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Gunmen Attack Military Parade In Iran

3 Hour Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

At least 24 people were killed and dozens wounded in a gun attack on a military parade in Iran's southwestern city of Ahvaz on September 22. State television said gunmen opened fire at the event, targeting a stand where Iranian officials were gathered to watch an annual military parade marking the start of the country's 1980-88 war with Iraq. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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What’s Next for the Haqqani Network?

19 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

Earlier this month, the Taliban announced that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder, and leader of the feared Haqqani Network terror group, had died. The Haqqani Network is a militant outfit fighting against the Afghan state and the U.S.-led forces that support it. It is a particularly potent faction of the Afghan Taliban.  Jalaluddin Haqqani was once a leader of the mujahideen fighters targeting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, before eventually turning his attention to the U.S.-led NATO forces that entered the country in 2001. Today, Washington regards the Haqqani Network as one of the greatest militant threats in the country where it has fought a 17-year war.  In this first edition of the AfPak File, a new podcast series jointly hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Woodrow Wilson Center, a group of experts discusses what impact Haqqani’s death may have on the Haqqani Network and on the war in Afghanistan; what we know about the Haqqani Network’s numbers and location; what role it plays in the insurgency in Afghanistan; what its relationship is with Pakistan; how it may figure in a potential peace process in Afghanistan; and how it affects the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The guests were Sahar Khan, visiting research fellow at the Cato Institute; Daud Khattak, reporter and editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Maashal; Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center; and Haroun Mir, a founder of the Center for Research and Policy Studies in Kabul. The podcast was moderated by Mohammad Tahir, media manager for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Afghan Boy And His Dog March For Peace

18 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

WASHINGTON / KABUL -- After losing his mother to war, 10-year-old Hikmatullah decided to join a peace movement, members of which have been walking hundreds of kilometers to different regions of Afghanistan since June with the message of peace and an end to violence. “A mortar hit our house and killed my mother. I joined the peace marchers because I don’t want other kids to see their mothers die,” Hikmatullah told Voice Of America (VOA). Hikmatullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name, is calling on the warring sides in Afghanistan to make peace so that he and others can return to school. “I want peace because I want to go back to school,” he added. Hikmatullah and his father joined the Helmand peace march in southeastern Ghazni Province. Once in Kabul, the father returned to his hometown of Ghazni, but Hikmatullah decided to continue to accompany the movement in the members' journey to northern Afghanistan. The group made it to Mazar-e-Sharif city, the capital of northern Balkh Province, on September 14 after walking barefoot a distance of close to 650 kilometers for 32 consecutive days. “Our message is the message of peace,” read a banner held by members of the march who left Kabul on August 10 on their way to Balkh. The journey has been challenging and tough but full of hope, one of the members of the movement told reporters as they arrived in Balkh. The peace movement that Hikmatullah joined began in southern Helmand Province in the form of a sit-in in the aftermath of a terror attack near a sports stadium in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, which killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more. The attack occurred while a wrestling match was underway. Initially, it was viewed as just another routine terror attack that killed civilians, and it would have remained so had it not been for the residents of Helmand Province, who decided that they had to act. Following the sit-in, a group of men decided to march for peace from Helmand to the capital, Kabul, walking more than 800 kilometers and crossing several provinces to protest war and violence. The youngest peace activist found a four-legged friend named Sarana along the way from Kabul to Balkh. The street dog joined the activists when they departed Kabul for northern Balkh Province on August 10. “At first we thought the dog would stop following us, but she didn’t. We named her Sarana [observer] because she looks after every member of our group,” Abul Malik Hamdard, a member of the movement, told VOA. “Sarana would bark if she saw a stranger among us,” Hamdard added. The movement demands an immediate cease-fire and the beginning of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. “All we want is peace. We need peace in Afghanistan, and we seek support for our demands,” Mohammad Musa Azad, another member of the movement, told VOA. Before heading to Balkh, the group launched a sit-in in July for several days in Kabul in front of the embassy of Pakistan and demanded that Pakistan end what the movement called covert support for the Afghan Taliban. The peace movement also sent a bloodstained letter in July to the United Nations to protest against Taliban supporters. Pakistan denies supporting the Taliban and maintains that the militant group controls a large swath of territory inside Afghanistan. The Taliban warned members of the peace movement in early April to avoid going near areas under their control and instead instructed them to launch their protest near an Afghan and NATO military base. They also accused the movement of being a U.S. project. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgent group, said in a statement that the peace marchers should talk about what he called the “occupation of Afghanistan.” “They are not speaking about the occupation or the withdrawal of foreigners. Their objective is that we lay down our weapons and accept the regime imposed by the invaders,” Mujahid said. Members of the movement, however, deny Taliban allegations that the group is a U.S. project and maintain that their movement is “grass-rooted.” “We are ready to be put on trial if the Taliban could prove our movement is a U.S. project," Zmarai Zaland, a member of the movement, told VOA. The Taliban continue to reject peace talks with the Afghan government and instead insist on talking only with the United States. The United States does not rule out talking with the insurgent group but continues to maintain that any talks with the Taliban should be Afghan-led. In July, a U.S. delegation led by Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia at the State Department, reportedly held preliminary talks with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar. The two sides are to meet again in September, according to a Taliban official, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The official told AP they are waiting on a date from the United States to meet in Doha, Qatar. The United States has neither denied nor confirmed meeting with the Taliban, but Wells told a group of reporters at the State Department in July that recent developments, including the unprecedented cease-fire in Afghanistan, suggest that the Taliban will come to talks. “You have an international community consensus that the Taliban leadership must engage with the Afghan government. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t engage with us, that we wouldn’t engage with them in support of a peace process … that’s ultimately between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Wells said. “I think the problem or frustration that [the] international community has is that the Taliban have never put forward empowered leaders to drive political negotiations,” she added. It has yet to be seen whether the Taliban would eventually agree to talks, but Hikmatullah and his friends are committed to pressing for peace. -- Voice Of America

A Vision Of Central Asia's Energy Future

18 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

The Asian Development Bank has a program to help Central Asian states better provide energy to their populations through the use of renewable resources. But any conversion to greener, more affordable energy sources could threaten personal fortunes in Central Asia. (The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.)

Pakistani Army Chief Visits Beijing After 'Silk Road' Tension

17 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, began a three-day visit to China on September 16, Pakistan's military announced, days after a Pakistani minister stirred unease about Chinese Silk Road projects in the South Asian nation. Bajwa is the most senior Pakistani figure to visit staunch ally China since the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in August, and his trip comes a week after China's top diplomat visited Islamabad. Pakistan has deepened ties with China in recent years as relations with the United States have frayed. Bajwa may be hoping in Beijing to smooth out any Chinese alarm at comments last week by Pakistan's commerce minister, Abdul Razak Dawood, who suggested suspending for a year projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistani leg of China's Belt and Road Initiative that includes recreating the old Silk Road trading route. Bajwa, the chief of army staff (COAS), regularly holds meetings with world leaders due to the Pakistan armed forces' outsize influence in the nuclear-armed nation, where the military controls security and dictates major foreign policy decisions. "During the visit COAS will interact with various Chinese leaders including his counterpart," military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted on September 16. Beijing has pledged to invest about $60 billion in Pakistan for infrastructure for the Belt and Road project. Dawood, in an interview with the Financial Times, also suggested the CPEC contracts had been unfairly negotiated by the previous government and were too favorable for the Chinese. Later he said the comments were taken out of context but did not dispute their veracity. The critical comments were published soon after China's top diplomat, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visited Pakistan and the two sides reaffirmed the mutual benefits of the Beijing-funded projects. On September 13, Pakistan's government said it wanted CPEC to include more projects with a focus on socioeconomic development, something that would align more with the populist agenda of Khan's new administration.

Pakistan PM To Offer Citizenship To Afghans Born In Pakistan

17 Sep 2018 Gandhara - RFE/RL Gandhara - RFE/RL

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an unprecedented announcement on September 16, pledged to offer Pakistani citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Afghans born to refugee families his country has been hosting for decades.  The United Nations refugee agency and local officials say there are 2.7 million Afghans, including 1.5 million registered as refugees, in Pakistan. The displaced families have fled decades of conflict, ethnic and religious persecution, poverty, and economic hardships in turmoil-hit Afghanistan.  "Afghans whose children have been raised and born in Pakistan will be granted citizenship inshallah (God willing) because this is the established practice in countries around the world. You get an American passport if you are born in America," said Khan, who took office last month. "Then why can't we do it here? We continue to subject these people to unfair treatment," the Pakistani prime minister said at a public event in the southern port city of Karachi.  U.N. surveys suggest that around 60 percent of Afghan refugees were either born in Pakistan or were minors when their parents migrated. War-shattered Afghanistan is therefore alien to most of these young people who are already part of the local economy in different ways.  This group of refugees, officials say, are reluctant to go back to Afghanistan, where security conditions have deteriorated in the wake of the stalemated war between U.S.-backed Afghan security forces and the Taliban insurgency.  Khan noted in his nationally televised remarks that without Pakistani national identification cards and passports, refugees have been unable to find decent legal jobs or get a quality education at local institutions.  These people, the prime minister said, will eventually be forced to indulge in criminal activities, posing security issues for areas like Karachi, the country's largest city and commercial hub. Afghans are a significant portion of the nearly 20 million residents in Karachi.  "They are humans. How come we have deprived them and have not arranged for offering them national identification card and passport for 30 years, 40 years?" Khan lamented.  The Pakistani leader explained that since he is also directly overseeing the federal Interior Ministry, which is responsible for granting passports and identification cards, he will instruct his staff to make efforts without further delay to offer Pakistani nationality to the people "who have come from Afghanistan and whose children are raised and born here."  Khan spoke a day after his foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, visited Afghanistan, where he discussed among other issues the fate of the registered Afghan refugees who have until December 31 to stay in Pakistan legally.  An official statement issued after Qureshi's daylong trip to Kabul said that in his meetings with Afghan leaders, the foreign minister "underlined the need for dignified, sustainable repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland through a gradual and time-bound plan."  Pakistani authorities have lately complained that Taliban insurgents waging attacks inside Afghanistan have been using the refugee communities as hiding places. Both countries accuse each other of supporting militant attacks against their respective soils. The allegations are at the center of bilateral political tensions.  In a meeting last week with visiting UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, Khan assured him his government will not force Afghan refugees to leave Pakistan. -- Voice Of America