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Polio vaccination campaign resumes after rise in cases reported

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2020)

Polio immunization campaigns have resumed in Afghanistan after a three-month break due to COVID-19, which in turn has seen an increase in polio cases in the country. 

UNICEF reported on Tuesday that as a result of the suspension of the immunization campaign, reported polio cases have reached 34 in Afghanistan and 63 in Pakistan, including in some previously polio-free parts of the country.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last two polio-endemic countries in the world. Last year, Afghanistan recorded a total of 26 cases for 2019. 

UNICEF said on Tuesday, the polio immunization program restarted in Afghanistan in three provinces in July. 

A second program is scheduled to start this month. 

 “These life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. 

“As the world has come to see only too well, viruses know no borders and no child is safe from polio until every child is safe.”

Polio is a highly infectious, crippling and sometimes fatal disease that can be avoided with a vaccine. Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable. 

Child vaccination drives, including polio campaigns, were halted in both Afghanistan in March in order to avoid the risk of COVID-19 transmission to children, caregivers and vaccinators themselves. 

The application of new vaccination guidelines and the use of protective equipment by frontline health workers will help ensure that vaccination campaigns resume safely.

However, UNICEF stated that while every effort will be made to reach children nationwide the organization is concerned that up to one million children in Afghanistan could miss out as door-to-door vaccinations are not possible in some areas and parents will have to make their way to health clinics to have their child vaccinated. 

“Although we have experienced new challenges and a set-back in the fight against polio because of COVID-19, the eradication of this contagious disease will get back on track and is firmly within our reach,” said Jean Gough. 

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Khalilzad ‘would welcome’ talks with Iran to help end conflict

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday Washington had offered to meet with Iran in a bid to garner their assistance to end the war in Afghanistan. 

Speaking at a virtual discussion by the US Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said he would welcome talks with Afghanistan’s neighbor but said Tehran wanted to keep the US “entangled” in the conflict. 

“Iran would like to keep us entangled in a conflict without winning or losing but paying a high price in Afghanistan until there is an agreement between the US and Iran,” Khalilzad said.

“But we have offered to meet with Iranians on this issue, that they should join various forums where we are there and they are there, to discuss the future of Afghanistan,” he said.

However, Khalilzad warned that the US would target any Iran-backed groups that took “action against” America and that Washington is monitoring them closely. 

Khalilzad also said that there was “no viable path” to a military victory in Afghanistan.

But Khalilzad noted that plans to downsize the number of US troops in Afghanistan, before a complete withdrawal, was all conditional.

Iran has denounced the agreement negotiated by Khalilzad between the US and the Taliban, which envisions a US troops withdrawal by April next year. Iran has accused Washington of legitimizing the Taliban.

 

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Security chiefs discuss surging levels of violence in the country

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

Security leaders from the Ministries of Defense and Interior and Resolute Support Mission met on Wednesday in Kandahar to discuss the security situation across Afghanistan. 

Resolute Support Commander, General Scott Miller stated Thursday that the level of violence in the country at the moment was too high. 

“Taliban violence has to slow down – it has to stop. What it is driving is an increase in violence across the country,” he said. 

As he stated the world is watching Afghanistan at the moment – specifically due to current peace negotiations between the Afghan government team and the Taliban. 

“We have an opportunity for peace, which is what the people of Afghanistan are looking for,” Miller said. 

He stated that during the visit to Kandahar, the officials all agreed on the need for close cooperation between all security entities in the country. 

“..we stressed and talked about the need for work amongst the security pillars, cooperation amongst the security pillars. The police and the army are very important to the people of Afghanistan,” he said. 

“But it’s the cooperation between the different security forces that are making a difference here in Kandahar. It has to – it has to be better. And then just lastly, for the people of Afghanistan, as I watch the fighting on a daily and nightly basis, I ask the people of Afghanistan, and [Kandahar’s] governor you as well, is make sure that we say ‘thank you’ and remain very proud of the security forces who are sacrificing every single day.”

The visit comes amid rising concerns about increased violence across the country since the start of the Afghan peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha. 

 

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Nominated US envoy to Pakistan says cooperation critical in peace efforts

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(Last Updated On: September 24, 2020)

Nominated US envoy to Islamabad William Todd told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that cooperation between the two countries was essential for bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“Peace in Afghanistan is in both our countries’ best interests, and effective US-Pakistani cooperation is essential to achieve that objective,” he said.

“Today, our countries recognize that we share a common interest in a durable peace in Afghanistan,” Todd told the Senate panel.

He also said Islamabad “played a critical role in creating the conditions that brought Afghan leaders and the Taliban to the historic start of Afghan Peace negotiations” but that Pakistan now has “an even more important role to play in supporting efforts toward a negotiated political settlement that ends 40 years of war.” 

“This is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region,” he said.

He said if his nomination was approved and he was appointed ambassador to Pakistan, one of his top priorities would be to encourage Pakistan to play this role.

“In terms of regional dynamics, although we have a strong relationship with India, that does not need to come at the expense of Pakistan,” he said. “I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries.”

He also said he thought Washington’s close ties with Delhi and Islamabad could help reduce tensions in the region. 

“Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President [Donald] Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it,” he said.

He also stated he would work with Pakistan to advance a “shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region.”

Todd, who was nominated by Trump earlier this year, told the Senate panel that Pakistan remained a difficult but essential US partner in South Asia, and Washington was seeking to reset its ties with Islamabad.

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