IN THE NEWS: KHALILZAD – TASKED TO BRING PEACE TO HIS BIRTH PLACE (OCTOBER 16, 2018)

Written by admin on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Khalilzad: Tasked to Bring Peace to His Birth Place
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran US diplomat has been tasked with leading efforts to end the war in Afghanistan. He is a blunt negotiator with a history of hawkish foreign policy views. He has decades of experience in the region.

This mission has brought back Khalilzad to focus on the country of his birth and childhood, and the place where he has served as US ambassador from 2003-2005 under President George W. Bush in a period of the history of Afghanistan that he had to guide regime change in the messy aftermath of the fall of the Taliban. Indeed, he was instrumental in setting up the government structure in Afghanistan and helped Afghanistan through the first elections in 2005.

Challenges and Opportunities for Peace in Afghanistan

If we consider modern Afghanistan as a country characterized by low level of modernization and development, then there is sufficient historical evidence that the government in Kabul has been ineffective in terms of exercising power in Afghanistan. As a matter of bitter fact, politics and power in Afghanistan are strongly influenced by the country’s ethnic complexities. Therefore, the deep ethno-linguistic divisions and the decentralized nature of the Afghan polity provide convenient fault lines ready for exploitation. After the fall of Taliban in 2001, a basic problem has been the failure of the Afghan government institutions to provide good governance and socio-political development to many parts of the country that could act a s a means to close the ethnic gaps.

Correspondingly, there are different layers of geopolitical complications with far-reaching strategic implications in Afghanistan. The presence of the erstwhile Soviet Union, and the United States, in today’s context has only served to legitimize the activities of the insurgents and jihadists across Afghan territory. And Russia’s and Iran’s contrasting positions have only exacerbated the complexities of the conflict. All parties are inclined to escalate military campaigns in the hope of persuading their rivals to negotiate on more suitable terms.

Some political scholars hold that Ghani’s earnest appeal to the parties involved thinking of ending the war in Afghanistan, instead of winning it, does not seem to bring results under present circumstances of Afghanistan.
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IN THE NEWS: IS PUNJAB GOING BANKRUPT? (OCTOBER 16, 2018)

Written by admin on Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Is Punjab going bankrupt?
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
By HASAAN KHAWAR

Punjab’s finance minister recently revealed that the province is nearly bankrupt. Punjab has accumulated a total debt of Rs1.1 trillion, exhausted its Provident Fund of Rs100 billion that rightfully belongs to government employees, fully used its borrowing line of Rs37 billion and reportedly issued cheques worth Rs57 billion in the last financial year that could not be honoured.

After the 7th NFC Award, federal transfers to Punjab almost quadrupled in the last 10 years from Rs300+ billion to nearly Rs1.2 trillion. How did then Punjab manage to reach this point, despite this significant increase in resources?

There are three patterns that define fiscal management in the last five years.

Firstly, after the 7th NFC Award, provinces were flush with money but had little capacity to spend. As a result, almost all provincial governments started having cash surpluses. The then chief minister of Punjab was quick to realise this opportunity and adopted a new model to put this money to use. Scores of Section 42 companies undertook mega projects in energy, roads, municipal services and mass transit. The model was so effective in utilising funds that soon its appetite for resources far outstripped the resource inflow. The annual development programme that was merely Rs150 billion 10 years ago, grew more than four times to a whopping Rs635 billion by 2017-18. Much of this increase was financed by stretching all possible sources and diverting all funds towards priority projects.

The last government’s infrastructure-led strategy overshadowed almost all other aspects of development. Looking at the last five years’ development allocations for education, health, sports, environment and infrastructure, it becomes clear that 66% of allocations went to infrastructure as opposed to 19 and 13% for education and health, respectively. Higher budget utilisation further enhanced its share to almost 70%.
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IN THE NEWS: PAKISTAN CLOSES FRIENDSHIP GATE WITH AFGHANISTAN (OCTOBER 15, 2018)

Written by admin on Monday, October 15th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Pakistan closes Friendship Gate with Afghanistan
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Monday, October 15, 2018
By MOHAMMAD ZAFAR

QUETTA: Pakistan on Sunday closed its Friendship Gate with Afghanistan in Chaman following a clash between security forces of both the countries over fencing along the bordering town of Sakan Kanarr.

The Pakistani border guards were busy in fencing when Afghan security forces tried to stop them, which resulted in an exchange of harsh words.

Soon after, the dispute escalated into a battle as both forces exchanged fire. No casualties were reported.

Pakistan started fencing along the 2,400 kilometres Afghan border in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to prevent terrorists and smugglers from entering the country.

Numerous rounds of negotiations between officials of both the countries failed to yield any positive result as Afghanistan opposes Pakistan’s move of fencing its border.

Following Sunday’s clash, the Pakistani officials closed the Friendship Gate at the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman, suspending all kinds of trade movements, including supply vehicles for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of people on both sides of the border were stranded, while people living in the bordering town were gripped by fear.

Pakistan has increased its troops and patrolling along the Pak-Afghan border to control any violation by the Afghan forces.

Residents of Chaman staged a protest against Afghan Inspector General of Border Police Commander Abdul Raziq Achakzai. The protesters chanted full-throated slogans against Achakzai for provoking clashes at the Pak-Afghan bordering town of Chaman.

IN THE NEWS: SOME REFLECTIONS ON PASHTUN NATIONALISM FROM AFGHANISTAN (OCTOBER 15, 2018)

Written by admin on Monday, October 15th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Some reflections on Pashtun nationalism from Afghanistan
SOURCE: Daily Times
Monday, October 15, 2018
By FARHAT TAJ

*People on both sides of the Durand Line speak the same language, Pashto, in its various dialects. They share some important cultural traits. It is quite understandable that there will be a desire for cross border contacts among the people. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan can and should prompt economic, educational and cultural ties between the two sides. This will enrich the larger societies in both countries

Lar and Bar is once again the topic of political discourses coming from Afghanistan. Lar (afar) means Pashtun in Pakistan and Bar (highland) means Pashtun in Afghanistan. The discourses point to one direction: the ultimate destiny of the Lar & Bar is unification in one state to be built on the ashes of the state of Pakistan.

The discourses, especially among Afghan diaspora on social media, intensified earlier this year following the coming into being of PTM (Pashtun Tahfuz Movement), a peaceful Pakistani Pashtun movement for rights and justice in the areas affected by the war on terror. Manzoor Pashteen, the PTM leader, could not be clearer. He objected about the Afghan flags in public gatherings abroad in support of PTM. He keeps saying that PTM demands and struggle are within the law of Pakistan and it has no intention, no plan to go beyond the law. Some of PTM’s demands have partially been addressed by the Pakistan army: return of many disappeared people &removal of the military check posts to ease people’s movement. Nevertheless, the Afghans see PTM as potential secessionist movement that will eventually disintegrate Pakistan.

Correct, Lar & Bar is a social reality. People on both sides of the Durand Line speak the same language, Pashto, in its various dialects.

They share some important cultural traits. It is quite understandable that there will be a desire for cross border contacts among the people.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan can and should prompt economic, educational and cultural ties between the two sides. This will enrich the larger societies in both countries.

The main harmful assumptions are these: Pakistan is the main responsible state for the death and destruction in Afghanistan. There can be no peace in Afghanistan as along as Pakistan exists as a state. Pakistan’s territory up to district Attock belongs to Afghanistan. Pashtuns in Pakistan are slaves of the Punjabis and waiting to be released from the slavery by the Pashtun of Afghanistan. That Pashtun of Pakistan who dissent are Gul Khans (brainwashed idiots) or not even Pashtun. They are Punjabi settlers in Pakhtunkhwa who have learnt Pashtun language, which they are now using to undermines the Lar & Bar. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PAINFUL DECISIONS AHEAD, WARNS ASAD ON RETURN FROM BALI (OCTOBER 14, 2018)

Written by admin on Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Painful decisions ahead, warns Asad on return from Bali
SOURCE: Dawn
Sunday, October 14, 2018
By KHALEEQ KIANI

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Asad Umar on Saturday said the government will have to take difficult decisions that would be painful for people but necessary under international commitments to get out of the current severe economic situation.

Speaking at a news conference after his return from Indonesia where he formally applied for the IMF bailout, the minister rebutted the narrative in the Trump administration that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was responsible for Pakistan’s debt problems and the need for IMF bailout and said talks with Saudi Arabia for oil supplies on deferred payments were in progress.

He said the government would have to make a stop-gap arrangement for external financial resources to support foreign exchange reserves until the IMF programme was finalised. An exercise for short-term borrowing was in the process for the prime minister’s approval.

IMF mission due on Nov 7, CPEC not to blame for debt crisis

The minister said the US was a key stakeholder in the IMF with about 16.5 per cent votes but enjoyed no veto power in its decision making that required majority 51pc votes. He said no government in Pakistan irrespective of any political background could compromise on national security and the PTI government, too, would not opt for an IMF programme if conditionalities are of that nature.

He was responding to a question related to comments by US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauret that Pakistan found itself in the current situation partly because of Chinese debt and that the US would examine Pakistan’s debt position from all angles in evaluating any type of loan programme. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: AFGHAN TALIBAN OFFICIALS: ‘US AGREES TO DISCUSS TROOPS PULLOUT’ (OCTOBER 14, 2018)

Written by admin on Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Afghan Taliban officials: ‘US agrees to discuss troops pullout’
SOURCE: Al Jazeera
Sunday, October 14, 2018
By SHEREENA QAZI

Doha, Qatar – The United States has agreed to discuss the withdrawal of its troops fromAfghanistan in a direct meeting with Taliban representatives in Qatar, officials from the armed group said.

In a preliminary meeting in Doha on Friday, Taliban representatives and US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad discussed the Taliban’s conditions to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan, two top Taliban officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

“Six US delegates arrived in Doha to have a meeting with our (Taliban) leaders [and] agreed to discuss all issues, including the pullout of foreign troops,” one of the officials said.

“But, it was a preliminary meeting and all issues were discussed in general, not in detail,” he added, saying more talks were expected to take place in the near future.

Last year, US President Donald Trump increased the number of US forces in the country as part of a new strategy against the Taliban. There are now about 14,000 US soldiers in the country. The Taliban has previously said the presence of foreign troops was the biggest obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

In addition to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban’s conditions include the lifting of sanctions on its leaders, the release of their fighters imprisoned in Afghanistan, and the establishment of an official political office.

Afghanistan civilian deaths highest since 2014: UN

At the request of the US, a Taliban office was established in Doha in 2013 to facilitate peace talks but it was shut shortly after opening when it came under pressure over a flag hung outside the office, the same flag that was flown during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: ABDULLAH SEEKS GREATER REGIONAL COOPERATION IN FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM (OCTOBER 13, 2018)

Written by admin on Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Abdullah Seeks Greater Regional Cooperation in Fight Against Terrorism
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Saturday, October 13, 2018

DUSHANBE – Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah on Friday said terrorism and extremism were the two main challenges Afghanistan is facing in the region.

Addressing the 17th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit here, the CEO said Afghanistan was in the frontline of the war against terrorism.

He told the SCO member state terrorist organization that posed threat to the people of Afghanistan and the people of SCO-member states were still active in the bordering areas of Afghanistan and continued spreading terrorism.

“The presence of safe havens and co-networks supported through drug trafficking were essential and played the role of back bone for terrorist organizations. We have been working with all nations specially Pakistan to Target areas from where the terrorists get training, recruitment, ideological and financial support,” he said.

He added Afghanistan considered Daesh a serious threat and the National Unity Government was using all its resources to eliminate the group and not to allow it to enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan.

Referring to Afghanistan’s strong commitment to regional stability and development the CEO said: “We consider the SCO an active and effective regional body where different nations work together for improved security, economic cooperation, cultural ties and investment on human resources.”

He added the SCO played a greater role than any other organization in regional connectivity, cooperation, joint policies making and more importantly it provided a platform to discuss vital issues such as regional peace, stability and improved living standards.

IN THE NEWS: TALIBAN CLAIMS TO HAVE CAPTURED 2 AFGHAN DISTRICTS (OCTOBER 13, 2018)

Written by admin on Saturday, October 13th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Taliban claims to have captured 2 Afghan districts
SOURCE: The Long War Journal
Saturdat, October 13, 2018
By BILL ROGGIO

The Taliban claims to have overrun two districts, one in Paktika in eastern Afghanistan and another in Samangan in the north, over the past 24 hours. While the Taliban’s claim of control cannot be independently verified, the group has proven to be accurate when reporting on the status of districts.

Zabihullah Mujahid, an official spokesman for the Taliban, said on Twitter that “Khushamand district falls to Mujahidin” and there would be “more details later.”

Afghan officials confirmed that there was heavy fighting in Khushamand, which is also known as Dila Wa Khushamand. A police spokesman claimed that 73 Taliban fighters and four policemen were killed, but both sides routinely inflate casualties. According to Pajhwok Afghan News, “hundreds of militants stormed the district centre from different directions.”

In an official statement on Voice of Jihad, the Taliban also reported that “Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate cleared Dara-e-Souf district in Samangan province of the enemy last night, leaving a dozen of the enemy military personnel dead and wounded.”

There is no independent confirmation in the Afghan or international press that the Taliban overran the district.

There are two districts in Samangan known as Dara-I-Sufi: Dara-I-Sufi Payin, and Dara-I-Sufi Bala. The Taliban is likely referring to Dara-I-Sufi Payin, which was contested as of May 31, according to an assessment by Resolute Support.

The Taliban remains on the offensive in Afghanistan even as US officials have claimed that the group is desperate and does not have the initiative. The Trump administration is eager to negotiate with the Taliban to end the war and US representatives met with the leaders of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar on Oct. 12 in an effort to achieve that goal. The Taliban has consistently stated that it will not share power with the Afghan government and has demanded US forces withdraw from the country.

IN THE NEWS: UZBEKISTAN SEEKS INDIA-PAKISTAN RAPPROCHEMENT UNDER SCO (OCTOBER 12, 2018)

Written by admin on Friday, October 12th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Uzbekistan seeks India-Pakistan rapprochement under SCO
SOURCE: Dawn
Friday, October 12, 2018
By JAWED NAQVI

NEW DELHI: India will be invited to help with a key rail link in Afghanistan, during the visit of Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to New Delhi early next week, The Hindureported on Thursday.

It also quoted an Uzbek presidential aide as eyeing an India-Pakistan rapprochement under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The paper quoted a presidential aide as saying the proposed rail link of approximately 650km — connecting the Afghan cities of Mazaar-i-Sharif and Herat — which may later be extended to Kabul, is a major project agreed to by President Ashraf Ghani and President Mirziyoyev last year, and many of the preliminary surveys for the project have already been completed.
The Uzbek president will arrive in New Delhi on Sunday.

“We support a greater presence of India in Central Asia, and hope for some benefits of that for Afghanistan. I hope that negotiations with PM Modi will open a new page in our bilateral relations,” Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs, Ilhom Nematov, told The Hindu during a visit to Delhi ahead of the president’s visit beginning on Sunday.

“If India would be involved in [the railway line] construction, we would welcome them because of India’s proven record and experience, and because of its contribution to bringing peace to Afghanistan,” he added, saying that Uzbekistan had an interest in open trade and connectivity routes “all the way to the Indian Ocean”.

The project, for which Uzbekistan has already committed $500 million, could become another major regional connectivity project for India, after its construction of the Zaranj-Delaram Highway in Afghanistan and the Shahid Beheshti port in Iran’s Chabahar, The Hindu said.
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IN THE NEWS: OPTIONS FOR FIXING ECONOMIC WOES (OCTOBER 12, 2018)

Written by admin on Friday, October 12th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Options for fixing economic woes
SOURCE: The Nations
Friday, October 12, 2018
By MALIK MUHAMMAD ASHRAF

To say that Pakistan is facing an economic crisis would be an understatement in view of the permeating situation. In fact the country is fast drifting towards an economic precipice if the trend is not arrested through prudent and necessity-driven solutions. Chief economist of IMF Maurice Obstfeld in a presser at Bali referring to the economic melt-down in Pakistan said “Pakistan is facing financing gaps as it has been hit by a large fiscal and current account deficit, a low level of reserves and a currency which is too rigid and overvalued” Reportedly he also cautioned that increased Chinese involvement in Pakistan’s economy could bring both benefits and risks.

One can hardly take an issue with the depiction of the state of economy by the chief economist of IMF. The PTI government also has a similar take on the severity of the economic challenges and their debilitating impact on the economic health of the country. However there are different views about how the country slid into the economic abyss and the unmanageable debt liabilities.

The government believes that the situation was a sequel to the wrong and reckless economic policies pursued by the PML (N) government and its inability to prevent money laundering. For quite some time there is a persistent propaganda at the global level to attribute the debt situation to the Chinese loans, which also has been hinted in the statement of the IMF chief economist. This impression was precipitated by US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s statement in July this year warning against any bailout package doled out by the IMF for Pakistan’s troubled economy saying that the international lender should not provide Pakistan with money to repay Chinese lenders.

The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in a joint press conference with Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad during his recent visit quashed the notion about China being responsible for the increased debt liabilities of Pakistan saying “CPEC will usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity without saddling Pakistan’s economy with expensive debt, CPEC has not inflicted debt burden on Pakistan. (more…)