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Govt says NYT claims of misinforming media are baseless 

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(Last Updated On: January 11, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi has rejected claims in an article by The New York Times on Monday that the Afghan government has “sidelined spokesmen in an escalating misinformation war”. 

Sediqqi said the claims are “baseless”.

Taking to Twitter, Sediqqi said “bizarre claims! For the record: there are more than 200 spokespersons in the Afghan Government, we have a strong access to info law with no limitation; there are 100s of statements issued by the top leaderships on access to information, flow and dissemination.”

He said: “No journalist is in prison. 1000s of free media functions, no suppressing, no one in the government, including the President is afraid of criticism. There has been no crackdown on spokespersons. Information management, countering fake news, misinformation, … and the Taliban propaganda, and managing the flow of information is the key responsibility of the Afghan government. It must not be considered as suppressing/denying, crackdown or being afraid of criticism, he tweeted. 

On Monday, the New York Times reported that after Ahmad Jawad Hijri, the spokesman for the governor of Takhar Province, told the media that children were wounded in an Afghan airstrike in the province in October, government jailed him for three days and then fired him. 

At the time officials in Kabul insisted that only Taliban fighters had been killed in the strike and that anyone who said otherwise would be prosecuted. 

Hijri meanwhile told the New York Times that he saw the children himself. 

“At the hospital I saw the wounded children,” Hijri said. “I did not make a mistake,” The Times reported.

The actions taken against Hijri signaled a shift in tactics by the Afghan government, The Times stated adding that news briefings that defined the early years of the war as both sides jockeyed to win Afghan hearts and minds have nearly ceased. That leaves its main players — the United States, the Taliban and the government — all testing different communication strategies to achieve their desired ends.

The Times quoted Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director of Human Rights Watch as having said the Afghan government is “so afraid of criticism, they are unwilling to admit to errors or hold themselves accountable.” 

“It’s ultimately self-destructive, but they’re desperate to control information,” she was quoted as saying. 

In the past, the Afghan government was reticent about civilian casualties inflicted by the coalition or by Afghan forces, but local officials from areas where civilians were wounded or killed were allowed to speak about them freely.

Since October, the Ghani administration has muzzled provincial spokesmen and district governors, demanding that they stop relaying information to the news media, several Afghan officials from multiple provinces told The Times, especially relating to civilian casualties.

Last month, government announced it had barred provincial government spokesmen from sharing information with the media, raising concerns among lawmakers and journalists that the move will be a major setback for press freedom in the country.

On December 26, Rahmatullah Andar, spokesman for Ghani’s national security advisor said: “From now onward, governors will take the responsibility of providing efficient information to the media and the public, and spokesmen will continue their duties as public affairs officers on the basis of their working regulation.”

Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for Ghani, said at the time the decision was made “because some spokesmen had talked about some issues that had no truth and were against the policy.”

He also said the role of provincial spokesmen will now be to pass on questions from the media to governors. District chiefs were also barred from media interaction.

Provincial spokesmen in many regions were often the only official sources of information to the media in Afghanistan, which has become one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. 

At least five journalists have been killed in the country in the past two months while a former journalist who was the spokesman for government Public Protection Force was killed in a targeted explosion in Kabul on Sunday. 

At the time of the clampdown against provincial spokesman, Nasir Ahmad Noor, head of local media watchdog NAI, said the ban will lead to the “spread of rumors and sometimes false information.” 

“When you do not have access to spokesmen and it is highly difficult to get to the governors, then you have to rely on accounts from unnamed sources,” he said.

At the time, Seddiq also denied that government was trying to limit information, saying that the Afghan government has “been a pioneer in supporting our vibrant media and the enforcement of access to information laws which are unprecedented in the region.”

But The Times reported Monday that ultimately, that according to a former US official, the Afghan government’s decision to stifle information at the local level means that the Taliban have more space to control the narrative in the country’s districts where they are present but that Afghan officials have greater command over the national narrative.

 

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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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