Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Two months after the attack on a Kabul gurudwara that killed 27 people, the victim’s relatives continue to live in fear of another attack.
The Islamic State (IS) had claimed responsibility for the attack on the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar of Kabul. The minority Sikh community, just a little over 600 people, was shaken by the brutal gunning down of worshippers at a place of worship.
Inderjit Kaur, who lost her husband and two brothers in the attack, told The Indian Express she was more afraid of attacks than Coronavirus. “We are still very scared.”
Kaur’s family of seven has been staying in a room inside Central Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan Kabul. Living in such close quarters also puts them at a higher risk of infection. “I just want a safe life for my children. We want to move to India as soon as possible. Please take us out of here.”
As COVID-19 spread across the country after the March 25th attacks, families who had applied for a visa to travel to India, faced delays in approval. Soon international travel was stopped. Many took refuge in other gurudwaras. They have now sent written appeals to the Indian Embassy.
Many Sikh families in Afghanistan have been sheltered by gurudwaras since the Mujahideen took over in 1992. The situations worsened after the March attacks with 9 to 14 people sleeping in a single room.
Parmjit Kaur’s family has also been staying at Karte Parwan Gurudwara where she shares a single room with eight other people – including her deceased sister’s four children. “At least fifty people use same washroom. Our life has been ruined,” she told The Indian Express.
“We know that coronavirus can spread here anytime and if one gets it, all will infected because we are together almost entire day but we do not have any option. We cannot afford to pay rent for rooms outside. We do not have our own house. We are scared of another attack and coronavirus both, but fear of another attack is always bigger,” said Kaur.
Community leaders in Afghanistan said they are waiting for the lockdown to end in India before arranging for an international flight. They expect the families who lost their members in the March attacks to be evacuated first.
Even after a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and available worldwide, the virus will likely remain for decades, experts told The Washington Post. Experts in the U.S. are prepared for the prolonged stay of Coronavirus, just like HIV, measles and chickenpox.
A disease which is regularly found among people in a certain region is called ‘endemic’ and that is what experts in epidemiology, disaster planning and vaccine development, fear is the future of Coronavirus.
“This virus is here to stay,” Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told the Post. “The question is, how do we live with it safely?”
Till now, more than 5.92 million people have already been infected with more than 100,000 new cases every day. Even countries that succeeded in repressing it initially saw a resurgence of fresh cases.
As the world gets used to the idea of a pandemic, they now similarly need to prepare for an endemic. Combating endemic diseases requires sustained effort across the board along with political support. Everyone needs to be on the same page, allocating money, manpower and time, to completely eradicate the disease.
That’s not the case now. Countries are easing lockdown measures and rushing headlong into reopening their economies. WHO is warning of a second wave of the disease which would cause even more casualties.
“It’s like we have attention-deficit disorder right now. Everything we’re doing is just a knee-jerk response to the short-term,” Tom Frieden, former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told the Post.
“People keep asking me, ‘What’s the one thing we have to do?’ The one thing we have to do is to understand that there is not one thing. We need a comprehensive battle strategy, meticulously implemented.”
The future is bleak
Experts say countries should not take big gambles on a quick-fix vaccine. New hot spots are growing as people start moving around.
Leaders need to desperately change their tactics from short-term crisis management to long-term solutions. This could include automatic doors where everyone is not touching a handle, or voice-activate elevators so people do not have to push buttons. Open-floor offices may become things of a bygone era as cubicles and partitions come back. Work from home or remote work may become the norm.
The Post predicts that in the first few years of vaccine production, global demand would far outstrip the supply. The class divide would be very visible at this phase with the richer countries outbidding the poorer ones for new shipment. This could devolve into hoarding, ineffective vaccine campaigns and the development of black market channels for dubious cures.
Eventually, experts say the Coronavirus may become relatively benign, causing milder infections, once enough people have been infected or been vaccinated and have developed herd immunity. But to reach that stage, many more would have to die.
An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) hit a vehicle of Khurshid TV network in PD4 of Kabul city on Saturday, killing at least one journalist and a driver.
Eyewitness say at least 6 people were injured in the incident .
Khurshid TV’s director Jawed Farhad confirmed the incident, but gave no further details.
No group or individual has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
A survey among Afghan health workers showed that every 13th infected person in the country works in the health sector. The research, published by German NGO Johanniter International Assistance, also showed that women had less access to healthcare and COVID-19 tests.
The NGO and its partners reached out to medical professionals in eight Afghan provinces and found that the majority of the staff was misinformed.
“Many of the interviewees believe that COVID-19 leads to death and have therefore closed their practices or greatly reduced the operations of the facilities out of fear,” they found. Only half of the surveyed clinics had screening facilities.
Afghan women were also suffering as limited screening facilities mean that there were no separate waiting areas for women for treatment and diagnosis of COVID-19.
“We are very concerned that women in particular no longer go to the doctor or hospital for fear of infection,” the report said. The medical staff at the facilities are mainly men. As a result, general healthcare, prenatal and postnatal care and vaccinations have fallen sharply among women.
The report also said the all the medical professionals were under great stress, with 75% of them reporting sleeping disorders, loss of appetite and nightmares.
As cases grow, it is likely that even more frontline workers will be infected by Coronavirus.
Afghanistan’s KAM Air landed an Airbus A340-300 in Brazil with medical equipment. This was the first flight made by an Afghan carrier to the country.
The flight flew from Nanjing, China, to Nairobi, Kenya, and then to the city of Cabo Frio along the coast of Brazil. After that, the plane was scheduled to go to Chile.
Its lengthy route was due to the EU ban on Afghan carriers. KAM Air is also banned in the U.S. airspace.
In the past 24 hours, 866 new Coronavirus cases – the highest in a single-day since the outbreak started – were reported in Afghanistan, said the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) today. This brings the total to 14,525 confirmed cases, with three new deaths and 44 recovered patients over the last 24 hours.
Kabul with 411 cases, and Herat with 177 cases, still led the country’s counts for new infections. The other provinces with positive cases were Balkh (39), Nangarhar (35), Takhar (29), Paktia (28), Parwan (27), Badghis (26), Baghlan (19), Logar (19), Kunduz (16), Kapisa (15) and Ghazni (10), Panjshir (6), Badakhshan (4), Wardak (3) and Faryab (2).
There are 12,973 active cases in the country with 249 people dead and 1,303 people recovered.
According to the MoPH, people are not taking Coronavirus seriously.
Despite their efforts and warning, people have increased movement within major cities, resulting to the spread of the infection. That is the reason why the citizens of Kabul, Nangarhar and Balkh are reportedly seeing larger increases in new Coronavirus cases that before.
“The negotiation team is ready to begin the talks at any moment [with Taliban], said Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation at a press conference today.
He said the ongoing lull in violence after the ceasefire announcement and the prisoner exchange, have set a positive tone for launching the peace talks. However, there must be a fresh ceasefire during the talks, cautioned Abdullah.
“Our aim, and that of our colleagues at the High Council for National Reconciliation, is to not spare any efforts for lasting and dignified peace in Afghanistan,” he added.
He said today will be considered his first official day in office. Abdullah was appointed to lead the peace talks after signing the power-sharing deal with President Ashraf Ghani before Eid Al-Fitr.
Abdullah said members of the Council will be announced within the coming week.
With terrorist organisations and other anti-government forces taking to the interwebs and becoming tech savvy, the U.S. Special Operations Forces are developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to monitor the information field, reports Defense One.
General Richard D. Clarke was an Afghan veteran who had led special operations forces in the country years ago. Then more than 90% of his time was spent in combat movement and shooting, he told at a panel at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in mid-May. When he returned to Afghanistan in 2019 as commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), he had to spend more than 60% of his time monitoring what the Taliban and Afghans were thinking and how that would affect American actions and vice versa.
According to Clarke, AI will become a huge part of SOCOM’s information warfare. Over the next months, the Command will create a new headquarter where AI would be used to translate, scan captured laptops and cellphones, and react to Taliban messaging on Twitter and other platforms in real-time.
This social information will also be used in combat operations from next year. SOCOM is planning to implement a programme to provide combat commanders with improved AI, reports Defense One. This will create visualization software that will display relevant tactical information and data such as population dynamics, social media trends, and other social aspects. This would allow commanders to gauge what the people are thinking socially and psychologically in those places.
AI will also allow operators to overcome jamming signals or detect new electronic warfare equipment – just like radars. It will allow aerial and ground-based robots to carry out more dangerous missions like clearing a building or a tunnel.
SOCOM is working with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre to implement these initiatives. They are currently implementing 30 projects that include some AI and machine learning.
Photographer Naim Nadir from Kabul won the second edition of AFP’s Shah Marai Award for his black-and-white portrait series of men entitled ‘The Afghan Spirit.’
The award honours Shah Marai, chief photographer of AFP’s Kabul bureau, who was killed in a suicide attack in 2018. The, entitled “My Afghanistan” invited Afghan photographers to portray the reality their people face “away from the tragic images of violence.” The winner was chosen from 39 entries by a jury of six world-renowned photographers.
On his Twitter, Nadir dedicated his award. “To me this is honouring the legacy of more than the talented Afghan photo-journalist Shah Marai but more commending the courage of all the Afghan women and men who have worked for the media here in Afghanistan and has fallen victims of the ongoing war in my homeland.”
Nadir’s series of portraits showcased the national unity by portraying all the main ethnic groups that call Afghanistan home like the Pahtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and others.
The 11 weathered faces are all close-ups. “I tried to isolate the subject’s eyes, letting their look and expression tell their story,” the photographer explained.
The second prize was awarded to Mohammad Ismail, a Reuters photographer, for his series of 15 pictures of the bird market in Kabul where “Afghans weighed down by decades of war and struggle find a little comfort and distraction” by indulging their passion for birds.
Mohammed Aref Karimi, an AFP stringer from Herat, was awarded the third place for his colourful photos of women and children which demonstrate “”hope for a good life and finding moments of joy between war and life never left the Afghan people.”
“NATO Allies and partners stand fully committed to Afghanistan’s peace process and long-term security” stressed NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoana at a World Bank-chaired donor meeting on Afghanistan.
At the teleconference meeting, participants exchanged views on assisting Afghanistan. It was attended by Today’s meeting was also attended by Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, Acting Afghan Finance Minister, as well as representatives of NATO Allies and partners, and of other international organizations, including the EU, the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.
Geoana highlighted the importance of close consultation and coordination amongst different members of the international community to support the country.
NATO has been leading the non-combat Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan since January 2015. They help sustain Afghan security forces and institutions financially too. Meanwhile, the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership provides a framework for wider political dialogue and practical cooperation.
He restressed that NATO welcomes the decision taken by Afghanistan’s political leaders to resolve their differences via the power-sharing agreement between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation.
The formation of an inclusive government and the three-day Eid Al-Fitr ceasefire has built a lot of goodwill within the international community.
He added that NATO Allies and partners are firmly committed – through the Resolute Support Missions and with funds – to support Afghanistan.
The first cargo ship enroute to Afghanistan berthed at Pakistan’s Gwadar port on Friday, marking the first sea transit trade between the two countries.
Pakistan’s Adviser to Prime Minister for Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood took to Twitter announced the development on social media and called it a win for both countries.
“The cargo ship SIBULK TRADITION has berthed at Gwadar, carrying 16000 Tonnes of urea for Transit to Afghanistan. This is a first and marks the beginning of a new era in Pakistan’s trade by sea,” he tweeted.
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Atif Mashal appreciated Pakistan’s efforts on Twitter. “This will certainly have a positive impact on Afghanistan-Pak trade & transit ties. We must extend support to each other for revival of commerce & connectivity in Central and South Asia that will surely benefit people in the region.”
Khan Wali Khan Basharmal, Deputy Chief of the Administrative Office of the Afghan President, also called it a landmark. “We support this initiation and consider it a promising step towards regional connectivity. Afghanistan is an opportunity not a battlefield for the region.”
Pakistan’s strategically located Gwadar port, managed by China Overseas Port Holding Company, will now allow Afghan traders to import bulk cargo of wheat, sugars and fertilisers by sea. From the port, a land route would be taken to send the cargo across to Afghanistan in sealable trucks. This will boost bilateral and economic ties between the two countries.
Goods through Gwadar port have to pass through a much shorter overland route when compared to Iran’s Chabahar port which is being developed by India to ship its cargo to Afghanistan.
The transhipment commenced under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement-2010.
Three months after the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement was signed in Doha, the UN Security Council (UNSC) was expected to vote to lift sanctions on the group. However, that will not be happening, Russia’s presidential envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, told Anadolu Agency.
The issue will not be raised as some conditions stipulated in the peace deal have not been met yet.
“This [the lifting of sanctions] was supposed to be done by May 29 on condition that the inter-Afghan talks had to start by March 10, but they have not yet been launched.”
The Afghan government and the Taliban have also been in the process of exchanging prisoners after the Taliban’s calls for the three-day Eid ceasefire and that is another reason for the delay, Kabulov said.
“This process is being delayed due to the unfinished exchange of prisoners between the parties to the conflict and the absence of a negotiating team from Kabul, which was not formed due to differences between [Afghan President] Ashraf Ghani and [Ghani’s political rival] Abdullah Abdullah. But even after these politicians made an agreement on May 17, the Taliban declared its non-recognition.”
The lifting of sanctions would transform Taliban from “terrorist organization to a political structure” and then further integrate it within the country.
The Taliban leadership has managed to reduce violence within the country and control the situation within its ranks, Kabulov said. The seven-day period of reducing violence before signing the agreement with the U.S. is February was adhered to.
He expects the UNSC to put the issue into its agenda after the intra-Afghan negotiations start.
The Council of the European Union (EU) says future political and financial support for Afghanistan will be “strongly linked” to the results of the intra-Afghan peace talks, a lasting peace and reconciliation to end the conflict.
The Council, consisting of EU foreign ministers, reaffirmed its commitment to support Afghanistan in its path towards peace, security, stability and self-reliance, but added:
“The EU expects that the political process leads to an Afghanistan that, as a signatory of the UN Charter, upholds and promotes the values, rights and principles enshrined therein, and does not constitute a threat to international peace and security. Without genuine commitment on effectively enhancing governance, strengthening institutions and combating corruption, EU support will be reconsidered.”
The 13-point Council conclusions supported the power-sharing agreement between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation. They hoped this would help strengthen the country and pave the way for brokering an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process” with the Taliban.
The ministers also condemned the Taliban’s violence, especially noting the May 12 attack on the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul, despite signing the bilateral agreement with the U.S. in February. “We have to regret that the violence from the Taliban continues, a significant reduction of this level of violence is badly needed.”
The three-day Eid ceasefire was mentioned as a good starting point as the Council showed support for the Secretary General’s calls for a global humanitarian ceasefire amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But 3 days is not enough. Afghanistan and its people need a permanent ceasefire,” they said. The Council hopes the prisoner exchange, initiated by Ghani, will build trust and confidence between both sides to promptly start the intra-Afghan negotiations.
The statement also spoke against the Taliban’s demands for an Islamic Emirate and indicated no support for its return to the country.
“The EU supports without reservation UNSC Resolution 2513 of 10 March 2020, which neither recognises nor supports the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
They also called on all sides to mitigate the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and cooperate to tackle the spread of the virus in the country.