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We’re Ready For Battle’, Militant Group Confronts Taliban In Afghanistan

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afghanistan

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), an anti-Taliban resistance group, has declared that it is prepared to fight the armed gang which has taken control of the country.

 

 

 

Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan capital, on August 15 following the withdrawal of US troops and subsequent escape of the country’s president.

 

 

 

The armed group is currently working towards forming the new government in the country.

 

 

 

 

In an interview with BBC, Ali Nazary, head of foreign relations for NRF, said the group is ready for battle.

 

 

 

He said the group wants to pursue peaceful negotiations but if that fails, they will not be afraid to fight.

 

 

 

NRC based in the Panjshir valley in the north of the country is the last state yet to fall under the control of the Taliban,

 

 

But the Taliban has said they were sending hundreds of their fighters to the region to take control of it.

 

 

The Panjshir valley and wider Panjshir region is known for having successfully fought off multiple invasions, including several from Soviet forces during the Soviet-Afghan war from 1979 to 1989, and the Taliban in the 1990s.

 

 

The NRF controls the region and since the fall of Kabul, Amarullah Saleh, the former vice president who claims to be Afghanistan’s “caretaker president,” has been building up a resistance against the Taliban in the Panjshir valley.

 

 

The BBC said on August 20, a video accessed by Republic TV showed scores of Afghan soldiers traveling to the valley, apparently to join the Northern Alliance resistance movement.

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“The NRF believes that for lasting peace we have to address the underlying problems in Afghanistan,” Nazary told the BBC.

 

 

Afghanistan is a country made up of ethnic minorities, no one is a majority. It’s a multicultural state, so it needs power sharing—a power-sharing deal where everyone sees themselves in power.”

 

 

He warned that having a one group dominating politics will lead to “internal warfare and the continuation of the current conflict.”

 

 

Nazary said the group had “thousands of forces ready for the resistance.”

 

 

“We prefer peace, we prioritise peace and negotiations,” Nazary added. “If this fails—if we see that the other side is not sincere, if we see that the other side is trying to force itself on the rest of the country—then we’re not going to accept any sort of aggression.

 

 

 

“And we’ve proven ourselves, our track record in the past [40 years] has shown that no-one is able to conquer our region, especially the Panjshir Valley.

 

 

“The Red Army, with its might, was unable to defeat us… I don’t think any force right now in Afghanistan has the might of the Red Army. And the Taliban also 25 years ago… they tried to take over the valley and they failed, they faced a crushing defeat.”

 

 

NRF leader Ahmad Massoud, the 32-year-old son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, one of the main leaders of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, wrote a column in the Washington Post on August 18 appealing for help from the West.

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Ahmad Shah Massoud, a famed resistance fighter against the Taliban, was assassinated at the behest of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the north-east of Afghanistan on September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11.

 

 

Reports on Friday said that resistance fighters had recaptured three areas of the country’s Baghlan province from the Taliban.

 

 

 

The latter captured the capital and largest city of that province, Pul-e-Khumri, on August 10 as part of its rapid takeover of territory throughout the country.

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Vaccine Inequity Comes Into Stark Focus During UN Gathering

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Vaccine

The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution will come into sharper focus Thursday as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots step to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders.

 

 

Already, the struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in leaders’ speeches — many of them delivered remotely exactly because of the virus. Country after country acknowledged the wide disparity in accessing the vaccine, painting a picture so bleak that a solution has at times seemed impossibly out of reach.

 

 

“Some countries have vaccinated their populations, and are on the path to recovery. For others, the lack of vaccines and weak health systems pose a serious problem,” Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, said in a prerecorded speech Wednesday. “In Africa, fewer than 1 in 20 people are fully vaccinated. In Europe, one in two are fully vaccinated. This inequity is clearly unfair.”

 

Countries slated to give their signature annual speeches on Thursday include South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Burkina Faso and Libya.

 

 

Also among them will be Zimbabwe, where the economic ravages of the pandemic have forced some families to abandon the long-held tradition of taking care of their older people. And Uganda, where a surge in virus cases have made scarce hospital beds even more expensive, leading to concerns over alleged exploitation of patients by private hospitals.

 

 

On Wednesday, during a global vaccination summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

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The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have growing increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

 

 

 

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

 

 

During an anti-racism event on Wednesday commemorating a landmark but contentious conference 20 years ago, President Felix Tshisekedi of Congo pointed to the fact that only about 1 in 1,000 people in his country have gotten at least one shot.

 

 

The disparity in vaccine availability around the world “clearly does not demonstrate equality between the countries and peoples of this world,” Tshisekedi said.

 

 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likewise called out failures in sharing coronavirus vaccines during his speech Wednesday night, his hopes in 2020 of “effective multilateralism and effective international solidarity” dashed a year later, “where one thing is to share objectives and quite another is to share vaccines.”

 

 

 

Also on Thursday, foreign ministers are due to ponder climate change as a security issue when the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, meets in the morning.

 

 

 

Climate change has been a major focus during this week’s General Assembly gathering. World leaders made “faint signs of progress” on the financial end of fighting climate change in a special United Nations feet-to-the-fire meeting Monday, but they didn’t commit to more crucial cuts in emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.

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Two Decades After 9/11, Muslim Americans Still Fighting Bias

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9/11

 A car passed, the driver’s window rolled down and the man spat an epithet at two little girls wearing their hijabs: “Terrorist!” It was 2001, 9/11 mere weeks after the twin towers at the World Trade Center fell, and 10-year-old Shahana Hanif and her younger sister were walking to the local mosque from their Brooklyn home.

 

 

Unsure, afraid, the girls ran.

As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks approaches, Hanif can still recall the shock of the moment, her confusion over how anyone could look at her, a child, and see a threat.

 

 

“It’s not a nice, kind word. It means violence, it means dangerous. It is meant to shock whoever … is on the receiving end of it,” she says.

 

 

But the incident also spurred a determination to speak out for herself and others that has helped get her to where she is today: a community organizer strongly favored to win a seat on the New York City Council in the upcoming municipal election.

 

Like Hanif, other young American Muslims have grown up under the shadow of 9/11. Many have faced hostility and surveillance, mistrust and suspicion, questions about their Muslim faith and doubts over their Americanness.

 

 

They’ve also found ways forward, ways to fight back against bias, to organize, to craft nuanced personal narratives about their identities. In the process, they’ve built bridges, challenged stereotypes and carved out new spaces for themselves.

 

 

There is “this sense of being Muslim as a kind of important identity marker, regardless of your relationship with Islam as a faith,” says Eman Abdelhadi, a sociologist at The University of Chicago who studies Muslim communities. “That’s been one of the main effects in people’s lives … it has shaped the ways the community has developed.”

 

 

 

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted ahead of the 9/11 anniversary found that 53% of Americans have unfavorable views toward Islam, compared with 42% who have favorable ones. This stands in contrast to Americans’ opinions about Christianity and Judaism, for which most respondents expressed favorable views.

 

 

Mistrust and suspicion of Muslims didn’t start with 9/11, but the attacks dramatically intensified those animosities.

 

 

 

Accustomed to being ignored or targeted by low-level harassment, the country’s wide-ranging and diverse Muslim communities were foisted into the spotlight, says Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Virginia.

 

 

“Your sense of who you were was becoming more formed, not just Muslim but American Muslim,” he says. “What distinguished you as an American Muslim? Could you be fully both, or did you have to choose? There was a lot of grappling with what that meant.”

 

 

In Hanif’s case, there was no blueprint to navigate the complexities of that time.

 

 

“Fifth-grader me wasn’t naïve or too young to know Muslims are in danger,” she later wrote in an essay about the aftermath of 9/11. “…Flashing an American flag from our first-floor windows didn’t make me more American. Born in Brooklyn didn’t make me more American.”

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A young Hanif gathered neighborhood friends, and an older cousin helped them write a letter to then-President George W. Bush asking for protection.

 

 

 

“We knew,” she says, “that we would become like warriors of this community.”

 

___

But being warriors often carries a price, with wounds that linger.

 

 

Ishaq Pathan, 26, recalls the time a boy told him he seemed angry and wondered if he was going to blow up their Connecticut school.

 

 

He remembers the helplessness he felt when he was taken aside at an airport for additional questioning upon returning to the United States after a college semester in Morocco.

 

 

The agent looked through his belongings, including the laptop where he kept a private journal, and started reading it.

 

 

“I remember being like, ‘Hey, do you have to read that?’” Pathan says. The agent “just looks at me like, ‘You know, I can read anything on your computer. I’m entitled to anything here.’ And at that point, I remember having tears in my eyes. I was completely and utterly powerless.”

 

 

Pathan couldn’t accept it.

“You go to school with other people of different backgrounds and you realize … what the promise of the United States is,” he says. “And when you see it not living up to that promise, then I think it instills in us a sense of wanting to help and fix that.”

 

 

 

He now works as the San Francisco Bay Area director for the nonprofit Islamic Networks Group, where he hopes to help a younger generation grow confident in their Muslim identity.

 

 

Pathan recently chatted with a group of boys about their summer activities. At times, the boys ate watermelon or played on a trampoline. At other moments, the talk turned serious: What would they do if a student pretended to blow himself up while yelling “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great?” What can they do about stereotypical depictions of Muslims on TV?

 

 

 

“I had always viewed 9/11 as probably one of the most pivotal moments of my life and of the lives of Americans across the board,” Pathan says. “The aftermath of it … is what pushed me to do what I do today.”

 

 

That aftermath has also helped motivate Shukri Olow to do what she is doing — run for office.

 

 

 

Born in Somalia, Olow fled civil war with her family and lived in refugee camps in Kenya for years before coming to the United States when she was 10.

 

 

She found home in a vibrant public housing complex in the city of Kent, south of Seattle. There, residents from different countries communicated across language and cultural barriers, borrowing salt from each other or watching one another’s kids. Olow felt she flourished in that environment.

 

 

Then 9/11 happened. She recalls feeling confused when a teacher asked her, “What are your people doing?” But she also remembers others who “said that this isn’t our fault… and we need to make sure that you’re safe.”

 

 

In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Muslims, nearly half of respondents said they experienced at least one instance of religious discrimination within the year before; yet 49% said someone expressed support for them because of their religion in the previous year.

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Overwhelmingly, the study found respondents proud to be both Muslim and American. For some, including Olow, there were occasional identity crises growing up.

 

 

 

“‘Who am I?’ — which I think is what many young people kind of go through in life in general,” she says. “But for those of us who live at the intersection of anti-Blackness and Islamophobia … it was really hard.”

 

 

 

But her experiences from that time also helped form her identity. She is now seeking a seat on the King County Council.

 

 

“There are many young people who have multiple identities who have felt that they don’t belong here, that they are not welcomed here,” she says. “I was one of those young people. And so, I try to do what I can to make sure that more of us know that this is our nation, too.”

 

After 9/11, some American Muslims chose to dispel misconceptions about their faith by building personal connections. They shared coffee or broke bread with strangers as they fielded myriad questions — from how Islam views women and Jesus to how to combat extremism.

 

 

Mansoor Shams has traveled across the U.S. with a sign that reads: “I’m Muslim and a U.S. Marine, ask anything.” It’s part of the 39-year-old’s efforts to teach others about his faith and counter hate through dialogue.

 

 

Shams, who served in the Marines from 2000 to 2004, was called names like “Taliban,” “terrorist” and “Osama bin Laden” by some of his fellow Marines after 9/11.

 

 

 

One of his most memorable interactions, he says, was at Liberty University in Virginia, where he spoke in 2019 to students of the Christian institution. Some, he says, still call him with questions about Islam.

 

 

“There’s this mutual love and respect,” he says.

Shams wishes his current work wasn’t needed but feels a responsibility to share a counternarrative he says many Americans don’t know.

 

 

 

Ahmed Ali Akbar, 33, came to a different conclusion.

Shortly after 9/11, some adults in his community arranged for an assembly at his school in Saginaw, Michigan, where he and other students talked about Islam and Muslims. Akbar poured his heart into the research. But he recalls his confusion at some of the questions: Where is bin Laden? What’s the reason behind the attacks?

 

 

“How am I supposed to know where Osama bin Laden is? I’m an American kid,” he says.

That period left him feeling like trying to change people’s minds wasn’t always effective, that some were not ready to listen.

 

9/11

 

Akbar eventually turned his focus toward telling stories about Muslim Americans on his podcast “See Something Say Something.”

 

 

“There’s a lot of humor in the Muslim American experience as well,” he says. “It’s not all just sadness and reaction to the violence and…racism and Islamophobia.”

 

 

He has also come to believe in building connections of a different type. “Our battle for our civil liberties (is) tied up with other marginalized communities,″ he says, stressing the importance of advocating for them.

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For some, 9/11 brought a different kind of racial reckoning, says Debbie Almontaser, a Yemeni American educator and activist in New York.

 

 

She says many Arab and South Asian immigrants came to the U.S. seeking the American Dream as doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs. “Then 9/11 happens and they realize that they’re brown and they realize that they’re minorities — that was a huge wake-up call,” Almontaser says.

 

 

Some racial tensions play out today in U.S. Muslim communities. The racial justice protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, for instance, brought many Muslims to the streets to condemn racism. But they also spurred an internal reckoning about racial equity among Muslims, including the treatment of Black Muslims.

 

 

“For me, as a Muslim African American, my struggle (in America) is still with race and identity,” says imam Ali Aqeel of the Muslim American Cultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

 

 

“When we go to (Islamic) centers and we have to deal with the same pain that we deal with out in the world, it’s kind of discouraging to us because we’re under the impression that (in) Islam, you don’t have that racial and ethnic divide.”

 

Amirah Ahmed, 17, was born after the attacks and feels like she was thrust into a struggle not of her making — a burden despite being “just as American as anyone else.”

 

 

 

She recalls how a few years ago at her Virginia school’s 9/11 commemoration, she felt students’ stares at her and her hijab so intensely that she wanted to skip the next year’s event.

 

 

When her mother dismissed the idea, she instead wore her Americanness as a shield, donning an American flag headscarf to address her classmates from a podium.

 

 

 

Ahmed spoke about honoring the lives of those who died in America on 9/11 — but also of Iraqis who died in the war launched in 2003. She recalls defending her Arab and Muslim identities that day while displaying her American one and says it was a “really powerful moment.”

 

 

But she hopes her future children don’t feel the need to prove they belong.

 

 

 

“Our kids are going to be (here) well after the 9/11 era,” she says. “They should not have to continue fighting for their identity.”

 

Fam, who reported from Cairo, Egypt, covers Islam for the AP’s global religion team. Henao covers faith & youth for the team; he is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao .

 

 

Hajela has covered New York City for 22 years, and is a member of the AP’s team covering race and ethnicity. She’s on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dhajela . AP video journalist Noreen Nasir also contributed to this report.

 

 

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

 

By MARIAM FAM, DEEPTI HAJELA and LUIS ANDRES HENAO

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High Court Divides 5-4 To Leave Texas Abortion Law In Place

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Abortion

 A deeply divided Supreme Court is allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, for now stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the nation’s second-largest state.

 

 

 

The court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the law that went into effect Wednesday. But the justices also suggested that their order likely isn’t the last word on whether the law can stand because other challenges to it can still be brought.

 

 

 

The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant.

 

 

 

It is the strictest law against abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion. At least 12 other states have enacted bans early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.

 

The high court’s order declining to halt the Texas law came just before midnight Wednesday. The majority said those bringing the case had not met the high burden required for a stay of the law.

 

 

“In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the unsigned order said.

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Chief Justice John Roberts dissented along with the court’s three liberal justices. Each of the four dissenting justices wrote separate statements expressing their disagreement with the majority.

 

 

 

Roberts noted that while the majority denied the request for emergency relief “the Court’s order is emphatic in making clear that it cannot be understood as sustaining the constitutionality of the law at issue.”

 

 

The vote in the case underscores the impact of the death of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year and then-president Donald Trump’s replacement of her with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Had Ginsburg remained on the court there would have been five votes to halt the Texas law.

 

 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor called her conservative colleagues’ decision “stunning.” “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” she wrote.

 

 

 

Texas lawmakers wrote the law to evade federal court review by allowing private citizens to bring civil lawsuits in state court against anyone involved in an abortion, other than the patient. Other abortion laws are enforced by state and local officials, with criminal sanctions possible.

 

 

In contrast, Texas’ law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. Among other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.

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In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan called the law “patently unconstitutional,” saying it allows “private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf.” And Justice Stephen Breyer said a “woman has a federal constitutional right to obtain an abortion during” the first stage of pregnancy.

 

 

 

After a federal appeals court refused to allow a prompt review of the law before it took effect, the measure’s opponents sought Supreme Court review.

 

 

 

In a statement early Thursday after the high court’s action, Nancy Northup, the head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers challenging the law, vowed to “keep fighting this ban until abortion access is restored in Texas.”

 

 

 

“We are devastated that the Supreme Court has refused to block a law that blatantly violates Roe v. Wade. Right now, people seeking abortion across Texas are panicking — they have no idea where or when they will be able to get an abortion, if ever.

 

 

 

Texas politicians have succeeded for the moment in making a mockery of the rule of law, upending abortion care in Texas, and forcing patients to leave the state — if they have the means — to get constitutionally protected healthcare. This should send chills down the spine of everyone in this country who cares about the constitution,” she said.

 

 

 

Texas has long had some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, including a sweeping law passed in 2013. The Supreme Court eventually struck down that law, but not before more than half of the state’s 40-plus clinics closed.

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Even before the Texas case arrived at the high court the justices had planned to tackle the issue of abortion rights in a major case after the court begins hearing arguments again in the fall. That case involves the state of Mississippi, which is asking to be allowed to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

AP

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