• Afghanistan in November 2019; Key News

Afghanistan in November 2019; Key News

12 December 2019

Peace

On 29th, President Trump made his first visit to Afghanistan to celebrate Thanksgiving with American soldiers. He confirmed that his government has resumed talks with the Taliban, and said that the insurgents are likely to make a deal otherwise, “we’re going to stay until such time as we have a deal, or we have total victory”. Paradoxically, Mr Trump also reaffirmed his desire to reduce the American military presence to 8,600 troops, down from about 13,000. President Ghani who met him underscored the need for a ceasefire by the Taliban to prove that the group had a genuine desire for peace. It is unclear whether both presidents meant the same by “ceasefire”. In the draft framework between the Americans and the Taliban only a truce between them was discussed. The Taliban responded that they were happy to resume talks with the Americans from where they had ended in September, after the talks were abruptly cancelled by President Trump. 

On the 12th, the Taliban released American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, university professors held hostage for more than three years. They were released in return for the release of three Taliban commanders by the Afghan government. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a "good will" gesture by the Taliban and a "hopeful sign" for a political settlement. The Taliban are expected to free ten more Afghan prisoners.

Politics

The Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (IEC) missed their deadline for announcing the preliminary results of Presidential elections that took place in October. The delay was owing to a disagreement about the fate of some 300,000 votes. Earlier in the month, the IEC had said that it would recount the votes cast from more than 8,000 polling stations - almost a third of the total - due to discrepancies in their system. Abdullah Abdullah’s team alleged that this decision was made to favour President Ghani; and insisted that some 300,000 additional votes, which did not come through biometric devices, should not be recounted.

On the 28th, Hawa Alam Nuristani, the head of the IEC urged all candidates to allow them to continue their work, referring to closure caused by protests at seven IEC provincial offices where the votes had not been recounted yet. On the 29th, supporters of Abdullah took to Kabul streets to demand that the IEC removed the “fraudulent” 300,000 votes. Ashraf Ghani’s campaign team insisted that the IEC should announce the preliminary results as soon as possible.

Security

In November the predicament of civilians continued as war raged on in various provinces. On the 2nd, a roadside blast killed nine children (eight boys and a girl) in Takhar, as they made their way to school. No group claimed responsibility. The area had been controlled by the Taliban for several weeks before government forces retook it. On the 27th, a roadside blast killed at least fifteen civilians, fourteen of whom were women and children from two families in the Khan Abad district of Kunduz. On the 24th, Farah residents protested against the killing of nine civilians by an air strike in Posht Rod district. The strike targeted a group of 30 people who had left the mosque after praying. Officials have not publicly reacted to the incident yet.

Insurgents continued their attacks on military targets and civil servants. On the 20th, Taliban fighters killed at least thirteen Afghan soldiers and wounded five others after they attacked a military base in Imam Sahib district, Kunduz. On the 30th, a Taliban roadside bomb took the life of Brig. Gen. Zahirgul Muqbil of the Afghan border forces in Marjah district, Helmand. On the 7th, Taliban militants killed three judges and a member of the court staff in Logar.

On the 20th, President Ghani announced that government forces had obliterated Islamic State (Daesh) militants in Afghanistan. He said more than 600 Daesh fighters had surrendered to the Afghan government with their families. Officials said air strikes by Afghan and coalition forces, lack of funds and low morale have forced the group to give up. “Now that Daesh militants have surrendered, I ask authorities to treat their families humanely,” Ghani added. The government says among fighters in its custody are foreign nationals from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Maldives.

Humanitarian & Development

On the 24th, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the repatriation of Afghans from Iran had increased dramatically during recent weeks. Over 12,000 undocumented Afghans had returned - willingly or by deportation – in just over one week. IOM cited the worsening economic conditions in Iran as the main reason for their return to Afghanistan.

On the 25th, a magnetic bomb attached to the roof of a UN vehicle in Kabul killed Anil Raj, an American aid worker, and wounded five others. The latest attack further complicates humanitarian work at a time of dire need in the country and as a harsh winter looms.

Afghanistan’s pollution may be even deadlier than the war. State of Global Air, a research group, has said more than 26,000 deaths could be attributed to air pollution in Afghanistan in 2017. In contrast, 3,483 civilians were killed that year, according to UN records. There are no official statistics on how many Afghans die of pollution-related illnesses. The large majority of victims are poisoned by the air in their own homes, as families burn whatever they can to keep warm in winter, enduring snow and frequent sub-zero temperatures. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable. At least 19,400 of the 2017 deaths were attributable to household pollution, which also contributed to a loss of two years and two months of life expectancy at birth, according to the State of Global Air survey. On the 28th, the National Environmental Protection Agency warned that the air pollution in Kabul would increase by 50% over the next four months.

Rights

On the 23rd, the national human rights commission said their data showed an 8% increase in registered cases of violence against women. They were comparing seven months of data between March - September 2019 with that for the same period in 2018. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission recorded 2,762 cases of physical, sexual, psychological, economical and other types of violence against women in that time period.

On the 15th, President Trump granted pardons to American military personnel Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn and Army Lt. Clint Lorance who were convicted of war crimes in Afghanistan. His decision was linked to military morale, according to White House press secretary. Lorance was convicted in 2013 of second-degree murder after ordering his men to fire on three unarmed Afghan civilians. Golsteyn was charged with first-degree murder after the death of an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Former President Karzai condemned the decision and said this "demonstrates complete disregard for the life and dignity of Afghans".

On the 21st, Afghanistan’s intelligence services (NDS) arbitrarily detained two whistle-blowers who had exposed a paedophile ring in Logar schools. Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, two civil society activists, had told journalists in mid-Novembers that over 500 children and teenagers in six schools in Logar had been sexually abused by a network of powerful people including their teachers. After their arrest, NDS posted videos on social media from the whistle-blowers in which they were shown confessing to have concocted the claim. The videos were later removed and NDS said they only took them to a safe place because of threats to their lives. The Ministry of Education said it had launched an investigation into the abuse allegations.

People & Culture

Feroza Aziz, an Afghan-American teenager rose to fame on the 27th as her video on TikTok went viral. She had used her makeup tutorials on the Chinese-owned short video-sharing platform to spread awareness of China's detention of at least a million Muslims. Feroza Aziz, 17, begins the video by showing viewers how to use an eyelash curler. She then talks about "concentration camps" in China and the making of "another Holocaust". TikTok subsequently deleted her account but the video had already been attracting a lot of attention on other platforms. "As a Muslim, I've always faced oppression and racism. But to see that these group of people, this ethnic group is going through much more than I could ever imagine, I thought that this isn't right and I need to spread awareness about this," she said.

 

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.