Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The Trump administration has tapped a Minnesota native to lead the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan at a critical time as the U.S. negotiates a peace agreement.
Ross Wilson, who spent nearly four decades in the U.S. Foreign Service before retiring near the Twin Cities, accepted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request this month to lead the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until the Senate confirms a permanent ambassador.
“Afghanistan is an extraordinarily challenging, but also very consequential, assignment and I am honored by the trust and confidence that Secretary of State Pompeo and the Department of State have placed in me,” Wilson said in a statement he issued from Washington, D.C., before heading overseas.
A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that Wilson will arrive in Kabul soon, taking over “one of the world’s most challenging diplomatic postings.”
“Ambassador Wilson’s policy and leadership expertise will ensure we continue to advance U.S. interests in Afghanistan, including moving forward with the Afghan peace process and supporting women, civil society, democratic governance, and rule of law as Afghans define how they will govern themselves,” the statement said.
The turnover comes at a critical time. Just this week, two U.S. service members in Afghanistan were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, an attack the Taliban took responsibility for.
Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) plans to hold a meeting on introduction of Afghanistan’s markets to the Iranian traders and businessmen in Iran on Tuesday, TPO website published.
The meeting will be attended by the members of Iran-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce.
Afghanistan Ambassador to Tehran Abdul Ghafoor Liwal has said that his country plans to increase commodity transit through Iranian Chabahar Port.
Making the remarks in a meeting with the Chairman of the Board of Chabahar Free Trade–Industrial Zone Organization Abdolrahim Kordi in November, Liwal said, “Expansion of all-out relations won’t be possible without stronger economic ties and we are determined for stronger presence of our businessmen and traders in Chabahar Port.”
“Chabahar is an economic and a transit bridge for Afghanistan and we are going to expand our economic relations through increasing exports and imports through Chabahar,” he said.
The Afghan President’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqi says the people of Afghanistan have always insisted on a ceasefire.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday in Kabul, Sediqi said, “Ceasefire is the demand of Afghan people. It is the only solution and we cannot achieve sustainable peace without it.”
Sediqi declared that ending the war and bringing peace to the country is a priority of the government of Afghanistan and the continuation of fighting is not in the interest of Taliban too.
He noted the Afghan government hopes that the Taliban would have returned from Quetta having accepted the call for ceasefire in order to move towards a dignified peace.
“Taliban should accept a ceasefire if they are really interested in peace. If they do not agree to ceasefire, our joint efforts to end the fighting in the country will have no result,” he asserted.
The spokesman of President stated that the talks are ongoing between the US and the Taliban on reduction in violence or ceasefire, but no significant progress has been made so far.
Sediqqi reiterated that President Ghani and President Trump during their meeting in Bagram agreed that a ceasefire should be a pre-condition for intra-Afghan negotiations.
“Any suggestion the Taliban have shared with the US, must include ceasefire as it is the demand of our people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sediqi said the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad is set to talk to the Taliban today.
He also pointed out about the UNAMA, EU and US representatives’ meeting in Dubai, saying the meeting in Dubai was held to support Afghan peace.
“Our partners, particularly the EU, have supported the stance of the Afghan government toward peace. We are waiting for UN envoy Yamamoto to brief us on Dubai meeting on Afghan peace and tell us what issues were specifically raised during the meeting,” Sediqi added.
Afghan Police have rescued an eight-year-old girl who had been married off to a 37-year old man in Baghlan province.
“The Central Baghlan Police has taken the victim to a Safe House once they were informed of the case, while the 8-year-old girl’s father, who is the main accused in the case, has not been arrested yet,” the spokesperson for Baghlan Police, Jawid Besharat said.
The victim comes from Laqayeha village of Central Baghlan District. She became the victim of “forced intermarriage” by the family of Fazluddin, the 37-year-old accused, for two months. The child had been physically and mentally tortured by the family of her husband.
Although the UNICEF report on child marriage, which studied five Afghan provinces representing urban, semi-urban and rural areas, noted a 10% decline in child marriage in the country in the past five years, it added that the practice was still commonplace in the country.
While the international legal definition of a child states that they are “a human being below the age of 18 years”, under Afghan law the legal age for marriage is 18 for boys but 16 for girls.
Despite this, researchers found that child marriage continued to be a serious problem, with both boys and girls married off as young as 12 but with girls disproportionately affected.
President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov received Ambassador of Afghanistan Mohammad Issa Mesbah on occasion of completion of his diplomatic mission, the Kyrgyz President’s press service said.
The sides during the talks discussed bilateral relations between the countries, including trade and economic and cultural ties.
The head of state praised the contribution of Mohammad Issa Mesbah to strengthening of Kyrgyz-Afghan relations.
He also underlined a positive dynamics of bilateral relations over the past years.
The Pentagon is rejecting accusations that military leadership “incentivized lying” to portray a more optimistic picture of U.S. efforts in the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan.
“The idea that there was some … effort to hide the truth or the reality on the ground just doesn’t hold water,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman has told reporters.
“This idea that there were somehow misstatements or lies, I don’t think that really gels,” he added.
Hoffman’s response took aim at comments by U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, who testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Hoffman has declared that much of the material Sopko cited had been shared willingly, with the understanding it would be shared with Congress.
He also made no apology for how defense officials shared information with the public outside the SIGAR process.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Chief, the European Union (EU), US, NATO envoys and representatives of Afghanistan met in Dubai on Friday.
The EU Special Envoy, Roland Kobia has said that a joint meeting of US-Europe format (+UN/NATO) was held to discuss ceasefire, reduction of violence, sequencing, Intra-Afghan dialogue-negotiations, inclusivity of process, CT guarantees, future commitments, and regional dimension.
In the meantime, UNAMA in a tweet stated that Tadamichi Yamamoto met with US and EU Special Envoys and Representatives for Afghanistan and took stock of international support for peace efforts.
In addition, the German envoy to Afghanistan Potzel Markus in his twitter account has written: “Discussed ways forward towards a comprehensive peace process for Afghanistan. We agreed that reduction of violence remains key.”
The meeting comes as senior members of the Afghan Taliban have agreed to a 10-day ceasefire with the United States.
Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that India and Iran need to work together to expedite rail connectivity to Afghanistan and procurement of equipment for development of Chabahar Port.
The Iranian minister decaclred that India has good relations with Iran as well as US and can play a role in bringing both the countries to negotiating table.
“Chabahar Port is essential for Afghanistan and Central Asia. There are several problems and we made several advances on them. One of them is that our Parliament has recently approved the expansion of the free zone,” he said.
Zarif noted that the problem in the progress of the project is that India has found difficulty in procuring the necessary equipment for the port despite the exemption.
“The other issue is connecting Chabahar to Afghanistan and to Central Asia through rail. We need to complete the Chabahar-Zahedan rail network. We have the infrastructure for that, but we need rails. We are in negotiation with India for providing rails. We produce our own rails but not at the scale we need. So, Iran and India need to work together on procurement of equipment for the port as well as finishing the rail link,” he added.
The Chabahar Port complex, backed by India, on Iran’s coast along the Gulf of Oman is being developed to provide an alternative trade route between India and Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have discussed a series of issues, including the importance of bilateral cooperation in bringing a long-elusive peace to Afghanistan.
The leaders also addressed Iran, and increased economic relations, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a brief statement following their meeting.
Pompeo’s meeting with Qureshi comes amid reports that the Afghan Taliban have presented the U.S. with a proposal that would reduce hostilities for a number of days to allow peace talks to resume.
On Thursday, Qureshi also met with the leadership of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee at Capitol Hill, including Senators James Risch, Bob Menendez, Mitt Romney and Chris Murphy.
They discussed the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, the situation in South Asia, the Afghan peace process and recent developments in the Middle East.
During the talks, Qureshi briefed the U.S. lawmakers on India’s lockdown in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and its implications for regional security.
Fahima Mirzaie set up a dance school for women in the Afghan capital last year, hoping to help her students fight depression and find inner peace in a war-torn country where dancing is widely considered taboo, Reuters reported.
According to Reuters, some 20 young Afghan women have signed up for classes to learn “Sama” – a dance form that traces its roots back to the 13th century poet Jalaluddin Mohammad Rumi, who was born in present-day Afghanistan.
Mainly involving swirling movements, Sama has spread throughout the Muslim world and is most famously associated with the Whirling Dervishes.
The dance is a part of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam that emphasizes the inward search for God. Islamist militants who view mystical traditions of Islam as heretical have attacked Sufi shrines in some Muslim countries.
“I enjoy Sama, and when I do it, it gives me peace, and the sadness and difficulties of my life go away,” Mirzaie, 23, told Reuters in her classroom, located in a western neighbourhood of Kabul that has seen a number of attacks in recent years.
“My life and my students’ lives have been changed by Sama. They have gained self-confidence, and even some of them who had depression are very happy,” she said.
Women have won hard-fought rights in Afghanistan since the austere rule of the Taliban was ended by a U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001.
China has said it was pleased to handle the Afghan-bound transit cargo by Gwadar port as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was not only beneficial for both the countries but also for the regional connectivity and economic cooperation.
“We have noted the report. And we are pleased over new progress achieved by Gwadar port,”Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Geng Shuang said while responding to a question during his regular briefing held here.
Gwadar Port, a key component of CPEC, has started handling transit cargo and the first Afghan shipment arrived this week.
“We support the Gwadar port in playing a big role in promoting regional goods and trade cooperation,” he said.
According to reports, the shipment will be loaded on trucks and sent to Afghanistan through the Pak-Afghan border at Chaman.
A conservative veterans group is launching a $1.5 million ad campaign aimed at gaining public support for withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan, Politico has reported.
The ad comes from the Concerned Veterans for America, a group backed by the Koch family. It is being aired in three presidential battleground states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The veterans’ group believes the three states are particularly important for the ads, due in part to the population of recent veterans.
The ad shows five veterans urging voters to end America’s involvement in Afghanistan. It estimates the war has cost taxpayers $1 trillion dollars.
“We’ve been engaged for 18 years in Afghanistan,” said CVA Executive Director Nate Anderson, a former Army Green Beret. “That is an injustice both to the shrinking population of men and women who wear the uniform, willing to put their lives on the line, as well as the American taxpayers who pay the bill for that.”
Bakhtar Aviation Company, owned by Ariana Airlines, has relaunched its operations after receiving two small airplanes from the government.
The two airplanes—Dash-8 Q300 with a capacity of 30-40 passengers–were given to President Ghani by Chinese government.
According to Tolo News, Bakhtar will be transporting 230,000 employees of Defense Ministry in the upcoming year.
The aviation company will receive USD 20mn in advance from the National Procurement Authority (NPA) for transport of Afghan forces. The funds will allow Bakhtar to procure two new aircraft.
With the relaunch of Bakhtar Aviation Company, Afghan citizens will have more options for domestic flights and will be able to travel to provinces that are not easily connected by road.