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Blinken’s letter to Ghani draws widespread debate

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(Last Updated On: March 9, 2021)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ashraf Ghani suggesting the establishment of a transitional government and a high-level summit in Turkey has sparked widespread reaction among Afghan officials and politicians – with some in favor of the move and others opposed to it. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said at an event commemorating the 7th death anniversary of Marshal Qasim Fahim on Monday, that Afghanistan will never accept demands that could jeopardize the people’s right to vote. 

He said the letter, which was in fact a proposal for a new political structure in Afghanistan, was “shameful” and that he will “resist it”. 

“Let me be clear I will not sign it,” Saleh said.

He also stated that the people of Afghanistan will not accept what he called a “forced and imposed peace on the people of Afghanistan”.

“One of the articles is to form a supreme council for the enforcement of Sharia [law]. In the county where we have several scholars like Imam Abu Hanifa; now two people who graduated from Haqqania School will hand over a certificate of Islam to us. I will never sign at the bottom of that shameful document,” said Saleh.

“We have the right not to hang the fate of 35 million people on someone else’s schedule,” he said adding that “Americans and their Western allies have every right to decide the fate of 2,500 U.S. and a few thousand NATO troops now stationed in our country.” 

This was in reference to the stipulated May 1 withdrawal of all US troops as per the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha last year in February. 

Saleh also reiterated government’s position that only elected leaders can govern Afghanistan and Afghan voters should be the ones to freely choose them. 

“If they (Taliban) agree to elections in principle, it is the president’s last term [in office], so then we can talk about a date for an election,” he said.

“We held two days of talks with U.S. officials and told them we will never compromise on the rights of the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

According to Saleh, government’s stance will not change. He also stated he is not worried about the letter.

“We are neither concerned about the letter nor has it changed our position,” Saleh said.

“But we will not accept any deal [sealed] between 20 people in a room; for the dissolution of the Constitution and our achievements; and especially we will not let anyone take the people’s right to vote away – never, never, never!,” he said.

Meanwhile, former president Hamid Karzai also highlighted the diversity in the country and urged Afghans to work hard at preserving unity.

Referring to his time in office he said: “I had one view, Marshal (Qasim Fahim, former first vice president) had another view, and (former vice president Karim) Khalili had another opinion, but it was all about the country’s interests, and that must be preserved.” 

Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) said he also received a letter, similar to that sent to Ghani. 

Abdullah stated the letter indicates that the international community considers the need for peace as urgent but that this was out of government’s control.

“Today, people of Afghanistan are facing difficult times… When three people (female workers of one media outlet) were martyred in Nangarhar, all employees of the radio station went on leave; no media workers are safe; neither are scholars, civil society activists and no one is safe,” said Abdullah.

Abdullah cautiously said that he does not defend the letter and has no intention of defending the letter, and alluded to the issue that one should not ignore suggestions by foreigners. 

“Today, as in the past, we complain about foreigners. These foreigners are in the world (as decision-makers), they are effective,” he stated.

In the meantime, a number of prominent Afghan politicians said that the letter, outlining Washington’s plan, deprives people of their rights; however, others stated that in order to reach peace, sacrifices need to be made. 

“Afghanistan has reached a very sensitive stage. We are almost losing control of the situation because the international community is in a hurry regarding Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Mohaqiq, Ghani’s Senior Adviser for Security and Politics Affairs.

“Peace needs sacrifices, people lose lives on a daily basis and they are tired of the war,” said Azizullah Din Mohammad, deputy head of the HCNR.

Meanwhile, some politicians consider the new US plan for peace as ambiguous.

They argue that there is no clarity about how to deal with other terrorist groups that operate in the country in a post-peace deal environment – between government and the Taliban. 

 

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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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