• Afghanistan in September 2019; Key News

Afghanistan in September 2019; Key News

08 October 2019

Talks

Hope for a settlement with the Taliban rose and fell in September. On the 7th, President Trump announced in a tweet that he had scrapped a secretly arranged meeting in Camp David with Taliban and Afghan government leaders. He had also cancelled the deal agreed in principle between the Taliban and the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. American and Taliban negotiators had spent almost a year developing a draft. Trump cast doubt on the Taliban’s commitment to peace by citing the Taliban attack that had killed twelve people including an American soldier in September.

Trump’s decision came as a relief to many. The Afghan government had already expressed concerns about the deal’s “unintended consequences”. In a poll by Tolo News 76% of 25,000 Afghans who voted online said Trump had made the right decision. Earlier on the 3rd, nine former US ambassadors warned that Afghanistan could collapse into a “total civil war” if Trump withdrew all American forces before the Kabul government and the Taliban had concluded a peace settlement.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, reacted angrily to President Trump’s decision saying the cancellation of the peace deal would only result in more American deaths. Mujahid also said it showed that the US was not a credible party and was not committed to a peaceful solution of the Afghan conflict. 

Politics

On the 28th, Afghanistan held its Presidential elections. Despite the relative calm, the turnout was believed to be low. There were more than 400 reported attacks causing dozens of casualties across Afghanistan, but none were significant enough to disrupt the polling. Many voters, on the other hand, complained about the voting process, claiming they found incomplete voters’ lists, unworkable biometric identification systems aimed at curbing fraud, and, in some cases, hostile election workers. Preliminary results are not expected before October 17th and final results not until November 7th. If no candidate gets a majority, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates.

On the 30th, both the frontrunners for the Presidency, the incumbent Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, declared victory, echoing an election crisis five years ago when competing claims by the two men led to months of turmoil.

On the 3rd, an appeal court had sentenced ten former members of the election commissions to five years in prison each. They were charged with electoral fraud in the last year's parliamentary polls. 

On the 5th, President Ghani accepted the resignation of Masoom Stanekzai, the head of the National Directorate of Security. This came after the Directorate's spies had killed four members of one family in Nangarhar, claiming that they were associated with Daesh, a report that was refuted by locals. Stanekzai was one of Ghani's closest aides, who had also served as the acting Minister of Defence. Ghani said in a tweet that “as a responsible state, we have zero tolerance for civilian casualties.”

On the 18th, the UN Security Council extended the mandate for its assistance mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for another year. China had been keen to insert the support for China's Belt and Road Project in its mandate document, however, support to the Afghan peace efforts was added to the text instead.

Security

This month, government forces retook control of three Badakhshan districts. On the 7th, they recaptured Wardooj district five years after it was taken by the Taliban. Officials say that the Taliban suffered heavy losses, including the death of at least 50 of their foreign fighters. Wardooj is a strategic district of Badakhshan, a province that shares borders with Pakistan, China and Tajikistan. Government forces also captured Yumgan, another district of Badakhshan on the 9th, after four years of Taliban control. On the 11th, they retook Kiran wa Manjan district which contains large deposits of lapis lazuli. In the neighbouring province of Takhar on the 10th, government forces pulled out of Yangi Qala and Darqad districts.

September was a sad month for civilians. On the 19th, Nangarhar provincial officials said an American airstrike in Khoghyani district killed at least 32 and wounded 40 farmers and children. US officials said the drone strike was conducted solely to target Daesh (ISIS) fighters in a densely forested area. On the same day, Taliban fighters detonated a truck bomb near a government hospital in Zabul, killing at least ten and wounding over 100 civilians.

On the 23rd, locals in Helmand said that a raid by government forces had killed 35 guests at a wedding party, including women and children. Afghan officials said the raid struck a militants’ base being used to train suicide bombers, but promised an inquiry into civilian deaths.

A BBC study of war casualties found that an average of 74 men, women and children were killed every day in August 2019. They confirmed 611 security incidents in which 2,307 people died. Most people killed were combatants - including more Taliban fighters than expected - but a fifth were civilians. A further 1,948 people were injured.

Humanitarian & Development

On the 15th, a Taliban statement called on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume its activities in Afghanistan. The group had withdrawn its security protection from the ICRC staff in April blaming the charity for failing to monitor conditions in Afghan jails and provide medical aid to Taliban prisoners. These issues were ironed out after negotiations between them in Qatar. On the 26th, the Taliban lifted a ban on the World Health Organization activities in areas which are controlled by the militants. The Taliban had accused the WHO of suspicious activities during vaccination campaigns in April.

On the 18th, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, inaugurated the expansion of the Torkham border crossing which will now operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said this will transform the region, boost trade and create jobs. Khan added that during the one-month trial phase of its expansion, trade rose 50%. Afghan-Pakistani trade was worth $1.5 billion in 2016, with Pakistan shipments accounting for 80% of it.

The National Procurement Authority came under US fire again on the 20th, when the US State Department announced it would withhold $60 million to the Authority because of corruption. Secretary Pompeo said that the US was also suspending work with the Monitoring & Evaluation Committee, a national body in charge of monitoring corruption, as it is "incapable of being a partner". The US is also taking back $100m committed for a major energy project to fund it directly rather than sending the money through Afghan authorities.

On the 23rd, reports appeared about President Ghani approving a rather high salary to a Wolfgang Plasa Uber, a German advisor to Afghan Ministry of Commerce & Industries. He was given $41,150 a month in 2018 for business development services at a time when Afghanistan was applying for World Trade Organization membership, on which he was an expert.

Rights

Suspected Taliban fighters abducted and killed Abdul Samad Amiri, the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in Ghor. He was taken away from the Kabul-Ghor highway in Jalrez district of Maidan Wardak, an area which is called the "valley of death" because of the numerous Taliban attacks there.

On the 18th, the judges of International Criminal Court (ICC) granted permission to Fatou Bensouda, its chief prosecutor, to appeal a ruling that had blocked an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, including those committed by American troops. In April the judges had rejected Bensouda’s request to open an investigation because they thought the circumstances in Afghanistan made the prospect for successful investigation and prosecution ‘’extremely limited”. President Trump in April denounced ICC’s “broad, unaccountable, prosecutorial powers” that threaten American sovereignty.

People & Culture

In recent months videos were shown of atrocities by the Taliban and by government soldiers which have opened another battlefield online. They increased the fear that peace may not come even after a political settlement. Habibullah Rafi, an Afghan academic and historian, said that during 40 years of violence and war in Afghanistan, there have been many cycles of reprisal. But the sheer ubiquity of social media now has seemed to stoke up the outrage over acts of violence, and to increase calls for revenge.

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.