Opinion

History should not be allowed to repeat itself in Afghanistan

History should not be allowed to repeat itself in Afghanistan

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Since 1979, Afghanistan has been a theater of two major global conflicts. We know what happened in the first instance: The Afghan people not only bore the brunt of the war but also had to face its deadly consequences. Global apathy fueled ethno-religious fissures. The brewing conflict finally resurged to threaten international peace and the world was left with no choice but to intervene in the war-torn nation.
The second instance — the longest war in Afghan history — ended last year, producing an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. The world is again unwilling to rescue the Afghans from its ravages. With a simmering crisis and sources of conflict intact, Afghanistan will descend a familiar path, slowly but surely.
The scale of its current disaster is enormous. The evidence furnished by UN agencies is stark: Over 24 million people — more than half of the Afghan population — need emergency assistance to survive. More than a million children under the age of five face a high risk of dying from starvation. The economy has contracted by almost half in the past year and the official poverty rate could soon reach 97 percent. Last year alone, 1.3 million Afghans were internally displaced. Millions more have taken refuge abroad.
Of course, much of this disaster is human-made, rooted in persistent ethnic conflict, religious terrorism and foreign aggression. But nature is also not so kind to the Afghans. A protracted drought has devastated agriculture and livestock, compounding the food crisis. Last month, a devastating earthquake also struck the southeastern provinces, causing massive loss of life and property and exposing half a million people to hunger and disease, according to UN estimates.
The global apathy to Afghan suffering is writ large. In March, the UN appealed for $4.4 billion in emergency support from donor nations. It got merely half of this amount and that too with severe restrictions on its disbursement by UN relief agencies due to Western sanctions against the de facto Taliban regime. Some of these restrictions have relaxed over time, but serious issues continue to hamper the delivery of essential food and health supplies to the bulk of the rural Afghan population.

Other sources of support include the Humanitarian Trust Fund for Afghanistan, set up by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in March. Saudi Arabia has provided the bulk of this support with a grant of $30 million. But contributions to this fund and other bilateral commitments pale in comparison to the gravity of the crisis. Neighboring countries are already overstretched due to the Afghan refugee presence. Pakistan, for instance, has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for the last four decades. Several hundred more have arrived since last year. It has limited economic capacity to help, but still does.

The primary responsibility for mitigating Afghans’ humanitarian suffering falls on the shoulders of the US.

Ishtiaq Ahmad

No matter what other countries do to help the Afghans — out of Muslim solidarity or geographical affinity — the primary responsibility for mitigating their humanitarian suffering falls on the shoulders of the US. This is where the real problem lies. About $9.5 billion of funds from the Afghan central bank were frozen by the US and its European allies as they exited the 20-year war last August. Out of this, $7 billion was held in US banks and the remaining $2.5 billion in European banks.
The Biden administration has unfrozen $3.5 billion in Afghan assets, but it is yet to decide how to safely transfer them to the UN and other humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban. US officials are concerned that money meant for humanitarian operations may end up in Taliban hands if donors use the Afghan central bank.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, accompanied by officials from the Treasury Department, last week met with a Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Doha, but they failed to solve the financial row. However, in a promising sign, both sides agreed to keep the conversation going.
This was the first high-level contact between US and Taliban officials since March, when the Taliban government decided to ban secondary schooling for girls. Since then, more restrictions have followed. Last week’s loya jirga (grand assembly) of more than 3,000 Afghan tribal elders and religious scholars in Kabul clearly suggests that the Taliban regime is in no mood for compromising on women’s and minority rights. Without such a compromise, it should forget about being recognized by the world.
The Taliban leadership may, however, agree to negotiate on this issue in exchange for the US unfreezing Afghan funds. The economic crisis is a potential driver of conflict and misery in Afghanistan. But once the country’s humanitarian woes subside, the Taliban regime can claim international legitimacy on the basis of domestic stability.
Therefore, the Biden administration must find a way to deliver the money, which belongs to Afghanistan and can provide direly needed relief to its hapless population. The best option would be to use the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the principal world institution supervising humanitarian activities in Afghanistan. UN relief agencies such as the UN Food Program and the World Health Organization have extensive experience in dealing with the financial complexities involved in humanitarian operations.
In fact, the US and its European allies owe a lot more to the Afghan people. Is it not ironic that the US spent $2 trillion in waging the war and is now squabbling over a mere $7 billion in relief? The humanitarian disaster Afghanistan faces today is a direct outcome of this war. Yet, American commitment to mitigating this disaster is only $772 million. The Afghans, resilient as they are for having gone through so much pain and suffering, do not deserve such a rebuke.
To cut a long story short, back in the 1980s, the US blundered by walking away from Afghanistan. The consequences were grave. Failure to learn from history this time around could push the US, and the rest of the world, into even greater danger. This is an outcome we must avoid at all costs.

Ishtiaq Ahmad is a former journalist who has been vice chancellor of Sargodha University in Pakistan and Quaid-e-Azam Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada also want “other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs.” (AFP file photo)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

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After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel 

Updated 7 sec ago

Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel 

  • Dozens of Afghan Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years 
  • UNSC failed to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan 

UNITED NATIONS: The divided UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on whether to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan so they will expire at midnight Friday.
UN diplomats said Russia and China want to allow all 13 to continue to travel while the US and Western nations are determined to cut the number to protest the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.
Russia and China asked for more time Friday evening to consider the latest US proposal, the Security Council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
So, the travel ban will be restored on all 13 Taliban officials until Monday afternoon at the earliest when Russia and China must now respond to the US proposal.
Dozens of Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years, subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. But some Taliban officials were granted waivers so they could travel to participate in talks aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August 15 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan. It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.
In June, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban banned two Taliban officials from traveling in response to their crackdown on women — Said Ahmad Shaidkhel, the acting deputy education minister, and Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah, also known as Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education.
With the expiration of travel waivers for the remaining 13 Taliban officials looming, the United State on Thursday proposed re-imposing the travel ban on seven of them and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.
Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.
Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption can’t continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.
That’s the proposal that Russia and China are now considering. 


Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

Updated 20 August 2022

Divided UN council fails to approve more top Taliban travel

UNITED NATIONS: The divided UN Security Council failed to reach agreement on whether to extend travel exemptions for 13 Taliban officials now ruling Afghanistan so they will expire at midnight Friday.
UN diplomats said Russia and China want to allow all 13 to continue to travel while the US and Western nations are determined to cut the number to protest the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.
Russia and China asked for more time Friday evening to consider the latest US proposal, the Security Council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
So, the travel ban will be restored on all 13 Taliban officials until Monday afternoon at the earliest when Russia and China must now respond to the US proposal.
Dozens of Taliban members have been on the UN sanctions blacklist for years, subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. But some Taliban officials were granted waivers so they could travel to participate in talks aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August 15 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from the country after 20 years, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan. It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.
In June, the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Taliban banned two Taliban officials from traveling in response to their crackdown on women — Said Ahmad Shaidkhel, the acting deputy education minister, and Abdul Baqi Basir Awal Shah, also known as Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the acting Minister of Higher Education.
With the expiration of travel waivers for the remaining 13 Taliban officials looming, the United State on Thursday proposed re-imposing the travel ban on seven of them and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.
Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.
Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption can’t continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.
On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.
That’s the proposal that Russia and China are now considering.

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

Updated 20 August 2022

Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material

DES MOINES, Iowa: Former Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that he didn’t take any classified information with him when he left office.

Pence made the comment during an interview with The Associated Press in Iowa a week and a half after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Asked directly if he retained any classified information upon leaving office, Pence said, “No, not to my knowledge.”

The disclosure — which would typically be unremarkable for a former vice president — is notable given that FBI agents took 11 sets of classified records from his former boss’s estate on Aug. 8 while investigating potential violations of three different federal laws. Trump has claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified” and argued that he would have turned them over if the Justice Department had asked.

Despite the inclusion of material marked “top secret” in the government’s list of items recovered from Mar-a-Lago, Pence said, “I honestly don’t want to prejudge it before until we know all the facts.”

Pence on Friday also weighed in on Republican US Rep. Liz Cheney’s primary defeat earlier in the week to a rival backed by Trump. Cheney, who is arguably Trump’s most prominent Republican critic, has called the former president “a very grave threat and risk to our republic” and further raised his ire through her role as vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.

“My reaction was, the people of Wyoming have spoken,” said Pence, who was targeted at the Capitol that day by angry rioters, including some who chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!” “And, you know, I accept their judgment about the kind of representation they want on Capitol Hill.”

Pence said he has “great respect” for Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served two terms under President George W. Bush.

“And I appreciate the conservative stance Congresswoman Cheney has taken over the years,” Pence continued. “But I’ve been disappointed in the partisan taint of the Jan. 6 committee from early on.”

Speaking further about the search of Mar-a-Lago, the former vice president raised the possibility, as he has previously, that the investigation was politically motivated and called on Attorney General Merrick

Garland to disclose more details on what led authorities to conduct the search.

“The concern that millions of Americans felt is only going to be resolved with daylight,” Pence said Friday. “I know that’s not customary in an investigation. But this is unprecedented action by the Justice Department, and I think it merits an unprecedented transparency.”

Days ago, while speaking at a political breakfast in New Hampshire, Pence urged his fellow Republicans to stop lashing out at rank-and-file members of the FBI over the search of Mar-a-Lago. At the Wednesday event, he sought to tamp down on some of the increasing threats against the FBI by ardent Trump supporters who are angry that Trump’s home was searched.

“The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” Pence said Wednesday. “Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop.”

Pence was in Iowa on Friday as part of a two-day trip to the state, which is scheduled to host the 2024 leadoff Republican presidential caucuses. Pence said Friday that he would make a decision early next year about whether to run for the White House, a move that his aides have said will be independent of what Trump decides to do.

Having visited the Iowa State Fair on Friday afternoon, Pence also headlined a fundraiser earlier in the day for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and was scheduled to speak to a Christian conservative group and a northern Iowa county Republican Party fundraiser before leaving Saturday.


Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

Updated 20 August 2022

Putin to allow inspectors to visit Russia-occupied nuclear plant

ODESSA: Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel via Ukraine or Russia came as a US defense official said Ukraine’s forces had brought the Russian advance to a halt.
“You are seeing a complete and total lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had “reconsidered” his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi “welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission to” the plant.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the spectre of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
Putin also “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,” Zelensky said in his Friday evening address.
“No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.”
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN secretary general said that “obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.”
“Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a “provocation” at the site that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
Guterres visited Odessa as part of an effort to make more Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with soaring food prices, after a landmark deal with Russia last month to allow its export.
The deal, the only significant agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far seen 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural products depart from three designated ports, Kyiv has said.
Guterres is expected to head to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body tasked with overseeing the accord.
The grain deal has held, but brought little respite along the sprawling front lines after nearly six months of fighting between US-supplied Ukrainian forces and the Russian military.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for Himars systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.
The primary tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery barrages, and recent bombardments over the eastern Donetsk region — which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 — left several dead.
The Ukrainian head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that Russian strikes had killed five people and wounded 10 more in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, left one person dead and damaged a school and a private business, the head of the region said.


France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

Updated 19 August 2022

France’s Macron assails Putin’s ‘brutal attack’ on Ukraine

  • Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe: French president

PARIS: Hours after talking with Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday accused the Russian leader of launching a “brutal attack” on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.

Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.

He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”

“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us,” Macron said in a speech commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Allied landing in Nazi-occupied southern France during World War II.

Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”

Earlier Friday, Macron spoke more than an hour with Putin to urge Russia to accept Ukraine’s conditions to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit Europe’s largest nuclear plant. There are growing international concerns about security at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is occupied by Russian forces and at the heart of the war.

The leaders also discussed efforts to get grain and other food commodities out of Russia. EU sanctions aimed at ending the war make exceptions for food.

It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.