Foremost, I wish the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, my compatriots at home and abroad, as well as anyone celebrating—a blessed, joyful, healthy, and peaceful Eid-al-Adha.

It is unfortunate that this year the global COVID-19 pandemic has prevented millions of Muslims from performing the Fifth Pillar of Islam: Hajj. Eid-al-Adha or the “feast of the sacrifice,” which follows the end of Hajj, essentially symbolizes an ultimate deed of Greater Jihad in submission to the will of God. In the global context, this means a call on the whole humankind to set aside our differences and to come together in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected millions around the world, including many Muslims that couldn’t live to celebrate this Eid-al-Adha.

In the Afghan context, the international Ulema have repeatedly called on the Taliban to heed the will of the Almighty for an end to over four decades of imposed conflicts and bloodshed in Afghanistan. This Eid-al-Adha, it is the desire and demand of every Afghan to see the three-day ceasefire between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban indefinitely extended—allowing for the immediate start of peace and reconciliation talks and concrete confidence-building between both sides towards achieving a sustainable political settlement. Indeed, such an outcome must allow Afghans to build further on their hard-earned gains of the past 19 years.

Eid-al-Adha Mubarak!

Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari

Colombo: - Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Minister of Foreign Relations of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardena held a friendly telephone conversation on June 24, 2020. They reviewed the status of growing Afghanistan-Sri Lanka relations and discussed a range of issues of mutual interest and concern. They especially took note of the ancient civilization ties, which underpin the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka friendship, and underscored the importance of building on the progress made since the establishment of direct diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2013. “Afghanistan is firmly committed to our strong bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, and we would like to see our ties further expanded and deepened based on our two countries’ shared foreign policy goals, including issues of security, peace, trade and investment, development and cultural cooperation, as well as collaboration in multilateral forums,” said Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari.

Moreover, to help ensure a region free from the threats of terrorism, extremism, and criminality, the Acting Foreign Minister highlighted the peace efforts of the Government of Afghanistan to reach a sustainable political settlement with the Taliban, while preserving the Islamic Republic as the key achievement of the Afghan people. He noted that success in these endeavors would not only end years of imposed war and violence in Afghanistan but would also help ensure regional stability as a precondition for the sustainable development of all South Asian nations.

Foreign Minister Gunawardena congratulated his Afghan counterpart on his ministerial appointment and reaffirmed the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to the further expansion of bilateral relations. In doing so, he pointed out the importance of implementing the signed MOUs and agreements, while highlighting others that have been initiated for bilateral signature, including a diplomatic visa waiver agreement. He also emphasized the importance of building further people-to-people ties through increased trade, cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges—which Acting Foreign Minister Atmar warmly welcomed. Moreover, both sides expressed solidarity with one another and offered to cooperate in the fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic. On labor migration, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are member-states of the Colombo Process and Abu Dhabi Dialogue (ADD), which the two Foreign Ministers took note of and reaffirmed their commitment to further cooperation on all labor migration issues.

Foreign Minister Gunawardena extended an invitation to his Afghan counterpart to pay an official visit to Colombo for signing some of the pending MOUs and agreements, as soon as the COVID-19 conditions allowed. Acting Foreign Minister Atmar welcomed the invitation, as he also invited his counterpart to visit Kabul whenever his schedule allowed.

Afghanistan’s 62 years of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka began on November 1, 1958 when the two countries first initiated non-resident diplomatic ties. This was elevated in 2013 when the two countries opened diplomatic missions in Kabul and Colombo. 

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As we bid farewell to the holy month of Ramadan—a time when every believer is reminded to practice deeds of compassion, charity, forgiveness, reconciliation, and detachment from worldly greed—the three days of Eid-ul-Fitr is a time of both reflection on those deeds and celebration of festivities. In this light, I wish the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, my compatriots at home and abroad, as well as anyone celebrating—a blessed, joyful, and peaceful Eid-ul-Fitr.

In Afghanistan, there is no better and greater opportunity than Eid-ul-Fitr for a humanitarian ceasefire, which should usher in the start of the national reconciliation process. The people of Afghanistan have suffered from decades of imposed conflicts, as our beautiful homeland has seen much destruction. That is why peace is now the desire of every Afghan and the end of war their ultimate dream.

With such broad consensus in the Afghan society and polity, more bloodshed and destruction, which have characterized the recent weeks and months, must end. This is consistent with the steady peace efforts of the Afghan government and repeated calls from the United Nations Secretary-General, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, international Ulema leaders, Afghanistan’s friends and partners in the region and around the world.

Indeed, without an end to senseless violence, it is hard to imagine how the spread of the deadly COVID-19 could be contained and mitigated, which I discussed in a recent article on “A Ceasefire for Eid, Peace, and Fighting COVID-19 in Afghanistan.”

Eid-ul-Fitr Mubarak!

Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari

 

Colombo: - This morning, Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari was happy to present an autographed photo of President Ashraf Haidari to Dr. T. M. Zameer Careem, a Sri Lankan of Afghan descent, who had requested it for adding to his collection of the autographed photos of world leaders.

He takes immense pride in his Afghan ancestral identity and roots. His forefathers hailed from Afghanistan, who, like Kabuliwalas, traveled to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka for trade. Some of them subsequently settled down and locally married.

They used to have an association before 1940s which no longer exists. Dr. Careem has extensively written about "the forgotten Afghans of Sri Lanka." Here is one of his recent works, shedding light on the depth and still growing ties between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

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Colombo: - Yesterday, Ambasasdor M. Ashraf Haidari concurrently published an OPED in The Diplomat Magazine and the Tolo News, discussing a topic of vital importance to the  national security of Afghanistan, regional stability, and international peace and security: "A Ceasefire for Eid, Peace and Fighting COVID-19 in Afghanistan." The full text of the OPED is below and can also be accessed here.

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May 4, 2020

The Diplomat 

A Ceasefire for Eid, Peace, and Fighting COVID-19 in Afghanistan 

By M. Ashraf Haidari 

Days before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, violence had already escalated in March, taking the lives and limbs of hundreds of innocent civilians across Afghanistan. But Afghans were hoping that there would be a pause, if the Taliban honored their own words on the essence of the month of Ramadan as a period when Muslims must carry out deeds of compassion, charity, forgiveness, reconciliation, piety, and struggle against worldly greed and selfishness as a “Greater Jihad.” Unfortunately, that hope was soon dashed, as the Taliban continued escalating violence, targeting innocent civilians — including women, children, and infants — throughout Ramadan. 

In April alone, the Taliban killed 141 civilians and wounded 285 others. And since they signed the peace deal with the United States last February, they have carried out 3,712 attacks in almost every region of Afghanistan, killing 469 and wounding 948 others. The United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) separately reported that the first quarter of 2020 tragically witnessed 1,293 civilian casualties across Afghanistan. 

On May 12, the world amid a deadly pandemic was shocked when a maternity ward in Kabul was attacked, indiscriminately killing 24 mothers, babies at birth, and medical personnel. On the same day, a funeral procession was attacked in Nangarhar, which killed another 19 innocent mourners and wounded many more. Evidence and intelligence gathered by the Afghan government show the Taliban were behind both attacks. 

Since May 14, when the Taliban claimed a suicide truck bomb in Gardez that killed 5 and injured another 33 civilians, there have been many more small- and large-scale terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets — causing more bloodshed and destruction across Afghanistan.

It is because of escalating violence by the Taliban that the Afghan government had to remove our armed forces from their months-long defensive posture, enabling them to go on offensive in the fight against terrorism and in defense of our suffering civilian population. 

At the same time, however, the Afghan government has kept our door open for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire followed by peace talks. 

This was first called for by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, when he urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19. Since then, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the European Union (EU), national and international ulema leaders, and many countries have repeatedly called on the Taliban to observe a humanitarian ceasefire in Afghanistan.

Expectedly, however, the Taliban have so far ignored international appeals for a ceasefire to address the COVID-19 crisis. In direct terms, this has inevitably diverted attention and resources from responding to the pandemic as effectively as possible. Indirectly, the brutality of daily atrocities committed by the Taliban has completely preoccupied the Afghan people with protection from terrorist attacks, at the cost of their adhering to the lockdown measures by the Afghan government to contain the spread of COVID-19. When I last wrote an op-ed, titled “Only Peace Can Avert a COVID-19 Catastrophe in Afghanistan” on April 6, only 299 Afghans had tested positive in 20 provinces, while only six Afghans had died of the virus. But as a direct and indirect result of the Taliban’s refusal to cease violence over the past two months, 8,145 Afghans have tested positive and 187 have died of COVID-19 so far. In the weeks and months ahead, these numbers will double and triple, if violence does not end to allow for the current and future lockdown and mitigation measures to make the intended impact.  

Moreover, Afghanistan’s already weak economy has been badly hit by the COVID-19 measures at home and abroad. This has further impoverished an already destitute nation of numerous vulnerable groups, especially youth — both educated and not — who remain vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In sum, a failure to cease violence will not only cost Afghanistan more lives from COVID-19, but it will also continue fueling the killing machine that is terrorism.

This grim situation can hardly be remedied when the Taliban and their affiliated terrorist and criminal groups continue enjoying safe havens and operational support in our neighborhood. “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond,” U.S. President Donald Trump said when he announced a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August 2017. A few days ago on May 19, U.S. Department of Defense Lead Inspector General reported to the U.S. Congress that “Pakistan continues to harbor the Taliban and associated militant groups in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network, which maintains the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan interests.”

The key challenge confronting the Afghan peace process remains the externality of the terror campaign in Afghanistan rather than a traditionally home-grown insurgency. In case of the latter when warring parties reach a stalemate in conflict, they initiate peace talks by mutually committing to a comprehensive ceasefire as a concrete confidence-building measure, assuring each other of their firm commitment to ending the war and reaching a negotiated political settlement. In case of the former, which has been the status quo in Afghanistan, terrorists can endlessly be instrumentalized by state-actors with the means to keep the war machine going. Unless this peace-spoiling behavior changes in favor of genuine, sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it is hard to imagine how calendar-driven peace efforts could bear fruit on the short and long runs.

Despite this realization, however, the Afghan government has continued to do our part, making every genuine effort for peace: From maintaining a months-long defensive posture to releasing over 1,000 Taliban prisoners, fielding an inclusive negotiation team, fighting COVID-19, and protecting civilians from daily terrorist attacks. Moreover, for the sake of peace as a desire and demand of every Afghan, on May 17, Afghan leaders signed a political agreement, which established the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) and ended the political impasse that had resulted from last September’s elections.

In Islam, there is probably no better opportunity to make peace and reconcile with one’s adversaries than on the days of Eid-ul-Fitr. As Muslims, the Taliban leaders in Doha and Quetta know that the reward from the Almighty for doing so is manifold, if they genuinely believe in the “Greater Jihad,” which best captures the essence of Islam. And, indeed, there is no better time than Eid-ul-Fitr to honor international calls, including that of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, for a humanitarian ceasefire, which should end months of deadly violence and to facilitate the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks, following a celebration of an Eid-ul-Fitr free from fear and terror.   

Doing so will save Afghan lives — including those of the Taliban and their families — from both a continuation of deadly conflicts and COVID-19. The latter does not distinguish between any Afghans, indiscriminately infecting and killing them alike. But a failure to cease violence for the sake of Eid-ul-Fitr, peace, and COVID-19 will tragically claim more innocent lives and destroy more of beautiful Afghanistan, which the Taliban call their homeland — our shared “watan.” Now is the time to announce a humanitarian ceasefire and to begin in earnest the process of national reconciliation on three peaceful and joyful days of Eid-ul-Fitr.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka. He formerly served as the Director-General of Policy and Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Assistant National Security Adviser of Afghanistan. He recently served as a Senior International Security Fellow at New America in Washington-DC and is currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the ORF in New Delhi, the AISS in Kabul, and the INSSSL in Colombo. He tweets at @MAshrafHaidari

***

Colombo: - In an interview with the TOLONEWS Bamdade Khush show on May 6, 2020, Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari discussed the status of Afghan refugees in Sri Lanka amid the COVID-19 crisis. He pointed out that no Afghan refugee had so far tested positive, and that they were following closely the lockdown restrictions announced by the Government of Sri Lanka, which the social media pages and website of the Afghan Embassy in Colombo frequently update to keep all Sri Lanka-based Afghan citizens informed.

He noted that when and if an Afghan refugee showed symptoms of COVID-19, they could immediately contact one of the designated hospitals for COVID-19 testing and treatment at no cost. He encouraged all Afghan citizens to stay in touch with their Embassy, while noting that Afghan refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Colombo, which provides them with necessary legal and protection services and that no Afghan refugee had any major legal problem in Sri Lanka, unlike some other countries. On their financial situation, he noted that they were mostly assisted by the UNHCR, as well as receiving some support from their relatives in developed countries.

Ambassador Haidari estimated that there could be some 300 Afghan refugees in Sri Lanka, while about the same number have been resettled in third safe countries since the terrorist attacks of April 2019 in Sri Lanka. Given the prevailing insecurity in Afghanistan, Ambassador Haidari said he had worked with the former President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to ensure that no Afghan refugee would be deported, following the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka. This helped expedite their applications for resettlement in several friendly countries, which Ambassador Haidari thanked for their ongoing security and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan where an imposed terror campaign doesn’t allow the voluntary return of Afghan refugees.

***

On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I extend our wishes of peace and joy to all Sri Lankans, who celebrate the Vesak Day.

The essence of Ramadan reminds us that the Buddhist and Muslim communities across the world share values of compassion, charity, self-struggle, peace, tolerance, and co-existence. Indeed, there is no better time than now, during the global COVID-19 crisis, to practice these shared values towards one another and the whole human-family. That may be the best way to honor these values and to celebrate the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, this Vesak.

May you all enjoy a peaceful, joyful, and self-enlightening Vesak weekend.

Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari - May 7, 2020

Curfew:

Curfew will remain in effect across the island with changes notified at short notice. Once curfew is lifted, we advise all Afghan citizens to travel within the country only if deemed necessary and to wear a mask and gloves when stepping outdoors.

Extension of Visas:

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has extended the validity period of all types of visas issued to foreign nationals who are currently residing in Sri Lanka till June 11, 2020. The visa holders must pay the relevant visa fee and get the visa endorsed in the passport before June 11, 2020. In order to do this, please make an appointment to visit the department of Immigration and Emigration via this link. Please follow this link to view further instruction on visiting the department. Kindly note that all visas which expire between March 07, 2020 - June 11, 2020 will be exempted from paying an overstay penalty. 

- The Department of Immigration and Emigration.

International Travel:

While we understand that there are few to no flights, going to Afghanistan, we strongly encourage Afghan citizens to depart as soon as possible, since you may be forced to remain outside Afghanistan for an indefinite period of time. We urge Afghan citizens to work with your airlines to make travel arrangements to depart when flights become available.

If you intend to travel during the aforementioned period, your journey will be facilitated by paying the relevant visa fee at the airport without a penalty.

Travel to the airport for passengers holding tickets will be permitted. Passengers are required to show their passports and tickets at checkpoints and cab drivers will be allowed to return from the airport if they have a copy of their passenger’s ticket. 

The following hotlines have been established by the Government of Sri Lanka for tourists, who are facing problems scheduling transportation to the airport for departure:

+94 (011) 244-4480

+94 (011) 244-4481

+94 (011) 597-8730

+94 (011) 597-8734

+94 (011) 597-8720

Testing Positive for COVID-19 in Sri Lanka:

In the event Afghan citizens test positive for COVID-19, they may be placed and treated in quarantine in selected local hospitals. Kindly note that the Embassy will not be able visit patients at the hospital or to secure the release of the patient until their complete recovery.

Country Information: 

Sri Lanka currently has 649 COVID-19 patients. 

Please follow this link to view the daily local and global updates from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health. 

Kindly follow all Sri Lankan Government instructions on curfew and travel, which will be updated at short notice.

Entry and Exit Requirements:

·        

All On-arrival visas have been suspended until further notice.

·        

Since March 17, 2020 all International Airports in the country are closed to arriving International Commercial Passenger Flights until further notice.

·        

Passengers with tickets will be authorized to travel to the airport and pay their relevant visa fee at the airport without a penalty.

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Disembarking from ships and small vessels will not be authorized–for both passengers and crew.

For Assistance:

Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Colombo-Sri Lanka

Phone: 011 268 3452 / 076 478 1117

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for consular sercices and information. 

Click Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari to contact him for any urgent and emergency assisance.  

Useful Links:

For WHO on Sri Lanka, click here.

For Department of Immigration and Emigration, click here

For Bandaranaiyake International Airport, click here.

 

***

Colombo: - In a recent wide-ranging interview with the Eye-Channel with national and global coverage, Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari discussed the fast growing Afghanistan-Sri Lanka relations in a regional context filled with opportunities and challenges, which Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, as the member-states of SAARC, could collaborate together and with others to address and take advantage of.

In this interview, he highlights the background of the Afghanistan-Sri Lanka relations; the status of these ties, opportunities for security and defense cooperation; business and investment opportunities; as well as the importance of further enhancing cultural cooperation and people-to-people ties through tourism and higher education, among others. 

Watch the full interview on YouTube here.

Related to this interview, read one of Ambassador Haidari's early articles on "Afghanistan and Sri Lanka: Natural Partners in Democracy and Development."

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Colombo: - On April 14, 2020, Ambassador M. Ashraf Haidari interviewed via Skype with Ariana News, discussing in Dari/Farsi the global COVID-19 pandemic and the need for public cooperation to prevent its spread in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. In doing so, he discussed the response of the Sri Lankan government and people to the contagious virus and the lessons that can be learned from this and other contexts for an even more effective response in Afghanistan's much more complex context where an ongoing imposed war has so far hindered the government's efforts to implement its well-defined strategy in the fight against COVID-19. 

Watch the full interview here.

Related to his interview, Ambassador Haidari recently published an article on "Only Peace Can Avert a COVID-19 Catastrophe in Afghanistan." 

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