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Afghan people want transparency in peace process

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(Last Updated On: June 5, 2020)

Afghan citizens call on the High Council for National Reconciliation to take practical steps in the peace process.

The people of Afghanistan see the current peace efforts vague and call on the government to keep the people into confidence about the progress made in this process.

Residents of Kabul say the peace process must be transparent and speedy. They also claim that people are not fully kept updated on peace efforts.

While the start of the Intra-Afghan negotiations depends on the release of all 5,000 Taliban prisoners and one thousand of government prisoners, no prisoners have been released by the two sides in the past four days.

This comes as the Taliban’s technical delegation, which has come to Kabul to identify their prisoners, has not yet left Kabul.

It is to be noted that nearly 3,000 Taliban prisoners and nearly 400 government prisoners have been released so far, and a number of countries have called for speeding up the process.

“Negotiations will not begin until all 5,000 prisoners are released,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban member.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission has shared a list of its proposals with the chairman of the High National Reconciliation Council to be pitched in the agenda of the Intra-Afghan talks.

“The rights of children, women, minorities, and victims of war must be protected throughout these talks,” said Naeem Nazari, deputy head of the Human Rights Commission.

“Women must play a significant role in peace processes,” said Fawzia Kofi, a member of the peace negotiating team.

On the other hand, the Norwegian Foreign Minister has told his Afghan counterpart that his country is trying to pave the way for the start of the Intra-Afghan Talks.

Earlier, sources said that the date for the start of the talks was set for June 15 and that the two sides were now trying to make a choice out of Qatar, Germany, Norway, and Uzbekistan as the host for the holding the talks.

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Iran’s absence in Doha was due to tensions with US: Abdullah

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(Last Updated On: October 1, 2020)

Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah says Iran did not attend the opening ceremony of the historic peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban in Doha last month due to tensions with the United States. 

“Iran was invited…Sometimes their relations with the United States which [are] under a lot of tension at the moment, those things affect their decisions [of] participating in a conference or not,” Abdullah said in an interview with Voice of America this week. 

He said however that despite their absence from the event, Iran supported the peace process. 

Abdullah also said Tehran had “legitimate concerns” and “legitimate interests” in Afghanistan adding that Iran’s contacts with various Taliban groups could be used to advance peace efforts. 

This comes after US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, told a Washington-based research group, the United States Institute of Peace, last week that  US-Iran relations were getting in the way of Iran cooperating with Afghanistan’s peace process.

“Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price until there is an agreement between the US and Iran,” he said.

Iran refuted the claims but deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Abbas Araghchi, said at the time Iran questioned the US’ intentions in Afghanistan.

“We believe that the US should not be trusted and that the US presence in the region is dangerous and will cause a lot of discord in the region,” said Araghchi.

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ADB approves $110 million grant to boost power supply to Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: October 1, 2020)

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Wednesday approved a $110 million grant to boost power supply and strengthen Afghanistan’s energy sector by improving its sustainability and promoting cross-border trade in energy. 

“The project will help address Afghanistan’s chronic power shortage by immediately doubling the volume of power imports and ensuring long-term cost-competitive electricity supply,” read a statement issued by ADB. 

Once complete, the project will provide improved access to customers and facilitate 500,000 new connections to households, commercial entities, and industrial customers.

“Demand for electricity is growing rapidly in Afghanistan and is essential for the country’s economic growth,” said ADB Energy Specialist Nana Gurgenidze. 

“The project will help provide reliable and affordable electricity to households and businesses by strengthening the grid and increasing power import capacity by 900 megawatts, with year-round firm energy imports of 3,000 gigawatt-hours.”

Afghanistan relies on energy imports from neighboring countries to meet its domestic demand and despite significant progress since 2002, only about 34 percent of the population has access to grid-connected electricity.

According to the ADB, the project will finance the construction of 201km of a 500-kilovolt overhead transmission line from the Surkhan substation in Uzbekistan to the Khwaja-Alwan substation in Afghanistan – a key interconnection node to receive power from Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

It will also fund the expansion of a line bay, including associated equipment, at the Khwaja-Alwan substation and the project will allow Uzbek power into the Afghan grid under a 10-year power purchase and sales agreement signed in August 2020 by the Afghanistan and Uzbekistan governments.

In addition, staff, including female engineers at the national power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), will be trained to manage cross-border power transfer and parallel operations, including emergency operation systems with CAPS, read the statement.

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Audit finds US Embassy paid $8 million for meals it didn’t need

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(Last Updated On: October 1, 2020)

An audit by the US State Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG) found $8.4 million was spent on meals that were not needed at the US Embassy in Kabul last year. 

In a report released on Tuesday, the IG stated  “the number of meals estimated in the task order for option year 4 (2019) was higher than it should have been, resulting in the Department paying almost $8.4 million for meals it did not need and that were not provided.”

Poor oversight by US company DynCorp International, which has the contract to provide meals, security and other services to the US Embassy in Kabul, cost the State Department millions more than necessary, the report stated. 

The IG also stated that because of poor record keeping the US can’t recover the $8.4 million paid for the meals and also can’t be sure DynCorp followed the terms of its contract. 

The State Department has paid DynCorp about $353 million since 2015 to provide food, security, and medical and other services and as per contract stipulations, DynCorp was to provide three meals a day, seven days a week, at a rate of about $21 each to cafeterias at the US Embassy and other consular facilities, the audit said.

DynCorp receives a fixed amount to provide about 2.9 million meals each year but the actual number of meals needed has dropped over the past few years as Embassy staff levels steadily decreased. 

However, a contracting officer last year based meals on 2016 personnel figures, the IG said.

“The Department did not consider the declining number of personnel living and working at the embassy compound and outlying US Government facilities,” the report said.

In November, the State Department finally reduced the number of meals required, bringing down food costs by 29 percent. Had the change been made earlier, the Department could have saved $8.4 million in 2019, the report said.

The audit also found the State Department’s contracting officers and representatives could not tell auditors how food quality standards were monitored, and said they lost their monthly oversight checklists during a computer upgrade.

DynCorp also could not provide 27 percent of the required documents checking sanitation, quality control and proof that goods had been received.

It also failed to develop a plan to reduce costs over time, as it had said it would when it secured the contract, the audit said.

 

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