Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday has sent out the strongest indication yet that Afghan interpreters who helped Australian troops will be evacuated and offered protection.
However, the prime minister has been careful in commenting on how long the process would take, fearful it could put the interpreters at risk of persecution. “We’re working on that right now and I can’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to put anyone who is the subject of what we’re doing there in any position of risk or danger,” he said.
Morrison said that the government was well versed with the protection visa process. “This is a program we know well. We have done it before and we will work through this steadily. Our form and our record is being able to use our special humanitarian visa processes to do the right thing,” he added. At least 300 interpreters are seeking protection in Australia as allied troops depart Afghanistan. Morrison acknowledged time was of the essence, with some of the interpreters placed on Taliban kill lists.
In Germany too, an appeal has been made to the German government to speed up the resettlement of hundreds of Afghans – who were employed by the military – in the country amid concerns over their safety. The appeal was penned by high-ranking representatives from the military, politics, development aid, and the diplomatic corps as international troops prepare to be withdrawn from Afghanistan next month.
Signatories include two former German ambassadors to Afghanistan, the former inspector general of the Bundeswehr, leading aid workers and Marcus Grotian, chair of the Patronage network of the Afghani Local Workforce.
The German military, the Bundeswehr, which has been involved in military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 and has over 1,000 troops stationed there, is estimated to have employed around 520 Afghans as interpreters, drivers, security staff, and administrators over the past two years.
On the other hand, Greens senator Jordon Steele-John from Australia has warned that the Australian government’s decision to close the embassy in Kabul will disadvantage the victims of war crimes and their families. The senator’s call for the government to reverse its decision — announced last month — follows an ABC investigation that revealed details of the single deadliest alleged atrocity committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The alleged war crime, known as the ‘tractor job’, reportedly led to the deaths of 13 people.
In a statement on Wednesday, Steele-John said that, in light of the ‘horrific and truly shameful’ revelations, Australia must reopen the embassy. “Now is not the time for Australia to lose a vital piece of on-the-ground infrastructure that would be critical in supporting the Office of the Special Investigator to better access evidence and witnesses in Afghanistan,” he said.
“To close the Australian Embassy in Kabul now, when so much new and truly shameful information about the conduct of Australian SAS soldiers in Afghanistan has come to light, borders on governmental obstruction of justice! The closure of the Australian Embassy in Kabul will unjustifiably disadvantage the victims, and their families, when engaging with the investigation,” he said.
Last year an inquiry alleged that Australian Special Forces personnel murdered at least 39 prisoners, farmers and other civilians while in Afghanistan. The Office of the Special Investigator was established to investigate the alleged atrocities.
Kabul: Islamabad’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia said that Pakistan is trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for a political agreement in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Bilal Akbar, told a trilateral meeting of Afghan, Pakistani and Saudi scholars on Thursday, that the country supports the Afghan peace process and is making every effort to bring peace to Afghanistan.
Pakistan, one of Afghanistan’s closest neighbors, is working hard to bring peace, he said. According to him, peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. Akbar stressed that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems and that this problem must be resolved through dialogue.
Islamabad’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia added that Pakistan supports an independent, free and democratic Afghanistan. He called on the international community to work together to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Bilal Akbar implicitly referred to the recent remarks of Hamdollah Mohib, the country’s national security adviser, and said that the destroyers of peace must be stopped. Akbar said that Pakistan no longer wanted to repeat the experience of the 1990s in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia also stressed that the country does not interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs. He went on to say that divisions in Afghanistan must end and peace must be achieved in a comprehensive and negotiated manner.
The Afghan government and Taliban negotiating delegations are currently in Doha to resume peace talks. Religious scholars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia stress the importance of dialogue between the parties involved.
Kabul: The Ministry of Public Health announced that 700,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine arrived in Kabul from China on Thursday.
The ministry, however, did not specify when the vaccines would be given. Earlier, the Ministry of Public Health said that the implementation process had been suspended due to the lack of vaccines.
At least 968,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have already been provided to the Ministry of Public Health. India has donated 500,000 doses of these vaccines and another 486,000 doses came through the World Health Organization through the COVAX program.
Kabul: The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on Thursday announced that it has extended the closure of kindergartens for another two weeks to prevent the spread of the third wave of the coronavirus.
The ministry said in a statement that all kindergartens, with the exception of the creche at the Ministry of Public Health, has been closed for two weeks in 16 provinces. However, the ministry has also called on all government agencies to take the necessary measures for working mothers who have young children.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has called for a national mobilization to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The ministry has sought the help of religious scholars, civil society members, journalists, county representatives, and local elders to support the health sector, and join hands in promoting public awareness and explain preventive measures in order to provide a safe working environment for healthcare personnel.
MoPH recently extended the leave for schools, training centers, wedding halls and sports clubs in Kabul, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Parwan, Maidan Wardak, Panjshir, Balkh, Laghman, Badakhshan provinces. Kapisa, Kunduz and Nimroz for two weeks.
The rising number of cases has led to a shortage of oxygen in various areas. Local residents in Herat city expressed concerned about the lack of oxygen at the provincial COVID-19 hospital. They stated that due to the power outage caused by the destruction of power transmission pylon in Kohsan district on June 8, the hospital was facing oxygen shortages, as the producing factories had stopped their operations. Provincial Governor’s spokesperson Jailani Farhad assured residents that necessary measures were in place to address the issue. Farhad hoped that the lack of oxygen supply would be resolved soon, as local officials had called for immediate distribution of oxygen to patients.
In fact, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases has even impacted the sports field with the Afghanistan Cricket Board announcing on Thursday that the eighth round of the Shpageeza Cricket League, which was scheduled to take place in June or July, has been postponed.
“Last month, the Afghanistan Cricket Board issued an expression of interest in owning the royalties of the eighth season teams of Shpageeza League, and a number of national businessmen also shared their interest applications with the agency,” the statement said.
The Cricket Board has stated that it will extend the process of finding investors, as it wants to attract a large number of traders to invest in the eighth season of the Cricket League. The agency also added that it is working to expedite the process of identifying team franchisees and identifying team owners earlier this season so that they have more time to market and prepare their teams.
Kabul: President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced that creating green space is crucial to a healthy environment, and that the Afghan government has a strong will to spend more money over the next four years on rebuilding and developing irrigation networks, dams, canals and expanding green belts.
In a video message to commemorate the World Environment Day (June 5), Ghani said that ecosystems play a valuable role in human survival and preservation of life.
According to Ghani, currently, the destruction of natural resources has destroyed the well-being of 2.3 billion people, who make up 40% of the world’s population. He said that according to global statistics on potential environmental threats in 2020, Afghanistan is facing more threats than any other country in the world, and at the same time, it is the fourteenth country at serious risk in terms of climate change.
Ghani stressed that the Government of Afghanistan has a strong will to preserve, rehabilitate and develop forests and prevent their illegal logging, and is working to restore rehabilitated forests.
The President added that this year, with the launch of the National Planting Campaign, more than 30 million saplings were planted throughout Afghanistan to provide the necessary conditions for the expansion of green areas in the country.
Kabul: The protest by residents of Faizabad city in Badakhshan province entered its third day on Thursday with the protesters demanding the removal and trial of Zakaria Sawda, the governor of the province.
The protesters alleged that officials of the Badakhshan local government, including the governor of the province, had caused the protest to turn violent. A statement by the protesters said that all those responsible for the violence, along with Sawda, should be brought to justice.
The statement called the killings and injuries of the protesters “a crime against humanity” and stressed that not only were the rightful voices of the protesters not heard by the local authorities in Badakhshan, but that they had responded irrationally and violently to the movement of the people. “The reaction of the Badakhshan local government to the civil and rightful protest of the residents of Faizabad, which resulted in the killing of four people and the wounding of more than 40 others, was contrary to all human, moral and human rights principles,” added a resident of Badakhshan.
They also said that a new governor should be appointed for Badakhshan instead of Zakaria Sawda. The statement stressed that a key role should be delegated to the people of Badakhshan in determining the leadership of the local government, especially the new governor, for Badakhshan.
The statement also called on the government to refrain from threatening and intimidating demonstrators in the city of Faizabad under the pretext of an investigation.
Two days ago, a number of residents of Faizabad started their protest against the lack of electricity, water and rising security incidents in the city. Protesters marched from Shahr-e-Naw in Faizabad to the provincial building in the old-town city.
The protest escalated into violence following clashes between the governor’s bodyguards and protesters. Badakhshan governor’s spokesman Nik Mohammad Nazari had said at the time that angry protesters had set fire to a number of provincial branches located outside the provincial building.
He also said that the protesters had destroyed part of the wall of the provincial building. According to him, the protesters also attacked the military facilities of the province and partially destroyed several vehicles. Nik Mohammad Nazari had emphasized that the men were armed with sticks and attacked security forces in the province. Nazari had said that several of these forces had been injured as a result of throwing stones by protesters.
The Presidential Palace announced on Wednesday that President Ghani had appointed a delegation headed by Abdul Wadud Sabet, Ghani’s advisor, to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the violence.
A day earlier, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) had issued a statement calling for an independent and credible panel of members of the victims’ families to investigate the violence. The commission lamented the violence and said that national and international human rights instruments oblige the Afghan government to ensure the safety of protesters and their participants and to respond satisfactorily to the legitimate demands of the protesters.
Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of the House of Representatives, had also said that “shooting protesters by provincial officials and Zakaria Sawda, the governor of Badakhshan, is unacceptable.” He instructed the House internal Security Committee to look into how the protests escalated into violence and to present the results to the House General Assembly for a decision.
Kabul: Following the killing of Hazaras deminers in Baghlan province, Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Afghan Presidential Adviser, called on the UN Security Council to recognize the Hazara genocide in Afghanistan.
“Earlier when the explosion took place at the Sayed al-Shuhada school in Kabul, I said that the United Nations should recognize the killing of girls who were all students in grades 1-7, as well as the events of previous years in mosques and schools in Afghanistan. People who are killed in schools and educational centers are civilians, harmless and young, and their massacre has no justification and is a clear example of a crime against humanity and genocide,” Mohaqiq wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.
Mohaqiq added that the attack in Baghlan took place by segregating ethnicity and targeting Hazaras and is another sign of this inhumane crime that the UN Security Council should take precautionary measures against. The killing of Hazaras as should be recognized as a genocide, he added.
The Presidential Adviser stressed that the Afghan government should also take more practical and effective action in the face of such incidents in support of the Hazaras, and not just express sympathy.
On Tuesday night, gunmen entered a camp of demining trust in Baghlan and shot dead 10 people, mostly Hazaras.
Kabul: Turkey wants NATO allies to share the financial and security burden of having its troops safeguard the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, an important issue for the US as it seeks to maintain a diplomatic presence in the city.
“Staying in Afghanistan is not a responsibility that a single country can take without support. There is a security risk, but also a serious financial cost. It needs to be shared, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT television on Wednesday.
The US and NATO have already started withdrawing their remaining troops from Afghanistan, with a deadline of September 11, despite concerns over the stability of the Afghan government and the resurgence of the Taliban.
Securing the Kabul airport is expected to be a top agenda item during a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels next Monday on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Turkey is the largest Muslim voice in NATO and has troops in Afghanistan in a non-combat role as part of the coalition supporting Afghan security forces.
“There are ongoing discussions” on who will be responsible for the security of the airport and what the scope and scale of it is going to be, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
“We have ongoing discussions with Turkish leaders about their plans to provide security for the airport. Obviously, this is a decision that President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan should make and we respect that, but of course, we had some preliminary discussions, and as we have said in general terms before, security at the airport will be important not only for the United States but also for other nations to maintain their diplomatic presence in Kabul,” he said.
Kabul: Following reports that Afghanistan has exhausted its existing stock of COVID-19 vaccines—with doses promised by the WHO delayed until August—and an estimated 740% increase in reported cases since May 1, Save the Children organization is calling for urgent attention and vaccines from the international community to protect Afghan children from the impacts of the third wave of COVID-19.
Athena Rayburn, Director of Advocacy and Communications at Save the Children in Afghanistan, said, “Afghanistan is experiencing the third wave of COVID-19 at a time when the country is already struggling with increasing conflict and a drought that is increasing an already devastating hunger crisis. While many wealthy countries are reaching 50-60 percent full vaccination rates for adults, countries like Afghanistan have once again been left behind—and it is children who are paying the price. Afghanistan has now exhausted its existing vaccine stock, which numbered less than one million doses. Less than one percent of the population have been fully vaccinated. In late May, just six weeks after schools reopened in early March, the government announced again the closure of schools in provinces across the country to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This will have a serious impact on the country’s children, whose learning has already been disrupted by years of war.”
The warning comes even as the Ministry of Public Health on Thursday reported 1,822 new positive cases of COVID-19 and 56 deaths in the last 24 hours. As per the ministry at least 409 people recovered and the total number of recovered patients is now 59,000. The death toll in the country now stands at 3,412 and total positive cases is 87,716.
“Save the Children estimates that children in Afghanistan have already lost up to 13 percent of their lifetime schooling, with figures even higher for girls at almost 21 percent. With recent school closures and this latest surge in cases, that number is likely to grow, with many children unlikely to return to school at all. Remote learning opportunities are extremely limited in Afghanistan, where many children have little to no access to internet or technology that would enable them to learn while schools are closed,” Rayburn added.
The organization has sought the international community to protect the most vulnerable children from bearing the brunt of this pandemic and provide vaccines urgently to Afghanistan.
Kabul: The Qatari special envoy on counterterrorism and conflict resolution, Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani on Wednesday met with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as the head of the Taliban delegation at the inter-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Abdul Hakim Sheikh, Qatar’s foreign ministry said.
Earlier in the day, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen announced that the movement’s negotiating teams and the Afghan government had met on Tuesday to discuss accelerating the negotiations.
“Qahtani on Wednesday met Khalilzad and his accompanying delegation, during his current visit to the country,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the sides discussed the ongoing peace process and the Doha talks.
Qahtani also reviewed the state of the Afghan peace process during his meeting with the Taliban official. The peace negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban began in the Qatari capital in September last year. In early December, Kabul and the Taliban announced that they had agreed on the framework of the talks, allowing for discussions to now be held on substantive issues. Little progress, however, has been made since then.
On the other hand, the Muslim World League (MWL) is brokering an agreement between Afghan and Pakistani leaders and a diverse group of scholars to promote stability and security in Afghanistan based on the Islamic principles of peace and reconciliation.
A signing ceremony will be held on Thursday, June 10, in the Holy City of Makkah, near the Sacred Mosque and the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam. His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the MWL; is leading the initiative, which includes His Excellency Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony of Pakistan; His Excellency Mohammad Qasim Halimi, Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs of Afghanistan; and His Excellency Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Special Representative to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Religious Harmony. Prominent scholars will also be participating virtually from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Declaration of Peace in Afghanistan agreement is supported by the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “This agreement represents a new chapter in the growing relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Dr. Al-Issa said. “Muslim leaders and scholars have an important role to play in promoting the true, moderate principles of Islam, and leveraging them to secure a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. This means prioritizing all pathways to reconciliation, building bridges of constructive dialogue and cooperation, and alleviating the suffering of innocent men, women and children. This agreement does just that by establishing a foundation to help accelerate peace efforts in Afghanistan.”
The agreement supports peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan by uniting government and civil society leaders on key issues of national cohesiveness. Elements of the agreement include a call for an immediate and comprehensive cessation of hostilities, broadened support for development efforts, counterterrorism and counterextremism commitments, closer relations between the two neighboring countries, and assistance for the many Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan and other countries. The agreement also seeks to reiterate and strengthen the bonds of Islamic unity and togetherness, regardless of sect.
The agreement is taking place under the auspices of the MWL as a sign of the trust and productive cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and their shared view of the MWL as a uniting force for good in the Islamic world. Earlier this year, Dr. Al-Issa met with Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar, where the two discussed the importance of the role of Muslim scholars helping to end the violence in Afghanistan.
Kabul: Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef Al-Othaimeen met with Afghanistan’s Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs Mohammed Qasim Halimi.
During the meeting, they reviewed fields of cooperation between the OIC and Afghanistan, as well as the latest developments in the peace process in Afghanistan.
Al-Othaimeen reiterated the OIC’s firm commitment of helping the Afghan people in order to achieve comprehensive reconciliation, lasting peace, stability, and development, recalling the decisions taken during the OIC summit, ministerial meetings, and the Makkah Al-Mukarramah Declaration issued on July 11, 2018.
The Afghan minister lauded the OIC’s stances and role in achieving peace, security, stability, and development in Afghanistan.
Kabul: At least six security force members were killed and more than 10 others were wounded in a car bomb attack close to a military base in the northern province of Baghlan on Thursday morning, sources said.
The attack took place at Bagh-e-Shamal area in Pul-e-Khumri. “The base was also a recruitment center for the army,” the source said, adding that “some parts of the base have been destroyed in the blast”.
“After the attack, the Taliban has placed roadside mines on Baghlan-Samangan highway and also closed the road to traffic,” sources said.
Abbas Tawakoli, the commander of 3rd Brigade of 217 Pamir Army Corps, confirmed the attack. “After the attack, the Taliban started a gunfight, but their attack was pushed back by security forces,” he said. “A number of the security force members were wounded in the blast and some walls of the base were damaged,” he added.
“The security forces’ clearance operation moves forward slowly in Baghlan-Samangan highway due to roadside mines,” he said. Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Meanwhile, joint security and defense forces, including commandos, have launched an operation to recapture the lost areas in Muqur, Ab Band and Jaghatu districts in Ghazni province, said Ghazni governor’s spokesperson Wadidullah Jumazada.
He added that the security forces have started clearing operations in these districts and now there are clashes going on in these areas. Jumazada said that the lost security checkpoints in districts will be recovered as soon as possible and these areas will be cleared of terrorists.
A spokesperson for the Ghazni governor said that once the districts were cleared, more troops would be deployed to protect them. Over the past few days, most districts in Ghazni have witnessed intense fighting with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, Nangarhar officials have announced the arrest of a key member of IS-K in the province. National Directorate of Security Unit 02, in a statement said that a member of IS-K was arrested during an operation by Afghan Special Forces in Behsud district of Nangarhar province.
According to the statement, the detainee was involved in the assassination, planting of magnetic mines, kidnapping and other destructive activities of IS-K in Nangarhar.
Kabul: The Islamic State (IS-K) has claimed responsibility for attacking the British landmine clearance charity, HALO Trust, and killing 10 of its staff members and injuring 16 others on Tuesday night in Baghlan province, as per the SITE intelligence monitoring group.
Paul McCann, head of communications for the Halo Trust, said in a statement, “The Halo Trust can confirm that at 21:50 local time on June 8, 10 Halo staff were killed and 16 injured by an unknown armed group at a de-mining camp in the Baghlan province of Afghanistan.” A survivor said the attackers had scaled the compound walls and rounded up the workers, asking if any were from the Hazara ethnic group. “Nobody responded,” said the survivor. The gunmen then singled out and shot the compound leader, before the order was given to “kill them all”. “As they opened fire, we all tried to escape. Some were killed and some, like me, were wounded.” HALO’s CEO James Cowan said that most of the victims belonged to the Hazara community.
The Dumfries-based landmine clearance charity said that they are devastated to hear that their employees were shot dead in Afghanistan. The victims, from local communities in the north of the country, had just finished work on nearby minefields when they were targeted by an ‘unknown armed group.’
The charity has condemned the attack on its staff who it says we’re carrying out humanitarian work to save lives. However, the charity has vowed to continue work in Afghanistan. The trust has been working in Afghanistan since 1988, removing mines which have been left behind by more than 42 years of fighting. Cowan, a former British Army major general who now runs the charity, told the BBC the attackers had gone “bed to bed, murdering in cold blood”.
“This is a horrific incident, the worst in the Halo Trust’s history. It’s very sad, but we are here for Afghanistan. We were in Afghanistan many years before 9/11 and we will be here many years after the international withdrawal,” he added.
The charity was endorsed by Diana Princess of Wales who had walked through a partially cleared Angolan minefield in 1997 to highlight the trust’s work.
Meanwhile, the United Nations called for an investigation into the deadly attack. In strongly condemning the attack, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the HALO Trust is a global partner in operations to clear landmines, and other explosive devices, and to better the lives of vulnerable people.
“We send heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, and we wish for a speedy and full recovery to the injured”, he said, during his latest media briefing in New York.
“We further call for a full investigation to ensure that those responsible for this horrendous attack are held accountable and brought to justice. The United Nations is committed to staying and delivering in Afghanistan,” he added.
Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, echoed the call for an investigation. “It is repugnant that an organization that works to clear landmines and other explosives and better the lives of vulnerable people could be targeted”, he said in a statement.
Since 1989, more than 40,000 Afghans have been killed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, according to data from the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). Last year, it helped the country to clear some 14 square kilometers of land. “UNMAS is outraged by and condemns in the strongest terms the attack on humanitarian deminers last night in Afghanistan,” the agency said in a post on Twitter.
The UN mission in the country, UNAMA, also took to Twitter to condemn the attack, describing it as “deeply shocking”. UNAMA stated that warring parties “have a fundamental responsibility to safeguard humanitarians in the areas they control. Yet it is clear that certain parties and people within their ranks are deliberately targeting them.”
The mission added that “all those parties claiming to desire peace for the Afghan people need to demonstrate concrete action to support their claims and put an end to the terrible crimes such as witnessed in Baghlan”.
The UN has underlined its commitment to staying in the country, where aid workers, particularly women, are facing increased attacks and harassment. Dujarric reported that 11 were killed, 27 injured and 36 abducted, between January and April of this year. “Our humanitarian colleagues warn that interference with humanitarian activities escalated in 2020, with a 140 per cent increase in incidents compared to 2019. This escalating trend continues in 2021”, he said.
He urged parties to the conflict to protect civilians, aid workers and civilian structures such as schools and hospitals, in line with international humanitarian law.