Taliban brands Pakistan expulsion threat to Afghan immigrants ‘unacceptable’

Above, an Afghan refugee family returns to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s border crossing, Torkham. About 1.7 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan without valid documents. (AP)
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Updated 04 October 2023

Taliban brands Pakistan expulsion threat to Afghan immigrants ‘unacceptable’

  • About 1.73 million Afghan immigrants are living in Pakistan without any legal status
  • Interior minister alleges that Afghan nationals had carried out 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in Pakistan this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s threat to forcibly expel illegal Afghan immigrants is “unacceptable,” a spokesman for the Taliban administration in Kabul said on Wednesday, adding that Afghans were not to blame for Pakistan’s security problems.
Estimating that there were 1.73 million Afghan immigrants living in Pakistan without any legal status, Pakistan’s caretaker government on Tuesday set a Nov.1 deadline for them to leave or face forcible expulsion.
“The behavior of Pakistan toward Afghan refugees is unacceptable,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban administration in Kabul, said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
To help justify the crackdown, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti alleged that Afghan nationals had carried out 14 out of 24 suicide bombings in Pakistan this year.
The Taliban spokesman rejected that claim.
“The Pakistani side should reconsider its plan. Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems. As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them,” Mujahid said.
Pakistan’s ultimatum to the immigrants, most of whom have been living in the country for years, came after a meeting of civil and military leaders to review the law and order situation following two suicide bombings on Friday that killed at least 57 people. Bugti said one of the suicide bombers was an Afghan national, and he also accused India’s intelligence agency of involvement.
Relations between the Taliban and the Pakistan government have deteriorated markedly, with border clashes temporarily closing the main trade route between the neighbors last month.
Islamabad alleges that the militants use Afghan soil to train fighters and plan attacks inside Pakistan. The Taliban denies those accusations, saying Pakistan’s security problems are home-grown.
A caretaker government was installed in August to guide the Pakistan through to elections expected sometime in the coming months, and the military has been able to exert more influence as a result of the uncertainty and instability in the country.

Philippine government and communist rebels agree to resume peace talks

Updated 28 November 2023

Philippine government and communist rebels agree to resume peace talks

  • High-ranking delegations agree to a ‘common vision for peace’ that sought to address key obstacles
  • Past administrations had engaged in on and off peace negotiations with communist rebels

COPENHAGEN: The Philippine government and the country’s communist rebels have agreed to resume talks aimed at ending decades of armed conflict, one of Asia’s longest, Norwegian mediators announced Tuesday.
High-ranking delegations from both sides met in the Norwegian capital last week and agreed to a “common vision for peace” that sought to address key obstacles, according to Norway’s foreign ministry.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the deal was signed at “an important signing ceremony” on Thursday but was only made public Tuesday.
The Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, have fought successive Philippine governments since 1969. The rebellion, which opposes the Philippines’ close ties with the US and wants left-wing parties to be part of the government, has left about 40,000 combatants and civilians dead and has stunted economic development in the impoverished countryside. The military says a few thousand Maoist insurgents are continuing to wage the insurgency.
Past administrations had engaged in on and off peace negotiations with communist rebels. Former President Rodrigo Duterte ended peace talks in March 2019, accusing the rebels of attacks on police and military outposts. The US, the European Union and the Philippine government consider the NPA as a terrorist organization because of its attacks targeting civilians.
Last year, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office as the new president and appeared more open to peace talks. He granted amnesty last week to several insurgent groups, including NPA, for offenses including rebellion, sedition and illegal assembly, but not those suspected of kidnapping, killing, terrorism or similar serious crimes.
Marcos’ namesake father declared martial law in the Philippines in 1972, imprisoning thousands of suspected rebels and communist supporters, until he was ousted in a 1986 popular uprising.
The Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the umbrella group representing the rebels, said in their joint statement that they “recognize the need to unite as a nation in order to urgently address these challenges and resolve the reasons for the armed conflict.”
They “agree to a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.”
“We envision and look forward to a country where a united people can live in peace and prosperity,” the statement said. The text was the result of several informal discussions between the sides held in the Netherlands and Norway since the beginning of 2022.
”I was happy to hear the parties’ decision to finally end the more than 50-year-long conflict in the Philippines,” said Barth Eide, who witnessed the signing. He said that ”extensive work” remained and that Norway “looks forward to continuing to assist the parties toward a final peace agreement.”

Arab cultural centers promote Palestinian cause in Latin America

Updated 28 November 2023

Arab cultural centers promote Palestinian cause in Latin America

  • They have been organizing cultural events, taking part in protests and disseminating info
  • ‘Both on the streets and on the internet, culture has been playing a central role in the movement for Palestine,’ Chilean professor tells Arab News

SAO PAULO: With an estimated 20 million people of Arab descent, Latin America has a number of institutions dedicated to the dissemination of Arab culture.

They have been playing a central role in disseminating information and organizing protests throughout the Gaza conflict.

The Palestinian cause is central to these cultural centers, not only because there are significant Palestinian communities in some Latin American countries, but also as part of a project to build solidarity with Palestine among Arabs and non-Arabs in the region.

In recent weeks, such institutions have been active in denouncing the plight of the Palestinian people and disseminating information about the history of Israeli occupation and violence. Some of them are also helping organize marches and pressuring their governments.

Arabic teacher Agustin Dib, founder of the Argentinian Club de la Cultura Arabe, told Arab News that in recent weeks it has been fully dedicated to spreading information about the plight of the Palestinians.

“Given the seriousness of the current situation, we’ve been using all our resources to inform people about what’s happening, and to put pressure on the government of Argentina for a decisive stance regarding the genocide of the Palestinians,” he said.

The club has a website and a large presence on social media, where it distributes content about the Arab world in Spanish, something not very common online.

While some cultural institutions are connected to mosques or churches, the club has been established as a completely autonomous entity.

It all began with a group of students of Arabic who met in Buenos Aires to read poetry by Arab authors such as the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

These sessions, which had never happened before in Argentina’s capital, drew many people, and other events were promoted.

Although the club does not have a physical location and “doesn’t want to have one in the future,” many of its initiatives involve in-person participation, Dib said.

Among the initiatives are “green days,” when enthusiasts meet at a public park with their derbakes (Arabic drums) to play Arabic music and talk about culture.

Virtual Arabic-language classes have been a big hit since 2018, as have conferences and courses on Arab culture.

“We have followers in Argentina, Mexico, Spain, and even Brazil despite the linguistic difference,” Dib said.

The club has been working with other institutions over the years, including universities and Arab embassies. It is now planning to promote Arabic films.

“The dissemination of content that clarifies aspects of the Arab world traditionally seen with prejudice has been a relevant dimension of the club’s work,” Dib said.

Since the start of the Gaza conflict, the club has been publishing content to explain the Palestinian situation, tackling rising Islamophobia in Argentina, working with other organizations and promoting protests with thousands of participants in Buenos Aires.

In the city of Barranquilla, the Institute of Arab Culture of Colombia has been making similar efforts since the conflict began.

Odette Yidi, who founded the institute with her father in 2017, told Arab News that most pro-Palestinian cultural and political initiatives are being promoted by non-Arab Colombians.

“A few weeks ago, we helped create the Colombian Committee of Solidarity with Palestine, which gathers 300 members. Only five of them are Palestinian or Arab,” she said.

The institute, along with other groups, has been organizing talks about the Palestinian cause, as well as music concerts and demonstrations.

“We’ve been disseminating letters from Palestinian organizations about the (Israeli) attacks. I constantly give interviews to the press and lectures in schools, and always mention them,” Yidi said.

Earlier this year, the institute bought a sculpture about Colombian solidarity with Palestinians to be installed in a park in Barranquilla.

The official inauguration ceremony will gather cultural activists and the city’s authorities on Nov. 29.

The institute is also working to translate Arabic content about the conflict into Spanish, and is promoting Arabic classes and cultural activities.

“Our dream is to set up a museum totally dedicated to Arab countries and the diaspora, in which we can safely keep and show the memory of Arab immigration to Colombia,” Yidi said.

In Chile — which has the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East, with an estimated 600,000 people — there are several Arab and Palestinian cultural centers and social clubs nationwide.

Most of them, such as the Arab Center in the city of Concepcion, traditionally commemorate important dates for the Palestinian people with special events.

In May, for instance, they normally organize events to commemorate the Nakba — the displacement and expulsion of several hundred thousand Palestinians from their homeland when Israel was created in 1948.

“This year, the Palestinian ambassador to Santiago came to attend our event about the Nakba,” Gustavo Diban, the center’s president, told Arab News.

The organization has been promoting demonstrations since the Gaza conflict began. On Oct. 13, the center and other entities organized a vigil in honor of the deceased in Palestine.

On Nov. 18, a march in Concepcion gathered pro-Palestinian activists from all over the region.

Ricardo Marzuca, a Palestinian-Chilean professor at the University of Chile, told Arab News that a pro-Palestinian umbrella organization was recently created and gathers 40 groups, several of them dedicated to cultural activities.

“Last week, artistic groups organized at the National Theater in Santiago a pro-Palestinian cultural intervention with theater, poetry and music,” he said.

“Both on the streets and on the internet, culture has been playing a central role in the movement for Palestine.”

The 20-year-old Institute of Arab Culture in Brazil, known by the Portuguese acronym Icarabe, also has a special relation with the Palestinian cause.

Every year, it organizes an exhibit of Arabic movies, including at least one Palestinian production.

“That’s part of our political concerns. I think those movies should have a wider dissemination in Brazil. Film distributors should acquire their rights,” Arthur Jafet, Icarabe’s national relations director and the curator of this year’s exhibit, told Arab News.

The exhibit was concluded before the start of the Gaza conflict, so Jafet decided to publish a list of Palestinian films that can help Brazilians understand the roots of the conflict.

Icarabe was founded with the goal of working as an independent organization, without support from embassies or religious institutions. Over the years, it has gained a reputation for promoting high-quality cultural initiatives.

“It’s not easy to fund an autonomous center like ours. We don’t sell anything, we only want to publicize Arab culture,” Icarabe’s President Murched Taha told Arab News.

The institute established a few years ago a special chair, in partnership with the Federal University of Sao Paulo, named after the late Palestinian-American academic, literary critic and political activist Edward Said. One of its focuses is to study Middle Eastern society and culture.

Icarabe also organizes a program about Arab and Islamic contributions to mankind, which always draws many participants.

Other cultural activities are being discussed by its directors, many of whom have been taking part in protests in Sao Paulo in October and November that have gathered thousands.

Indian rescuers break through tunnel debris to evacuate trapped workers

Updated 28 November 2023

Indian rescuers break through tunnel debris to evacuate trapped workers

  • Soldiers and skilled miners are using a so-called ‘rat-hole’ mining technique to clear the final stretch
  • The 41 construction workers have been trapped since November 12 in a tunnel being constructed

SILKYARA, India: Indian rescuers led by “rat miners” drilled through rocks and debris on Tuesday to reach 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas for 17 days.

The process of pulling out the 41 low-wage workers from India’s poorest states, one at a time on wheeled stretchers through a pipe 90 cm (3 feet) wide, was due to begin soon, officials said.

“Work of laying pipes in the tunnel to take out workers has been completed,” Uttarakhand state chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said on the X social media platform, thanking the Hindu deity, Baba Baukh Nag Ji, as well as the millions of Indian who prayed for the men and the tireless rescuers.

“Soon, all the laborer brothers will be taken out.”

The men have been stuck in the 4.5km tunnel since it collapsed on Nov. 12.

They have been getting food, water, light, oxygen and medicines through a pipe but efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue them with high-powered drilling machines were frustrated by a series of snags.

Government agencies managing the unprecedented crisis turned on Monday to “rat miners” to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand from inside a 90 cm (3 feet) wide evacuation pipe pushed through the debris after machinery failed.

The miners are experts at a primitive, hazardous and controversial method used mostly to get at coal deposits through narrow passages, and get their name because they resemble burrowing rats.

The miners, brought from central India, worked through Monday night and finally broke through the estimated 60-meters of rocks, earth and metal on Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of rescue workers with ropes, ladders, and stretchers entered the tunnel and 41 ambulances were lined up outside to take the 41 men to a hospital about 30 km away.

Some rescue workers in hard-hats made victory signs and posed for pictures.

Relatives of the trapped men, who have been camping near the site, gathered outside the tunnel with luggage, ready to accompany the men to hospital.

“As he comes out, my heart will revive again,” the father of a trapped worker, who give his name as just Chaudhary, said of his son, Manjeet Chaudhary.


Villagers also gathered outside the tunnel, some singing Hindu devotional songs and raising slogans in praise of the Hindu god Lord Ram on hearing news of the breakthrough.

Others gathered on nearly slopes hoping to catch a glimpse of the men as they are brought out.

The men have been getting cooked food since a lifeline pipe was pushed through last week, including flat breads, lentils and vegetable curry.

More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the site, talking to the men through the pipe and monitoring their health.

They were advised to do light yoga exercises, walk around in the space they have been confined to, and keep speaking to each other.

The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects, aimed at connecting four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890- km network of roads.

Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

The tunnel did not have an emergency exit and was built through a geological fault, a member of a panel of experts investigating the disaster has told Reuters.

The Char Dham project has faced criticism from environmental experts and some work was halted after hundreds of houses were damaged by subsidence along the route.

The government has said it employed environmentally sound techniques to make geologically unstable stretches safer.

It also ordered the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to audit 29 tunnels being built across India.

Berlin welcomes release of Gaza hostages, including two Germans: minister

Updated 28 November 2023

Berlin welcomes release of Gaza hostages, including two Germans: minister

  • The release of the two hostages on Monday brings the total number of German passport-holders released by Hamas to 10 — four were released on Friday and four more on Saturday

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock welcomed Monday the release of 11 Gaza hostages, including “two German teenagers” as part of the truce agreement between Israel and Hamas.
“After 52 days of suffering and despair, their mother can hold them in her arms again.
“My thoughts are with the families who are still waiting in fear. We are doing everything we can so that they too can hold them in their arms,” Baerbock posted on X, formerly Twitter.
The release of the two hostages on Monday brings the total number of German passport-holders released by Hamas to 10 — four were released on Friday and four more on Saturday.
Baerbock also welcomed the announcement by Hamas of a truce extension, which she said would allow “precious time for our aid to reach the people of Gaza.”
“And it’s a glimmer of hope so we don’t lose sight of what could happen: concrete steps toward a secure future for all the people in the region.”

Palestinian diplomat appeals for peace in Gaza at a meeting between EU and Arab nations in Spain

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 November 2023

Palestinian diplomat appeals for peace in Gaza at a meeting between EU and Arab nations in Spain

  • Israel did not attend the meeting hosted by the Union for the Mediterranean and chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi

BARCELONA, Spain: Hours before Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their expiring cease-fire by two more days, the top Palestinian diplomat made a plea during a Monday meeting of European Union members and Arab nations for a definitive end to Israel’s retaliatory attacks on the Gaza Strip .
“We have to find how to apply the necessary pressure so that the Israeli government does not continue killing innocent people, so that we can continue counting cadavers,” Riad Al-Maliki said in Spanish during a news conference during the gathering of diplomats in Barcelona, Spain.
Al-Maliki warned that any resumption of the war by Israel would quickly lead to more deaths in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people, the vast majority of them Palestinians. He is the foreign minister for the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, whose forces were driven out of Gaza by Hamas when it seized power in 2007.
Israel did not attend the meeting hosted by the Union for the Mediterranean and chaired by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. Many of the 43 delegations were represented by their foreign ministers.
In recent years, the event has become largely a forum for cooperation between the EU and the Arab world. Monday’s gathering was supposed to focus on the role of the union 15 years after its foundation, but it has taken on new significance since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis and led to nearly 240 people being taken hostage and Israel’s ensuing war in the Gaza Strip.
While the meeting did not produce any major policy initiatives, it did provide a chance for European diplomats to hear directly from northern African and Middle Eastern nations who strongly support the Palestinian cause and fear the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the region.
Borrell said he “regretted” the absence of Israel. He repeated his condemnation of the Hamas attack, while calling on Israel to permanently end its assault, which he said has claimed the lives of over 5,000 children.
“One horror cannot justify another horror,” Borrell said. “Peace between Israel and Palestine has become a strategic imperative for the entire Euro-Mediterranean community and beyond.”
Jordan’s Safadi, who told The Associated Press on the eve of the event that he hoped the talks would help “bridge a gap” between Arab and European countries, urged the officials attending the meeting to back a two-state solution that would recognize a Palestinian state.
But Safadi also acknowledged Monday after the meeting that despite a broad consensus for peace, there were still some differing viewpoints on how hard to push Israel to stop.
“Today, we came for a very open, very frank, very blunt conversation. We agreed and we disagreed. Some of our colleagues still call the killing of 15,000 Palestinians, the destruction of over 160,000 homes, the complete devastation of hospitals, the denial of food, water, fuel, medicine, is self-defense,” he said. “We call it blatant aggression.”
Safadi would not say which countries took the softer approach to Israel, but the Czech Republic, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary have insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, was invited to the event.
“Continued escalation will produce no severe pain for any party,” Prince Faisal said. “The only sure result is more destruction, radicalization and further conflict at the expense of Palestinian lives, as well as regional security, including that of Israel.”
Borrell said he wanted the gathering to focus on managing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza once hostilities finally stop. The EU would want the United Nations to take a leading role in establishing how best to fill any security vacuum should Israeli forces defeat Hamas, according to a senior EU official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A small pro-Palestinian group rallied before the gathering at the art nouveau building that once housed Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital.
Israel gave no reason for its decision not to attend the gathering. The EU is the world’s biggest provider of assistance to the Palestinians as well as Israel’s biggest trade partner. Spain is one of the EU countries that has called for Israel to cease its assault, while also condemning the Hamas attack.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said during a trip to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt last week with his Belgian counterpart that the time haf come for the international community and the EU to recognize a Palestinian state. His comment prompted Israel to summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors.
Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said he was pleased that all the European nations agreed to back a two-state solution and do not want Israel to occupy Gaza.
“I’m glad that the Europeans are interested in solving the problem of problem that is 75 years old,” he told the AP. “And they all agreed that Israel should not stay in the Gaza Strip, and that it and the West Bank are one and should continue to be one.”