Taliban pile pressure on Afghan government forces in west

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks in Badghis, which is on the border with Turkmenistan. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019

Taliban pile pressure on Afghan government forces in west

  • A large number of Taliban insurgents launched attacks on several army posts in the province’s Bala Murghab district
  • The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks in Badghis, which is on the border with Turkmenistan

KABUL: Taliban fighters have stepped up pressure on Afghan forces in the western province of Badghis, killing 20 soldiers and capturing 20, an official said on Tuesday, as the militants make advances even as they hold peace talks with US officials.
A large number of Taliban insurgents launched attacks on several army posts in the province’s Bala Murghab district, beginning on Saturday night, said Qais Mangal, spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul.
“The fighting is still on,” Mangal said, adding that the Taliban had overrun four posts and government reinforcement backed by air support had been sent to prevent the whole area from falling to the insurgents.
A member of the Badghis provincial council, Abdul Aziz Beg, said 20 soldiers had been killed, 10 wounded and 20 captured by the hard-line Islamist group.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks in Badghis, which is on the border with Turkmenistan.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said 20 soldiers had been killed, 28 captured and a large supply of weapons and ammunition seized.
The Taliban, ousted in 2001, say they are fighting to expel foreign troops, topple the Western-backed Afghan government and restore their version of Islamic law.
Talks with US officials to end the war continued on Tuesday in Qatar, with the focus on the withdrawal of foreign troops, a guarantee Afghanistan will not be used as a springboard for militant attacks and a cease-fire.
The Taliban have refused to talk to Afghan government officials, labelling them a puppet of the United States.
Southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul, in Ghazni city, an air strike on a vehicle killed seven Taliban on Tuesday, including a commander, said Mohammad Arif Noori, spokesman for Ghazni’s provincial governor. He said the strike happened close to a mosque and may have left civilian casualties.
Dr. Zaher Shah Nekmal, health director for Ghazni province, said he had received a report of 16 dead but had not yet received the bodies.
In a statement, the Taliban said one air strike hit a minibus and a second followed quickly, killing a total of 12 people and wounding six.
A NATO spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
As many as 200 people were accompanying tractors that pulled a number of bodies on trailers to the provincial governor’s compound, said Waris Naimi, a spokesman for the Ghazni police, adding that police were trying to block the protest.
As the snow begins to melt, Taliban and Afghan security forces have stepped up attacks on each other but the extent of government losses is a major concern.
In January, President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said 45,000 members of the security forces had been killed since he took office in September 2014.
Some 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. Some US forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations.


No more tears: Dhaka to import onions from Pakistan to curb shortage

Updated 14 min 10 sec ago

No more tears: Dhaka to import onions from Pakistan to curb shortage

  • Despite optimism, some experts remain skeptical that the onion trade will lead to a new era of diplomatic ties

DHAKA: In a bid to mitigate an onion crisis in its local markets, Bangladesh has decided to import 300 tons of the vegetable from Pakistan after nearly 15 years, despite strained diplomatic relations between the two countries in recent years.

Relations between Islamabad and Dhaka have never recovered from the 1971 war, when Bangladeshi nationalists broke away from what was then West Pakistan. Most recently, relations have been marred by the trials of prisoners taken in Bangladesh during the war nearly five decades ago. Pakistan publicly condemned the trial process by Dhaka, which the latter considered an interference into its internal affairs.

The surprise decision to import from Pakistan was taken during a government-level discussion on Friday, when Bangladesh’s Tasho Enterprise finalized the deal with Karachi-based Roshan Enterprise, as reported by Pakistan’s The News International.

Last September, following a ban on onion exports in India, the price of onions in Bangladesh rose threefold.

Experts in Bangladesh said the rise of trade relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh, especially with the new “onion diplomacy” could prove to have some positive impact over diplomatic relations between Dhaka and Islamabad. 

“With this onion diplomacy, there is the chance of expanding trade relations between the countries,” Dr. Delwar Hossain of Dhaka University told Arab News, adding: “It will definitely have a good impact on diplomatic relations but I would not say it will create a new era of their relationship overnight.

“As a whole, if Bangladesh reviews its foreign policy in a pragmatic context, the latest onion import trading may take a positive turn in terms of diplomatic relations,” Hossain said.

Last year, Dhaka did not approve the appointment of a new Pakistan high commissioner in Bangladesh.

Islamabad has been waiting for the appointment’s approval for over a year, though it is expected to come soon, sources inside Pakistan’s Dhaka mission said.

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the US Humayun Kabir told Arab News that the onion trade could open up a window for better diplomatic relations if the political leadership of both countries wanted it to, but that it was still too early to consider it a diplomatic win.

“Bangladesh needs onions and so we are importing them from Pakistan. But at this moment, there is not enough scope to attach it with diplomacy,” Kabir said. 

Dr. Shammi Ahmed, international affairs relations secretary of the ruling Awami League party, told Arab News that Bangladesh already had diplomatic relations with Pakistan but conceded there were problems between the two countries.  

“Importing onions from Pakistan is a government level decision. Bangladesh’s foreign policy also upholds the spirit of friendship with all nations,” he said, and added that the bilateral relationship could move in a “positive direction” in the days to come.

According to State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s exports and imports with Bangladesh during 2018 were $782 million and $67 million respectively.

But Mohammad Zamir, a former career diplomat, said there was little scope for politicizing the onion import, which was merely a necessity for Bangladesh.

“We have bilateral relations with Pakistan and have also imported many goods from the country in previous years. Currently, we are in need of onions and Bangladesh is also importing them from some other countries, like Myanmar, Egypt and Turkey for its national interest,” Zamir told Arab News. 

According to Muhammad Aurongzeb Haral, press councillor of Pakistan’s High Commission in Dhaka, trade was already showing a rising trend with signs of a new and “positive” attitude towards Pakistan in Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry.

Total bilateral trade figures for 2018 reached $850 million compared to $681 million for 2017, Haral said.

“Pakistan has been contributing to Bangladesh’s export industry and hence its economy by providing textile raw material to the country, and contributing to the ready-made garment industry exports of Bangladesh,” he continued.

“There is huge potential for further boosting of trade between the two countries.”