Taliban and Al Qaeda Working More Closely Together in Afghanistan; Former CIA Pakistan Bureau Chief Possibly Poisoned by ISI After Bin Laden Raid; Bombay High Court Allows Meat from Other States
Event Notice: “Islamist Terrorism in Europe: A History,” Monday, May 9, 12:30 PM (New America)
Bonus Watch: “Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem,” by Zabihullah Ghazi (VOA)
Taliban and al Qaeda working more closely together in Afghanistan
Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for the U.S-NATO coalition in Afghanistan, acknowledged on Thursday the expanded collaboration in Afghanistan between al Qaeda and the Taliban after the former’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, endorsed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the Taliban’s leader, last fall (Post, RFE/RL). Al Qaeda, according to Brig. Gen. Cleveland, has between 100 to 300 fighters in Afghanistan. He said, “…because we think that al Qaeda is…beginning to work more with Taliban, they can present a bit of an accelerant for the Taliban. They can provide capabilities and skills and those types of things.” Cleveland did not specify the skills provided, but in the past al Qaeda has supplied bomb-makers and suicide bombers to allied groups. Assessing the Islamic State’s (IS) presence in Afghanistan, Cleveland estimates there are roughly 1,500 IS fighters in the country – a number that he believes has decreased due to more U.S. air strikes.
U.S. Embassy in Kabul: Kidnapping threat “very high”
The United States Embassy in Kabul, responding to a nearly-successful kidnapping attempt on an American citizen in Kabul on Monday and the abduction of Australian aid worker Katherine Jane Wilson in Jalalabad on April 28, issued a statement on its website on Thursday reading, in part: “The threat of kidnapping and hostage-taking continues to be very high” (NYT, Reuters,CNN). Foreigners who have been victims of kidnappings since last spring include two aid workers from Germany and another from the Netherlands. Kidnappings of foreign journalists and aid workers often occur in the Kabul neighborhood of Taimani where many of them live and work. While historically conducted by gangs to secure ransoms, Afghan police are starting to fear the possibility of the sale of hostages to extremist groups. Three Americans are reportedly held, including a freelance journalist believed to be held by the Haqqani network and a mother, Caitlin Coleman, her Canadian husband, and their young child held captive by the Taliban.
Ghani nominates new defense and intelligence ministers
Afghan President Ahsraf Ghani has appointed the current deputy chief of staff of the Defense Ministry, General Abdullah Khan, to replace Masoom Stanekzai as acting defense minister (who was never confirmed by parliament for this role) while Stanekzai was appointed acting chief of the National Directorate of Security (Reuters, RFE/RL, TOLO). Both nominations require parliament’s approval.
Former CIA Pakistan bureau chief possibly poisoned by ISI after bin Laden raid
Mark Kelton, the former CIA bureau chief in Pakistan, and the agency believe he may have been poisoned by Pakistani’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) after the 2011 bin Laden raid (Post). Two months after the May 2011 raid, Kelton left the country after becoming violently ill, and while the CIA acknowledges that they have no proof Kelton was poisoned, the cause of the severe illness remains unknown. The CIA has not conducted a full investigation into Kelton’s claims, but viewed them seriously enough to search its intelligence files for any leads. At the time, relations between Kelton and then-ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha were strained, with Pasha refusing to speak to Kelton and referring to him as “the cadaver.” Commenting on the allegations, a Pakistani embassy spokesman, Nadeem Hotiana, said, “Obviously the story is fictional, not worthy of comment. We reject the insinuations implied in the allegations.”
Bonus Read: “”Unmasking Modi,” by Siddhartha Deb (The New Republic)
Bombay High Court allows meat from other states
The Bombay high court on Friday repealed a law in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act which criminalizes possession of beef, even if it was brought from outside the state of Maharashtra (HT, Hindu. LiveMint). However, the slaughter of cows is still banned in the state. As per state law, cow slaughter carries a five-year jail term and Rs.10,000 (about $150) fine while possession of meat from a bull or bullock carries a penalty of one year in jail and a Rs.2,000 fine (about $30).
Enclave citizens exercise vote for the first time
Thousands of newly registered Indian citizens, living in enclaves along the Bangladesh border, voted for the first time in India on Thursday as a part of the West Bengal state assembly elections (BBC). These people became Indian citizens last year after India and Bangladesh swapped control of 160 small pockets of land on each other’s territory last August, in an attempt to simplify the boundary between the two countries. The enclaves, home to nearly 50,000 people, were created through local peace treaties in the 18th century. The enclaves endured through British colonial rule and the independence first of India (1947) and more recently Bangladesh (1971). For six decades the residents of these enclaves were treated as stateless persons with no voting rights.
–Albert Ford and Shuja Malik
Edited by Peter Bergen