Afghanistan
afghanistan

Pakistan backing Taliban takeover in Afghanistan?

The Taliban announced that they have taken the Panjshir Valley from the incipient National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA). In an audio statement from an undisclosed location, NRFA leader Ahamd Masoud pledged to carry on the fight, and called upon Afghans to launch a national uprising against the Taliban. Another NRFA leader, Fahmi Dashti, was reported killed in the battle for the Valley. News sources in India claimed he met his death in a targeted drone strike launched by Pakistan. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Afghanistan
kabul protest

Afghanistan: Taliban unleash first terror

As the Taliban, now in full control of Kabul, pledge an “inclusive” Afghan government in prepared press statements, deadly repression against anti-Taliban protesters is reported from the eastern city of Jalalabad. The day before Afghanistan’s independence day, protesters took to the streets of Jalalabad waving the black, red and green national flag—and tearing down the white and black Tawhid flag of the Taliban. Witnesses said Taliban fighters fired on protesters indiscriminately, and at least three were killed. On the day that Afghanistan won full independence from Britain in 1919, a similar protest was held in Khost, where social media videos again show Taliban fighters firing on demonstrators. No casualties were reported, but the city has been placed under a 24-hour curfew. A small demonstration by women demanding that their rights be respected was held  outside a police precinct in Kabul. “We want the rights we’ve had for the past 20 years,” signs read.  (Photo via Twitter)

Afghanistan
afghanistan

Afghanistan: Taliban seize provincial capitals

Taliban forces have dramatically stepped up their rapid advance across Afghanistan, seizing 11 capitals of the country’s 34 provinces. Herat and Ghazni, a strategic gateway to the national capital Kabul, were the most recent to fall. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is besieged, and India’s military is mobilizing an airlift to evacuate the country’s nationals there. Kandahar, in the Taliban’s southern heartland, is also the scene of heavy fighting, as is Lashkar Gah, capital of adjoining province of that name. Reports of rights violations that “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” have emerged from areas under Taliban control. More than 359,000 Afghans have been displaced this year, bringing the total displaced in the country to over 5 million. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Afghanistan
afghan army

Afghanistan: US withdrawal on hold?

With a May 1 deadline for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. “Intra-Afghan” negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul opened in Doha in September, but remain deadlocked over fundamentals of the power-sharing deal—with the Taliban rejecting President Ashraf Ghani’s insistence on remaining in office for the remainder his five-year-term. Predictably, they haven’t even got around to discussing protection of minority and women’s rights, or the role of sharia law in the new order. Meanwhile, civilian casualties are mounting, and the Taliban has just launched a spring offensive. (Photo: Khaama Press)

Iran
Stratofortress

Will strikes on Iran be Trump’s Plan B?

The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration’s belated initiation of the transition process. But along with the news of Murphy’s capitulation come reports that the US has deployed heavy  bombers to the Middle East, and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a secret meeting in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Simultaneously, Yemen’s Houthi rebels have conveniently claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a Saudi oil facility in the port of Jeddah. And this all comes just days after the disconcerting news that Trump had gathered his cabinet and advisors for a White House conclave weighing the options for military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With his attempted judicial coup failing, Trump’s Plan B could be postponement (read: cancellation) of the presidential transition under pretext of a world crisis of his own making. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Afghanistan
Afghanistan

Will human rights be betrayed in US-Taliban deal?

More than a year of US-Taliban negotiations bore formal fruit with the signing in Doha of what is being called a “peace deal” by Washington’s envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The pact calls for the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments under the agreement. “Intra-Afghan” talks are to follow, with the aim of negotiating a permanent ceasefire. Amnesty International, however, raised concerns about what the  deal could mean for Afghanistan’s women and religious minorities, urging: “Any peace process involving the parties to the conflict in Afghanistan must not ignore the voice of victims.” (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Palestine
Gaza march

Palestinians reject ‘Swindle of the Century’

Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace” plan (sic), unveiled at the White House in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed with the very Trumpian epithet “Deal of the Century.” It is actually a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept the status quo of bantustans, surrender much territory to actual Israeli annexation, give up their long-standing demand for justice for refugees—and call it “peace.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predictably responded with “a thousand no’s.” And Palestinians immediately mobilized in outrage, in both the West Bank and Gaza. (Photo: Maan News)

Afghanistan

Trump-Taliban schmooze: don’t call it ‘peace’

The utterly surreal news that Taliban leaders were invited to Camp David—a week before the 9-11 commemoration, no less!—will further fuel the perverse fantasy that Trump is a hippie pacifist. But the supposed “peace” talks with the Taliban completely sidelined Afghanistan’s actual government and civil society alike—and were bitterly protested by Afghan women and their advocates. It was to be a “peace” crafted by genocidal clerical-reactionaries and imperialists, with the actual aim to prosecute a war on their mutual enemy, the ISIS insirgency that has now emerged in the country.  ISIS are now the “bad” (undomesticated) clerical reactionaries, who will not abandon their ambitions to attack the West. This only sends the message (entirely accurate, from the imperial persepctive) that Western lives matter, and Afghan lives do not.  (Photo: Khaama Press)

Central Asia
Uighurs

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: pilgrims slain in Kandahar attack

In the latest of mounting attacks across Afghanistan, an bomb blast near Kabul University left eight people dead and some 30 wounded. Days earlier, a roadside bomb killed at least 11 pilgrims riding a truck in the southern province of Kandahar, headed for the shrine that houses the tomb of Sufi Shah Agha, a companion and relative of the Prophet Mohammad. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Kandahar authorities blamed the Taliban, which often uses roadside bombs to target security forces in the province. Days before that, at least six people were killed and 14 wounded when a suicide bomber targeted a wedding celebration in Nangarhar province. Paradoxically, the escalating violence comes just after Afghan officials met face-to-face with Taliban leaders as well as US negotiators at the peace talks in Doha, Qatar. (Photo of Shah Agha shrine via Geoview)

Afghanistan

Afghan women advocates wary of ‘peace’ talks

Direct talks between US officials and the Taliban are advancing in Qatar, aimed at ending the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. But advocates for Afghan women view the talks with increasing skepticism, voicing their concern that hard-won rights could be bargained away. Afghan Women's Network is calling upon the Taliban to take trust-building measures such as the re-opening of girls' schools in areas they control, So far, the group sees few signs of improvement. Forced displacement, indiscriminate violence on civilians, stoning of women and men, closing of schools and the erasure of women from public life are common in Taliban-controlled areas, according to the AWN. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Greater Middle East

Bahrain upholds life sentence of opposition leader

Bahrain’s highest court  upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with then-Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but sentenced to life in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices." (Photo: Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain)