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Afghan Taliban to begin annual spring offensive from April 24

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

In an attempt to regain power from the Afghan government, the Taliban has announced its plan to launch its annual spring offensive today.

According to a statement by the militant group, the offensive, dubbed “Azm” meaning “resolution”, will start from Friday, April 24.

The announced annual spring offensive is the first one since President Ashraf Ghani assumed office in September.

“Although the foreign occupying forces announced late last year the end of their war mission in Afghanistan, still they control the land and air space of the country and the command of war is in their hands,” the statement said, adding that if the foreign occupiers want the end of war in Afghanistan, they should withdraw completely.

In the statement, Taliban militants also called upon Afghan civil and military servicemen to desert government ranks and join the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (the name of the Taliban ousted regime) which had ruled the major part of the country before its collapse in late 2001.

The combat mission in Afghanistan led by the US and NATO-led troops ended late in December 2014. This allowed the Afghan national security force to shoulder the security responsibility of their conflict-riven country from January 1 this year.

However, more than 13,000 US-led troops under the name of Resolute Support (RS) mission still remain in Afghanistan to train and advise Afghan forces.

The previous spring offensive “Khyber” launched by the Taliban on May 12, 2014 in the shape of suicide attacks and roadside bombings, failed to capture any major city or district in the country although thousands of people, including militants, military personnel and civilians were killed and injured.

According to a report of the UN mission in Afghanistan released here in February this year, more than 6,800 people were injured and at least 3,700 civilians were killed and in the Taliban-led militancy and conflicts in 2014.

Militancy and cases of conflict typically rise in spring and summer in Afghanistan, commonly known as the fighting season among Afghans.

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More Than 7,000 People in Afghanistan Infected with HIV: WHO Report

Another HIV patient Omar, said: "If we go to hospitals and tell them that we have HIV Aids, they don't treat us."

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WHO
A study by WHO revealed that most of the European women with HIV are diagnosed at a late stage. Wikimedia Commons

Some 7,200 people in Afghanistan were estimated to be HIV positive, according to figures released by the the World Health Organization (WHO).

Marking World Aids Day, the WHO on Sunday called for a broader public awareness campaign in Afghanistan to deal with the issue, reports TOLO News.

But the Afghan Ministry of Public Health said that it registered only 2,883 cases of HIV in the country.

“According to our statistics, there are 2,883 cases of HIV registered in the country. The 7,200 cases reported by the World Health Organization are only an estimate,” said Fida Mohammad Paikan, deputy minister of public health.

AIDS and HIV
Stimulation of the wound healing response during early infection could have a protective effect against disease like AIDS from the HIV infection. Pixabay

Referring to factors behind the spread of the virus, Paikan said: “Last year the Ministry of Public Health registered 183 cases of HIV, and the figure has decreased to 150 new cases this year. But we need to undertake a comprehensive study to determine the exact number of those suffering from the disease.”

Victims however, have complained of social discrimination.

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Mohammad Idris, who contracted the disease from an infected needle during a drug injection, told TOLO News: “We are facing a lot of problems because we cannot share about our illness with others.”

Another HIV patient Omar, said: “If we go to hospitals and tell them that we have HIV Aids, they don’t treat us.” (IANS)

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About 2M Children in Afghanistan Suffer Acute Malnutrition: UNICEF

But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said

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malnutrition
FILE - A boy walks inside what is left of a home in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, March, 3, 2019. The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for money to treat Afghanistan's malnourished children. VOA

About two million children in Afghanistan are acutely malnourished. Of those, 600,000 face severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children, said Christophe Boulierac, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

“Any child suffering from severe acute malnutrition is a crisis and needs to be treated to survive,” he said. “We cannot tell you how many children will die, but we can tell you that a child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.”

Afghanistan, alongside Yemen and South Sudan, is among the countries with the highest numbers of children under age five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Severe drought in 2018 has worsened the situation.

malnutrition
But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said. Pixabay

Recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan find 22 out of 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. Last year, UNICEF provided life-saving assistance to nearly half of the country’s most nutritionally deprived children. It is aiming to reach 60 percent, or 375,000, of those children this year. But UNICEF is struggling to fund its operation. The agency needs an immediate injection of $7 million, Boulierac said.

“We are the sole provider of this treatment against severe acutely malnourished children,” he told VOA. “We need urgent funding in three weeks, otherwise, we will not send the necessary ready-to-use therapeutic food treatment to the 1,300 health facilities that are waiting for that.”

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This year, UNICEF has provided treatment to more than 73,000 severely malnourished children. Boulierac said plans are in place to immediately scale up the operation to reach more children as soon as more money is available.

He also warned that the nutritional status of Afghanistan’s children is likely to worsen without more secure funding in the pipeline. (VOA)

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Taliban-Era Repressions May Return: Taliban’s Women Activists Fear The Day

Even without the Taliban in power in Herat, Khorsand says, many hard-fought gains for women since the collapse of the Taliban regime already are under threat.

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Islam
Fakhr al-Madares is one of 600 Islamist schools in the western Afghan province of Herat. Rights activist Khalida Khorsand laments the proliferation of unregistered religious schools in Herat teaching "radical Islam" to as many as 50,000 young people. RFERL

Khalida Khorsand, a 35-year-old rights activist from the western Afghan city of Herat, is skeptical about Taliban claims that it has dispensed with its strict rules against girls’ education and women working.

The militant Islamic group made the declaration in the midst of recent peace talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad aimed at bringing an end to the long U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

But Khorsand still remembers the notorious repressions under Taliban rule as a teenager in the western city of Herat when she risked the death penalty to study literature in a class disguised as a women’s sewing group.

“After nearly 18 years without the Taliban in power, we now see that the Taliban are coming back in Afghanistan and there haven’t been big changes for women’s lives — especially in rural areas,” says Khorsand, who has dedicated much of her life since 2001 to advancing women’s rights in western Afghanistan.

Even without the Taliban in power in Herat, Khorsand says, many hard-fought gains for women since the collapse of the Taliban regime already are under threat.

She attributes that situation to what she calls “a Taliban way of thinking” by many Afghans and a proliferation of unregistered religious schools in Herat teaching “radical Islam” to as many as 50,000 young people.

If the Taliban gets a role in the Afghan government as part of a peace deal, as Khorsand expects, she fears a floodgate will be opened for resurgent “radical Islamists” in Herat.

“I don’t know why this has been allowed to happen under the current government of Afghanistan since 2014,” Khorsand laments. “They are not paying attention to the rise of fundamentalists and radical groups in Herat.

“Now the city has become a safe haven for the radical groups that support the ideology of the Taliban,” Khorsand says. “The fundamentalist groups in Herat are very organized and have a lot of money. They take the young people into madrasahs and teach to them the principles of the Taliban, and they are having an enormous impact on the young generation.”

Those groups already have gained backing from municipal authorities for an unofficial ban on live musical performances in Herat and for a ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day — with both practices being declared “unIslamic.”

Khalida Khorsand
Khalida Khorsand. RFERL

In rural areas of Herat Province, where Khorsand worked for years to help women who are victims of domestic violence, Khorsand says she has seen disturbing signs of support for the punishments doled out by the Taliban under its strict enforcement of Islamic Shari’a law — amputating the hands of thieves, publicly flogging people for drinking alcohol, and stoning to death those who engage in adultery.

Students at Herat’s madrasahs deny being radical Islamists. But they also support a return to the prohibitions and punishments of the Taliban era.

“Allah says cut off the hands of a male thief and a female thief,” says Jan Agha Jami, a 21-year-old at the Fakhr al-Madares madrasah in Herat. “When men and women commit adultery, whip them if they are single. If they are married, they should be stoned, and the Koran’s rulings should be implemented in public.

“Music concerts are absurd because they are forbidden,” Jami tells RFE/RL. “Music is bad for the mind, memory, and even human psyche. When a girl performs in front of strangers, the whole society is corrupted.”

Reflecting on the growing popularity of such beliefs in Herat, Khorsand says “it makes no difference for women in Afghanistan if the Taliban exists or doesn’t exist.”

“The Taliban’s way of thinking about women is the way many people are thinking in Afghanistan,” she says. “A lot of Afghans have traditional ways of thinking and they believe the talk of the Taliban. Unfortunately, much of their way of thinking is against the rights of women.”

Move Forward, Step Back

To be sure, Khorsand says there have been important advances for Afghan women since 2001 — including language in the Afghan Constitution that enshrines the right to education and to work.

Women are members of parliament and can be seen on television, competing in sports, and performing in concerts in Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused to put a bill to a parliamentary vote that would prohibit violence against women — despite years of domestic and international focus on the legislation.

But the Afghan government since the collapse of the Taliban regime has included many conservative Islamists and former warlords whose attitudes about women are similar to the Taliban.

Sima Simar, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, says the gains for women since 2001 can easily be overturned and have rarely been implemented in rural areas where most Afghans live.

The 2018 Women, Peace, and Security Index by Georgetown University and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo ranks Afghanistan as the second-worst place in the world to be a woman. Only Syria was ranked worse.

That study notes that only 16 percent of Afghanistan’s workforce is female and that half of all Afghan women have four years or less of education.

UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, says only half of school-aged Afghan girls now go to school, and that only one out of five girls under 15 are literate.

Nearly two out of three Afghan girls are married when they are teenagers or younger. On average, they are sent by their parents into arranged marriages between the ages of 15 and 16.

Most imprisoned Afghan women have been jailed for so-called “morality crimes,” such as leaving an abusive husband or demanding to marry a man of their own choosing.

A study issued in January by UN Women and the nongovernmental gender equality group Promundo found that 80 percent of Afghan women have experienced domestic physical violence.

That study found that only 15 percent of Afghan men think women should be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage, and that two-thirds of Afghan men think women already have too many rights in Afghanistan.

It is in this environment that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused to put a bill to a parliamentary vote that would prohibit violence against women — despite years of domestic and international focus on the legislation.

Ghani has appointed only five women to a 37-member council tasked with trying to pave the way for direct peace talks between his government and the Taliban at a time when the Taliban refuses to talk directly with the Kabul government.

Only 10 women were invited to be part of a 240-strong delegation for so-called “all-Afghan talks” with the Taliban, and even then, the first round of those talks was canceled over reported complaints by the Taliban over the composition of the delegation.

No Happy Ending

Khorsand was one of about 20 women who, under Taliban rule in Herat, regularly attended covert literature classes for girls and women at a place known as the Golden Needle sewing school.

The experiences of those young women were documented in a 2002 book by Sunday Times correspondent Christina Lamb called The Sewing Circles Of Herat.
The experiences of those young women were documented in a 2002 book by Sunday Times correspondent Christina Lamb called The Sewing Circles Of Herat. RFERL

Lamb tells RFE/RL that although women have fought bravely for their rights since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, many are now concerned that those gains will be lost as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration seeks a peace deal with the Taliban.

“Women are very unhappy because it seems as though in the rush to get out of Afghanistan, the Trump administration has prioritized only two things: that the Taliban renounce terrorism and that they stop attacking Americans and other NATO soldiers, and not that they respect the constitution and minorities and equal rights,” Lamb says.

“This has left women very exposed — which considering that women’s rights had been very much part of the initial reason for removing the Taliban, it’s very disappointing,” Lamb says.

“I’m sure that the Taliban will insist on having some share in power as part of negotiations,” Lamb says. “They are saying at the moment in these negotiations that things have changed, that they will allow girls to go to school and for women to work. But who knows what the reality will be were they to actually have power again.

“We certainly have seen in some areas [under Taliban control recently] women being lashed by Taliban because they’re not regarded as being properly covered,” Lamb says. “It’s very risky and I can see why women are extremely concerned.”

Christina Lamb: "I can see why women are extremely concerned."
Christina Lamb: “I can see why women are extremely concerned.” RFERL

As for the women Lamb wrote about in The Sewing Circles Of Herat, she says most have not seen a happy ending to their story after 18 years.

“Sadly, those particular women who bravely met under the guise of the sewing circles and who were writing stories and poems secretly, most of them have left the country or have stopped writing because they are not happy with the situation,” Lamb tells RFE/RL.

“One of them, a poet called Nadia Anjuman, was actually killed by her husband because he wasn’t happy about the fact that she was speaking publicly and writing about women’s rights,” Lamb says.

In 2016, Khorsand left Afghanistan for Ottawa, Canada, where she lives with her husband and twin 14-year-old daughters and remains in regular contact with rights activists in Herat.

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Khorsand tells RFE/RL she went to Canada for her daughters’ sake because it is her “primary duty as a mother” to ensure that they get the best education she can provide them.

Once her daughters finish school, Khorsand vows to enroll in a university human rights program in Canada — and then return to Herat “to continue the fight” for the rights of Afghan women. (RFERL)