The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said that Iran’s support to the Taliban in the form of weapons and funding was leading to further violence and hinders peace and stability of the Afghan people.
“Iran, too, must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaeda leaders,” Pompeo said at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington based, think tank.
He also demanded Iran make sweeping changes from dropping its nuclear program to pulling out of the Syrian civil war or face severe economic sanctions as President Donald Trump’s administration hardened its approach to Tehran.
He vowed “unprecedented financial pressure in the form of the strongest sanctions in history” unless Iran renounced all its nuclear activities, its ballistic-missile program, and its support of regional proxies.
“The [Iranian] regime has been fighting all over the Middle East for years,” he said, adding that “after our sanctions come in force, it will be battling to keep its economy alive. Iran will be forced to make a choice: Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or squander precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”
And if there were ever any doubts, Pompeo’s unambiguous remarks were complemented by the US Defense Department, where a spokesman said the US will take “all necessary steps to confront and address Iran’s malign influence in the region.”
He also said two weeks ago, Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal for a simple reason: “It failed to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“No more. No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more acceptance of missiles landing in Riyadh and in the Golan Heights. No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power. No more,” he said. Pompeo was clear Monday that European companies would not be granted special waivers to work in Iran.
“We understand that our re-imposition of sanctions and coming campaign on the Iranian regime will pose economic difficulties for a number of our friends—indeed, it imposes economic challenges to America as well,” he said. “These are markets our businesses would love to sell into as well. And we want to hear their concerns, but, you know, we will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account,” he said.
In the meantime, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani dismissed threats made Pompeo, saying the rest of the world no longer accepts Washington making decisions on their behalf.
“The world today does not accept that the United States decides for the world. Countries have their independence,” Rouhani said in a statement carried by multiple Iranian news agencies.
Unauthorized armed persons who are associated with political parties have been spreading insecurity in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, local residents say.
They say after the emergence of political tension between former governor Atta Mohammad Noor and President Ashraf Ghani, the number of unauthorized gunmen increased in Mazar-i-Sharif, giving a boost to insecurity and instability.
Hameed Safut, who heads Balkh civil society group, told Pajhwok Afghan News that security of Mazar-i-Sharif had deteriorated compared to what it had been six months earlier.
Armed robberies, murder, clashes and kidnappings have increased in Mazar-i-Sharif, he said, linking the uptick in insecurity to the presence of unauthorized gunmen.
Safut said people were expecting improvement in the situation in Mazar-i-Sharif with the changes in the provincial civil and military leadership, but the things moved in reverse.
Ghulam Rasoul, a resident of the second police district, said “Mazar-i-Sharif has become a city without leadership.”
“Few days back, I was walking in the city when suddenly armed men stopped their vehicle near me and got out and took 8,000 Afghanis after search,” he said.
He added armed men walked and traveled in Mazar-i-Sharif during broad daylight and nobody could stop them.
Rasoul said the government has been unable to stop illegal armed activities and disarm such people.
Provincial Council head Mohammad Afzal Hadid acknowledged people were in tension regarding the existing of illegal gunmen in Balkh.
He said unauthorized gunmen had increased in the city and they threatened people’s lives. He said the current security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif was unacceptable to its dwellers.
Hadid blamed recent security incidents in the city on illegal armed men and said these individuals had links with political parties. He, however, assured of improving the situation.
He said a meeting attended by representatives of political parties and government officials was held last week at the governor’s house about improving security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif.
The meeting decided that no one would be allowed in future to create security problems in the city.
But Mazar-I-Sharif residents say that criminal incidents involving illegal armed groups happened even after that meeting.
Mohammad Din, a resident of Karta-i-Bukhdi area, said robbers entered a shop four days back and killed a 20-years-old shopkeeper in the city.
Security officials confirm increasing crimes in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Balkh deputy police chief, Col. Abdur Razaq Qaderi confirmed recent security incidents in Mazar-i-Sharif but said they were serious about public protection.
He said Afghan security forces were busy in operations against militants in a number of Baklh districts, a situation misused by some persons for committing crimes in Mazar-i-Sharif.
He assured security would be fully restored in the city in near future. The garrison created for the city’s security would be given further authority and it would help improve the situation, he concluded.
Some people in northern Baghlan province claim the ground for massive rigging in the Oct 20 polls is being paved as machines are illegally used to print ‘forged Identity Cards (IDs) also known as Tazkera and the stickers.
Syed Ali Fazel, a civil society activist and university teacher, told Pajhwok Afghan News: “Machines to print stickers and Tazkera have been brought to Baghlan and preparations for a massive rigging in the upcoming elections is underway.”
He claimed the elections would lose credit in public eyes and the sitting lawmakers would be elected again if efforts at rigging the polls were not prevented and frustrated. He said the Provincial Council had been informed about the machines and efforts were being made to find out who brought the machines and show them to the masses.
Lawmaker Shukria Esakhel said she was unaware about printers of stickers but confirmed a machine to print fraudulent Tazkera had been brought to Baghlan.
Abdul Malik Hanifi, head of the Independent Election Commission in Baghlan, said no one had complained to him about such machines.
He, however, said such efforts would yield no result because the commission had a registration book where names of those registering as voters were documented.
He said such news could create doubts among the masses regarding the election process and people might doubt transparency of the upcoming polls.
A bomb in a minibus exploded near a security checkpoint in Kandahar city on Tuesday causing numerous casualties, officials said, as attacks continue during the holy month of Ramadan.
The blast, near one of the city’s main markets, sent a huge cloud of dust and smoke into the air.
Local media reports suggested that 20 were killed and 37 others were wounded in the incident. 6 members of Afghan forces and 13 civilians were among the dead, and in the wounded 8 were members of Afghan forces and the rest were civilians.
A statement from the NDS intelligence service said the minibus, packed with explosives, was discovered in a large open yard of mechanics workshops but blew up before it could be defused.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in high-profile bomb attacks since the beginning of the year, many in the capital Kabul but provincial cities have also been hit.
Kandahar province, on the border with Pakistan, is a major center of opium cultivation and a stronghold of the Taliban but the city itself has recently been relatively secure.
Kabul is in talks with the Taliban to secure the release of the seven Indian engineers kidnapped in northern Afghanistan in the first week of May, says a media report.
Afghan officials were regularly updating the Indian authorities on the ongoing efforts, The Times of India quoted unnamed sources as saying.
“All sides are keen to maintain secrecy on the details of negotiations until the Indian nationals are released,” one source told the daily.
Afghan officials have held meetings with tribal elders for the release of the engineers. The elders are said to be in contact with the captors to ensure the safe release of the Indians.
The Indian engineers were allegedly abducted by Taliban near the Cheshma-i-Sher area of Baghlan province on May 6. The Indian foreign minister and national security advisor have already sought Kabul’s help.
The new US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia not only has failed to improve the stability and security of Afghanistan, but also aggravated the security situation, say military experts and members of Wolesi Jirga, describing it worse compared to that of former President Barack Obama.
According to them, the time has come for the United States to revisit its Afghan strategy and pursue the political settlement of Afghan conflict, because it cannot accomplish the goal through the use of force.
This comes as the National Unity Government had lauded the new US strategy even before it was unveiled, and continues to commend it in different gatherings.
Characterizing Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia as largely ambiguous, Gen. Atiqullah Amarkhail, a military expert, told The Heart of Asia: “I think Afghan government may still be blissfully ignorant of all the details of the strategy, as well as its pros and cons to Afghanistan.”
Amarkhail asserts that ramping up military pressure on Taliban and other terror groups to drag them to the negotiating table by weakening them on the battlefield was a central part of the new policy, but it has backfired, with insurgents becoming ever stronger, and even being able to storm provincial centers such as the city of western Farah province.
Another key element of the strategy was that the United States will not set a timetable for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a shift that, according to him, reinforced the pretext of militants to prolong the war.
Ramazan Bashardost, a member of Wolesi Jirga, stresses that the past couple of months show that President Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan has failed, fueling insecurity across the country.
“With several months passed since its announcement, the strategy should have yielded some results. But no one can bring an example of what it has achieved, so that is why it is unsuccessful,” Bashardost told The Heart of Asia.
America’s indifference towards the recent wave of security incidents, fall of districts and provincial centers, massive explosions, and the gains made by rebels as Bashardost puts it, the consequences of the new American strategy Afghan people are suffering.
Claiming that Afghan government now doesn’t have an answer to the nation because it blindly welcomed the strategy, says Yameen Barakzai, a political expert, adding that Americans and other foreigners are now just watching the game, and have no sense of responsibility for what is ongoing now.
According to him, if Trump’s strategy had been effective, Afghan peace at least would have been set a priority.
Pakistan and Afghanistan’s religious scholars (Ulema) have reportedly agreed to hold conferences in both countries to explore ways for peace and to encourage the Taliban to join the reconciliation process, Pakistan’s Daily Times reported.
According to the report, Syed Ehsan Tahiri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC), said Pakistani and Afghan clerics had agreed to hold joint meetings to discuss peace in Afghanistan in accordance with Islamic teachings.
The Daily Times reported that Tahiri told Mashal Radio in Kabul that Pakistan had agreed to organize the meetings in Islamabad and also join similar meetings in Kabul that would be attended by hundreds of scholars from both sides.
The comments came after Afghan, Indonesian and Pakistani Ulema met in Jakarta on May 11 and “appreciated and supported” President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban in February.
The Indonesian conference in its declaration also described suicide attacks as against the principles of Islam.
After the Indonesia meeting, Mawlawi Anwarulhaq Haqqani, head of Darul Uloom Haqqani madrassa in Pakistan, who participated in the meeting, said Pakistani religious scholars represented the Taliban at the conference.
Haqqani, brother of Mawlana Samiul Haq, leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party in Pakistan, also known as the father of the Taliban, said in a video message after the meeting that he did not let the Ulema in Indonesia mention the Taliban in their declaration.
Ghani meanwhile said that the Indonesia conference in Jakarta was a good chance for the Taliban.
Ghani also welcomed the Ulema’s stance, clarity and decision and called on other Ulema members of the Islamic world to play a pivotal role in maintaining peace and eliminating terrorism.
The president has endorsed such meetings of Ulema to end the imposed battle of Afghanistan and for regional stability.
The Taliban group has threatened to carry out attacks on security institutions in Kabul as part of their spring offensive, urging the civilians to stay away from such compounds amid growing criticisms that such attacks mostly lead to civilian casualties.
The group issued a statement claiming that the civilian casualty rate has dropped significantly during the attacks carried out by the group.
However, the group admits that the attacks in Kabul cause civilian casualties, accusing the government and security institutions for using the civilians as human shields by establishing compounds in civilian dominated areas.
Taliban in its statement stated that the group has plans to carry out attacks on security institutions as part of their spring offensive (Al-Khandaq) and urged the residents of the city to cooperate and stay away from such compounds.
The latest Taliban claims regarding the reduction in civilian casualties and adopting necessary precautions to prevent civilian deaths are following the growing criticisms that the majority of civilian deaths are caused in Taliban attacks, particularly in suicide and roadside bombings.
A total of 10,453 civilian casualties – 3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured – were documented in the 2017 Annual Report released last month by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office.
The report further added that the high number of casualties to the civilians were inflicted by suicide bombings and other attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
At least five de-miners who were clearing the path for the TAPI gas pipeline project were killed in militants attack in southern Kandahar province.
According to the local officials, the incident took place earlier yesterday in the vicinity of Maiwand district.
The provincial governor’s spokesman confirmed that five de-miners working in TAPI field were killed and another was abducted by the militants.
In the meantime, provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq, said the de-miners belonged to AMDC company and were killed while clearing the TAPI gas pipeline route in Malang Kariz area.
Gen. Raziq further added that one of the de-miners had been abducted by the militants following the attack.
No individual or group including the Taliban militants has so far claimed responsibility behind the incident.
Kandahar is among the relatively volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgents are active in some of its remote districts and often carry out terrorist related activities.
The anti-government armed militants often carry out attacks on security forces and government employees in some restive districts of the province and attacks on de-miners and aid workers are not also rare.
Some political experts believe creation of district electoral constituencies is vital for better representation of people but acknowledge it is hard to get that strategy implemented ahead of Oct 20 parliamentary elections.
In line with Article 10th of the previous Election Law, each province was a single constituency, but later the law was amended and the election commission was tasked with creating small constituencies and ensuring that clause four and six of the article 83 is not violated.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Sunday declared a province as one electoral constituency for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections and the entire country as a single constituency for 10 Wolesi Jirga seats of the Kuchi tribe and one for the Hindu minority.
Prof. Gul Ahmad Madadzai, deputy head of the Afghanistan Lawyers Union (ALU), said one of the benefits of small constituencies was that people could vote for their real representatives.
He said creation of small constituencies was possible, but it was made impossible by the government itself with its wrong polices.
“The government wasted time and never strived to resolve this issue and now it is not the time to implement that strategy,” he said.
Article 36 of the Election Law says the delimitation exercise be performed 180 days before the conduct of elections in coordination with the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and Central Statistic Organization (CSO).
Madadzai said no capacity existed to define boundaries of electoral constituencies. He added the IEC had been unable to conduct elections in provinces based on constituencies and the conduct of polls in small constituencies seemed impossible in the given time.
An election campaigner, who asked for anonymity in the report, said that the reduction of electoral districts would help create a proportional representation.
According to him, the provinces in which different ethnic groups live, it is very helpful to minimize electoral constituencies to create a good representation.
“In the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections, all representatives from Ghazni province in the lower house were only from Hazara tribe while Tajik and Pasthuns had no representative in the house because they could not vote in their areas due to security threats. It would have been avoided had there been small electoral districts,” he said.
He said not minimizing electoral districts was against the Election Law and would yield negative results in elections.
The source said minimizing electoral districts would also help lawmakers and their constituents to be in close contact and would also help repel negative impacts of the single-non-transferable vote (SNTV) system.
Shehla Farid, a political science lecturer in Kabul University, said any decision about changes in the election processes should have been made earlier as she deemed it illegal to change the electoral system at this stage.
She said the IEC had previously shared its plan on minimizing electoral districts with the Presidential Palace, but the palace was yet decide on that.
Farid said minimizing electoral districts at this stage could not be implemented despite being beneficial for people and prevention of fraud due to security problems.
However, she said women would be major victim of minimizing electoral districts as people were still not interested in allowing their women to vote.
She said both the Constitution and the Election Law determined women’s seats in the elections.
“Minimizing electoral districts is beneficial in provinces where people of different ethnic groups live”, she said.
She said minimizing electoral districts might be required in a limited number of provinces, not in all.
The IEC decision comes as 20 political parties and groups held a joint meeting, demanding greater share for political parties in the electoral process.
They had said that votes of each electoral district should be transferrable inside lists for political parties and coalitions.