Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate hearing on Friday that Al-Qaeda, and IS-K in Afghanistan pose medium threat to the US.
“I would also say that it would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability,” Austin said. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a similar timeline but downplayed prospects that the Kabul government would crumble. “I may be wrong, but I don´t see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan,” Milley had said. “The Taliban just aren´t the North Vietnamese Army. It´s not that kind of situation.”
The United States has been haunted by communist North Vietnam´s takeover of the Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and the hasty evacuations by helicopter as the longtime US ally fell. Of special concern are some 18,000 interpreters, commandos and other Afghans who have applied for visas to the United States but are caught in a backlog. Milley said that “planning is ongoing” but that the State Department was in charge. State Department officials say they are expediting visas but want to avoid setting off a panicked exodus of educated Afghans.
In fact, the situation is quite uncertain as US wants to maintain an over-the-horizon capability in order to protect its allies with help from Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. However, there has been a dent even in this plan as Prime Minister Imran Khan has clearly said that Pakistan will not give its bases to the US for operations in Afghanistan after the latter’s troops’ withdrawal.
In an interview with HBO Axios, Khan reiterated Pakistan’s stance on the use of military bases and categorically stated that Islamabad will not allow it. “There’s no way we’re going to allow any bases or any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” he said.
In a related development, Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said that the situation in Afghanistan is fluid and uncertain amid the drawdown of US forces and the Taliban’s “relentless pursuit of power through violence”, including targeted assassinations and capture of territory.
Shringla’s comments came against the backdrop of the US having completed the withdrawal of more than 50% of its troops from Afghanistan well ahead of a September deadline, and the Taliban launching a wave of attacks across the country and targeting Afghan officials, activists and journalists in many cities. The violence by the Taliban has increased despite talks with the group at different forums, whereas India has always backed calls for a ceasefire and talks involving various stakeholders and all neighboring countries to find a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, Shringla said.
The foreign secretary was responding to questions on the withdrawal of US and foreign forces and the possibility of Indian firms investing in Afghanistan, especially in sectors such as mining. Though there have been some investments in Afghanistan’s mining sector, these have been affected by “uncertainties which are only increasing, not decreasing”, he said. “We hope the time will come when companies can go in and invest and realize their returns on investments appropriately and there is peace and stability in the country,” he added.
India, Shringla said, has always stood for a peaceful solution in Afghanistan. “We have always called for a ceasefire, we have always advocated that there should be talks between the government and the Taliban and others that are involved in this process, involving all the neighboring countries,” he said. As a friend of Afghanistan and its people, India continues to fervently hope there is peace and stability in the country, he said.
“But as I said, the situation today is very fluid and obviously a large number of US and coalition forces that have maintained a certain amount of stability, when they pull out, it creates an environment of uncertainty and we have to watch and see,” Shringla added
Kabul: In a meeting with his Tajik counterpart, Sirajuddin Mehruddin, Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar stressed on the importance of joint operations against terrorism and drug trafficking
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Summit in Turkey. At the meeting, Atmar called the launch of joint operations against these three phenomena important to strengthen bilateral relations.
The Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Saturday that Atmar had discussed with Tajik Foreign Minister the strengthening of bilateral relations and the elimination of security challenges, as well as the strengthening of economic, trade and cultural ties between the two countries.
During the meeting, the ninth meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Heart of Asia – the Istanbul Process, as well as the launch of joint operations against terrorism, drug trafficking and criminal groups were mentioned as indicators of strengthening relations between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two sides also discussed increasing exports and imports between the two countries, establishing “joint border markets” and launching joint economic projects, including the Dasht-e Jam project to generate electricity. During the meeting, Sirajuddin reiterated Tajikistan’s support for the Afghan peace process.
Kabul: The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations said on Saturday that more than 128,000 families have been displaced by Taliban attacks since the beginning of this solar year.
Islamuddin Jorat, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, told a news conference in Kabul that the ministry is working with international organizations to help the displaced families.
However, since the beginning of this year, especially after the first of May, when the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan began, the war has intensified throughout the country. The Taliban have taken control of about 30 districts in the past two months. As a result of the fall of these districts, thousands of families have been displaced from their original areas.
On the other hand, the spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees said that the Afghan government, in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has assisted 75,000 Afghan refugee families in refugee camps in Pakistan who were facing economic hardship due to coronavirus restrictions.
According to Jorat, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has distributed 12,000 Pakistani rupees to each migrant family. He also said that food aid had been distributed to 3,840 Afghan refugee families in Pakistan by Turkey and China. According to the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, there are currently more than 2.5 million Afghan citizens in Pakistan. Most of these people are families living in low-income refugee camps.
Meanwhile, Country Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Azerbaijan (UNHCR) Guido Ambroso is pleased that approximately 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, mainly from Afghanistan and the regional countries, have access to the educational system of Azerbaijan, Trend reported referring to Ambroso’s appeal.
“The law on compulsory health insurance has been applied to these people since last year, they have been included in the country’s general health system for treatment and vaccination against COVID-19,” the appeal said.
“The most important thing is that last year the government gave permission for refugees and asylum seekers to participate in the employment market, which created conditions for eliminating the dependence syndrome, allowing them to contribute to the development of the Azerbaijani economy, to provide themselves with money,” the appeal said.
Kabul: Finally after weeks of delay, the second Vice-President Mohammad Sarwar Danish stated on Saturday that the cabinet “in principle” approved the security plan for the west of Kabul city on June 16.
Danish said that President Ghani chaired a special meeting with Vice-Presidents, National Security Advisor, Acting Interior Minister, National Directorate of Security (NDS) Chief, Chief of Army Staff, and National Security Council (NSC) Deputy and discussed the plan in details and directed the NSC to establish a technical team, and comprehensively review the plan, and present a final plan to the next meeting, providing clear short-term, mid-term and long-term measures.
The meeting also directed relevant agencies, particularly the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and NDS, to take necessary measures in this regard. Last month, Danish had presented the plan to the cabinet to ensure security for the west of Kabul, where there have been rising security incidents in the recent past.
Meanwhile, in other important government announcements, President Ghani has appointed Bismillah Khan Mohammadi as Acting Defense Minister; Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal as Acting Interior Minister, and Hayatullah Hayat as Acting Rural Rehabilitation and Development Minister, the Administrative Office of the President (AOP) announced on Saturday.
AOP stated that former Acting Rural Rehabilitation and Development Minister Mujib Rahman Karimi has been appointed as Senior Presidential Advisor on Development and Infrastructure Affairs.
AOP added that the President has directed the State Ministry for Parliamentary Affairs to introduce the Acting Ministers for parliamentary approval, as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Kabul police said that two police officers have been killed in a roadside bomb blast in Paghman district. The incident took place at 1:55pm on Saturday in the Qala-e-Abdul Ali area of Paghman district, said Basir Mujahid, Director of Kabul Police press office.
Mujahid also said that a police ranger vehicle was targeted by a roadside bomb. According to him, the incident is being investigated by a joint security team.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Paghman district is located west of Kabul.
Kabul: The Ministry of Justice has announced on Saturday that the activities of international universities in Afghanistan will be legalized.
A statement from the Ministry of Justice read that the Committee for the Settlement of Legal Challenges to the Establishment and Operation of International Universities in the Country is working to legalize the activities of these universities by presenting a legislative document in the country.
The meeting of this committee was held on Wednesday virtually. According to the Ministry of Justice, officials from the Office of Presidential Affairs and the Ministries of Higher Education, Finance and Foreign Affairs also attended the meeting.
In the virtual meeting of this committee, the drafting of a legislative document for the establishment of international universities in the country, legal and financial issues of these universities were also discussed.
According to the Ministry of Justice, members of the committee also discussed the establishment of facilities and the acceleration of the process and the finalization of a bilateral agreement between Turkey and Afghanistan on the establishment of Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi International Joint University in the country and other universities.
A memorandum of understanding to establish a joint Afghan-Turkish university for women under the name of Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi is expected to be discussed with Turkey soon and will be submitted to the Afghan cabinet for approval.
Abdul Majid Ghanizada Deputy Minister of Justice at the meeting, said that the ministry would soon begin work on a draft law on international universities.
According to him, this law will be drafted with the aim of creating the necessary facilities for the activities of international universities in Afghanistan and will then be presented to the cabinet meeting.
Kabul: Breshna Company has announced that three imported electricity pylons in Samangan province have been damaged by a mine explosion.
According to Breshna Company, these pylons were blown up at 10pm on Friday in Qachindara area of Samangan province. Breshna technical staff have been dispatched to the site to repair them and are expected to begin repair work in the next few hours.
Breshna said that the demolition of pylons in the last two months has disrupted electricity in most provinces and has led to huge financial losses for Breshna. The company has asked the people and the security forces to help identify the perpetrators of the explosions and prevent them.
In the past few months, most power stations in northern Kabul have been destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs Mohammad Talib Qasim Halimi has announced that the Taliban are destroying public facilities by taking control of some areas in the country for several days.
He said that the Taliban had no purpose other than to destroy public facilities, explode and commit suicide. The Minister added, “It is just a building and it does not belong to any religion. There is no infidel infrastructure, but we see that the Taliban are destroying it.”
According to Halimi, they would not have destroyed public facilities if the Taliban had worked to build a system and establish a just government that would benefit Afghanistan. Halimi added that the Taliban were destroying bridges, power stations, buildings and other public facilities in areas they controlled for several days.
Halimi stated that the scholars of the Islamic world, Islamic organizations and more than ten other countries have declared the war in Afghanistan illegal and forbidden. He said that at a recent meeting in Saudi Arabia, scholars from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan called the war in Afghanistan detrimental to Islam.
Halimi added that Pakistani clerics who had previously issued fatwas against the Afghan government told the Mecca conference that the war in Afghanistan was illegal and that Afghanistan’s insecurity was Pakistan’s insecurity. According to him, religious scholars from the three countries said that there was no excuse for jihad or war in Afghanistan and that the opposition to the Afghan government should resolve the problem through negotiations and understanding.
Meanwhile, residents of Badghis province and their representatives in the Provincial Council and the National Assembly took up arms in support of security forces and the protection of government facilities. Residents of Badghis said that they will join the security forces in fighting the Taliban, if needed.
Some civil society activists and members of the Badghis Provincial Council are optimistic about the formation of a “second resistance” front to provide security, calling the structure spontaneous and popular. Seyed Mahmoud Entezar, a civil activist in Badghis, said that on Saturday, residents of Badghis and some members of the provincial council and the House of Representatives held an armed maneuver in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis province, expressing their support for security forces.
He asserts that the “second resistance” group is fighting alongside security forces against the Taliban and defending government facilities and government territory. The head of Badghis Provincial Council called for the support of the local administration of the province for the formation of the Second People’s Resistance Front and stressed that they need the government’s cooperation in providing combat equipment to fight the Taliban.
Kabul: The Taliban said on Friday that its leaders had already conveyed to Turkey their opposition to any foreign troops remaining in Afghanistan after the US and NATO forces leave the war-torn country by a September 11 deadline.
The insurgent group’s statement comes a day after US officials said President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed in their meeting on Monday that Turkey would continue providing security at the international airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital, following the troop pullout. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Friday said that US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed on Turkey’s offer to take a leading role in the defense of Afghanistan’s Kabul Airport.
Sullivan said that the two leaders discussed the situation in Afghanistan during their meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Monday. According to Sullivan, Erdogan sought certain unspecified US assistance for Turkey in return for the deployment of Turkish troops at the airport following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country. Biden apparently accepted this.
“The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport,” explained Sullivan. “And we are now working through how to execute to get to that.” The security of the airport in Kabul is seen as vital for the operation and continuation of diplomatic missions to Afghanistan. It would serve as the safest exit point for diplomats in the event of a potential security breakdown in the country, such as the Taliban’s defeat of Afghan government forces. Even Pakistan foreign minister said that they prefer Turkey’s offer. “Whether it’s Turkish forces, Turkish Foreign Ministry, Turkish leadership. We have a very, very comfortable relationship,” he noted.
However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, when asked for a response to Sullivan’s comments, told VOA that guarding the airports and other locations in the country is the responsibly of Afghans.
“If foreign forces want to retain a military presence here in the name of airport security, Afghans will not allow it and will view them as invaders, be it Turkey or any other country,” Mujahid told VOA. He insisted the Taliban maintain “diplomatic ties” with Turkey and seek “brotherly” relations with the Islamic country. “In recent meetings and discussions with Turkish diplomats they had shared with us [Turkey’s] proposed continued military presence here, but we told them it was unacceptable for us. And they assured us that our stance will be conveyed to their leadership,” Mujahid said.
He added that Turkey and America can discuss their bilateral issues, but it is for Afghans alone to decide on how to conduct their “internal affairs and expect others to respect it.” Turkey has about 500 troops stationed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led non-combatant military mission in the country and has long provided security for the airport.
Meanwhile, even Russia’s special presidential representative for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said that Turkey’s plans to guard the Kabul airport after the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan run counter to agreements with the Taliban movement. “Of course, this is a violation,” Kabulov said. The diplomat expressed doubt that this will have any influence on the security situation in Afghanistan in general.
However, Turkey has assured Afghanistan that it would take steps to secure peace in the war-torn country, including by ensuring support from Pakistan for the reconciliation process, Afghan authorities have said. Turkey’s Ambassador to Kabul Cihad Erginay called on Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.
According to the statement, Erginay assured Ankara’s continued support and clarified that Turkey’s armed forces would withdraw from Afghanistan to achieve lasting peace and stability. In fact, on Sunday the foreign ministers of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran will meet for trilateral talks as part of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
“Along with recent developments regarding the Afghan Peace Process, cooperation in the fields of security, energy, connectivity and irregular migration will be discussed during the Trilateral Meeting,” said a ministry statement. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will also hold bilateral meetings with his Iranian and Afghan counterparts on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, which is taking place in Turkey’s famed Riviera resort.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, Mohammad Haneef Atmar. The meeting provided the opportunity to discuss the Afghanistan peace process, as well as the security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.
They agreed on the need for increased regional and international cooperation in support of Afghanistan. High Representative/Vice-President Borrell reiterated the EU’s strong support to the people of Afghanistan, and the need to preserve the achievements made in the sphere of democracy and human rights, especially regarding women’s rights.
Borrell also spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif about the situation in Afghanistan and the necessity of continued engagement by the international community to ensure stability in the region.
Kabul: The Taliban captured Mardyan district of Jowzjan province and Khwaja Sabz Posh district of Faryab province, as per reports coming in on Saturday.
Deputy head of Jowzjan’s provincial council Amruddin Danishjo said that the Mardian district center fell to the Taliban on Saturday morning. Danishjo added that at least 16 ANSDF members were killed and 14 others were captured by the Taliban during clashes in the district.
In fact, the 209th Shaheen Army Corps reported the killing of Mawlawi Sunnatullah, head of Taliban’s military commission for Jowzjan province. The Corps stated that Sunnatullah was killed along with eight insurgents during an ambush in Qush Tepa district, on Friday night. The Corps added that four insurgents were wounded and two others were also arrested, in the incident.
Meanwhile, a member of the Faryab’s provincial council, Abdul Ahad Elbek, said that the Taliban captured Khwaja Sabz Posh district center on Friday night. Elbek added that Acting District Police Chief Gul Ekhtiar Arab along with 13 ANSDF members surrendered to the Taliban, after they did not receive reinforcements.
Provincial officials have not commented on the report. The Taliban confirmed the capture of Mardyan district and added that 20 ANSDF members were arrested.
This comes as the Taliban captured Shirin Tagab district of Faryab province and Obe district of Herat province, on Friday. Additionally, the ANSDF recaptured Greshk district of Helmand province, hours after its collapse.
Meanwhile, local sources and members of the provincial council also added that Baharak district in Takhar, Dar-e-Suf in Samangan and Mirzakah in Paktia have fallen to the Taliban and dozens of troops and equipment have been handed over to the group.
Wafiullah Rahmani, head of the Takhar Provincial Council, said that Baharak district, 20km from Taloqan city, the capital of the province, was captured by the Taliban at 6pm on Friday. Rahmani also said that 78 soldiers, including the Baharak district police chief, had been captured by the Taliban.
According to him, Taliban fighters killed the security director of Baharak district and two other soldiers. The head of the Takhar Provincial Council added that after four days of fighting, security forces surrendered to the Taliban after receiving no assistance from the center.
Paktia province in the southeast of the country also reported that security and defense forces pulled out from Mirzakahi district of the province on Friday evening after heavy clashes. At least two members of the Paktia Provincial Council confirmed the news to Etilat Roz.
Abdul Munir Rahimi, spokesman for the Samangan provincial police said that security and defense forces had relocated the district headquarters one kilometer from the main location. Rahimi also said that the building in Dar-e-Suf district was at a compromised location and that the relocation of the district was due to high security threats to prevent casualties and damage to military equipment.
He added that all security checkpoints, with the exception of the public utility checkpoint, are fixed and security and defense forces are present at their checkpoints. Meanwhile, a security source from the center of Darah-e-Suf district said that security and defense forces had withdrawn from the district. According to the source, a number of security and defense forces and more than 20 members of the popular uprising forces have been captured by the Taliban.
Kabul: One person died and 114 others have been infected with COVID-19 as the pandemic hit the US Embassy in Kabul. Nearly all operations have shut down at the embassy, where staffers are working to coordinate the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.
On Thursday, a note approved by Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson stated that COVID-19 is “surging in the mission,” and several staffers have been medically evacuated. Intensive care units at military hospitals are at full capacity, the note said, “forcing our health units to create temporary, on-compound COVID-19 wards to care for oxygen-dependent patients.”
This comes even as the Ministry of Public Health recorded 1,384 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 92 deaths in the past 24 hours on Saturday. The total Covid-19 cases in Afghanistan has now crossed 101,906. The death toll too stands at 4,122.
Meanwhile, due to the increase in coronavirus cases in Afghanistan, Pakistan has closed off the Pak-Afghan friendship gate in Chaman for bilateral pedestrian traffic.
According to Pakistan’s Deputy Commissioner of Chaman Tariq Mengal, the friendship gate has been closed for two-way traffic from Friday (June 18) as per the decision of National Command and Operating center (NCOC). “Bilateral foot traffic to and from the friendship gate would be suspended till further notice, however, bilateral trade will continue,” he added.
While talking about Pakistanis in Afghanistan he said that they can return while following strict coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) and Afghans in Pakistan can return to their country. However, the sudden closure of the gate has left a large number of Pakistani and Aghan citizens stranded on both sides of the border.
Even Afghanistan students currently pursuing studies in Pakistani universities and who had returned home after their institutions shut due to Covid-19, have urged Islamabad to grant them special permits to re-enter the country in time to sit for examinations in the now re-opened varsities. Hundreds of Afghans studying in Pakistan on scholarship programs had returned to their country about a month ago after the closure of their universities due to the COVID-19 spread. They have now been re-opened as the quarantine period has ended in Pakistan.
Students were mostly worried that if the border closure continued, they would miss their classes and the academic year without any progress in their education. However, Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) in a statement said that the Torkham border would be shut until the next announcement due to high COVID-19 cases in Afghanistan.
Kabul: With peace talks finally on track, Afghanistan has started its regional outreach to get cooperation and sign agreements with its neighbors in key areas of development like military and economy.
Kazakh Defense Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev met Hamdullah Mohib, the National Security Adviser of Afghanistan, and during the meeting a bilateral agreement on military cooperation between the Government of Kazakhstan and Government of Afghanistan was signed, the Kazakh Defense Ministry’s press service reported. The document is based on agreements achieved during the visit of Mohammad Haneef Atmar, the then National Security Adviser of Afghanistan, in 2017. As earlier reported, Kazakh Aide to the President-Security Council Secretary Asset Issekehsev held talks with Mohib. The sides shared views on regional and global security, current risks in Central Asia, directions for further strengthening of cooperation within international organizations.
On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar voiced Tehran’s readiness to set up a joint economic commission with Kabul. The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF). Iran’s Foreign Minister has so far met Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Husayn, Afghanistan’s Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, former Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and his Venezuelan counterpart Jorge Arreaza.
Meanwhile, traders from Pakistan and Afghanistan have urged Islamabad and Kabul to set aside the political differences and make joint efforts to boost bilateral and transit trade between the two neighboring countries. The participants urged the government of Pakistan to devise a separate policy or mechanism for Afghan traders to pave the way to get them registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and other authorities so they will contribute their share in Pakistan’s economy.
They also attributed the strict regulations, complicated laws and cumbersome procedures as main hurdles in bolstering Pak-Afghan mutual trade and transit trade.
The Pak-Afghan traders were addressing a meeting at the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) on Friday. Participants of the meeting discussed the problems and irritants being faced by traders on both sides of the border, which have hampered bilateral trade between the two neighboring countries.
Afghan Commercial Attache in Peshawar Fawad Arash said his country is keen to bolster bilateral and transit trade with Pakistan. In this regard, he added that the Afghan government has taken pragmatic steps and resolved issues of traders’ community on priority basis.