Category Archives: Business & Finance

Mattis Tight-Lipped on New Afghan Strategy

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he is satisfied with the process the Trump administration went through to formulate its new strategy for Afghanistan, but he declined to provide details.

Speaking in Amman, Mattis said he will not talk about the policy until it is officially disclosed by the White House.

Trump said Saturday his administration has decided how to deal with the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

One day after meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat with his national security team, Trump tweeted, Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan, without providing details.

Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday a new strategy would protect America’s interests in the South Asian region and details would be forthcoming.

Friday’s meeting was the most recent in a series of high-level talks on a broader security strategy for Afghanistan and the greater South Asia region. Finalizing a strategy has been delayed by internal differences.

Among the attendees were Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Without offering hints, Mattis told reporters Thursday in Washington he anticipated a decision on the new approach to the war, the longest in U.S. history, would be made in the near future.

Before a new strategy is adopted, the administration has said it would review its approach to the broader South Asia region, including Pakistan and India. Options include sending thousands of additional troops to the war-torn country or withdrawing them altogether, leaving private military contractors to help manage the country’s tenuous security situation.

After years of extensive support from the U.S. and other NATO member nations, the Afghan military is still struggling to resist the Taliban, which recently made advances in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region. U.S. generals have described the conflict as a “stalemate.”

The U.S. Defense Department approved a plan months ago to send about 3,800 additional troops to assist the Afghan army, but some White House officials questioned whether more resources would be effective.

Trump authorized Mattis to determine troop numbers in Afghanistan, but several months later, allied troop levels remain unchanged. About 8,400 U.S. troops and an estimated 5,000 NATO troops are in the country, serving primarily in advisory and training capacities. The United States also maintains a force in Afghanistan that is tasked with fighting terrorist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Source: Voice of America

Suspect Raising Money for IS Granted Bail in Pakistan

An anti-terrorism court in Peshawar has granted bail to a suspect allegedly involved in generating funds for the so-called Islamic State in Pakistan’s northwestern region.

Earlier this month security forces arrested Zahid Ullah, a resident of Peshawar on suspicion of raising money and recruiting for Islamic State.

The security forces also retrieved a notebook from the suspect that had details of people who donated to the IS, Pakistani media reported.

Political analyst A. Z. Hilali said this case is another example of how people hesitate to become a witness and testify against the terror culprits for fear of their safety.

The government should provide witness protection to people so that terror suspects could be brought to justice, A. Z. Hilali, head of Political Science Department at the Peshawar University told VOA.

When the terrorists or their facilitators are let go due to lack of evidence, they resume terror activities and prove to be even more fatal than before, Hilali added.

A report published by the daily Express Tribune last month showed how 116 suspected hardcore militants arrested by the security forces in Pakistan’s Sindh province last year were either exonerated or granted bail by the courts due to lack of evidence, increasing their chances to resume their activities. In 2016, a group of women was also arrested in Karachi for raising funds for IS.

Many security and political analysts have repeatedly emphasized the need to amend the existing laws and introduce fresh legislation at the federal and provincial level in the wake of continuous terrorism in the country.

“There’s a dire need for new legislation. The terrorists or their facilitators should be punished at any cost, even if there are no witnesses or there is a lack of evidence,” Hilali said.

But Pervez Khattak, the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province that shares border with Afghanistan, does not agree. We already have an effective system in place � police, inquiry system and courts are working hand in hand.

I am not aware of the details of this particular case, but I have faith in our judiciary system, Khattak told VOA.

Terror financing remains a challenge for the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province despite its ongoing efforts against terrorism. The government recently warned its departments to be watchful and make every effort to cut the money supply of banned terror groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Islamic State in the region.

Some analysts say many terror groups are able to generate hefty amounts through individuals and groups collecting money from masses under the guise of religious and charity purposes.

Khattak, however, has a different stance and told VOA, There are no terror outfits active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and they are not raising funds. This is totally wrong information.

Experts say Islamic State does not hold a stronghold or any organized presence in Pakistan, but is trying to pave its way through several affiliates such as Tehreek-e-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who have pledged allegiance to the terror outfit and are conducting attacks on its behalf.

To eradicate Islamic State militants from the semi-autonomous tribal region, Pakistan’s army launched Operation Khyber 4 in July in the Rajgal Valley area of the Khyber Agency. Later in July, Pakistan’s Army claimed the first phase of the operation was completed successfully.

In a recent address to a group of youngsters, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa warned them to stay vigilant and cautious of terror groups such as IS that are trying to reach them through modern techniques and cyberspace.

The educated youth is the prime target of the ISIS and its affiliates, be extra cautious, Bajwa said.

Last year, Pakistan Intelligence Bureau Chief Aftab Sultan also warned of the emerging threat of the Islamic State that was particularly targeting youth. Sultan further said scores of people from Pakistan had traveled to Syria to join the IS ranks.

Two alleged IS leaders were killed by the security forces in Peshawar in June. In May, Pakistani security forces arrested five suspected IS militants from Karachi who had plans to carry out terror attacks.

In April, a young woman was captured in Lahore, who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and was planning an attack on the Christian community on Easter eve.

Source: Voice of America

Trump Says Decisions Made on War in Afghanistan

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday that his administration has made decisions on how to deal with the 16-year war in Afghanistan.

One day after meeting at the Camp David presidential retreat with his national security team to consider strategic options, Trump tweeted, Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan, he wrote, without providing details.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that a new strategy would protect America’s interests in the South Asian region and that details would be forthcoming.

The president is studying and considering his options and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time.” She did not specifically mention Afghanistan.

Friday’s meeting was the most recent in a series of high-level talks on a broader security strategy for Afghanistan and the greater South Asia region. Finalizing a strategy has been delayed by internal differences.

Among the attendees were Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Without offering hints, Mattis told reporters Thursday in Washington he anticipated a decision on the new approach to the war, the longest in U.S. history, would be made in the near future.

Before a new strategy is adopted, the administration has said it would review its approach to the broader South Asia region, including Pakistan and India. Options include sending thousands of additional troops to the war-torn country or withdrawing them altogether, leaving private military contractors to help manage the country’s tenuous security situation.

After years of extensive support from the U.S. and other NATO member nations, the Afghan military is still struggling to resist the Taliban, which recently made advances in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border region. U.S. generals have described the conflict as a “stalemate.”

The U.S. Defense Department approved a plan months ago to send about 3,800 additional troops to assist the Afghan army, but some White House officials questioned whether more resources would be effective.

Trump authorized Mattis to determine troop numbers in Afghanistan, but several months later, allied troop levels remain unchanged. About 8,400 U.S. troops and an estimated 5,000 NATO troops are in the country, serving primarily in advisory and training capacities. The U.S. also maintains a force in Afghanistan that is tasked with fighting terrorist groups, including Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Mattis has said he would commit to troop level adjustments after the administration agrees on a coherent strategy for Afghanistan and the broader region, including Pakistan’s dealings with terrorist groups.

Rand Corporation South Asian expert Jonah Blank said intelligence reports he has received suggests an increase in troops is the currently the administration’s most favored option.

“It sounds like the administration is leaning towards a modest increase in troop levels, perhaps between 3,000 and 5,000 troops …without a termination date for their stay,” Blank said.

Blank predicted a modest troop increase would not “change the overall trajectory of the war” given the failure of a collective effort to end the long-running conflict.

The founder of the Blackwater security firm, Erik Prince, and DynCorp owner Stephen Feinberg last month offered proposals to the White House to use contractors instead of U.S. troops.

But increasing numbers of influential Afghans are concerned private firms would not be accountable. They are concerned using contractors risks a reoccurrence of the heinous acts Blackwater Security Company guards committed in Afghanistan and Iraq about a decade ago.

The ability to reverse course in Afghanistan has been hindered by the government’s struggles to stop Taliban advances without assistance. The Taliban now controls almost half the country, according to the latest report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Afghan forces are also fighting an IS affiliate that has gained a foothold primarily in eastern Afghanistan, presenting an additional challenge without prospects of a near-term solution. This week, a U.S. soldier was killed and nearly a dozen others injured in a clash with the IS affiliate.

Members of Congress have expressed frustration over the long-running war and the lengthy administration search for a new strategy to break the stalemate.

Republican Senator John McCain declared last week that “America is adrift in Afghanistan.”

“Nearly seven months into President Trump’s administration, we’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened,” added McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain has proposed an expansion of the U.S. counterterrorism operation and additional support for the Afghan military.

More than 15 years ago, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Islamist Taliban regime for giving al-Qaida a refuge to plot the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S.

There is no sign to the end of the war. U.S. intelligence agencies determined in May that conditions in Afghanistan would almost certainly worsen through next year, even if the U.S. and its allies provided a modest increase in military assistance.

Source: Voice of America

264,000 more pilgrims from abroad for this year’s Hajj

Makkah (IINA) � The number of foreign pilgrims performing Hajj this year would be highest in history, according to sources at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

Saudi authorities have made flawless and elaborate arrangements to receive the largest number of pilgrims in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah and to ensure a hassle-free Hajj. So far nearly one million foreign pilgrims have arrived in the Kingdom. The number of foreign pilgrims last year was 13,25,372. However, this year, there will be an increase of about 264,000 pilgrims reaching a total of around 1.6 million. Most of them have started flocking the holy land from all over the world. This was made possible following Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s directive to lift the 20 percent cut in the quota of foreign pilgrims and 50 percent cut in the number of domestic pilgrims. The quota cut was enforced in 2012 due to the massive expansion works of mataf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba) and the Grand Mosque.

As of Thursday, a total of 916,562 pilgrims have arrived in the Kingdom, an increase of 165,013 (22 percent) comparing with the same period last year. According to a statistical report of the General Directorate of Passports, the number of pilgrims who arrived by air reached 878,567, while the number of pilgrims who arrived by land and sea account for 35,023 and 2,972 respectively. Of these pilgrims, 607,715 reached Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque and spend a few days in the holy city before setting out for Makkah.

Meanwhile, more than a million pilgrims and visitors offered Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Faisal Bin Jameel Ghazzawi, imam and khateeb of the Grand Mosque, urged the pilgrims to engage in supplications and spiritual preparations in anticipation of their life-time journey which is around the corner.

The imam specially spoke about the virtues of the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah, asking pilgrims to take full advantage of them well before moving to the holy sites to perform the Hajj rituals. Hajj is the greatest of all worships that make the believer much closer to Almighty Allah and there should not be any laxity and delay in utilizing the opportunity of performing this fifth pillar of Islam, he said.

Sheikh Ali Al-Hudaifi, imam and khateeb of the Prophet’s Mosque, cited in his sermon a myriad benefits � both spiritual and material � a Muslim obtains by performing Hajj. Nobody except Almighty Allah can calculate the rewards and benefits of Hajj. In the event of an acceptable Hajj, Allah will safeguard a Muslim from the machinations of Satan during the rest of his life, he said while urging pilgrims to be cautious to win the pleasure of God through respecting the Signs of Allah in the holy city as well as performing the rituals earnestly and not spoiling their rituals with involvement in worldly affairs.

Meanwhile, Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance Sheikh Saleh Al-Asheikh launched the ministry’s media programs to educate pilgrims during the current Hajj season. He said the plan included distribution of millions of publications, books, CDs, films and dawa mass media material in 32 international languages. Around 100 satellite channels are taking part in educating pilgrims through the dissemination of films and programs produced by the ministry. The plan also reflects the Kingdom’s efforts in serving the pilgrims, the minister said.

Source: International Islamic News Agency

IS Atrocities Spike in North, East Afghanistan

Recent terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State militant group in Afghanistan indicate an increase in the atrocities it’s committing against civilians and a deliberate attempt to wreak havoc and spread fear among noncombatants in the country.

Since its emergence in 2015, the extremist group has claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks across Afghanistan and has been accused of indiscriminately attacking civilians in general and the Shi’ite minority in particular.

On Monday, the terror group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack that occurred last week in Afghanistan’s northern Sar-e-Pul province, killing about 54 Shi’ite Muslims, including children and elderly, in the Mirza Olang region.

Afghan officials said Wednesday that local police had discovered several mass graves in Sar-e-Pul province, containing the bodies of the Mirza Olang massacre.

In early August, the group attacked a Shi’ite mosque in western Herat province, killing and injuring dozens of worshippers.

In July 2016, IS claimed responsibility for attacking a rally of peaceful protesters in Kabul, killing more than 80 and injuring dozens more.

IS weakening?

Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy forum in Washington, said the increase in IS attacks in Afghanistan and the terror group’s targeting of civilians illustrate weakness rather than strength.

“[IS] is intent to show that it’s still relevant and dangerous in Afghanistan, even as its fighters are targeted by airstrikes, and even as its brutalities discredit it in the eyes of Afghans,” Kugleman said. “On the contrary, we should read it as an effort on the part of an insecure IS to show that it still has clout.”

Farooq Bashar, an Afghan analyst in Kabul, agreed with Kugleman’s analysis and added that part of the increase in IS attacks is related to continuing White House deliberations about what course of action the U.S. will take in Afghanistan.

Bashar said he thought IS wanted to pose itself as a relevant group with which to to be reckoned.

“Islamic State is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan and by targeting Afghan civilians, it wants to demonstrate to the U.S. and the world that it has a strong presence in Afghanistan and the region,” Bashar said.

Increasing pressure

Initially based in southern parts of eastern Nangarhar province, IS’s Khorasan branch, also known as ISIS-K, emerged in early 2015 in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to cover those nations and “other nearby territories.” The group is trying to expand to mountainous parts of the adjacent Kunar and Nuristan provinces, which share a border with Pakistan.

In addition, the terror group recently has made inroads in the country’s northern Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces.

Most of the IS fighters are former members of the Pakistani Taliban group (TTP), many of whom belong to the Orokzai tribe in Pakistan, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

A number of Central Asian militants in Afghanistan, who previously were associated with al-Qaida and Taliban, have joined the IS cause. Some Afghan militants also have joined the terror group for financial incentives.

In recent months, U.S. and Afghan forces have been engaged in joint counterterrorism operations against IS in eastern Afghanistan, killing hundreds of its fighters, including several of its senior commanders.

American and Afghan military forces have promised to eliminate IS in Afghanistan in 2017.

Atrocities in Nangarhar

Initially emerging in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, IS has attacked villages in several other districts there, targeting local residents and elders deemed repugnant to its extremist ideology, local Afghan officials told VOA.

An IS video in 2015 showed horrific killing of a dozen local men from the Shinwari tribe in Nangarhar, who were blindfolded by IS fighters before being blown up by bombs buried underneath them.

Last summer, IS militants launched a massive assault on various parts of Kot district in Nangarhar province, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of villagers.

Niaz Bibi, a mother of 12 in the remote village of Qalajaat, watched as IS fighters invaded her home and killed five of her nine sons because they were affiliated with the local police force.

“They first shot my sons and then beheaded them in front of me,” Bibi told VOA in a telephone interview at the time.

In October 2016, the group overran several checkpoints operated by militias in Nangarhar’s Pachiragam district, killing dozens of local militia members and civilians in the region, local tribesmen and authorities told VOA.

The terror group on many occasions also has abducted local villagers.

A group of women who were captured by IS fighters in Nangarhar in early 2016 � they were held captive for more than four months before they were released as part of a prisoner-swap deal negotiated by tribal elders in the region � told VOA that IS starved them in dark cells.

“They kept beating us and telling us that they would kill us because we had become Kaafir [non-Muslim],” one of the women told VOA.

Keeping schools shuttered

The group also has forbidden state-run and private schools from operating in areas under its control, depriving tens of thousands of students from school.

The terror group reportedly has warned girls in northern Jawzjan province, who make up 40 percent of the 18,000 enrolled students, not to attend schools. It requires schools in areas under its control to adopt IS curriculum, and it forces parents to send their children to a growing network of religious seminaries run by IS.

“IS fighters use local madrassas [seminaries] as military centers where they teach militancy, conduct military training and plan their activities,” Abdul Zahir Haqqani, director of religious affairs in Nangarhar, told VOA in November 2016.

Source: Voice of America

Pakistan’s Khan Calls for ‘Open Borders’ With Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD Pakistan’s populist opposition leader, Imran Khan, says the future of long-term relations with landlocked Afghanistan lies in the two countries having open borders and free trade.

Pakistan is unilaterally fencing the nearly 2,600-kilometer, largely porous Afghan border. Authorities defend the recently initiated project, saying it will help stop criminal and terrorist infiltration, as well as boost counterterrorism efforts on both sides.

The Afghan government opposes the border fortification plan because Kabul traditionally has disputed the demarcation drawn during the former British rule of the Indian subcontinent.

Islamabad dismisses the objections and maintains it inherited the boundary as an international frontier.

The long term relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is open borders. Rather than building fences, I think it should have open, free trade, it should be like a European Union type of relationship. That’s our long term future and this would be of enormous benefit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Khan told VOA in a recent interview at Khan’s residence and party office in Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Afghanistan relies on Pakistani seaports and land routes for its international trade. Rising diplomatic and political tensions, however, have led to a reduction in the trade and transit activity through Pakistan, according to businessmen on both sides.

Bilateral ties have deteriorated, particularly over the past few years because of a spike in Taliban attacks and territorial advances in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials allege that insurgents use sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to plot deadly attacks in Afghanistan, and the neighboring country’s spy agency is helping them expand their influence in the war-ravaged country.

Islamabad denies the charges and accuses the Afghan intelligence agency of sheltering and helping anti-Pakistan militants to orchestrate terrorist attacks in the country.

‘The worst of times’

Cricket-star-turned-politician Khan, who also is popular among cricket-playing Afghan youth, acknowledges it is the worst of times in terms of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The problem is right now there is a lot of suspicion in Afghanistan about Pakistan, the way our foreign policy has gone up and down. And in Pakistan right now there is a lot of suspicion about Afghanistan, that the attacks in Pakistan, the terrorist attacks, are coming from Afghanistan, instigated by India, said Khan.

He echoed Pakistan’s official stance that archival India is using its growing influence, particularly among Afghan security institutions, to allegedly destabilize Pakistan. Kabul and New Delhi both deny the charges.

Khan urged that the United States should desist from intensifying military actions in Afghanistan, underscoring the need to find a political settlement to the protracted Afghan conflict.

I think the best decision Donald Trump could make is to finally decide to take American troops out of Afghanistan, and then that will pave the way for some sort of consensus government in Afghanistan, Khan said.

President Donald Trump’s administration has said it is close to finalizing its Afghan policy, which could see an additional several thousand U.S. troops being deployed to Afghanistan to help local security forces break the military stalemate with the Taliban.

As long as the troops are there, they are not going to be able to enforce peace there. If 150,000 NATO troops could not change Afghanistan, then 5,000 or 10,000 troops are only going to prolong the agony,” he added.

Khan’s party rules Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which shares a border with Afghanistan. The province has borne the brunt of terrorist attacks since Islamabad joined hands 16 years ago with Washington’s anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

The violence has significantly declined, however, due to counterterrorism operations in adjoining border areas and major police reforms the provincial government has introduced over the past four years.

The opposition politician and his party, Pakistan Terheek-e-Insaf, are being credited with leading a consistent anti-corruption campaign that ultimately prompted the country’s Supreme Court to investigate and oust former prime minister Nawaz Sharif from office last month for concealing overseas assets.

Observers say Khan’s successful legal battle has boosted his party’s political standing, and it could pose a serious challenge to Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party in 2018 parliamentary elections.

Source: Voice of America