TOLO News

TOLOnews 6pm News 06 July 2015

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 17:45

Top news in this Bulletin:

The Office of the Attorney General on Monday announced that the government has issued travel bans for 150 Kabul Bank debtors and frozen their assets. Their properties are expected to be auctioned off after a court order goes through.

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During a meeting in the presidential palace on Monday President Ashraf Ghani called on the administrative bodies responsible for the rollout of the new national ID card program to address recent criticisms of the program and the delays it has faced.

Attorney General Issues Travel Ban, Freezes Assets of 150 Kabul Bank Defaulters

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 17:30

The Office of the Attorney General on Monday announced that the government has issued travel bans for 150 Kabul Bank debtors and frozen their assets. Their properties are expected to be auctioned off after a court order goes through.

The announcement comes after the expiration of the deadline President Ashraf Ghani issued to those who owed money in the wake of the Kabul Bank crash. The Kabul Bank faced a depositor crisis after journalists exposed a large-scale embezzlement scheme by some of the bank's top executives in 2010. Since taking office, President Ghani has pursued legal action against those involved in the scandal - from top to bottom - in a fashion that his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, declined to do.

"On the basis of the court ruling, the Attorney General'a Office recently slapped a travel ban on 150 defaulters of the Kabul Bank and their assets have been frozen," Attorney General spokesman Basir Azizi said on Monday.

The Kabul Bank case has captured the attention of the international community and the Afghan public alike, seemingly illustrating the depth of Afghanistan's corruption woes.

"We hope that it is seriously dealt with and that those debtors to the Kabul Bank repay the money," Afghanistan Integrity Watch head Ekram Afzali told TOLOnews.

According to reports, among the total number of debtors, 20 of them have paid back the money they owe, while the primary shareholders, including Mahmoud Karzai (the former president's brother), Gul Bahar Habibi, Hussain Fahim, Ghulam Dawoud Nasir, Mohammad Anwar Jagdalak, Mohammad Tahir Zahir, Mahboob Forotan, Mohammad Ismail Ghazanfar and Hajji Amrullah have yet to pay.

According to legal authorities, the assets of those large shareholders have been unfrozen because they have pledged to repay all that they owe.

Over the past three months, the Afghan government has successfully recuperated 279 million USD lost in the scandal via sales of assets belonging to key perpetrators.

Accounting for the interest rate discount afforded to the debtors by former president Karzai, so far, a grande total of about 438 million USD has been recovered. That number represents just under half of the 987 million USD stolen from the Kabul Bank.

MoF Admits to Failures in Tax Collection As Billions of Afs Remain Missing

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 17:21

Legal issues in Afghanistan's tax collection system have created burdensome obstacles to effective income tax collection from small and medium sized businesses, Ministry of Finance (MoF) officials said on Monday.

According to the MoF, three large companies owe roughly 15 billion Afs in back-taxes to the Afghan government.

Gul Maqsood Sabit, the head of the MoF's treasury department, has said that a number of heavyweight taxpayers are involved in legal disputes with the ministry. A special commission comprising representatives from the finance ministry, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Attorney General's Office has been formed to address the disputes.

Although 500 large businesses are registered with the Afghan government and are supposed to pay taxes to the MoF, 10 percent of those companies are said to be evading taxes to varying extents.

"We have a number of issues with various companies, including companies in business with the foreign forces," Sabit said on Monday. "Therefore, we are determined to settle the issues through the special commission," he added.

While the finance ministry is pursuing legal action against some of the firms who are refusing to pay taxes due, with others, which may simply lack the capacity to pay right away, the ministry is facilitating installment-based payment plans, according to Sabit.

Independent economic analysts have confirmed and expanded upon the MoF's assessment of the obstacles facing efficient revenue collection. They say legal issues, as well as inadequate monitoring of companies' activities and the lack of a system for fining those that fail to pay their taxes are primary areas of concern. Of course, commentators have also said that corruption is another big factor hampering proper revenue collection.

"Corruption exists. The goals that need to be accomplished before the emergence of problems in tax payments are ignored because of corruption, so the government needs to focus on the issue and take necessary steps so that taxes are collected professionally," economic analyst Hasibullah Mawhid told TOLOnews.

Independent estimates puts the number of Afs that would go into the government's budget if it taxes were more effectively collected in the billions. Many commentators blame mismanagement on the part of the finance ministry for the waste.

The MoF's treasury department has said government revenues could rise by 30 percent if taxes were properly collected.

Ghani Looks to Expedite ID Card Rollout, Improve Program's Public Image

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 16:29

During a meeting in the presidential palace on Monday President Ashraf Ghani called on the administrative bodies responsible for the rollout of the new national ID card program to address recent criticisms of the program and the delays it has faced.

Director General of the Electronic National ID Cards Project, Humayun Muhtat, said that the president also spent time urging international donors to not cut their aid for the program. A number of donor agencies and foreign governments have raised questions about continued funding for the program after years of delays and doubt that the new ID cards will be fully distributed before the next round of elections.

President Ghani reportedly said his cabinet would ultimately be held responsible for the program's success or failure.

Meanwhile, the president has ordered the management and technical committees for the program to focus on improving its public image through the establishment of information centers.

"The president emphasized [...] that there is more work to be done regarding the process, and that it is to be presented in the cabinet session for consolidation," Director General Muhtat said on Monday. "But the important point was that the president emphasized that people should be told that the ID card distribution administrations and the government are serious about this process. And the second point is that the information should be conveyed in plain language so the technologically complex issues can be accessible to the people."

Ghani was also said to have advised the administrative committees to develop solutions to the problems they have raised, rather than just announce further delays. Looking ahead, it is likely many kinks in the program - as well as potential remedies - will emerge in the coming distribution test phase.

"With the beginning of the test stage for ID cards distribution, if our work does not stop for any reason or any problem, then we can say for sure that by the next presidential election, we can distribute ID cards for a huge number of citizens so they can use them in the election," Muhtat said.

Election monitoring institutions have stressed the importance of the new indents fixation system for enhancing the transparency and accountability of the country's electoral process. After the 2014 presidential election crisis, fears that the Afghan public has lost faith in the electoral system hare underscored criticisms of the delays in rolling out the ID program.

"If this situation continues, it will be a setback for the government," said Mohammad Naeem Ayoubzada, Chairman of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA).

But, for some, the possibility of further delays in the ID rollout is less troubling than than continued failures in communication between the government and the public when it comes to the program. "My hope is that if there is any problem ahead of us the national unity government will share the problem with the people," Afghanistan Democracy Watch Dorector Zakria Barakzai told TOLOnews.

Distribution of the new electronically-scannable national IDs was scheduled to begin over a year ago. The program was originally conceived under former president Hamid Karzai.

ALP Performance Receives Mixed Reviews From MPs, Analysts

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 15:13

Lawmakers in Parliament and independent analysts Monday offered mixed reviews of the performance of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) units active around Afghanistan. While the local policing units have proven an effective force for stability and rule of law in some parts of the country, in others, they have been accused of negligence, corruption and abuses of power.

The Chair of the Lower House's Internal Security Commission, Mirdad Khan Nijrabi, maintains that ALP activities have been very fruitful in promoting national security interests. "Their information from local areas and the cooperation of local residents with them has been very crucial in this regard," MP NIjrabi said.

Meanwhile, other members of the commission have raised concerns about the government's ability wield control over the almost 40,000 of young Afghans that have joined the ranks of the ALP. Salih Mohammad Salih questioned what could happen if the government became unable to pay the salaries all the officers expect. "They can become a headache to the country if what I said happens," he said. "I think the allocated budget for ALP should be spent for supporting the National Police and the Afghan Army."

The mixed feelings about the role the ALP has played around the country is further illustrated among the sentiments of independent security analysts. Salih Registani, a military affairs expert, says ALP officers can be broken down into two categories: those who have rolled up their sleeves to help the Afghan people, and then those who are bullies and abuse their authorities for personal gain.

"The logic behind the establishment of the ALP is based on a temporary need," Registani told TOLOnews. "Whenever Afghanistan becomes stable and secure, the local police should be disarmed and its members should pursue a normal life. Therefore, it is possible that the forces will change into a challenge and a headache to the government and the country," he added.

According to Ministry of Interior (MoI) spokesman Sediq Seddiqi, a new mechanism will eventually be adopted to manage ALP activities around the country. For now, he said, the ministry will enforce accountability measures.

"The ministry has brought seismic changes in the authorities of ALP forces aimed at increasing efficacy and overcoming their problems," Seddiqi said.
The ALP was established five years back in a bid to better ensure security in remote parts of the country. There are 30,000 ALP forces serving in several parts of Afghanistan.

Eight Died of Congo Virus in Afghanistan: Health Ministry

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 14:10

The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) officials on Monday confirmed outbreak of a fatal virus in Afghanistan that has claimed lives of eight people so far this year.

The Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus have been reported and confirmed in Kabul, Herat, Nangarhar, Helmand and Nuristan provinces, MoPH spokesman Wahidullah Mayar told TOLOnews.

About 35 suspected cases have been registered since the start of 2015, he continued.

"We are fully prepared for the treatment of this disease," Mayar stated. "But the people have less awareness of the virus. They must visit the doctors after they feel the symptoms."

The symptoms of the virus included diarrhea, vomiting, bloody urine, headache, high fever, back pain, joint pain and stomach pain.

A resident of Kabul, Saleh, who is admitted to Antani Infectious Disease Hospital, is suspected to have Congo virus.

Saleh, who is a butcher, said he fell sick about 20 days ago after having severe fever and bleeding.

"I fell sick. I have severe muscle soreness and bleeding," he complained.

According to the doctors, Congo fever is a tick-borne infectious disease which is mainly transferred to humans from pets. It is also transferred from touching animal's blood.

However, the doctors say Congo Virus is a curable disease.

Abdullah Promises Justice to Jalrez Victims

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 09:55

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah on Monday promised to bring to justice all those officials who neglected security forces' call for support during the deadly battle in Jalrez district in central Maidan Wardak province.

Speaking at a meeting of Council of Ministers, Abdullah acknowledged the negligence by the security officials in the Jalrez carnage that left nearly 30 Afghan Local Police (ALP) force members dead with their corpses allegedly desecrated.

"It is an important issue and we have already discussed it in an extraordinary meeting of National Security Council," Abdullah said. "We have assigned a team to investigate the incident in all levels and the team has started its work."

The Jalrez fighting broke out last Thursday after a number of insurgents stormed the district and seized all nine police checkpoints of Jalrez.

The police posts were retaken after three days of battle in an operation by the reinforcement troops deployed to the area.

On the other hand, the senators during Sunday's session decided to close the doors of the Upper House until Wednesday in protest of what they called the national unity government's negligence in handling the clash between Afghan troops and Taliban militants in Jalrez district of Maidan Wardak province.

Expressing strong criticism against security officials, the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) members blamed the deadly Jalrez battle on government's carelessness.

Also, President Ashraf Ghani has recently called the desecration of the corpses of soldiers a "war crime."

Drone Strike in Nangarhar Kills 3 Insurgents

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 07:38

At least three insurgents were killed in a foreign troops' drone strike in eastern Nangarhar on Sunday, local official said.

The strike targeted a gathering of Taliban insurgents in a village in Chaparhar district, a spokesman for Nangarhar Police Chief, Hazrat Omar Mashriqiwal said.

"Insurgents had gathered to plan an attack when they came under the strike of foreign forces," he said.

The Taliban have not yet commented on the incident.

BA REWAYATE DIGAR: Public Reaction to Appeals Court's Decision of Reversing Previous Verdicts ...

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 07:28

The Kabul Appeals Court has allegedly reversed the Primary Court's sentence of the death penalty handed down in May to four accused in the Farkhunda murder case.

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Those handed the death penalty in a ruling in May have now reportedly had their sentences reduced to 20 years in prison, a source told TOLOnews on condition of anonymity.

The decision came Wednesday after a "secret trial", the source added.

In this episode of Ba Rewayate Digar, host Muslim Sherzad discusses the topic with the following guests:

• Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, MP
• Mahbuba Seraj, member of fact-finding team‎ on Farkhunda's case
• Rohuallah Qaderizada, head of Afghanistan Association of Lawyers
• Aziza Adalatkhwa, Head of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Women's Affairs
• Bari Salam, civil society activist

TAWDE KHABARE: Senate Closes Doors in Protest of Government's Handling of Jalrez Clash

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 07:16

Senators during Sunday's session decided to close the doors of the Upper House until Wednesday in protest of what they called the national unity government's negligence in handling the clash between Afghan troops and Taliban militants in Jalrez district of Maidan Wardak province.

To watch the whole program, click here:

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Expressing strong criticism against security officials, the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) members blamed the deadly Jalrez battle on government's carelessness.

In this episode of Tawde Khabare, host Shapoor Bakhtiyar discusses the topic with the following guests:

• Mohammad Hashem Alokozai, Senator
• Gulalai Noor Safi, MP
• Zia Bomia, journalist
• Mawlana Farid, political analyst

FARAKHABAR: Senator McCain's Criticism Against Obama's Afghan Strategy

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 07:08

U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain arrived in Kabul on Saturday openly criticizing the Barack Obama administration's handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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At a press conference on Saturday, the senior Republican Senator said that President Obama has a weak understanding of the timeframe set for U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan. He criticized the idea of a "deadline" for troops to withdraw, echoing comments that have been made by independent analysts in the wake of the Iraq war and that country's subsequent deterioration.


"I think the most serious mistake that the United States could make - in a betrayal of the brave Americans who have served here and the brave Afghans who serve and have continued to sacrifice - would be to have a calendar based withdraw," Mr. McCain told reporters on Saturday. "That would be a tragedy, and, in my view, a door opening for the Taliban to gain great success here in Afghanistan, and I don't believe that the people of Afghanistan want a return to Taliban governance," he added.

In this episode of Farakhabar, host Yama Siavash discusses the topic with the following guests,

• Jawed Kohistani, political analyst
• Fatema Aziz, MP

Asia Markets Sink After Greece Votes 'No' to Austerity

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 05:58

Asian stocks mostly fell Monday after Greek voters rejected more austerity demands from creditors, fuelling fears the country will crash out of the eurozone, but the euro recovered from initial losses as dealers wait for European leaders' next move.

In a separate drama, Chinese shares surged almost eight percent in the first few minutes of trade after Beijing introduced measures to support mainland markets, which have plunged by a third over the past three weeks.

Despite warnings from European leaders that Sunday's referendum was effectively an in-out poll on the euro, more than 60 percent of the voters heeded the government's call to vote "No", sending traders running for the doors.

Tokyo fell 2.18 percent in the afternoon, Seoul shed 1.83 percent, Sydney lost 1.18 percent and Wellington was off 0.98 percent.

Shanghai opened up 7.82 percent before but eased to sit 2.16 percent higher by lunch. Hong Kong climbed 0.70 percent in early trade -- riding the coat-tails of the mainland gains -- but ended the morning session 3.18 percent lower.

In Japanese trade the euro was at $1.1038 and 135.20 yen, clawing back some of the losses suffered in New York electronic trade Sunday, when it fell to $1.0963 and 134.91 yen.

Shinya Harui, currency analyst at Nomura Securities in Tokyo, said: "There is no particular reason for the euro to be holding up, but markets are still assessing the spill-over risks in the case of a Greek exit from the eurozone."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had campaigned against accepting debt reform proposals from its creditors -- the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- claiming a "No" vote would strengthen his hand in negotiations.

- 'Very regrettable' -

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande hastily called a European summit for Tuesday after stating the Greeks' decision must "be respected".

German and French finance ministers were set for talks beginning in Warsaw at 0800 GMT Monday, while the Euro Working Group of top treasury officials will meet in Brussels.

But Jeroen Dijsselbloem, leader of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who had warned ahead of the poll that a "No" vote would likely lead to Greece exiting the single currency, termed the result "very regrettable".

And German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel took an even dimmer view, saying Tsipras had "torn down the last bridges which Europe and Greece could have crossed to find a compromise".

He added that, despite Tsipras' assertions, a fresh round of bailout talks now were "difficult to imagine".

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was to speak to the European Central Bank (ECB) and eurozone finance ministers on Sunday and Monday.

But analysts warned the decision had likely put Athens on course to exit the eurozone.

Nomura's Harui said: "I personally think the chance (of the Greek exit) is very high, at around 70-80 percent.

"A Greek exit would shake confidence in what had been 19-nation solidarity, which could fuel anti-euro movements within Europe."

And Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners in Wellington, told Bloomberg News: "There's a whole range of unpredictable outcomes.

"It's surprising that the 'No' vote won so convincingly, certainly more decisively than the polls had suggested. This puts us in limbo for so much longer and it's very negative for risk sentiment."

On oil markets, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August delivery fell $1.97 to $54.96 a barrel and Brent crude for August eased 56 cents to $59.76.

Gold fetched $1,168.21 compared with $1,168.43 late Thursday.

Four Police Killed in Taliban Attack in Paktika

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 05:51

Four policemen were killed late Sunday in a Taliban attack on police posts in eastern Paktika, according to local officials.

Another policeman was injured in the attack, officials added.

The incident occurred in Khoshamand district when insurgents attacked several police posts and entered into clashes with the forces, provincial governor spokesman, Nabiullah Perkhil said.

He however didn't go through details on possible Taliban casualties.

Meanwhile the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Changing their war tactics over the past six months, the Taliban have focused more on attacking security posts‎.

Recently, about 30 Afghan Local Police (ALP) force members were killed after insurgents seized their all nine checkpoints in Jalrez district in Maidan Wardak province.

TOLOnews 6pm News 05 July 2015

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 16:37

Top news in this Bulletin:

Kandahar Police Chief General Raziq on Sunday maintained that Pakistan remains a major destabilizing force in Afghanistan, suggesting a gap between the national unity government's hopes of turning over a new leaf with Islamabad and the reality of conditions on the ground.

To watch the whole news bulletin, click here:

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 TOLOnews' security report for the first six months of 2015 found that the Afghan forces have faced mounting challenges over the past six months, following the NATO forces' drawdown in December last year.

Ghani to Have Farkhunda Case Reassessed Following Outrage Over Appeal Decision

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 16:28

Following widespread outrage over a recent Appeals Court decision to reverse sentences for key defendants convicted of murdering Farkhunda, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday said that the president has promised to reassess the case with the help of the Attorney General's Office.

According to the deputy spokesman, Zafar Hashimi, President Ghani recently met with civil society activists and vowed to pursue justice for Farkhunda – a 27-year-old girl who was killed in March by an angry Kabul mob after she was falsely accused of burning a copy of the Holy Quran.

"The president has promised to leave no stone unturned in ensuring justice for Farkhunda's case," Hashimi said. "There are a number of gaps in the investigation of the case; therefore, it will be reviewed once more."

Meanwhile, the Director of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA), Rohullah Qazizada, has confirmed Hashimi's comments, saying that the president is committed to retrial given the major gaps in the original investigation.

Last week, an Appeals Court reversed the verdict of the Kabul Primary Court, which had included four death sentences for defendants accused of having central roles in Farkhunda's brutal murder. The Appeals Court sentenced three of the men to 20 years of imprisonment and another to 10 years.

In addition to the anger of Farkhunda's relatives, civil society activists and women's rights groups expressed outrage over the Appeals Court ruling.

Civil Society Association head Aziz Rafee said on Sunday that his meeting with the president indicated that Ghani is completely unsatisfied with the way the case was handled by investigators and the courts. "The case will be reassessed to come up with a just decision in this regard," Rafee told TOLOnews.

Senate Closes Doors in Protest of Government's Handling of Jalrez Clash

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 15:35

Senators during Sunday's session decided to close the doors of the Upper House until Wednesday in protest of what they called the national unity government's negligence in handling the clash between Afghan troops and Taliban militants in Jalrez district of Maidan Wardak province .

Expressing strong criticism against security officials, the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) members blamed the deadly Jalrez battle on government's carelessness.

"Today we decided to close Senate's doors till Wednesday because of the Jalrez incident and other similar incidents," Chairman of Senate Fazl Hadi Muslimyar said.

Meanwhile in the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament), the lawmakers accused the interior minister and provincial security officials in Maidan Wardak of neglecting the Jalrez killings.

Nearly 30 Afghan Local Police (ALP) force members were killed with their bodies allegedly desecrated after a number of insurgents stormed Jalrez district in Maidan Wardak last Thursday and seized all nine police checkpoints of the district.

"Negligence of the senior government officials and the interior minister are not acceptable to the representatives in the House," MP Abdul Qayoum Sajjadi said. "We want an immediate resignation by these officials."

He demanded the government to bring the Wardak Police Chief and other local officials responsible for Jalrez carnage to justice.

President Ashraf Ghani has however assigned a high-level government team to investigate the Jalrez incident.

In addition, he called the desecration of the corpses of soldiers a "war crime."

However, the families and relatives of the victims claimed in a gathering on Sunday that the Jalrez battle was a conspiracy against the residents of the province.

"Today I understood that there is no one to defend us," Mustafa a slain soldier's cousin said.

Meanwhile, officials at the ministries of defense and interior affairs promised to hold accountable the officials responsible for Jalrez killings.

Gen. Raziq: Pakistan Still Looking to Destabilize Southern Afghanistan

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 15:28

Kandahar Police Chief General Raziq on Sunday maintained that Pakistan remains a major destabilizing force in Afghanistan, suggesting a gap between the national unity government's hopes of turning over a new leaf with Islamabad and the reality of conditions on the ground.

"War is all over the country," said Gen. Raziq, who has become famous for his uncompromising tactics and effective campaign against militants in the southern provinces. "Insurgents have not been empowered; they are helped by Pakistan and are equipped with powerful weaponry," he added.

Despite overtures between Kabul and Islamabad, to the public eye, very little seems to have tangibly changed in the dynamic between Afghanistan and Pakistan when it comes to the Taliban insurgency. While informal talks looking to pave the way for peace negotiations have been arranged between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders, many experts remain incredulous about Islamabad's - but particularly the Pakistani military and intelligence organs' - commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan.

According to Raziq, Afghanistan's southern provinces are slightly more stable in comparison to other parts of the country. Taliban activity is reportedly concentrated in certain parts of Helmand and Uruzgan provinces.

"Security has improved in the south," he told TOLOnews on Sunday. "Rebels are active in just a few parts of Helmand and Uruzgan. I have ordered the security forces to eradicate the militants."

In the fashion that he has become known for, Raziq went on to challenge the Taliban over their supposed dependence on Pakistan. "We ask the Taliban to return and support the Afghan government – if they are not the slaves of Punjabis - or else they will be eliminated by the Afghan security forces," he said.

Raziq maintains that the number of active Taliban fighters is often inflated by propaganda and is in fact much lower than what is widely believed. Similarly, he says the militants' territorial gains and casualty inflictions on the Afghan security forces are in fact lesser than is portrayed by their public relations team.

Balkh Carpet Weavers Plea for More Support From Kabul

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 15:23

Balkh carpet weavers, internationally renowned for their carpets, have lambasted national unity government leaders for what they consider a failure to adequately support and take full advantage of the carpet industry's potential to drive economic growth.

The weavers, comprised largely of women, have warned that the domestic carpet industry could face major job losses and diminished competitive edge in international markets if the government does not take action soon. Their primary grievance centers on the low wages most carpet weavers garner.

Khadija is a Balkh carpet weaver who was forced to take up the trade when she lost her husband 14 years ago. She says she works day and night in order to support her children. "I send my daughter and son to school and meet their expenses by weaving carpets," Khadija told TOLOnews.

The majority of women working in the carpet industry in Balkh are said to live under the poverty line, with many barely able to earn 50 Afs a day. Although their proposed solutions for the difficulties they face differ, Balkh's carpet weavers all agree that the central government should do more to support their industry.

"There is no market, we a need a company to sign a contract with so that we can reap the fruits of our labor," another weaver named Fatima said. "Now only the company owners have the advantage, but not the workers," she added.

Shakila, a social worker and women's rights activist, has sought to help empower Balkh women through employment promotion. "We want to emphasize that workshops should be launched for women to train them in design, coloring and other fields," she told TOLOnews. "There is a need to sign a contract with local companies and even foreign companies in order to boost the incomes of the workers."

Based on expert estimates, there are 120 carpet weaving companies operating in nine northern and northeastern provinces of Afghanistan, and some 90 percent of the weavers are said to be women. Commerce officials say they receive on average two to ten thousands Afs in exchange for each meter of carpet.

Still, the acting head of the northern carpet weavers association, Abdul Manan Balkhi, has acknowledged the difficulties faced by workers in the industry and vowed to do what is necessary to improve their plight. "We are thinking about joint cooperation with the government to establish contacts in international markets, particularly with sellers in U.S. and German markets," Balkhi said on Sunday. "We will talk to donors and create new designs, which are better in terms of prices, and this will help us facilitate better pay for workers."

Afghan Government Echoes Senator McCain's Call for Flexible U.S. Troop Withdraw

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 15:12

Afghan officials have expressed solidarity with recent marks made by U.S. Senator John McCain, who, while visiting Afghanistan last week, argued against the calendar-based troop withdraw plan of the Barack Obama administration, instead suggesting the withdraw be based entirely on how conditions on the ground unfold.

Deputy presidential spokesman Sayed Zafar Hashimi on Sunday said that Afghanistan wants to see the foreign troop withdraw move forward on the basis of the country's national security conditions, rather than arbitrary date-setting.

While speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Saturday, Senator McCain, who ran against Obama in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, called the administration's calendar-based troop withdraw a mistake. At the moment, while Obama administration officials have said the American government is willing to be flexible on the basis of how things unfold over the next couple years in Afghanistan, Washington has effectively set the deadline for the troop withdraw as the end of 2016.

"The president of Afghanistan, in the past, had also said that it would be better that the United States make the decision about the troop pullout with consideration of the current situation and war inside Afghanistan," presidential spokesman Hashimi said Sunday. "However, it is the U.S. officials and U.S. government who will make the final decision."

For those who have advocated a more cautious and tactical approach to the U.S. troop withdraw, McCain's comments came as a welcome sign that there maybe more allies for their cause in Washington than previously thought.

"I think the most serious mistake that the United States could make - in a betrayal of the brave Americans who have served here and the brave Afghans who serve and have continued to sacrifice - would be to have a calendar-based withdraw," McCain told reporters on Saturday. "That would be a tragedy, and, in my view, a door opening for the Taliban to gain great success here in Afghanistan, and I don't believe that the people of Afghanistan want a return to Taliban governance," he added.

There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, primarily in training and advising capacities. Based on the Obama plan, that number will be decreased to just 1,000 by the end of 2016, and they will provide security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Afghanistan Faces Unprecedented Attacks: Report

Sun, 07/05/2015 - 14:40

TOLOnews' security report for the first six months of 2015 found that the Afghan forces have faced mounting challenges over the past six months, following the NATO forces' drawdown in December last year.

A visible change in war tactics by armed insurgents has been recorded following the take over of full responsibility of security by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the report said, which is compiled monthly on the basis of government-issued figures and statements.

About 5,363 insecurity incidents occurred between January and end June, the report stated noting that insurgents have, in this period, focused more on group attacks, which in most cases, resulted in the collapse of several districts.

June alone recorded 1,068 incidents - which was, according to the report, the only month this year that saw a slight decline in insecurity incidents compared to May which experienced 1,096 occurrences.

"This is a war, and in this war, regional spy agencies are involved," deputy spokesman of Ministry of Defense (MoD) Dawlat Waziri told TOLOnews. "But our forces will never lose their control."

The Afghan forces conducted 2,719 anti-insurgent operations during the past six months, the report indicates. In addition, the Afghan forces also launched 107 air strikes on insurgent hideouts.

Helmand with 448 insecurity incidents during the period topped the list of most unsafe provinces, followed by Kandahar, Nangarhar, Herat, Kunduz, Uruzgan, Faryab, Ghazni, Sar-e-Pul and Kabul.

Bamiyan with seven and Panjshir with only two incidents were among the safe provinces, the report stated.

"In general, the security forces had only responsive actions during the last six months," said Abbas Hussaini of TOLOnews, who prepared the report.

The report saw 563 attacks by the insurgents, 341 incidents of mine explosions and bombings and 60 suicide attacks, in the past six months.

A total of 14,597 insurgents including foreign militants were reportedly killed during the period.

About 1,485 ANSF members, 917 civilians and four foreign soldiers were also killed in these attacks.

In addition, rise of fast-growing Daesh militants was the other major threat to the Afghan government. Daesh fighters have been sighted in a number of areas in the country, causing panic among the war-hit Afghans.

However, the security agencies recently formed a special unit to fight Daesh – in what appears to be government's first action against the group that has seized large areas in Iraq and Syria.