• Afghanistan in July 2014: BAAG reports on key news from the month

Afghanistan in July 2014: BAAG reports on key news from the month

04 August 2014

Elections  

On the 7th, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the preliminary results of the runoff. It showed that 8.1 million ballots were cast, 56% of which had gone to Ashraf Ghani. This was a pleasant reversal of fortunes for him as he only got 32% of votes in the first round. Abdullah cried foul and alleged that the one million additional voters were the result of industrial-level fraud orchestrated by the IEC.

This resulted in a perilous political impasse. UNAMA’s suggestions to audit part of the votes were refused by Abdullah whose supporters demanded a response to the IEC’s ‘coup’ by forming an Abdullah-led government arbitrarily. The US was quick to warn that this would result in the discontinuation of military and civilian aid. A breakthrough was achieved by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who landed in Kabul on the 11th for an intensive two day visit. After tense negotiations, the candidates agreed to an international audit of all votes and to form a ‘national unity’ government whatever the results may be. The latter meant the winner will become the President and the other will be the head of a newly created Executive Council.

Since then the IEC, volunteers from both camps, media, civil society, UN staff and international observers have been auditing the votes. International military forces have been supporting the Afghan security personnel in transporting the votes to Kabul. The disagreements over the criteria of ‘clean’ votes coupled with Ramadan fasting disrupted the process and only some 2,000 out 23,000 ballot boxes have been audited. Meanwhile, there have been few talks between the two candidates over the details of the ‘power-sharing’, raising concerns that the inauguration of the next President may be delayed. This puts more strain on security resources, halts public policy decisions and most importantly delays the signing of security pacts between Afghanistan, the US and NATO.

Security

July was one of the bloodiest months for civilians, while pro and anti-government forces also endured a lot of casualties. While the Taliban accepted responsibility for the majority of incidents, they said they didn’t carry out the attack on the 15th that killed 89 civilians in the busy market of Orgun, Paktika. Two days later, the Taliban attacked the Presidential security convoy that was preparing for Karzai’s visit to Orgun.

In another incident, the Taliban halted three minibuses in Ghor, lined up and shot dead 14 civilians. In this sectarian attack only Shia Hazara travellers were targeted. Provincial security officials said freed Taliban prisoners carried out the attack. Earlier this month, top security officials reported to the Parliament that 80% of freed prisoners have rejoined the fight.

On the 9th, the UN announced that civilian casualties in the first half of 2014 rose 24% from the same period last year. UNAMA documented 4,853 casualties in this period: 1,564 deaths and 3,289 injuries. Ground combat, improvised explosive devices, and suicide and complex attacks by insurgents were recorded as the leading causes, while 74% of casualties were attributed to the Taliban. In an attempt to reduce civilian casualties, Mr. Karzai issued a ban on the use of heavy weaponry in the fight against insurgents, especially in residential areas. Protestors in Kabul and Ghor who denounced the Taliban’s brutalities also asked the President to stop his ‘Taliban appeasement policies’.

On the 10th, unknown gunmen killed six and kidnapped three workers of British demining organisation Halo Trust. On the 24th, unknown gunmen shot dead two female Finnish aid workers in Herat. Staff of International Assistance Mission, they had been working in Afghanistan for 16 years. On the 30th, an explosion in an Eid market in Uruzgan killed 13 people including two policemen.

On the 5th, the Taliban set fire to 200 private fuel trucks in the outskirts of Kabul which they claimed were supplying foreign troops.  In other incidents many Afghan security personnel, international troops, a district governor in Logar and Hashmat Khalil Karzai, cousin of President Karzai were killed. In his Eid message President Karzai warned that international terrorists have entered Afghanistan in ‘great numbers’ and the level of terrorist activities have been higher than any time in the last 14 years.

Economy

At the start of the month the Upper House of the Parliament passed the Mining Law.  Whilst the Government hopes mining activity will release $1 trillion of mineral wealth into the economy, some in the international community raised concerns over the flawed law.  It is feared the current state of the proposed law does not adequately protect against corruption, cronyism or the involvement of militias in mining.

On the 18th China announced their new Special Envoy to Afghanistan.  The appointment of Sun Yuxi, who previously served as Ambassador to Afghanistan, comes as China aims to strengthen diplomatic and trade links with the country. China has recently focussed on mining and mineral contracts in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian and Development

The tens of thousands of refugees from the troubled North Waziristan, who crossed the border due to Pakistani military operations against Pakistani Taliban, have settled in Khost, Paktia and Paktika. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have provided medical aid to some 1,770 families in the Gulan refugee camp. They have prioritised vaccinating children against measles, a deadly disease that can spread rapidly within camps. In early July, the Taliban banned polio vaccination teams from Helmand because it suspects the teams of spying for the government.

The German agency for international cooperation (GIZ) announced they will support a model school system aimed at highly-performing students in Afghanistan. The plan includes providing more teaching materials, assigning German teachers and training local teachers of 3 German-supported Kabul schools. It also aims at opening new model schools for high perfoming students in other provinces.

Rights

On the 15th, a 10 year old girl in Kunduz was removed from a safe house by police despite fears that she would be immediately killed by her family. The girl was raped by her village mullah after Quran recitation classes at the mosque on May 1. The arrested Mullah claimed that he thought the girl was older and that she had responded to his advances. Staff of Women for Afghan Women, the shelter provider, are receiving death threats from Taliban elements and pro-government militia men.

On the 26th it was reported that, following the elopement of a young couple in Kabul, male relatives of the girl took action.  They attacked the home of the boy and raped his mother.  

Culture and people

Mostly young civil society activists in Kabul protested against a recent law with some success. The Parliamentary Privileges and Impunities of Members Law ensured extravagant housing, health and security benefits, along with diplomatic privileges on top of a lifetime monthly payment of 25% of salary to members of parliament. Under the pressure of the symbolic red cards from the protestors, a joint committee from both houses of Parliament removed the lifetime payment and provision for two security guards for each retired MP.

Afghanistan’s cricket team had a successful month.  After a wobbly start, they levelled a 4 game series of one day internationals against Zimbabwe.  On the 29th, 200 days before the start of the World Cup, the International Cricket Council announced the team will tour New Zealand and Australia in September and October.  Part of the ICC High Performance Programme, the Afghans will play various matches against state and provincial teams.

An exhibition of political cartoons has proven popular at the French Institute in Kabul. Caricaturist Mohammad Erfani's drawings include depictions of the elections, power struggles between warlords and the humours of every-day Afghan life.

Kabul traffic officials said digit 39 has caused around 18 million dollars of loss to its coffers. Applicants refuse to accept vehicle registration plates with that digit. The Traffic Department has only issued 40 plates as against the target of 15,000 in the last six months. The controversy started first in Herat a couple of years ago where 39 was considered the code number of pimps.