Taleban kills 16 bus passengers – ‘1.2 million’ Afghans internally displaced

KUNDUZ: Afghan relatives stand over the body of the victim of a Taleban attack, in a hospital at the Aliabad district of Kunduz province yesterday. — AFP

KUNDUZ: Afghan relatives stand over the body of the victim of a Taleban attack, in a hospital at the Aliabad district of Kunduz province yesterday. — AFP

KUNDUZ: The Taleban killed at least 16 people and kidnapped dozens of others yesterday after pulling them from buses in northern Afghanistan, officials said, in the latest assault since the insurgents named a new leader last week. The Taleban have so far not commented on the incident in Aliabad district in the volatile province of Kunduz, where the insurgents briefly overran the provincial capital in a stunning military victory last year.

“The Taleban shot dead 16 passengers and they are still holding more than 30 others,” said Sayed Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the governor of Kunduz. Police commander Shir Aziz Kamawal gave a death toll of 17. Around 200 passengers were travelling in the buses when they were stopped by the Taleban. “They (Taleban) have released some passengers but are holding many others. None of the passengers were wearing military uniform, but some may have been former police,” he said.

Residents of insurgency-prone Aliabad said that the militants were holding an informal court in a local mosque, scrutinizing the ID documents of the passengers and interrogating them for any government links. Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taleban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping and killing travelers.

Civilians are increasingly caught in the cross hairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taleban step up their annual spring offensive, launched last month against the Western-backed Kabul government. The Afghan Taleban last Wednesday announced Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, elevating a low-profile religious figure in a swift power transition after officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike. The drone attack, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taleban leader on Pakistani soil, sent shock waves through the insurgent movement, which had seen a resurgence under Mansour.

He was killed just nine months after being formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle upon confirmation of founder Mullah Omar’s death. US President Barack Obama, who authorized the drone strikes, said Mansour had rejected efforts “to seriously engage in peace talks”, asserting that direct negotiations with the Afghan government were the only way to end the attritional conflict. The US killing of Mansour showed that Washington has at least for now abandoned hopes of reviving the direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taleban, which broke down last summer.

Internally displaced
Amnesty International said yesterday that more than 1.2 million Afghans have been forced to flee their homes due to violence in the past three years and urged the Kabul government and the international community to tackle the country’s growing crisis of refugees internally displaced by war. Those numbers are growing as the war, now in its 15th year, intensifies, the rights group said in a report released in Kabul, adding that many of the internally displaced “live in horrific conditions on the brink of survival.”

The Taleban have been waging war on the Afghan government since their regime was toppled in the 2001 US invasion. With the withdrawal of most international combat troops in 2014, the insurgency has stepped up – the United Nations says that in 2015 alone, 11,002 civilians were killed or wounded, most of them by insurgents. The report quotes Farzana, a mother of seven who has lived in a Kabul camp for internally displaced people for more than a decade, after fleeing her home in Parwan province.

Since her husband left a few years ago, she has been the family’s sole breadwinner. “When you can’t put food on the table for your children, it is worse than being hit with a gun,” said Farzana, who was identified only by one name. The Afghan government is failing the displaced, even in areas where the international community is involved, Amnesty said. Pilot programs in three conflict-torn provinces – western Herat, northern Balkh and Nangarhar on the eastern border – have stalled, it said.

But Hafiz Ahmad Miakhail, a media adviser at the Afghan refugee ministry, disputed Amnesty’s numbers, saying the total number of internally displaced was closer to 1 million, with many affected not just by the war but also natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes. But Champa Patel, Amnesty’s South Asia director, said there is no question “the increased violence has let to increase displacement.” “The numbers that we are talking about and the groups that we are talking about in this report are all people who had to flee because of conflict, so we are not talking about natural disasters, we are not talking about returnees from Pakistan or Iran,” she said. Afghanistan has one of the highest refugee populations in the world, estimated at 2.6 million people living outside its borders. – Agencies

This article was published on 31/05/2016