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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Qatari aid arrives in Kabul as commercial flights expected to resume ‘soon’


The Taliban said the new “inclusive” government will be announced next week.

Qatar shipped 17 tonnes of medical aid and basic food necessities to Kabul’s airport shortly after it re-opened to receive aid on Saturday, the Gulf state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed, as reports announced plans to resume commercial flights “soon”.

The aid was provided by the Qatar Fund for Development [QFFD] and Qatar Charity, and included food products such as rice, sugar, salt, flour and infant formula.

Qatar’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Saeed bin Mubarak Al Khayareen was present during the arrival of the shipment.

According to Qatar Charity, the aid is expected to benefit 10,000 families in Afghanistan and will support them for an entire month.

“Qatar Charity is closely following the situation and events in Afghanistan and dedicates its efforts to support the Afghan people by providing urgent humanitarian aid,” said Nawaf Al Hammadi, CEO Assistant for International Operations and Partnerships at Qatar Charity.

Qatar said it will begin operating daily aid flights to Afghanistan over the next few days. On Sunday, a fifth Qatari flight arrived in Kabul’s airport, carrying much-needed aid for Afghans.

The delivery came Al Khayareen saw the departure of the first domestic civilian flights from Kabul to Kandahar Airport and Mazar-i-Sharif Airport since the Taliban took over the capital city on 15 August. The first domestic flight was from Ariana Afghan Airlines.

The re-launch of the domestic flights came after Qatari and Turkish technical teams landed in Kabul over the past couple of days, per the Taliban’s request.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Al Khayareen said the airport’s runway has been repaired in cooperation with Afghan authorities, after a fourth Qatari plane arrived on Saturday to assist in fixing damage at the airport post US troop withdrawal.

Al Khayareen noted that international commercial flights will resume “soon”.

International donor conference

Meanwhile, an international donor conference for Afghanistan is expected to take place on 13 September, headed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Geneva.

“Many of us will be there and it is a statement of witness to the obligation and the responsibility of the international community to the people of Afghanistan,” Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the press in Doha on Saturday.

Griffiths’s made the comments shortly after a tour at one of the compounds in Qatar that is temporarily housing Afghan evacuees. He also held meetings with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater.

“Qatar has been a good friend of the humanitarian world for many years, it’s partly a donor, but it’s more than that,” added Griffiths.

On Thursday, the UN said its stockpiles of food in Afghanistan could run out this month, warning of a hunger crisis that will exacerbate the many challenges facing the country.

UN humanitarian chief in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov said about one third of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million does not know whether they will have a meal every day.

Qatar helping to facilitate opening of Afghanistan humanitarian corridor: official

This echoes previous concerns raised by the WFP, which said at least $200 million is needed in order to feed people in Afghanistan, especially with winter approaching and amid an ongoing drought.

Fewer evacuees at Al Udeid

Qatar has been playing a leading role in evacuating Afghans and foreigners from Kabul over the past three weeks, placing some in the US-run Al Udeid Air Base and others at compounds under the supervision of the Qatari government.

On Sunday, American Brigadier General Gerald Donohue said the US has moved most of more than 57,000 people that have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Qatar out of the Gulf state.

According to General Donohue, the evacuees are being processed in Europe and some are in the US, with fewer than 1,400 evacuees currently at the Al Udeid Air Base.

Those who remain at the military post are scheduled to be flown out soon, with those receiving medical care expected to remain until they can travel.

While at least 124,000 people were evacuated last month from Kabul, many Americans and Afghans who worked with other Western powers were left behind.

US President Joe Biden has been facing global criticism for his sudden decision to withdraw foreign troops after two decades in Afghanistan without presenting a strategised peace plan, forcing him and other foreign states to rush the evacuations.

There have also been major concerns regarding the Al Udeid Air Base, which hosted over 17,500 evacuees. Nine babies were born at the military post.

The concerns prompted authorities in Qatar to step in to manage the crisis at the air base, in cooperation with the Gulf state’s Red Crescent and health ministry.

“On humanitarian basis, we started building many tents to accommodate thousands of people. We started distributing meals, I mean Qatar’s Ministry of Defence, is distributing around 50,000 meals per day,” Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater told Doha News last week.

Exclusive: Mass evacuation of Afghans ‘draining Afghanistan of its brains’, Qatar’s Lolwah Al Khater says

In response to the crisis, Qatar turned one of the housing units built for the FIFA World Cup 2022 into temporary accommodation for Afghan evacuees and their families.

NATO to evacuate vulnerable Afghans

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that the alliance is seeking to evacuate more vulnerable Afghans with links to Western organisations.

Stoltenberg said that the bloc will also remain in contact with the Taliban, noting that the leaders of the new administration would have to prove that they are worthy of aid and recognition.

“Operational contact with Taliban is necessary to get people out,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“NATO has been able to evacuate most of the staff working for us. But there are still many people left, and we will continue to do work to get them out,” he added.
Furthermore, Stoltenberg said that the Taliban should be judged by its actions rather than statements.

“We will hold them accountable to what they have promised – on preventing Afghanistan being a safe haven for international terrorists, on human rights, especially rights of women, and on free passage,” he said.

“We will use our leverage, political, diplomatic and financial leverage on the new rulers in Afghanistan, and we will stand united,” added the NATO official.

Despite fighting the Taliban over the past two decades, many members of the alliance, including the UK, have been expressing willingness to talk to the militants as a way of adjusting to the new reality.

Taliban to announce new government

According to Reuters, the Taliban is expected to announce a new government this week, pushing back the announcement from Friday.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said the new administration will include all Afghan factions, despite earlier reports saying it would sideline former government officials.

“We are doing our utmost efforts to improve their living conditions. The government will provide security, because it is necessary for economic development,” said Baradar, who is believed to be the leader of the new administration.

Sources from the insurgent group said that Baradar will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai will assume senior positions be in the new government.

“All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government,” a Taliban official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the new administration, the Taliban’s supreme religious leader Haibatullah Akhundzada will be focusing on religious matters and governance in accordance with “Islamic rules.”

Despite previous claims that the government will be inclusive, the Taliban source said it will mainly consist of its own members. It would also include 25 ministries and a consultative council or Shura of 12 Muslim scholars.

Additionally, the source told Reuters that a grand assembly, a loya jirga, is planned within six-to-eight months that would gather elders and representatives across Afghan society to discuss a constitution and the structure of the future government.

UK will not recognise Taliban any time soon, Raab says at Doha presser

Fighting continues in Panjshir

As talks to formulate a new government continued, fighting has been reported between Taliban fighter and opposition forces in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, the last Afghan province to resist the militant group’s take over.

However, the Taliban said it captured the districts of Khinj and Unabah, enabling the group to take control of four out of the province’s seven districts.

“The Mujahideen [Taliban fighters] are advancing toward the centre [of the province],” said Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi.

Members of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said they were able to surround  “thousands of terrorists” in Khawak, with the Taliban abandoning vehicles and equipment in the Dashte Rewak area.

Despite the Taliban celebrating its victory on Friday, Massoud insisted that Panjshir “continues to stand strongly”.

News agencies reported that at least 17 people were killed and 41 were injured as a result of the celebratory gunfire.

Afghan women also took to the streets over the weekend to protest the Taliban’s rule and were met with violence by the group. One demonstrator said the militants had used tear gas and tasers against the protestors.

“They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine, and the women became bloody,” said a demonstrator, who gave her name to Reuters as Soraya.

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