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Residents of Kunduz in Afghanistan Fear another Attack from Taliban Terrorist Group

Afghan government and its NATO allies seem confident the Taliban would not be able to run over Kunduz, but that has done little to reassure the population

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People live in fear in Afghanistan due to Militant attacks. VOA
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A bulldozer was busy clearing up the burnt remains of a shop destroyed during more than a week of fighting. Nearby, a man sold vegetables on a cart amidst heaps of charred bricks. Almost two weeks after the Afghan government, with NATO support, managed to fend off a Taliban attempt in early October to take over Kunduz city, residents were trying to get their lives back together.

Even though the Taliban failed to take over the city the way it did for a few days in 2015, the fighting, and the subsequent looting, destroyed many businesses. Residents complained of the high costs that war had imposed on them.

“A loaf of bread has shot up from five to 30 Afghanis. One liter of gas has gone up 50 to 80, so gas is now 300 Afghanis,” Shafiqullah, a resident of Kunduz, protested.

In the city square, a traffic policeman blew his whistle to direct the unruly traffic as bicycles weaved their way in and out of rows of cars and rickshaws; three-wheeled taxis popular in the region.

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Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces sit on the back of a police pickup in Kunduz city, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2016.
Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces sit on the back of a police pickup in Kunduz city, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2016. VOA news.

The main bazaar was full of pedestrians. Carts selling roasted corn or other snacks blocked the footpaths. Smoke, along with the appetizing whiff of roast meat, rose from a shop selling kebabs, a staple Afghan dish.

A casual glance on the streets gave an impression that things were usual, but locals said they continued to live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty. Few seemed to have confidence in the government’s ability to protect them against the Taliban.

“They can come anytime they want,” said Mohammad Idrees, speaking in local Dari language. “All entrances to the city are open. My house is in danger at night. No one is here to stop them. There is no police, nobody to stop them entering the city.”

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Afghan security forces keep watch in front of their armored vehicle in Kunduz city, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2016.
Afghan security forces keep watch in front of their armored vehicle in Kunduz city, Afghanistan, Oct. 4, 2016. VOA news.

His concerns seemed legitimate. It looked like most of the security – the Humvees, the tanks, the trucks, the personnel – were concentrated in the city center, with little presence towards the outskirts.

The road that the VOA team took from nearby Baghlan province to Kunduz last Friday afternoon also seemed to have little security presence. Convoys of destroyed trucks and trailers every few kilometers provided evidence of Taliban attacks, but most of the police checkposts, several of them half destroyed from past fighting, were vacant.

Taliban militants are known to randomly set up illegal checkpoints on that and other roads leading to Kunduz, especially early mornings and after dark, to stop traffic going into or coming out of the city.

It seemed easy for them to do so. The districts surrounding Kunduz city still have heavy Taliban presence with areas considered sympathetic to it. An illegal checkpoint could mean something as simple as a couple of Taliban members walking or driving up to the road on their motorbikes from a nearby village and waving their AK-47s to stop traffic.

Afghan government and its NATO allies seem confident the Taliban would not be able to run over Kunduz, but that has done little to reassure the population.

“People’s shops are destroyed, businesses have shut down, people are living in fear,” said Musa Jan describing life in Kunduz. “People think there will be more attacks and the city will collapse again.” (VOA).

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA