Taliban deny claims Russia paid militants to attack US troops

US troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Taliban deny claims Russia paid militants to attack US troops

  • Insurgent spokesman says group ‘has received no assistance from any country or intelligence agency in 19 years of war’

KABUL: The Taliban has denied US media reports claiming a Russian intelligence unit secretly rewarded them for targeting American troops in Afghanistan.

“We have heard these reports and they are false and baseless,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday.

He added that the group had “neither sought nor received any aid from any country or intelligence agency in 19 years of war.”

Mujahid said the Taliban lack advanced weaponry to carry out sophisticated attacks on US targets, which he said is proof they have not received foreign arms.

“We have used whatever resources we have had in Afghanistan, or prepared, for example, road and car bombs from explosives and materials available locally.”

He said the group has not targeted US forces since the two sides signed a peace deal in Doha in late February. In accordance with the agreement, US troops are set to leave Afghanistan by spring 2021.

Earlier on Saturday, the New York Times and two other American dailies reported that US intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan and targeting US troops.

Mujahid said that some circles in the US were disappointed by the Doha deal.

“They want to prevent the withdrawal of Americans from here because they will lose the resources and income they have earned from continuing the war, and they want to do everything for their survival,” he said.

While Russia suffered a humiliating retreat after nearly 10 years in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it has joined Iran, Pakistan and China in opposing the US presence in the country.

Although Afghan officials in the past have failed to find direct military links between the Taliban and Moscow, some provincial officials said Russians provided intelligence to the group when it captured the northern city of Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, in 2015 and 2016.

Analyst Zabihullah Pakteen said Russia has been a vocal supporter of the Taliban in their war against Daesh. He added that the US report on bounties could refer to events before the Qatar deal and that its leak could be a strategic play linked to the withdrawal of US troops.

“Russian involvement in Afghanistan in giving bounties to kill US soldiers certainly puts pressure on the Trump administration as the US election approaches. The most important aspect of intelligence leaking could be connected to troop withdrawal, so the US would have to stay to confront Russia and other adversaries in the region,” he told Arab News.

Thousands of US troops have already left Afghanistan following the Doha deal.

The allegation of Taliban-Russian links, which could delay the departure of several thousand more US troops, comes as US President Donald Trump is on the campaign trail, fighting for for a second term in the White House.

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 11 July 2020

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.