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UN and partners seek $1.3 billion to help 16 million Afghans

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(Last Updated On: January 13, 2021)

The UN and humanitarian partners in Afghanistan need $1.3 billion to assist almost 16 million people in need of life-saving assistance as a result of decades of conflict, recurrent natural disasters, and the added impact of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement issued by the UN on Tuesday night, the organization said the number of people targeted for assistance is over a six-fold increase compared to four years ago, when 2.3 million people were targeted for assistance.

According to Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, the situation of children is particularly worrying.

“It is projected that nearly one in two children under the age of five will face acute malnutrition this year,” Dujarric said.

Hunger is “soaring” as people have lost their livelihoods, he added, noting that in 2021, nearly half of Afghanistan’s population will need humanitarian assistance to survive.

According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), across Afghanistan, about 18.4 million people are in need of assistance, a number that rose sharply last year with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“While enduringly resilient, people are increasingly desperate, resorting to debt and other more dangerous coping mechanisms to survive including marrying off their young daughters and sending their children to work,” said Parvathy Ramaswami, Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan.

The survival of the 15.7 million most vulnerable depends on humanitarians operating there receiving sufficient financial resources to deliver a response, she noted, adding that “the consequences of late or inadequate funding are very real.”

The outlook for 2021 has worsened further due to significant unmet needs last year due to funding shortfalls and the acute focus on COVID-19, as well as the slow rollout of complementary development assistance, a response plan noted.

Ramaswami went on to note that in spite of the bleak situation, there is “still cause for hope” with the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.

“After enduring decades of war, people are mentally exhausted and hungry for peace, yearning for an end to civilian deaths and suffering.”

She also highlighted the need for a permanent ceasefire or a persistent reduction in violence, to allow humanitarians to assess the situation, especially in the hard to reach areas.

“Until this much hoped for peace becomes a reality, the humanitarian community stands beside the people of Afghanistan during what surely must be one of the country’s difficult periods,” the UN official added, stressing “we all must do more, stretch higher, and do better to deliver life-saving assistance to those who need it most.”

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

Twitter permanently banned an account believed to be linked to Iran’s supreme leader Friday after it posted a threatening image that included former President Donald Trump, NPR reported.

According to The Associated Press, the account, @khamenei_site, was linked to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website and the same account had previously posted portions of Khamenei’s speeches and official content.

However, a Twitter spokesperson told the AP that the account was fake, without elaborating on how it determined that.

The image that resulted in the ban, Trump playing golf in the shadow of what appears to be an aircraft, is captioned “Revenge is certain,” written in Farsi.

The same image can be found on Khamenei’s English website. Below the picture is a quote from Khamenei from last month: “Soleimani’s murderers and those who ordered his murder must face revenge. … Both the murderers and those who ordered it should know that revenge may come at any time.”

Trump and other administration officials have said the US targeted Qassem Soleimani — a powerful Iranian general and a key strategist against the U.S. — who was killed in an airstrike last year.

Trump’s social media presence was all but silenced after he was accused of inciting violence at the US Capitol on January 6. As a result, both Twitter and Facebook moved to ban him permanently from their platforms.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” a Twitter statement said.

Trump was also banned from the @POTUS account for the last days of his term and from his reelection campaign account.

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Ghani fires finance minister, appoints caretaker to the position

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday dismissed finance minister Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal from his post and approved a new acting minister, said the Administrative Office of the President (AOP) in a statement.

The AOP cited a number of reasons for this move including the delay in the collection of taxes, weak management, lack of commitment to good governance, not obeying Article 77 of the Constitution, violating Presidential decrees and directions, the lack of cooperation in an assessment of illegal appointments at the ministry and for trying to prevent the assessments, the statement read.

The AOP added that Ghani approved Mohammad Khalid Payenda as acting finance minister.

Arghandiwal was a close ally of Ghani during his election campaigns and was appointed as acting minister of finance in March last year. 

He received a vote of confidence from the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) in November last year.

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Biden to keep Khalilzad as peace envoy for now

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(Last Updated On: January 23, 2021)

Former president Donald Trump’s peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will retain his position, for now, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN. 

This move is not typical as traditionally an incoming administration replaces all politically appointed officials – especially those dealing with foreign policy issues. 

Khalilzad, a diplomatic veteran, has worked on the peace process for more than two years and has been the key official from Washington to meet with both the Afghan government and the Taliban as well as all other stakeholders and regional leaders. 

No further details were released and according to CNN the State Department did not comment when asked about Khalilzad staying on board. 

However, in a statement issued late Friday, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib that the United States intends to review the February 2020 US-Taliban agreement.”

He also said Washington would assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.

Sullivan also expressed America’s desire that all Afghan leaders embrace this “historic opportunity for peace and stability.”

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