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U.S. -Taliban deal: Will Peace Endure in Afghanistan?

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The face-saving exit of the US  from its protracted fatigued involvement in the Afghan theatre, which cost the country $3 trillion and blood of 2400 soldiers, was refurbished as the US Taliban peace deal signed on 29th February in Doha.  Congenitally inept to turn the tide of war in its favor through military might, a typical US resorted to diplomatic overtures in the form of peace talks granting concrete major concessions to those Taliban leaders, who are placed on the US’s and UN’s terror list. Under the deal, the US will reduce its military footprint of 14,000 troops to 8,300  within 135 days followed by the complete withdrawal of all the US and foreign troops within the next 14 months. The US has further bolstered the Taliban’s standing by agreeing to release 5000 political prisoners by 10th march, the first day of intra- Afghan talks, and promised to delist Taliban from the US and UN sanctions list that entail travel bans, assets freeze, and arms embargo.

In return, the US hopes that the Taliban abides by an unenforceable promise of not harboring terror outfits like ISIS and Al Qaeda that threaten the security of the US and its allies and start negotiating with the Afghan political leaders to reach a national accord for the future governing system. To naively believe that the Taliban will cut its umbilical connections with Al Qaeda will be a major strategic mis calculus, considering that the Taliban gambled on  their tenuous hold on power for protecting Al Qaeda leader Bin Laden only to face the wrath of  US invasion in 2001. Any anticipated vagaries in the equation of Al Qaeda -Taliban ties are elusive as the Sirajuddin led Haqqani network shares deep bonhomie with Al Qaeda and its leader Ayman al Zawahiri has shared bayat or allegiance to Taliban’s leader Habitullah Akhunzada. The two may well augment their joint military operations against their common enemy, the Islamic State of Khorasan, as the group has staged a deadly comeback in Kabul attacking a gathering of politicians and local populace commemorating the killing of an ethnic Hazara leader. Apart from that, the US outsourced its counter-terrorism operations to that  Taliban who never proved any discernible evidence of officially  drifting away from Al Qaeda. In the event of raining attacks from the US and coalition forces, these ties will further strengthen at the crest. Further Taliban’s leadership due to its decentralized governing structures, factionalism has limited capacity to control battlefield actions as their commanders hail from diverse geographical and tribal constituencies.

The US – Taliban agreement has overwhelming use of the prefix of “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan not recognized by the United States and Taliban” in a bid to not legitimize the Taliban. But this acted counterproductive, as the US might have officially conceded to Taliban’s authority or its role in the future political matrix of Afghanistan where it has asked Taliban to perform the  government’s obligations of not issuing travel documents or providing refuge to those who endanger the security of the US and its allies. When just mainstreaming  Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was not enough, by offering him the editorial space in the venerable New York times, to whitewash Taliban’s barbaric self-righteous history of inflicting pain on the Afghans titled with the article “What we the Taliban want”, US without the concurrence of Afghan government, its principal ally, promised Taliban that their  5,000 fighters will walk free before the start of inta Afghan dialogue.

President Ghani, well cognizant, about how the release of these Taliban leaders might boost the Taliban’s fighting  morale and military capabilities, refused to release them keeping in mind the harsh battlefield imbalance skewed in the favour of the Taliban. Perhaps in the wake of the political stalemate where his principal rival  Abudllah Abdullah has discredited his victory in the principal elections thus enervating the prospect of the cohesive political front in negotiating with Taliban, he thought that prisoner card could have given the government a miniscule leverage  when they negotiate political settlement with Taliban. Right after the signing of deal with the US , Taliban showed its true colors and  issued directives to avoid hostilities against the US and foreign forces but to  resume attacks on Afghan security forces which was met by a retaliatory  response in the form of US airstrikes on Taliban.

As the US begins its withdrawal, Taliban will ramp up its operational  tempo and pressure targeting the Afghan forces and even civilians which ironically wont be considered  as the breach of the deal considering that Afghan lives are of less value and they will left on their own as the  emphasis in the deal  has only been given  to the security of US and its allies. The risks of miscalculations run high for the Taliban as their strategy to increase skirmishes on the  battlefield to retain the balance of power on ground   can elevate the risk of reckless escalations, imperiling  the lives of US forces.  Such an event increases the probability  that the US security  establishment in the pursuit of their own security  guarantees might think of leaving  behind a residual  intelligence  and security  presence which might well play out in the favour of Afghan government.

There is mention in the agreement that the US will act as a  facilitator of intra afghan dialogue but if the Taiban- Afgan dialogue doesn’t lead to fruition   of any sort of political arrangement within these 14 months , it wouldn’t have any impact on the US ‘s plan of phased withdrawal. This bears stark resemblance  to the 1973 Paris Peace agreement when  the US repackaged its military defeat against the North Vietnam Communist  bloc as a peace deal leaving South Vietnam in the lurch leading to the fall of Saigon in 1975. With Trump’s administration’s abandonment of the Afghan government and the Syrian Kurds,  the US rightfully championed  Kissinger’s controversial statement that America has no permanent friends or enemies but only interest. While this is true for nearly every state in the world where realpolitik is the hallmark of any foreign policy, the US just proves it more explicitly and unabashedly than anyone else.

The fact  that US had a timeline for its exit  in the deal and didn’t push for an adherence or a strict timeline for a country wide ceasefire, which lays the groundwork for any neat peace agreements especially while dealing with non state thugs like Taliban says alot about much the US really cares for stable and prosperous future of Afghanistan. Before any peace talks,  political will, systematic exchange of information on arms buildup , troops movement, establishment  of observation  posts , peace keeping forces, and opening of diplomatic channels for negotiations and most important ceasefire monitoring  mechanisms form the fulcrum of any confidence building measures. But in this scenario ,  a seven day reduction in violence pact was the only litmus test the Taliban had to pass through to negotiate for the departure  of foreign forces.

We can draw parallels with that of the developments in Idlib where  the Sochi partners of Russia and Turkey respectively announced ceasefire in Idlib, the last rebel  held stronghold, just to break them initiating revealing how cheap the life of Syrians is in today’s debilitating  security landscape.

It is also worth to raise questions  as to why the Kabul declaration  with the Islamic Republican of Afghanistan and the Doha agreement with Taliban  didn’t evince any mention of the preservation of the democratic progressive gains made in the  last 18 years after the Taliban’s ouster since 2001? The US has shown its back by not fulfilling the moral obligation of protecting the rights of  minorities and women in Afghanistan. It didn’t seek any guarantees from Taliban’s to uphold the liberties of these segments of societies once they set foot into the political  mainstream even after Taliban’s repetitive insistence that they will protect their rights and freedom as governed by the strict interpretation of Islam.

Though the US has exemplified  that it will nullify the agreement  if Taliban doesn’t  adhere to its promises prescribed in the deal, these can be simply idle threats considering that Trump in the  crucial election year has to tantalize his support base by fulfilling one of its core election promise of bringing back home the US troops from all “endless wars” in the Middle east.

The US jubilation will eclipse over the misery of  Afghans when they  are already disillusioned with the country’s communal discord, rampant corruption, which has led to the loss of confidence in the state institutions and where violence and bloodshed with each passing is becoming a norm, simultaneously  making them numb.

 The intra afghan talks will face major stumbling blocks as Taliban will have a better bargaining position and the onset of challanges of accommodating  the  political visions  of  strange bedfellows,  one coveted by Taliban to run the state through the rigid islamic sharia law, and  the second,  a democratic, inclusive and  nationalistic model of Islamic republic of Afghanistan .  For that,  Abdullah and Ghani must first settle the power dispute to have an upper hand in the talks. Other contentious, hard pressing issues include  the framework of the current  democratic Afghan  constitution , which is  an anathema to Taliban, representation of the minorities  and the demobilization or reorganization of the Taliban’s forces into Afghan security  apparatus.

 The most  tenacious Afghans stood indomitable driving out  Soviets, British,  and US out of the country, but might be at war with themselves, as the cultural and multi ethnic make of the country, which raged   a bloody civil war might prove as a voodoo   if the second phase of intra afghan dialogues  fails to materialize the prospect of peace in Afghanistan.

Mona Thakkar, based in Mumbai, India, graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Media with specialization in Journalism from Mumbai University. Due to her lucid understanding of German and Arabic, she has worked as a translator and fixer with various German news outlets like Swiss Radio und Fernsehen, Tageszeitung , and Supernova. Her research interests include martime security and contemporary geopolitical dynamics of Asia-Pacific Pacific and MENA region . She has been an integral part of strategic studies programme with a tha m called Centre for Public Policy Research based in Kochi. She can be reached at m.thakkar1601[at]gmail.com

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Ancestral Lineage of Hazaras: from Afghanistan to Pakistan

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While the origins of Hazaras are much debated, opinions differ when it comes to the ancestral lineage of Hazara community. According to some historians, Hazaras are the original inhabitants of Hazarajat (now central Afghanistan).Among Hassan Pouladi, Prof. Shah Ali Akbar, Fletcher, and Abdul HaiHabibi, J. P. Ferrier who was a renowned French scholar was the first who argued based on his explanations of the Greek historian Quintus Curtius about the battles of Alexander the Great and his travels to these areas, now Afghanistan that Hazaras were native inhabitants of Afghanistan since the time of Alexander the Great and have not migrated from any other places to this land.

Whereas, according to some, Hazaras have Mongolian ancestry under Genghis Khan. This notion that Hazaras have Mongolian origin takes its origin in the 19th century when European came to Afghanistan, and they distinguish people with Mongolian featured faces among other Caucasian faces. Hazaras were originally represented by the word ‘Ozala’ or ‘Hosala’ which, with the passing of time became ‘Hazara’. The very word ‘Hazara’ then was used to refer to the counting system in the armed forces of Genghis Khan i.e. ‘hazara’ that meant thousand, which comprised one level of the troops.

Yet, few opinionate, Hazaras have Persian and Turko-Mongolian ancestry. According to a report they descended from Genghis Khan’s Army that mixed with Persian and Turkic locals whom as a result of conflict had been settled in now Hazara inhabited areas of Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, some think, Hazaras have ancestral lineage with theKushan Dynasty that goes back two millennia when Bamiyan in Afghanistan was home to the largest statues of ancient Buddhist civilization. Patrons of this idea highlight the similar facial features of Hazaras to those of Buddhist murals and statues in the region. Whilst, some of the Hazaras believe that they are the descendants of one of the sons of Noah.

Although, all the above mentioned theories might differ when it comes to ancestral lineage of Hazara community, but they have one thing in common and that is the land of Hazaras which now constitute parts of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. People of Hazaras settled in the mountainous regions of central Afghanistan as early as the 19th century, with the majority of their inhabitants living in Hazarajat (the land of Hazara), which is situated in the rough central mountainous core of Afghanistan with an area stretch over 50,000 sq.km.The Hazaras speak a dialect of Persian (Dari dialect) that is called Hazaragi. Hazaragi was one of the two largest languages of Afghanistan. Hazaragi includes many Mongolian and Turkic words, which also maintains the theory that they have Mongolian ancestry.

Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country with almost 8 major and 10 minor different ethnic groups; among major ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajiks, and Hazaras etc. Hazaras were once the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and constituted approximately 67% of the total population, but today their population hardly makes up around 9% of Afghan population. The reason for their massacred lies in their off target political action when they backed the wrong candidate in the accession struggle in the late 19th century, that had changed the life of Hazaras and their role in Afghan politics and ultimately in Afghan government.

Reports from the 20th century depict that arm forces of Afghanistan made pyramids out of Hazaras heads after some of the massacres, as a form of warning to the remaining Hazaras, yet this could not be regarded as the last savage and barbaric government repression of the Hazaras. Towards the end of 20th century during the rule of Taliban in Afghanistan, government specifically targeted the Hazaras for persecution and even genocide. This brutal history of persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan resulted in killing more than half of their population with some migrating to neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran.

Whereas, according to historical evidence migration of Hazaras from Afghanistan to Baluchistan province, Pakistan took place about 150 years ago, initially due to economic purposes. But mass migration of Hazara population took place in the late 19th century, mainly due to their persecution and targeted killing at the hands of different afghan rulers and Taliban government that forced them to migrate to Pakistan, and so they settled here.

In Pakistan, the estimated number of people of Hazara community is between 0.6-0.9 million, living and residing in different parts of the country including Karachi, Parachinar, Sanghar, Nawabshah, Hyderabad, also in different parts of GilgitBaltistan and Punjab. In Baluchistan province, the bulk of Hazara population are residing in Quetta and other parts of Baluchistan such as Sanjawi, Much, Zhob, Harnai, Loralai, and Dukki, where their population makes up around 0.4-0.5 million.Unfortunately, along with their migration, the Hazara community brought with them the history of their persecutions based on their ethnicity, religious orientation of sect and also their ethnically unique facial curvatures, and so, their tenure of oppression at the hands Taliban and other terrorist organization like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah Sahabah, al-Qaeda and other Sunni radical militants organization that also includes ISIS in its list is on-going in Pakistan.

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Pakistan PM visited Sri Lanka to further strengthen the existing friendship to new heights

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Prime Minister Imran Khan during the Sri Lanka visit. PHOTO COURTESY: FACEBOOK/IMRAN KHAN

At the formal invitation of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, H.E. Imran Khan, paid a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on 23-24 February 2021.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was accompanied by an elevated-level delegation comprising Federal Ministers and senior Government officials. The first-ever visit by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sri Lanka since the formation of the new governments in both countries clearly reflects the warmth and goodwill between the two countries’ governments and peoples. Prime Minister Imran Khan received a warm traditional welcome from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Sri Lanka’s Ministers.

During the visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan held delegation-level discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Both sides comprehensively appraised the multifaceted bilateral relationship in various fields of cooperation. The talks were held in a warm and cordial environment, marked by mutual trust and respect. The visit offeredboth sides a timely opportunity to further shape upon their close and regular consultations, particularly in the areas identified during the recently held Foreign Secretary level Bilateral Political Consultations, Joint Economic Commission session, and the Commerce Secretaries-level Talks.

Both sides reached a wide-ranging consensus on ways and means to strengthen cooperation further comprehensively and decided to hold frequent meetings; promote high-level and delegation-level exchanges; and enhance the process of consultations, collaboration, and synchronization between their respective institutions. Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka in line with the vision of a “peaceful neighborhood.”

The two sides reviewed the all-encompassing engagement between the two countries in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development, capacity building in diverse areas, and educational and technical cooperation. The Pakistan side announced 100 scholarships in health sciences and medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP). The Sri Lankan side appreciated the cooperation being extended by Pakistan in human resource development and capacity building.

While comprehending the existence of boundless potential of religious tourism to Buddhist archeological sites and perceiving the close ancient and cultural ties dating back to Gandhara civilization, the two sides emphasized the importance of augmenting cooperation in the field of tourism and highlighted the benefits of sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, including training and capacity building. The Pakistan side declared its initiative of establishing the Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, Kandy. Both sides recognized the importance of enhancing air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism, trade, and culture.

In order to explore new avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, a high-level Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held on 24 February 2021. The Conference provided an opportunity for effective and meaningful engagement between the business communities of the two countries. At the Conference, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka sides reiterated the importance of strengthening economic relations in critical areas of mutual interest and diversifying trade and investment. The two sides emphasized the importance of realizing the goal of achieving a US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement.

During the visit, the following MoUs between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were signed:

i. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on Cooperation in Tourism

ii. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation between the Board of Investment of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iii. Memorandum of Understanding between Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iv Intent Cooperation between Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad

v. Memorandum of Understanding between University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Lahore School of Economics, Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa together accredited the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association reconstitution. Both sides highlighted the need to strengthen parliamentary cooperation between two sides.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defense. They noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to Defence Dialogue has further provided a prospect to expand security sector relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new $50 million defense credit line facility. The two sides stressed the need for a strengthened partnership to support and coordinate with each other to deal with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime, drug and narcotic trafficking, and intelligence-sharing.

In his efforts to strengthen sports diplomacy, Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in a shared session with the sports community of Sri Lanka on 24 February 2021. At this event, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports and Youth Namal Rajapaksa, in the Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, stated the commissioning of the “Imran Khan High-Performance Sports Centre” in Colombo.

The Pakistan side declared its decision to provide PKR 52 million to promote sports in Sri Lanka, including through training and equipment.

Both sides stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and harmony as a key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful co-existence, and mutual empathy.

The two sides observed the close cooperation between the two countries at regional and international fora on mutual interest issues. They agreed to strengthen a coordinated approach on such matters further.

Both sides restated their commitment to the principles and intents of the SAARC Charter. They stressed the need for SAARC Member countries to build on convergences for the region’s people’s greater good. Both sides emphasized the need to convene the Charter Based bodies and agreed to take forward the SAARC process for further strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.

Discussing the regional and global environment developments, the two sides restated their shared commitment to regional peace, security, and stability. Prime Minister Imran Khan underscored the need for peaceful resolution of unresolved disputes through constructive dialogue in accordance with international legitimacy.

In the context of regional connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the opportunities presented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, for regional economic growth and prosperity.

Discussing the extraordinary challenges postured by Covid – 19, the two sides highlighted the need for combined efforts to deal with the pandemic. Sri Lanka thanked Pakistan for the tremendous assistance extended to the return of stranded Sri Lankans in Pakistan since the Covid pandemic outbreak.

While echoing the new government’s commitment to strengthen the bilateral relations further, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka thanked the government and people of Pakistan for the persistent support extended by Pakistan to defend the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan extended an invitation to the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan at their earliest convenience and thanked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the warm cordiality extended to him and his delegation.

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Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border

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Migrants at the IOM Islam Qala Reception Centre. The Centre provided services to thousands of Afghan returnees daily, prior to the catastrophic fire on 13 February. IOM/Nick Bishop

On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan and Iran, leading to a pause to repatriation service for afghans. This led to a devastating burn. At least 40 people were killed because of this huge blast, while 17 were wounded. Tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans obtained humanitarian relief from the center International Organization of Migration, (IOM) in 2020. None were injured in the fire by IOM workers or migrants returning from Iran.Whatever sparked this explosion was not instantly apparent. The provincial governor of Herat, Wahid Qatali, said the Afghan first responders did not have the means to light the enormous fires and required Iran’s assistance by firefighting aircraft.”We can’t even discuss the victims for the time being,” Qatali told The Associated Press. Emergency crews and Afghan security services moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the region, while an appeal for air-firefighting assistance was made available to the International Resolute Support Mission, quoted by Reuters as quoted by Katali.

Mohammad Rafiq shirzy, spokesperson for the district hospitals of Herat’s Provincial capital and also called Herat, said that more than 500 trucks were carrying natural gas and diesel that have been destroyed by the severity of the fire, and he said that it was impossible for ambulances to reach the injured or to reach the explosion site. Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the explosion of more than 300 coal, diesel, and petrol cars. The flash has not yet been contained, and precise evidence was not provided,”It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,”We don’t know whether the driver might escape or not.The Power Supply Ministry Spokesman, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said the fire was continuing after nightfall and that Afghanistan was pressuring Iran to close down its electricity supply. It has been said that the burning of two pylons has disconnected 100 tons of electricity imported into the Herat Province by Iran. He said 60% of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s leading provinces, was powerless.A dangerous route Afghan people often pursue overnight because of fear of gangs of violence, attacks between Herat City and Islam Qalah. Taliban gunmen, on the other hand, travel freely across the area.Afghan government troops assembled defensive positions and aided emergency ambulances and cars from and to the border. According to Iranian State TV, the fire spread to the Irish customs facilities Dogharoon, and first responders, including the fire departments, the Iranian army, and the border guards, managed to extinguish the fire. The natural gas and diesel trucks were sent away from the scene.As part of a national concession exempting Kabul from US sanctions against Iran, the United States permits Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran.

According to a statement from the Aghan organization, on Monday, “IOM anticipates a substantial decline in rates of return through the Islam Qala in the days to come as migrants are now re-routed from Iran into the main border crossing of Milak province of Nimroz, which lies over 1,000 km south-west.They have shown that in 2020, there returned a high number of Afghans.Nick Bishop, program manager of IOM reported in a cross-border return reply that “the initial inspection of reception centers for the return showed significant damage to the roof and walls.”The staff of the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Returns (MoRR) are relocating people in need here to the IOM transit center in Herat before IOM staff are back, awaiting a full assessment and inspection of the safety situation before IOM staff can resume their work from here. “The organization takes exceptional steps to secure the continuing humanitarian assistance can take place.

Unfortunately, as the fire began all the returning residents, who had already moved to their next location at our reception center, that day.There was a drastic rise in return rates last year, as COVID-19 caused many Afghans residing in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. By 2020, the largest year of return was almost 860,000 illegal Afghan immigrants back from Iran.Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day need humanitarian assistance. Approximately 60% of Herat province was helpless as a result of flames, said DABS, an Afghan power supplier.Islam Qala is one of the main ports of Afghanistan that traffic most officially with Iran. Afghanistan has earned concessions from Washington to buy oil and gas from Iran amid the sanctions of the United States.A risky stretch of highway between Herat and Islam Qala, where Afghans barely ride by night for fear of criminal gang attacks. In the area, the Taliban are still free to work.Hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so.

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