Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: The newly appointed World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan Melinda Good joined the Kabul office on July 1, succeeding Henry Kerali, who completed his term.
Melinda Good, a United States national, joined the World Bank in 2005 and has worked in several leadership positions across the World Bank, including in South Asia. “I am honored to take on my new position as the World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan and serve the people of Afghanistan,” said Melinda Good. “The country is facing unprecedented hardship due to COVID-19 and high levels of uncertainty. Continued international support to maintain Afghanistan’s public services is critical to maintain development gains. The World Bank Group has been a key partner of the Afghan people in the last 20 years and has helped achieve significant development progress. Together with our international partners, we will continue to stand alongside the government and people of Afghanistan in their journey toward recovery, self-reliance, and a more prosperous future.”
The World Bank Group’s (WBG) program in Afghanistan is currently governed by its Country Partnership Framework (CPF) for fiscal years 2017-2021. The Bank also administers the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), the World Bank Group’s largest single-country multi-donor trust fund. The World Bank has announced that it will award $18 million to the Afghan government to strengthen the higher education sector and effectively fight the coronavirus. The assistance is part of the World Bank’s program to strengthen the higher education system of South Asian countries. The World Bank in Afghanistan tweeted that the project will strengthen the higher education sector during the COVID-19 crisis by creating online education facilities.
To date, the World Bank has provided more than $5.3 billion for development and emergency reconstruction projects and eight budget support operations in Afghanistan. This support includes more than $4.8 billion in grants and $436.4 million in no-interest loans. The Bank has 12 active projects funded by the International Development Association (IDA) for the total amount of $940 million, and 15 projects jointly funded with ARTF, with a net commitment value of over $1.2 billion from IDA.
In other news, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced the extradition of 10 Iranian prisoners to Iran from Pul-e Charkhi and Bagram prisons, by a flight from the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) on Thursday. The AGO stated that the prisoners were handed over to Iranian Embassy representative in Kabul, after the consent from the Ministry of Justice and in line with a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Mohammad Hashim Stanikzai, who oversees the enforcements of verdicts within the AGO, said that efforts are ongoing to accelerate the extradition of Afghan prisoners from Iran, on the basis of the MoU.
Kabul: The Shahzada Exchange Market announced that the value of a US dollar has risen to 80 Afghanis on Thursday.
This is the second time in two years (last time in mid-2019) that the price of the US dollar has reached 80 Afghanis, which has raised some concerns among the people.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Afghanistan (CBA) stated that the issue has no economic reasons, and the value of Afghani has destabilized due to the ongoing war and political matters. CBA Spokesman Esmatullah Kohsar told Hashte Subh daily that this instability is not permanent and the CBA will soon act to keep the Afghani currency stable.
Kohsar added that rates have remained stable over the past two years, and that the CBA sells $30 million USD into the market thrice a week, in order to keep the Afghani stable.
Kabul: Following the interparliamentary meetings between women members of the Afghan parliament and parliaments of other countries of the world, the second meeting between Afghanistan and Canada was held through VTC.
The meeting was attended by Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada Hassan Soroush, Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs Hasina Safi, Deputy State Minister for Peace Dr. Alema, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Women and Human Rights, Civil Society and Women’s Affairs Nahid Farid, and Chair of the women’s parliamentary group Shinkai Karokhail.
Also, members of Wolesi Jirga Maryam Sama, Habibeh Danesh, and Rahimah Jami, Director General of Human Rights and Women’s Affairs at the MoFA Frozan Nawabi, and Director of Afghan Women’s Network Mary Akrami were among the participants of the meeting.
Expressing concern over the increasing threat posed by extremist and terrorist groups in the country, the Afghan parliamentarians called for continued support and cooperation of Canada, and stressed the need to preserve and strengthen Afghanistan’s gains over the last two decades, particularly the women’s and children’s rights.
Representatives of Canada, Minister of Women’s Affairs Maryam Monsef; Minister of Seniors citizens of Canada Deb Schulte, Member of the Senate and Co-Chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Friendship Committee Senator Salma Attaullahjan, Co-Chairs of the Canada-Afghanistan Friendship Group Francesco Sorbara, and members of the Canadian House of Commons Robert Kitchen and Yasmin Ratansi stated that Canada believed in women’s empowerment and fully supported the preservation and strengthening of Afghan women’s hard-gained achievements over the last two decades.
They also emphasized on the active role of women in the Afghan peace talks as well advocacy for and follow up of the ongoing pursuit of the legitimate demands of the Afghan women.
Kabul: The Deputy Public Health Minister for Policy and Planning Mohammad Shafiq Mirzazada met with parliamentarians, representatives of private schools, the Ministries of Education, Higher Education, and Hajj and Religious Affairs on Wednesday, to review the plan for the reopening of private schools.
Representatives of the private schools called for the implementation of the plan and shared their recommendations with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).
Mirzazada gave assurances that the MoPH will make necessary decisions, on the basis of academic assessment and evidence, and reviewing COVID-19 developments across the country, and will share the decisions with the relevant agencies. Mirzazada urged the representatives of private schools to prepare and share with the MoPH the list of those teachers, who have yet to receive COVID-19 vaccine, to facilitate the process.
Meanwhile, the MoPH has recorded 1,940 new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and 86 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of cases now stand at 122,156, while death toll is 5,048.
Kabul: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday stressed that Pakistan can partner with the United States in peace but not in war or conflict. “The US was defeated in Afghanistan and they tried to shift the blame of their defeat on us,” Imran Khan told the Pakistani National Assembly. He said that the Afghans are brothers of Pakistanis and Islamabad knows them better than Washington.
“We have decided to not comprise on the country’s sovereignty,” he stressed. Imran Khan said that the US is trying to force Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. “But we do not wish for strategic depth in Afghanistan and we will respect the decision of the Afghans,” he maintained.
“Pakistan chose to aid US in war against terror but after that, we captured our own people and sent them to Guantanamo Bay – and former president Pervez Musharraf admitted this,” he further said. “We sacrificed 70,000 people and wasted $150 billion in the war against terror,” he said, adding that after the Tora Bora incident, Al Qaeda started its operations in Pakistan. “We received directions to send our troops to the tribal areas in pursuit of a few hundred people,” he said, and noted that the people living in tribal areas paid a hefty price.
Imran Khan said that at the time of the war on terror, Pakistanis were unable to differentiate between their friends and enemies. “Does a country launch an attack on its ally?” he asked. “The government during the war on terror did not have the courage to say no to the US and kept on lying to the people,” he said. “We must understand that when a nation does not respect itself, it is not respected by the world […] we only want peace to prevail in Afghanistan, and that is in our best interest,” he added.
In fact, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday that the course of politics in Pakistan would change following a closed doors briefing to lawmakers by the military high command. The interior minister, who was addressing a press conference in Islamabad, said the country’s politics would now center on national security after the Parliamentary Committee on National Security receives the briefing on the situation in Afghanistan and other strategic matters.
Pakistan Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that the briefing will focus on Kashmir, Afghanistan and internal security challenges. The interior minister said Pakistan wanted peace in Afghanistan, suggesting in his personal capacity that other stakeholders, such as Qatar, may also be approached for restoring peace in the war-torn country if the need arose. “We want the Afghan government and the opposition to unite and that there is no civil war,” he said. “Reconciliation in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan.” He added that Pakistan expected that no country would use its land against it, just like it had not used its land against another country. “It will not be allowed,” he said. “Our neighbors, including India and Iran, will be interested in politics in Afghanistan,” he added, assuring that Pakistan would make all-out efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. “Our policy should be that peace is ensured in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Brussels-based International Crisis Group advised Pakistan to ease tensions with the Kabul government and build trust with the Ghani administration for cooperation. Pakistan has been given a number of suggestions on how to resolve the current crisis in Afghanistan by Brussels-based International Crisis Group in its recent report.
According to ICG, the fast withdrawal of NATO forces undermines Pakistan’s peace efforts and efforts to facilitate the Taliban’s alleged return to Kabul through power-sharing arrangements. Pakistan’s stakes in a stable Afghanistan have never been higher as violence escalates in that country and the peace process set in train in September 2020 remains largely deadlocked, the report said.
“An unravelling Afghanistan could embolden Pakistani militant groups, particularly the Pakistani Taliban, and threaten yet another massive influx of Afghan refugees. Islamabad has been trying to persuade its Afghan Taliban allies to opt for a peacefully negotiated political settlement. Its failure in that endeavor would strain its ties with Washington and Kabul. With the clock ticking on the deadline for pulling out US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan should redouble its efforts to convince the Taliban to scale back both their attacks and their aspirations to reinstitute their version of Islamic governance – so that the peace process may yet succeed,” the ICG report stated.
It was added that Pakistan has supported the Afghan peace process, largely because its long-time Taliban ally can use the talks as a road to power with international legitimacy and the attendant economic support. “It saw an opportunity to push for its preferred option – the Taliban’s inclusion in power-sharing arrangements – when the Trump administration began pursuing a political settlement in Afghanistan as the U.S. prepared to withdraw troops from the country. Washington acknowledged Islamabad’s role in facilitating the February 2020 US agreement with the Taliban and the subsequent peace talks, also known as the intra-Afghan negotiations,” the report said.
But in January 2021, when President Joe Biden took over the US administration, the talks were at an impasse. ICG said the Taliban “continued to rely on violence to strengthen their bargaining position” and Kabul, too, appeared “unwilling to make substantive compromises”.
Biden’s decision, announced on April 14, to withdraw all US troops by September 11, even absent a political settlement, has tightened timelines for getting a peace process moving before the conflict intensifies, as appears likely, in the withdrawal’s wake, ICG said.
The report recognized that Islamabad faces renewed pressure from Kabul and Washington to “convince the Taliban at the very least” to reduce violence to ensure that negotiations continue as foreign soldiers leave, and the insurgents appear bent on using force to gain power and install an Islamic system of government. ICG said Pakistan’s “clout” with the insurgents has declined as they continue to make military gains in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Russia will provide any necessary assistance to Tajikistan under its commitments in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the event of mounting terrorist threats from Afghanistan as the US pulls out its troops from that country, State Duma Defense Committee Head Vladimir Shamanov said on Thursday. “We will surely provide comprehensive assistance to Tajikistan under the CSTO commitments [in case of the mounting terrorist threat]. Naturally, we won’t leave it [Tajikistan] alone,” Shamanov assured.
The situation in Afghanistan will be discussed at the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly Council, he said. “I believe that this issue is more likely to be discussed from the viewpoint of assessing potential developments. As of now, and we talked with colleagues yesterday and today, the leadership of Tajikistan does not express such a serious concern,” he pointed out. This issue has to be kept under control from the standpoint of predicting possible developments, Shamanov said.
“Our committee is taking systemic measures to assess the situation. We cautioned that some terrorist groups would be airlifted by the aircraft of European countries and the United States from Iraq to northern Afghanistan. This was several years ago. That is, the situation is being constantly monitored,” the senior Russian lawmaker stressed. The head of the State Duma Defense Committee also reiterated Russia’s position with regard to the concerns over the situation in Afghanistan.
“The measures, including those taken by the Russian side, were outlined both by the [Russian] defense minister and the president [of Russia] to the effect that we need to think about providing the 201st military base in Tajikistan with the required capabilities,” Shamanov pointed out, adding that Russian border guards were now “taking a number of organizational measures” in this regard, according to the information available to the lawmaker.
In fact, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib will have consultations in Moscow with Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, during which he will discuss the situation in the Islamic republic, Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov told TASS on Thursday. “He will hold consultations with Nikolai Patrushev. I will take part in these consultations,” he said, commenting on Afghan media reports on Mohib’s visit.
Also, Turkey could play an important role in bringing peace to Afghanistan due to its position of respect in the war-torn country, political and security experts from three countries at a seminar on “Conversations on the Afghan Peace Process”.
Meanwhile, as per a Forbes report, an investigation of imagery posted on social media concludes that in the month of June alone the Taliban has captured a staggering 700 trucks and Humvees from the Afghan security forces as well as dozens of armored vehicles and artillery systems. The tally come from an open-source investigative report published at the Oryx blog by Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans. The continuously updated tally has catalogued hundreds of photos posted online by the Taliban of destroyed or captured Afghan military equipment.
The blog was earlier distinguished for its detailed open-source investigation on equipment losses in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As of the evening of June 30, the study found evidence of 715 light vehicles falling into Taliban hands, with another 65 destroyed. Obviously, there are likely many more lost vehicles that gave gone uncounted due to not being recorded in photos or videos. The confirmed vehicle losses notably include 270 Ford Ranger light trucks, 141 Navistar International 7000 medium trucks, 329 M1151 and cargo-bed configured M1152 Humvees. These variants feature enhanced armor protection and more powerful engines. The report added that if the Taliban can source the necessary fuel, its growing vehicle inventory could improve the group’s operational mobility, ie. its ability to mass forces across Afghanistan. The vehicles may also serve as carriers for heavy support weapons such as mortars, heavy machineguns and recoilless rifles. The Taliban has also used captured Humvees to infiltrate government perimeters to mount deadly suicide bombings.
Armored vehicles losses include a handful of old M113 APCs and Soviet tanks—but also 27 fifteen-ton M1117 armored cars armed with a machineguns and Mark 19 automatic grenade-launchers. As for artillery, alongside thirteen shorter-range mortars, the Taliban notably captured seventeen 122-millimeter D-30 towed howitzers—the equivalent of an artillery battalion. The Cold War howitzers aren’t hi-tech weapons but they remain deadly and can bombard targets up to 9.6 miles away with conventional shells—a capability likely to be exploited in an urban siege scenario. The Taliban also destroyed (but didn’t capture) three Mi-17 and one UH-60A transport helicopter in June. Also, as per the report, so far documented losses don’t appear to involve sensitive technologies that could compromise US military capabilities or pose a major terrorist threat such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles.
Meanwhile, Acting Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal met with UNDP’s Resident Representative Abdullah al-Dardari, on Wednesday. Both sides extended the existing agreement on assistance and cooperation for the Afghan National Police (ANP) in the fight against COVID-19, and al-Dardari assured Mirzakwal of continued support and commitment to the ANP.
Kabul: Local officials in Herat province reported that Taliban attack to capture Ghoryan district has been repulsed.
Provincial Governor Abdul Saboor Qane said that dozens of Taliban fighters gathered in Ghoryan district from various provinces and launched an attack against the district on Wednesday night. Qane added that the Taliban used a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) to launch the attack, however, the ANDSF eliminated the VBIED before it reached its target.
Qane said that a clash started between the ANDSF and Taliban after the VBIED was eliminated, where 20 insurgents, including seven members of Taliban’s Red Unit were killed, and 10 others were wounded. Qane admitted that an ANDSF member was also killed and three others were wounded, during clashes.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated that an ANDSF member, named Mirwais, targeted the VBIED and failed “enemy” intention to reach its target, whilst knowing that he was in danger. The MoI added that Mirwais is in good condition.
Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of Paktia province, including religious scholars, tribal elders, jihadi commanders, and youth, held a gathering on Wednesday to announce their support for the republic and the ANDSF. Participants described the ongoing war as illegitimate and intelligence in nature, and emphasized on the need to support the ANDSF and fight terrorists, who kill the Afghan people and destroy public infrastructure at the order of foreigners, and not to allow them to achieve their evil objectives.
However, local officials in Paktika province accused the Taliban of blowing up a major bridge with an improvised explosive device (IED), situated along the Sharana to Urgun highway. The officials added that the incident has closed the highway to cargo trucks. The Taliban have yet to comment on the report.
In Faryab, local officials announced the establishment of the System [government] Support Council, in line with President Ghani’s directive.
Provincial Governor Enayatullah Kamal said that the Council is aimed at identification, cohesion and mobilization of facilities and capacities in political, social, economic, and cultural affairs, in press, social media, public opinion, legal issues, services, development, and other resources at the provincial level, in order to support the ANDSF, increase recruitment of the youth in the ANDSF ranks, strengthen coordination and cooperation between provincial military and civilian agencies, and enhance local accountability to gain further public support.
Chairing the first meeting of the Council, Kamal urged council members, religious scholars, elders, and head of government agencies to do everything possible to help implement the Council objectives, to gain further public support.
Representative of the Ulema Council, Mawlawi Gul Ahmad Munib, gave assurances that religious council are standing by the ANDSF. Provincial council member Abdul Manan Qate urged the public to support the system and ANDSF, during these sensitive circumstances.
Deputy Provincial Police Chief Sayed Daud Sadat ensured that the government remains strong and the ANDSF are fully prepared to defend the people and country. Sadat called on religious scholars, elders, and influential figures to help foil “enemy’s hostile propaganda,” increase public morale, disclose “terrorists’ real faces,” and their evil objectives.
Meanwhile, hundreds of local residents of Dawlat Yar district, Ghor province, including jihadi commanders, mobilized voluntarily to announce their support for the ANDSF, and vowed to fight the Taliban and defend their country.
Leading the mobilization, Member of Parliament (MP) for Ghor province Abdul Zahir Tamim said that supporting the ANDSF is the religious and citizenry responsibility of the people, and gave assurances that the public will not allow the Taliban to disrupt the current system. Provincial Governor Abdul Zahir Faizzada said that the Taliban are mercenaries of foreign intelligence and added that public mobilization in support of the ANDSF and republic will lead to the defeat of the Taliban.
Faizzada accused the Taliban of seeking only violence and destruction, who have created tremendous challenges for locals they rule, and highlighted that public mobilization demonstrated that the Taliban are unacceptable to the Afghan people. Faizzada claimed that the Taliban transport to Pakistan all weapons and ammunition they capture.
Meanwhile, religious scholars held a gathering in Jalalabad city, Nangarhar province, on Thursday, demanding that the Taliban stop the “illegitimate” war and agree to ceasefire. The scholars welcomed the latest conference of Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, and added that the Taliban must stop fighting and make peace, to honor Islamic teachings. Provincial Hajj and Religious Affairs Director Mawlawi Mohammad Daud Mujahid urged religious scholars to inform the public through mosques about the recent announcement of religious scholars in Saudi Arabia, which stated that the fighting is illegitimate and is only killing Afghans. Clerics accused Pakistan of supporting the war to destroy Afghanistan’s existing system, called for jihad against Pakistan and public support to the government.
In other news, Aref Rezaei, the head of the Association of International Transport Companies of Herat Province in Afghanistan, said that trade relations with Iran continue despite ongoing conflicts between Taliban and government forces. “There are no problems or clashes on the border taking place at Dogharoon and in Herat province,” Aref Rezaei said on the sidelines of a meeting between the two associations of international transport companies in Afghanistan’s Herat and Iran’s Khorasan Razavi. Rezaei said, “Currently, the situation in the region is calm and in the last few days, no clashes have been reported in different districts (cities) in Herat province, and the travels on the border between Islam Qala and Herat city are going on fully securely.” The head of the Association of International Transportation Companies of Herat, Afghanistan also said that currently, about 450 trucks cross Dogharoon border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, President Ghani officially launched the distribution of 10,000 pieces of land to the families of ANDSF and religious scholars’ martyrs. First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh said that the land will be distributed to the families of those martyrs, who have sacrificed themselves to defend the country’s dignity.
Saleh added that in the first phase, the 10,000 pieces of land will be distributed across Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman, Panjshir, Kapisa, Kabul, and Khost provinces and that work is ongoing to identify land for distribution in other provinces. President Ghani said that the act is a small part to compensate for their sacrifices, whilst it demonstrates that the government is committed to supporting the ANDSF. Ghani gave assurances that the government remains committed to the transparency of the process and the martyrs’ families will observe it.
Ghani directed the Ministry of Urban Development and Land to identify land across the country to be distributed to the remaining martyrs’ families and share its report with relevant officials, as soon as possible. Ghani added that the land-grabbers will have no place in the process and urged relevant agencies to digitalize the process to prevent its misuse.
Kabul: The Consulate General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Mumbai, in association with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), US Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP), World Trade Center Kabul, World Trade Center Mumbai, Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment, and Indian Chamber of International Business (ICIB) hosted the Afghan Fresh Fruits – Virtual B2B Matchmaking Event on June 28.
The program focused on promoting the trade of Afghan fruits to India among those already experienced in international trade; 46 Indian importers and 36 Afghan exporters participated in the session. Consul General of Afghanistan in Mumbai Zakia Wardak, the first woman to hold her post, shared that “Even amidst the pandemic, bilateral trade is growing significantly. Last year, overall trade increased by five percent. Afghanistan’s fresh fruit exports to India increased by over 250 percent in 2020. Fresh and dry fruit contribute over 50 percent of Afghan exports to India. By hosting these types of business matchmaking events, we are determined to increase the trade between both sides to US$ 2 billion over the next three years.”
During the keynote address, Shah Masood Arghandabi, Director of Export Promotion, Minister of Industry and Commerce from Afghanistan, remarked, “Last year, trade between both sides reached nearly US$ 1.33 billion (with India’s exports to Afghanistan worth US$ 858 million, and imports from Afghanistan worth US$ 514 million). Significant progress has come as a result of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements signed between both countries. Afghanistan annually produces over 1.5 million metric tons of fresh fruit, including apples, apricots, pomegranates, grapes, cherries, and melons. India, as the world’s fastest-growing economy, is the best market for Afghanistan quality products.”