Posts Tagged ‘Ashraf Ghani’

Afghanistan on the brink: Can the Taliban negotiate with Kabul?

April 16, 2018

Taliban controls or contests 43 per cent of Afghanistan’s districts. Can they sue for peace?

By Shahab ud Din Ahmad

An Afghan security officer in Jalalabad, Afghanistan | AP
An Afghan security officer in Jalalabad, Afghanistan | AP

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered the Taliban talks without preconditions and with the possibility of political recognition. And the US State Department has supported the announcement despite President Donald Trump earlier pointing towards an increase in military pressure on the insurgency. This comes amid reports released last year by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) stating that the Taliban controlled or contested 43 per cent of Afghanistan’s districts.

The focus on what international actors can do to facilitate the process is warranted given their history of involvement in the country’s affairs. However, there is an equally urgent need to debate whether ‘peace’ with the Afghan Taliban is achievable on the ground. This has a great deal to do with the insurgency’s political, military and organisational outlook and whether it is willing to or even able to negotiate an enforceable agreement with Kabul in the future.

I focus on two particular aspects of the insurgency in this regard. The impact that the organisational growth and subsequent factionalism can have on the peace process, and the insurgency’s relations with civilian populations as a lens through which to speculate on the prospects for structural and attitudinal changes that might facilitate a peace process.

PART I: Fragmentation, factionalism and the prospects for negotiations

Put simply, fragmented, factionalised and undisciplined insurgencies can prove to be impossible to negotiate with. A lack of guarantees and poor enforcement mechanisms on part of the rebel forces impede the peace process and elongate violence.

Over the years, despite maintaining its ideological coherence, the insurgency has fragmented as its loci of operations have expanded from the south and the east into northern and western Afghanistan. This ‘fragmentation’ has manifested itself in the shape of disputes over the makeup of the central leadership (Quetta Shura), creation of separate governance and control structures and different viewpoints over negotiations with Kabul. Decentralisation and differences of opinion have always existed but the public acknowledgement of Mullah Omer’s death has accentuated the broader fragmentation dynamic, especially along regional lines.

According to a recent report, the insurgency has four main shuras (Quetta Shura, Mashhad Shura, Shura of the North and the Rasool Shura) — a form of leadership council that presides over and controls different Taliban organisations. The ‘old guard’ is based out of the Quetta Shura that has authority over the Miranshah Shura (primarily the Haqqani Network) and the Peshawar Shura. A first source of factionalism can be identified in the divergence of opinions and the emergence of dissidents within this arrangement.

In 2007, the Miranshah Shura declared independence from the Quetta Shura and in 2009 the Peshawar Shura followed suit. The Peshawar Shura, beleaguered by financial difficulties without the support of the central leadership, re-joined in 2016. The Haqqanis re-joined in 2015, only after Sirajuddin Haqqani was promised the role of deputy leader within the Quetta Shura. As of 2017, there seemed to be an ongoing struggle for monopolising control of the Quetta Shura between Haibatullah Akhundzada, his predecessor’s cousin Obaidullah Ishaqzai, and the increasingly dominant Sirajudin Haqqani.

Antonio Giustozzi (who has had access to the leadership of the various shuras and authored the report mentioned earlier), reported that Haibatullah was willing to negotiate with the government and expand non-military activities. On the other hand, hardliners Sirajudin and Obaidullah opposed reconciliation with Kabul and held opposition to attempts by some to open up to Iran.

A second and more prominent feature of the fragmentation is the increasing regional autonomy between the various shuras. At the leadership level, none of the other shuras recognise the authority of the Quetta Shura completely. The Shura of the North only occasionally consults and cooperates with the Quetta Shura and usually only for large-scale military manoeuvres. It cooperates much more readily with the Mashhad Shura. Between 2015 and 2017 the Rasool Shura (that refuses allegiance to Quetta Shura’s leadership) and the Quetta Shura engaged in armed clashes against one another.

The Quetta Shura blamed the Rasool Shura of being pro-negotiations. In an interview in 2015, then leader of the Rasool Shura, Mullah Rasool, stated that he was not opposed to negotiations with Kabul in principle, but was critical of the monopolisation of the peace process by the Quetta Shura and the levy this allowed to the Pakistani authorities. Furthermore, the governance structures the insurgency has employed have also been run separately by the respective shuras. For instance, the Quetta Shura, the Rasool Shura and the Shura of the North have their own respective military, justice and education commissions.

If the fragmentation persists or becomes more acute, achieving peace will become more difficult. Peace selectively established with certain factions will increase the propensity of others to act as ‘spoilers’ — a phenomenon shown to impact the peace process detrimentally and elongate violence. Factions co-opted by the Kabul government could face retribution from those left out or those not willing to negotiate. Regional stakeholders could amplify the process by channelling external support along factional lines.

It seems that Taliban commanders willing to talk to Kabul are apprehensive of retribution from hardliners within the movement as well as elements within the Pakistani security apparatus. Some events if taken into perspective seem to support this view. In 2010, Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar’s deputy, was arrested in Pakistan while in the middle of negotiations with President Hamid Karzai’s brother, a claim Pakistan denied.

In 2013, Pakistan released Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior Taliban military commander in southern Afghanistan, following requests from Kabul to expedite the peace process. By 2015, Dadullah had openly voiced his refusal to accept Akhtar Mansoor as the leader and by November that year his death was reported as a result of armed clashes between the two factions in Zabul. Similarly, Mullah Rasool was ‘detained’ under mysterious circumstances while in Pakistan during 2016. Divided opinion over Mansoor’s stance led to his demise in a drone strike.

Overall, two trends seem to appear. Factional leaders that have some ability to assert independence from the dominant Quetta Shura seem to be interested in engagement with Kabul and other regional actors. However, if seen to be acting too independently they run the risk of retribution from the central leadership. For now, it also seems that to be classified a ‘moderate’ within the movement increasingly runs a high-risk for a majority of Taliban commanders.

The Quetta Shura and the Pakistani authorities seemingly hold a disposition towards sidelining those guilty of insubordination and trying to preserve a united front that would mean negotiations on their terms. Secondly, and what makes the prospects grimmer is that if assessed according to military capability, the strongest factions have been least disposed towards engagement with Kabul. Any judgement about the future remains speculative, but it is unlikely that the Taliban can present a united front for negotiations as things stand.

Part II: Prospects for structural and attitudinal changes

Avenues to establish some meaningful dialogue are only slowly emerging. Despite recent promises, in the long run, it is impractical to expect a prolonged and active role of foreign troops in combating the Taliban. Strategically, this might benefit the insurgency as it will put greater pressure on the fledgling Afghan security forces.

However, in the long-run, the Taliban will also lose the legitimacy they derive by voicing their ‘resistance to foreign occupation’ narrative. In the northern and eastern parts of the country, defection by smaller commanders to the ‘Islamic State’ bandwagon has also provided an opportunity for the government, the US and the Taliban to align their short-term priorities. Opinion is divided regarding whether the factional engagement witnessed so far is a genuine effort for a political settlement or mere propaganda. Actions seem to speak louder than words. Attacks by the Taliban increased in 2017 compared to the previous year and given the bigger picture of the war, the insurgency seems stable.

Nonetheless, should things move forward, we must consider the possibility of a DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) approach for Taliban fighters and the prospects of the leadership converting itself into a party organisation of sorts (structural changes). We must also consider to what extent the Taliban can engage with civilian populations and dull down their ideological orthodoxy that has so far resulted in their irredeemable labelling as pariahs of global politics and Afghanistan’s history (attitudinal changes).

Structural changes

The Taliban have two categories of fighters; Taliban allied militias that are largely recruited by cutting deals with local strongmen and, a second category of ‘regular’ fighters, directly and firmly under the control of military commissions. Given that the central leadership might enjoy less control over loosely affiliated militia commanders provides the government an opportunity to ‘switch’ them. In fact, the history of the conflict gives some evidence of such an eventuality. During the war against the mujahedeen, the Soviet-backed Najibullah government launched a policy of ‘national reconciliation’ that involved ‘switching’ local commanders and their militias over to the state.

KhAD (State Intelligence Agency) and the National Fatherland Front (NFF) were fairly successful in some areas. However, the policy was predicated on the expectation to turn these militias into pro-government forces, still under the individual control of their leaders. This resulted in a major problem of indiscipline, looting and local feuding that further alienated the government. If the current government can engage some loosely controlled pro-Taliban militias, it must impose better top-down mechanisms associated with the DDR approach.

Secondly, the central leadership of the Taliban is quite aware of the historicity of this phenomenon and has taken measures to preclude the process. Increasingly, the central leadership is formally integrating semi-autonomous units into formal units directly under the control of military commissions. Coherence and ability to control factions might prove to be the key towards establishing meaningful peace. In this sense, a greater emphasis towards institutionalisation efforts on part of the Taliban might make it easier to monitor and implement a peace process should a deal be reached at the top.

As far as the ability of the leadership to convert itself into a party organisation goes, the Taliban are opposed to democracy on ideological grounds which is the most significant bulwark. However, the leadership has reportedly been divided over launching big attacks targeting electoral processes, despite reports of rank-and-file Taliban acting coercively. This is more due to strategy since, as early as the 2004-05 elections, the Taliban were trying to get sympathisers to positions of power via local politicking. If they claim the support of various communities in Afghanistan, the government can emphasise pro-negotiation ‘commanders’ seek to become ‘politicians’.

Structurally, this might be achievable. The state-building project post-2001 did not set a high bar for conversion from ‘commander’ to politician. Numerous warlords of the 1990s were given positions within the new Kabul government. Changes beyond military adaptation have been rare in the Taliban’s past but not entirely absent.

The insurgents have also created various governance structures in areas they now ‘hold’. The most prominent of these are the various Local Commissions (overseeing shadow provincial and district governors), Justice Commissions (overseeing sharia courts), Companies Commissions (that oversee taxation of local economic activity), NGOs Commissions (that monitor NGOs’ adherence to Taliban rules) and the Education Commissions (that run madrasas and increasingly state-sponsored schools under the Taliban’s curriculum).

The Taliban’s ability to maintain these governance structures is variable across different areas of Afghanistan and, as discussed earlier, also victim to fragmentation between the shuras. When compared to other protracted insurgencies around the world that faced the possibility of being ‘mainstreamed’ in the context of their respective cases, the Taliban’s attempt at ‘rebel governance’ is nominal and fairly limited. This is amplified by divisions within the central leadership with respect to allocation of funds to military versus non-military avenues. Regardless, as the phenomenon of ‘parallel government structures’ metastasizes, the power calculus dictating any attempts towards power-sharing becomes increasingly complicated and impalpable.

Attitudinal changes

In terms of political strategy, the insurgency has relied on zoning in on and exploiting governance shortcomings and local rivalries between communities. It has empowered old friends who sided with it in the 1990s, sided with communities and leaders left out of positions of power in the new Kabul government, and recruited among communities coerced by state and coalition forces. Strong Pashtun tribal leadership at the clan level in the east has been coerced whereas as that of the south has been engaged with a ‘carrot and stick’ policy under which some elders have cooperated to win advantage over local rivals.

Generally, however, relations with the tribal elders have not been good — an aspect that represents the broader ideological and social division between the mullah class and the traditional authority of the Khans of Pashtun tribal areas. The insurgency does not represent broad tribal divisions (such as Ghilzais versus Durranis) or sub-tribal affiliations. It did make the most of how the transition of power resulted in the marginalisation of and retribution against previously pro-Taliban communities, but over time has shown a willingness to co-opt anyone who agrees to its rules and opposes the Kabul government.

In terms of ethnic representation, despite remaining predominantly Pashtun, some change has been witnessed as expansion into north-eastern Afghanistan has meant that co-opting Tajik commanders has become inevitable. Another important factor in gaining civilian support has been the Taliban’s ‘pay tax, but free market’ attitude towards poppy cultivation and other economic activity in areas they hold.

The military strategy of the insurgency has evolved over time and is different when the mode of operations in rural and urban areas is contrasted. Often the insurgents let the locals know about an impending attack in villages, allowing them to evacuate. The insurgents have done so with the aim of improving their public standing and ancillary activities. In any case, compared to the proclivities of the mujahedeen parties during the 1990s, the Taliban have maintained a much more disciplined military outlook. Active reliance on mullah networks for intelligence collection and the use of intimidation tactics (for example, the ‘night letters’) has remained a regular feature of how the insurgents develop control mechanisms. Affiliates of the Taliban no longer indiscriminately target sectarian minorities in large-scale attacks as they did in the 1990s. This has been a strategic move to distinguish itself from the ISIS/L affiliates.

The Taliban’s ‘rulebook’, called the ‘Layeha’, prohibits harassment of civilians and raiding houses without permission from commanders. However, as the insurgency has grown geographically and fragmented, it remains to be seen to what extent behaviour can be monitored and controlled from the top down. Mining of roads and attacks on urban centres have inevitably produced scores of civilian casualties and have never been preceded by warnings. Targeted assassinations have also abounded. Even when the insurgency claims to be targeting only government targets and international forces, the collateral damage has been significant. The memory of violence carries on in the minds of the Afghan populace. This might make it difficult for the public at large to display any sympathy for the Taliban even if the government is willing to negotiate.

Conclusion

It is always easier to make peace with an insurgency that has a high degree of institutionalisation and a coherent control structure. Institutionalisation facilitates the implementation of a peace process. Afghanistan is not at a ‘post-conflict’ stage by any means, however, the ‘stalemate’ is becoming increasingly apparent.

The Taliban were unable to control any provincial capitals in 2016-17. SIGAR reports that districts changing hands between Taliban and government control in a matter of weeks is a recurrent phenomenon. This is a clear sign of how neither side seems to be able to make any decisive gains that could point towards an impending ‘victory’. If the ‘hardliners’ within the various parties to the conflict refuse to acknowledge such a reading of events, the impetus towards fragmentation within the insurgency will escalate in the future and so will the violence.

If the Taliban wish to function as a political enterprise, further attitudinal and structural changes are required. The Taliban must recognize the evolving landscape of the conflict and make such pragmatic concessions and changes. Prolonged emphasis on excessive coercion, affiliations with foreign fighters and the ‘image problem’ associated with dependence on Pakistan will not stand well in the context of transitioning to a political enterprise in Afghanistan’s domestic politics.

These factors if left unaddressed could also prove to be sources of disagreement within the leadership, adding a degree of permanence to the fragmentation dynamic discussed above. The roots of the conflict date back to the decades of the Cold War. The current generation of foot soldiers on both sides have grown up witnessing little other than protracted violence and turmoil in their country.

Memories of violence, oral histories of antagonisms between communities, and a general lack of trust among various actors are all realities of where we stand now. War has gone on for far too long. The violence must stop first and concessions will have to come from both sides. Regional and international actors that can facilitate a dialogue must re-think what purpose reliance on more warfare would serve in the long-run. As President Ashraf Ghani aptly put it, “let’s not remain prisoners of the past and let’s secure our future with the aim not to win the war, but to end it…”

Shahab Ud Din Ahmad is a teaching fellow at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

https://herald.dawn.com/news/1398520/afghanistan-on-the-brink-can-the-taliban-negotiate-with-kabul

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Is Russia arming the Afghan Taliban?

April 3, 2018

BBC News

April 2, 2018

Image result for Gen John Nicholson, photos

Gen. John Nicholson

The US accuses Russia of trying to destabilise Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban. Senior US officials have been saying for months that Moscow is even supplying the militants with weapons.

Russia and the Taliban, who are historic foes, deny the charges. They come amid what some observers see as a “new Cold War” – so how much truth is there to the US claims?

What is the US alleging?

In a BBC interview in late March, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson alleged that Russian weapons were being smuggled across the Tajik border to the Taliban.

He accused Russia of exaggerating the number of Islamic State (IS) fighters in Afghanistan “to legitimise the actions of the Taliban and provide some degree of support to the Taliban”.

“We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and [they] said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,” he said.

Some Afghan police and military officials told the BBC that the Russian military equipment includes night-vision goggles, medium and heavy machine guns, and small arms.

Who agrees?

US officials have accused Moscow of supporting the Taliban for more than a year. In December 2016 Gen Nicholson criticised Russia and Iran for establishing links with the Taliban and “legitimising” the group.

Since then a number of high-ranking US officials, mainly military, have made similar claims, some suggesting Russia is also arming the Taliban.

General John Nicholson pictured at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on October 23, 2017.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionGeneral John Nicholson has accused Russia and Iran of “legitimising” the Taliban

But a number of US and Nato officials have been more cautious.

Testifying at a Senate hearing in May 2017, US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt-Gen Vincent R Stewart said: “I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred.”

US Defense Secretary James Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee in October 2017 that he wanted to see more evidence about the level of Russian support for the Taliban, adding that what he had seen “doesn’t make sense”.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is on record saying, in July 2017, “we haven’t seen any proofs, any confirmed information about that kind of support”.

For its part Tajikistan has denied funnelling Russian weapons to the Taliban, calling Gen Nicholson’s claim “groundless”.

What’s the view of Afghan officials?

The Afghan authorities have also given contradictory statements.

A few provincial officials have been explicit in alleging Moscow’s military support for the Taliban. But the spokesman for Afghanistan’s chief executive officer (CEO) said in May 2017 that there was no evidence.

Last October President Ashraf Ghani publicly taunted the Taliban for accepting Russian guns.

However, his defence minister said the following month that such reports were just “rumours” and “we don’t have evidence”.

What do Russia and the Taliban say?

Moscow and the Taliban deny the US claims that they are working together. They separately rejected Gen Nicholson’s comments to the BBC, saying he had no evidence.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to students at a ceremony at the University of Kandahar, in Afghanistan, on 7 October 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAfghan President Ashraf Ghani has claimed that Russia is arming the Taliban

The Russian embassy in Kabul and the foreign ministry in Moscow dismissed such claims as “baseless” and “idle gossip”.

A Taliban spokesman said they had not “received military assistance from any country”.

Moscow has repeatedly accused the US and Nato of trying to blame Russia for their “failures” and worsening security in Afghanistan.

Russian officials and politicians have even implied that the US and Nato support IS in Afghanistan; a charge the US vehemently denies and most observers find incredible.

Do Russia and the Taliban acknowledge links?

Russia denies materially supporting the insurgents but acknowledges “contacts” with the Taliban.

According to some Taliban sources, a communication channel between Moscow and the Taliban was established almost a decade ago, following the Taliban’s removal from power by the US in 2001.

But ties between Moscow and the Taliban have improved significantly over the past three years, especially since the establishment of the so-called “IS Khorasan” group in Afghanistan in January 2015.

Red Army soldiers surrounded by foreign press wait at Kabul airport in February 1989, during the Soviet Army's withdrawal from Afghanistan.Image copyrightAFP/GETTY IMAGES
Image captionRed Army soldiers in February 1989 during the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from Aghan War

Taliban sources confirm their representatives have met Russian officials inside Russia and “other” countries several times.

As part of these new “links”, some Taliban expected sophisticated weapons from Russia that could dramatically turn the Afghan war in their favour – anti-aircraft guns and missiles that could challenge US air supremacy; similar to the surface-to-air Stinger missile the US provided to the Afghan resistance fighters during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s.

So far this remains wishful thinking on the part of the Taliban mainly for two reasons – such weapons could be easily traced back to the source and US-Russia relations are not that bad to justify such a drastic measure.

What do the Taliban gain from Russia?

For the Taliban, moral and political support by a major regional power is more important than the light weapons they say are widely available in Afghanistan and can be bought on the black market in the wider region.

Taliban diplomatic outreach also extends to building relations with China and Iran.

Suspected Taliban militants held by Afghan security forces in Jalalabad, 17 MarchImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSuspected Taliban militants held by Afghan security forces in Jalalabad

This is a morale-booster and has strengthened Taliban conviction in the “legitimacy” of their struggle to oust US-led forces from Afghanistan.

The fact that Russia and Iran are accused of supporting the Taliban challenges the narrative that the militants are solely dependent on Pakistan.

From enemies to frenemies?

Softening its approach towards the Afghan Taliban is a dramatic and somehow unexpected shift for Russia.

Almost all founding members of the Taliban movement were part of the mujahideen, which fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During the factional war that followed the Soviet pullout, Russia provided financial and military support to groups opposed to the Taliban.

But after the US invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in the US, the Taliban apparently saw an opportunity to work with Russia.

Russia now no longer sees the Taliban as a pressing security threat. Instead, policymakers in Moscow view the group as a reality in Afghanistan which cannot be ignored.

In March 2017, President Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, even said the Taliban’s demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was “justified” and criticised the long-term presence of US and Nato forces in the country.

What does Russia gain?

There are three major reasons for Russia-Taliban links.

Firstly, Russian officials say these contacts are aimed at ensuring the security of Russian citizens and political offices in Afghanistan, especially in areas where the resurgent Taliban have expanded their territorial control in recent years.

At least two Russians were captured by the Afghan Taliban on two separate occasions, in 2013 and 2016, when their helicopters crashed in Taliban-controlled areas. Both were released after lengthy negotiations.

Secondly, the emergence of IS in Afghanistan prompted fears in Moscow that the group may expand into Central Asia and Russia.

Residents gathered at site of suicide car bomb attack in KabulImage copyrightEPA
Image captionThe Taliban continues to use suicide bombing attacks including this, targeting global security firm G4S in Kabul

The Afghan Taliban have been fighting against IS in Afghanistan and repeatedly assured neighbouring countries, that unlike IS, their armed struggle is limited to Afghanistan. In December 2015, the Russian president’s special representative to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, declared that “the Taliban interest objectively coincides with ours” in the fight against IS.

Russia has also suggested the possibility of staging a Syrian-style intervention in Afghanistan if IS gained strength and became a “serious threat” to the stability of Central Asian countries on the pretext of protecting its “backyard”.

However, US officials say Moscow uses the IS presence as an excuse to justify its meddling in Afghanistan and to further grow its military influence in Central Asia.

Thirdly, Russian officials insist the Afghan conflict needs a political, not a military, solution. They have grown increasingly frustrated by and suspicious of the US strategy that has not so far stabilised Afghanistan after 16 years of fighting.

Moscow says the contacts are intended to encourage the Taliban to enter peace talks.

What’s the effect on the Afghan conflict?

A resurgent Russia under President Putin has been pushing for influence in Afghanistan, in moves seen as part of an effort to ensure a seat for Moscow at the top table in any future arrangement in the country.

This comes at a time when US-Russian relations are at a low point and the geopolitical situation is changing fast.

Moscow’s increasingly assertive stance is linked to US-Russian tensions in other parts of the world, especially Ukraine and Syria.

By establishing links with the Taliban, Moscow seems to be aiming to pressurise and even undermine the US and Nato.

Meanwhile, as the rift between Washington and Islamabad grows, Russia and Pakistan are building diplomatic and military relations after decades of hostility.

Moscow’s reappearance in Afghan affairs is largely designed to irritate the Americans.

The persistent accusations traded by the former Cold War powers has to be seen in the context of a wider blame game. Their rivalry is complicating the conflict in Afghanistan, where the number of actors is increasing.

This has renewed fears of a “new Great Game”, with Afghanistan once more a battlefield for regional and international players. A way out of the decades-long quagmire appears as far off as ever.

Includes videos:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41842285

Afghan officials: Daesh has no strong roots in Afghanistan; can’t pose threat

March 31, 2018

Officials say there is no way Daesh can be a threat to Afghanistan and the region. (AP photo)
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KABUL: Afghan officials on Friday rejected regional concerns that Daesh has a strong presence in Afghanistan, adding the network could in no way be a threat to the country and the region.
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The emergence of Daesh in late 2014 in Afghanistan, despite the large and long presence of US-led troops fighting Taliban militants in the country raised speculations among some of its neighbors, particularly Russia, who accused Washington on many occasions of using Daesh as a tool to export militancy led by the group onto their soil.
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On Thursday, Zamir Kabulov, the Russian special presidential representative for Afghanistan and director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asia Department, said that there were at least 7,000 active Daesh militants in Afghanistan.
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Recalling figures given by President Ashraf Ghani in a conference in Tashkent about Afghanistan this week, Afghan officials speaking to Arab News said the total number of Daesh sympathizers and foreign combatants were fewer than 2,000.
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“They operate in small groups in some districts of only three provinces, such as Nangarhar, Kunar and Jowjzan. We are pursuing them wherever they go,” said Gen. Mohammad Radmenesh, acting head of the Defense Ministry’s Public Affairs Department.
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He said between 3,000 and 4,000 fighters of the group had been killed in offensives conducted by Afghan and US-led troops in the past few years.
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“They are not in a position to cause a threat to Afghanistan and the region. Countries in the region have the right to express their fears (about Daesh), but we know for sure that the group is not as active and strong as it is rumored to be,” he said.
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President Ashraf Ghani’s chief spokesman, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Arab News that the majority of Daesh elements in Afghanistan are Pakistani nationals, but he admitted among them the presence of some fighters from Central Asia and militants from other parts of the world.
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Formerly the other foreign fighters fought alongside the Taliban, but deserted the movement and joined Daesh when the latter first emerged in the Middle East.
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Radmenesh said Arab fighters were also among Daesh, adding some may have recently travelled to Afghanistan via Pakistan after the nearly total defeat of the network in Syria and Iraq.
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“But we totally reject reports that they have been transported by planes from the Middle East to Afghanistan.”
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The security source said some members of factions in the north had also joined Daesh for the sake of monetary concessions and due to factional rivalries.
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“The number (of Daesh fighters in Afghanistan) that the Russians give is not correct. Some have magnified Daesh’s presence and are supporting the Taliban. That is a mistake because wherever the Taliban are, Daesh resurfaces too,” Murtazawi said.
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Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has been following the insurgency in Afghanistan for decades, also said the size, presence, and threat from Daesh was overestimated.
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He said it was difficult to provide arms and food for small groups of Afghan warriors during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s despite the flow of vast resources and cash then, and that it is far more difficult to do so now since many people are impoverished and hate Daesh.
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“I think it is impossible to feed, provide arms, and move thousands of fighers around in Afghanistan given the current situation here,” he told Arab News.
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“The Russians portray the presence of Daesh as a threat here because it wants the further failure of America in Afghanistan; they say that America not only has not been able to defeat the Taliban, but that because of its presence, Daesh has become a risk for us and for Central Asia.”
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“Russia argues that when America, from thousands of miles away, feels threatened by Afghanistan’s insecurity, we have to feel more threatened as we are closer. So this tells Central Asia that we must speak with one voice and act in harmony against the threat.”
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Kabul suicide bombing: Heavy casualties in Persian New Year’s blast

March 21, 2018

At least 29 people have been killed and another 52 injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up during Persian New Year’s celebrations in Kabul. The “Islamic State” group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST (AFP/Getty Images)Afghan police block off the road in front of Kabul University after a suicide bomber targeted Shiite worshippers marking the Persian New Year

New Year’s festivities in the Afghan capital of Kabul turned deadly on Wednesday, after a suicide bomber detonated himself near the city’s main university, killing at least 29 people.

Another 52 people were injured in the blast, according to Health Ministry officials. Several women and children were among the casualties.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi warned the death toll was likely to rise.

Read more: Kabul residents in shock after wave of violence

The “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group claimed responsibility for the blast.

Shiite worshippers targeted

The explosion went off on a road leading towards the Shiite Kart-e Sakhi shrine, where locals had gathered to mark the Persian New Year, known in Afghanistan as Nauruz. The country’s Shiite minority typically marks the holiday by visiting such shrines.

Rahimi said that the bomber had sought to detonate himself by the shrine, but couldn’t get closer due to tight security. Instead, “he detonated his explosive on Kabul University Road, right in front of Ali Abad hospital, among the civilians who were on the way to shrine,” he added.

Kabul’s police chief, General Daud Amin, said the bomber had managed to slip past police checkpoints set up along the road. Authorities had already launched an inestigation into the security breach and anyone found to have neglected their duties would be punished, he added.

Extremist threats

IS claimed responsibility for the blast, according to the militant group’s news agency, Amaq. “The martyrdom operation carried out with a suicide vest struck a Shiite gathering during their Nauruz holiday celebrations in the city of Kabul,” it said.

Afghanistan’s Shiite population has repeatedly been targeted by IS affiliates, who view the minority group as apostates of Islam. The Kart-e Sakhi shrine has been a target for previous militant attacks. In October 2016, IS gunmen killed 18 people who had gathered there to mark Ashura, a Muslim day of celebration that carries added significance for Shiites.

Read more: Why is ‘Islamic State’ targeting Shiites in Afghanistan?

The latest suicide attack further undermines promises from Kabul authorities to step up security in the city in the wake of an attack in January that killed around 100 people.

Afghanistan has been besieged by a wave extremist attacks since January by powerful IS affiliate groups that still remain powerful in the country. The Taliban has also been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops at the end of 2014, having taken back territory in Afghanistan and devastated the country’s beleaguered security forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered last month to hold peace talks with the Taliban, although the militant group has shown no intention to sit down.

 http://www.dw.com/en/kabul-suicide-bombing-heavy-casualties-in-new-years-blast/a-43059676

dm/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Taliban claims deadly car bomb attack in Kabul

March 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI | Two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in the morning rush-hour suicide blast in an industrial area of Kabul

KABUL (AFP) – A car bomb explosion claimed by the Taliban in Kabul on Saturday killed at least two civilians, as the militants maintain pressure on the capital amid growing calls for peace talks.Several others were wounded in the morning rush-hour suicide blast in an industrial area of the city that the Afghan interior ministry said had intended to strike global security company G4S.

It was the fourth suicide attack in Kabul in three weeks and comes days after the top US general in Afghanistan said protecting the war-weary city was “our main effort”.

It also comes as the Taliban faces growing pressure to take up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer last month of peace talks to end the 16-year war.

“Around 9:10 am this morning a suicide car bomb exploded in Police District Nine of Kabul,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

Two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in the attack, Danish said. The blast happened at a time when many people would have been driving to their offices on the first day of Afghanistan’s working week.

Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majrooh told AFP at least four people had been wounded in the explosion.

Deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the suicide bomber had been driving towards G4S but “detonated himself before reaching the target”.

In a WhatsApp message sent to journalists Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the bomber had targeted a convoy of “foreign troops”.

“All occupiers were killed,” Mujahid said.

The Taliban routinely exaggerates the number of people killed in its attacks, while Afghan officials tend to understate the casualty toll.

The attack comes weeks before the start of the spring fighting season which is expected to be more intense this year as militants respond to intensifying US and Afghan air strikes and ground offensives.

– Kabul a priority –

Saturday’s assault comes after General John Nicholson, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said protecting the city was a priority for foreign forces.

“Kabul is our main effort right now, to harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here because of the strategic impact that has and the importance to the campaign,” Nicholson told reporters on Wednesday.

But Nicholson conceded that preventing further attacks would be challenging in the sprawling city that is poorly mapped and extremely porous.

Taliban and Islamic State militants have been ramping up attacks in Kabul in recent months, increasing pressure on the Afghan government, which is frequently lambasted for its inability to protect civilians.

The most recent was on March 9 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shiite area of the city, killing at least nine people. IS claimed responsibility as it seeks to stir up sectarian violence in the Sunni-majority country.

– Resurgent Taliban –

In a surprise visit to Kabul on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said “elements” of the Taliban were open to peace talks with the Afghan government.

But so far Afghanistan’s largest militant group has given only a muted response to Ghani’s February 28 proposal made at an international conference in Kabul and has continued to launch deadly attacks across the country.

And US data suggests the group has few reasons to negotiate right now.

The Taliban has been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014, taking back territory and devastating Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces.

In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts — double the percentage in 2015, the US government’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.

Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.

by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI
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Car bomb kills at least three in Afghan capital — “All those killed were barbers or shoeshine men. Ordinary people going about their daily activities.”

March 17, 2018

Image may contain: car and outdoor

A damaged vehicle is seen after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan March 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad IsmailREUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) – A CAR bomb killed at least three people and wounded two in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday in an apparent attack on a foreign contractor company, officials said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said all those killed and wounded in the explosion were civilians with no casualties among the contractors.

Witnesses said the casualty toll was higher but confirmed that, like countless other attacks in Kabul, its victims were ordinary people going about their daily activities.

“All those killed were barbers or shoeshine men. I was horrified when I saw their bodies,” said Mohammad Osman, who was nearby when the explosion shattered nearby buildings and who said he had seen four or five bodies.

Police officials said the exact cause of the explosion was being investigated.

While the latest blast was relatively minor compared with others that have killed scores of people recently, the constant stream of attacks in Kabul has undermined confidence in the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Earlier this week, General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said security in Kabul would be “the main effort” for international powers helping Afghan defense and security forces.

(Reporting by Sayed Hassib and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by James Mackenzie and Nick Macfie)

Afghan forces battle to win back district center

March 12, 2018

 

In this file photo, new recruits to the Afghan army Special Forces take part in a military exercise in Rishkhur district outside Kabul, Afghanistan Feb. 25, 2017. (REUTERS)
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LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan: Afghan forces backed by air strikes battled on Monday to recapture a district center in the western province of Farah, after Taliban fighters seized the town in an overnight attack that killed several policeman, regional officials said.
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The fighting in Farah underlines the continuing strength of the Taliban movement, which controls or contests almost half of Afghanistan, and has so far rejected peace overtures from President Ashraf Ghani.
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Nasrat Rahimi, a deputy spokesman of the interior ministry, said reinforcements had arrived in Anar Dara town and surrounded a group of Taliban fighters. Air strikes had killed 56 insurgent fighters, he said.
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Eight police, including the local police commander had been killed and several wounded, he added.
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The Taliban released pictures that appeared to show fighters in the town and a spokesman for the group, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said 15 policemen had been killed and several military vehicles seized, along with a large quantity of ammunition.
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No comment was immediately available from US military headquarters in Kabul.
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Afghan and US commanders have been relatively upbeat about the course of the war since US President Donald Trump announced a new and more robust military strategy last year, with more air strikes and greater support for Afghan forces.
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The fighting in Anar Dara came days after local officials said the Taliban had inflicted heavy losses on Afghan special forces in another district of Farah, an isolated region where the government has long struggled to control.
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The pressure on Farah has grown as US air strikes and Afghan army operations have inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban fighters in neighboring Helmand province, the country’s main opium-growing region and a heartland of the insurgency.
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In January, the governor of Farah resigned, blaming political interference and corruption. Residents of Farah city have complained bitterly about security in the province, where some police units are alleged to collude with Taliban fighters, selling them weapons and ammunition.
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Although they have failed to take any major provincial cities, the insurgents have several times seized district centers, even if they have often been driven off soon after by government reinforcements.
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With the approach of milder spring weather, security officials have said they expect fighting to surge as the Taliban, fighting to drive out international forces and re-impose their version of strict Islamic law, step up pressure.
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The US military’s latest estimates from December show the Afghan government controls or has influence over 56 percent of districts, with insurgents controlling or contesting the rest.

Afghanistan welcomes Pakistan’s inclusion on terror finance watch list, aid cut

March 10, 2018

IANS

Afghanistan has welcomed the rising international pressure on the counter-terrorism front against Pakistan including its recent listing on a terrorism financing watch list and the United States withholding aid.

“We hope that this trend continues and the response to these measures is positive in the interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region,” Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative Mahmoud Saikal told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Of late, we have seen new measures at the international level to shift the calculus and promote genuine and productive counter-terrorism cooperation,” he said.

He diplomatically did not name Pakistan but the reference was clear.

“Recent decisions including the reduction of financial aid to the concerned State, and inclusion in the watch list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) represent a renewed attempt to encourage genuine action on the crucially important goal of defeating terrorism effectively,” Saikal said.

Last month Washington persuaded the members of FATF to reinstate Pakistan on its “grey list” of nations that are monitored for not acting adequately to stop terrorist financing and money laundering.

Above, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani talks at the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 28. Ghani offered a conditional plan for peace talks with the Taliban, including the recognition of the militants as a political group. (AFP)

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In January US President Donald Trump ordered withholding military aid and payments estimated at $1.2 billion to Islamabad because of its support for terrorist organisations.

Trump had accused it of giving safe havens to the terrorists that “we hunt in Afghanistan” and practising “lies and deceit.”

Saikal denounced the attacks in January by “Taliban’s Haqqani network” on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul that killed 18, including 14 foreigners, and on Save the Children NGO in Jalalabad in which 27 people died, and the detonation of an explosive-laden ambulance near a major hospital in the heart of Kabul killing at least 105 civilians.

PHOTO: Black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2018.

Rahmat Gul/AP
Black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 21, 2018.

“The sheer level of savagery in these despicable and heinous attacks was startling,” he said.

Despite all this, Saikal said President Ashraf Ghani made the “unprecedented” offer of direct talks to the Taliban without preconditions.

“Should our call receive a positive response, they will be granted the chance to become normal citizens, allowed to compete peacefully in politics through democratic procedures, be relieved from UNSC sanctions measures, besides enjoying the benefits of other positive measures,” he said. “In turn, they have to give up on their long-standing path of violence.”

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One killed as Kabul car bomb targets foreign forces: ministry

March 2, 2018

AFP

© AFP | The bombing comes just days after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan for peace talks with the Taliban

KABUL (AFP) – A suicide car bomb targeting a foreign forces convoy rocked eastern Kabul early Friday, killing at least one civilian and injuring four in an area where many expatriates reside, the Afghan interior ministry said.”Unfortunately around 9:00 am, a car bombing took place in (the) Qabil Bay area of Kabul,” ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP, giving the toll and adding that police are investigating.

Earlier, Danish had said the explosion took place “in” the vehicle, which he initially said belonged to an international contractor.

Another interior ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, said it was not clear if there were foreign casualties following the blast.

Local media showed extensive damage to the facades of nearby houses, and witnesses reported a strong explosion.

No group immediately claimed the attack, which is the latest to hit Kabul, one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians as both the Taliban and the expanding Islamic State group step up their assaults on the city.

The bombing also comes just days after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani unveiled a plan for peace talks with the Taliban, including a proposal to eventually recognise them as a political party.

Ghani revealed his plans in a speech during international peace talks in Kabul this week that went better than expected, with officials in Washington daring to hold out hope that the longest war in US history may be heading to a negotiated settlement.

But Kabul remains on high alert, fearing further violence.

Since mid-January, militants have stormed a luxury hotel, bombed a crowded street, raided a military compound and launched a suicide attack during morning rush hour in the capital, killing more than 130 people.

Taliban pour cold water on invitation to Afghan peace talks — “Your view [is] that we talk to them [the U.S.] and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war.”

March 1, 2018

Above, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani talks at the second Kabul Process conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 28. Ghani offered a conditional plan for peace talks with the Taliban, including the recognition of the militants as a political group. (AFP)
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KABUL: The Taliban on Thursday issued a cool response to proposals that they should begin peace talks with the Afghan government, a day after President Ashraf Ghani offered a pact to recognize the insurgents as a legitimate party in negotiations.
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The movement has not yet given any formal answer to Ghani’s invitation, made at a conference of officials from countries in the so-called Kabul Process aimed at creating a platform for talks to end more than 16 years of war.
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But its chief spokesman did reply to an “Open Letter” published this week in the New Yorker magazine by Barnett Rubin, a respected commentator on Afghan politics, who urged the Taliban to accept talks with the Kabul government.
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“Our country has been occupied, which has led to an American-style supposed Afghan government being imposed upon us,” the Taliban response said.
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“And your view that we talk to them and accept their legitimacy is the same formula adopted by America to win the war,” it said, adding that the Kabul Process was simply aimed at seeking the “surrender” of the Taliban.
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The comments come a month after the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack in which an ambulance packed with explosives blew up in Kabul, killing around 100 people, in the worst attack seen in months.
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As part of its new regional strategy announced last year, the US has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military and greatly increased air strikes against the Taliban, in a bid to break the stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.
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However, Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, the Kabul government itself is deeply divided and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.
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The Taliban have themselves twice offered to talk to the US in recent weeks, but have ruled out talks with the Kabul government, a key sticking point that must be resolved before any talks can start.
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While the international community sees Ghani’s administration as the sole legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Taliban see it as an artificial, foreign-imposed regime that does not represent the Afghan people.
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The Taliban statement said the movement was “sincerely committed” to meeting international concerns over Afghanistan being used as a base for terrorist attacks and had no wish for conflict with the US or other powers.
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“The crux of the matter is, what is the vital concern of America, is it really terrorism?” it said.
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“Or is it extracting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, imposing a self-styled government, preventing establishment of an Islamic system and pursuing imperial ambitions in the region from this land?”
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“In such circumstances, we do not care about America, neither do we want to talk, nor end resistance, nor will we get tired,” it said.
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