• Afghanistan in December 2019; Key News

Afghanistan in December 2019; Key News

02 January 2020

Talks

On the 7th, the US and Taliban resumed peace talks in Doha, but it was paused five days later after a Taliban attack near the American air base in Bagram killed two and wounded 70 civilians. On the 30th, media outlets widely reported that the Taliban had agreed to a temporary nationwide ceasefire to provide a window for the peace agreement with the US to be signed. Later, a Taliban spokesperson said they had only agreed to a reduction in violence, but even that did not materialise.

 Politics

On the 22nd, the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) announced the preliminary results of the September 28th Presidential elections and that the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani had won a slim majority by securing 50.64% of votes. Abdullah finished second with 39.5%. Abdullah’s office said in a statement that he did not accept the preliminary results and that the commission had failed to tackle election fraud.

According to the IEC, the total turnout was 1,824,401 with Ghani winning 923,868 votes and Abdullah winning 720,099 votes. With 9.7 million registered voters, turnout was a record low for an Afghan presidential election.

The situation echoes 2014, when both Ghani and Abdullah alleged massive fraud by the other, forcing the US to broker an awkward power-sharing arrangement that made Ghani president and Abdullah his chief executive. The final results will be announced in 39 working days after the Independent Election Complaints Commission have addressed some 16,200 complaints. Abdullah’s team alone has filed more than 8,000 complaints.

Security

Because of winter, December saw less bloodshed than last month, however, violence continued in various parts of the country. On the 18th, security officials said they repulsed the Taliban attack on a joint army-police security checkpoint in Ghazni, killing eleven attackers. On the 24th, Taliban fighters killed at least seven Afghan soldiers after they attacked an army checkpoint in the Balkh. 

On the 17th, all the 10 civilian passengers in a vehicle were killed in a roadside mine blast in Khost. 

On the 9th, The Washington Post published thousands of pages of documents that showed prominent American officials from three US administrations had concealed pessimistic assessments about the war in Afghanistan. They consistently misled the public about the level of progress, ignored or downplayed the festering problem of corruption, and lacked a clear strategic objective for what is now America’s longest war. In one interview obtained by The Post, a person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said that the Obama White House, along with the Pentagon, pushed for data that showed President Barack Obama’s announced surge in 2009 was succeeding.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory, and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the official told interviewers in 2016, according to The Post. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Humanitarian & Development

On the 4th, unknown gunmen killed renowned Japanese aid worker Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, 73, along with five Afghan colleagues. Nakamura had transformed barren swathes of Eastern Afghanistan and spent decades caring for the sick. He had devoted 35 years of his life to healing Afghans and Pakistanis and eventually became an honorary citizen of his adopted home, Afghanistan. Nakamura had also issued stark warnings of the dangers of desertification in Afghanistan, and his organisation built wells and irrigation canals that changed dusty expanses of Nangarhar into green, tree-lined fields. His death was mourned by Afghans throughout the country.

On the 1st of December, World AIDS Day, the World Health Organisation said some 7,200 people in Afghanistan were HIV positive. The Ministry of Public Health cast doubt on the figure saying that their records show only 2,883 registered cases. The disease still remain a taboo subject and patients cannot fully disclose their condition even to health providers. "If we go to hospitals and tell them that we have HIV AIDS, they don't treat us", said Omar, who is infected with the virus.

A new World Bank report, entitled “Financing Peace,” says that even after a settlement with the Taliban the country would still require financial assistance at near current levels, as much as $7 billion a year for several years to come, to be able to sustain its most basic services. “A sudden and substantial reduction in civilian grants would risk a reversal of the gains that have been achieved, driving increased hardship and poverty,” said Henry Kerali, the World Bank country director for Afghanistan. “While Afghanistan is not expected to be reliant on grants forever, the pace of decline in grant support needs to reflect current realities.”

On the 11th, at least five workers were killed and 35 others were missing after being trapped in a landslide at a gold mine in Badakhshan’s Raghistan district. The area is under Taliban control.

On the 15th, President Ghani acknowledged as much as half of the government's income is lost to corruption. He also said that to date 124 lawyers have been killed by rogue actors, as the lawyers tried to implement justice.

Rights

The law on protection of child rights was approved on the 9th by the lower house of the parliament, but some MPs claimed it had not passed through the right procedures and should therefore not be considered an approved law. The bone of contention is the legal age of a child, which the new law sets as eighteen years. Conservative MPs say this is against their Islamic interpretations, which consider anyone who hits puberty to be an adult. Proponents laud it for its prohibition of the misuse and abuse of children, and secures the rights of children for citizenship, identity, and birth registration. The law also establishes freedom for children of religious minorities as well as the right of access to services, and the right to education. The law will help victims of the illegal practice of Bacha Bazi and it will prohibit the recruitment of children as soldiers.

On the 17th, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that an average of nine children were killed or maimed every day in Afghanistan during the first nine months of 2019. In total, 631 children were killed, and another 1,830 were injured in the conflict, the report said. The report added that between 2009-2018, some 6,500 children were killed and 15,000 injured, making Afghanistan the “world’s most lethal war-zone”.

On the 4th,  FIFA’s ethics committee banned the former Afghan football official, Mohammad Hanif Sediqi Rustam, from the sport for five years and fined him 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,816) after being found guilty of violations relating to the abuse of female players. Sediqi is the third official to be sanctioned in the case which saw former Afghanistan Football Federation president Keramuudin Karim banned for life in June following complaints lodged by several female Afghan players.

People & Culture

A large-scale survey has found that Afghans are slightly more optimistic about their country, while being increasingly fearful for their personal safety. “A Survey of the Afghan People, Afghanistan in 2019" says that the number of respondents who are optimistic that the country is "going in the right direction" increased this year to 36.1% from 32.8% last year. “In explaining reasons for their optimism, the number who say the chance of ‘peace /end of war’ increased from 16.4% to 26.3% this year,” according to the report. Optimism about the nation´s direction was at its highest in 2013 before declining to an all-time low in 2016 over concerns about the economy, difficult elections and the effects of radical reductions in foreign troops.

The poll also found that 74.5% of respondents always, often or sometimes feared for their personal safety, an increase of over 3 percentage points from 2018. Dissatisfaction levels about corruption and the lack of justice remain similar to that of the previous year. The survey is carried out by the Asia Foundation, and involved interviews with some 18,000 men and women mostly from rural areas.