Pakistan

Militant groups will take advantage of Afghan crisis, Pakistan says ahead of OIC meet – Arab News

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ISLAMABAD: Groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh will take advantage of the Afghan crisis, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi cautioned on Friday ahead of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s special session in Islamabad.
The 17th Extraordinary Session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers was called by Saudi Arabia and will be hosted by Islamabad on Dec. 19.
The meeting’s focus is on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, where the economy plunged into free fall in mid-August when the Taliban took control as US-led foreign troops withdrew after 20 years’ presence.
Concerns over the unchecked presence of extremist groups on Afghan soil have been raised since the beginning of the US withdrawal, but last week the head of the US Central Command said it was clear that Al-Qaeda is attempting to rebuild its presence inside Afghanistan, which was the base from which it planned the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the US.
“The likes of Al-Qaeda and Daesh will take advantage of the crisis and will increase their footprints in Afghanistan,” Qureshi told reporters during a press briefing.
The Taliban takeover prompted the US and other donors to cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan had become dependent during the 20 years of war, and froze $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets, isolating the country from the global financial system and paralyzing its banks.
UN agencies say nearly 23 million people — about 55 percent of the Afghan population — are facing extreme levels of hunger, with 9 million at risk of famine.
“If we do not act now this will become the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” Qureshi said. “All you have invested in Afghanistan in the past 20 years in education and other sectors will be ruined. The gains the world has made will evaporate.”
As delegates for the OIC meeting started to arrive in Islamabad, including the organization’s secretary general Hissein Brahim Taha and Islamic Development Bank president Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Qureshi said US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West has also confirmed his participation.
“That gives the US an opportunity to assess the situation right sitting next door,” he said, adding that he had also discussed the unfreezing of the Afghan central bank assets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who cited “certain legal issues” hindering the release of funds.
“I think there is still a cushion of around $2 billion which is not tied to those legal issues. By releasing those $2 billion the US can ease immediate sufferings of Afghan people, so we are saying they should consider that,” Qureshi said.
He said that Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi is also scheduled to attend the OIC meeting, which will give the international community an opportunity to express their concerns and expectations directly to the Taliban.
LONDON: A British citizen has been reported missing in Afghanistan after being arrested by the Taliban in Kabul.
Grant Bailey, an NGO worker, was detained amid a security crackdown in the capital, the Daily Mirror reported.
The reasons for his arrest have not been made public.
The British Foreign Office said that an investigation into the incident has been opened.  
A spokesman said: “We are aware of the detention of a British national in Afghanistan and have been in touch with their family to support them.”
Bailey is believed to have returned to Afghanistan in September shortly after the Taliban takeover of the country.
A Foreign Office source said: “We were quite surprised he went back to Kabul after the Western withdrawal, as the security situation there is obviously much worse.
“Added to that, the Taliban government is making it very difficult for the few expats working there, making it very difficult to travel.
“A lot of people are trying to get to the bottom of what has happened to him, where is being held and under what charges.”
LONDON: Around 1 in 10 people in London were likely infected with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to new official estimates that underlined the relentless advance of the omicron variant of coronavirus.
Daily modelled estimates produced by the Office for National Statistics showed around 9.5 percent of Londoners had COVID-19 as of Sunday, within a 95 percent confidence interval of 8.43 percent to 10.69 percent.
The figures came a day after Britain recorded a record number of new coronavirus cases as the omicron variant swept across the country, with the daily tally reaching 119,789 from 106,122 a day earlier.
The ONS report also showed a record 1 in 35 people in England had COVID-19 between Dec. 13 and Dec. 19 — compared with a previous estimate published on Thursday of 1 in 45 in the week to Dec. 16.
Many industries and transport networks are struggling with staff shortages as sick workers self-isolate, while hospitals in Britain have warned of the risk of an impact on patient safety.
Omicron’s rapid advance has driven a surge in cases in Britain over the last seven days, with the total rising by 678,165, government data showed on Thursday.
As the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggles to limit the economic impact of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, it said on Wednesday it was reducing the legal self-isolation period in England to seven days from 10.
PARIS: France said on Friday that negative COVID-19 tests will be required to travel to its overseas territories, as the government tightens controls to battle against a fifth wave of the virus.
The new measure will take effect on Dec. 28 and affect travelers both from mainland France and abroad, said the French government.
France’s overseas territories include Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, La Reunion island, and New Caledonia, which often depend heavily on tourists coming over from mainland France for their local economies.
The French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe have been hit by protests over the last month, partly sparked by anger over COVID-19 protocols.
DHAKA: A massive fire swept through a river ferry in southern Bangladesh early Friday, leaving at least 37 dead and 72 injured, as passengers jumped off the vessel and swam to the shore, officials said.
The blaze broke out around 3 a.m. on the MV Avijan-10 off the coast of Jhalokati district on the Sugandha River.
The United News of Bangladesh news agency quoted fire officer Kamal Uddin as saying the ferry was carrying 800 passengers from Dhaka, the capital, to Barguna, nearly 250 kilometers (155 miles) to the south.
Fire officer Fazlul Haque said rescuers have so far recovered 37 bodies and rescued 72 injured passengers. He said the rescue mission is ongoing and the casualties are likely to go up.
There was no word on what caused the fire.
Ferry accidents are common and are often blamed on overcrowding and lax rules in Bangladesh, which is crisscrossed by about 130 rivers. Ferries are a leading means of transportation, especially in the southern and northeastern regions.
In April, 25 people died after a ferry collided with another vessel and capsized outside Dhaka.

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