Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

28 April 2017

*** Afghanistan: The Future of the National Unity Government

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Two and a half years after it was created to prevent the bitterly contested 2014 presidential election from plunging Afghanistan into turmoil, the future of the National Unity Government (NUG) is shaky, as is broader political stability. The NUG is beset with internal disagreements and discord and facing a resurgent insurgency. Several options are being discussed in Afghan and international circles for how best to tackle the political and constitutional tensions that, if left unresolved, would increase the risk of internal conflict and insecurity in an already fragile state. The only promising way forward is for the two protagonists, President Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Abdullah Abdullah, to acknowledge that the stability of their government and country requires them to work together.

*** Afghans Want More ‘Mothers of All Bombs’


KABUL, Afghanistan — The sky-tearing blast last week was unlike anything the villagers around the Acchin valleys in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar had ever heard. It set off panicked phone calls and fearful speculations until word spread that the explosion was not a new insurgency strike but an air attack by the United States. The onslaught employed one of the few bombs to have its own set of names — the GBU-43/B, otherwise known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or the “Mother of All Bombs” (MOAB).

It was the first time the 21,000-pound bomb, which covers a 1,000-yard radius, has been used in combat. The strike, directed at a network of tunnels used by insurgents, drew global attention to the long-running conflict in Afghanistan. “It was the right weapon, for the right target,” General John W. Nicholson, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, told a room of journalists in Kabul on Friday afternoon. But it wasn’t just Americans who were enthusiastic about the strike. Despite the worries sparked worldwide by the news, local Afghan leaders were cheering the MOAB.



The use of a large conventional bomb against an Afghan tunnel complex occupied by Islamic State militants recently captured the media’s imagination. Talking heads rushed to discern the meaning of the decision. Was it President Donald Trump sending a message to North Korea? Was the president even involved in the decision? It turns out that he wasn’t.

The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, says he ordered the use of the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst Bomb, known colloquially as the “mother of all bombs”) for purely tactical reasons: “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles.” The jubilation expressed by U.S. media in purely tactical destruction, however, sent a strategic message to some Afghans: that the United States considers their country a collection of targets to destroy rather than a country with a history and, hopefully, a future. A senior pro-government political analyst in Kabul whom I have known for decades points out that even if the Islamic State flees the area, the government’s weakness means the Taliban, who pose a greater threat to the government, will fill the vacuum.

27 April 2017

Is It Time for America and Afghanistan to Part Ways?

Daniel R. DePetris

It is unlikely that Trump will withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but he should reevaluate America's role in the country.

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for such a long period of time that it’s almost become a ritual for a new administration to take a bottom-up, comprehensive look at America’s war strategy during its first two months on the job. The movie has been repetitively played over the last decade and a half: the generals running the war are ordered by the new president and his national security adviser to assess whether the plan is working; the generals conduct the review, which usually concludes with the commanders requesting more U.S. troops on the ground; and the administration (with varying degrees of resistance) eventually provides the commanders the authority and resources that they have forwarded to the White House. President Obama was a bit of anomaly in this regard. He did, after all, set a timeline for troop withdrawals that the Pentagon wasn’t especially pleased about. But even Obama authorized nearly fifty thousand additional American troops into the conflict during his first year in office.

Pakistan and the Panama Papers Verdict

The long awaited Panama Papers verdict on 20 April, 2017, by the five-judge bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court has stopped short of disqualifying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and given him a temporary reprieve by ordering investigation by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of officials, including those from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI), within 60 days, under Court supervision.

The 3-2 split verdict suggests that while there may have been enough substance to justify that Sharif may not have been either `sadiq’ (honest) or `ameen’ (trustworthy), thus meriting disqualification under Articles 62 and 63 of their Constitution, this power could not be exercised by the Supreme Court in its `original jurisdiction’ powers under Art 184(3), as it did not relate to a question of public importance related to a Fundamental Right. It purports though, that there were enough grounds to believe that the prime minister and his family members had obfuscated the money trail about the off-shore accounts and especially, the transaction pertaining to purchase of the Mayfair flats in London. 

The JIT has been tasked to work on a `thirteen point’ list of items pertaining to the money trail covering the setting up of the Gulf Steel Mill in Dubai; subsequent sales in Saudi Arabia and Qatar; and details of purchase transactions of the Mayfair flats. The judgment virtually dismisses the veracity of the Qatari Sheikh, Jabbar al Thani’s bailout letters about the money transactions. It also opens up the possibilities of re-opening of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills money laundering investigations of the early 1990s by either the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The role of NAB Chief Qamar Zaman in not challenging the September 2014 Lahore High Court verdict exonerating the Sharifs in the Hudaibiya case has been castigated. The JIT’s would now be `a criminal investigation’, which would have to be placed before a fresh bench of the Supreme Court to finally decide on the matter.

Kabul and the Challenge of Dwindling Foreign Aid

This report offers a comprehensive look at the capital city of Kabul and its unique role in Afghanistan’s transition away from more than a decade of foreign occupation and violence. Social tensions are simmering just under the surface in the capital, even more so than in other Afghan cities, and have the potential to foment serious unrest. Yet, if there is a place in the country that offers the potential for mobilization, technical and intellectual capacity, communication, and acceptance by the rest of the country, it is Kabul. 


Afghanistan’s capital city is a natural focal point for the country’s transition away from more than a decade of foreign occupation. 

Kabul’s economy is foundering. Developing new policies to stimulate investment and reorient production and trade on a more sustainable basis is critical. 

Economic competition over scanty resources has the potential to foment serious unrest in a city already simmering with tensions. Better urban planning and management would help allay tensions. 

Distribution of public services has conspicuous room for improvement. Receipt depends on location but is uncertain: poor households receive the least, health care is inferior, electricity is unreliable, waste collection is a shambles, and water is available but controlled by private parties. 

26 April 2017

In the name of God

Sanchita Bhattacharya

The practice of condemning an individual or a particular group for following 'certain religious practices' in the name of blasphemy has intensified acts of violence in Pakistan. In the latest blasphemy case, Mashal Khan, a student, was brutally lynched by his own hostel mates at Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in the Mardan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in broad daylight on April 13, 2017, after being accused of blasphemy. The deceased was a resident of Swabi and a student at AWKU’s Journalism and Mass Communications department. A friend of the deceased student said that a mob attacked and beat him, before shooting him in the head and chest. The mob then continued to beat his body with sticks.

Some of the recent cases of blasphemy-related crimes include:

April 21, 2017: A mob attacked a man and beat him brutally inside a mosque in Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, after he was accused of uttering blasphemous remarks following Friday prayers. The man, who is yet to be identified, is alleged to have pushed the imam of the mosque to allow him to speak after jummah (Friday) prayers. Eyewitnesses claim the man then uttered 'blasphemous remarks' amidst the prayer gathering. As worshippers started beating the man, the mosque's imam, fearing for the man's life, handed him over to the Police. The Police took him to the local police station for his protection, and claimed that they were trying to ascertain the man's mental health. A First Information Report (FIR) was filed against him over charges of blasphemy and terrorism, according to the Deputy Commissioner Chitral, Shahab Yousafzai.

How Could The Taliban Breach A Heavily-Guarded Afghan Army Base?

by Voice of America

WASHINGTON/MAZAR-I-SHARIF - On Friday early in the afternoon, two Afghan Army Ford Ranger vehicles with 10 soldiers on board stopped before the first security check point of the main entrance to 209 Shaheen Corps, in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province.

The soldiers on board were Taliban militants, disguised in Afghan National Army (ANA) uniforms with fake identification cards.

Inside the first vehicle, there was a wounded soldier who was pleading for urgent care.

“The soldier was covered in blood, and when the guard at the first checkpoint communicated with his superiors in the second checkpoint, he was told to let them in,” an Afghan soldier from the military base told VOA on condition of anonymity.

“They were allowed to cross the second checkpoint as well, and when they were stopped and asked for their guns in the third checkpoint, they started firing at the guards,” the Afghan soldier added.

According to the soldier, the security guard at the main gate was convinced that the assailants were returning from a mission from northern Faryab province and that the wounded soldier would die if not taken care of immediately.

“As soon as they gunned down the security guards in the third checkpoint, they spread inside the base, and two of the assailants rushed towards the cafeteria and the mosque detonating their suicide vests,” the source added.

The Benefits and Risks of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor


Traditionally, China and Pakistan have cooperated closely at the strategic and political levels. Now the two nations are making efforts to expand their bilateral collaboration economically as well. The construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a milestone that signifies this shift.

At its core, the CPEC is a large-scale initiative to build energy, highway, and port infrastructure to deepen economic connections between China and Pakistan. This initiative has been well-received in both countries, although it is not without its problems.1 Nevertheless, China and Pakistan regard the CPEC as a new source of potential synergy between their respective national development strategies, which may help the two countries translate their close political cooperation into multifaceted economic cooperation, attain mutual benefits, and achieve win-win outcomes. For the economic corridor to reach its potential, however, there are security and political challenges in Pakistan that must be addressed.

25 April 2017



Pakistani Hindus celebrate Holi – the festival of colours


Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that there is not enough evidence to convict Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption after the 2016 Panama Paper leaks linked his children to three offshore accounts.

Sharif repeatedly denied the charges of corruption—arguing that they were politically motivated—but the court’s decision may not put to bed a scandal that has dogged the Pakistani leader for the past two years. For his critics, many questions remain.

Sharif has not explained publicly how he was able to amass a fortune of around $19 million while working in politics since the 1970s, and opposition leaders accuse him of lying to parliament.

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It is the first time a sitting prime minister has ever faced an investigation panel probing into his financial affairs, according to Dawn newspaper.

According to papers leaked from Mossack Fonseca law firm, Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies that were registered in the British Virgin Islands. His children later used the holding companies to purchase properties in London, according to the court.

Pakistan 2017 comprehensively colonised by China

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Reminiscent of British colonisation of India two centuries ago facilitated by some Indian princes connivance two centuries ago, China in 2017 has comprehensively colonised Pakistan with the connivance of Pakistan Army and Pakistani politicians.

India needs to take a special note of this trend as in 2017 wherein it is emerging that Pakistan’s own national interest would now slide into a sub-text and be subsumed into the all-enveloping Chinese strategic blueprint for South Asia. Pakistan would only be a Chinese colonial proxy for dealing with India.

Perceptionaly, in 21st Century political parlance it can be believed that a nation gets “colonised” when willingly a nation’s power structure elites concede their policy decision-making wholly or virtually to a powerful neighbour in the domains of foreign policy, political dynamics, economic development and subsuming one’s own national security interests to those of their ‘strategic patron.’

Strategically ironic is the fact that Pakistan, as a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Pakistan, self-proclaimed as geopolitically significant globally, and also proclaiming ‘strategic equivalence’ with India as the neighbourly Emerged Power, should have succumbed to China’s geopolitical pressures over the decades to build it as the contending power with India. In the process decades later in 2017, Pakistan despite its mighty claims has seemingly emerged as comprehensively colonised by China.

How predatory crime and corruption in Afghanistan underpin the Taliban insurgency

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Afghanistan is once again on the cusp of a bloody fighting season, which this year didn’t even relent during the winter. In fact, since 2014 the Taliban has mounted and sustained its toughest military campaign yet, and the war has become bloodier than ever. Extensive predatory criminality, corruption, and power abuse—not effectively countered by the Afghan government—have facilitated the Taliban’s entrenchment.

The transition choices by the Afghan government and the international community—including the embrace of problematic warlords for the sake of short-term military battlefield advantages, and as tools of political co-optation—shaped and reinforced criminality and corruption in the post-2001 Afghanistan. In turn, this delegitimized the post-Taliban political dispensation. Indeed, generalized predatory criminality in Afghanistan lies at the crux of Afghanistan’s dire and fragile predicament.

Moscow’s Afghan Confusion

Written by Davood Moradian

One can see the emergence of a “Taliban alliance” which includes Pakistan, with China, Russia and Iran.

Russia’s pursuit of “great power” status and its growing concern over terrorism and narcotic drugs have pushed it to re-enter the Afghan conflict, as demonstrated by the April 15 regional conference on Afghanistan in Moscow. Kabul and Moscow have had complicated relations during the last two centuries: Russia was the first country to recognise Afghanistan’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1919. It became its main developmental partner during the last century. Afghanistan was also a major contested zone during Moscow’s imperial expansion during the Cold War. In the 1970s, Moscow’s misunderstanding of Afghan politics and its imperial hubris provided its arch rivals — the West, China and Islamist groups — a golden opportunity to trap the Russian bear in the Hindu Kush, which ushered the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

The West and the Islamists’ victory had, however, two unintended consequences: The destruction of the Afghan state and the emergence of militant Islamism. The combination hit back at the West on September 11, 2001. Following the rise of the Taliban, Moscow was again entangled in Afghanistan. This time, it chose the correct course of action. It joined an anti-Taliban regional alliance in support of the Mujahideen government in Kabul alongside Iran, India and the Central Asian states. After the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2011, Moscow continued to pursue a Kabul-centric, an anti-Taliban policy in support of US-led international efforts. Moscow’s clarity helped develop conciliatory sentiments among Afghans towards Russia.

24 April 2017

Updated | He has been the forgotten man in the West’s desperate campaign to obliterate the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). He didn’t even merit a cameo in the celebratory coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011. For several years, he has been described as the leader of a spent force.

Yet Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s mentor and successor, remains a key player in an attack threat to America that retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, the U.S. homeland security secretary, says is "worse today than what we experienced 16 years ago on 9/11.” And if officials in the Donald Trump administration have their way, al-Zawahiri’s name will soon be as familiar to the world as bin Laden’s once was.
The White House signaled a new, tougher approach to eliminating al-Zawahiri and his militant allies in early April with the appointment of Lisa Curtis to head the South Asia desk for the National Security Council. A well-known former CIA analyst, congressional staffer and foreign policy hawk in Washington, D.C’s think-tank circuit, Curtis caused a stir in February when she co-authored a piece arguing that the U.S. “should...hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.”

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has been protecting the Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri, a trained surgeon, since U.S. forces evicted Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan in late 2001, several authoritative sources tell Newsweek. His most likely location today, they say: Karachi, the teeming port city of 26 million people on the Arabian Sea. “Like everything about his location, there’s no positive proof,” says Bruce Riedel, a 30-year CIA veteran who was the top adviser on South Asia and the Middle East for the past four U.S. presidents. “There are pretty good indications, including some of the material found in Abbottabad,” where bin Laden was slain, “that point in that direction,” he adds. “This would be a logical place to hide out, where he would feel pretty comfortable that the Americans can’t come and get him.”

Karachi would be a “very hard” place for the U.S. to conduct the kind of commando raid that got bin Laden on May 2, 2011, Riedel says. The heavily policed city, the site of a major nuclear complex, also hosts Pakistani naval and air bases, where forces could quickly be scrambled to intercept American raiders. Plus, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri’s late protégé, remains a popular figure among Karachi’s millions of poor, devout Muslims, who could well emerge from their homes and shops to pin down the Americans.

“If he was in someplace along the border with Afghanistan, I think the temptation would be enormous to go after him,” says Riedel, who now heads the Brooking Institution’s Intelligence Project in Washington, D.C. “But in Karachi, that would be stunning and very difficult.”

In the first week of January 2016, the Obama administration went after al-Zawahiri with a drone strike in Pakistan’s remote Shawal Valley, which abuts the Afghan border in a Federally Administered Tribal Area, multiple sources tell Newsweek. But he survived, says a senior militant leader in the region, who, like all Pakistani sources, demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing politically sensitive issues. "The drone hit next to the room where Dr. Zawahiri was staying,” the man told Newsweek. “The shared wall collapsed, and debris from the explosion showered on him and broke his glasses, but luckily he was safe.”

The man added that “four of Zawahiri's security guards were killed on the spot and one was injured but died later.” He said al-Zawahiri had “left the targeted room to sleep just 10 minutes ahead of the missile that hit that room.” (The CIA declines to comment on drone strikes.)

The Al-Qaeda leader had been moving about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since at least 2005, according to a forthcoming book, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, by longtime British investigative reporters Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. “Married to a local Pashtun girl, [al-Zawahiri] had been given a new home, a large mud-brick compound up in the hills” in Damadola, they write.

** Mother of All Bombs A journey to the Afghan village where President Trump dropped the biggest bomb.


ACHIN, AFGHANISTAN — I spent the evening of April 13 with a cousin and two aunts in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan. My aunts mostly talked about their relaxed, liberal early youth in the 1960s among the Kabul elite. As we waited in the driveway for our car, my cousin told me about an explosion in Nangarhar, the eastern province of Afghanistan, where our family comes from. We scrolled through our phones. As we drove out, it became clear it wasn’t the beginning of the Taliban’s so-called Spring Offensive.

Around 8 p.m. Afghan time, the United States had dropped a 21,600-pound, $16 million bomb on Asadkhel, a tiny village nestled between two forested hills, to attack a decades-old tunnel system that was being used by fighters claiming allegiance to the Iraq- and Syria-based Islamic State.

Afghanistan has been at war for almost four decades now. Our people lived through the Soviet occupation and the war the mujahedeen fought against the Soviets with the support of the United States; freedom from the Soviet occupation was stained by a brutal civil war between mujahedeen factions (warlords had ruled large parts of the country and exacted a terrible human cost).

The Taliban rule followed. We watched them being bombed into submission and escape after Sept. 11, celebrated a few years of relative calm, and saw the Taliban return to strength and wage a long, bloody insurgency that continues to this day. We watched the world tire of our forever war and forget us.

Taliban Attack on Afghan Corps Headquarters in Northern Afghanistan Causes Huge Number of Casualties

The Taliban launched a suicide assault on an Afghan Army corps headquarters in the northern province of Balkh today and attacked the mosque on the base.

Taliban fighters “managed to penetrate multiple layers of protection at the Afghan National Army’s 209 Shaheen Corps Headquarters” near the provincial capital of Mazar-i-Sharif, TOLONews reported. The Taliban fighters reportedly entered the base in two Ranger pickup trucks, which are used by Afghan security forces and supplied by the US. The Taliban fighters were wearing Afghan military uniforms, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.

The Taliban assault team is said to have attacked the mosque on the base. At least 10 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting. It is unclear if the casualties include Taliban fighters.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed the attack on his Twitter feed, and said the Taliban opened the assault by using “suicide attacks,” which allowed “a large number of Mujahideen” to penetrate the base. According to Mujahid, more than 100 Afghan security personnel were killed in the fighting, including a battalion commander known as Shirin Agha and Colonel Abdul, “the Chief of Staff Corps.” His account could not be verified, and the Taliban routinely inflate the number of casualties caused by their operations.

Afghan casualties in Taliban Mazar-e Sharif attack pass 100

Image copyrightREUTERSImage captionAfghan troops keep watch at the base near Mazar-e-Sharif after the attack

More than 100 Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded in a Taliban attack on an army base on Friday, the defence ministry has confirmed.

Fighting lasted for several hours near the city of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Balkh province.

Insurgents targeted those leaving Friday prayers at the base's mosque and others in a canteen, the army said.

The Taliban said in a statement they had carried out the attack, using suicide bombers to breach defences.

Earlier estimates put the death toll as high as 134, but a statement from the defence ministry on Saturday gave the figure of more than 100 killed or injured.

It is one of the deadliest tolls in a Taliban attack on the Afghan army.

At least 10 Taliban militants were also killed in the fighting and one attacker was detained. 

The Afghan government has declared Sunday a day of national mourning.

Mourning declared after scores of troops die in Afghan base attack

By Abdul Matin and Hamid Shalizi

Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of a military compound after an attack by gunmen in Mazar-e- Sharif province north of kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, April 21, 2017. Gunmen wearing army uniforms stormed a military compound in the Balkh province, killing at least eight soldiers and wounding 11 others, an Afghan government official said Friday. (AP Photo/Mirwais Najand) More

By Abdul Matin and Hamid Shalizi

MAZAR-I-SHARIF/KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - President Ashraf Ghani declared a national day of mourning after scores of soldiers were killed by Taliban fighters disguised as fellow soldiers, in the deadliest attack of its kind on an Afghan military base.

The defense ministry has said more than 100 died or were injured in the Friday attack in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, but no exact numbers have been released.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters at least 140 soldiers were killed and many others wounded. Other officials said the toll was likely to be even higher.

The attack starkly highlighted the difficulty of the long struggle by the Afghan government and its international backers to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

After arriving in Mazar-i-Sharif to visit the base on Saturday, Ghani ordered that flags be flown at half mast on Sunday in memory of the troops who died.

22 April 2017

Afghanistan: The Future of the National Unity Government

This report investigates the troubled efforts by the National Unity Government (NUG) to secure political stability in Afghanistan. The country’s problems include 1) the NUG itself, which is beset with internal disagreements and discord; 2) a host of stubborn political and constitutional tensions; and 3) knife-edged political partisanship.



International Crisis Group (ICG) 





Deciphering Pakistan Supreme Court’s Panama Papers Verdict

By Umair Jamal

On April 20, the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan in its Panama Papers case verdict announced that there was not enough evidence to disqualify the country’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has been the direct target of a year long trial after documents from Mossack Fonseca showed his family’s overseas dealings.

The court in its final verdict said that the evidence presented before the SC needed a further probe. The court has ordered the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to further investigate the evidence. The JIT is tasked with presenting its final report before the court within two months. Moreover, the five member bench, which was divided 3-2 over the decision, revealed that various investigative bodies, including the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), had failed to cooperate with the investigation.

Apparently, Sharif and his immediate family have survived in the ruling, for no part of the verdict directly declares them guilty. On the other hand, the opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), do not appear to have been offered any face-saving result in the verdict. On the whole, the court’s decision to form the JIT to investigate the case further is being seen as clever ploy to stall the case which, like all previously formed JITs, will fall into obscurity.

In essence, with the evidence that was offered the court, the decision could not have been fairer. The opposition parties evidence was by and large based on the data that could hardly justify the removal of a sitting Prime Minister. While the opposition parties may have desired a decision that disqualifies the incumbent Prime Minister, the court’s decision proves its inability to prove the matter in detail due to a wide range of bureaucratic and political handicaps.