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Peace won’t be found in silence or fear, says AIHRC chair 

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(Last Updated On: February 28, 2021)

One year ago today – February 28 – Afghans were buoyed by the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha, which they hoped would bring peace. Instead, today, a year later, targeted killings have spiked leaving thousands of civil society activists, government officials, journalists and even doctors fearing for their lives. 

Shaharzad Akbar, the chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), wrote in an op-ed piece, published in the Washington Post, that “every night, I lie awake wondering who will be next. I think of a colleague whose teenage son checks his car every morning for magnetic bombs. A husband saying goodbye to his wife as she leaves for work, wondering if today will be the day she is killed on her way to the office.”

She said that a year after the deal was signed, instead of ushering in peace “one of the most tangible changes has been an increase in targeted killings, mostly unclaimed, that have created an environment of terror and fear. 

“There were nearly three times the number of such attacks in 2020 compared with 2019; the casualties include the deaths of 11 human rights defenders and media workers in the past five months,” she wrote. 

Akbar pointed out that some of Afghanistan’s most important gains, its activists, community leaders and scholars, are being silenced at a time when, after the US-Taliban deal, Afghans had hoped for a reduction in violence and for inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.

“While the Taliban denies involvement in most targeted attacks, it benefits from the environment of fear and hopelessness around the peace process and the lack of critical voices demanding an inclusive peace. 

“This reign of terror for Afghan civilians must end in order for a real peace process to begin,” Akbar wrote. 

She also pointed out that as the United States reviews its Afghanistan policy, it still has leverage — including the existing UN sanctions on the Taliban, the Taliban’s desire for international recognition and legitimacy, and the presence of international forces in Afghanistan — to help stop these attacks and encourage a ceasefire and an inclusive peace process.

She stated that her AIHRC colleagues know what it is to feel terror as the organization has lost three of its staff members in the past 18 months.

Akbar pointed out that these high levels of violence are forcing families to flee the country. 

“Every day I hear of another friend, journalist, academic, women’s rights activist or businessperson leaving the country. Their departures are creating an absence that will take another generation to fill. Those who can’t leave feel silenced by fear and have little chance of influencing the peace process,” she wrote.

Akbar also noted that it has been years since the last mass demonstration by Afghans – “for fear of attacks”. 

She also said that following the recent wave of assassinations, public debate has closed down, even in the virtual sphere. “This is even more true beyond Kabul, in rural areas where conflict has been the most savage.”

Akbar stated that while US President Joe Biden’s team has signaled that it will withdraw its last troops as per the agreement with the Taliban, if the group reduces violence. she said: “This is welcome but not enough. Even with overall violence levels down, targeted killings are silencing the voices needed to build pressure for peace.”

“The United States does not want Afghanistan to collapse into a catastrophic civil war as soon as it withdraws, after 20 years of assistance. But the narrow focus of the US-Taliban deal ignored the wider needs of the peace process, including the importance of civic space and the protection of civilians. This approach should be urgently reconsidered in Biden’s review,” she said.

Akbar stated that public participation is not a bonus that is “nice to have” but rather an inclusive process that builds momentum for peace and boosts the credibility of the process. 

Bringing traditional and nontraditional civil society voices to the table from across Afghanistan will bring a sense of urgency and bottom-up pressure on the parties.

She also stated that public participation can best be guaranteed through a ceasefire and that the US and its allies should utilize their leverage with both sides and the region to continue to push for an interim and immediate ceasefire that will create an opportunity for national engagement. 

“An immediate end to targeted killings, a ceasefire and the restoration of civic space will allow for broader inclusion in the talks, reviving hope and confidence in the process,” she said.

Akbar stated that the US can encourage the Taliban and the Afghan government to create this enabling environment for peace. Afghans could then force hope back onto the table.

“We will not find peace in silence and fear,” Akbar stated.

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Magnitude 5.6 quake hits western Afghanistan, killing more than 20

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

An earthquake rocked western Afghanistan on Monday, killing more than 20 people and destroying hundreds of homes, local authorities said.

The 5.6 magnitude tremor shook the western province of Badghis, bordering Turkmenistan, in the afternoon, reducing brick homes to rubble, according to photos shared by local authorities, Reuters reported.

“Unfortunately, our initial reports show that 26 people, including five women and four children, have been killed and four others injured,” said Baz Mohammad Sarwari, the director of Information and Culture of the Badghis provincial administration.

“The Mujahideen have reached to some of the affected areas, but Badghis is a mountainous province, the number of casualties might go up,” he added, referring to Taliban fighters, and adding that heavy rain was also lashing the area.

Mullah Janan Saeqe, head of the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of State for Emergency Affairs, confirmed the death toll and said more than 700 houses had been damaged, Reuters reported.

Sanullah Sabit, the head of the nursing unit at the main hospital in Badghis’ capital said they had received five patients injured in the quake, mostly with broken bones and fractures.

The quake was at a depth of 30 km (18.64 miles), according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

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Pakistan fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan: officials

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(Last Updated On: January 18, 2022)

Military officials in the eastern zone told Ariana News on Monday that clashes broke out between Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and Pakistani forces on Sunday night in the Sarkano district of Kunar province, close to the Durand Line.

Officials said that Pakistani forces fired 21 rockets towards Afghanistan, but that no casualties were reported.

Hamdullah Hamdard, the spokesman for the 1st Border Battalion of the Eastern Zone, said that IEA forces also fired several rockets back at Pakistani forces.

“Clashes erupted between Taliban (IEA) and Pakistani forces in Sarkano district of Kunar province. The clashes continued until 9:00 pm. The cause of the clashes was because of the attack by Pakistani forces. In response, Taliban (IEA) forces also fired rockets towards them, and maybe they suffered casualties. Our forces and people did not suffer casualties,” added Hamdard.

IEA officials said recently they are establishing 32 new check posts along the Durand Line to counter Pakistani attacks.

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China’s birthrate falls to lowest level in 61 years

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2022)

China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths in 2021 despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis.

Across China, 10.62 million babies were born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the national bureau of statistics said on Monday.

In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per thousand head of population, the Guardian reported.

The rate of growth is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of last May’s once-a-decade census, which found an average annual rise of 0.53%, down from 0.57% reported from 2000 to 2010.

China, like much of east Asia, is in the grip of a population crisis, with lowering birthrates, and predictions of imminent negative population growth and an ageing population. Monday’s figures showed the proportion of over-60s in China rose from 18.7% in 2020 to 18.9%.

Beijing has announced major reforms to address the decline, including raising the retirement age. A three-child policy has replaced the two-child policy that was introduced in 2016 and had sparked a slight increase in births before falling again.

The high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility are frequently cited as contributing factors to young Chinese people’s reluctance to have children.

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