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Epidemiologist says if Indonesia needs a plan to avoid pandemic trap

Epidemiologist says if Indonesia needs a plan to avoid pandemic trap
Healthcare workers take a COVID-19 swab sample from a railway passenger at Bogor Station near Jakarta, on May 11. (REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

Indonesia needs a systematic and targeted national plan to avoid falling into the “pandemic trap” where infections fluctuate, deaths remain high and hospitals remain overwhelmed by cases, says a prominent Indonesian epidemiologist.

Pandu Riono of the University of Indonesia, who has criticised his country’s COVID-19 measures, says the lack of success so far in suppressing infections stems from lost opportunities last year.

If Jakarta had been placed on a really strict lockdown that was actively enforced when the first cluster was found in early March last year, the virus “wouldn’t have spread to other cities in Java” or to other Indonesian islands, he argues on CNA’s In Conversation that aired this week.

The government must now plan what it should do and achieve in the coming year and the year after, he says. “Without planning, there’s no way we can control this pandemic.”

Indonesia’s government, however, says it already has a long-term strategy for getting out of the pandemic.

Speaking to CNA a fortnight ago, Co-ordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said Indonesia hopes to ramp up its vaccination drive to 2.5 million jabs a day by next month and eventually to five million doses daily.

It is trying to get things under control island by island, said Luhut, who is in charge of Indonesia’s pandemic response.

It is also working on a road map for living with COVID-19. People may have to still wear a mask and bring along their vaccination cards when they travel, he cited.

Pandu hopes this plan recognises that herd immunity may be hard to achieve.

The public health expert was involved in a serology survey conducted in March by Jakarta’s health department and other partners, which found that 44.5 per cent of the capital’s 10.6 million people have had COVID-19.

The figure, released last month, was much higher than official numbers reported. Even so, he thinks herd immunity in Jakarta may be elusive as it sees many visitors from other parts of the country with lower vaccination or immunity levels.

“There’s no herd immunity in Indonesia for COVID-19,” he says. “Indonesia has a very large population of more than 270 million. With lower-efficacy vaccines like Sinovac, even if 100 per cent of the population gets vaccinated, we’ll never reach herd immunity.”

If Indonesia continues to manage COVID-19 “haphazardly”, there would be the constant fluctuation of infections “even until President Jokowi completes his second term”, he added.


Challenges in Indonesia include misinformation, inadequate vaccine supplies, measures that are difficult to follow and premature reopening of certain regions, says Pandu.

He feels Indonesia may not have enough supplies to administer two million doses a day this month, a target announced by the Jokowi administration. Then there are logistical challenges, for example ensuring that there are enough healthcare workers to carry out the vaccinations.

People should also receive accurate information on vaccines and side effects, he says.

“The issue that always comes up … is (that) there are side effects or experiences that make people afraid to be vaccinated. For example, some might suddenly fall ill or suddenly pass away, and the vaccine is often suspected to be the reason,” he cites.

The government should have been stricter about misinformation about COVID-19 and should warn or prosecute those who spread the misinformation, he adds.

He also thinks the government should have controlled civilian movements better during the Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji holidays

Previously he had used the term “herd stupidity” to refer to the exodus to hometowns as people skirted travel restrictions. While acknowledging that many may be “angry” with what he said, he maintains that they “can’t deny the reality”.

“People didn’t want to be restricted, and the government wasn’t seriously enforcing the restrictions, resulting in what I’d worried about, which was the spread of the Delta variant,” he says.

After Hari Raya Puasa, or Eid al-Fitr, on May 13, Indonesia’s daily reported COVID-19 cases shot up from fewer than 5,000 to over 50,000 by July. From Aug 1 to 11, new cases reported have ranged between 20,709 and 39,532.

Amid the surge, there was confusion over whether Indonesia’s Food and Drug Authority (BPOM) had authorised anti-parasitic drug ivermectin for emergency use against COVID-19. Following news reports claiming this, BPOM’s head said it was only undergoing clinical trials at eight hospitals.

Another thing that frustrates Pandu is that authorities are trying to reopen Bali “too soon”.

Indonesia launched the Work from Bali programme for civil servants in May in the hope of reviving the island’s tourism-reliant economy. But with COVID-19 cases having since increased, he says the “Bali rebound” is a “COVID rebound in Bali” instead.

In his recent CNA interview, Luhut the co-ordinating minister said cases in Bali could stabilise by year end. The island had vaccinated over 85 per cent of its people and would achieve around 90 per cent soon, he said.

For all the COVID-19 struggles in Indonesia, Pandu urged its Southeast Asian neighbours not to isolate the country but to help one another.

“Help Indonesia so that we’ll be able to overcome this pandemic, so that we can get along again without having to feel suspicious or afraid,” he says.

“Indonesia is dangerously beautiful. It’s certainly dangerous, but it’s beautiful. Don’t be afraid of it.” CNA 


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Symposium on Collaboration and Synergy of BUMN, BUMD, and Bumdes

Symposium on Collaboration and Synergy of BUMN, BUMD, and Bumdes
Symposium on Collaboration and Synergy of BUMN, BUMD, and BUMDES. doc/Ist.

Telegraf – In an effort to carry out economic recovery after the pandemic, PT. Mitra Bumdes Nusantara (MBN) held a Symposium on Collaboration and Synergy of BUMN, BUMD, and BUMDES, with the theme Economic Recovery by Mobilizing the Economy from the Village. The symposium was held at the Preanger Hotel Bandung, Friday, November 26, 2021.

MBN brings the spirit of synergy and collaboration in the form of a real business, supports the development of a strong business ecosystem in the village, as well as post-pandemic economic recovery efforts starting from the village.

This spirit is stated in the Memorandum of Declaration of Joint Support which was signed with various parties building the business ecosystem, namely Wiyoto, President Director of PT. Mitra Bumdes Nusantara, Burmansyah, PT Pupuk Indonesia, Beny Riswandi, SEVP Business BJB, Kurnia Fajar, President Director of Agro Jabar, Herry Hermawan, Perumda Pasar Bandung, Bumdes Representative, and Dicky Saromi, Head of the West Java Province Village and Community Empowerment Service. The signing of the Memorandum of Declaration of Joint Support was witnessed by the Governor of West Java, Ridwan Kamil.

The symposium began with material exposure, namely: Maps and Directions for BUMDes Development in West Java, The Role of Nusantara Bumdes Partners in driving the Village Economy, Synergy and Collaboration Models for the Prosperous Agro Solutions Program, and the role of BJB in revitalizing the village economy after the pandemic, then continued with a discussion, Aspiration Ideas, and Business Matching BUMDES. The symposium was moderated by R. Nurtafiyyana Head of PUEM DPM-Desa West Java.

“This activity combines the Prosperous Agrosol Program of the Ministry of SOEs with Project Leaders, namely PIHC, West Java Millennial Farmers Program, and Bumdes Program, so that it is expected to become a stronger and bigger business ecosystem and support each other, solely to move the economy and provide prosperity. as much as possible for the village community,” said Wiyoto. “The role of PT. MBN is to become an Offtaker, Aggregator, and Bumdes Trustee”.

Based on the source from the website PT. MBN is a company formed in 2017. The shareholders of PT MBN consist of 7 strategic SOEs, with Perum Bulog as the majority shareholder, followed by Danareksa, PTPN III, PT Pupuk Indonesia Holding Company (PT. PIHC), PT. RNI, PT. PPI and PT. Retail Pertamina.

MBN has a vision that is to become a driver of the rural economy to provide welfare for rural communities with justice, by carrying out 3 missions, namely carrying out the role as an aggregator, conducting business professionally and synergizing with local resources to produce quality products, and providing the maximum benefit to the community. villagers.

Currently, PT MBN has 29 subsidiaries throughout Indonesia and 10 of them are located in West Java Province.

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COP26: India Ends Up As Fall Guy

COP26: India Ends Up As Fall Guy
PM Modi arrives in Glasgow The COP26 summit. TWITTER/@narendramodi

Greta Thurnberg, the famous Swedish climate change activist, summed up that the deal reached at COP26 at Glasgow on Saturday was “very, very vague” with several loopholes. She told the media in Glasgow that the pact only “succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah.”

“There is still no guarantee that we will reach the Paris Agreement. The text that it is now, as a document, you can interpret it in many, many different ways. We can still expand fossil fuel infrastructure, we can still increase the global emissions. It’s very, very vague,” Thurnberg said. 

The delegates at Glasgow failed to produce more finance or even new guidelines to support developing economies’ gradual switch to renewable energy, known as the “just transition.” Among developing country delegates, many said that COP26 had failed those countries most affected by climate change today: the small island states and zones in Africa hardest hit by extreme weather such as the Sahel and the Horn.

Most striking were the shortfalls and ambiguities on climate finance. G20 country contributions to the US$100 billion fund for developing economies to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate are now set to reach the initial target by 2023. European and North American delegations resisted calls for the immediate establishment of a fund to compensate those countries suffering loss and damage caused by climate change. Instead, they proposed discussions on such a fund’s structure and mechanism. 

At the end of the day, however, the British hosts have done a smart thing by creating the narrative that the COP26 would have been honky-dory but for China and India imposing a consensus at an eleventh hour change to “phase down” coal use, rather than “phase out.” 

What really happened was that the EU, US and UK agreed and presented the new wording to the rest of the world on the phase out of coal power as a fait accompli, which of course backed India and China into a corner, with the eyes of the world watching. This sparked fury from poor nations and climate activists, egged on from behind by the UK that a small cabal of powerful polluters — India and China — essentially held the world to ransom.

India in particular has been lambasted and made the fall guy. The game plan is to pressure India and China to come back and commit to further emissions cuts by next year’s UN meeting. Neither China nor India has 2030 targets anywhere near in line with a 1.5 degree centigrade pathway, and so will be on the target list of nations under pressure to return next year with more ambition. The UK still holds the COP presidency for another year, so Alok Sharma will remain a key diplomatic player. 

The UK prime minister Boris Johnson then took the centerstage to brag before the House of Commons that COP26 “proved the doubters and the cynics wrong,” and that, for decades, tackling the coal problem “proved as challenging as eating the proverbial elephant” (a sly metaphoric reference to India), but in Glasgow the world “took the first bite.”

Johnson was expected to tell business leaders and diplomats at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London Monday evening: “I have been watching politics a long time now and I know when a tipping point is reached. The language does matter but, whether you are talking about phasing down or phasing out, the day is now not far off when it will be as politically unacceptable, anywhere in the world, to open a new coal-fired power station as it now is to get on an aeroplane and light a cigar.” 

This is blackmail Johnson-style — hunting down the contender. The notorious rabble-rouser knows very well that both China and India are heavily reliant on coal power. Their leaderships are keenly aware of the role of coal industry in pulling some of the poorest citizens in the two countries out of poverty. The domestic politics of phasing out coal is highly sensitive for both countries, particularly in the midst of a global energy crisis and a pandemic. 

The ugliest part of Johnson’s finger wagging and blackmail is that he or his ilk in the rich industrial West have done nothing by way of offering the practical and financial support that developing countries may need for the transition. 

The mother of all ironies is that both India and China went to Glasgow with good intentions. India’s 2070 net zero announcement made headlines and even more significant was Prime Minister Modi’s pledge to set the 2030 goal to ensure 50 percent of India’s energy comes from renewables.

Ahead of Glasgow, Chinese President Xi Jinping also made a sweep of important commitments: that China would reach net zero emissions by 2060, that coal production would peak by 2026, and that China would stop funding the construction of coal plants overseas.   

Despite these significant moves, India and China are being vilified and browbeaten. The BBC went to the extent of soliciting the Pakistani energy minister attending COP26 to badmouth India — with the latter of course gleefully obliging with the powerful metaphor of a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy who still wants to smoke a packet of cigarettes. 

The poor chap didn’t know that even Europeans and North Americans are chain smokers. Bloomberg reported over the weekend quoting coal mining chief executives that the fuel they produce is far from being consigned to history, and “it will be two to three decades before there’s a dramatic change in coal’s place in the energy space.” 

The Bloomberg report said demand remains robust in Asia and has picked up in Europe and North America as well this winter, with US coal prices surging to the highest in more than 12 years on Monday. 

By the way, Japanese government and electric power industry too are relieved to see the COP26 climate pact urge countries to “phase down” instead of “phase out” the use of coal-fired thermal power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Japan plans to continue utilizing coal-fired thermal power (which accounts for about 30 pct of its electricity source) while trying to reduce its dependence on coal and suspend or abolish low-efficiency power plants.

The good part about all this is that it is a wake-up call for the Indian Modi government, which has been naive to fall for western flattery and start fancying Johnson’s Global Britain to be India’s key partner in the Indo-Pacific. For India, an equal relationship with Britain is never possible. The guileful British mindset surfaced at Glasgow. India should not be delusional about duplicitous characters like Johnson. 

Equally, it is crucial at the present stage of India’s development that it has a selective engagement with China at least on such profound issues of common interest like climate change. An all-of-government hostility is neither warranted nor agreeable for a mature country. 

COP26 highlighted that when it comes to the creation / transfer of wealth, high stakes are involved and the West collectively safeguards its interests and will not hesitate to taps into the divisions among the developing countries. The fortnight-long event in Glasgow is been a stark reminder that history has not ended.

By M.K. Bhadrakumar

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter. M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.

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New Railway Agreements Reveal the Contours of Central Asia’s Rapid Integration

New Railway Agreements Reveal the Contours of Central Asia’s Rapid Integration
New Railway Agreements. AP PHOTO

The information war is so intense nowadays that unsung melodies are often more alluring that the sung ones. The lines from English poet Shelley’s famous ode To a Skylark come to mind — ‘In the broad day-light / Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight…’

Two events in the past fortnight indicated growing optimism about Afghanistan’s future. Both developments signify that the scaffolding for improved regional connectivity, economic development, and governance is coming up, largely unreported.

Certainly, the three-day visit to Islamabad in early November by Uzbekistan’s National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Victor Makhmudov at the invitation of Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf deserved far more attention than it did. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa received the Uzbek delegation.

Uzbekistan is an advanced model of state formation in the post-Soviet space. The full control to exercise national security powers vested with the institution of the National Security Council in Tashkent under the chairmanship of the president gives remarkable consistency to the country’s policies. Makhmudov is holding his position since 2013.

Abdulaziz Kamilov has been Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2012 — and is probably the most experienced foreign minister anywhere in the world if his nine years in a previous stint from 1994 to 2003 is also taken into account. No wonder, Uzbek foreign policies have been performing so brilliantly amidst a challenging external environment.

During Makhmudov’s visit, Pakistan has done well to sign a protocol with Uzbekistan, which “will help strengthen coordination on security and regional connectivity between our two brotherly countries,” as NSA Moeed Yusuf wrote in a tweet.

The official statement issued in Islamabad said the protocol “covers wide-ranging security-related matters of mutual interest and establishes coordination mechanism” between the two national security councils.

Yusuf told the media after the signing ceremony that the two countries would expand cooperation against terrorism, transnational crimes, drug trafficking under the new security commission, assist each other on anti-narcotics force and disaster management capacity building, and also strengthen defence and military cooperation.

To be sure, the developments in Afghanistan dominated the one-on-one meeting between Yusuf and Makhmudov. Yusuf said Islamabad and Tashkent “shared the same stance” on Afghanistan — namely, there should be constructive engagement with the current government in Kabul to avert a humanitarian crisis that could further severely affect the neighbouring countries.

Enhanced outreach to Central Asia under its geoeconomic policy is a key objective for Pakistan. The Uzbek delegation travelled to the Torkham border to witness the arrival of four cargo trucks all the way from Uzbekistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. In May this year, Pakistan’s first transport under the TIR system was sent to Uzbekistan via the land route.

As Yusuf put it, “Uzbekistan due to its close proximity with Afghanistan is a very crucial element in attaining our geo-economic paradigm.” This is a statement of fact. An ex-Soviet technocrat and a sports icon and playboy make improbable partners, but in reality, Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev and PrimeMinister Imran Khan have struck a warm friendship at personal level.

Personal equations at leadership level help advance geostrategy in the steppes and both leaders are conscious of the imperatives of politics and economics that push them together. Thus was born the Uzbek-Pakistani home-grown approach to regional stability and economic growth.

Uzbekistan has prioritised transport through Pakistan to the ports of Gwadar and Karachi over the Chabahar route to the world market. Indeed, the US State Department was quick to realise this while announcing in July the US-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan-Pakistan Quad, “focused on enhancing regional connectivity” encouraging “long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.” The US initiative would have rung alarm bells in Moscow and Beijing.

It is against such a dynamic background that the second development of the month, on November 8, needs to be assessed — the dramatic announcement by Kyrgyzstan’s Prime Minister Akylbek Zhaparov that Bishkek is ready to proceed with a long-standing project by Beijing to build a railway line to connect China with Uzbekistan.

The announcement, immediately after the visit of the Uzbek delegation to Islamabad, would suggest a nifty bit of sleight of hand on the part of Beijing working on the “big picture” of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Beijing (and Moscow) will have noticed the desperate Anglo-American mission to stage a comeback in Afghanistan.

The western media which copiously reports if Beijing sneezes, has blocked out Zhaparov’s announcement in Bishkek regarding the railway project. Zhaparov said his government has reached an agreement with Tashkent on all outstanding issues regarding the railway project and expects to do the same with Beijing in the near term, possibly during a high-level visit to the Chinese capital.

China appreciates that Uzbekistan has a fairly developed internal railway network and has potential as a regional hub. Thus, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China has longstanding plans to construct a railway from Xinjiang through Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan and onward to Turkmenistan (and Iran.) The main hitch has been that Beijing insisted that the new rail line should adopt tracks with 1,435 millimetres width, which China and most of the world use, while the Soviet-era Russian gauge of 1,520 millimetres is prevalent in Central Asia.

Trust Chinese ingenuity to find a technological solution by double-tracking with the narrower international gauge run inside the larger Russian one, which would also reduce costs of the project by eliminating the need to make transitions at the Chinese-Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistani-Iranian borders.

In fact, a 2.2 kilometre long Sino-Russian Tongjiang-Nizhneleninskoye railway bridge across the Amur River, the latest project completed under China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative, has become a “technology demonstrator” using the new method of double tracking.

The first test train crossed the border in August. The Chinese Communist Party has stated at the goal a rail link all the way to London. With the commissioning of the bridge, the railway transportation distance from China’s Heilongjiang province to Moscow will be shortened by 809 kilometres, cutting 10 hours of transportation time.

Iron ore will be the main product carried across the bridge, which has an annual designed cargo capacity of 21 million tons. And, importantly, the railway bridge has a dual track system, which allows trains running on both the Russia gauge and the Chinese gauge!

Bishkek’s clearance for the Chinese railway project can phenomenally transform the cross-border connectivity in the Central Asian region and a host of regional states, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. The geopolitics of the region will never be the same again.

Uzbekistan is a great beneficiary here, being the principal gateway to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Gwadar and Karachi ports) and Pakistan becoming a pivotal state in regional politics. In March, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan agreed to a roadmap for the building of a 573-kilometre route from Mazar-e-Sharif to Peshawar, via Kabul. The project, at an estimated cost of US$5 billion, will open Pakistani seaports on the Arabian Gulf to Uzbekistan.

From the Russian viewpoint, as the proposed Central Asian rail grid gets connected to the Russian grid. The rail link would have a multiplier effect on Russian capability to tap into Afghan reconstruction.

The criticality of the Afghan situation is compelling the Central Asian states to edge closer and China and Russia to intensify their cooperation and coordination to strengthen regional security. Not to be underestimated is the Uzbek-Kyrgyz agreement in March to resolve their 30-year border dispute at Tashkent’s initiative, which is a prerequisite for the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railroad.

To be sure, there is an all-round realisation amongst the main protagonists — principally, amongst China, Uzbekistan and Pakistan –that regional connectivity and long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan are interlinked.

By M.K. Bhadrakumar

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter. M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.

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Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey

Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attends an ASEAN leaders summit with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in Bangkok, Thailand November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest level in five years on the back of a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, a survey released on Wednesday (Aug 25) showed.

Conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, the survey showed that 59 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the president, the lowest ranking since March 2016.

The survey, which involved 1,220 respondents, was conducted between Jul 30 to Aug 4, while the country was in the throes of a virulent virus wave that led to overflowing hospitals and oxygen shortages on the densely populated island of Java.

Indonesia has recorded more than 4 million cases of the coronavirus, and more than 129,000 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.

“While the lower approval rating for Widodo is mainly caused by the pandemic and the government’s largely inconsistent and confusing responses to the health crisis, it is unlikely the only factor,” said Todd Elliot, a senior analyst at Concord Consulting.

“Trust in a government in Indonesia normally decreases if the economy is perceived as underperforming and the latest round of coronavirus curbs have hit businesses particularly hard.”

The president said last week in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests during the pandemic.

Overall, 54.3 per cent of respondents surveyed said they trusted the president to properly manage the health crisis, while perceptions of the country’s economic situation were the worst since 2004.

The survey indicated widespread dissatisfaction with social restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus that have been in place since early July.

Restrictions were eased on Monday in certain regions, including in Jakarta, to allow for limited capacity at malls, restaurants and places of worship after a recent drop in cases.

Only 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the curbs, the survey showed.

With more than 50 per cent of Indonesians employed in the informal sector, the curbs have impacted people’s livelihoods hard with 79.2 per cent of respondents saying their income had declined during the pandemic, and 53.3 per cent describing their household economic situation as worse, or much worse. REUTERS


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What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?

What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?
The Islamic State's chapter in Afghanistan and Pakistan has claimed some of the most shocking attacks in the region. AFP

As desperate Afghans crowd Kabul airport trying to get on any evacuation flights to flee the Taliban, officials have warned of another jihadist threat: The Islamic State group.

President Joe Biden said there is “an acute and growing risk” of an attack at the airport by the group’s regional chapter, called Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K.

The United States, Britain and Australia have told people to leave the area for safer locations.

When asked directly about the threat, a Taliban spokesman acknowledged a risk of “nuisances” causing trouble in a chaotic situation they blamed entirely on the US-led evacuation.

What is Islamic State-Khorasan?

Months after the Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, breakaway fighters from the Pakistani Taliban joined militants in Afghanistan to form a regional chapter, pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group was formally acknowledged by the central Islamic State leadership the next year as it sunk roots in northeastern Afghanistan, particularly Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.

It also managed to set up sleeper cells in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kabul, according to United Nations monitors.

Latest estimates of its strength vary from several thousand active fighters to as low as 500, according to a UN Security Council report released last month.

“Khorasan” is a historical name for the region, taking in parts of what is today Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

What kind of attacks has it carried out?

The Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks of recent years.

It has massacred civilians in both countries, at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.

The group has especially targeted Muslims from sects it considers heretical, including Shiites.

Last year, it was blamed for an attack that shocked the world – gunmen went on a bloody rampage at a maternity ward in a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul, killing 16 mothers and mothers-to-be.

Beyond bombings and massacres, IS-Khorasan has failed to hold any territory in the region, suffering huge losses because of Taliban and US-led military operations.

According to UN and US military assessments, after the phase of heavy defeats IS-Khorasan now operates largely through covert cells based in or near cities to carry out high-profile attacks.

What is IS-Khorasan’s relationship with the Taliban?

While both groups are hardline Sunni militants, there is no love lost between them.

They have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy, while claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.

That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two, with the Taliban emerging largely victorious after 2019 when IS-Khorasan failed to secure territory as its parent group did in the Middle East.

In a sign of the enmity between the two jihadist groups, Islamic State statements have referred to the Taliban as apostates.

How has the Islamic State reacted to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan?

Not well.

Islamic State had been highly critical of the deal last year between Washington and the Taliban that led to the agreement for withdrawing foreign troops, accusing the latter of abandoning the jihadist cause.

Following the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, a number of jihadist groups around the world congratulated them – but not Islamic State.

One Islamic State commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US withdrawal deal and vowed to continue its fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.

What is the threat at Kabul airport?

US officials say Kabul airport, with thousands of US-led foreign troops surrounded by huge crowds of desperate Afghans, is under high threat from IS-Khorasan.

A flurry of near-identical travel warnings from London, Canberra and Washington late Wednesday urged people gathered in the area to move to safer locations.

They have not provided any specific details about the threat.

“ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, and they have a history of fighting one another,” Biden said Sunday.

“But every day we have troops on the ground, these troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K.”

Some military transports taking off from Kabul airport in recent days have been seen launching flares, which are normally used to attract heat-seeking missiles. AFP

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Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday (Aug 17) they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as they held their first official news briefing since their shock seizure of Kabul.

The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during their rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed evacuating diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” the movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.

Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he added.

As they rushed to evacuate, foreign powers assessed how to respond to the transformed situation on the ground after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unraveling of women’s rights.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common strategy and approach to Afghanistan.

During their 1996-2001 rule, also guided by Islamic sharia law, the Taliban stopped women from working and meted out punishments including public stoning. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address “serious human rights concerns” after the Taliban takeover, a UN statement said.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview the Taliban had assured the United Nations it can pursue humanitarian work in Afghanistan, which is suffering from a drought.


The European Union said it would only cooperate with the Afghan government following the Taliban’s return to power if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.

Within Afghanistan, women expressed scepticism.

Afghan girls’ education activist Pashtana Durrani, 23, was wary of Taliban promises. “They have to walk the talk. Right now they are not doing that,” she told Reuters.

Several women were ordered to leave their jobs during the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan.

Mujahid said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework.

He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.


Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed not to bow to Kabul’s new rulers.

It was not immediately clear how much support Saleh enjoys in a country wearied by decades of conflict.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country, adding that NATO’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan and warning that the alliance could strike if the country again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.

Taliban forces keep watch inside Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies.

Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points to 46 per cent, the lowest level of his seven-month-long presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday. It also found that less than half of Americans liked how he has handled Afghanistan.

US forces took charge of the airport – the only way to fly out of Afghanistan – on Sunday as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight.

US General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, was at Kabul’s airport on Tuesday to evaluate security.

The State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had completed a drawdown of embassy personnel from Kabul and remaining diplomats were assisting in the evacuation.

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians restarted after having been suspended on Monday due to chaos at Kabul airport.

Asked how Washington would hold the Taliban to their pledge to respect women’s rights, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled that options included sanctions and marshalling international condemnation and isolation.

Washington was blocking the Taliban from accessing any Afghan government funds held in the United States, including about US$1.3 billion of gold reserves held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a Biden administration official said.

Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal.

He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and the army’s unwillingness to fight. REUTERS

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