Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, arrived in Kabul today, and met President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders.
Sediq Sediqqi, the Afghan presidential spokesperson, said they spoke about the intra-Afghan peace process and practical measures that needed to be taken for the talks to start.
Ghani also discussed steps on how to continue the reduction of violence, importance of the undeclared ceasefire and the commitment of the international community and neighbouring countries for peace in Afghanistan.
“President Ghani has remained a consistent & principled force for the defense of the republic & the inalienable rights of all Afghans,” said First Vice President Amrullah Saleh who was also one of the attendees. “It has been an honour to be on his side in this noble path.”
The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment (ACCI) has called on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to cooperate in the process of restarting exports to Pakistan.
With the arrival of the fruit harvest season, Afghanistan has seen a bumper crop of watermelons and is struggling to sell it, said ACCI which also trades fresh and dried fruits.
In its press release, ACCI said they held a video conference with the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Kabul Karen Decker. They are trying to facilitate the reopening of Pak-Afghan border crossings so that exports could start again.
We at #acc_af had a great meeting with Deputy Chief of Mission Decker of @USEmbassyKabul and group of Afghan trader on opening of pakistan borders to Afghan agricultural products to be exported to pakistan to prevent another watermilon crises in Afghanistan. https://t.co/4Suu0wAF5d
— Sayed Zaman Hashemi (@szhashemi) June 8, 2020
During the meeting, Decker pledged to hold talks with the U.S. embassy officials in Kabul and Islamabad to facilitate the process of opening Pakistan’s borders.
She promised a solution to put an end to the dilemma soon.
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, chairman of ACCI and head of the Fresh Fruits Union, said the government had promised to open Pakistan’s borders earlier with consencuc from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President.
However, no action has been taken so far.
The ACCI also called on the Afghan government to prevent the impending catastrophe that threatens their exports and to talk to Pakistani officials to export fresh fruit and vegetables during the harvest season.
Increasing watermelon woes
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a press release on Wednesday that estimates show Kunduz province will harvest more than 100,000 tons of watermelons this year while Farah province is expecting 689,400 metric tons this year
Favourable climatic conditions in Kunduz led to the farmers planting 3,460 hectares of land. Now, they are worried about selling their produce.
Some farmers have said that the quality of the harvest has also increased this year, with watermelons weighing up to 16 kilograms.
They are optimistic about increasing their agricultural products, but they are asking the government to cooperate so that their melon products are sold at favourable prices.
In Farah, which saw a 6% increase over last year’s harvest, farmers have transported their products to Kabul but have found no buyers.
Struggling with the lack of domestic sale and the inability to export, they are calling on the government agencies to help find markets for their produce.
Last year, Farah province saw a 17% increase in watermelon products. Farmers had to set the price at AFN1 for every kilogram of watermelon, which was a devastating drop in price.
Every year, Afghan farmers complain about the lack of foreign markets for their fresh fruits and fruit products. Failing to make the sale, these fruits are either sold for a loss or destroyed as they sit in storage waiting for better markets.
Around 9,220 metric tons of wheat has set sail from India for Afghanistan via the Chabahar Port today.
The ‘humanitarian gesture’ is aimed at reducing Afghanistan’s food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic and is part of a ‘gift’ of 75,000 metric tons of wheat from India to the country, revealed the Indian embassy in Kabul.
So far, 30,000 metric tons have already been sent and the remaining will follow in the coming weeks.
The current consignment consists of 401 containers that left from Kandla Port located in the western state of Gujarat in India.
It will land in Iran’s Chabahar port from where it will be transported overland to Afghanistan.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced that it has discovered a Taliban drone at the group’s ammunition depot in Nangarhar.
The NDS said that special forces had carried out an operation in the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar, against the weapons and ammunition depot of a Taliban commander, Abdul Fattah.
Fattah, who was also called Patang, was killed by the security forces.
The operation resulted in the capture of an unmanned aerial vehicle along with light and heavy weapons, including an 82-meter-long mortar shell.
The two Taliban members who were in charge of guarding the depot, Gholam Mohammad and Rozi Khan, have also been detained.
Nangarhar, a province in eastern Afghanistan, has a large Taliban presence and is also the centre of the Islamic State’s presence in the country.
Members of Pakistan’s Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) urged their government to take urgent measures to enhance bilateral trade with Afghanistan.
Customs agents said transit trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan had remained low due to the exchange of drivers and vehicles at Torkham Pak-Afghan border.
Goods and vehicles entering either country have to be loaded and unloaded into that nation’s vehicles leading to financial losses for traders on both sides of the border.
They urged the Pakistani interior ministry to enforce operating procedures for bilateral, transit trade and export, import that would benefit the two nations.
Some recommendations include allowing the vehicles through the borders and allow it to unload at any point in either country.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced that 21 patients who had contracted COVID-19 had died in the country while 684 new cases had been reported in the past day.
This brings Afghanistan’s total number of confirmed cases to 22,143 while the number of deaths has increased to 405.
According to the MoPH, 393 people in Kabul, 96 in Herat, 95 in Nangarhar, 25 in Nimroz, 18 in Kunar, 13 in Kandahar and 12 in Farah have tested positive for Coronavirus.
There were also eight cases in Kunduz, seven in Uruzgan, six in Badghis, four each in Zabul and Badakhshan, and three in Parwan.
Deaths were reported in Herat (10), Kabul (3), Nimroz (3), Badghis (2), Helmand (2) and Zabul (1).
The total number of recovered has increased to 2,975 after 324 patients recovered during the day.
The ministry was able to test 1,128 suspected samples over the past 24 hours. So far, they have tested over 50,000 samples.
With the nationwide lockdowns closing places of worship, more than 1,000 doves have died of starvation at Afghanistan’s famed Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Mosque caretakers said around 30 doves have been dying every day since the mosque lost its visitors who would feed the snow-white birds.
The birds are being buried outside the shrine, Qayum Ansari, head of cultural affairs at the 12th century wonder in Balkh province, told AFP.
Local officials have said authorities were ready to feed the birds if mosque managers allow it.
Local officials have pulled out three bodies from the tunnels of the coal mine that collapsed in northern Samangan province on Tuesday.
There were 16 workers trapped inside the Shabashak coal mine in Dara-e-Soof district, when there was an explosion due to gas build-up in one of the tunnels before it collapsed.
Ongoing rescue operations have been delayed due to the slow condensation of the gas.
Mohammad Sediq Azizi, spokesman for the governor of Samangan, said of the dead, two were residents of Baghlan province while another was from Daikundi province.
The governor of Samangan said yesterday, that the mining operation at the site were “arbitrary and illegal.”
Pakistan, as a host country with a large refugee population, needs liquidity, stimulus packages and debt relief, said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Qureshi said it is important for the international community to share responsibility and burden with Pakistan as they need urgent support in building the necessary infrastructure to support the refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He asked for the immediate provision of testing kits, personal protective equipment, sanitizers, masks and isolation facilities, ventilators and ambulances.
Qureshi said the country had been hosting and financing the needs of millions of registered and unregistered Afghan refugees, without any discriminations.
He said Pakistan is under considerable financial constraints, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has only provided limited support.
The minister said UNCHR has launched an appeal of $20.6 million for Afghan refugees in Pakistan right now. However, this will only deal with the needs of 1.4 million refugees registered with UNHCR, while excluding the other 1.6 million Afghan refugees.
He said no state can handle the magnitude of this crisis alone and international cooperation is required more than ever before so that refugees receive the required medical help.
To help frontline workers better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), flew in emergency health supplies to Kabul on Tuesday.
The shipment consists of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits for frontline health workers, who are at high risk of being infected with the virus.
Official figures show 20,917 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Afghanistan, of which 1,336 (6%) are health care providers. In order to ensure continuity of essential health services, the protection of health care providers in the execution of their duties, is critical.
This is part of the World Bank financed COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project.
Ahmad Jawad Osmani, acting minister of public health, welcomed the support as Afghanistan prepares for the peak of viral infection cases.
“This shipment is crucial for Afghanistan, especially that we cannot combat and overcome this virus alone,” said Osmani.
The shipment includes 150,000 PPEs to be used by 6,821 frontline health care providers over the next six months. This will allow health care providers to scale up the identification and management of up to 10,000 hospitalised COVID-19 patients.
Since the start of the outbreak, UNICEF has invested over US$2.5 million in the country’s pandemic response.