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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
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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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Pakistan Agrees To Cooperate With The U.S. To Achieve Peace in Afghanistan

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan renewed Wednesday his resolve to cooperate with the United States to achieve a political settlement with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, now in its 18th year.

Khan made the remarks during a meeting with the visiting U.S. special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.

“The prime minister reiterated Pakistan’s abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through political settlement,” Khan’s office said in a statement issued after the meeting.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday and held delegation level talks with senior foreign ministry officials before paying the courtesy call on Prime Minister Khan, officials said.

Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Pakistan”s Prime Minister Imran Khan is seen during talks in Beijing, China, VOA

The U.S. envoy’s visit followed President Donald Trump’s formal request for Khan’s help in finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

“U.S. leadership looked forward to working with Pakistan in furthering the shared goal of peace through a political settlement in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani statement quoted Khalilzad as saying.

The Trump administration has tasked the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul to persuade the Taliban to join an Afghan peace process for ending the protracted war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of sheltering Taliban leaders and allowing them to orchestrate attacks inside Afghanistan. Islamabad rejects the charges.

Afghanistan, USA, Pakistan
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, center right, and U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad,center left, meet in Kabul. VOA

Khalilzad is on an 18-day trip to region, his third since taking office, and plans to visit Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, UAE and Qatar, where the Taliban maintains its so-called political office.

During his previous two trips to the region, Khalilzad also traveled to Qatar and held marathon meetings with Taliban representatives there. He has held talks with Afghan politicians inside and outside of the government in Kabul.

Taliban officials insist that in talks with the U.S. they are seeking the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from the country before agreeing to join an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

In a statement issued Tuesday, insurgent spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they “will not tolerate foreign occupying and military presence under any circumstance.”

Mujahid also dismissed reports that Khalilzad is discussing with the Taliban possible future political dispensation in Kabul and other related issues.

 

Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Taliban fighters are seen gathered in Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

 

“The formation of a government, establishing security and developing Afghanistan is a matter concerning the Afghans. No foreign occupying force has any legal right for determine the fate of Afghanistan, interfere in its matters or make comments as a proprietor,” said the Taliban spokesman.

Khalilzad has shared few details of his talks with the Taliban, though he said last month he was “cautiously optimistic” about achieving a peace deal.

Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have dipped to historic lows in recent years over allegations of supporting the Taliban and other militants in the region. President Trump’s letter to Khan on Monday was a rare positive development in the fragile bilateral ties.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, chosen to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command told Senators on Tuesday that Pakistan’s assistance is key to finding any solution in Afghanistan.

“It is in Pakistan’s long-term interest to have a government in Afghanistan that is stable that they can do business with. It will be hard to reach a settlement without some form of assistance from Pakistan,” McKenzie said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,, pakistan
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

Islamabad has long urged in talks with the U.S. that rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan was a matter of concern for Pakistan. Pakistani security officials blame Indian intelligence operatives for supporting anti-state militants planning terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil, charges both Kabul and New Delhi reject.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump Seeks Pakistan’s Cooperation For Bringing Peace in Afghanistan

“I believe Pakistan knows very clearly that their assistance will be required to reach an end state in Afghanistan. I think the chance that we have is to make it attractive to them so that they see that it is in their best interest to do that,” noted the U.S. commander.

Khan said Monday that Trump wants Pakistan to use its influence to nudge the Taliban to participate in Afghan peace talks. (VOA)