Close aides to First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum on Monday said Dostum and President Ashraf Ghani recently talked on the phone and discussed Dostum’s return to Afghanistan.
Mohammad Azim Qoyash, a senator and a close aide to Dostum, said in the last three months a delegation from government has met with Dostum on several occasions.
Qoyash said Dostum and the presidential palace are expected to reach an agreement in the near future and that Dostum will soon return home.
According to Qoyash, Dostum wants to reclaim his authority as first vice president and wants government to close the Ahmad Eshchi case.
In 2016, Ahmad Eshchi, the former Jawzjan governor, laid complaints of having been abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted on Dostum’s orders.
Following the alleged incident, Dostum was reportedly placed under house arrest.
However, the first vice president left Afghanistan for Turkey in May last year on the pretext of seeking medical treatment.
“General has demands that include closing Ahmad Eshchi case against Dostum and giving Dostum back his authority (as vice president),” Qoyash said.
This comes after former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor stated in recent discussions with government that he would step down if a number of demands were met – including one that Dostum be allowed to return home.
“General Dostum has a right to come back to Afghanistan and occupy his job,” Noor said at the time.
Noor has since reached an agreement with government and is no longer governor but Dostum is still in Turkey.
A number of MPs meanwhile said Dostum’s absence, which has left the seat of first vice president empty, has had a profound effect on government.
“Legally it is necessary that he (Dostum) should return. And now as he is away, in legal terms, some problems exist in this regard,” MP Khudadad Erfani said.
“If the First Vice President is not at his post, then doubtless his office will remain inactive,” senator Safiullah Hashimi said.
The Presidential Palace has however not yet commented on the apparent development.
About 43 schoolgirls in Lashkargah, the capital of southern Helmand province, were hospitalized after falling unconscious on Monday, officials said.
Public Health Director Dr. Aminullah Abid told Pajhwok Afghan News the poisoned girls were evacuated to Bost Hospital before noon.
He said the students were in stable condition but the reason behind their poisoning could not be ascertained yet. The girls felt weak, according to the official.
Education Director Dawood Shah Safari told Pajhwok the girls were students of 10th and 11th grades at Zarghoona Ana High School. “The NDS personnel are investigating into the incident,” he said.
According to the initial information, the girls passed out due to the torching of expired drugs in the vicinity, Dawood uttered.
Deputy police chief Gul Khan said police and professional experts had been dispatched to the area to look into the incident.
Afghan military helicopters bombed a religious gathering in the northern province of Kunduz on Monday, killing at least 70 people and wounding 30 others, The New York Times reported. Nasruddin Saadi, district governor of Dasht-e-Archi, told the paper that the helicopters attacked a religious ceremony for which about 1,000 people had assembled in a mosque and surrounding fields around noon.
Witnesses said that the mosque was also a madrasa, and that members of the Taliban had been present at the assembly, which had been organized to recognize graduates, appoint mullahs and elevate junior mullahs.
Mr. Saadi also said that the event was religious in nature and that the security forces had decided to attack because armed militants were in attendance.
However, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Radmanish, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry denied that the gathering had been for religious purposes. “The Taliban and other insurgent groups were planning to attack Afghan forces, but their plan was discovered by our forces,” he said.
“During the attack by our helicopters, 21 terrorists, including a Taliban commander, have been killed,” he added. “It isn’t a residential area, and only terrorists and the Taliban were active in the place. There wasn’t any civilian in the area.”
A 40-year-old farmer from the district, who gave his name only as Mohammad, told The New York Times that there had been a small number of armed Taliban fighters among the crowd at the assembly, but that most of the attendees were civilians, including madrasa students and graduates. He said that many children had been present, and that the first rockets fired by the helicopters had hit a group of youngsters. The farmer was unable to say how many had been killed or hurt, but added that one of the wounded was his nephew, age 10.
“Children come to any gathering where there is a free lunch,” he said.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that the death toll was far higher than the official figure and that no insurgents had been present at the gathering, which was strictly religious in nature. “Bombing civilians and then calling them mujahedeen is a habit of the Americans and their slaves,” Mr. Mujahid said, adding that 150 people had died in the military strike. , “Those responsible for killing civilians and insulting religion will be brought to justice.”
The EU Delegation on Sunday announced launching its 2018 anti-corruption campaign in Afghanistan.
The drive seeks to highlight the impact of corruption in three critical sectors -- development, economic growth and elections.
A statement from EU said the three-week campaign would culminate with a high-level anti-corruption conference in mid-April.
Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon, head of the EU Delegation, acknowledged the government’s steps in the fight against corruption in 2017.
He cited the prosecution of some cases by the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre and the launch of the national anti-corruption strategy.
“But more needs to be done to fight this scourge: strategies and plans need to be translated into firm actions. People should see the difference,” he noted.
“Corruption questions Afghanistan´s ability to become self-reliant" says the Head of European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.
Parliamentary and district council elections will be held on October 20, officials said Sunday, following three years of delays as the country grapples with a resurgent Taliban and political instability.
The polls were originally set to be held in 2015 following presidential elections the previous year, but were repeatedly pushed back due to security fears and logistical issues within the fragile unity government.
If held, candidates will contest the 249 seats in the National Assembly for five-year terms. The country will also hold regional elections in tandem in some 400 districts across Afghanistan -- several of which are outside of Kabul's control.
"Holding elections is not an easy job in Afghanistan," said Abdul Badi Sayad, election commission chief, adding that voters will be able to apply for registration cards in mid-April before candidates formally declare.
The polls come just months ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for April 2019.
However, western diplomats continue to express doubt over the government's ability to oversee the project amid heightened security threats countrywide.
Following the announcement, the United Nations lauded the commission's move, but called for the inclusion of all Afghans in the process.
"The participation of all Afghans in the electoral process, not merely the elections themselves, is critical," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.
Questions continue to linger over how polling will be held in contested areas and if Afghans lacking identity cards and those displaced by conflict will be eligible to vote.
At least 121 civilians were martyred and 322 others were injured in 15 provinces of the country in March, a civil society group said on Sunday.
The Civilian Protection and Advocacy Group (CPAG) said 60 civilians lost their lives in six suicide bombings, including one car blast last month.
Civilian casualties increased at the beginning of this year, with February deadlier than March. At least 443 people were killed and injured in February but the perpetrators were not identified.
The deadliest attack happened on March 21, when a suicide bomber targeted civilians returning from a new year celebration in the Kart-i-Sakhi area of Kabul.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Daesh (ISIS) but there was no comment on the suicide bombing in Helmand. The government has not yet released any information.
Sixteen civilians were killed and over 50 others injured in a car-bomb attack near a wrestling ground in Helmand. The participants were returning from the event to offer Maghrib prayers.
Sixty people, mostly women and children, were martyred and wounded in landmine explosions. Another 50 civilian casualties resulted from mortar shells hitting homes.
Night raids conducted by government forces in some areas also caused civilian casualties. Eight civilians were killed and six others injured in nighttime raids by security forces in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar province. Some helicopters struck farmers in one of the strikes.
In neighboring Kunar province, one person was killed and two others were injured in artillery shelling by Pakistani forces.
CPAG once again called upon all parties to the conflict to stop killing civilians. It also asked the government to think about the education of children who had lost family heads to terrorist attacks.
A number of residents of Kabul on Sunday protested against the city’s acting mayor Abdullah Habibzai, calling for his dismissal.
The protesters accused Mr. Habibzai of corruption and failure in his duties.
Chanting “Kabul municipality is drowned in corruption”, the residents claimed that the mayor behaved selectively in implementing projects in the city.
According to them, Habibzai has put all his effort in executing construction projects, especially road building, in areas where high ranking government officials reside.
Some days back, there were reports that Mr. Habibzai has been involved in corruption in Kabul municipality’s contracts. The reports claimed that the mayor had granted contracts of road building and other projects to companies close to him.
It is worth mentioning that besides remaining some roads of the city dirty, the quality of most of the asphalted roads is too low.
Thirty-four people, including a woman and a citizen of Iran, have been detained on drug smuggling charges in various provinces of the country, the Criminal Justic Task Force (CJTF) said on Sunday.
The suspects were arrested in Kabul, Jawzjan, Kunduz, Nimroz, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhsahan, Herat and Nangarhar, CJTF said in statement.
The anti-narcotics police also seized more than 138 kilograms of heroin, 458 kilograms of opium, 541 kilograms of hashish and 188 liters of alcoholic drinks.
Additionally, 5,000 AFN, 3,980 US dollars, 16,000 Pakistani rupees, 50,000 Indian rupees, 616,000 Iranian tomans, 38 mobile phone sets and 11 vehicles were seized from the detainees.
A statement from the task force said nine of the suspects wanted to smuggle illicit drugs to India but they were arrested at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital.
Cases against the detainees have been referred to the CJTF prosecution office for further investigation, the statement read.
In a visit to southeastern Pakia province with a high ranking government delegation President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani inaugurated several development projects on Monday.
These projects included a 220kV power transmission line (Arghandi-Gardez), a substation in Gardez city, a new building for police headquarters, two townships and road building project between capital Gardez and Zormat district.
Presidential palace or Arg said in a statement that the capacity of the transmission line Arghandi-Gardiz is 300 megawatts and will transmit 32 megawatts of electricity to Gardez substation for the time being.
The statement further added that 40 thousand families will benefit from the electricity power in Paktia, Logar and Khost provinces once the project is fully implemented.
Speaking to the ceremony President Ghani called electricity a base for development and said with existence of the power a lot can be done for development.
In a separate press release, the presidential palace said that maps for two major townships for the province were also signed in the presence of the president.
The first map for Paktia Industrial Park Township was signed between the Minister of Urband Development and Housing Syed Sadat Mansoor Naderi and Minister of Commerce and Industries, the statement reads.
The Township will be built on 983 acres of land for 237 large, medium and small factories.
Pointing to inauguration of the township, president Ghani said: “My biggest dream is to see industrialized Pakia, where we can see processing of pine nuts and other development, and that is possible with electricity. You have been patient more than anyone else, so now is the time for your demands to be heard and met. ”
The second map was signed for heirs of martyrs, teachers, and government employees’ township between the Minister of Urban Development and Housing and the head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance.
The Township will be built on 1291 acres of land consisting 2411 flats and 27 blocks.
According to presidential palace, President Ghani also handed over the documents of housing land to five family members of martyred individuals of Afghan National Security and Defense Forces.
During the trip, road building project between capital Gardez and Zormat district was also kicked off. According to a presidential statement the project will cost 580 million AFN and will be completed in 17 months.
The Pakistani officials on Friday announced the country’s decision regarding the expulsion of the hundreds of thousands of the Afghan refugees.
The officials said the deadline for the stay of the Afghan refugees has been further extended until 30th of June this year.
According to the officials, refugees possessing Proof of Registration cards could continue to stay in the country until June 30 and that the same policy would also be applicable on those holding Afghan Citizen Cards (ACCs).
This comes as the Pakistani officials had earlier announced that the Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan should return to their homeland until the end of March.
In the meantime, efforts are underway in Afghanistan to pave the way for the return of the Afghan refugees from the neighboring countries, specifically Pakistan which currently hosts hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.
Speaking during a gathering to mark the 29th anniversary of the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in mid-February, President Ghani said the government is committed to bring changes in its priorities in a bid to pave the way for the return of the refugees.
President Ghani further added that he wants all the refugees to return to the country in the next 24 months, insisting that the government does not want the issue of the refugees remain an excuse for the Pakistani authorities.
President Ghani made the remarks in reaction to Pakistani officials’ remarks regarding the misuse of the refugees by the terror outfits.
The foreign ministry of Pakistan in reaction to a drone strike on Haqqani terrorist network member said in January that “Pakistan has also been stressing the need of early repatriation of Afghan refugees as their presence in Pakistan helps Afghan terrorists to melt and morph among them.”
The Minister of Interior of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal had earlier said that the return of Afghan refugees is prerequisite to deny safe havens to the Afghan militants.
Iqbal told reporters that around three million refugees still reside in Pakistan emphasizing that no one should expect that the country would be able to certify those involved in the cross-border terrorist activities.
According to Iqbal, Pakistan cold only guarantee having no terrorists on its soil when all refugees return to their homeland.