December 12, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have pledged to increase cooperation and information-sharing for effectively combating the trafficking of Afghan opiates.
War-shattered Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium, though the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted in its latest survey the opium cultivation decreased by 20 percent in 2018 due to a severe drought and reduced prices.
The illegal opiates are largely smuggled to international markets through Pakistan and Iran.
Need for more initiatives
Afghan, Pakistan and Iranian counternarcotics officials concluded their two-day UNODC-facilitated interaction Wednesday in Islamabad, where delegates underscored the need for more efforts against the massive flow of illicit drugs.
Participants at the “Triangular Initiative” meeting called for timely sharing of information and conducting simultaneously interdiction operations along their shared largely porous borders.
The forum was established in 2007 with a mission to promote regional cooperation to reduce the poppy cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs in the region and beyond.
Officials acknowledged that despite Afghanistan’s political tensions with Pakistan and Iran anti-drugs cooperation largely continues.
Cesar Guedes, UNODC representative in Pakistan, noted the three countries attended the Islamabad meeting with “a revived attitude and role”, raising prospects for more effective counternarcotics efforts in 2019.
“More needs to be done because the level of [Afghan opium] production has also increased. They need really to coordinate closer in their joint efforts,” he told VOA
Guedes also called for increased international assistance, saying Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran alone cannot curb the menace of drugs.
“This has to be done in the framework of shared responsibility. All the countries, producers, consumers and transit need to join the effort,” he said.
Despite many challenges facing the government, the head of the Afghan delegation said authorities have taken significant steps to eradicate drug trafficking.
Director General for Policy Planing at the Afghan Ministry of Narcotics, Mohammad Osman Frotan, said 89 percent of poppy cultivation this year has taken place in the Afghan provinces most hit by insurgent activities. He said counternarcotics authorities during 2018 have seized more than 433 tons of different types of drugs, and arrested and prosecuted almost 4,000 suspects.
The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts. But the effort has failed to stop opium production, which increased to record highs and stood at an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017. Critics blamed insecurity, rampant corruption and patronage by influential Afghans for the unprecedented growth.
Phys.org: The spice is being exported to 17 countries through new air corridors, mainly to China, India, and the Gulf countries, and to a lesser extent to the European Union and North America, says the agriculture ministry “Afghanistan’s saffron, based on its organic nature, it is better than other saffron in the world,” claimed Abdul Shukoor Ahrari, director of Tila-e-Surkh Afghan (“Afghan Red Gold”), one of the country’s main processing sites. Click here to read more (external link).
1TV: Afghanistan’s first trade convoy is set to leave for Europe through Lapis Lazuli route on Thursday. The convoy will carry 135 tonnes of commodities. The route begins in Aqina and Turghundi ports in the Afghan provinces of Faryab and Herat and crosses Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. It involves road, rail, and maritime transport. Click here to read more (external link).
Tolo News: A senior member (Habiba Sarabi) of the High Peace Council (HPC) on Wednesday questioned the structure of the high advisory board for peace by the Afghan government, saying women’s presence in the board has been “unfair and unjust”. Click here to read more (external link).
RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan
December 12, 2018
FIFA has temporarily suspended the head of Afghanistan’s Football Federation (AFF) over the alleged physical and sexual abuse of players on the country’s women’s football team.
The suspension of AFF president Keramuudin Karim applies to all football-related activities at national and international level, and expires in 90 days.
World soccer’s governing body, FIFA, said the sanction was imposed “in connection with ongoing investigations concerning AFF officials, as reported by local authorities and published by some media.”
The former head of the women’s football department Khalida Popal, team coach Kelly Lindsey, and players Mina Ahmadi and Shabnam Mobarez accused federation officials of abuse in a report published last month by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper.
They told The Guardian that abuse occurred inside Afghanistan and at a training camp in Jordan in February.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the revelations were “shocking to all Afghans.”
The AFF has denied the claims.
Afghanistan’s attorney general placed six AFF members under suspension on December 9.
Fazel Fazly, a top adviser to Ghani, said the six included Karim.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
Other Sports News
December 11, 2018
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities are scrutinizing media coverage of a Pashtun nationalist movement, blocking VOA websites and filing police cases against journalists covering local rallies.
Sailaab Mehsud of RFE/RL’s Mashaal radio and Zafar Wazir of a local TV channel were identified in a police report as participants in a protest rally Saturday in Dera Ismael Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province along with nearly 20 other people. Police alleged they were chanting slogans against state institutions and inciting the public to violence.
Mehsud said he and Wazir were covering the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement rally as journalists.
About a week earlier, Pakistan ordered internet service providers to block the website of Voice of America’s Urdu language service. VOA’s Deewa news website, which primarily caters to the Pashto-speaking audience in the region around the Afghan border, has already been blocked for months.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry claimed the sites were blocked for “false and prejudiced reporting.”
“The stories they were doing were only projecting a particular narrative without any impartial view. There are many things happening in our country and most are positive,” he said.
While Chaudhry did not elaborate, an intelligence source told a VOA reporter on condition of anonymity that the decision to block the website was triggered by VOA’s coverage of PTM. The rights movement has a tense relationship with Pakistan’s military.
Rights violations alleged
Leaders of PTM contend that Pakistan’s military is involved in human rights violations linked to its efforts to rid the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region of militant groups. Around 200,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in the region to “secure and control militant violence,” according to military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor.
PTM also says that the military supports and protects certain militant groups even as it carries out clearing operations against others — a charge the military strongly denies. One of the movement’s slogans, chanted often in its rallies, “yeh jo dehshat gardi hai, iss ke peechai wardi hai,” which means “The military uniform is behind this terrorism.”
U.S. and Afghan officials routinely accuse Pakistani officials of supporting banned terror groups, but such accusations are rarely voiced by Pakistanis. That partly accounts for the close scrutiny of the group, which was warned again last week by Pakistan’s military spokesman.
In a news conference Ghafoor said the state had so far taken a soft stance on PTM because of a realization that its members had suffered from 15 years of war. However, he warned PTM leaders to not cross “the line where the state may have to use force to control the situation.” He did not specify what constituted that line.
Nafees Takar, the head of VOA’s Deewa service, defended his service’s coverage of PTM activities as journalistically warranted and balanced.
“We bring in ministers, government officials and military statements on Twitter and the official website of ISPR [the public relations wing of the military] for balancing the PTM coverage,” he said.
Urdu service chief Kokab Farshori said PTM was an important story for his audience as well, but denied that the coverage was prejudiced.
“We regularly interview government officials and ministers. A recent press conference by the military spokesman was our lead story. So, to say we have not been balanced is not true,” he said.
Internet users in Pakistan started reporting they could not access VOA Urdu’s website a day after a news conference held by PTM leader Mohsin Dawar that the service covered and streamed live on Facebook.
PTM’s activities seem to receive little news coverage in the otherwise vibrant Pakistani media.
Even though the government did not give specific examples of what it means to say VOA has been projecting a “particular narrative,” the international broadcaster has occasionally drawn criticism from some independent journalists.
Zarrar Khuhro, the co-host of a television news show known for its independent and often critical reporting, went on Twitter to criticize VOA Deewa’s coverage of a small protest in Washington this year. He accused the broadcaster of acting as “a propaganda outlet” after reporters covered a protest by what he called “four people and a placard” who named themselves the Free Karachi Movement.
Other Twitter users defended Deewa’s coverage and Khuhro himself praised the broadcaster for its reporting on other issues.
“There is of course a great deal of stuff that they cover that the mainstream media in Pakistan for one reason or the other cannot cover,” he said.
VOA is funded by the U.S. government, often creating a perception that the government dictates the news organization’s editorial decisions. However, VOA is required by law to report objectively and is protected by an editorial “firewall” from government interference.
Freedom of expression in Pakistan
The government’s order blocking VOA websites comes at a time when activists say freedom of expression in Pakistan is under attack.
A Committee to Protect Journalists report issued in September noted that “measures to stomp out terrorism in the country have gone hand in hand with increased pressure on the media. The military bars access to certain areas, uses direct and indirect acts of intimidation, and even allegedly instigates violence against reporters to prevent critical reporting.”
The report acknowledged that fewer journalists had been killed in retaliation for their work in recent years.
A study produced this year by Pakistani rights group Media Matters for Democracy found that “almost 88 percent of the journalist respondents claimed they had committed self-censorship in their professional news reporting. Around 79 percent said they had also self-censored their personal expression online.”
The military spokesman denied that his office wanted critics silenced. Information Minister Chaudhry denied there was any censorship, self or otherwise.
“Media in Pakistan is responsible and independent rather more than many other countries,” he said. He called media the “fourth pillar” of state and said, “They are doing a great job.”
Senior Pakistani journalist Imtiaz Alam disagreed with the minister, saying the role of the military had expanded significantly. “They are now minutely monitoring the media with very detailed instructions,” he said.
“I know because I worked there. They used to monitor our show. It happens to other TV channels as well as newspapers. My friends are editors — they give me all the details,” he added.
Rights activists complain that space for freedom of expression is shrinking outside mainstream media as well.
Last month, controversy erupted at a literary festival in Lahore when several panelists were dropped at the last minute. Responding to queries about the decision, one of the organizers, Salima Hashmi, said:
“We left an empty chair on the stage to remind people that when Zia-ul-Haq was the president of this country and there was censorship, the newspapers … published empty columns on the pages where the news should’ve been. And the inference is quite clear.”
Haq, a military dictator, held power in Pakistan from 1977 to his death in 1988.
A digital platform called safenewsrooms.org that was launched by Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, who was forced to flee Pakistan after an attempted abduction, was blocked within weeks of its launch. Siddiqui is a strong critic of Pakistan’s military.
Safiullah Taye via Al Jazeera: If the peace process proceeds along the unilateral paths that the US and Russia have taken up, this would result in a weaker Afghan government (whether Ghani-led or not) which would undermine whatever peace agreement is eventually reached. Afghanistan needs a strong state to ensure stability and security, not a weak one. Click here to read more (external link).