Mohammad Sharif wants to join the Taliban's jihad, or holy war, against US-led forces in Afghanistan. \nSitting on a prayer mat on the mud floor of his madrassah, or religious seminary, in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, the 18-year-old Sharif says he has been taking Koranic lessons for four years. \n"During the Taliban government, I was not allowed to fight the jihad because my beard was not grown," he told reporters. \n"But I will definitely go for jihad whenever I get an opportunity," said the black-turbaned Talib, or religious student, who now sports a thick beard. \nSharif is one of thousands of young Afghan refugees studying in madrassahs run by pro-Taliban Islamic clerics in southwestern Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital. \nIn Quetta alone, there are about 7,000 madrassahs where up to 30,000 young men are studying the Koran, according to clerics. \nRising poverty, unemployment and growing anti-American sentiment over the US-led war in neighboring Afghanistan and in Iraq have added to the popularity of religious education in Baluchistan and Pakistan's other conservative regions. \n"We have seen a rising trend for religious education in recent months," said Maulvi Abdul Qadir Luni, who runs an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of Quetta. \nLuni said his madrassah provided food and accommodation for up to 150 students, about a sixth of whom are Afghan refugees. \n"A large number of students of the madrassahs have hired private rooms in the city or are living in mosques because we cannot provide accommodation for them," he added. \nPakistan's religious seminaries served as breeding grounds for the Taliban in the early 1990s and provided volunteers for the hardline militia's war against the opposition Northern Alliance. Most Taliban officials graduated from the schools. \nPakistan's military President Pervez Musharraf, who became a staunch US ally by shunning the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, last year proposed reforming madrassahs to rein in rising militancy. \nBut the move has largely failed because of strong opposition from hardline groups. \nHuge gains by Islamic parties in last year's elections in Baluchistan and neighboring North West Frontier Province raised concern that they could undermine the US-led hunt for the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. \nA recent surge in attacks in southern Afghanistan further bolstered fears in Kabul and Washington that Pakistani religious seminaries were once again offering sanctuary to Taliban guerrillas. \nUS-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai says remnants of the former Taliban regime have been infiltrating from Pakistan to launch attacks on US and Afghan forces, a view that is shared by the US military. \nZalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Iraq, said last month the Taliban was "planning in Quetta." \nPakistan denies accusations of allowing the Taliban to regroup on its soil or cross into Afghanistan, and says it has arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda militants. \nAfghan religious students express outrage over the presence of "alien forces" in their country but say they are not involved in cross-border military activity. \n"I feel bad seeing American troops occupying my country and wish to join the jihad there, although I have not yet done so," said Umeedullah, a 21-year-old Afghan student. \nOfficials from Pakistan's pro-Taliban Islamic groups and Baluchistan's provincial government say madrassahs along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier only provide religious education. \n"I challenge the US and Afghan governments to point out a single madrassah where we are imparting military training or where we have provided sanctuary to the Taliban," said Maulvi Noor Mohammad, a member of Pakistan's National Assembly. \nHe is head of the Quetta branch of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, or "Party of Islamic Clerics." \n"Thousands of Afghan refugees live here and we give only Islamic teachings to their children," he told reporters in his madrassah in Quetta, as hundreds of turbaned students memorized Koranic verses outside his room. \n"But we don't give any military training to our students."
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,