Uzbekistan expressed its readiness on Tuesday to host peace negotiations between Afghan government and the Taliban.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev made the offer in his speech to participants of an international conference in Tashkent on Afghan peace and security.
“We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange on the territory of Uzbekistan direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
President Ashraf Ghani, EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini and foreign ministers from Russia, China and Turkey also attended the conference.
Addressing the opening session of Tashkent conference, President Ghani said growing terrorism posed a serious threat to Afghanistan and other regional countries, stressing the need for joint efforts to counter the menace.
He urged all regional countries to stand by his administration’s efforts for peace talks with the Taliban.
Terrorists did not recognize geography and it’s a common threat to the entire region, president added. He drummed up support for his initiative to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Afghans had rendered great sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, he said.
Afghanistan would do all it could to bring about peace, Ghani promised, arguing the recent Kabul Process Conference in Kabul demonstrated Afghanistan’s seriousness about ending the war.
About the threat from the Islamic State terrorist group that has lately conducted deadly attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, he said the outfit had about 2,000 members fighting in the country.
More than a thousand Daesh insurgents have been killed during operations so far, according to the president, who commended the Afghan security forces’ valor in combating the terrorist group.
Ghani called for close regional cooperation and joint efforts to deal with the threat posed by terrorists. His Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev, speaking to the delegates, said the war on terror was a common cause. Greater cooperation with Afghanistan in the education sector was an imperative, he added.
Addressing the conference Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called for constructive dialogue between Kabul government and the Taliban for peace in Afghanistan.
“The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate,” Lavrov said. “Since there is no intra-Afghan political process, the Taliban movement fully or partially controls about half of the country’s territory and continues to conduct military activities and acts of sabotage. The growing presence of the so-called Islamic State, particularly in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, causes special concern,” the Russian top diplomat added.
“It is obvious that it is impossible to resolve the conflict by force, no matter what strategies on that score are adopted in foreign capitals. The military solution ideas are divorced from historical experience and today’s realities,” he said. “It is only possible to achieve real peace and stability by launching a constructive dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban movement.”
Seventy-five percent of schools in southeastern Paktia province lack buildings of their own, local officials and residents say.
There are total of 396 schools in the province, but 250 of them have no buildings, according to the provincial Education Department.
Governor Shamim Khan Katawazai told Pajhwok Afghan News that around 40 schools would get buildings this year in the province.
“Safe environment for students and teachers and timely availability of textbooks are important things for education. This new solar year would be a real education year for Paktia as about 40 schools will get buildings under the president’s supervision,” Katawazai said.
Paktia Education Director KuchiZazai told Pajhwok Afghan News that school building was essential for a healthy educational environment and in their absence the education process could not go smoothly.
He termed the proposed construction of buildings for 40 schools in Paktia this new year as a huge progress, but said assistance from donor agencies, international community and countries remained crucial for development of the vital sector.
“Currently 75 percent of schools are without buildings, it is a major problem, even we lack textbooks,” the education director lamented.
He hoped books would be printed and would be received soon in order to prevent students’ time from being wasted.
Noorullah, a resident of Tairai area of Gardez City, the provincial capital, and a student, said they studied amid dusty winds and under hot and cold weather conditions under the open skies.
Zabihulla, a resident of Syed Karam district, said many families used to stop sending their daughters to school beyond grade four or five due to lack of boundary walls in schools.
He said: “It is very difficult to attend lessons in the open and endure dusty winds and rains. Girls should study in a safe place.”
Education official for Zurmat district, Abdurl Rashid Usmani, also expressed concern about problems being faced by students in the absence of school buildings particularly girl students.
He confirmed some female students had stopped going to schools after grade four and five due to lack of school buildings.
Based on the education department information, currently about 200,000 students, including 63,000 girls, are studying in Paktia and they are taught by 5,000 teachers.
Officials of the United States Air Force stationed at Kandahar airfield to train Afghan pilots say the US will handover about 20 UH-60 Black Hawks helicopters in the next nine months to the Afghan Air Force (AAF.)
AP reported that US Air Force officials said since last November 11 Black Hawk helicopters have been handed to the AAF and the process will continue.
The training of AAF pilots to fly Black Hawks is meanwhile ongoing at the Kandahar airport, AP reported.
The Pentagon has said it will replace Russian MI-17 helicopters with Black Hawks as they are better suited to the conditions in Afghanistan.
“The MI-17, that the UH-60 is going to replace, is not sustainable as a helicopter. So, what we are doing is we’re giving the Afghan Air Force a sustainable, very highly capable and battle-proven helicopter that they can take forward into the fight as they continue to safeguard their country,” US Major Ted Rogers, Director of Operations 44th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron said.
Afghan pilots receiving training on UH-60 Black Hawks said they welcomed the move and agreed the fighter helicopters were better suited to Afghanistan’s conditions therefore allowing for quick support to ground troops when needed, AP reported.
“The important thing that our forces need in the battlefields is to be provided with timely reinforcement and equipment and the Black Hawk is the only helicopter that can reach them quickly and provide them with better support,” Lieutenant MassehullahKakar, an Afghan Air Force pilot and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter trainee said.
Currently AAF has 46 MI-17 Russian helicopters, which are mostly used to carry in reinforcements and to provide equipment to ground forces. Out of the 46, only 25 of them are active and the rest are not in service.
“These very same aircraft were the ones used by US forces. The importance of lift is critical to the battlefield, this is why the UH-60 Alpha is coming at such a decisive moment. We had a very good fighting season last year, we expect that the fight will continue this year and in the years to come and the UH-60 is going to be a critical element to move troops and bring casualties out of the field, a critical element in any fight,” US Colonel Armando E. Fiterre, Commander 73th Air Expeditionary Advisory group said.
In addition to UH-60 Black Hawks, other helicopters, including surveillance helicopters such as IC-208, MD 530 and A-29 helicopters, have been provided to the AAF by the US.
“We are still providing as much assistance as possible, but our goal is to step back as the years progress so we are no longer doing the primary training and we are just in an advisory role; that way if an experienced instructor or an experienced evaluator pilot needs to rely on us or ask us questions we are still there alongside of them,” US Major Denis Nita, AC-208 evaluator pilot said.
So far AAF has received 11 Black Hawks from the US army and is expected to take delivery of at least another 19 by the end of the year.
By 2023, AAF will take delivery of a total of 159 Black Hawks from the US.
White House officials said the United States will support the Afghan government and insurgent groups who are ready to join the peace process.
One national security council official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Washington Times: "The United States will support the Afghan government and all parties ready to make peace."
"Our Afghan allies believe that a workable peace process that ends decades of war must include all elements of the Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, willing to accept peace. This war in Afghanistan must be settled among Afghans," the official said on Sunday.
This comes just days after Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor to the president Mohammad HanifAtmar told the Washington Times government should negotiate with anyone who is reconcilable, including Haqqani network.
"We should negotiate with anyone who is reconcilable," including elements of the Haqqani Network, Atmar, told The Times on Thursday at the Afghan Embassy in Washington.
"We will not talk with anyone who is not reconcilable," he said.
This comes after President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban and other insurgent groups made at the Kabul Process meeting at the end of February.
However, the Taliban has still not responded to the offer.
Calls meanwhile for the group to join the peace process have been growing – from within Afghanistan and the international community.
On Sunday, Pierre Mayaudon, the European Union (EU) Head of Delegation to Afghanistan called on the Taliban to take advantage of the peace opportunity and enter into dialogue with the Afghan government.
His call came on the eve of the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan peace meeting in Tashkent.
The first such move by Tashkent since 1999, the two-day meeting will bring together regional leaders and representatives from the wider international community where they will discuss the current situation in Afghanistan and the broader fight against terrorism.
High-ranking officials are expected to attend the Tashkent meeting including UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres and the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Turkey, India, Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, uzdaily.com reported.
An international conference on Afghan peace and security kicked off in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent on Monday.
On the first day of the conference declaration for the summit was finalized by representatives of the attending states, deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan Hakmat Khalil Karzai said in a short statement on his verified twitter account.
Karzai thanked overwhelming support of all the participants and called the declaration a great achievement for Afghanistan.
However he did not provide further details about the declaration.
In the meantime, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani arrived in Tashkent on Monday to attend the conference, and was welcomed by the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Aripov in Islam Karimov international airport.
Arg or presidential palace of Afghanistan said in statement that president Ghani will deliver a speech during the conference and will also meet his Uzbek counterpart to discuss the issues of bilateral interest including bilateral relations and expansion of bilateral cooperation.
The statement further added that President Ghani will also meet the High Representative of EU for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and the representatives of the other countries participating in the conference.
President Ghani is accompanied by acting Foreign Minister SalahuddinRabbani, National Security Advisor Mohammad HanifAtmar, Finance Minister IklilHakimi, senior presidential envoy for infrastructure HumayounQayumi, secretary of the high peace council Mohammad AkramKhpolwak, deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai.
Senior presidential envoy for the Central Asian States Mohammad ShakirKargar, Head of the Administrative Office of the President Abdul Salam Rahimi, leader of Junbish Millie Party BaturDostum, and other presidential envoys including MahmoodFazli, Shahrzad Akbar, and deputy chief staff strategic communications and media HaroonChakhansuri.
Though the main focus of the conference is peace talks the Taliban representatives reportedly do not take part in it. It’s not clear whether they were invited to the conference or not.
Visiting Afghanistan on Sunday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told her country's troops in the war-torn country to prepare to stay for the foreseeable future, because Afghans still need international support.
The remarks come days after the German parliament‘s decision to extend Germany’s mission in Afghanistan and increase number of troops in the country from 980 to 1,300.
"It is not a question of a time frame that must be stubbornly stuck to," von der Leyen told German troops during a visit to their base in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Most of international troops left Afghanistan in 2014 to mark end of combat mission in the country. NATO’s new mission Resolute Support is focused on training, advising and assisting the Afghan forces.
In August, US President Donald Trump authorized deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, hoping to reverse Taliban gains and draw them to negotiating table.
The demands floated by political parties to make changes to election commissions can further postpone the parliamentary and district council election.
Political analysts accuse political parties of undermining the transparency of election in addition to delaying it by trying to embed their loyalists in electoral commissions.
GulbuddinHekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) party, has recently said that new members should be appointed for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), a statement also echoed by members of Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan (JIA), including Ata Mohammad Noor, the former governor of northern Balkh province.
The analysts, however, stress that the problem lies in the electoral system than in election officials as the replacement of officials cannot guarantee the transparency of election.
GhulamJelaniZwak, a political expert, says the political parties seek the replacement of election officials instead of reform in the electoral system, adding that such demands will only create barriers to election.
“HIA and HIJ want to install their loyalists in election commissions,” Zwak told The Heart of Asia, casting suspicion on the government’s political will to hold election, while also believing that the demands of political parties can give the government more pretexts to delay the election.
A freelance journalist and analyst, WaliullahShaheen, calls on political parties to press the government to carry out the election on time than reshuffle electoral commissions. “The political parties also unfortunately pursue only their interests, and each of them is trying to place their guys in the election commissions.”
According to Shaheen, the problem of security and budget remains unresolved, and the political parties should call for its resolution.
Since its inception, the National Unity Government replaced election commissioners several times in the name of electoral reform, but there is still no guarantee of transparent election, and even the Independent Election Commission is concerned about the transparency of the ballot.
Meanwhile, IEC chairman Gula Jan AbdulbadeSayyad told a press conference on Sunday that voter registration will start nationwide on April 14.
Political analysts stress the process will be flawed because Afghan government doesn’t have control over half of the country.
A number of youth in Lashkargah, the capital of southern Helmand province, have erected a tent, asking the Taliban to join the peace process.
The tent was erectedin a Lashkargah locality where a suicide attack killed 16 people and injured 55 others late on Friday.
QaisHashimi, organizer of the protest camp, and his two small sons sat in the tent.Later on, more people joined them in pushing the militants to accept President Ashraf Ghani’s offer.
Hashimi told Pajhwok Afghan News no one from his family was killed in Friday’s attack but he had raised the tent for justice.
“My mother has given me money for erecting the tent. I have also brought my two sons, less than eight years of age. We will continue our protest for peace until we are assured of it,” he remarked.
He lamented people even could not go to mosques for offering prayers or attend funeral ceremonies due to insecurity and fear of attacks. This problem needs to be resolved immediately.
Pacha Khan Mawladad, another protestor, said their protest was an apolitical move.“In case of need, we will go to Taliban’s houses andask them to join peace talks,” he said.
The young man, who has attended five funeral ceremonies including three for children, said: “I want the Taliban to show mercy to the nation and join the peace process and then outline their demands.”
Dr. Mohammad DaudDarman, another participant, said: “We are not safe anywhere. We are targeted inside mosques, funeral ceremonies and picnics. We don’t know our sins. What do these attacks want?”
He said if the Taliban killed civilians then they could target their tentas well. The camp is not guarded by anyone.People have repeatedly stressed peace movements over the past several years, but without any results.
An unstable province where the Taliban control six districts, Helmand has been the scene of fighting over the past few years.
Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Mohammad HanifAtmar says the country is facing a critical situation as he sought national support to government during a meeting with the Afghans based in Washington.
The Office of the National Security Council (ONSC) in a statement said Mr. Atmar discussed government’s peace offer, fight against terrorism, efforts to bolster the Afghan Air Force, growing regional support for the peace efforts, and some other issues during his meeting at the Embassy of Afghanistan.
He called the country’s situation as sensitive and emphasized that a national support to the government and the current system is key to overcome the situation.
According to Armar, the Afghan people should increase their support to the government considering the regional situation.
The Office of the National Security Council also added that Mr. Atmar met with a number of senior US government officials in the Afghan Embassy in Washington.
During his meeting with the top civilian and military officials, Atmar discussed the peace offer to Taliban, efforts to attract regional support in the peace process, Pakistan’s stance, fight against terrorism, and the upcoming elections, the statement said.
According to the National Security Council Office, Mr. Atmar expressed optimisms regarding the future of the country but emphasized more work is needed while insisting on regional and international cooperation.
He also added that the new US strategy for South has proven to be beneficial for the region and called for more bilateral cooperation between Afghanistan and the United.
A group of Afghan Local Police (ALP) allegedly gang-raped two women of a family in Dasht-i-Archi district of northern Kunduz province, residents said Sunday.
Ismail, a resident of the center of Dasht-i-Archi district, told Pajhwok Afghan News that three ALP men Matin, Sewyak and a third broke into their house on Saturday night.
“They handcuffed me and my sister in law and then sexually assaulted my wife and my wife’s sister,” he said.
Abdul Baqi, another resident, said: “I was also at Ismail’s house last night with my daughter-in-law and my son when the incident happened.”
He said the ALP forces kept men and women in separate rooms. “They were with our women inside from 7pm to 11pm, then they came out and took us to another place. Later they came again with more friends and again sexually assaulted our women,” he alleged.
Baqi said their women were assaulted until the morning and demanded justice from the government. He said ALP forces also took away their weapons, jewelry and money.
Kunduz police chief Brig. Gen. Abdul Hamid Hamidi confirmed the ALP forces had sexually assaulted two women of a family in Dasht-i-Archi district.
He said so far three ALP members had been detained in connection with the case and investigation was still underway.
ALP forces are accused for murders and armed robbery cases in many parts of the country.