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US moves Kabul embassy to Doha, Blinken tells House Committee

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday night that Washington has moved its diplomatic operations from Kabul to Doha and that it remains focused on counterterrorism efforts in the region.

Addressing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said: “We moved our diplomatic operations from Kabul to Doha, where our new Afghan affairs team is hard at work. Many of our key partners have joined us there.”

He also stated that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has committed to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or its allies, including al-Qaeda and ISIS-K (Daesh).

“We’ll hold them accountable for that. That does not mean we will rely on them. We will remain vigilant in monitoring threats, we’ll maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region to neutralize those threats if necessary – and we do that in places around the world where we do not have military forces on the ground,” he said.

He also said that the US continues its intensive diplomacy with allies and partners.

“We initiated a statement joined by more than half the world’s countries – over a hundred countries – as well as a United Nations Security Council resolution setting out the international community’s expectations of a Taliban-led (Islamic Emirate) government.

“We expect the Taliban (Islamic Emirate) to ensure freedom of travel; to make good on its commitments on counterterrorism; to uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women, girls, and minorities; to name a broadly representative permanent government; to forswear reprisals.

“The legitimacy and support the Taliban (Islamic Emirate) seeks from the international community will depend on its conduct,” he said.

Blinken said he led a ministerial meeting of 22 countries, NATO, the EU, and the United Nations, to continue to align efforts on Afghanistan.”

This comes just hours after the US announced it is providing nearly $64 million in new humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan to meet critical health and nutrition needs.

This additional funding means the United States has provided nearly $330 million in assistance to the Afghan people this fiscal year.

Blinken also gave a full report back on the US troops withdrawal process from Afghanistan and the evacuation process and said the emergency evacuation was sparked by the collapse of the Afghan security forces and government.

“Throughout the year, we were constantly assessing their staying power and considering multiple scenarios. Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained.

Quoting General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Blinken said: “Nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.”

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Pakistan contradicts UNHCR chief’s remarks on Afghan migrants’ return plan

Grandi meanwhile said in a statement early this week that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan had been suspended and sought assurances from Pakistan that it would remain on hold.

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Pakistan has contradicted a claim by UN refugees agency UNHCR that the program to repatriate illegal migrants, specifically Afghans, has been suspended, saying “this is not true”.

This week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said during a visit to Pakistan, that the UNHCR appreciated Islamabad’s move to suspend the repatriation of Afghan refugees.

But, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch has since said: “this is not true. It may be noted that no such understanding has been given by Pakistan to the UNHCR, including in recent meetings with the High Commissioner for Refugees.”

“IFRP (repatriation program) remains in place and is being implemented in an orderly and phased manner”, she said.

Grandi meanwhile said in a statement early this week that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan had been suspended and sought assurances from Pakistan that it would remain on hold.

Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The latest influx started in August 2021 when the former government collapsed.

Between 600,000 and 800,000 Afghans sought refuge in Pakistan. But last November, Pakistan launched a widely criticized repatriation programme aimed at returning millions of Afghans, regardless of their legal status, to Afghanistan.

 

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Cherry yields have increased in Takhar province

Meanwhile, officials from Takhar’s Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said that the prices have decreased due to the increase in yield.

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Farmers in Takhar say the harvest of cherries has increased in this province, but they are worried about the drop in prices and the lack of a market for sales.

Cherry farmers in Takhar said that the price earned from cultivating fruits has dropped, compared to previous years, and asked the government to help with the marketing of crops.

“Fruits are plentiful this year. It is Iranian cherries, it is domestic cherries. Unfortunately, compared to previous years, the price of cherries is very low,” said one Takhar cherry farmer.

“The price this year is very different from last year; last year the prices were very high, this year it is low,” said another farmer.

Fresh fruit sellers also said that Takhar’s fruit was exported to neighboring and central provinces in the past years, but this year they do not have customers outside their own province – which is a cause for concern among them.

Meanwhile, officials from Takhar’s Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock said that the prices have decreased due to the increase in yield.

“In the previous years, due to the drought, the prices of fruits and vegetables increased,” said Abdulalla Radmard, director for promotions at the Directorate of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock of Takhar.

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Pakistan to offer 4,500 scholarships to Afghan students

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education stated in the past it had awarded scholarships to 6,000 Afghan students as part of phase one and two.

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Pakistan has announced it will provide 4,500 scholarships to Afghan students, as part of the Allama Iqbal Scholarship for Afghan Students program.

Asid Durrani, Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a post on X that this is phase 3 of the program and that scholarships will be granted to Afghan students in natural sciences and social sciences across various universities in Pakistan.

However, Durani did not provide details regarding costs nor whether this would include female students.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Education stated in the past it had awarded scholarships to 6,000 Afghan students as part of phase one and two.

Following the suspension of education for girls in Afghanistan, several countries, including Germany, Japan, Iran, and Tajikistan, have also offered scholarships to Afghan girls.

 

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