Fighters loyal to ISIS have seized substantial territory in Afghanistan, according to an ominous Reuters report June 29. Witnesses who fled fighting in Nangarhar province told reporters that hundreds of ISIS fighters in convoys of pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns seized several villages that were held by the Taliban—and put local opium fields to the torch. "They burned poppy fields in Shadal village and banned shops from selling cigarettes," said tribal elder Malek Jan. Taxing opium production is a key source of Taliban revenue, but Reuters reports that ISIS loyalists in Nangarhar appeared to have other sources of money. Witnesses said they had plenty of cash. It is unclear where the money is coming from, but it frees ISIS to stigmatize the Taliban as soft on drugs.
Chicago documentary collective Kartemquin Films announced that it will make director Brent E. Huffman's new release Saving Mes Aynak available for free to the people of Afghanistan on the digital platform VHX. The film follows Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races to save the remains of Mes Aynak from imminent demolition by China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), a Chinese state-owned mining company that wants to develop a mammoth copper project on the site. Located in Afghanistan's Taliban hotbed of Logar province, Mes Aynak was built 2,000 years ago by the ancient Buddhist civilization—on top of a Bronze Age site dating back some 5,000 years. Only 10% of the site has so far been excavated, and time is running out. Laws protecting antiquities apparently go unenforced due to official corruption. Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to plunder the site, selling the artifacts on the black market to fund their insurgency. Huffman received death threats from the Taliban for his filiming work at the site. (Al Jazeera, Newsweek, July 1; Inside Pulse, June 25)
The Guardian reports May 29 that women are being officially denied the vote in "the most socially conservative regions" of Pakistan, where local elections were held over the weekend. In races for district and village council seats in Hangu and Malakand districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, deals have been struck with village elders barring women from voting—and not for the first time. In a parliamentary by-election in KP's Lower Dir district earlier in May, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency turned out to vote. Reporta said mosques broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by "baton-wielding men" who blocked the few women who did show up to vote. A court in Peshawar threw out a petition brought by 12 women from Lower Dir who demanded the election be re-run. The case was dismissed in just 15 minutes. Siraj-ul-Haq, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, argued that the women of Lower Dir had chosen to respect local traditions by not voting. Jamaat-e-Islami governs KP in coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricket star Imran Khan.
Afghanistan's Primary Court in Kabul sentenced four men to death on May 5 for the mob killing of a 27-year-old woman. Farkhunda was killed March 19 after being accused of burning a copy of the Koran, although an investigation later determined she never did. The attack was captured on cell phone cameras as Farkhunda was beaten, thrown from a roof, run over by a car and dragged to a river bank. The nationally-televised trial had 49 suspects, including 19 police officers, charged with murder, assault and encouraging others to engage in assault. Four were sentenced to death, eight defendants were sentenced to 16 years in prison, and several others still await sentencing. Judge Safiullah Mojadedi dismissed the cases against 18 of the defendants. Mojadedi also ordered another police officer arrested for allegedly freeing a suspect in this case. The trial began just four days ago.
At least eight have been were killed and scores injured in Niger in two consecutive days of angry protests over the Charlie Hebdo affair. The French cultural center was attacked and several churches burned. Protests began outside the grand mosque of capital Niamey Jan. 16, and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Police in Algiers fired on protesters with rubber bullets after rioting broke out at an anti-Charlie march Jan. 17. In Pakistan a local photographer was hit by gunfire and seriously wounded in protests outside the French consulate in Karachi. Angry protests are also reported from Afghanistan. A demonstration in Chora district, Uruzgan province, followed Friday prayers at a local mosque where a cleric asked worshippers to rally in support of the Charlie attackers, who he praised as "true mujahedeen." (EuroNews, AFP, BBC News, News24, Jan. 16)
Well, the supposed NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan was formally announced Dec. 28. A quiet ceremony in Kabul was arranged in secret due to increasing Taliban strikes in the area, including suicide bombings and gun-battles. On Jan. 1 the US-led International Security Assistance Force is to be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission—with nearly 12,500 foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan, the big majority supplied by the US. Officially, they are not to participate in direct fighting. The Pentagon's "Operation Enduring Freedom" is now to be replaced by "Operation Freedom's Sentinel," in turn part of NATO's new "Operation Resolute Support." (Jurist, DoD) The AP story, as presented on HuffPo, headlines: "US Formally Ends War In Afghanistan" Emphasis on the "formally," eh? Reads the lead: "The war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces." How can a war that is "still raging" come to an "end"? Similar absurd claims marked the US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011. Is Iraq at "peace" now? We utterly reject this stupid, arrogant US-centrism that universally infects left, right and center in the United States. The war in Afghanistan is not over, and the US has no power to "end" it!
The Pakistani military said Dec. 6 that it killed Adnan Shukrijumah, a senior al-Qaeda operative, in a raid at Shin Warsak in the Taliban-stronghold tribal agency of South Waziristan. (See map.) One soldier was also killed during the operation. The militants were supposedly under the protection of local Taliban leader Mullah Nazir. (Long War Journal, Dec. 6) Four days earlier, at least five Taliban militants were killed in a US drone strike in Shirzad district of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. (See map.) (News Tribe, Pakistan, Dec. 2) The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, have been using Afghan territory as a rearguard but are now under pressure from a renewed effort against them by Kabul and its international backers. According to Reuters, their leaders have had to flee towns along the border for refuge in remote mountain villages. An air-strike on Nov. 24 hit a house where Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah had stayed the night before and killed two commanders, one Taliban source said. The Taliban in this area are also facing opposition from local tribesmen, who have been organized into a paramilitary force. Kunar governor Shuja-ul Mulk Jalala said: "Villagers, backed by a unit of Afghan police and army launched an operation against the Pakistani Taliban. Villagers asked for some support and weapons to fight them. Tribal elders complained that there were no difference between good or bad Taliban and decided to drive them out." (Reuters via Samaa, Pakistan, Dec. 4)
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 7% from 209,000 hectares in 2013 to 224,000 hectares, according to the 2014 Afghanistan Opium Survey (PDF) released Nov. 12 by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Opium production may increase 17%, with yields estimated to reach 6,400 tons in 2014 compared to the previous year's total of 5,500. These increases come after record highs were marked in 2013, when cultivation rose 36% and production by almost a half over 2012.