Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a surge in violence in Afghanistan this week “unacceptable” and warned both the Taliban and the Afghan government to “stop posturing” ahead of intra-Afghan peace talks.
“The upsurge in violence in parts of Afghanistan over the last couple days is unacceptable,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Thursday. “In no uncertain terms, violence must be reduced immediately for the peace process to move forward.”
The Taliban has resumed offensive operations against Afghan government forces after last week’s reduction in violence and after signing a deal Saturday with the United States that lays out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government has rejected a provision in the U.S.-Taliban agreement that requires it to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners ahead of negotiations to reconcile the Taliban and the Afghan government. In exchange, the Taliban would release 1,000 Afghan government prisoners.
“While a reduction in violence is paramount, we also continue to press all sides to stop posturing and start a practical discussion about prisoner releases,” Pompeo said Thursday. “Knuckle down and prepare for the upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations.”
In a message to all Afghans, Pompeo added: “Do not squander this opportunity.”
Even as Pompeo criticized the increase in violence, he insisted senior Taliban leaders remain committed to their deal with the United States.
“I can’t say much about what we’ve seen the Taliban do … but we have seen senior Taliban leadership working diligently to reduce violence from previous levels during similar time periods,” Pompeo said. “So we still have confidence the Taliban leadership is working to deliver on its commitments. We’re working to deliver on ours.”
He also insisted the Trump administration is “not naive” and that it knows “everything’s got to be verified.”
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led negotiations with the Taliban, is in Kabul on Thursday to work on the prisoner exchanges, Pompeo added.
“All the parties understand that it’s time for prisoner exchanges to take place. A number of the prisoners being held have served their full sentences. We need to move that process forward,” Pompeo said. “It will be political. Both sides think they have leverage. But we have urged all the parties to do is stop posturing. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to reduce violence. It’s time to sit down and talk.”
The current week was the most violent week for freedom of expression in Afghanistan, said Afghan Supporting Open Media-Nai.
According to Nai, about 10 complaints have been recorded in Nai which are mainly about the journalists challenges in terms of accessing the information.
Afghan Supporting Open Media-Nai in a statement cited that In the most recent case, Shayiq Qasemi, a freelance journalist in Parwan province was insulted by the governor after requesting information. In two other cases, Asilah Ahmadzai and Rahima Yazdani
have been threatened and insulted by the spokesmen 209 Shaheen Corps Muhammad Hanif Rezai.
Nai has urged the government to take serious measures regarding the issues.
It also voiced concern over the peace negotiations and called on all sides to consider the values of freedom of expression and human rights.
The Ministry of Interior (MoI) says the Taliban’s attacks have been reduced after US airstrike on the group’s hideout in Helmand province.
The spokesman of MoI, Nasrat Rahimi declared that the Taliban insurgents conducted 11 against security forces in 11 provinces during the 24 provinces.
According to Rahimi, at least two civilians and four security forces were killed and eleven civilians and security forces were wounded in the attacks.
He noted that at least 14 Taliban insurgents were killed and 15 others were also wounded.
This comes as Taliban renewed operations in the country after a seven day of reduction in violence.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told lawmakers that the Taliban were not honoring their part of a deal inked Feb. 29 with the U.S. following a recent spate of violence across Afghanistan.
The agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. just four days old is already under pressure as American warplanes swept into Helmand Wednesday to bail out Afghan security forces just three days after the insurgent group announced the resumption of attacks.
Esper said that the Taliban were honoring the agreement in terms of “not attacking U.S. and coalition forces, but not in terms of sustaining a reduction of violence.”
Following the American airstrike, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, responded that the Taliban will “implement all parts of the agreement” to de-escalate the war, but he called on other parties in the conflict to “remove the barriers” for implementing the agreement.
Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court gave the green light Thursday for prosecutors to open an investigation targeting the Taliban, Afghan forces and U.S. military and intelligence personnel for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The global court upheld an appeal by prosecutors against a pretrial chamber’s rejection in April last year of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to open a probe in Afghanistan.
Pretrial judges last year acknowledged that widespread crimes have been committed in Afghanistan, but rejected the investigation saying it wouldn’t be in the interests of justice because the likely lack of cooperation meant convictions would ultimately be unlikely.
The Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani held a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump, during which they reviewed the strategic relations between the two countries and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.
They discussed the developments of the situation in Afghanistan following the signing of the peace agreement between the US and the Afghan Taliban, which was mediated by Qatar.
The call also touched on several regional and international issues of common concern.
There will no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan ensuring that terrorism doesn’t transpire from their premises, the US said.
On being asked if the US has firmly conveyed to Pakistan to stop supporting terror, Morgan Ortagus, Spokesperson of the US State Department said: “Yes, we have a complicated relationship with Pakistan as evidenced by the fact that US President Donald Trump decided to stop all military aid to them early in his administration.”
“I totally concur with your question that there will no peace in Afghanistan, no peace in South East Asia without Pakistan ensuring that terrorism doesn’t transpire from their premises or from Afghanistan,” she said.
Highlighting India’s role in Afghanistan, the official said India has been a crucial partner for us in Afghanistan for 20 years. “We know that we will be partners for decades to come,” she said.
She expressed hope that as a model for how democracy can thrive, India’s positive influence will continue in Afghanistan.
Representatives of the United States and the Taliban on Saturday signed the long-awaited deal in Qatar’s capital city of Doha, calling for a gradual withdrawal of US troops if the Taliban negotiates with the Afghan government and cuts ties with terrorist groups.
The United Arab Emirates pledged 3.4 million U.S. Dollars to help Afghanistan in diagnosis of 50,000 cases of Coronavirus, the Afghan officials said.
Waheed Mayar, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public of Health said the first consignment of the diagnosis kits is expected to arrive in the near future.
The Public Health Ministry officials had earlier said the ministry has registered a total of 15 suspected cases of Coronavirus in four provinces including Kabul.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) says testing for COVID-19 case costs up to $1600 each.
News of the virus, officially dubbed COVID-19, even overshadowed the developments In the country.
The Minister of Health, Ferozuddin Firoz in a press conference in Kabul said over 50,000 Afghans have been tested so far who came from Iran, to ensure the safety of our people.
“We are at a high risk level, but we are determined to tackle all cases,” Firoz said.
He emphasized that the health officials cannot protect our people by hiding the facts and they are acting on the virus with full responsibility and honesty.
“So far there are no restrictions on direct flights between Afghanistan and other countries, including Iran, but we suggest those coming from Iran to postpone their trip to the country for a month,” he said.
The Minister declared that six people suspected of having the virus have been sent to quarantine.
“There was one positive case, but one patient in Herat is now at the hospital and is recovering well,” he added.
The virus, which emerged in China, has spread to more and more countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the world should do more to prepare for a possible coronavirus pandemic.
The cases reported in Afghanistan have been linked to the outbreak in Iran. Different countries in the region have tightened measures for preventing the spread of the coronavirus to their societies.
Western forces will only leave Afghanistan if the Taliban make good on their commitment to reduce bloodshed, the head of NATO warned, as attacks surge.
The militants have ramped up violence against Afghan forces since signing a deal with Washington at the weekend, casting doubt over peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, due to begin on March 10.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP that a “long and hard” road to peace lay ahead but warned the Taliban that if they reneged on the agreement, foreign forces would not leave.
“It is a very difficult situation and Taliban must honour their commitment. We need to see reduction in violence,” Stoltenberg told AFP in an interview in Zagreb, where he attended a meeting of EU defence ministers.
“We can only deliver our side of the deal if Taliban deliver their side of the deal.”
“The agreement that was signed on Saturday was an important first step, but it’s only a first step,” said Stoltenberg, who as prime minister of Norway sent troops to Afghanistan following the US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
There are 208 refugees in Kyrgyzstan, Chairman of the State Migration Service Bolotbek Ibraimjanov said in the Parliament.
According to him, 81 of them arrived from Afghanistan, 71 – from Syria and 24 – from Ukraine and other countries.
Mostly they are engaged in trade and receive the same medical service as Kyrgyzstanis do, Ibraimjanov noted.
According to a statement released by Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah, US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper make a telephone call to the China Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe and discussed bilateral and international relations.
According to the official report Secretary Esper used the call to “advance a constructive, stable, and results-oriented defense relationship between the United States and China.”
The US Secretary of Defence Dr. Esper also shared with China’s senior Minister Wei recent developments towards achieving sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
This was the first time since US and Taliban signed an Agreement in Doha to move towards a peaceful approach in Afghanistan and clear way for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 19 years of war.
The Germany’s Foreign Office says the Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces must end immediately.
The German Foreign Office in a statement cited that it is of utmost importance that the international community does not leave Afghanistan alone.
“Germany stands ready to continue its military mission in Afghanistan,” the statement said.
Previously, the German Foreign Office also said that the German government is willing to provide substantial support for Afghan Peace negotiations.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, in a series of tweets has said that the United States was still committed to facilitating the prisoner exchange that was agreed on in the peace deal between the US and the Taliban.
“US is committed to facilitating prisoner exchange, agreed in both US-Taliban Agreement & US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. We will support each side to release significant numbers,” Khalilzad tweeted, as the Afghan government, judging from its latest statements on Wednesday, remains unmoved its stance to not release thousands of Taliban prisoners prior to the intra-Afghan talks.
Khalilzad said: “I met Mullah Berader and his team last night for a candid discussion about next steps, followed by a constructive phone call with President Donald Trump. We all agreed the purpose of the US-Taliban agreement is to pave the path to a comprehensive peace in Afghanistan,”
Khalilzad, however, said that all parties involved in the process should try to work towards the intra-Afghan talks:
“We must act on all fronts to clear the road of obstacles that slow our progress toward intra-Afghan negotiations. I once again call on all Afghans to rise to the occasion, put country first and not to lose this historic opportunity.
This comes a day after the National Security Advisor’s office stated there would be no Taliban prisoners released prior to the start of the intra-Afghan talks, saying the issue of prisoners will be discussed during the talks.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo, has expressed concern about the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve read the documents and my concerns remain,” Cheney said during a House Armed Services Committee panel with top Army brass.
In an interview with Bret Baier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the final agreement included “a commitment to break with Al Qaeda” by the Taliban.
But after reviewing two classified documents included in the peace deal, Cheney says she sees no evidence the Taliban have broken with Al Qaeda.
“I’m not going to talk about what’s in the documents, a number of them are classified, as you know, but the documents that have been sent to the Hill do not include those things,” Cheney said during the hearing.
“Those documents do not include in them the things that Secretary Pompeo said they would. So, my concerns still remain,” she added.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the upcoming talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and other Afghan political leaders should make human rights protections a priority.
HRW in a press release said that
the negotiations should include meaningful participation by women, victims’ groups, and proponents of legal and constitutional reforms.
The talks are scheduled to begin March 10, 2020.
On February 29, the United States government and Taliban leadership signed an agreement outlining a phased withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban commitments not to allow attacks on the US or its allies from Afghan territory.
The troop withdrawal is meant to take place in parallel with progress in negotiations between representatives of the Afghan government and other Afghan political groups and Taliban leaders aimed at achieving a political settlement to the armed conflict.
“A durable peace agreement in Afghanistan needs to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights and mechanisms to provide justice for serious abuses,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “To achieve these goals those most affected by the conflict should have a meaningful role in the process.”
The intra-Afghan talks will address the legacy of four decades of war, and the future of Afghanistan’s democratic political system.
“The US and other governments facilitating the talks should insist that women, rights activists, and Afghans from diverse rural and urban backgrounds participate in various components of the talks,” Gossman added. “Bringing in views from throughout Afghan society is crucial for ensuring a peace agreement that addresses the concerns of all those affected by decades of war.”
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) under China’s chairmanship in the month of March will consider hot issues in Afghanistan, a Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson said.
“China has officially assumed the rotating chairmanship of the UN Security Council in March,” Zhao Lijian said during his regular briefing held here.
He informed that China will also organize the Security Council to hold three debates on the topics of adherence to multilateralism, combating terrorism and extremism, and strengthening peacekeeping capacity building.
The spokesperson said the current international situation is chaotic, and the international community more than ever needs multilateralism, and a stronger UN and the Security Council.
Zarifa Ghafari is a fearless woman in a country where there is much to fear.
Since taking office as mayor in the Afghan town of Maidan Shahr last year, the 27-year-old has been attacked by mobs of men armed with sticks and rocks, angry at a woman in a leadership role. In meetings, she has been at turns ignored, insulted and laughed at. She has received death threats from the Taliban and criminal gangs.
“I want to live as a champion,” she said in an interview Wednesday after being honored at the State Department with an International Women of Courage Award presented by first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I want to die as a champion.”
Their stories “humble and inspire us all,” said Pompeo, who recently returned from Qatar, where he witnessed the signing of an agreement between the Taliban and the United States.
She recognizes the danger she will face on returning to Afghanistan but considers it her responsibility to speak up.
“At least if I die, no one will say, ‘She was not someone who did great,’ ” she said. “I want the next generation to remember me as a good person, at least as someone who could make at least a change, at least could talk of the truth. That’s why I’m talking.”