“We’re handing Afghanistan to the Taliban”; middle class Afghans being assassinated in the run-up to US withdrawal

February 20, 2021

The Taliban is continuing its purge of the Afghan intelligentsia prior to the scheduled Western troop withdrawal in ten weeks from now.

Zakia Herawi, above, was shot dead in a car, along with her colleague Kadria Yasini. Both women were Supreme Court judges.

As Anthony Loyd writes: “That, two decades after the US overthrew the Taliban, these two women — part of an inspirational female elite who would have had to overcome huge obstacles to reach such positions in the male-dominated judiciary — had their car doors wrenched open by assassins and were blasted to death where they sat with no more than handbags for protection sent a chilling message to every woman who aspired to more than the dictates of Taliban conservatism allowed: submit or die”

 

Judge Yasini’s handbag and contents, including a Mother’s Day letter written by her sons, part of a campaign to intimidate and silence the country’s middle class.

As she was shot Kadria pulled her handbag to her chest to try and protect herself; it was riddled with the bullets that killed her.

 

AFGHAN PURGES INTENSIFY

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach an essay from today’s Times of London by its excellent reporter and war correspondent Anthony Loyd.

To be clear, I am not necessarily advocating keeping Western troops in Afghanistan. There is no easy solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

The Taliban killings have escalated sharply in recent weeks, in Kabul and other towns and cities, targeting civil society leaders, human rights officials, judges, university lecturers, cultural figures and journalists.

Thousands of Afghanistan’s educated middle class are leaving the capital, fearful of what may come if the remaining 2,500 US troops, 1,000 British soldiers and 6,000 other NATO personnel withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 as has been agreed.

Loyd writes:

News gathering in Afghanistan has been murder for some time now, so journalists making the journey home move quickly. Some reporters in the city have taken to staying in their offices for days at a time rather than risk leaving. Thirty-three Afghan journalists have been killed in the past three years and the rate of attacks on the media is worse than ever.

For Lotfullah Najafizada, the editor and director of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s leading 24/7 news channel, the toll is personal. He has lost 11 of his reporters since the first seven TOLOnews journalists were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in 2016. A twelfth individual, Yama Siawash, a famous former anchorman for the channel, was blown up and killed by a limpet mine placed beneath his vehicle in Kabul last November. In dead and wounded, the channel has suffered worse casualties while reporting in Kabul than many coalition units lost fighting in Helmand.

Loyd also points out:

Most Afghans detest the war. Yet they are expert enough in its nuance to know too that a badly managed attempt at peace may make the war even worse. During a previous era of civil war in the 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal, a time in which al-Qaeda established itself in Afghanistan and lay the grounds for the attacks of 9/11, the death count and ruination dwarfed the present level of casualties. A fifth of the population fled the fighting as refugees to Pakistan, and those who remained died in their thousands. In 1994 alone, 25,000 Afghans were killed in and around the capital, much of which was reduced to ruins.


He adds:

There is no doubting the necessity of ending the conflict. Tens of thousands of Afghans have died in the past 20 years, along with more than 2,400 Americans and 456 British troops. Though the involvement of Nato forces has decreased sharply in the past five years — not a single British serviceman has died in Afghanistan since 2015 and the Americans have not lost a soldier since Doha was signed — the war between Afghans is intensifying. Civilian casualties of 8,000 dead and wounded last year marked a decrease on the 2019 figures but the Taliban appear to have eschewed mass-casualty bombings in favour of a targeted campaign of killings against the educated that has caused panic.

(The second piece below, published today by the Gatestone Institute, is by Con Coughlin, my former Foreign Editor at The Telegraph in London, who is now the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor. It is titled “Biden Cannot Allow the Taliban to Destroy Trump’s Peace Legacy.”)

 

AMONG THE TIMES OF LONDON READERS’ COMMENTS:

Surely those commenting on the potential for a resurgent Taliban to spread to Pakistan are wrong. The Taliban is harboured in, and spreads from, Pakistan. Ask those who protected Bin Laden. We should be withdrawing all international aid and commercial contact from Pakistan until that country’s government gives clear support to a democratic Afghanistan. It will be a long wait.

***

The solution was simple. While US and British troops were in Helmand they should have destroyed the opium trade, it was and still is the Taliban’s lifeblood. They didn’t and now it’s too late.

With some pesticide and planes, it’s a job still waiting to be done. With the main cash crop eliminated, the ability to purchase weapons is hugely diminished.

***

So just like the Russians years ago. What a monumental waste of time, money and lives. The Taliban win again.


ARTICLES

WE’RE HANDING AFGHANISTAN TO THE TALIBAN

We’re handing Afghanistan to the Taliban
After decades of war and thousands of deaths, western allies are on the brink of giving away everything we fought for , says Anthony Loyd, who has covered the conflict for 25 years
By Anthony Loyd
February 20, 2021
The Times

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/were-handing-afghanistan-to-the-taliban-8l7x3r2gk

The editor talked about war and death as the winter’s day slipped away to the creep of shadows and the coming of the Kabul night. A couple of his journalists called their farewells as they passed his office door and took the stairs down to the reception, where rows of flak jackets and helmets were stacked in open lockers waiting to be grabbed when needed, either to survive while reporting the city streets, or in case the offices were stormed.

News gathering in Afghanistan has been murder for some time now, so journalists making the journey home move quickly. Some reporters in the city have taken to staying in their offices for days at a time rather than risk leaving. Thirty-three Afghan journalists have been killed in the past three years and the rate of attacks on the media is worse than ever.

For Lotfullah Najafizada, the editor and director of TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s leading 24/7 news channel, the toll is personal. He has lost 11 of his reporters since the first seven TOLOnews journalists were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing in 2016. A twelfth individual, Yama Siawash, a famous former anchorman for the channel, was blown up and killed by a limpet mine placed beneath his vehicle in Kabul last November. In dead and wounded, the channel has suffered worse casualties while reporting in Kabul than many coalition units lost fighting in Helmand.

“It never really stopped,” Najafizada, 33, said. “Journalists have been targeted many times before. But in the past two or three months it has become part of a much broader campaign.”

The killings have escalated sharply since November, in Kabul and other towns and cities, targeting not only journalists but civil society leaders, human rights officials, judges, university lecturers and cultural figures: a broad spectrum kill-list of men and women which loosely includes the most progressive elements of Afghan society to have evolved since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban. Thousands of the educated middle class, many journalists among them, are leaving the capital amid this purge, fearful of what may come if the remaining 2,500 US troops, 1,000 British soldiers and 6,000 other Nato personnel follow through on an agreement made between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year in Doha to fully withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 in the absence of any overall peace deal.

The aim behind the Taliban assassination campaign is clear but, aware of his responsibility in keeping up reporters’ morale in a time of fear, Najafizada chose his words carefully. “I am confident that the gains of the past 20 years won’t go away,” he said, leaning forward in his chair to remind me that two thirds of the country is under 25 and do not even remember the previous tenure of Taliban power. “But these attacks are very much related to the peace process. The Taliban see the world as pre-2001 and post-2001. Post-2001 the only people the Taliban see they have to negotiate with is the US, and once they have done that then all other post-2001 products in Afghanistan — music, culture, media, women’s rights — should go, along with the last American soldier.

“It is this new Afghanistan that is being attacked and the environment of debate, tolerance and discussion that are being targeted.”

War is only an event to those who have never experienced it. To those who know war, it is an entity. War is in a field; a village; a valley; a city. War is in the street. War is present on the walk home from the office. It is in the mind and memory and in feeling; in reminiscences and dreams and looking in the mirror in the morning. War is a constant presence. There is a quantum difference between reading about war, going to war, being at war and living in war. In Afghanistan, after 40 years of war, it is so deeply entrenched that it is imbued with the psyche of communities. I asked Najafizada if that preordained Afghanistan to war for eternity, like one of the innumerable great game, graveyard of empires, forever war clichés that foreigners, usually British or American, use to yoke the country to careless prediction.

“It does not mean Afghanistan will be at war for ever,” he said after a brief pause. “But it does mean that after so long exposed to conflict, people here will choose to fight very easily. One thing is for sure: the return of the Taliban is inevitable — it is just a question of what kind of Afghanistan they want to be part of.”

In the absence of an answer, that question looms like the shadow of a tombstone across Afghanistan, as the clock ticks toward the deadline for the US withdrawal. Most Afghans detest the war. Yet they are expert enough in its nuance to know too that a badly managed attempt at peace may make the war even worse. During a previous era of civil war in the 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal, a time in which al-Qaeda established itself in Afghanistan and lay the grounds for the attacks of 9/11, the death count and ruination dwarfed the present level of casualties. A fifth of the population fled the fighting as refugees to Pakistan, and those who remained died in their thousands. In 1994 alone, 25,000 Afghans were killed in and around the capital, much of which was reduced to ruins. Many now fear that the hasty Trumpian construct of the Doha accord may recreate the same horrifying scenario.

The accord, signed between the Americans and the Taliban on February 29 last year, officially titled the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, is not truly a “peace deal” at all, as it does not end a war. Rather, it is an accord that set the schedule for a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 1 this year — and by definition the other Nato troops — dependent on three pillars of agreement between the Americans and the Taliban: the severance of the Taliban’s relationship with al-Qaeda, a reduction of Taliban violence and the start of meaningful negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Without a single one of these pillars yet complied with, the new US administration has tried to slam the brakes on the momentum to pull out of Afghanistan by the deadline, wary of the potential consequences of a perceived US defeat, jihadist resurgence and catastrophic civil war. President Biden called for an expedited review of the Doha accord within days of assuming office. The results are expected this month and will dictate the future of all US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan and the course of the war too.

It is the overwhelming consensus among Afghan leaders, foreign diplomats and western army officers that the US will abandon the deadline to withdraw its remaining troops and stipulate that the exit from Afghanistan must be condition-based. Most agree too that the Taliban will probably test this resolve by increasing its violence and shedding more Afghan and western blood.

There is no doubting the necessity of ending the conflict. Tens of thousands of Afghans have died in the past 20 years, along with more than 2,400 Americans and 456 British troops. Though the involvement of Nato forces has decreased sharply in the past five years — not a single British serviceman has died in Afghanistan since 2015 and the Americans have not lost a soldier since Doha was signed — the war between Afghans is intensifying. Civilian casualties of 8,000 dead and wounded last year marked a decrease on the 2019 figures but the Taliban appear to have eschewed mass-casualty bombings in favour of a targeted campaign of killings against the educated that has caused panic. In the 11 months since Doha was signed a record 8,574 Afghan security force members were killed and a further 17,967 were wounded, and fighting has continued through the winter at double the intensity of the previous year.

From its inception, the structure of the Doha deal caused alarm. A bilateral arrangement between the US and the Taliban, it excluded the Afghan government altogether. Moreover, rather than initiate a choreographed set of stages in subsequent talks between the two Afghan sides, verifying and rewarding steps of agreement and implementation with a calibrated release of prisoners and drawdown of US troop numbers, the Americans gave the Taliban most of their key demands, including a set date for a full withdrawal and the release of 5,500 prisoners, before serious talks between the Taliban and Afghan government had even begun.

In both its construct and handling, the Doha deal and subsequent negotiations have caused profound resentment at the highest levels of the Afghan presidency. “Once I realised that overall the structure of the talks was flawed, cracked, I didn’t show interest in details,” the vice-president, Amrullah Saleh, told me in Kabul last month. “If this high-rise stands on false foundations why should I show interest in how they distribute the spaces within, when it is doomed anyway?”

Like many, Saleh regarded the Doha accord as a Trumpian equivalent of an emperor without clothes. “We can’t solve this by fooling ourselves,” he said, “creating a falsehood and then accepting a falsehood as truth.”

By contrast the Taliban have exulted in a narrative of victory they were handed by the Doha deal, many of the insurgents regarding the accord as a statement of American defeat rather than an opportunity for peace. “We have just defeated a superpower,” one Taliban commander, Khalid Agha, assured me when I met him and his fighters in a frontier district in Kandahar last year, a few days after the deal had been signed. “Once the Americans have gone it will be easy to sort out the Afghan government.”

Boastful and assured, scarred by shrapnel wounds and prison time, he was certain that the religious idealism for which he fought should not be compromised by any power-sharing deal with a republic. “We haven’t been shedding blood all these years with the intent of sharing power with the Kabul government,” he said. “We fight for sharia, for the Islamic emirate, not to make deals with democrats in the time of our victory.”

After Doha not even the continuing relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda appeared to bother the Trump administration, though it had been the principal reason for the US invading the country in the first place, and severance of the al-Qaeda–Taliban alliance was a prime pillar of the Doha agreement. In October, only seven months after the deal was signed, a senior al-Qaeda member who was on the FBI’s most-wanted list was killed by Afghan security forces in Ghazni province, deep in the Taliban heartland; and in January this year a US treasury report described how al-Qaeda continued to capitalise on its relationship with the Taliban through a network of advisers “providing advice, guidance, and financial support”.

In Trump’s hurry to find the exit from Afghanistan, it seemed that even the ghost of Bin Laden had been ignored.

With war so omnipresent and pressing I found it, too, lying in the contents of a murdered woman’s handbag. Kadria Yasini was shot multiple times in a car beside another woman, Zakia Herawi, on January 17, three days before Biden assumed the presidency and called for the Doha deal to be reviewed. As she was shot Kadria pulled her handbag to her chest; it was riddled with the bullets that killed her.

Both women were Supreme Court judges, killed in the continuing Taliban purge of the intelligentsia. That, two decades after the US overthrew the Taliban, these two women — part of an inspirational female elite who would have had to overcome huge obstacles to reach such positions in the male-dominated judiciary — had their car doors wrenched open by assassins and were blasted to death where they sat with no more than handbags for protection sent a chilling message to every woman who aspired to more than the dictates of Taliban conservatism allowed: submit or die.

Arranged on the floor of her home before me by her two sons four days after the murders, the contents of Judge Yasini’s handbag epitomised the dimensions of this assault: even the bag’s Homme+Femme label, so close to three spent bullets found inside, seemed an augur of dark reversion. Her black leather bag, purse, notebook and water bottle, and a book on law that she had written, were all bullet-punctured, her tweezers bent by the impact.

As the dead woman’s elder son, Abdulwahab, 20, examined the items in turn and leafed through bullet-torn pages of her book, he discovered a folded Mother’s Day letter tucked inside. Written by him and his brother the previous year, it too was holed by lead. “We didn’t know she kept this letter,” he said quietly, unfolding the punctured page to read once more. As Abdulwahab, born the year the Taliban had been overthrown, began to read the words around the ragged bullet holes, it seemed for a moment as if the young man was staring not at a letter to a murdered mother, but at a private manifesto of the Taliban’s reborn intent.

 

“BIDEN CANNOT ALLOW THE TALIBAN TO DESTROY TRUMP’S PEACE LEGACY”

Biden Cannot Allow the Taliban to Destroy Trump’s Peace Legacy
By Con Coughlin
Gatestone Institute
February 20, 2021

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/17080/biden-afghanistan-taliban

Under the terms of that agreement with the US, the Taliban agreed to negotiate a peaceful resolution of this benighted country’s long-running civil war in return for Washington agreeing to withdraw all its remaining forces. In addition, they agreed to cut their ties with Islamist terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda.

While Mr Trump kept his side of the bargain, reducing US forces from around 13,000 at the time the deal was signed last February to just 2,500 when he left office, there has been little evidence of the Taliban fulfilling their commitments under the terms of the agreement.

Consequently, Afghanistan finds itself in the midst of a major security crisis, with militants concentrating their attacks on a broad cross-section of Afghan society, with judges, activists, journalists, moderate clerics, students and other professionals all being targeted.

Afghan officials believe the Taliban never had any intention of fulfilling their side of the deal, and just drew out the negotiations with the Trump administration so that they could secure the release of the estimated 5,000 militants being held by Afghan security forces, who were eventually released by the Afghan authorities last autumn.

“The only thing the Taliban have taken out of this agreement is to get their prisoners, then launch an offensive against the Afghan forces and government. That was, it seems, their plan from the beginning.” — Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, The Times, February 17, 2021.

Of major concern is the prospect that, if the Taliban are allowed to seize control of the country they governed prior to the September 11 attacks, they will once again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, which will then use the country as a base to launch devastating attacks against the West.

Thus, in making his decision about the future of American forces in Afghanistan, Mr Biden needs to take care that he is not responsible for causing a new wave of terror attacks against the US and its allies.

***

With former US President Donald J. Trump no longer able to dictate US policy on Afghanistan, the Taliban are exploiting the opportunity to increase their efforts to seize control of the country in spite of the peace accord they signed with the Trump administration last year.

Under the terms of that agreement with the US, the Taliban agreed to negotiate a peaceful resolution of this benighted country’s long-running civil war in return for Washington agreeing to withdraw all its remaining forces. In addition, they agreed to cut their ties with Islamist terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda.

Yet, to judge by recent events in Afghanistan, the Taliban are showing little inclination to abide by the terms of the deal.

While Mr Trump kept his side of the bargain, reducing US forces from around 13,000 at the time the deal was signed last February to just 2,500 when he left office, there has been little evidence of the Taliban fulfilling their commitments under the terms of the agreement.

On the contrary, since the start of the year there has been a marked upsurge in violence as the Taliban, rather than seeking to achieve a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict, have been accused of intensifying their terrorist campaign in their bid to retake control of the country. In addition, the Taliban leadership is maintaining its ties with terror groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Consequently, Afghanistan finds itself in the midst of a major security crisis, with militants concentrating their attacks on a broad cross-section of Afghan society, with judges, activists, journalists, moderate clerics, students and other professionals all being targeted.

One of the more depressing features of this upsurge in violence is that it has resulted in young educated Afghans, who have enjoyed a more liberal lifestyle in recent years and once heralded a bright future for their country, opting to abandon their country in order to escape the worsening violence.

Afghan officials believe the Taliban never had any intention of fulfilling their side of the deal, and just drew out the negotiations with the Trump administration so that they could secure the release of the estimated 5,000 militants being held by Afghan security forces, who were eventually released by the Afghan authorities last autumn.

Interviewed by The Times of London earlier this week, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, accused the Taliban of simply exploiting the deal to secure the release of Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons:

“The only thing the Taliban have taken out of this agreement is to get their prisoners, then launch an offensive against the Afghan forces and government. That was, it seems, their plan from the beginning.”

The rapidly deteriorating security situation has now prompted NATO leaders to order a review of whether all the remaining US-led coalition troops based in Afghanistan should be withdrawn by May 1 this year, as was originally envisaged in Mr Trump’s deal.

A two-day virtual conference convened this week of NATO defence ministers -- the first time that officials from the new Biden administration have participated in a NATO summit -- discussed in detail whether the withdrawal should continue, but decided to postpone a decision while US President Joe Biden undertakes a thorough review of Mr Trump’s deal.

Even though the Biden administration has yet to decide whether to support Mr Trump’s deal, there is growing resistance within the NATO alliance to withdrawing forces while the Taliban are still maintaining their campaign of violence against the Afghan people.

Speaking at the end of the NATO meeting, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance remained committed to the agreement, but wanted the Taliban to demonstrate that it was serious about pursuing peace.

“The peace process is the best chance to end years of suffering and violence, and bring lasting peace,” he said. “It is important for the Afghan people, for the security of the region and for our own security.

Of major concern is the prospect that, if the Taliban are allowed to seize control of the country they governed prior to the September 11 attacks, they will once again allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, which will then use the country as a base to launch devastating attacks against the West.

Thus, in making his decision about the future of American forces in Afghanistan, Mr Biden needs to take care that he is not responsible for causing a new wave of terror attacks against the US and its allies.

 

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