Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
President Ashraf Ghani said that violence-reductions efforts are “on-course” and the peace talks with the Taliban will be progressing to a new phase to be announced in the coming week.
“The United States and Afghanistan are completely aligned. Getting to peace is my absolute priority,” he said during a virtual interview with the Atlantic Council.
Ghani also dismissed a possible step-down if the Taliban requested for an interim government excluding him after the peace deal.
Rejecting that possibility, Ghani said, “I serve at the will of the Afghan people, not at the will of the Taliban.”
He also said he would not be repeating the historic mistake committed by former President Najibullah who stepped down in 1992 after the U.S.S.R. collapsed and his government was left without foreign aid. The mujahideen took control of the country after that.
Ghani said “Dr. Najibullah made the mistake of his life by announcing that he was going to resign… Please don’t ask us to replay a film that we know where it ends.”
On prisoner release and violence
He also called the Eid ceasefire a “major movement” which allowed the government to make “bold and critical decisions” such as announcing the release of up to 3,000 Taliban prisoners to show goodwill.
Ghani said they would fulfil the commitments of the Doha deal signed between the U.S. and Taliban, and release 2,000 more prisoners within a very short period, for a total of 5,000 released.
He also underlined the importance of “maximum reduction” in violence and warned against spoilers.
“I’ve spoken to Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad yesterday, and also, to the special representative of Qatar this morning. I think now we are on course.
Similar sentiments were seen in Washington’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad’s tweets after his recent round of shuttle diplomacy between Qatar, Pakistan and Afghanistan where he urged all sides to start the talks immediately and “prevent spoilers from undermining the process.”
U.S. troop withdrawal
Ghani said U.S. President Donald Trump’s decisions to pull out troops would be a “sovereign decision.”
However, he did point out to U.S. Central Command General Kenneth McKenzie’s statements that “the conditions were not ripe” as long as other militant groups were active within the country.
Ghani emphasized their prerogative was to “conclude peace as soon as feasible, but a sustainable peace” which would include strategic dialogues with the U.S. concerning Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
On trade with neighbours
“Afghanistan is described as the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” Ghani said, stressing on the importance of international investors in the country.
“We can be among the 10 largest players at least on 10 basic minerals.”
He did express some reservations on China’s Belt and Road Initiative questioning its nature of investments.
“Belt and Road is not a grant initiative. It’s loans. Afghanistan cannot take loans. We can only take grants.”
He also thanked Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan for their investments in Afghanistan.
At least 22 people were killed in three separate attacks in Ghor, Khost and Kabul provinces over the past day.
A local police chief said Taliban insurgents killed 10 officers after storming a checkpoint late Friday night in Pasaband district, Ghor. One policeman was wounded and another is still missing since the attack.
Adel Haider, spokesman for the Khost police chief said unknown gunmen killed a former warlord in the Ali Sher district, along with seven other people. The target, Abdul Wali Ekhlas, had been a candidate in last year’s parliamentary elections.
These attacks followed the bombing of the Sher Shar Suri Mosque in Kabul which also killed at least four people and injured eight, including the imam, Mawlawi Azizullah Mofleh.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has raised concerns about the recent protests in front of their embassy in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Tehran Abdul Ghafoor Liwal was called to respond, reported the Islamic Republic News Agency.
People have staged demonstrations at the Iranian embassy in Kabul and thrown colours at its buildings to protest the deaths of Afghan migrants in Iran.
Managing Director of Iranian Foreign Ministry for West Asian Affairs Rasoul Mousavi said they were concerned about the impact of such events on their bilateral relations.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced that 556 new cases have been confirmed in the last 24 hours, bringing Afghanistan’s total cases to 24,102.
According to the MoPH figures, five patients died and 273 recovered during the day, bringing those figures to 451 dead and 4,201 recovered.
Naqibullah Hashemi, a former member of Kabul’s Provincial Council, was one of the victims.
New cases were reported in Kabul (253), Balkh (74), Nangarhar (43), Takhar (28), 23 each in Kandahar and Bamyan, Baghlan (22), Wardak (20), Kunar (17), Logar (12), Zabul (9), Ghazni (8), Nimroz (8), Daykundi (6), Helmand (5), Laghman (3) and Uruzgan (2).
The labs managed to test 1,065 samples.
At least 89 civilians were killed in Taliban attacks in 29 provinces over the past two weeks in Afghanistan, said the National Security Council (NSC).
NSC spokesman Javid Faisal said that 150 more civilians were wounded by the militants during the period. He said the provinces of Kabul and Kandahar saw the highest casualties.
Since the three-day Eid ceasefire, the Taliban and Afghan security forces have generally reduced attacks as a confidence-building measure before the intra-Afghan peace talks.
During an interview earlier this week, President Ashraf Ghani announced that while the violence has reduced “casualty figures still average around 60-70 a day” with an average of 30 deaths per day.
“While the Government has continued to advance the cause of peace, the Taliban continued their campaign of violence against the Afghan people during Eid and the weeks after that,” said Faisal.
Georgian peacekeeping troops are preparing before being deployed to Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support in the next rotation.
For the first time, Georgian forces are able to do their final exercise for the NATO deployment in the country itself at the NATO Peace Keeping Operations Training Centre established under the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre.
Before this, Georgian troops would prepare at the U.S. Army Joint Multinational Readiness Centre in Germany, with the Georgian defence ministry covering the costs.
During training, the battalion’s practice cordon and search, base defence and rescue operations for injured personnel.
Pakistan’s crop losses continue to surmount as researchers find that the desert locusts have found a new route to enter the country via Afghanistan, to attacks agricultural fields in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Crop losses have already been reported in several areas of the province, including the district bordering Pakistan’s ‘food basket’ Punjab.
The government had already been monitoring swarms in their spring-breeding habitats in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti which were entering the country via Saud Arabi, Yemen and Iran.
Neighbouring India is also preparing for the new swarms to enter from Iran and Pakistan by June-end and early July.
The oncoming monsoon season may also see a resurgence as locusts breed and lay eggs in that season too, leading to an even bigger swarm.
Foreign ministers from five Central Asian countries discussed regional cooperation with Afghanistan, among other issues, with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia.
The meetings were attended by ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan on June 12.
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, conveyed the support from the EU to Central Asia as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also congratulated the countries for their ability to maintain cross-border transport and transit with the region, as well as intensified cooperation wit Afghanistan in this context.
Borel also underlined that multilateral cooperation and global solidarity are the only way to deal with the pandemic effectively, as is also the case for other global challenges.
The UN meeting discussed security trends and reinforced the countries commitment to strengthen regional security cooperation and implement the UN sustainable development goals in Central Asia and Afghanistan.