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Reports: U.S. Eliminating Post Of Special Envoy On Afghanistan-Pakistan

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. State Department is eliminating the post of the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying the move will leave Washington without anyone at the policy post that was created by the previous U.S. president, Barack Obama.

The reports quoted current and former U.S. officials who said the current acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan would vacate the post on June 23.

The decision comes as the United States prepares to deploy thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, and as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis heads a policy review board on the two countries, in a bid to bolster the fight against Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militants.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Politico reported that the duties of the post will be folded into the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

However, sources said that bureau currently has no political leadership.

The Afghan-Pakistan post was first held by the late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Since 2009, it has been a key position for leadership on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

Can Flourishing Islamic State Be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS, U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country, a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there, Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who believe that associating with or pledging allegiance to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) � previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there, Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers, the Pentagon said.

Source: Voice of America

Afghanistan Promoted To Elite Status Of International Cricket

Afghanistan has joined an elite list of countries eligible to compete at the highest level of test cricket after it was voted a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The ICC voted unanimously on June 22 to allow Afghanistan and Ireland to become the 11th and 12th countries to be allowed to face other world powers in five-day test cricket matches, considered the sport’s ultimate honor.

Afghanistan Cricket Board Chief Executive Shafiq Stanikzai called it a huge and remarkable achievement for his country.

The entire nation will be celebrating, he added. “We dared to dream that this would happen, and today it has become a reality.”

Cricket gained popularity in the country during the 1980s and 1990s, brought back by refugees who had fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

ICC chief David Richardson said Afghanistan and Ireland deserved full membership based on “their dedication to improving performance both off and on the field, resulting in the significant development and growth of cricket in their respective countries.”

The last country to be bestowed the honor was Bangladesh in 2000.

Other countries in the elite group are founder members Australia and England, along with South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Sindh government has announced to provide Special Rashan Allowance to the beneficiaries of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

An official of provincial Social Welfare Department told Radio Pakistan that under the initiative, two thousand rupees per head will be given to the 1.8 million BISP registered beneficiaries across the province.


Source: Radio Pakistan

Indian Man on Death Row in Pakistan Seeks Clemency From Army Chief

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN � An Indian man on death row in Pakistan after a military court sentenced him on charges of espionage, sabotage and terrorism has appealed to the country’s army chief for clemency.

India had earlier appealed to the International Court of Justice, the highest legal body under the United Nations, in the case of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav. India said Pakistan had sentenced an innocent Indian citizen without granting him diplomatic access, which is in violation of an international treaty.

The court ordered Pakistan last month to delay Jadhav’s execution until the final verdict.

Pakistan says Jadhav confessed to being an Indian spy working to disrupt the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a network of railways and roads that is part of the larger One Belt One Road Initiative launched by China.

In a 10-minute video released by the military, the second of its kind, Jadhav said his activities were designed to support separatist groups in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province to “raise the level of insurgency.”

A news release by the Pakistan military’s public relations wing said Jadhav had “expressed remorse” over lives lost and damage caused by his actions and asked for mercy on “compassionate grounds.”

According to authorities, Jadhav claimed to have had a hand in sectarian violence, targeting Shi’ite Muslims, that had plagued Pakistan for a while.

Center of conflict

Balochistan has long been the center of a conflict between separatist insurgents and Pakistan’s military. It is also along the route of China’s planned economic corridor, which involves an investment of upward of $50 billion. The success of the project depends upon securing the routes.

Tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan, both nuclear-armed countries, have been high since a heavily armed group attacked an Indian air force base in Pathankot early last year. India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack.

The two sides have also been exchanging intermittent fire along the Line of Control, the de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region.

Source: Voice of America

Taliban Releases New Video of US, Australian Hostages

ISLAMABAD � Afghanistan’s Taliban released a new video Wednesday showing two professors, one American and one Australian, urging U.S. President Donald Trump to negotiate their freedom with the Islamist insurgent group.

American Kevin King, 60, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 48, teachers with the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, were kidnapped at gunpoint near the campus last August.

The Taliban wants freedom for its soldiers being held at the U.S.-run Bagram air base and the Afghan prison called Pul-e-Charkhi in return for freeing the two professors, the hostages said in their video message.

My captors treat me well. They treat me and my colleague Tim Weeks as their guests; but every prisoner’s final wish is to get freedom from the prison, said King, who was seen with a long beard.

King said he recorded the message on June 16.

Plea to Australian PM

For his part, Weeks urged Australian politicians to raise the issue in Parliament, saying the only way for him to go home is for the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to speak to the Taliban and Trump in order to reach an agreement with their captors.

I pray that this happens shortly and that the Taliban soldiers may be returned home to their families for Eid [the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan] and that I may be able to go home to my family and to my friends. Help, please. Thank you, said Weeks.

A U.S. State Department official said later Wednesday, “We are aware of a recent video purporting to feature a U.S. citizen kidnapped in Afghanistan. We are still working to examine the video and are not currently in a position to comment on it.”

“We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. Taking and holding civilian hostages is reprehensible and we condemn such actions in the strongest terms. The U.S. government is committed to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families and the department works closely with agencies across the government to do so,” the official said.

The official said the department would be unable to comment further “due to privacy considerations.”

The Afghan government did not immediately respond to the video.

Second video

This was the second video distributed by the Taliban to the news media since January as proof of life of the abductees in a bid to press for demands.

The hostages are believed to be in the custody of the notorious Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban.

Barnett Rubin, associate director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and writer of several books on Afghanistan, said, “The video appears to show that the two men are in reasonable physical health but under tremendous emotional strain, as is natural.

“They repeat the demands of the Taliban for a prisoner exchange. It would be wrong to speculate about the sincerity or insincerity of their statements, nor does it even mean anything, as no one can make free decisions under such conditions,” Rubin said. “I don’t want to comment on specific demands as that could disrupt ongoing efforts. I am sure the U.S. and Australian and Afghan governments are doing their utmost.”

Michael Kugleman, a Pakistan-Afghanistan analyst at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy research group in Washington, said, “Watching this video is heartbreaking. The professors do not look or sound well, they look nervous, and they appear to be engaging in propaganda on the Taliban’s behalf.”

Execution plans

The video’s release comes at a time when Afghan authorities are reportedly planning to execute a group of Taliban prisoners convicted on terrorism charges.

It is not clear, however, whether Annas Haqqani, a son of the founder of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is among the group of prisoners.

Afghan officials have not confirmed the reports, and the Taliban, in response, has threatened to unleash new attacks against all Afghan institutions if the government goes ahead with the executions.

The Afghan insurgents are also holding another U.S. citizen, Caitlan Coleman, 31, and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, 33. They were kidnapped by the Taliban in 2012.

In a video message released in December, the couple urged then-President-elect Trump to negotiate with the Taliban to secure their release in return for the prisoners.

Source: Voice of America