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Taliban defence minister orders crackdown on abuses

25-09-2021

By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report + Agencies

NEW YORK/ NEW DELHI/ ISLAMABAD/ CANBERRA: The Taliban’s new defence minister has issued a rebuke over misconduct by some commanders and fighters following the movement’s victory over the Western-backed government in Afghanistan last month, saying abuses would not be tolerated.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said in an audio message that some “miscreants and notorious former soldiers” had been allowed to join Taliban units where they had committed a range of sometimes violent abuses.

“We direct you keep them out of your ranks, otherwise strict action will be taken against you,” he stated. “We don’t want such people in our ranks.”

The message from one of the Taliban’s most senior ministers underlines the problems Afghanistan’s new rulers have sometimes had in controlling fighting forces as they transition from an insurgency to a peacetime administration.

Some Kabul residents have complained of abusive treatment at the hands of Taliban fighters who have appeared on the streets of the capital, often from other regions and unused to big cities.

There have also been reports of reprisals against members of the former government and military or civil society activists, despite promises of an amnesty by the Taliban.

Yaqoob said there had been isolated reports of unauthorized executions, and he repeated that such actions would not be tolerated.

“As you all are aware, under the general amnesty announced in Afghanistan, no mujahid has the right to take revenge on anyone,” he said.

It was not clear precisely which incidents he was referring to, nor what prompted the message, which was published on Taliban Twitter accounts and widely shared on social media.

There have been reports of tensions within the movement between hard-line battlefield commanders and political leaders more willing to seek compromise with governments outside Afghanistan.

Yaqoob also said patrols should be restricted to areas where they were assigned and criticized the fondness of some fighters for going into government offices where they had no business and taking selfies.

“This is highly objectionable as everyone is taking out mobile phones and taking snaps in the important and sensitive ministries without any reason,” he said. “Such hanging out and taking snaps and videos will not help you in this world, and also in the hereafter.”

Meanwhile, leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia have agreed to cooperate on such fields as COVID-19 vaccines, and clean energy and space, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said after the Quad meeting in Washington.

Suga also told reporters on Friday that the four leaders agreed to hold a summit meeting every year.

It was the first-person summit for the Quad Indo-Pacific alliance.

The meeting, which lasted two hours on Friday, aimed to cement the partnership amid global challenges and growing competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

At the start of the meeting, Biden announced a fellowship program to allow students from the four countries to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at US universities.

The US president said the countries are “coming together to take on key challenges of our age, from COVID to climate to emerging technologies”.

“We know how to get things done, and we are up to the challenge,” Biden added in his opening remarks at the meeting.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed Biden’s remarks, lauding a push by the four countries announced earlier this year to produce one billion COVID-19 vaccines.

“We believe in a free and open Indo-Pacific, because we know that’s what delivers a strong, stable and prosperous region,” Morrison said.

The Quad, formally known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is seen as a counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific region. Its leaders met virtually for the first time in March.

“What these four leaders … are really here to discuss is China, and the growing influence of China in all aspects of life, not just for their respective countries, but around the world now,” said media.

Earlier on Friday, China criticized the group as “exclusive”, saying it was “doomed to fail”.

The Quad summit comes as Washington puts greater emphasis on partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced a security pact with the United Kingdom and Australia. The new alliance, dubbed AUKUS, will see Washington and London help Canberra acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

China strongly condemned AUKUS, calling it an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability.

US officials say both the Quad and AUKUS are intended to increase cooperation between allies and are not aimed against any country.

“At the outset of the administration, the president indicated that he wanted to take this institution that’s an informal gathering of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific and basically lift it both to the leader level and to ensure that we are working together to build better lines of communication and strengthening cooperation and habits of cooperation amongst us,” a US administration official told reporters before the summit.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the Quad is “not a security meeting or security apparatus”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met with Biden at the White House earlier on Friday, said the Quad will be a “force for global good”.

“I’m confident that our cooperation, under Quad, will ensure prosperity and peace in the Indo-Pacific and in the world,” he said.

Like other Quad countries, India has endured cooling relations with China with a border dispute between the two countries escalating into deadly clashes last year.

Biden had offered a warm welcome to Modi, invoking the heritage of US Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was Indian.

“I think that the relationship between India and the United States, the largest democracies in the world – is destined to be stronger, closer and tighter, and I think he can benefit the whole world,” Biden said.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan early Saturday delivered his address to the 76th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, where he stressed on the need for the world to recognise that the “only way” forward when it comes to Afghanistan is to “strengthen and stabilise the current government”.

He said this is imperative “for the sake of the people of Afghanistan”.

“Right now the whole international community should think what the way ahead is. There are two paths that we can take. If we neglect Afghanistan right now, according to the UN half the people of Afghanistan are already vulnerable, and by next year almost 90% of the people in Afghanistan will go below the poverty line.

“There is a huge humanitarian crisis looming ahead. And this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan but everywhere,” he said.

PM Imran Khan said that a destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan “will again become a safe haven for international terrorists”, pointing out that this is why the US came to Afghanistan in the first place.

“Therefore, there is only one way to go. We must strengthen and stabilize the current government, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.”

‘Incentivize the Taliban’

The premier provided a recap of what the Taliban have promised in their media briefings.

He said that they have promised to respect human rights, have an inclusive government, not allow their soil to be used by terrorists, and they have given amnesty.

“If the world community incentivises them, and encourages them to walk this talk, it will be a win-win situation for everyone. Because these are the four conditions that the US-Taliban dialogue in Doha was all about,” PM Imran Khan said.

He said that if they are incentivized to go in this direction, then the 20 years the coalition forces spent in Afghanistan will not be for naught.

“Because the Afghan soil would not be used by the international terrorists.”

Time is of the essence

The prime minister went on to underscore that time is of the essence as Afghanistan is at a “critical” juncture.

“You cannot waste time. Help is needed there. Humanitarian assistance has to be given their immediately. The Secretary General of the United Nations has taken bold steps. I urge you to mobilise the international community, and move in this direction,” he said.

Islamophobia

The premier also discussed Islamophobia, which he noted that the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy has recognized as an emerging threat, as it increases the tendency of right-wing, xenophobic and violent nationalists, extremists and terrorist groups to target Muslims.

“We hope the Secretary-General’s report will focus on these new threats of terrorism posed by Islamophobes and right-wing extremists,” the prime minister said.

“I call on the Secretary-General to convene a global dialogue on countering the rise of Islamophobia. Our parallel efforts, at the same time, should be to promote interfaith harmony, and they should continue,” he added.

The premier also spoke in particular about Islamophobia in India, which he said “now rules” the country.

“The hate-filled ‘Hindutva’ ideology, propagated by the fascist RSS-BJP regime, has unleashed a reign of fear and violence against India’s 200 million strong Muslim communities,” he said.

“Mob lynching by cow vigilantes; frequent pogroms, such as the one in New Delhi last year; discriminatory citizenship laws to purge India of Muslims; and a campaign to destroy mosques across India and obliterate its Muslim heritage and history, are all part of this criminal enterprise,” the premier said.

India’s ‘reign of terror’

The prime minister went on to underscore how New Delhi has also embarked “on what it ominously calls the ‘final solution’ for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.

He said India has:

Undertaken a series of illegal and unilateral measures in occupied Jammu and Kashmir since August 5, 2019;

Unleashed a reign of terror by an occupation force of 900,000;

Jailed senior Kashmiri leadership;

Imposed a clampdown on media and internet;

Violently suppressed peaceful protests;

Abducted 13,000 young Kashmiris and tortured hundreds of them;

Extra-judicially killed hundreds of innocent Kashmiris in fake “encounters”

Imposed collective punishments by destroying entire neighborhoods and villages

The prime minister drew attention to a detailed dossier on gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Indian security forces in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, which was unveiled recently by Pakistan.

He noted how India’s repression is accompanied by illegal efforts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, and transform it from a Muslim majority into a Muslim minority.

“Indian actions violate the resolutions of the UN Security Council on Jammu and Kashmir. The resolutions clearly prescribe that the ‘final disposition’ of the disputed territory should be decided by its people, through a free and impartial plebiscite held under the UN auspices,” the premier reminded the Assembly.

“India’s actions in occupied Jammu and Kashmir also violate international human rights and humanitarian laws, including the 4th Geneva Convention, and amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he added.

The premier regretted that the world’s approach to violations of human rights “lacks even-handedness, and even is selective”.

“Geopolitical considerations, or corporate interests, commercial interests often compel major powers to overlook the transgressions of their ‘affiliated’ countries,” he remarked.

He said that such “double standards” are the “most glaring in case of India”, where the RSS-BJP regime is being allowed to get away with human rights abuses with complete impunity.

PM Imran Khan cited the forcible snatching of the mortal remains of the great Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, from his family, denying him a proper Islamic funeral and burial, in accordance with his wishes and Muslim traditions, as the most recent example of Indian barbarity.

“Devoid of any legal or moral sanction, this action was even against the basic norms of human decency,” he said, adding: “I call on this General Assembly to demand that Syed Geelani’s mortal remains be allowed to be buried in the Cemetery of Martyrs with the appropriate Islamic rites.”

Pakistan desires peace with India, neighbours

The prime minister said Pakistan desires peace with India, as with all its neighbours. “But sustainable peace in South Asia is contingent upon resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, and the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” he said.

PM Imran Khan stated for the record that last February, both countries reaffirmed the 2003 ceasefire understanding along the Line of Control.

“The hope was that it would lead to a rethink of the strategy in New Delhi. Sadly, the BJP government has intensified repression in Kashmir and continues to vitiate the environment by these barbaric acts,” the premier said.

He said the onus remains on India to create a conducive environment for meaningful and result-oriented engagement with Pakistan.

He called upon India to:

Reverse its unilateral and illegal measures instituted since August 5, 2019;

Stop its oppression and human rights violations against the people of Kashmir; and

Halt and reverse the demographic changes in the occupied territory.

The prime minister also warned of another conflict between Pakistan in India, which he said is essential to prevent. “India’s military build-up, development of advanced nuclear weapons, and acquisition of destabilising conventional capabilities, can erode mutual deterrence between the two countries,” he said.

‘Triple challenge’

Earlier, at the outset of his address, the prime minister shed light on how the world faces a “triple challenge, the COVID-19 crisis, the accompanying economic crisis and the threats posed by climate change”.

“The virus does not discriminate between nations and people, nor do the catastrophes imposed by uncertain weather patterns,” he said.

The premier that the common threats faced by the world today not only expose the “fragility of the international system” but also underscore the “oneness of humanity”.

Speaking of Pakistan’s pandemic response, he said that the country has been “successful so far in containing the COVID pandemic”.

“Our collaborated strategy of smart lockdowns helped saved lives and livelihood and kept the economy afloat,” he said, also highlighting the social-safety Ehsaas Programme, which he said helped 15 million families survive.

Turning his focus to climate change, he termed it one of the “primary existential threats” that the world faces today. He said although Pakistan’s contribution to global emissions is negligible, it is among the 10 countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

He then spoke about Pakistan’s “game changing” Billion Tree Tsunami tree plantation programme for reforestation, preservation of natural habitats, switching to renewable energy, removing pollution from cities and adapting to impacts of climate change as the ways the country has resolved to fulfil its “global responsibility”.

PM Imran Khan proposed that to address the triple crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn and climate emergency, the following strategy be implemented:

Vaccine equity – everyone, everywhere must be vaccinated and as soon as possible.

Adequate financing – made available to developing countries, through comprehensive debt restructuring, expanded ODA, redistribution of unutilized SDRs and allotment of a greater proportion of SDRs to developing countries, besides provision of climate finance.

Clear investment strategies – which help alleviate poverty, build sustainable infrastructure, and bridge the digital divide.

The prime minister proposed that the secretary general convene an SDG Summit in 2025 to review and accelerate implementation of sustainable development goals.

‘Scourge of illicit financial flows’

The premier also spoke of the “scourge of illicit financial flows”, which he said is an issue he has often highlighted at the United Nations.

He said that the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI) has calculated that a “staggering $7 trillion in stolen assets are parked in the financial haven destinations”.

Highlighting the consequences for developing nations, he said that it “depletes their already meagre resources, accentuates the levels of poverty especially when laundered money puts pressure on the currency and leads to its devaluation”.

“At the current rate, when the FACTI Panel estimates that $1 trillion every year is taken out of the developing world, there will be mass exodus of economic migrants towards the richer nations,” he stressed.

He said retrieving the stolen assets from the developed countries is “impossible for poor nations”.

The prime minister called upon the General Assembly to take steps meaningfully to address this “deeply disturbing, and morally repugnant, situation”.

“Naming and shaming the ‘haven’ destinations and developing a comprehensive legal framework to halt and reverse the illicit financial flows are most critical actions to stop this grave economic injustice,” he said.

“And at a minimum, the recommendations of Secretary General’s FACTI panel should be fully implemented,” he added.

The 76th UNGA session

This year’s theme is titled: “Building resilience through hope – to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalize the United Nations”.

The debate, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is being held in a hybrid fashion, meaning that heads of state or government representatives may elect to deliver their speech live from the General Assembly Hall or have a delegate introduce a pre-recorded video statement.

The Pakistan delegation, comprising Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Ambassador to the UN Munir Akram, and Chairman Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir Shehryar Afridi, arrived at the Assembly Hall prior to the address.

Later, Qureshi introduced the prime minister’s pre-recorded address to the Assembly.

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