pak/afghan border fence upends lives

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For generations, families on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border worked together to till the fields of wheat, corn and rice that spread across the rugged plains.

With no physical boundary between the countries, the families joined forces every year to desilt the canal that irrigated the lands. They shared not only ethnic and blood bonds, but also the harvests from the fertile soil.

But a year and a half ago, the cross-border farming came to a stop. The Pakistani army began erecting a chain-link fence topped with coils of razor wire.

Syed Gul, a Pakistani farmer who owns 20 acres that straddle both sides near the Pakistani town of Kharlachi, cannot access the Afghan side, and Pakistani soldiers have told him not even to approach the land that lies inside Pakistan because getting too close to the fence would constitute a security breach.

“The land has been made barren since the government fenced the border,” said Gul, 55.

The barrier is part of the Pakistani government’s response to long-standing criticisms that it has failed to control the movement of militants across the porous border.

Its border management plan, launched in 2017, calls for a divider along all 1,600 miles of the frontier, with backing by closed-circuit television cameras and drone footage, along with hundreds of checkpoints. The army said in January that about 560 miles of fence had been completed at a cost of about $460 million.

The region, which consists of 10,400 square miles of tribal land, was once considered a haven for Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant outfits. Some 3 million civilians have been displaced there over the past decade.

The area has been relatively calm since the army launched an offensive beginning in 2014 that it said cleared out the insurgents.

Islamabad says the fencing will disrupt militants plotting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But in an impoverished and undeveloped region, where farming and illicit cross-border trade were among the only sources of income, the fence has upended lives.

Gul’s Pashtun ethnic group has seen both sides of the border as its homeland for centuries. Pashtuns moved freely across it during the British colonial era, even after the 1893 Durand Line agreement formally demarcated the boundary.

“We never considered it a border between two countries,” Gul said. “People did not seek verbal permission from the officials patrolling the border when they needed to work in their fields on the Afghanistan side.”

Pakistanis from certain tribes living along the border once needed only a “red pass” issued by the Pakistani tribal affairs department in the city of Peshawar that allowed unlimited movement back and forth across the border. The pass was gradually withdrawn in the 1970s and 1980s, but since then most Pakistanis crossed into Afghanistan without visas.

“I got on the bus with my friends in Peshawar and went to Kabul by bus to watch Indian movies in the cinema,” recalled Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, a 65-year-old trader in Peshawar.

The fence has cut off thousands of families who share the same culture, traditions, language, religion and land. Many people in Pakistan’s tribal region sold their lands inside Afghanistan when the border management plan was introduced.

“We sold 100 acres of land in Paktika” — a border province in eastern Afghanistan — “at a throwaway price,” said Dilawar Wazir, a resident of Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal district.

Official trade between the two countries has also fallen, harming Afghanistan’s landlocked and war-battered economy. Pakistani exports to Afghanistan, which amounted to $2.6 billion in 2010-11, fell to $1.4 billion last year, according to government statistics.

Ibrahim Shinwari, a small businessman living in the Khyber tribal district, said Pakistan’s border plan has left 2,500 people jobless in the border town of Torkham, formerly a major transit terminal for goods between the two countries that was also used by U.S.-led international forces to bring supplies into Afghanistan.

Six out of nine restaurants in Torkham have closed, he said, and the daily flow of vehicles crossing in and out of Afghanistan has slowed from the thousands to the hundreds.

“No more is the place buzzing with economic activity as it once did,” Shinwari said. “All that hustle and bustle has died down into economic depression.”

Azmat Hayat, former director of the Area Study Center at the University of Peshawar, said that before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the border was ignored.

“The Durand Line is a reality because of the changing geostrategic situation in the region,” Hayat said.

Traditions are also dying, with families on either side of the border unable to celebrate festivals together or visit the houses of sick or deceased relatives on the other side to offer condolences.

“It has brought an end to family relations,” said Nadir Manan, a Pakistani who said he couldn’t attend the recent wedding of his niece in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, called the fencing “disastrous” and said it violated more than a century’s worth of agreements between the countries to allow free movement, particularly of families with historical ties to the land.

“The government cannot stop cross-border movement of terrorists by erecting the fence,” Mohmand said. “It just cuts off families and will cause acrimony between the two countries.”

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https://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-pakistan-afghanistan-border-wall-20190527-story.html

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghanistan%E2%80%93Pakistan_barrier

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pakistan finishing border fence

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press trust of india – islamabad

business standard

january 28, 2019 (5 months ago)

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The Pakistan Army has said that the fencing of a substantial portion of the over 2,600-km-long Afghan border has been completed and the rest will be finished by next year to check the movement of terrorists.

Pakistan has spent billions of rupees for putting fence on the porous border.

Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said that the fencing of the entire border will be completed next year with the cost of about Rs 70 billion, Radio Pakistan reported.

Gafoor said that of the total 2,611 km, fencing of 900 km has been completed.

He said besides fencing, the project also includes gadgets and surveillance equipment to keep strict vigilance on illicit movement from across the border.

“The fence has amply helped to check the movement of terrorists from across the border and it would further assist after completion of the project,” Ghafoor said in an interaction with a group of media during a visit to border tribal district of North Waziristan

Media representatives visited Ghulam Khan, Miranshah and other parts of North Waziristan for the first time after the military operations.

He said the fence had helped check the movement of terrorists from across the border and the situation would further improve after the completion of the project.

Giving a break-up, Gafoor said that about 1,200km of the total 2,600km border with Afghanistan was in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the rest is in Balochistan province.

The work on the erection of about 1200 km chunk, the most sensitive portion out of the total 2,600km border with the war-torn country, had commenced last year.

The fence has made it difficult for terrorists to cross the border. It will stop

cross-border terrorism and uncontrolled movement of the people even if the law and order situation gets worst again in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops, The News International reported.

In December, President Donald Trump decided to pull a significant number of American troops from Afghanistan.

Earlier, briefing the media representatives at Corps Headquarters Peshawar, Commander 11 Corps Lt Gen Shaheen said after the end of war in the area, the troops are now in the process of consolidation.

He said ninety five per cent work of resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons has already been accomplished.

He said following the operation against militants, there is no “No Go Area” in the tribal region.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pak-to-complete-fencing-of-2-600-km-long-afghan-border-by-next-year-119012800498_1.html

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russia wants to help too

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by Rahimullah Yusufzai

Arab News

June 9, 2019

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Russia hosted the second intra-Afghan meeting in less than four months as it continues to seek a role as a credible mediator for ending the Afghan conflict.

The first meeting, which brought together Taliban leaders and Afghan opposition politicians, was held in Moscow in February. It was a landmark event because the commencement of intra-Afghan dialogue is considered essential for national reconciliation.

The second intra-Afghan dialogue organized on May 28-29 was a repeat of the previous one, but with a crucial difference. It was the first time Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy leader and head of the movement’s political commission in Qatar, came face to face with prominent Afghan politicians, including Hamid Karzai, Hanif Atmar, Ata Mohammad Noor, Younas Qanooni and Mohammad Mohaqiq, following his release last October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody. It was also his first visit to Russia, which has used its growing contacts within the Taliban to step up its own diplomatic initiative for ending the Afghan war.

Moscow timed the intra-Afghan conference with the 100th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia. This is a remarkable turnaround in the relations between the two countries as the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile USSR in December 1979 to prop up a struggling Afghan communist regime had fueled a fierce war of resistance until 1989.

The Taliban took home happy memories from the first intra-Afghan conference in Moscow as the joint declaration issued on the occasion endorsed major Taliban demands. It called for the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban prisoners and the removal of Taliban leaders’ names from the UN Security Council blacklist.

The second intra-Afghan meeting in Moscow, however, didn’t reach any agreement, and caused disappointment as Afghan politicians unsuccessfully pushed the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire. As some delegates reported, the two sides worked on a 12-article joint statement, but disagreement about the cease-fire caused them to merely issue a short press release. 

The statement said both sides discussed important issues linked with the destiny of the Afghan people including the continuation of intra-Afghan talks, cease-fire, release of prisoners and women’s rights, among others. Without elaborating, it noted that some progress had been made on a number of issues, but no agreement was made “because reaching agreements needed more discussions.” 

So the discussions will continue in the next round of intra-Afghan talks likely to be held in Qatar. An earlier plan to convene a broader intra-Afghan conference in Qatar involving representatives of the Afghan government didn’t materialize as the Taliban objected to the large size of the delegation coming from Kabul. The Taliban also did not want the Afghan government to play the lead role in finalizing a list of 250 delegates to attend the Doha meeting. Besides, they had imposed the condition that all participants, including Afghan government officials, would participate in their personal capacity. 

Though Russia has twice managed to hold an intra-Afghan dialogue in Moscow, the process was incomplete due to the absence of the internationally recognized Afghan government. 

Despite facing isolation at home due to growing internal opposition and abroad on account of his government’s non-representation in the Taliban-US talks in Doha and intra-Afghan meetings in Moscow, President Ashraf Ghani made the point that only his elected government had the mandate to make decisions about the peace process and Afghanistan’s future. 

It cannot be kept out forever, even though the twice delayed presidential election, now due on Sept. 28, has created uncertainty about who will eventually represent the government in the peace process. 

Russia has an abiding interest in Afghanistan due to its regional proximity. As former Afghan president Karzai noted, relations between the two countries are among the oldest and most important.

Though the Taliban are officially a terrorist organization in Russia, that didn’t stop Moscow from engaging with the group and inviting its leaders to meetings in a bid to make itself relevant to the Afghan peace process. 

The US also made an effort in April to engage its rivals, Russia and China, to reach a consensus on efforts to end the Afghan conflict. But global politics and regional rivalries could pose problems as the US, Russia and China, as well as Pakistan, Iran and India, vie for influence in determining Afghanistan’s future.

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Rahimullah Yusufzai is a senior political and security analyst in Pakistan. He was the first to interview Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1998.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view.
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pilots complete training

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tolo news

may 18, 2019

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A group of Afghan pilots and door gunners this month completed their training for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in southern Kandahar province. 

They received their graduation certificates during a ceremony which was attended by Air Force Commander Gen. Abdul Fahim Ramin, Kandahar Air Brigade Commander Gen. Abdul Raziq Shirzai as well as foreign partners, trainers and officers.
 
The majority of the 11 pilots had successfully completed a UH-60 Aircraft Qualification Training in a two-month course and then transited to a Mission Qualification Course at Kandahar, according to a report on Resolute Support website.  

Many of them already had previous experience with Mi-17 helicopters. Trainings were provided by American contract instructors and overseen and managed by advisors from various Resolute Support member states. 

They comprise currently of a mix of US Army, US Air Force, Australian Army and Swedish Air Force. Those same coalition advisors fly with and instruct the Afghan Air Force crews on mission tactics after they graduate from training.
 
The NATO-led Resolute Support mission remains committed to build-up a powerful Afghan Air force, the report says. “Thus we protect our homelands. Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorists,” reads the report.

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https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/11-afghan-pilots-complete-training-black-hawk-helicopters

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pentagon wants to help

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by ABC News Radio

May 17, 2019

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(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is requesting the ability to provide lodging and transportation to insurgent groups in Afghanistan that are looking to implement local ceasefires with the Afghan government, the Pentagon said recently.

The decision to request the authority came after a largely successful ceasefire was implemented between the Taliban and Afghan government last summer.

“Following the June 2018 ceasefire in Afghanistan, the Commander of U.S. Forces–Afghanistan requested the authority to use funds to facilitate meetings between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to implement local ceasefires in order to be poised to take advantage of further opportunities to reduce levels of violence in the country should such opportunities present themselves,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told ABC News.

The funds could go to lodging and transportation for militants if that was required to get all parties to the negotiating table “in areas that are difficult to access otherwise,” Rebarich said, adding that no U.S. military vehicles or aircraft would be used.

No Pentagon funds have been used for such a purpose. Instead, the Pentagon made the request in anticipation of possible scenarios in the future, according to Rebarich.

The acknowledgement by the Pentagon follows an apparent miscommunication with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which appeared to interpret the request as related to the ongoing U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

In response to the perceived request from the Pentagon, the committee included language in its proposed defense spending bill released this week that states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women” — two criticisms of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations that are not relevant to local ceasefire discussions between the Afghan government and insurgent groups.

Still, the miscommunication highlights the multiple tracks that the U.S. is pursuing to bring about a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Taliban representatives concluded the sixth and latest round of peace talks in Qatar earlier this month, which a Taliban spokesperson called “positive in total.”

Khalilzad tweeted that the two sides “made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war,” but added that “the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die.”

At the same time those talks were concluding, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. non-profit organization in Kabul that killed at least nine people. Meanwhile, seven U.S. service members have been killed in combat-related events in Afghanistan in 2019.

“A key priority for the administration is to end the war in Afghanistan through a negotiated peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the U.S. is working to help facilitate such a settlement,” Rebarich said. “The United States also supports local peace initiatives between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to cease hostilities against the Afghan Government and coalition forces.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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http://kwbe.com/abc_world/pentagon-wants-to-help-afghan-insurgents-willing-to-enter-ceasefire-abcid36184979

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u.s.-taliban talks resume

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afghanistan times

may 6, 2019

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KABUL: Peace negotiation between US and Taliban members have
entered to its sixth round in Doha of Qatar with four conservative days of
talks ended Sunday; the talks did not hold on Monday on the account of the
first day of Ramadan. The talks will resume today (Tuesday), as fresh spate of
violence grips the country in different fronts including the recent attack on
police headquarters in Pule-e-Khumir city of northern Baghlan province on Sunday
afternoon.

Taliban Qatar office spokesman Sohail Shaheen on his twitter
account said that due to holiday on the first Ramadan their talks were
suspended for a day. He said the talks would resume on Tuesday.

Taking advantage of the break, Khalilzad flew to India to
discuss the Afghan peace process with Indian officials, Pajhwok Afghan News
reported.

Shaheen said in the ongoing round they would try to reach an
agreement on a timeline for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and
the war on terrorism. He said an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces
was essential before discussing other issues.

Earlier, Khalilzad had also said they were inching closer to
an agreement on the two topics, but added nothing would be agreed until all
topics were agreed upon.

Peace talks between U.S. negotiators and Taliban
representatives in Doha, Qatar, have been interrupted to mark the beginning of
Ramadan.

Shaheen told a foreign news agency late Sunday that talks
hit an impasse over when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.

Washington is demanding that militants establish security
guarantees, a cease-fire, and make other commitments including an
“intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan
representatives before agreeing to any withdrawal.

The Taliban have said they would not take any of these steps
until the United States announces a withdrawal timeline.

‘Currently, the negotiations are in a good phase and they
are moving in the right direction,’ said Assadullah Zahiri, a spokesman for High
Peace Council, a body which conducts peace efforts in country-level under the
Afghan government.

Sources familiar with Doha talks said the gap is narrowing
between the US delegation and the Taliban members on issues around foreign
forces withdrawal and counterterrorism assurances. The sources said the two
sides have managed to overcome the ‘stalemate’ on a timeline for troop
withdrawal at this stage.

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http://www.afghanistantimes.af/us-taliban-talks-to-resume-monday

http://www.afghanistantimes.af

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have a sigar

https://www.sigar.mil

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Los Angeles Times

May 03, 2019

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It has become a journalistic game of sorts: Keeping a running tally of President Trump’s half-truths, untruths and outright lies. That game is not without entertainment value. Yet arguably at least as interesting and perhaps more instructive are the genuine truths that go essentially unnoticed, not only in the media, but also among elected officials and the general public.

A case in point: For years the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a watchdog known by its initials — SIGAR — has sought to inform Congress and the American people about the nation’s progress (or lack thereof) in the Afghanistan war. Those efforts, in my estimation, qualify as heroic. They have also been largely ignored.

SIGAR’s 43rd quarterly report, published Tuesday, offers a veritable trove of facts, an example of what can easily be mined even in an era of fake news. Among its notable findings:

According to the most recent estimates, the Afghan government “controlled or influenced” no more than two-thirds of the total population. No available metric suggests that Afghan forces are winning the war, even with the support of some 14,000 U.S. troops and several thousand private contractors.

~

Today

no real peace movement exists

despite the fact that the United States is

permanently at war.

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Enemy-initiated attacks — an indicator of which side holds the tactical initiative — are increasing, up by 19% over the previous reporting period. An average of over 2,000 such attacks occur per month. Put simply, the bad guys act and the good guys react.

Total Afghan civilian casualties and civilian war-related deaths have increased by 5% and 11%, respectively, over the previous year. During that same period, casualties sustained by Afghan security forces jumped approximately 31%. The number of noncombatants killed or wounded by coalition airstrikes, most conducted by U.S. forces, is also on the rise.

The Afghan National Army is currently at only 83% of its authorized strength. Worse, its ranks are shrinking, calling into question the long-term sustainability of the force.

According to SIGAR, Afghan military morale and commitment remain problematic. For example, a U.S.-based program to train Afghan pilots was simply dissolved when over 40% of the student aviators went AWOL.

For years now, the United States has sought to reduce the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan. Yet even today SIGAR describes corruption in the Afghan military as “pervasive” and notes that the government in Kabul “has not demonstrated that it is serious about combating corruption.”

Since 2002, the United States has invested $9 billion in counter-narcotics programs, to no avail. “Afghanistan remains the global leader in poppy cultivation,” the report says. While the 2018 Afghan opium crop did fall slightly from its all-time high the previous year, that decrease was primarily attributable to drought.

A legitimate Afghan economy barely exists. The nation’s total merchandise exports in 2018 fell well short of a billion dollars. At present, foreign grants account for approximately 70% of all public outlays, making the government in Kabul essentially a ward of the international community. Afghan democracy is likewise on life-support, with presidential elections originally scheduled for last April twice postponed “to implement voting-system reforms.”

Meanwhile, with most Afghans facing acute food insecurity, SIGAR reports that some households have resorted to selling their children or forcing them into childhood marriages in order to survive.

All in all, this makes for a dismal picture. For many months now, U.S. commanders in Kabul and senior officials in Washington have described the war in Afghanistan as “stalemated.” SIGAR’s latest report suggests that such a judgment may be excessively optimistic.

While not explicitly stated, SIGAR’s bottom line is this: Having over the course of nearly 18 years expended some $900 billion to create a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan, the United States has failed. Indeed, those ambitious objectives have long since become implausible, with SIGAR noting that the current U.S. war aim is simply to promote “reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.”

“Reconciliation” is a euphemism, a way to repackage failure as magnanimity. With only intermittent press attention, the Trump administration has been energetically courting the Taliban, hoping to negotiate a peace deal that will allow U.S. forces to withdraw once and for all. In this context, “peace” is also a euphemism. The exclusion of Afghan government representatives from those talks speaks volumes about whose interests are being served.

One day, perhaps sooner than later, the American war in Afghanistan will end, with Trump no doubt seizing the moment to nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. At that point, SIGAR will close up shop, shipping its detailed and voluminous reports off to some archive to collect dust.

It’s a safe bet that Trump doesn’t care a whit about what will happen in Afghanistan after U.S. forces pull out. Yet the truth is that the majority of his countrymen don’t seem to care either — even as the war the United States initiated in 2001 goes on and on.

When I was a young man, members of a then-vigorous, if naive peace movement were known to remark, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?”

Today no real peace movement exists despite the fact that the United States is permanently at war. A different maxim pertains: Suppose we had wars and nobody bothered to notice?

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Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.

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https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-bacevich-afghanistan-war-congress-20190503-story.html

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https://www.sigar.mil

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senator travels eyes wide open

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by Troy Turner

Opelika-Auburn News

April 18, 2019

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Alabama’s Sen. Doug Jones, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, warns that ISIS is making every attempt to reorganize, including an increased recruitment of women and children, and that a continued U.S. presence in the Mideast region is critical to America’s national security.

The ISIS movement also is working hard to recruit college students, especially those with computer and technology skills, the senator said.

Jones returned stateside late Tuesday from an overseas trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he and two other Democratic senators met with American military commanders, troops and political leaders, among others.

“ISIS has not been defeated,” he said. “Our mission has not yet been accomplished.”

Jones, speaking on a media call Wednesday morning, described new concerns about the tactics ISIS is using to rebuild and restructure its militant organization and spread its radical ideology.

“The number of women and children being recruited is quadrupling the number of fighters. We cannot rush out of there quickly,” he said.

“ISIS is recruiting out of universities. It is trying to recruit in the information age, and trying to recruit more women. It is still a very, very serious threat,” Jones said.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the senators said they detected a sincere effort with new hopes that peace talks can find some type of compromise in a country ravaged by decades of war, including discussions on the rights and safety of women.

Jones traveled with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

“When I met with the women leaders, they talked about what they were hearing,” Shaheen told reporters during her travel. “They wanted to see a cease fire, they wanted the fighting to end. They wanted to make sure that women continue to have rights.

“To hear the amount of peace activity that was going on in the country was surprising to me.”

However, it’s also still too early to consider pulling troops from that country as well, Jones said.

“Afghanistan has a 40-year history of war. We’ve been there for 18 years. I think people are ready to have peace,” he said regarding his hopes that talks can be successful.

American military commanders, however, also remain convinced that U.S. national security interests dictate that troops continue their mission, at least for now, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jones said, adding that he also met with troops from his home state of Alabama while visiting the two countries.

“I was happy to thank them for their service and sacrifice,” he said. “It was a very powerful experience” to meet and talk with them.

Regarding their mission so far from home, and the long duration of America’s involvement in both theaters of operation, “People have to understand that that’s where most of the terrorism around the world originates,” Jones said, “and now it’s become more sophisticated.”

He said he was moved by the dedication of all the American service personnel he met, from troops to commanders.

“They fully believe that their mission is to protect the United States, not just Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “I think that everyone there believes that their mission is not complete.”

Seeing it first hand, he said, “it all sinks in a heck of a lot more than just sitting and hearing someone speak at the capitol.”

~~~

https://www.oanow.com/news/auburn/alabama-senator-describes-the-war-front-in-iraq-afghanistan/article_e2834cb8-6143-11e9-8b93-bb7bbbe445de.html

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peace talks postponed by taliban

~

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi & Rupam Jain

Editing by Darren Schuettler

Reuters

April 18, 2019

~

KABUL (Reuters) – A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.

The talks were set to begin on Friday in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”

Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.

“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.

“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid told Reuters over phone, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.

The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with U.S. officials.

Ghani said Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.

~~~

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/peace-talks-postponed-as-taliban-objects-to-size-of-afghan-delegation-idUSKCN1RU0W2

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taliban face u.s. at peace talks

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by Mujib Mashal

New York Times

March 26, 2019

~~~

DOHA, Qatar — When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government, even those who surrendered were treated as terrorists: handcuffed, hooded and shipped to the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Now, in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal.

“During our time in Guantánamo, the feeling was with us that we had been brought there unjustly and that we would be freed,” said one of the former detainees, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. “But it never occurred to me that one day there would be negotiations with them, and I would be sitting there with them on one side and us on the other.”

The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. They were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.

In recent months, as the Americans and militants took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the recent round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.

During days of slow and at times frustrated discussions at the most recent session, which ended on March 12, it was the Taliban side that was often more emotional. Some gave impassioned speeches about how vital it was that the Americans completely leave Afghanistan in as little as six months.

The usual response from the American side, led by senior envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was to give detailed technical explanations about why withdrawing was complex and needed to be slower, perhaps over years.

But other than Mullah Khairkhwa, the former detainees seemed more reluctant to speak, officials involved in the talks said. When they did address the group, they seemed less harsh or strident than some of the other Taliban negotiators, perhaps mellowed by years of hardship or wary that their freedom could be fragile. Over the past few years, they have stayed in Doha and have been reunited with their families, but remain under watch by the Qatari authorities at the request of the United States.

The five former Guantánamo detainees had varying roles during the Taliban government reign. Mullah Khairkhwa served as a governor and acting minister of interior. Abdul Haq Wasiq was deputy minister of intelligence.

Perhaps the most infamous figure in the group is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a front-line commander who was also chief of the Taliban army. While accusations of human rights abuses by the others have generally remained vague, there seems to be considerably more evidence against Mullah Mazloom, who is accused of mass killings and scorched-earth brutality.

During an initial tribunal hearing at Guantánamo — The New York Times obtained the transcript via the Freedom of Information Act — Mullah Mazloom (his last name means “meek”) showed no remorse.

“There is a 25-year war person to person, village by village, city by city, province by province, and tribe against tribe,” he told the tribunal. “If you think this is a crime, then every person in Afghanistan should be in prison.”

Still, he insisted: “I never fought against the new government. I never fought against America.”

In their introductions around the table as negotiations started last month, the five men held up their detention at Guantánamo as the most important part of their identity.

“In important moments like this, my own personal troubles don’t come to mind,” Mullah Khairkhwa said in the interview, after the negotiations had ended. “I am really not thinking about who is sitting across from me and what they had done to me.”

“What is important is what we are talking about,” he said, “and what is in it for our interests, for our goal and for our country.”

The men’s Guantánamo files include several notations about uncooperative behavior and instigations, including throwing milk at guards and tearing up their mattresses in protest.

Listed in Mullah Khairkhwa’s record, along with making disruptive noises or refusing to eat or shower at times, is this: trying to kill himself and urging others to kill themselves. But in his tribunal hearing, Mr. Khairkhwa denied having done so.

“There was no spoon in my meal, so I asked the guard for a spoon,” Mullah Khairkhwa said, according to the transcript. “Other detainees also shouted that they did not have spoons, either. The sergeant said he was sorry and from orders of his boss he could not provide me with a spoon.”

“When I asked the reason,” Mullah Khairkhwa added, “he said that I was trying to kill myself and encourage others to do the same.”

Most of the men were detained and sent to Guantánamo after they had surrendered — or even after they had started cooperating with the leadership of the new government the United States had installed in Afghanistan.

At the time of his arrest, Mullah Khairkhwa had retreated to private life in his family’s home village, and had reached out to President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in the wake of the American invasion.

Mullah Khairkhwa, according to his Guantánamo documents, was accused of narcotics trafficking and of closely associating with Osama bin Laden’s men in Al Qaeda. He denied both accusations in his hearings.

The former Taliban government deputy intelligence chief, Mr. Wasiq, had come to a meeting with C.I.A. operatives to discuss cooperation with American and Afghan officials. But he and some of his associates who had come along were bound and taken away, with at least one of them rolled up in a carpet.

Mullah Mazloom had surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek strongman in northern Afghanistan whose militia allied with American Special Operations forces. General Dostum sent thousands of Mullam Mazloom’s men to an overcrowded prison, and his militia killed hundreds — if not thousands — of those foot soldiers after an insurrection in the prison.

Mullah Mazloom and some others were eventually turned over to the Americans.

A timeline for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a stubborn sticking point during the long days of talks. But an even more frustrating issue has been how to define who is a terrorist and who is not. That definition is central as the United States has tried to seek assurances from the Taliban that Afghan territory will not again be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

When they were toppled and hunted down, the Taliban were an oppressive regime, denying citizens basic rights, including keeping women and girls out of school and behind house walls. In the group’s 18-year insurgency since, they have resorted to acts of terrorism like truck bombings that have caused mass civilian casualties.

But now that the United States’ priority has shifted to withdrawal, and out of the pragmatic need to negotiate with the Taliban, American envoys have turned to parsing words to find some definition of terrorism they can hold in common with the Taliban.

In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. Last October, General Miller narrowly escaped death in an attack by a Taliban infiltrator that killed a prominent Afghan security chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, who had been walking beside him in a heavily guarded compound in Kandahar Province.

According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.

“We could keep fighting, keep killing each other,” General Miller was quoted as saying. “Or, together, we could kill ISIS.”

Mullah Khairkhwa said that even though the two sides had not been able to reach a final agreement this time, the two sides shared a common interest, at least, in ending the war.

“It’s been a long war, with lots of casualties and destruction and loss,” he said. “What gives me hope is that both teams are taking the issue seriously. On every issue, the discussions are serious, and it gives me hope that we will find a way out — as long as there are not spoilers to ruin it.”

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editor

Rawclyde

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India PM Inaugurates Parliament House

New Afghan Parliament House donated by the people of India…

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by Koushik Das

InSerbia Network News

Dec. 26, 2015

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On his way back to India from Russia, Prime Minister Modi arrived in the Afghan capital to inaugurate the new Parliament House. Upon his arrival in Kabul, the visiting premier received a warm welcome, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was present at the airport. Before inaugurating the new House, Modi and Ghani held delegation-level talks at the Afghan Presidential Office, popularly known as Dilkosha Palace, to discuss different aspects of bilateral ties. Later, Prime Minister Modi addressed the Afghan Parliament.

The Indian premier said it was unfortunate that the construction work of the Parliament building, which was started in 2009, missed three completion deadlines since 2011 and went over-budget by double the original costing of USD 45 million. Meanwhile, he assured the Afghan parliamentarians that India would always back the war-ravaged country’s effort to ensure peace. At the same time, he said that Afghanistan “will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border”. The PM told the House: “We must support Afghanistan without timelines because a new cloud of extremism is rising, even as the old ones continue to darken our skies.”

Prime Minister Modi also sent a strong message to Pakistan that is often accused by Afghanistan of sponsoring the Taliban insurgency, saying: “There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister design in our presence here. But we are here because you had faith in us.”

Modi further assured Afghanistan that India, which has invested around USD 2 billion in aid and reconstruction in the country and trained scores of Afghan officers, would continue providing financial helps to Afghanistan in the coming years. Addressing the Parliament, he announced 500 scholarships for children of martyrs of Afghan armed forces. “Afghanistan with abiding faith in tradition of Jirga has chosen democracy against challenges that would have defeated lesser people,” he told the House.

For his part, President Ghani called the friendship between India and Afghanistan “antiquated and bound by a thousand ties”, stressing that Kabul would always be grateful to New Delhi for its “valuable assistance” as his country weathers “hard times”. “I am pleased to welcome Prime Minister Modi to Kabul. Though, India and Afghanistan need no introduction, we are bound by a thousand ties. We have stood by each other in the best and worst of times,” added the Afghan president.

Later, the Indian PM also held separate talks with Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan Dr Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. Incidentally, Modi arrived in Kabul just a couple of days after India delivered three of four Russian Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Afghanistan.

On Friday evening, the Indian PM also made a surprise visit to Pakistan. After landing in Kabul from Moscow, Modi called his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to wish him Happy Birthday. Sharif told Modi: “Why don’t you drop by since you will be flying over my country?” Modi readily agreed and reached Lahore at around 5pm (local time). At the airport, the Indian premier was received by Prime Minister Sharif with a warm hug. They took a helicopter to reach Sharif’s ancestral home “Raiwind Palace” in Jati Umra, where his granddaughter’s wedding was on. The two PMs discussed different bilateral issues and agreed to continue and enhance contacts, and work together to establish good neighbourly relations. After spending one hour at Sharif’s residence, Modi left for India and reached New Delhi at 7:30pm (local time). Prime Minister Sharif, too, accompanied Modi back to the Lahore airport to see him off.

Upon his arrival in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi tweeted: “Spent a warm evening with Sharif family home. Nawaz Sahab’s birthday and his granddaughter’s marriage made it a double celebration”. Apart from Premier Sharif, two big leaders from both countries had their birthday on December 25. Tenth Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior, while Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born on December 25, 1876. Jinnah, the lawyer-turned-politician, died on September 11, 1948.

Different Pakistani political parties have welcomed Modi’s surprise visit, as he, in a dramatically spontaneous gesture, becomes the first Indian PM to visit Pakistan since Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2014. However, the Indian opposition parties have raised a serious question – Can Modi’s unorthodox brand of diplomacy lead to lasting peace? We have to wait to see how surprise plays its role in Prime Minister Modi’s Pakistan policy.

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http://inserbia.info/today/2015/12/indian-pm-inaugurates-new-afghan-parliament-visits-pakistan

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The Colonel’s Teepee

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by Rawclyde!

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Col. Sheena Johnson

U.S. Army legend

Sets-up a teepee above Pluckame

High on the mountain ridge

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Here she hones her arrowheads

& prays to St. Joan of Arizona

Her ex-Taliban husband Habibullah

Assists

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Young enchantress Mamoodia

The other Sufi archer of Pluckame

Patrols

Her bow vibrant & arrows a quiver

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Life in a Sufi bubble

Has it’s ups & downs

But mostly it floats

Miracles often occur

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Sheena becomes so angelic

She sprouts wings

Every curve of her body

Softens

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And Habibullah swears

He’s

Gone

To heaven 

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Afghaneeland Adventure Series | Old Timer Chronicle II

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