Fair Observer: Afghanistan’s Khorasan region is often associated with war and social conservatism, yet it has a rich history of religious tolerance and a passion for art. Whether known to be the graveyard of empires or the land of lions, Afghanistan has always been perceived as the motherland of fearless, rural fighters. Yet the view of a mountainous, ruthless country does not give justice to the beauty of this historic land, regulated for centuries by codes and institutions that incorporated progressive thinking. Over 30 years of war and an unstoppable campaign against local tribal customs have contributed to enforce this conventional wisdom, portraying Afghans as conservative extremists who oppose any form of modernization. Click here to read more (external link).
AFP: Afghanistan is set to lay out stringent penalties for “bacha bazi” – sexual slavery and abuse of boys – for the first time, officials say, in a landmark move against the deeply entrenched practice. AFP revealed last year how the Taliban were exploiting rampant bacha bazi in police ranks to mount deadly insider attacks, exposing a hidden epidemic of kidnapping of young boys for institutionalised sexual slavery. Click here to read more (external link).
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) — Taliban militants shot dead two former policemen in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan on Wednesday, police spokesman Mahfozullah Akbari confirmed.
According to the official, both victims had served as local policemen and were gunned by Taliban in Khalozai area of Baghlan-e-Markazi district in Baghlan province Wednesday morning.
Taliban militants who are active in parts of Baghlan province with Pul-e-Khumri as its capital, 160 km north of Kabul, are yet to claim responsibility.
Other Security News
Tolo News: Seven bodyguards of the First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum who are accused of sexual abuse of Ahmad Eshchi, former deputy head of National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, appeared for questioning at the Attorney General’s Office, a senior police official told TOLOnews. The spokesman for Ministry of Interior (MoI), Sediq Sediqqi, wrote on his Twitter page: “MoI confirms investigations underway by Attorney General’s Office from the 7 security guards accused of misconduct in a case”. Click here to read more (external link).
Tolo News: A security source said the armed forces surrounded Dostum’s house on Tuesday because he had brought huge numbers armed personnel into the city. In addition, the source said, nine of Dostum’s security guards were accused of mistreating Ahmad Eshchi, former deputy head of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan. Only two of the guards showed a willingness to cooperate in the investigations. The remaining seven guards have not so far have not appeared to face questions. Click here to read more (external link).
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) — Personnel of law enforcing agencies have arrested eight suspected insurgents in the southern Kandahar province, said a statement of National Directorate of Security (NDS) or the country’s spy agency released here Tuesday.
“An eight-member group of armed insurgents have been arrested and the arrested persons have confessed to their involvement in subversive activities including targeting security checkpoints and supplying caravans,” the statement said.
Taliban militants who are active in parts of the southern Kandahar province over the past more than a decade are yet to make comment on the subject.
February 20, 2017
They both call themselves the Taliban. They regularly carry out deadly suicide bombings, kill civilians with impunity and, in many respects, behave like brutish terrorist groups. So why is one — the Tehrik-I Taliban of Pakistan — on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, while the other — Afghanistan’s Taliban — is not?
To the U.S., the Afghan Taliban is largely an insurgency with control over vast swaths of territory and aspirations to govern the country, while its Pakistani offspring is considered nothing but a terrorist organization. But the real reason the Afghan Taliban is not on the list has more to do with political considerations than whether or not it meets the statutory criteria for a terrorist designation.
To be declared a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, a foreign group must engage in terrorism and threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States. The Afghan Taliban meet both criteria.
Yet political expedience has obligated keeping the group off the list of 61 organizations ranging from the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State group to the Palestinian group Hamas. In the case of the Taliban, the deterring factor has long been a concern that applying the terror label to the group would restrict U.S. and Afghan government diplomatic contacts with the Taliban, making peace talks more difficult.
“There is no doubt that the Taliban occasionally attacks civilians intentionally, not accidentally, and that’s the definition of terrorism,” said James Dobbins, a former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “And, thus, the designation would be accurate enough. The question is whether or not it would serve the U.S. and Afghan government purposes for that step to be taken.”
‘Call the enemy by its name’
With the Trump administration scaling up its war on Islamic terrorist groups with a vow to “call the enemy by its name,” the question has entered into discussions over a new Afghan war strategy.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told VOA’s Afghan service earlier this month that the question of whether the Taliban should be designated as a terrorist organization “is an important one for the [new] administration to consider and it will be part of our conversation with them as the weeks unfold.”
Nicholson did not say whether he favored a terrorist designation, but he left little doubt how he viewed the Taliban, calling the group “an enabler of terrorists” with links to many terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida and the Haqqani network.
Nicholson told the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee earlier that 20 of the 98 U.S.-designated terrorist groups in the world operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the U.S. was seeking to set up an “enduring counterterrorism platform” in Afghanistan.
Asked whether the administration is considering designating the Taliban as a terror group, a State Department spokesperson referred to a 2002 executive order labeling the Taliban a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity” and a 2008 Congressional law mandating that the Taliban be considered a terrorist organization for immigration purposes.
While the Global Terrorist Entity sanctions are focused on financial transactions, a foreign terrorist organization designation prohibits “material support,” such as training, and carries greater weight, according to Oliver Krischik, a trade law attorney specializing in U.S. economic sanctions.
“Just the act of designating an organization on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list itself is a powerful move just in name, and that is something which can have a severe impact on the way other people around the world will or will not engage in business with you,” Krischik said.
Long eager to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, successive Afghan governments have stopped short of calling for the group to be designated as a terrorist organization, said Dobbins, who led the 2001 Bonn negotiations that created the first post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.
“If the U.S. was seriously proposing to do it, my guess is it would lead some Afghan officials to counsel against it precisely because they’d still hope eventually to be able to launch some process of reconciliation,” Dobbins said. “If [the Trump administration] really wants to create an obstacle to communications with the Taliban, then this probably could have that effect.”
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was unaware of any proposal to designate the Taliban as a terrorist organization.
Advantages of the label
With the U.S. military enjoying broad authority to target the Taliban, a terrorist designation would have little impact on the battlefield. But declaring the Taliban a terror group could have one advantage, according to Michael Ryan, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington: It would make it politically easier for the Trump administration to pressure foreign governments backing the Taliban. The U.S. has long accused Pakistan of sheltering the Taliban, a charge denied by Islamabad.
In labeling the Taliban a terror group, the administration could also argue that “we’re just tidying up the list,” Ryan said, noting that the Taliban-allied Haqqani network and IS branch of Afghanistan and Pakistan are on the list. “Or they could say, as some Republicans said in the last administration, President [Barack] Obama was too weak on this issue and they’re going to strengthen it up.”
Gianni Koskinas, a former military officer now with the New America think tank in Washington, argued that merely excluding the Taliban from the terror list is unlikely to encourage the group to enter into peace talks.
“Ultimately, if the Afghan government chooses to reconcile with the Taliban, that is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned to the designation of terrorist or not,” Koskinas said. “The notion that you can tie and bind reconciliation with something that is a very black-and-white fact that they’re a terrorist organization, that they’re behaving as one, is illogical to me.”
Designating the Taliban as a terrorist organization would bring clarity to the U.S. position in Afghanistan, Koskinas said. “The message should be clear: If you behave like this, then you’re a terrorist organization. Period,” he said.
VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching and VOA’s Afghanistan Service contributed to this report.
February 20, 2017
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Afghanistan have issued conciliatory statements in an apparent attempt to defuse days of border tensions stemming from charges Afghan soil was used for masterminding last week’s terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities.
Pakistani troops have been staging cross-border shelling to target what authorities claimed were camps of Jammat-ul Ahrar, or JuA, a splinter faction of the anti-state Pakistani Taliban for being behind most of the deadly violence.
Islamabad maintains that JuA leaders are sheltering in Afghan border areas from where they plot and direct violence against Pakistan. Security officials also confirmed Monday, the military deployed additional heavy artillery at main border crossings to deter illegal movements.
However, Pakistani military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Monday explained his troop build up along the Afghan border and enhanced security arrangements are aimed at fighting “common enemy” of terrorism.
“Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together,” the general told a security meeting of his top commanders in Rawalpindi, where the military is headquartered.
Bajwa also called “for more effective border coordination and cooperation” with Afghan security forces to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists and other illegal activities, according to a statement released by the military’s media wing after the meeting.
The deadliest terrorist attack in Pakistan targeted a famous Sufi shrine in the southern Sindh province last Thursday. The suicide blast left at least 90 devotees dead and over 300 wounded. Local affiliates of Islamic State took credit for that bloodshed.
Earlier on Monday, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah chaired a meeting of cabinet ministers in Kabul and expressed concerns over Pakistani shelling of border areas, warning such threats would help neither side.
“Afghan forces have been directed from the outset not to take actions that could fuel the tension on the Durand Line,” Abdullah said referring to the frontier with Pakistan.
The Afghan chief executive reiterated terrorist groups, including IS and al-Qaida, active in his country and inflicting bloodshed on Afghans were created outside Afghanistan.
Abdullah did not name any country but Kabul has long alleged that the Taliban and its allies waging years of insurgency against the Afghan government are using Pakistani sanctuaries for regrouping and plotting attacks on the Afghan side.
“These groups are operating under the Taliban umbrella in areas of Afghanistan which are under the influence of the Taliban,” Abdullah asserted.
Separately, the Afghan foreign ministry revealed it has handed over to Pakistan a list of 32 training centers and 85 militant leaders, including that of the Taliban and the terrorist Haqqani network, who are involved in terrorist attacks against Afghanistan.
Kabul has asked Islamabad to take action against these facilities and men to prevent them from staging the cross-border violence.
Monday’s move came after Pakistan last week handed over a list of 76 fugitive militants to the Afghan government, saying they are operating from the Afghan side and masterminded recent violence on Pakistani soil, and demanded Kabul take immediate action against them.
Afghan ambassador to Islamabad, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal delivered the list to Pakistani civilian and military authorities shortly after he arrived back from Kabul. Speaking to VOA, the Afghan diplomat described his meetings as constructive and positive.
“As a result I expect deescalation of the current tension and the creation of a more positive environment for responding to each other’s concerns and grievances in a cooperative manner,” said Zakhilwal
Mutual allegations of sponsoring terrorist attacks on each others’ territory have been at the center of political and diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, sharing a long porous border of 2,600 kilometers. Both sides deny allegations they are supporting the militants.
- Hundreds of Afghans flee Pakistani cross-border shelling: Aid group
- UN envoy arrives in Islamabad to reduce Pak-Afghan tension
- Kabul Delivers List of 32 Terror Camps to Pakistan
February 20, 2017
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he will make recommendations soon to President Donald Trump on whether to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Mattis said on February 19 that the president had been “rightfully reticent” on the matter, as he was waiting for input from his generals about the situation in Afghanistan — where U.S. forces have been deployed against the Taliban and other extremist militants for more than 15 years.
“We are putting our thoughts together now,” Mattis told reporters during a visit to Abu Dhabi. “It shouldn’t take too long.”
He added that Trump “is open to my advice on it, but first of all I’ve got to formulate where I stand, so this is the normal collection of… information.”
Mattis said he spoke for several hours by video conference on February 19 with General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month that he needs a few thousand more troops to train and advise Afghan forces.
Nicholson didn’t provide an exact number, but he called for greater flexibility in setting U.S. troop levels.
He also said that, after a U.S. troop presence of more than 15 years, the war in Afghanistan has reached a “stalemate.”
Mattis met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Munich on February 18.
He was scheduled to fly to Kabul on February 19, but bad weather forced him to postpone the trip.
U.S. troop levels in the country are limited to 8,400 after former President Barack Obama insisted on reducing their presence and handing security responsibility to Afghan forces.
Meanwhile, Mattis did not directly address the role of Russia in Afghanistan, which as part of the Soviet Union fought a war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
General Nicholson had told U.S. senators that Moscow was giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover in order to undermine U.S. influence and to defeat NATO.
Mattis said he needs to “assess what the other countries in the region are doing in Afghanistan to help or hinder us in our efforts. We are still sorting that out.”
With reporting by AP and AFP
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
Other Security News
Tolo News: The Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) has announced that president Ashraf Ghani has ordered the appointment of Atta Mohammad Noor, as the new governor of Balkh province. Click here to read more (external link).