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Many Afghans pack their bags, hoping for the chance to leave – Arab News

KABUL: As their flight to Islamabad was finally about to take off, Somaya took her husband Ali’s hand, lay her head back and closed her eyes. Tension had been building in her for weeks. Now it was happening: They were leaving Afghanistan, their homeland.
The couple had been trying to go ever since the Taliban took over in mid-August, for multiple reasons. Ali is journalist and Somaya a civil engineer who has worked on United Nations development programs. They worry how the Taliban will treat anyone with those jobs. Both are members of the mainly Shiite Hazara minority, which fears the Sunni militants.
Most important of all: Somaya is five months pregnant with their daughter, whom they’ve already named Negar.
“I will not allow my daughter to step in Afghanistan if the Taliban are in charge,” Somaya told The Associated Press on the flight with them. Like others leaving or trying to leave, the couple asked that their full names not be used for their protection. They don’t know if they’ll ever return.
Ask almost anyone in the Afghan capital what they want now that the Taliban are in power, and the answer is the same: They want to leave. It’s the same at every level of society, in the local market, in a barbershop, at Kabul University, at a camp of displaced people. At a restaurant once popular with businessmen and upper-class teens, the waiter lists the countries to which he has applied for visas.
Some say their lives are in danger because of links with the ousted government or with Western organizations. Others say their way of life cannot endure under the hard-line Taliban, notorious for their restrictions on women, on civil liberties and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Some are not as concerned with the Taliban themselves but fear that under them, an already collapsing economy will utterly crash.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the United States and its allies in the frantic days between the Aug. 15 Taliban takeover and the official end of the evacuation on Aug. 30. After that wave, the numbers slowed, leaving many who want to leave but are struggling to find a way out. Some don’t have the money for travel, others don’t have passports, and the Afghan passport offices reopened only recently.
The exodus is emptying Afghanistan of many of its young people who had hoped to help build their homeland.
“I was raised with one dream, that I study hard and be someone, and I’d come back to this country and help,” said Popal, a 27-year-old engineer.
“With this sudden collapse, every dream is shattered. … We lose everything living here.”
When Popal was 5 years old, his father sent him to Britain with relatives to get an education. Growing up, Popal worked low-skill jobs, sending money back to his family, while studying engineering. He eventually gained British citizenship and worked in the nuclear sector.
A few weeks before the Taliban takeover, Popal returned to Afghanistan in hopes of getting his family out. His father once worked at a military base in Logar Province, where his mother was a teacher. His sisters have been studying medicine in Kabul.
The recent weeks have been tumultuous. His family’s home in Logar was destroyed by the Taliban, and they moved to Kabul. They believe it was because they refused to give information to relatives who are linked to the Taliban. One of his sisters went missing as she commuted between Kabul and Logar, and has not been heard from in weeks. The family fears it could be connected to warnings they received from relatives to stop the daughters from studies, Popal told the AP.
Popal has been in contact for weeks with British officials trying to arrange evacuations. But he said they told him he could not bring his parents and siblings. In early October, Popal managed to get out to Iran. Complaining that he’s had no help from the British Foreign Office, he is making his way back to Britain, where he will try to find a way to bring out his family.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that it is working to ensure British nationals in Afghanistan are able to leave.
A former adviser to a senior Cabinet minister in Afghanistan’s ousted government said he was searching for a way out. The decision came after years of sticking it out through mounting violence. He survived a 2016 suicide bombing that hit a protest march in Kabul and killed more than 90 people. Friends of his were killed in an attack later that year on the American University of Afghanistan, killing at least 13.
In the past, he had opportunities and offers to go to the United States or Europe. “I didn’t take them because I wanted to stay and I wanted to work and I wanted to make a difference,” he said, speaking on condition he not be named for his protection.
Now he is in hiding, waiting for his opportunity to escape.
The American University of Afghanistan, a private university in Kabul, is arranging flights out for many of its students.
One student, a 27-year-old, recounted one attempt by the school to get evacuees to Kabul airport on Aug. 29, the second-to-last day when U.S. troops were there. In the chaos, buses carrying the students drove for hours around the capital, trying to find a route to the airport, he said. They couldn’t make it.
The student has been waiting for the past month for a spot on another flight arranged by the university for himself, his wife and two young children. He hopes that once out, he can apply for visas to the United States. His family has packed up everything in their house, covering their furniture with sheets to protect it from the dust. His parents are trying to get to the United Arab Emirates.
In Pakistan, at the Islamabad airport, a group of American University students, freshly arrived from Kabul, waited to cross through immigration. They will go on to sister schools in Central Asia.
But their families could not come with them, so they face the uncertain future alone for the moment.
Without her family for the first time ever, Meena, a 21-year-old political science student, cringed with humiliation as an airport official shouted rudely at the students.
“I don’t know my future. I had a lot of dreams, but now I don’t know,” she said, starting to cry.
She showed the school pen she brought with her because it has the flag of her country on it, the one now replaced in Afghanistan by the Taliban flag.
“We just burned our dreams … we are just broken people.”
CANBERRA, Australia: A net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 would be a “great positive” for Australia if it can be achieved through technology and not a carbon price, the prime minister said on Tuesday as he pressures government colleagues to commit to more ambitious action ahead of a climate summit.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but his government colleagues have yet to approve the commitment he wants to net zero.
“If you have a credible plan … with the proper transparencies Australia’s well known for, then it can be a great positive for Australia,” Morrison told Parliament, referring to the net zero target.
“If you have the right plan, … if you have technology, not taxes,” Morrison added.
Morrison was a minister in the conservative coalition government that in 2014 repealed a carbon tax introduced by a center-left Labour Party government. The coalition continues to oppose any measures that would penalize polluters through a carbon price or tax.
The rural-based junior coalition partner, the Nationals party, are the major obstacle to Australia adopting net zero.
Nationals lawmakers have debated Cabinet’s draft climate policy for the past three days but remained bitterly divided by Tuesday.
They were shown government modeling on Tuesday that predicted the economic impacts of more ambitious climate targets.
Nationals Sen. Matt Canavan was among the lawmakers who did not believe the modeling.
“The party room here is being gaslighted and that’s kind of ironic given it’s being gaslighted by people who want to end the use of fossil fuels,” Canavan said.
The government rejected opposition calls to make the modeling public.
Morrison said the world’s responses would have “significant impacts on rural and regional Australia, but they also present significant opportunities.”
“The plans that the government are considering will ensure that we can deal with both the costs and the benefits, because we understand there are impacts, that this is not a road that is only … where you’ll find opportunities,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he would make his government’s plans public before the next election, which is due by May.
Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, despite many countries adopting far more ambitious targets.
Morrison is unlikely to persuade his colleagues to agree to a new 2030 target before he goes to Glasgow.
Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas. The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.
The conservative government’s lack of ambition on climate change is regarded as a reason behind the government’s surprise reelection in 2019 and strong voter support in coal-rich Queensland state.
Morrison had argued that the Labor opposition’s pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2050 would wreck the economy.
SINGAPORE: Singapore on Tuesday began quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated passengers from eight countries, part of a plan to ease restrictions as the business hub gears up to live with the coronavirus.
The latest easing expanded a program that began with vaccinated air travel lanes with Germany and Brunei last month, and is now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Singapore Airlines said flights from Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and New York were scheduled to arrive Tuesday under the program.
“We have seen very strong demand for our Vaccinated Travel Lane flights,” the carrier said.
“This is across all cabin classes, as well as various travel segments including leisure, families, and business travel.”
Passengers arriving as part of this scheme — which will include South Korea from November 15 — will not have to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated and test negative for the virus before they depart and when they arrive.
To enable families to travel, Singapore has allowed entry to unvaccinated children aged 12 years and under if they are accompanied by someone flying under the scheme.
The city-state initially fought the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting borders, imposing lockdowns of varying intensity and aggressive contact tracing. But with more than 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, authorities are keen to revive the economy.
“Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said October 9, when he announced a raft of measures under the “Living with Covid-19” strategy.
The city-state is home to the regional offices of thousands of multi-national corporations, which rely on Singapore’s status as a business and aviation hub for their operations.
Singapore’s vaccinated travel lanes may also provide a shot in the arm for the pandemic-hammered airline and tourism industries, analysts said.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about five percent of Singapore’s GDP, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking.
“We used to get 1.6 million tourists every month, our airport used to handle over a thousand flights a day pre-pandemic. Now it is just over 300 flights a day,” he said.
Statistics from the Singapore tourism board showed international visitor arrivals plunging to less than 2.8 million last year from a record 19.1 million in 2019.
WELLINGTON: New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland’s two-month lockdown.
Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.
“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”
New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland’s lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.
Ardern has also embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated. That’s included a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots, more than 2 percent of the New Zealand’s population of 5 million.
Ardern has promised to outline a path out of lockdown for Auckland based on vaccination numbers.
The government has previously talked about the importance of getting 90 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, including a high proportion of Maori, who have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
But that goal remains some distance away, with 85 percent of eligible people having had at least one dose and 67 percent fully vaccinated. The numbers are lower among Maori.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said he was concerned that contact tracers in Auckland would soon become overwhelmed. He said lawmakers needed to consider temporarily reimposing stricter lockdown rules as a circuit breaker.
“There are burning embers all over the city,” Baker said. “They have lifted the wet blanket of the strong lockdown, and people are getting lockdown fatigue.”
Baker said he thought it was possible for the government to continue eliminating the outbreak outside of Auckland, provided it kept in place strict border controls around the city.
He said the most important goal in any reopening would be to ensure the health system was not overrun.
Health officials on Tuesday also said they had authorized people with weakened immune systems to get a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine and were recommending they do so.
BEIJING: China said Monday its launch of a new spacecraft was merely a test to see whether the vehicle could be reused.
The launch involved a spacecraft rather than a missile and was of “great significance for reducing the use-cost of spacecraft and could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
China’s space program is run by its military and is closely tied to its agenda of building hypersonic missiles and other technologies that could alter the balance of power with the United States.
“China will work together with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space and the benefit of mankind,” Zhao said.
Zhao’s comments on the test conducted in August came days after China launched a second crew to its space station. Their six-month mission, when completed, will be China’s longest crewed space mission and the three-person crew will set a record for the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts.
Alongside its space program, China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns as Beijing becomes increasingly assertive over its claims to seas and islands in the South China and East China Seas and to large chunks of territory along its disputed high-mountain border with India.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price would not comment on intelligence about the August test but noted the US remained concerned about China’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities, including delivery systems for nuclear devices.
These developments underscore that (China), as we said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” Price told reporters Monday in Washington.
He said the US was engaging with China about its nuclear capabilities and would continue to maintain the US’s deterrent capabilities against threats to the United States and its allies.
US ally Japan, one of China’s chief regional rivals, said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Monday called it a “new threat” that conventional equipment would have difficulty dealing with. He said Japan will step up its detection, tracking and shooting-down capability of “any aerial threat.”
China appears to be rapidly pushing development of hypersonic nuclear weapons to gain strike capability that can break through missile defenses, Matsuno said.
He criticized China for increasing its defense spending, particularly for nuclear and missile capabilities, without explaining its intentions.
“China’s rapidly expanding and increased military activity at sea and airspace has become a strong security concern for the region including Japan and the international society,” Matsuno said.
 
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