TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Extremists Have United in New Offensive, U.N. Envoy Says

Members of Afghan security forces stand at the site of an attack near the Afghan parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan
Omar Sobhani—Reuters Security forces stand at the site of an attack near the Afghan parliament in Kabul on June 22, 2015

Afghan forces have been stretched, tested and faced operational challenges

(UNITED NATIONS) — A new offensive against the Afghan government and people is being compounded by “an unprecedented convergence” of Taliban insurgents, more than 7,000 foreign fighters, and violent groups including the Islamic State, Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador said Monday.

Zahir Tanin told the U.N. Security Council that these groups not only target Afghan troops and civilians with suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, hostage-taking and assassinations but they seek control of districts and provinces as bases for their activities in Afghanistan as well as south and central Asia.

Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, said Afghan forces have been stretched, tested, and faced operational challenges since taking on full security responsibilities following an end to the U.S. and NATO combat mission.

Nonetheless, he said, “Afghanistan is meeting its security challenges” in the face of an intensifying conflict across the country,

The commitment of Afghan troops “is beyond question,” Haysom added, “and they are demonstrating resilience in the face of insurgent efforts to take and hold ground.”

Both Tanin and Haysom said the influx of foreign fighters into Afghanistan is a result of the Pakistani military’s campaign in neighboring North Waziristan which began last year.

“Our estimate is that there are more than 7,000 foreign terrorist fighters” in Afghanistan now, Tanin said, including Chechens, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Pakistanis.

The government also estimates “there may be hundreds or thousands of people” operating under the black flag of the Islamic State, including some “extreme-oriented Taliban,” he said.

Haysom said he told the Security Council “that increasingly Afghanistan, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, is finding itself in the forefront of dealing with terrorists whose origins are the neighbors, and possibly whose eventual destination are its neighbors.”

He urged greater collaboration and support for Afghanistan “in dealing with what is a regional, shared threat.”

TIME Afghanistan

Witness the Taliban Attack on Afghanistan’s Parliament

Seven Taliban militants were killed on Monday after launching a major attack, involving a suicide bomb and gunmen, on the Afghan Parliament. No lawmakers lost their lives

TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Suicide Bomber, Gunmen Attack Afghan Parliament

All seven attackers were killed by police

(KABUL, Afghanistan) —The Taliban launched a complex attack on the Afghan parliament Monday, with a suicide car bomber striking at the entrance and gunmen battling police as lawmakers were meeting inside to confirm the appointment of a defense minister, police and witnesses said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the attack began with a car bomb explosion near the entrance. Gunmen then attempted to storm the compound but were pushed back by security forces and eventually took refuge in a nearby building under construction, he said.

Sediqqi later said all seven attackers were killed by police. He said no members of parliament were wounded in the incident. “It is over now,” he said.

Health Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kahousi said 18 civilians were wounded, including two women and two children.

Sidiqa Mubarez, a member of parliament, said the building was rocked by a large explosion and that some people were wounded by flying glass. She said the explosion happened shortly after Masoom Stanekzai had arrived to be confirmed as defense minister, a post that has been vacant for nine months.

The Taliban said in a statement that they carried out a suicide bombing outside parliament.

An Associated Press reporter heard heavy gunfire outside the parliament and saw black smoke billowing from the entrance as ambulances raced to the scene. The reporter later heard sporadic shooting from the building where the militants were said to be holed up.

Just down the street, hundreds of children were evacuated from a school.

Taliban insurgents have launched complex attacks on government targets in the capital in the past.

The insurgents have also been advancing across the country’s north, capturing two districts of the Kunduz province in as many days.

Mohammad Yusuf Ayubi, head of the provincial council, said the insurgents attacked the district of Dashti Archi from four sides, setting off heavy fighting before seizing full control of the area early Monday. He said local forces suffered casualties but did not have a precise count.

He said around 150,000 residents of the district were unable to leave.

The Taliban confirmed that they had captured the district, as well as ammunition and four tanks, in an emailed statement.

The Taliban seized control of the Chardara district in Kunduz on Sunday. The insurgents attacked the provincial capital, also called Kunduz, in a surprise attack in April and nearly captured the city before Afghan forces pushed them back.

Afghan forces have struggled to fend off Taliban advances since the U.S. and NATO combat mission officially concluded at the end of last year.

 

TIME Afghanistan

14 Killed in Afghanistan as Taliban Attacks Kabul Hotel

Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan
Mohammad Ismail—Reuters An Afghan policeman stands guard at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 13, 2015.

At least two Indian nationals and an American were among the victims

Fourteen people, including 9 foreigners, were killed in an attack in Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul on Wednesday night after at least one gunman opened fire on a guesthouse, a government official said.

Fifty-four other hostages were rescued in the attack that only ended in the early hours of Thursday morning, the Associated Press reported. The assault began at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a gunman or gunmen opened fire at the restaurant of the Park Palace Hotel, according to Kabul’s chief of police General Abdul Rahman Rahimi.

U.S. embassy spokesperson Monica Cummings told the AP in an email that a still unidentified U.S. citizen had been killed.

At least two of the other victims were Indian, and three other Indians were rescued and were being sheltered at the Indian embassy, a diplomat told Reuters.

The Taliban claimed responsibility on Thursday, with the militant group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claiming in an email to media that they had targeted the hotel because of the presence of Americans and other foreigners there.

A majority of the guests were at the hotel, located in the same neighborhood as a U.N. compound and the Indian embassy, for a party honoring a Canadian citizen, American attendee Amin Habib told the AP.

A Canadian spokesperson said all its embassy staff were “safe and accounted for.”

Mujahid said in the email that there was only one attacker wearing a suicide vest and armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol, contrary to the three attackers cited by the Afghan security authorities.

The attack bears similarities to two others carried out by the Taliban in Kabul in 2014, at a hotel and a Lebanese restaurant respectively, and is one of the most blatant assaults since the extremist group announced its spring offensive this year.

TIME Pakistan

43 Shi‘ite Muslims Have Been Killed in a Sectarian Attack in Southern Pakistan

Security officials cordon off the area at the scene of an attack on a bus in Karachi
Akhtar Soomro—Reuters Security officials cordon off the area at the scene of an attack on a bus in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 13, 2015

More than a dozen others were injured after six gunmen opened fire

Gunmen attacked a bus carrying members of a religious minority in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Wednesday, killing 43 and injuring about a dozen.

Provincial police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali said the bus was headed to a place of worship for Ismaili Shi‘ite Muslims when the attackers boarded it and began firing, the Associated Press reported.

About 60 people were reportedly on board the bus when the six gunmen climbed aboard. The assailants reportedly used 9-mm pistols to execute their victims.

The Pakistani Taliban and other Sunni Muslim groups that have a presence in cities like Karachi have long targeted Shi‘ites, believing that they are apostates, although no one has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

“That’s the probability, that some section of the Taliban or some other extremist sectarian organization carried out this attack,” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political scientist and analyst, tells TIME.

Rizvi added that the attack is most likely a message to the government and the Pakistan army, which has recently stepped up its crackdown on extremist groups. “It’s a pre-emptive strike, it looks like an action to deter the army and Rangers [a border security force] from taking any firm actions against these militant groups,” Rizvi says. “But they will not be deterred by this kind of action, I expect some major action in two or three days time by the military and paramilitary forces.”

TIME On Our Radar

Meet the Afghan Photographers Telling Their Country’s Stories

A new documentary showcases four Afghan photographers working in the war-torn country

With the strengthening of Taliban’s hold on Afghanistan in the 1990s, came the end of a long photographic tradition. At the turn of the 20th century, the ruling royal family practiced photography as a hobby, and a serious one at that. Habibullah Khan, the Emir from 1901 to 1919, set up a studio in the palace while organizing competitions and exhibitions. Decades later, box cameras had made their way into the streets, popularizing the postcard-format family portrait. Yet, today, an entire generation is left without pictures of their youth, let alone a visual history of their nation.

“A country without photographs, is a country without identity,” says Najibullah Musafer, a photojournalist who took great risks to document his homeland despite the prohibition. After seeing b-roll from Afghanistan that challenged their perceptions of the war-torn region, Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, two American filmmakers, felt it necessary to connect with storytellers from the area committed to sharing more nuanced accounts of their country. Their curiosity prompted the documentary Frame by Frame.

The cast is composed of photographers that distinguish themselves not only by the compelling nature of their work, but also by their enthralling personalities. Beside wholehearted and wise Musafer, considered the grandfather of modern photojournalism in the country, there’s the trailblazing, industrious and thoughtful Farzana Wahidy, her calm and astute husband Massoud Hossaini, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, and Wakil Kohsar, the soulful up-and-comer.

“At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of a movie,” says Wahidy. “At the time, I was trying to keep a low profile, mainly for security reasons and so that I could continue to do my work with as few hurdles as possible. But when I saw that they were going ahead with it, and with three men, I felt it was my duty to be in it.” The documentary makes clear how difficult it can be for her to gain access, especially given that photographing women, which she’s specialized in, remains highly taboo.

As the camera follows the quartet in their daily lives, and as they share stories from their past — the very stories that inform their gaze and shape their voice — a larger layered narrative emerges; that of a disrupted nation.

“Originally, we thought it would be a short film,” says Bombach. “But, as we were conducting the interviews, the complexity of what was happening, of what each photographer was going through, the heaviness of their past and how that affects how they shoot now, it became clear that it needed to be a feature length that would use human narratives to give a much better sense of what’s been going on in the past thirty years.”

Take Kohsar. As he shares memories from his childhood – fleeing Panjshir and seeking refuge in Iran – the plight of Afghan refugees under the Taliban regime comes to light. The footage of him working offers glimpses of issues such as the prevalence of drug addiction and of political disillusion. And, his struggle with an official who suggest that he takes a staged photograph of voters getting their election card – rather than allowing him in – is telling of a country where misinformation is widespread.

“I hope that an audience gets to see what it means to be a storyteller, to be seeking truth when people are putting barriers in front of you, to uphold your responsibility to your craft no matter what’s thrown your way and to seek beauty and justice through photography,” says Scarpelli, who was greatly inspired by how much humanity is bursting from each and every one of the protagonists’ images.

Frame by frame, these four photojournalists, as well as their colleagues, are building an indispensable visual history of these tumultuous times. “Afghanistan is in a very particular and uncertain place right now. Everyone is holding their breath,” says Scarpelli, echoing Hosseini’s worries, expressed in the documentary, that the world might forget Afghanistan again. Frame by frame, the movie reminds us why we should not.

Frame by Frame‘s international premieres is this week at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival.

Laurence Butet-Roch is a freelance writer, photo editor and photographer based in Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Boreal Collective.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Could End Up Charging CIA Officials With Murder Over Drone Strikes

A landmark case may open the door for a possible multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit launched by relatives of the alleged 960 civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan

A senior judge in Pakistan has ordered police to formally investigate former CIA agents for allegedly authorizing a 2009 drone strike.

If the case moves forward, it may subject the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to sensitive police investigations and even result in U.S. citizens for the first time being charged with murder for covert drone strikes in the South Asian nation.

Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.

The complainant is Kareem Khan, whose son Zahin Ullah Khan and brother Asif Iqbal were killed in an alleged December 2009 CIA drone strike in the mountainous Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.

The case was lauded as the “first of its kind for directly implicating and naming a CIA official” by University of Hull international legal expert Niaz Shah.

However, the Pakistani police appear unlikely to comply with the judge’s order, having already refused on two previous occasions. “[We] are appealing the case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Islamabad police superintendent Mirvais Niaz told TIME on Wednesday, citing jurisdictional disputes.

Mirvais maintains that the local Waziristan authorities should investigate the incident as that’s where the deaths occurred; Khan, a journalist, argues that an Islamabad bench should try the case as that’s where he contends the decision to launch the strikes was made.

However, the case appears to rest on whether Pakistan’s political apparatus is willing to pursue a sensitive legal action that police say may imperil U.S.-Pakistan relations.

According to court documents seen by TIME, not only does Khan’s case implicate ex-CIA officials, it also calls for an investigation into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, where Khan believes the drone strike was ordered.

“The Pakistani government has questions to answer about why they have fought the filing of this criminal complaint if they are indeed opposed to the drone strikes,” said Jennifer Gibson, an attorney with international legal aid charity Reprieve. “They’ve been fighting it in court at every level.”

Even if the investigation receives the green light, bringing ex-CIA officials to trial will be an onerous battle in Pakistan. Should Bank and Rizzo fail to appear, one recourse is the international police body Interpol, which can extradite former CIA officials to stand trial, says Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the Pakistani attorney leading case. However, cases against CIA officials seldom succeed, even when Interpol is invoked, for reasons of diplomatic sensitivity. (In 2005, Italy unsuccessfully forwarded a request to extradite CIA agents to Interpol, an action repeated by Germany in 2007 with a similar result.)

“It’s very difficult to get the CIA to come to court in Pakistan,” Akbar told TIME in March.

The CIA removed Bank from Pakistan after he received death threats following his public identification in Khan’s initial $500 million civil lawsuit in 2010. He became chief of Iran operations but was removed for creating a “hostile work environment” and now works in intelligence for the Pentagon, the Associated Press reports. Rizzo, who Khan alleges authorized the strike that killed his family members, worked in Pakistan as a CIA lawyer and has since retired. Both are currently living in the U.S. and appear unlikely to return to Pakistan to stand trial.

CIA spokesman Christopher White declined TIME’s request for a comment on the case involving Bank and Rizzo.

As the case moves ahead, some see it paving the way for a possible multibillion-dollar class-action suit against U.S. officials. The U.S. has carried out more than 400 covert drone strikes in Pakistan, with the most recent on Sunday, according to data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Since 2004, drone strikes in Pakistan have allegedly killed up to 3,945 people, including some 960 civilians. The U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Pakistan focuses on drones to uproot the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan’s fractious tribal areas.

In 2013, the Peshawar High Court, whose rulings apply nationwide, declared U.S. drone strikes illegal in Pakistan and demanded compensation for civilian victims. Likewise, in April 2012, Pakistan’s Parliament issued a resolution that “no overt or covert operations inside Pakistan shall be permitted.” Neither the 2013 Peshawar court ruling nor the 2012 parliamentary resolution seems to have halted the U.S. drone campaign inside Pakistan.

Should the former CIA officials prove difficult to prosecute, civilians harmed by drones may pursue other legal channels. “The [drone victims] may also be able to sue the state of Pakistan for failing to protect them from harm caused by someone else. The state is responsible for protecting people and their lives,” said the academic Shah, who also serves as an advocate of the High Court in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the political will to pursue drone-related litigation remains shaky in Pakistan, where many believe “tacit consent” allows U.S. drone operations to continue. In 2012, U.S. officials familiar with the drone program told the Wall Street Journal that Pakistan clears airspace and sends acknowledgment receipts after the CIA faxes upcoming drone-strike alerts to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.

In an interview with TIME, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam rejected the principle of tacit consent as a “rumor” and said Pakistan was continuing to pressure the U.S., both in private and public meetings, to end the drone program, given the success of its own counterterrorism operation in Waziristan, Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

“Drone operations without our permission are violating our sovereignty, and they result in collateral damage — killing off large numbers of innocent civilians — which creates more resentment,” she said.

Nevertheless, in the leaked 2013 Abbottabad Commission report, the former head of the ISI appeared to publicly acknowledge Pakistan signing off on U.S. drone strikes: “It was easier to say no to them in the beginning, but ‘now it was more difficult’ to do so,” said the ISI’s former director general Ahmed Shuja Pasha. The classified document reported that “The DG [director general] said there were no written agreements. There was a political understanding.”

The veracity of the report was confirmed by the Foreign Ministry, but suppressed inside Pakistan, prompting an inquiry into how information was leaked.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. operates drones with the cooperation of foreign governments, in part to protect strategic alliances. In a 2013 speech at the National Defense University, which remains the Administration’s most comprehensive and recent public statement on drone policy, Obama said “America cannot take [drone] strikes wherever we choose; our actions are bound by consultations with partners and respect for state sovereignty.”

Still, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rebutted Obama’s speech a few months later, saying, “The government of Pakistan has made its position clear that drone strikes constituted a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, violative of international humanitarian laws, besides being counterproductive to our efforts for bringing peace and stability in Pakistan and the region.”

Ultimately, the Islamabad High Court’s action may reveal more details of how the drone program operates in Pakistan and which state agencies, if any, interface with U.S. officials in the decisionmaking process. Pakistan’s courts, increasingly powerful and independent, have emerged as an important arena to wrestle for these answers.

For Khan, who is still desperate to learn who ordered the death of his brother and son, culpability is less important than accountability.

“The Pakistani government owes it to Kareem Khan, and the many other civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes, to honor the judgment. Justice and an end to drone strikes are long overdue,” said Gibson, the Reprieve lawyer.

In a statement after the judge’s order last week, Khan said, “I sincerely hope that authorities now will do their job and proceed against the culprits.”

TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Militants Kill Former Lawyer of Doctor Who Helped Find bin Laden

Afridi, lawyer for a Pakistani doctor who helped U.S. officials find al-Qaeda chief Osama bin laden, speaks to the media in Peshawar
Khuram Parvez—Reuters Samiullah Afridi, lawyer for Dr. Shakil Afridi who ran a fake vaccination campaign to help U.S. officials find al-Qaeda leader Osama bin laden, speaks to the media after appearing before the court in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Oct. 30, 2013

“We killed him because he was defending Shakil, who is our enemy”

A Pakistani lawyer who represented the doctor charged with helping U.S. intelligence authorities hunt down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Tuesday, according to local police in his hometown of Peshawar.

A police official said Samiullah Afridi was shot in the abdomen and neck while returning to his home and died on the spot, Reuters reports.

Afridi had reportedly received death threats for defending Dr. Shakil Afridi (no relation), who was handed a controversial 33-year jail sentence in 2012 for running a fake vaccination campaign that helped CIA agents locate the Saudi-born terrorist leader. Two militant groups, both affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, have claimed responsibility for Afridi’s murder.

“We killed him because he was defending Shakil, who is our enemy,” said Taliban splinter group Jundullah. Another Taliban faction, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, said it killed Afridi because they couldn’t get to the doctor who “spied on our respected and supreme leader Sheik Osama.”

The lawyer had only recently returned to Pakistan, having relocated to Dubai after quitting the case last year out of concern for his safety. “Not only is my life in danger, my family is also in danger,” he had said in an interview with Reuters.

The targeting of lawyers by militant groups is not uncommon in Pakistan, says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based Pakistani political scientist and commentator, citing the murder last year of prominent prosecution lawyer Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali. Ali was involved in the trial of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of masterminding the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, as well as the case of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s 2007 assassination — he was gunned down in his car last May while on his way to court.

Dr. Afridi, meanwhile, had his sentence overturned in 2013 and is currently awaiting a new trial.

“It becomes difficult to find a lawyer because nobody wants to stick their neck out, and therefore cases stay pending and nothing happens,” Rizvi tells TIME. “The government will be able to find a lawyer, maybe in a couple of months’ time, but the new lawyer will also become a target of these groups and that fear will haunt the whole process.”

Pakistani militant groups have also cracked down on polio-vaccination drives following bin Laden’s killing and Dr. Afridi’s prosecution, saying they are un-Islamic and either fronts for espionage or an attempt to sterilize Muslims.

On Tuesday, a gun attack killed two female immunization workers at an Afghan refugee camp near Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mansehra, according to Agence France-Presse. The incident is the latest in a recent spate of attacks against polio workers, 77 of whom have been killed since December 2012.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where the disease still exists, and the number of polio cases recorded in the country last year reached a 14-year high of 306.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Hangs 12 Men in Largest Single-Day Execution in Nearly a Decade

PAKISTAN-CRIME-EXECUTION-PROTEST
AAMIR QURESHI—AFP/Getty Images Pakistani NGO activists carry placards during a demonstration to mark the International Day Against the Death Penalty in Islamabad on October 10, 2014.

The country's death penalty was reinstated in December and broadened to non-terrorism crimes a week ago

Pakistan hanged 12 men on Tuesday, the largest number of people put to death on the same day since a moratorium on executions was lifted in December, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman.

“They were not only terrorists, they included the other crimes,” the spokesman said, according to Reuters. “Some of them were murderers and some did other heinous crimes.”

The informal suspension of capital punishment, enacted when the current democratic government took over from military rule in 2008, was removed on Dec. 17 following a Taliban attack on a school that killed over 140 people, mostly children.

Although Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium under pressure to expedite justice for terrorists and militants, the death penalty for non-terrorism crimes was also reinstated last week.

A total of 27 Pakistanis have been executed since the ban was lifted, and more than 8,000 remain on death row in what human-rights groups say is a severely deficient criminal-justice system.

Read next: Pakistan Court Sanctions Release of Alleged Mumbai Attacks Mastermind

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TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. India has banned a documentary on the 2012 gang rape that rocked the country. That was a huge mistake.

By Shashi Tharoor at NDTV

2. Berkeley decided to give campus departments a real incentive to cut power consumption by charging them directly — and energy use went down.

By Meredith Fowlie in The Berkeley Blog

3. Pakistan is helping Afghanistan’s president make peace with the Taliban. Other powers should back him.

By the Economist

4. Ukraine’s military will never be strong enough to beat Russia outright. But it doesn’t have to be.

By Alexander J. Motyl in Foreign Policy

5. Micro-bubbles — guided with magnets, deployed with sound waves — could revolutionize the delivery of medicine and even chemotherapy.

By Charvy Narain at the Oxford Science Blog

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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