Defying the Taliban with love

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Naimat Khan  TFT Issue: 06 Jan 2017

 

A few hundred metres from where the Taliban maintained their courts, communal harmony prevails. Naimat Khan reports from Manghopir.

 

By the end of 2013, Manghopir was the incontrovertible Ground Zero of the Taliban in Karachi. Its major neighbourhood, Sultanabad, built on qabza land (i.e. under the occupation of the land mafia), was home to both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud faction of the Taliban. In the foot of the mountainous ridge forming the border between Sultanabad and Ittehad town, the Taliban had a multipurpose office, built along the lines of their office in Miramshah bazaar in North Waziristan Agency. There, the ‘Ameer sahib’ would summon people to the Taliban’s ‘Shariah’ court. Southward in Sultanabad is the ANP Chowk, and also known as Madina Bakery. In the Taliban era, the Chowk was a symbol of terror in the vicinity. Bodies of around 87 people, including 17 policemen and 10 local Awami National Party (ANP) leaders and activists, were recovered from there. As the Taliban’s hold grew, locals say, the Manghopir Police Station, by the Manghopir River, was also closed down. From Sultanabad and nearby areas, violence and crime in the city was directed: ranging from bank heists to bomb blasts; and from targeted killings to attacks on political workers and minority sects.

But all was not bleak in this Taliban-infested part of Karachi. Less than a mile away from the center of violence, a tightly knit community with a sizeable proportion of four different religious and sectarian affiliations lived in a small colony, resilient in the face of waves of violence and political turbulence in the area. The colony is situated in the city government leprosy hospital and extended to Yaqoob Shah Basti. In the center of the colony are four places of worship of different religious affiliations: a mosque, a temple, a church, and an imambargah, all of which face each other.

Unlike the rest of the city where ethnic and religious identities reign supreme, the residents of this colony play down their differences. Many do not like to being identified by their religion, sect, ethnicity or language. Others speak of their respect for the others’ faith and ethnicity as their strength. That respect, they say, has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi.

Residents believe respect for others’ faith and ethnicity has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi

“I was admitted to the Leprosy hospital in late 60s. At that time almost all doctors were British. They treated us with immense compassion and would advise us to live in peace and love. I think their frequent emphasis on peaceful coexistence resonated with the community,” said 85-year-old Sohna Faqir hailing from Lasbela, Balochistan. Faqir recovered to full health at the hospital and yet did not leave the area. He was drawn to the care and camaraderie in the community and decided to settle here.

In the 1890s, a group of British doctors, visiting the area, came across patients of leprosy at the Mangophir Mazar bathing in the hot sulphur springs – also called ‘Mangi’ or Garm-aab. Back then it was famous that the springs had healing powers. When the visiting doctors saw the patients in pain, they were moved to do something. “They [the British] went back, collected funds and came back to setup the hospital in 1896,” according to Faqir.

“The Mandir existed before the hospital was established in 1896 but later during the British rule a Masjid and a church was setup for the patients, their attendees and other dwellers of the town,” said the 85 year old. As the population increased, Faqir said, an Imambargah – called the Imambargah Ali Raza – was built.

“Until 1986, the Sunni and Shia Muslims would offer prayers at the KMC Jamia Masjid. Later Imambargah Ali Raza was established,” said Noor Islam, a local journalist and resident of the same neighborhood, and added, “Despite separate places for offering their prayers, there has never been sectarian discord in the colony.”

For many years, Manghopir, a town founded by the 13th century saint Pir Haji Syed Sakhi Sultan, was home to Muhajirs, Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Seraikis, Pakhtuns, Balochis, Memons, Bohras, and Ismailis. In 2008, thousands of displaced civilians from Waziristan started moving into the area. Following the Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan, the demography of the area changed rapidly.

“After the operation, the Taliban militants came here in droves, started taking shelter in the neighbourhood, and by 2012-13 they achieved a complete hold over the locality, making it no-go area for political workers and law enforcement agencies,” said Islam.

“We have been living here for so many decades together. We are one people practicing different faiths, which made us strong when Taliban would freely roam around on the main road,” said Babu Lal, caretaker of the of the centuries’ old Mardeshwar Mahadev Mandir, the oldest of the four worship places in the locality. Facing the hospital, a few steps to the east, is the Imambargah and few steps to the west are the Church and the mosque.

According to Lal, the community regularly observes ritual of shab-e-barat, Diwali, and Holi, in which Muslims and Christians also participate. “From 2012 to 2014, we – as a precaution – would celebrate the events inside our houses. After the Karachi operation in 2015, we resumed our celebrations out in the open.” Even when we moved indoors, our Muslim brothers continued to be a part of our celebrations, Lal added. “Our Muslim friends make it a point to wish us on Christmas and Easter,” said William Gill, 45-year-old councilor of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and added, “Muslims join us at the Baptist Church in our prayers on Christmas.”

Asfandyar Mir, doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, researching politically motivated violence and the dynamics of Taliban control in Karachi, recently visited the community. Commenting on the uniqueness of the ethnic and religious tolerance in the area, he added: “from a social science perspective, the fact that such islands of harmony exist amidst extreme turmoil is always remarkable. Most analyses on Karachi’s communal relationships start with the observation that in times of violence identities are hardened, and even apolitical religious and ethnic groups are compelled to seek security with their co-ethnics or religious groups. But this diverse community contradicts that trend, having withstood pressures in a very challenging part of the city.”

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Making it deadly

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Naimat Khan

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KARACHI: Terrorists in Pakistan do not rely on industrial grade bombs. Instead, to target both law enforcers and ordinary civilians, they have relied on their own specialized cadres to make different kinds of bombs. On April 12, 2016, Karachi Police’s Counter Terror Department unearthed a facility used to make bombs in the Gadap town. In the raid one bomb maker named Muhammad Mujtaba aka Rehan was eliminated. One of his accomplices, named Abdul Saboor aka Hamad was killed, whereas anther, named Muhammad Murtaza, was arrested. Police also recovered 80 kg of explosive material, circuits, ball bearings, bottle bombs, tennis ball bombs, bomb manufacturing material, laptop, memory cards, and USBs.

Raja Umar Khattab, senior counter terrorism official who led the raid, told this scribe that the arrested Muhammad Murtaza aka Abu Huraira claims that the dead Rehan was the last expert bomb maker alive in the city. Rehan was the protege of Hashim aka Babu, a master bomb marker with 14 years of experience, especially car bombs. Babu was killed in a gunfight with the police in April 2015.

After Babu – who had put together the bomb manufacturing setup in Gadap town and supplied explosive devices to one Abdus Salam Sindhi of Liaquatabad – was killed, the Counter Terror Department’s assessment was that it had set back AQIS’s bomb making capability significantly. “After that shoot out, I thought that this was it. As I had extensively worked on hunting the bomb makers and dented all three groups – the brainwashers, the hit-men and bomb makers – of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), I believed that no locally made lethal weapon will be used by terrorists, at least for next couple of years,” Khattab told The Frontier Post.

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But six months later, on October 17, 2016, the police were surprised when terrorists hurled hand grenades at an Imambargah in Liaquatabad killing one child and leaving several women hurt. Media reported it as cracker blast. “For a while I believed that my assessment after April had been wrong,” Khattab told and added “but when we arrested Ishaq Booby and Asim Capri, accused of Amjad Sabri’s murder, they disclosed that they had hit the Shia Majlis with grenade having ball bearing wrapped to it”.

“The terrorists had wrapped ball bearings with it for ensuring it results maximum fatalities.” It was clear to Khattab then that Taliban and AQIS were innovating around their constraints.

In March 2013, the BBC Urdu first reported terrorists – normally knowing for using Russian made hand grenades and smoke grenades – were using the tennis ball bomb. The tennis ball bomb was an invention of the Taliban, according to the Police, working like a small bomb or cracker but had a bigger sound impact. Taliban increased its lethality by adding ball bearings of 2mm and nails. Such tennis ball bombs were made at the factory in Gadap Town.

The loss of the bomb making facility at Gadap is likely to hurt the Taliban as it comes on the back of sustained counter terror efforts by the law enforcement agencies.

“We have always known the TTP uses local bomb making factories, but with the success of Zarb-e-Azb, we know that their capabilities have been decimated,” according to Khalid Muhammad, Director General – CommandEleve, adding, “We also know that they have ‘imported’ bomb makers from AQAP and IS Khorasan to give them a more logistic advantage in quick hit attacks with IEDs, much like the tennis ball or shoe bomb”.

Muhammad is of the view that the security agencies must shut down capabilities of terrorists comprehensively, which they are currently doing.

“Second, we must get ahead of their technology by understanding what technology these groups have used in other battle spaces like Iraq and Syria,” he concludes.

They are for maximum terrorism, whether inventing new or adding more lethality to the factory-made, the terrorists will continue their search for deadly weapons to use, said another analyst.

Published in The Frontier Post 

Fighting the Taliban: Bad medicine

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Naimat Khan

State-backed fighters may seem like a good idea to fight insurgents, but the formula has not always worked

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The romantic notion of the Pashtun fighting for his homeland against homegrown and foreign extremists was embodied by the lashkars that started to push back in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at a time when good news was desperately hard to come by. These groups of fighters and peace committees were formed to fight the Taliban as early as 2004. Since then, the Fata secretariat estimates that more than 1,400 of them and anti-Taliban elders have been killed for doing just that. The latest casualty was a former Awami National Party MPA, Muhammad Shoaib, in Swabi on July 18 this year. Many of them have, as a result, either fled to Islamabad or left the country given the threat to their lives.

This is, however, one side to the complex story of lashkars. For if history teaches us anything, it is that when states fight terrorists through private militias it has almost always been counterproductive. And while one does not mean to belittle their sacrifices, it is worth highlighting how this mechanism can also come with its own blow back. In the case of some lashkars and peace committees it has come in the shape of abuse of power.

Some committees ended up being headed or populated by men with a history of crime. An elder, Haji Imran Afridi, gives the example of the Adezai peace committee run by a former contract killer, Dilawar Khan, and the Badhbair committee that was led by a man named Fahim Khan who was found to be involved in land grabbing and extortion. These criminals now had legal cover and were provided money, arms and vehicles by the government. “The ones previously reigning through illegal arms had the government’s arms in their hands, which increased their strength manifold,” said another elder, who did not want to be named.

The police came to rely on committees. According to elder Haji Imran Afridi, the Badhbair police station would refer cases to the committee daily. A shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, corroborated this by narrating an incident in which a man who was unable to return a loan found himself facing the peace committee’s wrath after a police complaint was lodged. The police had refered the case to the committee. “[The victim] was with the women and children of his family when [the committee members] dragged him to the main bazaar,” said the shopkeeper. “I, like other shopkeepers, came out of my shop. But no one could dare question them.”

This formula for the dispensation of justice meant that committees were acting as recovery officers and judges at a jirga. “The committees soon started to pressure people by holding jirgas in which their orders would be final,” Afridi says.

Several family members of former goons-turned-committee leaders rode the crest of their power and even entered the political arena by contesting local body elections. The brother of Adezai anti-militant lashkar chief Dilawar Khan, who was later killed, stood from the platform of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The party’s provincial chief, Amir Muqam, had even attended his corner meetings.“Since the committees were close to police officers and politicians, they tried to enter politics,” explains Afridi, adding that dozens of committee members with bad reputations even won in the last local government polls.

“Peace committees, typically in Pakistan, have been formed by politically motivated individuals to put themselves in the spotlight,” says Khalid Muhammad of the think tank Command Eleven, who hails from Swat himself. “And it’s no surprise that some of the committee members have protected and provided cover for terrorists in their own communities due to the threats made against them if they were to leak information.” Take the example of Muslim Khan, the TTP Swat spokesman, who was hiding in the home of one of the peace committee members in Qambar, he adds.

147 is the number of pro-government tribal elders who have been killed in the tribal areas May 2005 to Nov 2015 (source: South Asia Terrorism Portal)

This problematic behaviour did, however, come to the notice of the authorities eventually. According to one security official, when the committee members started oppressing locals, those at the helm of affairs realized they should be checked before they turned into another Taliban force. Another security official, based in Peshawar, added: “When some of those crossed their limits a ‘safai mohim’ (cleansing drive) had to be kicked off both to get rid of them and to warn others others.”

It does seem to be counter intuitive, however, to have to discipline a force that is supposed to be on your side. “When it comes to dealing with armed groups on its soil, Pakistan stands where it stood post 9/11,” argues Asfandyar Mir, a Chicago-based scholar and counter militancy expert. “The state fights groups that are averse to its ideological project … puts up with those who deploy agreeable symbols and ideas while offering tactical utility within or outside the borders, and neglects the rest.” For him, this violence management strategy is fraught with serious risk of blowback. Remember the case of Abdullah Mehsud who had formed a peace committee against Baitullah Mehsud back in 2004?

According to one view, lashkars and peace committees have at least in many cases minimized the fatalities of the security forces and police and something must be said for that. But as the Swat-based analyst Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai puts it, how productive could they be if they are being targeted themselves?

Peace committees: who, when, how

Swat: In Swat the committees were formed directly by the army after the start of the operation in 2009 and have remained under its supervision. They had no lashkar or active fighting force and were never on the offensive. Instead, they assisted with information sharing. They would not go on patrol unlike the committees in FATA and troubled parts of settled districts. Between 40 and 90 of these members have been killed in the last seven years.

Settled districts: Unlike in Swat, the committees in the settled districts were formed by police (though the security agencies had given clearance for all of them). The committees in the settled but troubled districts of Charsadda, Nowshera, Peshawar, Lakki Marwat, DI Khan and Bannu mostly comprised men with criminal backgrounds or a bad reputation. There was no direct presence of the army, so they were on the frontlines against the Taliban’s attacks. More than 500 of these members, including 97 killed in the Shah Hassan Khel blast on January 1, 2010, have paid with their lives. They were mostly killed by militants but some recently as part of the “Safai Mohim”.

FATA: The peace committees were formed as far back as early 2004. The committees and Amn Lashkars were abolished by former KP governor, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, in 2015. He replaced the lashkar with jirgas, which were already a part of tribal culture. The committees were indigenously formed by elders and worked according to the tribal hierarchy of governance.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist

@NKMalazai

Writing on the wall

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What does the anti-ISIS graffiti in Karachi’s Shia neighborhoods mean?

By Naimat Khan

Graffiti in Karachi supporting the Islamic State, known locally by its Arabic acronym Daesh, have raised concerns about the Middle Eastern terrorist group’s expansion into Pakistan recently, but locals say they have now seen slogans against the network painted on the walls of the city’s Shia neighborhoods.

Residents of four major Shia localities – Abbas Town, Ancholi, Rizvia and Jafar-e-Tayyar Society – said the killing of Shias and the targeting of their holy sites by the IS in Syria and Iraq has given rise to strong anti-IS feelings among the community in Pakistan, surpassing even their anger towards the Taliban.

“The assertion is true for a number of reasons. While the Taliban have also targeted the Shia in Afghanistan during their rule, the Islamic State group specifically targeted the Shia on ideological and strategic grounds,” says Hasan Abdullah, an Istanbul-based Pakistani security expert.

Athar Mehdi, whose brother Akhter Mehdi was killed in the March 2013 Karachi bombing in Abbas Town, says terrorist groups that target innocent people are equally cruel, “but we see IS as more dangerous.” He was talking to me in his shop on the ground floor of a reconstructed building that had been destroyed by the 2013 bombing. “Buildings have been rebuilt, and our business is flourishing again, but the emotional wounds of that bombing by the Taliban are still fresh.”

Sajjad Haider, from same neighborhood, says the Shia community had been targeted by the Taliban in the past, but the emergence of Islamic State had increased their worries. “Remember the Safoora shooting by IS-inspired youths that left 46 people of the Shia Ismaili community dead?”

“If Taliban are killing everyone, militants of the Islamic State are specifically targeting our community in Iraq, Syria and even in Pakistan,” says Kamil, a resident of Ancholi.

Some of the concerns of Pakistan’s Shias also come from their religious affinity with Syria and Iraq, according to Dr Abbas. “Those holy sites really matter to us,” says Irtiza Rizvi, a resident of Jafar-e-Tayyar Society.

But the spokesman for the organization Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Ali Ahmar, says the problem of terrorism is more widespread. “We don’t differentiate between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and IS,” he says. “They share the same approach, and they target both Shias and Sunnis.”

There are concerns that this rivalry towards the IS may translate into participation in the war against the group, especially in Syria in Iraq. Shia community leaders sternly deny that.

On May 2, AFP cited the Iranian state-run news agency IRNA to report that Tehran had passed a law to grant citizenship to the families of Pakistani ‘martyrs’ fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The MWM spokesman said the words of the source agency had been twisted. “The law applies only to those who had taken part in the Iran-Iraq war.”

The concerns are not new. On August 13, 2014, the National Counterterrorism Authority in Islamabad wrote a letter to the provinces that more than 2,000 Pakistani Shia students at the seminaries in Iraq had been “brainwashed” on sectarian lines. But there has been no substantiation of this allegation.

“Shia student and political groups in Pakistan do have a strong anti-IS sentiments. Some are actively campaigning against IS, while groups may have supplied manpower to anti-IS groups in Iraq and Syria,” says Asfandyar Mir, a US based researcher. “Boys from Kurram Agency’s Turi tribe have also joined anti-IS groups in Syria and Iraq, according to reports.”

Shia groups deny these reports.

The concerns about the emergence of sectarian fighting in Pakistan may have been fueled by the general interest among Pakistani Shias in the politics of the Middle East.

“For instance, there were widespread protests recently against the execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, there were protests against repression of the Shia community in Bahrain,” says Mir.

“Shias have differences with the Saudi Najdis and the Saud kingdom because of several reasons,” the MWM spokesman said.

There have also been reports of Sunni youth from Pakistan joining the IS in Iraq and Syria. A senior police officer told me two such young men had been appointed Qazis, or judges, by the group in a stronghold in Iraq.

According to Tariq Habib, an Islamabad based security expert, suspects from anti-Shia groups in Pakistan have been told by their leadership to leave for Syria via Balochistan.

If Shia and Sunni youth are joining the battles in Syria and Iraq, he is concerned that “sectarian violence will break all past records of Pakistan” when they return.

“Malik Ishaq’s extrajudicial killing was Pakistan’s way of stopping IS from consolidating itself in the country,” according to Mir.

Published in The Friday Times 

Karachi’s top bomb-maker is dead

Counterterrorism Department deals major blow to Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent 

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By: Naimat Khan

On April 13, the Counter Terrorism Department of Karachi killed two members of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in a gunfight in the Gadap Town locality, and seized weapons, explosives and equipment from a bomb factory that they unearthed.  Abdul Saboor and Muhammad Mujtaba died during the encounter, while Muhammad Murtaza was arrested.

During interrogation, Murtaza made some startling revelations.

“About 14 years ago, some militants from the Nazimabad neighborhood of Karachi parted ways with their organization Harkatul Mujahideen following a dispute. They renamed themselves Harkatul Mujahideen al Alami (HUMA), and orchestrated attacks on security forces, diplomatic missions and other targets of global importance,” according to Raja Umar Khattab, a senior cop fighting militancy and terrorism for more than 15 years.

In 2004, HUMA militants rented a shop in an apartment building in the city, and parked a van packed with 400 kilograms of explosives outside the premises to target the convoy of then president Gen Pervez Musharraf. The bomb couldn’t go off because of signal jammers, and the convoy passed safely.

It was the first group to use toy bombs

“The failed plan went unnoticed. The same van was later used in an attack on the American consulate in Karachi,” Raja Umar Khattab told me. The same year, the group orchestrated a bomb attack on a concert by the Indian vocalist Sonu Nigam in the port city. Then, they tried to target Americans staying at the airport hotel in a rocket attack, but the rockets went wayward and fell in Shah Faisal Colony.

HUMA was the first group to come up with toy bombs. The first such device was seized after an encounter with the police in the Kalakot area of the city.

By the end of 2008, most of the members of the group had been apprehended, and their plan to break Karachi’s central prison had been thwarted.

But because of weak prosecution and a lack of evidence, many of these militants were freed. Most of them fled to Afghanistan, where the group’s first chief Muhammad Imran, also known as Imran Bhai, was killed in a US drone strike.

Kamran Atif, the chief of the group’s Karachi chapter, was arrested in 2006 and served a life sentence.

In 2014, the militants associated with HUMA joined the AQIS en masse and took over its Pakistan branch. Their first emir is identified as Zarar, and also known by the names Naseem Bhai, Hanif Bhai and Ayub Bhai. He is stationed in Afghanistan, from where he directs the organization’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi chapters. “HUMA is the face of AQIS in Pakistan,” said Raja Umar Khattab.

Recent acts of terrorism in Karachi linked to the group include the murder of Dr Shakeel Auj and Urdu Blogger Aneeqa Naz, police say.

The AQIS Pakistan has three major wings, investigations have revealed.

One group, responsible for preaching, brainwashing and recruitment, consists of young people who have never been arrested and live normal lives at their homes in Karachi. They are hard to catch, police say, but stopping them is vital for eliminating the terrorist organization.

A second wing participates in militant activity. Most of its members are locals of Karachi, and people of Bengali and Burmese descent who have been born in the city.

The third wing consists solely of experts in manufacturing and planting bombs. Among its key members were a man identified as Hashim (nicknamed Babu) and another militant identified as Muhammad Mujtaba (also known as Rehan). The two men had arrived in Karachi as explosives experts for the group. Hashim, who had 14 years of experience in bombs and explosives, especially car bombs, was killed in a gunfight with police in April last year. Mujtaba – who had put together the bomb manufacturing setup in Gadap town and supplied explosive devices to one Abdus Salam Sindhi of the Liaquatabad neighborhood – was killed in the April 13 encounter.

In January 2016, the group resumed its activities using low-intensity bombs, referred to as crackers. Law enforcement agencies began to notice similarities between various blasts, and investigations led them to the two men killed on April 13.

The AQIS is a distinct organization, separate from another Al Qaeda group in Karachi, and the group of young militants in Karachi who are inspired by ISIS, according to Raja Umar Khattab.

An independent Al Qaeda group led by Umar Jalal began its own journey about the time AQIS was formed. A third IS-inspired group of youth, which attacked American professor Debra Lobo, killed human rights activists Sabeen Mahmud, and carried out the Safoora bus shooting, is a separate entity.

The AQIS is directed by Al Qaeda’s central leadership from Afghanistan’s Bramcha area, according to police. But heightened security at the border has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the network in Karachi to communicate with the Bramcha leadership, Raja Umar Khattab said. “They are now using memory cards, USB flash drives, and unsent draft emails for passing on messages to the network in Karachi,” the arrested man told the investigators. Police believes the killing of Mujtaba is a major breakthrough, but analysts say it may not be enough to eliminate the group.

“To counter transitional militants, such as those involved with the AQIS, the government should form a serious counterterrorism strategy,” says Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi based author and security analyst. “Identifying and distinguishing such militants is a proper intelligence-gathering exercise, which need strong collaboration among all law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”

For decades, groups like Harkatul Mujahideen have been allowed to change their names and reconstitute themselves, without any reprisal from the government, experts say, and that is where the problem lies.

“As they reconstitute, they look for new friends and allies. Al Qaeda and IS are the easiest choices in today’s plethora of militant groups,” says Khalid Muhammad, the director general of Islamabad-based think tank CommandEleven.

He says weak prosecution is another problem. Tahir Mihnas, the prime suspect of the Safoora carnage, and almost all the current leaders of AQIS including its Pakistani chief, were arrested in the past but have come out of jails.

“A report issued by the US State Department a few years ago discussed this exact issue – the release of hardcore terrorists from Pakistani jails,” says Khalid Muhammad. The report stated that Pakistan’s judiciary had released three out of four terrorism suspects that were brought to courts. “The reasons included loss of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, and fear of violence against the judge and his family.”

Zia Ur Rehman says it is hard to predict if military courts will solve these problems. “Only time will tell.”

 Published in The Friday Times 

Poppy Crops Thrive in Daish dominated areas of Afghanistan

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On Friday, May 6, 2016 Daily Times has reported that Brigadier General Charles Cleveand, a senior spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan has expressed fears that Afghan Poppy Crops Could Fuel New Taliban Attacks. I’am sharing my Story, which I did in January 2015 from Jalalabad, Capital of eastern Nagarhar province of Afghanistan.

Naimat Khan

JALALABAD: New crops of poppy have been cultivated in districts of Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan amid growing influence of the Islamic States – locally known as Daish – in the area, locals living in the eastern districts say.

A resident of Haska Mena district of Nangarhar province – who met this scribe in the provincial headquarter Jalalabad – told The Frontier Post on the condition of anonymity that new crops have been massively cultivated in eight districts of the province bordering Pakistan.

“All eight districts are situated on the border area,” source said, adding it was the highest cultivation over the last few years.

These districts, local sources informed, included Haska Mena, Achin, and three districts of Khugirani, Nazian, De Bala, Sherzad, Bachi Raga and Speen Ghar.

Most of the districts are resided by Shinwari tribe of Pashtun, who live on both sides of the border, they say.

Security situation in these districts is all time worst and it is almost impossible for the Afghan security forces to enter into these areas.

Security analysts and experts having close eye over the issues in these eastern districts say the hike in poppy cultivation was seen with the rise of militant of Islamic States, who after occupying the areas have asked the locals to cultivate the poppycrops.

“The hike in poppy cultivation and growing influence of ISIS are interlinked.”

“The ISIS militants, unlike Afghan Taliban, have encouraged the cultivation, which will become a market for the drug sellers in USA,” a security expert told on the condition not to be named due to security threats.

According to previous reports opium production in Afghanistan is growing like a weed — and nothing, not even billions of dollars of U.S. money, has been able to quell it.

Earlier the United Nations had claimed in its reports that the war-torn nation provided 90 percent of the world’s supply of opium poppy, the bright, flowery cropthat transforms into one of the most addictive drugs in existence.

“Afghanistan has roughly 500,000 acres, or about 780 square miles, devoted to growing opium poppy. That’s equivalent to more than 400,000 U.S. football fields — including the end zones,” John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said in a speech in May last year.

However, locals say a large number of youth in Nangarhar province, especially its head office, Jalalabad, has also been addicted to heroin and other deadly drugs.

When this author contacted the spokesperson of provincial governor, he said the reports were exaggerated, however, he didn’t rule out the cultivation of poppy cropsin the restive districts.

Published in The Frontier Post, Peshawar 

The flower of cricket blooms in war-torn Afghanistan

 Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Shahzad

Youths turn away from suicide bombing as Afghan cricket advances unparalleled

 

Naimat Khan

JALALABAD: The game of cricket had captivated the attention of the Afghan nation much before the world witnessed it national side’s heroics at the 2016 World T20 tournament.

The associate Afghanistan, the side which beat the World Champions West Indies in the T20 event, received a hero’s reception at the Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Stadium upon arrival. They were honored by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with civil awards.

“You do not only give honor to the Afghan nation, but hope,” the president said, while decorating the heroes with Ghazi Mir Masjidi Khan Excellence Award in a reception held at the presidential palace.

Though Afghanistan only managed to win against Windies, they won the nation’s hearts.

On a chilly winter evening much before the World T20 began, hundreds of youths gathered in Pashunistan Chowk, Jalalabad on December 29, 2015 to watch the second One Day International between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe on big screen.

Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, is considered as one of the most dangerous provinces of Afghanistan, where six districts are under influence of the militant Islamic States (IS) group.

The same province is now emerging as the hotbed for cricket in Afghanistan.

Karim Sadiq is one of the pioneers of cricket in the provincial capital, and was also the part of the squad featured in World T20.

When this scribe contacted Sadiq in late January this year, he seemed confident of his teammates.

“The historic win against Zimbabwe has boosted our morale and we are confident we will compete the full members of ICC,” he told this scribe before leaving for India to participate in the 2016 Asia Cup.

Although it couldn’t record any win in the Asia Cup, the young Afghan team left no stone unturned in World T20 – won all three matches of the qualifying round and beat the Windies – the champions.

“In recent years, Afghanistan have defeated some powerful teams,” said team captain Asghar Stanikzai in post-match presentation, adding, the team will witness more wins in the years to come.

From nothing to heroic

Ibrahim Momand, a Kabul-based sports expert recalls how in the 90s Pashto language daily Wehdat had stories on the Afghan cricket team visiting different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

However, the soccer enthusiast Afghans didn’t even know a national cricket team existed till they won six of seven matches they played with different counties of the United Kingdom.

Afghans became attracted to the game when the national side beat Ireland in the qualifying rounds for the 2009 World T20 tournament.

However, the success wasn’t at all possible without support of the Afghan government, and the cricket board.

Sadiq says government ministers facilitate the Afghanistan Cricket Board.

“The board has funds and provides facilities to the players, attracting new talent,” he says. “Former president Hamid Karzai separated cricket from other games and established the board. Dr Ghani has also supported the team.”

Sadiq adds, “We have two grounds, each in Kabul and Jalalabad. A stadium will also be constructed in Khost. It may take long to host international sides but the grounds will improve domestic cricket.”

Learning from legends

Afghanistan is also thankful to Pakistan for its role in uplifting the game for them.

“We are thankful to Peshawar Cricket Association, which would allow two Afghans each in their club teams,” says Sadiq.

Sadiq says the training given by former Pakistani players such as Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif greatly impacted their game.

“Inzimamul Haq’s coaching helped us defeat Zimbabwe, Sadiq says. “We are appreciative of our Pakistani coach, who has worked hard on improving our batting technique.”

Once soccer, cricket has now become Afghanistan’s popular sport; attracting young, elderly and the women alike.  “Victory in a war-torn country brings happiness and pride,” a cricket enthusiast Sayed Kamal Sadat said.

Peace for cricket and cricket for peace

JalalabadCricket Fans from different districts of Nangarhar Province gathers to watch second ODI between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan on Big screen in Pakhtunistan Chowk of provicial capital Jalalabad: Photo Credit/Bashir Ahmed Gwakh

 Experts say Afghans do not spare revenge, and cricket is an alternative, positive exploit for the Afghan nation.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

Cricket spoils brainwashing efforts of the militants, he says.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

“If cricket is vital for peace, peace is also vital for cricket in Afghanistan,” says Sadiq. “A better security situation will help us host different teams in Afghanistan, where local crowd would support us”.

Ground ahead

Inzamam, Afghanistan’s batting coach, in a post-match briefing praised his team’s self-belief, and reiterated the call for more opportunities to play against the Full Members.

“All our previous matches have been neck-to-neck,” he said. “There haven’t been one-sided matches, it’s not like a team makes 200 against us and we are all out for 100 or 150. The team has been fighting, and the belief is always there”.

Afghan skipper Asghar Stanikzai adds,”In the next one or two years we will be a serious team and beat these Full Members. We have potential.”

After overpowering the Associates, it seems Afghans will soon achieve the target of joining the Full Members club of the ICC.

Published in The Frontier Post