Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
There are around 6,500 Pakistani nationals who are part of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and pose a serious security threat said a report from the UN Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.
Groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), Al-Qaida, Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are among the key militant groups operating in Afghanistan, other than the Taliban.
Of them, JeM and LeT facilitate the trafficking of foreign fighters into Afghanistan. They act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices, according to the UN report.
The two groups pose a serious threat to Afghan security because of their permanent presence in the country. All three groups have a presence in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan and they “operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban.”
The report added that LeT and JeM have carried out “targeted assassinations against government officials and others.”
LeT and JeM have approximately 800 and 200 armed fighters, respectively, co-located with Taliban forces in Mohmand Darah, Dur Baba and Sherzad Districts of Nangarhar province. The TTP has 180 fighter.
In Kunar province, LeT has 220 fighters, JeM has 30 and TTP has 500 fighters.
The report indicated serious concerns about Taliban being a credible counter-terrorism partner for the international community. Merely signing a peace agreement with the U.S. on February will not be enough. They will have to be carefully monitored.
“Early indications are that many, if not all, of these objectives will prove challenging,” the report said.
The report also highlighted the close and enduring links between Taliban and Al-Qaeda despite the Taliban’s agreement to reduce violence and adopt some counter-terrorism measures.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) has confirmed that at least one killed and three others were wounded in a suicide explosion which took place in a mosque in Kabul on Tuesday.
The spokesman of MoI, Tariq Arian said that a suicide bomber entered a mosque in Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul city and detonated his explosives at around 19:25pm.
Arian added that Mohammad Ayaz Niazi, imam of Wazir Akbar Khan mosque, lost his life in this explosion after suffering injuries.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi in a tweet condemned the attack and said it “reveals the brutality and inhumanity of those who purposefully perpetrate violence against our Ulema and innocent people. Condolences to the victims and their families.”
On Tuesday evening, Amrullah Saleh, the first vice president, said Afghans now have to choose between the daily curfews to restrict the spread of Coronavirus or mass deaths after getting infected.
In a video message, Saleh said both official and unofficial figures show the country is now approaching the peak of Coronavirus infections.
A peak denotes the greatest number of new cases. It’s not necessarily a single day peak. The numbers need to flatten out and decline for at least a week to see the trend.
He stressed that experts have repeatedly warned that Afghanistan will face a widespread and devastating outbreak and it would continue over the next two months. People will have to continue to distance themselves and follow other preventive measures if conditions become more severe.
The first vice president called on the people to maintain social distancing in public places and refrain from unnecessarily large groups.
Afghanistan is preparing to “defeat” Coronavirus within this year, said Saleh. Beyond that, they expect things to return to normal.
He added that the government has divided the Coronavirus crisis into five stages. The first is the recognition of the Coronavirus and the second is to check its spread at the community level. The third is the “peak of misery and crisis” when the most people will be infected. The fourth stage is to reduce the prevalence of Coronavirus and the fifth stage is to return to normal.
Coronavirus has risen by 658% in Afghanistan in the last month, said an aid organisation. More than 16,500 people have been infected to date, according to the Ministry of Public Health. The lockdown has also hurt the economy and people’s livelihoods.
Saleh said the government would be starting aid distribution within two weeks. The aid package would include the distribution of money, work and food packages.
The Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that Russia has donated 5,000 Coronavirus diagnostic tests to the Afghan government. Iran also sent over 11 tons of medical equipment this week.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) confirmed that a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main mosque in Kabul’s Wazir Khan area.
MoI spokesman Tariq Arian said that a suicide bombing took pace at 7:25pm local time. The bomber was in one of the ablution rooms.
He added that the initial reports suggest that three people were wounded. They were immediately transferred to a hospital.
The Wazir Khan area is the main diplomatic area of the city. Several embassies were alarmed by the incident.
A study by the Ministry of Finance on the status of “national income and budget spending” shows that the country’s national income has fallen by 12.4 billion AFN.
The Ministry of Finance has compared the amount of revenue collected since the beginning of this fiscal year to the same period last year.
According to the Ministry of Finance, 71.1 billion Afghanis have been collected since the beginning of the current fiscal year by collecting “customs, taxes and non-tax revenues”. 25.6 billion AFN in customs, 25.2 billion AFN in taxes collection and another 20.2 billion AFN in non-tax revenues have been added to national revenues, the Ministry added.
The Foreign Ministers of EU member states are meeting every two weeks by video conference to coordinate on key issues. Today’s discussions focused mainly on Afghanistan and China, the German Federal of Foreign Office said.
The Federal Foreign Office of Germany in a press release said, the EU Foreign Ministers discussed Afghanistan, adding the last few days have shown that a ceasefire in Afghanistan is possible.
“The Eid ceasefire sent an encouraging signal and is a step in the right direction. That is why it is so important for Afghanistan to have a noticeable, sustained decline in violence, and that intra-Afghan negotiations get under way without delay,” the press release said.
Meanwhile, Germany has announced that it prepared to support Afghanistan in this regard.
At least three civilians were killed and four others injured as a roadside bomb struck a car in the northern Sar-i-Pul province on Tuesday.
According to the official, a mine planted by the armed insurgents on a road in Shiramha area outside provincial capital.
No group has claimed responsibility for the incident so far.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has come up with four proposed mechanisms to enhance the participation of victims, experts and the general public in the intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
The four proposals include victim testimonies directly in front of the parties; regular consultation with a select reference group of civil society and human rights activists; specific proposals and expertise of members of civil society and other experts on identified issues; and nationwide consultation and outreach with the general public.
There are issues of great importance to the Afghan public, and AIHRC fears they would be missed out on if only the government and policy officials are negotiating.
According to AIHRC, the proposals would ensure broader engagement on the issue of conflict victims and human rights.
The organisation urged all the parties to take these proposals in to consideration as ignoring them could lead to a relapse of conflict.
Abdul Saboor, who was serving a 20-year sentence for the 2012 killings of U.S. military officials, was released from prison last week, Afghan officials said on Monday.
He was one among 164 Hezb-e-Islami prisoners who were released on May 29 due to Coronavirus concerns. The prisoner release was also part of a 2016 reconciliation deal between the government and the militant group.
Saboor had shot dead Air Force Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis and Army Maj. Robert Marchanti II inside a heavily fortified area of Kabul. Saboor had been working with the Afghan government when he carried out the attack. The two victims were serving as advisers to the Afghan government.
Saboor then escaped and was arrested in 2016 at his home in Parwan province.
In later interviews he said the attack was in retaliation for a 2012 incident where 500 Qurans had been burnt inside a detention centre. U.S. generals had apologised for the incident and six soldiers were punished.
The shooting attack made the U.S. military realise that their advisers were also at risk within Kabu’s ministries. It prompted several countries to withdraw hundreds of personnel serving in those roles and make other security changes.
Tehran is interested and committed to bolstering ties with Afghanistan, including parliamentary cooperation, said Iran’s newly appointed Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf while talking to his Afghan counterpart, Mir Rahman Rahmani.
During the phone call, Qalibaf said Tehran prioritizes its mutual good relations with Afghanistan.
He emphasised the necessity of reinforcing security along the Iran-Afghan border to help counter cross-border drug trafficking. This would also help keep in check terrorism and the “interference” of foreign states to destabilise the region.
Rahmani, on his part, congratulated Qalibaf and said the Afghan parliament was prepared to engage with Iran in political, economic and cultural fields.
Iran-Afghan Leaders Talk
Earlier, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and stressed on the importance to strengthen relations and cooperation between the two countries.
Rouhani congratulated the country for reaching the power-sharing agreement between the political groups.
He stated that Iran’s intention is to build develop fraternal and friendly relations and cooperation with all neighbours, specially Afghanistan.
“We consider the development of stability and security in Afghanistan in line with our own stability and security and believe that disagreements among groups can be resolved within the framework of principles and we are always by the side of the Afghan government and people in doing so,” he said.
He pointed to several ongoing projects and said they must “work to accelerate the implementation” of the Khaf-Herat railway and the Chabahar-Zahedan railway.
He also said free medical and health services to combat the spread of Coronavirus would continue for the Afghan immigrants living in Iran.
Ghani praised the assistance of Iran to Afghan refugees and hoped them the best in fighting the virus.
He called on Iran to support the peace and dialogue process in Afghanistan.
He also expressed hope that officials of the two countries would develop relations and cooperation in various fields.
Two Pakistani prisoners in Bagram prison have died after they contracted Coronavirus, reports The News, a Pakistani media organisation.
There are several more who are infected and are in serious condition.
The two victims are Nisar Ahmad, 43, and Waseem Khan, 16.
Most of the Pakistani inmates in the prison are members of the Pakistani Taliban movement who were captured.
The publication reports that the virus was spreading swiftly in the prison due to overcrowding and lack of proper healthcare.
A new UN reports says the Taliban maintained relations with Al-Qaeda throughout while negotiating the peace agreement with the U.S. in February.
“The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties,” said the report by the UN Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.
The U.S. had reassured everyone that the Taliban would break ties with Al-Qaeda after singing the deal.
The UN report also said member states were growing increasingly doubtful about Taliban’s intentions of following the U.S. agreement since the group’s internal messaging remains “hard-line.”
“The Taliban remain confident that they can take power by force,” it said pointing to the steady increase in violence through March, April and May.
Member states have also said the regularity of meetings between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda “made any notion of a break between the two mere fiction.”
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said they are monitoring the conditions closely to keep track.
“We have a monitoring group that monitors in detail what’s happening with regard to their commitment, the Taliban’s commitments, on terrorism,” he said. He mentioned that the discussions with the Taliban had been good.
“We believe that there is progress, but we will continue to monitor those activities very closely.”
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said 759 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours. With this, the total number of COVID-19 patients in the country has reached 16,509.
On Tuesday, the MoPH released daily statistics stating that 1,322 corona cases from 15 provinces had been tested during the past 24 hours.
Of these the results came back positive for 266 people in Kabul, 212 in Herat, 66 in Paktia, 39 in Balkh, 34 in Nangarhar, 27 in Baghlan, 25 in Khost, 21 in Bamyan, 18 each in Ghazni and Faryab, 17 in Takhar, seven in Kapisa, four in Parwan, three in Badakhshan and two in Samangan.
The ministry also announced that five patients have died in the past 24 hours, bringing that tally to 270 death in total.
In one night, 22 patients had recovered, with a total of 1,450 recoveries.
A landmine blast killed at least seven farmers in Kunduz province on Monday evening, an official said.
The governor’s spokesman Esmatullah Muradi said the incident took place in the Jungle Bashi area of Khan Abad district where an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by the Taliban in the ground hit a convoy of farm labourers.
“There were 13 labourers in total who were coming back from work in the wheat fields when their motorcycle-rickshaw hit the landmine. Seven of them were martyred and six injured,” he said.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.
There is optimism that the peace talks may start soon between the Afghan government and the Taliban, indicated Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
“We are in a good place… we are optimistic that finally we are moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations,” Khalilzad said while addressing a special briefing at the U.S. State Department on Monday afternoon.
The top U.S. negotiator said the Taliban ceasefire for the three day of Eid, the reduction of violence since then, the release of the Taliban and government prisoners, and the resolve on both sides to reach a political settlement, present a positive picture.
Khalilzad has been at work to find a wat forward in Afghanistan for nearly 20 months. He was instrumental in getting the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal with the U.S. in Qatar in February this year. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he wanted “America’s longest war” to end as soon as possible.
There are challenges ahead, the diplomat said, like making sure the violence remains low during the talks and the government releases up to 5,000 prisoners in keeping with the February agreement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with regards to the U.S.-led intra-Afghan peace efforts. The conversation took place over a video call on Monday evening, where the Afghan Presidential Palace (ARG) discussed the next steps in the peace process.
The ARG said the meeting was also attended by the two vice presidents of Afghanistan, the chairman of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council, the president’s special envoy for economic development, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Afghanistan.
Both sides discussed the continuation of joint efforts to establish peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Pompeo said that the U.S.’s main goals are a united, independent, democratic and stable Afghanistan within the framework of continuing long-term and strategic relations between the two countries and working with the Afghan government to achieve that.
Explaining the Afghan government’s roadmap for lasting peace and stability, Ghani said that more efforts needed to be made by both sides to achieve those goals. There is also work pending on providing more facilities for the implementation of a roadmap.
The two sides spoke about goals that needed to be achieved, including the prisoner exchange process. The other topics that were discusses were the analysis and location of the Afghan-Taliban negotiations and transparency in the dealings.
Both parties said there would be bilateral cooperation on information at the beginning and end of negotiations.
According to ARG, U.S. and Afghanistan will continue to work on the next details in the coming days.
Hopeful moments of peace
Hours after the phone call, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, told reporters that the start of international talks was an important part of the Afghan peace process and that all efforts to start the process were now focused.
Khalilzad stressed that the announcement of the three-day Eid ceasefire, the reduction of violence, the continuation of the ceasefire not announced after Eid and the acceleration of the release of prisoners are promising signs for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.
He stressed the need to speed up the process of releasing prisoners, saying that with the release of prisoners, the way will be opened for these negotiations.
Khalilzad said that the peace process in Afghanistan was in a good place and there were signs that the international talks on Afghanistan were moving forward, adding that several countries had announced their readiness to host talks on peace in Afghanistan.
The US special envoy for peace has said that the US is monitoring the Taliban’s commitment to the peace agreement and that the Taliban will not host terrorist groups and will sever ties with al-Qaeda.
Disagreements over Taliban leadership
The developments come as Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate, confirmed that Taliban leaders had been infected with COVID-19. With the two top-most men in the group – Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirajuddin Haqqani – ill, the son of the group’s founder Mullah Omar, had taken over the leadership of the group.
Today, senior Taliban members confirmed the news that Akhundzada was being treated for Coronavirus. They also said some members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar had fallen ill.
This would mean changes in Taliban leadership and it’s negotiating team if the timeline for the talks is pushed closer.