Islamic Emirate, Iranian Officials Discuss Current Issues

Shirshah Rasooli,
TODAY – 8:53 PM
AFGHANISTAN

The Islamic Emirate also said it has appointed new diplomats to six embassies of Afghanistan in the regional countries.

The 26-member delegation of the Islamic Emirate held meetings with Iranian officials on political, economic, transit, security and trade issues, officials said on Sunday.

Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in an audio recording tweeted by Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, said the Islamic Emirate wants good relations with all countries, wants to expand its trade and transit ties with Iran, and said Iran can trade with Central Asia through Afghanistan.

Muttaqi said the technical teams from both sides held separate meetings on technical issues, and the delegation also met with the Iranian foreign minister.

“We met with the Iranian officials and held talks about the current situation (in Afghanistan), discussed political issues and security challenges,” he said.

Sakhi Ahmad Paiman, executive director of the Afghanistan Chamber of Industries and Mines, said they also talked with the Iranian officials about buying fuel, and Tehran has pledged to sell high quality fuel at cheaper prices to Afghanistan.

“Discussions were held on challenges that existed in the past, also on Chabahar port and buying fuel from Iran at an appropriate price,” he said.

In the meantime, sources from the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Emirate in Kabul said that the ministry has appointed new diplomats to Afghanistan’s embassies in Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and China.

“We have dispatched our diplomats to a number of countries and these countries have their missions open in Kabul,” said Waliullah Shaheen, head of the Center For Strategic Studies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Islamic Emirate, Iranian Officials Discuss Current Issues
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Prominent Afghan professor arrested for criticising Taliban rule

Al Jazeera

9 Jan 2022

The arrest of Faizullah Jalal is stoking fears that the Taliban will reimpose harsh rules on freedom of speech.

Faizullah Jalal, a longtime professor of law and political science at Kabul University, has made several appearances on television talk shows since the US-backed government was pushed out in August, blaming the Taliban for the worsening financial crisis and criticising them for ruling by force.

In one television appearance, Jalal called Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem a “calf”, a grave insult in Afghanistan. Clips of his passionate criticism went viral on social media, sparking concerns of retribution.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that Jalal had been detained on Saturday by the Taliban’s intelligence arm over statements he made on social media in which he was “trying to instigate people against the system and was playing with the dignity of the people”.

Mujahid shared screenshots of tweets he claimed had been posted by Jalal, which said the Taliban intelligence chief was a stooge of Pakistan, and that the new government considers Afghans as “donkeys”.

Local news agency Aamaj News said the account Mujahid made reference to, @UstadJalal1,  was a fake. The professor had tweeted on Saturday from his official Twitter handle, @JalalFaizullah, to denounce the fact that the account had been purporting to be him.

 

Jalal’s wife Massouda, who ran against former President Hamid Karzai in 2004 as Afghanistan’s first woman candidate for the presidency, posted on Facebook that her husband had been arrested by Taliban forces and detained in an unknown location.

“Dr Jalal has fought and spoken out for justice and the national interest in all his activities pertaining to human rights,” she said.

TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest station on which Faizuallah Jalal was a frequent commentator, tweeted that Jalal was arrested “reportedly for making allegations against government departments,” a security source said.

Freedom of speech

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the arrest of the lecturer “for exercising his freedom of expression and criticising the Taliban” and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Patricia Gossman, an associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch, reacted to the news of the arrest in a tweet saying: “Because in the Taliban’s world you have no right to complain or criticize. Repressive authoritarian regimes brook no dissent.”

In a tweet early Sunday, Jalal’s daughter Hasina Jalal pleaded for her father’s release. “I call on the Taliban to immediately release my father,” she said.

They have further restricted women’s rights to travel, work and study, triggering widespread international condemnation.

US-led sanctions on the Taliban government have halted much-needed international aid to Afghanistan, which faces a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. The United Nations has warned that 90 percent of the country’s 38 million people are in dire need.

The arrest could further complicate humanitarian aid efforts as it reinforces fears that the Taliban are imposing the same harsh and repressive rule as their last stint in power from 1996-2001.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES
Prominent Afghan professor arrested for criticising Taliban rule
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Taliban stop Afghan women from using bathhouses in northern provinces

The Guardian

Decision to close public hammams – most people’s only chance for a warm wash – sparks anger in light of country’s mounting crises

Afghan men and boys wash at a bathhouse in Herat
Men and boys at a hammam in Herat, Afghanistan. As well as providing washing facilities lacking in most homes, they allow Islamic ritual cleaning to take place. Photograph: Majid Saeedi/Getty

The Taliban sparked outrage this week by announcing that women in northern Afghanistan would no longer be allowed to use communal bathhouses.

The use of bathhouses, or hammams, is an ancient tradition that remains for many people the only chance for a warm wash during the country’s bitterly cold winters.

Women, who regularly use the bathhouses for ritual cleaning and purification required under Islamic law, said this was another example of the Taliban tightening its grip and infringing their basic rights. They fear the ban will be extended to other parts of the country.

On Monday, Sardar Mohammad Heydari, from the provincial branch of the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said women would be banned from bathhouses in Balkh and Herat provinces.

However, another Taliban commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian that he did not support the decision, adding that Afghanistan’s new leaders should focus on “bigger struggles”.

The Taliban’s takeover in August has plunged Afghanistan into a humanitarian crisis. Millions of people are facing hunger and most are unable to afford firewood or coal for heating during the colder months. The majority of households do not have direct access to water, instead having to rely on public pumps or water trucks.

The UN predicts that 97% of Afghans could be living below the poverty line by the middle of the year. Even the 40 afghani (about 30p) entrance fee to the hammam is difficult to find, but many women have been scrambling to do so anyway.

A seated man has water poured over him while a child is washed nearby in a bathhouse in Afghanistan
A hammam in Herat. Water supply in the area is poor, and many people use the hammam to bathe. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Women in the north-western city of Herat, where only 39% of neighbourhoods have adequate access to water and sanitation, reported that some bathhouses had already closed.

Winuss Azizi, from the non-profit organisation Visions for Children in Afghanistan, said most households in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif did not have the capacity or the facilities to heat large quantities of water.

“That’s why people rely on hammams in winter,” she said, adding: “Islam requires religious cleansing after menstruation, giving birth and sexual intercourse, which many visit bathhouses for. I have regularly seen women performing their purification prayer rituals at the hammam.”

Lina Ebrahimi, 26, who lives in Herat, said: “We have a small house with no space for a full bathroom with heated water; that’s why I used to go to the hammam. Other families might have no bathing facilities at all and fully depend on public bathhouses for cleaning. This opportunity is now taken from them.”

Women were barred from using public hammams during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule. Many of the ancient bathhouses were neglected for years and revived only after the 2001 US-led invasion.

Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s associate director of women’s rights, said she was “enraged” at “the cruelty of denying women the only relief from the cold for no reason at all”.

She said: “They seem to have the intention to want to meddle in every aspect of women’s lives. We heard warnings from Afghan women from the start, saying that the situation will get worse. Today, we’re seeing evidence that they were right.

“Why are they thinking of [stopping] women going to the hammam when people are starving?” said Barr.

This week, the Taliban also ordered shopkeepers to remove the heads of all mannequins, calling them unIslamic.

Taliban stop Afghan women from using bathhouses in northern provinces
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Taliban Pressing for Prisoner Swap With U.S.

Foreign Policy
January 6, 2022

The group wants to trade an American engineer abducted two years ago for an Afghan drug lord imprisoned in the U.S.

A billboard depicting late Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and late Afghan leader of the Haqqani network Jalaluddin Haqqani is seen along a road in Kabul.

A billboard depicting late Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar (left) and late Afghan leader of the Haqqani network Jalaluddin Haqqani is seen along a road in Kabul on Sept. 9, 2021. AAMIR QURESHI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Leaders of the Taliban are pressing Washington to free an Afghan drug lord serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison in exchange for the release of an American engineer, Mark Frerichs, held in Afghanistan for two years now, Afghan and American security, legal, and diplomatic sources said.

The group is also threatening to block the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans who hold U.S. citizenship or are eligible for resettlement in the United States until the drug lord, Bashir Noorzai, can go home to Kandahar, according to Steve Brooking, a former official with the British government and United Nations in Afghanistan.

Noorzai helped fund and arm the Taliban’s insurgency with proceeds from heroin trafficking. He was arrested in New York on drug trafficking charges in 2005 and has been serving two concurrent life sentences since 2009.

The U.S. State Department has said 62,000 Afghans eligible for resettlement in the United States remain in Afghanistan since the government collapsed the Taliban regained power. That includes 33,000 interpreters and others who worked for U.S. interests as well as their families.

Frerichs, a civil engineer and U.S. Navy veteran, was kidnapped in January 2020 while working on development projects in Afghanistan.

His sister, Charlene Cakora, has echoed the Taliban’s call for a prisoner swap and called on U.S. President Joe Biden to make it happen.

Brooking, who worked most recently as a special advisor for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, likened the Taliban demands to “blackmail.”

“The Taliban have basically said [to the United States] that unless you do what we want, we will continue to hold Frerichs and we will also hold the thousands of people who are eligible for resettlement in the United States,” Brooking said.

A State Department official disputed the account, calling it “inaccurate,” but refused to provide details.

The sources said Noorzai could only be released on Biden’s say-so. A presidential pardon, however, would contravene the no-concessions policy aimed at deterring kidnap-for-ransom, which has been a lucrative source of funding for terrorists worldwide.

Releasing a convicted Afghan narco-lord would also risk reigniting criticism of Biden’s decision to uphold a deal done by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending two decades of military engagement.

The rushed withdrawal led to the Afghan government’s sudden collapse and left many thousands of people eligible to live in the United States and elsewhere trapped behind closed borders. Former President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan and now resides in the United Arab Emirates.

Since the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, Afghanistan’s slide toward profound poverty and hunger has accelerated alarmingly. No country has recognized the Taliban’s legitimacy. Many of the Taliban’s leaders are blacklisted as terrorists by the United States and the U.N. Security Council; their return to power triggered legal bans on the development aid and cash support that propped up the country for 20 years.

Hostage-taking is a well-worn tactic of the Taliban and appears to be gaining currency once more as the former insurgents become increasingly desperate for diplomatic and financial support to keep their troubled regime afloat.

The British government recently confirmed the disappearance of Grant Bailey, a charity worker who returned to Afghanistan in September.

Like Frerichs, Bailey is believed to be a hostage of the Haqqani network, led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy leader, and Afghanistan’s de facto interior minister. He is blacklisted as a terrorist by the United States and the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Frerichs, now 59, is alive. Hopes have largely faded for two other Americans: writer Paul Overby, who disappeared near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in May 2014, and aid worker Cydney Mizell, abducted in Kandahar in January 2008. The State Department continues to press for information on their whereabouts.

Noorzai was a significant funder of the Taliban. The group relied on proceeds from drugs and other criminal activities throughout its 20-year war against the Western-backed government.

He was convicted in 2008 and sent to life imprisonment for each of the two charges: conspiring to import and to distribute heroin in the United States. A 2013 appeal was refused. A motion for compassionate release was denied last August.

Noorzai’s lawyer, Alan Seidler, said his client was lured to the United States by federal agents who promised he would not be detained as they sought information on drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan, where most of the world’s illicit heroin is sourced.

He suggested political pressure was being exerted to ensure Noorzai’s fate remained in the president’s hands. “Technically speaking, it is up to the judge, but he is a creature of the system, and someone has told him to hold off,” Seidler told Foreign Policy.

“I’ve always felt that he [Noorzai] is a political prisoner,” Seidler said.

Noorzai’s links to the Taliban—his friendship with founder Mullah Omar and shared tribal affiliations with the current leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, and other senior figures—are well documented.

His father, Mohammed Issa Noorzai, was a wealthy heroin smuggler who ran a string of laboratories, according to journalist Gretchen Peters, in her book Seeds of TerrorHow Drugs, Thugs, and Crime Are Reshaping the Afghan War. Peters is the executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime.

Noorzai’s support was crucial to the rise of the Taliban in 1996 and to the group’s reemergence after the U.S. invasion that followed the 9/11 attacks. In Seeds of Terror, Peters describes him as Mullah Omar’s “original sponsor as well as a key decision-maker and leading member of the [Taliban’s] ruling council.”

According to court documents, Noorzai was a major producer, refiner, and smuggler of heroin. The Taliban allowed him “to continue his drug cultivation and trafficking activities with impunity in exchange for Noorzai’s financial support,” U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin said in his decision to deny Noorzai’s appeal in July 2013.

He is leader of the Noorzai tribe of Kandahar province, which is about 1 million strong and part of the Durrani tribe to which many of the Taliban’s leaders belong. Securing Noorzai’s release would “repay a debt of honor” to one of their principal historic supporters, Brooking said.

Noorzai’s return to Afghanistan would also bring tribal cohesion at a time when the Taliban risk splintering into factions battling for the spoils of their victory, Afghan sources said.

The prisoner swap was raised with the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, in a meeting with Taliban leaders in the Qatari capital, Doha, in November, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.

Noorzai’s release was also raised with West’s predecessor, Zalmay Khalilzad, during the Trump-Taliban withdrawal talks, according to American and Afghan sources. A former senior Afghan security official said Khalilzad did not wish to “complicate” the negotiations by including Frerichs’s freedom in the conditions for an agreement.

Cakora, Frerichs’s sister, has questioned why Trump did not make his release a condition of the deal with the Taliban. Frerichs was kidnapped on Jan. 31, 2020; Trump sealed the deal with the Taliban just weeks later, on Feb. 29.

As part of the deal, the Afghan government, which was sidelined from the talks, was forced to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners. Many were drug traffickers and commanders who tipped the financing and military balance in the insurgents’ favor.

Kidnapping for ransom has long been a successful Haqqani tactic. In 2014, the Haqqani network exchanged U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for five years after leaving his base in Paktika province in June 2009, for five senior Taliban operatives held in Guantánamo Bay.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at the time that the deal was done “with no consultation, totally not following the law.”

In the midst of his Taliban outreach, in November 2019, Trump agreed to swap two academics, an American and an Australian held for three years by the Haqqani network and 10 Afghan soldiers, for three senior Taliban members, including Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother Anas Haqqani, an important fundraiser for the group.

An American woman and her Canadian husband were captured and held for five years by the Haqqani network until being freed in a shootout with Pakistani soldiers in 2017.

The issue of a prisoner swap, Frerichs for Noorzai, has divided the State and Justice departments, with Justice officials concerned that such a move would undermine and politicize the law, sources close to the issue said.

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. Taliban spokespeople did not answer questions.

Lynne O’Donnell is a columnist at Foreign Policy and an Australian journalist and author. She was the Afghanistan bureau chief for Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press between 2009 and 2017.

Taliban Pressing for Prisoner Swap With U.S.
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Aid Not Distributed Fairly, Say Kabul Residents

The Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation denied the existence of corruption in the provision of aid to the people in need.  

Residents of Kabul complained of “unfair distribution” of aid, saying that the aid was not provided to the vulnerable people who need it.  

They also called for a transparent and fair distribution of aid.

“Let the aid be continued. But it should be given to people who deserve it,” said Ghulam Nabi, a resident of Kabul.

“No one has given us anything,” said Abdul Muttalib, another resident of Kabul.

“When we ask for aid—they tell us to wait, but I haven’t received anything yet,” said Rahim, another resident.

The World Food Program (WFP) said that it has provided food, clothing and cash aid to 15 million people in 2021 in Afghanistan.

The WFP expects to reach over 23 million vulnerable people next year in Afghanistan.

“There should be a home-to-home survey so we can address the problem of those who are in grave need,” said Wahidullah Amani, a spokesman for the WFP.

How effective is the humanitarian aid distribution in Afghanistan?

Economists gave their opinions:

“The education departments, particularly teachers, can help the United Nations in the distribution of aid,” said Sayed Masoud, an economist.

The Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation denied the existence of corruption in the provision of aid to the people in need.

“Those who deserve to be helped, we give them (humanitarian organizations) information to send assistance there,” said Abdul Muttalib Haqqani, spokesman for the ministry.

Based on international humanitarian organizations’ statistics, over 92 percent of Afghans are struggling with food insecurity.

Aid Not Distributed Fairly, Say Kabul Residents
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Ex-Military, Civil Leaders Should Return, Says Corps Commander

Earlier, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the Islamic Emirate’s government intends to form a 100,000-member force.

The commander of Al-Fath Corps in the north, Ataullah Omari, during a ceremony held in Samangan province urged all former military and civil leaders to return to Afghanistan.

In a ceremony held to observe the graduation of 300 military force members who received 40 days of military training in Samangan province, the commander said the issue of the Islamic Emirate’s recognition would be solved soon and the government is seeking to form a powerful army.

“I call on those to come and stay in your own country, stay beside your relatives and Muslim brothers. It is better to be a beggar in your own country than to be a king in a strange country,” said Omari.

Three hundred forces were trained in various areas including the use of military tanks, weapons and other defensive skills.

“About one thousand forces are registered and 300 forces graduated today,” said Mawlawi Jalaluddin Hanafi, the commander of the military brigade in Samangan.

Earlier, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the Islamic Emirate’s government intends to form a 100,000-member force.

“We received training to serve the country and the people, we will be able to serve the people at any time,” said Abdul Rahman, a graduate.

Afghanistan had over 350,000 defense and security personnel before the takeover of the Islamic Emirate. 190,000 of the forces were army forces, according to available information.

Ex-Military, Civil Leaders Should Return, Says Corps Commander
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UN Collects $1.5B to Avert Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

“Provision of winterization support, including cash and non-food items, is also under way in various parts of the country” Dujarric said.

UN humanitarian agencies warned on Tuesday that a harsh winter in Afghanistan is aggravating already severe conditions that are challenging millions of Afghans across the country.

The spokesperson of the General Secretary of the United Nations, Stéphane Dujarric, announced that based on the estimates of the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), they have so far collected $1.5 billion to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

“Provision of winterization support, including cash and non-food items, is also under way in various parts of the country” Dujarric said.

Dujarric at the daily briefing in New York on Tuesday said that in the past 24 hours, heavy snowfall and rain have impacted a number of areas, disrupting flights to and from Kabul Airport. He said that winter is making the lives of Afghan people more dire.

“Further snow and low temperatures are forecast in the coming days,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.

Meanwhile, OCHA said that in 2021, donors provided $1.5 billion for two humanitarian appeals, including $776 million of the $606 million required for the Flash Appeal launched in September by the Secretary-General, and $730 million of the $869 million sought in the Humanitarian Response Plan.

UN Collects $1.5B to Avert Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan
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Afghanistan Has Become the World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis

Four months after the Biden Administration withdrew U.S. troops, more than twenty million Afghans are on the brink of famine.
A woman carries a baby.
The millions of Afghans facing famine include malnourished mothers, children, and pregnant women.Photograph by Oriane Zerah / ABACA Press / ReutersI

On a recent afternoon in a Kabul hospital, seventeen babies lay beside one another on small beds, their bony elbows touching. Some of them, pink and a little plumper, cried and wriggled as nurses rushed by. Others, their pallid skin shades of blue and gray, were still—save for their skeletal rib cages silently rising and falling. The infants often weigh less than four pounds when they arrive in the neonatal intensive-care unit. Pregnant women across Afghanistan are increasingly malnourished, and their bodies, unable to carry their babies to full term, give birth prematurely. Meagre diets then leave new mothers unable to breast-feed. “A lot of babies are premature,” Abdul Jabad, a pediatrician in his late twenties, told me. “Some survive. Some not.”

Two or three infants occupied I.C.U. beds meant for a single child, owing to a surge in cases, Jabad, who stood in a white coat in the center of the ward, explained. As a result, most babies contract infections. On the day I visited, some of the sheets on the I.C.U. beds were stained with feces. Exhausted mothers stood next to the beds and stared wide-eyed at their babies. One leaned over, sang lullabies, and gently kissed her child’s cheek. Others paced in the hallway outside. About a third of the children who arrive at the unit do not survive.

A month after the Biden Administration pulled U.S forces out of Afghanistan, only seventeen per cent of the country’s more than twenty-three hundred health clinics were functional. Doctors in the hospital in Kabul told me that they hadn’t been paid since the Taliban seized power, in August, and that medicine is in short supply. The new government is struggling to feed the country’s thirty-nine million people, and the chance that an Afghan baby will go hungry and die is the highest in twenty years. Half of the country’s population needs humanitarian assistance to survive, double the number from 2020. More than twenty million people are on the brink of famine. The United Nations Development Programme projects that by the middle of this year Afghanistan could face “universal poverty,” with ninety-seven per cent of Afghans living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day.

Across the Afghan capital, Taliban leaders denied the humanitarian catastrophe threatening the country. “There are some rumors and propaganda that the country is going through a crisis, and it is not correct,” the main government spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, told me. “We have resources and ongoing works, revenue collection which is enough for our government.” Outside the hospital in Kabul, a young Taliban fighter—an AK-47 resting on his knee—lounged in a chair next to a government administrator typing texts on his phone. They drank tea in the winter sunshine. The official, who appeared to be in his early thirties, told me that he was a doctor from Logar province, just south of Kabul, who had been sent to oversee the hospital. He denied the suffering that I had witnessed inside. “Now, we are not in an emergency situation in this hospital, because we have doctors and medical equipment,” he said. “At the moment, we don’t have a big problem.” A few minutes later, after I turned off my recording equipment, he admitted that supplies were so scarce that he had recently asked a German news crew to ship medicines to him after they returned home.

The refusal of Taliban officials to publicly acknowledge the country’s growing crisis is exacerbating a problem that they didn’t solely create. One of the largest blunders of the two-decade-long U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan was a failure to build a self-sustaining economy, which has now resulted in financial free fall—unpaid workers, starving families. The country’s government remains chronically aid-dependent and unable to generate significant tax revenue. As Afghanistan’s economy implodes, the achievements of the past two decades in areas such as health care and education are collapsing, as well. “The international community, the last twenty or thirty years, has done a disastrous job here—seventy-five per cent of the economy is based on outside funding,” David Beasley, the head of the U.N.’s World Food Programme, told me, on a recent trip to Kabul. “Coupled with the corruption that was allowed from year to year to year.”

Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, called for the Biden Administration to immediately release more than nine billion dollars in Afghan-government assets that it froze after the Taliban seized control of the country. The measure was designed to prevent further strengthening of the Taliban, a group that the U.S. Treasury Department still lists as a terrorist organization. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also stopped sending funds to the country after the group took power. “If you unfreeze the money, then you can put liquidity back into the marketplace, and the economy will start to come back up,” Beasley, who stood inside a vast warehouse where workers unloaded sacks of W.F.P.-provided wheat flour from trucks, said. “If you don’t, we’re not going to need to feed twenty-two or twenty-three million people per month—we are going to need to be feeding thirty-five million people. . . . This country will absolutely collapse.”

With millions facing famine, humanitarian-aid workers are calling for the Biden Administration to take a radical step: release the billions in frozen Afghan government assets to humanitarian organizations. The White House so far has responded with incremental proposals. In December, the Treasury Department made it easier for the U.N., N.G.O.s, and individuals to send money and supplies to Afghanistan for humanitarian assistance. In October, the U.S. also provided an additional hundred and forty-four million dollars in aid. That is less than a small fraction of the multibillion-dollar fund that the U.N. is seeking to avert famine in Afghanistan in 2022: its biggest ever global appeal for a single country, larger even than for conflict-and hunger-stricken nations such as Yemen and Somalia.

According to aid workers, Taliban officials are allowing U.N. agencies to work unimpeded in every province of the country for the first time in twenty years. They appear to have decided that blocking humanitarian efforts could spark intense anger from Afghanistan’s population. At the same time, the Taliban have established a repressive, autocratic state that has carried out more than a hundred targeted killings and abductions of former Afghan officials, severely limited girls’ education, banned women from many workplaces, silenced local journalists, and beaten female protesters in the street with whips. Ongoing evacuations of the more than sixty thousand Afghan interpreters and others who worked alongside U.S. forces, and who were left behind during the chaotic American withdrawal, has slowed to a crawl. At the current rate at which U.S officials are vetting and evacuating applicants, it will take months, perhaps years, for all those who are eligible for resettlement to be flown out.

The W.F.P. has opened multiple food-distribution centers across the country for Afghan civilians. In the Khushal Khan neighborhood of Kabul, Taliban guards held back dozens of men who waited in line at one of the sites, shuffling forward with U.N. registration cards and Afghan I.D.s in their hands. Women, who receive food first, had come and gone earlier that morning. Each family was given a ration designed to last for two months: two hundred and twenty pounds of wheat flour, ten quarts of cooking oil, and seventeen kilograms of soybeans.

The men in line—taxi-drivers, construction workers, laborers in laundries and bakeries—told me that they had lost their jobs in the economic crash. Navid Quraishi, tall and thin and in his late twenties, said that he was standing in line for food for the first time in his life. “There are a lot of economic issues and very little work,” he said. A rickshaw driver whose livelihood disappeared after the Taliban takeover, said his extended family of nine—including his parents, siblings, and children—was going hungry.

Khalid Payenda, who served as Afghanistan’s acting finance minister before the Taliban takeover, admitted that corruption in the Afghan government had helped foster the current economic crisis. “There was also a complacency,” he said from Washington, D.C., where he currently resides with his family. “Even until the end, people thought, The U.S. is not going to abandon Afghanistan, so, you know, we will not fix it now—we will fix it the next year, or maybe the year after.”

Aid officials from the U.S. and other countries have long argued that rank corruption in the Afghan government has derailed development efforts. In 2020, the anti-corruption group Transparency International ranked Afghanistan the fifteenth-most corrupt nation on earth, tied with the Republic of the Congo and Turkmenistan. But the forty-plus nations that acted as donors to the country created a piecemeal approach to development. Political considerations within Afghanistan often resulted in aid money being restricted for use in certain areas, such as education. Payenda said that the private sector moved its money out of the country for safekeeping, instead of investing it domestically. “Even when there was some profit made, it was not reinvested,” he said. “It was siphoned out to other places.”

In Kabul, the Biden Administration’s freezing of the Afghan government’s assets has handed the Taliban a public-relations victory. In the city’s money market, a warren of tiny foreign-exchange offices where men clutching handfuls of cash offer to buy and sell currencies, Afghans expressed anger at the American stance. “They talk about human rights, and they are violating human-rights laws themselves,” Abdul Jalal, a money changer, said, as other men nodded. “Why do they not unfreeze the Afghan money, which is Afghan people’s right?”

Mohammed Safi, a man in a pale Western suit who said he worked in the finance ministry during the country’s U.S.-backed government, noted that aid groups like the United Nations Children’s Fund already have systems in place to disburse funds directly to the most disadvantaged Afghan families. He argued that this was not the time for the international community to wait for the Taliban to embrace good governance. “The challenge is increasing day by day,” he said.

In the city of Herat, in Afghanistan’s far west, the only functioning inpatient therapeutic feeding center is operated by Doctors Without Borders, at Herat Regional Hospital. Conditions mirror those in Kabul: dozens of children are being treated for malnutrition, and the center is operating at beyond its capacity. Multiple infants shared small beds, as nurses handed underweight mothers plastic cups filled with high-nutrient milk. In the hospital yard, prefabricated trailers had been turned into makeshift wards.

In Herat’s center, Taliban commanders toured the city’s ancient citadel, a sprawling earthen fortress that dates back to when Alexander the Great conquered the area, around 330 B.C. The site was restored with funding from the U.S. and German governments; Taliban commanders, many with gruesome wounds from the war, now visit the citadel alongside bodyguards toting American-made M-4 rifles. The face of a commander from the southern city of Kandahar was so badly burned that his nose was a smooth, flat scar in the center of his face; a black and reddish hue covered his cheeks. His burned knuckles were frozen at right angles, making his hands look like claws. “This victory means so much—we defeated a superpower,” he said. One of his bodyguards was missing a leg. Another, who limped behind him, was missing both his left leg and his left arm. “We are so proud of our fighters,” the commander added.

In Kabul, several Taliban fighters waited in a Red Cross-run clinic that has provided prosthetics to the country’s war-wounded for decades. In a room where adults and children practice walking on their new artificial limbs, fighters sat on benches beside civilian patients—their shoulder-length hair and unkempt clothes gave them away as former insurgents. Alberto Cairo, an Italian doctor who has helped run the clinic since 1990, has lived through the first Taliban takeover; the American-led invasion, in 2001; twenty years of U.S.-backed rule; and the Taliban’s recent return to power. Cairo’s worn white coat and pet cat—named “Rita Six,” after the long line of Ritas that preceded her—reflected his longevity in the country. These days, Cairo told me, combatants from all sides of the conflict seek his help. Since the fall of Kabul, he told me, not a single argument has erupted in his crowded waiting room between Taliban fighters and former government soldiers. “In this very moment—now, I don’t want to point—I know perfectly that there are some former Communists, some former mujahideen, some soldiers and some Taliban,” he said. “They are all sitting together.”

A young man with long curly hair, who was missing his left leg below the knee, told me that he was a former Taliban fighter who had accidentally triggered a grenade while attacking government forces in eastern Afghanistan. Several hours passed before he received treatment or pain medication. For years, he walked on a makeshift prosthetic that caused him intense pain. He said that he was excited at the prospect of getting a more comfortable, custom-built prosthetic from Cairo’s center. “People like us and the public cannot afford to pay for their treatment,” he said. “We are really thankful for such facilities.”

Cairo said that he feared for average Afghans facing freezing winter temperatures as well as the growing famine. Since the American pullout, patients have been begging him for food and money, in addition to artificial limbs. Unless the Biden Administration and its allies act more decisively, the legacy of the failed American effort in Afghanistan will shift from rank corruption to mass hunger. “Afghanistan must be helped now,” Cairo said. “Something has to be done.”

Afghanistan Has Become the World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis
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U.S. Military Focusing on ISIS Cell Behind Attack at Kabul Airport

The New York Times

The suicide bomber who killed nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. troops, had been freed from prison by the Taliban days before the attack.

Victims of a suicide attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, arrived at a hospital in August.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Four months after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed scores of people, including 13 American service members, outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, U.S. and foreign intelligence officials have pieced together a profile of the assailant.

Military commanders say they are using that information to focus on an Islamic State cell that they believe was involved in the attack, including its leadership and foot soldiers. The cell members could be among the first insurgents struck by armed MQ-9 Reaper drones flying missions over Afghanistan from a base in the Persian Gulf. The United States has not carried out any airstrikes in the country since the last American troops left on Aug. 30.

The attack at the airport’s Abbey Gate unfolded four days earlier, during the frenzied final days of the largest noncombatant evacuation ever conducted by the U.S. military. It was one of the deadliest attacks of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

The Islamic State identified the suicide bomber as Abdul Rahman Al-Logari. American officials say he was a former engineering student who was one of several thousand militants freed from at least two high-security prisons after the Taliban seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15. The Taliban emptied the facilities indiscriminately, releasing not only their own imprisoned members but also fighters from Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the group’s branch in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s nemesis.

“It’s hard to explain what the thinking was in letting out people who were a threat to the Taliban,” Edmund Fitton-Brown, a senior U.N. counterterrorism official, said at a recent security conference in Doha, Qatar.

Mr. Logari was not unknown to the Americans. In 2017, the C.I.A. tipped off Indian intelligence agents that he was plotting a suicide bombing in New Delhi, U.S. officials said. Indian authorities foiled the attack and turned Mr. Logari over to the C.I.A., which sent him to Afghanistan to serve time at the Parwan prison at Bagram Air Base. He remained there until he was freed amid the chaos after Kabul fell.

Eleven days later, on Aug. 26 at 5:48 p.m., the bomber, wearing a 25-pound explosive vest under his clothing, walked up to a group of American troops who were frisking those hoping to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport. He waited, military officials said, until he was about to be searched before detonating the bomb, which was unusually large for a suicide vest, killing himself and nearly 200 others.

The attack raised ISIS-K’s international profile, and positioned it both as a major threat to the Taliban’s ability to govern the country and, according to American officials, as the most imminent terrorist risk to the United States coming out of Afghanistan.

“The group has gained some notoriety in a way that could be quite compelling for them on the transnational stage,” Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in October at a national security conference in Sea Island, Ga. “At the same time, they’re fighting the Taliban. How that force-on-force engagement in Afghanistan will go will have some defining characteristics about what the transnational threat looks like.”

In October, Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS-K could be able to attack the United States sometime in 2022. “We could see ISIS-K generate that capability in somewhere between six and twelve months,” he said.

The Parwan prison at Bagram and the Pul-e-Charkhi prison near Kabul were the Afghan government’s two main high-security prisons. The United States built Parwan in 2009 and transferred it to Afghan government control three years later.

On July 1, with little warning and no public ceremony, U.S. forces abandoned Bagram Air Base, the main hub for American military operations. Six weeks later, on Aug. 15, Taliban fighters swept into the base and threw open the prison gates.

The Taliban killed one prominent prisoner — a former top leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, Omar Khalid Khorasani — and released more than 12,000 others, including roughly 6,000 Taliban, 1,800 ISIS-K and nearly three dozen Qaeda fighters, according to U.S. officials.

“The fiasco in Afghanistan has put hundreds of terrorists back on the street,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who ran President Barack Obama’s first Afghanistan policy review.

One of them was Mr. Logari, the son of an Afghan merchant who frequently visited India and Pakistan for business. Mr. Logari moved to India in 2017 to study engineering at Manav Rachna University near New Delhi.

Recruited by ISIS-K, Mr. Logari was arrested in relation to the New Delhi plot and handed over to the C.I.A. by India’s foreign spy service, the Research and Analysis Wing, in September 2017, according to Indian media reports that were confirmed by American and Indian officials. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Logari spent time in both the Pul-e-Charki and Parwan prisons, American officials said, but it is unclear how he linked up with the ISIS-K attack cell in Kabul, or why and how he came to be the Abbey Gate bomber.

Soon after the attack, however, American officials and U.S. media reports disclosed that the bomber had been released from prison just days earlier.

The Islamic State seized on the spectacular nature of the bombing, boasting about its size, location and timing in social media posts, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media.

In the months since the attack, U.S. intelligence analysts and military officials say they have focused on learning more about the ISIS-K strike cell, and any future attacks it may be plotting against the West.

Created six years ago by disaffected Pakistani Taliban fighters, the group’s ranks fell to about 1,500 to 2,000 fighters last year, about half that of its peak in 2016 before U.S. airstrikes and Afghan commando raids took a toll, killing many of its leaders. In June 2020, an ambitious new commander, Shahab al-Muhajir, took over the group and has been trying to recruit Taliban fighters and other militants.

Even before the Abbey Gate bombing, ISIS-K had vastly increased the pace of its attacks in 2021, a United Nations report concluded in June.

The violence has strained Afghanistan’s new and untested government and raised red flags in the West about the group’s potential resurgence.

President Biden and his top commanders have said the United States would carry out “over-the-horizon” strikes from a base in the United Arab Emirates against ISIS and Qaeda insurgents who threaten the United States.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command, said in early December that the departure of the U.S. military and intelligence assets from Afghanistan had made tracking the groups harder but “not impossible.”

Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from New Delhi.

U.S. Military Focusing on ISIS Cell Behind Attack at Kabul Airport
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Parents selling children shows desperation of Afghanistan

By ELENA BECATOROS

Associated Press

December 31, 2021

SHEDAI CAMP, Afghanistan (AP) — In a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts in western Afghanistan housing people displaced by drought and war, a woman is fighting to save her daughter.

Aziz Gul’s husband sold the 10-year-old girl into marriage without telling his wife, taking a down-payment so he could feed his family of five children. Without that money, he told her, they would all starve. He had to sacrifice one to save the rest.

Many of Afghanistan’s growing number of destitute people are making desperate decisions such as these as their nation spirals into a vortex of poverty.

The aid-dependent country’s economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The international community froze Afghanistan’s assets abroad and halted all funding, unwilling to work with a Taliban government given its reputation for brutality during its previous rule 20 years ago.

The consequences have been devastating for a country battered by four decades of war, a punishing drought and the coronavirus pandemic. Legions of state employees, including doctors, haven’t been paid in months. Malnutrition and poverty stalk the most vulnerable, and aid groups say more than half the population faces acute food shortages.

“Day by day, the situation is deteriorating in this country, and especially children are suffering,” said Asuntha Charles, national director of the World Vision aid organization in Afghanistan, which runs a health clinic for displaced people just outside the western city of Herat.

“Today I have been heartbroken to see that the families are willing to sell their children to feed other family members,” Charles said. “So it’s the right time for the humanitarian community to stand up and stay with the people of Afghanistan.”

Arranging marriages for very young girls is a frequent practice throughout the region. The groom’s family — often distant relatives — pays money to seal the deal, and the child usually stays with her own parents until she is at least around 15 or 16. Yet with many unable to afford even basic food, some say they’d allow prospective grooms to take very young girls or are even trying to sell their sons.

But Gul, unusually in this deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society, is resisting. Married off herself at 15, she says she would kill herself if her daughter, Qandi Gul, is forcibly taken away.

Gul remembers well the moment she found out her husband had sold Qandi. For around two months, the family had been able to eat. Eventually, she asked her husband where the money came from, and he told her.

“My heart stopped beating. I wished I could have died at that time, but maybe God didn’t want me to die,” Gul said. Qandi sat close to her mother, her hazel eyes peering shyly from beneath her sky-blue headscarf. “Each time I remember that night … I die and come back to life. It was so difficult.”

She asked her husband why he did it.

“He said he wanted to sell one and save the others. ‘You all would have died this way,’ (he said.) I told him, ‘Dying was much better than what you have done.’”

Gul rallied her community, telling her brother and village elders that her husband had sold her child behind her back. They supported her, and with their help she secured a “divorce” for her child, but only on condition she repays the 100,000 afghanis (about $1,000) that her husband received.

It’s money she doesn’t have. Her husband fled, possibly fearing Gul might denounce him to the authorities. The Taliban government recently announced a ban on forcing women into marriage or using women and girls as exchange tokens to settle disputes.

The family of the prospective groom, a man of around 21 or 22, has already tried several times to claim the girl, she says. She is not sure how long she can fend them off.

“I am just so desperate. If I can’t provide money to pay these people and can’t keep my daughter by my side, I have said that I will kill myself,” Gul said. “But then I think about the other children. What will happen to them? Who will feed them?” Her eldest is 12, her youngest — her sixth — just two months.

Now alone, Gul leaves the children with her elderly mother while she goes to work in people’s homes. Her 12-year-old son works picking saffron after school. It’s barely enough to keep them fed, and the saffron season is short, only a few weeks in the fall.

“We don’t have anything,” Gul said.

In another part of the same camp, father-of-four Hamid Abdullah was also selling his young daughters into arranged marriages, desperate for money to treat his chronically ill wife, pregnant with their fifth child.

Abdullah borrowed money to pay for his wife’s treatments and can’t pay it back, he said. So three years ago, he received a down-payment for his eldest daughter Hoshran, now 7, in an arranged marriage to an 18-year-old in their native Badghis province. He’s now looking for someone to buy his second daughter, 6-year-old Nazia.

“We don’t have food to eat,” Abdullah explained, adding he also had to buy medicine for his wife, who soon would need more treatment. “She needs another surgery, I don’t have one afghani to pay for the doctor.”

The family that bought Hoshran is waiting until she is older before the full amount is settled, he explained.

But he needs money now for food and treatments, so he is trying to arrange a marriage for Nazia for about 20,000-30,000 afghani ($200-$300).

“What should we do? We have to do it, we have no other option,” said his wife, Bibi Jan. “When we made the decision, it was like someone had taken away a body part from me.”

In the neighboring province of Badghis, another displaced family is considering selling their son, 8-year-old Salahuddin.

His mother, Guldasta, said that after days with nothing to eat, she told her husband to take the boy to the bazaar and sell him to bring food for the others.

“I don’t want to sell my son, but I have to,” the 35-year-old said. “No mother can do this to her child, but when you have no other choice, you have to make a decision against your will.”

Salahuddin blinked and looked on silently. Surrounded by some of his seven brothers and sisters, his lip quivered slightly.

His father, Shakir, who is blind in one eye and has kidney problems, said the children had been crying for days from hunger. Twice, he said, he decided to take the boy to the bazaar and twice he faltered, unable to go through with it. “But now I think I have no other choice than to sell him.”

Buying of boys is believed to be less common than girls, and when it does take place, it appears to be cases of infant boys bought by families who don’t have any sons. In her despair, Guldasta thought perhaps such a family would want an 8-year-old.

The desperation of millions is clear as more and more people face hunger. By the end of the year, some 3.2 million children under 5 years old are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the U.N.

Nazia is one of them. The 4-year-old lay listlessly in her mother’s arms after visiting the World Vision health clinic.

Two years ago, Nazia was a plump toddler, her mother Fatima said. Now, her emaciated limbs are just skin covering bone. Her little heart beats visibly beneath her ribcage.

“The prices are high. Flour is expensive, cooking oil is expensive, everything is expensive,” Fatima said. “All day she is asking me to give her meat, yogurt and fruit. We don’t have anything, and we don’t have money to buy it for her.”

Charles, World Vision’s national director for Afghanistan, said humanitarian aid funds are desperately needed.

“I’m happy to see the pledges are made,” she said. But the pledges “shouldn’t stay as promises, they have to be seen as reality on the ground.”

Abdul Qahar Afghan in Shedai Camp, Afghanistan, and Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Parents selling children shows desperation of Afghanistan
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