FACEBOOK GRANTS GOVERNMENT OF AFGHANISTAN LIMITED POSTING RIGHTS

The Taliban is banned from Facebook, but its Ministry of Interior was quietly allowed to post.

FOLLOWING THE U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ascendance of the Taliban, Facebook has found itself with a power nearly unprecedented in history: an American corporation unilaterally controlling the most popular means through which an entire foreign government speaks to its people.

After the Taliban assumed power in August, Facebook initially tightened its controls on the group, which it had already blacklisted. But internal company materials reviewed by The Intercept show that Facebook has carved out several exceptions to its Taliban ban, permitting specific government ministries to share content via the company’s platforms and contributing to a growing tangle of internal policies on how the Taliban posts.

Facebook has for years officially barred the Taliban and myriad affiliates from using its platforms under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, an internal blacklist published by The Intercept in September. The DIO blocks thousands of groups and people from Facebook platforms and dictates what billions of people can say about them there. But unlike other banned groups on the DIO list, like Al Qaeda or the Third Reich, the Taliban is now a sovereign government engaged in the very real business of administering an entire country with millions of inhabitants.

An internal policy memorandum obtained by The Intercept shows that, at the end of September, the company created a DIO exception “to allow content shared by the Ministry of Interior.” The memo cited only “important information about new traffic regulations,” noting “we assess the public value of this content to outweigh the potential harm,” although it did not limit its exception to traffic updates only. A second DIO exception added at the same time provides a far narrower carveout: Two specific posts from the Ministry of Health would be permitted on the grounds that they contained information relevant to Covid-19. Despite the exceptions, however, Interior’s Facebook page was deleted at the end of October, as first reported by Pajhwok Afghan News agency, while the Health Ministry’s page hasn’t posted since October 2.

The exception memo cited “important information about new traffic regulations,” noting “we assess the public value of this content to outweigh the potential harm.”

While no other government offices are currently allowed to share information, other exceptions to the DIO policy reviewed by The Intercept were even narrower in scope: For just 12 days in August, government figures on Facebook were permitted to recognize the Taliban “as official gov of Afghanistan” without risking deletion or suspension, according to another internal memo, and a similarly brief stretch from late August to September 3 granted users the freedom to post the Taliban’s public statements without having to “neutrally discuss, report on, or condemn” these statements.

While exempting the Ministry of Interior would permit Afghans to receive information about a variety of important administrative functions like public security, driver’s licenses, and immigration matters, no such exceptions have been issued for other offices with responsibilities vital to the basic functioning of any country, like the ministries of agriculture, commerce, finance, and justice. Afghanistan is currently “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” according to a recent U.N. report, and the new Taliban administration is still struggling to establish itself.

Facebook spokesperson Sally Aldous told The Intercept that the Taliban remains banned from the company’s services through the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, adding, “We continue to review content and Pages against our policies and last month removed several Pages including those from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Public Works. However, we’ve allowed some content about the provision of essential public services in Afghanistan, including, for example, two posts in August on the Afghan Health Page.”

It’s unclear how Facebook has arrived at this piecemeal approach to its Taliban policy, or how exactly it determined which government ministries to permit. Aldous declined to explain how the company drafted these policy exceptions or why they they weren’t publicly disclosed, but told The Intercept that “Facebook does not make decisions about the recognized government in any particular country but instead respects the authority of the international community in making these determinations,” adding, “We have a dedicated team, including regional experts, working to monitor the situation in Afghanistan. We also have a wide and growing network of local and international partners that we work with to alert us to emerging issues and provide essential context.”

Experts who spoke to The Intercept say these exceptions, even if well-intentioned, demand a public disclosure not only of their existence, but also of how the determinations were reached. Others criticized the policy exceptions as arbitrary in nature, underscoring the unchecked power the American company holds over the functioning of another country’s government, particularly in a society like Afghanistan where a lack of internet infrastructure creates a greater reliance on Facebook products. In 2019, a New York Times report noted that Facebook messaging product “WhatsApp has become second only to Facebook as a way for Afghans to communicate with one another, and with the outside world.” While poorer countries are a lucrative and growing target for Facebook’s advertising operations, years of reporting show these markets are often an afterthought in terms of content policy and moderation.

Masuda Sultan, co-founder of Women for Afghan Women, told The Intercept that while the potential for Taliban propagandizing is a concern, Facebook platforms in Afghanistan may present “the only communication that many people have in order to relay messages with the entities in power, or for these entities to hear them.” In August, Sultan made use of the now-shuttered Taliban WhatsApp hotline when her NGO’s Kabul office was attacked amid the chaos of the American pullout. “It was incredibly important for us to have access to them because the police had abandoned their posts and we had no one else to call,” she added. “Especially during an emergency, it is not helpful to have communications shut down between ordinary people and those in power.”

Facebook platforms in Afghanistan may present “the only communication that many people have in order to relay messages with the entities in power.”

While Facebook is a publicly traded company and at times consults and collaborates with both governmental experts and regional NGOs, the company remains under the complete and total control of one man, founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, and its policy decisions are ultimately his. It’s unclear to what extent the future of Afghanistan is a priority for Zuckerberg, even while his company’s undisclosed content policies continue to affect it.

The company has stumbled through issues of national sovereignty in the past — throttling the military junta in Myanmar’s access to Facebook and banning the sitting president of the United States early this year — but the magnitude of banning an entire government and then creating niche exceptions to that ban is a new test of the company’s de facto control over the flow of information to billions of people around the world. “Facebook has had to make these calls before,” explained Jane Esberg, a senior social media analyst at International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, but “the scale of it is new in the sense that it is both extremely political in the United States, and it is with an organization that is a designated terror organization.”

While the Taliban is not listed as a terrorist entity by the State Department, it is subject to economic sanctions through the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist roster, a list of entities on which Facebook’s own internal blacklist relies heavily. Facebook has repeatedly pointed to the SDGT list as the legal rationale behind its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, claiming it has no choice but to limit such speech, though legal scholars deny the company is under any legal obligation to censor the Taliban or any other SDGT entity, let alone censor those who want to mention them.

However, Facebook appears to be operating based on its own extremely broad and conservative interpretation of the law, one that critics say isn’t grounded in the actual statutes at play but rather the company’s corporate prerogatives. In a recent Twitter thread on this topic, Electronic Frontier Foundation senior attorney and civil liberties director David Greene wrote, “I can confirm that for years we’ve been asking Facebook to provide the specific legal authority that compels them to remove these groups (as opposed to just deciding they don’t want them). I’ve always said there is none. And we’ve never had a specific law cited to us.”

By notable contrast, Twitter continues to permit the Taliban to use its platform without legal penalty of any kind. “It’s completely unclear what the political logic is and who’s driving the political logic internally,” said Esberg, who emphasized the importance of “some degree of transparency so that we understand what the logic is, what counts as information that the Afghan public needs to see” versus whatever speech is deemed too “dangerous” for the platform. In a recent article for Just Security, Faiza Patel and Mary Pat Dwyer of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice rebutted the notion that the company’s hands are tied by anti-terror statutes and sanctions compliance, writing: “Facebook needs to set aside the distracting fiction that U.S. law requires its current approach.”

The ad hoc exception to certain elements of the Taliban government makes Facebook’s claims that it’s legally bound by the federal government to censor certain foreign groups even more untenable: If U.S. law mandates barring the Taliban regime from using its platforms, as the company and its executives repeatedly assert, then presumably these exceptions would violate Facebook’s expansive interpretation of its legal obligations. Facebook spokesperson Sally Aldous did not respond to a question on this point.

Ashley Jackson, a former aid worker with the U.N. and Oxfam and co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups, also criticized the company’s approach. “Why not exempt the Ministry of Education, or whatever else that deals with essential services?” she asked. “The post-2001 republic collapsed. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have absolute power over the government. It makes little sense to pick and choose.”

The ban is all the more baffling because members of the Taliban can thwart it, Jackson added. “I know that the Taliban have used Facebook to spread propaganda and wage the war because I’ve seen it and written about it,” she said. “I’ve even used Facebook to connect with Taliban commanders. All [Facebook] are doing is covering themselves and obstructing information.”

Still, Facebook is no doubt under political pressure at home to deny the Taliban any benefit whatsoever, even if it means keeping Afghans in the dark.

“What they are doing is a cynical PR exercise — not actual safeguarding.”

“Facebook’s stance reflects a much more contentious debate on ‘legitimizing’ the Taliban, which has been marked by total and utter policy incoherence on the part of Western States,” Jackson explained. “It makes sense that Facebook’s own policy is incoherent, but erring on the side of conservatism — they’re trying to avoid public criticism. No private company should have this power, of course, but what they are doing is a cynical PR exercise — not actual safeguarding.”

Facebook’s Taliban problem began as the militant group took control of Kabul in August, pitting the social network’s opaque and U.S.-centric content moderation policies against the undeniable reality on the ground. As the last American planes were escaping the city and Taliban officials were setting up shop in government buildings, Facebook terminated a WhatsApp “emergency hotline” created by the group “for civilians to report violence, looting or other problems,” the Financial Times reported. The move immediately drew a mixed reaction, satisfying foreign policy hard-liners while disturbing others who said it would only deprive an already beleaguered Afghan public of receiving information from their new government, however loathed in the West.

But even though Afghanistan now occupies a diminished space in the American public consciousness and media, Facebook’s role there remains no less fraught. “There’s a real tension between wanting to keep certain information on the platform, including propaganda and misinformation,” said Esberg, “and allowing these actors to actually govern, and not completely scuttling their attempts at governing a country that is already facing a pretty severe crisis in and of itself.”

FACEBOOK GRANTS GOVERNMENT OF AFGHANISTAN LIMITED POSTING RIGHTS
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Afghan journalists decry Taliban rules restricting role of women on TV

Agence France-Presse in Kabul

Journalists asked to wear a hijab and broadcasters told to stop showing dramas featuring female actors

An Afghan presenter records her morning programme on the all-female network Zan TV in Kabul.
An Afghan presenter records her morning programme on the all-female network Zan TV in Kabul. Photograph: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

Afghan journalists and rights activists have condemned “religious guidelines” issued by the Taliban that restrict the role of women in television, as the Islamists move to muzzle the media.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on Sunday called on broadcasters to stop showing dramas and soap operas featuring female actors.

It also told broadcasters not to screen films or programmes that are “against Islamic or Afghan values” and asked female television journalists to wear a hijab at work.

Zan TV, the first Afghan channel staffed exclusively by female producers and reporters, tweeted that the guidelines threatened media freedom and would reduce the presence of female journalists.

The attempt to regulate the media comes three months after the Taliban swept back into power.

Hujatullah Mujadidi, a founding member of the Federation of Afghan Journalists, said if applied the guidelines would force “some media outlets, especially television, to stop working”.

Many shows rolled out to fill TV schedules, notably soap operas produced in India and Turkey, will be inappropriate under the guidelines, making it difficult for channels to generate enough output and retain audiences.

A ministry spokesman said after the announcement that the measures amounted to “religious guidelines” rather than rules.

But Qari Abdul Sattar Saeed, a media spokesperson for the Taliban prime minister, days earlier accused the Afghan media of conveying propaganda for the “enemy” and said they should be treated harshly.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid gestures towards journalists at a press conference in Kabul on 24 Mujahid
Afghanistan: fewer than 100 out of 700 female journalists still working
Aslia Ahmadzai, a journalist in exile, said female journalists “will feel threatened” by the measures.
Another exiled Afghan journalist, who wanted to remain anonymous, described the guidelines as “the first step to banning the TV altogether, just like in the 90s”.

During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 stint in power, there was no Afghan media to speak of – the Islamists banned television, films and most other forms of entertainment, deeming them immoral.

Despite insisting they would rule more moderately this time around, the Taliban have introduced rules on what women must wear at university.

Taliban members have also beaten and harassed several Afghan journalists covering protests despite promising to uphold press freedoms.

Human Rights Watch condemned the guidelines. “The new media regulations and threats against journalists reflect broader efforts to silence all criticism of Taliban rule,” said Patricia Gossman, an associate Asia director at the organisation.

Many journalists were living in fear because of threats, the rights group said. It alleged “Taliban officials … have required journalists to submit all reports for approval before publication”.

Afghan journalists decry Taliban rules restricting role of women on TV
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Exclusive-UAE holds talks with Taliban to run Kabul airport – foreign diplomats

By

Reuters

24 Nov 2021

DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates has held talks with the Taliban to run Kabul airport, going up against Gulf rival Qatar in a diplomatic tussle for influence with Afghanistan’s new rulers, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.

UAE officials have held a series of discussions with the group in recent weeks to discuss operating the airport that serves as landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link to the world, the foreign diplomats based in the Gulf region told Reuters.

The talks demonstrate how countries are seeking to assert their influence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan even as the hardline Islamist group largely remains an international pariah and its government not formally recognised by any country.

The Emiratis are keen to counter diplomatic clout enjoyed there by Qatar, according to the sources who declined to be name due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The Qataris have been helping run the Hamid Karzai International Airport along with Turkey after playing a major role in evacuation efforts following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in August, and have said they are willing to take over the operations.

Yet the Taliban has not yet formalised an arrangement with Qatar, the four diplomats said.

A senior Emirati foreign ministry official said the UAE, which previously ran Kabul airport during the U.S.-backed Afghan republic, “remains committed to continuing to assist in operating” it to ensure humanitarian access and safe passage.

Abu Dhabi also aided recent evacuation efforts.

The Taliban and Qatari authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Two of the diplomats said the Taliban has also sought financial assistance from the UAE, though they added it was not clear if this was related to the airport discussions.

The Emirati foreign ministry official, Salem Al Zaabi, director of international security cooperation, did not respond to a question on whether the UAE was considering providing financial help to the Taliban.

AIRPORT INTELLIGENCE

One key issue that’s still to be resolved between the Taliban and potential airport operators is who would provide security at the site, the four diplomats said. The Taliban say they do not want foreign forces in the country following their return to power after two decades of war.

Still, Qatari special forces are presently providing security within the airport’s perimeter, the diplomats added, while Taliban special forces were patrolling areas outside.

So far countries have been reluctant to formally recognise the Taliban’s government, accusing the group of backtracking on pledges to uphold the rights of women and minorities.

Yet Qatari officials have urged greater international engagement with the Taliban to prevent impoverished Afghanistan from falling into a humanitarian crisis. Gulf states have also voiced concern here that the U.S. withdrawal would allow al Qaeda to regain a foothold in Afghanistan.

While there is little commercial benefit for any operator, the airport would provide a much-needed source of intelligence on movements in and out of the country, according to the four diplomats, who said that since the withdrawal many countries have lacked real-time information.

REGIONAL RIVALRIES

Qatar and the UAE have had strained relations for years as they competed for regional influence.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allies boycotted Qatar for over three years, cutting off political, trade and transport ties, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism – a charge that it denies. The dispute was resolved in January this year.

Qatar has long been the gateway to the Taliban, with Doha hosting the group’s political office since 2013 and negotiations with the U.S. in early 2020 that led to the withdrawal.

Last week, Qatari officials strengthened their position by signing an accord here to represent American diplomatic interests in Afghanistan.

The UAE has maintained ties with the Taliban too, according to two of the diplomats. They said the country had been home to some members of the group in recent years, including Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who they added lived in the Sharjah emirate with his family from at least 2013. Stanikzai is now deputy foreign minister in the Taliban administration.

Al Zaabi did not respond to questions on the UAE’s relationship with Stanikzai. The Taliban did not immediately respond to queries on Stanikzai living in the UAE.

The Taliban said this month that the UAE had reopened its embassy in Kabul. The UAE has not commented.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Jonathan Landay in Washington, Andrew Mills in Doha and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Pravin Char

Exclusive-UAE holds talks with Taliban to run Kabul airport – foreign diplomats
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Human Rights Situation After 100 Days of the Islamic Emirate

The international community has stated that the involvement of Afghan women in the government and respect for women’s rights are conditions for the recognition.

After the political change in the country, human rights, especially the rights of Afghan women and girls, have become a hotly debated issue both within Afghanistan and internationally. 

The international community has stated that the involvement of Afghan women in the government and respect for women’s rights are conditions for the recognition of the new government.

“In contrary to the Taliban’s commitments, in the last three weeks many women were banned from going to their work and are marginalized. In many areas they are not even allowed to go out of home without a Muharram,” said Michel Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights.

The 100-day mark of the new government is on Tuesday, and international human rights organizations and institutions continue to voice concerns over the widespread reports of violations of human rights and women’s rights in Afghanistan.

On September 16, the Islamic Emirate announced its lineup of cabinet members and there were no women in the cabinet. Further, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was suspended and named the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

Meanwhile, female students at secondary schools, along with female teachers, were banned from attending school, although male students and teachers were allowed to continue their education.

“In a government, when girls cannot go to school–cannot work–and other citizens cannot work in a safe environment–what kind of government is this?” said Roya Dadras, former spokeswoman for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

A woman who protested the closing down of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said: “The ministry of women is the identity of Afghanistan’s women. We are against changing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Based on numbers reported by the United Nations, in 2020, 27% of the members of the Parliament’s lower house and one-fifth of the former government employees were women, and 5.3 million girls were going to school. But after the political change in the country, women were not only barred from working in the government structure but also the fate of high school girls remains unclear, which has sparked a sustained international reaction. The status of Afghanistan’s representation in the UN remains unclear. Suhail Shaheen was proposed by the Islamic Emirate to represent the country at the international body, but his appointment was rejected by the UN.

“The United Nations should give this seat to a person who respects the rights of all in Afghanistan. There is much talk regarding Afghan women, but no one listens to us,” said Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan activist and former MP.

Following strong reactions over the closure of girls’ schools in the country, the Ministry of Education said that now girls and young women in grades 7-12 will be allowed to go to school in 8 provinces.

“The issue of the girls’ education is very important. We are working on a plan; when completed, we will provide the right environment for girls to pursue their education,” said Nazar Mohammad Irfan, spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

In the meantime, Afghanistan has been removed from the list of countries classified with a “hybrid system” in terms of “backward democracies,” and has been placed on the list of authoritarian governments.

The closing of the Independent Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan, the holding of informal courts in some provinces, the uncertain future of university students and the continuance of their education, the limiting of women’s activities, the military confrontations in response to civil protesters, and threats to human rights defenders are the human rights issues over which the international community expresses concern.

“We have not avoided difficult plans with the Taliban, especially about the rights of ethnic minorities, women’s rights, girls’ education and lack of an inclusive government. We have had reports regarding the killings of civilians. Taliban admitted that they made mistakes and said that they will take action and solve it,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan.

How does the Islamic Emirate evaluate the human rights situation in the past 100 days?

Inamullah Samangani, deputy spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, said: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is trying to create a good framework and a good working environment for women.”

Human Rights Situation After 100 Days of the Islamic Emirate
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Islamic Emirate Official: Japan to Reopen Embassy

The Japanese ambassador, according to Samangani, said humanitarian aid should arrive in Afghanistan before the winter sets in.

Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Takashi Okada, in a meeting with the PM’s Deputy for Political Affairs, Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, said his country will reopen its embassy in Kabul if security is assured, said an Islamic Emirate official.

Inamullah Samangani, deputy spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, said Okada and Abdul Kabir met on Tuesday and discussed Afghanistan-Japan relations and humanitarian aid.

According to Samangani, Okada at the meeting said his country will engage with the Islamic Emirate and will reopen its embassy in Kabul.

“We intend to reopen our embassy after security is assured. A joint framework should be created for practical measures,” Okada said as quoted by Samangani on Twitter.

The Japanese ambassador also said that his country would continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, adding that aid should arrive in Afghanistan before winter sets in, as quoted by Samangani.

The remarks follow the reopening of the United Arab Emirates embassy in Kabul a few days ago.

Islamic Emirate Official: Japan to Reopen Embassy
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U.S. envoy on Afghanistan to return to Doha to meet Taliban -State Department

25 November 2021

State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks on the situation in Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 18, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks on the situation in Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 18, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) – The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan will visit Doha next week for two days of meetings with leaders of the Taliban, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.

“They’ll discuss … our vital national interests when it comes to Afghanistan,” said Price. “That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for U.S. citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country.”

The U.S. envoy, Tom West, earlier this month attended a meeting of the so-called extended Troika, comprising Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States to discuss Afghanistan. The group had also met with senior Taliban representatives.

West was also part of the U.S. delegation in meetings with Taliban officials in Doha in October, the first such talks between Washington and the Taliban after United States’ chaotic end to its two decade-long war in Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

An abrupt withdrawal of most foreign development support after the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15 from Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has sent the economy into freefall. There is a shortage of hard cash and Taliban leaders are under Western sanctions.

With winter approaching, deeply impoverished Afghanistan has emerged from all-out war into a humanitarian crisis. Millions face growing hunger amid soaring food prices and a drought.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; editing by Grant McCool
U.S. envoy on Afghanistan to return to Doha to meet Taliban -State Department
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Taliban sends hundreds of fighters to eastern Afghanistan to wage war against Islamic State

By Susannah George

The Washington Post
Yesterday at 3:49 p.m. EST
Taliban fighters inspect the site of a roadside bombing in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, that targeted a Taliban vehicle on Oct. 23. (Shir Shah Hamdard/AP)

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — The Taliban has expanded its shadowy war against the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan, deploying hundreds more fighters to this eastern province in an increasingly violent fight and critical test of the group’s counterterrorism abilities after the U.S. troop withdrawal.

More than 1,300 additional Taliban fighters have been deployed to Nangahar province in the past month with orders to increase the tempo of operations, according to Taliban security officials. Taliban night raids against suspected Islamic State-Khorasan members are on the rise, and many of the hundreds arrested have disappeared or turned up dead, according to Jalalabad residents and Taliban fighters.

“The fight is difficult, and yes sometimes it is brutal, but we have to eradicate Daesh not just for Afghanistan, but for the entire world,” said Qari Nurullah Fateh, a Taliban fighter under the group’s intelligence wing in Jalalabad. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State commonly used in Afghanistan. “If someone doesn’t surrender to us, we kill them.”

Fateh’s unit carries out multiple search operations for Islamic State suspects in Jalalabad most nights from sunset until early morning prayers. Previously, the fighters would only leave base once or twice a week. Fateh estimated that seven to 10 Islamic State suspects are arrested in Jalalabad every week and about six are killed.

The Taliban crackdown has sent shock waves through the province and is emerging in Islamic State recruitment propaganda calling on Nangahar residents to rise up and resist. It is unclear how many new fighters have joined the Islamic State’s ranks, but since the Taliban takeover the group has strengthened, become more active and expanded its presence to nearly every Afghan province, according to United Nations assessments.

The wave of Islamic State attacks here and across Afghanistan is the first sustained challenge to the Taliban’s grip on security since the group took control of the country in August. But the escalating fight in Nangahar risks overstretching limited Taliban resources and further alienating many Afghans.

The Islamic State began attacking Jalalabad within weeks of the Taliban takeover. Local Taliban commanders initially responded by killing several accused collaborators and hanging their bodies along main roads and at busy intersections.

“This was a very effective way to respond,” said Fateh, the Taliban fighter in Jalalabad. “It was a lesson to the people that this is what happens if you join Daesh. We wanted to show them the consequences.” Two other elite Taliban fighters confirmed Fateh’s account.“Myself, I strung up two of the bodies,” Fateh said, estimating other Taliban fighters hung about 40 more. Dozens of accused collaborators were beheaded. He said the punishments were carried out in accordance with Islamic law and were approved by Taliban provincial leadership.

But since the brutal killings, violence has only increased, according to data collected by local health officials. And some Jalalabad residents and former Afghan government officials warn that the Taliban’s approach to restoring order will fan Islamic State recruitment efforts.

An Afghan receives treatment at a hospital after he was injured in a mosque bombing during Friday prayers in Jalalabad on Nov. 12. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

Community leaders in Nangahar have pleaded for the Taliban to end the killings, warning “otherwise we cannot stop our youth from joining the [Islamic State] and the beginning of a very brutal era,” said Abdul Sayed, a London-based researcher of extremist organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, citing statements released via public WhatsApp groups.

At a recent news conference, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid downplayed the threat, saying the Islamic State does not have any support among Afghans and the group has “largely been dealt with.”

But Khalil Hamraz, the spokesman for the Taliban’s directorate of intelligence, acknowledged at the same conference that the Taliban’s military takeover of the country inadvertently bolstered Islamic State ranks. Taliban attacks on prisons across the country freed jailed Islamic State members who now threaten security in Afghanistan, he said.

“During the victory of the Islamic Emirate, many Daesh prisoners unfortunately managed to escape,” he said, but in the months since, Taliban fighters have arrested about 600 Islamic State suspects and defused deadly explosives.

Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan are estimated to number between 2,000 and 3,500 — just a fraction of the approximately 70,000 fighters in the Taliban’s ranks.

The Taliban has engaged in battles with the Islamic State for years. In 2019, Taliban fighters helped clear much of Nangahar of Islamic State-held territory, in parallel with a massive U.S.-led operation in which the United States closely supported Afghan government forces with waves of airstrikes. U.S. officials said they did not partner with the Taliban but said Taliban-led offensives on the ground against the Islamic State were critical to its success.

Islamic State attacks across Afghanistan sharply declined the following year, but U.S. officials warned that the group could easily regroup if counterterrorism pressure isn’t applied after the U.S. withdrawal.

Orders to kill

Even with specialized equipment and elite counterterrorism units, U.S.-backed Afghan government forces struggled for years to control Nangahar. Home to formidable terrain, profitable smuggling routes and mineral deposits close to Kabul, the province is key real estate for militant groups looking to move fighters and munitions between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“These Taliban fighters are not familiar with the province, and they have no way to check the intelligence they receive about [Islamic State] targets,” said a Jalalabad resident and former civil society activist, who, like others in this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. “So they just go after anyone they suspect, kill them and say that person was Daesh.”

He said he knows dozens of families whose homes were raided and who cannot find their loved ones. Those who are imprisoned by the Taliban and released, he said, often endured days of torture.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, left, and Intelligence Service spokesman Khalil Hamraz appear at a news conference in Kabul on Nov. 10. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

Fateh, the Taliban fighter assigned to the group’s intelligence wing in Jalalabad, said the top Taliban intelligence commander for Nangahar, Mohammad Bashir, signs off on all targets before a raid is launched and has the final say in all sentences delivered to captured suspects.

Bashir declined multiple interview requests. Bilal Karimi, a deputy Taliban spokesman, would not comment on whether a Taliban court has ruled that accused Islamic State members should be hung in public or beheaded.

“However, I can say many of the [Islamic State] members have been killed in armed clashes,” he said.

Most suspects detained for trial are brought to Jalalabad’s intelligence compound, Fateh said. If they are sentenced to death, they are executed and their bodies are dumped in the street outside the building, he said. In other cases, accused Islamic State members are walked into an open field on Jalalabad’s outskirts and shot.

“We always inform the neighborhood elder so they can tell the family where to collect the body for burial,” he said. “We never desecrate the dead. That is wrong. It’s against Islam.”

Violence spikes

Muhammad Tahir Mubaris, who commands a Taliban unit that was recently moved from Ghazni to Jalalabad, said extensive networks of Taliban informants will ultimately help the group achieve what the United States couldn’t: the complete defeat the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

“It’s because the people trust us. Daesh has no support here,” he said, leading a patrol convoy through central Jalalabad traffic on a recent day this month. Unlike the United States, he said, Taliban raids don’t alienate local populations.

“We saw how the Americans conducted night raids. It showed us the wrong way to fight,” he said, referring to U.S.-backed operations that drew criticism from human rights groups. “We don’t just break into a house and destroy everything. This is our country; we respect the culture.”The approach does not appear to be working. While the Taliban’s military takeover ended decades of war for most of Afghanistan, violence in Nangahar has escalated with near-daily attacks claimed by the Islamic State. And some Jalalabad residents describe the Taliban raids as more brutal than those carried out by the United States and its Afghan allies.

Few Taliban fighters are trained or have experience conducting precision operations in urban areas. After more than two decades of fighting a guerrilla war, the force is still adjusting to maintaining security during peacetime. Exponentially increasing the number of operations without also expanding intelligence capabilities raises the risk that civilians will be mistaken for Islamic State members.

Already, the number of civilians caught in the crossfire has surged in Nangahar. Across the province, twice as many people were killed and injured by roadside bombs, clashes and targeted killings compared to the month before the government fell, according to a senior member of the provincial health department. And in Jalalabad, the central hospital admitted more casualties of war in October than any other month this year, according to two senior doctors there.

“I can’t remember the last time the numbers of war wounded were this high,” said one of the doctors at Jalalabad’s main hospital who has worked in the city’s health sector for years.

Outside his office, the courtyard was full of dozens of families and groups of Taliban members waiting for news of relatives and comrades inside.

Thick metal pins poked out of a white gauze wrapping around Gulzada Osman’s right leg. This month he was knocked off his feet and sprayed with shrapnel after a passing Taliban pickup truck rolled over a roadside bomb not far from his home.

Taliban fighters responded with gunfire, he said. After suffering only minor injuries from the blast, Osman was then shot through his thigh. “My leg felt like it was burning, but when I looked down I just saw blood everywhere,” he said.

The explosive was probably placed by an Islamic State fighter or by someone paid by the group to target the Taliban, according to former local officials and analysts. Unlike recent bombings claimed by the militants elsewhere in Afghanistan, in Nangahar, Islamic State attacks are smaller in scale: roadside bombs targeting Taliban convoys and drive-by shootings of Taliban fighters stationed at checkpoints.

Islamic State attacks are expected to rise as the Taliban ramps up operations in Nangahar, according to the former Afghan security officials.

“The people are more than upset,” said one of the former officials of rising violence and civilian casualties. “Before the government collapse many thought the Taliban could be a better way. But if the fight continues like this, there will be a wave of people joining Daesh.”

Ezzatullah Mehrdad in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Taliban sends hundreds of fighters to eastern Afghanistan to wage war against Islamic State
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Pakistan pledges $28m in Afghanistan humanitarian support

Al Jazeera

Chairing meeting of committee on Afghan assistance, Prime Minister Imran Khan also authorises transit of Indian food aid.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced more than $28m medical, food and other humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, while also authorising the transport of food aid from India through Pakistan to Afghanistan, his office says.

Khan met his country’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and top government officials, including the foreign minister, finance minister and national security adviser, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Monday.

“[The PM] ordered an immediate shipment of in-kind humanitarian assistance worth 5 billion Pakistani rupees [roughly $28.4m], which will comprise food commodities including 50,000 [metric tonnes] of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters and other supplies,” a statement released following the meeting said.

The Pakistani government will also reduce tariffs and sales tax on certain Afghan exports to Pakistan, the statement said.

Khan’s office said that it would allow 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat offered by India as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan “to go through Pakistan as soon as modalities are finalised with the Indian side”.

The aid had been offered earlier this month, and on November 11, the Indian foreign ministry said it had been facing obstacles in accessing Afghanistan.

“[W]e have been looking at the possibilities, but there have been difficulties due to lack of unimpeded access,” said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi.

Pakistan says it will also facilitate the return of Afghans seeking medical treatment in India who had been stranded there since the Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s northwestern neighbour in August.

A delegation of Afghan health officials is due to visit Islamabad for talks with Pakistani counterparts on Pakistani humanitarian assistance, the statement said.

Top US delegation visits

Also on Monday, a delegation of two senior US congressmen – US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks and Foreign Affairs Asia sub-committee Chairman Ami Bera – held talks in Islamabad with the Pakistani prime minister, foreign minister and other officials.

In their meeting, Khan reiterated the Pakistani position that there was a need to engage with the Taliban government in Kabul to avert a potential humanitarian disaster, his office said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister also hoped that ways and means would be found to address the liquidity issue and enable banking channels to help Afghanistan sustain its immediate economic burden and challenges,” the statement said, referring to more than $9.5bn in Afghan central bank reserves that remain frozen by the US.

A brief US House Foreign Affairs committee statement confirmed the visit and the two congressmen’s meetings.

“While in Pakistan, the delegation conveyed appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts in support of the evacuation of American citizens and lawful permanent residents from Afghanistan, and exchanged views on a wide range of issues including counter terrorism, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, climate change and trade,” said the US statement.

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. 

Pakistan pledges $28m in Afghanistan humanitarian support
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China Calls for Release of Afghan Bank Assets

China said the Afghan assets frozen abroad should be released to help the Afghan people amid the humanitarian crisis.

China’s ministry of foreign affairs said the people of Afghanistan are struggling with poverty and facing a humanitarian crisis as winter is approaching, and it called for the release of Afghan assets frozen abroad.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China will continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, but the Afghan assets should be released, as quoted by China’s ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu.

Zhao Lijian said that sanctions on the Islamic Emirate is a collective punishment on all Afghans.

“… Sanctions, especially Afghan frozen assets overseas, are collective punishment on all Afghans and are worsening (the) humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan,” Wang said in twitter quoting China’s foreign ministry spokesman. “Frozen assets should be returned to real owners (as) soon as possible instead of as a tool for threats and coercion.”

Zhao also said that China will support Afghanistan with humanitarian aid, economic development and will help it achieve peace and reconstruction.

According to China’s foreign ministry, more than 5.000 tons of grain and three million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be shipped to Afghanistan.

The remarks come as more than 1 000 tons of Chinese humanitarian aids to Afghanistan is en route to the country.

China Calls for Release of Afghan Bank Assets
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Islamic Emirate Appoints 27 Senior Officials

The 27 appointees will fill government and military positions.

The Islamic Emirate officials said they appointed 27 people in senior positions to ministries as well as to other departments and to the military.

Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Islamic Emirate, said these people have been appointed to these positions based on an order by Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban.

Based on a list which Mujahid posted on Twitter, Mawlawi Shahabuddin Delavar has been selected as the acting minister of mines and petroleum, and Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund has been named the acting minister of disaster management.

The following have been appointed:

Mawlawi Shahabuddin Delavar, acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum

Haji Mullah Mohammad Isa Akhund, Deputy Minister of Mines and Petroleum

Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund, acting Minister of Disaster Management

Mawlawi Sharafuddin, Deputy Minister of Disaster Management

Mawlawi Enayatullah, Deputy Minister of Disaster Management

Mawlawi Hamdullah Zahed, head of the National Procurement Authority

Sheikh Abdul Rahim, Deputy Director of National Procurement Authority

Mawlawi Qudaratullah Jamal, Head of the Supreme Audit Office

Mawlawi Ezatullah, Deputy Director of the Supreme Audit Office

Mawlawi Mohammad Yousef Mestari, acting Director of Prisons

Mullah Habibullah Fazli, Deputy Director of Prison Affairs

Mawlawi Keramatullah Akhundzadeh, head of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission

Mawlawi Ahmad Taha, Deputy Minister for Borders and Tribal Affairs

Mawlawi Gul Zarrin, head of the Kuchi department in the Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs

Sheikh Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, Deputy Minister of Martyrs and the Disabled

Mawlawi Saeed Ahmad Shahidkhel, Deputy Minister of Education

Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Halim, Deputy Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development

Mawlawi Atiqullah Azizi, Deputy Minister of Finance and Administration at the Ministry of Information and Culture

Mullah Faizullah Akhund, Deputy Minister of Youth at the Ministry of Information and Culture

Mawlawi Saifuddin Taieb, Deputy Director of Communications at the administrative office

Mawlawi Fathullah Mansour, head of Kandahar airport

Mohammad Ismail, Executive Commander of the Military Court

Mawlawi Esmatullah Asim, Deputy of Afghan Red Crescent Society

Mawlawi Rahimullah Mahmoud, Deputy Commander of Al-Badr Corps in Kandahar

Mawlawi Abdul Samad, Deputy Commander of the Azm Corps in Helmand

Mullah Nasir Akhund, Deputy Minister of Finance

Mawlawi Arefullah Aref, Deputy Minister of Energy and Water.

Islamic Emirate Appoints 27 Senior Officials
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