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

13 July 2020

In Pakistan, the Army Tightens Its Grip

BY ZUHA SIDDIQUI 
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Pakistan has faced an unprecedented set of challenges this year—from a locust invasion that threatened to infest 40 percent of the agrarian economy’s major crops to a pandemic that brought business activity to a grinding halt, prompting layoffs, falling household incomes, and a decline in purchasing power.

But when Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration unveiled the federal budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021 last month, a response to those calamities was nowhere to be seen. The budget allocated 1.29 trillion rupees ($7.7 billion) to defense expenditure, an 11.8 percent increase from last year’s budget and almost 18 percent of the total budget. Health, on the other hand, received 25 billion rupees ($148.6 million) in the central budget. Even after provincial governments stepped in to allocate an additional 467 billion rupees ($2.7 billion), health spending totaled a third of the military budget. As opposition Sen. Sherry Rehman said in a tweet, this is “not a national #budget for a country facing a crisis.”

Islamabad’s excessive defense funding, and failure to account for the country’s already stressed health infrastructure, isn’t simply an oversight.The latest budget would have been an apt time to push for much needed equitable resource allocation and a bigger development budget—more than 40 million Pakistanis are living in a state of food insecurity, and hospitals across the country are buckling as they cope with an influx of coronavirus patients. But Islamabad’s excessive defense funding, and failure to account for the country’s already stressed health infrastructure, isn’t simply an oversight. Rather, it is indicative of the military’s influence over the government and the weak government’s reluctance to push back.

10 July 2020

Afghanistan Between Negotiations: How the Doha Agreement Will Affect Intra-Afghan Peace

By Andrew Quilty 

Editor’s Note: The U.S.-Afghan peace deal is a possible diplomatic triumph but also a possible disaster. Much depends on the weak Afghan government, the Taliban's willingness to abide by the agreement once U.S. forces depart and the willingness of the United States to reengage if things go south. Kabul-based photojournalist Andrew Quilty argues these factors are not promising. Although the situation in the near term is still fluid, in the long term Afghanistan's future looks grim.

Daniel Byman

The Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, signed by the Taliban and the United States in Doha on Feb. 29, laid the foundations for an end to the war in Afghanistan. The agreement mandates the prevention of Afghan soil being used by any group that threatens the security of the United States or its allies and the announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. If both these conditions are implemented, intra-Afghan talks should then begin to negotiate a lasting cease-fire. Barring complications, including a U.S. policy shift should Democrats win the election in November, the United States and NATO are now scheduled to withdraw their forces from the country in early 2021, after nearly 20 years at war.

President Trump sees the signing of the Doha agreement as the fulfillment of a key 2016 election promise and a boon to his reelection hopes. In a rush to work within such a timeline, however, the U.S. negotiating team, led by former Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, made concessions that have weakened the Afghan government and strengthened the Taliban.

9 July 2020

Critics of US-Taliban Deal Say Militants Can’t Be Trusted

By Deb Reichmann

Intelligence that Afghan militants might have accepted Russian bounties for killing American troops did not scuttle the U.S.-Taliban agreement or President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw thousands more troops from the war. 

It did give critics of the deal another reason to say the Taliban shouldn’t be trusted.

The bounty information was included in Trump’s president’s daily intelligence brief on February 27, according to intelligence officials, and two days later, the United States and Taliban signed an agreement in Qatar. The agreement clears the way for America to end 19 years in Afghanistan and gives Trump a way to make good on his promise to end U.S. involvement in what he calls “endless wars.” 

On March 3, three days after the agreement was signed, the president had a 35-minute phone call with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and head of their political office in Qatar. After reports of the bounties broke in late June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a video conference with Baradar to make it clear that the U.S. expects the Taliban to live up to their commitments, 

Russian Bounties on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Fit Right Into Putin’s Playbook

Frida Ghitis 

From the moment The New York Times broke the news that U.S. forces had found massive amounts of cash during raids in Afghanistan, and ultimately concluded that Russia has been offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American and coalition troops, the focus has centered on President Donald Trump and his failure to take action in response.

Observers have paid much less attention to whether this is the kind of operation Russia would run—and why Moscow might undertake activities so brazen that if discovered, they might qualify as a casus belli, risking armed confrontation or at least a sharp deterioration in already frayed ties with the United States and the West. .

8 July 2020

A Failed Afghan Peace Deal

Seth G. Jones
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Introduction

On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement intended to be a first step toward an intra-Afghan peace deal. Important provisions of the deal included a U.S. commitment to eventually withdraw all U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups from using Afghan territory to threaten the United States and its partners, and a promise by both sides to support intra-Afghan peace negotiations. As part of the agreement, the United States promised to decrease the number of U.S. forces from approximately 14,000 to 8,600 soldiers, proportionately reduce the number of other international forces in Afghanistan, and work with both sides to release prisoners. There were notable problems with the agreement, such as its failure to include the Afghan government in the negotiations. It was an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

Despite such problems, a peace agreement that prevents Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for international terrorism would allow the United States to withdraw its forces and reduce its security and development assistance, which exceeded $800 billion between 2001 and 2019. An agreement is particularly desirable as the United States focuses on competition with China and Russia, and as the United States deals with the budgetary pressures caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

By Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz
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WASHINGTON — American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Afghan Deaths Pile Up in Uncertainty Over U.S. Deal With Taliban

By Mujib Mashal
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Two employees of Afghanistan’s human rights commission were killed in Kabul on Saturday as a bomb attached to their vehicle exploded, the latest in a rising number of targeted killings in the Afghan capital.

From assassinations of religious scholars and assaults against cultural figures to widespread Taliban attacks across the country, the rise in violence is sapping the brief optimism from an American agreement with the Taliban. Under that deal, the United States would withdraw its troops, paving the way for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides to end the war in a hoped-for political settlement.

The peace deal has hit a wall over a prisoner exchange that was supposed to enable direct talks. Instead, the violence has intensified.

In a statement, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights commission said one of its vehicles was struck by a magnetic bomb on Saturday morning, killing two employees who were on their way to work.

The victims were identified as Fatima Natasha Khalil, 24, a donor coordinator for the commission who had recently completed a degree from the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan, and Jawid Folad, a longtime driver at the commission.

This Time, Russia Is in Afghanistan to Win

BY SAJJAN M. GOHEL, ALLISON BAILEY
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The recent revelations in the New York Times and other media that U.S. intelligence officials believed a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan renew deep concerns about the nefarious agenda Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not only in Afghanistan but also to destabilize the West.

The timing of the revelations—the findings were briefed to U.S. President Donald Trump in late February—is significant as it coincided with the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, at the end of February. It is likely that the Taliban’s murky dealings with Russia were taking place while they were negotiating with the United States throughout 2019 and 2020, calling into question the insurgent group’s commitment to any peace deal.

The agreement provided for a phased withdrawal of NATO forces, with the United States pulling out 5,000 of its 13,000 troops over the next few months. In return, the Taliban claim they would not enable Afghan soil to be used for terrorism. But the obstacles to peace are so profound and numerous that the chances of the deal being honored are slim. A United Nations report stated that the Taliban retained close links to al Qaeda and sought its counsel during the negotiations with U.S. officials. And the Haqqani network, the biggest faction of the Taliban, has been accused by the Afghan government of collaborating with an ISIS affiliate—Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—to carry out numerous attacks in Afghanistan in 2020. (The most horrific examples were the suicide and gun attack on a Sikh gurdwara and the storming of the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital’s maternity ward in Kabul, killing nurses, women in labor, and newly born babies.)

7 July 2020

US, Russia Share a Complex and Bloody History in Afghanistan

By Kathy Gannon

Moscow and Washington are intertwined in a complex and bloody history in Afghanistan, with both suffering thousands of dead and wounded in conflicts lasting for years.

Now both superpowers are linked again over Afghanistan, with intelligence reports indicating Russia secretly offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops there.

But analysts suggest that despite these apparent differences, the two adversaries actually have much in common, especially when it comes to what a postwar Afghanistan should look like: Both want a stable country that does not serve as a base for extremists to export terrorism.

“The Russian endgame is an Afghanistan which will neither support jihadi movements in the former U.S.S.R. nor host American bases that might one day be used against Russia,” says Anatol Lieven, a Georgetown University professor in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar and a senior fellow at the New American Foundation.

This Time, Russia Is in Afghanistan to Win

BY SAJJAN M. GOHEL, ALLISON BAILEY
Source Link

The recent revelations in the New York Times and other media that U.S. intelligence officials believed a Russian military intelligence unit had offered secret bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan renew deep concerns about the nefarious agenda Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not only in Afghanistan but also to destabilize the West.

The timing of the revelations—the findings were briefed to U.S. President Donald Trump in late February—is significant as it coincided with the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar, at the end of February. It is likely that the Taliban’s murky dealings with Russia were taking place while they were negotiating with the United States throughout 2019 and 2020, calling into question the insurgent group’s commitment to any peace deal.

The agreement provided for a phased withdrawal of NATO forces, with the United States pulling out 5,000 of its 13,000 troops over the next few months. In return, the Taliban claim they would not enable Afghan soil to be used for terrorism. But the obstacles to peace are so profound and numerous that the chances of the deal being honored are slim. A United Nations report stated that the Taliban retained close links to al Qaeda and sought its counsel during the negotiations with U.S. officials. And the Haqqani network, the biggest faction of the Taliban, has been accused by the Afghan government of collaborating with an ISIS affiliate—Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)—to carry out numerous attacks in Afghanistan in 2020. (The most horrific examples were the suicide and gun attack on a Sikh gurdwara and the storming of the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital’s maternity ward in Kabul, killing nurses, women in labor, and newly born babies.)

In Afghanistan, the Dead Cast a Long Shadow

BY EMRAN FEROZ 
On the second day of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic festival commemorating the end of Ramadan, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security advisor and would-be president, visited an inconspicuous burial site in the southeastern province of Paktia and dug up quite a stir. 

The grave belonged to Mohammed Najibullah, Afghanistan’s last communist president, brutally murdered when the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996. Mohib is the first post-Taliban senior government official to ever pay his respects there. The controversial visit had several objectives for Mohib: to court Afghans, especially many nationalist Pashtuns, who recall Najibullah as a charismatic Afghan patriot who launched a national reconciliation process, and also as a reminder of the enduring brutality of the Taliban, who again today stand poised to share power, if not take it outright, as Kabul, Washington, and the Taliban grope their way toward the conclusion of an agonizing peace process. 

6 July 2020

What’s This Unit of Russian Spies That Keeps Getting Outed?

BY AMY MACKINNON
https://Source Link

On Friday, the New York Times broke the explosive story that a unit of Russia’s military intelligence—Unit 29155 of the GRU—had allegedly offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops. The GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, has emerged as a key player in Moscow’s efforts to sow chaos around the world, including the operation to hack and release emails from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

Unit 29155, accused of offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants, has spearheaded some of Russia’s most brazen overseas operations in recent years—or at least the ones we know about, from the attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016 to the botched effort to assassinate former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England. 

It’s not clear how the U.S. intelligence community was able to tie the operation back to Unit 29155. Information about the bounty plot, which was included in the president’s daily intelligence briefing early last year, is filtering into the press in bits and pieces. On Tuesday the Times reported that the assessment was backed up by evidence of bank transfers between bank accounts linked to the GRU and the Taliban.

Russian Bounties on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Fit Right Into Putin’s Playbook

Frida Ghitis 

From the moment The New York Times broke the news that U.S. forces had found massive amounts of cash during raids in Afghanistan, and ultimately concluded that Russia has been offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American and coalition troops, the focus has centered on President Donald Trump and his failure to take action in response.

Observers have paid much less attention to whether this is the kind of operation Russia would run—and why Moscow might undertake activities so brazen that if discovered, they might qualify as a casus belli, risking armed confrontation or at least a sharp deterioration in already frayed ties with the United States and the West

5 July 2020

Pakistan’s Climate Wake-up Call

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

On April 19, almost a month after a nationwide lockdown had been imposed, Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, witnessed a 63 percent plunge in average PM2.5 particulate matter pollution. Lahore was the world’s most polluted city this past October, when seasonal smog takes air pollution to hazardous levels; the air was given a much-needed respite by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar falls in air pollutant levels were witnessed across Pakistan’s urban centers – with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels in five major cities dropping by 20-56 percent – as lockdowns halted transportation, along with industrial and agricultural activities. The unrecognizable blueness of the skies brought out soul-searching vis-à-vis the current development plans and the environmental hazards that they churn out.

According to the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute (HEI), 135,000 people died in Pakistan because of air pollution in 2015. The medical journal The Lancet puts the annual figure over 300,000, maintaining that 22 percent of all deaths in Pakistan are linked to pollution.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the Punjab government notes that the transport sector contributes almost half (43 percent) of the air pollution in the province. Industries contribute 25 percent, while 20 percent comes from agricultural activity.

Taliban Bounties Would Be a New Low Even for Putin

James Stavridis

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also an operating executive consultant at the Carlyle Group and chairs the board of counselors at McLarty Associates.

As Americans consider news reports that Russia offered Taliban fighters bounties to kill U.S. service members, it’s worth recalling the tortured history the two nations have in Afghanistan.

Going back to the days of the Afghan mujahideen and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Washington provided weapons — notably, surface-to-air missiles — and training to Soviet adversaries in the 1980s. When I visited Moscow as the NATO commander of the Afghan mission almost 30 years later, I met with the man who had been the last Soviet general in Afghanistan (he had retired and gone into politics). He said to me that we Americans had “Russian blood on your hands.”

4 July 2020

Pompeo Warns Taliban Against Attacking US Troops


(RFE/RL) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held a video conference call with the Taliban during which the top U.S. diplomat warned the insurgents against attacking American troops in Afghanistan, the Department of State says.

A statement said Pompeo and the Taliban’s Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on June 29 discussed implementation of a February agreement between Washington and the militants.

“The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Earlier, the Taliban said Baradar reaffirmed during the call the group’s commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated a pledge not to strike U.S. forces.

The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain his actions after being reportedly told that Russian spies last year had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.

The White House has said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified and were not deemed credible actionable intelligence.

The ‘Spies and Commandos’ of Afghanistan

By George Friedman

The media exploded late last week with reports that Russia had paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. and Afghan troops. The plot was revealed by “spies and commandos” who had, among other things, discovered a large cache of U.S. dollars in a Taliban base and traced it back to Russia. The use of the terms spies and commandos is a bit odd, as they are not terms that American intelligence would normally use; U.S. operatives are not normally referred to as spies, and foreigners working for U.S. operatives are typically called “sources.” Commando is a British term adopted by the U.S. for a while but since abandoned for “special operations forces.” It’s a small but curious rhetorical point, one that could simply be explained by communication error in the translation, transmission, vetting and eventual publication of sensitive intelligence.

What’s important is that, whatever the source or path, neither the State Department nor the intelligence community has categorically denied the report. President Donald Trump claimed he had no knowledge of it, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused him of again conspiring with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Thus is the nature of election years.

Even so, the story must be taken seriously unless disproven, so the question is why the Russians would do what they are alleged to have done. Any covert operation can be blown; this one could lock the U.S. into long-term hostility with Russia. The U.S. is neither economically nor militarily without options if it chooses to retaliate. Washington has been content with the status quo with Russia for a while, but if these reports are true, or at least convincing, that will have to change. Paying bounties to kill Americans crosses a line from which retreat is difficult.

3 July 2020

Pakistan a ‘Safe Haven’ for ‘Terror Groups’: U.S. State Department

By Bill Roggio

Pakistan remains a “safe haven” for a host of regional terror groups, including the Afghan Taliban and its integral subgroup, the Al Qaeda linked Haqqani Network, according the the State Department’s newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2019.

“Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” State notes in its opening paragraph on Pakistan. “It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN [Haqqani Network], as well as groups targeting India, including LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa] and its affiliated front organizations, and JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammad], to operate from its territory.”

After noting that Pakistan has taken “modest steps in 2019 to counter terror financing and to restrain some India-focused militant groups,” State criticizes Pakistan for failing “to take decisive actions against Indian- and Afghanistan-focused militants who would undermine their operational capability.”

State also blasts Pakistan for harboring wanted terrorists, including JeM emir Masood Azhar and LeT commander Sajid Mir, who was a mastermind of the Nov. 2008 terror assault on Mumbai India.

Azhar and Mir “are widely believed to reside in Pakistan under the protection of the state, despite government denials,” the report states.

Ironically, State praises the Pakistani government for playing “a constructive role in U.S.-Taliban talks in 2019.”

A Divided Taliban Could Unleash a New Proxy War in Afghanistan

By Jared Schwartz, Yelena Biberman

The COVID-19 pandemic is transforming international relations not just by straining relations among powerful states, but also by disrupting violent nonstate actors. Perhaps no major militant outfit has felt the impact as much as the Taliban. The group’s leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is either seriously ill with the virus or possibly dead. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the powerful Haqqani Network and deputy leader of the Taliban, is also very ill with COVID-19. This has allowed Mohammad Yaqoob, the other deputy leader, to take operational control of the organization.

The shift in the balance of power within the Taliban has the potential to upend Afghan security, India-Pakistan relations, and the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Haqqani is an ally of Pakistan and al-Qaeda, while Yaqoob favors the peace process with the United States and rapprochement with India. Yaqoob’s rise might therefore seem like good news for Washington. But, as Yaqoob and Haqqani factions compete with each other for power, a spike in violence against soft targets by the Haqqani faction and its allies as well as a new proxy war between India and Pakistan are likely to ensue. 

2 July 2020

What Does the China-India Standoff in Ladakh Mean for Pakistan?

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Understandably, due to its evolving ties with China and rivalry with India, Pakistan has been viewing the Ladakh standoff through a Chinese lens. The episode has gained substantial space in mainstream Pakistani media. As expected, there are India-bashing commentaries, analysis, and coverage on TV channels, along with official backing. The reason is obvious: Pakistan, like China, has its own long-standing territorial dispute with India. That has led to wars between the two countries, as well as frequent clashes along the Line of Control, dividing the disputed Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Civilians have lost their lives on both sides of de facto border.

During a violent face-off in Ladakh on the night of June 15 to 16, the Indian Army claimed to have lost 20 of its soldiers in the biggest clash between India and China in nearly 50 years. China’s Defense Ministry confirmed there had been casualties, without giving a number. There has not been independent reporting from either side. Instead, media in the two countries are largely reporting state propaganda, as usually happens with such border run-ins, calling the other side the aggressor.

In this context, it is interesting to note that India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has alienated more than one of its neighbors. Besides China and Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan also have recent complaints over their borders with India.