Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR) said that over 60,000 Afghan refugees from Iran have returned voluntarily or compulsorily in the past month.
In a press release on Saturday, the MoRR said that at least 63,519 Afghan refugees had returned, of which 41,974 people entered from the Islam Qala border in Herat and 21,545 people from the Zaranj-Milak border in Nimroz.
The ministry added that maximum returnees, around 33,105 were those who came back voluntarily, while another 102 had refugee certificates or cards.
According to the MoRR, there were also 28,621 who were deported or forcibly repatriated by Iran.
The ministry noted that Afghan refugees have returned home due to the spread of COVID-19 in Iran along with other challenges such as rising unemployment and financial difficulties.
The preliminary Intra-Afghan talks that were expected to start from Sunday have been postponed indefinitely, a member of the government’s negotiating team told media on Saturday.
Abdul Hafiz Mansoor told local media that the talks have been postponed due to Taliban’s refusal to follow the Afghan government’s list for prisoner exchange.
The Taliban had said in July that they had completed the release of 1,000 government prisoners, however the Afghan team said the process had not been carried out according to the list they had shared with the group.
Ghulam Farooq Majroh, another member of the negotiating team, however, told media during an interview, that they were preparing to travel to Doha, Qatar, for the start of the talks in the coming week.
The Herat Department of Public Health said that due to a 50% reduction in the number of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19, the 300-bed Ghoriani hospital dedicated to Coronavirus has been closed in the province.
The hospital, which was converted from a hotel owned by businessman Basir Ahmad Ghoriani, saw a reduction in the number of patients seeking their services and it was closed to save government resources, the provincial Department of Public Health said.
Herat residents seeking COVID-19 treatment, will now be redirected to the Shaidaee and Mofleh hospitals.
The province has remained the centre of the Coronavirus outbreak since the first case in the country was recorded there.
In the past 24 hours, the province also saw the highest number of new cases as 35 samples tested positive for COVID-19 from the 74 tested
Mohammad Rafiq Sherzai, the head of Herat’s health department also said that two people have succumbed to the virus in the past day.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, Herat has 5,917 confirmed cases so far, of which 213 have died and 4,524 have recovered.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said that 45 of the 105 samples they tested in the past 24 hours, was positive for Coronavirus. With this, Afghanistan’s COVID-19 tally has reached 37,551 cases so far.
New cases were reported in the provinces of Herat (35), Ghor (8), Badghis (1) and Balkh (1).
A death due to the virus was reported in Ghazni province while no new recoveries were recorded.
Afghanistan’s current figures are 9,015 active cases with 27,166 recovered and 1,370 fatalities.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said they had taken note of the developments in Afghanistan regarding the release of 400 Taliban prisoners and support the intra-Afghan negotiations.
“We have taken note of the development. India supports peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. We also support the intra-Afghan negotiations,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, during the weekly briefing on Friday.
The Loya Jirga had approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners on Aug. 9 to pave the way for the intra-Afghan talks.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) conducted military exercises in Goshta district of Nangarhar near the Durand Line on Friday, in the presence of General Yasin Zia, the Chief of General Staff of the Afghan Armed Forces.
The MoD said the ground forces, commandos, strike forces, border guards and the Afghan Air Force were involved in the exercise in the Gosro area and demonstrated their capabilities by using light and heavy weapons.
Zia said that the purpose of holding this manoeuvre was to show the capabilities of the armed forces to the people and “friends and enemies” of the country.
“Our message to the people of Afghanistan and our foreign friends is: The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces have high capacity and combat capability and professionalism, and they can be confident that these forces can defend the Afghans and the territorial integrity of Afghanistan,” Zia said.
“The enemies of Afghanistan should know that they are facing invincible, extremely capable and brave forces, and they will be destroyed if they do not stop fighting and violence,” he added.
Recent Afghan-Pakistan border clashes
The military exercise took place near the Durand Line as recent border clashes between Afghan and Pakistani troops erupted in Kandahar’s Spin Boldak area and in Kunar province.
The Pakistani military repeatedly fired cross-border rockets, killing and wounding a number of Afghan civilians.
On Friday, residents of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces held a rally calling on the central government to clarify Pakistan’s construction of gates and laying of barbed wire along the Durand Line.
Pakistan has been accused of constructing unlawful installations on Afghan soil, but the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has called it in accordance with international law.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached a staff-level agreement with Afghan authorities on an economic reform programme to be supported by a new three-and-half year US$364 million Extended Credit Facility (ECF).
“The new ECF arrangement will support authorities’ reform program to maintain macroeconomic stability and lay the ground for a sustained post-pandemic economic recovery while continuing to advance structural reforms,” said IMF’s mission head who led the talks, Azim Sadikov.
Under the ECF programme, they will aim to gradually reverse the fiscal deterioration caused by the pandemic and address structural fragilities by strengthening the anti-corruption mechanisms.
The monetary policy will continue to focus on maintaining price stability and a flexible exchange rate regime, while fostering confidence in the Afghani currency.
The key reforms include building capacity to manage public investment and fiscal risks, improving the effectiveness of the asset declaration regime, enhancing spending efficiency, and strengthening social protection. Bolstering the financial sector, including by completing the reform of state-owned banks, will also be important to boost its capacity to contribute to growth.
The agreement is subject to approval by the IMF Executive Board, which is expected to consider the request in late October 2020, after the authorities implement the agreed prior action to improve the accountability and transparency in procurement.
“Coming before the November pledging conference, the ECF arrangement is expected to catalyse donor financing, which is critical to support Afghanistan’s reform and development objectives under the multi-year National Peace and Development Framework,” said Sadikov.
Nimroz province signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province for removing trade problems at the Milak-Zaranj border crossing.
Abdolnabi Barahoie, deputy governor of Nimroz, thanked Iran for working on their border problems and solving them.
Deputy Governor of Sistan and Baluchestan province for economic affairs Mandana Zanganeh pointed to good cross-border ties between Iran and Afghanistan, which enable both sides to help and work with each other.
The MoU will play a major role in developing border trade between the two countries.
In the past month, Afghan truck drivers had gone on a strike at the Milak-Zaranj border-crossing. After the MoU was signed, over 10 transit trucks resumed commute after 23 days of stoppage.