Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Afghanistan is benefiting from an unexpected windfall in the wake of Iran’s downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in a missile barrage earlier this month, officials said.
As per BNN report, with many international airlines still reluctant to fly over Iran in the wake of the Jan. 8 tragedy, its neighbor is benefiting as planes divert through Afghan airspace, generating fees of $700 a trip in the process.
The switch has seen revenue from overflying jump by about $100,000 a day, or more than one-quarter, according to Afghanistan’s civil aviation authority, with as many as 400 flights crossing the country in 24 hours. Affected routes typically link Southeast Asia and India with Europe.
“Many international airlines currently see Iran’s airspace as highly risky,” said Mohammad Naeem Salehi, a spokesman for the authority in Kabul. “Afghanistan’s airspace is seen by them as more secure.”
The overflights have provided a boost for an Afghan economy propped up by international aid after its own struggles with years of war. Aviation is already the third-biggest revenue earner after customs and telecommunications, generating 8 billion Afghanis ($104 million) in 2018, including landing and parking fees and taxes.
The country plans to raise the overflights levy to $950 by July to help pay for the cost of a new radar system from France’s Thales SA.
“Afghanistan’s airspace might be safe but its ground could be dangerous,” said Ahmad Shokur, a member of the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society. A suicide bomb near the airport’s entrance killed 14 people and wounded 60 in mid-2018, while rocket attacks are commonplace.
The Pakistani government has decided to establish electronic data interfaces with Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Dubai in a bid to combat under-invoicing, customs duty and tax evasion and misdeclaration and underassessment of goods.
The Pakistani government has specified February 20, 2020 as the deadline for the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for setting up the electronic data interface with Afghanistan in consultation with relevant ministries and agencies.
The interfaces with the remaining three countries and regions would be established by June 2020.
US Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson says the United States is committed to work with the future government of Afghanistan to strengthen the enduring partnership.
“US donated $29 million to support the Afghan presidential elections (half the international community’s contribution) because we care – as Afghans do – about the democratic process and the strength of the representative democracy in Afghanistan,” Mr. Wilson tweeted.
He also underscored the need for transparency in the electoral process, including the final results.
“We strongly support the efforts of the election complaints commission to complete its work in a transparent, fair, and timely manner. Impartiality and consistency will deliver the credible result voters in Afghanistan expect and deserve,” Wilson said.
A report issued on January 20 by the United Nations claims Al-Qaeda continues to have “close and mutually beneficial” relations with the Taliban despite the latter group’s holding talks with US negotiators in Doha to broker a peace deal.
The report by the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, which is responsible for tracking terrorist groups around the globe, says that Al-Qaeda supplies “resources and training in exchange for protection” from the Taliban.
The report points to a joint US-Afghan raid in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in September as evidence for this observation.
The report says that “Al-Qaeda and foreign terrorist fighters aligned with it, under the protection and influence of the Taliban, pose a long-term global threat.”
There has been an increase in Iranian activity in Afghanistan that poses a risk to American and coalition troops there, a senior US commander said.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan in the past week. He told reporters traveling with him that he is seeing a “worrisome trend,” of Iranian malign interference.
“Iran has always sort of dabbled a little bit in Afghanistan, but they see perhaps an opportunity to get after us and the coalition here through their proxies,” McKenzie said. “So, we are very concerned about that here as we go forward.”
McKenzie’s warnings come just weeks after Iran launched as many as two dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq where American forces are stationed.
McKenzie, who left Afghanistan Friday after a three-day visit, said the coalition is working with the Afghan government to monitor the situation and prevent any problems.
“The coalition is going to put pressure on the Taliban to come to the peace table. We´ve always been very clear about that,” McKenzie said in an interview at the new NATO Special Operations Command Center. “If they don´t come they´re going to continue to be hit and hit hard.”
McKenzie, who first served in Afghanistan as a colonel in 2004 and returned as a one-star general in 2009, said there was no path to peace during those years.
Now, he said, a political agreement is possible if the Taliban is willing to bring reasonable proposals to the table.
Punjab Police seized nearly 200 kg heroin, claimed to be worth around Rs 2,000 crore, from a house in Sultanwind village of Amritsar district and arrested six people, including an Afghan national, Indian officials have said.
Acting on a tip-off, police has raided the house in Akash Avenue and recovered the heroin along with other contraband, said Special Task Force chief Harpreet Sidhu.
In addition to 194.15 kg heroin, 38 kg dextromethorphan, 25 kg caffeine powder, probably used to cut and mix the heroin, and six drums of chemical composition weighing 207 kg were also recovered, he said.
The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan held fresh talks with Pakistan’s civil and military leadership on Friday, seeking Islamabad’s crucial help to achieve a breakthrough in the ongoing Afghan reconciliation process.
Zalmay Khalilzad, visiting Islamabad for the first time in 2020, separately met army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to share the outcome of his recent meetings with Taliban leaders in Doha.
In his meeting with the foreign minister, Khalilzad, who visited Pakistan a record nine times last year, hailed Islamabad’s support and “mediatory role” in the peace process.
According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Qureshi affirmed Pakistan’s continued support for the smooth progress and successful outcome of efforts aimed at ending the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
He said a possible peace deal between Washington and the Taliban could pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogue — a longtime demand of the international community which the Taliban have rejected time and again.
Khalilzad met Gen. Bajwa at the army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and shared details of his recent engagements with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“During the meeting, matters of mutual interest including the overall regional security situation and ongoing Afghanistan reconciliation process were discussed,” a statement from the Pakistani army’s media wing said without offering details.
“Mr. Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for facilitating the process towards the mutual objective of peace in the region,” the statement concluded.
A US agency has warned that Afghanistan will need vast amounts of foreign funding to keep its government afloat through 2024. International money pays for roughly 75 percent of all of Afghanistan’s costs, while government revenue covers barely a quarter of Afghan public expenditures.
The warning comes as foreign donors become increasingly angry over the cost of corruption and the US seeks a peace deal with the Taliban to withdraw its troops from the country. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which issues reports quarterly to US Congress, monitors all US spending relating to the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
According to the SIGAR report for the last quarter of 2019, international donors, led by Washington, provide the Afghan government with $8.5 billion annually to cover everything from security to education and health care. The US is paying $4.2 billion yearly just for Afghanistan’s security and defense forces.
SIGAR also said that “enemy-initiated attacks” rose sharply last year, with the fourth quarter seeing a total of 8,204 attacks – up from 6,974 during the same period in 2018.
A US senator on the Armed Services Committee has asked the Pentagon to explain why it has proposed yet another helicopter model for the Afghan air force instead of the Black Hawks it has been sending for years.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., questioned what he saw as an “abrupt change in aviation procurement and unclear strategic justification” in a letter sent to the Pentagon and shared with Stars and Stripes.
The Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., which makes Black Hawks, is headquartered in Connecticut.
The number of Black Hawks provided to the air force will be capped at 53 instead of the 159 pledged in 2016, to replace the country’s aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, said a Defense Department report to Congress.
“Reductions were made on the basis of a review of future operational requirements,” said the Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan report released last week.
The report also said the U.S. plans to send an unknown number of Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters to an elite Afghan air unit to replace its aging Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters. Sanctions bar the U.S. from buying Russian aircraft or spares to keep them flying, though some Afghan pilots have said they favor them.