Afghan Taliban seeks world’s ‘mercy and compassion to help millions of Afghans in desperate need

Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers are committed in principle to education and jobs for girls and women, a marked departure from their previous time in power, and seek the world’s “mercy and compassion” to help millions of Afghans in desperate need, a top Taliban leader said in a rare interview.

Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also told The Associated Press that the Taliban government wants good relations with all countries and has no issue with the United States.

He urged Washington and other nations to release upward of $10 billion in funds that were frozen when the Taliban took power Aug 15, following a rapid military sweep across Afghanistan and the sudden, secret flight of US-backed President Ashraf Ghani.

“Sanctions against Afghanistan would … not have any benefit,” Muttaqi said on Sunday, speaking in his native Pashto during the interview in the sprawling pale brick Foreign Ministry building in the heart of the Afghan capital of Kabul.

“Making Afghanistan unstable or having a weak Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone,” said Muttaqi, whose aides include employees of the previous government as well as those recruited from the ranks of the Taliban.

Muttaqi acknowledged the world’s outrage at the Taliban-imposed limitations on girls’ education and on women in the workforce.

In many parts of Afghanistan, female high school students between the grades of seven and 12 have not been permitted to go to school since the Taliban took over, and many female civil servants have been told to stay home.

Taliban officials have said they need time to create gender-segregated arrangements in schools and workplaces that meet their interpretation of Islam.

‘We will gain more experience with time’

When they first ruled from 1996-2001, the Taliban shocked the world by barring girls and women from schools and jobs, banning most entertainment and sports, and occasionally carrying out executions in front of large crowds in sports stadiums.

But Muttaqi said the Taliban have changed since they last ruled.

“We have made progress in administration and in politics … in interaction with the nation and the world. With each passing day we will gain more experience and make more progress,” he said.

Muttaqi said that under the new Taliban government, girls are going to school through to Grade 12 in 10 of the country’s 34 provinces, private schools and universities are operating unhindered and 100 percent of women who had previously worked in the health sector are back on the job.

“This shows that we are committed in principle to women’s participation,” he said.

He claimed that the Taliban have not targeted their opponents, instead of having announced a general amnesty and providing some protection.

Leaders of the previous government live without threat in Kabul, he said, though the majority have fled.

Last month, the international group Human Rights Watch published a report saying the Taliban summarily killed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officials in four provinces. However, there have been no reports of large-scale retribution.

Muttaqi charged the Afghan government that took power after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in 2001 carried out widespread revenge attacks against the Taliban.

Hundreds disappeared or were killed, causing thousands to flee to the mountains, he said. The Taliban were ousted for harboring al Qaida and Osama bin Laden who masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Muttaqi insisted poverty and the dream of a better life — not fear — drove thousands of Afghans to rush the Kabul airport in mid-August in hopes of getting to America.

Mutaqqi admits Taliban made mistakes in first months in power

The crush of people had generated searing images of men clinging to a departing American C-17 aircraft, while others fell to the ground as the wheels retracted.

He said the Taliban have made mistakes in their first months in power and that “we will work for more reforms which can benefit the nation.” He did not elaborate on the mistakes or possible reforms.

Muttaqi pushed back against comments by US Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie who told the AP last week that the al-Qaida group has grown slightly inside Afghanistan since US forces left in late August. McKenzie is Washington’s top military commander in the Middle East.

In a February 2020 deal that spelled out the terms of a US troop withdrawal, the Taliban had promised to fight terrorism and deny terrorist groups a safe haven.

Muttaqi said on Sunday that the Taliban have kept that promise, along with a pledge not to attack US and Nato forces during the final phase of the withdrawal which ended in late August.

“Unfortunately, there are (always) allegations against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, but there is no proof,” said Muttaqi. “If McKenzie has any proof, he should provide it. With confidence, I can say that this is a baseless allegation.”

Meanwhile, Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks on Taliban patrols and religious minorities in the past four months. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan has targeted Shia mosques in the provincial capitals of Kunduz and Kandahar and carried out frequent attacks on Taliban vehicles.

Muttaqi however said the Taliban have gained the upper hand in recent weeks, saying there had not been a major attack in the last month. Washington’s ability to track IS activities in Afghanistan has been handicapped since the troop withdrawal.

Muttaqi said he does not envision cooperating with the US in the battle against the militant group.

However, he did express hope that with time, “America will slowly, slowly change its policy toward Afghanistan” as it sees evidence that a Taliban-ruled country able to stand on its own is a benefit to America.

“My last point is to America, to the American nation: You are a great and big nation and you must have enough patience and have a big heart to dare to make policies on Afghanistan based on international rules and relegation and to end the differences and make the distance between us shorter and choose good relations with Afghanistan.”

National security more than just about military power, encompasses inclusive growth: PM Imran

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday said that national security was more than just a matter of focusing on military might, adding that it encompassed inclusive growth as well.

“We all know our focus was on military [power] but it (national security) is actually an all-encompassing thing. You can’t have national security until there is inclusive growth,” the premier said while addressing the opening session of the Margalla Dialogue 21 with the theme “Breaking Past, Entering Future”.

He said no country could be secure where a small segment kept getting richer and those at the bottom were left behind — and the same applied to certain areas or cities developing while other parts of the country were left behind.

He explained that such inequality became the basis for discord in society, adding that whenever people protested or there was violence then it had its roots in unequal development and injustice.

“It is a very important issue of national security that how can we have equitable [and] inclusive development.”

The prime minister said a similar focus was needed on human development as well and called upon the audience to highlight the issues in Pakistan’s three-tiered education system.

He lamented that three education systems were running in parallel in the country with English-medium, Urdu-medium and religious schools. “Do we think there will be no fallout of this?” he asked.

He pointed out that English-medium schools were subject to further segmentation, while Urdu-medium schools had seen a decline in quality and there was a lack of job opportunities for students of religious schools.

Prime Minister Imran attributed the above imbalance to lack of research in the country and reliance on second-hand research from abroad. “This is why it is important to have an all-encompassing national security dialogue,” he stressed.

Importance of think tanks

The premier hoped that more think tanks would be established in Pakistan that competed with each other in quality of research and global credibility. “Then we will be able to properly put our national narrative in front of people,” he said.

He lamented that since the Salman Rushdie affair, foreign media and think tanks concentrated on Pakistan’s extremes and generalized the whole society. “If you concentrate on any society’s extremes then you will say a lot of bad things about it,” he added.

He held the “unjust” three-tiered education system as being majorly responsible for the extremes in Pakistani society since it produced three groups that had no connection with each other.

“I expect that now the time has come to research, bring original thought and define our country instead of someone from outside doing it. The more the credibility of your think tanks increases, the easier it will be for us to define ourselves in the world.”

However, Prime Minister Imran said the problem of a lack of narratives was not unique to Pakistan. He pointed out that there was a lack of think tanks in the rest of the Muslim world which could respond to criticism or Islamophobia.

He regretted that Muslims in the West had to face hardships but there was no response from the Islamic world’s leadership.

“If there were think tanks in the Muslim world then they would have taken up the issue [of atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir]. It is our misfortune the kind of racist government is there [in India] and the fascist policies it has and what it is doing with its minorities and especially in Kashmir.

“Unfortunately there are no think tanks in our Muslim world that can project this issue,” he said.

Indian man arrested for murder in a plot to fake own death

An Indian man who tried to fake his death by murdering a builder and passing the body off as his own has been arrested, police said on Monday.

He did it to avoid being tried for another alleged murder, they added — Sudesh Kumar was charged with but not convicted of the 2018 killing of his daughter who had eloped.

Kumar was released last year as authorities tried to prevent coronavirus outbreaks by decongesting overcrowded prisons.

Police last month found a body in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi, wearing Kumar’s clothes and carrying his ID card.

“The body was partially burnt and its face was beyond recognition,” police superintendent Iraj Raja told AFP.

“We traced it back to [Kumar’s] home and got his wife to identify the body. She promptly identified it as her husband’s body. However, we were not convinced.”

Police got a tip-off that Kumar was still alive and caught him outside his home on Friday.

“Upon being interrogated, he spilled the beans,” Raja said.

Kumar had befriended a mason and invited him to his house on the pretext of doing some repair work, giving him a set of clothes to wear and plying him with alcohol before beating him to death.

Raja said both Kumar and his wife have been charged with murder.

Afghan Taliban reject TTP claim of being a ‘branch of IEA’

The Afghan Taliban have distanced themselves from the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after the latter recently claimed it was a “branch” of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) — the regime in charge in Kabul.

TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud, in a video available on social media and purportedly shot during his visit to Pakistan’s northern areas, had declared that his outfit came under the larger “umbrella” of the IEA.

“Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is a branch of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, [and] is a part of that umbrella on this land,” Mahsud, flanked by armed TTP fighters, can be seen saying in the video as he addressed a group of men.

Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, in an interview with Arab News on Friday, rejected Mahsud’s claim of affiliation with the IEA.

“They are not, as an organisation, part of IEA and we don’t share the same objectives,” Mujahid is quoted as saying by the publication.

“We advise TTP to focus on peace and stability in their country. This is very important so they can prevent any chance for enemies to interfere in the region and in Pakistan. And we request Pakistan to look into their demands for the better of the region and Pakistan.”

Mujahid said the TTP was Pakistan’s internal matter, adding: “The IEA stance is that we do not interfere in other countries’ affairs. We do not interfere in Pakistan’s affairs.”

Ceasefire — beginning and end

The Afghan Taliban spokesperson’s remarks come roughly a month after Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi acknowledged that the Afghan Taliban were mediating between Pakistan and the TTP on the desire of both the parties.

The Afghan Taliban’s facilitation of talks had led to a month-long ceasefire during November, which the TTP declined to extend any further, accusing the government of failing to honour the decisions reached earlier.

A statement issued by the TTP on Thursday gave out details of the six-point agreement that it said it had reached with the government under the aegis of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (IEA) on Oct 25, 2021.

The two sides, according to the agreement, had accepted that the IEA would play the role of a mediator and that both sides would form five-member committees each which, under the supervision of the mediator, would discuss the next course of action and demands of each sides.

Both sides, it said, had also agreed to observe a month-long ceasefire from Nov 1 to Nov 30, 2021 and that the government would release 102 “imprisoned mujahideen” and hand them over to the TTP through the “IEA and that both sides would issue a joint statement regarding the ceasefire on Nov 1, 2021”.

According to the statement, the government not only failed to implement the decisions reached between the two sides but on the contrary, the security forces conducted raids in Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Bajaur, Swabi and North Waziristan and killed and detained militants.

“Under these circumstances, it is not possible to extend the ceasefire,” the TTP said.

The TTP decision to end the ceasefire is a big setback to the government’s efforts to secure a peace agreement with the militants waging war against the state for decades.

PCB appoints Faisal Hasnain as new chief executive

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Monday appointed Faisal Hasnain as its new chief executive, according to a statement issued by the cricketing body.

Hasnain replaces the post left vacant by Wasim Khan, who stepped down in September, following the appointment of Ramiz Raja as the board’s new chairman.

The PCB statement said Hasnain was selected after a “robust recruitment process” and will formally take charge from January 2022.

“Hasnain is the UK qualified Chartered Accountant and has had a professional career of over 35 years in high-profile finance and sports administration roles with some of the world’s leading blue-chip organizations. This includes his role in Monaco and Dubai as the chief financial officer (CFO) of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and as the Managing Director of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC),” the statement said of his credentials.

PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja said he was “delighted” to confirm the appointment and welcomed Hasnain to the Pakistani cricketing family.

“Faisal is a familiar figure in world cricket and is highly regarded, respected and trusted for his excellence in corporate governance, financial management and commercial acumen. With the plans I have for the PCB, Faisal will be a perfect fit as he can utilize his vast experience and knowledge to help us achieve our commercial and financial objectives of making Pakistan cricket bigger and stronger,” he was quoted as saying by the statement.

The new chief executive said he was “honored and privileged” to have been given the opportunity and thanked Raja and the Board of Governors for their confidence in him.

Hasnain said he was committed to playing his part in delivering the chairman’s vision for cricket, fulfilling fan expectations, strengthening old relationships and developing new partnerships.

“These are highly exciting times in Pakistan cricket and I look forward to working very closely with my colleagues at the PCB so that we can collectively further enhance the image, reputation and profile of this great institution,” he said.

As the ICC’s CFO, Hasnain managed an overall financial portfolio of around $3 billion, the PCB press release said, and was also involved in the sale of the ICC’s commercial rights for the 2007-2015 and the 2016-2023 commercial cycles.

With ZC, he was instrumental in the refinancing of their commercial debts, arriving at the financial arrangements between ZC and the ICC, securing ZC’s funding and status within the ICC and securing hosting rights for the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018, the PCB added.