First foreign commercial flight since Taliban takeover lands in Kabul

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A Pakistan International Airlines plane carrying a handful of passengers lands at the airport in Kabul, the first international commercial flight since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan. (AFP)
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A member of the Taliban sits at the airport in Kabul on Sep. 12, 2021, which Afghanistan’s new rulers have been scrambling to get it operating again. (AFP)
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Updated 13 September 2021

First foreign commercial flight since Taliban takeover lands in Kabul

  • ‘There was hardly anyone on the plane, around 10 people... maybe more staff than passengers’
  • Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul last week

KABUL: An international commercial flight touched down in the Afghan capital on Monday, the first since the Taliban retook power last month.

Kabul airport was left trashed after foreign forces completed their chaotic withdrawal on August 30, evacuating more than 120,000 people from the country.

The Taliban have since been scrambling to get it operating again with technical assistance from Qatar and other nations.

“There was hardly anyone on the plane, around 10 people... maybe more staff than passengers,” said an AFP journalist aboard the Pakistan International Airways (PIA) flight from Islamabad.

The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the hard-line Islamist group, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely.

Many NATO nations admitted that they had run out of time to evacuate thousands of at-risk Afghans before the withdrawal deadline — agreed between the United States and the Taliban.

A PIA spokesman said at the weekend that the airline was keen to resume regular commercial services, but it was too soon to say how frequently flights between the two capitals would operate.

Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul last week, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed out on the evacuation.

An Afghan airline resumed domestic services on September 3.

“This is a big moment. We are very excited,” said one airport employee, dressed in a blue shalwar kameez and orange high-visibility vest.

“It’s a hopeful day. Maybe other airlines will see this and decide to come back.”

A bus painted with a “Welcome to Afghanistan” was waiting to ferry the passengers from the plane to the terminal, but in the end the new arrivals walked.

Around 100 passengers were waiting to catch the return flight to Islamabad — mostly relatives of staffers with international organizations such as the World Bank, according to airport ground staff.

Passenger halls, airbridges and technical infrastructure were badly damaged in the days after the Taliban rolled into Kabul on August 15, when thousands of people stormed the airport in the hope of fleeing.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fear reprisals for helping foreign powers during the 20-year US-led occupation, but the Taliban insist they have granted a general amnesty to everyone — including the security forces they fought against.

The Taliban have promised a milder form of rule this time, but have moved swiftly to crush dissent, including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to education and work.


US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

Updated 58 min 32 sec ago

US Senate approves $12 billion in new aid for Ukraine

  • It provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country's finances stable and keep the government running
  • It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The US Senate approved $12 billion in new economic and military aid for Ukraine Thursday as part of a stopgap extension of the federal budget into December.
The measure, agreed by senators of both parties, includes $3 billion for arms, supplies and salaries for Ukraine’s military, and authorizes President Joe Biden to direct the US Defense Department to take $3.7 billion worth of its own weapons and materiel to provide Ukraine.
It also provides $4.5 billion for Kyiv to keep the country’s finances stable and keep the government running, providing services to the Ukrainian people.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to declare the annexation of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops on Friday.
“Seven months since the conflict began, it’s crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist Putin’s evil, vicious aggression,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“But the fight is far from over, and we must, we must, continue helping the brave, valiant Ukrainian people.”
The Ukraine aid is part of a short-term extension of the federal budget, which is to expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30 without the parties in Congress having agreed to a full-year allocation for fiscal 2022-23.
The extension, or continuing resolution, will keep the government running into December, but it has to first be approved by the House of Representatives to avoid shutting down parts of the government on Monday.


US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

Updated 29 September 2022

US charges ex-Army major and his wife over alleged plot to leak military health data to Russia

  • The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine
  • Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data

WASHINGTON: A former US Army major and his anesthesiologist wife have been criminally charged for allegedly plotting to leak highly sensitive health care data about military patients to Russia, the Justice Department revealed on Thursday.
Jamie Lee Henry, the former major who was also a doctor at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and his wife, Dr. Anna Gabrielian, were charged in an unsealed indictment in a federal court in Maryland with conspiracy and the wrongful disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
The indictment alleges that the plot started after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
Prosecutors said the pair wanted to try to help the Russian government by providing them with data to help the Putin regime “gain insights into the medical conditions of individuals associated with the US government and military.”
The two met with someone whom they believed was a Russian official, but in fact was actually an FBI undercover agent, the indictment says.


Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

Updated 29 September 2022

Putin says conflicts in Ukraine, ex-USSR are ‘result of Soviet collapse’

  • In the past month, the region has seen clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Armenia and Azerbaijan
  • Putin has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB)

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that conflicts in countries of the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine, and at what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries. All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Putin said in a televised meeting with intelligence chiefs of former Soviet countries.
In parallel to the military operation in Ukraine, armed conflicts have returned to various parts of the former Soviet empire.
In the past month the region has seen clashes between the two Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Putin pointed fingers at the West, saying it was “working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts” in the post-Soviet space.
Putin spoke a day before he is due to formally annex four Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, in a move that is expected to escalate the Ukraine conflict.
“We are witnessing the formation of a new world order, which is a difficult process,” Putin said, echoing earlier statements about the waning influence of the West.
Putin, who turns 70 next week, has regularly made nostalgic speeches about the USSR and served in the Soviet security services (KGB).
His statement comes during an exodus of Russian men fleeing a mobilization, including to ex-Soviet countries like Kazakhstan, whose president vowed to shelter Russian draft dodgers.


Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

Updated 29 September 2022

Germany to seek EU sanctions on Iran over protests crackdown: foreign minister

  • “Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way”

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday said she was pushing for EU sanctions on Iran over the Islamic republic’s lethal crackdown on protests sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody.
“Within the framework of the EU, I am doing everything I can to get sanctions under way against those in Iran who are beating women to death and shooting demonstrators in the name of religion,” Baerbock wrote on Twitter.


'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

Updated 29 September 2022

'Stand for each other': Afghan women rally in support of antigovernment protests in Iran

  • Protesters gathered in front of Iranian embassy in Kabul chanting, 'women, life, freedom'
  • The protest was soon dispersed by Taliban security forces who fired into the air

KABUL: Afghan women rallied in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on Thursday, joining global protests over the death of a young woman in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini, 22, was detained in Tehran on Sept. 12 for failing to cover her hair modestly enough. Women who were arrested along with Amini have said she was beaten inside a police van. Three days later she died in hospital after falling into a coma.

Public anger over her death has prompted days of rage and street protests across Iran, in what has been the largest manifestation of dissent against the Iranian government in over a decade.

Protests have also spilled to other countries.

A group of about 25 women who gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul carried placards that read: “Beautiful Mahsa, your blood is our way and inspiration,” as they chanted “women, life, freedom” — the phrase that has been used by demonstrators in Iran.

A 24-year-old university student who participated in the protest told Arab News she had attended the rally in solidarity with the women of Iran.

“Women in Iran and we are facing the same oppression. We wanted to show that we can amplify the voices of our sisters in Iran while highlighting our own concerns for freedom and dignity,” she said, on condition of anonymity.

“The widespread protests in Iran supported by men and women also inspired us to continue our fight for the rights of Afghan women in Afghanistan. Afghan women have been brave enough to defy the Taliban’s restrictive attitude. We will not be silenced and we will rise again.”

The rights of Afghan women have been limited since the Taliban took control of the country after US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August last year.

Although they had previously promised a softer version of the harsh rule during their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women have already been ordered to wear face cover in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education.

Since September last year, permission from the Ministry of Justice is required to organize a protest. Slogans used during rallies must also be approved by authorities.

Soon after Thursday’s rally in front of the Iranian embassy began, it was dispersed by Taliban security forces, who fired into the air.

For Afghan women’s rights activist like Muzhgan Noori, the protest was a “fine example of sisterhood and solidarity among women sharing the same pain and concerns.”

“Afghan women have protested whenever they felt the need for it, and they should be able to do so now. The government must support and protect them instead of frightening them,” she told Arab News.

“I hope women continue to stand for each other.”