Qatar Opens Its Doors to All, to the Dismay of Some—(Qatar Is It A Time Bomb Waiting To Explode?)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Migrants in a park at Doha Point in Doha, Qatar. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

DOHA, Qatar — Take a drive in Doha, leaving behind the mirrored skyscrapers and palm-fringed avenues of this gas-rich city, and the protagonists of myriad conflicts are in easy reach.

In one western district, near the campuses hosting branches of American universities, Taliban officials and their families can be found window-shopping in the cavernous malls or ordering takeout meals from a popular Afghan eatery.

A few miles away at a vast United States military base with 9,000 American personnel, warplanes take off on missions to bomb the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — and sometimes the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Officials from Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, work from a luxury villa near the British Embassy, and recently held a news conference in a ballroom at the pyramid-shape Sheraton hotel.

The Sheraton hotel in Doha. CreditKarim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And an elderly Egyptian cleric, a fugitive from Cairo, is a popular fixture on the city’s swank social scene, and was recently spotted at a wedding by an American diplomat who was attending the same celebration.

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This is the atmosphere of intrigue and opulence for which the capital of Qatar, a dust-blown backwater until a few decades ago, has become famous as the great freewheeling hub of the Middle East.

Against a backdrop of purring limousines and dhows moored in the bay, Doha has become home to an exotic array of fighters, financiers and ideologues, a neutral city with echoes of Vienna in the Cold War, or a Persian Gulf version of the fictional pirate bar in the “Star Wars” movies.

Yet that welcome-all attitude is precisely what has recently angered Qatar’s much larger neighbors and plunged the Middle East into one of its most dramatic diplomatic showdowns. For more than a month, four Arab countries have imposed a sweeping air, sea and land blockade against Qatarthat, in a nutshell, boils down to a demand that Doha abandon its adventurist foreign policy, and that it stop giving shelter to such a broad range of agents in its capital.

So far, the blockade is not working, and the crisis looks set to worsen. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson flew back to Washington on Thursday after days of apparently fruitless shuttle diplomacy in the region. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain have also intervened, without success.

The blockading nations — Saudi ArabiaEgypt, the United Arab Emiratesand Bahrain — insist that Qatar is using an open-door policy to destabilize its neighbors. They say that Doha, rather than the benign meeting ground described by Qataris, is a city where terrorism is bankrolled, not battled against.

Qatar’s self-identity as a center of refuge dates to the 19th century, when its desolate and semilawless territory offered sanctuary to outlaws, pirates and people fleeing persecution across the Arabian Peninsula.

“It’s always been this place where waifs and strays and unwanted people ended up,” said David Robert, the author of “Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State” and an assistant professor at King’s College in London. “There was no overarching power on the peninsula, so if you were wanted by a sheikh, you could escape to Qatar and nobody would bother you.”

In the 19th century, Qatar’s founding leader, Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, called it the “Kaaba of the dispossessed” — a reference to the revered black cube at the Great Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and a figurative way of describing Qatar as a lodestar for those seeking refuge.

That national trait turned into a policy for Al Thani’s descendants, who since the mid-1990s have thrown open Qatar’s doors to dissidents and exiles of every stripe. Doha has welcomed Saddam Hussein’s family, one of Osama bin Laden’s sons, the iconoclastic Indian painter M. F. Husain and the Chechen warlord Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was assassinated in the city by Russian secret agents in 2004. (The agents were caught and later extradited to Russia.)

A QatarGas offshore drilling rig in the Persian Gulf. Qatar shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran.CreditUllstein Bild, via Getty Images

Qatar can afford to be generous. It shares the world’s third-largest gas field with Iran, yet has just 300,000 citizens, making it the richest country per capita. In recent decades, Doha has transformed into a gleaming metropolis of global ambition where luxury cars crowd the streets and world-renowned architects have traced its futuristic skyline. An army of imported laborers is building stadiums and subway lines for the 2022 World Cup.

But among fellow Arab states, Qatar’s image has been shaped by its contentious policy of come one, come all.

In Doha, wealthy Qataris and Western expatriates mingle with Syrian exiles, Sudanese commanders and Libyan Islamist’s, many of them funded by the Qatari state. The Qataris sometimes play peacemaker: Their diplomats brokered a peace deal in Lebanon in 2008 and negotiated the release of numerous hostages, including Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist being held in Syria, in 2014.

But critics say that, often as not, rather than acting as a neutral peacemaker, Qatar takes sides in conflicts — helping oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, or turning a blind eye to wealthy citizens who funnel cash to extremist Islamist groups in Syria.

And what infuriates the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians and Bahrainis most of all is that Doha has also provided shelter to Islamist dissidents from their own countries — and given them a voice on the Qatar-owned television station, Al Jazeera.

The Egyptian cleric seen at a wedding recently, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a prominent booster for the Muslim Brotherhood and once had an influential show on Al Jazeera, where he dispensed teachings on matters from suicide bombings to personal sexuality.

“We have the ‘children bomb,’ and these human bombs must continue until liberation,” he told his audience in 2002.

Even though Mr. Qaradawi is now 91 and stopped his TV show four years ago, his presence in Qatar is an irritant for Egypt, and his name is featured prominently on a list of 59 people that the blockading countries want deported from Qatar. They have also demanded the closing of Al Jazeera.

This and many of the demands from the blockading countries are seen as impossibly broad, leading to widespread pessimism that the standoff will end anytime soon.

“The Emiratis and the Saudis seem to have miscalculated their position,” said Mehran Kamrava, the author of “Qatar: Small State, Big Politics” and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. “They thought that if they went all-out with a blockade, the Qataris would balk. But they haven’t.”

Doha’s Taliban residents do not figure on the list of demands from the blockaders, but their presence does embody the wider debate around the merits of Qatar’s open-door approach.

Peace talks between the militants and Afghan officials, initiated by the United States in 2013, quickly collapsed. Yet a Taliban contingent stayed on, and Doha is now is home to about 100 Taliban officials and their relatives, who live comfortably at Qatari state expense, one Afghan official said.

There were further, unofficial talks in 2015 and 2016. But as the fight in Afghanistan grinds on, some experts question whether the supposed Taliban peace advocates might be quietly facilitating more war.

Michael Semple, a Taliban scholar at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said that until the blockade, Taliban leaders in Qatar were known to frequently travel by road from Qatar, through Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates, where they have investments, and to fund-raise there among the Afghan communities in the cities of Sharjah and Dubai.

“Clearly they are using their foothold in the gulf to try and fund-raise and legitimize,” he said. “If they haven’t broached the substantive issues around peace, and the other gains are modest, then you could argue that that Qatar initiative makes things worse.”

In recent years, Doha has been home to Khaled Mishal, who stepped down this year as leader of Hamas, and the country provided the group a site for talks with the former British prime minister and Mideast peace envoy Tony Blair, in 2015.

Although former Secretary of State John F. Kerry publicly criticized the Hamas presence, American officials privately say they would prefer Hamas was based in Doha rather than in a hostile capital like Tehran.

The promenade known locally as the Doha Corniche in Doha. CreditNaseem Zeitoon/Reuters

In keeping with its open-door approach, Doha was home to an Israeli trade office from 1996 to 2008. Although relations have soured, Qatar promises that Israel will be allowed to participate in the 2022 World Cup.

In the current crisis, Qatar is leveraging the wide range of ties its foreign policy has fostered. Food supplies and a few dozen soldiers from Turkey arrived in Doha after the embargo started on June 5. Turkish news reports say the military contingent could swell to 1,000 troops, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Doha in the coming days.

Late one night last weekend, revelers were spilling from a trendy hotel nightclub in Doha as two athletic Turkish men checked in. Entering the elevator with their bags, they declared themselves glad to be in Doha, and described themselves as working in the “defense sector,” then with a smile declined to say any more.

Afghan Soldier Kills 3 US Servicemen in Taliban Attack

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Afghan Soldier Kills 3 US Servicemen in Taliban Attack

Achin

Kabul, Kandahar – The Taliban claimed on Saturday an insider attack by an Afghan commando that left three American Troops dead US and Afghan officials said.

One US soldier was wounded in the incident.

Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP the Afghan commando had opened fire on US troops during an operation in the volatile Achin district.

“The (Afghan) soldier was also killed in the return fire,” he said.

The Pentagon said the families of the three dead soldiers were being informed.

“One US soldier was wounded and has been evacuated for medical treatment,” a spokesman added. “This incident is under investigation.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the deaths, saying the attack was carried out by an infiltrator.

This is a latest in a line of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks where Afghan soldiers have turned their weapons on international forces they are working with.

It also comes as the Taliban ramp up their campaign against the Western-backed government in Afghanistan, and as US President Donald Trump mulls sending more troops into the lengthy conflict.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed on Twitter that four US soldiers were killed in the attack. The insurgents are known to exaggerate battlefield claims.

Achin is also contested by militants of the ISIS group.

In April, the US military dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on a complex of caves in Achin used by ISIS fighters.

The deployment of the so-called Mother Of All Bombs killed dozens of extremists, but fighting in the area has continued.

American troops have partnered with Afghan soldiers in raids against ISIS Khorasan, claiming the local offshoot of the militant group based in Iraq and Syria is steadily losing ground in Afghanistan.

Green-on-blue attacks have been a major problem during NATO’s long years fighting alongside Afghan forces.

Western officials say most insider attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than insurgent plots.

Saturday’s attack came just hours after an errant US air strike killed and wounded at least six Afghan policemen in southern Helmand province, in the latest “friendly fire” incident.

Such strikes have bred deep mistrust between local and foreign forces.

Three US troops were wounded in March when an Afghan soldier opened fire in Helmand, in the first known insider attack on international forces this year.

Similar incidents have also plagued Afghan troops, depleting morale and causing mistrust within security ranks.

Asharq Al-Awsat

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Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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U.S. seen trying to calm waters between Qatar and Saudi Arabia  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. seen trying to calm waters between Qatar and Saudi Arabia

By Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland | WASHINGTON

The United States will quietly try to calm the waters between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, current and former U.S. officials said on Monday, arguing that the small Gulf state was too important to U.S. military and diplomatic interests to be isolated.

U.S. officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the current and former officials said.

In announcing the decision to cut ties, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of providing support to Shi’ite Iran, which is in a tussle for regional supremacy with Riyadh, and to Islamist militants. [nL8N1J252R]

Washington has many reasons to want to promote comity within the region. Qatar is host to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East at Al Udeid, a staging ground for U.S.-led strikes on the Islamic State militant group that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq. U.S. Donald Trump has made defeating Islamic State a priority of his presidency.

Further, Qatar’s willingness to welcome organizations such as Hamas, which Washington brands a terrorist group, and the Taliban, which has fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan for more than 15 years, allows contacts with such groups when needed.

“There is a certain utility,” one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. “There’s got to be a place for us to meet the Taliban. The Hamas (folks) have to have a place to go where they can be simultaneously isolated and talked to.”

The current and former U.S. officials said they were unable to identify precisely what may have triggered the four countries’ coordinated decision to cut ties, which was later followed by Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives.

They said the Saudis may have felt empowered by the warm embrace that Trump gave them when he visited Riyadh in May and adopted a harsh anti-Iran stance.

“My suspicion is (they felt) emboldened by what Trump said on his visit and … that they feel they have got some kind of backing,” said a former U.S. official. “I don’t know that they needed any more of a green light than they got in public.”

A senior administration official told Reuters the United States got no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis in Riyadh that the action was about to happen. The White House said on Monday it was committed to working to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf.

In Riyadh, Trump made an impassioned appeal to Arab and Islamic leaders to “drive out” terrorists, while singling out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.

SEEKING RECONCILIATION

U.S. officials in multiple agencies stressed their desire to promote a reconciliation between the Saudi-led group and Qatar, a state of 2.5 million people with vast natural gas reserves.

“We don’t want to see some kind of permanent rift and I suspect we won’t,” said the senior Trump administration official on condition of anonymity, adding the United States would send a representative if the Gulf Cooperation Council nations met to discuss the rift with Qatar. [nL1N1J21IX]

The GCC includes six wealthy Arab nations: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

“There’s an acknowledgement that a lot of Qatari behavior is quite worrisome not just to our Gulf neighbors but to the U.S.,” said the senior administration official. “We want to bring them in the right direction.”

Marcelle Wahba, a former U.S. ambassador to the UAE and the president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington think tank, said the United States had leverage but would use it discreetly.

“The U.S. will step up to the plate. How we will do it? I think it will be very quiet and very much in the background,” she said. “I doubt very much we will sit on the sidelines and let this crisis get more serious.”

Qatar’s backing of Islamists dates to a decision by the current ruling emir’s father to end a tradition of automatic deference to Saudi Arabia, the dominant Gulf Arab power, and forge the widest possible array of allies.

Qatar has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region’s many disputes. But Egypt and the Gulf Arab states resent Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as a political enemy.

“We are engaging with all of our partners … to find a way to reassemble some GCC unity to support regional security,” said another U.S. official, saying it was critical to “maintain the fight against terrorism and extremist ideology.”

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)

Why Korean Missionaries Wish They Were Still Imprisoned by the Taliban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

CPCHURCH & MINISTRIES

Francis Chan Explains Why Korean Missionaries Wish They Were Still Imprisoned by the Taliban

Jun 4, 2017 | 5:07 PM

New York Times best-selling author and popular Christian Pastor Francis Chan was a featured speaker at an annual Christian persecution conference on Saturday, and shared details of a conversation he had with a Korean missionary imprisoned and nearly executed by the Taliban in 2007.
(PHOTO: PULSE) Francis Chan addresses thousands of Christians gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.c. for Together 2016 on July 16, 2016.

Chan, who is the author of the popular 2009 book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God and is the co-founder and former teaching pastor at the Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, spoke for about a half hour at International Christian Concern’s The Bridge 2017 conference, which this year was hosted at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Chan, who is also the founder and chancellor of Eternity Bible College in Simi Valley, referenced Revelation 5:8 to speak about the importance of learning “obedience through suffering,” a concept that many Christians in the West may not be able to grasp by living their lives in comfort.

He also touched on how Christians are to obey the command given in Hebrews 13:3 — “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

“I believe that to remember [the persecuted] well means we care and we try to ease their pain and suffering,” Chan said. “But I think also to remember them well means we enter into their suffering and maybe some of us sacrifice our civilian affairs because we know we are living way too comfortably right now.”

Chan wondered if Christians who have never faced true suffering for their faith could be missing out on an opportunity to have an even deeper intimacy in their fellowship with Christ.

Chan then shared a conversation he had with one of the 23 Korean missionaries captured and held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007. Chan explained that when he visited Seoul for the first time, he had dinner with the missionary who detailed the the willingness he and some of his colleagues had to suffer for and with Christ.

Chan did not name the missionary or explain when it was the dinner took place.

“He talked about how they got into this argument because they found out that they were going to be killed one at a time. This man I was having dinner with was saying to this other guy, ‘Look, I know they are going to kill us one at a time. I die first,'” Chan recalled. “The other man said, ‘No, I die first.’ [The first] guy is going, ‘No, I am your elder. I die first.’ Then, the other man says, ‘No, you have not been ordained as a pastor. I am an ordained minister. I die first.’ That man was the first one that was executed.”

Two male hostages were executed before a deal was reached for the group’s release by the South Korean government. One of the martyrs was 42-year-old Pastor Bae Hyeong-gyu and the other was 29-year-old Shim Seong-min.

Chan explained that the missionary he spoke with also told him that some of the 16 female missionaries imprisoned with him and the other six male missionaries have told him since they returned to Seoul that they wish they were still captives of the Islamic extremist group.

Chan quoted the missionary as telling him: “‘These women that were in these camps with us, they come to me and they say, ‘Pastor, don’t you wish we were still imprisoned by the Taliban?'”

“They tell me, ‘When I was surrounded by these soldiers, I felt the presence of Jesus in there with me. Now that we are back in Seoul, I am trying to experience that intimacy with Him but I can’t. I fast and I pray and I don’t feel it. I would rather be back there because of the intimacy I had with him.'”

Chan then suggested that the presence of Jesus that these Christian missionaries felt while they faced the threat of execution is probably similar to what certain martyrs in the Bible experienced before they were killed.

“How great is Jesus if there is nothing better on this Earth than that intimacy and sharing the suffering. … It totally makes sense to me biblically,” Chan explained. “That’s why Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into this pit of fire and suddenly, the king is like, ‘Wait, why are there four people in there? Who is that fourth one?'”

“That’s why Stephen, when he is about to be stoned to death, goes, ‘I can see Him,'” Chan continued. “Is there a special fellowship that we share in that suffering that we will miss out on because we just think comfort is everything and we just want to pull everyone into our comfort and into our civilian affairs rather than joining in their suffering and losing our life so that we can actually find something so much better?”

Chan then concluded by citing Revelation 2:10.

“Be faithful, even until death,” Chan said. “That is a beautiful thing in the eyes of the Lord.”

“I don’t know about you, but the Lord is working my heart. I know what it looks like here in America, but I don’t think I want to end so comfortably,” he added. “I am scared of suffering but I think I am more scared of comfort. I want to join the Apostle Paul. I want to join Jesus. It doesn’t make sense to the world but it makes sense in the world if there is a resurrection today.

15 Soldiers Killed in Taliban Attack on Afghan Army Base

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

15 Soldiers Killed in Taliban Attack on Afghan Army Base

Taliban

Taliban militants attacked an Afghani army base, killing at least 15 soldiers following similar assaults earlier this week.

The Defense Ministry said that the attack took place in the Shah Wali Kot in the southern province of Kandahar.

The attack late Thursday came just three days after 10 Afghan soldiers were killed when Taliban militants stormed another base in the same area.

“The Taliban launched a coordinated assault on an army base last night (Thursday) in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province,” ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri told AFP.

“Fifteen Afghan army soldiers were martyred and five others wounded.”

Waziri said the insurgents were driven back and 20 of their fighters killed. There was no immediate response from the Taliban.

A provincial official who spoke on the condition of anonymity gave a higher death toll of 20.

The attack comes as Taliban insurgents intensify their annual spring offensive and their strength is growing, more than 15 years after they were toppled from power in a US-led invasion.

It highlights a growing insurgent offensive in Kandahar, where security has relatively improved in recent years under the leadership of police chief and regional strongman General Abdul Raziq.

Raziq had lashed out at the central government in Kabul on Thursday, accusing them of a plot to destabilize his province.

“Some political figures within the National Unity Government are trying to destabilize Kandahar like (neighboring) Helmand and Uruzgan provinces,” Raziq told a public gathering.

“Whenever there is an attack in Kandahar, the central government does not help.”

Also on Thursday, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at a security post in southern Helmand province killing three intelligence officials, a police spokesman said.

The attack also wounded four intelligence officials, said the spokesman, who gave his name only as Zaman. The provincial governor’s spokesman, Omar Zwak, confirmed the attack.

The Taliban in a statement claimed responsibility, saying the explosion killed Tor Jan, intelligence director for the Washer district in Helmand.

In western Badghis province on Wednesday, Taliban fighters attacked security checkpoints, killing six security forces, said Anwar Ishaqzai, provincial governor. He said five others were wounded, while 16 Taliban militants were killed in the fight with government forces.

The attacks mark another setback for NATO-backed Afghan forces. They come just a month after the Taliban killed at least 135 soldiers in the northern province of Balkh in the deadliest insurgent attack on an Afghan military base since 2001.

And in another deadly Taliban attack on security outposts in southern Zabul province on Sunday, local officials made desperate calls to Afghan television stations to seek attention because they were unable to contact senior authorities for help.

The battlefield losses have raised concerns about the capacity of Afghan forces, beset by unprecedented casualties and blamed for corruption, desertion and “ghost soldiers” who exist on the payroll but whose salaries are usurped by fraudulent commanders.

The Taliban launched their annual “spring offensive” in late April, heralding a surge in fighting as the US tries to craft a new Afghan strategy.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month warned of “another tough year” for security forces in Afghanistan.

The United States and several NATO allies are considering sending thousands more troops to break the stalemate against the resurgent militants.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Hekmatyar Calls Taliban to End ‘Pointless Unholy War’

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)
World

Hekmatyar Calls Taliban to End ‘Pointless Unholy War’

Kabul — In his first speech after his first public appearance in Afghanistan after nearly two decades underground, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar called on Taliban insurgents to “join the peace caravan and stop this pointless unholy war.”

He also urged all political parties to reconcile and seek change “without bloodshed.”

In September last year, the Afghan government signed a peace agreement with Hekmatyar and his militant group. In February, the UN Security Council lifted the sanctions imposed on Hekmatyar, which paved the way for his return to Afghanistan and involvement in the political process.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Hekmatyar’s public return, saying the former strongman would cooperate with the government.

“Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s return will have remarkable effects on peace, stability, prosperity and development in all aspects,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.

The agreement between Hekmatyar and Afghani government has been criticized by human rights groups because of the pardon he was granted. Afghani analysts and activists stated that the return of Hekmatyar and some of his fighter is an insult to the victims.

Hekmatyar was controversial during the Afghani war against the Soviets in the 80s. He was accused of ordering his fighters to bomb Kabul causing several casualties. He was Afghanistan’s prime minister for two brief periods, however, he did not rule Afghanistan sitting in Kabul.

Hezb-i-Islami led by Hekmatyar does not have any significant role in the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan currently. He was designated as a “terrorist” by the US state department in 2003.

Western and US officials praised the deal reached with Hekmatyar, hoping it would lead to a comprehensive peace agreement in Afghanistan.

During his speech, Hekmatyar focused on ending the current war in the country and urged the Taliban to adopt politics rather than war.

No one can rule the country by force, he said.

“If you are working to help Afghanistan, then we are grateful, but if you are fighting here for your own political and economic interests, we ask you to stop using Afghanistan as your rivals’ battlefield and instead face each other directly,” Hekmatyar said to the gathering in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman. “Don’t test your ammunition on our oppressed people.”

He stressed that negotiations must be done to achieve stability and peace in Afghanistan, saying that violence and war are not options. He addressed his opposition saying that everyone should forget the past and work together to build a country based on peace.

Hekmatyar’s return was welcomed in eastern Afghanistan by residents who have been exhausted by decades of war.

Between 1992 and 1996, he was known as the brutal warlord who destroyed entire neighborhoods during the civil war, and later took up arms against civilian rulers.

After the September 11 attacks in the US and the ensuing US invasion, Hekmatyar refused to join the new government and declared “Jihad” against foreign troops.

Some analysts believe that his return will further deepen the sectarian and ethnic disagreements thus creating more problems for the government.

Political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said that the Ghani will face more isolation from the allies who supported him during the elections. He added that disagreements between politicians of different ethnic groups are beginning to emerge.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Taliban Attack Military Hospital In Kabul Afghanistan: At Least 30 Dead And 50 Wounded

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN NEWS)

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) Gunmen disguised as medical personnel stormed a military hospital near the US Embassy in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people in a six-hour siege before Afghan security forces killed the attackers, authorities said.

The ISIS-affiliated news agency Amaq said the terror group claimed responsibility for the attack near Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic quarter.
First, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the south gate to the Sardar Mohammed Daud Khan hospital, said Sediq Sediqqi, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman. Known as “the 400-bed hospital,” it’s the country’s biggest and best-equipped medical facility.
Three gunmen then invaded the hospital, made their way to the second and third floors and opened fire, Sediqqi said. Among those killed were Afghan military personnel recovering from battle wounds, doctors and hospital employees.
Security forces and police mounted a counteroffensive. Heavily armed soldiers and armored vehicles surrounded the facility, a helicopter landed on the roof and a few patients climbed out of windows and stood on a ledge to escape the violence, video shows.
Soldiers killed the attackers about 3:30 p.m. local time (6 a.m. Wednesday ET) after six hours of fighting.
As soldiers cleared the building, they discovered bodies and the number of casualties quickly grew.
More than 50 people were wounded and taken to the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, said Smael Kawosi, media relation officer for the Ministry of Health. It’s not known whether any security personnel or police officers were killed.

Afghan security personnel gather outside the hospital.

The Taliban has claimed credit for other recent attacks. But a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mojahid, denied responsibility for this rampage in a tweet, saying: “Today’s attack on hospital in Kabul has nothing to do with the Mujahidin of Islamic Emirate,” using the group’s formal name.
In the vacuum of a Taliban claim, Amaq said ISIS claimed responsibility. Though it is credible that ISIS planned and carried out the attack, CNN has not independently verified the claim.
This is not the first attack at the hospital named after Afghanistan’s first president. In May 2011, suicide bombers got inside, and killed six people and injured 26 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Explosions, then gunfire

Attackers killed at least 30 people at the hospital.

Witnesses told CNN an explosion was first heard at 9 a.m. local time (11.30 p.m. Tuesday ET).
Afghan National Police special forces rushed in. “At first there was a firing followed by a huge blast,” an employee at a nearby hospital said.
An employee at an Italian restaurant nearby said she heard one explosion, then heard gunfire about 25 minutes later.
The attackers were not immediately killed because security forces were busy evacuating patients, the defense ministry statement said.

Attack condemned

US Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of Resolute Support and US Forces in Afghanistan, said the attack “is an unspeakable crime.” He praised security forces for the swift response, saying the forces deserve “our highest praise and respect.”
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said the attack shows terrorists “don’t follow rules and laws.”
“According to international humanitarian laws, hospitals are immune from attacks,” he said.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah tweeted: “I condemn the terrorist attacked on hospital in Kabul. While we work for peace, we’ll avenge the blood of our people.”
The US Embassy in Kabul said, “Targeting a medical facility providing care for the brave Afghans working to protect their fellow citizens has no possible justification in any religion or creed.”

India’s Defence Minister Gives Military Commanders Full Freedom To Combat Jihadists

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Friday that military commanders had “full freedom” to decide on how to conduct their operations against insurgents and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.Parrikar’s remarks come in the backdrop of a debate over army chief Bipin Rawat’s comments that those who hinder counter-insurgency operations or display flags of Pakistan and the Islamic State in Kashmir will be considered as “anti-national”, and soldiers will not hesitate to use their weapons.

The comments have evoked sharp reactions from opposition politicians and Kashmiri separatists alike, most of who said such an attitude will only further alienate the military among Kashmiris and help fuel insurgency.

But Parrikar defended his army chief.

Read: General Rawat, hold your fire. All Kashmiri youth are not aides of jihadis

“Our aim is to neutralise as many Pakistani terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir (as possible) and demoralise the militant ranks before the snow starts melting in the high mountain passes next month,” Parrikar told Hindustan Times.

The defence minister also referred to a shootout between militants and the army in which a major was among four soldiers killed in Handwara on Tuesday. He said an investigation was on to see if any operational intelligence was leaked to the militants.

“The February 14 counter-terrorist operation… was based on specific source intelligence inputs,” he said.

“Our suspicion is that this intelligence got leaked to militants in advance. We are checking the facts. In these circumstances, I have given strict instructions of allowing full operational freedom to the commander on the spot. It is his final call.”

Kashmir remained on the boil for months after government forces killed militant commander Burhan Wani last July. More than 100 people were killed, most of them in police firing, during months-long street protests against Wani’s killing.

Although those protests have tapered, this winter has been one of the most violent in Kashmir with at least two major attacks on army barracks in Uri and Nagrota as well as several fatal shootouts between militants and soldiers. There has also been a spike in militants trying to cross over into India from Pakistan.

Government figures indicate that there are at least 300 “foreign terrorists” in the Valley, with Lashkar-e-Taiba accounting for over 90% of them.

Cross-border “infiltration” bids also stood at about 100 last year, official figures show, but top security officials said the number could be three times higher going by a rise in the number of unknown militants killed this year.

Bombings: Are They Really About Religion, Or About Financial Control Of An Area?

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Suicide bomber strikes mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing 25

A suicide bomber shouted “Allahu akbar” and blew himself up in a packed mosque in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 25 people and wounding 30 during Friday prayers.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in Payee Khan, a village in Mohmand Agency that is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan.

“The suicide bomber was in a crowded mosque, he shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great) and then there was a huge blast,” said Naveed Akbar, deputy administrator of Mohmand Agency.

Akbar added that some fatalities appear to have been caused when part of the mosque caved in from the force of the blast.

“A portion of the mosque and verandah collapsed in the blast and fell on worshipers. We are still retrieving bodies and the injured from the rubble of the mosque,” he said.

Local tribal elder Haji Subhanullah Mohmand said the attack may have been carried out by Islamist militants seeking revenge after local tribesmen gathered a volunteer force and killed one and captured another insurgent.

“It seems to have enraged the militants and they got their revenge by carrying out a suicide attack in a mosque today,” Mohmand said.

Pakistan’s frontier regions, which are deeply conservative and hard to access due to rough terrain, have long been the sanctuary of fighters from al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups.

In 2014 the army launched a major operation in other parts of FATA, including North and South Waziristan against insurgents who routinely attacked government officials and civilians.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing and said the “attacks by terrorists cannot shatter the government’s resolve to eliminate terrorism from the country.”

Security in Pakistan has improved in recent years — the military says “terrorist incidents” dropped from 128 in 2013 to 74 last year — but Islamist extremists continue to stage major attacks.

A bombing of lawyers in the city of Quetta killed 74 people last month, an attack claimed by both the Islamic State and Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar also claimed the Easter Sunday bombing in a park in the eastern city of Lahore that killed 72 people.

Pakistan Security Forces Kill 4 Taliban Murderers

(This article is courtesy of CNN News)

Christian neighborhood, courts attacked in Pakistan

Pakistani police officials inspect the site of a suicide bomb attack at a district court in Mardan.

Story highlights

  • Suicide bombers attack Peshawar and Mardan Friday morning
  • 13 dead in Mardan, one killed on outskirts of Peshawar

Peshawar, Pakistan (CNN)At least 14 people were killed Friday in the latest suicide attacks by a Pakistani Taliban splinter group targeting Christians and lawyers in the country, authorities say.

Both attacks were claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of Pakistan’s Tehreek-i Taliban (TTP) — also known as the Pakistani Taliban — which has killed scores of people in previous attacks targeting both groups in the country this year.
In the city of Mardan, in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, at least 13 people were killed and another 53 injured in an attack at the city’s district courts Friday, District Police Officer Faisal Shehzad told CNN.
The attacker threw a hand grenade at the court gates, then blew himself up after security prevented him from entering, Senior Police Superintendent Shafiullah Khan said.
Four of those killed were lawyers, according to Amir Hussain, the president of the Mardan Bar Association.
There will be three days of mourning, during which time the courts will be shut, Hussain added.

Christian neighborhood attacked

Earlier in the day, a bystander was killed and three members of Pakistan’s security forces injured when suicide bombers struck a Christian neighborhood near Warsak Dam on the outskirts of Peshawar, according to the Pakistan’s military.
Pakistani police previously told CNN that four bystanders were killed and five were injured.
The attackers, four suicide bombers who were also equipped with arms and ammunition, entered the neighborhood after attacking a security guard early Friday morning, Peshawar Police Superintendent Kashif Zulfiqar told CNN.
Security forces responded, exchanging fire and killing the four assailants, according to a statement from the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Public Relations department (ISPR).
A house-to-house search is currently underway and the situation is under control, the ISPR says.

The Taliban in Pakistan's terror legacy

The Taliban in Pakistan's terror legacy

The Taliban in Pakistan’s terror legacy 01:41
“We have enhanced the security of Christians establishments, schools, hospitals, colonies and churches,” said Zulfikar.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan congratulated security forces for their prompt response in foiling the attack.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the latest attacks in a statement released by his office.
“These cowardly attacks cannot shatter our unflinching resolve in our war against terrorism,” he said. “These receding elements are showing frustration by attacking our soft targets. They shall not get space to hide in Pakistan.”

Claim of responsibility

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group known for its bloody tactics aimed at soft targets, claimed responsibility for both attacks in an emailed statement.
“If Islamic law is not imposed across the country, such attacks will continue to be carried out,” the statement said.
The group has been behind devastating attacks in Pakistan this year, including an Easter Sunday attack targeting Christians in the eastern city of Lahore which killed at least 69 people, and ablast at a hospital in the western city of Quetta last month, which killed 72 people, many of them lawyers.

Pakistani soldiers cordon off a street leading to the Christian neighborhood on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Amnesty International’s South Asia director Champa Patel said in a statement that the attackers were “seeking to undermine the rule of law by targeting both the people who defend it in court and the people it should protect.”
The attacks were a “horrific reminder that Pakistan’s authorities must do more to ensure vulnerable groups are protected,” Patel said. “The authorities have a duty to protect the right to life, prevent human rights abuses, and hold perpetrators to account in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty or other human rights violations.”
Christians make up only 2% of Pakistan’s population, and face persecution from hardline Islamists, who want to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in Pakistan’s legal system.
Previous attacks on Christians in Pakistan have included a suicide attack in Lahore that killed at least 14 people in March last year, and suicide attacks on a church in Peshawar in 2013 that killed more than 80 people.

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