Tolo News – Saffron fields cover 70 hectares of land in Balkh

Arif Musavi

Mazar-e Sharif – Balkh – Afghanistan, 09 JULY 2019. Saffron cultivation has turned into good business for farmers in the northern Balkh province, especially for women who make 40 percent of those who are busy in cultivation of the spice to support their families economically.

A local official said that as part of efforts to improve the saffron cultivation, the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture distributed eight tons of saffron bulbs to farmers in five northern and northeastern provinces.

“We have 70 hectares of saffron fields and around 40 percent of woman farmers are busy in saffron cultivation,” said Mohammad Salim Saee, head of the agriculture directorate in Balkh.

A female farmer from Balkh, Khalida Nazari, said she started saffron cultivation four years ago and that her incomes have increased.

“I collected 20 grams of saffron in the first year, 35 grams in the second year, up to 50 grams in the third year and I will collect more this year,” she said.

Shazia Qasimi, a female farmer from Samangan province, said she is interested in saffron cultivation, therefore, she has visited Balkh to purchase saffron bulb.

“I started saffron cultivation eight years ago. It is a good business and it has improved my economy,” said Qasimi, a farmer from Balkh.

Figures by Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock show that at least 200 women are busy in saffron cultivation in northern provinces who earn almost $500 from one jerib (0.2 hectares) of land.

Afghan saffron is considered among the best in the world and has scooped international awards on numerous occasions.

The western province of Herat is famous for saffron cultivation and processing.

Statistics show that Afghanistan produces 15 tons of saffron annually, most of which is produced in Herat province in the west of the country.

Tolo News – UN Chief outraged by Taliban attack in Kabul

The UN chief said international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

Kabul – Kabul province – Afghanistan, 03 July 2019. The Secretary-General António Guterres in a statement on Tuesday said that he is outraged and deeply saddened by the Taliban-claimed complex attack that took place on 1 July in a civilian-populated area of Kabul.

According to preliminary findings, the explosives set off at the outset of the attack caused more than 100 civilian casualties, including women and children. The explosives also damaged schools and other civilian infrastructure in the immediate vicinity.

The Secretary-General reiterates that international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks and attacks directed against civilians, and appeals to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to uphold their obligations to protect civilians.

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Afghanistan. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The attack in Kabul took place when children were arriving at nearby schools, indicating that those who planned and launched it at that time showed a reckless disregard for the safety of innocent lives.

International humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks where civilians are present and requires all parties to uphold their obligations to avoid harm to civilians at all times.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in a statement on Tuesday said that the members of the mission are appalled by the Taliban attack in a civilian-populated area of Kabul on Monday, where schools, homes, media outlets and other civilian facilities were immediately nearby.

Preliminary data indicate that the complex attack began with the detonation of explosives and caused scores of civilian casualties, among them women and many children, and led to damage to schools and other civilian infrastructure.

The Hindustan Times – Pakistan fan sings ‘Jana Gana’ to support India against England

Ahead of India-England clash, the Pakistan fans have already started expressing their support for the Men in Blue.

New Delhi – India, 30 June 2019. In the sporting world, the India-Pakistan rivalry needs no explanation. And when the two arch-rivals clash on cricket field, it not only ignites emotions and feelings but also attracts eyeballs globally.

However, it will be a rarest of the rare occasion when on Sunday Pakistani fans will cheer and pray for their neighbours, India, who will take on hosts England in a group affair at the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

Might be only for a day, but yes, the Pakistani fans have kept the rivalry aside and want India to uproot England from the showpiece event as it would help the Sarfaraz Ahmed-led side enter the semi-finals smoothly.

After three consecutive wins, the Green Brigade has climbed to the fourth spot, pushing the hosts to fifth and another loss for England is what every Pakistani fan wants. Ahead of India-England clash, the Pakistan fans have already started expressing their support for the Men in Blue.

Before England’s must-win clash against India, former skipper Nasser Hussain had asked Pakistani fans on Twitter as to which team they would be supporting. “Question to all Pakistan fans, England vs India, Sunday, who are you supporting?” tweeted Hussain on Thursday.

In reply, a Pakistani fan Nasir Ali wrote the Indian national anthem on Twitter: “Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jaya he Bharata Bhagya Vidhata.”

“Punjab Sindh Gujarat Maratha Dravida Utkala Banga,” he added.

Meanwhile, another Pakistani fan wrote: “Hum tou Abhinandan ko bhi chai pilaatay hain, Kohli tou phir humaaray dilon mai rehta hai. Tum saala gora loag humaari jooti ke neechay. (We even offer tea to Indian Air Force’s wing-commander Abhinandan and Kohli (Virat) rules our heart).

“Definitely backing India for two reasons: 1 – they’re neighbours, 2 – they’re passionate about cricket,” another fan wrote.

Another fan went back to the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the rule of the British East India Company saying: “1857 ki jang – Azadi hum ne mil kar angrezoo kay khilaf lari thi. (We together fought the 1857 revolt against the Britishers)

“Definitely Neighbours i.e. India. We can choose our friends but not neighbours. India any day over colonial England,” one more fan replied.

Earlier on Saturday, Pakistan had defeated Afghanistan to strengthen their position in the points-table with nine points. The Green Brigade will face Bangladesh in their last group game on July 5 while England has two remaining games against India and New Zealand.

The Tribune – Taliban kills eight election commission employees in Afghanistan

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, 30 June 2019. Taliban fighters killed eight election commission employees on Saturday night inside a district centre in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, officials said on Sunday.

The employees of the Independent Election Commission were stationed at the government office in Maruf district to register voters when fighters of the hardline Islamist group launched an attack.

Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tolo News – Yamamoto asks Taliban to rescind their threat against journalists

Yamamoto says that media workers are civilians, and their rights must be protected

Kabul – Kabul province – Afghanistan, 27 June 2019. The UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Tadamichi Yamamoto, in a statement on Thursday, condemned the Taliban’s threat against Afghan media and call for it to be rescinded.

Yamamoto said that freedom of the press is critical and that civilians should never be deliberately targeted with violence.

This week the Taliban publicly threatened to turn media outlets into military targets if they did not stop commercials which the group believes is against their fighters. The group has given Afghan media a one-week deadline to stop the ads.

“I unequivocally condemn this threat and call for it to be rescinded, as words must never be met with violence. The only acceptable challenge to words is to advance a better argument,” he said.

He said that international humanitarian law, which applies to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, prohibits attacks against civilians at any time and in any place.

“Media workers are civilians, and their rights must be protected, especially their fundamental right to operate in an environment free from any threat, intimidation or undue pressure by any outside entity, including governments,” he said.

Yamamoto said that in the context of repeated threats by the Taliban, he is reminded that press freedom in Afghanistan is earned at an unbearable cost. “Many journalists have been killed in Afghanistan in calculated attacks. We cannot but feel indignation at these terrible acts,” he added.

He said that the United Nations recognizes that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, and that they remain steadfast in collaborating with our national and international partners to protect journalists and to fight against impunity.

“Let us respect our collective obligations, regardless of who threatens or subjects journalists to intimidation or violence – to take practical steps to address those forces that menace the media,” he said.

Yamamoto said that the United Nations stands in solidarity with all media workers in Afghanistan.

“We will continue to support the Afghan government, consistent with its international human rights obligations, to implement measures that improve journalist safety and that foster an open media where no voice is silenced through fear,” he concluded.

This is the second time the group is threatening Afghan media. The first time, they threatened few media outlets over their reports on the fall of the city of Kunduz in northern Kunduz province back in 2016.

The group has given a week deadline to the media outlets to stop these advertisements.

The move by the Taliban was faced with immediate criticism by media supporting organizations. However, the Afghan government has not reacted to this issue so far.

Attacks on Afghan Media

In January 2016, a Taliban suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus carrying employees of Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most popular private broadcaster, killing seven journalists.

The Taliban had said it bombed the bus because it claimed Tolo was producing propaganda for the US military and its allies.

Journalists in Afghanistan have been threatened or attacked not only by the Taliban but also by fighters from Daesh, government officials and powerful local figures unhappy with news coverage.

The press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 17 shows that the situation of media in Afghanistan has “worsened” as it has descended to 121 from 118 where it stood last year.

The organization has mentioned insecurity as one of the main reasons for an increase in violence against journalists in Afghanistan.

According to RSF, three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan this year.

The RSF says that for Afghanistan’s journalists, 2018 was the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

A total of 15 journalists and media workers were killed in a series of bombings that began early in the year, nine of them in a single day, the RSF says in a report on its website.

Many others were constantly threatened by the various parties to the conflict. The war imposed by the Taliban and Daesh and constant abuses by warlords and corrupt political officials constitutes a permanent threat to journalists, the media and press freedom in Afghanistan.

According to RSF, Women journalists are a favorite target and are especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda is heeded.

Dawn – ‘Pakistan supports an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself,’ FM Qureshi

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday said that Pakistan is resolute towards finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict as “Pakistan supports an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself”. The comments were made while addressing the inaugural session of a conference on Afghan peace titled Lahore Process held at Bhurban.

Naveed Siddiqui

Bhurban – Panjab – Pakistan, 22 June 2019. The Lahore Process has been set up to discuss different aspects of the Afghan peace process, which include bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan through connectivity, trade, economy and health.

The moot will discuss the issue of repatriation of Afghan refugees who have been living in Pakistan for the last four decades and delegates are expected to give proposals on the future course of action for Afghanistan.

Pakistan supports an Afghanistan at peace with itself

“Pakistan’s perspective on Afghanistan is clear, we support an Afghanistan that is at peace with itself, and at peace with its neighbours,” Qureshi said in his welcome speech.

“We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our neighbour and remain firmly committed to a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. We are determined to build our bilateral relationship on the principles of non-interference, mutual respect and common interest.”

Pakistan has also suffered because of the Afghan conflict

Speaking on how Pakistan has been affected by the conflict, Qureshi said: “The decades-long conflict has brought great suffering to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the Afghan nation, no one has suffered more than the people of Pakistan due to this persistent instability and conflict.

“Pakistan’s security continues to be deeply influenced by the security situation in Afghanistan. Advancing the cause of peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, in Pakistan’s own national interest.

“Let this be absolutely clear: No one in Pakistan subscribes to any notion of so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. We must not let anyone resurrect this dead horse to advance their propagandistic aims or seek to sow the seeds of misunderstanding between us and our Afghan brethren. We wish to see a friendly Afghanistan, governed by an elected leadership, representative of the aspirations of all Afghans.

The cycle of mistrust must end

Speaking about the previously prevailing mistrust between the two countries, the foreign minister said: “For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us. It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm.

“It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence. We must not allow our respective territories to be used by anyone to the detriment of our interests.

“We must also remain vigilant of the other forces that wish to create misunderstandings and divisions between us. We must not allow them to harm our brotherly relations. We both have the same objective of long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region. If there is, at times, variance in approaches, it must not be construed as difference in objectives.”

Pakistan always believed the solution to the Afghan conflict is not militarised, the world agrees with us now

Discussing Pakistan’s commitment to the Afghan peace process, Qureshi said: “While others believed in a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, we always thought that a politically negotiated settlement was the only way forward. It is gratifying to note that others have also reached the same conclusion now.

“Pakistan has whole-heartedly facilitated the Afghan peace process in good faith and as a shared responsibility and will continue playing its due role. Our support has been crucial in overcoming the political stalemate that looked impossible to break just a year ago.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has for long been personally committed to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. My first visit after assuming office again in August 2018 was to Kabul. I have since visited Kabul three times.

I also visited other regional countries including China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE in an effort to build regional consensus on the ongoing peace process.”

We believe the ultimate arbiters of future of Afghanistan are the Afghans themselves

Reiterating the fact that it is only the Afghans that can effectively lead the peace process in their own country Qureshi said: “While efforts of all stakeholders are important, we do believe that the ultimate arbiters of the future of Afghanistan are only the Afghans themselves. We appreciate the progress achieved by Afghanistan over the past 18 years despite enormous challenges.

“It is critically important to preserve those gains and in fact, build on these achievements. Strengthening of democratic institutions in Afghanistan and progress on human rights, particularly women empowerment, are praise-worthy.

“Pakistan will continue to deepen its engagement with all sections of the Afghan society and their representatives in further cementing these achievements, as per expectations of the people of Afghanistan. In addition to playing our role in the peace process, Pakistan also remains committed to the Afghan reconstruction and development efforts, post-settlement.

“We stand ready to help Afghanistan through trade, investment, connectivity and capacity-building of the Afghan people. We are committed to enhancing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges. We also wish to work with Afghanistan, and the world community, to help create conditions that enable dignified, safe and voluntary return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan is at the cross-roads of peace and stability

Speaking of the renewed push for peace and stability in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said: “The renewed push for peace has created a new opportunity and every effort must be made to seize it. We cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity.

“Let me conclude by reiterating Pakistan’s unshakable resolve to support peace, stability and long-term prosperity of Afghanistan and appreciating your respective contributions toward that end.

“It is the leadership of the country that can steer it out of conflict and put it on the path of stability and prosperity. This is a test of the wisdom and sagacity of everyone involved.

“The people of Afghanistan are looking towards their leaders including all those present here, with the hope for a better future, a future that they so earnestly deserve.”

Heads of all Afghan political parties and the political advisory to the Afghan president are participating in the conference.

In all, fifty seven delegates are attending the moot including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, senators and members of Afghan parliament.

The conference is being held before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan, which is expected to take place on next Thursday.

President Dr Arif Alvi will host a banquet in honour of delegates and participants of the conference will also call on Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The News – Pakistan stresses need for intra-Afghan dialogue to end war

Pakistan has stressed the need to initiate an intra-Afghan dialogue in order to end war in the country.

United Nations – New York – USA, 21 June 2019. Speaking in a debate on the situation in Afghanistan at United Nations Security Council, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN Dr Maleeha Lodhi highlighted Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate Afghan government-Taliban peace negotiations.

She said no country other than Pakistan has suffered more from war and foreign intervention in Afghanistan.

She told the 15-member Council that Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his very first address to the nation after his election last year, reaffirmed Pakistan’s support to peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan, and that Islamabad played an “active role” towards that objective.

Dawn – They are victims of war and terrorism: Mahira Khan speaks up on World Refugee Day

The actor works in partnership with UNHCR to raise awareness about refugees in Pakistan.

On World Refugee Day, Mahira Khan has joined hands with UNHCR yet again to create awareness about Pakistan’s Afghan refugees.

Uploading a series of tweets and videos, Mahira stressed how Afghan refugees are people just like us, only they’re victims of displacement and terrorism.

She also uploaded a video adding that we as a nation have created a home for these refugees in our homeland.

“Refugees are victims of war and terrorism, they have suffered hardship, loss and displacement,” she said.

The video also features short interviews of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan as well as short clips of actor Yasir Hussain and UNHCR representative in Pakistan, Ruvendrini Menikdiwela.

Tolo News – US Seeks Peace Agreement, Not Withdrawal: Khalilzad

Khalilzad says that the US is seeking a “comprehensive peace agreement” with the Taliban.

Kabul – Kabul Province – Afghanistan, The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the United States is seeking a “comprehensive peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement” in its talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad apparently responded to a Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen’s remarks on Tuesday, June 18, who said that the United States has “accepted” to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan.

Taking to Twitter hours after the Taliban’s comments, Khalilzad said, they are preparing prepare for the next round of talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad said that a comprehensive peace agreement is made up of four inter-connected parts: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan negotiations that lead to a political settlement; and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.

“This is a framework which the Taliban accept,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad reiterated that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” – Akshay Kumar played him in the movie ‘Kesari’, but who really was Havildar Ishar Singh?

Edited excerpts from a new book on the Battle of Saragarhi in 1897, in which 21 Sikh soldiers bravely faced thousands of Afghani tribesmen.

Thursday, 13 June 2019. In all of recorded history, one of the most consistent traits passed on from one generation to another is that we as humans have always needed a ‘leader’ to guide us as, inevitably, most of us are ‘followers’ by nature. Both are equally important but seldom interchangeable.

In case of the military, a few characteristic qualities are necessary to make a good leader, namely courage, cooperation, stamina, determination, self-confidence, liveliness, effective intelligence, initiative, quick decision making ability, social adaptability, the power of expression, the ability to inspire, reason and organize, as well as a strong sense of responsibility.

The soldiers at Saragarhi on 12 September 1897 were not short of a leader; rather, their leader was someone who was a fine example of a military man, with balanced qualities that had been forged in the heat of battle for most of his service. The 20 young men were led by non-commissioned officer Havildar Ishar Singh.

Born in the year 1858 in a village called Jhorarh near Jagraon, Punjab, Ishar Singh enrolled for service in the Punjab Frontier Force in 1876, and was later transferred to the 36th Sikhs in 1887. In the year 1893, he married Jiwani Kaur, little knowing that he would never see his wife again, since he left home a year after their marriage when his regiment moved to the North West Frontier to defend the border against Afghans.

While Ishar Singh’s soldierly conduct and his decisions on the battlefield were sound, and the orders passed on to him via heliograph by his senior officers, who were witnessing the battle of Saragarhi from the other two forts in close proximity, were faithfully executed, he was hardly one to blindly follow his superiors.

In the words of the British military historian Major General James Lunt, ‘Ishar Singh was a somewhat turbulent character whose independent nature had brought him more than once into conflict with his military superiors. Thus, Ishar Singh, in camp, a nuisance, in the field, magnificent.’

Ishar Singh, as we now know him, was a feisty and experienced soldier who sometimes preferred to march at the drum of his own beat, but was an exemplary soldier and inspiring leader. Such men, who cannot be fully tamed yet act within the restraints of righteousness, often change the course of history, immortalising themselves and their deeds forever.

The post of Saragarhi was besieged by Afghan tribesmen on the morning of 12 September 1897, hence cutting off all communication between Fort Lockhart and Fort Cavagnari, and neither Lieutenant Colonel Haughton nor Major De Voeux were able to move out in the open to reinforce the 21 men at Saragarhi as thousands of tribesmen had positioned themselves between Saragarhi and the forts on its either side. The post was now on its own.

How Ishar Singh motivated his men

With numerical superiority on their side, the Pathans attempted to rush the post in the beginning of the attack, with scores of standards flying, ready to raze everything in their path in the inferno of their discontentment. By then, the soldiers inside the post had already been warned and stood prepared to face this onslaught of more than 10,000 Pathans.

Havildar Ishar Singh judged the gravity of the situation at hand and took command without delay. A seasoned soldier, he knew how to encourage the 20 men relying on him for leadership. He is said to have quoted Guru Gobind Singh’s verses about how each of them was equivalent to 125,000 foes, and the Pathans they had to fight were not even a fraction of it.

He reminded them about the greatness of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the fact that it was his legacy they needed to honour that day. He cited the tale of the brave Hari Singh Nalwa, who had fought the Afghans in these very hills not long ago. His words were enough to ignite a fire inside the 20 young Sikh soldiers to give the impending fight their all, thereby creating military history.

Before an all-out attack, the Pathans offered the Sikh soldiers an opportunity to surrender in return for safe passage. However, no offer could lure Havildar Ishar Singh or any of his men. Singh knew that he had to hold the enemy for a few hours until Lieutenant Colonel Haughton could receive reinforcements and they were therefore ready to defend their posts until their deaths.

Unsuccessful in their efforts, the aggravated tribesmen now told the soldiers that they would not survive even for a few minutes if the Pathans charged at them. This, too, did not budge the determined soldiers of Saragarhi. The tribesmen then began to charge at the fort in order to conquer the fort before reinforcements could arrive.

Soon, the valley began to echo with the deafening blasts of thousands of Jezails and Henry-Martinis. The Sikhs aimed their rifles at the incoming horde and when the enemy was within effective range of their weapons, they opened fire on Havildar Ishar Singh’s order, shouting their war cry of ‘Bole so nihaal…sat sri akaal!’.

Wave after wave of Pathans on the frontlines fell and the ones behind them scrambled to find cover. The battle had begun.

The Pathans, who had seemed in a hurry to take down the post just a little while ago, now took cover behind rocks and in defiles where the bullets could not reach them. Using ground cover, the tribesmen began to fire incessantly at the fort even as the battlefield in front of them was sprinkled with dead bodies from the first attack.

A firefight ensued, but the Sikhs had to be very careful while using their ammunition as every soldier had only 400 rounds to sustain him in this bloody battle.

In the meantime, Signalman Gurmukh Singh used their heliograph machine to send a message to Lieutenant Colonel John Haughton that they were under attack. While he was distressed to hear this, Haughton replied that it was impossible for him to send reinforcements at the time as they would not be able to break through the intervening hordes of Pathans.

Havildar Ishar Singh then had Gurmukh Singh send a single word as a reply, ‘Understood’. This reply spoke volumes about Havildar Ishar Singh’s stature and his maturity at the time.

Excerpted with permission from 21 Kesaris The Untold Story of the Battle of Saragarhi, Kiran Nirvan, Bloomsbury India.