Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, left, with Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the close of the 2020 Afghanistan donor conference. (AFP)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan
  • Facing uncertain future, Kabul promises to see through Taliban talks stalemate

KABUL: Afghanistan on Wednesday vowed to fight graft and hold officials accountable after an international donor conference renewed its conditions-based pledge to provide the country $12 billion in foreign aid over the next four years.

“Afghanistan feels committed and pledges for the sake of the nation, for the sake of God, for its future self-sufficiency to fight against corruption,” Shamrooz Khan Masjidi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told Arab News.

“We want to work for good governance and for transparency and give accountability to the international aid,” he added.

The pledge was made during a two-day conference in Geneva which ended on Tuesday, where ministers from almost 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a country that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led troops and grappling with the pandemic.

And while the pledged amount falls short of the nearly $16 billion aid raised during a similar meeting in Brussels in 2016, Masjidi said it was a “major” sum considering the financial constraints faced by many countries amid the pandemic.

“Kabul, unlike in the past, expects donors to channel most of the aid through the Afghan budget,” he said, adding that the international community had expressed a willingness to release $3.3 billion next year and, based on a mechanism to be drawn by Afghan authorities and its representatives, review and extend more aid for 2022.

However, several of the donors imposed tough conditions for extending aid, such as progress in the intra-Afghan peace talks between the country’s government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which have reached a stalemate since they first began on Sept. 12.

The pledge comes amid uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future and an escalation in violence as the US plans a complete withdrawal of troops from the country as per an accord signed with the Taliban in February.

The Afghan government welcomed the $12 billion in aid on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar labeling it a “success,” adding that the strict conditions set by the donors would renew focus on peace negotiations.

Taliban representatives were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.

In the past, however, the group, emboldened by the February accord and US exit plan, has resisted pressure and repeated calls by Kabul and the international community to enforce a cease-fire.

Fawzia Koofi, a government negotiator who took part in the Qatar talks before returning home several weeks ago, said that both Kabul and the Taliban need to “grasp the delicacy of the situation” and the conditions attached to the aid.

“All sides now engaged in negotiations should know the urgency for peace in Afghanistan because both sides, especially the Taliban, must realize that the luxury of having the world and international community stand with us will not continue,” she told Arab News.

Koofi added that “peace and stability are vital for delivering services and good governance” in the country.

“And the worst scenario would be the international community losing hope for Afghanistan. I think both sides should understand that and show logical flexibility in the process,” she added.

However, experts said “shutting out” the Taliban from the Geneva conference “did not demonstrate inclusive peacemaking on the part of the conference organizers.”

“The Taliban can say to the donors ‘we were not present at the conference to give our view … and for stamping out corruption, please talk to your friend in Kabul,’” Torek Farhadi, an adviser to the former government, told Arab News.

Unlike in the past, the US said it had pledged $300 million in civilian aid for use next year and would extend another $300 million based on progress in peace talks. Washington has contributed about $800 million per year in civilian aid in recent years.

Farhadi said that with President-elect Joe Biden assuming power in the White House, there is a possibility of Washington expressing its view on the Taliban talks and proposing another conference involving the militant group.


6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece
Updated 03 March 2021

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

ATHENS: A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.
The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.
According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.


Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police
Updated 03 March 2021

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the location before the site opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don't know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we're saying is that something like that doesn't just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.


Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
Updated 03 March 2021

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
  • Imran Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his political allies will seek to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties on Wednesday in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of the country’s parliament.
Though his party won the 2018 general election, Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation – including legal reforms sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“They have difficulty in legislating, and many laws are stuck,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, said.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which translates into Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 12 seats in the Senate, and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) have 12 and 25 seats each.
PTI is looking to go up to 25 seats after the elections, and, along with other coalition parties and independents, have a slender majority in the Senate.
The electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half of the chamber’s strength, comprises Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.
With opposition parties controlling the Senate, the government has had to pass interim legislation through Presidential Ordinances, which expire in 120 days.
The government’s legislators and allies in the lower house of parliament will vote on making Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, a senator. The result could show how much confidence there is in the administration.
“It could determine who has a majority in parliament... it will be an embarrassment for the government, and could even lead to seeking a fresh vote of confidence,” Mehboob said.
The lead up to the potentially pivotal election has been marked by the government and opposition charging each other with seeking votes through unfair means.


Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
Updated 03 March 2021

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
  • Daesh fighters targeted three female employees of a television station

Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday evening.
The militant group, which has a presence in Afghanistan, said its fighters had targeted the three female employees of a television station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to SITE Intelligence group.
Three women who worked for Enikas TV aged between 18 and 20 had died and a fourth was critically injured after being shot on their way home from work, Afghan officials had said.