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how US authorities intend to champion the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan now that American troops have withdrawn from the country and leverage has therefore been lost.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.

Taliban agree to new polio vaccination drive across Afghanistan — WHO

Updated 4 sec ago

Taliban agree to new polio vaccination drive across Afghanistan — WHO

  • In the past Taliban barred UN-organized teams from campaigns out of suspicion they could be spies 
  • Some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated

ISTANBUL: UN agencies are gearing up to vaccinate all of Afghanistan’s children under 5 against polio for the first time since 2018, after the Taliban agreed to the campaign, the World Health Organization says.
For the past three years, the Taliban barred UN-organized vaccination teams from doing door-to-door campaigns in parts of Afghanistan under their control, apparently out of suspicion they could be spies for the government or the West. Because of the ban and ongoing fighting, some 3.3 million children over the past three years have not been vaccinated.
The Taliban’s reported agreement now, after becoming the rulers of Afghanistan, appeared aimed at showing they are willing to cooperate with international agencies. The longtime militant insurgent force has been trying to win the world’s recognition of its new government and re-open the door for international aid to rescue the crumbling economy.
Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But WHO and the UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement they welcomed the decision by the Taliban leadership supporting the resumption of house-to-house polio vaccinations across the country.
Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. The disease can cause partial paralysis in children. Since 2010, the country has been carrying out regular inoculation campaigns in which workers go door to door, giving the vaccine to children. Most of the workers are women, since they can get better access to mothers and children.
But large sections of the country have been out of their reach in recent years. In parts of the south, particularly, the ban by the Taliban was in effect. In other areas, door-to-door campaigns were impossible because of fighting between the government and the insurgents, or because of fears of kidnappings or roadside bombs. In some places, hard-line clerics spoke out against vaccinations, calling them un-Islamic or a Western plot.
WHO said a new nationwide vaccination campaign will begin on November 8, followed by another synchronized with Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign in December.
The estimated target population is Afghanistan’s 10 million children under five, including the more than 3.3 million who could not be reached since 2018, Dr. Hamid Jafari, WHO’s director of polio eradication for the Eastern Mediterranean region, told The Associated Press.
“Restarting polio vaccination in all areas of Afghanistan now will prevent a major resurgence of polio outbreaks within the country and ensure there is no international spread,” Jafari said.
“This is an extremely important step in the right direction,” said Dapeng Luo, WHO Representative in Afghanistan. He said it was a good sign that multiple campaigns are planned. “Sustained access to all children is essential to end polio for good.”
Jafari said the Taliban government had agreed on three key aspects — security for health workers and vaccinators, mobilization of health authorities and the new leadership for the campaign, and communications through religious, tribal and community leaders and media to build trust in the campaign.
He urged families not to be suspicious of the vaccinators going house to house, saying the only intention is to protect children. “They should trust the program. They should trust the vaccine.”
On March 30, three women were gunned down in two separate attacks as they carried out door-to-door vaccinations in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It was the first time vaccination workers have been killed in a decade of door-to-door inoculations against the disease in Afghanistan.
Such attacks have been more common in Pakistan, where at least 70 vaccinators and security personnel connected to vaccination campaigns have been killed since 2011.

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

Updated 8 min 46 sec ago

Grenade attack targets Taliban vehicle in Kabul

  • Explosion happened during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital
KABUL: A grenade was thrown at a Taliban vehicle in the Afghan capital on Wednesday morning, wounding two fighters and four nearby school children, government officials said.
“This morning a grenade was thrown at a mujahideen vehicle in Deh Mazang, wounding two mujahideen,” Taliban interior ministry spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti said.
Another official said: “Our initial information shows four school students wounded.”
The explosion happened just before 8 a.m. (0330 GMT) during rush hour in the Deh Mazang district in the west of the capital, a witness said.
“I was on my way to work, it was 7.55am and I heard this very big explosion on the road. I managed to escape,” said Amin Amani.
“I saw a lot of smoke in the mirror of the car and I saw people running,” the 35-year-old translator said.
Images shared on social media showed plumes of smoke and dust rising into the air on the streets of the capital.

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

Updated 14 min 49 sec ago

85 dead in India floods, 31 in Nepal

  • In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing
  • In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there

NEW DELHI: The death toll from floods and landslides in India rose to 85 on Wednesday, officials said, while Nepal also reported 31 fatalities and 43 missing.
In Uttarakhand in northern India officials said that 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing. In Kerala in the south chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the death toll had hit 39 there.
In Nepal, disasters management division official Humkala Pandey said: “In the last three days, there have been 31 deaths from floods and landslides triggered by heavy post-monsoon rainfalls across the country. Forty-three people are missing.”

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Updated 20 October 2021

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

  • It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders

BAMAKO: Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with Al-Qaeda-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.

It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the Al-Qaeda-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.

Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, said on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.

“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”

Mali’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship Mamadou Koné confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.

This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a ceasefire agreement between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.

Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when Al-Qaeda-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.

Meanwhile, the French army said Tuesday its troops shot dead a woman while conducting an anti-terror reconnaissance operation with Malian soldiers in the west African country, prompting an investigation.

The woman died on Monday during a joint patrol “in an area where elements of an armed terrorist group has been detected east of Gossi” in the north, the French general staff said.

The soldiers saw two individuals riding a motorbike, but they left it behind to flee into the undergrowth when they spotted the French and Malian troops, said the statement.

“An abandoned assault rifle, ammunition and a military bag are discovered near the motorbike,” it added.

The soldiers “engage in the pursuit of one of the two individuals in the woods. Four warning shots are fired to stop him but the latter moves further away.”

“The individual turns sharply toward the soldiers who fire to neutralize” the target and then “discover that it is a woman,” suspected of being one of the people on the motorcycle.

“Residents of the nearest village are called to give the identity of this person” but “no one knows her,” said the general staff, adding that the body was buried at the site.

An investigation has been opened “to clarify the exact sequence of events and to shed full light on this combat action,” the statement concluded.

Deployed to Mali since 2013 because of deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

Updated 20 October 2021

Two dead, 450 arrested in Chile protest violence

  • Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students

SANTIAGO: Two people died, 56 were injured and 450 arrested as clashes broke out in Chile during mass street protests to mark the second anniversary of a social uprising, police said on Tuesday.

Monday’s demonstrations throughout the country were to mark the October 2019 protests that sparked political change in the country and led to the start of a process to rewrite the Pinochet dictatorship-era constitution.

A man was killed by gunfire during an attempted robbery of a shop in Santiago on Monday while a woman died after falling from a motorcycle, also in the capital.

Most disturbances on Monday took place in Santiago where vandals set up street barricades, attacked a police station, and looted shops and public buildings, a police report said.

Authorities detained 450 people throughout the country, 279 of those in Santiago, while 11 civilians and 45 police officers were injured.

“The numbers are very high,” said Marcelo Araya, director of order and security at Chile’s Carabineros national police force.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in 50 locations around the country to mark the anniversary of the street protests led by students and sparked by a hike in metro fares.

The unrest that followed left 34 dead and 460 people with eye injuries, including some that lost their sight, from pellets and tear gas fired by police.

Billionaire right-wing President Sebastian Pinera’s government came under fire over the at times brutal response from security forces that included some rights violations.

The protests continued for four months up to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Juan Francisco Galli, the interior undersecretary, blamed Monday’s violence on opposition candidates for next month’s presidential election, leftist Gabriel Boric and centrist Yasna Provoste, for proposing and supporting pardons for detainees that “looted, destroyed everything and threw Molotov cocktails” during the 2019 protests.

“The people responsible for the violence are those that established in our country a sense of impunity, that there are no consequences for violence,” said Galli.

The violence contrasted with the peaceful protest by 10,000 people on Plaza Italia, the central square in Santiago that was the hub of the 2019 movement, whose behavior was “largely positive,” according to Araya.

That protest lasted around four hours with minimal police presence, although authorities had earlier removed traffic lights and rubbish bins to prevent vandals from damaging them.

Some 5,000 police officers were deployed throughout the country to keep order, according to local press.

Protesters demanded universal healthcare, free and improved schooling and higher pensions.

The demonstration coincided with the constituent assembly elected to re-write the constitution beginning its work following a period of 100 days in which it set out its internal rules.

The current constitution was implemented during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) and was one of the main targets of the 2019 protests.