Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan

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Amidst conflicting reports in regarding to Afghanistan’s internal situation and US Administration’s forthcoming plans, a BBC study published on Tuesday has revealed that the Taliban are openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, fully controlling 4 percent of the country and demonstrating an open physical presence in another 66 percent. The BBC estimate, which it said was based on conversations with more than 1,200 individual sources in all districts of the South Asian country, was significantly higher than the most recent assessment by the NATO-led coalition. The coalition said on Tuesday that the Taliban contested or controlled only 44 percent of Afghan districts as of October 2017. Afghanistan has been reeling over the past nine days from a renewed spate of violence that is adding scrutiny to the latest, more aggressive US-backed strategy to bolster Afghan forces battling the Taliban in a 16-year-old war.
A bomb hidden in an ambulance struck the city center and killed more than 100 people, just over a week after an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental, also in Kabul, which left more than 20 people dead, including four US citizens. The BBC counted 399 districts in Afghanistan, but the NATO-led force counted 407. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear. The study said the Afghan government controlled 122 districts, or about 30 percent of the country. Still, it noted, that did not mean that they were free from Taliban attacks. Kabul and other major cities, for example, suffered major attacks – launched from adjacent areas, or by sleeper cells – during the research period, as well as before and after.
Asked about the BBC’s study, the Pentagon did not comment directly, but pointed to the latest figures by the NATO-led coalition asserting that about 56 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was under Afghan government control or influence. Captain Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the coalition in Kabul, said the BBC estimate overstated the militants’ “influence impact”. According to him, this is a criminal network, not a government in waiting. Referring to the Resolute Support mission, he said that what really matters is not the number of districts held, but population controlled. RS assesses that around 12 percent of the population is actually under full Taliban control. The study by Britain’s public broadcaster quoted a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani playing down the findings. The study also said Islamic State had a presence in 30 districts, but noted it did not fully control any of them.
In another development, Afghanistan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and secret agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) Chief arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday to deliver message of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan government. According to their programme, the two-member delegation will hold talks with high officials including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Afghan government had requested that a high level delegation comprising Interior Minister and NDS chief would like to visit Pakistan with a message from Afghan President and for discussions about cooperation between the two countries. Earlier, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan refuted Afghan media reports suggesting Ghani refused to take condolence call from Pakistan Prime Minister Abbasi. Not true – no phone call has taken place. Meanwhile, Pakistan has once again assured Kabul of its full support against anti-Afghanistan elements. In a series of tweets, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal said Pakistan continued to push any suspected TTA and HN elements to prevent them from using Pakistan soil for any terrorist activity in Afghanistan.
This month, the US said it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan targeting the Coalition Support Funds. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said for now the US was suspending ‘security assistance only’ to Pakistan. She maintained that Pakistan will be able to receive the suspended funding if it took ‘decisive actions’ against the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan said it was not dependent on US aid for its war on terror. Reacting to the United States’ decision to cut aid to Pakistan , the foreign ministry said Pakistan had fought the war against terrorism largely from its own resources which has cost over $120 billion in 15 years.