Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: Sweden’s International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are reinforcing their partnership through an innovative long-term development program to build resilience at community and ecosystems level, according to a statement on Thursday. The partnership will help boost local rural economies in conjunction with the on-going humanitarian response, and contribute to building peace in Afghanistan.
“The new Climate Resilient Ecological and Agriculture risks’ Management (CREAM) program aims to reinforce the humanitarian response while enhancing long-term risk reduction and resilience building based on the conflict-sensitive programming and Humanitarian-Development-Peace (HDP) Nexus approach. It is another step forward in our longstanding and fruitful collaboration with Sweden,” said Rajendra Aryal, FAO Representative in Afghanistan.
“Sweden is committed to stand by Afghanistan in these difficult times of complex humanitarian emergency. But as much as we need to provide urgent humanitarian assistance – as we are currently doing so, we also need to work with a long-term holistic perspective like the Nexus approach towards the development of the country. Building resilience is an imperative to achieve economic development and contribute to building peace. FAO has the technical expertise and reach to make it happen,” said Maria Lundberg, Head of Unit for Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, even Save the Children organization is calling for all parties in the escalating conflict in Afghanistan to abide by international humanitarian law and ensure children and schools do not become collateral damage.
Save the Children last week in Kandahar, a province in southern Afghanistan, found about 25 schools damaged in one district alone, potentially preventing almost 28,000 students from returning to their classrooms when they reopen, their statement revealed. While schools are currently closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the country, they must be protected as safe spaces for children, it warned.
A number of schools were burned to the ground in the northern province of Faryab, including a school supported by Save the Children which was destroyed by rockets and stray bullets on June 22. Mohammad Moradi, the headmaster of the school, told Save the Children, “Our school had 947 students and 18 teachers, and Save the Children helped us with textbooks and facilities for hand washing. Unfortunately, our school building is now gone.”
Athena Rayburn, Director of Advocacy and Media at Save the Children Afghanistan said, “Children in Afghanistan have already endured the trauma of war for too long. The destruction of these schools is a violation of Afghan children’s rights and will prevent them from being able to return to school – the only chance they have for a better future. Children play no part in conflict and yet, as is too often the case, they are paying the price for this escalating violence. The hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children are being destroyed. All parties to the conflict must ensure the protection of children and schools. Children and the places that provide them with safe haven must never become collateral damage.”
Kabul: Acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi met with Second Vice-President Mohammad Sarwar Danish on Thursday, to assure him that the security situation will soon change, as security agencies have taken necessary measures to confront the Taliban.
In a statement, the Office of the Second Vice-President stated that the Afghan government will try everything possible to defend its territorial integrity, and stressed the need for organizing national mobilization under the government’s observation, preventing political interference in the Afghan National Army (ANA), and strengthening national unity within ANA ranks.
Danish described the recent public mobilization as people’s absolute support to the government and the ANDSF, and the peak of hatred towards the Taliban.
In fact, Samangan’s Provincial Directorate of Security Chief Sayed Amir Shah Sadat ordered the ANDSF not to arrest a single Taliban insurgent alive. Provincial Police Spokesman Abdul Munir Rahimi said that Sadat addressed a people’s uprising gathering in Aybak city on Wednesday. Sadat said that the government no longer needs a “guest” at prisons, “kill [the Taliban], their weapons are yours, their motorcycles are yours, [and] the freedom belongs to Afghanistan’s history.”
In fact, a number of local residents, senators, provincial council members, former jihadi commanders, religious scholars, elders, and youths held a gathering in Bamyan province, to announce support for the ANDSF. In the presence of provincial office, participants stated that they are ready to take arms and go to the frontlines to support the ANDSF, if necessary.
Local officials assured the people that the ANDSF will defend the province with all their might and will not allow anyone to overrun a single outpost. Provincial Governor Sayed Anwar Rahmati said that there are enough weapons, ammunition, and capacity to confront the Taliban and warned that any attacks by the group will fail.
Rahmati added that the central government is trying to strengthen the ANDSF in Bamyan province, and a major people’s council will be formed in the province to support the ANDSF.
Provincial Police Chief Zabardast Safi said that there’s no fighting in any area of the province, and gave assurances that the Taliban have no place in Bamyan province. Safi added that the ANDSF will not retreat from any area and will fight until their death. Safi urged local residents not to fall victim to Taliban’s psychological war.
Provincial council members Taiba Khawari and Mohammad Hassan Asadi said that they are ready to wear military uniforms, take arms, and stand against the Taliban on the frontlines.
Senator Qais Khan Wakili called on the central government to establish an Afghan National Army (ANA) Brigade in the province. Wakili added if the brigade takes time, the government must form a unit consisting of 1,000 individuals from the people’s uprising forces under a single legal command in the province. Wakili urged the provincial government to follow the issue.
Even Badakhshan’s Provincial Police Spokesman Sanaullah Rouhani told Subh-e Kabul that dozens of Nusay district residents have picked up arms and went to the battlefield to fight the Taliban.
Hundreds of local residents of Kapisa province also held a gathering on Thursday, to announce support to the ANDSF and said that they are ready to fight the Taliban. Participants warned the Taliban that if the group continues fighting and bloodshed, the people will stand against it. Member of Parliament (MP) for Kapisa province Mohammad Iqbal Safi said that the people are ready to fight the Taliban, if necessary, and local Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Pashayi ethnic groups will defend Afghanistan’s values within the framework of the ANDSF.
Even, the Ministry of Culture and Information (MoCI), while emphasizing the protection of monuments and complaining about the role of social media, announced a plan to set up a media-monitoring body. Afghan government media center head Dawa Khan Meena Pal has said that the Taliban are destroying public establishments like bridges and added that Afghan national defense forces will not allow anyone to disrupt people’s lives. However, with the fall of Sher Khan Bandar port in Kunduz province to the Taliban, the government loses an average of more than 2.5 million Afghanis (over $ 32,000) a day in income from customs offices, according to Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment.
Meanwhile, security officials in Balkh province reported that two individuals were killed and three others were wounded during clashes. Provincial Police Spokesman Adel Shah Adel stated that the clash occurred in PD3 of Mazar-e Sharif city, at 12:30pm, when irresponsible armed men opened fire at each other.
Meanwhile, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said on Thursday that the situation in Afghanistan is degrading as US and NATO troops are withdrawn, a situation which will trigger an increase in terrorist activity there, he said.
“We see the preconditions for an intensification of international terrorism in other areas as well. The degradation of the situation in Afghanistan, which is progressing as the US and NATO military contingents are withdrawn, will contribute to an increase in the terrorist activity of IS-K and Al-Qaeda in that country,” he said at the Moscow Conference on International Security. “At the same, a powerful resource base for terrorists will be provided by the production of drugs, whose volume has seen over a 40-fold increase during the period of the Western contingent’s stay in that country,” Nikolai Patrushev said.
“We proceed from the assumption that the United States and NATO will adhere to their stated promises to provide financial assistance to the Afghan government, support local security forces, ensure the operation of Kabul’s international airport and address other high-priority issues,” he said. “At the same time, we believe it is unacceptable to use the Afghan issue for solving geopolitical problems, including for building up non-regional players’ military presence in Central Asia”.
According to Patrushev, Russia is in favor of launching a direct intra-Afghan dialogue with the assistance of international partners. “We are actively involved in that process, in particular, through the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan. Additionally, we will seek to use the capacity of cooperation mechanisms through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other multilateral formats,” Patrushev noted. Even, the United States has cautioned the Taliban that the world will not accept a government imposed by force in Afghanistan. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price indicated that US financial assistance to Afghanistan could only continue if the country has a government that’s recognized by all.
Also, a Chinese envoy has expressed grave concern over the situation in Afghanistan and asked the international community to help the country overcome the many difficulties. The security situation is deteriorating, and the economic and humanitarian situation has become increasingly precarious, said Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations. “China is deeply concerned about this. We need to think hard about what caused the current situation in Afghanistan, and what is the way forward for Afghanistan to achieve durable stability and security in the next stage,” he told the Security Council.
On the other front of the withdrawal is evacuation of those Afghans who helped foreign troops and US Senator Angus King of Maine said that Afghan allies to the US should be evacuated with the help of the government, citing national security issues, AP reported. King, who is on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees, said, “It’s not only a moral issue, it’s a national security issue. We also have a practical responsibility, in terms of do we want people to help us in the future?” No One Left Behind, an organization that advocates on interpreters’ behalf, reported that 300 interpreters have been killed in Afghanistan since 2016.
This comes even as Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned on Wednesday that Europe should brace for a large inflow of migrants from Afghanistan following the pull out of US and NATO troops. “It is foreseeable that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead to an increase in immigration from that country of an as yet unknown quantity, but we all know it will be big,” he said.
“So, we need even more to be all together in tackling this problem,” Draghi said, calling for EU unity ahead of a June 24-25 summit in Brussels. He urged the EU to focus on “containment” and the repatriation of illegal migrants, but also on legal migration and on aid to migrants’ countries of origin. Australia too is being urged to agree to an immediate emergency evacuation of Afghans who worked for its military during the long conflict in Afghanistan. Campaigners this week released a list of the names of nine Afghans who worked for Australia during the conflict in Afghanistan and were allegedly murdered as “traitors” by the Taliban in reprisal attacks.
US Senator Lindsey Graham also has urged President Joe Biden to contact Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan over withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. He took to Twitter to call the US president’s decision to not reach out to the leadership of Pakistan as “stunning”. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also on Thursday said that rising violence in Afghanistan could strengthen “spoilers”.
The statement from the top Pakistani diplomat came during a meeting with Iran’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Mohammad Ebrahim Taherian Fard. They discussed the Afghan peace process, besides the security situation in the region. Qureshi said Pakistan considered peace in Afghanistan essential for the region’s peace and stressed that the country always supported the notion that there was no military solution to the Afghan problem. He said a sustainable Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political solution through a comprehensive dialogue was the best option to resolve the conflict. He mentioned that the unrest in Afghanistan had affected both Pakistan and Iran.
Qureshi emphasized that the Afghan factions must take immediate steps to make the Afghan peace process fruitful through dialogue. He said peace would help boost trade activity, repatriate Afghan refugees and help regional stability.
Kabul: According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Thursday, 63 patients died due to the COVID-19 virus during the past 24 hours while 1,967 new cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection were reported.
The MoPH also stated that 697 patients recovered from the infection during the last 24 hours. The Ministry of Public Health tested 6,197 suspected coronavirus samples in the last 24 hours. With the registration of new figures, the total number of coronavirus cases in the country has reached 111,592. Of these, 4,519 people have died and 66,799 patients have recovered. In fact, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) announced a two-week extension (June 26- July9 ) to the existing quarantine terms for educational facilities.
MoLSA stated that the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has decided to extend the terms for all public and private creches, and educational facilities, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and contain the virus.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 outbreak at the US Embassy in Kabul has grown to 159 cases, according to a diplomatic cable sent on Tuesday, as a devastating third wave of the deadly disease continues to hit Afghanistan.
A source familiar with the cable told CNN that several people at the diplomatic mission are on oxygen or have been medically evacuated from the post, which was put under immediate lockdown last week to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The growing outbreak at the embassy has prompted frustration among some in the diplomatic community over the lack of a vaccine mandate for those posted abroad, which they argue hampers the United States’ ability to conduct effective foreign policy.
An embassy management notice dated June 17 warned that “COVID-19 is surging in the Mission,” noting that there were 114 people with coronavirus and in isolation, one death and several medical evacuations. “Military hospital ICU resources are at full capacity, forcing our health units to create temporary, on-compound COVID-19 wards to care for oxygen-dependent patients,” that notice said.
Sources familiar with the situation point to a confluence of factors behind the outbreak at the diplomatic mission. Some of the cases in the current outbreak came from personnel interacting directly with the public, and there have been some breakthrough cases among staff who had been vaccinated. According to the embassy notice, “95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,” and it called for those coming to the embassy to be vaccinated before arrival, noting that “failure to do this puts everyone in the community at risk.”
The surge in cases has fueled tensions in Kabul, sources told CNN, with some pointing the blame at unvaccinated contractors. Most American diplomats, third country nationals and locally employed staff have been vaccinated — the rate is more than 90% of staff in the latter two categories, according to the management notice.
According to an official at a major international security provider for the US in Afghanistan, almost 50% of its American staff in Afghanistan have been vaccinated and nearly all of its non-American staff have been. The American Foreign Service Association has called for “the Biden Administration to take swift action to allow the Department of State to require all personnel, including local employees and third-country nationals, serving at our embassies and consulates abroad under Chief of Mission authority, direct-hire and contract alike, to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 as a condition of their physical presence in the workplace.”
“The only exceptions would be for those individuals who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons or disability or religious belief or practice,” the organization said in a statement this week.
Kabul: The Ministry of Defense (MoD) on Thursday reported the killing of 221 Taliban insurgents in various military operations across Kunar, Ghazni, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul, Farah, Ghor, Balkh, Faryab, Helmand, Nimroz, Kunduz, and Badakhshan provinces, over the past 24 hours.
The MoD stated that 88 other Taliban insurgents were wounded during the operations. Additionally, the MoD, said that 29 improvised explosive devices (IED), which the Taliban planted to target civilians and the ANSF, were detected and neutralized, during the operations. The Taliban have not commented on the report yet.
Giving details, MoD said that 20 Taliban insurgents were killed and seven others were wounded in airstrikes conducted by AAF in Azra district of Logar province on Wednesday. At least 48 Taliban insurgents were killed in clearing operations conducted by ANDSF with support from AAF in Nesh, Maiwand and Panjwae districts of Kandahar province. Over 10 Taliban insurgents were killed and 13 others were wounded in a clearing operation conducted by ANDSF with support from AAF at the outskirts of Trenkut, Uruzgan provincial center. Six Taliban insurgents were killed in a clearing operation conducted by ANDSF with support from AAF in at the outskirts of Qalat, Zabul provincial center. Six Taliban insurgents were killed and eight others were wounded in operations conducted by ANDSF in Baad Pakh district of Laghman province. Six Taliban insurgents were killed and 11 others including one of their commanders named “Mufti Osman” were wounded in an operation conducted by ANDSF in at the outskirts of Pol-e Khomari, Baghlan provincial center.
Also, 21 Taliban insurgents including “Nikmal” with two of their commanders were killed in commando forces operations at the outskirts of Takhar province, on Wednesday night. Nikmal was the Taliban commander for northeast zone of the country, as per MoD statement. Security officials announced the launch of a clearance operation in Sartagab area of Pato district, Daikundi province. Deputy Provincial Police Chief Naqibullah Malistani said that the ANDSF and people’s uprising forces jointly launched the operation Thursday morning, and the provincial directorate of security head is leading the operation.
Provincial Governor’s spokesperson Sarwar Barlas told Etilaat Roz that the ANSDF along with people’s uprising forces launched the clearance operation at 02:00am and cleared the village, at 01:00pm on Thursday afternoon. The Taliban captured Sartagab area a few days ago, which forced hundreds of local residents to flee.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Daikundi province Shirin Mohsini also reported that 95% of Sartagab was cleared of insurgents. Provincial officials said that the Taliban still resisted against the ANDSF and people’s uprising forces and sporadic clashes are ongoing. Malistani claimed that 15 Taliban insurgents were killed and 40 others were wounded, during clashes over the past 2 weeks.
Also, local officials in Parwan province claimed that Shakil, Taliban’s deputy shadow governor for the province, who was a Pakistani national, has been killed by the ANDSF. Provincial Police Chief Abdul Rauf Uruzgani said that Shakil was deputy to Taliban’s shadow governor, Farid Qiyam, and succumbed to his injuries.
Uruzgani added that Shakil was wounded along with six of his subordinates during clashes with the ANDSF in Ghorband valley, on Monday. Uruzgani claimed that Shakil along with three other Pakistani nationals were leading the fight in Ghorband valley, who were all killed by the ANDSF.
Meanwhile, local residents in Khinjan district of Baghlan province told Hashte Subh that the Taliban have attacked the district bazaar and heavy clashes are ongoing in the district center. They added that the Taliban have launched their attacks from various locations and the clashes are heavily ongoing between the ANDSF and the Taliban, and called for reinforcements.
Also, Acting Interior Minister Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal traveled to Kunduz province, to manage the war against the Taliban. The Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated that Mirzakwal held a security meeting with provincial officials, upon arrival. The MoI added that Mirzakwal assessed fighting methods, particularly the way the forces were shifted, and provided instructions to fill the security gaps. Mirzakwal said that coordination and unity were the main factors for the success of the ANDSF against the Taliban and called for joint planning and execution of anti-terrorist plans.
Also, a group of 130 Taliban members laid down their weapons and joined the peace process in the western province of Herat on Thursday morning, local officials said. The group was active in the Zer-e-Koh district, according to officials. The group leader, Mardan Noorzai, said that “with the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, the time of jihad is over, and we will no longer continue to fight the country’s military.”
Provincial Governor Abdul Saboor Qane said that with the joining of these men in the peace process, “security will improve in Zer-e-Koh and Shindand districts. These men will be sent back to Zer-e-Koh in support of the security force members in fighting against the Taliban.” The Taliban is yet to comment on the report.
In other news, Pakistan’s Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Leader Usman Khan Kakar was laid to rest in the presence of thousands of supporters, in Muslim Bagh town of Killa Saifullah District, Balochistan province, on Thursday morning. However, chairman of Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Mahmood Khan Achakzai claimed that Kakar has been murdered.
Addressing Kakar’s funeral ceremony, Achakzai claimed that Kakar did not die due to COVID-19, but because he was “oppressed.” Radio Azadi reported that Achakzai accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and added that Kakar had told the Senate that he had been warned to avoid speaking in defense of Pashtun rights. Pakistan’s Army is yet to comment on the claims. Kakar fainted at his residence last week, and was transferred to hospital, and died on Monday, aged 60.
Meanwhile, regional partners are too concerned with the rising violence. In fact, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon had telephone conversation with his Kazakh and Uzbek counterparts to discuss the latest developments in northern provinces of Afghanistan, which border Central Asia’s nations, according to the Tajik president’s official website.
Emomali Rahmon and Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev, in particular, noted that the current situation in Afghanistan leads to rising tensions and negatively affects regional security. In this regard, the parties reportedly noted the importance of continuing close coordination between the relevant agencies of the two countries both on a multilateral and bilateral basis. They emphasized on the importance of comprehensive assistance in the practical launch of the inter-Afghan negotiation process.
Kabul: The Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Wednesday clarified that Turkey would not send additional troops to Afghanistan as part of a plan to run and secure Kabul’s airport after the United States and NATO withdrawal from the country later this year. Turkish and US military officials met in Turkey’s capital on Thursday to discuss plans for Turkish troops to continue securing Kabul’s airport.
Turkey has offered to take responsibility for securing Kabul International Airport following the US departure from Afghanistan in September. Ankara has been holding talks with the United States on logistic and financial support for the mission. “At the moment, we’re not in any situation to send (new) soldiers,” Turkey’s top defense official said, noting that Turkish forces have already been protecting Kabul airport for six years.
Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a NATO summit, that Turkey was looking for “diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance” from the United States to protect and operate the airport. Turkey also wanted Pakistan and Hungary to be involved in the mission, he said. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said a technical delegation from the United States had arrived for talks.
“We will continue to take on the responsibility of operating the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which we have been doing for the past six years, if the necessary conditions are met,” Akar said on Thursday. “Discussions on this matter are continuing. No decisions have been reached for now.”
Akar said, “We want to achieve the best result for the interests of our country and for those of Afghanistan. That’s what we are working for. Our aim is to continue working for the security, peace and welfare of our Afghan brothers.”
Turkey maintains some 500 troops in Afghanistan, the largest remaining foreign military contingent, and has played a key non-combat role in NATO missions in the country since 2003.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan and Turkey on Wednesday lauded Pakistan for the role it has played in promoting peace in the region, especially the country’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan. According to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa held a meeting with Azerbaijan’s Minister of Internal Affairs Colonel General Eyvazov Vilayat Suleyman oglu, the country’s Chief of State Border Service (SBS) Colonel General Elchin Guliyev and Chief of State Security Service Colonel General Ali Naghi Oglu Naghiyev at Baku, Azerbaijan. “Emerging geo-strategic paradigm in the region necessitates our close cooperation and collective response against common challenges,” Gen Bajwa told the officials. Azerbaijan officials also lauded the Pakistan army for its “contributions for conflict prevention in the region especially efforts for bringing peace in Afghanistan”.
Also, as Pakistan is expected to be the main point of discussion during Afghan leaders’ visit at the White House this week, Pakistan has reached out to the Afghan government conveying it in clear terms that the upcoming visit must not be used to blame Islamabad, officials told The Express Tribune. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah left on Thursday for a two-day visit to the United States to meet US President Joe Biden.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul met Afghan leaders from across party lines and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also interacted with Dr Abdullah as well as his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar at the sidelines of the recent Antalya Diplomacy Forum in Turkey. Officials have said that Pakistan fears that ‘spoilers’ within the Afghan setup may use the upcoming visit of President Ghani and Dr Abdullah to blame Islamabad for the failure of peace talks in the conflict-torn country.
At the recent Afghan Track-11 dialogue, Qureshi stressed that Ghani might use the upcoming visit to the White House to blame Pakistan. “If the objective [President Ghani’s visit] is to start a new blame game and hold Pakistan responsible for all the ills, I think it will not help. It’s a shared responsibility and no one is going to buy this anymore. We will not take any responsibility. We have been accused enough,” he said.
The Taliban, meanwhile, reacted to the visit and termed it “useless”. “They [Ghani and Abdullah] will talk with the US officials for preservation of their power and personal interest. It won’t benefit Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.