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Pakistan’s Chaman border, closed for days due to fear of Afghans influx

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(Last Updated On: October 17, 2021)

A day after protesters took to the streets of Chaman in Pakistan to demand the re-opening of the border crossing into Afghanistan, scores were seen waiting by the border road on Saturday.

Hundreds of people are stranded on both sides of the Chaman border crossing that has been closed for almost two weeks now, Reuters reported.

“This border has been closed for the last 13 days. We have been sitting here for the past 13 days for it to open. We come here at 8:00 in the morning, but by 10:00 we go back, because they (officials) are saying it could not open for months. Whatever money we had earned, we have spent all of it here,” said Sami Ullah, a laborer from Baghlan province who had gone to Karachi for work.

Pakistani officials have said the border has been temporarily closed apparently due to the fear of an influx of Afghans who want to leave their homeland after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) seized power in August.

Chaman border crossing , the second-largest commercial border point with Afghanistan after the Torkham commercial town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, links with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar, and is used by thousands of labourers, as well as traders, from both countries on a regular basis.

On Friday, thousands of traders took to the streets of Chaman, some on horseback, demanding that the border be opened, Reuters reported.

According to reports, thousands of Afghans have been gathering near the border in their efforts to sneak into Pakistan which has already announced that it was not in a position to accept more refugees.

Already around three million Afghan refugees are already living in Pakistan, some for more than three decades, since the invasion of their country by the Russians in 1979.

Pakistan officials say they fear around a million more would enter the country if border regulations are relaxed.

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Donors still to decide on shifting frozen funds for Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: December 4, 2021)

Donors to the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) have agreed to decide about a transfer of funds to humanitarian aid agencies by December 10, a World Bank spokesperson said on Friday.

The World Bank’s board this week backed transferring $280 million from the $1.5 billion trust fund, which was frozen after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) took over the Afghan government in August, to the World Food Programme and UNICEF, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing sources familiar with the plan.

The World Bank spokesperson gave no details on the proposal, but said ARTF donors met on Friday and agreed to make a decision on transfers out of the fund in one week.

No further details about the ARTF meeting were immediately available.

The U.S. Treasury Department had no comment.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a collapsing economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty since the Taliban seized power at the end of August as the last U.S. troops withdrew from 20 years of war.

Afghan experts have said the aid would help, but big questions remain, including how to get funds into Afghanistan without exposing any financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions.

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World Bank works to redirect frozen funds for humanitarian aid only

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2021)

The World Bank is finalizing a proposal to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies, people familiar with the plans told Reuters, but it leaves out tens of thousands of public sector workers and remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.

Board members will meet informally on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, hammered out in recent weeks with U.S. and U.N. officials, to redirect the funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has a total of $1.5 billion, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a collapsing economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty three months after the the former government collapsed.

Afghan experts said the aid will help, but big gaps remain, including how to get the funds into Afghanistan without exposing the financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions, and the lack of focus on state workers, the sources said.

The money will go mainly to addressing urgent health care needs in Afghanistan, where less than 7% of the population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they said.

For now, it will not cover salaries for teachers and other government workers, a policy that the experts say could hasten the collapse of Afghanistan’s public education, healthcare and social services systems.

They warn that hundreds of thousands of workers, who have been unpaid for months, could stop showing up for their jobs and join a massive exodus from the country.

The World Bank will have no oversight of the funds once transferred into Afghanistan, said one of the sources familiar with the plans. A U.S. official stressed that UNICEF and other recipient agencies would have “their own controls and policies in place.”

“The proposal calls for the World Bank to transfer the money to the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, without any oversight or reporting, but it says nothing about the financial sector, or how the money will get into the country,” the source said, calling U.S. sanctions a major constraint.

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine, the source added.

“We’re driving the country into the dust,” said the source. Crippling sanctions and failure to take care of public sector workers will “create more refugees, more desperation and more extremism.”

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that Washington is working with the World Bank and other donors on how to use the funds, including potentially paying those who work in “critical positions such as healthcare workers and teachers.”

The spokesperson said the U.S. government remains committed to meeting the  critical needs of the  Afghan people, “especially across health, nutrition, education, and food security sectors … but international aid is not a silver bullet.”

Established in 2002 and administered by the World Bank, the ARTF was the largest financing source for Afghanistan’s civilian budget, which was more than 70% funded by foreign aid.

The World Bank suspended disbursements after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) takeover. At the same time, Washington stopped supplying U.S. dollars to the country and joined in freezing some $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and halting financial assistance.

One major problem is the lack of a mechanism to monitor disbursements of funds in Afghanistan to ensure Taliban leaders and fighters do not access them, a third source said.

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Export of Afghanistan’s talc resumes: Industrial Association

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(Last Updated On: November 29, 2021)

Afghanistan Industrial Association said Monday that Kabul recently exported 500 tons of talc powder to a number of countries including China, Spain and the UK.

Abdul Jabbar Safi, the head of the association, said: “Afghanistan has recently exported talc to Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Spain, and the UK. Exports have resumed and we want to expand our exports.”

The association meanwhile also called for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to focus on the mining sector and provide facilities for the extraction of minerals in order to boost investment.

They also called on government to establish new policies around mining, also to boost investment in the sector.

Safi meanwhile said that since the mid-August takeover by the IEA, “illegal extractions of mines, as well as smuggling, have been prevented.”

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