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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
  • 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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Pakistan Increases Efforts To Save The U.S.-Afghanistan Peace Talks

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington.

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Imran Khan, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Imran going around world begging for funds: Sindh CM, VOA

Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track, but official sources in Islamabad maintain the responsibility for the “success or failure” of the fledgling peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides.

The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Prior to his departure Wednesday from Kabul, Khalilzad told reporters that talks with the Taliban will “happen very soon. That’s what we’re working toward.” He did not elaborate further.

Meanwhile, in a significant move, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and discussed the efforts being made for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua led their respective delegations in talks in Islamabad, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khan’s office said in a statement that Ghani expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s “sincere facilitation” for Afghan peace and reconciliation.

It said the prime minister “assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan through an inclusive peace process, as part of shared responsibility.”

Official sources in Islamabad expected “important developments” over the next two days but they would not share further details. “There is no room for missed opportunities” under the circumstances, they insisted.

Pakistani officials maintain in background interviews with VOA that the U.S.-Taliban talks are being facilitated in the hope that they would ultimately lead to an intra-Afghan dialogue for political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. All sides in the peace process will share “the credit and benefits of a success,” they insisted.

“Similarly, given sincere desire and efforts of everyone, no one should be exclusively blamed if the main interlocutors fail to agree due to own lack of flexibility that is very much required from both the U.S. and the Taliban at this stage,” a senior official privy to the Pakistani peace diplomacy told VOA.

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U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, Jan. 17, 2019. VOA

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan where he briefed Ghani and other top officials of Afghan government on the U.S.-led peace initiative.

The Taliban has held several meetings with Khalilzad’s team in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but the insurgents have persistently refused to engage directly with the sitting administration in Kabul. Their refusal is blamed for a lack of progress in negotiations that started last summer, after American diplomats gave in to a major Taliban demand and met them directly.

Khalilzad, however, made it clear on Wednesday the insurgent group would have to engage with the Afghan government for the process to move forward.

“The road to peace will require the Taliban to sit with the Afghan government. There is a consensus among all the regional partners on this point,” the Afghan-born U.S. special envoy told reporters in Kabul.

He went on to warn that if the Taliban chose to fight over peace talks, the United States would support the Afghan government.

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A general view of the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, May 2, 2015, site of several past negotioations with the Taliban. VOA

The Taliban threatened earlier in the week to pull out of all negotiations if the United States backed away from discussing the key insurgent demand for a troop withdrawal plan and pressured the insurgents into speaking to the Afghan government.

Diplomats privy to the peace process support the U.S. effort for the Taliban to speak directly to the current administration in Kabul to resolve internal Afghan matters. They see the Ghani-led National Unity government as a “legitimate” entity possessing official representation at the United Nations and maintaining diplomatic missions in world capitals.

The last substantial talks between Khalilzad and Taliban officials took place in Abu Dhabi about a month ago and Pakistan took credit for arranging it and bringing an authoritative team of insurgent negotiators to the table.

Officials in Islamabad say that Pakistan’s “biggest contribution” has been that it has “broken the political stalemate that was there in Afghanistan for several years.”

Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly stated that finding a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is a top foreign policy priority for his government. While speaking to Khan on Thursday, Ghani invited him to visit Kabul at his earliest convenience and the Pakistani leader reciprocated by inviting the Afghan president to visit Islamabad.

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U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

Pakistan has long been accused of sheltering Taliban leaders and covertly helping them orchestrate insurgent attacks, charges Islamabad rejects.

U.S. officials, however, acknowledge the “positive role” Pakistan has played in the current Afghan peace effort. The thaw in traditionally mistrusted bilateral ties was visible earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump announced he intended to maintain a “great relationship” with Pakistan.

Also Read: Peace Talks With The U.S. Stalled: Taliban

“So, I look forward to meeting with the new leadership in Pakistan. We will be doing that in the not too distant future,” said Trump.

Islamabad swiftly welcomed the remarks, which raised official expectations in Pakistan for an official invitation to Prime Minister Khan to visit Washington, though the Trump administration has so far given no such indication. (VOA)