• Afghanistan in September: our round-up of the news last month

Afghanistan in September: our round-up of the news last month

01 October 2016

 

Peace and Security

On the 29th, following months of negotiations, President Ghani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar signed a peace treaty. Hekmatyar is the long-standing leader of Hizb-e-Islami - Afghanistan’s second largest militant group. In a video address from a secret location, Hekmatyar announced that the continuation of war against the Afghan government would have been ‘neither Islamic nor rational’. Having spent 20 years in exile, he now awaits his removal from international terrorist blacklists before his return to Afghanistan.

Reaction to the treaty was mixed from both the international community and Afghan population. Human rights groups were particularly critical of the immunity granted to Hekmatyar, who many perceive as a war criminal. On the other hand, foreign government and United Nations representatives praised the preparedness of the current Afghan government to seek peace with militant groups, successfully securing the first peace agreement of its kind since 2001 without the assistance of any international mediators. The agreement with Hizb-e-Islami demonstrated that ‘peace is possible’ in Afghanistan, according to EU Special Representative Mellbin. The Taliban leadership council also cautiously commented on the deal and hoped it will result in the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, following a summer of increased fighting the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) continued to engage government forces on the battlefield in various provinces across Afghanistan. Most notably, key posts in the provincial capital of Uruzgan were momentarily seized by Taliban militants on the 8th, before being pushed back by reinforcements in the days after. On the 18th, US airstrikes accidentally killed 8 Afghan policemen on the outskirts of the city whilst trying to defend their checkpoint from ongoing attacks. Elsewhere in the country, military officials reported that security forces were readying themselves to launch another offensive against IS, who had begun to once again encroach on districts in eastern Nangarhar following previous US-backed operations in the area.

On the 13th, President Ghani reiterated a vow to defeat terrorism whilst attending the funeral of General Zahid, the Nangarhar provincial police chief assassinated two days previously in a Taliban-claimed attack. Earlier in the month, multiple attacks in Kabul targeting the Defence Ministry and an international NGO killed at least 24 and injured more than 90 in one day.   

Politics

September marked the two year anniversary of the current National Unity Government (NUG). Following August’s political deadlock between President Ghani and CEO Abdullah, some signs of progress were finally seen on a number of key outstanding political issues. Most notably, on the 24th, a selection committee was formed for the purpose of appointing electoral commissioners – a first step in the direction of long-awaited electoral reform.

On the 25th, the Citizen’s Charter - a new national development programme - was officially launched. It pledges $1billion for nationwide reconstruction and development projects, bringing state services to some of the most deprived communities. Nevertheless, failure to organise a constitutional Loya Jirga and create the new post of Prime Minister within the first two years of government continued to raise concerns that Ghani’s administration no longer has a valid mandate. Creating a constitutional Prime Minister post was a key requirement of the original NUG agreement.

Nevertheless, ahead of the upcoming Brussels Conference - where the international community is expected to reaffirm its support for Afghan state-building and development - CEO Abdullah was keen to assure critics that the NUG continued to be legitimate and united, despite these outstanding commitments.   

On the 14th, President Ghani arrived in New Delhi for a state visit, meeting with Prime Minister Modi to sign several high-profile bilateral agreements. Alongside treaties on extradition rights, legal assistance and space programmes, Modi also pledged $1billion in aid to Afghanistan for the next four years.

In contrast, Afghanistan continued to accuse neighbouring Pakistan of inaction over regional terrorism. A political dispute also emerged regarding the use of the Wagah border by Afghan traders using land routes to and from India. Currently Pakistan allows Afghan fruit exports through its border with India, but maintains that all other trade must be through its seaports. With Pakistani officials unwilling to expand on existing arrangements, President Ghani threatened on the 9th to shut Pakistan’s trade access to Central Asia if the state of affairs continued long-term. Afghanistan also joined three other South Asian nations in boycotting the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation Summit to be held in Islamabad.  

Rights

On the 20th, Nai – an organisation supporting open media in Afghanistan – published a survey revealing that self-censorship in social media has increased. 94% of participants indicated that they refrain from criticising certain issues whilst using social media platforms, with 58% feeling that they do so in fear of government organisations. According to the report, several participants of the survey purported that they or people they knew had previously received direct warnings after posting criticisms of authorities online.

Humanitarian and Development

The international community stepped up calls this month for greater assistance and aid for Afghan IDPs and returnees. Calling for an extra $150mil over the next four month, the UN Under-Secretary General Stephen O’Brien warned that increasing violence will leave an additional one million Afghans homeless by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, both the UNHCR and Human Rights Watch called on Pakistan to cease their increased pace of repatriations of Afghan refugees ahead of the December deadline.  

On the 17th, an Afghan government-hosted summit attended by over 120 international companies opened in Dubai. It aimed at attracting foreign investment for Afghan infrastructure projects. With the US pledging $2 billion for future energy generation projects, the government targeted investors from countries such as the United Arab Emirates as they attempted to raise a total of $9 billion. Afghanistan has one of the lowest per capita rates of electricity generation in the world, with 70% of the population currently without regular access.

People and Culture

A government-backed campaign was launched this month to tackle the growing problem of self-immolation as an act of suicide. Often seen as a predominantly female phenomenon, cases until recently were mostly concentrated in the western province of Herat. In response to it becoming an emerging issue nationwide, the government’s new campaign aims at increasing awareness of the horrific injuries involved in such an act as well as encouraging dialogue on the common causes, including domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Renowned Afghan singers and artists performed in front of the Buddha statutes in Bamian on the 29th to inaugurate the eighth annual Silk Road Festival. Arranged by the Ministry of Culture, thousands of Afghans attended this popular event. However, it was derided by conservative Shia clerics, as this year’s festival coincided with their mourning month of Muharram.

Finally, a new restaurant run by survivors of domestic violence has opened in Kabul. Created in response to the number of male-dominated public spaces, founder Mary Akrami said that the initiative was designed as a ‘space for women to feel free’.