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Media watchdog warns of Taliban interference in Ghazni 

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(Last Updated On: October 26, 2020)

Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) warned on Monday the Taliban had attempted to restrict media and journalists in battle-weary Ghazni province but that the group has backed down and the media can continue operating as usual. 

In a statement issued by the AJSC, the organization said the insurgent group had summoned a number of local journalists and media officials in Ghazni and ordered them to edit their publications, broadcasts, etc according to the group’s demands. 

The Taliban had told them to stop “publishing women’s music and voices in the local media.”

The AJSC said: “This demand of the Taliban has been alarming and [the group] has warned the media officials that if their demand is not accepted, they will be responsible for the consequences.”

However, after efforts on the part of AJSC and help from local elders, “the issue has been resolved in some way,” stated the organization. 

AJSC said the Taliban stated their local members had initiated the move but that some of their demands should be “considered”. 

AJSC stated it the Taliban’s demands were alarming as the right to information and freedom of expression is a natural right of every human being and no individual or group has the right to deprive it.”

The AJSC urged all parties to the conflict to “respect this basic human right and refrain from obstructing it.”

The organization also called on the Afghan government to address the issue immediately, and take it up with Taliban officials in the political office in Doha. 

In response to the development, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) stated that “Afghanistan’s journalists deserve safety from all those who would seek to bully or gag them.”

Soon after the start of intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha last month, AJSC Director Najib Sharifi said there’s reason to be seriously concerned about the longevity of achievements in the media sector over the past 19 years. 

He said concerns had led the AJSC together with the Afghan media community to launch a Roadmap in April this year to ensure that negotiations would address the need for protection of press freedom and freedom of expression.

“Afghanistan’s constitution strongly upholds press freedom, but that could easily change if the Taliban were to gain political power. Taliban disagrees with the very idea of press freedom and losing these basic democratic rights will be disastrous for the nation”, Sharifi said. 

The Roadmap sets out specific proposals for the various stages of the peace talks; both for the Afghan government and the negotiating team, as well as for international stakeholders and the media community.

“We will work towards its implementation and we call on the Government of Afghanistan, International stakeholders and especially the negotiating team to consider the road map during the talks,” Sharifi said.

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Khamenei promises retaliation for killing of Iranian scientist

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday Tehran would retaliate over the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, who the West claimed was heading up a secret nuclear weapons program for Iran. 

Khamenei said in a statement scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh had been killed “by brutal mercenaries”. 

“Two important issues should be seriously put on the agenda by all those involved, first, the pursuit of this crime and the definitive punishment of its perpetrators and commanders, and second, the pursuit of the martyr’s (Fakhrizadeh) scientific and technical efforts in all the areas in which he was involved. 

Khamenei who has said Tehran never sought nuclear arms and pledged in his statement to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after gunmen ambushed him in his car near Tehran.

Reuters reported that the killing, which Iran’s president was swift to blame on Israel, threatens to spark a new Middle East confrontation in the final weeks of US President Donald Trump’s term.

It could also complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration. Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed with Tehran.

Israel’s N12 news channel meanwhile said Israeli embassies around the world had been put on high alert after the Iranian threats of retaliation. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised cabinet meeting that Iran would respond “at the proper time.”

“Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.

Israel has declined to comment on the killing. The White House, Pentagon, US State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden’s transition team, Reuters reported.

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Kabul doctor arrested for raping 10-year-old boy 

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said Saturday morning that a Kabul doctor has been arrested and charged with sexual assault after allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy. 

Saleh said in his daily report on Facebook, after the 6.30am security meeting, that he has discussed the issue with the Ministry of Public Health and requested the doctor’s license to practice be revoked. 

Saleh said the doctor, named Sifat Assadullah, son of Azizullah, had worked at the Zulfiqar Hospital but that he will be barred from ever practicing medicine again. 

Saleh also said Kabul police had arrested three kidnappers in the Karte Parwan area in Kabul. He said the gang had kidnapped a 55-year-old man and had demanded ransom money for his return. 

However, the hostage was killed. He said the victim’s family had asked for privacy in the wake of the man’s death and that no further details be released. 

Saleh also reported that in the past forty-eight hours, Kabul’s National Security Directorate (NDS) had 11 members of the Taliban and ISIS groups, including an 11-year-old boy. 

“Among these 11 people is an under-age young man named Idris, who was encouraged and groomed by the Taliban to be a suicide bomber. 

“Fortunately, a disaster was prevented. Idris’s father was also arrested for hiding his son’s affiliation with the Taliban.” He said the family lives in PD5 of Kabul. 

In a report back on the Kabul University attack earlier this month, Saleh said the NDS has asked for more time for their investigations. 

Saleh indicated he was not withholding information on the case but said: “My commitment to the people of Afghanistan is that from now on, the cases that are completed are no longer private and will be given to the people uncensored. 

“People have the right to access basic information about terrorism and the crimes committed by Taliban and others.”

Saleh’s meetings with security chiefs take place every morning at 6.30am where the First Vice President is addressed on progress being made in open cases and of arrests and other achievements by security forces in the preceding 24 hours. 

These meetings are part of Saleh’s plan to clean up Kabul and rid the city of criminals and terrorists. 

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US closes 10 bases as part of ‘murky’ withdrawal process

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(Last Updated On: November 28, 2020)

The United States has closed at least 10 military bases across Afghanistan as part of a withdrawal process “so murky” that many officials say they are uncertain of what’s to come despite a fast-approaching deadline, the Washington Post reported Saturday. 

Washington’s drawdown started after the US signed a deal with the Taliban in February which did stipulate that the US had 135 days in which to close five bases as well as a full foreign military withdrawal by May next year. 

Speaking to the Washington Post on condition of anonymity, Afghan and US officials confirmed that 10 bases had however been shut down. 

Little is known about what remains of the bases – many of which are in the more volatile provinces in Afghanistan. 

It is also unclear how much equipment — more difficult to move than people — is left at each of the closed installations, the Post reported.

In addition to the closure of bases, Afghan and US officials also stated that there was still uncertainty around the drawdown plans. Trump’s administration has said that troop levels will be reduced to about 2,500 by January 15, from around 4,000 currently. 

One official told the Washington Post that there are ongoing discussions around the drawdown and that details are still being worked through on what equipment — ranging from spare vehicle parts to ammunition — needs to be sent back to the United States and what can be turned over to the Afghan government.

However, another official told the Post that despite the drawdown in people and closure of bases, the US will retain the ability to carry out airstrikes against the Taliban in defense of Afghan forces. 

US troops will also remain able to carry out some counterterrorism strikes against the IS-K (Daesh) in Afghanistan.

Another US official said a number of significant decisions will be made over the next two weeks, including which other bases will close and what equipment will be turned over to the Afghan military. 

He told the Washington Post these decisions will be made in consultation with NATO allies and with the Afghan government. 

Speaking to the Post, Ashley Jackson, an expert on the Taliban, with the Overseas Development Institute said the closing of US bases is handing Taliban fighters symbolic and tangible victories.

“It’s the best propaganda [the Taliban] could ever have,” Jackson said, citing contacts she has close to the Taliban. “It’s the psychological effect that they are watching.”

And, as the United States closes smaller outposts that helped government forces hold territory, Jackson said the Taliban would probably move in and expand its reach.

The Washington Post meanwhile cited analysts and Afghan officials as having said further closures show that the United States is collapsing its forces in Afghanistan back into its bigger military installations to save on the large number of troops needed to secure the perimeter of multiple small outposts.

The move also brings US troops closer to medical facilities as the American footprint in Afghanistan shrinks, and would make it easier to evacuate the country rapidly if security disintegrates, the article stated.

The initial bases closed this year were Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Bost in Helmand, Gamberi in Laghman and Lightning in Paktia. Others closed this year include Jones in Kunduz, DeAlencar in Nangarhar, Shaheen in Balkh, Bishop in Kabul, Maymana in Faryab, and Qalat in Zabul.

It is unclear how many bases remain open in Afghanistan, in part because the total number of military sites has not been made public. 

But a senior adjunct fellow with the Center for a New American Security, who served in Afghanistan, Jason Dempsey, told the Washington Post that Trump’s decision to continue withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is “clearly such an ego and timeline-driven mood.”

Dempsey, who has frequently criticized the US military’s efforts in Afghanistan, said he believes the Afghan government is being “hung out to dry” by the US administration with the manner in which it is withdrawing.

“I don’t think we have a path to solid victory,” he said. “But I’d like to think that we had an obligation as we withdrew to our Afghan partners to at least leave them in the best position possible.”

 

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