Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The Afghan government has asked the Taliban to submit 592 new names of members they want released from prison in a bid to complete the prisoner exchange process and start the peace talks.
On Thursday, Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Office of the National Security Council, said they had given Taliban the “choice” to introduce new names of prisoners to be released or the Afghan government “might take matters in our own hands.”
This comes after the Afghan authorities refused to release 592 captives of the 5,000 that were named on Taliban’s previous list because they were deemed “too dangerous.”
Faisal said the unreleased captives had committed serious crimes such as drug trafficking, abducting citizens, sexual assault, stoning of women, assassinations, and others that violated the rights of individuals (haq ul-abd).
He pointed that the government had already release 4,019 prisoners while the Taliban had released just half of their 1,000 hostages.
“The ball is in the Taliban’s court,” Faisal said, adding that the government wants to complete the prisoner release soon.
According to the U.S.-Taliban Doha agreement, the Afghan government had to release 5,000 of the group’s prisoners in exchange for the Taliban releasing 1,000 Afghan security forces members before the peace talks.
The French Ambassador to Kabul David Martinon expressed concern about the escalation of violence in Afghanistan and the growing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the peace conference convened on Thursday my President Ashraf Ghani.
On Thursday, the Afghan government hosted the second international peace conference which was attended by 20 countries and international organisations.
Martinon pointed that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted, on July 1, Resolution 2532, which sets three clear priorities – a general and immediate cessation of hostilities, a humanitarian ceasefire, and solidarity to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A resolution is never an end in itself. We call for its full implementation,” the envoy told the meeting.
France also championed the active participation of Afghan women in the peace process and called it “an indispensable condition” for the long-term success of peace.
“We also emphasized the need to fight drugs trafficking,” said Martinon, and he added that failing to obtain decisive progress on tackling the illegal trade would prove to be an additional resource for fuelling terrorism in Afghanistan.
About the prisoner release, France pointed that the Afghan government has been “put on the spot” due to their refusal to free Taliban prisoners who had committed moral and criminal acts.
“The Afghan people, the Taliban and international partners need to hear a strong narrative from the government,” he said. “The case of the Republic is more than solid.”
However, France is concerned about the “rule of law, the rights of victims and families, and the necessity to ensure the security of the Afghan people.”
To give the peace negotiations the best chances, France accepted the extension by the UN Security Council of a travel ban exemption for 11 Taliban leaders. “But no automaticity: softening or lifting sanctions must be correlated to their genuine commitment for peace,” the ambassador said.
On May 29, the European Union stressed that the commitment and level of cooperation demonstrated today by all actors in Afghanistan, notably the Taliban “will determine tomorrow’s political and financial support by the EU to the country’s future.”
Martinon concluded that while reforms are still needed, the Afghan government has an advantage during the negotiations due to these conditions.
The Ambassadorial Anti-Corruption Group raised concern about the slowdown in Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts, in a statement on Thursday.
“Addressing widespread corruption is crucial for sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan,” the grouping said. “The upcoming peace talks require all parties to demonstrate their commitment to integrity, accountability and the rule of law by concrete actions rather than polarization through mutual accusations of corrupt practices.
The group comprises of the Heads of Missions for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), along with eight nations, and the World Bank, NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative Stefano Pontecorvo, the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, UK and the European Union.
Their statement referred to UNAMA’s annual anti-corruption report and said that Afghanistan has continuously delayed the establishment of the strategic and institutional Anti-Corruption framework and caused “serious concern.”
The Group said, “The lack of effective investigations and prosecutions, in particular of high-level suspects, is also worrisome and we urge thorough investigation of the multiple allegations of misuse of public funds. It is paramount that these shortcomings are addressed to provide the necessary confidence and assurance for Afghan citizens.”
They welcomed President Ashraf Ghani’s assurances that anti-corruption will be high on the political agenda and urged the government to deliver on these assurances, by committing to measurable targets, such as empowering the Supreme Audit Office and swiftly establishing the Anti-Corruption Commission.
While relying on an interim document to fill immediate gaps, within one year, the Government should adopt a genuine anti-corruption strategy building on a thorough assessment of the previous strategy through an inclusive consultation process, the group advised.
They also expect “substantial progress” on prosecution and enforcement of court orders and warrants, particularly in high-level cases and on strengthening of the capacity for effective, impartial and transparent implementation of policies and strategies. Findings of investigations by review bodies must be public. Institutions must be competent, independent and transparent and appointments to the new government and related institutions, as well as their future policies, must be guided by principles of good governance, rule of law and accountability.
“At this point, a strong and positive signal is needed,” the group urged as they warned that international partners who have been mobilising significant resources in support of the government in the fight against corruption, do not want to see reforms fade or fail now, as it would also mean a loss of these investments.
At least 10 Taliban were killed in clashes in Paktia’s Zazi Aryounb district with another two killed in Samkani district of the province, Afghan security forces confirmed.
Aimal Momand, spokesperson for the 203rd Thunder Corps said the Taliban attacked their outposts in Shah Mohammad village in Zazi Aryoub district at around 5 am on Thursday.
The group’s commander, identified as Abasin, was among the dead while seven Taliban more were injured. No casualty was inflicted on the Afghan security forces.
Momand said in a separate attack on a patrol in Samkani district, two Taliban fighters were killed, including a Pakistani national, while two more were wounded.
Taliban claimed responsibility for the Zazi Aryoub clashes but provided no further details.
the Ministry of Defence also reported 18 Taliban fatalities in Uruzgan’s Dehrawood and Trinkot areas on Thursday.
The number of positive coronavirus cases in Afghanistan has fallen by 30 to 40% said Ahmad Jawad Osmani, the acting Minister of Public Health (MoPH), on Thursday.
The MoPH reported 314 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, including 20 deaths and 147 recovered cases. The country’ s tally is 33,908 confirmed cases to date with 957 deaths.
Osmani stressed that this was possible due to the help of the public and it took a month and half for the cases to decrease, according to laboratory statistics.
However, although the number of positive COVID-19 cases have decreased, Afghanistan is still in a state of crisis, Osmani warned.
“Once the number of positive confirmations reach less than 5%, we can be in a better position and return to normal life,” he added.
However, observers have noted that the laboratories have been consistently testing fewer samples than the 2,000 a day, the ministry had said they were capable of.
Even on Thursday, they tested 716 samples within 24 hours.
Later, Osmani also said that the ministry had acquired 500 oxygen generators and would hopefully, be able to solve the shortage of oxygen soon.
Taliban responded to the story of the image released by the Afghan branch of Uzbek Jihadist group Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), and said it was propaganda and untrue.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted on Wednesday evening that the image had been “stolen from our archives and falsified by anti-peace circles for propaganda.”
The disputed image undermines Taliban’s claims about foreign fighters in Afghanistan.
A story by FDD’s Long War Journal had reported that the KIB’s Afghan branch, which is known to operate in the northern provinces, was working with the Taliban and had captured several pro-government militiamen.
The photos had been shared on KIB’s Telegram by their Syrian emir Abu Yusuf al-Muhajir who claimed the image was from a raid with the “Ansar Mujahideen,” a term used for local Taliban fighters.
The Taliban spokesperson does not dispute the image is from Afghanistan, however, neither does he make clear whether it was from a joint operation.
The KIB on its part, refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan-Katibat Imam al-Bukhari and has also pledged allegiance to Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
UN Security Council monitoring report from January 2020 also talk about KIB’s presence in Afghanistan. The group has released photos of their Afghan operations since 2016.
Officials of the 203rd Thunder Corps said security forces thwarted a Taliban car bomber before they reached the targeted military base in Sheikhabad area od Syedabad in Wardak province.
Aimal Momand, a spokesperson for the 203rd Thunder Corps said the bomb exploded by the roadside, near a security checkpoint in the early hours of Thursday.
The district governor also said there were no injuries in the blast, however the damage was extensive as houses around the area were destroyed and many windows were broken.
The Taliban has not yet commented on the attack.
However, this is the third such targeted attack against security forces this week.
On Wednesday, a similar attack was foiled in Kandahar’s Shah Wali Kot district and on Tuesday morning, there was a suicide blast in Nangarhar’s Kuz Kunar (Khewa) district.
Acting Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar held a video call with the Foreign Minister of Malaysia Hishammuddin Hussein on Wednesday.
During the call, Atmar expressed a willingness to further strengthen bilateral relations and development cooperation with Malaysia, the ministry’s statement said.
He deliberated on the benefits of peace for Afghanistan and the region, discussing the potential for economic development, regional welfare, trade and transport links.
Atmar also reflected on the high levels of violence present in Afghanistan and the challenges this has caused in successfully combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Foreign Minister of Malaysia reiterated the Malaysian government’s support for the Afghan peace process, a Reduction in Violence (RiV), release of prisoners by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and the start of intra-Afghan dialogue.
Hussein also elaborated on the Malaysian government’s programs and discussed the potential for cooperation between the two countries on issues pertaining to food security and the sharing of experiences in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
A car bomb detonated at a security checkpoint in Wardak’s Syedabad district on early Thursday morning.
Mohibullah Sharifzoy, a spokesperson for the Wardak governor confirmed the attack.
However, there have been no reports on the casualties so far and no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.