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US Rejects Accusations It Gave Rise to IS in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD The United States reiterated its resolve Thursday to help local forces eliminate Islamic State from Afghanistan and strongly refuted accusations Washington was behind the emergence of the terrorist group in the war-shattered country.

The remarks by the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, John Bass, are the first formal reaction to the repeated accusations in recent months by some Afghans, including former President Hamid Karzai, along with Russia, that U.S. troops are aiding IS militants in Afghanistan.

“Let me take this opportunity, since these rumors continue to circulate, to emphatically state that the United States has not brought Daesh to Afghanistan. The United States has not ever supported Daesh, its creation, its horrible attacks in any form, or fashion,” said Bass, while addressing his first news conference in Kabul.

Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS.

In a series of interviews to media groups, including VOA, late last year, Karzai called IS a “tool” of the U.S. The former Afghan president repeated his allegations Thursday in India, saying it was up to the United States to explain the rise of Daesh and extremism in his country.

“Some of Afghanistan’s problems are foreign. Extremism is the product of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation, and Afghanistan has to face implications. The U.S. must explain,” Karzai said in New Delhi while taking part in a geopolitical conference known as the Raisina Dialogue.

U.S. Ambassador Bass said there was “absolutely no way” to work out peace or reconciliation with Daesh in Afghanistan.

“The only way to deal with Daesh is through sustained determined efforts on the battlefield to either kill them or capture them and to remove them to prevent them from being able to conduct attacks,” said Bass.

The U.S. ambassador said that was the approach the U.S. and other coalition members undertook in Iraq and Syria in partnership with the Iraqi government and with Syrian groups that were committed to defending their part of Syria.

IS operates in Afghanistan under the name Khorasan Province. The terrorist group launched its operations in early 2015 from eastern volatile Afghan regions, mainly Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan.

Since then, the group has extended its activities to other parts of the country, including northern Afghan provinces bordering central Asian states, which is raising alarms in Russia.

IS has claimed responsibility for some of the recent deadly suicide bombings in Afghanistan, particularly in the capital, Kabul.

The violence has left scores of Afghans dead, mostly members of the minority Shi’ite community. U.S. military commanders say former members of the Pakistani Taliban comprise a majority of IS fighters in Afghanistan.

Pakistan alleges IS bases in Afghan border also are behind terrorist attacks against the country. Afghan officials deny the allegations and say IS militants receive support from Pakistan.

Source: Voice of America

Afghan President Criticizes Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Islamic ‘Fatwa’

ISLAMABAD Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he believes an anti-terrorism Islamic edict, or fatwa, issued by Pakistan, should have covered the entire Muslim world, including Ghani’s war-torn nation.

Ghani spoke Wednesday, a day after more than 1,800 Pakistani clerics unveiled the edict at a government-sponsored event in Islamabad. The directive declared as un-Islamic acts that include suicide bombings, sectarianism, and calls for jihad in the name of religion without the consent of the state.

He told a gathering in Kabul of Afghan youths, women, civil society activists and clerics that fatwas issued under Islam have never been confined to geographical boundaries of a single nation. Clerics in the audience voiced their agreement when the Afghan leader asked for their opinion.

“If they [Islamic principles] extend to all [of the world] of Islam, then it [the Pakistani edict] should first and foremost be implemented in relation to Afghanistan,” Ghani said.

‘Astonishing’ comments

There was no immediate official reaction in Pakistan to Ghani’s comments, but privately, authorities dismissed them as astonishing, citing long-running accusations of Pakistani interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

Analysts viewed Ghani’s criticism as another indication of deep mistrust and tension in relations between the neighboring countries.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated over Kabul’s allegations that Taliban insurgents and their allies are using Pakistani soil for sustaining and expanding insurgent activities.

In turn, Islamabad alleges Afghanistan’s intelligence agency � the National Directorate of Security, with the help of Indian counterparts � is sheltering fugitive Pakistani militants and helping them to plot terrorist attacks against the country.

It would be inappropriate for Pakistan to pressure or to press upon their clerics to give a statement regarding any other country, said Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani columnist and author of books on extremism.

Instead of taking a narrow view of the edict, President Ghani should have appreciated Pakistan’s effort rather criticizing it, Hussain said.

Doing all it can

Afghan officials say that during a visit to Kabul last October, Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had assured Ghani he would seek a fatwa from Pakistani clerics with regard to the Afghan conflict. Pakistani officials have not confirmed those assertions.

Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing Tuesday’s ceremony where the edict in question was announced, reiterated that his country is doing all it can to fight terrorism and has suffered tens of thousands of casualties in the process, in addition to massive economic losses.

Terrorism has no place in Islam, whether against our own people or against other people. Pakistan is committed to not allowing any group to use its territory to carry out any act of terrorism against anybody. What is not good for us is not good for others also, Iqbal said.

Government under fire

The government itself has been under fire since issuing the fatwa. Critics, such as rights activist Tahira Abdullah, raised objections about the participation of certain clerics at Tuesday’s event.

She said the list of those invited to the conference, held in the office of President Mamnoon Hussainin Islamabad, contained names of clerics with ties to banned Islamic organizations.

We strongly protest and condemn this blatantly obvious � but failed �attempt to confer respectability and legitimacy on religious-political organizations, individuals, and groups, which are either proscribed themselves, or have very close links with such entities, Abdullah said.

The activist said she saw the participation of controversial clerics as part of alleged official efforts to mainstream extremist groups in national politics.

This is a monster, which will boomerang back at us all, she said.

The Pakistani fatwa was ratified by, among others, Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, who is known for his ties to the outlawed Sunni-based sectarian group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Authorities accuse the group of being behind attacks on Pakistan’s minority Shiite community.

Another signatory was Hamid-ul-Haq, the son of the Pakistani cleric Sami-ul-Haq, who is widely referred to as the Father of the Afghan Taliban. The cleric’s Islamic seminary, near the northwestern city of Peshawar, is where prominent radical leaders, including Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, received an education.

Source: Voice of America

Afghan President Criticizes Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Islamic ‘Fatwa’

ISLAMABAD Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he believes an anti-terrorism Islamic edict, or fatwa, issued by Pakistan, should have covered the entire Muslim world, including Ghani’s war-torn nation.

Ghani spoke Wednesday, a day after more than 1,800 Pakistani clerics unveiled the edict at a government-sponsored event in Islamabad. The directive declared as un-Islamic acts that include suicide bombings, sectarianism, and calls for jihad in the name of religion without the consent of the state.

He told a gathering in Kabul of Afghan youths, women, civil society activists and clerics that fatwas issued under Islam have never been confined to geographical boundaries of a single nation. Clerics in the audience voiced their agreement when the Afghan leader asked for their opinion.

“If they [Islamic principles] extend to all [of the world] of Islam, then it [the Pakistani edict] should first and foremost be implemented in relation to Afghanistan,” Ghani said.

‘Astonishing’ comments

There was no immediate official reaction in Pakistan to Ghani’s comments, but privately, authorities dismissed them as astonishing, citing long-running accusations of Pakistani interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

Analysts viewed Ghani’s criticism as another indication of deep mistrust and tension in relations between the neighboring countries.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deteriorated over Kabul’s allegations that Taliban insurgents and their allies are using Pakistani soil for sustaining and expanding insurgent activities.

In turn, Islamabad alleges Afghanistan’s intelligence agency � the National Directorate of Security, with the help of Indian counterparts � is sheltering fugitive Pakistani militants and helping them to plot terrorist attacks against the country.

It would be inappropriate for Pakistan to pressure or to press upon their clerics to give a statement regarding any other country, said Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani columnist and author of books on extremism.

Instead of taking a narrow view of the edict, President Ghani should have appreciated Pakistan’s effort rather criticizing it, Hussain said.

Doing all it can

Afghan officials say that during a visit to Kabul last October, Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had assured Ghani he would seek a fatwa from Pakistani clerics with regard to the Afghan conflict. Pakistani officials have not confirmed those assertions.

Pakistani Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing Tuesday’s ceremony where the edict in question was announced, reiterated that his country is doing all it can to fight terrorism and has suffered tens of thousands of casualties in the process, in addition to massive economic losses.

Terrorism has no place in Islam, whether against our own people or against other people. Pakistan is committed to not allowing any group to use its territory to carry out any act of terrorism against anybody. What is not good for us is not good for others also, Iqbal said.

Government under fire

The government itself has been under fire since issuing the fatwa. Critics, such as rights activist Tahira Abdullah, raised objections about the participation of certain clerics at Tuesday’s event.

She said the list of those invited to the conference, held in the office of President Mamnoon Hussainin Islamabad, contained names of clerics with ties to banned Islamic organizations.

We strongly protest and condemn this blatantly obvious � but failed �attempt to confer respectability and legitimacy on religious-political organizations, individuals, and groups, which are either proscribed themselves, or have very close links with such entities, Abdullah said.

The activist said she saw the participation of controversial clerics as part of alleged official efforts to mainstream extremist groups in national politics.

This is a monster, which will boomerang back at us all, she said.

The Pakistani fatwa was ratified by, among others, Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, who is known for his ties to the outlawed Sunni-based sectarian group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Authorities accuse the group of being behind attacks on Pakistan’s minority Shiite community.

Another signatory was Hamid-ul-Haq, the son of the Pakistani cleric Sami-ul-Haq, who is widely referred to as the Father of the Afghan Taliban. The cleric’s Islamic seminary, near the northwestern city of Peshawar, is where prominent radical leaders, including Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, received an education.

Source: Voice of America

Afghan Government, Taliban Deny Sending Envoys to Turkey Talks

WASHINGTON/KABUL Afghanistan government negotiators and Taliban officials have reportedly opened unofficial talks in Turkey to discuss the groundwork for initiating a formal peace dialogue between the government and the insurgent group.

Reports of the preliminary talks between the two sides emerged on Sunday in the Afghan local media with participants alleging that the Turkish government cooperated in launching the direct unofficial talks between both sides.

However, both the Afghan government and the Taliban have tried to distance themselves from the meeting in Turkey.

Those people who participated in Turkey talks with the Taliban are not representing the Afghan government, Shah Hussain Mortazavi, a spokesperson to the Afghan president, told VOA.

Afghan government will inform the Afghan people about any kind of talks to be held with armed opposition, the spokesperson emphasized.

Similarly, Afghan Taliban also denied that the militant group’s representatives had participated in a meeting with the representatives of the Afghan government.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the insurgent group’s spokesperson reacted to the development on Twitter and charged that the media reports are baseless.

Who talked to whom?

With both the Afghan government and the Taliban deny sending their envoys to Turkey on behalf of the government and the Taliban, the question is who were the participants of the Turkey meeting?

The news of talks in Turkey broke when a man, wearing a black turban, claiming to be the chief of the Taliban delegation in Turkey spoke to Tolo TV, Afghanistan’s most viewed private television station, and alleged that he was representing the Taliban movement in informal talks with the Afghan government.

In the more than seven-minute interview conducted via Skype from Turkey, Tolo TV introduced the man as Maulvi Abdul Rauf, the chief negotiator of the Taliban.

Maulvi Abdul Rauf said he represented all Mujahedeen (holy warriors) including Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), the formal name of Taliban.

He also claimed this was the third round of talks taking place between both sides. However, he refused to elaborate on where he came from to take part in the alleged unofficial peace talks.

I don’t feel a need for telling you where I came from, Rauf said when asked about how he made it to Turkey.

Two Afghan officials, Abbas Basir and Homayon Jarir, both advisors to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly held the meeting with five-member delegation of Taliban, headed by Maulvi Abdul Rauf.

Rauf claimed in the interview that he was a former governor of eastern Khost province during the Taliban regime and currently held membership in Taliban leadership circle.

For the first time, a Taliban representative showed his face to media, confirming the start of what he called informal negotiations with the Afghan government officials in Turkey.

Previously talks between both sides have been shrouded in secrecy.

Mohammad Karim Khalili , the head of the Afghan Peace Council (APC), the government body tasked with talking with insurgent groups, offered a more nuanced and diplomatic response to the alleged talks.

Informal contacts with oppositions is continuing. The peace council along with government of Afghanistan are working together to prepare the ground for talks, Khalili said.

Afghans and international community are both ready for talks, Khalili added.

As the Afghan government and the Taliban are both denying having participated in Turkey talks, the Taliban have quietly sent political negotiators to Pakistan from its Qatar-based office amid a new diplomatic push for encouraging peace talks between parties to the Afghanistan war, according local media reports from Pakistan.

A three-member Taliban delegation headed by Shahabuddin Dilawar, a senior member of the Doha office, is reportedly in Islamabad, local media reported Tuesday.

Pakistani officials have not yet commented on the reports. Diplomatic sources in the capital city told VOA that they are aware” of the arrival of Taliban officials, but refused to speculate on their mission.

Taliban have yet to confirm or deny the arrival of its delegation to Islamabad.

Civil society concerns

Some civil society activists in Afghanistan are concerned over the secrecy of the talks and the denial of parties’ participation in negotiations.

Khwaja Hamid Olwi, a civil society activist in Kabul. is not optimistic about the peace talks.

When all the parties refuse that they had no representative in the talks, it indicates lack of respect for peace talks, Olwi said.

That is why people are losing faith in the talks and do not believe (in) such talks, he added.

Pakistan in the equation

The Afghan peace process has been heavily dependent on Pakistan and Afghanistan and could never fully take control of the talks with the Taliban. The last time both sides held official talks was in 2015 in Murree, a resort town not too far from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Pakistan helped launched the talks between both sides and they agreed to meet again in a couple of months. However, the news of the death of Mullah Omar, the Taliban founder and its spiritual leader, postponed the talks indefinitely.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough stance on Pakistan and Taliban has somewhat revived the hopes for a breakthrough in the stalled Afghan peace process. However, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif ruled out the influence Islamabad once had on Taliban.

Washington and Kabul think otherwise. The visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Ambassador Alice Wells wrapped up her Islamabad visit on Tuesday with a clear message to Pakistan.

U.S. South Asia strategy represents an opportunity to work together (with Pakistan) for the establishment of a stable, peaceful Afghanistan, the defeat of ISIS in South Asia, and the elimination of terrorist groups that threaten both Pakistan and the United States, Wells said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is equally critical of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

Following a meeting with visiting members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), Ghani’s office released a statement in which the Afghan leader called for more pressure on Pakistan.

In its defense, Pakistan denies safe havens on its soil and maintains that the country has cracked down on all militant groups indiscriminately.

Source: Voice of America

Anti-US Cleric Released on Bail in Pakistan

Pakistani authorities on Monday released anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Sufi Muhammad after eight years in prison. He was facing sedition charges and was allegedly involved in attacks on police stations.

While some in the country do not view Muhammad’s release as a good sign, others support the move.

“He is a 93-year-old person. He is seriously sick, almost paralyzed and could not be treated inside the jail,” Latif Afridi, a lawyer and an expert of legal affairs, told VOA. “The Pakistani courts have the power to release the sick and people who are so old on bail.”

Muhammad is considered one of the many controversial clerics in Pakistan. He gathered around 10,000 armed militants in 2001 in Pakistan’s tribal regions to fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. He also led the pro-Sharia movement in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the early 1990s and again in the 2000s, which ended with violence and a crackdown on his supporters in different parts of the province.

Afridi argued that while Muhammad has been in prison for a long time, no case could be proven against him in court and, therefore, he was fairly released.

But Peshawar-based human rights activist Mehsood Alam, in an interview with VOA, criticized the decision.

“The release of Sufi Muhammad by Peshawar High Court was a newsworthy development, but in a country where the chief of Jamaat ud Dawa [JUD] could be released and mainstreamed, why Sufi Muhammad could not be released,” Alam said.

JUD is a U.N. and U.S.-designated terror group. Its chief, Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks, was released by Pakistani authorities on court orders last year.

Maulana Sufi Muhammad is the father-in-law of Pakistan’s most wanted Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah. Pakistan accuses Mullah Fazlullah of masterminding terrorist activities inside Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan. Mullah Fazlullah’s group Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has accepted responsibility for scores of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the killing of Pakistani major general Sanaullah Niazi.

It is not yet known whether the aged cleric has influence on his militant son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah.

Pakistani media reports say that Maulana Sufi Muhammad has been moved to an unknown location after his release.

Rising tensions

The development comes amid rising U.S.-Pakistani tensions following President Donald Trump’s accusations that Pakistan was harboring militants and is withholding American aid to Islamabad.

Washington accuses Pakistan of turning a blind eye to militants. Pakistan denies the charge. In his first tweet of 2018, Trump said that the United States had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid in the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but “lies & deceit.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, accused the Trump administration of ignoring the sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terror.

The claim is unfair, Chaudhry told The Associated Press.

“We have been the victim of terrorist attacks and how can we tolerate the presence of militants on our soil,” he said.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington could be further strained by the release of Muhammad, who in 2001 issued an edict, or fatwa, for holy war against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Source: Voice of America

Amid Concerns, Afghan Forces Ready to Hand over Security Responsibilities to Rural Communities

Afghan forces are planning to hand over the security responsibilities to the local forces of the rural communities, they have recently captured from Taliban and IS militants, in eastern Nangarhar a province that borders Pakistan.

Nangarhar provincial officials said hundreds of local men, armed by Afghan National Directorate of Security, are ready to fight against IS in Khogyani district where joint Afghan security forces recently ended a 15-day long anti-IS operation.

“For the time we have 300 men ready to protect their villages [against IS militants] and if the situation requires, we will arm more people to fight,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesperson for the governor of Nangarhar.

According to the Afghan officials, the total number of such forces in Nangarhar province is close to 1000.

“We have 500 local forces in Pachir Agam district, 300 in Khogyani district and another 100 in Kot district,” said Hayat Khan, Chief of Nangarhar Coordination Center of Uprising Local Forces.

Afghan officials claim the force in Pachir Agam district is effectively providing security to the district and to the Tora Bora area, once the stronghold of slain Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Some local residents have expressed support for a joint Afghan security forces operation in Khogyani district where fighting between the Taliban and IS militants caused hundreds of families to flee.

“We ask the government to build more security posts. We do not want IS and the Taliban to come back here and fight. Fighting made us leave our houses in this cold season of the year. Locals have the ability to protect their communities,” a local resident identified only as Azizullah, told VOA.

Afghan officials also said that hundreds of these local men had military training and are currently providing security under the local police force. The Afghan government is arming them with weapons and have them on payroll.

Concerns Over Instability

Experts have been expressing fear that these forces may cause more insecurity.

Wadeer Safi, a professor at Kabul University, claimed that there are reports about the these forces joining local police in armed robbery.

“In some districts the so-called local police and upraising force, especially when they are stationed far from districts centers, have turned into ‘robbers’, using their weapons to plunder and kidnap girls,” Safi said. “I have not seen any positive effect of these forces in terms of providing security in the country.

Ahmad Shah Wardak, a military expert, agrees with the ineffectiveness of the local forces. He believes they need to be centralized and controlled by the Afghan government. “The Afghan government needs to develop a proper strategy in terms of how to support, train and arm those locals who are frustrated from [Taliban and IS] brutalities, and recognize those warlords, especially in northern Afghanistan, who under the name of local uprisings commit crimes, including rape and plunder.”

In a report published in July 2017, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission documented a number of abusive and criminal actions committed by local uprising forces in northern Afghanistan. They asked the Afghan government to take legal measures to prevent the arbitrary actions of irresponsible armed forces who violate international human rights.

In a recent incident in the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, a man belonging to local uprising forces opened fire on U.S. military forces. A NATO statement confirmed that during the shootout one U.S. Army service member was wounded. However, Afghan local authorities said that two U.S. soldiers were killed and another wounded. Afghan officials also confirmed the death of two local uprising force commanders and one local Afghan interpreter in the shootout.

Afghan defense officials have said that Afghan local forces would be transitioned or dissolved within the ranks of Afghan National Army and police. However, experts say that while the government has made some strides, overall it failed to get rid of them.

Zia UrRahman Hasrat in Nangarhar contributed to this report

Source: Voice of America