Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

A Taliban official speaks during a meeting at the Loya Jirga Hall in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 29, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 July 2022

Taliban chief pardons members of former administration in rare public appearance

  • Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada joined religious, tribal leaders at first loya jirga since Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
  • Gathering took place after number of ex-administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad

KABUL: The reclusive Taliban chief on Friday pardoned members of Afghanistan’s former Western-backed administration during a rare public appearance and joined thousands of religious and tribal leaders gathered in Kabul from throughout the country. 

Some 3,500 representatives, including members of minorities, arrived in the Afghan capital on Thursday for the first loya jirga since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year, a grand assembly traditionally held by Afghans to reach a consensus on important political issues. 

The conference took place after a number of former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country. 

In Friday’s speech at the meeting’s venue, the Loya Jirga Tent at Kabul’s Polytechnic University, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada said he had pardoned them but did not see their future in the country’s administration. 

“I don’t hold them accountable for their past actions,” he told the loya jirga participants, the state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. 

“But amnesty doesn’t mean including them in the government.” 

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war. 

Akhundzada has been the Taliban ultimate authority since 2016. Rarely seen in public, he has long kept a low profile. His last public appearance was in Kandahar city during Eid prayers in May, but the congregation could not see him and only heard his voice. 

His direct appearance before the loya jirga participants was confirmed by government spokesmen and Abdul Wahid Rayan, the chief of Bakhtar News Agency. 

“He sat on the stage facing the audience and gave his speech,” Rayan told Arab News. 

During the Kabul gathering, Akhundzada called on investors to return to the country and gave them security assurances, saying that dependence on foreign aid could not revive the country’s economy. 

Afghanistan has been facing an economic and humanitarian disaster since the Taliban takeover, which prompted the US and other donor states to cut off financial assistance, freeze the country’s $10 billion assets, and isolate it from the global banking system. 

“I ask businessmen to come to Afghanistan without any fear and invest in making factories, because foreign aid will not help boost our economy,” Akhundzada said. 

The loya jirga was called by the Taliban to forge national unity, as unacknowledged by foreign governments they have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition. 

Prof. Naseer Ahmad Nawidy, political science lecturer at Salam University in Kabul, said Akhundzada’s speech had delivered, “clear messages about tolerance, unity, obedience, and solidarity to members of the Taliban while acknowledging their sacrifices.” 

He told Arab News: “This is promising and will boost the confidence of the Taliban about their leadership.” 

However, he added that no perspective was provided about the country’s future, including “women’s rights, girls’ education, economic opportunities, utilizing technical expertise of all Afghans in governance, and optimism to the youth.” 


Agency donates breathing devices for premature babies to Ukraine

Updated 55 min 28 sec ago

Agency donates breathing devices for premature babies to Ukraine

  • The new bubble nasal continuous positive airway pressure devices are now available in 25 facilities across Ukraine
  • Unitaid funds medical innovation programmes mainly in poor countries, and is hosted by WHO

GENEVA: Global health aid agency Unitaid is donating 220 specialized portable breathing devices to Ukraine that can help save lives of premature babies even in frontline hospitals where there is no electrical power.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has seen hundreds of hospitals damaged or destroyed, disrupting supply lines and placing newborn babies at risk of death or disability from a lack of access to equipment and oxygen.
Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson for Unitaid, told a media briefing that the war was causing extra stress on pregnant women, leading to an increase in the number of premature births, which had tripled in some areas.
The new bubble nasal continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) devices are now available in 25 facilities across Ukraine, Verhoosel said.
Unitaid funds medical innovation programs mainly in poor countries, and is hosted by the World Health Organization.
WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said that on a recent visit to a paediatric hospital close to the frontline in Ukraine she had seen medical staff who sleep in the basement every night, and constantly have to move children on ventilation machines.
“So having very portable devices that can function offline is absolutely critical,” she told the briefing.
Unitaid partnered with Vayu Global Health, a non-profit that specializes in low-cost health care equipment for developing countries, to provide the Kenya-made bCPAP machines, which cost around $500 each, as well as 125 oxygen blender systems.


Mounting proof of crimes against humanity in Myanmar: UN probe

Updated 09 August 2022

Mounting proof of crimes against humanity in Myanmar: UN probe

  • Investigators claim women and children are particularly being targeted
  • Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1 last year, ousting the civilian government

GENEVA: UN investigators on Tuesday reported mounting evidence of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and sexual violence, committed in Myanmar since last year’s military coup.
The United Nations’ Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) said women and children were particularly being targeted.
“There are ample indications that since the military takeover in February 2021, crimes have been committed in Myanmar on a scale and in a manner that constitutes a widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population,” the investigators said in a statement.
Myanmar’s military seized power on February 1 last year, ousting the civilian government and arresting de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The junta has waged a bloody crackdown on dissent, with the violence leaving more than 2,100 civilians dead and nearly 15,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
The investigation team warned in its annual report that over the 12 months to the end of June, “the scope of potential international crimes taking place in Myanmar has broadened dramatically.”
The IIMM was established by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018 to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and prepare files for criminal prosecution.
It cooperates with the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court among others.
“Perpetrators of these crimes need to know that they cannot continue to act with impunity,” said IIMM chief Nicholas Koumjian.
The report said that according to the evidence collected, “Sexual and gender-based crimes, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and crimes against children have been perpetrated by members of the security forces and armed groups.”
Koumjian said the investigators were focusing in particular on crimes committed against women and children, which are “among the gravest international crimes, but they are also historically under-reported and under-investigated.”
Children in Myanmar had been killed, tortured and arbitrarily detained, including as proxies for their parents, the report found.
They had also been subjected to sexual violence and conscripted and trained by security forces and armed groups.
The team, which has never been permitted to visit Myanmar, said it had nonetheless now collected nearly three million “information items,” including interview statements, documents, photographs and geospatial imagery.
The investigators said the evidence they had collected indicated that “several armed conflicts are ongoing and intensifying on the territory of Myanmar.”
They said they were drawing up case files on specific incidents of war crimes committed in the context of those armed conflicts, including intentional attacks directed at civilians, indiscriminate killings and the widespread burning of villages and towns.
Other UN experts and the IIMM itself had already warned that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being committed.
But on Tuesday, the investigators cautioned that more and more regions were becoming engulfed in the violence, and that “the nature of the potential criminality is also expanding.”
They pointed to the junta’s execution of four political prisoners last month, marking the first executions in the country in decades.
The IIMM also highlighted the ongoing plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority, five years after a bloody 2017 crackdown that resulted in the displacement of nearly a million people.
Most of the around 850,000 Rohingya who were driven into camps in neighboring Bangladesh are still there, while another 600,000 are in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“While the Rohingya consistently express their desire for a safe and dignified return to Myanmar, this will be very difficult to achieve unless there is accountability for the atrocities committed against them, including through prosecutions of the individuals most responsible for those crimes,” Koumjian said.
Last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague threw out objections from Myanmar’s military rulers and decided to hear a landmark case accusing the country of genocide against the Rohingya.


UK issues new ‘extreme heat’ warning for England and Wales

The amber warning — the second-most severe after red — will be in place from Thursday through to the end of Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2022

UK issues new ‘extreme heat’ warning for England and Wales

  • Temperatures are expected to peak at 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Friday and may hit 36C in some places on Saturday

LONDON: Britain’s weather service on Tuesday issued an amber “Extreme Heat” warning for parts of England and Wales, with no respite in sight from hot dry conditions that have sparked fires, broken temperature records and strained the nation’s infrastructure.
The amber warning — the second-most severe after red — will be in place from Thursday through to the end of Sunday and means that people vulnerable to extreme heat could face adverse health effects, the UK Met Office said.
Temperatures are expected to peak at 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Friday and may hit 36C in some places on Saturday.
The warning follows the driest July for England since 1935, when temperatures rose above 40C for the first time, turning a renewed spotlight to the impacts of climate change.
Other European nations have also faced a scorching heatwave in recent weeks with temperatures often exceeding 40C.
Britain, which is less used to such high temperatures, has struggled to cope.
July’s heatwave caused power outages, damaged airport runways, buckled rail tracks and ignited dozens of blazes in London, where the fire brigade faced its busiest week since World War Two.
Several water companies have since imposed usage restrictions and supermarkets have limited sales of disposable BBQs that firefighters warn can set light to tinder-dry grass. Ambulance services have received hundreds of calls from patients facing breathing difficulties, dizziness and fainting.
The amber warning, which follows Britain’s first-ever red “Extreme Heat” warning in July, covers much of the southern half of England and parts of eastern Wales.
Scientists have said the July heatwave was made at least 10 times more likely because of climate change.


Pakistan says suicide bomber kills 4 troops in northwest

Updated 09 August 2022

Pakistan says suicide bomber kills 4 troops in northwest

  • No one claims responsibility for the attack on Monday in North Waziristan
  • North Waziristan and other former tribal regions in northwestern Pakistan were long a base for the Pakistani Taliban

ISLAMABAD: A suicide bomber targeted a security convoy in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold in northwestern Pakistan, killing four soldiers, officials said Tuesday.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday in North Waziristan, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan. A military statement said four soldiers were martyred in the attack and that an investigation was underway.
The attack came a day after a late night roadside bombing in eastern Afghanistan struck a vehicle carrying members of the Pakistani Taliban, killing a senior leader and three other militants traveling with him.
The Pakistani Taliban blamed intelligence agents for the high-profile killing on Sunday night, without offering evidence or elaborating.
The slain leader of the Pakistani Taliban — the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — was Abdul Wali, also widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani.
Khurasani’s death was a heavy blow to the TTP, which is in talks with the Pakistani government amid an ongoing cease-fire, announced in May. Isolated militant attacks have continued, though the TTP has not claimed responsibility for any of them since the truce first went into effect. The talks are being hosted by the Afghan Taliban.
Two local Pakistani intelligence officials told said that Monday’s suicide bombing in the town of Mir Ali also wounded an unspecified number of civilians and soldiers. The officials would not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the record.
North Waziristan and other former tribal regions in northwestern Pakistan were long a base for the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups until the army claimed a few years back that it cleared the region of insurgents. Occasional attacks have continued, however, raising concerns the Pakistani Taliban are regrouping in the areas.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan a year ago as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout.
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban to intensify their demands for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in Pakistan, release of their members from government custody, and a reduction of military presence in Pakistan’s former tribal regions.


Ex-Philippine leader and democracy defender Fidel Ramos is buried

Updated 09 August 2022

Ex-Philippine leader and democracy defender Fidel Ramos is buried

  • Former president died July 31 at age 94 from COVID-19 complications
  • His six-year term was marked by major reforms and attempts to monopolies

MANILA: Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos was laid to rest in a state funeral Tuesday, hailed as an ex-general, who backed then helped oust a dictatorship and became a defender of democracy and can-do reformist in his poverty-wracked Asian country.
Ramos died July 31 at age 94 from COVID-19 complications at the Makati Medical Center in the capital region, his family said. He also suffered from a heart condition and dementia and had been in and out of hospital in recent years, former aides said.
An urn containing the ashes of the US-trained general, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, was placed in a flag-draped coffin, which was carried by six pallbearers amid somber music.
His cremated remains were placed in his grave after a funeral procession led by honor guards and his family, which was showered with flower petals from two helicopters. The ceremony, which was broadcast live nationwide by state-run and major TV networks, was attended by newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and was capped by a 21-gun salute.
Marcos Jr. visited Ramos’ wake Thursday and condoled with the family of Ramos, who, he said, “was a symbol of stability after all the tumultuous events of 1986.”
Marcos Jr. is the namesake son of the former Philippine dictator, whose 1986 ouster came after Ramos — then a top official of the Philippine Constabulary — and defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile withdrew their support in defections that sparked massive army-backed protests.
Ramos was the late dictator’s second cousin and had helped the elder Marcos enforce martial law starting in 1972 in an era when thousands of people were incarcerated, tortured and became victims of extrajudicial killings and disappearances.
Ramos was laid to rest near the grave of the dictator, who was buried at the Heroes Cemetery with military honors in 2016 in a secrecy-shrouded ceremony after then-President Rodrigo Duterte gave his approval and the Supreme Court dismissed objections from human rights activists.
The Department of National Defense, which was once led by Ramos, said he was a decorated soldier who spearheaded the modernization of the military, one of Asia’s most underfunded. He organized the elite special forces of the army and the national police.
The cigar-chomping Ramos, known for his “we can do this” rallying call to Filipinos, thumbs-up sign, attention to detail and firm handshakes, served as president from 1992 to 1998, succeeding democracy icon Corazon Aquino.
She was swept into the presidency in 1986 after the largely peaceful “People Power” revolt that toppled the dictator and became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide.
Marcos, his family and cronies were driven into US exile, where he died in 1989.
After Aquino rose to the presidency, Ramos became the military chief of staff and later defense secretary, successfully defending her from several violent coup attempts. In 1992, Ramos won the presidential elections and became the largely Roman Catholic nation’s first Protestant president.
His six-year term was marked by major reforms and attempts to dismantle telecommunications and other business monopolies that triggered a rare economic boom, bolstered the image of the impoverished Southeast Asian country and drew praise from business leaders and the international community.
In his last State of the Nation address before a joint session of Congress in 1997, Ramos said only sustained development, a modernized agriculture, industrialization and adequate infrastructure would allow the country to wipe out poverty. But he stressed it was crucial for Filipinos to safeguard democracy.
“We cannot allow our democracy to wither — because Philippine democracy is our unique comparative advantage in the new global order,” Ramos said then. “Without freedom, economic growth is meaningless. And so, freedom, markets, and progress go together.”
One of his legacies was the 1996 signing of a peace pact between his government and the Moro National Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group at the time in the volatile southern Philippines, homeland of minority Muslims.
Ramos’ calm bearing in times of crises, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis, earned him the moniker “Steady Eddie.”
A son of a longtime legislator and foreign secretary, Ramos graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1950. He was a part of the Philippine combat contingent that fought in the Korean War and was also involved in the Vietnam War as a non-combat civil military engineer.