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Targeted killings taking serious toll on civil society and media: UN report

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(Last Updated On: February 15, 2021)

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Monday that human rights and media space in Afghanistan has contracted in the past few months as a result of the sharp increase in targeted attacks against professionals in these two sectors. 

In a report issued Monday by UNAMA, analysis shows that since the start of peace talks in Doha, on September 12 last year, until January 31, 11 human rights defenders and media workers have been killed in targeted attacks. 

The new report analyses data and trends connected to the killings and traces the changing patterns of attacks on these key sectors and provides recommendations.

UNAMA stated in the report that “this trend, combined with the absence of claims of responsibility, has generated a climate of fear among the population.”

In addition, research found that human rights and media space has contracted as a result, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes and communities with hopes it will improve their safety. Many, including high profile personalities, have fled the country. 

“The killings have had the broader impact across society of also diminishing expectations around efforts towards peace,” a UNAMA statement read.

“The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space – a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. 

“The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society. At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to be heard more than ever before, instead, they are being silenced,” said the envoy, who is also head of UNAMA.

UNAMA stated that one of the key trends to emerge in the past few months is that attacks against representatives of the human rights and media sectors in Afghanistan are clearly “intentional, premeditated and deliberate targeting of individuals with perpetrators remaining anonymous.” This contrasts to previous years. 

The report also records a total of 65 human rights defenders and media professionals killed in the period from 1 January 2018 to 31 January 2021; 32 from the human rights sector and 33 from the media. 

Of these, 11 (five human rights defenders and six media) were killed in the four-month period from 1 October 2020 – 31 January 2021 alone, the statement read.

The report notes that as they work to provide timely information to the population of Afghanistan on a range of issues (including violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law), human rights defenders, journalists and media workers are far too often exposed to threats, intimidation, harassment, surveillance or arbitrary detention.

A series of recommendations to both state and non-state actors are contained in the report.

Recommendations made to the Afghan government include the establishment of an effective and cooperative national protection mechanism under the leadership of the Second Vice President Sarwar Danish. 

Also for an adequate preventive framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, to be put into place. 

UNAMA also called for assurances that human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers can continue their legitimate rights to life, freedom of association, freedom of expression and access to information, as well as other fundamental freedoms, without fear of reprisal or attack.

Key among the recommendations was counter impunity, including by conducting independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations into killings and that genuine accountability, and prosecuting of suspects follow due legal process. 

Recommendations to insurgent groups included the call for them to cease all killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

For the Taliban in particular, UNAMA called on them to condemn, at the leadership level, the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers.

UNAMA also called on the group to investigate cases where Taliban members are alleged to have been involved and hold to account Taliban members that order or implement the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers.

The group was also encouraged to adopt, publicize and enforce policies that prohibit the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers and to repeal existing policies (and refrain from adopting new ones) limiting civic space, including restrictions to freedom of association, the work of civil society and humanitarian actors, and freedom of expression.

The international community was also called on to assist with the problem. 

UNAMA urged them to continue condemning the killing of human rights defenders and media professionals, and to underscore the importance of the role of human rights defenders and independent media for a unified, sovereign, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan.

UNAMA also encouraged the international community to increase support to programs that provide security, travel, financial, capacity building and other assistance to them.

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Pakistan to increase number of flights to Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) announced Thursday it will increase the number of international flights to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

According to the PIA, the national flag-carrier will increase its flights to Afghanistan from four to five a week.

“Expanding our network in Afghanistan by increasing weekly flights from 4 to 5. Best service & most comfortable aircraft on this scenic route,” PIA said in a tweet Thursday.

PIA also stated it will launch direct flights to Azerbaijan’s Baku from March 14. The flights will be operated twice a week from Lahore city of Pakistan

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German cabinet agrees to extend Afghanistan mission by 10 months

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

The German government on Wednesday agreed to extend its military mandate in Afghanistan by at least another 10 months.

Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported Thursday that the new draft mandate still needs the approval of the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.

The current mandate is set to expire at the end of March.

Under the draft agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet, German troops would be able to stay in the country until January 31, 2022, Deutsche Welle reported. .

Government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said the new date “takes account appropriately of the complex situation in Afghanistan and also makes possible the flexibility necessary to be able to react if the volatile security and threat situation there changes.”

With over 1,100 troops, Germany has the second-largest contingent after the United States in the NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

Seibert said that the maximum limit of 1,300 German troops will remain unchanged in the new mandate.

This comes after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that no final decision had been made on the future of foreign troops in Afghanistan – despite the May 1 troop withdrawal deadline.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that the military alliance is facing “many dilemmas” over its continued engagement in the country.

US President Joe Biden is reviewing Donald Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban, which sets May 1 as the deadline for a total US troop withdrawal.

Last week, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the decision to withdraw troops should not be rushed, rather than being “slavishly” bound to the May deadline. Instead, the drawback of troops should be linked to slow-paced peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he has said.

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Pakistan won’t support any attempt by Taliban to recapture power: ISPR general

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(Last Updated On: February 25, 2021)

Pakistan’s Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar said Wednesday that Pakistan has done what it can to promote peace efforts in Afghanistan and that Islamabad will not support the Taliban in any attempt to “recapture Kabul”.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Iftikhar said: “Even Afghan leaders are admitting that Pakistan has done utmost for peace in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan’s The News International quoted him as saying that it is for the citizens and the government of Afghanistan to determine the future of their country, and how the negotiating process would progress.

“We only aim for a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

On a question on NATO forces’ likely drawdown and a possible return of the Taliban, he said: “Afghanistan now is not what it was in ’90s and the state infrastructure cannot be trounced easily, and Pakistan also has changed.

“It’s impossible for the Taliban to recapture Kabul and that Pakistan would support them. It isn’t going to happen,” he said.

The News reported that he maintained the policy of the Pakistan government to extend a hand of peace to the neighbours was very clear.

This comes just days after Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov visited Islamabad to encourage Pakistan’s support for a meeting in Moscow to help facilitate the stalled Afghan peace process.

Kabulov told Russian news agency Sputnik that his “leadership has set the task of finding ways that will facilitate the start of inter-Afghan negotiations through consultations within the framework of the enlarged troika. We agreed on such a meeting with the American special envoy [Zalmay] Khalilzad. It can happen in Moscow.”

The “enlarged troika” was in reference to what Kabulov said was a group that evolved over the last two years, including countries with the most influence on the Afghan peace processes – the United States, China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

VOA reported that the Moscow format was a Russian initiative to organize regional stakeholders involved in the Afghan peace process. Its second meeting in 2018 brought the Taliban to an international forum for the first time. The U.S. sent representatives to observe.

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