Afghanistan Theater

Hekmatyar: Afghanistan's ultra-ironic peacemaker

Afghanistan's government signed a peace agreement Sept. 22 with Hezb-e-Islami, the militant group of Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Representatives of the movement and Afghan officials signed the accord in a ceremony broadcast on live TV. The deal of course grants impunity to Hekmatyar, who is accused of countless atrocities. Hekmatyar was not present at the signing, which is intended to pave the way for him to return from hiding to Kabul. He must still personally sign the accord with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for it to come into force. Mohammad Amin Karim, head of the insurgent delegation, was present at the ceremony. He said: "This is not just a peace deal between Hezb-e-Islami and the government of Afghanistan, it is a beginning of a new era of peace all around the country." Another Hezb-e-Islami leader, Qarib-ur-Rehman Syed, assured the US State Department's Voice of America Afghanistan service: "Hezb-e-Islami considers itself a...party of the people... we apologize from those who were hurt."  (Khaama PressBBC News, Sept. 22)

Civil society responds to Pakistan hospital blast

Hardline Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for an Aug. 8 suicide bombing that killed at least 70 at a hospital in Quetta, capital of restive Balochistan province. The attacker targeted a crowd that had gathered as the body was brought in of Bilal Kasi, a prominent lawyer who had just been assassinated. Several lawyers and journalists were among the dead. (BBC News) Lawyers across the country will boycott court proceedings for three days to protest the attack, the Pakistan Bar Council announced. (Pakistan Express-Tribune) Journalists have also staged demonstrations in various cities, chanting slogans against terrorism and the Balochistan government over a lack of security measures taken despite imminent threat. (Dunya News)

Afghanistan: civilian casualties reach record high

Civilian casualties have reached a record high in the first half of 2016, with 5,166 civilians recorded killed or maimed, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported (PDF) July 25. More than a third of those have been children, according to the report, and the total number of civilian casualties since 2009 has now climbed to 63,934, including 22,941 deaths and 40,993 injured. Remarking on the latest figures, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said:

Afghanistan: ISIS claims massacre of Hazaras

ISIS claimed responsibility for twin suicide blasts that killed at least 80 and wounded 230 Shi'ite Hazaras who were gathered in Kabul for a protest demonstration July 23—the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001. The attack represents a major escalation for ISIS in Afghanistan, which so has largely been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar. The attakc was claimed in a short statement posted by Amaq Agency, the ISIS media arm. The Taliban issued a statement rejeccting the attack, saying it was aimed at sowing divisions among Afghanistan's communitie. The Talibam waged a campaign of genocide against the Hazaras during their time in power in the 1990s.

What was behind Af-Pak border clashes?

Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed June 20 to peacefully resolve a border dispute after clashes and a tense stand-off over Islamabad's plan to build a barbed-wire separation barrier at its Torkham border crossing. Fighting broke out on June 12, leading to fatalities on both sides—including two children on the Afghan side of the line. The crossing, in Pakistan's Khyber Agency, was re-opened afrter both sides agreed to de-escalate following a high-level meeting in Islamabad. Tensions began in April, when Pakistani authorities demolished the homes of some 300 Afghan families living in Torkham to clear way for the "gate," as the barrier is being called. The houses were bulldozed after a number of Afghan nationals refused to comply with a four-day deadline to vacate the area and cross into Afghanistan. The families protested that they had legal residency, and that the expulsions were being carried out improperly.

Mullah Mansour death: blow to Pakistan?

The apparent killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a US drone strike May 22 actually took place in Pakistan—and without the consent of Islamabad, which has demanded a "clarification" from Washington in the hit. It was also the first US drone strike in Pakistan's restive province of Baluchistan, rather than in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where they have mostly been concentrated. The US has flown drones out of a base in Baluchistan, but never actually carried out any strikes there until now. The FATA is seen by Islamabad as something of a special case due to al-Qaeda's presence there, and the US has been given a free hand in the Tribal Areas. The insurgency in Baluchistan, in contrast, is seen strictly as Pakistan's internal war—despite the fact that the Afghan Taliban had evidently established it as their new staging area, with FATA getting too hot. This Taliban consolidation in Baluchistan was presumably permitted (if not actually overseen) by the Pakistani state. The strike on Mansour was apparently carried out from Afghan territory, and by the Pentagon rather than the CIA. And there are other ways in which the strike seems to indicate a break between Washington and Islamabad...

1,000 Afghans flee fighting every day

About 1,000 Afghans have fled their homes due to fighting each day since the beginning of the year, and aid workers can't reach many of them, the UN says. Internal displacement due to conflict rose 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, and this year could see another increase. About 118,000 people fled their homes in the first four months of 2016, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in a report May 15 (PDF). "It's been a rather alarming rise in the number of families displaced," Stacey Winston, an OCHA spokeswoman in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told IRIN.

US: Afghanistan hospital attack not a war crime

US Central Command released its final report April 29 on the October air-strike that hit a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, finding that the strike was not a war crime. The investigation concluded that the gunship's ground crew and operators were not aware they were firing on a medical facility. Because there was no intent to fire upon a medical facility, there was no war crime, the report concluded. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed his condolences in remarks and sent a memorandum (PDF) directing specific actions to prevent future incidents. Sixteen individuals are reportedly facing discipline for their roles in the attack. MSF said it will review the report and reiterated calls for an independent investigation.

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