Afghan volunteers distribute balloons for the ‘We Believe In Balloons’ campaign
The public art project organised by Yazmany Arboleda, in which 10,000 biodegradable pink ‘peace’ balloons were handed out in Kabul on May 28, 2013 to bring some fun and creativity to the city.
Photo Maassoud Hossaini
Afghan President Visits Qatar To Discuss Peace
Afghanistan’s president landed in Qatar Sunday to discuss his country’s stalled peace process and the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, officials said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said President Hamid Karzai will not hold any talks with Taliban representatives now in Qatar.
He will meet with Qatari officials on the sidelines of an annual conference on relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
“As we have already said, any official negotiations regarding peace with the Taliban can take place only between the high-ranking Taliban representatives and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan,” Mosazai told reporters.
Japan buys $30m road maintenance equipment for Afghanistan
The government of Japan will purchase 106 road construction equipment worth $30 million, in a bid to help Afghanistan maintain its main highways.
Afghan public works ministry will receive the equipments which will also include snow clearing machines which will help Afghanistan to reopen crucial
highways including Bamyan-Daikundi highway, Ghazni-Ghor highway which are usually closed due to heavy snowfalls during winter time.
Deputy public works minister, Ahmadshah Wahid said the equipment will include Grader, Loader, Excavator, Dump Trucks and 6 sow clearing machinery. Japan
also purchased 8 equipment for Afghanistan last year which proved to resolve major issues of Afghan public works ministry.
The equipment will be transferred to Bamyan, Daikundi, Ghazni and Ghor provinces of Afghanistan.
Japan International Cooperation Agency representative, Noori Shaida said the equipments will be taken to sensitive regions in order to help with the road maintenance projects, and maintain those highways which plays a key role in social and economic affairs of Afghan people.
Japan’s assistance will also play a key role in resolving the issues of Salang Tunnel, where dozens of people die each year due to heavy snow fall and major road accidents.
The government of Japan has invested over $4 billion in the reconstruction projects including highway and school construction since 2001.
Australia to withdraw most troops from Afghanistan by year-end
Australia will withdraw most troops from Afghanistan’s south at the end of this year and shut down a major base for NATO-led forces, handing security to Afghan soldiers and police, Defense Minister Stephen Smith (pictured above) said on Tuesday.
Western and Afghan commanders, Smith said, had agreed that the major multinational coalition base at Tarin Kowt and its NATO airbase in Uruzgan province would close at the end of 2013.
Most foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 under a planned security transition from foreign forces to Afghans.
“It is a necessary and logical and natural consequence of transition being effective,” Smith said.
“The effect of that closure will be that Australia will no longer have a permanent presence in Uruzgan province, and the majority of Australian defense force personnel will return.”
Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan and Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan inked the preliminary agreement Wednesday in the Turkmen capital.
The 400-kilometer (250-mile) railroad would link landlocked Afghanistan to a regional transport network, increasing the country’s export potential. It would link the Afghan town of Akina-Andhoi, about 650 kilometers (400 miles) northwest of Kabul to Atamyrat in Turkmenistan and Pyandzh in Tajikistan.
The construction of the new railway is set to start in July in Turkmenistan. Turkmen workers will also build the Afghan segment of the railway.
Obama, Karzai accelerate end of U.S. combat role in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed on Friday to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, raising the prospect of an accelerated U.S. withdrawal from the country and underscoring Obama’s determination to wind down a long, unpopular war.
Signaling a narrowing of differences, Karzai appeared to give ground in talks at the White House on U.S. demands for immunity from prosecution for any American troops who stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, a concession that could allow Obama to keep at least a small residual force there.
Both leaders also threw their support behind tentative Afghan reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents, endorsing the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.
Outwardly, at least, the meeting appeared to be something of a success for both men, who need to show their vastly different publics they are making progress in their goals for Afghanistan. There were no signs of the friction that has frequently marked Obama’s relations with Karzai.
Karzai’s visit came amid stepped-up deliberations in Washington over the size and scope of the U.S. military role in Afghanistan once the NATO-led combat mission concludes at the end of 2014.
“By the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete,” Obama said at a news conference with Karzai standing at his side. “Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end.”
Qatar aims to see a peace process in Afghanistan by the time NATO combat operations end in 2014, Qatar’s prime minister said on Tuesday as the Afghan Taliban movement prepared to open an office in the Qatari capital.
With the focus in Afghanistan shifting from a military push by NATO troops to potential talks on a peaceful settlement, U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai said last week they supported the opening of a Taliban office in Doha.
The planned office is one of a series of gestures, including the possible transfer to Qatar of Taliban detainees from the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay prison, aimed at injecting momentum into the tentative reconciliation efforts.
Qatar, a long-time Gulf Arab peace broker in Afghanistan’s war, said preparations were under way to open the Taliban’s office as soon as possible to facilitate talks.
“The U.S. and others will withdraw in 2014, and I think it’s an important core ideal that at least there is a political process in place, to have stability,” Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told a news conference with his Libyan counterpart in Doha.
“Our aim is to help our Afghan brothers and find a solution accepted by all, or most, parties,” he added.
A senior European diplomat told Reuters last week that several Taliban representatives were already on the ground in Doha but a formal office had not yet been opened.
Qatar, which hosts a number of Taliban officials, has played a central role in discreet discussions between U.S. officials and representatives of the shadowy militant group, which remains a formidable enemy in Afghanistan even as U.S. and NATO troops begin to withdraw.
Progress towards negotiations has not been smooth.
The Taliban announced a year ago that they would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting willingness to engage in talks that could bring them positions in the Afghan government or control over much of their historical southern heartland.
But in March they rowed back on the plan, citing what they said were inconsistencies in the U.S. negotiating position.
The reference to the office in the joint statement by Obama and Karzai suggested the idea had fresh momentum.
Meeting in Washington last week, the two leaders agreed to speed up a handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, raising the prospect of an accelerated U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Karzai and U.S. officials have said repeatedly that any peace process must be Afghan-led. The Afghan president has been angered in the past when he felt excluded by foreign efforts to set up some kind of negotiations.
PICTURED ABOVE: Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal signed the USD 18.5mn contract with Hiroshi Takashi, Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, and the Head of the Asian Development Bank, Joji Tokeshi, in this Nov. 23 photo.
Japan donates equipment and money to Afghanistan
Yesterday, the government of Japan donated 8 snow-clearing machines to Afghanistan, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) said. According to a Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) report, the machines are worth $1.6 million. The report added that 6 of the machines will be used to clear the Salang Pass of snow and the rest will be allocated to Afghanistan’s western province of Ghor.
Earlier this month, PAN reported that Japan will give Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Heath (MoPH) $13.5 million to help eradicate polio and prevent other epidemic diseases. According to the PAN report, the money will be paid in a year, and it will be spent through the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) for vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Minister of Public Heath, Dr. Suraya Dalil signed an agreement to the effect with Japan’s Ambassador Hiroshi Takahashi and Peter Croly, the UNICEF chief in Afghanistan.
Japan has been one of Afghanistan’s biggest contributors towards the reconstruction and development of the country.
PICTURED ABOVE: Montage of the future airport of Mazar-e Sharif after rehabilitation. [Source: Kocks Consult]
Northern Balkh province will inaugurate a number of large infrastructure projects in the near future including an international airport, local officials said this week.
The building of an international airport, a railway, and a 400-bed hospital in the provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif are underway alongside a number of infrastructure projects funded mostly with money from international donors, the officials said.
The development of the current provincial airport into an international airport is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the north of Afghanistan with it almost 90 percent complete, deputy governor Muhammad Zahir Wahdat said.
The airport, being overseen by a Turkish company, is being funded with 40 million euros from Germany and 7 million euros from the United Arabic Emirates, he added.
Wahdat said that the projects could not be done without the international donations.
“We want to thank all those who even donate one pen or one notebook, but really we want to thank those who are making the infrastructure and creating sustainable jobs for us because this is the infrastructures which will lead Afghanistan to prosperity,” he said.
He also pointed to the importance of the railway to be built in helping transport commercial goods for cheaper rates and improving connections to neighboring Central Asian markets – also a boost to economic prosperity.
“The Asian Development Bank and the Ministry of Public Works must consider three points while they are contracting: speed, quality and at the same time, a cheap price,” Wahdat said.
The Asian Development Bank has also shown an interest in funding for the construction of a railway from Naiab Abad- Aqena and a railway from Tajikistan to Mazar-e-Sharif, he added.
Afghanistan has opened its first ever national park and is preparing for the day when tourists might visit to marvel at its spectacular scenery, archaeological treasures and wildlife.
The high mountain lakes of Band-e Amir draw thousands of local visitors every year but there’s been a sharp fall in numbers this year, as the threat along the road towards Bamiyan has risen.
The BBC’s Andrew North reports.
Last of 33,000 US surge troops leave Afghanistan
(Photo: Staff Sgt. Michael Behlin / AP)
Nearly two years after President Barack Obama ordered 33,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to tamp down the escalating Taliban violence, the last of those surge troops have left the country, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Afghan museum rebuilds with returned artifacts
Right down to the power cuts that frequently plunge its artifacts into shadow, the National Museum of Afghanistan is a symbol of the country’s decades of hardships. Its building was shelled, looted and caught fire during the 1990s civil war. Taliban extremists later smashed many centuries-old statues.
Now, the museum is slowly rebuilding, thanks to international efforts to return thousands of looted treasures — and to heroic Afghan staff members who hid its most priceless works during the war years and kept the secret for more than a decade.
(Read more HERE)
NATO: 202 Afghan bases closed, more to come
NATO has closed more than 200 bases in Afghanistan and transferred nearly 300 others to local forces, a concrete step toward its 2014 target of handing over security responsibility, NATO officers said Sunday.
All 202 closed facilities were small, ranging from isolated checkpoints to bases of a dozen to 300 soldiers, said Lt. Col. David Olson, a NATO forces spokesman. Most of the closures have been along the country’s main highways, spread across nearly every province, Olson said.
Another 282 bases of the same size have been handed over to the Afghan government, he said.
That means international forces now operate about half as many bases in Afghanistan as in October of 2011, when they ran about 800 bases.
The closures are part of the large-scale drawdown over this year and next as international forces prepare to transfer security tasks to the Afghan government at the end of 2014. Most of the troops that are leaving are American, and therefore most of the closures are U.S. bases.
“As our Afghan security force partners take more responsibility for their own security, more bases will be closing and transitioning,” said Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, who is heading up the operation to return or hand over U.S. equipment. He said that so far the U.S. government has given about 20,000 pieces of equipment worth about $3 million to the Afghan government, ranging from chairs to large generators.
“Our footprint here will continue to shrink,” Shapiro told reporters at a briefing about how non-military equipment is being processed as numbers of American forces decrease.
The U.S. started drawing down forces from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year and plans to have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by October.
New Zealand signals earlier exit from Afghanistan
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (pictured above) announced Monday that the country will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan earlier in 2013 than planned. He said the move is not prompted by the deaths this month of five New Zealand soldiers, including three who were killed Sunday by a roadside bomb.
August’s deaths account for half of all fatalities suffered by the small contingent of New Zealanders in the nine years they have been stationed in central Bamiyan province, which was comparatively stable until a recent upswing in violence.
Key said it was “highly likely” the remaining soldiers from the contingent of 145 would be withdrawn in April 2013. He said discussions for the earlier withdrawal began before the five deaths this month. Murray McCully, New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, had announced in May the troops would be withdrawn “in the latter part of 2013.”
Key said he wants to bring home the troops as fast as practicable within a timetable that fits in with the coalition partners.
“We’ll do it as fast as we can, and we’ll do it in the way that protects our people as best we can,” he said.
He rejected calls to end the operation immediately.
“Yes we need to make it the shortest timeframe we can now logistically, but we have to do it with our partners. If we don’t, then the message we send to the rest of all of Afghanistan is that it’s time to run for the exits,” he said. “And if we do that, then the thousands of people who have lost their lives have been in vain. And I just don’t think that reflects the values and principles that underpin New Zealand.”
The move is likely to be popular among many New Zealanders, who have increasingly questioned the country’s role in the conflict. The New Zealand troops were sent there ostensibly as a reconstruction team, with the mission of helping to rebuild and protect Bamiyan province’s infrastructure and social systems. In recent months, however, that role has increasingly given way to combat operations, as violence in the region has increased.
The latest incident on Sunday also marked the first time a New Zealand woman has died in the conflict. Lance Cpl. Jacinda Baker, a 26-year-old medic, was killed in the explosion, as were Cpl. Luke Tamatea, 31, and Pvt. Richard Harris, 21.
According to defense force officials, the three were traveling in a convoy of four Humvees on Sunday to escort a soldier suffering a medical condition back from a visit to the doctor when a roadside bomb exploded, destroying the vehicle and instantly killing the occupants.
Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones, chief of the defense force, said the Taliban have taken responsibility for the attack. Earlier this month, two New Zealand soldiers were killed and another six injured during a gunbattle with insurgents in the same region.
New Zealand to help fund, build largest solar energy plant in Afghanistan
New Zealand is to help fund the largest solar energy plantin Afghanistan, which will be built by two New Zealand companies, the New Zealand governmentannounced Thursday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the New Zealand government would provide 18.6million NZ dollars (15.05 million U. S. dollars) for a solar energy system in the Bamyan province,where New Zealand troops have been helping in reconstruction.
Two New Zealand companies, NetCon Ltd. and Sustainable Energy Services International, hadbeen awarded the contract for the 1.05 MW plant, with construction expected to be completedat the end of 2013, McCully said in a statement.
“New Zealand has had a close relationship with Bamyan since the first ProvincialReconstruction Team arrived in 2003. Energy is a top priority for Afghanistan’s developmentand the government of Bamyan is welcoming this initiative to bring power to the province, “McCully said.
“We are pleased to be able to provide a system that will reliably supply power to about 2,500homes, businesses, and government buildings,” he said.
“This project is as much about building a utility and training staff as it is about constructing areliable energy facility. The system must be sustainable in the long term, so to that end thegovernment will set a tariff that is affordable, but also covers the cost of maintenance.”