Posts Tagged ‘Mullah Akhtar Mansour’

Pakistan tells Afghan Taliban to ‘prepare’ for political dialogue

October 16, 2017

Taliban yet to respond to the appeal * Islamabad can go tough on Taliban if they refuse to come to table this time

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Suspected U.S. Drone Strike Targets Pakistani Taliban Militants: Sources

April 27, 2017

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — A suspected U.S. drone strike killed several Pakistani Taliban militants in North Waziristan close to the Afghanistan border, one militant commander and intelligence sources said on Thursday, in a rare strike on Pakistani soil.

If confirmed, the air strike, which happened on Wednesday, would only be the second drone attack inside the nuclear-armed nation since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.

Abdullah Wazirstani, spokesman for North Waziristan Taliban, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, said the strike killed three civilian “laborers” and seven militants from the Pakistani Taliban, which is also known as TTP.

Malik Waheedullah, a local tribal leader, told Reuters he saw two missiles strike a mountain home which caught fire. “I drove away as fast as I could,” he said.

 No automatic alt text available.

One Pakistani intelligence official and government source said they believed the strike to be a U.S. drone attack.

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

North Waziristan was a Taliban stronghold until 2014, when Pakistan’s military launched a major offensive against the group and pushed many of its fighters across the border into Afghanistan.

Sources from the TTP identified one of the dead militants as Abdur Rahman, a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan have become rare over the past few years. In its last high-profile attack inside Pakistan, the United States last May killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

(Additional reporting by Javed Hussain and Jibran Ahmad; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Saad Sayeed)

Afghanistan’s man at UN urges China to put pressure on Pakistan over terrorism

October 2, 2016

Mahmoud Saikal says members of East Turkestan Islamic Movement have received training in Pakistan

By Catherine Wong
South China Morning Post

Monday, October 3, 2016, 2:15 a.m.

Afghanistan’s UN ambassador says Pakistan is providing a safe haven for terrorists, such as the Taliban, and has called on China to assert its influence and dissuade Islamabad from supporting militant groups in the region.

Mahmoud Saikal said neighbouring Pakistan’s support of terrorists was the root cause of unrest in Afghanistan.

“Most terrorist activities [in Afghanistan] have links to Pakistan,” he said.

We feel that China is working hard. But so far we see no sign of a paradigm shift on the part of Pakistan
MAHMOUD SAIKAL, AFGHANISTAN’S UN AMBASSADOR

“The question is not about the Taliban. The question is about the forces behind the Taliban. Who is providing the safe havens and logistic support to the Taliban?”

Pakistan has allegedly been closely associated with the Taliban since its birth in the mid-1990s. The Afghan government has accused Pakistan of financing the Islamist group, an allegation Pakistani authorities deny.

Former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in May. Osama bin Laden, the founder and head of the Islamist group al-Qaeda, which was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, was killed in Pakistan in May 2011.

 Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN, Mahmoud Saikal. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Saikal said the Pakistani military, by supplying arms to terrorist groups and allowing them to establish bases in its territory, had used the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other proxies to wage an undeclared war against its regional rival India. Afghanistan had thus been a victim to the complex and often hostile relationship between its two neighbours, he said.

“On a daily basis, we lose about 30 to 40 people in Afghanistan because of violence, extremism, abuse and terrorism, with the majority of them civilians.

“It’s a matter of circles within Pakistan, which use the Taliban as a proxy for their misguided strategic interests. So this is why we need to deal with the issue at its core and not deal with the consequences of it,” Saikal said.

China has also suffered from the spread of terrorism in the region. Unrest in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region is blamed by Beijing on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group founded by militant Uygurs.

The group has created major headaches for the Communist Party, and China has long been concerned that the unrest in Afghanistan would spill over into Xinjiang.

“Almost all members of ETIM who have left China have gone to Pakistan,” Saikal said.

“They have received training in Pakistan and have been trying hard to return to China to cause trouble.

“China should tell its strategic partner, Pakistan, to stop receiving members of ETIM, to stop their activities there, and stop their training there.”

Since December, China, Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan have been working for reconciliation in Afghanistan as members of what has been dubbed the “quadrilateral coordination group”.

“China has been an active member,” Saikal said. “We feel that China is working hard. But so far, we see no sign of a paradigm shift on the part of Pakistan.

“We appeal to China to continue its efforts.”

In March, Taliban insurgents rejected an offer of peace talks from the Afghan government. The possibility of peace talks appeared to become even less likely after Mansour’s death in May.

US army General John Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said in early September that the Taliban controlled more than 10 per cent of the Afghan population and was battling the government for control of at least another 20 per cent.

Saikal said the quadrilateral coordination group, with the full participation of China, “needs to work harder” at achieving a breakthrough – in particular, by influencing the terror groups’ major sponsor, Pakistan.

“China has soft power,” Saikal said. “That image of soft power could be tarnished if you have a strategic partner who believes in the use of violence in the pursuit of political objectives.

“We have seen China has its own way of influencing [international affairs] but we have yet to see the Chinese way of influencing Pakistan.”

China has in recent years tried to act as a mediator in Afghanistan’s peace process, hosting several secret meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The latest was reportedly held in Beijing in July.

Almost all members of ETIM who have left China have gone to Pakistan. They have received training in Pakistan and have been trying hard to return to China to cause trouble
MAHMOUD SAIKAL, AFGHANISTAN’S UN AMBASSADOR

But Beijing’s close relationship with Islamabad has led to scepticism over the extent of China’s engagement, and whether China would push Pakistan hard enough to achieve a major breakthrough.

While the deadlock continues, Afghanistan has continued to draw support from the international community. The Afghan envoy said military equipment from countries including China, the US, Turkey and other Nato members as well as India and Russia had beefed up the defensive capabilities of Afghan forces.

With better equipment, Afghan forces successfully resisted a major attack by the Taliban during the spring and summer in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, and also inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban, Saikal said.

Despite the continuing violence, Saikal said Afghanistan had been working hard on efforts to rebuild the country, thanks to the support from the international community, including Beijing.

In early September, the first-ever cargo train from China arrived in northern Afghanistan’s Hairatan port, about 450km north of Kabul.

Saikal said the cargo train – which now runs twice a month but could turn into a weekly passage for both cargo and tourists in the near future – would open up a new trade route between China and Afghanistan.

“We feel that there is a potential for increasing the trade volume that is a lot higher than the existing half a billion [US] dollars,” Saikal said.

“The bulk of [the existing bilateral trade] is Chinese imports to Afghanistan, and [the level of] our exports is very small. So we hope that we can bring a balance to our trade,” Saikal said.

He added that the Chinese market could soon receive Afghan exports of marble, dried and fresh fruits, carpets and saffron – the world’s most expensive spice.

A large part of China’s engagement in Afghanistan has seen it investing in tapping the country’s mineral resources, which are estimated to have a value of about US$1 trillion.

A Chinese government-backed mining company spent US$3 billion on a copper mine project in Mes Aynak, an ancient Buddhist city. But the lack of any comprehensive railway network to transport the metal out of the landlocked country has posed a huge challenge to developing the project further.

When Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani first visited China in 2014, Beijing promised to support his nation’s infrastructure plan by providing expertise and funds to help Afghanistan build roads and gas and water pipelines across the country.

China has also provided funds for Afghanistan to build 10,000 residential units in Kabul to accommodate the massive flow of the nation’s refugee returnees in recent years.

“Around 60 to 65 per cent of the houses you see in Kabul are informal because we have seen such a massive return [of refugees],” Saikal said.

“It’s impossible for any government to provide housing for such a big number of people.

“So this is why providing affordable housing for our people is important.”

With an improved infrastructure network, Saikal said Afghanistan hoped to capitalise on its geographic location and abundance of natural resources to turn itself into a “trade and transit roundabout” connecting central Asia, South Asia, the Far East and the Middle East, and to play an active role in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

This refers to Beijing’s development strategy to revive the land and maritime Silk Roads dating back to the days of Marco Polo. The ”belt” in the plan refers to a vast area in Eurasia, and “road” stands for the sea route that links China’s coastal cities to Africa and the Mediterranean, passing key ports in Southeast Asia and the Suez Canal.

However, the Afghan envoy also reiterated the importance of finally attaining stability in war-torn Afghanistan.

“For the success of Chinese diplomacy in the region, and for the success of the One Belt, One Road initiative of China, we need a secure region,” Saikal said.

A third massive explosion shook central Kabul late Monday — Afghan Taliban makes a statement written in blood

September 5, 2016

AFP

© AFP | An Afghan policeman stand guard overlooking the site of a twin suicide bombing near the Ministry of Defense in Kabul on September 5, 2016

KABUL (AFP) – A third massive explosion shook central Kabul late Monday, hours after a Taliban double bombing killed at least 24 people and left 91 others wounded, according to AFP reporters.

Afghan authorities said they were trying to pin down the location of the blast and there was no immediate claim of responsibility from any militant group.

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Taliban attack in Afghan capital Kabul kills at least 24, wounded 91 others

September 5, 2016

Reuters

Mon Sep 5, 2016 1:12pm EDT

Afghanistan — Aid workers try to respond as the Taliban intensify their nationwide offensive against the US-backed government in Kabul. Credit Mohammad Ismail, Reuters

By Mirwais Harooni | KABUL

A Taliban suicide attack near the defence ministry in Kabul killed at least 24 people on Monday, including a number of senior security officials, and wounded 91 others, officials said.

Two blasts in quick succession hit a crowded area of the city near government buildings, a market and a main intersection, defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said.

Troops, police and civilians rushing to help victims of the first explosion were caught in the second, triggered when a suicide bomber blew himself up.

“When the first explosion happened people crowded to the site and then the second blast occurred, which was really powerful and killed lots of people,” said Samiullah Safi, who witnessed the attack.

The casualty total may increase as more information becomes available, said Mohammad Ismail Kawousi, a spokesman for the public health ministry.

An army general and two senior police commanders were among the dead, a defence ministry official said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said killed 58 officers and commanders. The militants have stepped up their campaign against the Western-backed government in recent weeks, following a brief lull after the death of their former leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

The double bombing came less than two weeks after gunmen attacked the American University in Kabul, killing 13 people.

It was the deadliest attack in Kabul since at least 80 people were killed by a suicide bomber who targeted a demonstration on July 23. That assault was claimed by Islamic State.

Government officials have been preparing for a conference in Brussels next month at which foreign donors, concerned about the ability of the Afghan security forces to withstand Taliban violence, are expected to pledge continuing support over coming years.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Hassib; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Larry King)

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From Al Jazeera

Two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up close to the Afghan defence ministry in Kabul during late afternoon rush hour, killing at least 24 people and wounding 91 others, according to health ministry officials.

“It happened in the center of town, just about 4 pm, a very busy time” said Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul.

“The ministry of defense, the ministry of finance, police district two headquarters are all in this area.There are also markets around there, that sell clothes, food and fresh fruit.”

Monday’s blasts took place in rapid succession, in an attack apparently aimed at inflicting mass casualties as government workers left the ministry after work.

“Eye witnesses say there was a first blast,” said Glasse. “When people came to either help the wounded or see what has happened there, the second explosion went off.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter that the defence ministry was the object of the first attack, while police were targeted in the second.

The bombings come as Taliban fighters intensify their nationwide offensive against the US-backed government in Kabul.

The toll from could rise further, Mohammad Ismail Kawousi, a spokesman for the public health ministry, said.

OPINION: The need for inclusive partnership in Afghanistan

“The first explosion occurred on a bridge near the defence ministry. When soldiers, policemen and civilians rushed to the scene, there was the second explosion,” defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish told AFP news agency.

President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack.

“The enemies of Afghanistan are losing the fight in the ground battle with security forces,” Ghani said in a statement. “That is why they are attacking, highways, cities, mosques, schools and ordinary people.”

READ MORE: University survivors recall night of horror in Kabul

The attack took place more than a week after 16 people were killed when armed fighters stormed the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, in a nearly 10-hour raid that prompted anguished pleas for help from trapped students.

University survivors recall night of horror in Kabul

 

Explosions and gunfire rocked the campus in that attack, which came just weeks after two university professors – an American and an Australian – were kidnapped at gunpoint near the school.

Their whereabouts are still unknown and no group so far has publicly claimed responsibility for the abductions, the latest in a series of kidnappings in the conflict-torn country.

The increase in violence in the capital comes as the Taliban escalate nationwide attacks, underscoring the worsening security situation since NATO forces ended their combat mission at the end of 2014.

Afghan forces backed by US troops are seeking to head off a potential Taliban takeover of Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern opium-rich province of Helmand.

The Taliban has also closed in on Kunduz – the northern city they briefly seized last year in their biggest military victory since the 2001 US invasion – leaving Afghan forces stretched on multiple fronts.

But NATO coalition forces have insisted that neither Kunduz nor Lashkar Gah are at risk of falling to the insurgents.

 

Source: Al Jazeera News and agencies

War & Conflict Afghanistan Asia Taliban

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http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/taliban-claims-responsibility-afghan-blasts-160905115339241.html

Pakistani lawyers go on strike after dozens killed in attack

August 9, 2016
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Reuters
Tue Aug 9, 2016 9:27am EDT

Lawyers say prayers for colleagues who were killed in the suicide bomb attack at a hospital in Quetta on Monday, after protesting against the attack, outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan August 9, 2016. REUTERS/CAREN FIROUZ

Pakistani lawyers staged a nationwide strike on Tuesday after dozens of colleagues were slain in a suicide bombing that killed at least 70 people at a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Medical staff said up to 60 of those slain in the bombing at a government hospital were lawyers who had gathered to mourn the assassination earlier on Monday of the president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, Bilal Anwar Kasi.

Islamic State was one of two Islamist militant groups to claim responsibility for the atrocity, although officials and analysts said they had doubts over whether the Middle East-based movement was behind the blast.

It was the latest, and deadliest, in a string of attacks against lawyers in Pakistan, seen by some militants as an extension of the government and so legitimate targets.

“How weak and pathetic are these people who target hospitals, where women and children, where patients, go to get treatment?” Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Pakistan’s attorney general, said on Tuesday at a protest outside the Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad.

Supreme Court Bar President Ali Zafar called for the government to do more to protect lawyers.

“Lawyers are relatively more vocal against militancy and they are fighting cases against people accused of terrorism, so it would make sense that they are being targeted,” said Ali Malik, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“An attack on lawyers makes a mockery of the law enforcement agencies, it undermines the promises of the state against terrorists and breeds fear among vulnerable citizens.”

DOUBTS OVER CLAIMS

The bombing in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan province, was initially claimed by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban that is fighting to overthrow the government and impose strict Islamic law.

Later, however, Islamic State said one of its fighters carried out the attack, in what would mark an escalation in the ability of the group, or its regional offshoots, to strike in Pakistan.

“A martyr from the Islamic State detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in the city of Quetta,” Islamic State’s Amaq news agency reported.

Some Pakistani analysts were skeptical.

“The ISIS claim seems very unconvincing,” said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

“The claim of responsibility by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar is more credible,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, head of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.

He noted that Jamaat had sworn loyalty to Islamic State’s Middle East leadership in 2014, but later switched back to the Taliban.

“Every time they have carried out an attack, they have taken responsibility independently (of Islamic State),” Rana said.

It remains unclear what ties, if any, Jamaat has to Islamic State, whose leadership is a rival to both the Taliban and al Qaeda over claims to represent the true Islamist Caliphate.

In September 2014, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar rejected the Pakistani Taliban during a leadership struggle and swore allegiance to Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

By March 2015, the group was again swearing loyalty to the main Pakistani Taliban. The reason for its return to the fold remains murky, but Jamaat also never specifically disavowed Islamic State.

Only last week, Jamaat was added to the United States’ list of global terrorists, triggering sanctions.

Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan, is home to many militant groups, most notably sectarian outfits who have launched a campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations of ethnic Hazaras – Persian-speaking Shi’ites who mostly emigrated from Afghanistan and are a small minority of the Shi’ite population in Sunni-majority Pakistan.

“Many groups based in Baluchistan have an anti-Shia agenda, so they find ideological linkages with ISIS,” said a military official who was based in Quetta until 2015.

“But is ISIS present there to a degree that they can carry out this kind of well-planned, pre-meditated attack? I don’t think that is possible.”

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; writing by Kay Johnson and Mehreen Zahra-Malik; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Mourners on Monday after the hospital attack in Quetta. The blast occurred shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer, killed by gunmen earlier in the day, had been transferred to the hospital.Credit: Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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People help victims of a bomb blast in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. A powerful bomb went off on the grounds of a government-run hospital Monday, killing dozens of people, police said, August 8, 2016. Photo: Arshad Butt, AP

Hospital Bombing in Pakistani City of Quetta — Death Toll Now At Least 54

August 8, 2016

The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 54 people were killed on Monday in the restive Pakistani city of Quetta when an explosion, apparently caused by a suicide bomber, struck a hospital where dozens of lawyers had gathered to condemn the killing of a prominent colleague.

Officials in the southwestern city said that at least 50 people were wounded, most of them critically, and that the death toll was likely to rise.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, a province bordering Afghanistan and Iran that has been a center separatist and sectarian violence for more than a decade. Much of the violence in Quetta has come from sectarian extremist groups that have targeted Hazaras, a mostly Shiite ethnic minority that makes up a large part of Quetta’s population.

Quetta has a large contingent of civil security and paramilitary forces, and the authorities have claimed in recent months that they have brought some semblance of normalcy to the city. But the bombing on Monday showed that the militant threat there is far from solved.

The blast came after the shooting early Monday of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, by unknown attackers. Local news reports said that he was killed by men on a motorcycle as he was on his way to court. As the news of Mr. Kasi’s death spread through Quetta, dozens of lawyers went to Civil Hospital, where his body had been taken for an autopsy.

As they protested the killing, a powerful blast ripped through the entrance to the hospital’s emergency department, leading to widespread panic. Television footage showed scores of lawyers running for cover as gunfire echoed in the background.

Some lawyers could be seen pushing a stretcher bearing a wounded colleague, as others urged them to safety. “Get inside, get inside,” one lawyer could be heard saying, waving, as others rushed into the hospital building. Two cameramen working for two local news networks were among those killed.

The bombing left a trail of destruction. The charred bodies of victims lay in pools of blood. Several vehicles parked nearby were damaged, and windows in nearby buildings were shattered.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing or for Mr. Kasi’s shooting. Officials said they were investigating possible motives for both assaults.

Mourners on Monday after the hospital attack in Quetta. The blast occurred shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer, killed by gunmen earlier in the day, had been transferred to the hospital.Credit: Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing on Monday, urging the law enforcement authorities to improve security in Quetta. “No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Baluchistan,” he said in a statement.

By the afternoon, Gen. Raheel Sharif, the Pakistani Army chief, had reached the city to visit victims and express solidarity. General Sharif then led a meeting of senior security officials, according to Lt. Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the army spokesman.

General Bajwa, in a message posted on Twitter, claimed that the attack was “an attempt to undermine the improved security” in Baluchistan, specifically targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a multibillion-dollar endeavor by both countries that includes infrastructure networks and energy projects.

A spokesman for Baluchistan’s government, Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, said that the perpetrators would soon be brought to justice. “This is indeed a highly condemnable act, but such cowardly acts cannot shake our resolve of eradicating the menace of terrorism,” he said by telephone.

The Pakistani Bar Association said lawyers across the country would hold a one-day strike on Tuesday and would spend a week in mourning.

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Bombing at a Hospital in Pakistani City of Quetta Kills 53

August 8, 2016

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People help victims of a bomb blast in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. A powerful bomb went off on the grounds of a government-run hospital Monday, killing dozens of people, police said, August 8, 2016. Photo: Arshad Butt, AP

By ABDUL SATTAR
The Associated Press

QUETTA, Pakistan — Aug 8, 2016. 5:08 AM ET

A huge bomb went off on the grounds of a government-run hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Monday, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, police said.

Witnesses described horrifying scenes of bodies being scattered about and the wounded screaming out and crying for help. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.

The explosion took place shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer, who was gunned down in an attack earlier in the day, was brought to the hospital, said senior police official Zahoor Ahmed Afridi.

It was unclear if the two events were in any way connected. Nearly 100 lawyers and others had gathered at the hospital at the time to express grief over the death of their colleague, Afridi added.

Police and Pakistani officials said the attack appeared to have been a suicide bombing but there was no immediate confirmation of that detail.

Noor Ahmed, the hospital’s deputy chief surgeon for victims of violent crime, said they were treating about 50 wounded in the bombing.

“I can confirm that so far, 53 people have been killed in today’s bombing at our hospital,” said Ahmed.

The blast struck at the gates of the building housing the emergency ward, where dozens of lawyers had gathered to mourn the killing of Bilal Kasi, the senior lawyer gunned down on his way to work earlier Monday.

One of those who survived the bombing described a horrifying scene, saying there were “bodies everywhere” after the blast. Waliur Rehman said he was taking his ailing father to the emergency ward when the explosion shook the building. The blast was so powerful that they both fell down, he said.

When he looked up, Rehman said he saw bodies of the dead and the wounding crying out for help. He was about 200 meters (yards) away from where the bomb struck, he added.

Another witness, lawyer Abdul Latif, said he arrived at the hospital to express his grief over Kasi’s killing. But he said he didn’t know he would “see the bodies of dozens of other lawyers” killed and wounded shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Sanaullah Zehri, chief minister in Baluchistan province, said both the bombing and Kasi’s slaying seemed to be part of a plot to disrupt peace in the provincial capital.

Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial interior minister, denounced the attack as an “act of terrorism.” A Pakistani news channel reported that one of its cameramen was also killed in the blast.

Local TV stations broadcast footage showing people running in panic around the hospital grounds. Afridi said most of the dead were lawyers who had gathered after Kasi’s body was brought to the hospital.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast in Quetta and expressed his “deep grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives” in the attack, in which several senior lawyers were also killed.

“No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Baluchistan,” he said in a statement. Sharif asked the local authorities to maintain utmost vigilance and beef up security in Quetta.

He also instructed health officials to provide the best treatment possible to those wounded in the attack.

Quetta is the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, which has long been hit by insurgency. There are several ethnic Baluch separatist groups operating in the resource-rich province, but al-Qaida and other militant groups also have a presence there.

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Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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Pakistan: Scores killed as bomb strikes hospital in Quetta –Denounced as “act of terrorism”

August 8, 2016

AFP

© AFP | Pakistani police patrolling in Quetta

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-08-08

A powerful bomb went off on the grounds of a government-run hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Monday, killing at least 42 people and wounding dozens, police said.

The blast took place shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer killed in a shooting attack earlier in the day was brought to the hospital, said senior police official Zahoor Ahmed Afridi, though it was unclear if the two events were in any way connected.

Nearly 100 lawyers and other people had gathered there at the time, he added.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, which struck at the gates of the building housing the emergency ward, on the hospital grounds. Earlier, police had mistakenly said the bomb struck the hospital’s main gate.

Anwalullah Kakar, the government spokesman in southwestern Baluchistan province, said an investigation is underway. Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial interior minister, denounced the attack as an “act of terrorism”.

A Pakistani news channel reported that one of its cameramen was also killed in the blast.

It was also unknown who was behind the killing of the lawyer, Bilal Kasi, who was gunned down on his way to court earlier in the day.

Local TV stations broadcast footage showing people running in panic around the hospital grounds. Afridi said most of the dead were lawyers who had gathered after Kasi’s body was brought to the hospital.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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Reuters

A bomb blast at a Pakistani hospital killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens on Monday in Quetta, the capital of the violence-plagued southwestern province of Baluchistan, police said.

The bomb exploded as mourners, mostly lawyers and journalists, gathered to accompany the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi, a prominent lawyer, who was shot and killed in the frontier city earlier on Monday, an eyewitness said.

More than 50 mourners were entering the emergency department of the hospital to accompany Kasi’s body when the bomb went off, Faridullah, a journalist who was at the scene, told Reuters.

At least 30 people were killed, with at least that many wounded as well, a police official who was at the scene told Reuters. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The motive behind the attack was unclear and no group had yet claimed responsibility.

Television footage from the site showed scenes of chaos, with panicked mourners fleeing through debris as smoke filled the corridors of the hospital’s emergency ward.

Baluchistan’s Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti said earlier at least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded.

Kasi was shot and killed while on his way to the main court complex in Quetta, senior police official Nadeem Shah told Reuters.

Police cordoned off the hospital following the blast, restricting access to the area.

Targeted killings have become increasingly common in Quetta, the capital of a province that has seen rising violence linked to a separatist insurgency as well as sectarian tensions and rising crime.

Quetta has also long been a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there in the past. In May, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike while traveling to Quetta from the Pakistan-Iran border.

(Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Paul Tait)

Strike on Taliban chief shows dimming US hopes for Afghan peace

May 24, 2016

AFP

© AFP / by Laurent Barthelemy and Thomas Watkins | A Pakistani demonstrator holds a burning US flag during a protest in Multan on May 24, 2016, against a US drone strike in Pakistan’s southwestern province Balochistan Slain Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour used a Pakistani passport in a false name to make dozens of foreign trips over a ten-year period, mainly to the United Arab Emirates, officials told AFP. Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike deep inside Pakistani territory on May 21 along with a driver, was travelling with a passport and ID card bearing the name “Muhammad Wali”.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US killing of Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour marks a significant shift for President Barack Obama, highlighting a new willingness to target the group’s leaders in Pakistan and risk retaliatory attacks against struggling Afghan security forces.

The move also shows that Obama has — at least for now — abandoned hopes of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks.

US drones killed Mansour on Saturday in a remote area in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil.

Though Mansour once appeared in favor of peace negotiations with the government in Kabul, he refused to join talks when he became Taliban chief.

“There’s only one option for the Taliban and that is to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

But Marvin Weinbaum, a former Pakistan and Afghanistan analyst and director of the Pakistan program at the Middle East Institute, said Mansour’s death shows the United States has no such expectations.

“The peace talks were going nowhere anyway, and this is just simply the death knell of that,” Weinbaum said.

“Whatever the US is saying publicly about how this may open new doors for peace, the fact is they wouldn’t have done this if they thought they had a chance to bring the Taliban to the table any time soon.”

Mansour’s death has plunged the Taliban into disarray, just nine months after he became the new leader.

Scott Worden, an Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace, predicted that in the short term, Mansour’s removal could trigger a wave of attacks.

“The Taliban will be incentivized to redouble their efforts to show strength, and I think not go immediately to the negotiating table,” Worden said.

“Before the strike, the Taliban felt like they were gaining ground, and they were getting an upper hand, and that time was on their side. They will want to test that for months to come before they reevaluate their position,” he added.

Since the start of 2015, Afghan security forces have been responsible for ensuring security across the country, assisted by US and NATO trainers and special forces.

But more than 5,000 local security forces were killed last year alone, and they have struggled to contain a resurgent Taliban.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook suggested Mansour’s death would make the Taliban more likely to negotiate.

“Mansour has been an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, prohibiting Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government that could lead to an end to the conflict,” Cook said in a statement.

– Troop level decision –

Since local Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) assumed responsibility for their country’s security, taking over from NATO, US troop numbers have dwindled to 9,800 — and Obama has pledged to cut these further still, to about 5,500 by next year.

The president, who campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to pull US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, is under pressure not to further risk the already-fragile Afghan security situation.

“Most (military experts) I know would prefer to stay at or near current levels rather than draw down to 5,500 by year’s end,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who recommends a US troop level of about 10,000.

In February, General John Nicholson, the new commander of the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, warned it would take years before local forces can independently take charge.

If the United States decides to leave more troops in Afghanistan, it must act soon so NATO allies can in turn make decisions on their own troop levels.

Anthony Cordesman, an expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said 9,800 troops was a low number, and thought it was hard to predict whether Obama would risk a further reduction.

Obama “doesn’t want to be seen as somebody who made decisions that deprived his successor of having real options,” Cordesman said.

“But this is a president who also debates options almost endlessly, and he tends to in general choose what is relatively low in terms of risk and effort.”

Most of the 9,800 US forces remaining in Afghanistan work in a train-and-advise role with Afghan security partners.

US forces have also conducted missions against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, and defense officials are pushing for greater leeway in bombing Taliban targets.

US forces have been in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion to ouster the Taliban in late 2001.

The United States has spent in total about $1 trillion since, and some 2,200 US lives have been lost in the longest war in US history.

by Laurent Barthelemy and Thomas Watkins
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