Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Pentagon says that Washington is ready to “orderly” pullout forces from Afghanistan if US President Joe Biden decides to withdraw.
Addressing the reporters on Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby stated that US has not completed its review over troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Under the US-Taliban agreement, which was signed last year in Doha, foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1 “if the Taliban meets certain conditions.”
Kirby stressed that no decision has been made yet.
He stated that if the president decides to withdraw, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is confident that Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and U.S. Forces — Afghanistan, “will get it done in a safe, orderly and effective way.”
Kirby told reporters that one of the reasons Secretary Austin went to Afghanistan “to meet with Afghan and US leaders was to listen to them, their concerns and see the situation for himself.”
He cited that Austin was in Kabul not to deliver a message to President Ashraf Ghani, but “to listen and learn.”
“He will inform his participation in the review that’s ongoing… And he will certainly inform the advice, whatever advice that might be, that he will give to President Biden,” Kirby said.
Kirby added: “We all want to see a responsible end to this war that is sustainable, and it’s based on a negotiated political settlement. That’s what we’re all driving to.”
American and Taliban negotiators are discussing a pause in U.S. airstrikes and drone flights in Afghanistan in order to revive longshot peace talks aimed at settling the two-decade-old war, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
As per the Stars and Stripes report, a temporary bombing halt is one of several ideas Biden administration officials are discussing if Taliban militants agree to sharply reduce attacks and assassinations ahead of high-level peace talks planned for early next month in Istanbul.
But the idea remains a concept on paper only, dependent on steps by the Taliban to reduce violence first, several U.S. officials said.
A halt to U.S. air operations worries the Afghan government and its military, which still relies heavily on U.S. airstrikes and aerial surveillance video from drones to help hold back the Taliban. It also alarms some in the Pentagon who are skeptical that concessions to the Taliban will make the militants more likely to make peace with the Afghan government.
With talks stalled, President Biden signaled this month that it would be “tough” for U.S. troops to depart by May 1, the withdrawal deadline he inherited from the Trump administration under a deal made only with the Taliban. He added, though, that that if the deadline for the U.S. exit was extended, it would not be by “a lot longer.”
NATO foreign minister made no final decisions on force posture in Afghanistan, but are determined to take all necessary measures to keep our troops safe, according to a statement issued on Wednesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in press conference following the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs said, Ministers also continued consultations on our presence in Afghanistan.
“We all see that there is no easy solution. There is no risk-free path ahead and we need to prepare for all options,” he said.
Ministers emphasised their full support to all efforts to reinvigorate the peace process.
Because a negotiated solution is the only way to achieve a sustainable peace, which prevents Afghanistan from again becoming a platform for international terrorism.
“Today, we made no final decisions on our force posture, but we are determined to take all necessary measures to keep our troops safe. We will continue to consult very closely in the days and weeks to come, and we continue to decide and act together, as Allies.”
“We have now an historic opportunity to reach a political peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. Because we have now a peace process, peace talks. And we have also seen a renewed effort by the United States to reinvigorate those talks. And after decades of fighting, violence, we are now closer to an agreement and have been ever before.” “At the same time, we are all realistic and we know that it’s a hard way forward to make real progress. And we have no guarantees for that the peace talks will succeed.,” he added.
Coinciding with World Tuberculosis Day, the Ministry of Public Health says 9,800 people have died of tuberculosis in Afghanistan in the past year.
The Acting Minister of Health, Wahid Majrooh, on Wednesday at a meeting on the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day, entitled “Time is passing, let’s take care of every tuberculosis patient” called tuberculosis one of the ten leading causes of deadly diseases in the world.
Majrooh stated that the purpose of celebrating this day is to renew the commitment to eradicate tuberculosis in the country, as well as to appreciate the work and efforts of health personnel and Afghanistan’s international partners who have worked with the country to fight the disease.
The Acting Minister of Health stressed that last year, despite the outbreak of the coronavirus and its restrictions, about 73,000 people in Afghanistan became infected with tuberculosis.
He noted that the Ministry of Health has been able to identify and treat more than 50,000 cases, but of these, about 9,800 have lost their lives.
US cooperation in the fight against tuberculosis
The Ministry of Health also said that a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Acting Minister Vahid Majrooh and Ross Wilson Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Afghanistan.
According to the Ministry of Health, the memorandum stipulates that the United States will provide financial and technical cooperation to the Afghan health sector in the fight against tuberculosis for the next five years.
Ross Wilson also announced the continuation of his country’s cooperation with the Afghan health sector, adding that the United States is committed to financial and technical cooperation with the National Tuberculosis Eradication Program for the next five years to address the challenges facing this program.
Wilson stressed that US cooperation continues to provide the basis for treatment and diagnosis inside Afghanistan.
The United States vowed Tuesday to protect progress made in Afghanistan on women’s rights over the past 20 years, as it pushes for a transitional government in Kabul that would include the Taliban.
“We must do more to support the women and girls of Afghanistan,” the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the UN Security Council during a debate on Afghanistan.
“Any agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community´s continued political and financial support. We will not give an inch on this point,” the ambassador said.
President Joe Biden is weighing whether to respect a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of the last US troops in Afghanistan as per an agreement reached by the administration of Donald Trump and the Taliban insurgents.
US diplomats have warned that the Taliban could make quick territorial gains if the US troops withdraw completely.
The US and other countries are pressing the Kabul government and the Taliban to make progress in peace talks that are struggling to make headway.
A meeting was held last week in Moscow and another is planned for early April in Turkey in a bid to relaunch a negotiation process that began in Qatar.
The United States has presented the two sides with a draft plan that calls for the formation of a transitional government that includes the Taliban. So far the Kabul government has shown little enthusiasm for this idea.
A return of the Taliban to power evokes memories of their time in power from 1996 to late 2001, when they were ousted in the US invasion triggered by the September 11 attacks.
During that stretch, the Taliban enforced a fundamentalist vision of Islam that barred women from studying or working.
In Tuesday’s debate at the UN, several countries said they were worried about the current high level of violence in Afghanistan.
“We call for a ceasefire to be enacted,” said French ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst.
Police confirmed that the Taliban militants have detonated a car bomb to destroy a bridge in Arghandab district of Kandahar province.
Jamal Naser Barikzai, Kandahar’s Police spokesman said that the bridge was destroyed today at around 13:00.
Barikzai said that a Mazda type vehicle loaded with full of explosives detonated in Bagh-e Sarkari area of the district in order to destroy a strategic bridge.
He added that the bridge connected the Arghandab district to Kandahar city which was the main public route of the people in the area.
The Taliban group has not yet commented on the incident.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Wednesday reported 34 new positive cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours.
The ministry also reported 1 death and 48 recoveries from COVID-19 in the same period time.
The cumulative number of total cases is now 56,226 the number of total reported deaths is 2,467 and the total number of recoveries is 49,802.
The new cases were reported in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Takhar, Paktia, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Panjsher and Nurstan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani officially inaugurated the Kamal Khan dam in Nimroz province on Wednesday.
The inaguaration ceremony was also attended by the two Vice-Presidents Amrullah Saleh and Sarwar Danish and a number of high ranking government officials.
“Today, those who are fighting, should think about Kamal Khan Dam for a few minutes,” President Ghani said, adding that those who are fighting have deprived Afghans from hundreds of dams.
Ghani noted that Afghans must use the country’s hidden wealth, saying “today the control of this dam is owned by us.”
He also emphasized that Afghanistan still stands on its commitment in providing water to Iran, President, adding that but “not more than what was committed.”
Kamal Khan Dam is one of the most important water dams in the country, the design and construction of which began in 1975.
The first phase of the construction of the Dam was completed in the solar year of 1212 and the second phase in 1215. The construction of the third phase of this section had started at the end of the month of 2017. At the time, the cost of building the dam was estimated at $ 78 million.
Kamal Khan Dam has a storage capacity of 52 million cubic meters of water, which can irrigate about 174,000 hectares of agricultural lands.
Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), in her briefing to the UN Security Council, said that the war in Afghanistan remains one of the world’s deadliest conflicts for civilians.
“The ongoing targeting, which may constitute a war crime, remains an almost daily occurrence. The onslaught of attacks has further diminished the country’s civic space, leading to self-censorship for journalists, human rights defenders and religious scholars, and thus impacting the quality of public engagement and debate on issues critical to Afghanistan’s present and future,” Shaharzad Akbar said.
While re-energized regional and international engagement could renew hopes for peace, she cautioned that rushing that process could also tip the country back into full-scale war.
Meanwhile, she said, the country’s peace talks remain dominated by a group of elite men, some of whom have themselves been responsible for perpetuating violence.
“Building peace takes more than a deal among elites,” she said, calling for a more inclusive national endeavour that ensures the participation of women, minorities, youth, civil society and the vibrant Afghan media, as well as victims. A minimum of 30 per cent of the participants in the peace talks should be women, and more steps are needed to achieve full gender balance in the future.
“At the recent conference in Moscow, I, like many Afghan women, was shocked and angered to see only one Afghan woman, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, in a room full of men discussing the future of my country,” she said.
The peace talks should also address human rights and victims’ rights, she said, calling for a robust reparations programme, a national community-based reconciliation initiative, truth-seeking process, memorialization and victim recognition.
Emphasizing that Afghans are exhausted by war and yearn for peace, she underlined the urgent need to bring the population relief from relentless violence.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan has welcomed the joint statement of 35 of the cross-regional members of the Group of Friends of Afghanistan and the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan, which condemned in strongest possible terms the continued violence and targeted killings by the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist outfits in Afghanistan.
MoFA in a statement considered the provisions of this statement as a positive step towards strengthening consensus on realization of the legitimate aspirations of the people and the Government of Afghanistan for establishing a lasting peace in the country.
As reflected in declaration, “the heinous terrorist attacks impedes the prospect of peace, undermines civil atmosphere and freedom of expression, and obstructs delivery of fundamental services to the population in need”.
The Group of Friends of Afghanistan and the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan have called for immediate end to the targeted killings and stressed the need to implement the provisions of international humanitarian law to protect the lives of civilians, health staff, and aid workers.
“We also welcome the Statement’s emphasis on implementation of the UN Security Council’s Resolutions 2532 and 2565 and consider implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2513 extremely important to hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments, including putting an end to violence and targeted killings,” the statement said.
The Statement also strongly emphasizes legitimate aspirations of the people and Government of Afghanistan to end the war and bloodshed in the country.
In line with the mentioned statement, MoFA stressed the need for a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire, equal and meaningful participation of women in the peace process, and an end to the conflict through a comprehensive political solution.
Vietnam continues to follow closely the situation in Afghanistan and reiterates its support for the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive peace process, said Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the UN, at a UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on March 23.
It is crucial that a timely permanent ceasefire can be achieved, thereby putting an end to the ongoing violence in the Middle Eastern country, Quy told the UNSC’s open video-teleconferencing meeting on the situation in Afghanistan, which was also attended by Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson for Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
“We call on the relevant parties to overcome their differences to reach an agreement on the ceasefire as soon as possible. The intra-Afghan peace negotiations need a stable and conducive environment in order to succeed and achieve a lasting political solution,” the Ambassador said.
He noted that attention continues to be given to women, in terms of protection, socio-economic development and decision-making. Vietnam encourages further efforts to enable the full potential of Afghan women to be free from fear and from want, and to lead their country on equal basis with men, he said.
The Vietnamese diplomat called on the international community to assist Afghanistan in addressing pressing issues, such as food insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Afghan ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, Adela Raz in her briefing to UN Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan, expressed the government’s concern over rise of targeted killings and reiterated the need for Taliban to adhere to a ceasefire and take genuine steps for a durable and sustainable peace in the country.
“We remain adamant that a stronger and more genuine commitment to peace must be shown and translated into action by the Taliban. We again take this platform to ask the SC and UN as a whole to continue to call on the Taliban to observe a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” she said.
Ambassador Raz stated that Taliban have increased their violence and are targeting the young democracy, vibrant civil society and free and independent press, adding that these attacks are meant to dissuade the participation of women and youth in the peace process, create panic, and crush peace aspirations.
““These targeted attacks have killed journalists – working to bring the truth to their fellow citizens; they have harmed civil society advocates – who bravely stand for the rights of their Afghan brothers and sisters; and have killed and injured public servants who chose a career in service for the New Afghanistan; and our scholars and religious leaders – who have denounced the ongoing war and continued bloodshed in Afghanistan as contrary to the core tenets of Islam,” Amb. Raz asserted.
She emphasized that the pressing challenge to address food insecurity and other humanitarian concerns including the situation of returning refugee and the continued re-emergence of polio, underscore the urgency for a comprehensive ceasefire and efforts for a durable and sustainable peace.
“We entered the peace process knowing we face a long and complex process. However, early agreements in Doha on the code of conduct and contact groups for discussions show the power of dialogue, offering hope for a path forward under an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned format,” she added.
At least 34 Taliban militants were killed and 14 more were wounded during Afghan security forces’ operations in Faryab province.
The Shahin 209 Corps in a statement on Wednesday said that Afghan security forces launched air and ground operations on Taliban’s positions in Bandar Shakh area of Qaisar district and parts of the Khaja Sabz Posh district yesterday.
According to the statement, Qari Nabi, one of the key group leaders of Taliban is also among the killed.
The statement added that all killed and wounded are related to Mullah Zabiullah Mujahid, Mawlavi Khalil, Mullah Jaber, and Mullah Lal, and Muhammad Ghormachi.
Police confirmed that an IED blast targeted a ranger type vehicle in Bagh-e Daud area of Paghman district in Kabul at around 09:00am this morning.
Police spokesman, Ferdaws Faramarz said that at least one Policeman was injured in the incident.
He added that the Qambar roundbout in west of Kabul was also blocked to traffic at around 08:24am as security forces were trying to defuse a bomb.
The Afghan negotiating team has not seen any change in the Taliban’s posture, which does not seem to be much different from when they were in power pre-9/11, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib has said.
He alleged that the Taliban have evaded, dragged, and even avoided substantive engagement.
“Our negotiating team that has been engaging with the Taliban reports back to us that they don’t see any change in the Taliban from the time they had a regime,” Hamdullah Mohib told the Hudson Institute think-tank here on Tuesday during a conversation with former Pakistan ambassador to US Husain Haqqani.
“We are yet to see the change in Taliban’s posture, in Taliban’s opinions, in Taliban’s policies, that we all hoped would come because there was a lot of buzz around a changed Taliban. We don’t know what a changed Taliban looks like yet because we have not seen that change,” he said.
Hamdullah Mohib said the Taliban have turned out to be underwhelming, both in their willingness to make tough calls and in the seriousness of their engagement. They have demurred, evaded, dragged, and even avoided substantive engagement.
“We saw the most egregious example of this in January this year. The two negotiating teams ended round one and decided to reconvene on January 5 after a break. But while our team made it to Doha at the appointed date to start the talks, the Taliban were nowhere to be seen,” he added.