Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Minister of Economy Mustafa Mastoor said that due to the spread of COVID-19, the country’s economic growth will decline by 3% while poverty will increase by 7% this year.
Mastoor, who was at a virtual summit on the theme “Supporting the Revival of the Private Sector in Central Asia Post COVID-19” said that the Ministry of Economy in cooperation with other departments is preparing a package to help support small and medium-sized enterprises with municipality taxes, easy loans and other things.
The package was proposed by the Economic High Council and the Cabinet is in the process of approving it.
Before COVID-19, Afghanistan’s economy was forecasted to grow by another 0.5% in the previous fiscal year.
World Bank estimates during the pandemic, put the expected contraction at up to 4% in 2020 with additional substantial risks like political stability, deterioration of security condition and further adverse regional development exacerbating it.
Pakistan has opened the Angoor Adda and Kharlachi border crossings with Afghanistan to boost bilateral trade, the country’s envoy to Kabul said on Saturday.
Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistani Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said the Angoor Adda crossing in South Waziristan district, opened on July 10, two days ahead of the scheduled date.
It connects to Afghanistan’s Paktika province.
Officials in the Kurram tribal district also announced that the Kharlachi border crossing, which connects to Paktia province in Afghanistan, opened on Saturday.
The gates had been closed for the past four months by the Pakistani government due to the fears of COVID-19.
The crossing will stay open seven days a week from morning till evening for bilateral trade while ensuring all COVID-19 related operating procedures are followed.
Saturdays will be reserved for pedestrian movement.
The Ministry of Defence said 16 Taliban militants were killed during clashes with the Afghan security forces in Logar and Ghazni provinces.
In Logar’s Azra district, the Afghan security forces repelled a Taliban attack at a security checkpoint in the Kharoti area on Friday night. Eight Taliban militants were killed and four wounded in the attack.
Eight more were killed in Ghazni’s Andar district, in a similar clash.
The ministry did not say if Afghan security forces were injured during the clashes.
The Taliban has not commented yet.
The Ministry of Finance (MoF) said over 2.2 billion AFN was allocated to municipalities in a34 provinces for the bread distribution programme during the COVID-19 lockdown and asked them to report back on their spending.
After Hasht e Sobh did an investigative piece that found over 800 million AFN of the 1.2 bullion AFN allocated to the Kabul municipality had been embezzled, the MoF demanded a full accounting on Saturday.
“The government institutions who have received the funds must be accountable and they need to report back on their expenditures with transparency,” said Shamroz Khan Masjidi, a spokesperson at the MoF.
Meanwhile, the Kabul Municipality denied the claims and said the expenditures have not been cleared yet.
Ambassador Rudrendra Tandon will be replacing Vinay Kumar as the new Indian envoy to Afghanistan, the government announced on Saturday.
Tandon, who joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1994, is an Afghanistan specialist, with a stint at the Kabul embassy and as the India’s Consul General in Jalalabad. He has headed the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and served as Under Secretary in Pakistan.
He has been head of the Indian Mission to ASEAN at their secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, since 2018.
The change comes at a time when the Afghan government is preparing to hold negotiations with the Taliban.
In 2019, there were over 1,800 terrorist attacks in Afghanistan which accounted for the brunt of all terrorist activities worldwide, according to a report by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) as part of its Global Terrorism Database (GTD), released this week.
Afghanistan experienced 21% of all terrorist attacks worldwide in 2019, even as the Taliban was engaged in peace talks with the U.S. which intensified till an agreement was signed in February this year.
The Taliban in Afghanistan was responsible for more terrorist attacks in 2019 than any other group by a “wide margin” and those attacks resulted in more deaths than the next ten deadliest perpetrator groups combined, the report finds.
The insurgents sustained a “longstanding upward trend” throughout all of last year even if the possibility remained that the peace talks could be derailed.
According to the data, 41% of all people killed in terrorist attacks (including assailants) in 2019 were killed in Afghanistan.
Between 2018 and 2019, the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan increased 2%, while the total number of victims decreased by 16% to 8,249. However, the change in casualties was due to the 32% decline in the number of perpetrators killed during the attacks, which used to be higher.
So, while fewer Taliban members were killed, the number of victims of Taliban attacks actually increased by 9%, “essentially sustaining the escalation that has taken place in Afghanistan in recent years.”
The Ministry of Public Health reported 172 new Coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours from the 395 samples tested.
They also reported 23 fatalities and 23 new patients recovered.
The laboratories have been consistently testing a decreased number of samples with Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani declaring that the number of positive cases have decreased by up to 40% since the end of May.
Positive cases were reported in Kabul (139), Balkh (10), Kandahar (8), Nimroz (7), Helmand (4), Uruzgan (3) and Faryab (1) provinces.
The country’s current tally is at 34,366 COVID-19 cases with 21,135 recovered and 994 deaths.
Two Afghan police officers and two security forces were wounded in an explosion near the Ministry of Public Works building in Kabul on Saturday morning.
The incident took place close to Abdul Haq Square and intial reports indicate that a magnetic mine was used.
A Ministry of Defence vehicle was also damaged in the explosion, local media reports.
Social media photos showed a plume of smoke rising from the site.
No group has claimed responsibility for the incident.
In the early hours of the morning, there were also reports of clashes in Islatif district on the outskirts of Kabul.
Two security forces were killed and two others wounded in a Taliban attack in Uruzgan’s capital Tarinkot on Friday night.
Provincial governor’s spokesperson Zargi Ebadi said that the Taliban had attacked a security checkpoint in the eastern part of Tarinkot at around 9:30 pm on Friday.
The clashes lasted an hour and 10 Taliban members were also killed and wounded.
The Taliban has yet to comment on the incident.
An unexploded mortar shell also killed a child and wounded another in Uruzgan’s Dehrawood district on Friday.
Transit traders from Afghanistan and Pakistan cited complicated regulations, slow goods clearing process and border terminal procedures, as the main culprits of declining bilateral trade volume.
“Paying no heed toward resolution of issues of the business community on both sides of the border is not in the interest of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Regulatory duties, unnecessary and double taxation should be revised,” the Pak-Afghan traders said.
The participants called upon both Afghan and Pakistani governments to make efforts to remove the hurdles in the way of potential bilateral trade necessary to meet the mutual trade target of $5 billion.
The conference was organized by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Pakistan Regional Economic Integration Activity (PREIA) in collaboration with the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
The Pak-Afghan traders also talked about the extremely slow clearance process of goods at the four shared border crossings at Torkham, Chaman, Ghulam Khan and Kharlachi.
Over the past week, truckers had also complained of corruption in Pakistan and harassment by the police and transport unions before crossing the Torkham border gate.
The state-run Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) delivered medical supplies and consumables to the Ataturk National Children’s Hospital in Kabul.
The consignment included medical equipment, protective suits, masks, and gloves.
The Kabul office of TIKA delivered the aid in a ceremony attended by the hospital’s chief physician Gulam Hasan Kamil and TIKA coordinator Zuhtu Cal.
Kamil thanked the Turkish government for the aid during the COVID-19 outbreak, and said TIKA had also helped the hospital with restoration work, personnel training, equipment, and medical aids before.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asked for a probe into the reports about the possible use of NATO aircrafts to traffic drugs in Afghanistan.
“We cannot verify these reports 100% but such reports are coming too regularly to be ignored,” Lavrov said during the Primakov Readings international online forum on Friday, state media reports.
Lavrov added that news of military aircrafts of the NATO coalition being used to transport contraband opiates from Afghanistan to other countries is commonly reported.
“We keep on receiving reports, including via mass media…” he said.
“If military aircraft were used over Afghanistan, they could have been only NATO’s aircraft and such flights could have been performed only by the military or special services. Naturally, such information needs to be probed into, first of all in the United States.”
The Russian diplomat also pointed to NATO’s presence in Afghanistan and said that drug trafficking in Afghanistan has gone up in the past 20 years. “Looking at absolutely reliable facts, we can say that over the 20 years of the US’ and the coalition’s other participants’ presence in Afghanistan, drug trafficking from that country has increased many-fold.”
“Neither the United States nor other members of the coalition have taken any serious efforts to stop drug production in Afghanistan,” he added, indicating there should be an investigation into NATO’s presence in the country.
Amnesty International says Afghanistan’s human rights community is under intensifying attack from both the authorities and armed groups as human rights defenders and activists face intimidation, harassment, threats and violence and against the backdrop of escalating violence in Afghanistan, human rights defenders and activists have been largely ignored by the Afghan government and the international community.
AI in a press release said that the government of Afghanistan needs to immediately adopt an independent, effective and implementable protection mechanism for HRDs in the country, to ensure their safety and support.
“Human rights defenders play an integral role in Afghan society and have promoted civic education, awareness of human rights, carried out their own research into human rights violations and abuses through ‘shadow reports’, and advocated for an end to serious human rights violations, including discrimination and violence against women and minorities,” the press reads.
“In speaking up for and working to defend human rights, human rights defenders in Afghanistan are continuously facing intimidation, harassment, threats and violence – from both the authorities and armed groups. They have been vilified as “western spies”, “anti-religious” and “anti-culture”. In deeply conservative parts of the country, they have dared to speak up for human rights in defiance of local
religious leaders,” the press release added.
Amensty International cited that article six of the constitution says that “the state shall be obligated to create a prosperous and progressive society based on social justice, preservation of human dignity, protection of human rights…” Articles 21 to 59, inclusive,guarantee human rights including, the right to equality before the law, the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial, the prohibition against torture, the right to legal representation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to association, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of movement, the right to education, the right to work, and the prohibition on forced labour.