Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Over 9,000 containers loaded with goods worth over $400 million, have been stuck at Pakistan’s ports on its way to Afghanistan for the past five months due to administrative hiccups and customs mismanagement, reported Bloomberg on Monday.
The mis-handling of the Afghan-bound cargo started with the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Customs officials started screening all the cargo instead of the 5% they used to check before the pandemic and the lack of GPS trackers on trucks, Bloomberg reported.
Pakistani authorities require trackers to help monitor smuggling so that containers do not missing along the route.
“Transit consignments that landed in June are still lying at Karachi port,” said Ghulam Nayab, commercial consular at the Afghan consulate in Karachi.
Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan dropped by over 38% in the last fiscal year to $1.01 billion compared to $1.64 billion in fiscal 2018.
Afghanistan has demanded that Pakistan waive the demurrage and detention charges as traders also losing millions of dollars.
Former intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil said that Taliban would not start talks till the release of Bashir Noorzai, a Taliban financier and drug lord who was arrested in 2005.
In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, Nabil surmised that U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad had guaranteed Noorzai’s release.
“I think the Taliban will not start talks in Doha till the release of Haji B. Noorzai… . Considering the timing, perhaps Haji Bashar might be released this week,” Nabil wrote.
Noorzai was arrested in 2005 when he had flown to New York city to strike a deal with U.S. officials who were seeking peace with the Taliban. He was tried in the U.S. for his global heroin trafficking operations and funding of Taliban. He was sentenced to life in prison and detained in Guantanamo Bay.
Towards the end of July, Taliban deputy Mullah Baradar had demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo look into the release of remaining Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
“Now the Taliban have no incentive to reduce violence. All the key bargaining chips have been given away by Zal [Khalilzad], in order to promote himself,” Nabil wrote.
“What will be the bargaining chips of Republic? President Ashraf Ghani did not have a strategy to win the war, nor does he currently have a strategy to win the peace.”
Taliban officials on Tuesday spoke about the completion of the prisoner exchange process. Khalilzad also met members of the group’s political delegation and negotiating team in Qatar on Monday.
Local officials in Panjshir province said that the Taliban attack on parts of the province’s Abshar district was repulsed without casualties to security forces and civilians on Tuesday.
Mohammad Mansour Anabi, spokesperson for the governor of Panjshir, told Reporterly that the Taliban attacked the Qala Tari village in the Ghulghula area of Abshar district at around 9 am today.
Anabi said that after the initial attack, local residents and Afghan security forces mobilized and fought off the Taliban.
According to the official, the Taliban suffered heavy casualties during the clashes while none were reported among the security forces or the civilians.
He dismissed the claims of Taliban taking hostages as “baseless.”
Taliban attack on Panjshir after 19 years
Abshar district is one of the remote areas of Panjshir province which shares borders with Kapisa, Laghman and Nuristan provinces.
This was the first time in the past 19 years that the Taliban had entered a district in Panjshir.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted tha the group’s fighters had attacked security checkpoints in the Ghulghula area of the district and overrun parts of it.
He claimed that they had captured seven security force members while killing and wounding several others.
A source told Reporterly that three security officials were arrested in Takhar on charges of smuggling drugs.
The detainees include the director of internal security of Takhar Police, the head of internal security of Kalafgan district police, and the second commander of the border forces.
The source added that one of the officials, the border official, was arrested while he was transporting narcotics from Kishim district in Badakhshan to Takhar in his car.
Once detained, he admitted that the police directors were also involved in the case.
According to the source, all three security officials are currently in custody, a review board has been appointed and the investigations are ongoing by the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan.
Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said that intra-Afghan talks will begin soon and the government’s peace negotiating delegation will be travelling to Qatar in the coming days.
Speaking at the commemoration ceremony marking the 19th death anniversary of Ahmad Shah Massoud on Tuesday, Abdullah said he had no enmity with anyone inside Afghanistan, adding “page of enmity with the Taliban must be closed.”
He said all humans have differences of opinion with others in politics, administration and various matters, however, one must ensure that this does not lead to violence, war and bloodshed.
“Afghanistan’s enemy is someone who does not want Afghanistan to survive,” he said, pointing to those who want to condemn and humiliate the country.
He said that the government delegation and the Taliban will meet in the “coming days” and are scheduled for the talks.
The chairman of the Reconciliation Council added that if the war continued, “peace and unity” among the people will be affected.
He said that after years of conflicts, efforts should be made for peace as the burden on the young generation “is too heavy.”
After the completion of the prisoner exchange, peace talks are to be held in Qatar soon.
The spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar said that Mullah Baradar, the political deputy, and Sheikh Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, the group’s chief peace negotiator, met Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation yesterday.
Naeem Wardak, the Taliban spokesperson wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday, that the meeting also included Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.
The two sides discussed the completion of the prisoner release process as soon as possible and other issues related to the start of the intra-Afghan talks, Wardak wrote.
Khalilzad had departed for Qatar on Sept. 4, the U.S. State Department said.
The purpose of his visit was to facilitate the start of the peace talks.
With the registration of 26 new Coronavirus cases in Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, the current tally has reached 38,250 people infected so far.
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said three people succumbed to COVID-19 while 158 recovered.
New cases were reported in the provinces of Herat (14), Kunduz (8), Balkh (3) and Paktia (1).
The laboratories were able to test 160 samples during the past day.
Afghanistan has 6,387 active cases of COVID-19 with 1,418 deaths and 30,715 recoveries.
The State Ministry for Peace (SMP) said the Taliban need to ensure that they had no government prisoners left unreleased on Tuesday.
Najia Anwari, spokesperson for the SMP tweeted that the Afghan government has “met all the requirements to start direct negotiations” with the Taliban.
“It is imperative that the other side [Taliban] also formally assure the Afghan people that the release of prisoners of Afghan security and defence forces has been completed and that no prisoners remain with them,” she said.
The Afghan government’s statement comes shortly after spokespersons for the Taliban and their political office commented that the Afghan government is yet to complete the prisoner exchange.
In the last batch of releases, the government freed 320 Taliban prisoners while the group freed some six Afghan commandos.
Flights between Afghanistan and India have resumed under the ‘Air Bubble’ Agreement between the two countries.
Tahir Qadiry, Chargé d’Affaires of the Afghan embassy in India, said that the bilateral arrangement started on Sunday, Sept. 6.
“Finally, the Air Bubble Agreement has kicked off and the planes are flying high in the skies again,” Qadiry wrote on Twitter.
According to the provisions of the bilateral agreement between, only Afghan officials, medical tourists and Afghan businessmen can travel to New Delhi.
The Afghan embassy said that Ariana and Air India will operate flights between the teo countries.
Meanwhile, the Afghan embassy in Indian also announced that their nationals studying in India will now be required to pay only $20 to obtain a passport.
In a bid to facilitate digital payments and increase financial inclusion, banks will now be able to provide services in remote areas that do not have branches.
A trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), Afghan Post, and Afghanistan Banking Association, is expanding banking services across the country.
Based on the MoU, banks would be able to provide banking services in areas where they do not have branches, by using the Afghan Post’s branches as bank agents.
Afghan Post, which is a state-owned enterprise, has over 450 branches throughout the country.
The MoU allows banks to have “branches” across Afghanistan and allows loan applications and provisions.
It will also make it easier for schools to pay teachers who are in their home provinces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iran is planning a new border crossing in the Khorasan Razavi province to facilitate trade with Afghanistan.
IRNA reported that the new crossing would be between Herat province in Afghanistan and Khorasan Razavi province in Iran.
Ali Rasoulian, the deputy governor-general of the Khorasan Razavi Province, told IRNA that the new Shamtigh border crossing is where the Khaf-Herat railway line will cross into Afghanistan.
The crossing is being studied by the Iranian government’s economic commission and will be inaugurated within the next two months.
The Iranian official also said the railway line will reduce transit costs and help facilitate trade which is often delayed due to traffic at the Dogharoun border.
The Taliban militants attacked security checkpoints in the Khaki Jabbar district of Kabul province on Monday night, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
The MoD statement released on Tuesday said the clash began in the Shirullah area of Khaki Jabbar when a group of Taliban attacked army checkpoints.
Thy encountered resistance from the 3rd Brigade of the 111th Division in Kabul, the statement said.
The Taliban attack was defeated with one militant killed and two others wounded. No casualties from security forces were reported in the clashes.
The Taliban have not yet commented on the attack.
The Taliban’s political office some of its detainees have not yet been released by the Afghan government, slowing down the start of the intra-Afghan talks.
In a tweet on Tuesday, new political office spokesperson Naeem Wardak said the process of freeing the prisoners of the Taliban has not been finalized yet, some are still pending and work is underway.
“Ince the prisoner release is complete, our negotiation team is ready to begin intra-Afghan negotiations,” Wardak wrote on Twitter.
On Monday evening, the Presidential Palace had said that preparations for the intra-Afghan negotiations are being made and the technical team is in Qatar to solve the final issues.
However, the government said that the delay in the talks is due to the Taliban’s unpreparedness.