Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: Even as the world celebrated the World Press Freedom Day on Monday, grief and concern were the overarching emotion in Kabul when UN envoy Deborah Lyons joined Afghan reporters, media safety committees and senior government officials in calling for improved protection for journalists and press freedom.
The recent killings of fellow journalists and the stalled peace process were grim reminders of the worsening situation in Afghanistan. “I am deeply troubled by the number of Afghan media workers, including many women, who have been intimidated or killed in recent month. I am concerned by the possible culture of impunity,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
“Without better protection and more robust measures to hold perpetrators to account, it is not just individual reporters who suffer, it will ultimately be the vibrant media sector itself and, by extension, all Afghans,” said the UN envoy.
The event had been co-hosted by the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), Nai Supporting Open Media in Afghanistan, UNESCO and UNAMA.
Najib Sharifi, AJSC Director, appealed for government security and justice branches to be more transparent and cooperative with victims’ families and the media when investigating cases involving slain journalists. He described how the spate of recent threats and attacks on media workers is weakening the resolve of the journalists, increasing self-censorship, and prompting many to seek safety outside the country. He said that as many as 43 journalists have recently left the country.
A family member of a media worker killed in Nangarhar urged the government and the international community to unanimously demand swift, thorough and transparent investigations into the cases of killings and violence against journalists by relevant justice bodies, as a way to deter future attacks.
Kabul: In a big development, an Afghan national code-named “Basim”, also slain terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s right-hand man, has been captured in Istanbul in a joint operation by Turkish intelligence and police, reports stated on Monday.
The Afghan national has been detained in the Ataşehir district on the city’s Asian side, according to an Istanbul police statement, Daily Sabah reported.
News reports of the joint operation with Turkey’s intelligence agency said the suspect had been involved in helping hide Al-Baghdadi in Syria’s Idlib province after the fall of the terror group in 2019. Basim was suspected of organizing training for Daesh while in Syria and Iraq, as well as serving on its decision-making council. He arrived in Turkey with a false passport and identity card.
Al-Baghdadi was killed in a US military operation in Syria in 2019. Reports said that Turkish intelligence played a key role in the death of al-Baghdadi by detaining and extraditing one of his aides to Iraq, who provided US authorities with critical information for locating the vicious man.
Turkish security forces have nabbed at least 850 suspects with links to Daesh in the first three months of 2021, dealing a heavy blow to the terrorist group’s presence in the country and its activities in the region.
Being one of the first countries that recognized Daesh as a terrorist group in 2013, Turkey has been frequently conducting domestic and cross-border operations against the group for years in order to eliminate a major global terrorism threat.
In 2021’s domestic operations, 145 of those 850 – which includes several senior figures – have been imprisoned and some of them have been also repatriated.
In addition, documents and ammunition belonging to the terrorist group were seized during these operations.
Kabul: With the formal withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan beginning, violence in the country, too, has seen a spiraling rise. Various senators also voiced their opinions and stated that the Taliban has stepped up its attacks.
“With the withdrawal of these foreign forces, the opposition wants to intimidate the Afghan people through terror,” said Senator Ghulam Mayuddin Monsef, a member of the Senate. The speaker and other members of the Senate accused the Taliban of lacking the will for peace and say that peace is impossible in the country with the Taliban-style war.
US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all troops from the war-ravaged country by September 11, which was an extension to the May 1 deadline set as per the Doha agreement. The Taliban believe that the US has violated the agreement by extending the deadline and hence, has increased violent attacks across the country.
Senate Speaker Fazl Hadi Muslimyar said, “The criminals have shown by their actions that peace is a dream here. They remember nothing but terror and oppression,” while he referred to Friday’s blast in Logar province in which 26 people were killed and 100 others were injured.
Even though the Taliban has not claimed responsibility for the blast, the government said the blast was the work of the Taliban.
“Both the police chief and the head of national security in Logar should have resigned yesterday, but this is not the culture in Afghanistan,” said Akbar Stanekzai, the second deputy speaker of the Senate.
This comes even as the peace process is underway in the country. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, who recently arrived in Kabul, met President Ghani on Monday afternoon, the presidential palace said in a statement.
Khalilzad briefed President Ghani on his activities related to the Afghan peace process. The Presidential Palace added that President Ghani, considering the beginning of a new chapter in relations after the announcement of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, emphasized on adapting the peace process to new realities, saying that the peace process should be in line with new realities in Afghanistan.
Kabul: Stating that with the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghanistan enters a new chapter, the second Vice-President Sarwar Danesh on Monday said that the country now needs to redefine and reorganize all its national and international relations.
Danesh stressed that in the period after the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the system of governance, the three pillars of the government and the Republican Front should be further strengthened.
At the celebration of the International Press Freedom Day in Kabul, he said, “One of the hallmarks of this period is the development of self-confidence, self-reliance. We must now, free from all considerations and conditions, decide and implement it freely and in accordance with our national interests.”.
The Afghan Vice President acknowledged that there were differences of opinion on the Republican Front in the implementation mechanism of peace plans, but stressed that this gap should be bridged by overriding personal interests and ethnic-group aspirations. “The priority of peace should never be taken to mean that other priorities and values are sacrificed,” Danesh said.
Danesh reiterated that with the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, there was no excuse for the Taliban to flee the peace talks.
Earlier, President Ghani had said that with the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, his country will not be isolated in international relations and a new chapter of relations is being formed.
Kabul: At least 18 people, including children, have been injured in a hand grenade blast near a school in Farah city on Monday, said health officials in Farah province.
Abdul Jabbar Shayek, Farah’s director of public health, said that the incident took place at 12 noon near the Mirman Nazo school in PD2 of Farah.
Shah Mahmoud Naeemi, deputy head of the Farah provincial council, said that national security forces had arrested the perpetrators of the hand grenade launch.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Kabul: Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 37 percent to 224 hectares of land in the solar year 1399 (2020) as compared to the solar 1398 (2019), as per a survey of poppy cultivation and production by the National Statistic and Information Authority (NSIA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
According to their joint statement, poppy production this year has been announced at 6,300 tons, which shows that poppy cultivation has increased in most parts of the country.
NSIA says that the survey was conducted using remote sensing technology and the most modern statistical models, the results of which are highly accurate.
Kabul: As the world marks, World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the global community at large has come forward to opine that the Afghan authorities must take urgent steps to provide journalists with greater protection, following a year of spiraling threats, intimidation, harassment, and violent attacks against the country’s media workers.
Afghanistan is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
“At least 11 journalists were killed in 2020 in targeted attacks in Afghanistan, with four more reportedly killed this year. Nearly all the killings, invariably carried out by unidentified gunmen, have gone uninvestigated. Faced with this dire situation and with multiple journalist ‘hit lists’ in open circulation, many journalists are fleeing the country,” said Amnesty International.
While the EU delegation in Afghanistan, in a joint statement, said, “A free, independent and strong media sector are essential parts of an inclusive and representative Afghanistan. The media is integral to building public opinion and support for peace and any future political settlement to the conflict. We recognize that female journalists and media professionals are particularly at risk.” In its latest annual report, published in March, the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) said it had registered more than 100 cases of aggression – including murder, death threats, physical attacks and insults – against women journalists in the past year. “The precarity of Afghan women journalists has increased not only as a result of the physical dangers but also as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown,” CPAWJ director Farida Nekzad said. “At least 20% of them have lost their jobs or have been forced to take unpaid leave by their employers.”
Inside the country too, many voiced their opinions about a free and independent media scene in the country. The High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) stated that after the formation of the post-2001 system, the role of the press in realizing the values of democracy, freedom of expression, state-nation-building, anti-corruption, transparency, accountability, dynamism and enlightenment of public opinion have been very valuable and effective.
“A free and democratic media is one of the greatest and most important achievements of the Afghan people in the last 20 years, and that maintaining, strengthening and supporting this achievement is their national duty,” the HCNR statement added. The Reconciliation Council recognized the sacrifices made by the Afghan media and said that these sacrifices will not be ignored in the peace process.
In fact in 2016, a Joint Committee on the Protection of Journalists, was established by the Afghan government to address the security risks faced by media workers, but it has made limited efforts to stem the violence. Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International, said, “For simply doing their job, Afghanistan’s journalists put themselves at grave risk every single day. The violent cycle of killings, harassment and intimidation is escalating, but this has not been matched by a robust counter-response from the authorities. The Joint Committee should launch thorough, effective and transparent investigations into killings and ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials.”
With the withdrawal of foreign troops currently underway in the county, violence has been on the rise. RSF and CPAWJ have warned that the press freedom situation is disastrous in Afghanistan, 14 months after the Taliban and United States signed a peace accord on February 29, 2020, and eight months after the Taliban and Afghan government began peace talks.
Kabul: Criticisms grow harsher around US President Joe Biden’s decision to start formal withdrawal even troops started leaving the country from May 1, as violence continues unabated in Afghanistan. As daily reports come in of Afghan soldiers and civilians being targeted, Hillary Clinton on Sunday, warned that the US will face ‘huge consequences’. The Afghan defense ministry reported on Sunday that fighting between its forces and the Taliban had left more than 100 insurgents dead within 24 hours of the US officially beginning its withdrawal.
In an interview with CNN, Clinton said the US should be prepared for ‘two huge consequences’ – a collapse of the Afghan government and takeover by the Taliban, and a subsequent outpouring of refugees. “I hope that the administration in concert with the Congress will have a very large visa program and will begin immediately to try to provide that channel for so many Afghans to utilize so that they are not left in danger. There will also be, I fear, a huge refugee outflow. And of course, the second big set of problems revolves around a resumption of activities by global terrorist groups, most particularly Al Qaeda and the Islamic State,” she said.
She concluded, ‘It’s one thing to pull out troops that have been supporting security in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan military, leaving it pretty much to fend for itself, but we can’t afford to walk away from the consequences of that decision.”
Even top military officers in the US say that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and, in a worst-case scenario, some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal of American and coalition troops accelerates in the coming weeks.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, described the Afghan military and police as “reasonably well equipped, reasonably well trained, reasonably well led.”
He said there is “at least still the possibility” of a negotiated political settlement between the government in Kabul and the Taliban. This, he said, would avoid the “massive civil war” that some fear could happen.
The criticism only grows as the peace process has been stalled for the time being.
Kabul: At a time when the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Monday reported 275 new positive cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the last 24 hours, the Afghan embassy in Islamabad announced that Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has temporarily suspended incoming pedestrian movement at overland border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran to curb spread of the new mutation of the coronavirus.
“The current policy of land border management with Afghanistan and Iran has been reviewed to ensure regulated inbound pedestrian movement and effective management of COVID protocols at border terminals (BTS),” read the statement issued by the NCOC.
The revised policy, which will be effective from midnight May 4-5 till midnight May 19-20, will only be applicable to inbound pedestrians with no effect on the existing cargo/trade (bilateral/Afghan Transit Trade) movement.
According to the NCOC statement, border terminals will remain open for seven days a week. “Employment strength of LEAs/health staff at BTs will be increased for implementation of testing protocols and to control high traffic density,” read the statement.
The exception to this ban are Pakistani nationals in Afghanistan and Iran who desire to return to their country and in extreme medical emergency cases etc. It also said that all outbound pedestrian movement is permissible.
Highlighting the testing and quarantining protocols, the NCOC said inbound pedestrians will undergo rapid antigen test (RAT). Positive cases (for Pakistani nationals only) will be shifted to nearby quarantine facilities.
“Inbound pedestrian with Afghan exemptions will also undergo RAT testing at BTs. Positive cases, if any, will be reverted back to Afghanistan,” read the NCOC statement.
It also said that thermal scanning for all drivers and co-drivers will be carried out on arrival at the BTs. Symptomatic cases will undergo RAT testing, positive cases will be dealt with as per the described procedure.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan also reported six deaths and 170 recoveries from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, as per the health ministry on Monday. The total number of cases now stand at 60,563, while the number of reported deaths is 2,648 and the total number of recoveries is 53,563. There are currently 4,354 active coronavirus cases nationwide.
Kabul: At least seven army soldiers have been killed in an explosion in a tunnel in the Shivan area of Bala Baluk district on Sunday night, local officials in Farah province said on Monday.
Farah Governor Taj Mohammad Jahed said Taliban fighters dug up a tunnel 400 meters away from the houses, connected it to an army checkpoint and blew it up.
An army soldier had also been captured by Taliban fighters, but 20 others managed to escape the attack, Jahed added.
Farah province in western Afghanistan is one of the most insecure provinces in the country and Taliban fighters have a large presence in some parts of it.