IN THE NEWS: AFGHANISTAN’S ECONOMY SLOWLY ON RISE, TO GROW 2.6 PERCENT THIS YEAR, SAYS WORLD BANK (NOVEMBER 22, 2017)

Written by admin on Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Afghanistan’s Economy Slowly on Rise, to Grow 2.6 Percent this Year: WB
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

KABUL – Afghanistan’s economy is expected to grow 2.6 percent this year, up slightly from the previous year despite deteriorating security, the World Bank (WB) said in a report on Tuesday.

While the figure is up from 2.2 percent last year, it does not keep up with the country’s population growth of roughly 3 percent, meaning that gross domestic product per capita continues to decline.

“In the next three to four years, there are things that can be done to boost growth to between 4 and 5 percent,” said Shubham Chaudhuri, the World’s Bank’s Country Director for Afghanistan.

Chaudhuri, presenting a report on Afghanistan’s economy at the World Bank’s fortified headquarters in Kabul, said that agriculture, mineral attraction and the country’s youth were its biggest assets, as well as its geography as a regional land bridge.

The improved growth outlook will be welcomed by President Ashraf Ghani, whose technocrat government is seen as unstable but appears to be making the reforms that international donors — who provide more than half of Afghanistan’s funding — have been seeking.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held next year, with a presidential vote expected in 2019.

Business sentiment is also on the rise, the World Bank said, though it is still lower than in 2014 when most foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
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IN THE NEWS: AN UNSPOKEN ORDEAL – RAPE AND ‘FORGIVENESS’ IN PAKISTAN’S MADRESSAHS (NOVEMBER 21, 2017)

Written by admin on Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

An unspoken ordeal: Rape and ‘forgiveness’ in Pakistan’s madressahs
SOURCE: Dawn
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Saima Khan* struggles through tears as she remembers the blood-soaked pants of her 9-year-old son, allegedly raped by a religious cleric. Each time she begins to speak, she stops, swallows hard, wipes her tears and begins again.

The boy fidgets with his scarf and looks over at his mother.

“Did he touch you?” He nods. “Did he hurt you when he touched you?” “Yes,” he whispers.

“Did he rape you?” He buries his face in his scarf and nods yes.

Sexual abuse is a pervasive and longstanding problem at madressahs in Pakistan, an Associated Press investigation has found. But in a culture where clerics are powerful, it is seldom discussed or even acknowledged in public.

It is even more seldom prosecuted, according to the investigation, based on police documents and dozens of interviews with victims, families, officials and aid groups.

Police are often paid off not to pursue justice against clerics, victims’ families say. And cases rarely make it past the courts, because the legal system allows the victim’s family to “forgive” the offender and accept what is often referred to as diyat (blood money).
(more…)

IN THE NEWS: COALITION ATTACKS TALIBAN COMMAND CENTER AND DRUG LABS (NOVEMBER 21, 2017)

Written by admin on Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Coalition attacks Taliban command center and drug labs
SOURCE: The Long War Journal
Tuesday, November 21, 2017 (Posted)
By BILL ROGGIO

The US military and Afghan Air Force hit a Taliban command and control center and seven “drug labs” in what the Coalition described as “previously untargeted safe havens in south and southwest” Afghanistan.

With a shift in strategy, strikes such as these will become the new normal, the top US commander in Afghanistan said.

The coordinated airstrikes took place over the last day in three Taliban controlled or contested districts in northern Helmand province: Musa Qala (four strikes), Kajaki (three), and Sangin (one). Musa Qala and Sangin are controlled by the Taliban, while Kajaki is hotly contested, according to ongoing analysis by FDD’s Long War Journal of Afghanistan’s districts.

At least 45 districts of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are Taliban controlled and another 115 are contested. The Taliban claims to contest another 24 districts but their claims cannot be independently verified.

US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) sortied F-22A Raptors, B-52 strategic bombers, unmanned aerial vehicles and US Marine High-Mobility Rocket Systems to launch the strikes agains the Taliban targets.

Resolute Support, NATO’s command in Afghanistan, claimed the airstrikes “hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams,” and said that more than $200 million of narcotics revenue flows into Taliban-controlled bank accounts. “[T]he Taliban are responsible for up to 85 percent of the world’s opium production,” Resolute Support claimed.

The Taliban’s link to the narcotics underworld has long been known.
(more…)

IN THE NEWS: HATE SPEECH AT ISLAMABAD SIT-IN (NOVEMBER 20, 2017)

Written by admin on Monday, November 20th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Hate speech at Islamabad sit-in
SOURCE: Daily Times
Monday, November 20, 2017
By KALEEM DEAN

*The fanatics protesting in Islamabad are sending a message of hate against minorities which, as usual, is not being taken seriously by the authorities

The religious extremists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik emerged dramatically as a political party after getting 7000 votes in the Lahore by-election of NA 120. And now they have bought the capital on a stand still. Apparently, the embryo of hate was fertilised during Mumtaz Qadri’s trial but matured after his execution in February 2016. Thenceforth, unlike other religious political parties, Tehreek-e-Labbaik was the result of anger and hate against the civilian government as well as the minorities. Mumtaz Qadri murdered the governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer in 2011 for his support to blasphemy convict Asia Bibi.

The assassinated governor took a strong stance against blasphemy legislation deeming them ‘black laws’. Mumtaz Qadri’s brutal act of murdering the governor was lauded widely, even a large number of lawyers and retired judges offered their services to fight the legal battle to justify his callous act. Throughout his trial, he was considered the ‘hero of Islam’ and obviously after his execution, he became a strong cohesive force to bring thousands of fanatic Muslims together which later, twisted to a so-called political party.

The cruel history of the Pakistani politics witnessed the creation of several political parties on the lap of the establishment. These fanatics have a long history of acquiring supremacy over country’s affairs which started with Russian’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Pakistani regime in the late 70s and afterward dreamed to convert the country to a conservative Islamic country. After General Zia air accident, General Hamid Gul continued his legacy to transform Pakistani flag into a ‘green Islamic flag’. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PAKISTAN NEARS ITS MOMENT OF TRUTH (NOVEMBER 20, 2017)

Written by admin on Monday, November 20th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Pakistan nears its moment of truth
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Monday, November 20, 2017
By KAMRAN YOUSAF

ISLAMABAD: The government already had its hands full dealing with internal problems including the ongoing Islamabad sit-in by religious groups, and now it has to decide on a tricky foreign policy matter that will have both domestic and external repercussions.

Pakistan needs to finalise the extent of its participation in the Saudi-led coalition of Muslim countries later this month when the defence ministers of member countries meet in Riyadh.

The defence ministers from Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) are due to meet in the Saudi capital on November 26 to discuss the terms of reference (ToR) of the grouping.

Saudi state media confirmed that all member countries have been invited to the defence ministers’ meeting.

Pakistan draws redlines for joining Saudi alliance

“The meeting aims to consolidate bonds of cooperation and integration within the coalition and represents the effective beginning of the IMCTC efforts, which included 41 Islamic states, to coordinate and unify efforts in fighting extremism and extremism in addition to integration with other international efforts,” according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

It said the coalition was established to achieve the coalition’s message and provide an institutional platform for proposals and discussions in order to facilitate ways of cooperation among the member states and the countries supporting initiatives within the framework of fields of military, intellectual, media and combating terrorism financing.

In principle, Islamabad has agreed to be part of the coalition and has already allowed former Army Chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif to head the force. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PAKISTAN – SHOCKS ON ECONOMIC FRONT (NOVEMBER 19, 2017)

Written by admin on Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Shocks on economic front
SOURCE: Daily Times
Sunday, November 19, 2017
By IKRAMUL HAQ

*The fiscal mess created by our successive governments has now reached alarming levels
*The main malady behind the fiscal deficit remains non-payment of taxes by our ruling classes and wastage of funds

For the last many years, independent economists have been emphasising that the managers of our economy should concentrate on structural reforms to achieve sustainable higher economic growth of at least eight percent, increase exports and investments, create more jobs, improve infrastructure, reduce the prices of electricity and gas, and restructure loss-making public enterprises instead of imposing regressive taxes to meet fiscal deficit. Unfortunately the strategy being used by the incumbent government focuses on oppressive taxes and foreign loans. As a result not only it has failed to bridge the burgeoning fiscal deficit miserably, but also to accelerate the rate of economic growth.

At present, Pakistan is caught in a deadly debt trap. In its November 2017 report titled Pakistan Development Update, the World Bank projected a fiscal deficit of around 6.1 percent of the GDP, which comes to Rs 2.2 trillion, instead of the government’s target of 4.1 percent, which comes to Rs 1.5 trillion. The report says that “macroeconomic imbalances have worsened significantly over the last 9 to 12 months. It also predicted that Pakistan will most likely miss all key macro indicator targets set for the 2017 fiscal year, notably fiscal deficit, current account deficit and annual economic growth rate. There will be 5.5 percent GDP growth against the target of 6 percent. The current account deficit will surge to four percent of the GDP against the official target of 2.6 percent.

The fiscal mess created by our successive governments has now reached alarming levels. The country’s total debt and liabilities have increased to 78.7 percent of the GDP. Revenues collected are not even sufficient to meet current expenditure. The ratio of revenue to debt is over 700 times. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: INTO THE AFGHAN ABYSS (AGAIN) (NOVEMBER 18, 2017)

Written by admin on Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Into the Afghan Abyss (Again)
SOURCE: Common Dreams
Saturday, November 18, 2017 (Posted)
By ALFRED W MCCOY

*How a failed drug war will defeat Trump’s Afghan adventure

“There are multiple reasons for the Taliban’s success,” writes Alfred W. McCoy, “but there is one other factor, more fundamental than all the rest: the opium poppy.”

After nine months of confusion, chaos, and cascading tweets, Donald Trump’s White House has finally made one thing crystal clear: the U.S. is staying in Afghanistan to fight and—so they insist—win. “The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might,” said the president in August, trumpeting his virtual declaration of war on the Taliban. Overturning Barack Obama’s planned (and stalled) drawdown in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that the Pentagon would send 4,000 more soldiers to fight there, bringing American troop strength to nearly 15,000.

In October, as that new mini-escalation was ramping up, the CIA leaked to the New York Times news of a complementary covert surge with lethal drone strikes and “highly experienced” Agency paramilitary teams being dispatched to “hunt and kill” Taliban guerrillas, both ordinary fighters and top officials. “This is unforgiving, relentless,” intoned CIA Director Mike Pompeo, promising a wave of extrajudicial killings reminiscent of the Agency’s notorious Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War.

CIA paramilitary officers, reported the Times, will lead Special Forces operatives, both Afghan and American, in expanded counterterrorism operations that, in the past, “have been accused of indiscriminately killing Afghan civilians.” In short, it’s game on in Afghanistan.

After 16 years of continuous war in that country, the obvious question is: Does this new campaign have any realistic chance of success, no less victory? To answer that, another question must be asked: How has the Taliban managed to expand in recent years despite intensive U.S. operations and a massive air campaign, as well as the endless and endlessly expensive training of Afghan security forces? After all, the Afghan War is not only the longest in U.S. history, but also one of the largest, peaking at 101,000 American troops in country during President Obama’s surge of 2010-2011. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: CONGRESS PASSES BUDGET INCLUDING $5B FOR AFGHAN FORCES (NOVEMBER 18, 2017)

Written by admin on Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Congress Passes Budget Including $5b for Afghan Forces
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Saturday, November 18, 2017
By NAJIM RAHIM and MUJIB MASHALUS

WASHINGTON – The United States Congress on Thursday passed a $700 billion annual defense budget, authorising $4.9 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund.

This also includes $1.7 billion to advance the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force and $41 million to support the recruitment, training and integration of women into the Afghan forces.

Passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, NDAA-2018 now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign it into law.
NDA-2018 also authorises 3,500 visas for individuals who are eligible for special immigrant status under the Afghan Allies Protection Act.

It allows $700 million in Coalition Support Funding for reimbursement to Pakistan for activities carried out in support of US operations in
Afghanistan.

It directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategy for strengthening defense cooperation between the United States and India.

The conference report which was passed along with NDAA 2018 says the US and India should work closely with Afghanistan to promote stability in the region to include targeted infrastructure development and economic investment, means to address capability gaps in country, and improved humanitarian and disaster relief assistance.

Payment of $350.0 million to Pakistan under CSF will be contingent upon certification from the secretary of defense that Islamabad is taking demonstrable steps against the Haqqani Network.

Over the last two years, two successive defense secretaries — Ashton Carter and Jim Mattis — refused to give this certification in the absence of Islamabad taking demonstrable actions against the group.

An accompanying conference report passed by the House and the Senate notes action on the part of Pakistan against Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as other terrorist groups operating within the borders of Pakistan, remains a priority for the US.

IN THE NEWS: AFGHAN ARMY RECRUITMENT DWINDLES AS TALIBAN THREATEN FAMILIES (NOVEMBER 18, 2017)

Written by admin on Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Afghan Army Recruitment Dwindles as Taliban Threaten Families
SOURCE: The New York Times
Saturday, November 18, 2017
By NAJIM RAHIM and MUJIB MASHAL

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Rahimullah served in the Afghan Army for two years, deployed to the bloody front lines of the southern province of Helmand.

When he quit, it was not because of the combat: It was when the Taliban went after his family back home, telling them that if he didn’t leave the army there would be a fine of one Kalashnikov rifle, seven cartridge magazines and $1,000 — or worse.

“My father called me to say the Taliban are demanding this,” said Mr. Rahimullah, 30, who now lives back in the eastern province of Kunar with his family. “I left the army, and some other of my friends left, too. We didn’t have the money to pay them. We had joined the army from poverty.”

Such demands are another way that the Taliban have been able to keep pressure on the Afghan Army, which was already struggling with record casualties and attrition. As the insurgents have made inroads in eastern and northern Afghanistan — long the most important recruiting grounds for the army — they are directly threatening the military’s ability to replenish its dwindling ranks.

Interviews with residents and army recruitment officers across several provinces suggest the Taliban pressure is taking a serious toll, with officials in some provinces reporting recruitment down by as much as 50 percent. Exact data on Afghan forces has been classified by both the Afghan government and the United States, which largely bankrolls the security forces.

Senior officials in Kabul, the capital, admitted to a partial drop in recruitment this year, but said they were hoping to intensify efforts and make up the loss by the end of the year. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim, the commander of the Afghan Army’s national recruitment center, said the force had recruited 37,000 men last year, and 42,000 in 2015.

“In the first six months of this year, we recruited 13,000 personnel, but we are planning to recruit 25,000 in the second six months,” he said. “We do face challenges in recruiting enough personnel, I cannot hide that.” (more…)

IN THE NEWS: WHO CONTROLS WANA? (NOVEMBER 17, 2017)

Written by admin on Friday, November 17th, 2017

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Who controls Wana?
SOURCE: Daily Times
Friday, November 17, 2017

After the loss of 148 innocent lives at Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) in 2014, the leadership assured us that it was finally clear on the identity of the country’s public enemy no1. A series of military operations with fancy titles got underway in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and these gradually expanded to settled areas well.

Only in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, we lost more than 500 military men as around 5,000 were left with injuries. The most recent operation — Raddul Fassad — is still underway in Khyber Agency. The cost of these operations to the national exchequer has been in billions of rupees. But the true cost needs to factor in the hardship caused to the people of affected areas as well as the sufferings of those hit in various terrorist attacks.

On countless occasions, the country’s leadership has claimed success for these military operations, saying that thousands of square miles of territory along the Pak-Afghan region have been cleared. Despite all these assurances, we have been told this week that pamphlets are circulating in the administrative headquarters of the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) with a note that stands for the worldview we have battled for all these years.

These pamphlets have been endorsed by a committee headed by a person associated with late Taliban leaders Molvi Muhammad Nazir and Nek Muhammad. The note directs residents to avoid cultural and social activities and restricts movement of women outside their homes without male members of their family. Violators have been warned of repercussions.
(more…)