feel endangered.

Meanwhile, the Taliban said the group’s leaders had concluded talks on the formation of an “all-inclusive,” wide-ranging Afghan government and hoped to reveal the new administration within two weeks.
The announcement follows the Taliban’s toppling of the Western-backed Kabul administration earlier this month and comes just 48 hours after the last US military flight left the Afghan capital on Monday.
Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman in Kabul, told Arab News: “In the near future, the nation will witness the formation of a new government and Cabinet ... the discussions for forming a new government have finished.”
It follows three days of talks led by the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the group’s stronghold.
“We hope that the new government will be formed possibly this week or within the next week,” Karimi added.
He gave no further details but said the future government would be a “wide-ranging one with the presence of all parties in the new political system of Afghanistan.”
Since returning to power on Aug. 15, the Taliban have repeatedly vowed to form a more moderate government under “the framework of Islamic law,” to uphold women’s rights, grant amnesty to opponents, and ensure Afghan territory will not be used as a base for attacks against any other country.
The Taliban, on Tuesday, took full control of Kabul airport, declaring Afghanistan a “free and sovereign” nation after the US ended its 20 years of occupation, cementing the group’s return to power after their ouster in 2001.
Speaking to reporters at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed Washington’s withdrawal as an “historic moment” while pledging to bring security to the war-torn country and “protect our freedom, independence, and Islamic values.”
But many Afghans remain skeptical, and tens of thousands have fled the country in the past two weeks, amid fears that the Taliban will reinstate their hardline form of governance as they did during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, before being toppled in an American-led invasion.
Abdullah Qaderi, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News: “Formation of a new inclusive government in the country is an urgent need, as we are the world’s first nation that has had no government for almost two weeks. Continuation of this process could facilitate internal wars in the country.”
Shahram Rahmani, a civil rights activist, told Arab News: “We hope that this government will be inclusive, and all parties and political figures will take part in it. We believe that if the government is not inclusive, its presence will be meaningless to all sides.”

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The Taliban also face the urgent task of bolstering Afghanistan’s economy with international donors withholding funds ever since the group recaptured the nation of 38 million people that for two decades had survived on billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Banks remain closed, and residents have reported a sharp spike in prices of essential goods throughout the capital and other areas.
Sanaullah Zazai, 35, told Arab News: “We need food, water, and also security. We urge the Islamic Emirate leadership to form their government as soon as possible; the people are facing challenges.”
On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden struck a defiant tone, defending his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. In a tweet, he said: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It is about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
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.
Amid mounting fears over the future of residents in the country, Abdul Qadeer Faqirzada, a spokesman for the National Resistance Forces, said: “The situation in Afghanistan is full of crises. In the two weeks since the Taliban captured Kabul, people are facing difficulties.
“The economic situation is in chaos; there is no rule of law and no government services, and it shows that the Taliban are unable to govern the country,” he added.
Meanwhile, there were several reports of intense clashes between Taliban fighters and anti-Taliban groups in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul on Monday.
Panjshir has so far been the only province to resist the Taliban since the group’s takeover of Kabul, with its fighters reportedly urging opposition leaders to join their new government and threatening a military strike if they do not.


Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

Updated 07 July 2022

Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

  • With eight ministers resigning, an isolated Johnson set to bow to inevitable, declare he’s stepping down
  • The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months

LONDON: Boris Johnson will announce his resignation as British Prime Minister on Thursday, a government source said, after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party’s lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning in the last two hours, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare his was stepping down later.

His Downing Street office confirmed that Johnson would make a statement to the country later.

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months.

In a sign of his evaporating support over one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, Johnson’s finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, had called on his boss to resign.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” he said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Britain’s departure from the European Union and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.


Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Updated 07 July 2022

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

  • Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that a Russian warplane struck Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea overnight, shortly after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag over the island.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, posted a video on Telegram on Thursday of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island, from which Russian forces withdrew on June 30.


UK prime minister Boris Johnson to resign – British media

Updated 07 July 2022

UK prime minister Boris Johnson to resign – British media

  • Embattled UK leader to make a statement to the country today

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resigning, several media outlets including the BBC reported on Thursday.

“The Prime Minister will make a statement to the country today,” a spokesperson said.

The prime minister has spoken to Queen Elizabeth as a courtesy ahead of an impending announcement about his resignation plan, ITV Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana said.

Johnson had been hanging onto power despite the resignation of a string of his top ministers. On Thursday the man he appointed as finance minister less than 48 hours earlier publicly urged Johnson to go.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also called on Johnson to quit but said he would stay in his role to protect national security.

British education minister Michelle Donelan also resigned from government less than 48 hours after she was appointed, saying it was the only way to force the hand of Johnson to quit.

“I see no way that you can continue in post, but without a formal mechanism to remove you it seems that the only way that this is... possible is for those of us who remain in Cabinet to force your hand,” Donelan wrote in a resignation letter, saying she had “pleaded” with Johnson on Wednesday to resign.

“You have put us in an impossible situation... as someone who values integrity above all else, I have no choice.”

More than 50 ministers have quit the government in less than 48 hours, saying Johnson was not fit to be in charge after a series of scandals, while dozens in his Conservative Party are in open revolt.

A delegation of senior ministers and a senior figure representing Conservative lawmakers who are not in government went to Downing Street on Wednesday evening to tell Johnson he needed to go and to make a dignified exit.

But he refused to budge, and even sacked Michael Gove, one of his most effective ministers who, according to media reports, had told the British leader he should quit.

“I am not going to step down,” Johnson told a parliamentary committee. The Sun newspaper quoted an ally of the prime minister as saying that rebels in his party would “have to dip their hands in blood” if they wanted to get rid of him.

Johnson has suggested that he had a mandate to govern from the almost 14 million voters who voted for the Conservatives in December 2019 when he swept to power with a promise to sort out Britain’s exit from the European Union after years of bitter wrangling.

He says it would not be responsible to walk away from the job in the middle of an economic crisis and war in Europe. Johnson has been a visible supporter of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in late February.

He has also refused to say if he would try to stay in the job even if he lost a confidence vote from his own lawmakers. That could come next week if they agree to change the party’s rules, which only allow one such challenge a year. He narrowly won a similar vote last month.

Opposition lawmakers said the chaos meant government could not function. Committees due to meet on Thursday to scrutinize legislation, including the National Security Bill, were being canceled because there was no minister available.


Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

Updated 07 July 2022

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

  • The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on the Indonesian island of Bali on Thursday preparing for a G20 gathering that will be his first face-to-face meeting with the fiercest critics of his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia, which has this year grappled with the tough balancing act of running a global summit buffeted by geopolitical pressures and a global food crisis blamed on the Ukraine war.
There was tight security on Thursday as foreign diplomats descended on the tropical island for a meeting where the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be front and center.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her country and like-minded nations would use the G20 meeting to highlight the impact of the war.
“We will be making very clear collectively our views about Russia’s position and Russia’s behavior,” she said.
Thursday’s welcome dinner will be the first time President Vladimir Putin’s long-serving foreign minister Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion, which Moscow has called a “special military operation.”
Lavrov planned to meet some G20 counterparts on the sidelines of the summit, Russian news agency TASS reported, but ministers including Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have ruled out separate meetings with Lavrov.
The Group of 20 includes Western countries that have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine and imposed sanctions, but also countries like China, Indonesia, India and South Africa that have been more muted in their response.
Some US and European officials have stressed the gathering would not be “business as a usual,” with a spokesperson for the German foreign minister saying G7 countries would coordinate their response to Lavrov.
In 2014, the G7 excluded Russia from the G8 over its annexation of Crimea.
Top officials from Britain, Canada and the United States walked out on Russian representatives during a G20 finance meeting in Washington in April.
Despite early talk of boycotting subsequent G20 meetings, some analysts say Western nations may have decided it would be counterproductive to cede the floor to Russia.
A senior US State Department official said on Thursday it was important to maintain a focus on what Indonesia had set out for its G20 presidency and “not let there be any disruptions or interruptions to that.”
Discussion of energy and food security are on the agenda in the two-day meeting, with Russia accused of stoking a global food crisis and worsening inflation by blockading shipments of Ukrainian grain. Russia has said it ready to facilitate unhindered exports of grain.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi discussed with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the need to protect regional stability and solve global issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“The solidity of the voices of developing nations are needed to stop the war, and to reintegrate food exports of Ukraine and Russia into the global supply chain,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Trying to leverage Indonesia’s neutrality, President Joko Widodo undertook an ambitious peace-brokering mission last week, visiting Kyiv and Moscow to meet his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts.

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Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Updated 07 July 2022

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

  • Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups
SYDNEY: Australia will offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 30, health authorities said Thursday, as hospitals bulge with patients in a winter wave of infections.
The government said it is recommending a fourth jab for over 50s — but also offering it to everyone over 30 despite benefits to the younger age group being unclear.
It followed a recommendation by the top immunization advisory body, which said it recognized younger people might want a winter booster dose, even though its impact for them “is uncertain but likely to be limited.”
Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups, including those with weakened immune systems.
As new, more infectious omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 race through the population, the number of Australian hospital patients with COVID-19 has jumped by more than 1,000 in a month to about 3,900, with 140 people now in intensive care.
“This is placing real pressure on our health and hospital systems,” Health Minister Mark Butler told a news conference as he announced the decision.
More than 95 percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in Australia, where few people now wear a mask or take measures to socially distance.
As restrictions are gradually dismantled in a country that previously shut its international borders for nearly 20 months to exclude the virus, Australia this week dropped all vaccine certificate requirements for foreign visitors.