Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said they will continue to support the peace process in Afghanistan, but the Taliban must live up to its commitments and “break all bonds” with Al Qaeda.
Addressing a press conference before the NATO Defence Ministers meeting, Stoltenberg urged the Taliban to engage in the intra-Afghan talks.
“NATO will continue to adjust our presence in support of the peace process,” he said.
“But for the peace to succeed, the Taliban must live up to their commitments. To reduce violence, break all bonds with Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, and engage in intra-Afghan talks in good faith.”
He said there has been some reduction in violence and progress has also been made in the prisoner exchange. However, the situation is still “fragile” and “difficult” he warned while reiterating support for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.
Two contingents of the Albanian Armed Forces have departed to report to the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
“Albania’s obligations to NATO continue despite pandemics,” the country’s Minister of Defence Olta Xhacka announced on Facebook.
He said the troops of the 3rd Infantry Battalion will serve at the Kabul Airport, while the Special Forces contingent will report to Bagram.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced that 793 positive cases of Coronavirus were reported in Afghanistan over the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 26,310 confirmed cases to date.
In the statement, the MoPH said new cases were reported in Kabul (460), Badakhshan (61), Takhar (59), Bamyan (58), Baghlan (34), Logar (34), Paktia (28), Kandahar (13), Laghman (13), Zabul (10) Helmand (6), Parwan (6), Panjsher (5), Kunduz (4) and Nimroz (2).
Thirteen people succumbed to the virus and 381 people were released from the hospital during the past day, taking the death count to 491 and the recovered cases to 5,508 respectively.
There are 19 patients whose conditions are severe.
The ministry conducted 1,640 tests over the past day.
President Ashraf Ghani called for reforms in Afghanistan’s public administration and governance, while talking to Ahmad Nader Naderi, head of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission.
During the videoconference, Naderi presented his initial reports on the progress of reforms, especially the human resources situation and the structures of the government.
Ghani ordered Naderi to finish his assessments and instructed him to bring about better reforms.
Pakistan’s exports of goods and services to Afghanistan decreased by 21.87% in the first 10 months of the 2019-20 financial year, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reported.
From July 2019 to April 2020, Pakistan’s exports to the country were valued at $808.644 million, showing a negative growth when compared to the $985.572 million in the corresponding period of the year before.
Afghanistan’s exports to Pakistan also decreased by 22.48% during the time period, SBP data revealed.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with Harakat Afghanistan Investment Climate Facility Organization, launched two interventions to improve the efficiency of the transit trucks at Afghanistan’s Torkham and Spin-Boldak border posts, while complying with Pakistan’s COVID-19 trade agreement.
The joint effort will revamp the disinfection of vehicles and cargo at the two border posts before the trucks cross over to Pakistan. They will provide disinfection equipment and supplies, recruit, and train staff to use the equipment.
They will also establish a specialized trans-shipment facility for containerized cargo at Torkham to reduce human contact.
USAID and Harakat said these were the first steps towards opening borders to Afghan exports.
The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI) CEO, Sayed Zaman Hashimi lauded the efforts and said the ACCI was ready to collaborate to “proactively engage with relevant stakeholders to find a sustainable solution to increase trade flow with Pakistan.”
The joint efforts will expedite the safe transit of cargo trucks, which will maintain trade flows during the pandemic. The number of trucks from Afghanistan have declined from an average of 150 per day before COVID-19 to 100 per week.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)’s online dashboard reported 106 new positive Coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours that pushed the total to 25,623 cases.
Due to a dearth of testing kits, only eight laboratories across the country tested some 304 samples in the past day. The ministry has said private labs will start conducting the tests too and has allowed medical professionals to diagnose people based on clinical symptoms.
New cases were detected in the provinces of Baghlan (34), Paktia (28), Laghman (13), Kandahar (13), Zabul (10), Helmand (6) and Nimroz (2).
Uruzgan, was the only province to conduct tests with no positive confirmations.
Over the past day, 13 more succumbed to the virus in Kabul (3), Wardak (3), Paktia (2), Helmand (2), Kunar (1), Kunduz (1) and Zabul (1), taking the total death toll to 491 people.
While Kabul did not report a single positive case, they reported the recovery of over 300 people in the past day. The recovery of 79 other patients takes that total to 5,506 cases recovered.
The country, currently has 19,626 active cases.
Representatives from Afghanistan, Russia and the U.S. held a trilateral meeting over video teleconference on Monday with the focus on an early start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.
The meeting’s participants were Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanif Atmar, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, and Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov.
While the first meeting between the negotiating teams of the Afghan government and the Taliban is scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar, a date has not been announced yet.
Afghanistan, Russia and the U.S. expect it to be held “immediately to agree on agenda and next steps” that would start the intra-Afghan talks.
The attendees also expect the Afghan peace process to achieve a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and expect this to be part of the negotiations from the beginning.
The three representatives reiterated their strong commitment to an Afghan-owned peace process and support for safeguarding Afghanistan’s achievements over the past 19 years.
The Russian and the U.S. government welcomed the Afghan government’s release of prisoners and urged the Taliban to reciprocate according to the commitments of the Doha Agreement.
The three nations also called for a significant reduction in violence as a confidence building measure before the talks can start. The Afghan government proposed the establishment of a monitoring mechanism for compliance with ‘Reduction in Violence (RiV)’ measures to ensure mutual accountability.
Agreeing on the importance of regional and international cooperation as key to sustaining the intra-Afghan negotiations and making the peace process a success, they called for further consultations for strengthening global consensus in support of the peace process.
They also agreed on meeting again in this format to discuss the progress of the intra-Afghan peace process.
The Afghan government has so far released 3,005 Taliban prisoners, and said they would complete the release of 5,000 detainees before the talks.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said their side was willing to hold talks within a week of the release of 5,000 of the group’s men by the Afghan government.
For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan was the deadliest country for children, said the UN in its latest Children and Armed Conflict report.
The UN Secretary-General’s report was launched virtually on Monday and reported that 3,149 Afghan children were killed and 2,275 were maimed in 2019, overwhelmingly by ground fighting, improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks.
An additional 341 children were killed in aerial attacks while 403 were killed by explosives left over from the war. They noted a 67% increase in suicide and complex attacks affecting children in the country, outweighing the decrease in casualties from aerial attacks.
An overwhelming 1,238 casualties were attributed to the Taliban, followed by 297 to the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) and other unidentified groups.
The government and pro-government forces, including the Afghan National Army and the National Defence and Security Forces, were responsible for 1,032 casualties.
One of the highest number of attacks on schools (70) and hospitals (75) in the world, were also reported in Afghanistan. Armed groups were responsible for 113 attacks while 26 attacks were attributed to the pro-government forces.
“Last year, it [Afghanistan] was very much impacted by elections and electoral violence,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.
Among all the violence, 21 school attacks and three hospital attacks resulted from election-related violence.
Despite these figures, Afghanistan still saw a decrease in casualties from 2018, due to some government measures.
“There is also a peace process under way, and now there is a relative stability that we believe is going to lead to much more decreasing numbers,” she added.
Afghanistan was followed by Syrian and Yemen.
Three members of the police were killed, and four others wounded when the Taliban attacked a security checkpoint in Paktika yesterday.
The Ministry of Interior said the Taliban came on motorbikes and launched an offensive on a security checkpoint in Omna district.
The Afghan police fended off the attack and killed 24 Taliban members and wounded 12 others.
Representative Barbara Lee, a Democratic Congresswoman for the 13th District of California, introduced a resolution calling for significant cuts in the Pentagon budget for the money to be redirected to the American people as they suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee presented a 10-point list which included reducing U.S. presence in Afghanistan
by half to save $23,150,000,000.
Her findings include that U.S. taxpayers have paid over $32 million an hour, for the total cost of all wars the country has waged since 2001, including in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.
“These endless wars have not made Americans safer or brought democracy or stability to the Middle East, indeed they have further destabilized the region and show no sign of actually ending or achieving any of the long-ago stated goals,” she wrote.
She also said that interviews with senior military leaders and officials showed that they believed the war in Afghanistan was “unwinnable” and the U.S. “knowingly misled the public for years.”
“We all want to provide the best for our men and women in the armed services… we need to take a hard look at every dollar and reinvest in people,” Lee said, urging the government to redirect the finances from defence to the people, especially those suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic slowdown.
“It’s time to cut weapons of war and prioritize the well-being of our troops, anti-poverty programs, public health initiatives, and diplomacy.”
Abdul Sattar Husseini, an Afghan lawmaker, accused Iranian authorities of being involved in the attacks on Afghan refugees in Iran, reports Associated Press (AP).
Husseini said he is a part of the Afghan government’s investigating team that are looking into the two recent incidents in Iran that led to widespread protest rallies in many countries.
In the first incident, media reported that bodies of around 50 drowned Afghan migrants had been found in the Harirud River along the Iran-Afghan border. Husseini explains that a large group of Afghan migrant had been captured by the Iranian border police and were allegedly pushed into the river.
Tehran has categorically denied these claims and said the incident took place on the Afghan side of the border. In later reports, they said the mentioned date and location was incorrect and due to rough weather, no one had crossed the border that day.
The more recent incident which Husseini is investigating is the car fire in Iran’s Yazd province which killed three Afghans. The vehicle was shot at- allegedly by the police – when it crashed and caught fire.
This incident was said to be due to human traffickers and the driver of the car. The driver has been identified and the police are searching for him.
Husseini told AP that the Afghan government’s report would be presented before Parliament this week.
On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi had accused anti-Iran elements of defaming the country.
“As a country which has been warmly hosting millions of Afghan immigrants for four decades, propaganda campaign against Iran is not acceptable.”
President Ashraf Ghani said a team would be going to Tehran to have a larger discussion about the status of Afghan refugees in Iran. Unhappy demonstrators have asked for an international investigation.
A graffiti by the renowned group ArtLords surfaced on a blast wall in Kabul to protest the Yazd deaths, paying a tribute to George Floyd in solidarity with the anti-racism protests after his death in police custody.
Pakistani ambassador to Iran Rahim Hayat Qureshi met and held talks with Iran’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian Fard.
In this bilateral talk, they discussed a wide range of regional developments including the situation in Afghanistan and the intra-Afghan peace talks.
Qureshi later tweeted that they were looking forward to working with Iran to achieve common goals of peace, wellbeing and stability in Afghanistan.
Around 66 Afghan asylum seekers have to spend nights on the streets of Athens after being expelled from the Moria Camp on Lesbos Island in Greece.
They had been granted asylum, however, as European Union funded accommodation programmes from refugees ended in Greece, they were abandoned.
The group has been living at a public park in the city.
“They told us we have to leave Moria Camp. They said: ‘Go to Athens, finish your paperwork and go wherever you want after that’,” a refugee told Anadolu Agency.
Another refugee the agency interviewed, said, “They officially left us here. Imagine that you came to Afghanistan and did not speak the language. And nobody guides you. How would you feel?”