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Ghani says Afghanistan is ‘not at risk of collapse’

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(Last Updated On: April 16, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s decision to withdraw foreign forces set the context for a “reset” of assumptions, alignments, and actions and that the Afghan government is “not at risk of collapse”.

Addressing a virtual event organized by Azerbaijan’s Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Ghani said: “We are not at risk of collapse. The narrative of the Afghan government falling apart is a false narrative.”

According to him, Afghan commandos, special forces, and air force alone are 40,000 strong, and “they have trained among the best, they are among the best in the region.”

“As long as this force stays, there is no risk of state collapse,” Ghani said adding he is proud to be their commander-in-chief.

He also said all these forces have been brought into one command of the Afghanistan National Authority for Special Operations and that they carry out 30 to 40 operations every day “with precision and determination”.

Ghani added that the people of Afghanistan are also armed “and ready to defend their villages and districts”.

He said the nature of the war has become a challenge as there are no rules to it, pointing out that never since the Mongol invasion have women and Ulema been targeted and assassinated.

“It’s this unrestricted war that needs to end,” he said.

Ghani said he had a “very constructive” conversation with Biden on Wednesday night and a good one-and-a-half-hour meeting with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday.

He said: “I respect President Biden’s decision,” and that in the 24 hours that followed the phone conversation he spent worked to “help frame the next chapter of our relationship with the United States, NATO, non-NATO allies” including Azerbaijan that has close to 1,000 troops in Afghanistan.

He said the fundamental issue was that as the context changes, Afghanistan must change accordingly.

Ghani pointed out that Biden’s decision was a game-changer as “it forces all actors and stakeholders in the region, in Eurasia, in the Islamic world and globally to rethink their assumptions.”

He said Biden’s decision now removes the uncertainty over whether US troops would be withdrawn adding that this uncertainty has hovered over Afghanistan for the past two years.

“Now the ambiguity has been removed, we have clarity.”

Ghani also stated it brings an end to the narrative of US/NATO being “part of a larger regional competition and Afghanistan as a site of the competition with other big powers”.

“Also, I hope this puts an end to conspiracy theories,” he said adding that for Afghanistan, it is now a narrative of responsibility, of partnership, of nation-building, peacebuilding and market building among others.

Regional countries will also have to rethink the parameters of their own security and their partnerships with Afghanistan he said adding that the UN will get a “renewed importance” in its function as a peacemaker.

Ghani said Biden’s move heralds a new chapter in the strategic partnership with the US and according to Blinken the Strategic Partnership Agreement and the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) will “remain intact” while assistance for the defense and security forces and humanitarian assistance will continue.

He said this was, however “a moment of choice for the Taliban. Will they opt for peace that is on the table? Or will they opt for conquest?”

Ghani stated that Biden and Stoltenberg’s announcement on the withdrawal of troops also provided “a moment of choice for Pakistan.”

He said for Pakistan it is a decision of destiny. “Will it opt for regional cooperation, international partnership, and regional prosperity through joint efforts, or will it give way to the forces that have tendered to support and sustain the Taliban and the wave of extremism for which Pakistan next to Afghanistan has probably paid the highest price? So, it is a moment of decision.”

Ghani also reiterated earlier commitments that for the sake of peace he was willing to hold elections within the next six to 12 months so the people “can choose their leader”.

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Public Works on track with new road linking Badakhshan to China

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

The Ministry of Public works said Tuesday that construction of a road, connecting Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province to China, is underway and 15 percent of the project has been completed.

The Ministry said in a statement, the construction of a 49.7km unpaved road has started from Bozhai Gonbad Khord Pamir in Badakhshan and extends to the end of the Wakhan corridor close to the border with China.

The Ministry stated that the project is part of the government’s future plan for boosting regional transit that “brings Afghanistan steps closer to regional connectivity and economic policy.”

The project, at a cost of more than 369 million AFN, will be funded by the government, the statement said.

According to the statement, the impassable mountainous Wakhan corridor, which is a narrow strip of territory in Badakhshan province that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and Kashmir, would be connected to China via the road.

The Ministry of Public Works stated that the road, which will eventually be paved, will be the Wakhan Route and will “not only be a shortcut between China and Afghanistan…but will also help tourists reach Wakhan National Park.”

Historically, Badakhshan is a region comprising parts of what is now north-eastern Afghanistan, eastern Tajikistan, and the Tashkurgan county in China. However, the name is retained by Afghanistan in Badakhshan Province.

Located in northeastern Afghanistan, Badakhshan is bordered by Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

Most of the province is occupied by the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges.

Once Badakhshan was a stopover on the ancient Silk Road trading path but the Wakhan corridor has been closed to regular traffic for over a century as there is no modern road.

There is a rough track for a few dozen kilometers that was built in the 1960s, but for much of the way, to the Chinese border, there are only rough paths.

The remoteness of the region has meant that, despite the long-running wars of Afghanistan since the late 1970s, the region has remained virtually untouched by conflict and many locals, who are mostly composed of ethnic Pamir and Kyrgyz, are not aware of wars in the country.

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US destroys unwanted gear and sells it as scrap

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

Angry scrapyard owners in Afghanistan have spoken out about the US military destroying equipment as they pack up ahead of the final withdrawal.

Inside one scrapyard, owned by Baba Mir, close to Bagram Air Base, lies the twisted remains of several all-terrain vehicles, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Alongside these lie smashed shards that were once generators, tank tracks and mountains of tents that have been reduced to sliced up fabric.

Anything they are not shipping home or giving to the Afghans, the Americans are destroying.

Officials have said in the past that they are destroying the equipment so it does not fall into militant hands.

But, according to AP, Mir and other scrap sellers around Bagram have said it is an infuriating waste.

“What they are doing is a betrayal of Afghans. They should leave,” said Mir. “Like they have destroyed this vehicle, they have destroyed us.”

AP reports that as the last few thousand US and NATO troops withdraw, they leave behind many Afghans who are frustrated and angry.

They feel abandoned to a legacy they blame at least in part on the Americans — a deeply corrupt US-backed government and growing instability that could burst into a brutal new phase of civil war.

AP reported that the scrapyard owners are angry in part because they could have profited more from selling intact equipment.

According to AP, US officials are being secretive about what stays and what goes. Most of what is being shipped home is sensitive equipment never intended to stay behind, say US Defense and Western officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Other equipment including helicopters, military vehicles, weapons and ammunition will be handed over to Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces and some bases will be given to them as well.

One of those most recently handed over was the New Antonik base in Helmand province, where Taliban are said to control roughly 80% of the rural area.

AP reports that destined for the scrap heap are equipment and vehicles that can neither be repaired nor transferred to Afghanistan’s security forces because of poor condition.

This is not however the first time this has happened. The same was done in 2014, when thousands of troops withdrew as the US and NATO handed Afghanistan’s security over to Afghans.

More than 176 million kilograms of scrap from destroyed equipment and vehicles was sold to Afghans for $46.5 million, a spokeswoman for the military’s Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia said at the time.

The Associated Press reported that last month, around the time President Joe Biden announced that America was ending it’s “forever war,” Mir paid nearly $40,000 for a container packed with 70 tons of trashed equipment.

He’ll make money, he told AP, but it will be a fraction of what he could have made selling the vehicles if they’d been left intact, even if they weren’t in running condition.

The parts would have been sold to the legions of auto repair shops across Afghanistan, he said. That can’t happen now. They’ve been reduced to mangled pieces of metal that Mir sells for a few thousand Afghanis.

Sadat, another scrap dealer in Bagram, says similar scrap yards around the country are crammed with ruined US equipment.

“They left us nothing,” he said. “They don’t trust us. They have destroyed our country. They are giving us only destruction.”

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US indicates Daesh might have been behind deadly school bombing

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(Last Updated On: May 11, 2021)

The US State Department said Monday ISIS (Daesh) could possibly have been behind the deadly school bombing in Kabul that left over 80 people, mostly schoolgirls, dead.

In a press briefing, the department’s spokesman Ned Price said there are some indications that Daesh was behind the attack.

“We are still looking into what or who is responsible, but I would note that ISIS has been responsible for similar attacks on Shia communities in Kabul in the past,” he said.

“We note the Taliban has denied involvement in the attack, and we welcome their announcement of a three-day ceasefire over the upcoming Eid holiday.

“We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence,” he said.

He went on to say that although the United States is withdrawing its troops, America is not disengaging from Afghanistan. He said Washington “will continue to use our diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolset to ensure that the gains of the past 20 years, particularly those made by women, girls, and minorities, are preserved.”

Price pointed out that in leaving Afghanistan, it was only “a military withdrawal”.

Quoting US President Joe Biden, Price said: “As the President has said, we will be withdrawing our military forces, except those required for the protection of our embassy in Kabul. And that’s the other important point: We are going to retain an embassy in Kabul precisely though – so that we can continue to partner and to provide support for not only the Government of Afghanistan, but the people of Afghanistan.

He stated that the circumstances of the bombing at the school on Saturday “are not yet crystal clear. As I said before, there are some indications that this may have been attributable to ISIS and not the Taliban.”

Price also stated that Washington has “long been concerned about the growth of ISIS in Afghanistan”.

“As you know, we have had a military presence in Afghanistan to see to it that the country could not be used as a staging ground to attack the United States, to propel force beyond – well beyond Afghanistan’s borders. We have been able to accomplish that goal.

“We continue to have important humanitarian goals when it comes to Afghanistan. We will continue to carry out and to move forward with those objectives, even as our military withdraws from the country,” he said.

Special Immigrant Visa Program

Price also noted that as the US withdraws, they will keep “adequate resources in the region and over-the-horizon capacity should threats emerge that require us to leverage the use of force.”

On the issue of visas for interpreters who have worked for the US military, Price said that serious attention was being given to the Special Immigrant Visa Program.

He said Washington has “added resources to help process the special immigrant visa applicants, knowing that as the United States, we have a special responsibility to those who have helped us along the way, who have helped the US military, who have helped the US government, oftentimes placing themselves in harm’s way.

“Our commitment to these people, to these individuals will continue, and we are doing all we can to process them as expeditiously as we can,” he said.

In answer to a question, Price added: “We have been acting with the utmost urgency knowing that, again, we have a special responsibility to the women and men who have, in many cases, placed themselves in harm’s way to assist the US government over the years.”

He said additional resources, including augmenting domestic staff in Washington to process applications, has already been put in place. In addition, the US has approved a temporary increase in consular staffing at the embassy in Kabul in order to conduct interviews and process visa applications,” Price said.

“And we’ll continue to do that contingent on the security situation in the country. We will continue to look for ways to speed up this process, to facilitate the processing of – for these brave individuals.”

Welcoming the three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Eid holidays, Price said they “urge the Taliban to extend the ceasefire and order a significant reduction in violence.

“We all know that a return to violence would be senseless as well as tragic. We remind the Taliban that engaging in violence will not afford it legitimacy or durability. That has been our point all along. Engaging in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement will,” he said.

He said it was in no one’s interest for Afghanistan to once again devolve into civil war. “It’s not in the Taliban’s interests, it’s not in the Government of Afghanistan’s interests, it’s not in the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors, and it’s certainly not in the interests of the people of Afghanistan.”

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