Changing Public Mood

Afghanistan experienced a new wave of violence over the course of the last couple of weeks. A suicide attack in Kabul and another in Ghazni left a large number of school children injured and left some touching photos which were vehemently shared on social media. During the period, a medical facility was targeted in Wardak province resulted in the loss of medical staff, and another attack in Dand-e-Ghouri district of Baghlan province caused civilian causalities comprised of children.

It has been a norm in the past that the pro-government social media activists would curse the Taliban for civilian casualties, whereas pro-Taliban individuals would look for opportunities to cash the civilian casualties against the Government as part of their propaganda campaign. However, change in attitudes was pretty much visible among the public. On social media, a general attitude of condemnation was observed where all people unequivocally condemned civilian casualties regardless of their sympathies to both sides. While the violence has been intensifying amidst the ongoing diplomatic efforts for settling the Afghan conflict, this shift clearly indicates public frustration with the warring parties. The overlap in attitudes can be an opportunity for peace advocates to promote rhetoric that could put pressure on the Government and the Taliban to reduce violence and hasten the peace process.

Thursday, July 11

Afghanistan Population Growth

Afghanistan population has gone up by 2.14 percent during the last 15 years reaching to 31.6 million, according to a report by the National Statistics and Information Authority (NSIA). NSIA has called on the Afghan government to take concrete measures towards implementing a series of effective programs to meet the challenge. Based on the report, the rapid population growth rate in the country has been creating major challenges on the way of Afghanistan to get the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Afghanistan’s population in 2019 stood at 32 million, the survey shows. From the figure, 66.49 percent of the people are between the age of 16 to 65. The report states that 71 percent of the population lives in villages while the remaining 24 percent live in urban areas. Also, 67 percent of the population is making the youths while 49 are eligible to work, the survey shows. Afghan government warns that population growth will challenge economic growth, if it is not controlled. It estimates that Afghanistan population will be doubled in 2050. UNFPA ranks Afghanistan among the top 10 countries in the world and the top in South Asia with the highest population growth. Lack of public awareness about family planning is known as the main reason. Our reporters are visiting the main maternity hospital in Afghanistan with the highest record of babies are delivered in the country.

Military Leaders Ignored Planning In Afghanistan: Report

Military and civilian leaders ignored a lot in both the planning and the ensuing of the 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, according to a report by Center for Strategic and International Studies. That’s one of a number of findings that the Center for Strategic and International Studies report “Tell me how this ends: Military Advice, Strategic Goals and the ‘Forever War’ in Afghanistan,” and the subsequent panel held Wednesday, according to Military Times. The eventual picture of US involvement in Afghanistan should look something like what’s happening now in Somalia or Libya, a retired Army lieutenant general who sat on a panel discussing the report said. Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno said when the United States withdraws it would monitor the situation in Afghanistan along the lines of whatever deal is agreed upon. Then, if “a certain threshold gets triggered, we would send forces in for a short raid operation” and use air power to deter any budding terrorist threat. Cancian’s 59-page report revisits the early days and objectives of invading Afghanistan and summarily tracks the wars unfolding and changing leadership over nearly two decades.

General Calls Rushed Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan a ‘Strategic Mistake’

NYT- Withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan too soon would be a “strategic mistake,” President Trump’s nominee for Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman said Thursday, clearly outlining the Pentagon’s position as the White House wrestles with whether to pull military forces and end the 18-year war. “I think it is slow, it’s painful, it’s hard — I spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan — but I also think it’s necessary,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the nominee, said about the American military’s continuing mission at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. General Milley’s tough line on the war comes as the United States and the Taliban navigate their seventh round of peace negotiations. Earlier peace dialogues have focused on two main planks: the withdrawal of Western troops and the Taliban’s pledge to deny any safe haven to terrorist groups in Afghanistan. On Thursday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran American diplomat leading the negotiations with the Taliban, sought to make clear that the United States was not just looking for an exit ramp from the war. “We’re not cutting and running,” Mr. Khalilzad said in a taped video statement to a Georgetown University forum on ensuring that women and civil society are included in the peace talks. “We’re not looking for a withdrawal agreement. We’re looking for a peace agreement.”

Wednesday, July 09

President Ghani’s remarks on peace

Addressing the European Anti-Corruption Conference in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani called for an inclusive peace process in the country and warned of challenges the peace process faces. “This country needs peace and we will bring peace. There is no doubt. But the road to peace is not an asphalted one and we do not have a Mercedes-Benz car to drive on it. The road to peace has cracks. Thus, there should be a firm determination to cross these cracks and achieve peace,” Ghani said. “All ethnic groups should be included in the negotiations,” Ghani added. He also reiterated his government willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Taliban without pre-conditions – an offer that the group has, in the past, rebuffed. “We have removed all the problems and pre-conditions for comprehensive talks. From here, I call on the Taliban to hold talks without setting conditions to achieve lasting peace… This is the time for peace because conditions have been provided and should be used extensively. If this opportunity is lost, it will be a huge responsibility,” he said. “We are coordinating with the world… we are pursuing a joint goal with the US, and will jointly go ahead… The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban should hold talks as we are the two sides in the war,” Ghani added.

Afghanistan returns Iranian guards who crossed border ‘by mistake’

Afghanistan has handed over two Iranian border guards detained by Afghan forces after crossing the border “by mistake”, hardline Fars news agency reported on 10 July. Fars, which is close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), quoted Gholam Faruq Barkezi, spokesman for the governor of Farah Province, as saying that an Iranian officer and a private, who had entered Afghan territory in a military vehicle, had been arrested by Afghan forces. Fars reported that Aminullah Azadani, the Afghan foreign ministry’s representative in Herat, said that Afghan authorities investigated the issue “comprehensively” alongside their Iranian counterparts and then decided to return the border guards to Iranian officials. According to Fars, the Afghan official said that the two had entered the Afghan territory “unintentionally and by mistake”.

HRW: Special Forces Raid Medical Clinic

HRW– Afghan Special Forces raided a medical clinic in Wardak province on the night of July 8-9, 2019, and executed four civilians, Human Rights Watch said then. Afghan authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the attack and appropriately prosecute those responsible. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces entered the clinic in the Day Mirdad district. They killed a family caregiver and then detained and bound staff and family members accompanying patients. They then separated four people for questioning – the clinic’s director, a lab worker, a guard, and a family caregiver. All except the director were later found dead from gunshots. Under the laws of war, deliberate attacks on medical facilities and the summary killing of civilians or incapacitated combatants are war crimes. “Attacks on medical facilities challenge the very foundations of the laws of war, and will persist if those responsible go unpunished,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “It’s imperative for the Afghan government to prosecute the commanders who ordered the killings as well as the soldiers who pulled the trigger.” A member of the local health council told Human Rights Watch that at about 9 p.m. on July 8, he heard helicopters and knew a raid was underway. At 5 a.m., he and others from the health council went to the clinic and found the guard’s room shattered by a rocket that had left a crater.

Reactions to Qatar talks

Afghan news channels and newspapers were still giving extensive coverage to the intra-Afghan and the US-Taliban talks – both of which concluded in Qatar the day before. The topic was discussed in talk shows on major news channels – Ariana TV, Shamshad TV and Tolo TV. “First and foremost, they (participants at the intra-Afghan talks) have emphasised the need to minimise the fighting and violence in Afghanistan. Secondly, they have stressed the need to avoid targeting public places. Another important point is that the meeting also discussed women’s political, social and cultural activities within the framework of Islamic rules,” Omid Maisam – a spokesman for the chief executive’s office – said during Ariana TV’s Pas Az Khabar (After The News) talk show. Several newspapers also published editorials on the talks – most of them analysing the text of the joint resolution. In an editorial titled “Flaw in final statement issued by Qatar meeting”, the private Daily Afghanistan newspaper wrote: “One of the phrases in the resolution that is very ambiguous is the political expression of the ‘Rule of Islamic system’. In fact, the political and important word of ‘republic’ should have been mentioned before ‘Islamic’… the republic system is a red line for the people of Afghanistan.” A similar stance was adopted by the independent and secular Hasht-e Sobh in its editorial titled “Where is the order of the republic?”

Tuesday, July 09

Protests against civilian casualties

Afghan media have reported that residents of Pul-e Khumri city – the capital of the northern province of Baghlan – staged a rally to protest the killing of seven civilians in an air strike by government forces. The same day, in another similar attack, at least four medical staff killed in Wardak province. “Provincial governor, police chief, and NDS director are not aware that foreigners are coming and conducting air strikes. We want them to resign from their posts,” Khan Mohammad Ahmadzai, a Baghlan resident, said to a private TV channel. “Foreigners targeted civilian’s homes. Taliban’s locations are very clear. War is somewhere else and air strikes are taking place somewhere else,” another protester named Qari Hakim told Tolo News TV. The Taliban – in a statement published on the Voice of Jihad website early that day – hit out at “American invaders” and “Kabul administration troops” for killing civilians in the provinces of Maidan-Wardak, Baghlan and Herat. In it, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that several civilians were killed in an overnight raid in Maidan-Wardak’s Chak district, and in bombings carried out over the past five days in Herat’s Shindand district and Baghlan’s Pul-e Khumri city.

Confession of three arrested Kabul University Professors’ with Islamic State (IS)

National Directorate of Security (NDS) had arrested three professors of Kabul University (KU) on charges of promoting IS and radicalisation of students to join the group. The professors appeared in a video accepting the charges. In the past, a number of Nangarhar University students were arrested on their affiliation with IS. There have been reports of waging violence by the religious madrassa (schools) teachers resulting in target killings in Jalalabad.

The rise of radicalisation and promotion of IS has been a serious threat since the rise of this group in Afghanistan branded as IS-Kurasan. While arrests and security surveillance of places, vulnerable to this new peril, is a good short term measure, there is significant need for radicalisation programmes and campaigns to tackle the menace from the onset. Otherwise, it is very much possible that the threat could challenge the stability of Afghanistan.

Monday, July 08

Intra-Afghan Talks in Doha 2nd Day

The media in Afghanistan says there has been significant progress in the talks between Afghan politicians and the Taliban being held in Doha, with both sides agreeing a resolution towards a sustainable peace. According to reports, the seventeen-strong Taliban delegation agreed to reduce violence by stopping attacks on religious centres, schools, hospitals, bazaars and workplaces. Other parts of the resolution focused on institutionalising Islam, and rejecting foreign interference in Afghanistan. A special envoy from the Qatari foreign ministry, which is helping mediate the talks, said the joint statement was a first step towards peace.

In a joint statement released at the end of the Intra-Afghan talks in Qatar, the participants – over 50 Afghan politicians and civil society activists, and 17 Taliban members – pledged to ensure the security of educational institutions “such as schools, madrassas and universities…”

[Find the official communique here]

AFP-Dozens of powerful Afghans resumed talks with the Taliban for the second day. There is a possible ceasefire on the table along with key issues such as women’s rights. Stakes are high for the talks which follow a week of US-Taliban negotiations with both sides eyeing a resolution to the bloody 18-year conflict. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the Afghan gathering “has been a long time coming” and praised the country’s “government, civil society, women, and Taliban” for coming together. Washington has said it wants to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of Afghan presidential polls due in September to allow foreign forces to begin to withdraw. Around 70 delegates are attending the the two-day gathering which has been organised by Germany and Qatar. “History will remember those who were able to set their differences aside for the sake of the country” said Germany envoy Markus Potzel as he opened the gathering Sunday. Meanwhile in Kabul the Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah expressed his optimism about the talks saying he hopes this dialogue will pave the way for direct peace talks.

Social Media Privacy and Safety in Afghanistan

Afghan Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology says over 2% of user accounts on social media are fake. The ministry says it has badly affected women and children. The official figure suggests that 12 million people are using the internet in Afghanistan and six millions of them are active on social media.

Sunday, July 07

Qatar Intra-Afghan Talks

Over 60 Afghans politicians, women and civil society activists and some government officials met with the Taliban on the first day of intra-Afghan with Taliban in Qatar. Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation participated in the launch of the talks. Talking to media he hoped that intra-Afghan talks will have a positive outcome. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hizb-e-Islami criticized the intra-Afghan talks and said that Qatar talks with the Taliban cannot solve Afghanistan crisis. He added that there was no consultation with political parties about Qatar intra-Afghan talks. Meanwhile, Sadeq Mudaber, head of the Ensijam Milli Political Party said that German engagement selectively taken Afghans in intra-Afghan dialogues in Doha unjustified because some political groups & most political parties were not represented.

Car bomb suicide Attack in Ghazni

A Taliban car bomb in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least 12 people and wounded many more — including dozens of children — in a massive blast that came amid ongoing peace talks in Qatar, officials said. The Taliban are meeting with US negotiators and Afghan representatives in Doha as the US pushes to end its 18-year involvement in Afghanistan, but violence from the insurgents and the US military has continued apace. Sunday’s suicide car bomb attack hit the eastern city of Ghazni and targeted an intelligence unit, Ghazni provincial governor spokesman Aref Noori told AFP. Wahidullah Mayar, a health ministry spokesman, said 12 people had been killed. He added “179 people, mostly civilians including children, were wounded”, a number that jumped from an earlier toll of 70 and suggested a massive explosion. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), more than 50 children were among the wounded. It said the total casualty figure was at least 150. “UNAMA condemns the indiscriminate & disproportionate Taliban attack,” the agency said on Twitter. Save the Children said at least 25 children from a nearby school had been admitted to hospital, many with shrapnel wounds and severe injuries to the head, neck or chest. “This is simply unacceptable and we urge all armed groups in Afghanistan to think of future generations and stop the killing and maiming of innocent children,” said Onno van Manen, Save the Children’s country director in Afghanistan.

Saturday, July 06

  • The delegation for intra-Afghan talks left Kabul for Qatar. Taliban also confirmed their participation in the meeting. Wahid Omar, a presidential adviser, told the media that an initial agreement on peace could be achieved by September, adding that the initial agreement can pave the way for direct talks between the government and the Taliban. High Peace Council expresses optimism about the Qatar talks. The delegation also includes journalists and civil society activists. Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander, told the media that the Taliban do not accept to have a strong US intelligence presence in Afghanistan. Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqi says the government is aware of talks between the USA and insurgent group.
  • A committee which is tasked with investigating electoral complaints proposes imprisonment for former members of electoral commissions, but the former members say they fulfilled their obligations properly. Video shows electoral observers speaking.
  • A presidential decree had said all senior personnel of Afghan diplomatic offices and other Afghan representatives in other countries will be appointed by the president alone. The presidential spokesman says the president is exercising his constitutional power. Observers say Ghani is abusing his position to strengthen his electoral campaign.
  • Independent Election Commission (IEC) says 500,000 people registered their names as part of the strengthening voters’ registration process all across the country, adding that the process has not been completed all across the country.
  • Parliament held another round of elections to elect secretary and deputy secretary of parliament but the election did not produce any result. Meanwhile, speaker of the lower house of parliament Mir Rahman Rahmani says the house is committed to working hard and MPs will not allow the house to face obstacles in its affairs. MPs say Rahmani needs to unify all MPs to succeed.
  • Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) express concern about the closure of Pakistan air space for Afghan airlines to India, saying it can damage Afghanistan’s exports.

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