“Important Milestone”

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by Alexander Mallin & Arlette Saenz

Yahoo News / Good Morning America

May 23, 2016

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President Obama has released a statement confirming the death of Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, following an airstrike Saturday along the Afghanistan  and Pakistan border.

Obama called Mansoor’s death “an important milestone in our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.”

“We have removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and Coalition forces, to wage war against the Afghan people, and align itself with extremist groups like al Qa’ida,” Obama said in a paper statement.

The statement calls on the Taliban to “seize the opportunity” to re-engage in peace talks with Afghanistan’s government, with Obama warning that “we will continue taking action against extremist networks that target the United States.”

While Pakistan’s government said Sunday the airstrike amounted to a violation of its sovereignty, Obama noted the U.S. will work with the country but that “terrorists that threaten all our nations must be denied safe haven.”

President Obama personally authorized the strike against Mansoor before leaving on a week-long trip to Vietnam and Japan.

Speaking in Hanoi Monday, Obama told reporters Mansoor’s death sends a message that the U.S. will protect its people.

“Where we have a high profile leader who has been consistently part of operations and plans to potentially harm U.S. personnel and who has been resistant to the kinds of peace talks and reconciliation that ultimately could bring an end to decades of war in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “Then it is my responsibility as commander in chief not to stand by but to make sure that we send a clear signal to the Taliban and others that we are going to protect our people and that’s exactly the message that has been sent.”

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https://gma.yahoo.com/obama-calls-taliban-leaders-death-important-milestone-afghanistan-053107187–abc-news-topstories.html

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Taliban Capture Islamic-State Bases

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by Ayaz Gul

Voice of America

January 05, 2016  (more than a month ago)

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Fierce clashes have reportedly erupted between Taliban and Islamic State (IS) fighters in eastern Afghanistan, leaving dozens of people dead on both sides.

Afghan police reported Tuesday the fighting in the remote Batikot and Chaparhar districts of Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, began after hundreds of Taliban insurgents mounted a big attack on IS bases earlier this week.

The Taliban offensive is said to have captured the two districts but attempts to dislodge the rival group from the nearby Nazyan district, which is considered the IS stronghold in Afghanistan, could not succeed.

Separately, the provincial governor’s office told media that security forces ambushed and killed at least 15 IS fighters near the conflict zone late on Monday.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to VOA that clashes have taken place and claimed Taliban fighters ousted IS militants from the two districts. Mujahid did not give further details.

The Taliban apparently considers IS a threat to its ongoing violence campaign against the NATO-backed Afghan government.

The Islamist insurgency initiated attacks against IS militants from southern Zabul and western Farah provinces in November and succeeded in dislodging them from the area, a development acknowledged by local Afghan officials.

IS, which controls large areas in Syria and Iraq, has recently established bases in parts of Nangarhar before attempting to extend influence to other parts of the war-ravaged country.

Afghan authorities insist most of the IS fighters are Pakistani nationals hailing from areas such as Orakzai, Khyber and Bajaur, three of the seven semiautonomous tribal districts of Pakistan lining the border with Afghanistan.

IS has recently launched its propaganda FM radio station from an unknown location in Nangarhar to encourage Afghan youth to join the group.

Afghan authorities recently claimed to have jammed the broadcast but residents and local media say the transmission is continuing uninterrupted, encouraging the public to join the IS fight against the Kabul government, its NATO allies and the Taliban.

Meanwhile, local media in Pakistan has also quoted officials as confirming the Taliban assault on IS militants in the Afghan border areas, saying the hostilities killed more than 150 militants, mostly Islamic State supporters and commanders.

Pakistan has been conducting counterterrorism army operations on its side of the volatile border and officials have acknowledged some insurgents have fled to Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have also stepped up a crackdown on suspected IS hideouts in major cities, rounding up dozens of militants linked to the Middle Eastern terror group.

Rana Sanaullah, law minister of the country’s populous Punjab province, revealed on Monday as many as 100 suspected extremists have left Pakistan for Syria to take part in the conflict there.

The revelation contradicted repeated claims by the federal authorities that IS has “no organized presence in Pakistan.”

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story

http://www.voanews.com/content/taliban-captures-islamic-state-bases-in-afghanistan/3131609.html

art

http://hellbat.deviantart.com/art/Sikh-Warrior-349538717

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Islamic State on Af-Pak Border

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by Casey Garret Johnson and Sanaullah Tassal

Foreign Policy via Fractured Atlas

November 26, 2015

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JALALABAD — When the security situation in Nangarhar deteriorated sharply in early 2014, no one in this Afghan border province had ever heard of the so-called Islamic State (IS). A year and a half later, the black and white banners of IS are stenciled on the walls of the largest state-run university, and a former Guantánamo Bay detainee — and Nangarhar native — has appointed himself emir of IS’ Khorosan regional group. Some of the loudest IS supporters in this province, known as one of the most educated in all of Afghanistan, are the young and intelligent aspiring engineers and journalists. In August, 10 tribal leaders were bound and blindfolded by IS, who accused them of providing support to the Taliban. They were led past IS flags and masked gunmen, and forced to kneel atop a string of improvised explosive devices. The video of their execution went viral.

Still, analysts hesitate to slap the IS label on the new militancy emerging in Nangarhar, as much for the lack of clear evidence of direct operational support from Raqqa as for the fear of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet, by the summer of 2015, a group looking, sounding, and acting a lot like IS was active in at least seven of Nangarhar’s 21 districts, according to residents and Afghan intelligence officials Foreign Policy spoke to. The situation grew so alarming that in July and August, fighters from around the country were summoned to Nangarhar to combat IS. These were not U.S.-funded and trained Afghanistan National Army soldiers sent by Kabul. They were Taliban insurgents, many dispatched from the group’s southern strongholds, rushing into a province in which they felt they had as much to lose as the government.

Foreign Policy interviewed 16 Nangarharis in the provincial capital of Jalalabad and surrounding districts, including fearful tribal elders, Taliban militants, some of the loudest young IS advocates, and a number of Salafi preachers who find themselves under increasing pressure to provide ideological and practical support to IS, which most here know by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. These interviews paint a picture of a militant organization that, whatever its operational ties to Raqqa, is employing the same mixture of terror, pragmatism, and ideology in Afghanistan that has been well-documented in Iraq and Syria. But they also describe a growing backlash amongst initially welcoming segments of the community who now see IS as a Pakistani proxy with no other goal but to destabilize Afghanistan. Rather than uniting the multitude of tribes and interests around the goal of a caliphate, IS has become entangled in regional and local feuding, much as the U.S.-led coalition has over the past decade.

Opportunism

Nangarhar has had its share of insurgency-linked security problems since 2001, but the Taliban has never been particularly strong in this part of eastern Afghanistan. Few of the new (or old) guard Taliban leaders hail from the east. While locals in this region have nominally fought for the Taliban for years, this is often borne of necessity and pragmatism.

For instance, members of insurgent groups dating back to the anti-Soviet jihad who have fought under the Afghan Taliban banner since 2001, such as Hizb-e Islami, are now tactically aligned with IS, according to residents in the province. This already-fractured insurgent landscape makes Nangarhar, more than, say, Kandahar, a place where IS could gain a foothold without much competition. Kandahar and other regions where the Taliban had more ideological support from the population will prove harder for IS to infiltrate. Since Taliban supporters in Nangarhar were never fully included in Taliban leadership positions, it makes them more prone to converting to the cause of the Islamic State.

In October, Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Atlantic Council that IS would “feed on [public] disenchantment with the government” of Afghanistan, a traditional counterinsurgency theory of recruitment often used to explain the Taliban’s rise. Instead, IS feeds off disenchantment within and between the various insurgent movements on both sides of the border. IS pursued this recruitment and consolidation tactic in Syria, where the Assad regime has been of secondary concern to co-opting and eliminating competing rebel factions. To pull supporters in its direction in Afghanistan, IS has thus far focused the bulk of its propaganda on labeling the Taliban as “un-Islamic.”

In Nangarhar, the IS strategy extends beyond propaganda and co-option. In addition to the 10 tribal elders it blew up in August, it has conducted a targeted assassination campaign against its competition. 21 alleged Taliban supporters have been beheaded in Kot district alone, with reports of beheadings in at least five other districts throughout the province, according to one Afghan journalist who, like the rest of those interviewed, was fearful of providing his name.

Following the confirmation of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death in late summer 2015, there was concern that IS would exploit his demise to recruit disenfranchised Taliban field commanders in the same way it preyed upon a fracturing rebel landscape in Syria from 2013 to 2014. In attracting opportunistic former Afghan Taliban members, IS has learned lessons from its strategy in Pakistan. By exploiting divisions within the Pakistani Taliban stemming from the death of that group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a November 2013 drone strike, IS successfully recruited disgruntled fighters like the Pakistani Hafiz Saeed, a former Tehrik-e Taliban commander. Though it has been reported that Saeed was killed in an airstrike in July, a number of those interviewed claimed that he was indeed alive as of early November. Regardless of Saeed’s fate, IS uses the narrative of successfully recruiting members from other organizations to bolster its image of regional strength and domination.

Yet, Pakistani militants have always had trouble operating on Afghan soil. Though they have been given sanctuary by communities along the border, this has usually come with the caveat that they not stray too far inland. The bulk of those claiming to be IS now are disgruntled field commanders who have been fighting under the Afghan Taliban banner for years. Their alignment is driven more by necessity than ideology.

By September, 2015, Afghan and Pakistani factions had arisen within IS — not surprising, given the decades of open hostility between their two nations, particularly along the border. In mid-October, Rahim Muslimdost, the former Guantánamo Bay detainee who blames Pakistan for handing him over to U.S. forces, publicly broke with Hafiz Saeed’s IS faction, essentially saying that Saeed needed to return to Pakistan where he belonged. Muslimdost charged that Pakistani intelligence had hijacked IS in Afghanistan, another ploy in a long line of moves to keep its neighbor weak. In the same breath, Muslimdost re-affirmed his support to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. IS has not publicly weighed in on the dispute.

Some of those Foreign Policy interviewed speculated that IS had targeted Nangarhar precisely because of its position as a border province, along with the opportunity to symbolically erase the Af-Pak border — the contentious Durand Line — as they had done to great symbolic effect along the Iraq-Syria border. As of now, however, the caliphate is bogged down in the same Af-Pak nation-state border politics and proxy fighting that has plagued everyone from the Taliban, to occupying countries, to international aid agencies for years.

Ideology and Terror

Beginning in mid-June, IS began disseminating night letters: intimidating messages pinned on doors or delivered to homes under the cover of darkness. This IS tactic focuses mainly on religious leaders with large congregations based in Jalalalabad, as well as in neighboring Kunar province directly to the north. The majority of these imams and madrassa teachers are Salafi, a subset of Sunnis that ascribe to a fundamentalist view of Islam. Salafis advocate a strict adherence to Islamic doctrine and practice as it existed during the time of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century.

The vast majority of Salafis do not support IS or condone violence. After the Arab Spring in Egypt, for instance, Salafi political groups even participated in contemporary national politics. Although IS has recruited former Taliban fighters, the majority of these efforts have focused on the broader public. In fact, those being courted and coerced by IS in eastern Afghanistan are predominately individuals, like Salafis, that have not participated in the Taliban’s anti-government insurgency — principally because they found the Taliban’s accommodation of local traditions like shrine worship and tribal legal codes to be un-Islamic.

Much of the Islamic State’s millenarian ideology borrows heavily from Salafism, and the terror organization has sought the support of Salafi leaders around the world to provide religious cover for its violent actions. Those we spoke with in Nangarhar agreed this tactic partly explained the strength of IS in their province.

A well known Islamic scholar and professor at Nanagarhar University put it bluntly: IS “is in Nangarhar because there are more Salafis here than in other places [in Afghanistan], and these people are frustrated with the security situation and the government, but they also don’t believe in the Taliban.”

Among those well-known Salafis to have joined IS was Sheikh Jalaluddin, an Islamic judge from neighboring Kunar who had long opposed the Taliban and joined IS along with five other local fighters over the summer. He was subsequently killed in a U.S. airstrike in Nangarhar’s Achin district in mid-October, according to several religious leaders and journalists from the area.

Willing support for IS seems to be the exception and not the rule. Another prominent imam and madrassa teacher in Jalalabad recounted being approached by an IS member. He was given the choice to either send his 40 students to IS recruiters for indoctrination or be killed. The students are now with IS. Whether they are on the front lines or engaged in some form of propaganda or recruitment is unclear.

Others Foreign Policy spoke with noted that the IS campaign in Afghanistan targeted not just the Salafis. “They are really targeting the urban areas. They want the educated people to support them — the university students and professors and journalists and not just the religious leaders. This is something that the Taliban never put a lot of effort into,” one official in the Nangarhar provincial governor’s office said.

Backlash

As of late October, IS was on the defensive in a number of Nangarhari districts where it had been ascendant only months before. Public opinion began shifting in September when the IS recruitment strategy began transitioning from outreach and indoctrination to terror. The growing perception that Pakistani intelligence had infiltrated IS did not help their image either. “A few months ago we felt like [IS] was a local force that could stand up to the Taliban. Now we see that they are under the control of Pakistan and only concerned with creating instability here,” one resident of Bati Kot district said. While this affiliation remains unproven, suspicion continues to grow.

This shift in opinion has forced some strange alliances. Taliban commanders have been seen at anti-IS coordination meetings between the government and local leaders. In September, Afghan government forces in Kot district fought side by side with locals and the Taliban. In other districts, the Taliban have signed security agreements with individual tribes in an attempt to create anti-IS zones, but further fracturing communal relations along tribal lines.

The Ghani government has reacted by taking off the gloves, appointing former anti-Soviet commanders to governorships in several Nangarhar districts. These officials, locals report, have expanded power to lead offensive military operations. One of these new governors is Mohammad Ghalib. A career mujahedeen, Ghalib fought both the Soviets and the Taliban for decades. He was rewarded with command over his tribal territory in Nangarhar after the Taliban fled in 2001. In 2003, he was picked up by U.S. Special Forces on allegations of storing improvised explosive devices for the Taliban, and detained at Guantánamo Bay until 2007. This man is now one of those leading the fight against IS forces in eastern Afghanistan, territory still nominally under the control of Ghalib’s fellow Gitmo detainee Rahim Muslimdost.

The Ghani government continues to point the finger across the border at Pakistan first and foremost, advancing the idea that IS is composed of and controlled by foreign fighters. Though this strategy may have short-term gains — for all its divisions, Afghans cling strongly to a sense of nationalism, and banding together to fight outsiders is a time-honored tradition — it threatens to exacerbate the cross-border political issues that will continue to undermine security in the long term.

Then again: at least the broke and beleaguered Afghan government is advancing a strategy against IS, something that cannot be said for the rest of the world’s powers combined.

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https://fracturedatlas.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/1360

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Weapons of Islam

slice one of sufi tale by greenviggen

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We who are in Islam must remember that Allah is our only helper every second, every minute, every hour, every time of prayer.  Allah is our Ruler, the Ruler of Grace, the One who is Love, the Compassionate One, the One who calls us back to Him, the One who questions us, and the One who judges us.  His grace exists in all lives, concealed in a tiny piece of flesh within the innermost heart.  Just as the flesh of the tongue knows taste, just as the flesh of the nose perceives smell and the flesh of the ear hears sound and the flesh of the eye perceives light ~ like that, there is a tiny piece of flesh in the heart which worships Allah, looks at Him, hears Him, and prays to Him.

This is the throne of the true believer.  This is where Allah dwells.  This is His throne within the innermost heart, from which He rules and dispenses justice…

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a-slice-of-sufi

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My brothers, you must quench the thirst of all lives.  You must try to heal the sufferings of the world.  This is the mercy and compassion of all the universes, the wealth that has been given to mankind, and we who have faith must strive to offer it to all.  We should not carry a sword in our hands; we should hold patience in our hearts.  We should not arm ourselves with guns; we should be armed with contentment.  We should not put our trust in battles; we should have trust in God.  We should not cling to the world; we should cling to the praise of God.  These are the true weapons of Islam…

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a-slice-of-sufi-2

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The Prophet had no warlike qualities.  He had only the qualities of patience, contentment, trust in God, and praise of God.  If those qualities are reestablished in each heart, if they flourish and grow there, then Islam will become a vast, protective canopy for the world.

If everyone in the community of Islam understood this and tried to establish peace, tolerance, and patience, that alone would bring peace to the world.  The weapons of peace and tranquility will grant us victory no matter what enmity, what hostility, threatens us.  We must realize this, my brothers in Islam.  If we do, we will triumph in all three worlds, in the primal beginning, this world, and the hereafter.

In the name of Allah and His Messenger, I beg you to forgive me if anything I have said is wrong.  Please forgive me if I have made any mistakes.  I am only telling you what came to my heart.  I am only telling you what I understand in my innermost heart…

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a_sufi_tale_by_greenviggen-d2yv8hv1-e1390417374259

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from the book

Islam & World Peace ~ Explanations Of A Sufi

by Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

1987

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art

A Sufi Tale

by GreenViggen

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library-lizard-horned-toad-horned-lizard-bronze-sculpture-art-prescott-arizona-book-cat-public-monument-reading-e1389296539124

presented

by

The Great Horned Toad

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No More Mullah

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The death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, could mark a significant blow not only to the militant group’s long-standing insurgency, but to its future as a united and potent force.

The Afghan government’s confirmation that Mullah Omar died in April 2013 in Pakistan comes amid deepening divisions within the Taliban and the growing influence of rival militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Without its reclusive, one-eyed leader, the Taliban will find it difficult to prevent potential recruits from joining IS and other militant groups.

Power Struggle

Even before news broke of Mullah Omar’s death, there was mounting speculation of a power struggle within the Taliban, which has had only one leader since its formation in the early 1990s.

The leadership struggel centers on two competing commanders: Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur and Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yuqub. 

According to reports, the 26-year-old Yuqub is said to be ready to take over the reins. Yuqub is said to have the backing of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file. Standing in his way is the powerful Mansur, who is said to have considerable clout among the political wing of the militant group.

“There is already a nasty power struggle within the Taliban,” says Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul. “That power struggle will get more vicious after Omar’s death.”

Recruitment

In recent months, a growing number of disaffected Taliban field commanders have called on the leadership to provide proof that Mullah Omar is still alive.

Years without any video or audio recordings had led to growing speculation that the shadowy militant leader might be seriously ill, if not dead. The Taliban, in an apparent attempt to dispel speculation that he had died, in April published a biography of Mullah Omar on its official website to commemorate Mullah Omar’s apparent 19th year as supreme leader. The bio described Mullah Omar as being actively involved in “jihadi activities.”

But the absence of proof that Omar was indeed alive apparently led several senior Taliban commanders to defect to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an extremist group that is based in northern Afghanistan and earlier this year pledged allegiance to the IS group, as well as to IS itself.

Splinter groups have also grown in number and have become emboldened in recent years. In fact, Fidai Mahaz, one of the extremist Taliban splinter groups, announced a week before Kabul’s July 29 announcement that Mullah Omar was dead and had been replaced by his deputy.

“We’ve seen a number of defections to the IMU in the north, former TTP [Pakistani Taliban] flying IS flags in the east, and defections of some factions in the south,” Smith says. “Different Taliban groups are breaking away from the central Taliban organization. His death is going to fuel the factionalism that we are already seeing.”

Smith predicts that for this reason the Taliban is unlikely to confirm Mullah Omar’s death, and will try to maintain the myth of his existence.

Change The Battlefield

Mullah Omar’s death could have an adverse effect on the Taliban’s military campaign. The loss of field commanders and rank-and-file fighters to splinter groups and rival militant groups could deprive the Taliban of troop numbers and leadership on the battlefield.

“Mullah Omar’s death loosens the command and control over the insurgency,” Smith says. “It’s likely to make field commanders feel more independent. The political behavior of the mid-ranking Taliban military commanders becomes much more important because they’re no longer just following orders but thinking for themselves.”

Despite Mullah Omar’s death more than two years ago, the Taliban has waged a fierce offensive against government forces in the country’s north, making impressive military advances.

Abdul Waheed Wafa, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, says that if Mullah Omar is dead, then the Taliban must receive “huge credit” for weathering the potential pitfalls of his death on the group’s military campaign.

“Three years ago, the Taliban were under more pressure but today it’s a different story,” he says. “His death will weaken the Taliban movement but it is up to the Afghan government to make use of the divisions in the group.”

Peace Talks

Mullah Omar’s death comes just days before a second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government is scheduled in Pakistan.

But his death could delay or even jeopardize the talks aimed at ending the 14-year insurgency. Some observers have suggested that it would weaken the Taliban’s bargaining position and give the upper hand to Kabul.

But others suggest it would remove a figurehead for the group to rally around and take collective responsibility for the negotiations.

“It will make the peace process complicated,” says the Afghanistan Center’s Wafa. “It will be difficult for this process to find a central party to negotiate with.”

There are deep divisions within the group over a potential political settlement with Kabul.

The split within the Taliban between those for and against talks has been worsened by the emergence of a leadership tussle within the group. Mullah Omar’s son is believed to be against the talks while rival Mansur is credited with bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in Pakistan last month.

In his last purported message, made on July 15, Mullah Omar recognized the peace talks as “legitimate,” saying that the goal of the process was an “end to occupation” by foreign forces.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-taliban-after-mullah-omar/27159691.html

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Peace In Afghanistan

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Voice of Jihad

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

July 2015

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Peace is a natural demand of every human being, the very secret behind prosperity and development. The well-being of a nation lies in peace. Peace is a need for a society as water is for a fish. Prior to anything our beloved country needs durable peace. No doubt, our peace loving nation is craving for peace.

To demand peace is easy. Every person can raise voice for peace but peace will only be achieved and established in light of ground realities and through consideration of views and opinions of the people. It cannot be achieved by mere assertions. Rather it needs practical steps like removal of hurdles in the way of peace, establishment of an atmosphere of confidence and trust and initiation of a wise process.

Unfortunately, the current situation in our beloved country is heading towards use of force instead of peace advancement. Despite repeated promises, the invaders have not withdrawn from the battle field. Night raids and blind bombardments are still continuing. The officials of Kabul Administration are using peace for their own political objectives and propaganda. It shows that they have no commitment for peace because despite their hues and cries for peace they launched military operations in different parts of the country in severe cold weather last year. They had destroyed homes and gardens of common people and these destructive operations are still continuing. These activities on the part of the invaders and the Kabul administration have paved the way for continuation of the war.

Following points should be considered for peace.

1. Commitment and sincerity are the foremost elements for the peace process. A peace process which is also an Islamic obligation should not be used as a tool for deception, cunning and accusation of the opposite side. First of all those who want peace and working in the peace process should fear Allah, the Almighty. They should feel responsibility and should not play with the future of the oppressed nation.

2. Peace requires deep thoughts and discussions. A minor mistake in peace process could bring in enormous problems to our nation.

3. Peace requires serious moves based on realities otherwise it will deteriorate the peace process and pave the way for prolongation of war. Therefore, all the steps should be taken very carefully.

4. An important point in a peace process is the realization of the sentiments of opposite side. Peace should not be dubbed as surrender. Those who desire peace should not use it as an instrument of propaganda.

Islamic Emirate has repeatedly stated its commitment for a sustainable peace and has made efforts in this regards. As such, has put forward sensible strategy regarding peace process in different official and unofficial meetings. The end of occupation and establishment of an Islamic system has been determined as the primary goals of their legitimate struggle and sacred Jihad. Like in the past, the Islamic Emirate wants peace today and will strive for it in future as well. But the peace process should have some indications of commitment, sincerity and transparency. Ground realities should be taken into account because following a mirage in a dry desert has no meaning.

~

Talks Boost Peace Process

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by Farid Behbud

Xinhua Chinese Newspaper

July 10, 2015

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KABUL — The first face-to-face talks between a delegation of the Afghan government and Taliban representatives in Pakistan have revived hopes for peace and normalcy to return to the war-torn Afghanistan.

“I think the initial talks would give further push to the peace process and enhance national reconciliation. It is the first time that the representatives of the Taliban and the Haqqani network took part in direct talks with the government of Afghanistan,” Ghafoor Jawid, a respected political analyst, told Tolo News, a local publication.

The much-awaited peace talks since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001 were held in Pakistan’s scenic town Murree near Islamabad on Tuesday and both sides agreed to hold the second round of talks after Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.

A four-member delegation headed by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai represented the Afghan government in the talks.

On the same day, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the media that the preliminary peace negotiations will discuss three main issues, including ways to turn the meeting into a continuous process, undertaking confidence building measures and preparing a list of important issues to be put on the agenda of the next round of peace negotiations.”

During a meeting with Afghan political experts, analysts and media workers, Ghani said regional and global states as well as the Taliban outfit have realized that the Afghan security forces are invincible, so the government of Afghanistan will participate in the negotiations from a stronger position.

However, Zabihullah Mujahid, who claims to speak for the Taliban, has expressed ignorance over holding the peace talks. He said he would share with the media if he receives information about the talks with Afghan government.

Jawid said he and his countrymen are hopeful that the initial talks could serve as a basis for further negotiations that could result in achieving lasting peace in the country.

When asked why the two sides did not reach an agreement for setting a ceasefire, Jawid said what happened were just the initial talks and the issue of a ceasefire or cessation of hostilities could be tackled in the next round of talks.

“As both Afghan government and Taliban agreed to continue talks, more time will be needed for them to reach an agreement regarding the ceasefire, and that the ceasefire would definitely be discussed in the upcoming second round of talks,” Jawid said.

However, some local analysts disagreed with Jawid’s point of view.

“I am not very optimistic as to the outcome of the initial talks between the Taliban and the government simply because the Taliban representatives to the talks were minor functionaries and not their leaders,” another respected Afghan analyst, Mir Ahmad Joyanda, told Xinhua in an interview Thursday.

Joyanda, a communications and research expert, said if the Taliban were sincere they should have sent their top leaders to the talks.

According to Joyanda, the emergence of the Daesh (Islamic State) may have prompted the Taliban to agree to the initial talks with the government. He said the Taliban have realized that some of its more radical members have switched side to the IS.

Joyanda also noted that while the Taliban was holding initial talks with the government, they have carried suicide attacks and ambuscades in different parts of the country, thus putting its sincerity to work for peace into question.

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http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/10/c_134399448.htm

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Hundreds of Taliban Attack District

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written by Aazem Arash

TOLO news

26 September 2014

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Hundreds of Taliban insurgents have attacked and occupied Arjistan district of eastern Ghazni province on Friday, killing 50 Afghan Local Police (ALP) and beheading 12 members of ALP families, local officials said.

Deputy Governor of Ghazni, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, said that the insurgents have torched hundreds of civilian homes while exchanging gunfire’s with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). He stresses that the situation in Arjistan needs air support, otherwise the district will fall into the hands of the Taliban.

“If air support and commandos are not sent soon the district will collapse,” Ahmadi said, urging the government to take quick action. “If we lose control of the district now, it will be very difficult to regain it.”

Ghazni’s Provincial Council Head, Abdul Jami Jami said there is a large number of ANSF casualties’, stressing that “if more troops are not deployed to the district, we will witness a humanitarian disaster.”

Spokesman for the Ministry of Interior (MoI) Sediq Sediqqi said that additional troops have been deployed to the area to assist in clearing the district of insurgents.

“The police chief of Ghazni and several other troops have set out to Arjistan to crackdown on the Taliban,” Sediqqi said.

A number of Afghan MPs have also warned the government of the possible collapse of the district and the repercussions it will cause the administration, calling it “dangerous for the government.”

“If the district collapses the Taliban can easily take control of Qarabagh, Nawa and other districts of Ghazni, which will be very dangerous for the government,” Afghan MP Harif Rahmani said.

Local officials have said that the insurgents from the provinces of Uruzgan, Zabul and Daikundi had strategically planned to attack Arjistan.

Afghanistan has witnessed a rise in the number of active insurgency throughout the nation targeting several prominent provinces such as Ghazni, Helmand and Kunduz.

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http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/16525-arjistan-district-under-taliban-fire

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Taliban Inroads

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by Azam Ahmed

New York Times

One month ago…

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MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

“They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Asked for figures on the latest security force casualties this year, both ministries refused to provide data or confirm accounts from local officials. But there are signs that the casualty rate is already likely to be at least as bad as it was last year.

In one important indicator, the United Nations reported a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first half of this year compared with a similar period from 2013, hitting a new peak since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking the data in 2009. More significantly, for the first time, the highest number of those casualties came from ground fighting between the Afghan forces and insurgents rather than from roadside bombs.

The United Nations found that more fighting was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.

One important effect of those gains, particularly where police forces are being driven away, is that the Taliban are establishing larger sections of lawless territory where they can intimidate local populations. They become safe havens, and staging grounds for more ambitious attacks against Kabul and other major cities, like the militant assault on Kabul’s airport on July 17.

In the immediate vicinity of the country’s main cities, the Afghan military was still holding up well, according to American and Afghan commanders. But as more marginal districts have come under unexpectedly heavy attack, the military planners’ expectations have been tested.

One widely accepted prediction was that soon after 2014, the Taliban would gain in rural areas and traditional strongholds, as the government made tough decisions about what to fight for and what to let go. Places of no strategic value in remote areas of the south and east, some officials said, could afford to be forgotten.

But heavy attacks, and some territorial losses, are already happening in those places, earlier than predicted.

On July 9, the Taliban overran a district center in Ghor Province, a rugged and violent area close to the center of the country, which left Afghan forces scrambling to reclaim it and smarting from the embarrassment. On Saturday, militants stormed Registan District in Kandahar, killing five police officers, including the district police chief, in a battle that continued into the evening.

The heavy fighting earlier this summer in northern Helmand Province, long a Taliban stronghold and a center of opium poppy production, was mostly expected. But the breadth of the Taliban assault, which is now said by locals to extend to four districts, has surprised many, and foreshadowed a more ambitious reach for the insurgents.

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,” said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.

Bati Kot District, too, has become more dangerous. Outside the district center, residents say, the Taliban dominate a crucial swath of territory that straddles the main highway leading from Kabul to the eastern border with Pakistan. Villagers living in the district say the Taliban force them to feed and house insurgents, and threaten to kill them if they refuse.

Much like Nangarhar, Kapisa is connected directly to Kabul, presenting a troubling threat for the government as it struggles to safeguard the security corridor around the capital. Trouble in three districts has been the focus of a concerted American Special Forces campaign to ferret out the insurgents, who many say appear more trained and disciplined than the average Taliban.

“The command and control is incredible,” said one American Special Forces officer who has fought with his men in insurgent-controlled valleys in Kapisa. “They have found an awesome safe haven.”

The biggest fear for the province stems from Tagab and Alasay districts. Though there is an entire battalion of Afghan soldiers in the area, the vast majority of the fighting and dying are done by the police forces.

Two weeks ago, in the Askin Valley area of Alasay, insurgents surrounded a village where the local and national police had only recently taken root. Tribal and interpersonal rivalries fueled the animosity toward the police, but the consequence was clear: The government was not welcome.

An estimated 60 insurgents surrounded Askin Valley and engaged in a gunfight with about 35 local and 10 national police officers in the area, according to police officials. The two sides fought for more than a week, with coalition aircraft entering the area to offer support for the beleaguered security forces. Eventually, the police were forced to retreat, along with hundreds of villagers.

Two police officials in the area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, relayed the account. One, a local police officer, said the Taliban’s reach permeated the entire district, and the security forces were consigned to their bases, trying to stay alive.

“The Afghan security forces are controlling the bazaar for one in every 24 hours,” the commander said. “From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., the police, army and local police come out of their outposts and buy what they need, then they go back to their bases.”

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http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/asia/taliban-making-military-gains-in-afghanistan.html?_r=0

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Afghan General Defends Tactics

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Abubakar Siddique / RFE/RL correspondent

Gandhara News

August 19, 2014

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General Abdul Raziq, the security chief in Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar, is a controversial figure. Afghan and Western officials see him as a bulwark against Taliban attempts to return to their former Kandahar stronghold, but critics accuse him of committing grave rights abuses in his dealings with insurgents.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, Raziq defended his violent campaign against the insurgents, who he claims are fighting a proxy war for Pakistan’s security service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or ISI.

RFE/RL: Credible sources in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Kandahar, recently told us that your Adozai clan is involved in a festering blood feud with the Taliban hiding in Balochistan. They claim that this rivalry is behind frequent murders in the region. How do you respond to these allegations?

General Abdul Raziq: These murders are not the work of the Taliban. They are all carried out by Pakistan’s ISI to pressure us so that we cooperate with them in certain ways.

RFE/RL: But these sources told us that you are behind the killing of Taliban leaders such as their influential ideologue Maulana Abdullah Raziq, who was killed in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, in December. Is this true?

Raziq: The Taliban have their own internal problems. The Taliban are divided into many factions. Some of them work with the ISI, while others work with various militant networks. So these are their internal problems.

But the Afghan tribal leaders who are frequently assassinated in that region, most of them are not known to us. The ISI is behind all this because they want to pressure us one way or the other. They have made us several offers to entice us into cooperation with them. They have told us that doing so will end our problems.

I can assure you that such pressures have no effect. We cannot be pressured this way because death is a determined fact. So they are engaging in a futile effort.

RFE/RL: Why would the ISI want to pressure you?

Raziq: They want to increase their influence inside Afghanistan. They have their own objectives in Afghanistan, which are against the interests of our country.

But we cannot let them reach their goals. We are ready to pay every price for defending our homeland. We cannot let anybody interfere in our country.

RFE/RL: During the past decade, Afghan leaders have repeatedly said that Taliban leaders are planning attacks inside Afghanistan from hideouts in Quetta and other parts of Pakistan. In your view, why has the United States and the rest of the international community failed to persuade Pakistan to do its part to restore peace in Afghanistan?

Raziq: It is the responsibility of our central government to do so. But the whole world knows that all the Taliban — foot soldiers and leaders–are in Pakistan. All the Taliban dead and wounded are taken back to Pakistan.

Everything they do happens with the permission of the ISI. I have no doubt that they cannot do anything without ISI’s approval and the ISI can prevent them from doing what they are doing. It is because of ISI’s pressure that they come here and die in vain.

RFE/RL: In recent months the Taliban have attempted large attacks in Kandahar and neighboring provinces in southern Afghanistan. What has been the impact of these attacks?

Raziq: In Kandahar and in Helmand, ethnic Punjabis [from Pakistan] are now leading battles [against our forces]. The Punjabis are the trainers and Punjabi doctors accompany the fighters. [The hard line Pakistani jihadist organization] Lashkar-e Taiba is leading this campaign. Basically, these are all ISI operatives who now work in this way.

RFE/RL: What proof do you have that Punjabis from Pakistan are fighting inside Afghanistan?

Raziq: We have documents and we have captured fighters. We also have the dead bodies of fighters.

RFE/RL: You reportedly told journalists this week that government forces should shoot Taliban fighters instead of arresting them. Don’t you think such tactics are a violation of Afghan laws?

Raziq: We have seen this report, but I didn’t say anything like this. During recent days we have captured 65 Taliban fighters, and all of them are being detained in Kandahar’s prison. They are our prisoners and we are questioning them. We also captured some 22 wounded Taliban fighters. We could have killed them but we didn’t.

Anyone who comes here to fight our forces must be eliminated or should surrender. Our soldiers, obviously, cannot surrender to them. This cannot happen. Our soldiers must defend our country.

RFE/RL: Reports by Western media and rights watchdogs have accused you of committing grave human rights abuses. How would you respond to such criticisms?

Raziq: This is all hearsay. I can never tell my soldiers to surrender our homeland to the enemy. If we surrender a remote checkpoint to them, they will move to occupy a whole district. If we abandon a district to them, they move in to occupy a whole province. This leaves us with no choice but to defend our homeland.

RFE/RL: Do you ever see peace returning to Afghanistan?

Raziq: I don’t see any hope for peace in Afghanistan. All the efforts towards peace are a waste because we can’t have peace in our homeland unless we stop Pakistan from interfering in our country. Without holding Pakistan accountable, thinking of establishing peace here is futile.

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important blog:

http://dividepakistan.blogspot.com

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Taliban Infighting Escalates

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Buildings damaged by shelling and airstrikes in Mir Ali, North Waziristan...

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by Abubakar Siddique and Ahmad Takal

Gandhara News

June 2, 2014

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The Taliban organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan are undergoing unprecedented divisions that pose both new opportunities and challenges for the two neighbors battling insurgencies.

Leadership disagreements and factional infighting have raised the specter of a far-reaching realignment among Taliban factions. In the vast theater spanning Afghanistan and Pakistan, hardline Taliban factions are now engaging in escalating infighting with moderate Taliban groups seeking an accommodation with Islamabad and Kabul.

This week a leading Pakistani Taliban faction formally announced that it was abandoning the umbrella group, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The faction, led by Khalid Mehsud, who is also known as Khan Said Sajna, accused TTP leaders of involvement in criminal activities.

“[The TTP leadership] clique is involved in the heinous crimes of robbery, extortion, kidnapping for ransom and targeted assassinations,” he said in a statement issued to journalists on May 28. “They have killed Islamic scholars and forced madrasas to pay them money and engage in orchestrating bomb blasts in public places after getting paid from outside the country.”

The most revealing part of the statement said that the TTP “bothered the Punjabi Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” and propagated certain “sectarian beliefs and ideology.”

The TTP has not responded to the Mehsud group, but the division was inevitable after dozens of Taliban fighters were killed in clashes between the group’s members and militants loyal to erstwhile TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud this month.

Their differences boiled over into open confrontation after Hakimullah’s supporters lobbied hard to prevent Khalid from assuming the TTP’s leadership. Hakimullah was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in November.

In recent months the TTP has launched some major attacks and has negotiated with Islamabad, but internal disagreements now threaten its status as Pakistan’s main militant adversary. Tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers have been killed in TTP attacks and retaliatory military operations.

Across the border in Afghanistan a similar process is underway. Qari Hamza, a purported spokesman for the Afghanistan Islamic Movement, a Taliban splinter group locally known as Fidai Mahaz or “Sacrifice Front” in Pashto, labeled the Afghan Taliban as a Qatari militia.

“The spokesman of the Qatari militia cannot decide who are [the real] mujahedeen while they sit at a negotiating table with the crusaders,” one of the group’s recent statements said, in a mocking reference to the Afghan Taliban’s political office in the tiny Gulf nation. “These people think of themselves as the Islamic Emirate and even claim to have a monopoly over Islam, but they really need to revaluate themselves before branding others as [good] Muslims or infidels.”

This breakaway faction has claimed responsibility for some recent attacks and high-profile assassinations. Afghan officials believe it is an extremist Taliban splinter group now headed by Haji Najibullah, a close associate of former Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed by NATO troops in 2007.

A rift among the top fugitive leaders of the Afghan Taliban is expected to further cloud its future.

Former Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir is missing after he was removed from his post as the leader of the Taliban military commission last month. The controversy around his removal has emerged as a major threat to the solidarity of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban leadership council based in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan near Afghanistan’s border.

The Taliban has rejected Afghan government claims that Zakir was being held by Al-Qaeda linked Pakistani Taliban militants, and insisted that he “is free and is engaging in his activities.”

But nothing has been heard from Zakir since he was sacked. A source close to Taliban leaders told Gandhara that Zakir has been absent from the meetings of the exiled Taliban leadership council for more than a year because of a power struggle with the de facto Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.

“The two men did not agree on the question of making peace with Kabul,” the source said in early May. “Zakir wanted to push for a military victory after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces towards the end of this year, while Mansur favors the search for a settlement through negotiations.”

Afghan officials claim that the Afghan Taliban recently appointed hardline commander Ibrahim Sadar to replace Zakir. They said that Taliban leaders blamed Zakir for failing to disrupt voting during the first round of the Afghan presidential polls on April 5.

But the appointment of hardline figures might foment more internal divisions, which would render the Quetta Shura ineffective and incapable of controlling its shadowy organization inside Afghanistan.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Afghan intelligence official told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the most powerful Taliban military faction, has ordered his followers not to obey the Quetta Shura’s orders.

Haqqani, whose father Jalaluddin Haqqani was a major anti-Soviet mujahedeen commander in the 1980s, is known for launching brazen attacks in major Afghan cities.

Afghan security affairs analyst Javed Kohistani said that fragmentation within the Taliban ranks has seriously undermined their capacity to pose a major military challenge.

“Factionalism, mistrust and disagreements afflict the Taliban [both in Afghanistan and Pakistan] and prevent them from utilizing their military capacity,” he said. In addition, “[their main backer] Pakistan now feels that the Indian and Afghan intelligence agents have infiltrated the Taliban ranks and they cannot be trusted.”

Kohistani said that the Taliban infighting presents a unique opportunity to Kabul, but that the government’s capacity to respond is compromised by the country’s prolonged presidential election. “Unfortunately, we are undergoing a political transition in Afghanistan and the government cannot make major strategic decisions,” he said.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/taliban-infighting/25404677.html

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