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Khalilzad urges independent bodies, media included, to document casualties 

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2020)

Amid rising levels of violence in the country, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconstruction Zalmay Khalilzad said overnight Sunday that an accelerated political settlement was critical along with a reduction in violence. 

In a series of tweets, Khalilzad said: “The answer to this tragic situation is an immediate reduction of violence leading to a ceasefire by all sides. The answer is to accelerate a political settlement.”

“The US is singularly focused on this goal & is pressing both parties to reduce violence & find a path to peace as soon as possible,” he tweeted. 

Khalilzad stated however that independent bodies also need to document current events. 

“It is vital that Afghanistan’s independent media and robust civil society be allowed to document current events,” he said.

This comes after a particularly violent week in Afghanistan in which dozens of civilians lost their lives. 

On Saturday, at least 18 people, mostly students, were killed in a suicide bombing close to an educational facility in Kabul city. 

Also on Saturday, nine people were killed in Ghazni when the vehicle they were traveling in hit a roadside bomb. 

Earlier in the week, an airstrike hit a mosque and school in Takhar province, killing at least 12 children. 

Reacting to this incident, Khalilzad tweed that Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission has confirmed 12 children were killed and many more injured in the airstrike by Afghan government forces.

“This is a terrible tragedy. Unfortunately, tragedy is not limited to Takhar. Civilians are victims of car bombs, IEDs, and targeted killings perpetrated by the Taliban. Civilians have been forced to flee fighting in Lashkar Gah and other areas.”

He said the US offers its “condolences to all the families of those killed and injured.”

This statement by Khalilzad follows on the heels of government’s rejection of claims last week that the Afghan National Army airstrike had hit a mosque and school. 

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh rejected the claims made by local officials in Takhar province and instead ordered the arrest of the individual who reported civilian casualties.

Local officials said 12 children had been killed and 18 civilians wounded in the strike in Hazara Qarluq village in Takhar on Wednesday morning.

Saleh, rejected claims, stated: “No child was killed in Afghan Air Force strike in Takhar.”

He also stated that the Taliban sniper unit “responsible for the massacre of our special forces a day earlier was targeted.”

“The person responsible for spread of this venomous and fake news was arrested immediately. Talibs use houses and mosques as shields,” Saleh tweeted.

Saleh also wrote on Facebook that legal action would be taken against those “who make false allegations.”

Meanwhile, associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch Patricia Gossman said on Thursday: “Vice President Amrullah Saleh is trying to silence those who reported a potentially unlawful airstrike that killed civilians, including many children,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. 

“The government should immediately release anyone detained under Saleh’s order and carry out a thorough and impartial investigation of the airstrike.”

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Pakistan invites Afghan cricket team on official tour

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(Last Updated On: November 25, 2020)

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has invited Afghanistan’s national cricket team on an official tour for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

This historic move follows the recent visit to Kabul by Prime Minister Imran Khan – one of the game’s greatest players.

“We’ll try to look for a possible window for this tour – and if not 2021, we’ll definitely try to plan a series in 2022 season,” said PCB chief executive Wasim Khan.

“A cricket series between Pakistan and Afghanistan could be a harbinger of love and peace between the two countries,” he told AFP.

An Afghan national side toured Pakistan in May 2011 but they only played a second-string side and matches were not given first-class status.

The two countries have played only a single official one-day match and one Twenty20 international – both in the United Arab Emirates.

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Taliban ignoring calls for reduction in violence: US envoy

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(Last Updated On: November 23, 2020)

Despite concerted efforts on the part of the United States to get the Taliban to reduce its levels of violence in the country, the group has failed to listen to calls from the US and in fact dislike being criticized.

Speaking virtually to the media on Monday, the US Chargé d’Affaires to Afghanistan Ross Wilson said the United States has not been able to convince the Taliban to scale down on violent attacks.

There has been a marked increase in violence by the Taliban since the signing of the US-Taliban deal in February in Doha.

In line with this, Wilson said: “We are deeply concerned about the Taliban’s [increase in] violence since February 29, it is not consistent with the terms that we believe we agreed upon with the Taliban.

“We have told the Taliban this very clearly and directly many times, they don’t like the criticism from us, they don’t like the implied criticism from the United Nations, from the EU from other international communities.

“I regret deeply that we have not yet had more success in and seeing or generally having resulting decrease in the level of violence of the very significant reduction that we believe was part of the deal in February and that has not materialized; certainly not that we have expected or that we would like to expect,” said Wilson.

Wilson added that he has also spoken to a number of media outlets to address challenges and threats against journalists and added that efforts are underway to find solutions.

“We strongly support free and independent media in this country; last week with media figures [we] talked about specific problem of assassinations, threats against journalists and how we in this country and other international firms can help to address that problem,” Wilson added.

Experts believe that the Taliban continue to use violence to gain points in peace talks.

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Nine Australian soldiers commit suicide in just three weeks

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(Last Updated On: November 23, 2020)

Nine Australian soldiers have taken their own lives in just three weeks amid weeks of discussions and media coverage of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, the Daily Mail reported. 

The four-year inquiry uncovered a ‘shameful record’ of unlawful killings that took place outside the ‘heat of battle’.

An edited version of the report was released on Thursday after a four-year inquiry uncovered a “shameful record” of unlawful killings. 

The Daily Mail reported that in the past three weeks one female and eight male soldiers, aged between early 20s and 50s, have taken their own lives. 

According to the news report, so many soldiers taking their own lives in such a short space of time is believed to be unprecedented in recent Australian military history.

It is believed the stress of the inquiry – which uncovered evidence of 39 murders by Australian Special Forces – played a part in some of their suicides, the Daily Mail stated.

‘I think some of the media [reports of alleged war crimes] has been painting everyone with the same brush and people seem to have forgotten about innocence until proven guilty – and that adds additional stress,’ ex-infantry soldier and veterans’ mental health advocate Neil ‘Wally’ Wallace told The Advertiser. 

However, the Mail reported that there is no suggestion the nine late ADF members had anything to do with the alleged war crimes documented in the report.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation said in reaction to the report: “There is no way to define this brutality. There is no way to explain what has happened. It is incomprehensible.”

“These are crimes against innocent people, and I was shocked. At the same time, the Australian government has come very clear with it – about what has happened.”

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson meanwhile told Al Jazeera that the Afghan victims deserve swift and independent justice for the “deliberate and cold-blooded killings”.

“Ultimately, if we’re talking about accountability, this should not just stop with the people who pulled the trigger and killed these people in Afghanistan,” she told the BBC.

“This is also about command responsibility and so I think that it’s very important that those who knew or who should have known are also held to account and are held criminally liable for these acts.”

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