FaithWorld

Wary Afghans mull possible Taliban peace talks

talibanLike many Afghans, shopkeeper Abdul Sattar recalls Taliban rule as a nightmare of public executions, women shut away at home and evenings without TV, but he might accept some of it back for peace and stability.

With President Hamid Karzai reaching out to insurgents in a bid to broker peace talks, the Kabul businessman says he would support a deal returning Afghanistan’s former hardline rulers to some measure of power if it brought an end to 10 years of war. (Photo: Taliban militants after joining a government reconciliation and reintegration program, in Herat, March 14, 2010/Mohammad Shioab)

“The Taliban had some good rules and some bad rules,” Sattar said at his stationery shop. “If the government talks to the Taliban and they accept just the good ones, then it could work.”

For some Kabul residents a negotiated settlement with the insurgents, who have steadily gathered strength in recent years, may be the lesser evil — a way to rein in the most zealous of the movement’s tendencies.

With crime and corruption rife in the capital, some Afghan businessmen even look back to the Taliban era as time when graft at least was under control.

U.S. Afghanistan commanders condemn Florida church’s Koran-burning plan

kabul koran (Photo: Afghans in Kabul protest against Koran burning plan, September 6, 2010/Mohammad Ishaq)

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have warned that a small Florida church’s plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks could endanger the lives of American troops.

The warnings followed an angry protest on Monday by several hundred people in the Afghan capital, Kabul, who chanted “Death to America” as they denounced the planned burning event by the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center church.

The center, calling itself a “New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational Church,” says it will go ahead with the torching of the Koran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 2001 attacks against the United States.

Pakistani Sunni militants stoking sectarian rift against Shi’ites: minister

quetta (Photo: Volunteers help injured after suicide attack on Shi’ite procession in Quetta September 3, 2010/Rizwan Saeed)

Pro-Taliban Pakistani militants are trying to fuel a sectarian rift, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday, as a new wave of violence piled pressure on a government already struggling with a flood crisis.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on two Shi’ite rallies that killed nearly 90 people in the cities of Quetta and Lahore in the past three days. The attacks ended a lull after devastating floods which affected 20 million people. Pakistani officials had said before the attacks that any major violence at such a difficult time was likely to cause deep popular resentment against the militants.

Malik said after taking a beating in their strongholds in the country’s northwest in a string of military offensives, al Qaeda-linked militants were adding a religious color to their activities to whip up sectarianism.

FACTBOX – Lashkar-e-Taiba charity wing in Pakistan flood relief work

dawaThe Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, has been providing relief to those hit by Pakistan’s floods.

It is operating in flood-hit areas under a different name, the Falah-e-Insaniyat, after the JuD was blacklisted by the United Nations following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, which was blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.

United States Agency for International Development head Rajiv Shah toured a camp run by the Falah-e-Insaniyat on Wednesday.

Pakistan to clamp down on Islamist militant charities in flood areas

sukkur food line (Photo: Flood victims wait for food handouts in a relief camp in Sukkur, August 20, 2010/Akhtar Soomro)

Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.  Islamist charities have moved swiftly to fill the vacuum left by a government overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and struggling to reach millions of people in dire need of shelter, food and drinking water.

It would not be the first time the government has announced restrictions against charities tied to militant groups, but critics say banned organisations often re-emerge with new names and authorities are not serious about stopping them.

“The banned organisations are not allowed to visit flood-hit areas,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters on Friday. “We will arrest members of banned organisations collecting funds and will try them under the Anti-Terrorism Act.” More than 4 million Pakistanis have been made homeless by nearly three weeks of floods, making urgent the critical task of securing enough aid.

Afghan archaeologists find Buddhist site as war rages

bamyanArchaeologists in Afghanistan, where Taliban Islamists are fighting the Western-backed government, have uncovered Buddhist-era remains in an area south of Kabul, an official said on Tuesday.  “There is a temple, stupas, beautiful rooms, big and small statues, two with the length of seven and nine meters, colorful frescos ornamented with gold and some coins,” said Mohammad Nader Rasouli, head of the Afghan Archaeological Department. (Photo: 1997 file photo of a 55-metre-high Buddha statue in Bamyan destroyed by the Taliban in 2001/Muzammil Pasha)

“Some of the relics date back to the fifth century (AD). We have come across signs that there are items maybe going back to the era before Christ or prehistory,” he said.  “We need foreign assistance to preserve these and their expertise to help us with further excavations.”

Government and foreign troops are battling an insurgency led by the radical Taliban movement which destroyed Buddhist statues at Bamyan during its five-year control of the mountainous country from 1996 to 2001, viewing the monuments as an affront to Islam.

from Afghan Journal:

Resurgent Taliban target women and children

AFGHANISTAN/

Civilian casualties in the worsening war in Afghanistan are up just over 30 percent in the current year,  the United Nations said in a mid-year report this week, holding the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of the deaths or injuries.

More worrying, women and children seem to be taking the brunt of the violence directed by a resurgent Taliban, which will only stoke more concern about the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the hardline Islamist group.

Indeed the Taliban have been blamed for a series of horrific assaults on women in recent weeks,  which must be distasteful to even those pushing for a deal with them as a way to end the nine-year conflict.

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

kabul view (Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)

They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.

“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.

In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.

from Afghan Journal:

Where does Taliban reconciliation leave victims of war?

An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeaster Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

An Afghan boy in Afghanistan's southeastern Paktika province, November 2009. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos

The United States has signalled that it will gradually start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, after almost a decade fighting in the country, from July 2011. And so, perhaps driven by a sense of fear over what the absence of tens of thousands of foreign troops will mean for an already fragile security situation, the Afghan government is pursuing a policy of engaging the Taliban and other insurgent factions such as Hezb-i-Islami. It is a policy widely backed by officials and many members of parliament. It is a political means of seeking an end to the conflict, perhaps because the idea that Afghan security forces will be capable of doing the job of 100,000 foreign troops, is still unfathomable to many. But to many other Afghans it also represents a compromise which could see the country paring back the political developments it has achieved since 2001.

Tens of thousands of Afghans were killed in the bloody civil war which was triggered by the collapse of Kabul's Soviet-backed government -- most of them at the hands of warlords and powerful militia leaders who were competing for power. Some of these men are now officials. Some of them are Members of Parliament. Some of them are still fighting.

from Afghan Journal:

The Taliban, an enigma wrapped in a riddle ?

(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

(Taliban in Kunduz- REUTERS/Wahdat )

Anne  Stenersen  of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world.  Its interesting  because even after all these years  they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

As Stenersen notes,  a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as "al Qaeda and the Talban" , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar,  or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a  proper name  diminishes them.

On the ground, soldiers often describe the enemy as "anyone shooting at us"  making it even more vague. Obviously the nature of the insurgency has something to do with this : the great diversity in Afghanistan's demography and geography means the insurgency can vary from region to region, or even from one village to the other. You could be fighting a Taliban commander in one, and a warlord linked to them in the other.