Sunday, July 22, 2018

Afghan medical college struggles to rise from the ashes

KABUL (Reuters) – The gutted, hollow shell of the Ali Abad training hospital in Kabul is a symbol of the state of Afghanistan’s medical system, battered by decades of war.

Ali Abad, Afghanistan’s oldest hospital, was reduced to rubble when civil war tore Kabul apart in the 1990s.

Though classes stayed open, many doctors who taught at the teaching hospital fled, medical equipment and drugs were scarce and female students were forced to stay at home due to Taliban restrictions against women.

“We lost many senior professors and qualified teachers, they emigrated to other countries, like the United States and they are not coming back,” said Professor Obaidullah, chancellor of the Kabul Medical University. “It’s a disaster for us.”

Reconstruction of the teaching hospital, built 70 years ago, began in 2005 and a motley collection of squat buildings now stand in place of the rubble.

“Ali Abad was completely destroyed. We built two buildings recently but they are empty, we don’t have the equipment for the new Ali Abad hospital,” said Obaidullah.

He hopes to open a 600 bed facility in the new hospital within the next five months but there is still a shortfall of $1.5 million to pay for equipment. The medical school also badly needs doctors to teach.

“We need specialists in oncology, modern anesthesiology, biochemistry and histopathology. We have some, but not enough. The key is to get good teachers, increase their knowledge, allow them to go overseas and learn. We accept young teachers, those who want to learn more. We welcome foreigners,” he said.


Afghanistan’s healthcare system is widely believed to be one of the country’s success stories since reconstruction began after the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led and Afghan forces in 2001. The Islamist movement came to power in 1996 after a civil war.

While many daunting problems linger, such as not enough doctors, nurses, midwives and equipment, the provision of primary healthcare has improved in some parts of Afghanistan due to help from donor nations and NGOs.

Female patients were excluded from healthcare for many years because they were banned from consulting male doctors, but they are now getting improved access to treatment.

Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world, although the government has ambitious plans to cut the rate to 400 from 1,600 for every 100,000 live births by 2020. It also plans to train more female doctors and nurses.

Even today, Afghanistan is suffering the after-effects of Taliban rule as it does not have enough women doctors, nurses and midwives for its female population.

“Female students have come back … Now they make up 40 percent of our 2,100 students,” Obaidullah said. “During the Taliban era, there were zero girls.”

Apart from Ali Abad, Kabul Medical University has three other teaching hospitals, among them the French Medical Institute for Children, considered one of the country’s better equipped hospitals.

Unlike many doctors, Obaidullah and a handful of colleagues never left Afghanistan, not even during its most difficult times, such as during the 1992 to 1996 civil war.

“One day in 1994, I had just finished a surgery and was going home. That day a lot of rockets fell on Kabul city. I didn’t have a car and I ran 10 kilometers all the way home,” said A H Shafaq, an ear, nose and throat specialist who teaches at the university.

“That day, it was as if the rockets were chasing me, they were falling around me,” he said.

The university rebuilt almost its entire grounds over the past three years. But it left standing an external wall covered with the scars of rocket fire and bullets.

“These are all the memories of war,” said Shafaq, pointing to the wall.

(Editing by Megan Goldin)

Taliban leader orders cease-fire in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A top Taliban leader in Pakistan with links to al-Qaida has ordered a cease-fire as part of a deal being negotiated with the country’s new government, according to Taliban and Pakistani officials.

Baitullah Mehsud, leader of one of Pakistan’s largest extremist forces, issued a pamphlet directing his fighters to end attacks on Pakistani security forces in the country’s troubled tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province, according to a spokesman for Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud, who has been accused of masterminding the plot to kill former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, ordered the halt to extremist activities as part of an agreement that calls for prisoner exchanges and a withdrawal of Pakistani military forces from areas near the Afghan border.

“We have reached a final stage of an agreement with the Pakistani authorities for a peace deal,” said Maulvi Omar, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistani officials familiar with the terms of the deal said, however, negotiations with extremists are ongoing.

Omar said Pakistani security forces have begun to withdraw from the restive tribal areas of North and South Waziristan as part of the accord. But Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, denied that troops had moved out of the region. “We have not received pullout orders from the government as yet. When they are received, we will follow the government’s order,” Abbas said.

A Pakistani official in Islamabad said the negotiations with Mehsud and other pro-Taliban fighters were handled by provincial government officials in the North-West Frontier in consultation with two of Pakistan’s top political leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

The move by Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its anti-terrorism efforts, has been received cautiously by U.S. officials here and has provoked skepticism from the White House. Under the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan has previously brokered peace deals with extremists, but those deals have collapsed. Critics of the deals say they allowed Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to recruit and lead guerrilla operations across the Afghan border from safe havens in the remote tribal regions of North and South Waziristan. Last year, a 10-month cease-fire brokered by the Pakistani military collapsed after extremists launched an attack that killed 44 people in North Waziristan.

“We have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don’t think they work,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters Wednesday in Washington.

CIA Director Michael Hayden has said his agency has concluded that pro-Taliban allies of Mehsud and al-Qaida were behind the suicide bombing that killed Bhutto in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in December. In March, Pakistani authorities filed formal charges against Mehsud and four other men accused of planning Bhutto’s killing. Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement.

Omar, the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the newly formed coalition government in Pakistan has accepted several of the extremists’ demands, including withdrawal of Pakistani security forces from the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and an exchange of prisoners. The agreement also calls for compensation for the families of people killed in military operations in the region and a promise to cease arresting tribesmen suspected of ties to the Taliban or al-Qaida, Omar said.

“Everything has been decided, and now it’s a matter of few days and everybody will see the agreement very soon,” the Taliban spokesman said.

Omar vowed, however, to continue fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. “The presence of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is the mother of all ill and there will be no peace until their presence in the region has ended,” he said.

Pakistani officials in Islamabad have shied away from speaking publicly about the agreement with Mehsud or other extremists. But several officials acknowledged Thursday that talks were underway with Mehsud.

“We have formed different teams for talking with militants, including Baitullah Mehsud,” said Arshad Abdullah, provincial minister of law in the North-West Frontier.

Provincial government officials in the country’s North-West Frontier said the negotiations started several months before the secular Awami National Party was swept into power in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections on a promise to quell the violence that has rocked the region.

“We are not the architect of this agreement because it started months before our coming into power,” said Afrasiab Khattak, provincial head of the Awami National Party. “We are in touch with all and a peace deal is possible.”

Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities released another pro-Taliban leader as part of the broad deal reached between officials in the North-West Frontier and Islamic extremists in the region. Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the founder of one of Pakistan’s most extreme religious groups, was captured after leading fighters against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001.

Mohammed is the founder of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi, also known as the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, which has recently fought the Pakistani military in the Swat Valley, which is about 100 miles north of Peshawar. The group is under the leadership of Mohammad’s son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.

While Mohammed has pledged to encourage his fighters to lay down their arms, Fazlullah this week vowed to continue attacks on government forces and to push for the enforcement of Islamic law in Swat.

Security Council debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
At the Security Council debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Mr. President,

Allow me to begin by joining previous speakers in congratulating you on your assumption of the Presidency of the Council and wishing you every success in steering the work of the Council to a successful conclusion. We extend our appreciation for convening today’s debate, which provides an opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment to ensure the protection, rights and well-being of children in armed conflicts.

We also thank Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General, and Ms. Anne Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), for their insightful briefings delivered this morning.

Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), a number of important steps have been taken to ensure the protection of children in conflict situations. These include the creation of a monitoring and reporting mechanism to provide accurate and timely information on grave violations against children in war, and the working group for concrete recommendations on child protection in country specific situations. Nevertheless, it remains a grim reality that children continue to be subject to grave violations in conflict situations worldwide.

Mr. President,

Today’s meeting is of particular importance to Afghanistan, as a country that has suffered from decades of armed-conflict, which has had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable part of our population, namely children. Nevertheless, we have achieved considerable progress in promoting and safeguarding the rights of our children since 2001.

We remain firm in our commitment to ensure the security and well-being of our children at every stage of their life. Afghanistan is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the other on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. National legislation has been enacted to implement the Convention and its two Protocols. With the conclusion of our nation-wide child-demobilization program, 7,444 under-aged soldiers recruited by illegal armed groups have been de-mobilized. As a next step, we have put in place reintegration committees and vocational schools in numerous provinces to reintegrate former soldiers into civil life. In this regard, we call on our international partners to assist us in implementing such programs and facilitate creating employment opportunities for our youth. In addition, strict measures have been adopted to prevent recruitment of soldiers below the age of 18 in our armed forces. Mechanisms are in place in our security institutions to inspect and monitor newly acquired soldiers during both the recruitment and training stage to ensure that the minimum age-requirement for recruitment is met.

Regarding child-trafficking, our government has established a special task force to prevent children from being abducted and falling victim to traffickers. Since 2002, 429 cases of child-trafficking have been reported, from which 329 children have been rescued. Our Penal Code is one among various domestic laws addressing the abduction and kidnapping of children. Those measures have been complemented by President Karzai’s initiative to create an Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Prevention of Child Trafficking in November 2003, as well as the launch of our National Action Plan to Combat Child Trafficking.

Mr. President,

Despite our progress, terrorism remains a harsh reality in the lives of our children. Terrorists have increased attacks against schools, teachers, school-children and clinics. Attacks on and burning of schools have kept approximately 300,000 children from attending school out of fear of violence. As indicated in the report of the Secretary General, just between August 2006 and July 2007, at least 133 incidents of school attacks were reported. Those attacks, which have occurred mainly in the southern provinces, have led to the closing of 384 of the 721 schools in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Terrorists have spared no effort to harm all segments of society as they have increased their attacks in densely populated areas or within the vicinity of public gatherings. The effects of such activity have had a devastating impact on the lives of our children. Just three months ago, a terrorist attack against a Parliamentary delegation in Baghlan province led to the death of more than 50 children while another 90 were left severely wounded. In this context, I express my delegation’s appreciation to the Council for its swift response in condemning the attack on the 8th of November.

Afghanistan’s enemies have resorted to new and brutal tactics. In the most malicious practice conceivable, terrorists are recruiting children and sending them to operate as suicide bombers. As documented in a UNICEF report entitled Child-Alert – released in October of last year -a 16 year old Afghan boy was ordered to wear a vest full of explosives and detonate it in Ghazni province. The report quotes the boy as saying, [and I quote] “The remote control battery was with me, but I could not do it and threw the battery away…If I didn’t do it, they said I would go to hell,” [end of quote]. In that regard, we remain extremely concerned over the use of religious schools (madrasas) in the region where children are indoctrinated and deceived into carrying out terrorist acts.

We are also concerned about the loss of life and injury suffered by children during counter-terrorism operations, resulting mainly from the Taliban’s use of the civilian population as human shields. In that regard, we call on our international partners to exercise maximum caution and enhance coordination with Afghan security forces during counter-terrorism operations to avoid the loss of civilian life.

Mr. President,

Despite considerable progress in improving the lives of our children, as evident by the reduction in the rate of infant mortality by 85,000 per year, and increased access to health centers throughout the country, the humanitarian situation of our children remains dire, owing to the prevailing security situation. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan children lack basic necessities for a decent life. These include food, water, adequate shelter and sanitation facilities. Their situation is further complicated by the difficulty in accessing supplies and humanitarian assistance. In this regard, we welcome UNICEF’s latest appeal for financial assistance in support of the situation of our children.

Mr. President,

Addressing the protection of children in armed conflict requires the collective commitment of the

international community. It also necessitates a comprehensive strategy encompassing key pillars. As part of the effort to safeguard the rights of children, the international community should accord a special focus on poverty alleviation by rendering financial and economic assistance to post-conflict countries so as to enable them to meet their development goals. By doing so, we will meet the pre-conditions for creating an environment conducive for the sustainable human development and well-being of our children.

My delegation commends the work undertaken by the relevant agencies of the United Nations to protect and promote the rights of children in armed conflict, particularly the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). We are particularly grateful to UNICEF for its ongoing efforts in support of a better and brighter future for our children.

In conclusion, I would like to underscore the commitment of Afghanistan to ensure the protection of the rights of children in general, and we remain committed to support every measure, both within the Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations, to protect the rights of children in armed conflict. After all, by protecting our children, we are securing our future.

Thank you Mr. President.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan