Conflicting narratives in eastern Afghanistan

Conflicting narratives in eastern Afghanistan

Afghanistan – AFP (File Photo)

JALALABAD: About 130km by road from Peshawar, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan is a scaled-down version of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital minus its upscale neighbourhoods.

Pashtun-dominated, chaotic, dusty and a regional hub of trade and commerce, the hustle and bustle of Jalalabad is an important indicator of stability in Afghanistan’s east.

A glance at a map explains why: Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad city is the capital, is squeezed between Kunar to the north, Paktia and Khost to the south, and Kabul to the west.

As a barometer of stability in eastern Afghanistan, Jalalabad appears to be doing fairly well. A phased transition has seen
Afghan forces take over much of the responsibility for security in Nangarhar province from US forces.

The most obvious danger today on the smooth, two-lane main road from Torkham to Jalalabad is Afghan drivers, who drive at high speed and regard overtaking as an old-fashioned duel.

“The security situation has improved a lot,” said Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, chairman of the Afghan Senate and a native of Jalalabad, citing the relative stability Afghan forces have maintained in eastern Afghanistan in areas handed over to their control by foreign troops.

The chairman of the Mishrano Jirga, the Afghan term for senate, was also upbeat about the future, arguing that the Afghan forces are developing the capacity to ensure that eastern Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban once international forces wind down their combat operations.

But the optimism of government officials was quickly challenged by locals, who travel without the luxury of security escorts and bullet-proof vehicles.

According to Ali Shah, a Nangarhar resident, the apparent security on the Torkham-Jalalabad road is deceptive, “They (the Taliban) live in nearby villages. As the sun sets, they turn up on the road and attack.”

Shah pointed to government vehicles racing towards Jalalabad at dusk and said the occupants were mostly officials working at Torkham or in nearby districts of Nangarhar: “They want to arrive in Jalalabad and pass the trouble spots before darkness arrives.”

Shah argued that support for the Taliban had grown because of a combination of changing Taliban tactics and continuing governmental failures: “The Taliban don’t disturb the local people now. And the government is so corrupt and unresponsive to people’s needs that anti-government feelings have grown.”

Another Nangarhar resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he works for an international organisation claimed that most of Nangarhar’s rural districts are under the virtual control of the Taliban.

“The government’s writ is restricted to their offices only,” the resident said.

Pessimism on reconciliation

In the murky world of contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, details can be difficult to pin down. But in Jalalabad, several government officials were adamant that the lines of communication are open and often used.

“Contacts have been established at various levels,” said Muslimyar, adding that meetings between government officials and Taliban leaders have taken place both inside Afghanistan and abroad.

Other senior government leaders speaking on the condition of anonymity claimed that several Taliban commanders travel abroad regularly to meet Afghan and American officials.

The recent Haj in Saudi Arabia provided convenient cover for the latest round of meetings. An Afghan leader speaking on the condition of anonymity described a “chance interaction” with senior Taliban leaders in Masjid-i-Nabvi, Medina, that went on for several hours and during which the Taliban insurgency and the government’s peace efforts came under discussion.

The official named two of the Taliban leaders present at the meeting: the former Information and Culture Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqqi and a senior military commander, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir. Once a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, Zakir is believed to be the current deputy to Mullah Omar, a position previously held by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar until his arrest in Karachi.

According to Sher Alam Amlawal, a Jalalabad-based analyst, “(Zakir) is one of the top three Taliban military commanders and is currently leading the insurgents’ operations in the southern provinces of Afghanistan.”

Describing the talks in Medina with Muttaqqi and Zakir, among others, the Afghan official suggested that the Taliban seemed inclined to fight on. “What I gathered from their discussion is they are not ready to negotiate peace at the moment,” the official said, adding that Zakir, the military commander, took a tougher line compared to Muttaqqi, an experienced politician.

The Afghan official’s pessimism about reconciliation was reinforced by the Taliban leaders’ claim that they are determined to eliminate several jihadi commanders from the Soviet era who are part of the Afghan government today.

The Taliban leaders at the Medina meeting were particularly incensed with one such official in Kabul – whose name has been withheld at the request of the Afghan official describing the talks– blaming him for giving a speech against the Taliban that, the Taliban alleged, led to the desertion of several dozen suicide bombers from a training camp.

Hope lingers on

Between the real, though uneven, gains of the past decade and the uncertainty over the future, hope fluctuates wildly in this eastern city – as do the reasons for hope.

At Nangarhar University, on the outskirts of Jalalabad, the chancellor, Dr Sabir Momand, outlined his reasons for optimism.

“All Afghans, including the Taliban and the mujahideen, are tired of fighting,” Dr Momand said, arguing that war-weariness was a huge motivation for peace and that once foreign troops departed, the Taliban would not necessarily want to keep fighting.

The chancellor continued: “Taliban need to be accommodated in the power structure. They were ruling Afghanistan when dislodged by the international forces.”

Back in Jalalabad, in a unique street off the city’s main bazaar, a very different theory of hope was mooted. Turbaned Sikhs selling herbal medicines – the last few holdouts of a centuries’ old community that has gradually abandoned the city – argued that they were better off under the present political dispensation.

“The situation has improved a lot for the minorities,” said Iqbal Singh.

“Our children are going to school and we can do business freely.”

According to Singh, the main improvement over the years of warlordism and Taliban rule is that the iron-fisted rule of a single individual over an area had been replaced with a number of people the community can go to for assistance: government officials at various tiers and even parliamentarians.

Future stability, though, for Iqbal Singh depends on the continued presence of international troops in Afghanistan. And that’s why Singh and his fellow Sikhs in Jalalabad are wary of what may come next.

“We hear that (the international forces) are leaving by 2014 and fear that the Taliban will stage a comeback,” Singh said.

Gaza: What Strategy for the Resistance?

Gaza: What Strategy for the Resistance?

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gestures as he talks about a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, at his office in Damascus on 11 October 2011. (Photo: Reuters – Hamas Office/Handout)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

 

Why didn’t Khaled Meshal thank Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah for supporting the Gaza Strip and providing direct military aid to its resistance forces?

This question arose as soon as the Hamas political bureau chief ended his lengthy press conference in Cairo. Social media buzzed with criticism of Meshal, who repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar for standing by the people of Gaza, but neglected to mention the others. In response to a question, he was compelled to thank Iran for its support in recent years, but he made sure to affirm his differences with the country over the Syrian crisis.

The criticism peaked when Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah broached the question last night. He seemed to have been provoked by Meshal’s failure to mention the role of at least Iran and Syria, and quoted Quranic passages to deliver perhaps more than a mere rebuke. The two countries have, after all, spent tens of millions of dollars in their Gaza efforts, making significant sacrifices to develop the fighting capability – especially the missile capability – of the resistance.

This may be the first time such an issue has been publicly discussed. Its mere mention could be seen as an attempt to make the Palestinians feel obliged for assistance. Some might reply to Nasrallah: If you want us to thank Syria and Iran, that means you helped us out of your own self-interest.

Others will say that Iran and Syria’s support for the resistance in Palestine is not all it’s cracked up to be, and that the political and diplomatic backing it receives is more effective than military support.

The point will also be made, of course, that if Hamas was not currently at odds with Iran and Syria, it would not have been asked to show its gratitude.

All these points may be valid. It is indeed not right to demand gratitude or approval for something done for a sacred cause, let alone when it is done out of religious conviction. Nasrallah tried to circumvent this by citing a Quranic passage about God being generous to the grateful.

But it is also valid to ask why this discussion is taking place today.

 

The ongoing confrontation in the Gaza Strip makes it incumbent to set differences aside and seek out areas of agreement. There is also an obligation to be frank with the Palestinian resistance’s supporters throughout the Arab world. They need to be alerted that the inevitable cease-fire must not preclude the goals of the resistance. This makes it necessary to reiterate points which may embarrass those who think they support the resistance, but do not respect the real underpinnings of its support. 

None of this, of course, is as important as the continued commitment to the resistance. This has been proven in Lebanon and Palestine’s wars with the enemy. Nothing matters more than the mettle of the people in the occupied areas, especially in Palestine. They could carry out their resistance even if the whole world abandons them, and the mightiest power on earth cannot force resistance on people.

This leaves the matter of the resistance’s objectives, and the means of achieving those goals.

There is consensus today that the Israeli assault on Gaza failed because the resistance managed to muster a missile capability that enabled it to hit the enemy in ways that hurt. It is this capability that makes continuing the war undesirable from Israel’s point of view, and even that of the West. Alongside the resistance’s political will and its fighters’ skills, it played the decisive role in foiling the Israeli aggression.

This invites the question: What will the resistance forces’ next step be after the cease-fire?

Will they rebuild an improved military and missile capacity capable of deterring the enemy from repeating the aggression?

Or to bank this victory, will they seek a truce on grounds of rebuilding infrastructure and adopting the line of thinking that is prevalent in the region at present?

As the “forces of the Arab Spring” consolidate their rule in this country or the other, Palestine is just another agenda item that must wait.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

The Unfolding of Saakashvili’s Worst Nightmare

A Georgian nightmare unfolds

Molly Corso in Tbilisi
November 20, 2012

The growing number of arrests of former ruling party elites since the Georgian Dream coalition won the election on October 1 is leaving many to conclude that the incoming government is using its new powers to settle old political scores. And the return to Georgia and subsequent arrest of former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili on November 20 could prove the most dangerous for President Mikheil Saakashvili’s circle, as the testimony of the former close ally and top-ranking official of the previous regime is sure to lead to more arrests.

The international pressure on the government to stop arresting former high ranking officials appears to have fallen on deaf ears. The arrest of Okruashvili, who is expected to go on trial on December 3 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and extortion, follows fresh charges the day before against Brigadier General Giorgi Kalandadze, the former head of the Georgian Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite international pressure on the government to stop arresting former high-ranking officials. Kalandadze was charged with unlawful detainment, a crime that carries a life sentence. Former defense minister Bacho Akhalaia (who also once served as prison minister and minister of internal affairs) is currently facing similar charges.

Philip Dimitrov, the EU’s Ambassador to Georgia, stressed at a press conference on November 20 it is “important that there is no impression that justice is linked with political causes.”

But there is little indication that either Ivanishvili or his cabinet are heeding those concerns. The speed and volume of arrests have prompted wide speculation about which Saakashvili ally could be next. Both Data Akhalaia, the brother of Bacho Akhalaia, and Giorgi Baramidze, a former defense minister, have been named as the targets of new investigations. Over the past week, a dozen former officials from the internal affairs ministry – Georgia’s umbrella policing body – have been detained on charges ranging from abuse of power to using malware to spy and discredit the opposition.

Allies of former prime minister Vano Merabishvili were included in the round-up, including Shota Khizanishvili, a deputy mayor of Tbilisi at the time of his arrest November 16 on charges of illegal surveillance, who served as a deputy minister under Merabishvili when he was the interior affairs minister. Eleven other former officials from policing structures – including the powerful Department of Constitutional Security (the successor to the KGB) – were also arrested on similar charges.

The alleged crimes stem from allegations that the men planted malware in computers at the Georgian Dream headquarters to spy on the opposition prior to the elections. Charges released by the Prosecutor’s Office indicate that the surveillance was used to leak incriminating audio recordings to the media in the days before the October 1 parliamentary election. Other charges include deliberately destroying property at Cartu Bank, the Georgian bank founded by Ivanishvili that was the targeted by the Georgian government last year after Ivanishvili announced his plans to enter politics.

Pot, kettle, black

Saakashvili supporters and members of his United National Movement (UNM) have blasted the arrests as being politically motivated.

Merabishvili, now the head of the UNM party, told journalists that his allies are being targeted as part of a special campaign to scare him and other former officials. “Bidzina Ivanishvili should have no hope that by such steps he will stir fear or anxiety among us. On the contrary, it will make us stronger.”

Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, another powerful figure in the UNM, has also spoken up against the arrests. After Khizanishvili was refused bail on November 18, Ugulava said the charges were “obviously” politically motivated.

Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, however, defended the arrests, asserting that cases are being made based on crimes committed, not on political alliances. On November 19, she also hinted that investigations are underway that could lead to Ugulava’s arrest. Tsulukiani told journalists that “many questions” remain about Ugulava’s activities, but there is not enough evidence yet to arrest him. Ugulava, once considered the UNM’s likely candidate for president in the 2013 elections, is a strong Saakashvili ally and powerful figure in the party. He has served as the elected mayor of Tbilisi since 2010 so his position was not affected by Ivanishvili’s win at the October 1 polls.

The efforts of the new government are not restricted to arrests: both the Justice Ministry and the new parliament are also working hard to meet pre-election promises to release prisoners.

The prison ministry has released 300 prisoners it deemed were ready to return to society. In addition, on November 19 the human rights committee in the parliament, together with a working group of non-government organizations, proposed a list of 148 prisoners and Georgians in exile who would be exonerated as political prisoners.

The list, which is not final, includes members of coalition political parties who were arrested over the past eight years on a variety of charges, as well as former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze’s husband Badri Bitsadze who fled the country in 2011 after he implicated in accidental deaths during the May 26, 2011 protest.

India Hangs Only Surviving Mumbai Terrorist–Mohammed Ajmal Kasab Dead

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab is shown in Mumbai in this undated photo.(Photo: AP)

India hangs gunman from 2008 Mumbai attack

Erika Kinetz, AP

MUMBAI, India (AP) — India executed the lone surviving Pakistani gunman from the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai early Wednesday, providing Indians much-needed closure over the three-day rampage that shook the nation’s core and deepened enmity with neighbor Pakistan.

India blames a Pakistan-based militant organization for the attacks carried out by Mohammed Ajmal Kasab and his comrades that killed 166 people at a train station, a Jewish center and two luxury hotels in its financial capital. India accuses Pakistan’s intelligence agency of training, arming and sponsoring the attackers, allegations Pakistan denies.

Kasab, a Pakistani citizen, was hanged in secrecy at 7.30 a.m. at a jail in Pune, a city near Mumbai, after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee rejected his plea for mercy.

Indian authorities faced public pressure to quickly execute Kasab, and the government fast-tracked the appeal and execution process, which often can take years, or in some cases, decades.

Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the home ministry sent Kasab’s mercy plea to Mukherjee on Oct. 16 and Mukherjee rejected it on Nov. 5.

“It was decided then that on 21st November at 7:30 in the morning he would be hanged. That procedure has been completed today,” Shinde said.

R.R. Patil, the home minister for the state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, called the execution a tribute to “all innocent people and police officers who lost their lives in this heinous attack on our nation.”

India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said the Indian government had attempted to inform Pakistani officials of the impending execution, but a fax sent to Pakistan’s foreign office went unanswered. He said the government had also informed Kasab’s next of kin.

“We did what we were obliged to do,” Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi.

Kasab and nine other gunmen entered Mumbai by boat on Nov. 26, 2008. Carrying mobile phones, grenades and automatic weapons, the gunmen fanned out across the city, targeting multiple sites. The three-day attack was broadcast live on television, transfixing the nation and world.

A photo of the baby-faced Kasab striding through Mumbai’s main train station, an assault rifle in hand, quickly became the iconic image of the siege.

An Indian judge sentenced Kasab to death in May 2010 for waging war against India, murder and terrorism, among other charges. Kasab cried that day as he heard the sentence.

In his confession, Kasab said he was recruited by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Pakistani organization, after he left a low-paying job as a shop assistant in search of greater fortune as a bandit. The attackers were in regular phone contact with handlers in Pakistan during the siege.

India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba for orchestrating the attacks, and alleges that Pakistan’s intelligence service was involved. The incident inflamed relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, and India complains that Pakistan has failed to bring the masterminds of the attack to justice.

While news of the execution was widely cheered in India, the hanging offered only a partial catharsis for some of those scarred by the events of 26/11, as the attack is known here.

Some felt Kasab should have been hanged publicly. Others complained that India had spent too much time and money on the care and feeding of a vilified criminal.

Some in India said that for justice to be done the attack’s masterminds — not just its foot soldier — must be punished.

“This is an incomplete justice as the masterminds and main handlers of 26/11 are still absconding,” said Kavita Karkare, the widow of Hemant Karkare, the chief of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism squad who was killed while pursuing Kasab. “They should also be hanged.”

Mukesh Agarwal, who was shot in his right arm during the attack, called Kasab’s execution “the best possible gift” from the Indian government. But he said “instead of secretly hanging him, they government should have hanged him publicly.”

“I am sad and happy both,” said Sonu, an office clerk in New Delhi, who goes by one name. “Sad because I wonder what forced him do such things and happy because this will be a good example to all the terrorists in the future.”

___

Associated Press writer Aijaz Ansari in Mumbai and Chon Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bahraini Security Forces Arrest Shia Preachers During Mourning for Imam Hussain (A)

 Bahraini Security Forces Arrest Shia Preachers During Mourning for Imam Hussain (A)

Bahraini security forces arrested yesterday a number of Shia orators/preachers as they were addressing Bahrainis on the occasion of the day of Ashura… 

 

 Bahraini Security Forces Arrest Shia Preachers During Mourning for Imam Hussain (A)
(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) – Bahraini security forces arrested yesterday a number of Shia orators/preachers as they were addressing Bahrainis on the occasion of the day of Ashura – a religious Shia-Muslim holiday – The religious figures were arrested while honoring the death of Hussein – grandson to Prophet Mohammed, an extremely important figure in Islam.

The sources pointed out that among the detainees were — Kamel al-Hashimi, Sheikh Hassan Alaley, Sheikh Jaafar Alsaegh, and Ahmed Al Majid.  The voice of Manama – a local newspaper – couldn’t confirm the accuracy of the information at the time of printing.

Lawyer Abdullah Alshamlawy said via Twitter – social network – “Hashemi is undergoing an interrogation at the Budaiya police Centre, where he is being detained.” The news was denied later on by the authorities. Officials maintained they had no knowledge of Hashemi whereabouts.

Amal – the Association of Islamic Action issued a statement warning against the government’s practice, stressing such a blatant crackdown on religious figures in Bahrain were deeply disturbing and proof that the regime was willing to stoop to religious repression to assert its hold over the country. They called for immediate action as it said never before Bahrain witnessed such intense sectarian crackdown.

Amal confirmed that Shia preacher Kamel Alhashemi – west of Beni Jamra – was called in by the regime and detained for 48 hours. Preachers Alradud Alhaji Abba Dhar Al-Halwagi and Sheikh Hassan, Alhaj Jafar Al-Shamrook had been arrested.

Amal called for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, urging activists around the world to mobilize for Bahrain.

The Day of Ashura (Arabic: عاشوراء‎ ʻĀshūrā’; Persian: عاشورا; Turkish: Aşure Günü) is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Mourning of Muharram.

It is commemorated by Shia Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 CE).

It Doesn’t Pay In the End To Spy On Your Neighbors for Israel–Hamas Executes Six Spies

Gaza conflict: Hamas militants kill 6 suspected informers for Israel: Reports

MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERSPalestinian gunmen drag the body of a man suspected of working for Israel, in Gaza City on Tuesday. Palestinian gunmen shot dead six alleged collaborators in the Gaza Strip.
Karin Laub
The Associated Press

Masked gunmen publicly shot dead six suspected collaborators with Israel in a large Gaza City intersection Tuesday, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw a mob surrounding five of the bloodied corpses shortly after the killing.

Gaza conflict to end Tuesday?

Some in the crowd stomped and spit on the bodies. A sixth corpse was tied to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets as people screamed, “Spy! Spy!”

Clinton heads to Mideast

The Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, claimed responsibility in a large handwritten note attached to a nearby electricity pole. Hamas said the six were killed because they gave Israel information about fighters and rocket launching sites.

The killing came on the seventh day of an Israeli military offensive that has killed more than 120 Palestinians, both militants and civilians. Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes, targeting rocket launching sites, weapons caches and homes of Hamas activists, as Palestinians fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Israel relies on a network of local informers to identify its targets in Gaza.

The six were killed on Tuesday afternoon in Gaza City’s Sheik Radwan neighbourhood.

Witnesses said a van stopped in the intersection, and four masked men pushed the six suspected informers out of the vehicle. Salim Mahmoud, 18, said the gunmen ordered the six to lie face down in the street and then shot them dead. Another witness, 13-year-old Mokhmen al-Gazhali, said the informers were killed one by one, as he mimicked the sound of gunfire.

They said only a few people were in the street at first — most Gazans have been staying indoors because of the Israeli airstrikes — but the crowd quickly grew after the killings. Eventually several hundred men pushed and shoved to get a close look at the bodies, lying in a jumble on the ground. One man spit at the corpses, another kicked the head of one of the dead men.

“They should have been killed in a more brutal fashion so others don’t even think about working with the occupation (Israel),” said one of the bystanders, 24-year-old Ashraf Maher.

One body was then tied by a cable to the back of a motorcycle and dragged through the streets. A number of gunmen on motorcycles rode along as the body was pulled past a house of mourning for victims of an Israeli airstrike.

There is broad consensus among Palestinians that informers for Israel deserve harsh punishment, and it is rare to hear someone speak out against killings of alleged collaborators. Such public killings been carried out in the West Bank and Gaza since the first uprising against Israeli occupation in the late 1980s.

In Israel’s last major Gaza offensive four years ago, 17 suspected collaborators who fled after their prisons were hit in airstrikes were later shot dead in extra-judicial killings.

During the current offensive, Tuesday’s killings brought to eight the number of suspected informers being shot dead in public. On Friday, the body of one alleged informer was found in a garbage bin, and another was shot dead in the street. Hamas claimed responsibility for both killings.

Since seizing Gaza in 2007, Hamas has executed four informers by firing squad, and about a dozen more are on death row in Gaza.

Bahrain Putting On Big Show, Faking Fake Terror Cell With Fake Bombs

[Don’t you just hate it when these governments can’t even come-up with a realistic “bomb” in their fake terror plots?  How can you spin a popular folk tale about imaginary links to real “terrorists” using  gasoline?   This “bomb” pictured below is an insult to everyone’s intelligence and probably an accurate indicator of the actual intelligence level of the Saudi and Bahraini “intelligence agencies.”] 

Bahrain says it busted terror cell

Gulf News

Fake bombs placed on vital roads to cause panic

  • A fake bomb was found in the home of one of the suspects

Dubai Bahrain on Tuesday said that it has arrested a homegrown terror cell after it placed fake bombs in various locations.

“The General Directorate of Crime Detection and Forensic Science has arrested a domestic terror cell that placed fake bombs in several crowded areas throughout Bahrain,” the General Director said. “This included placing the objects on vital roads, which caused traffic delays and spread fear among the public.”

A fake bomb was found in the home of one of the suspects when it was searched, he said, adding that all the suspects were referred to the Public Prosecutor.

The interior ministry urged anyone with any information on the incidents to call the police hotline, pledging that all calls would be treated as anonymous.