FOUR Corners - stories from the world as viewed by foreign editor David Pratt.


THERE are no good guys in this battle only bad. It’s a measure of how Afghanistan is perceived right now here in the West that should a choice have to be made between these two rivals then obviously the Taliban is preferable to the Islamic State group or ISKP as its offshoot is known in Afghanistan.

It might seem an age ago now but when the last US troops left Afghanistan at the end of August, the Taliban were quick to declare an end to the two-decade long conflict in the country.

With the Western-backed Afghan ­government gone and the capital Kabul in Taliban hands, the assumption was that they would restore order in their own ­inimitable and brutal way.

But even back then the writing was on the wall indicating that the Taliban were far from going to have it all their own way inside the country.

When ISKP detonated that devastating bomb at Kabul airport back on August 26 as the evacuation of remaining ­foreigners and some Afghans was underway, a ­marker was being laid down.

It was, in effect, ISKP saying ­unequivocally that their six-year fight against the Taliban was entering a new and bloody phase and that they would from hereon in do all they can to harass and make life difficult for the new Taliban rulers in Kabul.

Strange as it might appear to those ­unfamiliar with Afghanistan’s complex Islamist rivalries there has never been any love lost between the Taliban and ISKP.

That much the Taliban spokesman ­Zabihullah Mujahid made clear to me during my last visit to Kabul shortly ­before the Taliban came to power when he told how they were already engaged in pitched battles with ISKP fighters long ­before the Americans had left.

The bottom line here is that ISKP has always viewed the Afghan Taliban as its ideological enemy. When not ­tarnishing the Taliban’s approach as heretical, ISKP has sought to frame the Taliban as too willing to make concessions toward the international community, effectively ­portraying them as “jihadi light” and ­little more than collaborators of the United States and “infidels”at large.

As observers from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (ANN) have ­previously outlined, ISKP’s aims have regularly been made clear through its propaganda ­machinery inside Afghanistan and can be identified has having four main strands.

The first of these is inciting people to jihad, focusing on direct recruitment ­inside Afghanistan and beyond, calling in people to join their ranks. In doing so ISKP “portrays the land of Khorasan as a particularly blessed battlefield, a divinely rewarding and prized theatre of jihad”.

Khorasan of course refers to parts of present-day eastern Iran, ­Afghanistan, and Central Asia though the group has ­initially focused its operations on ­Afghanistan while using neighbouring Pakistan as a logistical hub.

This identification with Khorasan also relates to the second strand in ISKP’s propaganda in which it claims exclusive jihadi legitimacy, projecting itself as the only genuine jihadi force in the region.

In a connecting third strand ISKP also distances itself from the Taliban by ­insisting its struggle is a “borderless” one, with talk of extending its Islamist rule to other regions and taking on Western and other superpowers as it did in Iraq and Syria.

Last but far from least in these four strands identifying ISKP’s aims, is its ­willingness to discredit rival jihadi and ­religious groups, among them of course its main rival the Taliban. It’s the pursuit of these aims that has led to the current and intensifying standoff with the Taliban, a development that is already provoking further bloodshed in a country beset with economic and humanitarian problems as the bitter Afghan winter descends.

Nangarhar Province, located along the border with Pakistan, has been the ­epicentre of recent clashes between the Taliban and ISKP fighters. Experts say that there, as elsewhere, ISKP is hell bent on trying to sow sectarian divisions and render Afghanistan ungovernable.

“If the country is unstable, it delegitimises the Taliban and could provide ISKP chances to rule in areas where the Taliban is diminished,” says Jacob Zenn, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation think tank in Washington.

“Ironically, ISKP might try a strategy against the Taliban that the Taliban had used against the US,” Zenn recently told RFE radio in an interview. Yes, it’s ironic indeed.

ISRAEL - Palestinian rights groups designated as ‘terrorists’

The National:

IN 40 years of covering foreign affairs, it’s probably fair to say that I’ve rarely met a more decent and reasonable man than the Palestinian writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh (above). For those reasons among many others, I’m proud to call him a friend.  
Shehadeh of course is well known to many Scots, not least as a result of his regular appearances over decades now at book festivals from Edinburgh to Ullapool and beyond.  
But Shehadeh’s international prominence is also in great part because of his role as the founder in 1979 of Al-Haq, which soon became the leading Palestinian human rights monitoring group.  

It was with some considerable concern then that I read Shehadeh’s recent article in The New York Review, entitled; Why Israel Calls Human Rights ‘Terrorism’, which was his response to the news that Al-Haq’s four decades’ long project of legal accountability was foreclosed this month along with five other NGO’s that the Israeli authorities have now deemed “terrorist organisations” effectively outlawing them.  

As a consequence, Israeli security forces are authorised to close the groups’ offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members. Funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities is also prohibited. 

As Shehadeh himself with characteristic eloquence makes clear in his article, ever since Al-Haq came into existence its objectives have been to document and resist through the law Israeli human rights violations, including the mistreatment of prisoners, the economic exploitation of the Occupied Territories’ natural resources, and illegal settlement building.  

For these reasons of course Al-Haq like other human rights organisations have always been a thorn in the side of the Israeli authorities.  

It would appear though that Al-Haq’s support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and provision of evidence in the investigation of war crimes by Israel during the 2014 Gaza-war was a step too far when viewed from Israel’s perspective.  

In its defence Israel says it’s banning of Al-Haq and the other organisations is because they are linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing movement with a political party, as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.  

But many are not convinced by Israel’s explanation with global outcry from the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others over Israel’s decision. Even some of Israel’s own press is far from convinced of the moves or the motives that lie behind them let alone the implications for Palestinians.  

In an editorial on October 24, the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz condemned it as “a stain upon Israel”, adding: “The literal meaning is clear: All resistance to the occupation is terror. Israel is undermining the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate struggle. This is a boon to terrorist organisations and the use of violence. If all forms of resistance constitute terror, how can one resist the occupation without being a terrorist?” 

It’s a point well-made and yet another reminder of why Palestinians even when represented by descent, just and reasonable people like Raja Shehadeh continue to find themselves at the sharp end of a terrible injustice.

SUDAN - Women at forefront of citizens resistance following coup

The National:

IT was back in 2019 after 30 years of military dictatorship under President Omar al-Bashir, that hope once more flourished in Sudan. Peaceful protests it seemed had done the trick for the moment at least, but the army had other ideas quickly seizing power again.  

In the end a compromise between the protesters and military was reached allowing the army to stay in charge for two years until elections in 2022. But this month, the men with guns staged another coup plunging the country back into crisis.  

Looking back on 2019 some readers might remember Alaa Salah the young Sudanese student who climbed on to a car outside Khartoum’s military garrison to rally the crowd and recite a revolutionary poem.  

Dressed in a white toub robe her act that day became a symbol of resistance giving rise to some calling her Kandaka, a reference to the ancient Nubian queens of what is now present-day Sudan who would lead warriors into battle. It also gave rise to other female protesters who became known as the “women in white”. 

With events of the past week however Salah like many women who were at the forefront of protests have been forced into hiding. This however has not stopped them leading resistance against those soldiers under coup leader and top Sudanese general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. 

While global condemnation of last week’s toppling of the joint civilian-military government was swift, activists on the ground do not have the luxury of waiting for concessions to be made by the military as it tightens it grip.  

As in 2019, women activists are playing a vital role in the continuing protests and resistance. 

“This is a fully fledged military coup and we’re resisting all the way,” said Mariam al-Mahdi, who was foreign minister in the dissolved government. “Nothing will deter the women of Sudan, who are fighting for democratic transformation.” 

Motivating many of these women is the feeling of being betrayed after the 2019 revolution. Within their ranks are those who feel excluded from the decision making or are discriminated against within their jobs and institutions. 

Many now also fear what one activist described to journalists’ as a “huge going back” of some of the restrictive Islamic rules for women – which have been relaxed since the fall of Bashir – should the military stay in power.  

This is a crucial moment for Sudan’s democracy. Alaa Salah and her women in white know that all too well and for now show no signs of backing down. 

MOLDOVA - State of emergency declared after gas wrangle

The National:

SO much of being a politician is about making difficult choices, but who would want to be Moldovan prime minister Natalia Gavrilita (above) at this precise moment? 

By Gavrilita’s own admission Moldova is “stuck between a rock and a hard place” right now, with the former Soviet state declaring a state of emergency after Kremlin-controlled Gazprom cut gas deliveries by a third and threatened that supplies could be shut off if Moldova did not agree to a more expensive contract. 

Gazprom has historically supplied Moldova, but its demand for a steep increase in prices at a time when gas prices are soaring around the world prompted the Moldovan government to refuse the deal.  

Such is Moldova’s complete reliance on Gazprom that by her own admission, Gavrilita, right, said that in its 30 years of independence, her country has never had to purchase gas on open markets until this week. 

But in another twist and what has been described as “Gazprom blackmail,” the gas giant has promised cheaper gas and increased winter supply in return for weaker EU ties, anonymous sources are said to have told The Financial Times last week.  

For its part the European Union has said it will stand by Moldova pledging 60 million Euros in support to be distributed before the end of the year without conditions after Moldova declared its 30-day state of emergency. According to Gavrilita the money had given Moldova vital space “to keep negotiating without a ticking clock”. 

But EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was pulling no punches in terms of laying blame for the crisis, accusing Moscow of using natural gas sales as a “political weapon” against Europe’s poorest country. 

Analysts say that this latest wrangle is all part of a wider controversy whereby critics of Gazprom accuse it of trying to extract political concessions and penalise countries and governments that it disagrees with.  

Some say Moldova, caught in a tussle for influence between Moscow and the West, is apparently being punished by the Kremlin after electing Maia Sandu, a pro-EU president, last year. Her party won a landslide victory in July’s parliamentary elections. 

The Kremlin however refutes such accusations of imposing its will on Moldova. Already it’s discussing a new contract Moscow insists, one based “exclusively on commercial terms”. Make of that what you will.