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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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30,000-year-old baby mammoth found almost perfectly preserved in Canada

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(Last Updated On: June 27, 2022)

A gold miner found a mummified baby wooly mammoth that was almost perfectly preserved in the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Traditional Territory in Yukon, Canada. 

According to a press release from the local government, the female baby mammoth has been named Nun cho ga by the First Nation Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elders, which translates to “big baby animal” in the Hän language. 

Nun cho ga is the most complete mummified mammoth discovered in North America, Science Alert reported.

Nun cho ga died and was frozen in permafrost during the ice age, over 30,000 years ago, said the press release. She would have roamed the Yukon alongside wild horses, cave lions, and giant steppe bison. 

The frozen mammoth was recovered by geologists after a young miner in the Klondike gold fields found the remains while digging up dirt.

Dr. Grant Zazula, the Yukon government’s paleontologist, said the miner had made the “most important discovery in paleontology in North America,” reported The Weather Channel.

The baby mammoth was probably with her mother when it ventured off a little too far and got stuck in the mud, Zazula told The Weather Channel.

Professor Dan Shugar, from the University of Calgary, part of the team who excavated the wooly mammoth, said that this discovery was the “most exciting scientific thing I have ever been part of.”

He described how immaculately the mammoth had been preserved, saying that it still had intact toenails, hide, hair, trunk, and even intestines, with its last meal of grass still present. 

According to the press release, Yukon is renowned for its store of ice age fossils, but rarely are such immaculate and well-preserved finds discovered. Zazula wrote in the press release that “as an ice age paleontologist, it has been one of my lifelong dreams to come face to face with a real wooly mammoth.”

“That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world.”

The wooly mammoth, about the size of the African elephant, roamed the earth until about 4,000 years ago. Early humans hunted them for food and used mammoth bones and tusks for art, tools, and dwellings. Scientists are divided as to whether hunting or climate change drove them into extinction.

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2,000 hectares of land cleared of poppies in Herat: officials

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(Last Updated On: June 27, 2022)

Around 2,000 hectares of poppy fields have been cleared in recent months in Afghanistan’s western Herat province, officials said Monday.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in April announced a ban on the cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan.

“If anyone violates the decree the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the sharia law,” a decree issued by IEA’s Supreme Leader Hebatullah Akhundzada read.

Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate World Drug Day, Hayatullah Rouhani, head of counter-narcotics unit of the provincial police in Herat, assured the public of a serious fight against the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics.

He also said rehabilitation programs for drug addicts in the province was ongoing.

“Experience shows that the drug addiction rate will not decrease unless we round up drug dealers,” Rouhani said. “We have carried out nearly 250 operations in which we rounded up a large number of drug dealers and referred them for prosecution.”

Syed Mohammad Sadat, a provincial health official, said that IEA was seeking to fundamentally include drug addiction rehabilitation in the country’s public health system.

Around 70,000 drug addicts are estimated to be in Herat, mostly living on the streets and in recreation parks.

“They have a wife and children. There is no one without a family. They are addicted due to unemployment. I studied for 12 years, but look I have been forced to live on the street,” said Nazir Ahmad, one drug addict in Herat.

Experts say poverty, unemployment and easy availability of drugs have contributed to the rise in drug addiction.

Counternarcotic police say more than 200 people have been arrested in Herat on charges of drug dealing during the past 10 months. Over 1,000 kilograms of drug have been seized from them.

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Red Crescent allocates 10 Million AFN for earthquake victims

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(Last Updated On: June 27, 2022)

The Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) has allocated 10 million AFN for the victims of last week’s massive quake in Khost and Paktika provinces. 

Speaking at a press conference Monday in Kabul, officials from ARCS said that they would distribute $100 to each affected family, providing thousands of families with cash.

“The donation will be delivered to the areas with survey teams, and we will distribute them in cash as the locals requested,” said Mullah Nooruddin Torabi, deputy director of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. 

In addition to distributing cash, this organization will also provide blankets, tents, and home and kitchen appliances to the victims.

In addition, Torabi called on national and international humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Paktika and Khost provinces in coordination with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

Torabi said the aid already sent by neighboring countries and countries around the world has not been enough for the quake victims. 

“We need to establish shelters, clinics, and schools for those who are suffering in the areas where the incident took place,” he added.

He also said that in order to distribute the aid among victims in a transparent manner all domestic and international humanitarian organizations must collaborate with ARCS.

Last week a deadly earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces killed at least 1,200 people and injured more than 2,000 others.

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