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Atta Noor asks India to ‘engage with Taliban without giving them legitimacy’

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

As parties to the Afghan peace talks process in Doha stall over preliminary issues, Atta Mohammad Noor, CEO of Jamiat Party and former governor of Balkh province has called on New Delhi to help by playing a more proactive role in the dialogue and hold talks with the Taliban. 

Noor, who is currently in India, is the fourth prominent Afghan leader to visit India in the past few weeks to discuss the peace talks process – after visits by Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation; former Afghan vice-president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan politician and former Mujahideen Leader.

In an interview with ThePrint in Delhi this past week, Noor, who picked up a weapon in 2016 to save the lives of Indian diplomats during an attack on their consulate in Balkh province, said he was there to try to garner India’s support. 

“The situation in Afghanistan is currently quite complicated. That’s the reason I am here in India. I really hope that India will be more proactive because India has got power, it has got leverage, and it has got influence in the region,” Noor said.

“If India does not do that, then this will give more ground to the Pakistanis. As the Americans are leaving, the Pakistanis are finding more space in Afghanistan,” Noor said.

Until now, however, India’s policy has been that it will not engage with the Taliban, as it continues to see the fundamentalist group as being aided by Pakistan.

Recounting his experience in Mazar-e-Sharif four years ago, Noor told ThePrint it had been a rainy winter day in January of 2016 when the consulate was attacked. 

Noor said he reached the site of the consulate attack in 12 minutes and “started shooting the Taliban and other terrorists from Kashmir with my M4 sniper rifle”.

“I put my life at risk but I had to protect the diplomats and Indian friends. I felt we should give it back in return of what India did for us when we faced difficulties. There were some insurgents who had come from Kashmir as well. I reached there in 12 minutes, took up my arms and left for the consulate to defend it,” he added. 

“I was the governor at that time and more than 10,000 soldiers were under my control. But I deemed it my personal responsibility to defend my brothers who were stuck there,” he said.

According to him, insurgents tried to enter the consulate but were held off from doing so by security forces but managed to gain entry into a building nearby where they started shooting. 

The siege lasted 24 hours, with consulate staff having had to take refuge in safe rooms throughout the attack. 

“I started shooting with my people and continued shooting till the morning so that they cannot attack back. I am sure it was me who killed the first person and finally gunned all of them down. With their blood, they wrote Kashmir and Afzal on the wall,” he said.

Atta Noor at the scene of the attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2016

 

Noor also got helicopters to bring in reinforcement soldiers and said he managed to guide the pilots as well.

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said in a tweet after their meeting earlier this week, Noor is regarded as a “long-standing friend of India”.

But Noor has pointed out that he is concerned Afghanistan might return to what it was during the Taliban’s regime and said India has the capability to become a “facilitator” of the peace talks and join other countries who are playing the same role.

“The peace talks going on in Qatar have not yielded any results yet. And the Taliban are being more aggressive. It seems they are being supported by others … India is a big and strong country and should be one of the facilitators (in the peace talks),” he said.

Otherwise, he said, there may come a situation where some of the Taliban leaders come to power and become part of the government while others continue to wage attacks, ThePrint reported.

“If that happens, we will get back to what happened in 1996. The situation can be worse than that,” he added. Being an important stakeholder in the development process there, India cannot afford to let that happen, he said. “I really hope India can be more proactive. India has more nationalist and strategic friends in Afghanistan.”

Noor also pointed out that the current peace talks can throw up very different results, each with consequences for India.

“There can be two situations arising out of the current peace talks. Either it will conclude and there will be a new government or the peace talks will fail and the fighting will continue. If the new government comes in, India will have its strategic partners in the new government, as always, by defusing all the plots hatched by other countries,” he said.

“Both countries are fighting terrorism … We do not want to drag the feet of India in a prolonged war. But India should engage with the Taliban … I want India to engage with the Taliban but not give them legitimacy.”

He said China is playing its role in the peace talks “aggressively” and so are the Russians and the Iranians.

Noor asked Jaishankar Wednesday to begin negotiations with the Taliban, something that the Afghan government has also reportedly been asking New Delhi to do but he said if the talks fail, the insurgents will have an “upper hand” and this will give more leeway to Pakistan.

“At that time, we would need to stand by the Afghan government … We will have a united resistance against the Taliban if the situation becomes so,” Noor said.

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Donor countries pledge $1 billion to support emergency aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced that donors have pledged over $1 billion towards aid for Afghanistan – exceeding the hoped for amount of $606 million. 

Guterres’ announcement comes after Monday’s High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan. 

“This conference has fully met my expectations in relation to the solidarity with the people in Afghanistan,” Guterres said late Monday. 

Afghanistan stands on the brink of a growing humanitarian and economic crisis.

Earlier Monday Guterres, who hosted the meeting, said “the people of Afghanistan need a lifeline” during “their most perilous hour.”

Guterres also maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Guterres did not specify how much of the $1 billion in pledged funding would be distributed towards the UN emergency budget for the coming months, or what would be potentially provided later. 

However, a survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) found 93% of Afghans surveyed lacked sufficient food, many because they could not get access to cash to pay for items.

Even before the takeover by the Islamic Emirate, food circumstances in Afghanistan were dire. 

Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP Country Director for Afghanistan said: “It’s critical for the humanitarian effort that in the greatest time of need, that the international community stands alongside the women and children and men of Afghanistan, whose lives have been upended through no fault of their own,” she said.

 

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US pledges additional $64 million in aid for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday night the United States has committed a further $64 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

In a tweet late Monday, Khalilzad said: “The United States remains firmly committed to continue our robust humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan.

“We are proud to announce an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance,” he said.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the funding is from both USAID and the U.S. State Department and the money will flow through independent organizations, such as UN agencies and NGOs.

This money will “provide life-saving support directly to Afghans facing the compounding effects of insecurity, conflict, recurring natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the statement.

The organization said the additional funding will provide vulnerable Afghans with critically needed food, health care, nutrition, medical supplies, protection, hygiene supplies, and other urgently needed relief.

In addition, USAID stated it has activated a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) – based outside of Afghanistan – to lead the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response.

“This team, which is based outside of Afghanistan, is working with partners to provide aid and adapt programs in response to the new environment,” the statement read.

The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor in Afghanistan, providing nearly $330 million this year alone.

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UN chief calls for urgent emergency aid for Afghanistan 

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(Last Updated On: September 13, 2021)

The international community should urgently offer a “lifeline” to millions of vulnerable Afghans “who face perhaps their most perilous hour”, the UN Secretary-General said on Monday at a special meeting in Geneva on the need for emergency aid for Afghanistan.

Leading the appeal in Geneva for $606 million to support emergency aid for 11 million people across the country, António Guterres said that even before the fall of the previous government, people were in the grip of one of the worst crises in the world.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” he said. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.”

Highlighting concerns over humanitarian access as needs rise dramatically, Guterres maintained that the country’s new rulers had pledged their cooperation “to ensure assistance is delivered to the people of Afghanistan. Our staff and all aid workers must be allowed to do their vital work in safety — without harassment, intimidation or fear.”

One in two Afghans do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN chief explained, adding that “many people could run out of food by the end of the month, just as winter approaches”.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed the extent of the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

At Monday’s meeting, the UN Secretary-General highlighted the need for food, life-saving interventions and essential health care for the people of Afghanistan.

And he insisted that “robust mechanisms” had been established to coordinate humanitarian efforts that were anchored in human rights.

UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths noted that he had received written assurances from leaders of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to allow relief efforts to continue.

These guarantees followed his meeting with the Afghan government’s interim leaders in Kabul last week, where he urged the country’s new rulers to respect human rights and facilitate aid access.

Speaking from Kabul, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, underscored the high level of needs among Afghanistan’s 3.5 million displaced people, and the potential for even greater suffering.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has underlined the urgent need to safeguard rural livelihoods and avoid massive displacement.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu called for funding to save Afghanistan’s next wheat harvest, keep farm animals alive, and avoid a deterioration of the country’s already severe humanitarian crises.

His agency is seeking $36 million to speed up support to farmers and ensure they will not miss the upcoming winter wheat planting season.   

FAO will also assist around 3.5 million Afghans, who depend on agriculture for their incomes, until the end of the year.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister calls for sustained engagement

 Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi also addressed the ministerial meeting, via a video link, and called on the international community for sustained engagement with Afghanistan.

 According to a statement issued by Qureshi’s office, the Foreign Minister gave a report on the humanitarian support provided by Pakistan in recent days, including the facilitation of evacuations for foreigners, the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for the delivery of relief goods, among others. 

“He committed to continue Pakistan’s humanitarian assistance comprising food and medicines to Afghanistan as well as hosting more than three million Afghan refugees. 

“He called for international solidarity with the Afghan people, both in terms of financial and political support. He emphasized the need to renew developmental partnerships, support nation-building, and meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people,” the statement read. 

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