Investment expected high on agenda as FMs of Afghanistan’s neighbors meet in China

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, stands next to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, acting deputy prime minister of the Afghan Taliban's caretaker government, in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 24, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 29 March 2022

Investment expected high on agenda as FMs of Afghanistan’s neighbors meet in China

  • Meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries will take place in Tunxi, China on March 30-31
  • China may become the first major power to take on large-scale projects in Afghanistan

KABUL: Investment in Afghanistan is likely to be high on the agenda during an upcoming meeting between foreign ministers of the country’s neighbors, experts said on Tuesday, as the Taliban’s top envoy is scheduled to attend the session in China. 

The third meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries — Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — will take place in Tunxi, China’s eastern Anhui province, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi’s attendance was confirmed during his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi’s surprise trip to Kabul last week — the highest-level visit by a Chinese official since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August.

The Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement after Wang’s trip that he and Muttaqi spoke about expanding economic ties and investment in Afghanistan.

China may become the first major power to take on large-scale projects in Afghanistan, which has plunged into financial and humanitarian crises since the exit of US-led foreign forces and the Taliban takeover.

“The Taliban are eagerly looking for China’s investment in mines, especially the Mes Aynak copper mine. They put a lot of hope in China’s economic support to Afghanistan,” Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Kabul-based Center for Strategic and Regional Studies, told Arab News.

Afghanistan’s mineral resources are estimated to be worth $1 trillion and have not been unearthed amid decades of violence. Mes Aynak, 40 km southeast of Kabul, contains the country’s largest copper deposit, expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

While China, like other countries, has yet to recognize the Taliban, Zaland added that hopes regarding the upcoming regional forum are also pinned on Beijing’s political support.

“The Taliban are also looking for China’s political support internationally, as a country that has influence over Afghanistan’s neighbors in particular,” he said.

Political analyst Abdul Hai Qanit also said that attracting investment is one of the key priorities of Afghan authorities.

“They will look forward to convincing China into more investment in Afghanistan. China is aiming for this too,” he told Arab News.

He added that other regional countries are also undertaking efforts to improve regional connectivity and security.

“Neighboring countries realize that a stable and connected Afghanistan will enhance regional integration and economic development,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said earlier this week that by hosting the third meeting of the foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbors, “China looks forward to pooling more consensus on the Afghan issue from neighboring countries” to jointly stabilize the country. He also said that Beijing hopes to “work on the Afghan side to build an open and inclusive political structure.”

As the Taliban government still lacks international recognition, the upcoming meeting may not bring it from the Chinese side.

“From China’s standpoint, the time for recognition has not come yet,” Torek Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, told Arab News.

“China wants an inclusive government in Kabul and sees long-term stability made possible this way.”

The Taliban returned to power in mid-August, two decades after their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

While they had promised to form an inclusive government, unlike during their first rule, they eventually installed an all-male, Taliban-only administration, and curtailed the rights of women.

The third meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan will come after renewed concerns over a lack of inclusivity under Taliban rule, as last week they broke their promise to reopen schools to girls beyond the sixth grade. The reopening of schools for girls was one of the conditions the international community had set for a possible official engagement with the Taliban government.

The first meeting of Afghanistan’s neighbors was chaired by Pakistan on Sept. 8, 2021, one day after the Afghan Taliban announced the formation of their government.

The second meeting was held in Tehran, on Oct. 27, 2021.

UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

Updated 27 sec ago

UK Conservative Party to announce new leader Nov 2, Times report says

LONDON: Britain’s Conservative Party will name its new leader on Nov. 2, the Times reported on Monday, following the party’s worst ever election performance earlier this month that prompted former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to say he would stand down.
The contest would last almost four months, culminating in a ballot of rank and file members to select one of the final two candidates, Times Political Editor Steven Swinford said in a post on X.
Sunak’s election campaign ended in failure on July 4, when the center-left Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, won a landslide election victory that ended 14 years of Conservative-led government.
Sunak said in his final speech outside the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office that he would quit as leader of the party once the formal arrangements for his successor were in place.
The Times report came ahead of the formal announcement of those arrangements later this week. The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
The Times said up to eight candidates were expected to put their name forward.
Conservative Party leadership contests usually involve a series of ballots among its elected lawmakers to whittle down the number of candidates, before the whole party gets to choose between the final two.

Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

Updated 18 min 1 sec ago

Blinken headed to Asia to reaffirm US leadership

  • Secretary of State will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia
  • Blinken will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Asia this week in a bid to assert US leadership against the backdrop of China’s rising influence, an official said Monday.
The message of Blinken’s trip, which starts Wednesday, is that “America is all in on the Indo-Pacific from day one of this administration,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
“We have significantly and dramatically stepped up our engagement,” he added.
Blinken will visit Laos, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Mongolia.
He will also travel to Vietnam to attend the funeral of late communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong, and will separately meet with government officials in Hanoi in an effort to boost diplomatic relations.
In Laos, he will attend a ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the event.
Blinken will then visit Japan for a four-party meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese counterparts, which will focus on defense deterrence, according to the State Department and Japan’s foreign ministry.
He is also due to take part in a meeting of the so-called Quad — a strategic security dialogue of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
In the Philippines, Blinken will have talks with the country’s diplomatic and defense chiefs that will center on Chinese behavior in the South China Sea.
Kritenbrink said Monday that the United States welcomed efforts to ease tensions in the South China Sea, after the Philippines and China agreed to a provisional arrangement for resupplying Filipino troops stationed on a disputed shoal.
After a stopover in Singapore focused on strengthening bilateral relations, Blinken will conclude his Asia tour in Mongolia for a meeting with the country’s foreign minister.

France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

Updated 22 July 2024

France’s Macron praises Biden’s ‘courage’ and ‘sense of duty’

  • In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday praised US counterpart Joe Biden’s “courage” and “sense of duty,” and called for the “spirit of partnership” between the two countries to continue beyond the next presidential election.
Biden, 81, announced on Sunday that he was dropping out of the US presidential race following intense pressure to step aside after a dismal debate performance last month. He has since endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris as candidate.
“I appreciate the courage, the spirit of responsibility and the sense of duty that led you to this decision,” wrote Macron in a letter to Biden, extracts of which were made public by the Elysee Palace.
“At a time when we have just celebrated the 80th anniversary of D-Day together, I hope that this spirit of partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic will continue to drive the historic relations between our two countries,” Macron said.
In early June, Biden traveled to France on a state visit and attended commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings that changed the course of World War II.
At that time Macron emphasized unity with the United States under Biden and expressed gratitude for his counterpart’s approach to Europe.
“I thank you, Mr.President, for being the president of the world’s number one power but doing it with the loyalty of a partner who likes and respects the Europeans,” he said in June.

Harris makes first appearance since launching Democratic presidential campaign

US Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to speak from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2024.
Updated 22 July 2024

Harris makes first appearance since launching Democratic presidential campaign

  • Harris has moved swiftly to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, after Biden announced on Sunday he was stepping aside
  • Virtually all of the prominent Democrats who had been seen as potential challengers to Harris have lined up behind her

WASHINGTON: US Vice President Kamala Harris made her first public appearance on Monday since entering the presidential race after President Joe Biden, 81, abruptly abandoned his reelection bid and endorsed her as his successor.
“Joe Biden’s legacy over the last three years is unmatched in modern history,” Harris said, before delivering remarks at a White House event to honor college athletes.
Harris has moved swiftly to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, after Biden announced on Sunday he was stepping aside, bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats.
Virtually all of the prominent Democrats who had been seen as potential challengers to Harris have lined up behind her, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
Campaign officials and allies have already made hundreds of calls on her behalf, urging delegates to next month’s Democratic Party convention to join in nominating her for president in the Nov. 5 election against Republican Donald Trump.
Biden’s departure was the latest shock to a White House race that included the near-assassination of former President Trump by a gunman during a campaign stop and the nomination of Trump’s fellow hard-liner, US Senator J.D. Vance, as his running mate.
“My intention is to earn and win this nomination,” Harris said in a statement on Sunday. “I will do everything in my power to unite the Democratic Party — and unite our nation — to defeat Donald Trump.”
Harris, who is Black and Asian American, would fashion an entirely new dynamic with Trump, 78, offering a vivid generational and cultural contrast.
The Trump campaign has been preparing for her possible rise for weeks, sources told Reuters. It sent out a detailed critique of her record on immigration and other issues on Monday, accusing her of being liberal than Biden.
The Trump campaign accused Harris of favoring abolishing the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and decriminalizing border crossings, backing the so-called Green New Deal, supporting the administration’s electric vehicle mandates and encouraging “defund the police” efforts.
Some of those were positions Harris adopted as an unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 2020 election when she was running on a more liberal agenda than Biden but were not ones that the administration assumed, particularly with regard to border security and law enforcement issues.
Biden, the oldest person ever to have occupied the Oval Office, said he would remain in the presidency until his term ends on Jan. 20, 2025, while endorsing Harris to run in his place.
Biden’s shaky June 27 debate performance against Trump led the president’s fellow Democrats to urge him to end his run, but senior Republicans have demanded he resign from office, arguing that if he is not fit to campaign, he is not fit to govern.
Harris spent Sunday working the phones, dressed in a Howard University sweatshirt and eating pizza with anchovies as she spoke with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, a potential vice presidential running mate, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Congressional Black Caucus chair Representative Steven Horsford, according to sources.
Biden’s withdrawal leaves less than four months to wage a campaign.
Trump, whose false claims that his 2020 loss to Biden was the result of fraud inspired the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, on Monday questioned Democrats’ right to change candidates.
“They stole the race from Biden after he won it in the primaries,” Trump said on his Truth Social site.
Despite the early show of support for Harris, talk of an open convention when Democrats gather in Chicago on Aug. 19-22 was not totally silenced.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama did not announce endorsements, although both praised Biden.
With Democrats wading into uncharted territory, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said the party would soon announce the next steps in its nomination process.
Abortion rights leader
Biden won the party’s nomination in 2020, picked Harris to be his vice president, and went on to beat Trump. She is a former California attorney general and a former US senator.
Harris is expected to stick largely to Biden’s foreign policy playbook on such issues as China, Iran and Ukraine, but could strike a tougher tone with Israel over the Gaza war if she tops the Democratic ticket and wins the November election.
She has been outspoken on abortion rights, an issue that resonates with younger voters and more liberal Democrats.
Proponents argue she would energize those voters, consolidate Black support and bring sharp debating skills to prosecute the political case against the former president.
But some Democrats were concerned about a Harris candidacy, in part because of the weight of a long history of racial and gender discrimination in the United States, which has not elected a woman president in its nearly 250-year history.
Polling shows that Harris performs no better statistically than Biden had done against Trump.
In a head-to-head match-up, Harris and Trump were tied with 44 percent support each in a July 15-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the July 13 assassination attempt on Trump.
Trump led Biden 43 percent to 41 percent in that same poll, though the 2 percentage point difference was not meaningful considering the poll’s 3-point margin of error.
Biden’s campaign had $95 million on hand at the end of June, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. Trump’s campaign ended the month with $128 million. Campaign finance law experts disagree on how easily that money could be shifted to a Harris-led campaign.
Harris’ campaign had raised $49.6 million in less than 24 hours after Biden’s exit, a campaign spokesperson said on Monday.
More than 44,000 Black women and allies, including Representatives Maxine Waters, Jasmine Crockett and Joyce Beatty, joined a three-hour call on Sunday evening in support of Harris’s bid, raising more than $1.5 million for her presidential campaign, organizers told Reuters.
Biden has not been seen in public since testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. He was isolating at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and tentatively plans to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday if he has recovered.

Bangladesh continues curfew as students await official notice on government job reforms

Updated 22 July 2024

Bangladesh continues curfew as students await official notice on government job reforms

  • Bangladesh internet connection has been cut off since Thursday night
  • Main student group says not all of their demands have been met 

DHAKA: Bangladesh remains under curfew and a widespread communications blackout on Monday, a day after the Supreme Court scaled back a controversial job-quota system following deadly clashes that have killed more than 100 people over the past week. 

University students have been demonstrating since the beginning of this month to demand a reformation of the quota system that reserved 30 percent of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war. 

The peaceful protests turned violent last week, with clashes between student protesters and security forces killing 174 people and injuring thousands, according to a count by Bengali daily Prothom Alo, which reported over a dozen deaths on Sunday alone. 

Bangladesh was still under curfew for a third day on Monday, with military personnel patrolling the capital and other areas, while internet connection remained suspended across the country since it was disrupted from Thursday night. 

“Everything is in order today across the country, except a few separate incidents in Dhaka, Narayanganj and Narsingdi,” Biplab Barua, special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, told Arab News. 

“We hope that in the next 48 hours, the situation will take a better look, and the country will go for normal operations. We are expecting to restore the broadband Internet services tonight (Monday). As soon as the situation takes a normal look, the length of curfew hours will be eased.” 

On Sunday, the Supreme Court ordered for the quota reserved for relatives of veterans to be cut to 5 percent and for 93 percent of jobs to be allocated on merit, while the remaining 2 percent will be reserved for members of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. 

Bangladesh’s top court was ruling on an appeal. The government had abolished the quotas following student protests in 2018 but they were reinstated by the High Court in June, setting off a fresh round of demonstrations. 

“Our students are not responsible for the anarchy and atrocities on the streets. It’s the opposition parties … which hijacked the movement from the students,” Barua said. 

“Students’ demands have been fulfilled by the court, and the government will issue a circular by Tuesday regarding the quota system in the government job.” 

Students Against Discrimination, the main protest organizing group, said on Monday that some of their demands are still unmet, including the reopening of universities as well as investigations into the deadly crackdown. 

Student protesters are also waiting for the government to issue an official notification on the Supreme Court decision. 

“Since the curfew is underway, we are not on the streets at the moment. It will endanger the lives of our students,” Sarjis Alam, a protest coordinator with Students Against Discrimination, told Arab News.  

“At the moment, we are waiting to see the government circular on the quota system … We demanded reformation of quota systems in all grades of government jobs … It’s very important to us,” he said. “(After) seeing the government’s circular, we can comment whether our demands were addressed or not.”