Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

Munir Akram’s road map for responding to the challenges in Afghanistan includes an immediate relief effort to address the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. (AN photo)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Coercion and threats will not work on the Taliban, says Pakistani envoy

  • In an exclusive interview, Munir Akram says we must engage with Afghanistan’s new leaders and convince them of the benefits of an open society
  • He warns that stoking a “climate of fear” will only help to fuel a refugee crisis on a scale the international community is desperate to avoid

NEW YORK: As nations scramble to find ways to deal with the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, a leading Pakistani diplomat on Monday warned that threats and coercion do not sit well with the Afghan mentality and are not an effective strategy.
To get the country “back to normality,” Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, called for engagement with the Taliban in an effort to show them the “benefits of modernity, technology, education and the values of an open society.”
The situation in Afghanistan is likely to dominate high-level discussions during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, which began on Sept. 14 and continues until the end of the month.
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Arab News ahead of this week’s annual General Assembly gathering of world leaders, Akram urged the international community to avoid “an attitude of coercion and threats, of attempting to leverage money in order to get a certain conduct.”

Instead he called for a better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan, its culture, and the beliefs and character of its people.
Akram’s US counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was asked recently how US authorities intend to champion the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan now that American troops have withdrawn from the country and leverage has therefore been lost.
“I would argue the opposite,” she said. “We are one of the largest contributors to humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and that gives us tremendous leverage.”
Understanding the reality of the situation in Afghanistan is increasingly important as the world witnesses the fallout from the crisis affecting not only neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran, but also Europe and even the US.
Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for more than 40 years, since the Soviet invasion drove millions to flee across the border. The close relationship between the two countries goes back hundreds of years, during which marriages and migrations created “a natural affinity” between two peoples who share similar ethnic and tribal identities.
“Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic state,” said Akram. “Unless there is peace within all the sections of Afghanistan there will continue to be some form of conflict. And if there is a conflict or a humanitarian crisis, there’s likely to be more outflows of refugees (engulfing) not only Pakistan and Iran as neighboring countries but also Europe and maybe even the US.

“It is not very clear whether they will be welcomed. It has been said that (other countries) are willing to take many of those Afghan people who worked with US and NATO in the past 20 years, but what about the rest of the Afghan people? People who really need assistance, really are destitute, really are hungry and poor? We must not forget them.”
Akram’s road map for responding to the challenges in Afghanistan includes an immediate relief effort to address the severe humanitarian crisis in the country. Levels of poverty and hunger have risen since the Taliban took over last month, and foreign aid has dwindled, raising fears of a mass exodus. According to the UN, 18 million Afghans, half of the population, are food insecure.
During a UN conference last week, organized to galvanize an international aid effort, donors pledged more than $1.1 billion to Afghanistan.
Akram described this as “a positive” and added: “I hope that those pledges will be fulfilled as quickly as possible.”
Any lasting peace in Afghanistan will also require the formation of an inclusive government in Kabul. However the post-takeover authority excludes women and minorities, fueling fears of a return to the hard-line Taliban attitudes and practices of the past.
Last Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for Taliban leaders to establish an inclusive government that guarantees the “full, equal and meaningful participation of women” and upholds human rights.
Akram believes that the current interim government is only “a first step,” talks are continuing among Afghans, and the Taliban’s desire to establish an inclusive government “is still there.” He also cautioned against failing to take into account what he called “ground realities.”
“The Taliban have fought a war for 20 years and they have been successful in that war, therefore they will wish to have adequate representation,” he said. “But this should also include other groups so that there is peace throughout Afghanistan.”
Deborah Lyons, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special representative for Afghanistan, has warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation. She called for a “modus vivendi,” or compromise agreement, to prevent a total breakdown by allowing money to continue to flow into the country.
Some members of the new government are on the Security Council’s sanctions list, and therefore subject to economic, trading and diplomatic restrictions.
Akram said the Taliban expect the Security Council to begin the process of lifting these sanctions. This was part of the agreement the group reached with Washington in February, in return for which it pledged not to attack US or NATO forces during their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In the weeks since the Taliban took over, there have been increasing reports from Kabul of grave human rights abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, the new authorities have raided the homes of journalists and activists, apparently searching for individuals who criticized them. In addition, restrictions have been imposed on the education of girls and the right of women to work.
Akram acknowledged these concerns but warned of the danger of what he called the “fake news” that is circulating. In particular he highlighted reports of a crackdown on a demonstration by Afghan women, saying that the very fact such a protest was allowed to go ahead reveals a change of behavior by the Taliban.
The envoy said he understands why some Afghans fear for their personal safety, and that Pakistani authorities have arranged for 12,000 Afghans and foreign nationals who felt threatened to leave country.
But he denounced what he described as attempts to create “a climate of fear” that might push Afghans to flee their country at a time when it needs them to “stay and build.”
“Creating a climate of fear will (lead to) the very results that we fear, which is an outflow of refugees,” he added.

Another concern among many people is that Afghanistan might once again become a haven for terrorists. Akram responded to this fear by considering the lessons he believes have been learned in the past 20 years.
“What we needed to do against Al-Qaeda was to use a pick to find them and extract them from where they were,” he said. “Instead, we used a hammer. We went in and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
“When you bomb people and kill their children, you recruit people into terrorism. And that is what has happened.”
As a result, he added, the threat of terrorism has spread and become much more complex.
“It is no longer in Afghanistan alone; it is in Yemen, Syria, the Western Sahara and all over the world,” said Akram.
“At the same time, because of the equation of terrorists with Muslims, Islamophobia rose and today you have terrorist organizations that target Muslims. So we have to learn from those mistakes.”
Taking all of this into account, Akram urged the international community to adopt a comprehensive, coordinated strategy and work with the Taliban in an effort to address all forms of terrorism.
“If we adopt competitive strategies — ‘I can deal only with my terrorist threat but not yours’ — I think we will lose,” he added.

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Updated 23 October 2021

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

ISTANBUL: NATO-member Turkey’s defense minister said the forming of alliances outside of NATO would harm the organization, according to comments released on Saturday, after Greece and France agreed a defense pact last month.
NATO allies Greece and France clinched a strategic military and defense cooperation pact in September, which includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this month that the agreement will allow the two countries to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat.
“Given that we are inside NATO, everyone should know that the search for various alliances outside of it will both cause harm to NATO and our bilateral relations, and shake confidence,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week.
The comments were released by the Turkish defense ministry.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries. They re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year and Akar said he had a constructive meeting with his Greek counterpart.
“We had positive, constructive talks with the Greek defense minister. We expect to see positive results from these talks in the period ahead,” Akar said.
Separately, Akar said that “technical work has been launched” on obtaining Viper F16 jets from the United States as well as modernizing warplanes that Turkey already has.
The United States this week did not confirm President Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that Washington had made an offer to Ankara for the sale of F-16 fighter jets but added that it has not made Turkey a financing offer for the warplanes.
Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after buying missile defense systems from Russia.

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

Updated 23 October 2021

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

  • Friday’s strike hits university campus, say humanitarian sources

ADDIS ABABA: An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a UN flight carrying aid workers to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in Mekelle was hit by the strike.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. Tigrai TV, controlled by the TPLF-led regional administration that is not recognized by Addis Ababa, reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The UN suspended all flights to Mekelle after Friday’s incident. UN global aid chief Martin Griffiths said the UN had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.
The incident raises serious concerns for the safety of aid workers trying to help civilians in need, Griffiths said in a statement, adding that all parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law including protecting humanitarian staff and assets from harm.
The 11 passengers on board Friday’s flight were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, another UN official told reporters in New York.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda accused the government of putting the UN plane in harm’s way. “Our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land (and) it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” he said in a tweet.
Legesse, the government spokesperson, rejected the TPLF accusation. “I can assure you that there is no deliberate or intended act that put the efforts of UN humanitarian staff and their plan of delivering aid to the disadvantage (sic) group,” Legesse said in a text message to Reuters.
Ethiopian army spokesperson Col. Getnet Adene did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to the capital Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region and that number is growing rapidly due to the latest fighting, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination center for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters that two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.

Swedish teen rapper killed in Stockholm shooting

Updated 23 October 2021

Swedish teen rapper killed in Stockholm shooting

  • The son of Swedish actress Lena Nilsson, Einar grew up in southern Stockholm and often referred to the criminal scene in the area in his work

STOCKHOLM: Award-winning Swedish rapper Einar, who has topped the country’s charts, was shot and killed in Stockholm, police and media said Friday as police hunted for suspects.

The 19-year-old Einar, who raps in Swedish, was the most streamed artist on Spotify in Sweden in 2019.

He was shot several times outside an apartment building shortly before 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Thursday.

Ambulance personnel administered first aid but he died at the scene, Stockholm police spokeswoman Towe Hagg told AFP.

Police have opened a murder investigation.

“We are actively working to figure out why it happened and who can be behind it,” Hagg said.

In line with usual practice, the police have not yet confirmed the identity of the victim. But Sweden’s mainstream media identified him as Einar, whose full name is Nils Kurt Erik Einar Gronberg.

Many of Einar’s songs reference a life of crime, including drugs and weapons. He had public feuds with rival artist Yasin, who in July was jailed for 10 months for his role in a planned kidnapping of Einar in 2020.

The plan was ultimately aborted, but Einar was abducted several weeks later without Yasin’s involvement.

Einar was beaten, robbed, photographed in humiliating conditions and blackmailed, according to prosecutors.

The kidnapping was part of a broader case involving 30 suspects in a criminal network accused of a variety of crimes.

Among the suspects was another rapper, Haval Khalil, who was sentenced in July to two-and-a-half years in prison for complicity in the kidnapping and who has also had public spats with Einar.

The verdict was appealed and the case is currently being heard by the Svea Court of Appeal, which is expected to go on until December.

Einar had been called to attend the trial as a plaintiff, but was not planning to do so, his lawyer Rodney Humphreys told AFP.

“The same way he didn’t attend the trial in the district court,” Humphreys said.

The Aftonbladet newspaper reported Friday that Einar was living with a “price on his head” after a series of threats against him which had escalated recently.

Einar himself was one of several suspects arrested for a stabbing at a restaurant in central Stockholm earlier this month.

The son of Swedish actress Lena Nilsson, Einar grew up in southern Stockholm and often referred to the criminal scene in the area in his work.

He started his career posting songs to social media, and broke through in 2019 releasing “Katten i trakten” (The cat in the area), which hit No. 1 on Sweden’s singles chart.

He won several music awards, including Swedish Grammis.

Fans and friends expressed their grief on Einar’s social media.

“Einar was a real brother to me and I will miss him so much. We just released our first record last week and it feels so strange since I spoke to him just a day ago,” producer Trobi wrote on Instagram.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that “it is a young life that has been lost, and I understand that he meant a lot to many young people”.

“It’s tragic that another life has been lost,” he told news agency TT.

Another lesser-known Swedish rapper, 23-year-old Rozh Shamal, was also killed in a 2019 gangland shooting.

Sweden has in recent years struggled to rein in rising shootings and bombings -- usually settlings of scores by gangs and organised crime involved in drug trafficking.

As of October 15, 273 shootings had been recorded with 40 people dead so far in 2021, according to police statistics.

During 2020, 47 people were killed in 366 shootings in the country of 10.3 million people.

Red Cross warns aid groups not enough to stave off Afghan humanitarian crisis

Updated 22 October 2021

Red Cross warns aid groups not enough to stave off Afghan humanitarian crisis

  • ICRC has since increased its efforts in the country while other organisations were also stepping up, Director General Robert Mardini said
  • The UN on Thursday announced it had set up a fund to provide cash directly to Afghans

DUBAI: The Red Cross on Friday urged the international community to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, saying that aid groups on their own would be unable to stave off a humanitarian crisis.
Afghanistan has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign assistance following the collapse of the Western-backed government and return to power by the Taliban in August.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has since increased its efforts in the country while other organizations were also stepping up, Director General Robert Mardini said.
But he told Reuters that support from the international community, who had so far taken a cautious approach in engaging with the Taliban, was critical to providing basic services.
“Humanitarian organizations joining forces can only do so much. They can come up with temporary solutions.”
The United Nations on Thursday announced it had set up a fund to provide cash directly to Afghans, which Mardini said would solve the problem for three months.
“Afghanistan is a compounded crisis that is deteriorating by the day,” he said, citing decades of conflict compounded by the effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mardini said 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 39 million population were facing severe malnutrition and that 18 million people in the country need humanitarian assistance or protection.
The Taliban expelled many foreign aid groups when it was last in power from 1996-2001 but this time has said it welcomes foreign donors and will protect the rights of their staff.
But the hard-line Islamists, facing criticism it has failed to protect rights, including access to education for girls, have also said aid should not be tied to conditions.
“No humanitarian organization can compensate or replace the economy of a country,” Mardini said.

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

Updated 22 October 2021

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

  • Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece's tourism industry
  • Pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector

ATHENS: The number of foreign tourists arriving in Greece has rebounded strongly this year, central bank data released Friday showed, but the key tourism sector still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece’s tourism industry, which accounts for a fifth of the overall economy, but pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector.
Greek central bank data showed that the number of tourist arrivals has jumped 80 percent this year to over 8.6 million.
Meanwhile, spending by tourists during the first eight months of the year has shot up by over 135 percent to nearly 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), the Bank of Greece said in a statement.
But those figures are still far off the level in 2019, before the pandemic, when some 21.8 million tourists spent 13.2 billion euros.
Ahead of the peak summer tourism season, Greece ran a major campaign to voluntarily vaccinate most residents if its Aegean islands, its most popular travel destinations, to help lure back foreign tourists.
Most of the arrivals came from Germany, Britain, France and the United States.
Greece’s economy contracted by 9.0 percent in 2020, due in no small part to the drop in tourists.
The government expects the economy to rebound 6.1 percent this year and grow by 4.5 percent in 2022.