ISIS In Afghanistan Another ISI Project?

[TTP rejects ISIS leader’s claim to be ‘caliph’]

‘ISIS in Afghanistan are the project of our neighbour Pakistan’

the Australian

  • The Times

A US special operations soldier on duty in Afghanistan.

A letter to a dead man lay among the rocks. Pulled from the body of an Islamic State fighter by Afghan troops as they searched corpses sprawled on a rock-strewn hillside in eastern Afghanistan, it issued instructions for distributing captured weaponry.

“Sheik Idriss”, the recipient, was addressed in Urdu, Pakistan’s official language. “When you have weapons from war booty then contact Issa Pakistani,” it read. “He wants to buy those arms including Kalashnikovs. I hope that you will co-operate with him.”

The Afghan troops smiled at the details. The language in which the letter was written, the nationality of Sheikh Idriss and the mysterious Issa all pointed towards their old enemy: Pakistan.

Yet it was the identity of the ­author that stirred their particular interest.

It was signed by Hafiz Saeed Khan, the Pakistani governor of Wilayat Khurasan, Islamic State’s emergent branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a man renowned for such wanton cruelty that his terror tactics have shocked even the Taliban. There was no doubting who the Afghan soldiers saw as their greater enemy.

“Hafiz Saeed may receive some sort of internet instruction from Baghdadi in Iraq,” said Brigadier Mohammed Naseem Sangin, referring to the Islamic State leader. He tapped the letter in his hand as sporadic mortar and machinegun fire echoed across the valleys and foothills of a lonely battlefield.

“But this letter, with its instructions from Pakistanis to Pakistanis, backs what we suspect: the Daesh (Islamic State) here in Afghanistan are the project of our neighbour over the border.”

The true origins of Wilayat Khurasan are the subject of contention in Afghanistan, amid a bloody internal struggle within the Taliban leadership.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that Hafiz Saeed Khan and his men are indeed the metastasis of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organisation in Syria and Iraq, rather than merely being breakaway Taliban opportunists in search of new funding.

“If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” said a European diplomat in Kabul. “ISIL (Islamic State) are here. We don’t know exactly which way the Daesh phenomena will develop in Afghanistan, but we’ve seen no evidence that they are part of a Pakistani plot. On the contrary, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are at risk from them and should collaborate to tackle this threat.”

Rather than collaborate, Afghan troops on the front line in Nangarhar province, the focus of Islamic State operations, regard them as just the latest creation sent to destabilise their country by Pakistan. “Occasionally you get the odd Afghan with them, a disaffected local Taliban whose group have run out of power or money,” said Brigadier Sangin, the commander of a brigade of Afghan National Army troops whose men are bearing the brunt of the fighting in Abdel Khel. But most of the Daesh we kill here, and 95 per cent of their commanders, are Pakistanis.”

Hafiz Saeed Khan was publicly anointed as Wilayat Khurasan’s leader in January by Muhammad al-Adnani, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s personal spokesman in Syria and Iraq. He was one of six mid-ranking commanders in the Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, to give their oath of allegiance to Baghdadi, forming an Islamic State affiliate that was overwhelmingly drawn from Pakistan’s tribal agencies.

The only Afghan with a senior leadership position in Wilayat Khurasan was Abdul Rauf Khadem, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate originally from the Kajaki district in Helmand. He was reportedly the first to give his oath of loyalty to Baghdadi and is believed to have travelled for consultations with the group in Iraq in October last year. However, his appointment as Hafiz Saeed’s deputy was short-lived — he was killed by a US drone strike in February and replaced with a Pakistani.

Other than its relish for brutality, Wilayat Khurasan is in other respects dissimilar to its parent group in the Middle East.

Brigadier Sangin observed that his men had yet to find a dead foreign fighter — other than Pakistanis — among more than 200 Islamic State fighters they had killed in Achin over the past four months. He claimed that intercepted radio chatter between the militants was in Urdu or Pashtu, never Arabic.

Moreover, Afghan troops fighting around Abdel Khel have not yet experienced a single suicide attack, the hallmark of ISIS tactics in Iraq and Syria.

Whoever his ultimate paymasters might be, Sheikh Idriss never got the chance to obey Hafiz Saeed’s orders on war booty. Shot dead with 15 of his men in a failed night attack on the ridgeline held by Afghan troops in Abdel Khel, Achin district, a fortnight ago, he met the dawn with sightless eyes, leaving Brigadier Sangin and his soldiers to savour their war spoils instead.

“We revenged ourselves well on Hafiz Saeed’s men,” the Brigadier smiled. “Sixteen dead; we took away their weapons and their bodies too.”

The Times

Fazlullah’s New “Faux Islamic State” Gang Gets New FM “Radio Mullah” Station

Daesh expands Afghan footprint with terror campaign

gulf news

Daesh is exporting its particular brand of cruelty as the group seeks to enlarge its footprint in Afghanistan

Image Credit: AP
Internally displaced girls hold babies after their family left their village in Behsood district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan.
JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Rahman Wali’s younger brother was one of 10 Afghan men forced by Daesh militants to kneel over bombs buried in the soil in a lush green valley in eastern Nangarhar province. The extremists then detonated the bombs, turning the pastoral countryside into a scene of horror.

The August killings were recorded on camera and posted on social media like so many Daesh atrocities across the Mideast – reflecting how the Daesh is exporting its particular brand of cruelty as the group seeks to enlarge its footprint in Afghanistan.

It was through the macabre video that 44-year-old Wali learned the fate of his brother, Rahman Gul, an imam in their remote Shinwar district bordering Pakistan. Gul had been kidnapped weeks earlier, together with his wife and six children who were quickly set free.

After his brother’s death, Wali and his family fled to the provincial capital of Jalalabad, seeking refuge in a makeshift camp with thousands of others who left their homes in the valleys hugging the border to escape what is turning out to be an increasingly vicious war for control of the region between the Taliban and fighters of Afghanistan’s Daesh affiliate.

Reports of a Daesh presence in Afghanistan first emerged early this year in southern Helmand province, where recruiters believed to have links to the Daesh leadership in Syria were killed by a U.S. drone strike in February.

In the summer, extremists pledging allegiance to Daesh also surfaced in Nangarhar, where they challenged the Taliban in border clashes.

After see-sawing between the two groups, four districts – Achin, Nazyan, Bati Kot and Spin Gar – fell under Daesh control, according to Gen. John F. Campbell, the US commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Campbell told The Associated Press in an interview this week that Daesh loyalists in Afghanistan are now trying to consolidate links to the mothership – the so-called “caliphate” proclaimed on territory Daesh seized in Syria and Iraq after its blitz there in the summer of 2014.

For the present, Daesh ambitions for Afghanistan seem focused on setting up what it calls “Khorasan Province,” taking the name of an ancient province of the Persian Empire that included territories in today’s Afghanistan, Iran and some Central Asian states. It parallels names for affiliates elsewhere, such as the Daesh branch in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which is known as “Sinai Province.”

“I think ISIL is really trying to establish a base in Nangarhar … and establish Jalalabad as the base of the Khorasan Province,” Campbell said, using an alternative acronym for Daesh.

Several residents who fled the four Nangarhar districts say Daesh’s “reign of terror” there includes extortions, evictions, arbitrary imprisonment and forced marriage for young women. Beheadings and killings with “buried bombs” – such as the gruesome slaying of Wali’s brother – are filmed and posted on social media to instill fear, they said. Some spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals for relatives back in the districts.

Mimicking Daesh’s media outreach in Syria and Iraq, the Afghan branch also set up a radio station in Nangarhar, “Radio Caliphate,” broadcasting at least one hour a day to attract young Afghan men disenchanted by dim job prospects in a war-torn country with an overall 24 percent unemployment rate. The joblessness is even higher among youths targeted in the Daesh recruitment drive.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government forces, busy fighting the Taliban elsewhere, left the two militant groups to battle it out.

And battle they did. Hundreds of Taliban fighters – disillusioned with the 14-year war to overthrow the Kabul government – switched allegiance to Daesh.

Though estimates say that Daesh fighters number a few thousand nationwide, they are still far outnumbered by the Taliban, who have anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000 in their ranks, according to Afghan political analyst Waheed Muzhdah, who worked in the Taliban foreign ministry during their 1996-2001 rule.

Still, many admit the Daesh Afghan branch could pose a serious threat to the unstable nation.

In a report released this week, the Pentagon referred to the “Daesh of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province” as an “emergent competitor to other violent extremist groups that have traditionally operated in Afghanistan.”

“This may result in increased violence among the various extremist groups in 2016,” the Dec. 16 report said.

Campbell said some foreign Daesh fighters have joined the Afghans from Iraq and Syria. Former residents said they spotted gunmen from Pakistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Arabic speakers flush with money and apparently better armed than the Taliban.

Nangarhar is attractive to Daesh for its mix of insurgent groups, some of which are based across the border in Pakistan, and criminal gangs involved in lucrative drugs and minerals smuggling.

Alarm bells rang when students at the prestigious Nangarhar University staged a pro-Daesh demonstration on campus in August, sparking arrests by the Afghan intelligence agency and a crackdown on universities nationwide.

Governor Salim Kunduzi put Daesh’s battleground strength in Nangarhar at around 400 fighters. The province’s mountainous terrain provides perfect ground for an insurgency, and militants can easily resupply from Pakistan, he said. The province can also serve as a staging ground for a push north, along the eastern border and eventually on to Kabul, just 125 kilometers (77.5 miles) to the west, he added.
Both Campbell and Kunduzi agree Daesh may see Jalalabad as its base for expansion in Afghanistan.

“I do not think Daesh will focus only on the east,” Kunduzi said, using the Arabic language acronym for the Daesh group.

Nangarhar’s chief refugee official, Ghulam Haidar Faqirzai, said that at least 25,200 families – or more than 170,000 people – have been displaced across the province, either directly by Daesh or by perceived threats from the group. As the winter sets in, needs of the displaced are intensifying, he warned.

In a camp on Jalalabad’s eastern outskirts, 70-year-old Yaqub, who like many Afghan men uses only one name, said he left his village in Maamand Valley in Achin district six months ago, after “fighters of the black flag” – the Daesh’s banner – dragged him and his son into prison where they were beaten and tortured. He said he still does not know why.

“They covered my head with a black bag so I couldn’t breathe while they beat me for a whole day, and every day they said they were going to kill me,” he said.

Yaqub and his son were released after the family paid their captors 200,000 Pakistani rupees, or almost $2,000 – a fortune in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is around $700.

“Anything is better than going back there,” said Yaqub.

It Costs Iran One Buck To Fill A Barrel With Oil

Iranian oil workers work at the Tehran's oil refinery south of the capital.
Iranian oil workers work at the Tehran’s oil refinery south of the capital.


Iran’s push for big investment in its oil industry comes amid crude prices sliding to new record lows but officials are confident the low cost of production in the country will supersede any drawback. 

The collapse of oil prices has driven many US shale and other high-cost producers out of business and forced companies to put their development plans on hold.

Nevertheless, it is business as usual in Iran where production costs in some central oil fields wallow at $1-$1.5 a barrel.

“Currently, the cheapest crude oil in terms of recovery costs is produced and supplied in Iran’s central regions where production is possible at $1-$1.5 a barrel,” CEO of Iranian Central Oil Fields Company Salbali Karimi said.

The country’s oil reserves, the world’s fourth largest estimated about 150 billion barrels, are mainly based in the Zagros belt and the Persian Gulf.

An aerial view of an anticline in the Zagros Mountains. About a third of these anticlines contain hydrocarbons.

With crude prices on a tailspin, officials have taken new measures since last year to cut costs further and make production more efficient, Karimi said.

“With the implementation of the existing plans, we expect oil and gas production costs to reach a minimum,” he said.

Each barrel of conventional crude oil in the Persian Gulf costs Iran between five and 10 dollars to recover versus $40-$80 for the shale oil.

Iran is “the world’s cheapest country” for oil production, head of investment at the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Ali Kardor said in October.

“The finished cost of each oil barrel produced in Iran is about $5. This price tag doesn’t exceed $10 with the costliest of processes,” he said.

Zagros Mountains in Iran’s Lorestan province

Iran needs $250 billion of investment in its oil industry between 2016 and 2025, including $176 billion in its upstream sector and another $77 billion in downstream spending, Kardor said then.

The country plans to boost oil production to 5.7 million barrels a day and gas output to 1.4 billion cubic meters a day by 2021.

Last month, Iran hosted leading energy companies from around the world at a conference in Tehran to unveil its new framework for oil and gas contracts and present $30 billion worth of projects to investors.

As many as 250 representatives of companies from 33 countries attended the event.

Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Syrian Road Map for Peace–(full text)

united nations

Security Council Unanimously Adopts Resolution 2254 (2015), Endorsing Road Map for Peace Process in Syria, Setting Timetable for Talks


The full text of resolution 2254 (2015) reads as follows:

The Security Council,

Recalling its resolutions 2042 (2012), 2043 (2012), 2118 (2013), 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2170 (2014), 2175 (2014), 2178 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2199 (2015), 2235 (2015), and 2249 (2015) and Presidential Statements of 3 August 2011 (S/PRST/2011/16), 21 March 2012 (S/PRST/2012/6), 5 April 2012 (S/PRST/2012/10), 2 October 2013 (S/PRST/2013/15), 24 April 2015 (S/PRST/2015/10) and 17 August 2015 (S/PRST/2015/15),

Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Expressing its gravest concern at the continued suffering of the Syrian people, the dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation, the ongoing conflict and its persistent and brutal violence, the negative impact of terrorism and violent extremist ideology in support of terrorism, the destabilizing effect of the crisis on the region and beyond, including the resulting increase in terrorists drawn to the fighting in Syria, the physical destruction in the country, and increasing sectarianism, and underscoring that the situation will continue to deteriorate in the absence of a political solution,

Recalling its demand that all parties take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, including members of ethnic, religious and confessional communities, and stresses that, in this regard, the primary responsibility to protect its population lies with the Syrian authorities,

Reiterating that the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, with a view to full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012 as endorsed by resolution 2118 (2013), including through the establishment of an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive powers, which shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent while ensuring continuity of governmental institutions,

Encouraging, in this regard, the diplomatic efforts of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to help bring an end to the conflict in Syria,

Commending the commitment of the ISSG, as set forth in the Joint Statement on the outcome of the multilateral talks on Syria in Vienna of 30 October 2015 and the Statement of the ISSG of 14 November 2015 (hereinafter the “Vienna Statements”), to ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué in its entirety, and emphasizing the urgency for all parties in Syria to work diligently and constructively towards this goal,

Urging all parties to the UN-facilitated political process to adhere to the principles identified by the ISSG, including commitments to Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity, and non-sectarian character, to ensuring continuity of governmental institutions, to protecting the rights of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious denomination, and to ensuring humanitarian access throughout the country,

Encouraging the meaningful participation of women in the UN-facilitated political process for Syria,

Bearing in mind the goal to bring together the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition, chosen by Syrians, who will decide their negotiation representatives and define their negotiation positions so as to enable the political process to begin, taking note of the meetings in Moscow and Cairo and other initiatives to this end, and noting in particular the usefulness of the meeting in Riyadh on 9-11 December 2015, whose outcomes contribute to the preparation of negotiations under UN auspices on a political settlement of the conflict, in accordance with the Geneva Communique and the “Vienna Statements”, and looking forward to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria finalizing efforts to this end,

“1.   Reconfirms its endorsement of the Geneva Communiqué of 30 June 2012, endorses the “Vienna Statements” in pursuit of the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, as the basis for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition in order to end the conflict in Syria, and stresses that the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria;

“2.   Requests the Secretary-General, through his good offices and the efforts of his Special Envoy for Syria, to convene representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks, pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué, consistent with the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement, with a view to a lasting political settlement of the crisis;

“3.   Acknowledges the role of the ISSG as the central platform to facilitate the United Nations’ efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement in Syria;

“4.   Expresses its support, in this regard, for a Syrian-led political process that is facilitated by the United Nations and, within a target of six months, establishes credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance and sets a schedule and process for drafting a new constitution, and further expresses its support for free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under supervision of the United Nations, to the satisfaction of the governance and to the highest international standards of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate, as set forth in the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement;

“5.   Acknowledges the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, and that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously, and in this regard expresses its support for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, which the ISSG has committed to support and assist in implementing, to come into effect as soon as the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices, on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué, as set forth in the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement, and to do so on an urgent basis;

“6.   Requests the Secretary-General to lead the effort, through the office of his Special Envoy and in consultation with relevant parties, to determine the modalities and requirements of a ceasefire as well as continue planning for the support of ceasefire implementation, and urges Member States, in particular members of the ISSG, to support and accelerate all efforts to achieve a ceasefire, including through pressing all relevant parties to agree and adhere to such a ceasefire;

“7.   Emphasizes the need for a ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting mechanism, requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on options for such a mechanism that it can support, as soon as possible and no later than one month after the adoption of this resolution, and encourages Member States, including members of the Security Council, to provide assistance, including through expertise and in-kind contributions, to support such a mechanism;

“8.   Reiterates its call in resolution 2249 (2015) for Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the ISSG and determined by the Security Council, pursuant to the Statement of the ISSG of 14 November 2015, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria, and notes that the aforementioned ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, as set forth in the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement;

“9.   Welcomes the effort that was conducted by the government of Jordan to help develop a common understanding within the ISSG of individuals and groups for possible determination as terrorists and will consider expeditiously the recommendation of the ISSG for the purpose of determining terrorist groups;

“10. Emphasizes the need for all parties in Syria to take confidence building measures to contribute to the viability of a political process and a lasting ceasefire, and calls on all states to use their influence with the government of Syria and the Syrian opposition to advance the peace process, confidence building measures and steps towards a ceasefire;

“11. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council, as soon as possible and no later than one month after the adoption of this resolution, on options for further confidence building measures;

“12. Calls on the parties to immediately allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria by most direct routes, allow immediate, humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need, in particular in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, release any arbitrarily detained persons, particularly women and children, calls on ISSG states to use their influence immediately to these ends, and demands the full implementation of resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and any other applicable resolutions;

“13. Demands that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment, welcomes the commitment by the ISSG to press the parties in this regard, and further demands that all parties immediately comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law as applicable;

“14. Underscores the critical need to build conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their home areas and the rehabilitation of affected areas, in accordance with international law, including applicable provisions of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and taking into account the interests of those countries hosting refugees, urges Member States to provide assistance in this regard, looks forward to the London Conference on Syria in February 2016, hosted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait, Norway and the United Nations, as an important contribution to this endeavour, and further expresses its support to the post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation of Syria;

“15. Requests that the Secretary-General report back to the Security Council on the implementation of this resolution, including on progress of the UN-facilitated political process, within 60 days;

“16. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.”

Targeting the masterminds

Targeting the masterminds

kashmir images

Apparently for the first time, Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani recently conceded that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan head Maulana Fazlullah was hiding in Afghanistan.

During the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad, he said that around 40 military actions had been undertaken against the Pakistani Taliban led by Fazlullah in eastern Afghanistan and promised to do more to kill or capture them.

Ashraf Ghani’s confession angered General Rahmatullah Nabeel, the long-time chief of the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), to such an extent that he took to Facebook to criticise his democratically elected president. In fact, this was one of the reasons – along with President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan to attend the Afghanistan-focused Heart of Asia conference and his renewed efforts to befriend Islamabad – that led to the NDS chief’s resignation. Did Rahmatullah Nabeel’s anger stem from the fact that the NDS had developed contacts with Fazlullah and other Pakistani militants and harboured them in a tit-for-tat response against Pakistan for harbouring the leaders of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network?

We may not know the full answer to such questions because intelligence agencies operate discreetly and normally leave no trail to find out the truth. Also, with the departure of the NDS chief appointed five years ago by the then president Hamid Karzai, and President Ashraf Ghani now free to name a replacement of his choice, it is possible that his efforts to improve relations with Pakistan will move ahead more purposefully and Islamabad too would be able to sincerely facilitate the much-needed peace talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. Such a possibility would benefit both countries as the militants are presently able to exploit the situation to their advantage by using the soil of one country to attack the other.

Though it was an open secret that Fazlullah and his men had found sanctuaries in Afghanistan since the summer of 2009 when they escaped the operation by Pakistan’s security forces in Swat and the rest of the Malakand division and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the Afghan government until now was in a state of denial. The admission by the Afghan president that the TTP head is present in his country is significant for the people of Pakistan, particularly the families of the 147 persons who were killed at the Army Public School in Peshawar by Afghanistan-based Pakistani Taliban on December 16, 2014.

The bereaved families have been asking the Pakistan government to help them seek justice by tracking down and punishing the masterminds of the carnage. They must have been relieved somewhat that four facilitators of the APS attack have already been hanged after being convicted by the military courts, while two others have also been awarded the death sentence and one more given life imprisonment. However, they are also aware that the three masterminds of the attack are still at large and based in Afghanistan – and no doubt plotting their next assault in Pakistan.

It is no longer a secret as to who the masterminds of the APS attack were. The capture of the facilitators – Hazrat Ali who was named by the army as the financier, Maulvi Abdul Salam and Mujeebur Rahman who harboured the six terrorists in their houses in Jamrud on the way to Peshawar, and Sabeel who transported them to the APS – must have enabled the authorities to fill in the blanks and confirm the identity of the masterminds.

As the TTP had claimed responsibility for the APS attack, it could not have happened without Fazlullah’s consent and orders. This makes him one of the masterminds of not only the attack on the APS but also numerous others. Aurangzeb, who now calls himself as Khalifa Umar Mansoor, from Adezai village in Peshawar district near Darra Adamkhel was the real mastermind as he claimed responsibility for the attack. He got picture photograph taken with the six suicide bombers before they embarked on the mission, and threatened further assaults. In fact, he followed it up by organising the daring attack on the Pakistan Air Force base in Badaber. Another mastermind was stated to be one Asif aka Haji Kamran, who was believed to be the operational commander for the APS attack.

Pakistan’s military authorities identified the attackers as members of the little known Towheed al-Jihad group, which was stated to have been originally formed by late TTP commander Tariq Afridi, who hailed from Darra Adamkhel and also had an influence on militants in the Khyber and Orakzai tribal agencies. However, the group owed allegiance at the top to the TTP, which over the years has been using different front organisations to claim responsibility for some of the attacks and confuse the intelligence agencies keeping track of them.

It certainly would be challenging to locate and eliminate the masterminds of the attack. The cooperation of the Afghan government and the residual US-led Nato forces still deployed in Afghanistan are needed to accomplish this task. The former is claiming to have almost 400,000 soldiers and cops. Though they are over-occupied in fighting the resurgent Taliban, some could be spared to go after the Pakistani militants in the Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Khost provinces. Since many Pakistani militants have joined the Islamic State, or Daesh, it would also be in Afghanistan’s interest to act against them and at the same time oblige Pakistan. The US through its airpower, particularly the drones, has been targeting Daesh and other militants, but it needs to do more to target the TTP fighters threatening Pakistan.

If requested, Pakistan should provide intelligence to the Afghan government to hunt down the masterminds of the APS assault and others busy planning new cross-border attacks. The memorandum of understanding between the NDS and the ISI fell by the wayside due to the deep distrust between Islamabad and Kabul. It can be revived if the recent breakthrough in their relations is sustained to overcome the mistrust. For this to materialise, Pakistan would have to – in the words of President Ashraf Ghani – earn Afghanistan’s trust.

The most practical way to make this happen would be to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiations table and push them to make peace with the Afghan government.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email:© The News International