Half a million Afghan children have been affected by a looming drought in the country, a UN agency said on Tuesday, fearing food insecurity in impoverished Afghanistan.
At least 10 of the country’s 34 districts were worst hit while 20 to 30 percent if water sources are going dry, threatening the lives of about a million people, UNICEF said in a statement.
An additional two million people could feel effects of the drought over the coming months. "These areas have pre-existing high rates of malnutrition. Without adequate nutritious food and safe water for drinking, children's health will only worsen."
The UNICEF appealed for $10 million to help children and their families in drought-affected provinces. Food insecurity and reduced access to drinking water were beginning to take toll in the 10 worst-affected provinces, it added.
Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, said: “The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating, by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst affected areas.”
Some 1.6 million children and 443,000 pregnant and lactating women suffer from malnutrition across Afghanistan, according to the statement. "The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst-affected areas," said Khodr.
The UNICEF and other partners in the nutrition cluster estimate emergency nutrition assistance is needed for 92,000 children and 8,500 pregnant and lactating women.
An estimated 100 families from the Bala Murghab district of Badghis have been forced to move to Herat to find alternative work due to failed crops and to access safe drinking water, according to the statement.
Among the affected provinces, Bagdhish, Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Helmand, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Takhar, and Uruzgan are of critical priority for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan dropped more bombs during the first quarter of 2018 than it has in the same period in any of the last 15 years, according to Pentagon data.
The increased bombing is the latest evidence the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan is significantly intensifying since US President Donald Trump announced his new military strategy for the country in August.
Coalition planes dropped 1,186 weapons on Afghanistan during the first three months of 2018, according to figures released by US Air Forces Central Command. The previous record (1,083) was set during the height of the war in 2011. The US has not released 2001 to 2003 airstrike data.
Those figures do not include activity by the Afghan Air Force (AAF), which has stepped up its aerial bombardment since gaining the ability to conduct airstrikes two years ago. The AAF carries out between 4 to 12 airstrikes every day, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
If recent trends are any indication, 2018 is likely to get even more violent. Fighting traditionally picks up during the warmer months, and the coalition has expanded its bombing campaign against the Islamic State group, as well as narcotic labs and other Taliban revenue sources.
But there is little indication the expanded airstrikes are helping end the conflict, says Thomas Johnson, an Afghanistan specialist who teaches national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
"It's basically a tactic of desperation," said Johnson, author of Taliban Narratives: The Use of Power and Stories in the Afghanistan Conflict. "There's never been an insurgency in history that's been defeated purely through air power."
Even high-level US military officials concede the conflict remains a stalemate. According to the latest US military estimate, the Afghan government controls 56 percent of Afghanistan's districts, with insurgents controlling or contesting the rest.
Insurgent attacks also have continued. Nearly 60 people died Sunday when an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked an election identification card distribution center in Kabul. The Taliban has also rejected October's scheduled parliamentary elections as "fake," and stage-managed by "foreign occupation" forces.
Civilians are increasingly dying in the conflict.
For the second consecutive year, civilian casualties remained at a record high in the first quarter of 2018, according to the United Nations. From January through March, 763 civilians were killed and 1,495 injured.
While the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties were caused by insurgents, airstrikes resulted in 67 deaths and 75 injuries during the first three months of the year, according to the U.N.
Afghans have become outraged at high-profile incidents, such as in early April, when an Afghan airstrike on a suspected Taliban gathering at a religious school in northern Kunduz killed dozens.
Kabul said 30 Taliban fighters were killed in the strike. But media reports quoted witnesses and local officials as saying the majority of the casualties were civilians.
The violence comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani calls on the Taliban to join the political arena and participate in the upcoming election.
In February, Ghani proposed peace talks with the Taliban without preconditions. The Taliban has not given a formal response to Ghani's offer.
Nonetheless, Ghani's offer was praised by analysts such as Johnson, who say there is no military solution to the war.
"I don't care if you double the amount of air sorties you're flying right now," he said. "We will never win this war militarily. The only solution to this war is political."
Turkmenistan can become the venue of the Afghan national dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, said a statement of the Turkmen government.
The president of Turkmenistan was on a state visit to Uzbekistan on April 23-24, 2018.
Turkmenistan, as a neutral state, is ready to provide political space for the organization of a nationwide Afghan dialogue under the auspices and with the leading role of the UN, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said, speaking to media representatives.
It was also said that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share similar views on trends in regional and international development, speak with one or close positions on key issues on the global agenda, such as the maintenance of peace and stability, countering the threats of international terrorism, extremism, disarmament issues, and settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.
During the talks in Tashkent, the parties separately focused on the situation in Afghanistan, reiterating their mutual firm commitment to peaceful, political means of resolving the situation in that country and the need to integrate it into international economic processes.
In this context, the importance of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, the started laying of the power line and the fiber-optic communication line along the route of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP), the construction of the railway along the Serkhetabat (Turkmenistan) – Turgundi ( Afghanistan) route was emphasized.
In a major push to spread its influence in the neighborhood, India has decided to supply weapons and equipment to friendly foreign countries, including Afghanistan.
And, for the first time, India is likely to provide Afghanistan with troop carriers, spares for tanks, and rocket systems that are used in counter-insurgency operations.
Top sources have told India Today that the Defense Ministry had asked the three services to draw-up a list of weapon systems that they can spare.
Sources said New Delhi wants to give Afghanistan the Indian Army's excess stocks.
The Afghan National Army is comfortable handling Russian-origin platforms, which comprise at least 60 per cent of India's arsenal.
Apart from this, India is also looking to procure weapon systems from the erstwhile Soviet Block.
"We will be providing them improved and strengthened weapons systems and platforms needed for effective counter-insurgency operations," top sources told India Today.
Sources indicate that India is likely to provide four more helicopters, besides repairing and refurbishing helicopters it had gifted Afghanistan earlier.
India will be providing friendly foreign countries "improved and strengthened weapon systems that we can spare besides sourcing from former Soviet-Bloc countries," a top Defense Ministry source told India Today.
Breaking from the past of not supplying lethal platforms to counties like Afghanistan, the Modi-led NDA government had supplied four Russian made Mi-25 helicopters to Afghanistan.
The helicopters were to bolster the capabilities of the Afghan National Army to fight the Taliban. These helicopters are, however, grounded and need to be overhauled.
"We will overhaul and provide spares to make them operational again," a top source told India Today.
Till recently, keeping in mind the sensitivities of Pakistan, India had confined itself to providing training and non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan.
As well, New Delhi was worried about the risks of providing lethal platforms.
Indian facilities have been attacked in Afghanistan by Pakistan backed terror groups to deter closer ties between New Delhi and Kabul. Pakistan considers Afghanistan to be under its sphere of influence, despite its deep cultural and historic ties with India.
Apart from directing terror attacks on Indian installations in Afghanistan, Pakistan has protested the presence of Indian consulates there.
Peace and development in Afghanistan would contribute to regional security and prosperity, the Indian foreign minister said on Tuesday.
“This can only be achieved through political dialogue and reconciliation within the framework of the Afghan constitution,” Sushma Swaraj added.
In her address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers in Beijing, she sought support for efforts of the Afghan government at an inclusive peace and reconciliation.
“India actively supports the activation of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, the Moscow Consultation Format and other mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation for restoration of peace and development in Afghanistan.”
Terrorism was an enemy of the basic human rights and the fight against it should also identify states that encouraged, supported and financed terrorist groups, she added.
She said India had operationalized the air freight corridor between Kabul, Kandahar, New Delhi and Mumbai besides developing the Chabahar Port in Iran.
Some applicants, who had taken exam for the post of commercial attachés, complain the recruitment process was not transparent, alleging that the new appointments have been made based on favoritism and other considerations rather than merit and qualification.
These complaints come as President Ghani said Saturday at the introduction ceremony of new commercial attachés in 20 countries that those individuals were appointed through an open competition, branding the development a triumph of merit over patronage and a major cultural change.
The Independent Administration Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC), however, rejects the claim as baseless, underlining the transparency of the process.
Hamid Shirzai, who had applied for a 4th grade post of commercial attaché, says he was shortlisted for a 2nd grade post at IARCSC, but not for the above 4th grade post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because he did not have patronage and connections.
According to him, he filled the IARCSC’s complaint form after the exam, but the results of the exam for the commercial attaché posts were announced before his complaints were assessed.
Mohammad Ismail Mohammadi, another applicant, claims the new commercial attachés have been appointed on the basis of nepotism and kickbacks, stressing he is ready to provide evidence to prove the claim.
In a Facebook post, he has accused the Independent Administration Reform and Civil Service Commission of making some of the appointments for commercial attachés at the behest of strongmen.
Haroon Khpalwak, another applicant, told The Heart of Asia that he had also taken the exam for commercial attachés, but he had not been shortlisted for interview by IARCSC.
Khpalwak alleged that he had two master’s degrees -- one in economics and another in management, but someone else who had a bogus bachelor’s degree from a private university has been appointed as commercial attaché.
Most of IARCSC’s actions are symbolic, Khpalwak believes, claiming that there is still rampant corruption in appointments at the commission.
Talking to The Heart of Asia, IARCSC’s spokesman Hamid Nazari spurned all such claims, insisting that there was utter transparency in the commission’s appointments, and that whoever had any complaints about the commission’s actions and examinations, he/she should refer to the special complaints forms and addresses.
The complaint of some individuals is “natural” because hundreds of people apply for each post, but the commission cannot hire all of them, he argues, declaring that they are ready to respond whenever and wherever someone has any complaints or evidence of wrongdoing in the commission.
Undeterred by large-scale arrests of its supporters, a nascent movement has renewed its demand for an end to the oppression of the Pashtun community.
Addressing a rally at Lahore’s Mochi Gate late on Sunday, Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leaders said no amount of force could derail their struggle for constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Manzoor Pashteen, the PTM head, told the highly-charged demonstrators: “We are very peaceful but don’t forget we are young. Young people don’t have a lot of patience.”
Seeking the immediate withdrawal of first information reports against his supporters in Lahore, he defiantly declared: “Now that we have risen up against oppression, we don’t fear for our lives.”
On Saturday night, several PTM leaders were briefly detained and the venue of the rally was flooded with water when workers arrived to the site – in an attempt to coerce into cancelling the event.
Pashteen announced PTM’s next rally would be organized in the picturesque northwestern valley of Swat, which would be followed by a gathering in the port city of Karachi on May 12.
Ali Wazir, another PTM leader, urged Lahore inhabitants to join the gathering and learn about the ordeal of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ residents.
Meanwhile, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, Senator Pervaiz Rasheed and the president Asif Ali Zardari’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stoutly supported the movement’s struggle.
Bilawal Zardari condemned the high-handedness and disregard for the constitutional rights of the people” shown by the Shahbaz Sharif-led Punjab government.
Maryam demanded the arrested activists be released and the PTM allowed to push ahead with its rally. “This country is as much theirs as it is ours.”
Tahera Jalib, daughter of revolutionary poet Habib Jalib, read out Dastoor -- a popular poem of her father. Her recital inspired the participants.
Ali Wazir said: “The movement has come to Lahore so that if something [untoward] happens in the future, nobody can say they never reached out to them.”
Referring to a recent claim by the head of judicial panel that 4,000 Pakistanis had been handed over to the US, Pashteen said: “When they can sell its own people, they can do a lot more.”
He said: “We should be told the amount for which they [missing persons] were sold. We will collect that money and give it to you so you can bring them back. Do not release them, deliver them to courts.”
The PTM head also chided the media for the negative coverage of its activities. “We respect you, but you are being hypocritical,” he remarked.
The Taliban have destroyed three telephone towers in central Logar province, depriving thousands of people of telecom services, officials said on Monday.
Salim Saleh, the governor’s spokesman, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the incident took place in the Ghaznikhel area of Mohammad Agha district on Sunday night.
He said that the Taliban torched the Afghan Wireless, Etisalat and MTN towers. Thousands of people were deprived of having access to telephone services, he added.
Hamidullah, a resident of Ghaznikhel area, said that the Taliban tied up and beat guards of the towers and then set the antennas ablaze.
The Taliban have also banned telephone services in the Charkh district of Logar province.
At least two doctors have been killed, seven kidnapped and 40 others threatened over the past six months in eastern Nangarhar province.
During a sit-in in Jalalabad, the doctors warned of stopping work if the provincial administration failed to ensure their security within 10 days.
They called on security organs to take effective steps to provide security to them. Dr. Nawroz Shinwari, head of Nangarhar Doctors’ Association, said some of his colleagues were daily threatened over the phone.
Alleging illicit demands for money, he hit out at the provincial government and accused security officials of being appointed on the basis of nepotism, not merit.
As a result, he argued, the security personnel with political connections failed to maintain order in the province. They set the government and security agencies a 10-day deadline to take serious action to ward off threats to doctors; otherwise they would go on strike.
According to Shinwari, 40 Nangarhar-based doctors have received threats, two have been killed, seven abducted and five others injured over the past six months.
Dr. Sabahuddin Saba, Tuberculosis Experts Association head, also warned they would go on strike if proper attention was not paid to their demands.
Dr. Liaquat Adil, All Afghanistan Federation of Trade Unions (AAFTU) head, said doctor were an educated segment of society serving the ailing humanity and no one should create problems for them.
Attaullah Khogyani, the governor’s spokesman, told Pajhwok four individuals suspected extortionists had been detained in operations by intelligence agents.
More than 400 schools which the Taliban closed about a month back have been reopened in northern Kunduz province, an official said Monday.
The Taliban ordered hundreds of schools shut downed in many parts of the province a month ago, affecting nearly 200,000 students.
Provincial education department head Rustam Ahmadi told Pajhwok Afghan News that tribal elders had been able to convince the rebels to reopen the schools.
He said based on the tribal elders’ mediation, all closed schools had been reopened in the province.
He said: “Students attended classes this afternoon and some would start coming to their schools by tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Kabir Haqmal, the ministry of education spokesman, also confirmed to Pajhwok the reopening of the closed schools.
Under the new agreement with the Taliban, a new Kabul Bank branch would be opened in every district of the province.
He said: “Opening of new Kabul Bank branches in every district would help teachers get their salaries easily.”
Khal Mohmmad, a resident of Qala-i-Zal district, said it was being heard that the schools had reopened but so far no student was seen going to school.
On the other hand, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said their delegation had been in the area for few days and they might have been reached a solution to the issue of closed schools.
Some more than 300,000 students attend 507 schools in Kunduz.