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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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Biden to keep Khalilzad as peace envoy for now

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

Former president Donald Trump’s peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will retain his position, for now, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN. 

This move is not typical as traditionally an incoming administration replaces all politically appointed officials – especially those dealing with foreign policy issues. 

Khalilzad, a diplomatic veteran, has worked on the peace process for more than two years and has been the key official from Washington to meet with both the Afghan government and the Taliban as well as all other stakeholders and regional leaders. 

No further details were released and according to CNN the State Department did not comment when asked about Khalilzad staying on board. 

However, in a statement issued late Friday, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib that the United States intends to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement.”

He also said Washington would assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.

Sullivan also expressed America’s desire that all Afghan leaders embrace this “historic opportunity for peace and stability.”

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Washington to review US-Taliban deal, Sullivan tells Mohib 

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib on Friday evening and said Washington intends to review the US-Taliban deal signed in February last year and to assess whether the Taliban is adhering to its commitments. 

In a statement issued by the White House following the discussion between the two NSAs, Sullivan said the US will support the peace process with “a robust and regional diplomatic effort, which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire”. 

Sullivan also made clear “the United States’ intention to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement, including to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.”

According to the statement, Sullivan also expressed America’s desire that all Afghan leaders embrace this “historic opportunity for peace and stability.”

In addition, Sullivan and Mohib discussed the US’s support for protecting the gains made by Afghan women, girls, and minority groups as part of the peace process. 

Sullivan also “committed to consulting closely with the Afghan government, NATO allies, and regional partners regarding a collective strategy to support a stable, sovereign, and secure future for Afghanistan,” the statement read.

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Attacks are against the values of Islam, Atmar tells OIC chief 

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(Last Updated On: January 20, 2021)

Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar held talks on Wednesday with Yousef al-Othaimeen, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Saudi Arabia and discussed the current peace talks being held in Doha, Qatar. 

In a statement, the Jeddah-based organization said discussions were held on the peace process, and on how the OIC can support the talks. 

Al-Othaimeen reiterated the OIC’s commitment to supporting the Afghan people, and development projects in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Atmar praised the OIC for its role in forging unity among Islamic countries in support of the peace process and for issuing special resolutions to form a consensus among Islamic countries to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan. 

At the meeting, Atmar called the war in Afghanistan illegitimate from the point of view of Islam.

“The crimes that are being committed in Afghanistan today are completely incompatible with the beliefs of Muslims and Islamic teachings; Attacks on female judges, killings of Kabul University students and attacks on maternity hospitals are certainly not justifiable in Islam,” he said.

Atmar also stated that if the opposition is truly committed to peace, the Afghan government would not see any obstacles to national reconciliation and the success of the peace process, and would be ready to pave the way for political participation on all sides in accordance with the free will of the Afghan people and internationally accepted standards.

“We want the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to continue its previous demands to end the bloodshed and resolve the political crisis in Afghanistan through holding follow-up meetings, expert consultations and sending special groups to consult with the teams,” he said. 

In response to the Foreign Minister’s remarks, the Secretary-General of the OIC said that he commends and supports the flexible and adaptable position of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan towards peace.

Al-Othaimeen pointed out that killing, violence and intimidation are contrary to the essence of Islam and that people should be made aware that Islam is not a religion of terror and violence, but a religion of unity and convergence. 

He praised the role of religious scholars in this regard, saying that scholars in Islamic societies have an important position not only from a religious point of view but also from a political point of view.

 

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