- Afghanistan in February 2017; Key News
Afghanistan in February 2017; Key News
03 March 2017
On the 20th, General Dostum, the 1st Vice President, returned to his office. Dostum’s supporters interpreted this move as a sign that he was taking over as Acting President while President Ghani was abroad attending a conference. This further complicated the controversy around allegations that last year, General Dostum and his bodyguards sexually assaulted Ahmad Ishchi, a long standing critic. A day later, reports emerged about a ‘calm siege’ by government forces of General Dostum’s house in Kabul. The following day, General Dostum’s seven bodyguards presented themselves to the Attorney General’s office, after weeks of refusing to cooperate in the sexual assault case.
In the last week of February, President Ghani, CEO Abdullah and the 2nd Vice President Danish interviewed the candidates for the Independent Election Commission's Secretariat position. Their decision and the long-awaited elections calendar are expected in March. Another hurdle to the election is the delays in rolling out the electronic IDs. Insiders say the issues surrounding mentioning citizens' ethnicity on IDs need to be resolved first.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan deteriorated again. Pakistan closed the Torkham border and fired missiles on two Afghan provinces after a blitz of terrorist attacks across Pakistan that left more than 125 people dead. Pakistan thinks the attacks were organised by Afghanistan-based terrorists. The Afghan government has sent a list of 85 terrorists and 32 terrorist training camps located in Pakistan to Pakistani authorities.
On the 9th, Presidents Ghani and Trump held their second phone call and talked about counterterrorism efforts. On the same day, the commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson said that they were facing a stalemate in Afghanistan. He advised that a few thousand additional troops are needed to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers. Currently there are 13,300 international troops in Afghanistan, 8,400 of whom are American. General Nicholson also said that the sanctuaries militant groups enjoy in Pakistan remain a major obstacle.
On the 19th, British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon said that as many as four million men from Afghanistan could travel to Britain and other European nations, if the West abandons Afghanistan.
Peace and Security
Afghanistan and Russia cleared the air on Afghans peace issues in February. The foreign ministers met earlier this month and Moscow hosted a regional meeting to discuss peace in Afghanistan on the 15th. Last month, Russia hinted that they would not support the removal of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s name from the UN sanction list. But on the 4th, the UN dropped sanctions against Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami. This was one of the conditions of the peace deal signed between him and the Afghan government last year.
On the 6th, the UN announced that civilian casualties hit record highs. In 2016, nearly 3,500 Afghan civilians were killed and more than 7,900 were wounded. This represents a 3% increase over 2015. A 25% rise was seen in the number of child casualties. Two-thirds of the casualties were due to insurgents but the airstrikes by Afghan and NATO forces accounted for 250 deaths and 340 injuries, nearly double the rate from the previous year.
Helmand’s Sangin district was a main battleground between the insurgency and government forces this month. Thousands of Sangin residents were forced to flee to Lashkargah or nearby districts. On the 10th, eleven members of one family, including three women, were killed when a rocket hit their house in Sangin. On the 11th, multiple American airstrikes killed at least 22 civilians, including several women and children there. A Taliban suicide attack on the same day killed at least eight people in Lashkargah city, Helmand.
On the 7th, unknown suicide bomb attackers killed at least 20 people and injured 41 more in the Supreme Court in Kabul. The attack's target were judicial personnel. On the 3rd, in a suspected 'insider attack' eight policemen, all members of one family, were shot dead in Faryab. In another incident of similar nature twelve policemen were killed in Helmand.
On the 1st, SIGAR, a US government watchdog, said the Afghan Government controls less than 60% of the country. This represents 15% decrease in territory held compared with the same time in 2015. SIGAR also said that 6,785 Afghan security forces were killed between January 1st and November 12th last year, an increase of about 35% against the same period in 2015. Afghan Ministry of Defence dismissed the report’s claims and statistics.
On the 12th, a mob of about 250 armed men in Nuristan stormed a police station which was holding a couple accused of adultery. They dragged them out and killed them. The couple Fatiha, 18, and Hedayatullah, in his early 20s, were the victim of “honour-killing”. Fatiha had been married against her will and eloped instead with Hedyatullah. The mob was led by Fatiha's husband and her brothers and cousins.
On the 23rd, the Cabinet approved the final draft of a law that criminalises 'bacha baazi', the sexual abuse of boys. In bacha baazi, men enslave underage boys, sexually assault and force them to dress as women and dance in private parties.
On the 13th, Human Rights Watch, an independent watchdog, criticised Pakistani authorities for causing the world's largest mass forced return of refugees in recent years. HRW said that since July 2016, Pakistan has carried out 'a campaign of abuses and threats' to drive out nearly 600,000 Afghans, 365,000 of whom were registered refugees. They also berated the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for being complicit in Pakistan's mass abuse of refugees.
Humanitarian and Development
Avalanches and heavy snowfalls took the lives of at least 119 people in 22 provinces in early February. In Nuristan alone at least 57 people were killed. Entire villages in the north and east are reported to be under snow. Residents used "any tools possible" to shift piles of snow as many people were still thought to be buried underneath.
On the 20th, Afghan officials announced that as many as 50 people have died in storms over the past three days, including 25 shepherds lost in a blizzard. Eleven people were killed in separate incidents in roof collapses in heavy rain in Kabul. In early February, the cold weather took the lives of at least 12 children in the camps of internally displaced people in Kabul. They live in tents or poorly built mud huts with no heating.
On the 9th, unknown gunmen killed six staff of International Committee of the Red Cross in Jawzjan. Two staff remain unaccounted for. ICRC has now suspended their operations in Afghanistan.
On the 26th, the Ministry of Economy said that work on 107 development projects financed from the national budget did not start last year. Reasons cited are the lack of capacity, procurement complications and meddling of powerful figures. Another 57 project were stopped.
A recent report by the same ministry indicates that national and international NGOs have played a major role in providing services in Afghanistan. In 2015, there were about 2,140 NGOs registered in the country, 270 of which are international. They have invested about $820 million in health, education, agriculture and social services.
People and Culture
Afghanistan 1400, a political movement of mostly young people, poured red dye into Kabul River on the 10th, in a rare depiction of the horrors of war. They also called on the warring parties to stop killing civilians.
Afghan cricketer Rashid Arman became the most valuable Afghan sportsman after being auctioned at the world's largest cricket league. Sunrisers Hyderabad, the current champions of the league, bought Rashid for 40 million Indian Rupees ($600,000). The 18-year-old Arman is now dubbed the 'million dollar baby' by his teammates. On the 26th, Afghanistan won a series against the more experienced team of Zimbabwe. The final match was a humiliation for the hosting Zimbabwe as they lost by a big margin of 106 runs.
This report is developed based on media reports. Although BAAG has taken necessary precautions to include only credible sources, it does not take responsibility for incorrect content.