A new law designed to regulate Afghanistan's nascent mining sector could increase corruption, lead to forced displacements and even allow armed groups to take control of the sector, transparency groups have warned. The law, passed by parliament earlier this month, is likely to lead to the signing of several key deals to extract the country’s newfound minerals—estimated to be worth as much as $3 trillion. Yet the transparency organization Global Witness warned that the law "does not include basic safeguards against corruption and conflict." Government officials deny the claim, saying that further protections are to be written in later. Afghanistan's discovery of huge reserves of key minerals in recent years has raised hopes of a bounty of deals that could potentially help the country’s economy grow, and stabilize the country, following the pullout of US troops at the end of 2014. Yet the bids have been delayed by what were perceived as an unfriendly legal framework for business. Sayed Hashemi, legal director at the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, said a previous law signed in 2010 was seen as too tough on companies as it did not allow them to turn exploration licenses into exploitation. "No investor was interested to come into Afghanistan," he told IRIN. Hashemi said the new law is intended to make investing easier.
Ground combat engagements have surpassed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the most common cause of conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported (PDF) July 9. The report states that in the first six months of 2014, 1,901 civilian casualties, including 474 deaths, were attributed to ground engagements, accounting for 39% of all civilian deaths and injuries in that period. IEDs, previously the most common cause of civilian injuries, caused 1,463 civilian casualties in the same period. "The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans," said director of human rights for UNAMA, Georgette Gagnon. "More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them." The report laid out an action plan for "Afghan Government Forces" and "International Military Forces" as well as "Anti-Government Elements" to reduce civilian casualties.
The European Union (EU) on July 3 called on Afghanistan to conduct a more extensive investigation into vote-rigging in their presidential election. The following day the Independent Election Commission (IEC) supervising the race postponed the release of the preliminary results of the election while it recounts votes from nearly 2,000 polling sites. Candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani both have claimed victory after the outcome of the June 14 run-off election. EU Election Assessment Team chief observer Thijs Berman told reporters, "If you would use these factors as well and investigate all polling stations...on the basis of these factors you may well end up concluding that over 6,000 polling stations in the country need a thorough investigation."
Six suspected militants were killed in a presumed US drone strike on Miranshah Tehsil in North Waziristan, Pakistan, June 18. This time, the drone attack comes amid Pakistani air-strikes on militant strongholds in the region—causing 150,000 to flee their homes in recent days. A camp for displaced people has been set up near Bannu, on the border with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, but it lacks food, water and electricity. The Pakistan Army has mobilized tanks and troops, in addition to fighter jets, and is expected to begin a new, more intense phase of what has been dubbed "Operation Zarb-e-Azb" after a three-day window to allow civilians to leave the area ends. Chinese authoriites claim that Uighur members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are among the militants killed in the Pakistani air-strikes. (Newsweek Pakistan, June 20; CNN, BBC News, June 19; Xinhua, June 15)
US drone strikes on two targets in North Waziristan June 12, ending a nearly six-month halt in the Pakistan drone campaign. The strikes killed at least 16 presumed militants in the villages of Dargah Mandi and Danda Darpa Khel, both outisde the tribal districts' main town of Miramshah. Dargah Mandi is said to be a stronghold of the Haqqani Network. Four of the six killed there were said to be Uzbeks. The strikes came just days after the Taliban launched a deadly attack on Karachi airport that killed 37 people. That attack ended a tentative peace process with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, who in 2007 launched an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. (Dawn, June 12; Long War Journal, June 11)
The Islamabad High Court on June 5 ordered the arrest of former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official Jonathan Banks for his involvement in a 2009 drone strike that killed civilians. Kareem Khan, whose brother and son were killed in the drone strike in Waziristan, had petitioned the court to charge Banks with murder. Banks left Pakistan in 2010 after his identity was revealed and is unlikely to return to Pakistan to face charges. Nevertheless, activists such as the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, which represented Khan, welcomed the ruling and expressed hope that it would set a precedent for additional charges against US officials.
US President Barack Obama announced May 31 that prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl had been released into US custody in exchange for five detainees held at Guantánamo Bay. Bergdahl was the only confirmed US prisoner of war from the conflict in Afghanistan remaining in enemy custody. The Obama administration brokered the deal for Bergdahl's exchange through the Qatari government; once Bergdahl was secured, five high-profile Guantánamo Bay detainees, including the former head of the Taliban army, were transferred to Qatar. Republicans in the US Senate and House of Representatives criticized the exchange, which had been conducted in violation of a law requiring the president to notify Congress 30 days before any detainees are transferred from Guantanamo bay (PDF). The Obama administration maintains that the provision of the law requiring the notification is an unconstitutional violation on his rights as Commander-in-Chief (signing statement, PDF).
Pakistan government jet fighters bombed what were said to be militant strongholds in North Waziristan early on May 21, killing at least 60 people—including insurgent commanders, officials said. A further 30 are confirmed injured in what a government spokesman called "precise aerial strikes." The statement said the taregted militants were "involved in recent attacks including a blast at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Peshawar, bomb attacks in Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions…and attacks on security forces convoys in NWA (North Waziristan). The strikes were carried out in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, and the villages of Mir Ali, Datta Khel and Ghulam Ali. On April 17, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan announced that it would not extend a 40-day-ceasefire, but would keep the dialogue option open provided the government took steps indicating "clear progress" on its two key demands of a demilitarized zone and release of non-combatant prisoners. (Dawn, Pakistan Express-Tribune, May 21