Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: A senior Qatari diplomat, involved in the Afghan peace process, said on Monday that Indian officials were engaged in talks with the Taliban.
Recently there were reports that the Indian officials had begun negotiations with Afghan Taliban factions and leaders, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, brining a tectonic shift in their policy. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, who is the Special Envoy of Qatar’s foreign minister for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, said that he believed the Indian side was engaging with the Taliban as the group is seen as a “key component” in any future government in Afghanistan.
Al-Qahtani, who was participating in a virtual discussion organized by the Arab Center Washington DC on the theme “Looking towards peace in Afghanistan after the US-NATO withdrawal”, made the remarks while answering a question from an Indian journalist on Qatar’s perception of India’s role in the Afghan peace process.
Meanwhile, as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) began a plenary meeting on Monday that will assess Pakistan’s efforts to tackle terror financing, reports have emerged of a sharp increase in fund-raising by the Taliban on Pakistani soil.
The FATF’s virtual plenary meeting, which will conclude on June 25, will decide whether to retain Pakistan in the “grey list” or the list of nations under increased monitoring by the multilateral watchdog. Pakistan was placed on the list in June 2018 for failing to curb terror financing and money laundering.
Recent reports have said there has been a spurt in fund-raising and recruitment by the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil, especially in the restive Balochistan province. Several top Taliban leaders are believed to be based in Balochistan and form part of the Quetta Shura, named after the capital city of the province. Donations to the Taliban are on the “upswing” in Balochistan as the group intensifies attacks on Afghan forces ahead of the drawdown of US forces, locals told VOA. The international broadcaster funded by the US cited multiple sources and eyewitnesses as saying that fundraising for the Taliban “has continued in various parts of Pakistan”.
Meanwhile in other news, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that around 18,000 Afghans who have assisted US forces in Afghanistan are seeking to leave the country before the United States’ withdrawal is completed by September 11, but only half of them have so far filled out the necessary paperwork.
“There are about 18,000 people who have expressed interest – or more – in using this program to come to the United States,” Blinken. He added that half of that number had already completed the necessary bureaucratic processes but the other half was just starting them.
“About 9,000 of those are just in the beginning of the process. They’ve expressed interest, they’re looking at it, they haven’t filled out the forms. Another 9,000, though, have filled out the forms. They’re working through the process, and we’ve got a number of them that are awaiting approval by our embassy in Afghanistan and others who are actually in the immigration process itself,” he said.
The State Department had added 50 officials to those dealing with the Special Immigrant Visas required by those individuals and they had already succeeded in eliminating some backlogs that had existed in the process, Blinken said.
Meanwhile, Switzerland has decided to resume the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers to Afghanistan. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) confirmed to Swiss public television, SRF, on Sunday that deportation flights would take place with immediate effect.
This move, which mirrors similar decisions in other European countries, follows an agreement with the Afghan government, the SEM said. According to the SEM, 144 rejected asylum-seekers from Afghanistan who are staying in Switzerland will be returned to their home country. The date of their returns is not known.
Human rights groups have criticized the decision. Amnesty International views any current deportation to Afghanistan as a violation of human rights. “This decision is irresponsible. The security and human rights situations in Afghanistan are extremely precarious,” Alicia Giraudel, an asylum expert at Amnesty International Switzerland, told SRF. Lukas Rieder from the SEM insists that the safety of the people returned will be guaranteed. “The SEM checks every single case, every single person, very precisely and in detail, whether they are personally threatened or persecuted,” he told SRF.
The move comes even as violence has been rising in Afghanistan as foreign forces prepare to withdraw from the country by September 11 and efforts to broker a peace settlement between the Afghan government and insurgent Taliban have slowed. In fact, the United Nations on Monday said that Somalia, Congo, Afghanistan and Syria top the list of the most dangerous conflict zones for children, accounting for nearly 60% of all violations among the entries on its annual blacklist of countries where children suffer grave abuses.
“Children can no longer be the last priority of the international agenda nor the least protected group of individuals on the planet,” Virginia Gamba, UN special representative for children in armed conflict, told reporters on Monday at the report’s launch. “We need to give children an alternative to violence and abuse. We need peace, respect for children’s rights, and democracy.”
Gamba said the most widespread violations in 2020 were the recruitment and use of children by security forces and armed groups and the killing and maiming of children. “We are extremely alarmed at the increase in the abduction of children by 90% compared to previous years, as well as the increase in rape and other forms of sexual violence, registering an increase of 70% compared to previous years,” she added. In Afghanistan, she said the Taliban was responsible for two-thirds of violations, and the government and pro-government militias the rest.
Kabul: Following the fall of a number of districts to the Taliban, Wahid Omar, an adviser to the president and head of the president’s public relations and strategic affairs authority, said that the situation would change soon and the Taliban wave of attacks on district centers is not permanent.
Speaking at the introduction of Ajmal Shinwari, as public spokesman for the security and defense agencies at the government’s information and media center, Omar said on Tuesday that the wave of Taliban attacks had been launched amid the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Omar said the Taliban’s goal in launching this wave of attacks is to demoralize the people, and the group wants the people to conclude that the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan. He added that the wave of Taliban attacks is not continuous and that the group could not have a permanent presence in any district. “We are taking back the districts,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Wahid Omar said during his speech that the concerns of the Afghan people about the security situation are understandable, but that the Taliban had lost the relative position they had gained among the Afghan people in the past few years with its actions of the past month. Omar added that the Taliban had previously seen the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan as an excuse for war, but now that foreign forces were withdrawing, the Taliban are fighting the Afghan people and destroying public facilities instead of at the negotiating table.
According to Omar, the Taliban closed schools, set fire to health buildings and clinics, and barred children from attending school. “There is no such thing as service, governance and systematization in the Taliban,” he said. According to him, the people of Afghanistan have seen the main face of the Taliban over the past month, who have become “more savage, more cruel and more brutal” than in previous years.
Wahid Omar further referred to the Taliban’s psychological warfare against the Afghan people. He said civil society activists, the media, members of the provincial council and social media users should not inadvertently become a platform for the Taliban to speak out because of differences of opinion with the government.
“We should not weaken the morale of the security forces and cause the collapse of the umbrella of the regime because of the difference of opinion with the government,” Omar added. “As people stand up against the Taliban in the area and in the village, our wish is that we support the same people in cyberspace.”
He also said that yesterday they sent a letter to the provincial councils asking them not to act as spokespersons for the security and intelligence agencies and to fulfill their main duties. According to him, members of the provincial council should not ruin the morale of the people. In recent days, people have mobilized to support the security forces and stand by them, the presidential adviser said. He said the government leadership supports the people’s resistance.
On the other hand, President Ghani has approved National Security Council’s proposal to appoint Shinwari as general spokesman for security agencies. Omar said that a single spokesman was appointed for the ANSDF to provide information from a unified source.
Omar added that the MoD, MoI, and NDS spokesmen are working together to foil enemy conspiracy both on the battlefield and virtual space. Shinwari vowed to work properly and share the realities on the ground with the people and media.
He described the current conditions as sensitive and gave assurances that the new MoD and MoI leadership will achieve remarkable successes and change the current security situation. Shinwari added that executing plans for special and clearance operations will be developed to recapture the lost areas.
Meanwhile, security sources in Faryab province said that Taliban fighters set fire to a school in Maimana, the provincial capital. Karim Yurish, spokesperson for the Faryab Police told Hashte Subh daily on Tuesday that the incident took place in the village of Qutur in Faryab. Yurish added that it was a high school. The Taliban have not yet commented on the matter.
Also, as two districts and the commercial port of ShirKhan in Kunduz province collapsed to the Taliban, the Ministry of Defense announced the arrest of six people who had encouraged security and defense forces in the province to hand over their checkpoints to the Taliban.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement on Tuesday that the men were trying to hand over a checkpoint to the Taliban in the “Kala Gaw” area of Kunduz city without any clashes. The statement refers to the Taliban as “infiltrators.”
The Ministry of Defense announced the arrests of these individuals. Since Monday night, the districts of Char Dara and Goltapa in Kunduz and the commercial port of ShirKhan in the province have fallen to the Taliban. The Dasht-e-Archi, Qala-e-Zal and Imam-e-Sahib districts of Kunduz are also under Taliban control.
Even AIHRC said that an escalation in fighting and expansion of violence has led to an increase in civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure. The AIHRC has emphasized on negotiations as the most constructive, ethical, and best mechanism to resolve issues and now also emphasizes on its position. It called on the UN, influential domestic and international organizations, and international community to use their facilities, opportunities, and capacities, to end violence and war, before the crisis deepens.
The AIHRC urged the warring parties to understand the suffering of the Afghan people, obey collective interests, and honor public rights and demands, to end violence and agree to a permanent ceasefire and return to the negotiating table to resolve conflicting issues and achieve a just and enduring peace.
Following the recent collapse of districts in the north of the country, former Vice-President Ahmad Zia Massoud called on political leaders to set up a joint military and political committee as soon as possible to mobilize and coordinate the people’s forces.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Massoud stressed that the joint military-political committee must be fully prepared to prevent any unforeseen events. Ahmad Zia Massoud, the deputy leader of the Jamiat Party led by Salahuddin Rabbani, has called on political leaders to stand with the people and popular uprisings on the fronts of the war on terror as soon as possible.
Massoud said Afghanistan has been attacked by international terrorism and that “the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS and dozens of other terrorist groups, in collusion with pro-Taliban elements in the current government, are trying to overthrow the political system in favor of the Taliban and the Islamic Emirate.”
Massoud called the Taliban a “mercenary, terrorist and foreign-affiliated” group. The deputy leader of the Jamiat party stressed that the peace talks were an “occupying and deceptive” move and is not in the interests of the people. According to him, the Taliban have no desire for peace, but their supporters want to legitimize the Taliban through these fruitless talks.
Popular mobilization groups have been formed to fight the Taliban in many northern provinces. The Ministry of National Defense has announced its readiness to support and equip the people’s forces.
Kabul: The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) recorded 2,202 new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and 73 deaths in the past 24 hours.
The total number of cases now stand at 107,957, while the death toll is 4,366. In fact, Acting Public Health Minister Wahid Majroh met with Iranian Ambassador Bahadur Aminian and commended Iran’s assistance during the 1st wave of COVID-19. He called for further assistance in training healthcare workers, particularly in heart surgery, oxygen and medical equipment to help Afghanistan combat the 3rd wave.
Majroh said that beds were increased across the country and oxygen machines were installed at seven hospitals in Kabul, to cope with the shortages. Aminian pledged that Iran will cooperate, and added that his country is prepared to provide equipment to two the hospitals in Kabul and Bamyan provinces, which Iran had built. Aminian added that Iran is committed to providing 80 scholarships in medical science to Afghan students.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has decided to suspend the movement of citizens across the Uzbek-Afghan border, taking into account the aggravation of the COVID-19 situation in Afghanistan.
According to the Uzbek health ministry, the issuance of tourist visas to citizens of Afghanistan was suspended, as well as the acceptance of visa applications from travel companies. Trends reported that the following categories of citizens and vehicles are allowed to move through Termez-Avtodorozhniy border checkpoint at the border between the two countries -employees of diplomatic missions, consular offices and international organizations and members of their families; drivers carrying out international cargo transportation; citizens of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan returning home.
It is noted that citizens of Uzbekistan who test positive for coronavirus infection will be sent for treatment to special clinics. In addition, foreign citizens who test positive for coronavirus infection will not be allowed to enter Uzbekistan.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has expressed concern about the lack of oxygen and facilities in hospitals during the outbreak of the third wave of the coronavirus, calling it a serious problem.
Stating that access to health services is everyone’s right, it called on relevant government agencies, especially the Ministry of Public Health, to make effective use of the available facilities. AIHRC has said that due to war, poverty, unemployment and other problems, the fight against the coronavirus requires the full cooperation of government agencies and the public.
Monitoring findings by the Independent Human Rights Commission show that lack of facilities and oxygen in hospitals is a serious problem, but “good” precautions have been taken in prisons to prevent coronavirus. The AIHRC has also called on the public to take precautionary measures and follow health advice to prevent the spread of the corona virus.
The Ministry of Public Health says that the problem has now been partially overcome by activating oxygen-producing devices in public hospitals.
Kabul: In a telephone conversation with Afghan President, Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi stressed on the need to deepen relations and expanding cooperation between Tehran and Kabul.
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani felicitated Raisi on his victory in Iran’s presidential election, wishing him success and prosperity. “Afghanistan and Iran are two neighboring and brotherly countries, and I hope that your election as President-elect of the Islamic Republic of Iran will further expand relations and cooperation in various fields between the two countries”, said Ghani in this telephone conversation, according to official press service of the Afghan President.
Raisi expressed his gratitude for President Ghani’s telephone call and stressed the need to deepen relations and expanding cooperation between the two countries.” In fact, local officials in Herat said on Tuesday that Iran’s land border has been opened for the entry of travelers with business, medical, student and resident visas.
Foreign Ministry officials in Herat said that people with tourist and pilgrimage visas cannot enter Iran through the land border at the discretion of Iranian officials. Iran’s land border with Afghanistan was closed unilaterally about two months ago, after which the price of a Herat-Mashhad ticket increased. The closure of the land border created many problems for travelers and provoked protests from residents of the western provinces of the country and the province bordering Iran.
Meanwhile, another regional partner India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is scheduled to address the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) debate on Afghanistan on Wednesday.
“External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will address the UNSC debate on Afghanistan tomorrow,” said the official Twitter handle of Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, New York. Earlier, India has noted the United States’ decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and has expressed concerns over the probable increase in the violence and targeted killings in the war-torn country.
In a statement in April, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said New Delhi is of the view that an Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years. India has also called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.
Also, before the UNSC debate, the Human Rights Watch has prepared a report which found that children are often held in military facilities in violation of Afghan law, and often sign documents involuntarily, including confessions, that they do not understand. “They are charged with vaguely worded “terrorism offenses” and may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Many children in custody are detained solely because of their parents’ alleged involvement with insurgent groups,” said the Human Rights Watch. In fact, it has asked the Afghan government to release children detained for alleged association with armed insurgent groups and work with the United Nations and donors to establish programs for their reintegration into society.
Hundreds of children are currently detained for alleged involvement with the Taliban, the extremist armed group Islamic State-Khorasan Province (also known as IS-KP), or other armed groups, and are often tortured in facilities run by government security forces, as per the group. “Detaining and torturing children who have already been victimized by armed insurgent groups is inhumane and counterproductive,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Instead of letting these forgotten children languish in prison, the Afghan government, the UN, and donors should immediately establish programs to reintegrate these children into society.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has found that children detained in Afghanistan for conflict-related charges were more likely than adults to report torture. Nearly 44 percent of children interviewed in 2019-2020 provided credible accounts of torture or ill-treatment, compared with roughly 32 percent for all detainees. Random interviews by UNAMA during that period found children as young as 10 detained in military or security facilities.
“These children are being forgotten, and their continued detention and abuse will not deter future violence,” Becker said. “Parties concerned about Afghanistan’s future should prioritize the release and reintegration of children detained for alleged association with armed groups and ensure that protecting children is high on the agenda of the peace talks.”
Kabul: The Ministry of Defense and the 209th Shaheen Corps announced on Tuesday in separate statements that the Balkh district in Balkh province and Doshi district in Baghlan province have been recaptured by security forces.
The Ministry of Defense said that Doshi district of Baghlan province has been retaken by the security forces. Local media reported that government forces returned to the district without clashes.
Doshi district had fallen to the Taliban on Monday.
Meanwhile, the 209 Shaheen Corps said in a statement that the special forces of the army, in coordination with other security forces, cleared the center of Balkh district of the Taliban.
According to the statement, the operation was launched on Monday night and according to preliminary statistics, after 31 Taliban insurgents were killed, the district was taken over.
Meanwhile, local sources and members of the provincial council told Etilat Roz that the districts of Nahrin and Baghlan-e-Markazi in Baghlan, Shajoy district in Zabul, Qarqin and Khomab districts in Jawzjan, Chora district in Uruzgan, Ahmad Khel and Lajmangal in Paktia and Goltapa and Chardara districts of Kunduz and Shirkhan port are out of government’s control.
Safdar Mohseni, chairman of the Baghlan Provincial Council, said that the Baghlan-e Markazi district collapsed on Monday night and the Nahrin district fell to Taliban fighters on Tuesday.
Mohseni added that clashes between government forces and the Taliban had been going on for several hours in the Baghlan-e Markazi district. According to him, the number of casualties in this conflict has not been determined yet.
Earlier, in Baghlan in the northeast of the country, the districts of Burka, Dehna Ghori, Doshi and Jalga had also fallen to the Taliban. Dur Muhammad Qayam, secretary of the Zabul Provincial Council, said that the Shajoy district had been handed over to the Taliban without any clashes.
According to Qayam, the army forces stationed in this district have been transferred from this district to Qalat city, the center of Zabul, due to the ineffectiveness of their presence. Two weeks ago, local officials in Zabul confirmed to Etilat Roz that the Shinkai district in the province had fallen to the Taliban. A few days later, the Taliban released a video from the district announcing that they had escorted security and defense forces based in Shinkai to a government-controlled area.
Abdul Hai Hayat, a member of Jawzjan Provincial Council, also confirmed to Etilat Roz that the Qarqin and Khomab districts of the province had fallen to the Taliban without any clashes. Hayat added that army forces had retreated from these districts to Sheberghan, the capital of Jawzjan, without any serious threat from the Taliban. According to him, a small number of Taliban fighters came to the center of Qarqin and Khomab districts after the army withdrew and took control of them.
The Taliban have also taken control of Aqcha, Mangijak, Khanqah, Faizabad and Mardyan districts of Jawzjan over the past few days. Ahmad Shah Sahel, spokesman for the governor of Uruzgan, also confirmed that government forces had left the province’s Chora district. He said that the troops had left the district due to the ineffectiveness of their presence.
The Taliban, however, said they had recently taken control of the district. The group had previously captured the Uruzgan Khas and Gizab districts. Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz Provincial Council, said that the Goltapa and Chahar Dara districts of the province had fallen to the group after clashes between security and defense forces and the Taliban.
He also stressed that the group has taken control of all parts of ShirKhan commercial port in Imam Sahib district of the province. Shirkhan commercial port on the border with Tajikistan is one of the economic arteries of Kunduz. Commercial goods are transported through this port to Central Asian countries and vice versa. In addition, Taliban fighters control the districts of Dasht-e Archi, Qala-e-Zal, Imam Sahib, Aliabad and Khanabad in Kunduz.
Kunduz Provincial Council Chairman Mohammad Yusuf Ayoubi said that fighting had broken out in Kunduz and that the Taliban had intensified their attacks on the outskirts of the city.
Paktia province also reported that the Taliban had taken control of Ahmad Khel and Lajmangal districts in the province. Abdul Malik Zazai chairman of the Paktia Provincial Council, confirmed the news of the fall of the two districts to Etilat Roz.
As the districts fell to the Taliban, the group also claimed control of Jaghatu in Maidan Wardak and Maiwand in Kandahar. But local sources in the provinces denied on the day the districts fell to the Taliban.
Sharifullah Hotak, a member of the Maidan Wardak provincial council, said that clashes were taking place between the Taliban and government forces in the provincial capital, Jaghatu. He added that a number of these forces had surrendered to the Taliban.
He expressed concern that if the air support was not provided to these forces, Jagharu district would fall to the Taliban. The Taliban had previously taken control of the Rim and Jalriz districts of the province.
Also, Ahmad Shah Khan, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council, said that clashes were taking place between the Taliban and government forces in Maiwand district. He said that the group had already cut off telecommunication networks in Maiwand and that there were enough government troops in the district.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that the Aliabad district of Kunduz province was retaken from the Taliban moments ago.
Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said on Tuesday that the country’s security and defense forces had recaptured the Aliabad district from the Taliban by carrying out purge operations.
The Deputy Spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense said that the advance of the security forces in Kunduz continues.
Government forces recaptured Doshi and Balkh districts from the Taliban overnight. The Taliban, however, says no districts have been taken back from them.
Security sources in Kunduz confirm that the Taliban have seized parts of ShiKhan port.
Meanwhile, Sarwar Danesh, the second vice-president, has said that for more than two years, the Taliban and its supporters have been raising the slogan of peace and gained relative international legitimacy with the help of some other countries.
Danesh posted a note on his Facebook page saying that the Afghan government, which increasingly saw peace as a national necessity for Afghanistan before the Taliban, welcomed the slogan; but the Taliban have so far proved by their actions that they have not the slightest belief in peace and will accept nothing, but monopoly.
According to him, Taliban representatives are also symbolically present at the Doha talks and have so far not attended any effective and meaningful talks. Danesh wrote, “The clearest evidence of this claim is the escalation of violence and war. Whereas today, with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, there is no legitimate justification for war; but the Taliban and their supporters, without any shame, have called their belligerence a victory and are clearly laughing at the beards of all claimants and supporters of peace, trying to seize as much territory as possible.”
The second vice-president said that the Taliban had started their so-called conquests from areas and territories that had no social or cultural acceptance among the people of those areas. He said that the northern and central provinces of Afghanistan had shown in the 1970s that they would not succumb to the Taliban’s coercion and monopoly and would not allow the Taliban to rule.
Danesh wrote that the Taliban are repeating exactly the same mistake of the 1970s; but eventually they will drown in the whirlpool of the turbulent wave they created, and soon the country’s defense and security forces will teach them another lesson that will not be forgotten forever.
He added, “Along with the defense and security forces, mass popular uprisings and widespread national resistance within the framework of state sovereignty are being formed to defend the republic and to suppress the enemies of the system. There is enough political consensus among the three branches of government and among politicians and political parties to defend the system and the republic and oppose the Taliban.”
Danesh has emphasized that if the Taliban does not accept peace and a political solution, it will not achieve its goals through military means and escalation of war, and the Afghan people will never accept the humiliation of surrendering to tyranny and monopoly. Recently, however, the scale of the war in Afghanistan has expanded, with several districts falling to Taliban militants without conflict every day.
Meanwhile, UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet has voiced her concern over the sharp increase in violence and harm to civilians in Afghanistan. In a statement issued after the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet said the recent attack on “a school in a Hazara area of Kabul – which killed 85 children, most of them girls – was especially shocking.”
She stated that in the six months since talks began between the Afghan government and the Taliban, civilian casualties increased by 41 percent compared to the same period one year previously. “The withdrawal of international forces, which is expected to be completed by September, is creating fear for the future – particularly among women, minority communities, human rights defenders and journalists – with deep concern about the risks of losing gains hard-won over the last twenty years,” she said.
“I urge all parties to resume the stalled peace talks and to urgently implement a ceasefire to protect civilians. The independent role of the courageous Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission must be protected. Given the rapid deterioration of this situation, I encourage the Council to increase its monitoring and to consider mechanisms for an effective prevention response,” she said.