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Threat to Future Political Stability? US Commander Worries about Aid Taliban Receives from Pakistan, Russia and Iran

Moscow is allegedly helping and arming the Taliban in a bid to contain the influence of Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan

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FILE - U.S. commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, speaks during a change of command ceremony at the Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2, 2016. VOA

The “malign influence” of Pakistan, Russia and Iran with the Taliban-led insurgency, and concerns about future political stability of the Afghan government threaten international efforts aimed at stabilizing the war-raved country, warns a top U.S. commander.

“We’re concerned about the external enablement of the insurgent or terrorist groups inside Afghanistan; in particular where they enjoy sanctuary or support from outside governments,” said General John Nicholson, leader of NATO’s Resolute Support Afghan mission.

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He told reporters at the Pentagon Friday, the Haqqani Network of terrorists, which is fighting alongside the Taliban, still poses the greatest threat to Americans, coalition and Afghan partners from its sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan, VOA
Pakistan and Afghanistan, VOA

“And the Haqqanis hold five American citizens hostage right now,” Nicholson said. “I think this is worth remembering as we think about the Haqqani Network. And they remain a principal concern of ours, and they do enjoy sanctuary inside Pakistan.”

Pakistani officials, however, insist their security forces have uprooted any infrastructure Taliban insurgents and their allies were using for cross-border attacks, and extensive efforts are being undertaken to secure the porous Afghan border.

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Russia, Iran

Nicholson raised concern about Taliban insurgents’ links to Russia and Iran, saying they are not advancing the cause of stability in the region.

Moscow is allegedly helping and arming the Taliban in a bid to contain the influence of Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan and prevent it from threatening neighboring central Asian states.

Speaking at a U.N. General Assembly session late last month in New York, Russian envoy Vladimir Safronkov even called for easing U.N. sanctions on the Taliban for promoting peace talks between warring sides.

“So, Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban,” Nicholson said.

But he dismissed assertions about the Taliban’s successes against rival IS fighters. Instead, he said, Afghan forces and the U.S. counterterrorism effort are the ones taking on and “achieving the greatest effect” against loyalists of the Middle Eastern terrorist group in Afghanistan.

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“So, this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents,” Nicholson added.

Iran and Taliban

The general suggested Shi’ite Iran maintains contacts and influence with the Taliban for similar reasons. He said Afghan officials have engaged both Iranian and Russian governments over the issue.

“We’re hopeful — speaking now as commander Resolute Support — that these outside actors will act in a positive way, so we can work together to help bolster the capability and legitimacy of the Afghan government, not the belligerents,” Nicholson said.

He also called for Afghan leaders to make sure their internal political rivalries do not undermine security efforts in the country.

A lack of electoral reforms, internal rivalries plaguing President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government, growing political opposition and the recent unseating of several Afghan ministers by an increasingly assertive parliament all have fueled political uncertainty and confrontation.

“And one possible risk of Afghan political instability is a fracture, but we have not seen this happen within the security forces,” Nicholson said. He praised Afghan security forces for prevailing against the resurgent Taliban in the outgoing year and appeared upbeat about their future successes.

“You know, my message to our Afghan partners and members of the political opposition is that we respect your political process, but please don’t allow that process to undermine security gains, which have been made this year at such great cost.” (VOA)

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Find out How Coronavirus Pandemic Has Disrupted Global Food Supplies

Explainer: How Coronavirus Crisis Is Affecting Food Supply

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coronavirus
People wait in line to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Havana, Cuba. VOA

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global food supplies and is causing labor shortages in agriculture worldwide. This is the latest health news.

Are there food shortages?

Panic buying by shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of staples such as pasta and flour as populations worldwide prepared for lockdowns.

Meat and dairy producers as well as fruit and vegetable farmers struggled to shift supplies from restaurants to grocery stores, creating the perception of shortages for consumers.

Retailers and authorities say there are no underlying shortages and supplies of most products have been or will be replenished. Bakery and pasta firms in Europe and North America have increased production.

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Food firms say panic purchasing is subsiding as households have stocked up and are adjusting to lockdown routines.

coronavirus
Agricultural workers clean carrot crops of weeds amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a farm near Arvin, California, U.S. VOA

The logistics to get food from the field to the plate, however, are being increasingly affected and point to longer-term problems.

In the short term, lack of air freight and trucker shortages are disrupting deliveries of fresh food.

In the long term, lack of labor is affecting planting and harvesting and could cause shortages and rising prices for staple crops in a throwback to the food crises that shook developing nations a decade ago.

What’s disrupting the food supply?

With many planes grounded and shipping containers hard to find after the initial coronavirus crisis in China, shipments of vegetables from Africa to Europe or fruit from South America to the United States are being disrupted.

A labor shortage could also cause crops to rot in the fields.

As spring starts in Europe, farms are rushing to find enough workers to pick strawberries and asparagus, after border closures prevented the usual flow of foreign laborers. France has called on its own citizens to help offset an estimated shortfall of 200,000 workers.

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More wide-scale crop losses are looming in India, where a lockdown has sent masses of workers home, leaving farms and markets short of hands as staple crops like wheat near harvest.

Is food going to cost more?

Wheat futures surged in March to two-month highs, partly because of the spike in demand for bakery and pasta goods, while corn (maize) sank to a 3½-year low as its extensive use in biofuel exposed it to an oil price collapse.

Benchmark Thai white rice prices have already hit their highest level in eight years.

Swings in commodity markets are not necessarily passed on in prices of grocery goods, as food firms typically buy raw materials in advance. A sustained rise in prices will, however, eventually be passed on to consumers.

coronavirus
A farmer feeds iceberg lettuce to his buffalo during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bhuinj village in Satara district in the western state of Maharashtra, India. VOA

Some poorer countries subsidize food to keep prices stable.

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The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that a rush to buy by countries that rely on imports of staple foods could fuel global food inflation, despite ample reserves of staple crops.

Fresh produce such as fruit or fish or unprocessed grains such as rice reflect more immediately changes in supply and demand.

Will there be enough food if the crisis lasts?

Analysts say global supplies of the most widely consumed food crops are adequate. Wheat production is projected to be at record levels in the year ahead.

Also Read- Every Hospital in US May Treat COVID-19 Patients: Health Human Service Agency

However, the concentration of exportable supply of some food commodities in a small number of countries and export restrictions by big suppliers concerned about having enough supply at home can make world supply more fragile than headline figures suggest.

Another source of tension in global food supply could be China. There are signs the country is scooping up foreign agricultural supplies as it emerges from its coronavirus shutdown and rebuilds its massive pork industry after a devastating pig disease epidemic. (VOA)