Afghan Officials Confirm IS Recruitment; Kerry Praises Pakistani Operation, Pledges Aid; Congress Party Strategizes on Political Future
Event Notice: “Examining the Crisis in Syria,” THURSDAY, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM (New America). Afghanistan Afghan officials confirm IS recruitment in southern provinces Afghan officials confirmed for the first time on Monday that the extremist Islamic State (IS) group is increasing its activity in the country’s southern provinces, recruiting fighters, flying black flags, and ...
Event Notice: “Examining the Crisis in Syria,” THURSDAY, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM (New America).
Event Notice: “Examining the Crisis in Syria,” THURSDAY, 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM (New America).
Afghan officials confirm IS recruitment in southern provinces
Afghan officials confirmed for the first time on Monday that the extremist Islamic State (IS) group is increasing its activity in the country’s southern provinces, recruiting fighters, flying black flags, and fighting Taliban militants (AP, BBC). Multiple media outlets reported that a man identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf — a former detainee at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — has been contacting tribal leaders, jihadi commanders, and religious clerics in Helmand province and inviting them to join the group. According to the reports, the Taliban, which is also active in Helmand and several other southern provinces, has been warning people not to contact Rauf. Saifullah Sanginwal, a tribal leader in the province’s Sangin district, told reporters that nearly 20 people have been killed in fighting between the two militant factions.
The governors of Afghanistan’s southern Ghazni and Paktika provinces also told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday that they believe many of the families that recently migrated to the area from Pakistan and other countries in the region have links to IS (Pajhwok). They noted that many of the families were seen carrying black flags and chanting slogans against the Afghan security forces. Musa Khan Akbarzada, the governor of Ghazni, told reporters that an investigation into the refugees is underway.
News of IS’s activity in Afghanistan comes just two days after militants formerly aligned with the Pakistani Taliban released a video pledging their allegiance to the extremist group, and promising to increase their attacks in Afghanistan.
SIGAR: U.S. can’t account for more $300 million to Afghan police forces
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government watchdog, said in a new audit report released on Monday that the United States has been paying more than $300 million a year for the salaries of Afghan National Police officers, but has little idea whether or not that money has been correctly distributed (AJAM, Post, RFE/RL). According to SIGAR, some Afghan police members have been paid inflated salaries, while others are at risk of having their salaries skimmed as most payments are made in cash and not closely supervised (Business Insider, Pajhwok). Several district police rosters also have higher numbers listed than the actual number of police on the force. SIGAR added that U.S. officials have accepted the figures on working police personnel provided by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, but noted that other U.S. monitors found irregularities within the police payroll system as early as 2006.
Kerry praises Pakistan’s fight against militants, promises aid for refugees
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in Islamabad on Monday with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif (no relation) to encourage Pakistan in its fight against militants in the country’s restive tribal regions, and to discuss further security cooperation between the two countries (AP, Reuters, RFE/RL, VOA, WSJ). According to a U.S. State Department official who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, part of Kerry’s focus was to make sure the military’s current operation is against all of the militant groups operating in Pakistan and that there is “a real and sustained effort to constrain the ability of the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban, and other militants who pose a threat to regional stability and to direct U.S. interests” (Post).
At the end of the first day of Kerry’s unannounced visit to the country, U.S. officials also said the United States plans to provide $250 million in emergency aid to Pakistan to help resettle and sustain civilians displaced by the military’s campaign against the militants (ET, NYT). Bonus Read: “Is Pakistan Worth America’s Investment?,” The Editorial Board (NYT).
Pakistani cleric offers prayers for Hebdo attackers
Pir Mohammad Chishti, a hard-line cleric in Peshawar, led a memorial service on Tuesday for the two brothers who attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris last Wednesday, praising the assault that killed 12 people and injured several others (AFP, AP). According to reports, between 40 and 60 people attended the service, with some carrying banners condemning the magazine, which has run cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the past and will feature one again on the cover of this Wednesday’s issue. At the prayer ceremony, which came just a few days after a similar service in Afghanistan, Chishti told reporters than anyone who commits blasphemy should be killed. Bonus Read: “Pakistani Cartoonist on Charlie Hebdo, Satire, and Islam,” Lakshmi Gandhi (NBC News).
— Bailey Cahall
Congress party meets to discuss political strategy
The apex decision-making body of India’s National Congress party, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), is meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday to discuss upcoming elections, debate opposition ordinances, and strategize the party’s broader political future (Hindustan Times, Times of India, Zee News). Chaired by Congress President Sonia Gandhi at the All India National Congress party headquarters, the conference comes on the heels of a poor electoral record: Since the 2014 Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) elections, the party has lost national elections to the Bharatiya Janata Party and state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir (Zee News). More granular agenda items include amending post tenures of party members from five years to three, and discussing whether to demarcate members as “active” or “primary” (Times of India).
Speculation also surrounds Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi’s son, who might become the Congress party’s next president. The CWC conference follows the Election Commission’s announcement of the polling schedule for the 70-member Delhi assembly. During its heydey, Congress ruled Delhi for decades as the country’s dominant political party — with six national electoral victories and four ruling coalition victories — before experiencing its worst-ever political performance in 2009.
Kerry calls for better Indo-Pak ties
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday expressed deep concern from Islamabad over violence between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control, and among local terror groups that pose a continuous threat to Pakistan, India, and the region (LiveMint, Economic Times). “We continue to be deeply concerned by the recent spate of increased violence along the working boundary and the line of control (LoC),” Kerry said. The secretary added: “It is profoundly in the interests of Pakistan and India to move this relationship forward” (Reuters). Kerry’s visit to Islamabad follows his two-day trip to India, where he attended a trade summit and urged greater economic ties between India and the United States.
Bollywood’s “PK” highest grossing Indian film ever
The Indian satirical-comedy film “PK” — which tells the story of a young alien boy who comes to Earth on a research mission and questions convention and religion — has become the highest grossing film in Bollywood history according to its producers (Indian Express). The film has brought in an estimated 285 crore (around $90 million), leading other Bollywood hits such as “Dhoom 3” (Rs. 271 crore, $85 million), which came out in 2013 (Guardian).Released in December 2014, the film features Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma, and has appealed to both domestic and international audiences.
Not without controversy, “PK” has also invited criticism from right-wing organizations that claim the movie disrespects Hinduism. “I had never in my wildest dreams thought this film [would] cross these numbers,” 52-year-old director Rajkumar Hirani said (Times of India). He added: “It reinforces faith that content is king. We can continue making films we believe in. The messages I get are overwhelming. People are watching the film over and over again. It’s humbling.”
— Jameel Khan
Edited by Peter Bergen.
JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
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