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SIGAR paints bleak picture on immediate future

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(Last Updated On: March 17, 2021)

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko on Wednesday painted a bleak picture of what lies ahead for Afghanistan in the event of US troops withdrawal by May 1 and the possible withdrawal of funding which props up the Kabul government.

Addressing the US Congress’ Subcommittee on National Security, Sokpo stated that future funding for Afghanistan faces two principal risks: “whether expanding the conditions donors set for funding will be sufficient incentive to facilitate and maintain an acceptable peace agreement, and whether the level of foreign assistance during this uncertain period is sufficient to prevent state collapse”.

Sopko said Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events in the country as foreign troops depart, and risks to a potential peace if the US reduces assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict

According to Sopko, part of the US-Taliban deal stipulates that not only must all foreign troops be withdrawn by May 1, but the 18,000 odd foreign contractors currently in Afghanistan, who mainly assist with training and advising, would also have to leave.

He said about 7,000 of those are US citizens and the remaining 6,000 are non-Afghans who are third party nationals (from other countries).

Sopko told the House Committee that in the event of troops being withdrawn “it would hurt the Afghan government” but if all contractors were to leave the Afghan air force “would probably lose its capability of flying any of its aircraft within months”.

He also hinted that a sudden withdrawal could lead to a total collapse of state, “especially if we withdraw funding”.

Asked whether the Taliban was a single entity or a fractured body, Sopko said there were some indications during the early part of negotiations with the US last year that there was some unity within the group but he said since then “you’ve got individual groups that will go off on a frolic and a detour at will.”

Sopko said that while an audit into this has not been done, he felt the Taliban was not able to control all its groups.

On the possible influence in Afghanistan post-peace by China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, Sopko said all four countries have historically played a role in funding insurgents or funding warlords or “corrupting officials in Afghanistan”.

He said going forward, these four countries “would all play a role in a post-peace government” but what that role would be, he said he did not know.

“They all have an interest in Afghanistan,” he said, adding especially Pakistan and Iran.

Ghost soldiers still and issue

On the issue of ghost soldiers Sopko said this was still a major problem but that SIGAR has not been able to get to document the problem.

He also said officials steal the salaries of soldiers and even their food.

He noted that such actions lead to soldiers losing morale despite the fact that “there is a will to fight” for their country, he said.

He also said SIGAR does not have the capacity to collect data from regions in order to audit something like this.

Corruption a matter of serious concern

Sopko stated that investigations have identified corruption at virtually every level of the Afghan state – from salaries paid by international donors for Afghan soldiers and police who do not exist – to theft of US-military-provided fuel on a massive scale

Sopko said corruption “is also fueling the insurgency to some extent” as the Taliban then “point towards” corrupt officials, corrupt warlords and point to the fact that there is immunity – for top officials in the country – who never get sent to prison.

In his opinion, ther are diplomatic reasons for staying in Afghanistan.

One is that having boots on the ground is helpful in terms of counter terrorism efforts and also that if the US pulls out it will lose everything that it has invested over the past 20 years.

A further destabilized Afghanistan could also be a big problem for the US in future, he said.

But he noted that “everyone in Afghanistan realises they need foreign assistance”.

“We know the Taliban want foreign assistance”, including the removal of the name’s from the blacklist.

Imposing conditions around funding the government was something that needs to be focused on, Sopko said, having said earlier that not enough conditions have been put in place by the US in terms of ensuring funding did not go to waste..

Asked if Afghanistan still has serious issues with corruption, Sopko said bluntly “Yes!”

He also agreed that corruption was having a serious impact on reconstruction efforts in the country and that some of the money given to the Afghan government for reconstruction efforts could have found its way into the pockets of insurgent groups.

Asked if it was possible that some of the $148 billion spent by US in Afghanistan in the past 20 years had been used by “terror groups”, Sopko said: “Of course; Yes; Of course.”

While the Afghan govt has repeatedly assured the international community that it has the political will to combat corruption & make needed institutional reforms, it has a mixed record of completing them

He said: “Corruption and narcotics is the oxygen that keeps the terrorist groups alive in Afghanistan.”

Asked if he shares Congress members’ concerns that US tax payers dollars are fronting billions of dollars to a corrupt country with no truly effective means of tracking it, Sopko said: “Yes we are very concerned about that. That’s why we say one of the risks is oversight.  You have got to have some oversight. Otherwise you may as well just burn the money in Massoud Circle.”

One Congressman James Comer pointed out that the oversight committee needs to know where the money is going but said in his opinion he does not “see a viable long term strategy for the United States in Afghanistan,” and that he “strongly supports withdrawing troops.”

He said he understands the problems that Afghanistan is going to have when troops are gone “but the American taxpayers don’t want to spend anymore money in Afghanistan.”

“This has been the sentiment from the majority of my constituents and I think the majority of Americans for many many years now.”

Despite major achievements having been made regarding women’s rights in the country, Sopko said Afghanistan is still one of the worst countries to be a woman particularly for those living in a rural environment.

“It’s only in the cities where we have seen some real good improvement”. He also said the Taliban has not indicated much in the way of them being prepared to support women and girls in a future Afghanistan.

But one thing to keep in mind is that even the Afghan government hasn’t done enough for women, he told the committee.

Referring to a recent ban – that was subsequently overturned – on girls over 12 being able to sing the national anthem in a mixed environment, he said: “That sort of tells you about a cultural divide among Afghans even Afghans in government.”

If there are no “boots on the ground”, the US will lose a lot of leverage and if “there is no oversight, you can just forget about any of that money that we appropriate for helping women and girls from ending up helping” them, he said.

Training and supporting the Afghan military and police is also part of the term “development” in terms of US funding, said Sopko adding that COVID-19 has limited the US troops in Afghanistan from fully assisting the Afghan military.

Sopko said it would be very difficult to carry on conducting oversight if all troops are withdrawn and said none of the regional roleplayers could help with oversight if the US withdraws. He specifically said that no one would be comfortable handing over this sector to Iran, Russia or Pakistan.

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World leaders call for peace, stability in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

On day 2 of the UN General Assembly, world leaders called for peace and stability in Afghanistan and voiced their concerns about attacks being launched from Afghanistan.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in his address to the general assembly that the international community needs to work with Afghanistan’s neighbors in order to prevent instability in the region.

“Regarding Afghanistan, we’ll have to start working with neighbouring countries in this new context to face the humanitarian crisis and prevent more instability in the region.

“We cannot lower our guard in the face of a terrorist menace (Daesh) that is real and that already has delivered a heavy blow in the midst of the evacuation operations.

“Afghanistan cannot turn into a shelter for terrorists. Spain is firmly committed to find maximum international security,” said Sanchez.

Leaders attending the 76th General Assembly, also called for achievements made over the past 20 years to be preserved.

“As the UN Global Advocate for Every Woman Every Child, it makes me sad that the progress seen during the past two decades in Afghanistan could be reverted so quickly,” said Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia.

Indonesia, which has the highest Muslim population of any country in the world, called on the international community to support the call for rights for women and minorities and for stability in Afghanistan.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of diversification of vaccine production centers across the world.

“We must be stern in fighting intolerance, conflicts, terrorism and war. Peace in diversity and the protection of women’s and minority rights must be upheld. Concerns on the marginalization of women and violence in Afghanistan, Palestine’s elusive independence and the political crisis in Myanmar must be our common agenda,” said Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia.

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Acting foreign minister upbeat about future trade and diplomatic relations

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi says he is working to build strong economic ties with regional nations and countries around the world.

Speaking at a ceremony to introduce the new acting minister of commerce and industry, Nooruddin Aziz, Muttaqi said he is focused on developing the country’s economic sector.

Muttaqi also said that Afghanistan’s economic relations with regional countries would soon be regulated, which would have a positive impact on trade.

“We have selected a minister from the private sector for the ministry of commerce and industry so as to ensure the smooth running of the private sector and economic activities. We hope that the private sector will also play an active role in the country’s economy,” Muttaqi said at the ceremony.

Aziz meanwhile said he will also work to expand economic ties with all countries, both regionally and globally, in order to get Afghanistan to a point where it is financially self-sufficient.

“We strive to make Afghanistan a self-sufficient and economic-free country and to maintain relations with regional and neighboring countries; also the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and a number of other countries,” said Aziz.

Private sector representatives said they will support the new ministers and work with them to grow the country’s economy.

“Security is crucial for economic development and the fight against corruption. So far the (security) problem has been solved. We will expand our activities,” said Khan Jan Alkozai, Vice President of Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industries.

“Unless we speed up our efforts to develop industry and domestic production in the country, economic growth may not be possible. We call on the Islamic Emirate to make efforts to develop domestic production,” said Sherbaz Kaminzada, head of the chamber of mines and industries.

Officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have assured members of the private sector that the security of domestic investors will be maintained and that more opportunities for economic development will be provided.

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Afghanistan faces severe medicine shortage amid Forex restrictions

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

Afghanistan is now faced with medicine shortage due to disrupted border crossings and limited operation of banks.

Almost all medicine in Afghanistan is imported from neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

However, the border crossings between Afghanistan and its neighbors were disrupted in the lead-up to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) takeover, and normal operations are yet to resume.

Worse still, wholesalers have been unable to complete transactions due to the limited operation of banks.

“Yes, since the takeover, banks are closed [for international transactions]. As the banks are closed, we can’t transfer payments to suppliers. If we don’t transfer money to the suppliers legally, they will not be able to deliver us the medicine and prices will definitely rise. When demand is high, and supply is low, the prices naturally go up. We are facing a shortage in supply of essential medicine,” said Rohullah Alokozay, President of GPS Pharma, Reuters reported.

Officials said the number of visitors at government hospitals has increased since the change of regime. The good news is that international donors have increased their focus towards government hospitals.

“In fact, we have even more visiting patients. Fortunately, we got more attention from UNICEF and the WHO, especially, towards our hospital which is a children’s hospital. They didn’t have enough focus in the last few years, but in the last month they increased our medical supply,” said Noor ul Haq Yousufzai, president of Indira Gandhi Institute for Children’s Health.

In fact, the government hospitals didn’t have enough medical facilities in the past three to four years due to lengthy procurement processes and the problem of corruption.

Government hospitals were not able to provide medicines to patients despite the continued funding in the previous regime.

“On one hand, prices have increased, while on the other hand, the people have become poorer. This has affected the doctors, patients and the society. Even in the former regime, patients used to buy their medicine at the market. We used to prescribe the medicine. Patients were not provided even with a single pill from the hospital,” said Dr. M. Fayaz Safi, Head of Medical Doctors’ Association in Afghanistan.

Many of the problems in the health sector have been left over from the previous regime. Wahid Majrooh, former acting minister of public health in the previous government said the former Afghan authorities had tried to solve the issues in coordination with stakeholders, but efforts were unsuccessful.

“And it led us to having few or no supplies, and most of our health facilities including essential medicine, fuel, oxygen, staff salary. We have been trying to work with different stakeholders to see if we can fulfil the urgent needs, but we haven’t been able to do it successfully,” said Majrooh.

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