Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has started disbursing emergency cash assistance to Afghan refugee families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa impacted by COVID-19 in Pakistan.
Pakistan hosts around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees. Around 58% of the refugees in Pakistan live in the north-western province that shares a border with Afghanistan. A majority of them live hand-to-mouth. Those who were daily wage earners, were let go off due to the lockdown in Pakistan.
The Agency is being assisted by the Pakistani Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and the Pakistan Post.
The emergency cash assistance is of approximately $77 which is equivalent to 12,000 Pakistani rupees. The first phase of the programme will reach out to 36,000 families.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US permanent representative to NATO has said that the alliance’s troop withdrawal depends on American troop drawdown and that NATO would leave in coordination with the US at the same time.
Welcoming the acceleration of prisoner swap between the Afghan government and Taliban, Hutchison has encouraged the Taliban to engage in intra-Afghan negotiations.
In her interview with the VOA, she said that NATO would be continuing training and advising the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
She called the political agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah as a great achievement, saying that NATO hopes the agreement led to a successful deal.
She said that NATO and Afghanistan has proper vibes and that it remains committed to supporting the Afghan women.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) has confirmed that at least three people were wounded in a roadside bomb explosion in Kabul city on Sunday.
The spokesman of MoI, Tariq Arian said that the blast took place in PD11 of Kabul city at around 17:20pm (local time) on Sunday.
He added that Police investigations are underway.
No group has claimed responsibility for the incident so far.
The government released 710 Taliban prisoners while the group released 73 prisoners, reported the Office of National Security Council (ONSC).
The Taliban prisoners were released from Pul-e-Charkhi, Bagram Central Prisons and a number of other detention facilities.
The prisoner exchange is part of the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February, which the Afghan government was not a part of. It called on the Afghan government to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. In exchange, the group would free 1,000 government captives. This was intended to be a confidence-building measure ahead of the intra-Afghan peace talks.
Spokesman for ONSC, Javid Faisal tweeted that the prisoners were exchanged over the past few days and the process will continue in keeping with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s commitment to release 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a ‘goodwill gesture’ in response to the Taliban’s call for the Eid ceasefire.
So far, the Afghan government has released a total of 2,700 prisoners since the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed.
The ONSC has revealed that the Taliban prisoners were released based on a list provided by the technical team of the Taliban to the government.
Suheil Shahin, a spokesperson for Taliban’s political office in Qatar, tweeted that 73 government prisoners had been released by the group in the provinces of Balkh, Kunduz, Logar, Paktia, Khost and Paktika.
The prisoners were given new clothes and some money for transportation, Shahin said. So far, the Taliban has released 420 government prisoners.
The Afghan government has not yet commented on the identities of those released by the Taliban.
The prisoner release comes amidst an international call to start the peace process in Afghanistan. Negotiations with the Afghan government had halted after they released 1,000 Taliban prisoners after the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement.
The Afghan leadership said the Taliban was delaying the process.
During the three-day Eid ceasefire, Afghan authorities once again announced the release of more prisoners. These developments saw a five-member Taliban delegation visit Kabul on May 28 and facilitate the prisoner swap.
Since the ceasefire ended, the Taliban has also maintained an unofficial reduction of violence.
Government leaders, including President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, have now indicated they are ready to sit at the negotiating table.
Herat has deployed 20 health teams to go door-to-door and check residents for Coronavirus, the provincial governor’s office announced.
The province has the second-highest cases of COVID-19 infections in the country.
A spokesman for the Herat Public Health Department said 111 new cases of Coronavirus had been detected in the province in the last 24 hours – 68 men and 43 women. This brings the number of confirmed cases in Herat to 2,572.
There have been two more deaths, bringing the total to 53 deaths and 268 recoveries. There are 11 more people in critical conditions.
Currently, 572 active cases of Coronavirus are present in the province according to official figures.
The national figures are 15,205 confirmed cases with 257 people dead and 1,328 recovered.
The Herat governor’s office has taken the lead to organise medical teams that would be deployed in residential areas across the province.
The teams, which include psychiatrists and health workers, are undertaking assessments of possible COVID-19 cases after growing concerns that there might be undetected cases in more densely-populated areas.
The provincial anti-Coronavirus task force said the 20 teams would identify such cases and then recommend preventive and curative measures to the affected.
As businesses are getting increasingly affected by the lockdown, restaurant owners have come up with new initiatives to prevent the spread of the disease. The plans include installing a disinfection tunnel at the entrance of the restaurant premises.
The governor’s office said that if the plan gets approved by the Department of Public Health and the provincial anti-Coronavirus task force, restaurants and other public places may be allowed to reopen.
The number of health-related deaths due to the closure of borders and suspension of air travels have increased, said Wahid Majrooh, deputy Minister of Public Health (MoPH). The lockdown measures were announced to check the spread of Coronavirus.
Majrooh urged medical professionals to not ignore people suffering from other acute illnesses and continue to provide basic services.
He revealed that the MoPH had identified a team within the elites of Afghan medical professionals, to lead open heart surgeries in the country. They were currently in the process of equipping them with the appropriate technical and material resources. If all arrangements happen on time, the first open heart surgery could be scheduled within the next three days, Majrooh revealed
The MoPH will also be sharing these plans with other Afghan leaders.
“In addition to being a challenge, Coronavirus is an opportunity to take the initiative and do what needs to be done first,” Majrooh stressed.
Prior to the outbreak of Coronavirus, sick Afghans who needed super-specialized health services went to Pakistan, India or Iran for treatment. However, with international borders closed, people with acute illnesses were stuck without treatment.
Afghanistan does not have appropriate medical infrastructure to provide specialized care and with the addition of COVID-19 patients, doctors are struggling to handle their caseloads, leading to a rising number of deaths of patients in need of subspecialty health services.
The first open-heart surgery in Balkh
Last week, cardiologists performed Balkh’s first open-heart surgery at the Abu Ali Sina-e-Balkhi Regional and Training Hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The 45-year-old patient was a Pakistani national who was suffering from a heart perforation. Doctors removed the blood around his heart and repaired the hole. They transplanted new blood vessels from different parts of the body to his heart.
The patient was in a stable condition.
Pakistan’s Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) commended efforts by Afghan diplomats to remove hurdles and strengthening bilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan trade.
The meeting was attended by Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI) leader and Frontier Custom Agents Association (FCAA) President Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, and the Afghan Consul General in Peshawar Najibullah Ahmadzai.
The SCCI delegation told the Afghan diplomats about the issues that were affecting their bilateral trade ties. Around 6,000 empty Pakistani cargo trucks, part of the Afghan transit trade, were stuck on the other side of the Pak-Afghan border. They are gradually being released on the request of the Pakistani Chamber.
They also requested for the 24/7 permanent opening of the Torkham and Chaman border points for trade.
Ahmadzai agreed with the SCCI’s proposal to strengthen ties between the business community, traders, industrialists, exporters and importers. He promised to remove impediments in the way of mutual trade.
In a statement released today, Taliban rubbished claims of an imminent power struggle as top leaders of the group tested positive for COVID-19. The claims of the disarray and change in leadership was first reported by Foreign Policy.
In a tweet today, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the story “propaganda” and the rumours “baseless.”
“Leadership is not facing any problems, spread of infection or discord. Western propaganda in this regard is based on false information provided by intelligence circles,” he wrote.
Foreign Policy broke an exclusive story where sources revealed that Taliban’s leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, and his second-in-command Sirajuddin Haqqani may be seeking treatment for Coronavirus. This vacuum has been filled by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of the group’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The publication said Yaqoob had been slowly consolidating power and if intra-Taliban fighting breaks out over the succession then the Taliban would divert all resources to resolve the issue rather than participate in the U.S.-led peace talks with the Afghan government.
The Afghan Ministry of Finance signed a cooperation agreement with the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Kabul and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to facilitate the voluntary return of Afghan refugee families.
The $30 million agreement will be in several phases. The first phase worth $10 million will be implemented by UNHCR by end of 2021. The projects will be implemented and managed by UNHCR and the funding will come through the Saudi government’s official Development Fund.
Under the agreement, there will be seven health centres and clinics established in 12 provinces, along with the construction of 13 schools in eight provinces and 11 reconstruction projects in various other provinces across the country.
The intention of the agreement is to improve the health, education and infrastructure for Afghan refugees who are voluntarily returning.
Acting Afghan Finance Minister Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal praised the Saudi government’s assistance and cooperation in helping the returning refugees.
He said the Afghan government wants the honourable repatriation of refugees and appreciated the help to provide them with the necessary infrastructure.
Albanian Defense Minister Olta Xhaçka praised the contribution of the Armed Forces within the NATO Alliance in every corner of the globe.
Xhaçka stated that, “From one corner of the globe to another, the Albanian military continues to be appreciated for their contribution.”
“In this period of pandemics, attention to health personnel has been increased in NATO missions. Albanian military nurses Eno Shyti and Viktor Skuqi have been decorated by the Turkish commander of their base at Kabul International Airport, ”she said.
The Albanian Armed Forces contribute to Afghanistan, Latvia, Kosovo, the Aegean Sea and many NATO structures and commands. Likewise, Albanian military uniforms are part of the European Union missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Mali.