Taliban Ink Deal To Procure Russian Petroleum Products, Wheat

Members of Taliban listen to Bashar Noorzai (not pictured), a warlord and Taliban associate, at a press event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on September 19, 2022. – An American navy veteran detained in Afghanistan for more than two years was released by the Taliban on September 19 in exchange for a key ally, Afghanistan’s foreign minister said. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

 

Afghanistan has entered an agreement with Russia to procure millions of tonnes of petroleum products and wheat, Taliban officials said Wednesday.

Russia has been hit hard by unprecedented Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, causing Moscow to push exports to Asian countries to support its economy.

“The contract was agreed upon last month when the minister of industry and trade visited Russia,” Abdul Salam Jawad, spokesman for the ministry, told AFP.

He would not comment on any financial details.

The deal includes supplying Kabul with one million tonnes of gasoline, a million tonnes of diesel, 500,000 tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and two million tonnes of wheat.

The ministry of economy, in a separate statement, said the supplies from Russia are expected to arrive “in the next few weeks”.

An economic crisis in Afghanistan has only worsened since the Taliban returned to power following a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces last August.

The country’s banking sector has nearly collapsed after Washington froze $7 billion of Afghanistan’s assets held in the United States.

Billions of dollars in foreign aid that had helped prop up Afghanistan’s economy for 20 years during the US military intervention has also vastly reduced, further deepening the crisis.

A two-year drought has affected the country’s food production.

Taliban officials have maintained that they are looking to strike trade deals with the international community, and have so far received oil and gas from neighbouring Iran.

The government has not yet been recognised by any country, but Russia has maintained bilateral ties with the hardline Islamists since before they seized power last year.

Russia was one of the few countries to keep its embassy open in Kabul during the Taliban’s chaotic return to power.

US Admits Killing 12 Civilians Worldwide In 2021

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) welcomes Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 26, 2022. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

 

The US military killed 12 civilians in 2021, all in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.

The Department of Defense “assesses that there were approximately 12 civilians killed and approximately five civilians injured during 2021 as a result of US military operations,” said the report, which Congress has required to be produced annually since 2018, and part of which is classified.

All of the civilian deaths occurred in Afghanistan, according to the public part of the report.

The Pentagon has already acknowledged its responsibility for the deaths of 10 members of the same family, including seven children, during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August 2021.


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The public document specifies that a civilian was killed in a US strike on January 8 in Herat, and another on August 11 in Kandahar. Two civilians were also wounded on January 18 in Kandahar.

In addition, the US military admitted having wounded three civilians on January 1 in a strike in Qunyo Barrow, Somalia.

The Pentagon also reassessed its counts from the years 2018 to 2020, recognizing 10 more dead and 18 wounded, all in Syria.

NGOs regularly publish much higher assessments of deaths and injuries from US strikes in conflict zones.

The organization Airwars, which lists the civilian victims of air strikes around the world, estimated in its annual report published in May that between 15 and 27 civilians had been killed in US operations in Syria alone.

In January 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged the military to do more to avoid civilian casualties in airstrikes, after several deadly blunders that tarnished the reputation of the military.

Protecting civilians is a “strategic and moral imperative,” Austin noted in a memo to the military chain of command.

Taliban Mark Turbulent First Year In Power

File photo: Taliban fighters stand guard near the venue of an open-air rally in a field on the outskirts of Kabul on October 3, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

 

The Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan with a national holiday Monday, following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.

Exactly a year ago, the hardline Islamists captured Kabul after their nationwide lightning offensive against government forces ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

A chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.

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Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway —  aired on news bulletins around the world.

Authorities have so far not announced any official celebrations to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would air special programmes.

Taliban fighters, however, expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.

“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

 ‘Life Has Lost Its Meaning’ 

But for ordinary Afghans — especially women — the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships.

Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.

“Everything has been snatched from us, they have entered even our personal space,” she said.

On Saturday, the Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired guns into the air to disperse their rally in Kabul.

While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.

“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power centre of the Taliban.

For Taliban fighters, however, the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.

“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan”, said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.

AFP

Taliban Beat Women Protesters In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters fire in air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)
Taliban fighters fire in air to disperse Afghan women protesters in Kabul on August 13, 2022. (Photo by Wakil KOHSAR / AFP)

 

Taliban fighters beat women protesters and fired into the air on Saturday as they violently dispersed a rare rally in the Afghan capital, days ahead of the first anniversary of the hardline Islamists’ return to power.

Since seizing control on August 15 last year, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.

About 40 women — chanting “bread, work and freedom” — marched in front of the education ministry building in Kabul, before the fighters dispersed them by firing their guns into the air, an AFP correspondent reported.

Some women protesters who took refuge in nearby shops were chased and beaten by Taliban fighters with their rifle butts.

The demonstrators carried a banner which read “August 15 is a black day” as they demanded rights to work and political participation.

“Justice, justice. We’re fed up with ignorance,” they chanted, many not wearing face veils.

“Unfortunately, the Taliban from the intelligence service came and fired in the air,” said Zholia Parsi, one of the organisers of the march.

“They dispersed the girls, tore our banners and confiscated the mobile phones of many girls.”

Some journalists covering the protest — the first women’s rally in months — were also beaten by the Taliban fighters, an AFP correspondent saw.

‘Making women invisible’

After seizing power last year, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

But many restrictions have already been imposed, especially on women, to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.

Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.

Women have also been banned from travelling alone on long trips and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.

In May, the country’s supreme leader and chief of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, ordered women to fully cover themselves in public, including their faces — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.

The United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly slammed the Taliban government for imposing the restrictions on women.

These policies show a “pattern of absolute gender segregation and are aimed at making women invisible in the society”, Richard Bennett, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul during a visit in May.

Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.

But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.

AFP

Taliban Fighters Swap Arms For Books As Hundreds Return To School

In this photo taken on June 7, 2022, a member of the Taliban (C) with his classmates attends an economic faculty class at a private university in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

Gul Agha Jalali used to spend his nights planting bombs — hoping to target an Afghan government soldier or, better still, a foreign serviceman.

These days, the 23-year-old Taliban member is studying English and has enrolled in a computer science course in the capital, Kabul.

“When our country was occupied by infidels, we needed bombs, mortars and guns,” says Jalali, an employee at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.

Now there is a greater need for education, he told AFP.

Since the Taliban swept back to power in August last year, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own or pushed by their commanders.

The word “Taliban” actually means “students” in Arabic, and the hardline Islamist movement’s name stems from the religious schools in southern Afghanistan it emerged from in the 1990s.

Most Taliban fighters were educated in these madrassas, where studies are largely limited to the Koran and other Islamic themes.

Many conservative Afghan clerics — particularly among the Taliban — are sceptical of more modern education, apart from subjects than can be applied practically, such as engineering or medicine.

“The world is evolving, we need technology and development,” said Jalali, who planted bombs for five years but is now among a dozen Taliban studying computers at the transport ministry.

 ‘Motivated mujahideen’

In this photo taken on June 5, 2022, members of the Taliban attend a computer science class at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own, or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP

 

The desire of fighters like Jalali to go back to school showed Afghans yearned for education, government spokesman Bilal Karimi said.

“Many motivated mujahideen who had not completed their studies reached out to educational institutions and are now studying their favourite courses,” he told AFP.

But education is a hugely problematic issue in the country, with secondary school girls barred from classes since the Taliban returned to power — and no sign of them being allowed back despite promises from some in the leadership.

While the earlier curriculum largely remains the same, studies on music and sculpture have been scrapped at schools and universities, which are suffering a paucity of teachers and lecturers following an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite.

But some Taliban students, like Jalali, have big plans.

Kabul’s Muslim Institute has a student body of around 3,000 — half of them women — and includes some 300 Taliban fighters, many distinctive with their bushy beards and turbans.

On a recent tour, AFP saw one Taliban fighter retrieve a pistol from a locker room at the end of his lessons — an incongruous sight in a pastel-coloured room adorned with posters of smiling co-ed students.

“When they arrive, they hand over their weapons. They don’t use force or take advantage of their position,” said an institute official who asked not to be named.

 Desire to study

In this photo taken on June 5, 2022, members of the Taliban attend a computer science class at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Kabul. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August 2021, hundreds of fighters have returned to school — either on their own, or pushed by their commanders. (Photo by Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN / AFP)

 

Amanullah Mubariz was 18 when he joined the Taliban but never gave up his desire to study.

“I applied to a university in India, but I failed my English test,” said Mubariz, now 25, declining to reveal his current position in the Taliban.

“That’s why I enrolled here,” he said, referring to the Muslim Institute.

Mohammad Sabir, in contrast, is happy to admit he works for the Taliban’s intelligence agency despite also being a student at the private Dawat University.

“I resumed my studies this year after the victory of the Islamic Emirate,” he says, his long hair and eyes lined with traditional kohl eyeliner peeking out from beneath a white turban.

Like Jalali, he paused his education to join the Taliban and also planted bombs and carried out ambushes with his brother in Wardak province.

All the Taliban students AFP spoke to said they wanted to use their education to help develop the country, so how do they feel about girls being deprived of that opportunity?

“Personally, as a young man, a student and a member of the Emirate, I think that they have the right to education,” said Mubariz.

“They can serve our country the way we are doing.”

“This country needs them as much as it needs us,” added Jalali.

-AFP

Afghans Cast Doubt On Kabul Killing Of Al-Qaeda’s Al-Zawahiri

A still image from a video released by Al-Qaeda’s media arm as-Sahab and obtained on September 11, 2012 courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group shows al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video. (Photo by SITE INTELLIGENCE GROUP / AFP)

 

Many Afghans expressed shock or doubt Tuesday that Al-Qaeda’s chief had been killed in Kabul by a US drone strike, saying they couldn’t believe Ayman Al-Zawahiri had been hiding in their midst.

“It’s just propaganda,” Fahim Shah, 66, a resident of the Afghan capital, told AFP.

Late Monday, US President Joe Biden announced Zawahiri’s assassination, saying “justice has been delivered” to the Egyptian with a $25 million bounty on his head.

A senior US official said the 71-year-old was on the balcony of a three-storey house in the upmarket Sherpur neighbourhood when targeted with two Hellfire missiles shortly after dawn Sunday.

“We have experienced such propaganda in the past and there was never anything in it,” Shah said.

“In reality, I don’t think he was killed here.”

The Taliban admitted earlier Tuesday that the US had carried out a drone strike, but gave no details of casualties — and did not name Zawahiri, who was considered a key plotter of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

On Sunday, the interior ministry had denied reports of a drone strike, but Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday that was because an investigation was underway.

Kabul resident Abdul Kabir said he heard the strike Sunday morning, but still called on the United States to prove who was killed.

“They should show to the people and to the world that ‘we had hit this man and here is the evidence’,” Kabir said.

“We think they killed somebody else and announced it was the Al-Qaeda chief… there are many other places he could be hiding — in Pakistan, or even in Iraq.”

The strike is sure to further sour already bitter relations between Washington and the Taliban, which pledged to stop Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for militants as part of the agreement that led to the US troop withdrawal last year.

University student Mohammad Bilal was another who thought it unlikely Zawahiri had been living in Kabul.

“This is a terrorist group and I do not think they will send their leader to Afghanistan,” Bilal said.

“Leaders of most terrorist groups, including the Taliban, were either living in Pakistan or in the United Arab Emirates when they were in conflict with former Afghan forces,” he said.

A straw poll, however, found some believers in the capital.

Kabul housewife Freshta, who asked not to be further identified, said she was shocked to learn of Zawahiri’s killing.

“It’s so uncomfortable to know that he was living here,” she said.

A shopkeeper who also asked not to be named said he too wasn’t surprised.

“Any terrorist group can enter our land, use it and get out easily,” he told AFP.

“We don’t have a good government. We are unable to protect ourselves, our soil and our property.”

At Least 920 Killed In Afghanistan Earthquake

This photograph taken on June 22, 2022 and received as a courtesy of the Afghan government-run Bakhtar News Agency shows a member of the Afghan Red Crescent Society giving medical treatment to a victim following an earthquake in Afghanistan’s Gayan district, Paktika province. – A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 920 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said on June 22, with the toll expected to rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings. (Photo by Bakhtar News Agency / AFP)

 

 

A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 920 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged terrain of the east, where people already live hardscrabble lives in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.

The death toll has climbed steadily all day as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further.

“So far the information we have is that at least 920 people have been martyred and 600 injured,” Sharafuddin Muslim, the deputy minister for disaster management, told a press conference in the capital, Kabul.

Earlier, a tribal leader from Paktika province — one of the hardest hit areas — said survivors and rescuers were scrambling to help those affected.

“The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas,” Yaqub Manzor told AFP by telephone.

Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged mud houses in remote rural areas.

Some footage showed local residents loading victims into a military helicopter.

 

This photograph taken on June 22, 2022 and received as a courtesy of the Afghan government-run Bakhtar News Agency shows soldiers and Afghan Red Crescent Society officials near a helicopter at an earthquake hit area in Afghanistan’s Gayan district, Paktika province. (Photo by Bakhtar News Agency / AFP)

 

– Offers of help –
Even before the Taliban takeover Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently struck the country.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters, an immediate response is often limited.

“The government is working within its capabilities,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

“We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer help.

“Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected.”

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes — especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of buildings.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan.

From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest quake.

“I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected,” the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.

 

This photograph taken on June 22, 2022 and received as a courtesy of the Afghan government-run Bakhtar News Agency shows collapsed mud houses following an earthquake in Gayan district, Paktika province.  (Photo by Bakhtar News Agency / AFP) 

 

The latest earthquake came at a time when Afghanistan is battling a severe humanitarian disaster, worsened by the Taliban takeover of the country.

Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to tackle the crisis.

Aid agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in Afghanistan, which remains extremely susceptible to recurring earthquakes, floods and landslides.

The quake was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 kilometres (300 miles) from the epicentre, according to responses posted on the USGS and European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) websites.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: Death Toll From Afghanistan Earthquake Reaches 1,000

This photograph taken on June 22, 2022 and received as a courtesy of the Afghan government-run Bakhtar News Agency shows a member of the Afghan Red Crescent Society giving medical treatment to a victim following an earthquake in Afghanistan’s Gayan district, Paktika province.  (Photo by Bakhtar News Agency / AFP)

 

 

A powerful earthquake jolted a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more, officials said Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9-magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in the grip of a humanitarian crisis made worse since the Taliban takeover in August.

“People are digging grave after grave,” said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.

He said more than 1,500 people were injured, many critically.

“People are still trapped under the rubble,” he told journalists.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global agency has “fully mobilized” to help, with UN officials confirming the deployment of health teams and supplies of medicine, food, trauma kits and emergency shelter to the quake zone.

The death toll climbed steadily Wednesday as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further.

The earthquake struck areas that were already suffering the effects of heavy rain, causing rockfalls and mudslides that hampered rescue efforts.

“It was a horrible situation,” said Arup Khan, 22, recovering at a hospital in Paktika’s provincial capital Sharan.

“There were cries everywhere. The children and my family were under the mud.”

‘Dire Situation’ 

Sharan Hospital director Mohammad Yahya Wiar said they were doing their best to treat everyone.

“Our country is poor and lacks resources,” he told AFP. “This is a humanitarian crisis. It is like a tsunami.”

Photographs and video posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged houses in remote areas. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, told reporters nearly 2,000 homes are likely destroyed.

Footage released by the Taliban showed local residents of one village digging a long trench to bury the dead, who by Islamic tradition should be laid to rest facing Mecca.

The disaster poses a huge challenge for the Taliban, who have largely isolated the country as a result of their hardline Islamist policies — particularly the subjugation of women and girls.

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently strike the country.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since they returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited.

“The government is working within its capabilities,” tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

“We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation.”

Offers Of Help 

The United States, whose troops helped topple the initial Taliban regime and remained in Afghanistan for two decades until Washington pulled them out last year, was “deeply saddened” by the earthquake, the White House said.

“President Biden is monitoring developments and has directed USAID (US Agency for International Development) and other federal government partners to assess US response options to help those most affected,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance.

“Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan said on Twitter.

In sending his condolences, UN chief Guterres noted how the tragedy is afflicting a nation mired in multiple crises.

“My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan who are already reeling from the impact of years of conflict, economic hardship and hunger,” he said in a statement.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: “The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected.”

Neighbour Pakistan, where officials said one person was killed in the quake, said it would send emergency aid — including tents — across the border.

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes, especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Scores of people were killed in January when two quakes struck the western province of Badghis.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries.

Afghanistan’s deadliest recent earthquake killed 5,000 in May 1998 in the northeastern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

From the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for victims of the latest quake.

“I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected,” the 85-year-old pontiff said concluding his weekly audience.

Wednesday’s quake occurred at around 1:30 am at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), some 47 kilometers southwest of Khost, according to the United States Geological Survey.

It was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 kilometres from the epicentre.

 

Bombs Kill At Least 16 In Afghanistan

Afghanistan flag

 

The death toll from four bombs that ripped through minibuses and a mosque in Afghanistan has risen to at least 16, officials said Thursday, with some of the attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

While the number of bombings has dropped across the country since the Taliban seized power last August, several deadly attacks rocked the country last month during Ramadan.

On Wednesday, at least 10 people were killed when three bombs placed on separate minibuses exploded in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a health official and police said.

“The bombs were placed on three minibuses in different districts of the city,” Balkh provincial police spokesman Asif Waziri told AFP, adding that 15 other people were wounded.

Najibullah Tawana, head of the Balkh health department, said three women were among the 10 killed in the blasts.

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Hours after the explosions, the Islamic State group (IS) claimed responsibility for the minibus attacks on social media.

It said on Telegram its “soldiers” were behind the three bombings.

Another bomb exploded inside a mosque in the capital Kabul late Wednesday.

Early on Thursday, Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran tweeted that six people had been killed in that blast and another 18 wounded.

In the immediate aftermath of the mosque attack, the interior ministry had said two people were killed and 10 wounded.

The ministry also said the bomb was placed inside a fan in the mosque.

It was still unclear whether Wednesday’s bombings targeted any specific community.

Dozens of civilians were killed in Kabul and other cities in primarily sectarian attacks during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on April 30 in Afghanistan, with some claimed by IS.

On April 29, at least 10 people were killed in a Sunni mosque in Kabul in an attack that appeared to have targeted members of the minority Sufi community who were performing rituals.

On April 21, a bomb at a Shiite mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif killed at least 12 worshippers and wounded scores more.

The deadliest attack during Ramadan came in the northern city of Kunduz, where another bomb targeting Sufi worshippers tore through a mosque on April 22.

At least 33 people were killed in that blast and scores more were wounded.

The regional branch of IS in Sunni-majority Afghanistan has repeatedly targeted Shiites and minorities such as Sufis, who follow a mystical branch of Islam.

IS is a Sunni Islamist group, like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

The biggest ideological difference is that the Taliban pursued an Afghanistan free of foreign forces, whereas IS wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group remains a key security challenge.

AFP

Taliban Supreme Leader Urges World To Recognise Government

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani speaks during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Mujahideen, the 8th of Saur 1371 (28 April 1992) victory over the government of the communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

Afghanistan’s supreme leader called again Friday for the international community to recognise the Taliban government, saying the world had become a “small village” and proper diplomatic relations would help solve the country’s problems.

No nation has formally recognised the regime installed by the Taliban after they seized power in August and reintroduced the hardline Islamist rule that is increasingly excluding women from public life.

In a written message ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada did not mention international sticking points — including reopening secondary schools for girls.

Instead, he said recognition should come first “so that we may address our problems formally and within diplomatic norms and principles”.

“Undoubtedly, the world has transformed into a small village,” said Akhundzada, who has not been seen in public for years and lives reclusively in Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland.

“Afghanistan has its role in world peace and stability. According to this need, the world should recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

His Eid message comes as the country has been rocked by a series of bomb blasts — some claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group and targeting the minority Shiite Hazara community.

Akhundzada made no mention of insecurity, but said the country had been able to build “a strong Islamic and national army”, as well as “a strong intelligence organisation”.

Link aid to rights

Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani (C) prays during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the Mujahideen, the 8th of Saur 1371 (28 April 1992) victory over the government of communist regime, in Kabul on April 28, 2022.
Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

 

Many in the international community want humanitarian aid and recognition to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.

Tens of thousands of women lost their government jobs after the Taliban takeover, and they have also been barred from leaving the country — or even travelling between cities — unless accompanied by a male relative.

In March, the Taliban prompted global outrage by shutting all secondary schools for girls just hours after allowing them to reopen for the first time since they seized power.

Several Taliban officials said the ban was personally ordered by Akhundzada.

Akhundzada’s Eid message didn’t touch on girls’ schools, but he did say authorities were opening new centres and madrassas for both “religious and modern education”.

“We respect and are committed to all the sharia rights of men and women in Afghanistan… do not use this humanitarian and emotional issue as a tool for political ends,” he said.

But he said people should willingly embrace the Taliban ideals, and not be forced.

“The relevant authorities should invite people towards sharia with wisdom and avoid extremism in this regard,” he added.

He said also the government was committed to freedom of speech according to “Islamic values”, although hundreds of news outlets have closed, public broadcasts of music banned, and movies and TV dramas featuring women taken off air.

Akhundzada, believed to be in his 70s, has been the spiritual leader of the hardline Islamist movement since 2016 but has remained in the shadows despite the Taliban enjoying largely uncontested power.

His absence from public life has fed speculation he may be dead and his edicts the product of a committee.

Still, in October the Taliban released an audio recording they said was him addressing a madrassa in Kandahar.

AFP

Mosque Blast Kills 33 In Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and medical staff stand outside the gate of a hospital as they prepare to attend to the casualties after an explosion at Imam Sahib district in Kunduz province on April 22, 2022. AFP

 

A blast ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers in northern Afghanistan, killing 33 people and wounding 43 more, a Taliban spokesman said, just a day after the Islamic State group claimed two separate deadly attacks.

Since Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan last year after ousting the US-backed government, the number of bombings has fallen but the jihadist and Sunni IS has continued with attacks against targets they see as heretical.

A string of bombings rocked the country this week, with deadly attacks targeting a school and a mosque in Shiite neighbourhoods.

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Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that children were among the 33 dead in the blast on Friday at a mosque in the northern province of Kunduz.

“We condemn this crime… and express our deepest sympathies to the bereaved,” he said, adding 43 more were wounded.

Images posted to social media — which could not be immediately verified — showed holes blown through the walls of the Mawlavi Sikandar mosque, popular with Sufis in the Imam Sahib district, north of Kunduz city.

Jihadist groups such as IS bear a deep hatred for Sufis who they view as heretics and accuse them of polytheism — the greatest sin in Islam — for seeking the intercession of dead saints.

“The sight at the mosque was horrifying. All those who were worshipping inside the mosque were either injured or killed,” Mohammad Esah, a shopkeeper who helped ferry victims to the district hospital, told AFP.

“I saw 20 to 30 bodies,” another local resident said.

Relatives of victims were arriving at hospital to look for their loved ones.

“My son is martyred,” screamed a man, while a woman accompanied by her four children searched for her husband.

A nurse told AFP over the phone that between 30 to 40 people had been admitted for treatment of wounds from the blast.

Kunduz police said they were investigating the type of explosion.

Multiple Bomb Blasts

Friday’s blast was one of the biggest attacks since the Taliban seized power in August last year.

In October, a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque, also in Kunduz, killed at least 55 people and wounded scores — an attack also claimed by IS.

The regional IS branch has repeatedly targeted Shiites and minorities like Sufis in Afghanistan.

IS is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.

The biggest ideological difference between the two is that the Taliban sought only an Afghanistan free of foreign forces, whereas IS wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

Friday’s blast comes a day after IS claimed a bomb attack at a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that killed at least 12 worshippers and left 58 people injured.

They also claimed a separate attack in Kunduz city on Thursday, which killed four people and wounded 18.

No group has yet to claim twin blasts on a boys’ school in a Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul on Tuesday, which killed six and wounded more than 25.

Shiite Afghans, who are mostly from the Hazara community, make up between 10 and 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million.

Sufis, also a minority in Sunni majority Afghanistan, have faced several attacks in the past. In November 2018, a suicide attack at a wedding in Kabul killed dozens, most of them Sufis.

Earlier on Friday, the Taliban authorities said they had arrested the IS “mastermind” of Thursday’s bombing at the mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.

Seven Afghan Men Flogged On Taliban-Run Supreme Court Order

Taliban fighters in armoured vehicles take part in a military street parade in Herat on April 19, 2022. Mohsen Karimi / AFP

 

Taliban authorities flogged seven men Wednesday for crimes including selling and consuming alcohol, an official said — the first such sentence to be handed out by Afghanistan’s courts since the hardline Islamists seized power.

The lashings were a grim reminder of the harsh punishments the Taliban delivered during their first regime between 1996 and 2001.

The seven accused had confessed to their crimes and were sentenced to 35 lashes each, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

“The punishment was carried out today” in the capital, Supreme Court official Abdul Basir Mashal told AFP.

“It is the first time that a court has issued such an order according to the sharia law since the Islamic Emirate was formed in Afghanistan,” he said.

Taliban fighters have reportedly carried out floggings without court orders since taking power, according to social media posts that could not be independently verified.

The seven men had been charged in separate cases for offences such as selling and consuming alcohol, as well as stealing cars, the court statement said.

Five were also sentenced to six months in jail.

During their first stint in power, the Taliban earned notoriety for their strict interpretation of sharia law that punished even petty crimes with public floggings and executions.

The rulings at that time were particularly harsh for women, with those who broke the rules suffering humiliation and public beatings by the regime’s feared religious police.

The Taliban had also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands and feet of thieves, and stoned women accused of adultery.

When they seized power last year they promised a softer version of their previous rule, but insisted it would still be guided by sharia law.

Over the past eight months, the Taliban have cracked down on several freedoms women enjoyed for 20 years under the previous Western-backed government.

Women have been effectively shut out of most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Koran.

They have also been ordered to stop boarding flights unless escorted by a “mahram”, or adult male relative, and are banned from solo inter-city travel.

AFP