Ghani, Abdullah Meet With Protest Representatives

President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah held a late night meeting with representatives of Wednesday’s demonstration and addressed some of their issues.

In an unprecedented move, the meeting was televised live to the nation and demonstration representatives from the central region of the country were given a chance to air their grievances.

One representative said they had met with high-ranking officials on a number of occasions in the past over their growing security concerns.

This meeting comes after tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday in protest over the beheading by Daesh of seven Zabul residents who had been kidnapped last month.

The representative said however that their requests – primarily around security – had gone unanswered for months and that in the past six months the situation had deteriorated substantially. “Even women are having to take turns to safeguard their areas.”

He said one of their main concerns was the lack of police presence in their districts.

Among the demands put to Ghani and Abdullah was that of general security as well as that along highways – especially between Zabul and Ghazni, which has been the scene of a number of kidnappings in recent months.

He also asked for more security forces to be stationed in the central region.

Another representative introduced some of the bereaved family members to the president and CEO – relatives who were clearly distraught over the latest incident.

He appealed to government to address their issues and said that if their problems are not resolved they will be forced to leave the central region.

He went on to say that the National Unity Government leaders had called on everyone in the country to vote for them but that once in power they turned their backs on those in need.

The representative then criticized Ghani and said that at no time did he see the so-called fair representation of ethnic groups employed within the Presidential Palace. He said he saw staff from only one group.

Second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq however came out in defense of Ghani and said on the day the seven were kidnapped he saw how concerned the president had been over the incident.

Mohaqiq went on to say that the nation needs to stay calm and that kidnappings were common across the country. He also said the people need to have faith in the government.

Mohaqiq stated that Wednesday’s demonstration had been planned by elements who had campaigned during last year’s elections but who had failed to win.

In answer to this, Ghani told those present that every Afghan has the right to criticize the president.

He said in answer to the ethnic issue that 160 security staff within the Presidential Palace are from the central region.

He did however admit that the government has many shortcomings but said they do not lack determination.

“Afghanistan has been through several phases of war and every day security force members sacrifice their lives for the country,” he said adding that it was the government’s duty to work towards peace and stability.

Ghani said: “All of Afghanistan is in mourning today (following the beheading of the Zabul Seven).”

He added that once again the enemy was at play – and was now trying to create ethnic divisions among the people.

He also appealed to the nation to abstain from slamming the government and said in doing so the people are inadvertently supporting the enemy.

“Government’s promises are not mere lip service,” he said adding that they were focusing on insecure areas where they are clearing insurgents.

He said the Interior Minister Noorulhaq Olomi has already been ordered to establish a police unit in Gilan district in Ghazni. He added that they will also look at establishing military units in other areas in the region.

Ghani said Wednesday’s protest march had been a high-risk suicide bombing target but that government had ensured no such attack happened.

In conclusion, Ghani called in a number of Presidential Palace staff members who represented all ethnic groups and pointed them out to the demonstration representatives.

In his address, CEO Abdullah Abdullah extended his condolences to the bereaved families of the Zabul Seven and said Wednesday’s demonstration had been a good opportunity for government to hear and feel the people’s pain.

Abdullah warned if the current government were to collapse thousands of additional problems would arise. He also said government will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to resolve issues faced by the people.

However, he emphasized that any bid to bring down government would not be in the best interests of the nation. He also said that attempts to bring down the government will not help the bereaved families, “instead it will increase their pain”.

In conclusion he urged the demonstrators to ensure the bodies of the Zabul Seven be buried as soon as possible.

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