One Killed As Gunmen Storm Sikh Temple In Afghan Capital

People travel on the back of car with the coffin of a victim following an attack by gunmen at a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 18, 2022. Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on June 18 morning, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said. Sahel ARMAN / AF

 

Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said the attackers lobbed at least one grenade when they entered the temple, setting off a blaze in the complex.

Minutes later, a car bomb was detonated in the area but caused no casualties, he added.

“One of our Sikh brothers has been killed and seven others (were) wounded in the attack,” Takor said in a statement.

Two attackers were killed in an operation to secure the temple following the raid, he said, with one Taliban fighter also killed.

While the number of bombings across Afghanistan has dropped since the Taliban seized power in August, several fatal attacks have hit the country in recent months.

“I heard gunshots and blasts,” Gurnam Singh, a Sikh community leader, told AFP from close to the scene of Saturday’s attack soon after the raid began.

“Generally at that time in the morning we have several Sikh devotees who come to offer prayers at the gurdwara (temple complex).”

Footage posted on social media after the attack showed shattered pillars and walls in the temple’s main prayer hall, with debris scattered across the floor.

A section of a building near the temple also caught fire, an AFP correspondent reported from the area.

The windows of several residential buildings were broken from the impact of the car bomb. Nearby streets were littered with shattered glass.

Taliban forces cordoned off the neighbourhood, preventing journalists from speaking with residents and witnesses.

 

Members of the Sikh community (C) walk past a damaged building following a gunmen attack at a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 18, 2022. Gunmen stormed a Sikh temple in the Afghan capital on June 18 morning, killing at least one member of the community and wounding seven more, the interior ministry said. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

Repeated attacks

A Taliban fighter deployed in the area told AFP that some Sikhs in the temple at the time of the attack managed to flee from a back door.

Some of Kabul’s other Sikh temples were closed for security reasons as reports of the attack spread.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid.

The attack came days after an Indian delegation visited Kabul to discuss the distribution of humanitarian aid from India to Afghanistan.

Afghan and Indian media reports said the delegation also discussed with Taliban officials the possibility of reopening the Indian embassy.

New Delhi, which had close relations with the previous US-backed Afghan government, shut its mission in Kabul and evacuated all its diplomatic and other staff when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15.

Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in a tweet condemned Saturday’s “cowardly attack” on the temple.

The number of Sikhs living in Afghanistan has dwindled to around 200, compared to about half a million in the 1970s.

Most of those who remain are traders involved in selling herbal medicines and electronic goods brought from India.

The community has faced repeated attacks over the years. At least 25 people were killed in March 2020 when gunmen stormed another Sikh temple in Kabul.

The jihadist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack, which forced many Sikhs to leave the country even before the Taliban returned to power.

IS has a history of targeting Afghan Sikhs, Hindus and other members of minority communities — including Muslim Shiites and Sufis.

A string of bombings hit the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended in Afghanistan on April 30, some of them claimed by IS.

IS is a Sunni Islamist group, like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

The Taliban have pursued an Afghanistan free from foreign forces, whereas IS want an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

At Least 16 Dead As IS-Claimed Blasts Rock Afghan Cities


A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at a hospital after he got injured in a bomb blast at the Shiite Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 21, 2022. AFP

 

At least 16 people were killed in two Afghan cities on Thursday by bomb blasts that were claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).

Since Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan last year after ousting the US-backed government, the number of bombings has fallen but the jihadist and Sunni IS has continued with attacks — often against Shiite targets.

Earlier this week, at least six people were killed in twin blasts that hit a boys’ school in a Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul.

On Thursday, 12 worshippers were killed in a blast at a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said Ahmad Zia Zindani, spokesman for the provincial public health department in Balkh.

He added that 58 people were wounded, including 32 in serious condition.

Grisly images posted to social media showed victims of the attack being carried to hospital from Seh Dokan mosque.

“Blood and fear are everywhere,” Zindani told AFP, adding “people were screaming” while seeking news of their relatives at the hospital.

“Many residents were also coming to donate blood,” he said.

The blast occurred as worshippers were offering midday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In a statement, IS said “the soldiers of the caliphate managed to get a booby-trapped bag” inside the mosque, detonating it from afar.

In a separate blast on Thursday in the city of Kunduz, at least four people were killed and 18 wounded. Police spokesman Obaidullah Abedi told AFP that a bicycle bomb exploded near a vehicle carrying mechanics working for the Taliban.

Late on Thursday, IS claimed that attack too but said its fighters set off an explosive device on a bus carrying Kunduz airport employees.

READ ALSO: False Alarm Sees US Capitol Evacuated

‘Religious, Ethnic Hostility’ 


A wounded Afghan man receives treatment at a hospital after he got injured in a bomb blast at the Shiite Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 21, 2022. AFP

 

Taliban authorities vowed to punish those responsible for the bloodshed.

“The forces of the Islamic Emirate have good experience in eliminating the wicked elements, and soon the culprits of these crimes will be found and punished harshly,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

Shiite Afghans, who are mostly from the Hazara community that makes up between 10 and 20 percent of the country’s 38 million people, have long been the target of the IS, who consider them heretics.

“There is religious and ethnic hostility towards the Shiites and Hazaras in particular,” said prominent Shiite leader Mohammad Mohaqqiq.

“All extremist groups that are in Afghanistan, be it IS or even Taliban, have shown this hostility.”

No group has yet to claim the deadly attack on a boys’ school in Kabul on Tuesday, which also wounded more than 25.

“Systematic targeted attacks on crowded schools & mosques call for immediate investigation, accountability and end to such human rights violations,” tweeted Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan on human rights.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.

Since seizing power, the Taliban have regularly raided suspected IS hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province.

In May last year at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in the Shiite dominated Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul.

No group claimed responsibility for that, but in October 2020 IS admitted a suicide attack on an educational centre in the same area that killed 24 people, including students.

In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the same neighbourhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.

AFP

‘Open The Schools’: Afghan Girls Protest In Kabul

Afghan women and girls take part in a protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Kabul on March 26, 2022, demanding that high schools be reopened for girls. Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

About two dozen girls and women chanting “open the schools” protested in the Afghan capital Saturday against the Taliban’s decision to shut their secondary schools just hours after re-opening them this week.

Thousands of jubilant girls across Afghanistan had flocked to learning institutions on Wednesday — the date the education ministry had set for classes to resume.

But just hours into the first day, the ministry announced a shock policy reversal that left youngsters saying they felt betrayed and foreign governments expressing outrage.

“Open the schools! Justice, justice!” chanted protesters Saturday, some carrying school books as they gathered at a city square in Kabul.

They held banners that said: “Education is our fundamental right, not a political plan” as they marched for a short distance and later dispersed as Taliban fighters arrived at the scene.

The protest was the first held by women in weeks after the Taliban rounded up the ringleaders of initial demonstrations held after they returned to power in August.

The Islamists have not given a clear reason for their decision, which came after a meeting late Tuesday of senior officials in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s de facto power centre and spiritual heartland.

It followed months of work by some foreign countries on a plan to support the payment of teachers’ wages.

Afghan secondary school girls have now been out of education for more than seven months.

“Even the Prophet (Mohammed) said everyone has the right to education, but the Taliban have snatched this right from us,” said youngster Nawesa at the demonstration, which was organised by two women’s rights groups.

“The Taliban can not oppress the women of Afghanistan,” said another protester, Laila Basim.

Since returning to power on August 15 the Taliban have rolled back two decades of gains made by the country’s women, who have been squeezed out of many government jobs, barred from travelling alone, and ordered to dress according to a strict interpretation of the Koran.

The Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have still been imposed — if not at the national level then implemented locally at the whim of regional officials.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the Taliban’s curbs, holding small protests where they demanded the right to education and work.

But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying that they had been detained.

Since their release, most have gone silent.

World Bank To Dole Out Over $1bn Aid To Afghanistan

In this file photo, people evacuated from Kabul Afghanistan wait to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center at the Dulles International Airport on August 25, 2021, in Dulles, Virginia.  Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP

 

The World Bank on Tuesday announced more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, stating the money will go to UN agencies and international NGOs while remaining “outside the control” of the country’s Taliban rulers.

The reallocation from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) follows the $280 million in ARTF funds disbursed last December and is aimed at supporting the humanitarian response over the critical winter months.

The funds, to be delivered in the form of grants, aim “to support the delivery of essential basic services, protect vulnerable Afghans, help preserve human capital and key economic and social services and reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the future,” the Washington-based lender said in a statement.

The bank suspended its aid to Kabul late last August after the hardline Islamist Taliban swept back into power.

READ ALSO: Taliban Aiming To Create ‘Grand Army’ For Afghanistan

ARTF is a multi-donor fund that coordinates international aid to improve the lives of millions of Afghans. It is administered by the World Bank on behalf of donor partners.

Until the Taliban took over, the ARTF was the largest source of development funding for Afghanistan, financing up to 30 percent of the government’s budget.

Because the World Bank is unable to provide money directly to the Taliban regime — which is not recognized by the international community — it has redirected the funds to organizations like the UN children’s agency UNICEF in response to the humanitarian crisis.

Afghanistan’s population has faced food shortages and mounting poverty since the Taliban took over.

The objective of the new aid is to “protect vulnerable Afghans (and) help preserve human capital and key economic and social services,” the World Bank said.

AFP

Taliban Govt Resumes Issuing Afghan Passports In Kabul

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint on a street in Kabul on December 17, 2021. Mohd RASFAN / AFP

 

Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities said Saturday they will resume issuing passports in Kabul, giving hope to citizens who feel threatened living under the Islamists’ rule.

Thousands of Afghans have also applied for new travel documents to escape a growing economic and humanitarian crisis described by the UN as an “avalanche of hunger”.

The authorities will start issuing the travel documents from Sunday at Kabul’s passport office, Alam Gul Haqqani, the head of the passport department in the interior ministry, told reporters.

The Taliban stopped issuing passports shortly after their August 15 return to power, as tens of thousands of people scrambled to Kabul’s only airport in a bid to catch any international flight that could evacuate them.

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In October the authorities reopened the passport office in Kabul only to suspend workdays later as a flood of thousands of applications caused the biometric equipment used there to break down.

“All the technical issues have now been resolved,” Haqqani said, adding that initially travel documents will be given to those who had already applied before the office suspended work.

New applications will be accepted from January 10, he said.

Issuing passports is seen as a test of the Taliban’s commitment to the international community to allow eligible people to leave amid the growing humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban are pressing donors to restore billions of dollars in aid that was suspended when the previous Western-backed regime imploded in the final stages of a US military withdrawal.

The abrupt withholding of aid amounts to an “unprecedented” shock for an economy already battered by drought and decades of war, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

The crisis has forced many in the capital to sell household possessions to buy food for their families.

International flights, mainly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have slowly resumed at Kabul airport after the facility was trashed in August when crowds of people scrambled to evacuate.

Taliban Build Legal System In Afghanistan

In this file photo taken on November 26, 2008, Pakistan’s Taliban commander Latif Mehsud (C), a close aide to the former chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, sits on a harmed vehicle in Mamouzai area. PHOTO: A MAJEED / AFP

 

A small carpeted room serves as a makeshift jail for 12 “criminals” who are awaiting Taliban justice, caught in the legal system which the Islamists are building at the heart of their new Afghan regime.

None of the prisoners being held on the ground floor of the Taliban headquarters in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan have yet seen the local judge, who is busy in another area.

Until he arrives, the Taliban fighters of the unit in Kandahar province — left to their own whims and understanding of the group’s interpretation of Islamic law — represent the entirety of the justice system.

“They will keep me here until I can pay back the person I owe money to,” said Haj Baran, a 41-year-old businessman arrested three days earlier for an outstanding debt.

“We have a good system of judgement with the Islamic law of the Taliban,” he told AFP, as a guard watched closely.

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After a nearly 20-year insurgency, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August by force.

But they long ago placed their version of justice at the centre of their ideology, and have “made the courts a means of conquering power”, says Adam Bazco, a researcher who conducted a field investigation on the Taliban judicial system from 2010 to 2016.

From 2004 on, in areas the Taliban controlled, “people were turning to them because of growing discontent with the interference of Western groups in their land disputes and a judicial system that appeared increasingly corrupt and nepotistic”, Bazco says.

In the context of war, he explains, the severity of the Taliban punishments was welcomed by some.

They were known for their harshness — but also their impartiality, speed and predictability.

Three months after the Taliban seized power, however, they are still struggling to implement that system across the country.

 

– ‘I did nothing wrong’ –

At the nearby central prison in the city of Kandahar, the deputy director Mansour Maulavi brandishes a length of electric cable as a whip as he shows off the fetid barracks.

One wing houses 1,000 drug addicts going through forced withdrawal, he says. Now 200 “criminals” are also being held there.

“It is better for Islamic law to decide” who is a criminal, says Maulavi, who used to run the region’s clandestine Taliban prison. Under the previous ineffective and often corrupt system, “they didn’t know.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (top L) and Intelligence Service spokesman, Khalil Hamraz (top R) participate in a press conference at the government media and information center in Kabul, on November 10, 2021. PHOTO: Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

Mohammad Naeem, sitting cross-legged in the prison yard, is among those awaiting judgement.

He was arrested two months ago while at home with his wife and a 14-year-old girl he said he wanted to marry.

“The girl agreed but the parents didn’t,” the 35-year-old says, explaining that the parents called the Taliban to complain of sexual assault.

“But I didn’t touch the girl, they can do tests and check,” Naeem says.

If he is found guilty of having sexual relations outside marriage he risks being condemned to death by stoning.

“I just want to be judged according to Islamic law, because I did nothing wrong,” he says.

 

– Teaching a lesson –

In some cases since the takeover, the Taliban judges — wary of losing support — have tried to avoid being too harsh.

Bazco recalls an infamous case from the Taliban’s previous regime in the 1990s in which a wall was pushed onto a man convicted of sodomy, killing him.

Now, he says, such cases “do not represent the daily life under Taliban justice”.

Instead, Afghanistan’s masters say they are seeking international respectability.

“If someone takes it upon himself to kill a person, even if it is one of our men, it is a crime and we will bring him before the courts and he will have to face the law,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said after three guests were recently killed at a wedding by Taliban fighters over a dispute about music.

And yet, the new government has already resurrected some of the most feared instruments of deterrence from its first regime — such as the dreaded religious police, and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.

The Taliban also continue to carry out violent punishments.

In the western city of Herat on September 25, they hung the bodies of four men accused of kidnapping from cranes to “teach a lesson” to others, officials said.

 

– Words vs deeds –

The Taliban are walking a thin line between “their moral vision that can go to the worst extremes” and a “willingness to give pledges, to demonstrate a functioning bureaucracy and knowledge of norms, including on the issue of human rights”, Bazco says.

That they are discussing such things at all — even if there is still a huge gap between words and deeds — is “the biggest evolution of the movement” since their previous regime, he says.

Pul-e-Charkhi, Kabul’s largest prison, is mostly deserted since the Islamists released tens of thousands of criminals in the final hours of their battle to oust the US-backed government.

Now a Taliban official, Asadullah Shahnan, is preparing to reopen the facility.

Shahnan himself spent six years in Pul-e-Charkhi as a prisoner under the previous government, which continued to exercise the death penalty.

He remembers how, on execution days, prisoners were brought to the windows, forced to watch.

“We won’t do that,” he says.

AFP

Beauty Salon: A Women’s Haven In The Taliban’s Kabul

In this photograph taken on October 18, 2021, a beautician applies make-up to a customer at a beauty salon in Kabul. It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men.
Maryke Vermaak / AFP

 

It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men.

Mohadessa has kept her beauty salon open despite threats from Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Since the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, many women have disappeared from public spaces, driven into private areas out of fear and sometimes very real threats.

But Mohadessa’s beauty salon has, for now, remained a place where women can relax among themselves outside the household and share their woes — or forget them in favour of fun and fashion.

The oasis of feminine industry provides income for the staff and moments of indulgence for the clients, but its days may be numbered.

“We don’t want to give up and stop working,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur told AFP over the hubbub of women getting ready for a wedding celebration.

“We love that we have a job, and it is necessary for women to work in Afghan society -– many of them are the breadwinners for their family.”

Customers are dropped off outside and whisked past posters advertising fashion and beauty brands that are now blotted out with white paint.

They quickly disappear into the shop through a heavy curtain.

Once inside, the women shed their headscarves and outer garments and their excited voices compete with the hum of hair-dryers as they choose their new looks.

Screaming Mob

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, between 1996 and the US-led intervention of 2001, women were obliged to wear the all-covering burqa.

Under the Islamist movement’s interpretation of Islamic law, beauty salons were banned outright.

Just having painted nails meant a woman could risk having her fingers cut off.

But since the Taliban returned to the capital and declared their Islamic Emirate, the movement has been at pains to present a more liberal face to the world.

Keen to secure international finance to head off economic disaster that could undermine their war gains, they have not rushed to reimpose restrictions on daily life.

That is not to say Mohadessa has not received threats.

A Taliban mob has shouted abuse outside her shop, but she has made use of the legal limbo to continue.

“I can say that the women at this salon are courageous because they come to work with fear,” she said.

“Every day they open the salon, they come in, and they continue to work, despite this fear.”

Message of Resistance

On the day AFP visited, around 30 women had braved the climate of fear to come to the shop and prepare for a wedding, where the sexes are traditionally segregated during celebrations.

The women were clearly enjoying the rare chance to dress up and pamper themselves, with elaborate hair and eyelash decorations complementing a colourful make-up palette.

The bride’s sister, English teacher Farkhunda, gazes at the results of an hour-long makeover.

“Yes, it’s nice. It’s beautiful. It’s my first real day out since the end of August,” she said cheerfully.

But under the splash of glittery eye-shadow, one of her pupils is immobile, taken during a gun and bomb attack when she was a teenager.

“You see my eye? I lost it on my way to school when the Taliban attacked us. But I am not scared of them. I don’t want to talk about them. Today is for celebration,” she said.

The light-hearted mood is as fragile as the delicate bejewelled hair bands. At every movement of the curtain hiding the door to the outside world, the women stiffen and briefly fall silent.

But none of the clients want to tone down their look, a stylised, ultra-feminine rebuke to the Taliban’s looming curbs on free expression: dense foundation, long false lashes, dazzling colours and a China doll finish.

And 22-year-old Marwa, not her real name, with her asymmetric haircut exposing an ear dotted with piercings and decorative chains, sees a message of “resistance” in the stylings.

“We are not people with blue burkas. We are not people with black burkas. That’s not who we are,” she said.

‘Knife to My Throat’

Some of the women dream of leaving, others of change.

Farkhunda hopes she can get back to work while Mohadessa, determined to stay open, fears for her life.

She showed AFP a letter she believes comes from the Taliban’s new Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, warning her to close down.

Her response: “Until they come and put a knife to my throat, I’m staying here.”

‘Just Shoot Me’: Afghan Star Recalls Surreal Kabul Escape

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed poses during an interview in Istanbul on September 8, 2021. – . (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed recalls asking her fiance one thing as they snuck into Kabul’s chaotic airport after the Taliban moved in: “Don’t let them take me away alive”.

Aryana, who brags of 1.4 million Instagram followers and is often likened to US megastar Kim Kardashian, had drawn the religious conservatives’ ire for her women’s rights activism and figure-hugging clothes.

A singer and former judge of a popular Afghan music talent show, the 36-year-old could not walk down the streets of Kabul without attracting a gawking crowd of selfie-snapping fans.

This made her escape from the city she loved that much more surreal.

Her first attempt on August 15 — the day the Islamists entered Kabul while US forces scrambled to evacuate foreigners and some Afghans after 20 years of war — failed because the plane never took off.

The stakes could hardly be higher when she made her second attempt the following day, with Kalashnikov-toting fighters surrounding the airport and allied forces trying to control the desperate crowds at its gates.

Her fiance and manager, Hasib Sayed, was communicating with her by walkie-talkie in a second car.

“I said to him, you know Hasib… if I am about to be taken away alive, just shoot me. Just shoot me in the head,” she told AFP at her swank Istanbul apartment.

“That was the only thing I was scared of. I wasn’t scared of dying or anything.”

 

Afghan pop star Aryana Sayeed recalls asking her fiance one thing as they snuck into Kabul’s chaotic airport after the Taliban moved in: “Don’t let them take me away alive”.
 (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

‘Women were fainting’

Aryana knew she was taking a risk when she launched her own fashion brand in Kabul just as US forces were speeding up their withdrawal and the Taliban were retaking huge swathes of the country in July.

“I always wanted to give hope to the future, so I decided to invest,” she recalled.

Those dreams were a distant memory when she found herself with a little boy she did not even know sitting on her lap, her face veiled, trying to pass off as a normal family as they passed Taliban checkpoints en route to the airport.

“We made up a story as well. I remember we told this little kid if we get stopped, you have to tell them I am your mum and my name is not Aryana. It’s Freshta,” she said.

Her fiance reached the gate first, pushing through the crowds.

“People were pushing each other, there were children, little babies, the women were fainting because of a lack of oxygen and space,” she said.

US soldiers initially refused to let them through, giving priority to American citizens, but a translator recognised Hasib and told the soldiers that he was the fiance of a big star whose life was in jeopardy.

 

Afghan pop star Aryana, who brags 1.4 million Instagram followers and is often likened to US megastar Kim Kardashian, had drawn the religious conservatives’ ire for her women’s rights activism and figure-hugging clothes. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

 

‘Not the new Taliban’

The couple made their way to Doha, Kuwait and the US, eventually returning to the flat they had in Istanbul.

The women she has left behind, Aryana says with bittersweet pride, are more educated and self-aware than those the Taliban forced out of school and work when they last ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.

“The women of Afghanistan are not the same women they were 20 years ago,” she said.

“They are definitely not going to accept this,” she said of fundamentalist Islam.

Just as important now, Aryana said, was for governments to understand that the Taliban today were the same as those who ruled before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks led to the US-led invasion.

“I hope the world realises this is not the changed or the new Taliban,” she said.

‘Thirsty for my blood’

Aryana has dedicated more than half her music to Afghan women. But the risk to her own life was simply too great to stay behind.

Even before Kabul fell, she said she felt “like a prisoner” because fundamentalists viewed her as a threat.

“If the Taliban are around, there is definitely no space for me because the Taliban are thirsty for my blood,” she said.

But while inspired by global pop icons such as Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce, Aryana draws a line at direct comparisons.

“Imagine being a judge on a musical show and you have to wear an armoured jacket not to be killed. I don’t think any of them has lived that,” she said.

“I think I have had a very different life from them,” she mused. “I wish I could have a life like them, but how can you blame your fortune for being born in a war-torn country like Afghanistan?”

First Evacuation Flight From Kabul Since US Exit Lands In Doha

Evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Qatar’s capital Doha on the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since the conclusion of the US withdrawal last month, September 9, 2021. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR / AFP)

 

Around 100 passengers including Americans arrived in Doha after flying from Kabul airport Thursday, AFP correspondents said, the first flight ferrying out foreigners since a US-led evacuation ended.

Doha, a major transit point for Afghan refugees, has said it worked with Turkey to swiftly resume operations at Kabul’s airport to allow the flow of people and aid.

AFP correspondents said they saw passengers disembark at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, marking the first successful flight of its type since the chaotic airlift of more than 120,000 people concluded last month.

The Qatar Airways Boeing 777 had “around 113” passengers including Americans, Canadians, Germans and Ukrainians, with all passengers due to be received at a compound for Afghan refugees in Doha, a source with knowledge of the operation told AFP.

Sources had earlier said that as many as 200 people were aboard.

A turbaned man with a suitcase was followed by three veiled, masked women off the plane and onto the tarmac at Qatar’s civilian airport, while other arrivals struggled with luggage.

The passengers who included several children, some of whom filmed their arrival, were directed to an airport bus to begin the next leg of their journey to a Qatari holding facility before returning to their home countries.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani praised the Taliban for allowing the flight.

“We managed to fly the first plane with passengers… we thank (the Taliban) for their cooperation,” Sheikh Mohammed said in televised remarks.

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“This is actually what we are expecting from the Taliban, to see these positive statements translated into action,” said Sheikh Mohammed.

“I think this is a positive message, that we are supporting.”

In the days that followed the Taliban’s blitz, Kabul airport became a tragic symbol of desperation among Afghans terrified of the militants’ return to power.

Thousands of people crowded around its gates daily, and some even clinged to jets as they took off.

More than 100 people were killed, including 13 US troops, in a suicide attack on August 26 near the airport that was claimed by the Islamic State group’s local chapter.

Qatar’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, called it a “historic day” for the airport.

“We are grateful to our Qatari friends for facilitating a flight carrying 13 British nationals from Kabul to safety in Doha today,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“Qatar has acted as the central intermediary between the Taliban and the international community in recent years.”

Numerous countries, including Britain and the US, have relocated their embassies from Kabul to Doha in the aftermath of the takeover.

AFP

EU Mulls Reaction Force After Kabul Evacuation

A logo for the European Union

 

EU defence ministers on Thursday weighed proposals for a European rapid reaction force after the bloc was sidelined during the US-led evacuation from Afghanistan.

Calls have grown for the 27-nation group to develop its own joint military capability to respond quickly to crises in the wake of the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport after the Taliban seized power.

“Afghanistan has shown that deficiencies in our strategic autonomy come with a price and that the only way forward is to combine our forces and strengthen not only our capacity but also our will to act,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told journalists after the meeting in Slovenia.

“If we want to be able to act autonomously and not be dependent on the choices made by others, even if these others are our friends and allies, then we have to develop our own capacities.”

Among the propositions is a plan, first aired in May, to set up a 5,000-strong force as part of a review of the EU’s overall strategy due to be presented in draft form in November.

But the proposal is yet to gain EU-wide support and there are major doubts over whether there is the political will to engage such a force. The bloc, for instance, never used a system of so-called battlegroups it set up in 2007.

“The EU and its Member States must carry greater weight in the world — to defend our interests and values and to protect our citizens,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote in an online post.

“The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan forces us to accelerate honest thinking about European defence.”

– ‘Autonomous’ Europe –

Slovenian Defence Minister Matej Tonin — whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency and hosted the meeting at the state-owned Brdo Castle estate northwest of the capital Ljubljana — estimated that a rapid response force could number “5,000 to 20,000” personnel.

He called for a new system that would see troops from “willing countries” dispatched in the name of the EU if just a majority of members states agreed, rather than the unanimity required for the battlegroups.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the lesson from Afghanistan was that Europe must be able to “act more independently” to be a credible actor.

But she insisted “it is very important that we don’t act as an alternative to NATO and the Americans”.

She appeared to push back against the idea of a standing force, saying on Twitter that “coalitions of the willing” among members states could come together to tackle future crises.

Latvian minister Artis Pabriks said the bloc needed to show it had the “political will” to use any force if the plan was to lead anywhere.

He noted that the battlegroups programme has been around for over a decade as part of the EU’s common defence policy but asked, “have we ever used it?”.

Debate has raged for decades over what role Brussels should play on defence. EU member nations — most of which are also NATO allies — have often been reluctant to agree moves to integrate military capabilities.

Ambitions on common defence have gathered steam in recent years in part due to the exit from the bloc of Britain, which was opposed to anything that might lead to a European army or dilute support for NATO.

AFP

Rockets Fired At Kabul Airport As US Troops Pull Out

In this image courtesy of the US Air Force, a US Air Force security forces raven, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 20, 2021. Taylor Crul / US AIR FORCE / AFP
In this image courtesy of the US Air Force, a US Air Force security forces raven, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, maintains a security cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 20, 2021. Taylor Crul / US AIR FORCE / AFP

 

Rockets were fired at Kabul’s airport on Monday where US troops were racing to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuate allies under the threat of Islamic State group attacks.

President Joe Biden has set a deadline of Tuesday to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, drawing to a close his nation’s longest military conflict, which began in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.

The return of the hardline Islamist Taliban movement, which was toppled in 2001 but took back power a fortnight ago, triggered an exodus of terrified people aboard US-led evacuation flights.

Those flights, which have taken more than 120,000 people out of Kabul airport, will officially end on Tuesday when the last of the thousands of American troops pull out.

But US forces are now focused chiefly on flying themselves and American diplomats out safely.

The Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, pose the biggest threat to the withdrawal after carrying out a suicide bomb attack at the perimeter of the airport late last week that claimed more than 100 lives, including those of 13 US troops.

Biden had warned more attacks were highly likely and the United States said it carried out an air strike on Sunday night in Kabul on an IS-prepared car bomb.

That was followed on Monday morning by rockets being fired at the airport.

‘We can’t sleep’

The White House confirmed there had been a rocket attack directed at the airport, but said operations there were “uninterrupted”.

“The President… has reconfirmed his order that commanders redouble their efforts to prioritise doing whatever is necessary to protect our forces on the ground,” the White House statement said.

An AFP photographer on Monday took images of a destroyed car with a launcher system still visible in the back seat.

A suspected US drone strike had hit the car, about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the airport.

A Taliban official at the scene said he believed five rockets had been fired, and all were destroyed by the airport’s missile defence systems.

While there were no reports of fatalities or airport damage from the rocket attacks, they caused greater anxieties for locals already traumatised by years of war.

“Since the Americans have taken control of the airport, we can’t sleep properly,” Abdullah, who lives near the airport and gave only one name, told AFP.

“It is either gun firing, rockets, sirens or sounds of huge planes that disturb us. And now that they are being directly targeted, it can put our lives in danger.”

‘Potential loss of innocent life’

The United States said the air strike on Sunday night on the car bomb had eliminated another threat from the Islamic State jihadists.

However, it may have also have killed civilians.

“We are aware of reports of civilian casualties following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today,” Captain Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, said in a statement.

“We would be deeply saddened by any potential loss of innocent life.”

In recent years, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.

They have massacred civilians at mosques, public squares, schools, and even hospitals.

While both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamists, they are bitter foes — with each claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.

Last week’s suicide bombing at the airport led to the worst single-day death toll for the US military in Afghanistan since 2011.

The IS threat has forced the US military and the Taliban to co-operate in ensuring security at the airport in a way unthinkable just weeks ago.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US forces for evacuation.

Taliban leader

The Taliban have promised a softer brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, which the US military ended because the group gave sanctuary to Al-Qaeda.

But many Afghans fear a repeat of the Taliban’s brutal interpretation of Islamic law, as well as violent retribution for working with foreign militaries, Western missions or the previous US-backed government.

Western allies have warned many thousands of at-risk Afghans have not been able to get on the evacuation flights.

On Sunday, the Taliban revealed their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was in southern Afghanistan and planning to make a public appearance.

“He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

 

AFP

US Carries Out Air Strike To Stop Car Bomb In Kabul

An Afghan refugee girl, fleeing the Afghan capital Kabul, stands on the tarmac after disembarking from a US air force plane upon their arrival at Pristina International airport near Pristina on August 29, 2021. Kosovo has offered to take in temporarily thousands of Afghan refugees evacuated by US forces from Kabul until their asylum claims are processed. Armend NIMANI / AFP

 

The United States said it destroyed an explosive-laden vehicle with an airstrike in Kabul on Sunday, hours after President Joe Biden warned of another terror attack in the capital as a massive airlift of tens of thousands of Afghans entered its last days.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed the incident, saying a car bomb destined for the airport had been destroyed — and that a possible second strike had hit a nearby house.

The US said it had only struck the vehicle, but added that secondary blasts indicated “a substantial amount of explosive material”.

Local media reported possible civilian casualties, which the US said it was assessing.

And with just two days to go until the agreed-upon date for US withdrawal, the Taliban revealed their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was in southern Afghanistan and planning to make a public appearance.

“He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

“He will soon appear in public,” added deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi of the leader, whose whereabouts have remained largely unknown and who has never made a public appearance.

The US airstrike came after a suicide bomber from the Islamic State group on Thursday targeted US troops stopping huge crowds of people from entering Kabul’s airport. About 114,000 people have been evacuated since August 15, when the Taliban swept back into power.

More than 100 people died in the attack, including 13 US service personnel. Biden traveled Sunday to an air force base in Delaware to attend the somber ritual transfer of their remains.

The attack and terror threats have slowed the airlift ahead of Biden’s deadline for evacuations to end by Tuesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that some 300 Americans still in Afghanistan were seeking to leave the country.

“They are not going to be stuck in Afghanistan,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on the Fox network, adding that the US had “a mechanism to get them out”.

The Pentagon said Saturday that retaliation drone strikes had killed two “high-level” IS jihadists in eastern Afghanistan, but Biden warned of more imminent attacks from the group.

The US embassy in Kabul later released a warning of credible threats at specific areas of the airport, including access gates.

In recent years, the Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in those countries.

They have massacred civilians at mosques, public squares, schools, and even hospitals.

While both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamists, they are bitter foes — with each claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.

Unthinkable Co-operation

The IS attack has forced the US military and the Taliban to co-operate in ensuring security at the airport in a way unthinkable just weeks ago.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters escorted a steady stream of Afghans from buses to the main passenger terminal, handing them over to US forces for evacuation.

After a 20-year war, the foes were within clear sight of each other, separated by just 30 metres.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said US troops had started withdrawing — without saying how many were left.

Heartbreaking

Western allies that helped with the airlift have mostly ended their evacuation flights. Some voiced despair at not being able to fly out everyone at risk.

The head of Britain’s armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, told the BBC it was “heartbreaking” that “we haven’t been able to bring everybody out”.

A White House official said 2,900 people were evacuated in a 24-hour period between Saturday and Sunday, a drastic reduction from earlier in the week.

France and Britain will on Monday urge the United Nations to work for the creation of a “safe zone” in Kabul to protect humanitarian operations, French President Emmanuel Macron said.

But Macron said discussions with the Taliban about evacuations do not indicate France is recognizing the hardline group as the new rulers of Afghanistan.

“The Taliban are the ones in control… we have to have these discussions from a practical point of view. This does not mean there will be recognition,” Macron told TF1 television during a visit to Iraq, insisting the Taliban must meet “conditions” on humanitarian matters, especially women’s rights.

And on Sunday, approximately 100 countries announced in a joint statement they would continue processing documents for both Afghans and foreign nationals to leave the country even after the US withdrawal deadline of Tuesday.

“We have received assurances from the Taliban” that all those with the right travel documentation “will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner,” the statement, released by the US State Department, said.

Also on Sunday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he and foreign ministers from France, Germany, Britain, Turkey, NATO and other “key partners” would meet virtually to discuss an “aligned approach” on Afghanistan going forward.

The UN said it was bracing for a “worst-case scenario” of up to half a million more refugees from Afghanistan by the end of 2021.