Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: In order to compensate for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, there are reports that the US is likely to pour in more aid for the Afghan forces on ground to help combat the situation and absence of US troops.
US President Joe Biden on Friday revealed his proposed $715 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2022, including $3.3 billion for Afghan forces, which $300 million more than what Afghanistan had been given last year. The increased aid, if approved by the Congress, can help cover equipment and training requirements, as well as infrastructure, for the 352,000 members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
“We believe that given that we’re pulling out of Afghanistan, we need to provide some additional security support for the forces there,” Anne McAndrew, the Pentagon’s acting Under Secretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer, said.
Military planners are also requesting $8.9 billion to cover so-called “direct war costs” in Afghanistan, about a $4 billion reduction from the previous year. McAndrew said some of that money will help cover residual expenses from the current withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as help pay for “an over-the-horizon capability outside Afghanistan.”
In addition to the military aid, Afghanistan could also be getting more funding from the US State Department. The State Department on Friday said its proposed financial year 2022 budget includes $360 million for Afghanistan — an increase of $34 million — to help combat terrorism, counter the narcotics trade and protect rights for women. In fact, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, has said that Taliban officials have assured him they “seek normalcy. “They have said to me that their views have evolved. Afghan women have rights, including political participation, education, and work.”
Meanwhile, President Biden thanked members of the military at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on Friday during a speech marking the administration’s efforts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. “No other war have you gone in, served, and got back up again and again and again. You are the backbone of this country,” the president said, noting that many troops did multiple tours during the war in Afghanistan.
On Friday, Biden said that US troops achieved the goal of deployment in Afghanistan, adding that threats from al Qaeda and ISIS are greater in other regions of the world. “You never gave up until we delivered justice to Osama bin Laden,” the president said.
Biden also said he keeps a list of service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. His late son Beau Biden served in the Iraq War and died of brain cancer following his return. “Our experience is a fraction of what so many of you and your families have gone through,” Biden said.
Kabul: The Council of Shiite Ulema of Afghanistan, following the second consultative meeting on the current issues of the country, presented its views on Saturday regarding how to achieve a just and lasting peace, and how to transition and stabilize the country.
The council said that now since there is a national and international consensus for peace and mutual acceptance and the withdrawal of foreign forces is currently underway, the establishment of an independent, inclusive, balanced political system that is acceptable to all is needed.
According to the council, a permanent ceasefire is the first step towards achieving just and lasting peace and its violation should be prevented. Secondly, the council added, that the people of Afghanistan have waged constant and tireless struggles for the Islamic system. Therefore, in order to create stability and lasting peace in the country, the citizens of Afghanistan, despite their different interpretations of Islam, must agree to an Islamic system.
Meanwhile, apart from these, the council has also recommended setting up of various commissions including, National Reconciliation Commission; monitoring commission for the implementation of the ceasefire; international commission to monitor the ceasefire and the constitutional amendment commission.
The roles and functions of these commissions were also described in detail by the council.
Kabul: Following the spread of the third wave of the coronavirus in Afghanistan, Vahid Majrooh, the acting Minister of Health, said that the ministry has taken strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus; however, people should not ignore the danger posed by the virus.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Mr Majrooh said that all public universities, schools and training centers in 16 provinces had been closed for two weeks due to the rising number of people infected with the coronavirus.
“It was a very difficult decision, but the goal was to prevent large gatherings in places. In the last two weeks, after Eid al-Fitr, the number of people infected with the coronavirus has increased in the country. Various statistics show that the cycle of the virus has increased throughout the country, especially in 16 provinces,” he said.
According to Majrooh, Afghan citizens disregarded health orders during the Eid holidays, which led to an increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus in Afghanistan.
“The Ministry of Health has a direct responsibility to call on the people to work together to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
Regarding the management of the third wave of the coronavirus in Afghanistan, Majrooh said that the number of coronavirus tests in this country has increased significantly and in the last 15 days alone, 100,000 rapid tests have been performed and 5,000 to 10,000 tests are done daily.
According to him, progress has been made in the care and treatment of patients in Kabul and provincial hospitals. Recently, however, the number of cases of coronavirus infection and related deaths has increased in Afghanistan. Kabul has the highest incidence and mortality rate in Afghanistan.
Kabul: The Afghan Civil Society and Human Rights Network and a number of Afghan activists in Germany and the Netherlands gathered in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Friday to seek prioritization of investigation by the ICC into the attack on the Sayyid al-Shuhada school in western Kabul.
Their resolution stated that ICC should investigate attacks on ethnic-religious minorities on priority and that targeted attacks on human rights defenders, which play an important role in promoting and defending human rights values, also be reviewed. According to the resolution, war crimes against humanity, repeatedly committed against Afghan citizens of various ethnicities (Hindus, Sikhs and Hazaras), are systematic and targeted attacks and constitute genocide.
The resolution emphasizes that the approach of the ICC, including the review of the situation in the country, should be based on the fact that Afghanistan’s current problem is deep and multidimensional. Part of the resolution states that investigations by the International Criminal Court into what constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan are not political and that the criteria for detecting crimes in the International Criminal Court should not be double.
On May 8, the Sayyid al-Shuhada school in western Kabul was targeted by terrorists. About 90 people were killed and more than 240 others were injured in the attack.
Kabul: The Afghan Interior Ministry on Saturday said that it is committed to protecting foreign embassies and officials working in Afghanistan.
“We have a responsibility to ensure the security of embassies and foreigners working in Afghanistan,” ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said, adding that the necessary measures have been taken to create a safe environment for them.
The statement comes a few days after the Australian government announced last week that it was temporarily closing its embassy in Kabul due to security threats following the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Meanwhile, foreign media reported that the British government had decided to move its embassy in Kabul, near the US embassy in the “Green Kabul” area.
On the other hand, the Taliban have pledged not to pose a threat to foreign diplomats, international organizations, newspapers and members of civil society after the withdrawal of foreign troops.
“We assure you that there will be no threat to them and in return, we will provide a safe environment for them,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s spokesman, said.
All these statements come at a time when, after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and the escalation of Taliban attacks in various parts of the country, many countries are worried about diplomats and their citizens and Afghan staff who have worked with these forces.
Kabul: During a press conference by the top security brass of Afghanistan on Saturday, Ahmad Zia Siraj, the director general of National Directorate of Security (NDS), said that the main culprit behind the attack on the Sayyid al-Shuhada school in Kabul will soon be identified.
Siraj requested the public to give the officials some time to identify, arrest and punish the perpetrators of this deadly attack, adding that no one had been arrested so far. On May 8 at least 90 people were killed and over 240 others were wounded after explosions hit the western Kabul school. Most of the victims were female students of this school.
On the other hand, Siraj said that they have achieved progress in the Logar attack and that the detainees belonged to the Haqqani network. The NDS chief said that the Taliban were waging a strong propaganda war and attacking areas that caused misunderstandings between the government and the people.
Regarding the security plan for western Kabul, he said that the whole of Afghanistan is facing a security problem and a nationwide plan will be launched for the whole country, especially Kabul.
Siraj also stressed at the meeting of senior security officials that relations between al-Qaeda and the Taliban are very deep. According to him, the two networks have established strong relations and it is not easy to break these relations.
Meanwhile, on Pakistan cutting off ties with Kabul, Hamdullah Mohib, the national security adviser, said that severing ties with Pakistan has little effect because the two countries have not had good relations in the past.
Referring to the attack on the school and in Logar, Mohib added that such attacks did not indicate a good relationship. Instead of cutting ties with Afghanistan, he said, the Pakistani government should cut ties with terrorist groups in the region to prevent the killing of Afghan citizens.
He added that Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan is not hidden from anyone, but we seek to resolve this issue through diplomatic cooperation. “Our request to the Pakistani leaders is to really stop killing Afghans, because they have always promised, but they have not acted,” he said. “Now we all know who is behind this war,” he said.
However, Mohib also said that what had been reported in the media regarding Islamabad cutting ties with the NSC office, had not yet been officially announced to the Afghan government. “Pakistan is not expected to take such non-diplomatic action, but if it does, our diplomatic authorities will respond,” he said.
Referring to the peace process, he noted that the key issue is the establishment of peace. “We are ready to hold a meeting with the Taliban and our negotiating team is in Doha and some of them are inside the country,” the President’s National Security Adviser said. “We are in favor of dialogue and peace, but the Taliban are thinking of winning the battlefield,” he added.
Meanwhile, due to the rising violence and health concerns, Kyrgyz elders have warned that they will leave Afghanistan if their problems are not addressed.
Kyrgyz elders arrived in the provincial capital of Badakhshan from the Pamir Mountains on Friday to discuss their problems with Afghan Minister of Tribal Affairs Mohibullah Samim. They say they have traveled for 15 days and walked for seven days to meet with the Minister of Borders and Tribes. Earlier, local officials in Badakhshan confirmed that 44 young Kyrgyz had left Kyrgyzstan after receiving citizenship.
Following the news, Afghan Minister of Borders and Tribes Mohibullah Samim traveled to Badakhshan and met with Kyrgyz elders, promising to address their concerns. Rising maternal mortality rates in recent years have raised concerns among Kyrgyz people about their extinction in the country. The main problem of the residents of Pamir Badakhshan is the lack of health and education services, the lack of jobs and agricultural fields in their place of residence.
A Kyrgyz elder told Samim that they love their land, but must decide to save their next generation. According to him, if their problems are addressed, they are ready to continue their life in the foothills of the Pamir of Badakhshan in order to preserve the cultural originality, otherwise they will have to leave their country.
Samim said that he would present the problems and grievances of the Kyrgyz minority to the President. The Kyrgyz are one of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities living in the foothills of the Pamir Mountains near the Chinese border. The last point in the northeast of this country with an altitude of more than 4,000 meters above sea level.
Kabul: At least four people have been killed and 13 have been injured in an explosion that targeted a bus ferrying lecturers Alberoni University in Bagram district of Parwan on Saturday afternoon, said Ministry of Interior spokesperson Tariq Arian.
Dr. Qasim Sangin, chief medical officer at Parwan Hospital, said that 13 were wounded in the explosion.
The blast happened in Rabat area in Bagram district at 3:15pm, according to Bagram police. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast.
Most of the victims are lecturers from Alberoni University in Parwan province.
Kabul: Mohammad Daud Laghmani, the former governor of Faryab province against whom there were widespread protests, officially took office as the governor of Ghazni on Saturday.
He has been appointed as Ghazni governor instead of Sayed Omar. Samiuddin Haqmal, chief of staff of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, introduced Laghmani to his office.
His appointment as governor of Faryab was met with widespread opposition from residents of the province, with supporters of Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum protesting against him in several northern provinces.
When he was due to be introduced to his office in Faryab, Maimana residents protested around the provincial headquarters and prevented a plane carrying Laghmani from landing. Two days later, Laghmani started working from the first brigade of the 209th Shaheen Corps in the city of Maimana.
After 10 days of witnessing demonstrations in Faryab, Daud Laghmani left the province and the deputy governor of Faryab was introduced as the acting head.
Kabul: Even without the support of international troops, the Afghan security forces are strong enough to stand on their own feet and that time has come for Afghans to take full responsibility for peace and stability, said NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg in an interview with the Associated Press.
Stoltenberg claimed that NATO had “invested heavily in blood and treasure in Afghanistan” as NATO deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a US invasion of the country. Fewer than 9,000 allied troops remain, including up to 3,500 US personnel, and they are scheduled to leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The NATO chief added that there can be a possibility of providing training to Afghan forces outside the country, but no decision has been made on this matter yet. This comes as US President Joe Biden and Stoltenberg will meet with the other leaders of the 30-nation military alliance on June 14 to discuss some of their big issues, including Afghanistan, although no Afghan leaders are due to attend the Brussels summit.
“There are risks entailed to the decision of ending NATO’s military mission in Afghanistan. We have been very transparent and clear-eyed about that,” he said, putting the onus on Afghan troops to take up the task. “Afghanistan has come a long way, both when it comes to building strong, capable security forces, but also when it comes to social and economic progress. At some stage, it has to be the Afghans that take full responsibility for peace and stability in their own country,” he said.
But as NATO troops leave, much of Afghanistan stands as contested ground even as Taliban has stepped up their offensive in the recent months and there is no clear peace agreement on the table yet
Kabul: The Ministry of Public Health on Saturday reported 654 positive cases of the (COVID-19) coronavirus infection in the past 24 hours.
The new cases were reported from Kabul, Kandahar, Balkh, Nangarhar, Takhar, Kunduz, Nimroz, Faryab, Helmand, Maidan Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Kunar, Laghman, Zabul and Nuristan provinces.
With this, the total number of Covid-19 patients in Afghanistan has increased to 70,761. Also, 20 people died of COVID-19 in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, Nangarhar, Takhar, Baghlan, Paktia, Helmand, Badakhshan and Kunar provinces over the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, at least 162 patients were treated in Kabul, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Baghlan, Kunduz, Helmand, Maidan Wardak, Badakhshan, Logar, Uruzgan, Paktika and Nuristan provinces.
The total number of deaths has increased to 2,919 and the number of recovered to 57,281.
Kabul: Pakistan has officially stopped all its contact with the Afghan National Security Chief after his what they call “abusive outburst” against Islamabad and the country conveyed to the leadership in Afghanistan that it will no longer conduct official business with him, highly placed officials and diplomatic sources told VOA on Friday.
The move reflects the political tension and mistrust plaguing the relations between the two neighbors, which share a nearly 2,600-kilometer border. National security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib routinely accuses Pakistan and its spy agency of supporting and directing the Taliban’s insurgency in Afghanistan. In a public speech earlier this month in eastern Nangarhar province, next to the Pakistani border, Mohib repeated his allegations.
His remarks outraged leaders in Islamabad, who denounced them, saying that they “debased all norms of interstate communication.” A senior Pakistani official privy to the matter told VOA on condition of anonymity that his government lodged a strong protest with the Afghan side and conveyed “deep resentment” in Pakistan over Mohib’s “undignified” remarks.
The official said Kabul has been told Islamabad, henceforth, would not hold bilateral engagements with the Afghan national security adviser. It has also been conveyed “by our side that Afghan side is not serious in engaging with Pakistan, but only in the blame game and degrading Pakistan’s sincere efforts,” the official added.
Diplomatic sources also said that Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, during his visit to Kabul earlier this month, had raised the issue in his meeting with Ghani in the presence of Nick Carter, Britain’s chief of the defense staff.
In fact, the Afghan ambassador had also been summoned regarding the same issue last week.
Kabul: Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is in the US to meet US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan, said on Friday that the US has recognized the important role India plays when having a conversation about the future of Afghanistan.
“In my meeting with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, the Afghanistan issue obviously came up because it is a very important concern. The possible scenarios, once the US military draws down is obviously something which matters to us, it matters very much to Afghanistan, it matters to the United States, and it has a larger regional resonance,” Jaishankar said.
“India has an interest, India has influence, India has stakes, India has a history out there. We are a regional country. We are probably bordering Afghanistan. So, there is a recognition, clearly in the United States as indeed in many other countries, that when you talk about the future of Afghanistan, India, is an important part of that conversation,” he added.
“There were discussions on what could happen, what should happen, what should not happen,” he said.
Earlier, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Dean Thompson told reporters that both India and the US have long shared the view that a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is in their mutual interest. “We need to continue working together and with the region to press for a political settlement to end the conflict there,” he said.
India has invested more than $3 billion in stabilizing Afghanistan economically, in reconstruction and relief work since 2001 when US-led troops drove the Taliban out of Kabul.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he had a productive meeting with Jaishankar during which they discussed the bilateral ties, Covid-19 relief efforts, India-China border situation and Afghanistan and vowed to work together to address areas of shared concern.
In his tweet, Jaishankar said that he had a “productive discussion” with Blinken. “Covered the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, Afghanistan, Myanmar, UNSC matters and other international organizations,” he said.
Kabul: A key military base, the New Kabul Compound, was handed over by the US to the Afghan forces in the presence of top NATO Commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller on Friday amidst the continuation of the withdrawal even as violence surges in the country.
“The base was submitted from US to MoD [Ministry of Defense] in a ceremony… General Miller, emphasized the international community’s commitment to continue financial and security force assistance to Afghan forces,” tweeted the Afghan Defense Ministry.
As per the US Central Command, since President Joe Biden’s decision, the Pentagon has retrograded the equivalent of approximately 160 C-17 loads of material out of Afghanistan and have turned over more than 10,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for disposition. Also, the US had by last week officially handed over five facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense with which it has completed up to 25% of the entire retrograde process.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani had said on Thursday that the security agreements with the US and NATO remain in force and only the form of cooperation and support will change in the new chapter of relations after the withdrawal. He urged neighboring Pakistan to take fundamental steps to break the climate of mistrust and seize the opportunity for peace to befriend with the Afghan people.
“Afghanistan does not want to be a proxy battlefield, we will choose a policy of neutrality for friendship and non-interference in the conflicts of others. Terrorism would not be eradicated without a clear cultural plan. The military force is needed to fight terrorism, but it must be accompanied by spiritual and cultural power,” he said.
Deadly violence resurged in Afghanistan following a three-day Eid ceasefire. The Defense Ministry on Thursday said at least 152 Taliban insurgents were killed and 55 others wounded in different operations in Laghman, Ghazni, Logar, Maidan Wardak, Zabul, Kandahar, Herat, Balkh, Jawzjan, Samangan, Helmand, Baghlan and Konduz provinces during the 24 the past hours.
Meanwhile, even the US envoy Angela Aggeler met Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday to continue bilateral discussions on post-withdrawal Afghanistan and the peace process. “During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, overall regional security situation, including recent developments in Afghan peace process, and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.
The meeting between the US chargé d’affaires and the Pakistan army chief was part of the ongoing engagement between the two countries on Afghanistan. Several high-level meetings have taken place between the two sides in the past fortnight starting with a telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Later, national security advisers of the two countries met in Geneva and the US defense secretary spoke with the army chief over the phone. Moreover, several unannounced contacts have also reportedly taken place. “The US dignitary appreciated Pakistan’s sincere efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region, especially the Afghan peace process,” the ISPR said. It has been speculated that the US has been asking for bases in Pakistan after the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan.
The speculation had followed President Joe Biden’s statement that the US would maintain its over-the-horizon capacity and the substantial assets in the region to prevent reemergence of terrorists.
Kabul: All schools, universities, colleges and educational centers have been ordered to close down for at least two weeks as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spreads in the country, announced the Ministry of Public Health on Saturday.
The two-week holiday applies to 16 provinces including Kabul, Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Logar, Nangarhar, Paktya, Parwan, Wardak, Panjshir, Balkh, Laghman, Badakhshan, Kapisa, Kunduz and Nimroz.
According to the Ministry of Public Health, the number of cases have increased as compared to last year, hence the decision was taken. Afghanistan does not have enough hospitals and health facilities to fight against COVID-19, if it is not controlled at the beginning.
The MOPH has called on the public to consider the instructions and guidance provided by them. The ministry reported that the total number of known COVID-19 cases is 70,107, while the total number of reported deaths is 2,899, and the total number of recoveries is 57,119.
So far, 462,860 samples have been tested in government centers and there are 10,089 known active COVID-19 cases in the country, data by the ministry indicates.
Kabul: The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for increased international assistance to Afghanistan and to increase support for refugees and asylum seekers.
According to Rauf Mazo, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, who was on a four-day visit to Afghanistan, UNHCR is concerned about the reduction in aid to Afghanistan and the humanitarian aid budget for the country. Mazo met Amrullah Saleh, First Vice-President; Nour Rahman Akhlaqi, Minister of Refugees, and Mirwais Nab, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.
During the meeting, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assured the officials that the organization would continue its assistance to Afghanistan. UNHCR has helped more than 100,000 displaced families in the past six months with financial, health and food assistance as well as shelter, Rauf Mazo said.
He noted that the country was at a critical juncture. At the same time, he called for increased relief and development activities in line with ongoing efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that Afghanistan, with a population of 35 million, most of them young, is in poor security and economic condition.