Elliott Abrams, a controversial neoconservative figure who was entangled in the Iran-Contra affair, has been named as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela, which has been rocked by a leadership crisis.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has claimed that Donald Trump ordered the Colombian government and mafia to assassinate him, but insisted that he’s well protected from the threat of assassination.
“Without a doubt, Donald Trump gave the order to kill me, told the Colombian government, the Colombian mafia, to kill me. If something happens to me, Donald Trump and Colombian President Ivan Duque will be responsible,” Maduro told RIA Novosti.
Maduro, however, expressed confidence in his country’s security services.
“I am always protected by the Venezuelan people, we have a good intelligence service,” he said.
Maduro also claimed that White House National Security Adviser John Bolton has prevented Trump from communicating with the Venezuelan government. The Venezuelan president told RIA Novosti that he has repeatedly tried – but failed – to reach out to the US leader.
“For all these years, I have been trying on a personal level [to establish dialogue] … But Bolton prevented Donald Trump from initiating a dialogue with Nicolas Maduro. I have the information that he has prohibited this,” Maduro said.
Maduro and his government are currently being challenged by Juan Guaido, the US-backed leader of the country’s National Assembly. Guaido declared himself interim president last week, and has received open support from Washington and its Western allies.
America’s recent moves towards a coup in Venezuela are being carried out through the same methods that global capitalism uses to keep itself in place: media propaganda, political sabotage of opponents, and acts of violence.
The Trump administration’s motives for trying to oust Maduro are transparently motivated by corporate profit. This week, Senator Marco Rubio openly explained the business motivations behind the Venezuela coup he supports, having tweeted:
“[The] biggest buyers of Venezuelan oil are ValeroEnergy & Chevron. Refining heavy crude from #Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast. For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President Guaido & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime.”–Marco Rubio
Unsurprisingly, Venezuela’s self-declared new “president” Juan Guardio has already tried to privatize Venezuela’s oil operations to benefit the United States.
Guaido’s attempt to usurp Maduro at the behest of the American government is not just an act of illegal foreign interference in a sovereign nation. It’s also being justified to the Venezuelan people through political fraud. Guaido is basing his claim as the rightful leader of Venezuela on the narrative that Maduro stole the election of last May, which would make Maduro an illegitimate leader. But this narrative is founded on lies. International observers from 40 different countries judged the election to be transparent, despite the U.S.’ refusal to accept the results.
Since Chavismo took power twenty years ago, the U.S. has been demonizing and slandering Venezuela’s legitimate and elected leadership, interfering in its politics, and inflicting terrorism against its citizenry. The CIA’s attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 has been followed by economic sanctions on Venezuela that target the country’s population, campaigns from Saudi Arabia and Western corporations to sabotage Venezuela’s economy, the pumping of millions of dollars into Venezuelan opposition groups, threats by the Trump administration to invade Venezuela militarily, and American support for violent protests against Maduro’s government.
Since all-out war with Venezuela isn’t regarded by the U.S. government as a first choice, the regime change operation against Maduro has taken on the form of America’s recent regime change campaigns in Syria and Ukraine, wherein America has given support to militant opposition groups while conducting a campaign of propaganda and political sabotage. It’s been an underhanded regime change operation that’s largely hidden from the American people, which makes it easy for the U.S. government to pass it off as a legitimate revolution.
This is what makes it ironic when American supporters of capitalism try to point to Venezuela as proof that socialism doesn’t work. Firstly, their claim completely misrepresents Venezuela’s political situation; Chavez and Maduro haven’t brought socialism, they’ve only reformed capitalism by enacting social welfare policies within the capitalist system. These policies have lifted many Venezuelans out of poverty. And many more of them would now be in good economic standing if their leaders were to do away with capitalism entirely.
Secondly, Venezuela’s economic crisis was created not by this fictitious implementation of “socialism,” but by the acts of Western warfare that I mention above. America’s tactic of sabotaging Venezuela, and then blaming “socialism” for Venezuela’s problems, reflects on the similarly dishonest and coercive methods that capitalism uses to maintain its control.
Whether the capitalist class has created a mass propaganda campaign to discredit socialism, or used money to control the political system, or sent police to put down protests, it’s mirrored what they rely on for projects like the Venezuela regime change operation: only the dirty tricks.
The capitalists are still in power because they have the money to crush their opponents and flood society with their propaganda. We’re ruled by an illegitimate dictatorship of capital that should have been overthrown long ago, and that would be quickly replaced if the political and media establishments weren’t designed to exclude critics of capitalism.
Thankfully, this underlying weakness of capitalism is coming to a head. Even as the U.S./NATO empire uses a full array of its weapons in this coup attempt, the empire’s decay is apparent. As an editorial this week from Strategic Culture assesses:
Venezuela will be no push over, however. The country’s defense forces are standing with Maduro’s government, and defense minister Vladimir Padrino has condemned “US aggression”.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has declared the opposition’s claim to the presidency as unconstitutional.
Abroad, Venezuela has the support of several neighboring countries, including Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Russia has emerged as an important international power calling for respect for Venezuela’s sovereignty and the legitimacy of President Maduro. Other foreign supporters include China, Iran and Turkey, who have also denounced the US-led offensive against Venezuela…the events may show that the Uncle [Sam] is now a decrepit old tyrant whose malign designs no longer match the multipolar reality of today’s world.
As we hope for these factors to restrain the American empire, let’s work to end the capitalist system that let this empire come into existence in the first place.
MADRID — In March 2018, Syrian President Bashar Assad had himself filmed as he drove his car through the rubble-filled streets of Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. At that time, seven years after the start of Syria’s civil war, Assad’s forces were gaining ground from rebel groups who had been under siege there for half a decade. The images, showing the triumphant return of an apparently relaxed Assad, were clearly propaganda. However, they also summarised these tragic years of conflict: Syria has been devastated, but Assad is still there.
Numbers alone cannot capture the magnitude of the humanitarian disaster, but they provide necessary perspective. In 2011, when the war began, Syria had 21 million inhabitants. Nearly eight years later, approximately half-a-million of them had died from violence, caused mainly by pro-Assad forces, more than 5.5 million have been registered as refugees, and more than 6 million are internally displaced. These numbers reflect the failure of an “international community” that, in Syria and so many other contexts, has proved unworthy of its name.
Profound divisions in the United Nations Security Council have prevented a concerted response to the Syrian crisis. To a large degree, these are the result of NATO’s military intervention in Libya, which was authorised by the Security Council, with Russia and China abstaining, just when hostilities in Syria were beginning. The intervention in Libya exceeded its humanitarian mandate and became fixated on removing the country’s leader, Muammar Qadhafi, who was brutally murdered shortly after rebels captured him.
That episode has made Russia and China even more distrustful, if that were possible, of any military intervention in the name of the “responsibility to protect”, a doctrine invoked in response to Gaddafi’s excesses. Vetoes in the Security Council have been increasing, with Russia having so far blocked 12 resolutions concerning Syria. China, which has used its veto power in the Security Council on only 11 occasions, has also blocked six of these resolutions. One of the joint vetoes by China and Russia prevented the case of Syria from being referred to the International Criminal Court, in contrast to an earlier unanimous Security Council resolution that had approved a referral in the case of Libya.
With multilateralism paralysed, the course of the war in Syria has been shaped by the geopolitical interests of the major international powers. Any semblance of humanitarianism has been limited to relatively minor and fairly unproductive resolutions, specific agreements such as that concluded by the United States and Russia to destroy the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons and questionable bombings intended to punish flagrant violations of the latter agreement. The only consensus that has proven to be moderately robust, and fruitful, has led to the fight against Daesh, which has left the organisation badly damaged, though not yet defeated.
Given these difficulties, diplomacy in Syria was obviously never going to be smooth sailing. In fact, the incessant dribble of accusations between the great powers was one reason why Kofi Annan renounced his position as special envoy of the UN and the Arab League to Syria. Yet, the failure of negotiations was not, and still is not, inevitable. Failure has stemmed not only from important contextual factors, but also from a series of strategic mistakes that the West has made, either by action or by omission.
For starters, although the US has been reluctant to intervene directly in Syria, it has not disguised its zeal to oust Assad. Shortly after the start of the war, the Obama administration explicitly declared that its objective was regime change, as did the European Union, undermining the diplomatic efforts led by Annan. And, as the late Patrick Seale, one of the most renowned chroniclers of Syria, observed, an obsession with regime change “is no plan for peace”. In fact, this approach served only to put Assad on the defensive and inspire unrealistic expectations among an extremely fragmented opposition. Having missed the opportunity presented by the first Geneva peace conference, convened by Annan in 2012, diplomatic efforts fell into a spiral of setbacks.
The EU, meanwhile, has been excessively passive in the face of a conflict affecting a country that participates in the European Neighbourhood Policy. Remember, it was the war in Syria that led to the terrible refugee crisis that in 2015 shook the foundations of the EU and, above all, caused immense human suffering. Despite this, the EU and its member countries have dragged their feet, applying patches, such as the agreement with Turkey on refugees, instead of resolutely addressing the problem at its root.
Today, Western disorientation regarding Syria is absolute. US President Donald Trump’s administration, in particular, is presenting a disgraceful spectacle with its chaotic messages regarding the withdrawal of the few American troops on the ground. It is still a mystery how the US intends to counterbalance Iran’s influence in Syria, and what guarantees will be offered to the Kurds, who have contributed so much to combating Daesh. What is clear is that the West is colliding with reality: As the dust raised by Daesh settles, it turns out that the Syria that is emerging is not all that different, in political terms, from its pre-war version.
This does not mean that Assad has come through the war completely unscathed, able to impose his will without restraint. But in the absence of viable alternatives, and despite the brutal crimes he has committed with the direct support of Russia and Iran, he will necessarily have a role to play in Syria’s immediate future. Clearly, the more time and resources are invested in the wrong policy, such as regime change, the harder it becomes to abandon that policy. But there is no other choice. The West must pierce its illusions and sit down to negotiate more seriously, and at all levels, about Syria.
Javier Solana, a former EU high representative for foreign and security policy, secretary general of NATO and foreign minister of spain, is currently president of the ESADE Centre for Global Economy and Geopolitics, distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019. www.project-syndicate.org
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is expected to join peace talks with the Americans.
By Ahmed Rashid Mr. Rashid is the author of “Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West.”
Afghan soldiers being trained by Americans in 2016. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times
LAHORE, Pakistan — On Thursday, the Taliban appointed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who founded the movement with Mullah Mohammad Omar in 1993, as the chief negotiator in the peace talks with the United States, being held in Qatar.
Mr. Baradar, who was also appointed as deputy to the Taliban chief Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to travel soon to Doha to join the peace talks with the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Mr. Baradar is revered among the Taliban as a charismatic military leader and a deeply religious figure who still reflects the origins of the Taliban movement, when it was founded to end the Afghan civil war and warlordism in the mid-1990s.
He was the first senior Taliban leader to see the futility and waste of war and held secret peace talks in 2009 with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and indirectly with the United States and the NATO forces.
Pakistan, then the principal backer of the Taliban, brought these tentative negotiations to an end by arresting Mr. Baradar in February 2010 in Karachi and exposing the interlocutors. In arresting him, Islamabad sent out a harsh message to the Taliban and the Afghan government not to engage in political processes that contradicted its policy in Afghanistan. Mr. Baradar’s arrest created intense antagonism between Kabul and Islamabad and was deeply resented by the Taliban, which revered Mr. Baradar as one of their founder leaders.
After pressure from the United States and Qatar, Pakistan released Mr. Baradar in October after eight and a half years. He stayed in the country for medical treatment. Mr. Baradar’s release and his subsequent elevation as the chief negotiator have raised hopes that Pakistan’s attitude to the peace process and its military’s antipathy to the Taliban leaders seeking peace has clearly changed.
Pakistan has been politically isolated in the region for its unwillingness to help end the Afghan war. And the damage done by the Pakistani Taliban, a collective of jihadist groups, which attacks targets in Pakistan and then retreats into Afghanistan, has changed Islamabad’s calculus. The ongoing talks between the Americans and the Taliban have made it clear that the Taliban will no longer support or give sanctuary to terrorist groups from outside Afghanistan.
Western diplomats in Islamabad now praise the military for facilitating rather than hindering Mr. Khalilzad’s mission. Whether Pakistan’s support for the peace process is a strategic change of direction that will affect the broader region remains to be seen, but Pakistan’s military has reached out to Indian military and civilian leaders to restart talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Apart from Pakistan’s support for Mr. Khalilzad’s mission, the stature of Mr. Baradar within the Taliban movement does bolster the chances of peace. I met Mr. Baradar in the late 1990s after the Taliban had captured Kabul. He had been governor of Herat province and was the deputy minister of defense for the Taliban when the group fell in 2001.
Mr. Baradar was a moderate on social issues and argued for maintaining relationships with the West and Afghanistan’s neighbors. The hard-liners among the Taliban under the influence of Osama bin Laden had forced Western aid agencies to leave Afghanistan, and the country faced a severe famine and economic crisis. Mr. Baradar argued against isolating Afghanistan and cutting off all aid. He was aware of his country’s dependence on financial aid from the West.
Although he had opposed the presence of bin Laden in Afghanistan after Mullah Omar gave him sanctuary in 1996, Mr. Baradar stayed close to Mullah Omar in Kandahar after their regime fell.
Owing to his impeccable record of service to the Taliban cause, no other Taliban leader will be able to contradict Mr. Baradar if and when he takes steps toward peace. He is also the most likely figure to sell peace to the more militant Taliban commanders, who are inclined to continue fighting and want to claim total victory and impose a Shariah system on the country as they did in the 1990s.
The United States will benefit from his presence in the Qatar talks, as Mr. Khalilzad and his colleagues will be speaking to a prominent and decisive Taliban leader who can make decisions.
Mr. Khalilzad’s team has made significant headway, and American and Taliban officials have “agreed in principle to the framework” of a peace deal in which the Taliban promise not to host terrorist groups in the future and to help the United States rid Afghanistan of the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The deal could lead to a full pullout of American troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
Major questions remain to be resolved. The Taliban want an American troop withdrawal announced and their prisoners freed from Afghan jails as an immediate first step. The Americans have won a pledge from the Taliban that Afghan soil will never be used again by terrorist groups. The United States is also insisting on a Taliban cease-fire with both American and Afghan forces and an agreement to start talks on the future political setup with President Ashraf Ghani and the Kabul government.
So far the Taliban have refused to meet with Mr. Ghani and his government, describing them as mere stooges. Such a political position is unsustainable if the Taliban are really serious about ending the war. Mr. Baradar has a history of speaking to all Afghan leaders and he might be able to persuade the Taliban to reconsider the position.
And the promise of continued economic aid from the United States and NATO countries once a peace agreement is reached could be an important factor in persuading the Taliban to conclude a peace agreement.
Despite the acute differences among the regional players — Iran and the Gulf States, India and Pakistan, and Pakistan and Afghanistan — there is now a growing consensus on seeking an end to the war in Afghanistan. The long war has proved devastating to the neighboring states as terrorist groups find sanctuary in an increasingly lawless Afghanistan and the implementation of economic infrastructure projects is hindered.
Mr. Khalilzad’s experience with his country of birth, which stretches back to the Reagan administration during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has undeniably helped. The Afghan people are now hopeful for the first time in decades that the 40-year-long war may just possibly be coming to an end.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.
But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.
Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.
In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.
The events surrounding Mr. Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky — and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.
“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”
Some American officials still insist that Pakistan-American cooperation is improving, and deny a central Pakistani role in Mr. Baradar’s arrest. They say the Pakistanis may now be trying to rewrite history to make themselves appear more influential. It was American intellgence that led to Mr. Baradar’s capture, an American official said.
“These are self-serving fairy tales,” the official said. “The people involved in the operation on the ground didn’t know exactly who would be there when they themselves arrived. But it certainly became clear, to Pakistanis and Americans alike, who we’d gotten.”
Other American officials suspect the C.I.A. may have been unwittingly used by the Pakistanis for the larger aims of slowing the pace of any peace talks.
At a minimum, the arrest of Mr. Baradar offers a glimpse of the multilayered challenges the United States faces as it tries to prevail in Afghanistan. It is battling a resilient insurgency, supporting a weak central government and trying to manage Pakistan’s leaders, who simultaneously support the Taliban and accept billions in American aid.
A senior NATO officer in Kabul said that in arresting Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis may have been trying to buy time to see if President Obama’s strategy begins to prevail. If it does, the Pakistanis may eventually decide to let the Taliban make a deal. But if the Americans fail — and if they begin to pull out — then the Pakistanis may decide to retain the Taliban as their allies.
“We have been played before,” a senior NATO official said. “That the Pakistanis picked up Baradar to control the tempo of the negotiations is absolutely plausible.”
As for Mr. Baradar, he is now living comfortably in a safe house of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Pakistani official said. “He’s relaxing,” the official said.
Many of the other Taliban leaders, after receiving lectures against freelancing peace deals, have been released to fight again.
Exactly why the Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, became so alarmed at the Afghan peace talks is unclear. In retrospect, paranoia seems to have figured as much as national self-interest.
A senior Afghan official said that beginning late last year, his government had reached out to a number of Taliban leaders to explore the prospect of a deal. Among them were Mr. Baradar and another Taliban leader named Tayyib Agha. The Afghan official declined to say who met the Taliban leaders, but reports of such meetings have since surfaced. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother, reportedly met Mr. Baradar in January, according to a former Afghan official and a former NATO official. Mr. Karzai’s brother denies it.
In another overture, Engineer Ibrahim, then the deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence service, met with a group of Taliban leaders in Dubai, according to a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Ibrahim, now with the National Security Council, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
A Pakistani spiritual leader close to the Taliban leadership said that, earlier this year, he had received a message through an intermediary that Mr. Karzai wanted to talk peace. “We rejected it,” he said.
The discussions with Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban were in their early phases, but they seemed promising, the Afghan official said. Their aim was to establish conditions under which formal talks could begin.
“It was the beginning of a negotiation, so both sides staked out extreme positions,” the Afghan official said. “But we sensed a readiness for peace.”
When Pakistani intelligence officials learned of the overtures, they became unnerved by what they saw as an attempt by the Afghans to strike a peace deal without them. In particular, the ISI suspected the Americans were orchestrating the talks.
In January, days before Mr. Baradar’s capture, a senior ISI official told The New York Times that his agency was hunting the Taliban leader because he was in contact with the Americans. The ISI official accused the Americans of disregarding Pakistan’s legitimate security interests.
“We are after Mullah Baradar,” the senior ISI official said. “We strongly believe the Americans are in touch with him.”
A second ISI official confirmed that the Pakistanis had decided to go after Mr. Baradar to shut down what they feared were blossoming peace talks.
“This is a national secret,” he said. “The Americans and the British were going behind our backs, and we couldn’t allow that.” American and British officials denied they were directly involved in talks with the Taliban.
Once the decision was made to detain Mr. Baradar, the Taliban leader was tracked to Karachi, a sprawling, violent city of nearly 20 million people. There, the Pakistani official said, ISI agents waited for him to activate his cellphone. After several days, the alarm went off, and the agency narrowed Mr. Baradar’s whereabouts to a densely populated area of about two square miles.
That was as far as the intelligence agency’s technology would go, the Pakistani official said. To pinpoint Mr. Baradar’s location, ISI agents turned to the C.I.A.
Since 2001, the C.I.A. and the ISI have maintained an uneasy relationship. They have cooperated on hundreds of operations and detained dozens of militants, but they have clashed over the ISI’s support for the Taliban.
Within minutes of Mr. Baradar’s cellphone activation, the C.I.A. sent two unarmed American technicians to join the Pakistani intelligence agency’s team, the Pakistani official said.
Activating a portable tracking device, the C.I.A. team quickly led the ISI to Mr. Baradar’s home. Only four hours after his cellphone went on, Mr. Baradar was in Pakistani custody, the Pakistani official said. According to the Pakistani official, the ISI did not inform the Americans of the identity of the target.
American officials disputed this account, saying the intelligence indicated that the target was related to Mr. Baradar. But they conceded that they did not know the identity of Mr. Baradar until after the arrest.
The Pakistanis refused to allow the C.I.A. to interrogate Mr. Baradar or even to be present when they spoke. Another Pakistani official said Mr. Baradar was taken to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was debriefed. It was only several days later that the C.I.A. learned of his identity and were allowed to question him.
The Pakistani official even joked about the C.I.A.’s naïveté. “They are so innocent,” he said.
Some American officials insist that while the C.I.A. may not have known whom the Pakistanis were capturing, the Pakistanis did not know either. They speculated that once the Pakistanis had Mr. Baradar, they may have decided to hold him to scuttle the peace talks. It was then, some American officials say, that the Pakistanis may have decided to detain the other Taliban leaders.
“We are not convinced that that was why Baradar was picked up,” an American official in the region said, referring to the Afghan talks. “But maybe that was why he was held.”
Yet other American officials said the Pakistani version seemed more credible than the C.I.A.’s. “Baradar is too high-profile for them not to have known who it was,” the senior NATO official said.
Within days of Mr. Baradar’s arrest, Pakistani agents picked up as many as 22 other Taliban leaders across Pakistan, according to an official with the United Nations in Kabul. The detentions included some of the most senior Taliban commanders, including Mullah Qayoom Zakir, Abdul Kabeer and Abdul Rauf Khadem.
“We know where the shadow government is,” the Pakistani security official said.
The official said the detained Taliban leaders were warned against carrying out future negotiations without their permission. A former Western diplomat, with long experience in the region, confirmed that the ISI sent a warning to its Taliban protégés.
“The message from the ISI was: no flirting,” he said.
Afghans close to the Taliban said the arrests of Mr. Baradar and the others illustrated the strained relationship between the Taliban and their benefactors in Pakistani intelligence. The ISI may protect the Taliban’s leaders, they said, but they also limit their freedom. “When we try to act on our own, they stop us,” the Pakistani spiritual leader said.
Since then, many of the Taliban leaders who were detained have been set free, officials said. Principal among them is Mr. Zakir, a Taliban commander who was released from the American prison at Guantánamo Bay in 2006.
Mr. Zakir, who took over for Mr. Baradar, is regarded as more brutal than his predecessor, unconcerned about civilian casualties — and less inclined to do a deal with the Karzai government.
Unidentified helicopters transported a large number of Daesh* terrorists from Pakistan to the border with Tajikistan, close to Russia’s southern borders, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov said on Monday. Pakistan and Tajikistan are separated by Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor region.
According to the Russian minister, there may be some preparations for a provocation that may affect Russia.
“Daesh fighters in massive quantities were transported from Pakistani territory to the border with Tajikistan. In that area, perhaps, the militants might stage massive provocations that would result in huge amounts of refugees fleeing the territory. This would have an impact on Russia,” Zubov said.
This comes after earlier Col. Gen. Andrey Novikov, the head of the Commonwealth of Independent States Anti-Terrorism Centre, stated that Daesh terrorists were being transported to Afghanistan and Pakistan after facing defeat in Syria and Iraq.
Last year, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported that US helicopters evacuated Daesh leaders from several areas across the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor to the country’s northeast. The US-led coalition, in turn, denied all accusations.
*Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State/IS), a terrorist group banned in Russia and a wide number of other countries.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that Pakistan deserves credit for the ongoing Afghan peace talks in Doha, as the Taliban only came to the negotiating table due to Islamabad’s incessant efforts.
Speaking to reporters in Multan on Sunday, the foreign minister said Pakistan’s stance for a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict had been vindicated.
He said United States Senator Lindsay Graham had admitted that Islamabad had the right approach for peace in Afghanistan. “This is a milestone in Pakistan’s foreign policy domain,” said Qureshi.
In his recent trip to Pakistan, Graham pushed for a meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump to reset Pak-US relations and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.
‘We are a nation, not beggars’
Reiterating Pakistan’s desire for peace in the region, the foreign minister urged the public to gauge Pakistan’s success by its achievements on the foreign policy front, and not by the amount it had received in aid.
The foreign minister was particularly irked when asked if improving ties meant the US would restart discontinued aid. “We are a nation with principles and prestige. We are not beggars!” he said.
“Nations do not only hold talks to seek aid. We have strategies and a vision that we will continue to pursue. Financial help is not important; we are not seeking aid, we are seeking peace.”
Highlighting the PTI-led government’s policy of global outreach, the foreign minister said it was unfortunate that people focused on the incoming aid and overlook the government’s achievements on the diplomatic front.
“Over the past few months, I went to Tehran, Beijing, Kabul, Moscow and Doha. Very soon I am heading to Oman and then to London on February 3.”
Qureshi said the outreach plan focuses on long-term global and regional peace and strengthening linkages for greater connectivity, enhanced trade and shared prosperity.