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In Northwestern Afghanistan to survive, ‘We Sold Our Property to Buy Weapons and Attack’

The situation appears no better in northwestern Afghanistan, it just doesn't get reported, which makes Myrady's trips all the more important

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An Afghan security police walks at the destroyed house after an operation in Asad Khil near the site of a U.S. bombing in the Achin district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Afghanistan, May 26, 2017: For more than three years now, Qishloq Ovozi and the Majlis podcast have been following events in northern Afghanistan, in the provinces that border Central Asia, while the situation there went from concerning to unstable.

This reporting benefited greatly from the work and dedication of one person, Shamerdanguly Myrady, one of our correspondents in Afghanistan.

At significant personal risk, he has been making trips to northwest Afghanistan, his native area, to report on events as the situation there deteriorated. He just went again.

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Myrady spent a week in Balkh, Jowzjan, and Sari Pul provinces at the start of May, and this is some of what he reported to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk.

Myrady said there were many armed groups operating in northwestern Afghanistan — “just in the Shortepa district, there are at least 10 [different] groups.”

Shortepa is in the northwest corner of Balkh Province and it borders Uzbekistan. The people of Shortepa, an area with a mainly ethnic Turkmen population, told Myrady the Taliban and militants from the Islamic State extremist group were operating in the district. Locals also said some of the militants were from north of the border, from Central Asia.

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Myrady met a man in Shortepa who called himself “commander” Abdul Menan, the leader of one of the local “uprising” militias. Speaking about the militants, Menan said, “Just in our area they killed at least 27 men and two women.”

Menan said that despite appeals to the authorities, no help had arrived. “No other choice remained to us,” he said, “other than selling our property — carpets, cows — to buy weapons and attack” the militants.

Myrady said that in conversations with people around the three provinces it became clear local militias were being formed in many areas.

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The 209th Corps, or Shaheen Corps, is responsible for northern Afghanistan. The 209th is stretched thin and that is the reason militant groups have been able to bring so many districts in northern Afghanistan at least partially under their control.

Some people told Myrady the attack on the Shaheen Corps base in Mazar-e Sharif on April 22 that left more than 130 soldiers dead shattered the confidence of many people that government forces could protect them.

This has led to an increase of paramilitary formations in the area, such as Menan’s group. Myrady said that based on what people told him, it seems paramilitary groups such as the Arbaky are now doing most of the fighting in districts away from the provincial capitals.

The lack of government control has other consequences. Myrady said there was more opium poppy cultivation in northwest Afghanistan than any time he could remember.

May 20, 2017: According to a 2016 UN report, Badghis Province, which borders Turkmenistan, is the second-largest producer of opium poppies among Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Badghis is west of Jowzjan and Balkh.

People Myrady encountered told stories of vehicles being stopped by Taliban fighters and some people being taken away, of insurgents that locals described as “Daesh” or IS militants beheading locals.

There were also tales about the Taliban collecting money from villagers for electricity supplied by Turkmenistan, or simply collecting “zakat,” or taxes, from locals.

Myrady said it appeared small bazaars selling weapons and narcotics are operating in some districts of northwestern Afghanistan where militants are in control, including districts on the border with Turkmenistan.

Myrady’s reporting sheds some small light on the dire situation in northwestern Afghanistan. Recent reports on fighting in northern Afghanistan came from battlefields in Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces, in northeastern Afghanistan, along the border with Tajikistan.

The situation appears no better in northwestern Afghanistan, it just doesn’t get reported, which makes Myrady’s trips all the more important. (RFE/RL)

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Indian Wheat Arrives Afghanistan via Chabahar Port, making History

India sends its first shipment to Afghanistan via Chabahar port, thus opening new trade route for Middle East also, bypassing the problems created by Pakistan

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Afghanistan has received an inaugural consignment of wheat from India through an Iranian port, opening a new trade and transit route for the landlocked nation that bypasses neighboring Pakistan.

The strategic sea route, officials say, will help improve trade and transit connectivity between Kabul and New Delhi.

It will also potentially give India access to Central Asian markets through Afghanistan, because rival Pakistan does not allow Indian goods to be transported through its territory .

The shipment of almost 15,000 tons of wheat dispatched from India’s western port of Kandla on October 29 reached the Iranian port of Chabahar on November 1. It was then loaded on trucks and brought by road to the Afghan province of Nimroz, which borders Iran.

Speaking at a special ceremony to receive the historic consignment Saturday in the border town of Zaranj, India’s ambassador to Kabul, Manpreet Vohra, said the shipment has demonstrated the viability of the new route. He added that India, Afghanistan and Iran agreed to operationalize the Chabahar port only a year-and-a-half ago.

“The ease and the speed with which this project is already working is evident from the fact that as we are receiving the first trucks of wheat here in Zaranj, the second ship from Kandla has already docked in Chabahar,” Vohra announced.

He said there will be seven shipments between now and February and a total of 110,000 tons of wheat will come to Afghanistan through Chabahar. Vohra added the shipments are part of a promised 1.1 million tons of wheat as India’s “gift” to Afghanistan out of which 700,000 has already been sent to the country.

India is investing $500 million in Chabahar port to build new terminals, cargo berths and connecting roads, as well as rail lines.

The Indian shipment arrived in Afghanistan days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on a visit to New Delhi, allayed concerns the Trump administration’s tough stand on Iran could pose a fresh stumbling block to India’s plans to develop the strategic Iranian port as a regional transit hub.

The Indian ambassador also took a swipe at Pakistan, though he did not name the rival country.

“The logic of finding easy connectivity, assured connectivity for Afghanistan is also because you have not had the benefit despite being a landlocked country of having easy access to international markets. We all know that a particular neighbor of yours to the east has often placed restrictions on your transit rights,” Vohra noted.

The shortest and most cost effective land routes between India and Afghanistan lie through Pakistan.

But due to long-running bilateral territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are not allowed to do two-way trade through Pakistani territory. Kabul, however, is allowed to send only a limited amount of perishable goods through Pakistani territory to India.

“We are confident that with the cooperation, particularly of the government of Iran, this route now from Chabahar to Afghanistan will not see any arbitrary closure of gates, any unilateral decisions to stop your imports and exports, and this will provide you guaranteed access to the sea,” vowed Vohra.

Pakistan also allows Afghanistan to use its southern port of Karachi for transit and trade activities. However, Afghan officials and traders are increasingly complaining that authorities in Pakistan routinely indulge in unannounced trade restrictions and frequent closure of border crossings, which has undermined trade activities.

“With the opening of Chabahar Port, Afghanistan will no longer be dependent on Karachi Port,” provincial governor Mohammad Samiullah said while addressing the gathering. The economic activity, he said, will create job opportunities and bring billions of dollars in revenue to Afghanistan, Iran and India.

Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have also plunged to new lows in recent years over mutual allegations of sponsoring terrorism against each other’s soils.

In its bid to enhance economic connectivity with Afghanistan, India also opened an air freight corridor in June this year to provide greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market.

Pakistani officials, however, have dismissed suggestions the direct trade connectivity between India and Afghanistan is a matter of concern for Islamabad.

“It is our consistent position that Afghanistan as a landlocked country has a right of transit access through any neighboring country according to its needs,” said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a nearly 2,600 kilometer largely porous border. However, Islamabad has lately begun construction of a fence and tightened monitoring of movements at regular border crossings between the two countries, saying terrorist attacks in Pakistan are being plotted on the Afghan side of the border. VOA

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Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah thanks India, slams Pakistan

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Afghanistan leader abdullah abdullah
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. ians

New Delhi, Sep 29: Afghanistan Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah on Friday thanked India for its “generous contributions” in reconstructing the war-torn nation and slammed Pakistan for its role in destabilizing the country.

However, he added, Afghanistan would continue to extend hands of friendship to all its neighbours including Pakistan.

Delivering the 24th Sapru House Lecture here, Abdullah, who is on a visit to India to enhance ties between the two countries, said terror was a threat to all nations and that a stable Afghanistan would benefit all countries in the region.

He said Afghanistan faced some “serious challenge” when it came to its relations with Pakistan.

“The fact that there are groups based in Pakistan which are threatening the security of Afghanistan and (they) continue to receive support and continue to embark upon destabilizing activities and acts of terror in Afghanistan. That is a very serious challenge for us and for the whole region,” Abdullah said.

Referring to Pakistan, he added that there were some “very clear lessons in the past when some of the terrorist groups created for other purposes turned against those who created them and started to pose a threat and continue to do so.

“Our message is very clear: Afghanistan’s civility and prosperity is in the interest of the region. Afghanistan has no bad intention towards any neighbouring country.

“We have extended and will continue to extend hands of friendship to all its neighbours and countries of the region. And we expect reciprocation,” Abdullah said, adding his country would continue the dialogue process with neighbours to address common challenges.

He said countries needed to decide that “terrorism would not be used as a tool for foreign policy”.

Referring to India, the Afghan leader said its contributions had made a difference to lives of millions of Afghan people.

“Relations between Afghanistan and India, which are founded in the bonds of history and culture of both nations, have been strengthened in the past 16 years with your generous contributions that made a difference to lives of millions of people,” he said.

Abdullah added that India’s support in many fields including education, infrastructure and security had “contributed in its own way in stabilization of our country and pursuit of our democratic aspirations and also betterment of lives of our people”.

He said while he was supposed to arrive in India a day earlier, his visit was delayed “because of the terrorist attack on Kabul International Airport”.

“But I was determined to come. Terrorist attacks may have caused us some delay but they could not stop us.”

He said while on one side there were aspirations and efforts of millions to create a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, on the other there were efforts of a “tiny minority” to destroy lives of people through acts of terror.

“But our wisdom says that human dignity will prevail and acts of terror would be condemned to fail.”

He said “terror is terror” and that there should be no differentiation when it comes to terror: “good and bad terrorist groups”.

Abdullah said Afghanistan can play its “rightful” role as a bridge between South Asia and Central Asia.

“We are working together – India and Iran have taken lead – towards operationalisation of Chabahar. We hope, as India has annouced, it would contribute further, that one year target of full operationalisation of Chabahar would be met.”

He said India, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries would benefit from this.

“We will witness the first act of operationalisation by receiving shipments of wheat through Chabahar in a few days time. But further work would continue,” Abdullah added.

Iran’s Chabahar port lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan. Once operationalised, India can bypass Pakistan to transport goods to Afghanistan.(IANS)

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India Rules Out Troops Deployment in War Torn Afghanistan

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Niramala sitharam and James Mattis
The Union Minister for Defence Nirmala Sitharaman and the US Secretary of Defence, Mr. James Mattis iduring a press conference in New Delhi on September 26, 2017.

New Delhi, Sep 26:  India on Tuesday, made clear that it will not send its forces in the war-torn region of Afghanistan. “There shall not be boots from India on the ground (in Afghanistan),” Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a joint media conference with visiting US Defence Secretary James Mattis after talks with him.

The Minister was replying to a question about India’s contribution in Afghanistan and whether it would deploy its troops there.

Mattis is the first high-ranking official of the Trump administration to visit India amidst expectation from the US that India could change its stand on a possible military presence in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump while unveiling his new policy on Afghanistan last month asked India to help more with the troubled country, battling decades of the Islamist insurgency.

Sitharaman said India’s contribution to Afghanistan has been there for a very long time in development activities like building dams, schools, hospitals, roads and any institution which the country may require.

“We are also at the moment training their officials in good governance… India’s contribution has been there and we shall expand if necessary,” she said.

She also said India welcomed Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy and added she had “useful discussions” with Mattis on “how we can strengthen our cooperation bilaterally as well as with the government of Afghanistan in pursuit of our common objective of a peaceful, democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan”.

Mattis lauded India’s efforts in Afghanistan. “In particular, we applaud India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability and security. We seek to expand our cooperation in building partnerships across the region.”

Mattis said the two countries recognized the threat to global peace from terror and both agreed that there should be “no tolerance to safe havens for terrorists”.

“As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge,” he said.

Mattis said both India and the US have suffered losses due to terrorism and “one aspect of this is universally shared by all responsible nations that there shall be no safe havens for terror”.

The US Defence Secretary did not name Pakistan but Sitharaman minced no words in saying that terror attacks in Mumbai or in New York originated from Pakistan.

“The very same forces which did find safe haven in Pakistan were the forces that hit New York as well as Mumbai,” she said.

She urged the US Defence Secretary to “speak out and raise this issue” on his next visit to Pakistan.

Replying to a question, Mattis appreciated India’s efforts along with the international community for increasing pressure on North Korea over nuclear activities.

The two sides discussed maritime security in the India Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region.(IANS)