More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit Feb. 29 with the signing in Doha of what is being called a “peace deal” by Washington’s envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, named as leader of the Islamist group. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. Afghanistan’s government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before March 10, after which the “intra-Afghan” talks are to start, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. The signing of the pact follows a one-week “Reduction in Violence” by the Taliban. (Khaama Press, NPR, Al Jazeera)
Amnesty International, however, raised concerns about what the US-Taliban deal could mean for Afghanistan’s women and religious minorities. Amnesty’s South Asia researcher, Zaman Sultani, said in a statement: “No one desires peace more than the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered so much over the past four decades of conflict. Any peace process involving the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan must not ignore the voice of victims. It must not disregard their calls for justice, truth, and reparation for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations and abuses—committed by all sides in the conflict. It must also guarantee the rights of women and girls and the rights of religious minorities in Afghanistan.” (Khaama Press)
US troops in Afghanistan have officially been in a non-combatant role since the “withdrawal” of 2014. The Trump administration announced in December the drawdown of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan, leaving between 8,000 and 9,000 US troops in the country. (NBC) The iCasualties website puts the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 at 2,448—up from 2,000 in 2012. The number of Afghan civilians killed in this period (by all parties to the conflict) is more difficult to determine, but a 2016 estimate by the Costs of War project put the figure at over 30,000, out of over 100,000 total Afghan deaths. The US last year overtook the Taliban in responsibility for new civilian casualties.
US refusal to cooperate effectively scuttled an International Criminal Court preliminary investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan last year.
Taliban resume attacks —despite ‘peace’ deal
A bombing at a soccer match killed three civilians in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, as the Taliban announced an end to a partial truce in the country. The explosives were placed on a motorbike that had stopped near the football field in Nadir Shah Kot district, provincial officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, in which at least seven people were also wounded. (RFE/RL) In a separate incident, Taliban militants kidnapped 50 civilians in the Chak district of Maidan Wardak province, local authorities confirmed. (Khaama Press)
New US air-strikes in Afghanistan
US air-strikes targeted Taliban fighters who were reportedly attacking an Afghan government checkpoint in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province, on March 4. (The Hill) The following day, US air-strikes hit ISIS targets in Noor Gul district, Kunar province. (Khaama)
Loya Jirga agrees to release Taliban prisoners
A traditional Afghan council of tribal elders concluded with hundreds of delegates from across the country approving the release of 400 Taliban prisoners. The decision removed the last stumbling block to kickstart an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government, the Taliban and other national stakeholders. (DW)
Afghan negotiator and rights campaigner shot by gunmen
Fawzia Koofi, a rights advocate who is one of the few women involved in the Afghanistan peace process, was wounded in an armed attack on her vehiicle, as she was was returning to Kabul with her sister from a meeting in the northern Parwan province. She was hit in the right arm and is expected to recover. Koofi is a harsh critic of the Taliban, but the group denied responsibility in the attack. Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commissioner Shaharzad Akbar warned of a “worrying pattern of targeted attacks that can negatively impact confidence in peace process.” (BBC News)
Yes, human rights betrayed in Taliban ‘peace’ deal
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been postponed indefinitely amid a dispute over reciprocal prisoner releases. At the same time, the government has tried to quietly roll back nearly two decades of increased freedoms by pushing conservative changes to laws governing family matters.
Proposed changes include immediate forfeiture of maintenance by a husband for his wife if she refuses intercourse or even goes out without his permission. Underage marriage would become possible through a loophole that would require consent of a male relative and court approval.
When lawmaker and women’s rights advocate Belquis Roshan held up a sign of protest at the Joya Jirga, saying that “redeeming” the Taliban amounted to “national treason,” she was tackled and thrown to the ground by a female security guard.
At the podium was President Ashraf Ghani, who had already released 4,600 Taliban prisoners in accord with a US-Taliban agreement signed in February. He had convened the Loya Jirga to gain popular approval to free 400 remaining prisoners—from a Taliban list that included men convicted of murder and of carrying out deadly attacks. (CSM)
Afghanistan peace talks open in Qatar
The opening ceremony for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents began in Qatar’s capital Doha on Sept. 12, marking the start of negotiations aimed at ending two decades of war. The delegations are led by Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, and the Taliban’s Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also on hand. (NYT)
Shariah rule in Herat —even without Taliban
In the city of Herat, religious vigilantes loyal to a local cleric patrol the streets, routinely detaining and interrogating couples they suspect are unmarried. Then the vigilantes take the suspects to the cleric’s tribunals that enforce his interpretation of Shariah law, which forbids public contact between a single woman and an unrelated male. The penalty for violators: the man is whipped or clubbed, and the woman is returned to male relatives for likely punishment.
The cleric, Mawlawi Mujib Rahman Ansari, has also posted billboards declaring that any man whose wife does not completely cover herself in public is a coward. And he has banned music and concerts, while also declaring that COVID-19 was sent by God to punish non-Muslims.
Mawlawi Ansari, 36, has carved out his own fief in the conservative Gozargah district of Herat, a western Afghanistan city renowned for art and culture. Residents say his followers have seized control of the district from the police, who rarely interfere with their enforcement of strict Shariah law. While he denies affiliation with the Taliban, his edicts are an echo of that movement’s harsh Islamic codes—and perhaps a portent of what could come as the insurgency negotiates a power-sharing deal with the government. (NYT)
Afghan TV journalist Malala Maiwand killed in Jalalabad
Malala Maiwand, an Afghan journalist with local Enikass TV, was killed along with her driver on Dec. 10 by unknown gunmen in Jalalabad. Maiwand was on her way to work when her vehicle came under attacked. (India Today)
Afghan TV journalist killed in Ghazni
A prominent local journalist was shot dead by unknown assailants in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni province on Dec. 21—the fourth to be killed in the war-ravaged nation in just two months. Rahmatullah Nekzad was gunned down as he left his home in Ghazni City to walk to a nearby mosque, said Ahmad Khan Serat, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
Nekzad, who headed the Ghazni Journalists’ Union, was well known in the area. He had contributed to The Associated Press since 2007 and had previously worked for the Al Jazeera satellite TV channel. (AP)
Afghan women’s rights activist assassinated
Women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani and her brother were shot dead by gunmen on a motorbike in Dahno village of Hes-e-Awal in Kohistan district of Kapisa province. Kohistani, who campaigned for veteran leader Abdullah Abdullah during last year’s presidential election, had enjoyed a relatively large following on social media, and regularly organized civil society events in Kabul calling for women’s rights.
Days before her death, Kohistani, who is survived by her husband and one child, wrote on Facebook that she had asked for protection from the authorities after receiving threats.
Four days earlier, Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed, who led an independent election monitoring organization, Free & Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, was ambushed and shot in morning rush-hour traffic in Kabul along with his driver. His murder came a day after five people—including two doctors working for a prison on the outskirts of Kabul—were killed by a car bomb. (India Today, ABC News)
Woman high court justices assassinated in Kabul
Two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court were assassinated Jan. 17 in Kabul, adding to the most recent wave of targeted killings over the last few months. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court confirmed that the judges, who have not been named, were killed on their way to work in the morning, when unidentified assailants ambushed and opened fire on their vehicles. Kabul’s police force also confirmed that the drivers of the judges and a third judge were wounded in the attack. With only 250 female judges in the country, the assassinations account for almost 1% of the total cohort. (Jurist)
Three women media workers shot dead in eastern Afghanistan
Three women who worked for a local radio and TV station in eastern Afghanistan were gunned down Tuesday in separate attacks March 2. The three women dubbed popular dramas from Turkey and India into Afghanistan’s local languages of Dari and Pashto for Jalalabad’s Enikass Radio and TV. (AP)