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UNSG Report on Afghanistan

United Nations' Secretary General Mr António Guterres has submitted quarterly report on Afghanistan to the Security Council. According to the report, Afghanistan’s mainstream political parties and political movements have intensified their efforts ahead of October parliamentary elections with politicians insisting on reforms in the election system. Between 15 May and 15 August, UNAMA recorded a total of 5,800 security incidents. On the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the UN chief’s reported noted that the momentum in support of a peace process with the Taliban continued, aided by the increasingly active engagement of civil society and religious leaders calling for peace between government and the Taliban. In 2018, 178,002 people were newly displaced by conflict and the demand for trauma care for victims of war increased to 24,687 cases in 2018, an increase of 14 per cent compared with 2017. The report says that a total of 210,724 Afghan citizens, including spontaneous returnees, deportees and refugees, returned to Afghanistan during the reporting period. Former President Sibghat ullah Mujaddadi and a number of parliamentarians have called for the BSA to be assessed. They opined that the agreement has not been successful in the fight against insurgency. In the meanwhile, Taliban and the US are preparing for second round of their direct talks in Doha.

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Elusive Afghan Peace: Between Fire and Ceasefire

In an interesting development while Afghan government announced four days cease fire on Eid eve, Taliban refused to assume a cease fire posture and took their operations to Kabul, at least notionally, where they fired rockets on Presidential palace; though rockets missed the mark. The ensuing hours-long battle involving insurgents’ rocket attacks and military airstrikes ended with the death of two insurgents. “Two attackers were involved. The enemy was firing mortars,” General Murad Ali Murad, commander of Kabul´s garrison, told a press conference. Taliban assault coincided with President Ashraf Ghani’s conditional offer of a three-month ceasefire on first day of Eid. If Americans are looking for good news from the battlefront, then Afghanistan is not the place to look. Taliban are having success after success against the best equipped army in the world. District Faryab has fallen, and fate of over 100 Afghan troops hangs in balance; just miles from Kabul, battle is raging in Ghazni with predictions of its fall. Americans had been begging for Eid ceasefire during three rounds of their direct talks with the Taliban. Afghan government has also been contacting the local leadership for the ceasefire. Some Muslim states and other countries had also approached Taliban for accepting ceasefire proposal. Earlier reports had Taliban in control of the bulk of Ghazni city and surrounding districts on the outskirts. While the Interior Minister was claiming that Taliban were being pushing back to just small pockets of resistance. The Taliban, by contrast, maintain that they remain in control of most of the city. US military statements, unsurprisingly, continue to downplay what they called an “inconsequential fight”, saying they view the Taliban in the area as “isolated and desperate,” and insist that control of the city remains with the government. NATO’s command in Afghanistan has been intentionally misleading the public about the status of seven of Ghazni’s districts. Three additional districts have also been overrun by the Taliban. Resolute Support claimed these seven districts were under government control. In reality, the Taliban physically controlled the terrain while the Afghan government operated them remotely from Ghazni City. Battle for Ghazni has been quite fierce. Over 100 security force members were killed during a recent Taliban attack. The city hospital was reported overcrowded with hundreds of wounded people and dozens of bodies and people desperately searching for relatives among the dead and wounded. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was providing dressing packages and oral and intravenous medicine to treat wounded at the provincial hospital. The ICRC also sent fresh water and electricity generators for trauma surgeries and delivered material for the management of remains. The ICRC is organizing emergency water supplies by trucks to cover the needs of about 18,000 people. “They were facing severe shortage of food and drinking water and the power supply”. Fleeing citizens reported. A humanitarian crisis may just be in the making. In the Faryab province, the Afghan forces surrendered after a 48 hour siege; the Afghan Army base in Ghormach District was surrendered outright to the Taliban. Security forces ran out of ammunition and badly needed reinforcements, which never came. Government troops apparently had no choice but to give up. Over 40 surviving troops were taken prisoner in the surrender. For the second time in the week, Taliban insurgents attacked and overran an Afghan Army base in the country’s north, this time in Baghlan Province. The offensive lasted for about five hours, and left the Taliban in control of the military base and a nearby police checkpoint; Taliban killed nearly 50 Afghan police and soldiers and took 36 prisoners. Taliban have overrun large parts of another army base in northern Afghanistan. The insurgents had captured tanks and ammunition in Chenayeeha army base, in Ghormach district of Faryab province, in an offensive that began on August 12. “We have not been able to enter the base. Large parts of the base are still under the Taliban control,” a local spokesperson said. The Ministry of Public Health confirmed the death toll had risen to 48 in the suicide bombing in a classroom at an education academy in Dasht-e-Barchi, in Kabul. Government sources reported that over 70 security force members had been killed and dozens more wounded in battles on several fronts around the country including Baghlan, Zabul and Kandahar provinces. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported on August 15 that more than 64,000 Afghan civilians were either killed or wounded during the past nine years, with the Taliban causing 70 percent of the casualties. A similar UN report indicates that more than 5,100 Afghan civilians had suffered casualties in the conflict over the first six months of the ongoing year which indicated that a large number of Afghans continued to be victim of terrorism. Presumably the US led occupation forces are in the process of abdicating their responsibility in the rural Afghanistan and have decided to even handover some of the urban districts to Taliban as a part of preliminary bargain. Taliban have risen from the ashes and are now a force to reckon with. Afghan government is under tremendous pressure as Taliban threaten new districts. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded, on several fronts, in clashes during the last two weeks. Contrast this bloodbath with what the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on July 09 that there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a press conference. “Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy”, he added. Earlier in January this year, President Ashraf Ghani had offered the Taliban peace talks without conditions. United States has dropped its previous refusal to talk to the Taliban; and both have spoken directly in Qatar, where they maintain a political office. Systematic retreat indicates that while maintaining a state of denial, Americans may have actually covered a substantial space for reaching a political deal with Taliban. Now America is contemplating addition of Zalmay Khalilzad, as Presidential Special Envoy on Afghanistan. Zalmay, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, is known for his anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban leanings. His appointment is meant to impress upon Taliban and Pakistan that the US is serious about talks to end its longest war. The US military commanders now openly acknowledge a stalemate in the fighting. Afghan peace continues to be as elusive as it had ever been.

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How Not to Engage With Pakistan

How Not to Engage With Pakistan

by Richard G. Olson [Courtesy The New York Times] President Trump’s decision last week to suspend almost all security aid to Pakistan, which quickly followed his accusation that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies and deceit,” suggests that his administration is carrying out the hard-line approach that the president foreshadowed in August.The harsh truth is that American leverage over Rawalpindi and Islamabad has been declining. And as United States aid levels have diminished — reflecting bipartisan unhappiness with Pakistani policy — aid from the Chinese has increased. China has invested around $62 billion in Pakistani infrastructure under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an element of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Its magnitude and its transformation of parts of Pakistan dwarf anything the United States has ever undertaken.Thus, the Trump administration’s attempt at humiliating and penalizing Pakistan is unlikely to work. Pakistan, like most countries, reacts very badly to public attempts to force its hand. It is likely to respond by showing how it can truly undercut our position in Afghanistan.

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QCG Revival: Another Mirage?

QCG Revival: Another Mirage?

The four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) talks on exploring ways to revive peace process in Afghanistan, were held in Oman on October 16. Parleys ended without any breakthrough. And participants—Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States—preferred to stay quiet over the event and no joint statement was issued. The QCG, had held its previous meeting in Islamabad early last year. The QCG was set up in December 2015, by the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad. The main aim of the initiative was to make collective efforts for arranging direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban; and since its inception, the group has been trying to carve the path to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The US has ever since been playing both sides, trying for negotiation with Taliban as well as systematically disrupting it, at will. The group had held five meetings before the process met a dead end after Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansur was killed in July 2016. Now Taliban’s military campaign “Operation Mansuri” is in full swing in Afghanistan.Whether Trump likes it or not, Pakistan remains vital for the United States as a route to supply American and Afghan war effort. Pakistan shares international community’s concerns about instability in Afghanistan. Pakistan is ready to work with every one and any one as a partner for achieving peace and security in the region. However, arm twisting and bad mouthing will not lead any party anywhere.

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Stop Rohingya Genocide!

Stop Rohingya genocide

With serious dangers of spinning out of control, Rohingya crisis needs an immediate attentRohingya 1ion of international community. UNSC needs to intervene to nullify Myanmar’s 2008 legislation that deprives Rohingya population of its citizenship rights; post a UN Peace Enforcement Contingent to create a buffer zone between Rakhine state and rest of Myanmar; declare Rakhine state as “Autonomous Rohingya Zone”; and set a future date—at least after a decade—to hold a UN supervised referendum in Rakhine to determine whether Rohingya populations wants to retain Autonomous status within Myanmar or become an independent republic. Kofin Annan Commission report provides initial document for action.

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Rewriting Afghan conflict!

In yet another rebuke to Pakistan, America has repeated the beaten line: “The US continues to be clear with Pakistan about steps it should take to improve the security environment and deny safe havens to terrorist and extremist groups,” the Pentagon said in its six-monthly report on Afghanistan sent to the Congress on June 17. The US defence secretary Ashton …

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The F-16 and Afghan wars

F-16 was Pakistan’s weapon of first choice when Soviets walked into Afghanistan in 1979. First tranche of 40 aeroplanes was promptly delivered. Deadly combination of F-16 and Stinger, surface to air, air defence missile broke the will of Soviet-Afghan Air Forces to carry out hot pursuit operations inside Pakistan. Now again F-16 is the best suited aircraft to hit otherwise …

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Afghanistan between war and peace making

During a meeting between President Mamnoon Hussain and Chief Executive of Afghanistan Dr Abdullah Abdullah, on the side-lines of the OIC summit, mutual commitment to work together to address common challenges was reaffirmed. The President underlined the importance Pakistan attached to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and highlighted the efforts being made for the promotion of the Afghan reconciliation process, including through the Quadrilateral mechanism. Back in Afghanistan fierce offensive around Kunduz began only days after the Taliban group announced its annual spring offensive, vowing to launch large-scale attacks to drive the Western-backed government from power. Imamuddin Qureshi, chief of Kunduz's Imam Saheb district, said several security outposts had already fallen to the Taliban, and he called on the government in Kabul to send reinforcements and air support immediately. Outposts were also overrun in other districts and security forces fled to Kunduz city to regroup, Khanabad district Chief Ayatullah Amiri said. The highway between Kunduz and neighbouring Takhar province also stands blocked. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said fighters had captured outposts in six districts and three bomb blasts had killed seven members of the Afghan security forces just outside Kunduz.Onus to secure any reduction in violence through cease fire(s) rests with the Afghan government through a package of political concessions that could, step by step, induct the Taliban into Afghanistan’s mainstream political structures. Earlier the Afghan government comes out with such a package, better it would be for the peace process. Afghan government is poised to be loser in the battlefield and each combat victory would result in further entrenching by the Taliban. Pakistan has denounced the launch of spring offensive and has announced that it would continue to play a positive role for peace in Afghanistan. But Pakistan is in no position to dictate to Taliban. Thus one has to be cautious while attaching timelines and deadlines or preconditions to the process. Rather, it is more important to keep the process on track and foil the attempts to derail it.

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Afghanistan between mysteries and realities!

Two suicide attacks one each in Kabul and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan and prompt claiming of responsibility by the Taliban could be another conspiracy to derail the upcoming direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. May be someone else is acting as Taliban. Afghan conflict often throws up events that remain shrouded in mystery.This type of environment is quite intriguing. Afghanistan should have been keen for restoration of peace and tranquillity in the country that has suffered so much and for so long because of turbulence and turmoil triggered by a host of factors. Earlier, Afghanistan and some of its friends in the West had been complaining that peace process was not moving ahead because of lack of required support by Pakistan; however, over the last two years, Pakistan has been making hectic endeavours to help forward movement of peace process. Pakistan’s keenness has been widely acknowledged by the international community. Pakistan is deeply interested in speedy resolution of the Afghan crisis as unending conflict has badly damaged it in different ways including missed economic opportunities, deteriorating security situation and continued presence of millions of Afghan refugees that are adding to the socio-economic problems of the country.

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Evolving dynamics of Afghan conflict

Last week Afghan forces pulled out of bases in Musa Qala, a strategic district of the southern province of Helmand. The commander of the Afghan army’s 215th Corps, Mohammad Moeen Faqir, said troops had been ordered to pull back from Roshan Tower, their main base in Musa Qala, as well as other checkpoints to reinforce Gereshk, straddling the main highway, one which links Kabul with the south and west. “Now that the government has withdrawn its forces from this district, we will see Kajaki, Gereshk and Sangin collapsing very soon,” said deputy provincial council member Abdul Majid Akhundzada.The outgoing commander of Operation Resolute Support and American troops in Afghanistan, General John F Campbell, paid a farewell call on Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on February 18. Campbell paid rich tributes to the professionalism and phenomenal achievements of Pakistan Army in Operation Zarb-e-Azb. He also acknowledged Pakistan Army’s efforts towards regional stability. General Raheel thanked Campbell in particular for his efforts to bring about stability in Afghanistan! Two generals reviewed the ongoing reconciliation process in Afghanistan and discussed the way forward. Though generals may think that worst of the Afghan conflict is far behind them, from a commoner’s perspectives, Afghanistan faces numerous daunting challenges.

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