Suddenly, Taliban is sought-after



Taliban, once a pariah group, now finds itself being courted by the US and by Gulf mediators

Ten years into its occupation of Afghanistan, the United States is clearly beginning to accept the idea of defeat, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi said in an editorial yesterday.

It seems that the US is more prepared than ever to make some serious concessions to the Taliban - concessions that were unimaginable a few years ago.

In fact, it is not ruled out that Washington may be looking to hand over the reins of power to the group which it had long labelled as a "terrorist organisation."

France, an important Nato ally for the US, poured "a lot of salt on Washington's bleeding wound in Afghanistan," the newspaper said, when President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this month that his country was preparing an early withdrawal from Afghanistan, following the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan serviceman.

Mr Sarkozy later pushed back that withdrawal decision until the end of this year, perhaps only after receiving positive information that a deal between the Taliban and the US was imminent, and could involve an early withdrawal timeline.

"The Taliban are being mollycoddled these days," the newspaper argued.

Parallel to Washington's indulgence, there is also currently an understated competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia to host a Taliban office in their respective capitals.

"After leaked reports showed that the US administration was in favour of a Taliban office being opened in Doha for the purposes of US-Taliban talks, Saudi Arabia joined the fray … and expressed its readiness to host a Taliban office as well," the paper went on.

Saudi Arabia was one of two Arab states - the other being the UAE - that recognised the Taliban government in Kabul after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in 1989.

Riyadh also provided Taliban "mujahideen" (holy fighters) with financial and military backing during their struggle to expel the Soviets, the paper said.

Some deny that there is any such competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, pointing to the strong ties between the two countries as members of the GCC, and their joint stances on the region's hot issues such as Yemen, Libya and, more recently, Syria.

Either way, the Taliban movement is being engaged in a new way. "Until recently, it was a 'terrorist' organisation, vilified by the US and its Gulf allies. Now it is playing coquette as everybody is seeking to gain favour with it."

The Taliban is a "resistance" movement, the paper declared, and it is slowly achieving its legitimate objectives in defending Afghanistan against "a virulent US-western occupation."

"The Americans invaded the country to bring down Taliban rule; ten years later, they are hoping the group will warm up to them."

The battle for Syria enters a new phase

The Arab initiative toward Syria, in its first formula as approved by Bashar Al Assad's regime, is over, columnist Satea Noureddine said in the Lebanese daily Assafir.

The new formula requires the departure of the president, which makes the chances of its acceptance all the more unlikely, the writer went on.

"Down went the idea of monitoring, follow-up and accountability leading to reconciliation, pluralism and democracy. All this was replaced by the idea of toppling the regime with all the means available," he said.

The fight for Syria is waged against Iran, with Turkey and away from Israel. Arab cover is required to drive out the Iranians without calling on the Turks or provoking the Israelis, he added.

The decision to resort to the UN Security Council isn't the Arab League's only option, but its importance lies in the fact that it heralds an open confrontation between the Arabs on one hand and the Russians and the Chinese, who have been unwavering in their support for the Damascus regime, on the other hand.

The face-off with Russia and China is the title of the new chapter in the fight for Syria. It provides the regime with new ammunition to shoot at its people while fighting off the "external conspiracy".

"The battle for Syria enters a new phase more dangerous than anything the country has seen before, in which the only victims would be the Syrian citizens."

Israelis just keep on building settlements

Just as Jordan is witnessing exploratory talks aimed at reanimating the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Tel Aviv has announced plans to build new settlements in Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem, the Dubai paper Al Bayan said in its editorial.

The announcement reminds us that the settlements grew by 20 per cent last year under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasising Israel's unwillingness to breathe life into peace negotiations.

Israel's racist policies compel it to focus exclusively on its own interests, notwithstanding any repercussions. The international community should "confront and rein in Israel's racist activities for they will only fuel anger and add to the intensity of the crisis," said the paper.

But Washington is currently preoccupied with the presidential election race in which many candidates find profit in undermining the Palestinians and seek Israel's approval. Nonetheless, the US is still responsible for resolving conflicts and preserving international security, including security in the Middle East.

Therefore, the US must encourage its strategic ally to immediately cease its settlement actions.

The Arab League too, despite the many issues it is dealing with at the moment, must not forsake its role in the Palestinian cause.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk

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Company name: NutriCal

Started: 2019

Founder: Soniya Ashar

Based: Dubai

Industry: Food Technology

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Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

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Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

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Started: 2010
Founders: Karim Farra and Ziad Aboujeb
Based: UAE
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Sector: Financial services
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Investment stage: Self-funded

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Sunday 23 April – UAE v Singapore
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Libya's Gold

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The panel’s 2017 report followed a trail to West Africa where large sums of cash and gold were hidden by Abdullah Al Senussi, Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief, in 2011.

Cases filled with cash that was said to amount to $560m in 100 dollar notes, that was kept by a group of Libyans in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

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Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
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Our legal consultant

Name: Dr Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

In numbers

- Number of children under five will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401m in 2100

- Over-80s will rise from 141m in 2017 to 866m in 2100

- Nigeria will become the world’s second most populous country with 791m by 2100, behind India

- China will fall dramatically from a peak of 2.4 billion in 2024 to 732 million by 2100

- an average of 2.1 children per woman is required to sustain population growth

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Rating: 4/5