Afghans hope for end to power vacuum as Taliban prepare to announce government

A man on his bicycle rides past a convoy of Taliban fighters patrolling along a street in Kabul on Thursday. The Taliban are preparing to unveil their new government. (AFP)
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Updated 02 September 2021

Afghans hope for end to power vacuum as Taliban prepare to announce government

  • New government could be revealed as soon as on Friday, says militant group

KABUL: The Taliban said on Thursday they were preparing to unveil their government, with Afghans hoping it will happen soon as the country urgently needs a new administration after its state institutions collapsed over two weeks ago.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan earlier this month and seized Kabul on Aug. 15, as US-led forces were completing their withdrawal.
The group that returned to power after 20 years of insurgency, following their removal by a US-led invasion in 2001, is now faced with the responsibility of running a country of 35 million people devastated by decades of war and with an economy on the edge of collapse.
Photos circulated on social media on Thursday showed the Taliban in preparations for a ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul.  
“We were expecting that the government formation would be finalized as soon as possible,” Bilal Karimi, member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News. “Possibly it would be Friday or the upcoming 72 hours.”
While there are many unknowns, fears and hopes regarding the new establishment, most ordinary Afghans long for it to be urgently formed to end a power vacuum.
“In the current situation, we are in an urgent need of a government,” Kabul-based international relations analyst Qais Zaheer told Arab News.
He expressed hope the new administration would be one in which all would find their representation, and that it would obtain international legitimacy.
“On the internal level everyone should see themselves in the government and on the international level, the world should recognize it,” he said. 
The Taliban had declared a blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies and Afghans who supported the previous administration, and announced their aim of forming an inclusive Islamic government. It remains unclear to what extent these promises will be kept.
“This government should be inclusive and professional and should assure the people that they are able to serve the nation,” Afghan Civil Society Forum director Aziz Rafee said, adding: “All sides, including the former government officials would be a part of it.”
The international legitimacy of the new government will be crucial, as most payments to foreign aid-dependent Afghanistan have been suspended since the takeover, sending the economy into freefall.
Ali Reza, a 23-year-old shop owner in Kabul, said he hoped the economy would improve with the formation of the new government, as businesses are reeling from the current situation.
“We hope that the new government will provide us with facilities and opportunities,” he said.
The country is facing the possibility of a humanitarian crisis on top of the political and economic situation. The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee their homeland by the end of the year.
Thousands of people have already left, while the young and educated fear for their future.
“The major issue is that the Taliban would possibly put the new generation under a serious threat,” journalist Nabi Karimi told Arab News.
Those who feel especially threatened are women, whose freedoms were curtailed during the previous Taliban rule of 1996-2001.
“We hope that Taliban fulfil their commitments,” journalist Qudsia Eshaqzai said, adding that she and her colleagues are hoping to resume their professional lives. During their previous reign, the Taliban treated them like second-category citizens.
“The only thing we can do is to continue our hope,” she said. “I hope that soon the situation will change and they will give us the right to work.”


Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

Updated 12 sec ago

Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

UNITED NATIONS: The divided UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on whether to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan so they will expire at midnight Friday.
UN diplomats said Russia and China want to allow all 13 to continue to travel while the US and Western nations are determined to cut the number to protest the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.
Russia and China asked for more time Friday evening to consider the latest US proposal, the Security Council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
So, the travel ban will be restored on all 13 Taliban officials until Monday afternoon at the earliest when Russia and China must now respond to the US proposal.
Dozens of Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years, subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. But some Taliban officials were granted waivers so they could travel to participate in talks aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August 15 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan. It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.
In June, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban banned two Taliban officials from traveling in response to their crackdown on women — Said Ahmad Shaidkhel, the acting deputy education minister, and Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah, also known as Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education.
With the expiration of travel waivers for the remaining 13 Taliban officials looming, the United State on Thursday proposed re-imposing the travel ban on seven of them and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.
Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.
Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption can’t continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.
That’s the proposal that Russia and China are now considering.

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

Updated 6 min 25 sec ago

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

DES MOINES, Iowa: Former Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that he didn’t take any classified information with him when he left office.

Pence made the comment during an interview with The Associated Press in Iowa a week and a half after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Asked directly if he retained any classified information upon leaving office, Pence said, “No, not to my knowledge.”

The disclosure — which would typically be unremarkable for a former vice president — is notable given that FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from his former boss’s estate on Aug. 8 while investigating potential violations of three different federal laws. Trump has claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked.

Despite the inclusion of material marked “top secret” in the government’s list of items recovered from Mar-a-Lago, Pence said, “I honestly don’t want to prejudge it before until we know all the facts.”

Pence on Friday also weighed in on Republican US Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary defeat earlier in the week to a rival backed by Trump. Cheney, who is arguably Trump’s most prominent Republican critic, has called the former president “a very grave threat and risk to our republic” and further raised his ire through her role as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.

“My reaction was, the people of Wyoming have spoken,” said Pence, who was targeted at the Capitol that day by angry rioters, including some who chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” “And, you know, I accept their judgment about the kind of representation they want on Capitol Hill.”

Pence said he has “great respect” for Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served two terms under President George W. Bush.

“And I appreciate the conservative stance Congresswoman Cheney has taken over the years,” Pence continued. “But I’ve been disappointed in the partisan taint of the Jan. 6 committee from early on.”

Speaking further about the search of Mar-a-Lago, the former vice president raised the possibility, as he has previously, that the investigation was politically motivated and called on Attorney General Merrick

Garland to disclose more details on what led authorities to conduct the search.

“The concern that millions of Americans felt is only going to be resolved with daylight,” Pence said Friday. “I know that’s not customary in an investigation. But this is unprecedented action by the Justice Department, and I think it merits an unprecedented transparency.”

Days ago, while speaking at a political breakfast in New Hampshire, Pence urged his fellow Republicans to stop lashing out at rank-and-file members of the FBI over the search of Mar-a-Lago. At the Wednesday event, he sought to tamp down on some of the increasing threats against the FBI by ardent Trump supporters who are angry that Trump’s home was searched.

“The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” Pence said Wednesday. “Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop.”

Pence was in Iowa on Friday as part of a two-day trip to the state, which is scheduled to host the 2024 leadoff Republican presidential caucuses. Pence said Friday that he would make a decision early next year about whether to run for the White House, a move that his aides have said will be independent of what Trump decides to do.

Having visited the Iowa State Fair on Friday afternoon, Pence also headlined a fundraiser earlier in the day for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and was scheduled to speak to a Christian conservative group and a northern Iowa county Republican Party fundraiser before leaving Saturday.


Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Updated 20 August 2022

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

ODESSA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel via Ukraine or Russia came as a US defense official said Ukraine’s forces had brought the Russian advance to a halt.
“You are seeing a complete and total lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had “reconsidered” his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission to” the plant.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the spectre of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
Putin also “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Zelensky said in his Friday evening address.
“No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN secretary general said that “obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.”
“Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a “provocation” at the site that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
Guterres visited Odessa as part of an effort to make more Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with soaring food prices, after a landmark deal with Russia last month to allow its export.
The deal, the only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.
Guterres is expected to head to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.
The grain deal has held, but brought little respite along the sprawling front lines after nearly six months of fighting between US-supplied Ukrainian forces and the Russian military.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for Himars systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.
The primary tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery barrages, and recent bombardments over the eastern Donetsk region — which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 — left several dead.
The Ukrainian head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that Russian strikes had killed five people and wounded 10 more in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, left one person dead and damaged a school and a private business, the head of the region said.


France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

Updated 19 August 2022

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

  • Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe: French president

PARIS: Hours after talking with Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a “brutal attack” on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.

Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.

He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”

“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us,” Macron said in a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Allied landing in Nazi-occupied southern France during World War II.

Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”

Earlier Friday, Macron spoke more than an hour with Putin to urge Russia to accept Ukraine’s conditions to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit Europe’s largest nuclear plant. There are growing international concerns about security at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and at the heart of the war.

The leaders also discussed efforts to get grain and other food commodities out of Russia. EU sanctions aimed at ending the war make exceptions for food.

It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.


FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

Updated 19 August 2022

FDA asks Pfizer to test second Paxlovid course in patients with COVID rebound

  • The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month

DUBAI: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered Pfizer Inc. to test the effects of an additional course of its antiviral Paxlovid among people who experience a rebound in COVID-19 after treatment, the regulator said on Friday.
The drugmaker must produce initial results of a randomized controlled trial of a second course of the antiviral by Sept. 30 next year, the FDA told Pfizer in a letter dated Aug. 5.
The regulator said a formal plan for the clinical trial is expected to be finalized this month.
Pfizer is “working with the FDA to finalize a protocol to study patients who may be in need of retreatment,” and will provide details when available, a company spokesperson said.