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Afghanistan deserts become home to 2.2m

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Deserts of southwest Afghanistan have changed dramatically over the last two decades, says a study conducted by a local think-tank.

The largely uninhabited land at the beginning of the 21st century became home to about 2.2 million people in 2016, said the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU). “What is more, this frontier area is located beyond the reaches of the Helmand and Farah rivers and the canal system that the Afghan state built to increase the taxable agricultural area,” the report said.

“Yet in 2016, there were 472,838 hectares of agricultural land, where there had only been 254,866 in 2008 and 143,060 in 2003,” the study found. This expansion did not occur through state intervention or donor projects in the kind of large-scale irrigation works seen in the past.

Instead it resulted from households capturing and purchasing what had once been designated as “government land” and then investing in improved technologies.

Had it not been for the illicit opium crop, these developments would not have occurred, said the document, divided into five sections.

Section 2 outlines the methodology that provides a valuable and robust basis for examining illicit economies, particularly in remote and insecure locations.

Section 3 depicts how the geographic distribution of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has emerged, consolidated and adapted to state-building and counter-narcotics efforts.

Section 4 focuses on the settlement of the former desert lands of the southwest. It uses the results of geospatial analysis and household interviews to chart the different patterns of settlement in the former deserts of Helmand and Bakwa.



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Three million registered as voters nationwide

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: So far more than three million people have registered to vote in the Oct 20 parliamentary and district council elections countrywide, officials said, as above 1,000 voter registration centers stayed closed for security reasons.

The Wolesi Jirga — or lower house of the Parliament — summoned Population Registration Department head Mohammad Humayon Mohtat and Independent Election Commission (IEC) acting secretary Awrangzaib to brief lawmakers on the voter’s registration process and the delay in paper nationall Identity Cards (ID) or Tazkera distribution.

Some lawmakers claimed voter registration could not kicked off in many districts while massive corruption plagued the distribution of Tazkera.

Awrangzaib told the lawmakers that as of Friday, 30,22,426 people — including over two million men and 890,000 women — have registered as voters across the country. He said the first phase of voter registration kicked off in provincial capitals where 127 voter registration centers out of total 1,491 centers could not be opened due to security threats.

The phase two of the voter’s registration was dedicated to district centers where out of 4,491 registration centers, 1,164 could be made operational. The IEC acting secretary said 428 registration centers remained closed in areas or districts were the Taliban were in control. Some 433 voter centers stayed shut due high security threats while another 300 could not be made functional because necessary materials could not reach there.

He, however, said the IEC was trying to find other ways for registration of eligible voters so everyone was able to participate in the Wolesi Jirga polls. About further extension in the voter registration deadline, Awrangzaib said the process of registration had been extended in provincial capitals and if needed would be prolonged in district centers as well.

PRD Head Humayon Muhtat said: “We did not use Tazkera as a voter card because we knew it could create problems.”

He said currently 1,057 teams were tasked countrywide with distributing Tazkera to people. Referring to corruption allegations by some lawmakers, Muhtat said his department found no incident of corruption in which an PRD employee sold Tazkera.



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IMF approves $ 6.4 million disbursement under ECF

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s Executive Board has completed the third review of the arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility for Afghanistan, approving $6.4 million disbarment.

The board met on Thursday and made the decision on a lapse-of-time basis, a statement from the fund said on Saturday. The ECF arrangement for SDR 32.38 million was approved on July 20, 2016. The completion enables the release of SDR 4.5 million (about US$6.4 million), bringing total disbursements under the arrangement to SDR 18 million (about US$25.5 million).

In completing the review, the Executive Board also approved the authorities’ request for modification of three performance criteria: on domestic revenues, net international reserves, and net credit to government reflecting updates to the macroeconomic framework.

The meeting noted that program implementation through end-December 2017 was satisfactory, despite the challenging security situation and mounting political risks.

All quantitative performance criteria and eight of the nine structural benchmarks were met. The end-April 2018 benchmark related to asset declarations by public officials was implemented with a short delay.

Violence remains significant in Afghanistan and political uncertainty has risen with coming parliamentary (October 2018) and presidential (April 2019) elections, thus undermining confidence and growth.

In 2017, real GDP growth is estimated at 2.5 percent, roughly unchanged from 2016. For 2018, GDP growth is projected at 2.5 percent owing to the continued difficult security environment affecting private sector confidence and a relatively dry winter which mars agricultural prospects. Inflation is forecast at 5 percent on average in 2018, the same as in 2017.

The review said authorities’ strong ownership remained critical to the success of the program, especially in the context of continued security challenges and political uncertainty.

Reforms in support of fiscal sustainability, institution building, anti-corruption efforts, and financial stability should continue.

“In this challenging environment, the sustained backing of donors, together with the reform commitment of the authorities, remains vital. The IMF is committed to helping the government as it builds a more vibrant and inclusive economy for all Afghans.”



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Illegal armed men threaten Mazar-i-Sharif security

Monitoring Desk

MAZAR-I-SHARIF: Unauthorized armed persons who are associated with political parties have been spreading insecurity in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, local residents say.

They say after the emergence of political tension between former governor Atta Mohammad Noor and President Ashraf Ghani, the number of unauthorized gunmen increased in Mazar-i-Sharif, giving a boost to insecurity and instability.

Hameed Safut, who heads Balkh civil society group, told Pajhwok Afghan News that security of Mazar-i-Sharif had deteriorated compared to what it had been six months earlier.

Armed robberies, murder, clashes and kidnappings have increased in Mazar-i-Sharif, he said, linking the uptick in insecurity to the presence of unauthorized gunmen.

Safut said people were expecting improvement in the situation in Mazar-i-Sharif with the changes in the provincial civil and military leadership, but the things moved in reverse.

Ghulam Rasoul, a resident of the second police district, said “Mazar-i-Sharif has become a city without leadership.”

“Few days back, I was walking in the city when suddenly armed men stopped their vehicle near me and got out and took 8,000 afghanis after search,” he said.

He added armed men walked and traveled in Mazar-i-Sharif during broad daylight and nobody could stop them.

Rasoul said the government has been unable to stop illegal armed activities and disarm such people.

Provincial Council head Mohammad Afzal Hadid acknowledged people were in tension regarding the existing of illegal gunmen in Balkh.

He said unauthorized gunmen had increased in the city and they threatened people’s lives. He said the current security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif was unacceptable to its dwellers.

Hadid blamed recent security incidents in the city on illegal armed men and said these individuals had links with political parties. He, however, assured of improving the situation.

He said a meeting attended by representatives of political parties and government officials was held last week at the governor’s house about improving security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The meeting decided that no one would be allowed in future to create security problems in the city.

But Mazar-I-Sharif residents say that criminal incidents involving illegal armed groups happened even after that meeting.

Mohammad Din, a resident of Karta-i-Bukhdi area, said robbers entered a shop four days back and killed a 20-years-old shopkeeper in the city.

Security officials confirm increasing crimes in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Balkh deputy police chief, Col. Abdur Razaq Qaderi confirmed recent security incidents in Mazar-i-Sharif but said they were serious about public protection.

He said Afghan security forces were busy in operations against militants in a number of Baklh districts, a situation misused by some persons for committing crimes in Mazar-i-Sharif.

He assured security would be fully restored in the city in near future. The garrison created for the city’s security would be given further authority and it would help improve the situation, he concluded.

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19 Islamic State militants killed

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Nineteen Islamic State (IS) militants have been killed in airstrikes on their hideouts in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, the government said on Sunday.

In a statement, the Afghanistan Ministry of Defence said on Sunday: “The strikes were conducted in Haska Mina district on Saturday, killing 19 militants.” The Ministry of Defence said that two divisional commanders of the terrorist group — named Qari Esrar and Mullah Hasghar — were among those killed in the air raid.

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Bank director and 3 workers shot dead by own guard in Uruzgan province

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: The director of New Kabul Bank and his three employees were shot dead by a security guard in Tarinkot city, the provincial capital of Uruzgan province.

The governor’s spokesman Dost Mohammad Nayab said the incident took place at noon time in a branch of the New Kabul Bank.

He said one of the security guards of the bank has shot dead four employees of the bank while two other employees sustained injuries in the attack.

He said the main motive behind the deadly attack on the employees of the bank has not been ascertained so far.

Uruzgan is among the relatively volatile provinces in South of Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgents are actively in a number of its districts including in the outskirts of Tarinkot city.

However, it is yet not clear if the rogue security guard had any links with the militant groups or not.

In the meantime, the head of the National Directorate of Security of Uruzgan, Abdul Samad Shams, said preliminary investigations indicate that the attack was carried out on bank employees after a verbal clash with the head of the security guards of the bank.

He said the head security of the bank opened fire on the employees, leaving at least four dead, including the director of the bank.

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Candidate Registration start for Afghan Elections

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: Afghanistan has launched the registration of candidates for long-delayed parliamentary and district elections scheduled for this year.

Gula Jan Badi Sayad, head of the Independent Election Commission, said at a news conference on May 26 that registration would be open until June 12.

The elections are set to be held on October 20, more than three years after parliament’s original five-year term ended in 2015. Candidates are required to collect the signatures of at least 1,000 supporters to register.

The elections have been threatened by deadly attacks on voter-registration centers.

At least 60 people were killed in April when a suicide bomber attacked a voter-registration center in the capital, Kabul, and there have been a series of attacks on centers across the country.

Sayad said some 3.2 million people had registered to vote so far, still well short of the potential electorate of 14 million but exceeding predictions that the violence would stop the registration process entirely.



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Two Afghan Soldiers Killed In Taliban Attack at Helmand

Monitoring Desk

HELMAND: An Afghan official said a suicide car bomb attack by the Taliban has killed at least two Afghan soldiers.

Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of the southern Helmand Province, said four other soldiers were wounded in the attack in the Nad Ali district on May 27.

Zwak said the suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives near an army base in the Sheren Jan area of Nad Ali district at around 7 am local time.

Zwak said the death toll from the attack could rise as several of the wounded were in critical condition.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.


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Taliban suffer heavy casualties in US airstrikes in Ghazni

GHAZNI (KHAAMA PRESS): Several Taliban militants were killed or wounded in a series of airstrikes carried out by the foreign forces in southeastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan.

The 203rd Thunder Corps of the Afghan Military in the Southeast said the airstrikes were carried out in Andar and Deh Yak districts of the province.

The source further added that the airstrikes left at least 16 militants dead while at least 28 others sustained injuries.

According to Thunder Corps, a Humvee armored vehicle, a pickup truck, and anti-aircraft heavy machine gun were also destroyed during the airstrikes.

The anti-government armed militant groups including Taliban insurgents have not commented regarding the report so far.

In the meatime, the Thunder Corps said at least eight militants were killed and five others were wounded during a clash with the security forces in Ajrisan district.

At least two Afghans soldiers also sustained injuries during the clashes with the militants, the Thunder Corps added.

Ghazni is among the relatively volatile provinces in Southeastern parts of the country where the Taliban insurgents are actively operating in some of its districts.

This comes as heavy clashes are underway in Deh Yak, Ajristan, and Andar districts as the Taliban are attempting to seize the control of key districts in this province.

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Back to back explosions heard in Jalabad city

JALALABAD CITY (KHAAMA PRESS): The sounds of two back to back explosions were heard in Jalalabad city the provincial capital of Nangarhar province.

Preliminary reports indicate the incident has taken place close to the Breshna Sherkat / State-owned Utility Directorate.

Provincial governor’s spokesman Ataullah Khogyani confirmed that the incident has taken place in Nursery Farm area of the city and at least two explosions have taken place.

Khogyani further added that the two back to back explosions have not caused any casualties.

No individual or group has so far claimed responsibility behind the incident.

The Taliban insurgents and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group are actively operating in some remote districts of Nangarhar province.