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.


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Updated 53 min 47 sec ago

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

Updated 17 August 2022

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

  • With temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius, Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world 
  • Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area 

NEW DELHI: The body of an Indian soldier who went missing 38 years ago on a glacier on the disputed border with Pakistan has been found.  

A unit of the Indian Army tweeted pictures of the coffin of Chander Shekhar wrapped in an Indian flag early Wednesday, two days after India celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence.  

The Army said Shekhar was deployed for Operation Meghdoot in 1984 when India and Pakistan fought a brief battle to assert control over the Siachen Glacier, reputed to be the world's highest battlefield.  

At over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) with temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world.  

Located in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, it has long been contested between the nuclear-armed neighbours.  

Local media reported that Shekhar was part of a 20-member group that got caught in an ice storm during a patrol.  

Fifteen bodies were recovered at the time but the other five could not be found, among them Shekhar, the reports said.  

His last rites will now be performed with full military honours in the state of Uttarakhand, where his family lives.  

His daughter, who was four years old when he went missing, said the family would now get closure.  

"He has been long gone... Papa has come but I wish he was alive," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted her saying.  

Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area.  

 


Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.