Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders have asked to have their representative speak to the U.N. General Assembly this week, as other world leaders call on the Taliban to grant equal rights and opportunities to girls and women. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.
Scientists have found evidence of a resistant form of malaria in Uganda, a worrying sign that the top drug used against the parasitic disease could ultimately be rendered useless without more action to stop its spread.
Researchers in Uganda analyzed blood samples from patients treated with artemisinin, the primary medicine used for malaria in Africa in combination with other drugs. They found that by 2019, nearly 20% of the samples had genetic mutations, suggesting the treatment was ineffective. Lab tests showed it took much longer for those patients to get rid of the parasites that cause malaria.
Drug-resistant forms of malaria were previously detected in Asia, and health officials have been nervously watching for any signs in Africa, which accounts for more than 90% of the world’s malaria cases. Some isolated drug-resistant strains of malaria have previously been seen in Rwanda.
“Our findings suggest a potential risk of cross-border spread across Africa,” the researchers wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine, which published the study Wednesday.
The drug-resistant strains emerged in Uganda rather than being imported from elsewhere, they reported. They examined 240 blood samples over three years.
Malaria is spread by mosquito bites and kills more than 400,000 people every year, mostly children under 5 and pregnant women.
Resistance has ‘a foothold’
Dr. Philip Rosenthal, a professor of medicine at the University of California- San Francisco, said that the new findings in Uganda, after past results in Rwanda, “prove that resistance really now has a foothold in Africa.”
Rosenthal, who was not involved in the new study, said it was likely there was undetected drug resistance elsewhere on the continent. He said drug-resistant versions of malaria emerged in Cambodia years ago and have now spread across Asia. He predicted a similar path for the disease in Africa, with deadlier consequences given the burden of malaria on the continent.
Dr. Nicholas White, a professor of tropical medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, described the new paper’s conclusions about emerging malaria resistance as “unequivocal.”
“We basically rely on one drug for malaria, and now it’s been hobbled,” said White, who also wrote an accompanying editorial in the Journal.
He suggested that instead of the standard approach, where one or two other drugs are used in combination with artemisinin, doctors should now use three, as is often done in treating tuberculosis and HIV.
White said public health officials need to act to stem drug-resistant malaria, by beefing up surveillance and supporting research into new drugs, among other measures.
“We shouldn’t wait until the fire is burning to do something, but that is not what generally happens in global health,” he said, citing the failures to stop the coronavirus pandemic as an example.
An estimated 3,000 Malians marched Wednesday through the streets of Bamako on the country’s day of independence from France.
Protesters, many of whom were against what they perceive as “foreign meddling,” marched in support of the military government, as Colonel Assimi Goita, Mali’s interim president, faced pressure from Western governments to cancel a deal with Russian security firm Wagner.
Over the past week, Paris in particular has expressed concern over a reported deal between Bamako and Moscow to hire 1,000 mercenaries.
“Such a choice would be one of isolation,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Monday during a visit to Mali.
Germany and the European Union have also expressed concern about the deal.
But demonstrators throughout the country Wednesday seemed to support the deal, with some carrying Russian flags in addition to Malian flags and pro-military placards, Agence France-Presse reported.
France, the country’s former colonial ruler, has thousands of troops in Mali to help fight a jihadist resurgence throughout the country. But many in Mali consider the mission a failure, and protests against the French military presence have taken place before.
In addition to their worries about the deal with Russia, many Western powers and Malian neighbors have expressed concern that the military government may fail to hold elections early next year as promised.
Goita and his military government took power in a coup in May, just months after new leadership had been chosen. Goita, who also led a coup that overthrew the elected government last October, said the transitional government had violated an agreement to advise him on a cabinet reshuffle.
Mali gained independence from France in 1958.
Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse.
Rights groups in Africa have condemned the Rwandan High Court’s sentencing of Paul Rusesabagina, made famous in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, to 25 years in prison. The court on Monday found Rusesabagina and 20 other suspects guilty of terrorism. Rusesabagina denies the charges, and critics say his arrest and trial did not meet international standards for justice.
Bahima Macumi fled to Kenya more than 20 years ago following Rwanda’s civil war, but has been following Rusesabagina’s trial closely.
He said Rusesabagina clearly did not get a fair trial.
He says this shows the Rwandan government does not want to be corrected, because if it did, they would have at least listened to this person who saved over 1,000 people. He says if the person who saved over 1,000 people can be called a terrorist, what would they call the one who did not save anybody?
To the world at large, Rusesabagina is a hero for sheltering at-risk Tutsis and Hutus in the Kigali hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
To the Rwandan government, he is a threat, a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame who allegedly supported a militia group that seeks to overthrow the Rwandan government.
Human rights advocates are condemning his conviction.
According to Amnesty International, the Monday court ruling puts in question the fairness of Rwanda’s judicial system when it comes to high-profile and sensitive cases.
Sarah Jackson is Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.
“We found many fair trial violations, including his unlawful rendition to Rwanda, his imposed disappearance at the beginning of the case and his initial inability to select a lawyer of his own choosing and all of these things during the pretrial period impact the fairness of the trial itself,” Jackson said.
Rusesabagina has 30 days to appeal his conviction, but rights groups doubt that judges can make an impartial decision on the case. Human Rights Watch’s Lewis Mudge explains.
“Unfortunately, this case has become an emblematic case in Rwanda so much that it really does highlight the lack of independence in the judiciary,” Mudge said. “It’s difficult for us to say that an appeal should happen or will happen because that will imply a degree of confidence in the judicial system that is currently in Rwanda.”
Rusesabagina says he was tricked into going to Rwanda in August of 2020. He had boarded a flight in Dubai that he believed was bound for Burundi, only for the flight to land in Kigali, where he was quickly arrested.
He went on trial along with 20 others in February. U.S State Department spokesman Ned Price Monday said the reported lack of fair trial in Rusesabagina’s case calls into question the fairness of the verdict. Rwandan prosecutors maintain the trial was fair.
The biggest danger to the United States and the West following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could well come from the Islamic State terror group’s Afghan affiliate, and not from al-Qaida, despite the latter’s long-standing relationship with the Taliban.
The top U.S. counterterrorism official told lawmakers Wednesday that while both terror groups have been more heavily focused on expanding their regional networks, there are indications that when it comes to the IS affiliate, known as IS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, that might be changing.
“My own concern is very specifically around ISIS-K and the degree to which ISIS-K [is] building off the notoriety it received after the attack on August 26,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid said during a hearing on threats to the United States.
“Will it become more focused on the West? Will it become more focused on the homeland than it was?” Abizaid asked.
The August 26 suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, during the waning days of the U.S. evacuation, killed 13 American service members and more than 160 Afghans.
The attack, quickly claimed by IS-Khorasan, sparked a series of warnings about additional attacks targeting the airport.
The group also claimed a rocket attack targeting the airport four days later, and the effort to prevent another IS-Khorasan attack led the U.S. to launch an August 29 drone strike in Kabul, which instead killed as many as 10 civilians, including seven children.
U.S. military officials believe IS-Khorasan has at least 2,000 “hardcore” fighters in cells across Afghanistan, but some foreign intelligence services think the number may be higher.
U.S. and Western counterterrorism officials also warn that IS-Khorasan has maintained a steady operational tempo across the country, with an ability to strike in cities like Kabul.
Additionally, U.S. intelligence officials and independent experts have pointed to evidence that some IS supporters elsewhere in the world are trying to relocate to Afghanistan, which worries U.S. law enforcement officials.
“We’re concerned that ISIS-K can take advantage of a significantly weakened security environment,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Wednesday, warning other groups may also start to see Afghanistan as a “safe haven” where they can operate freely.
U.S. officials, including the State Department’s former counterterrorism coordinator, have previously raised concerns about the ability of IS-Khorasan to carry out external operations, though those fears have waxed and waned with the fortunes of IS-Khorasan itself.
But even if IS-Khorasan and al-Qaida are unable to quickly pivot to launch new attacks against the U.S., officials like Wray warn there is still a danger.
“Events there could serve as a catalyst or an inspiration for terrorists, whether they be members of FTOs — foreign terrorist organizations — or homegrown,” the FBI director said, noting his agency currently has about 2,000 cases involving foreign terrorist plots.read
The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that Afghanistan’s health care system is on the verge of collapse and the nation faces a humanitarian catastrophe without urgent action by the international community.
Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO’s regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, visited the Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan National Hospital, whose health workers treated many people injured in the recent airport attack in the capital city, Kabul.
In a press release on Wednesday, Tedros said the visit allowed WHO to see firsthand the immediate needs of the Afghan people and meet with stakeholders to determine how the organization can help.
In the statement, WHO said cuts in international donor support to the Sehatmandi project, the country’s largest health care project, have left thousands of health facilities without funding for medical supplies and salaries for health staff.
Tedros said only 17% of all Sehatmandi health facilities are now fully functional. He said many of the facilities have now reduced operations or shut down, “forcing health providers to make decisions on who to save and who to let die.”
“This breakdown in health services is having a rippling effect on the availability of basic and essential health care, as well as on emergency response, polio eradication, and COVID-19 vaccination efforts,” he said.
In response, Martin Griffiths, United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, announced he was releasing $45 million from the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund to help protect Afghanistan’s health care system from collapse.
In a statement, Griffiths said the funding will go to WHO and the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and working through national and international nongovernmental organizations, the funding will hopefully be used to keep health care facilities operating until the end of the year.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.
Amnesty International is accusing the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies of creating an “unprecedented human rights crisis” by failing to provide enough COVID-19 vaccines for the world’s poorest nations.
In a report issued Wednesday, the human rights advocacy group says AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novavax and the partnership of Pfizer and BioNTech have “failed to meet their human rights responsibilities” by refusing to participate in global vaccine sharing initiatives and share vaccine technology by waiving their intellectual property rights.
Amnesty says only a “paltry” 0.3% of the 5.76 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed around the world have gone to low-income countries, while 79% have gone to upper-middle and high-income countries. It says the disparity is “pushing weakened health systems to the very brink and causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every week,” especially in parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The organization says Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna alone are set to make $130 billion combined by the end of 2022.
“Profits should never come before lives,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.
Amnesty is calling on governments and pharmaceutical companies to immediately deliver 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low and lower-middle income countries to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 40% of the population of such countries by the end of the year.
The report was issued ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual COVID Summit, held in conjunction with this week’s United Nations General Assembly. Biden is expected to announce a global vaccination target of 70% along with an additional purchase of 500 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, bringing the United States’ overall donations to more than 1.1 billion doses.
“America is committed to beating COVID-19. Today, the United States is doubling our total number of global donated vaccines to more than 1.1 billion. For every shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are donating three shots globally,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday on Twitter.
The Asian Development Bank says the pandemic likely pushed as many as 80 million people in Asia’s developing nations into extreme poverty last year. A report issued Tuesday by the Manila-based institution said the region’s developing economies will likely grow at a slower-than-expected pace in 2021 due to lingering COVID-19 outbreaks and the slow pace of vaccination efforts
The ADB is predicting Southeast Asian economies to grow by just 3.1 percent this year, a drop from the 4.4 percent rate forecast in its economic outlook back in April.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP).
Envoys of Pakistan, Russia, and China pushed for an inclusive government in their meeting with the Taliban acting prime minister in Kabul on Tuesday.
“Special Envoys on Afg of Pakistan Amb Sadiq, Russia Zamir Kabulov and China Yue Xiayong visited Kabul & called on Afghan Acting Prime Minister M. Hasan AKhund & senior leaders to discuss peace, stability & inclusive governance,” tweeted Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansoor Ahmed Khan.
Inclusivity in the new Taliban government is one of the key demands of all of Afghanistan’s neighbors as well as the rest of the international community.
After talks last week on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, foreign ministers of Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran emphasized the “need to conclude national reconciliation in Afghanistan, resulting in an inclusive government that takes into account the interests of all ethno-political forces of the country.”
Despite their promises on inclusivity and upholding women’s rights, the Taliban Cabinet is full of loyalists with few minorities and no women.
In an interview with BBC, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said this could lead to problems for the Taliban going forward.
“If they do not include all the factions, sooner or later they will have a civil war,” he said. “That would mean an unstable, chaotic, Afghanistan and an ideal place for terrorists. That is a worry,” he said.
Defending the Taliban Cabinet, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid has said in previous press briefings that it is an interim set up that can be changed later. Other Taliban leaders have indicated Taliban reluctance for the idea.
“We do not give the right to anyone to call for an inclusive government,” Taliban leader Mohammad Mobeen said Sunday on Afghanistan’s Ariana TV, adding that asking for inclusivity was tantamount to asking the Taliban to include spies of neighboring countries in their government.
Tajikistan, one of Afghanistan’s central Asian neighbors, has also been one of its strongest critics. Tajiks make up more than 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population including the only group that continues to resist Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA) based out of Panjshir.
The Taliban claim they have crushed the resistance in Panjshir but the group claims it is hiding in the mountains and trying to reorganize itself in preparation for a long guerrilla war.
Tweeting photographs of Tuesday’s meeting with Pakistani, Russian, and Chinese envoys, Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said the Taliban acting ministers of foreign affairs and finance were also present.
During their Kabul visit, the three foreign envoys also held talks with former President Hamid Karzai and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah.
Pakistan’s ambassador said the meeting was part of efforts to bring “lasting peace & stability in Afghanistan.”
Special envoys of Pakistan, Russia and China during their visit to Kabul also called on former President Hamid Karzai and HCNR Chairman Dr. Abdullah Abdullah as part of engagement for lasting peace & stability in Afghanistan @ForeignOfficePk @PakinAfg pic.twitter.com/1GB72CKp48
— Mansoor Ahmad Khan (@ambmansoorkhan) September 21, 2021
Meanwhile, the group, which is still not formally recognized as a government by any country, has nominated its Doha-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, as its new ambassador to the United Nations and requested that he be allowed to address world leaders during the ongoing General Assembly session in New York. That request must go to a U.N. credentials committee which is not expected to meet before the end of the current session.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday.
The last time the Taliban held power, from 1996 to 2001, the U.N. allowed the representative of the government that the Taliban deposed to hold the seat.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Malawi President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera are among the world leaders scheduled to take their turn to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
Johnson has highlighted in the days before his speech the need to take action to address climate change, saying a global economic recovery “must be rooted in green growth.”
Rich nations have benefitted from growth that resulted in pollution, and now “have a duty to help developing countries grow their economies in a green and sustainable way,” Johnson said in a Twitter post Monday.
Johnson’s address comes a day after he met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House.
Combatting climate change was among the topics of discussion in separate meetings U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres held Tuesday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez ahead of their addresses to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Other speakers Wednesday include Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
After the coronavirus pandemic kept heads of state from attending last year’s General Assembly meetings, about 100 are attending this year’s session in New York. Others are choosing to stay home and deliver their remarks via a recording.
Those giving pre-recorded addresses Wednesday include Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Those watching the Taliban establish a government and assert control over Afghanistan are growing ever more wary of pledges by the group’s leaders to make sure no terrorist organization can ever again use the country as a base for attacks against the United States.
The Taliban’s counterterrorism commitment was a key part of the 2020 Doha Agreement that paved the way for the U.S. exit and eventual military evacuation from Afghanistan. Yet despite some praise for the businesslike way the Taliban cooperated with Washington’s withdrawal, there have been few signs of any real action.
“Now is the time for the Taliban to show their commitment to not allow Afghan soil to be used by ISIS-K or any other terrorist group that threatens the security of the United States or its allies, and certainly not innocent Afghans for that matter,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive subject.
“We are closely watching the Taliban’s actions across the country,” the spokesperson added. “We’ll hold them accountable.”
Top U.S. military and intelligence officials have been even more blunt.
“I don’t know that they’re doing anything at all for us right now,” General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Friday when pressed by VOA on whether the Taliban were making good on their counterterrorism promise.
Threat to US
The director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) told lawmakers Tuesday that with the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan, terror groups like al-Qaida, long intertwined with the Taliban, and the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, known as IS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, could try to target the U.S. homeland in as little as a year.
“We’ve got to monitor and assess whether that’s going to happen faster,” Christine Abizaid said.
Taliban leaders have repeatedly pushed back against accusations that they will allow groups like al-Qaida and IS-Khorasan to flourish.
On Tuesday, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid went even further, denying that either of the groups had a foothold in the country.
“We do not see anyone in Afghanistan who has anything to do with al-Qaida,” Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.
“The ISIS that exists in Iraq and Syria does not exist here,” he added. “We are committed to the fact that, from Afghanistan, there will not be any danger to any country.”
U.S. and international intelligence officials, however, say the evidence shows otherwise.
According to a United Nations assessment from June, al-Qaida, and its affiliate, al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), have as many as 500 members in Afghanistan. AQIS, it said, “operates under the Taliban umbrella from Kandahar, Helmand (notably Baramcha) and Nimruz provinces.”
Rise in terror fighters
More recent U.S. assessments concluded that since the Taliban takeover, there are at least “2,000 hardcore ISIS fighters” roaming in the country. Previous U.N. assessments indicated the number might be even higher.
In written testimony submitted to Congress on Tuesday, the NCTC’s Abizaid further warned that IS-Khorasan “maintains a steady operational tempo in Afghanistan and retains the ability to execute attacks in cities like Kabul.”
And both IS-Khorasan and al-Qaida could soon see their numbers start to grow.
“We are already beginning to see some of the indications of some potential movement of al-Qaida to Afghanistan,” Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director David Cohen said last week during an intelligence and security conference just outside of Washington.
Western counterterrorism officials and aid workers on the ground in the region have further warned that both al-Qaida and IS-Khorasan have been laying the groundwork for a sure but steady expansion once U.S. troops finally left the country.
Furthermore, despite a string of recent attacks against the Taliban across Afghanistan claimed by IS-Khorasan, officials and analysts say they have seen few signs of a serious or concerted crackdown by Taliban forces since they took power.
Moves like giving a leading role to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani Network which has maintained close ties to both al-Qaida and IS-Khorasan, have also gotten their attention.
“[It] certainly concerns me,” Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday at a Senate hearing on threats to the U.S. homeland, calling the Taliban itself a “terrorist organization.”
“We are concerned about what the future holds, whether it’s the possibility of another safe haven, whether it’s the possibility of ISIS-K being able to operate more freely in a less secure environment,” Wray added.
Still, there are some who see hope that the Taliban will keep both al-Qaida and IS-Khorasan in check.
“They know that the last time they harbored al-Qaida and it engaged in an outwardly directed attack, an attack on our homeland, certain things followed, which I believe the Taliban would have an interest in not seeing repeated,” the State Department spokesperson told VOA. “So, whatever their views on al-Qaida, there is a strong disincentive built in to allow it to engage in outwardly directed attacks.”
The Taliban’s long-standing ties with al-Qaida also make it a natural enemy of IS-Khorasan.
As recently as March of last year, U.S. officials credited the Taliban with helping oust IS-Khorasan from its Afghan strongholds.
But some more recent intelligence assessments, not from the U.S., reported the Taliban had been using IS-Khorasan, through the Haqqani Network, to attack the now defunct U.S.-backed Afghan government.
And even if the Taliban want to crack down on IS-Khorasan cells, they may not have the right capabilities.
“I don’t think what we’ll see from the Taliban will be traditional [counterterrorism], as we think of it,” Colin Clarke, director of policy and research at the global intelligence firm The Soufan Group, told VOA.
“It’s much easier to play a spoiler role than to perform effectively in the role of counterinsurgent,” he said. “I think the Taliban could be effective in clearing an area, but it will struggle more with holding it.”
“At the end of the day, it’s insurgent fratricide, and we’ll see guerrilla-on-guerrilla engagements between the Taliban and ISIS-K … assassinations, hit-and-run attacks, the use of IEDs, and other classic insurgent tactics.”
Ayaz Gul in Islamabad contributed to this report.read