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SIGAR warns of continued threat – with or without peace

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(Last Updated On: March 10, 2021)

The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warned on Wednesday night that security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan and with or without a sustainable peace agreement and nationwide ceasefire, Afghanistan will likely continue to be threatened by multiple violent-extremist organizations.

Presenting SIGAR’s 2021 High-Risk List to US Congress, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

These issues could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country to provide counterterrorism support and to train, advise, and assist Afghanistan’s security institutions, his report stated.

He said that in keeping with SIGAR’s statutory mandate to promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency, the High-Risk List identifies serious risks to the United States’ $143 billion reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

He also pointed out that this report is issued at a time when peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are stalled amid continuing high levels of violence, putting the reconstruction effort at greater risk than ever before.

“As we note in this report, whether or not the United States continues to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan pursuant to last year’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, the new Administration and Congress will have to decide whether and to what extent reconstruction will continue.

“Although Afghanistan’s leadership have often stated that their goal is self-reliance, Afghanistan today is nowhere near to being self-reliant – especially in funding its government operations, including military and police – from its own resources.

“And, as highlighted in our report, reconstruction aid helps keep Afghanistan from reverting to a terrorist safe haven,” Sopko said.

He stated that “today the gains from our nation’s investment in Afghanistan’s reconstruction face multiple threats: continued insecurity, uncertain post-peace settlement funding, the challenge of reintegrating fighters, endemic corruption, lagging economic growth and social development, threats to women’s rights, the illicit narcotics trade, and inadequate oversight by donors.”

He also pointed out that the level of violence has increased, including not only attacks against Afghan security forces, but also bomb attacks on civilians and targeted assassinations of mid level officials, prominent women, and journalists.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming Afghanistan’s health sector and having a severe impact on its economy and people, he stated.

Sopko said this report is “intended to provide an independent and sober assessment of the various risks now facing the Administration and Congress as they seek to make decisions about the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.”

The High-Risk List focuses on elements of the US reconstruction effort in Afghanistan that are essential to success; at risk of failure due to waste, fraud or abuse; and subject to the control or influence of the US government.

Key Factors

By using these criteria, SIGAR identified eight high-risk areas:

• Increasing Insecurity
• Uncertain Funding for a Post-Peace Settlement
• The Need to Reintegrate Ex-Combatants
• Endemic Corruption
• Lagging Economic Growth and Social Development
• Illicit Narcotics Trade
• Threats to Women’s Rights
• Inadequate Oversight

The report stated that while security remains the most crucial and enduring high-risk area for Afghanistan because the Taliban have not significantly changed their tactics, high levels of violence, or political objectives, and terrorist groups in Afghanistan such as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K/Daesh) and al-Qaeda remain in the country.

“With or without a sustainable peace agreement and nationwide ceasefire, Afghanistan will likely continue to be threatened by multiple violent-extremist organizations.

“Any political agreement risks subordinate groups going rogue, possibly manifesting as another insurgency or insecurity from criminal gangs or networks.

“These issues could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country to provide counterterrorism support and to train, advise, and assist Afghanistan’s security institutions,” the report read.

It also noted that the long-term danger for Afghan women is that Afghan peace negotiations break down, plunging the country into worse violence. “Women and girls suffer not only loss of life, injury, disability, and mental trauma, but also the loss of male breadwinners, increasingly desperate poverty, the social stigma and discrimination that accompany widowhood and permanent disability, and reduced access to basic services.”

The SIGAR report also noted that there are between 55,000 and 85,000 Taliban fighters and that depending on the terms of a peace agreement, some Taliban fighters will be integrated into the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces; while others will need to transition to productive noncombatant status in civil society.

According to SIGAR, Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant on foreign assistance – specifically with donor grants that total at least $8.6 billion per year which currently finances almost 80 percent of Afghanistan’s $11 billion in public expenditures.

“Afghanistan remains exceptionally reliant upon foreign assistance, creating both an opportunity for donors to influence events there as foreign troops depart and risks to a potential peace if they reduce assistance too much, too fast, or insist on conditions that cannot be achieved by the parties to the conflict,” the report read.

SIGAR also warned that the Afghan government’s limited fiscal capacity may be inadequate to sustain the infrastructure, such as roads, reliable power generation, and economic supply chains.

“The Afghan government’s lack of financial sustainability is an issue affecting all high-risk areas identified by SIGAR,” the report read.

SIGAR also noted that the detrimental effects of the illegal drugs trade in Afghanistan does not only affect the health system but also helps fund insurgents, foster corruption, and provoke criminal violence.

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Afghanistan’s opium economy has remained resilient. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Afghanistan’s 2020 opium-poppy harvest was largely uninterrupted by COVID-19,” the report read.

Another key risk factor was government’s failure to effectively address systemic corruption in Afghanistan.

SIGAR stated the Afghan government has taken limited steps to curb systemic corruption, but more tangible action is required.

“The Afghan government often makes “paper” reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than taking concrete actions that would reduce corruption, like arresting or enforcing penalties on powerful Afghans.”

Sopko meanwhile stated that regardless of the course chosen by the US, SIGAR, as the largest oversight presence in Afghanistan and the only one with whole-of-government authority, will remain the best US defense against the waste, fraud, and abuse of US taxpayer funds in Afghanistan.

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More tourists visiting Hairatan border town in Balkh

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

Officials of the trade and port town of Hairatan border town in the center of Balkh province say that with the arrival of the fishing season and security improvement in the country, dozens of people come to this town every day for tourism and recreation.

Khalilullah Farooqi, the head of Hairatan border town, said that people can come to this recreational area without any worries.

“People can visit and have fun in this town without worrying under Islamic Sharia law,” said Farooqi.

The citizens meanwhile consider the improvement of security as the reason for the increase in the number of visitors to this town and express their satisfaction, calling on the government to expand recreational places in the country.

Hairatan border town is one of the largest commercial ports in the north of the country, which connects Afghanistan with Uzbekistan and other countries in the region.

According to experts, the more attention is paid to the country’s ports and the more infrastructure is built, the higher the government’s revenue will be.

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IEA condemns attack on Pakistan embassy in Kabul, vows probe

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

The Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in a statement condemned Friday’s attack on Pakistan embassy in Kabul, adding security institutions will investigate the incident and that perpetrators of the attack will be punished.

The statement said that IEA will not allow any individual or group to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul.

“IEA strongly condemns failed firing attack towards the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and prays for speedy recovery of a security guard,” the statement said, adding that “IEA will not allow any malicious actors to pose a threat to the security of diplomatic missions in Kabul.”

Kabul police spokesman meanwhile said firing on Pakistan embassy in Kabul was from a building, adding that security forces immediately arrived at the scene and stopped the firing. One suspect was arrested and two weapons were seized during the operation, Khalid Zadran said on Twitter.

The Pakistan foreign ministry in a statement said the attack on the Pakistan embassy compound was targeting the Head of Mission, Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani.

“By the grace of Allah Almighty, the Head of Mission is safe. However, a Pakistani security guard Sepoy Israr Mohammad has been critically injured in the attack while protecting the Head of Mission,” the statement said.

“The Interim Government of Afghanistan (IEA) must immediately hold thorough investigations in this attack, apprehend the culprits, hold them to account, and take urgent measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani diplomatic personnel and citizens in Afghanistan,” the statement added.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned the attack as “dastardly.”

“Salute to brave security guard, who took bullet to save his life. Prayers for the swift recovery of security guard. I demand immediate investigation & action against perpetrators of this heinous act,” Shehbaz Sharif said on Twitter.

UNAMA also condemned the attack and noted that diplomatic missions are protected under international law.

 

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Six million Afghans face emergency level of food insecurity: UN

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

The United Nations has recently warned that 6 million people in Afghanistan face emergency level of food insecurity amid shortage of sufficient humanitarian assistance due to lack of funding.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the UN Deputy Special Representative, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov, said to reporters at the UN headquarters in Kabul that Afghans in need have increased to 25 million this year.

“The economic shocks, which we are experiencing these days are the primary drivers for the humanitarian needs,” said Alakbarov.

He said that winter is approaching with temperatures dropping in certain areas of the country to minus 25 degrees Celcius.

“We require $768 million to support winter preparedness activities, and 614 million are required before the end of the year… We’ve been struggling for the funding for the entire year,” he added.

Two-thirds of the entire population – more than 28 million people – will need humanitarian assistance next year, according to the UN.

He said that levels of food insecurity remain one of the highest in Afghanistan with about 6 million people facing emergency levels of food insecurity, also known as IPC4.

“That is the stage before you go to phase 5 and phase 5 is basically a catastrophic famine stage. So, 6 million people are getting close to that particular borderline,” he added.

The US and other Western nations suspended financial assistance to Afghanistan after the Islamic Emirate reclaimed power in August last year.

This comes while the US has frozen Afghan central bank foreign reserves worth $7 billion.

The UN human rights experts meanwhile have called for the US to end its freeze on Afghanistan’s foreign assets.

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