• Afghanistan in May 2015: BAAG's review of the month

Afghanistan in May 2015: BAAG's review of the month

01 June 2015

Afghanistan in May 2015

 

Politics

On the 12th, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first trip to Afghanistan since the establishment of the National Unity Government. He was accompanied by chiefs of the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies. The rhetoric between the leaders of the two countries concerning the fight against extremism and expanding regional cooperation remained positive.  Mr Sharif said ‘the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan’. Observers view this visit as a response to Mr Ghani’s confidential three-page letter sent earlier this month in which he enumerated a list of actions with deadlines for the Pakistani government to show their real commitment to regional peace.

A week after the visit, the intelligence services of both countries signed an agreement of intelligence sharing and coordinated operations. Many Afghan politicians decried the agreement doubting Pakistan’s intentions to adhere to the terms. 

On the 18th, the Chair of Afghanistan Election Commission said they will be unable to hold the parliamentary elections due by 20th May. He cited lack of funding and delayed government’s reform plans as key reasons. According to the Afghan Constitution the current term of MPs finishes on 20th June.

On the 21st, President Ghani nominated Masoom Stanekzai as the Minister of Defence. He was until recently Secretary of the High Peace Council. If this appointment is accepted by Parliament, the government will be fully formed after nine months under the National Unity Government. Other senior appointments this month included Ghulam Jilani Popal as the head of Independent Directorate of Local Governance, Mohammad Asef Rahimi as Governor of Herat and Humayun Azizi as Governor of Kandahar. All these officials held cabinet level positions under President Karzai.

On the 21st the International Contact Group meeting was held in Kabul, in which some 50 representatives of international governments and agencies participated. President Ghani emphasised the enduring partnership with the international community and hoped they will be with Afghanistan in this ‘shared journey’. Many fear international interest in Afghanistan is waning. For example, for the first time in 10 years, Queen Elizabeth failed to mention Afghanistan in her speech, delivered in the State Opening of the Parliament on the 27th. The Queen’s speech sets out the key priorities for the British government.

Security

The Taliban’s spring offensive continued in the capital, southern and northern Afghanistan, with military and civilian targets.  In a notable incident in Warduj, Badakhshan on the 4th, insurgents attacked at least ten police posts, killing 20 Afghan forces and taking control of 17 government vehicles. In a similar attack in Helmand on the 25th, 26 government soldiers were killed. Fighters from Central Asian countries are reportedly assisting the Taliban in their battles in Kunduz. So far around 6,000 families have been displaced as a result of these. Such attacks point to the expansion of the insurgency from south to northern Afghanistan.

The Afghan government forces also claimed advances. On the 9th, Ghazni provincial officials announced the recapturing of Nawa district after 20 years of Taliban control. It is reported that in the operations at least 173 militants were killed and a large quantity of arms and ammunitions were confiscated.

Some rights groups and politicians criticised the government’s rearming of local militias in the fight against the Taliban. Some of these militias have a gross human rights record and are feared to breed even more instability. Government officials deny the rearming, but say they support the citizens’ voluntary participation in the fight against Taliban.

On the 11th, 19 of the 31 Hazara passengers who were kidnapped in February were released in an apparent prisoner swap. President Ghani said only children and women related to foreign fighters had been released. The fate of 12 remaining passengers is being negotiated. Five days later, the Taliban kidnapped around 30 more citizens in Paktia. The Taliban spokesperson confirmed this but said their targets were eight public servants.

Rights

A primary court in Kabul issued verdicts on the 49 suspects in Farkhunda’s murder. Four men were sentenced to death and eight men were sentenced to 16 years in prison. 26 men including eight police officers were acquitted, and 11 police officers, found guilty of dereliction of duty, were sentenced to one year in prison. Some activists criticised the trial claiming it was rushed, while others were unhappy that some key suspects were not tried. 27-year-old Farkhunda was falsely accused of burning the Quran and then brutally lynched in March.

Much to the joy of free media activists, the government abolished the Media Complaints Commission on the 5th. This government-headed commission was viewed as a major impediment to free press in Afghanistan. Last month four journalists were summoned to the Commission for printing articles that supposedly incriminated specific politicians or insulted the religious beliefs of the public.

Development and Humanitarian

Attacks on aid workers continued in April. On the 13th, the Taliban attacked a guesthouse in Kabul and killed at least 15 national and international civilians including 8 aid workers. Observers say the Taliban’s use of the word ‘foreigners’ is tantamount to labelling them as ‘invaders’, further blurring the lines between civilians and the military.

In early May, the working licenses of over 600 Afghan traders and workers were revoked by United Arab Emirates officials. While Afghan workers believe they had been discriminated, UAE officials say only illegal workers have been deported on the grounds of national security. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries estimate that traders will lose some $20 million if the issue is not resolved.

On the 29th, President Ghani suspended six high level officials of the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs on corruption allegations. The allegations include taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of authority, among others.  Mr Ghani has also requested travel bans for them though one of the suspects has reportedly already fled the country. In a related event, the new Minister of Education informed parliamentarians about ghost schools in insecure parts of the country. He said local and central authorities received funds to maintain and run non-existent schools.

Officials of Breshna, the government-run electricity company, said that government ministries and local power-brokers owe the company up to 1.5 billion Afghanis ($25 million) in upaid electricity bills. The non-payment of bills has delayed public development projects, Breshna claims. 

Culture and people

Three Afghan schoolgirls brought home gold medals from a biology competition in Kenya. They had competed against 300 students from 27 countries. One of the gold medallists, Nargis, pleaded for all Afghan families to ‘allow their daughters to continue their studies’. 

Farzana Wahidy, a Kandahar-born Afghan photojournalist won the Indomitable Spirit Award at Telluride Mountain Film Festival in the US. Farzana received her early photography training in Kabul and has been published in several international outlets including The Sunday Times and Guardian. 

 

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 the incorrectness of content.