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Intl donors seek strong, positive signal in Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts

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(Last Updated On: July 9, 2020)

The Ambassadorial Anti-Corruption Group has expressed its deep concern over the slowdown in Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts, as documented by the recently published UNAMA annual anti-corruption report.

The group said in a statement that addressing widespread corruption is crucial for sustainable peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.

“The upcoming peace talks require all parties to demonstrate their commitment to integrity, accountability, and the rule of law by concrete actions rather than polarization through mutual accusations of corrupt practices,” the statement said.

It added that the lack of effective investigations and prosecutions, in particular of high-level suspects, is also worrisome and we urge thorough investigation of the multiple allegations of misuse of public funds.

The group urged the Afghan government to empower the Supreme Audit Office and swiftly establish the Anti-Corruption Commission.

“While relying on an interim document to fill immediate gaps, within one year, the Government should adopt a genuine anti-corruption strategy building on a thorough assessment of the previous strategy through an inclusive consultation process,” the statement noted.

It also urged substantial progress on prosecution and enforcement of court orders and warrants, particularly in high-level cases and on the strengthening of the capacity for effective, impartial, and transparent implementation of policies and strategies.

“Findings of investigations by review bodies must be public. Institutions must be competent, independent, and transparent and appointments to the new Government and related institutions, as well as their future policies, must be guided by principles of good governance, rule of law and accountability,” read the statement.

The international donors further said that it is essential to assure donors that funds are being used efficiently and for the greater good. 

“To see reforms fade or fail now would also mean a loss of these investments. Therefore, the international partners will carefully follow the progress made,” the group said. 

“At this point, a strong and positive signal is needed,” it stressed.

The Ambassadorial Anti-Corruption Group is comprised of the Heads of Mission for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Denmark, Germany, Japan, United States of America, Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway, World Bank, NATO Senior Civilian Representative, Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, United Kingdom (UK), and European Union (EU).

COVID-19

World Bank approves COVID-19 aid package of $380m for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: August 5, 2020)

The World Bank has approved a financial package of $380 million to help Afghanistan cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Afghan families. 

The money will go towards helping households, support critical food supply chains, and provide emergency support to farmers.

The aid package, from dozens of donors, is made up of two grants that will go towards specific projects. 

“The living conditions of millions of Afghan families have severely worsened due to the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Henry Kerali, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. 

“These grants will help the Government of Afghanistan address the urgent needs of most households and ensure that Afghan farmers can continue to produce food at a time when imports and exports are severely disrupted. This will extend economic opportunities and create jobs for the wider rural population,” he said.

A $280 million grant will fund the COVID-19 Relief Effort for Afghan Communities and Households (REACH) Project. 

This project will benefit some 2.9 million households across Afghanistan. 

The second grant, of $100 million, will fund the Emergency Agriculture and Food Supply Project (EATS). 

The project aims to improve food security by increasing local food production and strengthening critical commercial food supply chains, especially wheat as the staple crop for over 70 percent of the Afghan population. 

The project will also provide short-term employment in rural areas in the development of productive assets such as irrigation schemes. 

In rural areas, measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted farming, leaving Afghan farmers unable to sow their crops on time, while in urban areas food prices are rising with shortages of food supply becoming more urgent. 

According to the World Bank,  the COVID-19 Relief Effort for Afghan Communities and Households Project will be implemented through the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), and the Kabul Municipality. 

 

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Indian doctor suspected of having been Jalalabad prison car bomber

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(Last Updated On: August 5, 2020)

An Indian doctor was among three Indian nationals suspected of having been involved in Sunday’s prison attack in Jalalabad that killed at least 30 people, Indian officials have confirmed. 

The Times of India reported that intelligence officials confirmed the doctor was killed when he rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the gates of the prison at the start of Sunday’s attack.

Dr Ijas Kallukettiya Purayil, was a Daesh member and was on India’s National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) “most wanted” list, according to the Hindustan Times.

Purayil was identified as one of 11 Daesh attackers after the terrorist organization released information and images of the attackers following the siege. 

According to the Hindustan Times, Purayil was the only Indian attacker whose face was visible in photos released by Daesh. The other two Indian nationals wore masks. 

According to the NIA’s website, Purayil’s status is listed as “absconding”.

A charge sheet filed by NIA in 2016 states he was wanted in connection with a case registered in 2016 on charges of criminal conspiracy, commission of unlawful activities, and membership and support of Daesh. 

His wife Reffeala and their minor child left India via Hyderabad airport in June 2016 to join Daesh in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, the Hindustan Times reported.

Reffeala is currently believed to be in a Kabul prison along with her five-year-old son who they took with them in 2016 and an infant born in Afghanistan. 

She was caught along with 24 other Indians in November last year, the Hindustan Times reported. 

In a message to the media after the deadly attack, Daesh said the attack had been carried out by 11 Daesh members – four Tajiks, three Indians, three Afghans and a Pakistani. 

The attack started on Sunday evening and lasted for over 18 hours. During this time hundreds of the 1,700 prisoners in the Jalalabad facility escaped. 

On Tuesday, an Afghan MP confirmed as many as 800 Daesh prisoners were still on the run. 

Abdul Karim Karimi, a Member of Parliament, said: “1,700 prisoners were inside the jail during the attack, they all attempted to escape. Out of which, 500 of them failed to escape, whereas 800 more prisoners including Daesh, Taliban, and criminals fled.”

According to officials, prisoners being held in that particular jail were political prisoners and criminals. Among them were Taliban and Daesh militants.

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Toll expected to rise in blast that shook Beirut, killing 78 and injuring thousands

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(Last Updated On: August 5, 2020)

Lebanese rescue workers dug through the rubble looking for survivors of a powerful warehouse explosion that shook the capital Beirut, killing 78 people and injuring nearly 4,000 in a toll that officials expected to rise, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Tuesday’s blast at port warehouses storing highly explosive material was the most powerful in years in Beirut, already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections.

President Michel Aoun said that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures, and he said that was “unacceptable”.

He called for an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Officials did not say what caused the blaze that set off the blast. A security source and local media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a hole in the warehouse.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

Hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 pm, a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

The blast revived memories of a 1975-90 civil war and its aftermath, when Lebanese endured heavy shelling, car bombings and Israeli air raids. Some residents thought an earthquake had struck.

Dazed, weeping and injured people walked through streets searching for relatives.

“The blast blew me off meters away. I was in a daze and was all covered in blood. It brought back the vision of another explosion I witnessed against the US embassy in 1983,” said Huda Baroudi, a Beirut designer.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised there would be accountability for the deadly blast at the “dangerous warehouse”, adding “those responsible will pay the price.”

The US embassy in Beirut warned residents about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks if available.

Many Missing

“There are many people missing. People are asking the emergency department about their loved ones and it is difficult to search at night because there is no electricity,” Health Minister Hamad Hasan told Reuters.

Hasan said 78 people were killed and nearly 4,000 injured.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port, followed by an enormous blast, sending a white cloud and a fireball into the sky. 

Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

Bleeding people were seen running and shouting for help in clouds of smoke and dust in streets littered with damaged buildings, flying debris, and wrecked cars and furniture.

The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.

Hariri was killed by a huge truck bomb on the same waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.

Israeli officials said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with Tuesday’s blast and said their country was ready to give humanitarian and medical assistance. 

Shi’ite Iran, the main backer of Hezbollah, also offered support, as did Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni power.

At a White House briefing, US President Donald Trump indicated that the explosion was a possible attack, but two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial information contradicted Trump’s view.

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