Afghan Taliban turn blind eye to Pakistani militants

Afghan Taliban anger over Pakistan’s construction of a border fence threatened to turn violent. (AP)
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Updated 06 January 2022
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Afghan Taliban turn blind eye to Pakistani militants

  • Pakistani Taliban are regrouping and reorganizing, with their leadership headquartered in neighboring Afghanistan

PESHAWAR: Each year on Jan. 17, Shahana bakes a cake and invites friends to her home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. They sing happy birthday for her son, even light a candle. But it’s a birthday without the birthday boy.
Her son, Asfand Khan, was 15 in December 2014 when gunmen rampaged through his military-run public school in Peshawar killing 150 people, most of them students, some as young as 5. Asfand was shot three times in the head at close range.
The attackers were Pakistani Taliban, who seven years later have once again ramped up their attacks, seemingly emboldened by the return of Afghanistan’s Taliban to power in Kabul. In the last week of December, they killed eight Pakistani army personnel in a half dozen attacks and counter attacks, all in the country’s northwest. Another two Pakistani soldiers were killed in an attack on Taliban outposts late Wednesday night.
The Pakistani Taliban, known by the acronym TTP, are regrouping and reorganizing, with their leadership headquartered in neighboring Afghanistan, according to a UN report from July. That is raising fears among Pakistanis like Shahana of a return of the horrific violence the group once inflicted.
Yet the Afghan Taliban have shown no signs of expelling TTP leaders or preventing them from carrying out attacks in Pakistan, even as Pakistan leads an effort to get a reluctant world to engage with Afghanistan’s new rulers and salvage the country from economic collapse.
It is a dilemma faced by all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and major powers like China, Russia and the United States as they ponder how to deal with Kabul.
Multiple militant groups found safe haven in Afghanistan during more than four decades of war, and some of them, like the TTP, are former battlefield allies of the Afghan Taliban.
So far, the Taliban have appeared unwilling or unable to root them out. The sole exception is the Islamic State affiliate, which is the Taliban’s enemy and has waged a campaign of violence against them and for years against Afghanistan’s minority Shiite Muslims, killing hundreds in dozens of horrific attacks targeting, schools, mosques, even a maternity hospital
Washington has identified the Islamic State branch, known by the acronym IS-K, as its major militant worry emanating from Afghanistan. The Taliban’s longtime ally Al-Qaeda is not seen as a strong threat. Though US military leaders say there are signs it may be growing slightly, it is struggling near rudderless, with its current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahri, alive but unwell, according to the July UN report.
Still, there are plenty of other militants based in Afghanistan, and they are raising concerns among Afghanistan’s neighbors.
China fears insurgents from its Uighur ethnic minority who want an independent Xinjiang region. Russia and Central Asian nations worry about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which in recent years went on a recruitment drive among Afghanistan’s ethnic Uzbeks.
For Pakistan, it is the TTP, which stands for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The group perpetrated some of the worst terrorist assaults on Pakistan, including the 2014 assault on the military public school.
The TTP numbers anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 fighters, according to the UN report. It has also succeeded in expanding its recruitment inside Pakistan beyond the former tribal regions along the border where it traditionally found fighters, says Amir Rana, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, an independent think tank in the capital Islamabad.
Analysts say the Afghan Taliban’s reluctance to clamp down on the TTP does not bode well for their readiness to crack down on the many other groups.
“The plain truth is that most of the terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, aside from IS-K, are Taliban allies,” says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. “And the Taliban aren’t about to turn their guns on their friends, even with mounting pressure from regional players and the West.”
The militants’ presence complicates Pakistan’s efforts to encourage international dealings with the Afghan Taliban in hopes of bringing some stability to an Afghanistan sliding into economic ruin.
Analysts say Pakistan’s military has made a calculation that the losses inflicted by the TTP are preferable to undermining Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers by pressing them on the issue. A collapse would bring a flood of refugees; Pakistan might be their first stop, but Islamabad warns that Europe and North America will be their preferred destination.
Islamabad attempted to negotiate with the TTP recently, but the effort fell apart. Rana of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies said Pakistan’s policy of simultaneously negotiating with and attacking the TTP is “confusing” and risks emboldening like-minded insurgents in both countries.
It also worries its allies, he said.
China, which is spending billions in Pakistan, was not happy with Islamabad’s attempts at talks with the TTP because of its close affiliation with Uighur separatists, said Rana. The TTP took responsibility for a July bombing in northwest Pakistan that killed Chinese engineers as well as an April bombing at a hotel where the Chinese ambassador was staying.
Pressure is mounting on Pakistan to demand the Afghan Taliban hand over the TTP leadership.
But Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban is complicated.
Pakistan’s powerful military, which shepherds the country’s Afghan policy, has ties to the Taliban leadership going back more than 40 years to an earlier invasion. Then, together with the US, they fought and defeated the invading former Soviet Union.
After the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was accused by Washington and its Afghan allies of aiding the Taliban. Pakistan denied the accusations, even as Taliban leaders and their families lived in Pakistan while waging their insurgency against Kabul.
But the Taliban also have interests divergent from Pakistan’s, particularly the issue of the two countries’ 2,500-kilometer border. Afghanistan has never recognized the border, known as the Durand Line, which was drawn by British colonial administrators in the 19th Century.
Last week, Afghan Taliban anger over Pakistan’s construction of a border fence threatened to turn violent. Videos shared on social media showed Taliban destroying rolls of barbed wire meant for the fence and threatening to open fire on Pakistani troops.
The Taliban’s Defense Ministry issued a statement saying Pakistan had no right to erect a border fence. On Wednesday Pakistan’s military spokesman Gen. Babar Iftikar said the fence was 94 percent done and would be completed.
“The fence on the Pak-Afghan border is needed to regulate security, border crossing and trade,” he said. “The purpose of this is not to divide the people, but to protect them.”
Even if Pakistan were to ask the Taliban to hand over TTP leaders, it shouldn’t expect any results, says Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal which tracks global militancy.
“The Afghan Taliban will not expel the TTP for the same reasons it won’t expel Al-Qaeda,” he said. “Both groups played a key role in the Afghan Taliban’s victory. They fought alongside the Afghan Taliban and sacrificed greatly over the past 20 years.”


Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

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Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

  • Israel’s ‘systematic misinformation campaigns’ aim to ‘cover its brutality and genocidal massacres’ in Gaza, OIC says
  • At least 88 journalists have been killed in Palestine since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began in October 

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s state minister for information has proposed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation create a collaborative digital platform to combat Israel’s disinformation campaign against Palestine, as the Muslim grouping launches new plans to expose Tel Aviv’s war crimes. 

Information ministers of OIC member countries were in Turkiye over the weekend for an extraordinary session discussing Israel’s disinformation campaign and attacks on journalists in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October. 

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Ali Arafat said Israel’s “despicable disinformation campaign” is an attempt to cover its blatant war crimes in Gaza, including the indiscriminate targeting of babies and children, as well as journalists and humanitarian workers. 

“The world has hardly seen the continued killing of journalists and the spreading of disinformation as is happening in Gaza. I believe fighting to contain and combat against such dissemination of misinformation needs collective effort,” Arafat told the participants. 

At least 88 journalists and media workers were among the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in over four months since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

“We need to create a collaborative digital platform to combat the spreading of such disinformation against Palestine. I request the OIC Secretariat to prepare a plan in this regard immediately,” Arafat said. 

Bangladesh is ready to support the OIC in establishing an information pool documenting Israeli war crimes that can be regularly shared with its member states, he added. 

“Muslim Ummah must work together to stop this massacre and let the world know the truth. Bangladesh supports and stands firm by our Palestinian brothers and sisters in this dire situation.” 

In a final communique, OIC information ministers condemned Israel’s “systematic misinformation campaigns” to “cover its brutality and genocidal massacres committed in the Gaza Strip.”

The 57-member organization also condemned Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists,” describing it as part of a campaign to “silence the voices of truth-tellers.” 

The OIC said they are determined to collectively “counter and expose attempts by the Israel colonial occupation to cover up the destruction” in the besieged enclave, as they mandate the group’s media monitoring unit to establish an action plan to “lay bare and counter” the Israeli disinformation campaign at the international level. 


US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Updated 9 min 19 sec ago
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US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
An Air Force spokeswoman said the unnamed man had “succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night. We will provide additional details 24 hours after next of kin notifications are complete.”


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

Updated 26 February 2024
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.


Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

Updated 26 February 2024
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Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

  • Research group ‘India Hate Lab’ documents 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023
  • Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, India’s prime minister since 2014

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India rose by 62 percent in the second half of 2023 compared to the first six months of the year, a Washington-based research group said on Monday, adding the Israel-Gaza war played a key role in the last three months.

India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023, 255 of which occurred in the first half of the year while 413 took place in the last six months of 2023, the research group said in a report released Monday.

About 75 percent, or 498, of those incidents took place in states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the report. The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the most hate speech.

Between Oct. 7 — when Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel, sparking the conflict in the Gaza Strip as Israel retaliated — and Dec. 31, there were 41 incidents of hate speech against Indian Muslims that mentioned the war, the report added. It accounted for about 20 percent of hate speech in the last three months of 2023.

The research group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech — prejudiced or discriminatory language toward an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and is widely expected to retain power after the 2024 elections.

They point to a 2019 citizenship law that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory;” an anti-conversion legislation that challenges the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and the 2019 revoking of Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status.

There has also been demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians. The Indian embassy in Washington and India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

India Hate Lab said it tracked online activity of Hindu nationalist groups, verified videos of hate speech posted on social media and compiled data of isolated incidents reported by Indian media.