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Afghan officials: Taliban take at least 100 people hostage

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Kabul  |  The Taliban ambushed a convoy of buses today on a road in northern Afghanistan and took more than 100 people hostage, including women and children, in the latest brazen assault by insurgents, provincial officials said.

The ambush came despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement of a conditional ceasefire with the Taliban during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week.

The fate of the abducted in Kunduz province in an area that has recently fallen under Taliban control was not immediately known and there was no statement from the insurgents.

The Taliban have resurged in recent years, seizing entire districts across Afghanistan and regularly carrying out large-scale bombings and attacks that have killed scores of people.

According to Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz, the insurgents stopped three busses on the road near Khan Abad district and forced the passengers to come with them.

Ayubi said he believes the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces who usually go home for the holidays.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, police chief in neighbouring Takhar province, said the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces and were travelling to the capital, Kabul.

“So far, there is no news on the fate of the passengers, but tribal elders and local officials are trying to negotiate with the Taliban,” Ayubi added.

In his call yesterday for the truce, Ghani said, “The cease-fire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban’s stand.” Ghani made the announcement during celebrations of the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, just a day after the leader of the Afghan Taliban said that there will be no peace in the country as long as the “foreign occupation” continues.

The militant leader, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah, reiterated the group’s position that the country’s 17-year war can only be brought to an end through direct talks with the United States.

In a message released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and without pointing to any cease-fire the Taliban leader said on Saturday that the insurgents remain committed to “Islamic goals,” the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

For his part, Ghani said he hoped extensions could also be agreed upon to make the cease-fire last until November 20, which will mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.

The government had previously announced a cease-fire with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June. The Taliban accepted that three-day cease-fire, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the eastern city of Ghazni, just 120 kms from Kabul and the capital of a province with the same name.

Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the US carried out airstrikes and sent advisers to help the Afghan ground forces.

The battle for Ghazni killed at least 100 members of the Afghan security forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

The heavy casualties underscore the challenges the government in Kabul faces since the US and NATO officially ended their combat mission at the end of 2014. Since then, American forces, now in a training and advising role, have repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces.

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Brexit Woes

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brexit; UK

With just six weeks remaining before United Kingdom’s (UK) exit from the European Union (EU) termed as Brexit, Theresa May’s government does not seem to be making much progress and her opponents seem to be calling her out on this front. As Europe’s biggest crisis in decades stares it in the face and Britain, once its biggest and most powerful constituent seems to the on the ropes, the entire world is watching.

UK’s PM Theresa May suffered yet another blow from her parliament as legislators voted against her renegotiated deal with the EU. Just weeks after renegotiating the deal with European Union after MPs in the lower house voted 317 to 301 to order her to seek new terms with the bloc, she again failed to sell the deal to her parliament who on Thursday voted 303 to 258 against the motion. This paves the way for a no deal Brexit situation as the March 29st deadline is fast approaching. A no deal Brexit could have disastrous consequences for Britain in terms of loss of business, loss of jobs and not to mention the impact it can have on the pound.

For Britain to negotiate a successful Brexit deal, UK PM Theresa May must reach an agreement with the European Union and then get the same deal passed through her Parliament. Many in May’s own government do not view her as a strong leader and hence do not seem to be supporting her actions with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn urging May to “admit her Brexit strategy has failed”.  May, however, shrugged off the latest defeat and termed it as a temporary difference of opinion and seems to be confident her strategy would see the light of day.

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China decries ‘political manipulations’ behind Huawei case in US

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Beijing | China on Tuesday decried the “political manipulations” behind the US case against Huawei as Washington indicted the tech giant’s chief financial officer and levelled sweeping charges against the company.

“For some time, the US has used state power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies in an attempt to strangle the enterprises’ legitimate and legal operations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“There are strong political motivations and political manipulations behind the actions.”

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PAK, UAE sign USD 3 billion bailout package

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Islamabad | Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Tuesday signed a USD 3 billion bailout package, as part of Abu Dhabi’s support to boost the cash-strapped country’s dwindling dollar reserves.

The UAE in December last year had announced to provide USD 3 billion financial assistance to Pakistan after Saudi Arabia made a similar commitment to help Islamabad successfully overcome international payment crisis and to avoid a stringent International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal.

Tuesday’s agreement was signed between State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) chief Tariq Bajwa and Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) Director General Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi.

“UAE has formalized US$3bn deposit in the State Bank of Pakistan. DG ADFD & the Governor SBP inked the agreement at #ADFD Headquarters in Abu Dhabi,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal tweeted.

He said the agreement will help Pakistan achieve financial stability and overcome economic challenges and noted ADFD’s support over the years to stimulate Pakistan’s economic growth and sustainable development.

Speaking on the occasion, Suwaidi said, “The directive to deposit USD 3 billion with the State Bank of Pakistan aligns with the UAE leadership’s keenness to bolster Pakistan’s economy, help its government achieve financial stability and overcome economic challenges, and drive comprehensive development in the country.”

He added, “ADFD and the Government of Pakistan have enjoyed strong and long-standing ties dating back to 1981. The Fund’s efforts have significantly contributed to improving socio-economic conditions in the country, boosting strategic growth and achieving the development priorities of the Pakistani government.

To date, ADFD has provided AED1.5 billion to fund sustainable development projects in Pakistan spanning diverse sectors, including transport, water and agriculture, healthcare, and education, according to a press release.

The UAE had committed the financial assistance during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Qatar last month to seek investment and provision of LNG on deferred payments.

Pakistan has a 15-year contract with Qatar for a supply of LNG.

The Saudi and the UAE governments have played a major role in helping Pakistan to meet around USD 12 billion shortfall in balance of payments in 2018-19 fiscal year, government officials said.

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