Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
At least 10 members of the local security force and their commander were killed in a roadside bomb blast in Badakhshan province after midnight.
Provincial police spokesman Sanaullah Rohani confirmed that the blast in Khash district happened when the vehicle carrying the personnel hit a road mine.
The security forces had been on their way to provide support during a clash with the Taliban.
During the fighting, Taliban’s shadow district governor Hamidullah and another person were killed by the government forces.
No one has claimed the attack and the Taliban has not released a statement yet.
Since the end of the ceasefire, the Taliban has only confirmed one attack officially, while Afghan government sources have said these violent incidents have been increasing.
Officials confirmed that gunmen attacked and killed three police officers and wounded five more in Guldara district in northwestern Kabul province.
Kabul governor’s office said that the police officers were attacked by armed men atn a security checkpoint in the Dasht-e Naseri area.
Governor Yaqub Haidari went to investigate the incident and berated security officials for their negligence, calling it “unacceptable.”
Although the perpetrators were not named, Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) spokesman Tariq Arian said the attack was carried out by the Taliban.
Arian added that the Taliban also suffered casualties in the incident, but he did not provide exact details.
Increased violence in Kabul
Kabul province has recently seen an increase in insecurity, with a bevy of landmine explosions, sticky mines, assassinations and armed robberies.
While the MoI has strengthened its security, officials said the attacks continue to show a weakness of the country’s intelligence agencies.
Senior diplomat Mohammad Sadiq Khan has been appointed as Pakistan’s special envoy to Afghanistan to spearhead the start of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
Khan, who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul from 2008 to 2014, and a former spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, would play “an effective role in strengthening ties” said the official press release.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said this move showed their sincerity in playing a reconciliatory role in the Afghan peace dialogue.
Former NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan Nicholas Kay warned that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is not advisable until a binding political agreement is reached.
“It would be very rash for us to have a comprehensive military withdrawal from Afghanistan before there is a comprehensive political peace agreement,” he told Forces News.
In February, the U.S. had signed a deal with the Taliban wherein 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released by the Afghan government and the U.S. troops would withdraw completely from the country within 14 months. Sanctions on the group would also be lifted if they uphold their end of the deal to cut ties with other militant groups and release 1,000 government soldiers.
U.S. President Donald Trump indicated last week that he would like their troops to be back stateside as soon as possible.
Experts have said that is not advisable in the current political climate where peace has not been established.
“At this stage, the only commitment on the NATO side is for this first stage of withdrawal down to 12,000 and then there would be a stocktake,” Kay remarked saying it important to remember the deal is based on conditions and indiscriminately pulling back troops may be harmful.
“If the Taliban do not live up to their commitments, then there will not be a deal,” he reassured.
When Aziz Amir was deported from the UK back to his native Afghanistan in 2011, he faced a choice: defy the Taliban and risk being murdered, or join them.
Mr Amir, not his real name, chose the latter, not just to preserve his own life, but for the safety of his family who live in areas controlled by the insurgent group.
“Once I returned to my village, it was completely under Taliban control,” he told The National.
The Taliban’s 19-year-battle against the US and NATO forces has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, unprecedented displacement, an unstable political situation and a weak economy.
Many like Mr Amir have been drawn, coerced or forced to join the many insurgencies that have been increasingly gaining power in Afghanistan.
Now hundreds of young men like 34-year old Mr Aziz spy an opportunity in peace talks between the US and the extremist group. The chance to gain freedom.
Escape and return
Mr Amir left Afghanistan in 2003 on the overthrow of the Taliban regime, at the age of sixteen.
The group still controlled swathes of land, including where Mr Amir’s family resided.
“My family worried that the Taliban might recruit me for their fights with the foreign forces. So they helped me leave,” he said
The journey, with the aid of smugglers, took nine months, passing through Iran and Turkey and eventually to London.
“The next few years seem like a dream now,” he said of the next nine years spent working and living in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham. The relative peace of the UK provided Mr Amir the hope for a better future.
“We weren’t allowed to work freely so we did odd jobs that we could find. It was handwork but it was peaceful. It was a different life,” he said.
“We lived with Indians, Pakistanis and other South Asians. I learned to speak English but we mostly spoke in Urdu. I have friends there. I wish I could go back to London.”
Lasting peace was not on the cards for Mr Amir, however. In 2011 he was arrested and deported for “illegal entry” – he had not registered as a refugee.
He showed The National a letter from the UK Border Agency announcing his date of deportation, flight number and country of origin, but not much else.
“Directions have now been given for your removal from the United Kingdom,” it reads, a sentence that changed Amir’s life forever.
Once he returned to his home village, the pressure to join up ratcheted up. Those deported from abroad, such as Amir, are seen as traitorous.
“Those deported to Afghanistan are in a very vulnerable situation. They have no social network or support, no money feed themselves, no place to go to,” said Abdul Ghafoor, Director at Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organisation (AMASO), in Kabul.
“I have seen many cases where we had boys who were forced to live under the bridges in Kabul after their deportations, leaving them vulnerable to negative elements of society.”
Mr Ghafoor describes scenarios involving deportees being either forced or coerced to join the insurgents, or become foot soldiers for the Iranian regime’s Quds force to fight in Syria. “I have at least two recent cases, one of who was just confirmed killed,” he said.
Mr Ghafoor says European governments and international organisations need to do more to protect returnees. A total of 19,390 Afghans were set back from European Union nations between 2015-17, according to Eurostat. Another report notes that 26,900 orders to leave an EU state were issued to Afghans in 2017 and 2018.
“International organisations don’t have any sustainable plans to help the returnees reintegrate in society. They do offer ‘reintegration packages’, but in practice the returnees face a tough time getting them, and are inadequate in support. It can take six to eight months for some deportees to get these packages, so what are they to do in that times?” he said.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it gets to the point that deportees are forced to pick up and join insurgencies for their survival,” he explained.
For Mr Amir the financial aspect was an added incentive to joining the Taliban as a fighter. “There is no corruption here. I also have a job in this time of economic uncertainty,” he added.
The stigma, shame and trauma associated with deportation leaves many susceptible to insurgent groups, said Mr Ghafoor.
“When I talk to some of the deportees, one of their biggest questions is, what should we do here? Join the Taliban or Isis? And unfortunately, there have been cases of deportees who have been radicalised through such networks “ he said.
The ongoing peace negotiations between the US and the Taliban over the past year has provided a glimmer of hope for those like Mr Amir and his family.
On February 29, the US government signed a deal with the Taliban leadership that will result in the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan, and set the stage for intra-Afghan talks that could effectively end the decades of conflict in the country. But Mr Amir remains cautious.
“Signing a deal with the Americans is not enough, peace should be made with the Afghan government too,” Mr Amir acknowledged, adding that now the “challenges created by Americans were removed, peace [with the Afghan government] will come”.
But like many Afghans, Mr Amir holds on to the hope that if the war ends, he can work to rebuild his life.
“I will start my business as a shopkeeper in the city and live normally in my own country,” he said, adding that he can never return to the city of his youth, but hopes that maybe he can send his children there someday.
“This is not life. The real life is what I lived in London. We could walk to any place we wanted, it was peaceful. When I describe it to my friends [other fighters] here, they don’t believe me that living in London was so peaceful. I am tired of this life.”
The Torkham and Chaman border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been reopened for pedestrian traffic.
Afghan nationals stuck in Pakistan and vice versa, can no cross on foot after restrictions were relaxed to facilitate their return.
The returnees are being screened and tested for COVID-19 by their respective countries and are then being quarantined at isolation camps set up by their armed forces.
The borders had been closed after the number of Coronavirus cases saw a dramatic increase in both countries before reopening in May. Then in mid-May, the Afghan government closed the border for pedestrians.
The third batch of Indians has been evacuated from Afghanistan in the second phase of the Indian government’s Vande Bharat Mission to evacuate its stranded citizens.
They all boarded an Ariana Afghan Airlines flight from Kabul to New Delhi on Friday.
The second batch had flown back on May 19.
On May 22, a Kam Air flight evacuated 143 Afghan citizens from India.
The people had all been affected due to the international border closures and flights disruptions as a result of the Coronavirus lockdowns.
More flights are planned under the third phase of the Indian government’s mission after June 11.
The Ministry of Public Health reported 582 new Coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours from 13 provinces. With this, the number of confirmed cases in the country has reached 19,551 to date.
New cases were reported in the provinces of Herat (193), Kabul (161), Nimroz (107), Balkh (46), Nangarhar (23), Laghman (15), Ghor (14), seven in Kandahar, six in Uruzgan, five in Kunar, two each in Helmand and Nuristan and one in Paktia.
The ministry has tested 761 samples in the last 24 hours.
There have been 18 people who have succumbed to the virus, bringing that total to 327 deaths.
In addition, 68 patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recovered to 1,830.
The newly appointed Acting Minister of Public Health Ahmad Jawad Osmani has pledged to draw an effective plan to fight the virus.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Second Vice President released new guidelines for the lockdown which included a three month-ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and mandatory wearing of face masks and social distancing.
NATO’s new Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan Stefano Pontecorvo in his first address to the country, urged the Afghan government to initiate the intra-Afghan peace negotiations at the earliest.
“At the time of tremendous opportunity for peace, together we have to keep focused on our highest priority: the earliest possible start of intra-Afghan negotiations,” said Pontecorvo in his video address.
He reassured that Afghanistan will have international support to preserve achievements they had made over the last two decades.
“NATO and its partners are committed to supporting Afghanistan, the Afghan security forces and the Afghan people’s demands for a more secure and peaceful country.”
“A stable Afghanistan, free from terrorism, is what the Afghan people deserve and the world expects,” he ended.
The Italian ambassador arrived in Kabul on June 1 and will be working with the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
The Office of the Second Vice President Sarwar Danesh announced that the Business Adjustment Plan for the awaited peak of the Coronavirus will go into effect from tomorrow for the next three months.
According to the office, the first phase of the plan, bans any gathering of more than 10 people.
People will have to mandatorily wear masks in public places and observe a distance of two meters when they are outside. It also recommends that the elderly stay indoors.
For those going to work, offices can allow people in shifts to prevent overcrowding. It is also mandatory for them to disinfect work environments and provide sanitary facilities for their employees and workers.
Under the plan, public schools and private educational centres will remain closed for the next three months. They will be able to continue their activities online.
If the figures go down over the coming months and then stay down, the cabinet may decide to reopen some of the public facilities.
Party halls, hotels, gymnasiums, auditoriums and amusement parks will also remain closed for the next three months under the plan. Fateha (prayer ceremony) and other cultural and social gatherings will also be banned.
The plan states that restaurants and cafes will not be open for dine-in customers but are allowed to deliver food.
According to the government, minibuses will be stopped and vehicles will not be allowed to have more than four people.
The press office said that the Ministry of Public Health has been tasked with implementing the plan with the cooperation of the relevant institutions.
The High Supervisory Committee is responsible for overseeing and overseeing the project, which consists of the leadership of the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, the private sector and the leadership in Kabul.
Norway has reaffirmed its backing for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process and the strengthening of bilateral ties, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said.
During a video call between Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and his Norwegian counterpart Ine Eriksen Søreide, various issues of mutual interest were discussed including the intra-Afghan talks and the role of the international community in the process.
Atmar briefed Søreide on the progress of the talks and thanked Norway for their support.
He stressed the country’s continued commitment to supporting the Afghan peace process, adding that his government will stand by the Afghan people and government under any circumstances and will spare no effort to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
Expressing hope for the immediate start of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, Atmar sought continued international support throughout the process.
For her part, Søreide praised the Afghan government’s efforts to reduce violence and called the recent ceasefire a step forward.
She assured the Afghans of Norway’s support for their demands in the peace process.
Norway was one of the signatories that called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to include women in the peace process.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has left, on June 5, for travel to Qatar, Pakistan and Afghanistan to facilitate the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace talks.
In a press release, the U.S. State Department revealed the primary focus of Khalilzad’s trip is to obtain agreement between the Afghan parties and the Taliban on the practical next steps necessary for a smooth start to intra-Afghan negotiations.
In addition to that, he will also be reviewing with the Taliban on the implementation of all its commitments as laid down in the U.S.-Taliban deal which they signed in February.
He will also be looking into the progress of implementing the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration, specifically with respect to the reduced violence and prisoner exchange.
Khalilzad will also be trying to win consensus to set the venue and time for the intra-Afghan talks.