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Guarded by ex-inmates, Kabul’s Pul-e-Charkhi Prison lies deserted

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s infamous Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, which once housed thousands of Islamic Emirate forces and Daesh fighters in its sprawling compound on the outskirts of Kabul, today stands virtually empty, except for the remnants of prisoners’ belongings and discarded documents.

On August 15, as the Islamic Emirate drove into Kabul following the fall of the previous government, the gates to the prison were flung open – ending in some cases years of incarceration for many detainees.

The once heavily fortified facility is now guarded by former inmates – Islamic Emirate members – and only a small section is used for new inmates, alleged criminals and drug addicts arrested in the past month.

A walk through the deserted cell blocks is a stark reminder of the recent changes in the country.

In some cells, personal items that once belonged to prisoners lie forgotten about, and discarded documents are testimony to the unexpected collapse of the former Ashraf Ghani government.

In parts of the prison, signs of the Islamic Emirate flag remain, as does the black flag of Daesh.

One former prison guard, Safiullah, told Ariana News: “There is no one, you can see, they have generally destroyed many places and left.”

While the majority of political prisoners were Islamic Emirate members, no differentiation was made when the gates opened. As a result hundreds of Daesh fighters also fled, as did some hardened criminals.

During the walk through of the facility, Safiullah also pointed out areas that were used for specific purposes.

“This was a Madrasa where the Islamic Emirate’s Qaris [teachers] were teaching students to memorize the Holy Quran. We set up this Madrasa for them,” Safiullah said.

One former inmate, an Islamic Emirate member Mohammad Salim, in turn pointed out the section used by prison guards to mete out punishment.

“They punished us here; they tied our hands here and punished us and beat us here,” said Salim.

Islamic Emirate authorities have however said that they are working to recapture and return some former inmates – especially hardened criminals – to the facility.

Pul-e-Charkhi has a long, disturbing history of violence, mass executions and torture.

Mass graves and torture cells were uncovered dating from the Soviet-backed governments of the late 1970s and 1980s and under the former government it was known for poor conditions and overcrowding.

The prison’s 11 cell blocks were built to house 5,000 inmates, but were often packed with more than 10,000, including political prisoners and hardened criminals.

Some of the Taliban now guarding the site were former inmates while the former guards have fled.

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Rashid Khan says team is ready to take on Pakistan in T20 WC match

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2021)

One of Afghanistan’s star cricket players, Rashid Khan, was upbeat this week about the national team’s chances against Pakistan in Friday’s Super 12 match in the T20 World Cup in the UAE.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday in Dubai, Rashid said however that both teams would be under pressure, saying it would be a “stressful” match.

He said the Afghan team will be able to cope with the pressure and would hopefully do well.

“It’s stressful, for all the teams, but we live with it and we’re used to it,” he said.

He went on to say that once the match is underway, all focus is on one’s experience adding that the team is confident they will play well.

“We will try to play well and win the match,” he said.

He said the Pakistan team was a strong opponent but that “Afghanistan’s batting line up is good and our bowling [skills] have a good name in the world.

“We will try our best to play normally and not put any pressure on ourselves, and send back good news for the fans.”

Fans clashed during a one-day World Cup match between Pakistan and Afghanistan in England in 2019, in which several people were injured and police arrested dozens.

This time around, Rashid called on fans from both sides to keep calm and view it as just a game.

“Games send a message of love,” he said, “and fans should enjoy the game”.

Afghanistan will play Pakistan in Dubai on Friday. The match starts at 2.30pm Kabul time and will be broadcast live on Ariana Television.

Afghanistan won its first match against Scotland while Pakistan has won its first two matches against India and New Zealand.

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China to build outpost for Tajikistan special forces near Afghan border

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2021)

China will finance the construction of an outpost for a special forces unit of Tajikistan’s police near the Tajik-Afghan border, the Central Asian nation’s parliament said on Thursday.

The post will be located in Tajikistan’s eastern Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in the Pamir mountains, which border China’s Xinjiang province as well as the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan.

No Chinese troops will be stationed at the facility, a parliament spokesperson said.

The plan to build the post comes amid tension between the Dushanbe government and Afghanistan’s new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) rulers, Reuters reported.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon has refused to recognise the IEA government, calling for a broader representation of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups – of which Tajiks are the second-biggest.

Kabul, in turn, has warned Dushanbe against meddling in its domestic affairs, Reuters reported.

According to Russian media, the IEA have struck an alliance with an ethnic Tajik militant group based in northern Afghanistan which seeks to overthrow Rakhmon’s government, Reuters reported.

A Russia-led regional security organisation held exercises last week near the Tajik-Afghan border, designed to demonstrate that Moscow stands ready to protect Dushanbe in the event of an incursion from the south.

China is a major investor in Tajikistan and Beijing has also acted as a donor on several occasions, handing over, for example, a new parliament building free of charge.

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Khalilzad opens up about Ghani and ‘selfish’ political elite

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(Last Updated On: October 28, 2021)

Former US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said former president Ashraf Ghani’s “intransigence,” the Afghan elite’s “selfishness” and Afghan soldiers’ lack of will to fight was to blame for the rapid takeover of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in August.

On Ghani’s refusal to change his views, or agree to the formation of a new interim government, Khalilzad said: “We were all surprised by the intransigence of President Ghani in insisting on staying in power till his term ended, despite the fact that he had come out re-elected in a fraudulent election that very few Afghans participated in.”

Addressing a webinar organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, on Wednesday, Khalilzad also acknowledged for the first time publicly that the U.S. had discouraged Afghans from holding the presidential elections that led to Ghani’s winning a second term in office.

According to Khalilzad, the U.S. wanted to establish an interim administration that was acceptable to both sides while Afghan politicians and civil society negotiated a political settlement with the IEA.

Khalilzad said Ghani’s “grand miscalculation” was that he did not believe the U.S. would withdraw from the country.

According to Khalilzad, Ghani thought the U.S. forces and intelligence agencies would stay in Afghanistan as it gave them physical proximity to strategically important countries like China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

“I tried to persuade him that President [Donald] Trump was very serious, and he said, ‘No, the intelligence and military told me otherwise,’ ” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad also stated that Ghani miscalculated his own military’s will to fight.

Once the U.S. announced its decision to withdraw, Ghani told Khalilzad, “now I am free to fight the war the Afghan way. In six months now I will defeat the Taliban because you were fighting it poorly.”

Khalilzad went on to say that the fact that an estimated 300,000-strong Afghan army melted away in front of 60,000 IEA fighters was the result of a lack of morale, corruption and poor treatment of the soldiers on the front lines.

He said this also might have been because the soldiers “didn’t believe” in the cause, while the IEA fighters felt otherwise.

Khalilzad also blasted what he called the Afghan elite’s “selfish, self-centered, corrupt” behavior.

“I am disappointed that the elite that we worked with; they didn’t rise to the occasion; this golden opportunity that the American engagement provided,” he said.

In terms of going forward, Khalilzad advocated a robust diplomatic engagement with the IEA that includes an agreement on a “road map that takes into account the trust or mistrust of each other and the behavior that needs to take place over a time period.”

He also said that many in the US want the IEA to suffer and their government to collapse, because “we did not succeed in defeating them, and that has left a bad taste in people’s mouths.”

But he warned that a collapse of government in Afghanistan would lead to a civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe that would provide space for terrorist groups to flourish.

He said the IEA had shown, in the 18 months after signing the Doha agreement, that they could keep their word by not killing a single American even though U.S. air attacks in defense of Afghan forces killed hundreds or even thousands of Taliban during that period.

Khalilzad also said the IEA could benefit from outside help on how to deal with Daesh in Afghanistan.

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