Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

Taliban confirmed the closure of facilities. Above, Kabul residents waiting outside US charity hospital. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Taliban close Afghan health facilities run by Swedish group

  • Taliban raided one of the NGO’s clinics last week in which 4 people died
  • The NGO said closing the clinics will affect 6,000 patients

KABUL: The Taliban forced a Swedish non-profit group to close 42 health facilities it runs in eastern Afghanistan, the organization said Wednesday, the latest attempt by the insurgents to show strength amid negotiations to end the country’s nearly 18-year war.

The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 US-led invasion.

In Sweden, Sonny Mansson, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that the Taliban threatened the NGO’s staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, “it would have consequences for themselves and their families.”

“We treat equally anyone who needs medical care regardless of who they are. Everyone who needs help gets it,” Mansson said, adding the closed facilities were in a Taliban-controlled area of Maidan Wardan province while others are still open in the province’s government-controlled areas.

Parwiz Ahmad Faizi, the group’s communications manager, said the facilities were closed after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO in Daimirdad district.

The Afghan troops, acting on intelligence, were allegedly looking for suspected Taliban fighters hiding in the clinic.

Ahmad Khalid Fahim, program director for the Swedish group, said two staff members, a guard and a lab worker, and two other people were killed in the attack, while a fifth person has been missing.

Insurgents contacted the staff and ordered the NGO to shut down, Fahim added. Faizi said the closures will affect health services for around 6,000 patients, particularly women and children.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the closure of the facilities.

The developments come amid stepped-up efforts by the United States to find a negotiated end to the country’s conflict, America’s longest war. Afghan talks that brought together the country’s warring sides ended last week in Qatar’s capital, Doha, with a statement that appeared to move closer to peace by laying down the outlines of a roadmap for the country’s future.

The same Swedish-run health facility in Daimirdad was hit in 2016, in a joint raid by Afghan and foreign forces, said Fahim. Three people were killed in that attack, after which the NGO demanded an investigation but no probe results were ever released.

“We request the Afghan government give us an immediate response as to why the health facility came under attack,” Fahim said.

The Swedish organization, which has been in Afghanistan over 30 years, runs 77 health facilities in six out of nine districts of in Maidan Wardan. The closure of the 42 likely more than slashes its activities in half.

Mansson dismissed claims the Taliban had used their clinic in Daimirdad as shelter, which may have triggered the Afghan forces’ raid.

Mansson said the organization informed the Afghan government of the closures but that the authorities have done little beyond acknowledging the shutdowns and saying “we regret it happen.”

“But we have not seen anything from them,” he added.


India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 45 min 40 sec ago

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”

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