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Pakistan Not Doing Enough against Haqqani Network of Militants to prevent cross-border attacks, says US General

The Taliban has warned of “disastrous consequences” if the higher Afghan courts also uphold Anas Haqqani’s death sentence

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Insurgents suspected of belonging to the Haqqani network are presented to the media at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 30, 2013. VOA
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  • The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, claims that Pakistan has not pressurised the Haqqani Network to prevent them from plotting attacks
  • Pakistani authorities deny the presence of any sanctuaries, insisting that counter-terrorism military operations have indiscriminately targeted
  • A brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief commander of the network is in Afghan custody and has been sentenced to death

Sept 24, 2016: The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan says neighbouring Pakistan has not yet placed “adequate pressure” on the Haqqani Network of militants to prevent them from plotting deadly cross-border attacks.

Afghan authorities allege leaders of the group, which is fighting alongside the Taliban, are directing “high-profile” attacks, particularly in the capital, Kabul, from their sanctuaries on Pakistani soil, with the covert support of the country’s intelligence operatives.

“There is not adequate pressure being put on the Haqqanis” by the Pakistan government, General John Nicholson told a news conference at the Pentagon on Friday.

“The Haqqanis operationally have been able to continue to conduct operations inside Afghanistan. They constitute the primary threat to Americans, to coalition members and to Afghans, especially in and around Kabul,” he added.

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Though he acknowledged the number of attacks in the capital city has fallen to 16 this year compared to 23 during the same period in 2015, crediting joint U.S. and Afghan security measures.

Pakistani authorities deny the presence of any sanctuaries and insist counter-terrorism military operations have indiscriminately targeted and uprooted all militant infrastructures on their side of the border, including those of Afghan insurgents.

FILE - Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 28, 2016, before the the Senate Armed Services Committee. VOA
FILE – Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 28, 2016, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. VOA

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been frayed over the past decade because of U.S. frustrations over Pakistan’s alleged unwillingness to act against Haqqanis.

Last month, the U.S. administration decided not to pay the Pakistan government $300 million in military reimbursements after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told Congress he was unable to certify the country was taking sufficient action against Haqqanis and other militant groups on its soil.

Ghani in tough spot

In his Friday briefing, Gen. Nicholson also confirmed a brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief commander of the network, is in Afghan custody and has been sentenced to death by a local court.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is under increasing pressure at home to ensure an early execution of the convict, Anas Haqqani, to deter his brother’s group from inflicting further bloodshed on Afghans.

But Nicholson indicated it may take a while before the high-profile trial is concluded, saying the death sentence is currently going through the appeals process.

“The trial and the subsequent appeal process is entirely in control of the Afghan government so that is up to them how this plays out… And the appeals process just began, so I would expect this to continue into 2017 because of the appeals process,” he said.

Anas Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, arrested by the Afghan Intelligence Service (NDS) in Khost province is seen in this handout picture released Oct. 16, 2014. VOA
Anas Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, arrested by the Afghan Intelligence Service (NDS) in Khost province is seen in this handout picture released Oct. 16, 2014.
VOA

The Taliban has warned of “disastrous consequences” if the higher Afghan courts also uphold Anas Haqqani’s death sentence.

“The war and its intensity will increase in all parts of the country. A lot of blood will be spilled and the government will be responsible for all of it,” the Islamist insurgency threatened in a recent statement released by its media wing.

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The Taliban has described the man as “an ordinary student of [a] religious school,” saying he is not involved in any political or military activity, nor has there been any prize money on his head. It also alleges the U.S. military is behind Anas Haqqani’s arrest and the judicial verdict.

It is also widely believed that Taliban sources late last month intentionally released the video to reporters of a Western couple it has been holding hostage since 2012 to pressure Kabul and U.S. authorities against the possible execution of the Haqqani family member.

The hostages include an American woman, Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, and their two children. In the leaked video, the couple has urged their respective governments to meet the demands of their captives to save their lives. The Taliban is said to have demanded the Afghan government halt execution of its prisoners. (VOA)

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Grass-Roots Peace Movement Spreads Across Afghanistan

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Afghan protesters for peace hold banners during a protest in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, March 31, 2018. Several hunger strikers taking part in a rare sit-in peace protest in Afghanistan's restive south have been taken to a hospital for treatment, officials and protesters said. VOA

The grass-roots call for peace by some residents that began as a sit-in in Afghanistan’s restive Helmand province is gathering momentum and spreading to other provinces of the country.

A car bomb explosion March 23 in the nation’s southern region, near a packed sports stadium in the provincial capital of Lashkargah, killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more.

The attack occurred while a wrestling match was underway. The Taliban did not officially claim responsibility, but Afghan officials assigned blame to the insurgent group, saying it typically denies responsibility for attacks that kill large number of civilians.

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Initially, it was viewed as just another routine terror assault that killed civilians, and it would have remained so had it not been for the residents of Helmand province, who decided they had to act.

A man carries a wounded boy to a hospital after a car bombing outside a sports stadium in Lashkargah, capital city of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 23, 2018. Provincial chief of police Abdul Ghafar Safi said the blast was carried out by a suicide bomber and that the target was civilians. VOA

A group of young local men began a sit-in at the capital of the province and demanded an end to violence. Later, women joined the sit-in and urged the warring sides to end the vicious cycle of violence that has been tearing through the nation.

“Stop making us widows and making us cry over the death of our children,” a woman said at the rally in Helmand last month.

Hunger strike

The initial anti-war sit-in turned into a hunger strike after the Taliban rejected the protesters’ pleas for peace and instead warned them not to go near Taliban territory. The insurgent group instead instructed locals to conduct their protest at a nearby Afghan and NATO military base.

The strike continued for three days before religious clerics intervened and encouraged protesters to eat.

“Religious clerics considered the hunger strike to be against Islam, and they asked us to end it, promising they would go to the Taliban and discuss our demands with them,” Bacha Khan, a protester in Helmand, told VOA.

The hunger strike did end. The sit-in, however, continues, gaining momentum and rapidly expanding to other provinces.

Iqbal Khyber, an activist from Helmand and a key member of the sit-in, told VOA demands for peace would not end.

“Our sit-in will continue until we see at least two days of cease-fire between warring sides. Our long march began in Kandahar province [in southern Afghanistan] today [April 5]. We will put up the peace sit-in tents in every corner of the country,” Khyber told VOA.

“Preparations for putting peace sit-in tents in Kabul, Zabul, Paktia, Khost, Bamyan, Balkh, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Farah are already underway. We will not stop until our demand for peace is met,” he added.

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Growing demonstrations

Demonstrations have begun in western Herat and central Bamyan provinces, where dozens of protesters got together and expressed their solidarity with the Helmand peace sit-in.

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“The call for peace is the voice of all Afghans and it cannot be attributed to a specific tribe, group or party,” Faqir Ahmad, a protester at a Herat peace sit-in tent, told VOA.

At a gathering in central Bamyan province, activists announced their backing of the Helmand sit-in.

“Today we pronounce our support for the peace and advocacy movement of our brothers in Helmand,” Ismail Zaki, a civil society activist in Bamyan, told VOA.

Government reaction

While at an international conference in Kabul in late February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. He advocated for the peace movement across the country.

“I welcome the campaign in Helmand and other provinces where women, elders and youth have gathered to seek peace and raise their voices against war and violence. And I hope this peaceful national movement will be strengthened and supported by the people in large numbers,” Ghani said in a Dari tweet on Wednesday.

The Taliban have yet to officially respond to the Afghan government’s offer of unconditional peace talks.

The Afghan High Peace Council (HPC), a government body tasked with talking to the insurgents, also praised the initiative of Helmand residents.

“I call on Tahrek-e-Taliban, the commanders of the Taliban, the people who are living in Taliban-controlled areas, let’s end the war and embrace peace,” Karim Khalili, chairman of the HPC, told a gathering on Wednesday in southern Kandahar province.

Taliban’s stance

While the Taliban initially rejected the local plea for peace, the insurgent group has since softened its stance.

A Taliban official requesting anonymity told VOA that his group is looking forward to meeting and talking with the protesters.

“It is a totally new subject for us. We are studying it and we will meet with these people and listen to their demands and will try to find out why they are making such demands from the Taliban alone,” the insurgent official told VOA.

That meeting apparently happened. According to the organizers of the sit-in, local Taliban groups in Helmand have supported their call for peace.

“Local Taliban delegations visited us, extended their support and expressed their frustration of war,” Khyber, a sit-in organizer, told VOA. VOA