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US in Afghanistan to Influence Russia, Iran, China – Russian Foreign Ministry

Sputnik – March 14, 2108

The United States retains its presence in Afghanistan to exert influence on neighboring countries and regional rivals – namely, Russia, Iran and China, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Director Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“In our opinion, the United States is in Afghanistan primarily with the aim of controlling and influencing the political processes in its neighboring countries, and also demonstrating its power to its regional competitors, primarily China, Russia and Iran. The United States is clearly trying to achieve destabilization of Central Asia and later transfer it to Russia in order to subsequently present itself as the only defender against potential and emerging threats in the region,” Kabulov said.

According to the diplomat, Russia and other countries neighboring with Afghanistan have questions about the true goals and time frame of the US military presence in the Central Asian country.

“If the United States and its NATO allies intend to continue their destructive policy in Afghanistan, this will mean that the West is heading toward the revival of the Cold War era in this part of the world. We closely monitor the developments and are ready to respond in cooperation with our partners and other like-minded people,” Kabulov noted.

The diplomat pointed out that Washington still failed to understand that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved solely by military means, stressing that it was impossible to defeat the Taliban by force.

Moscow is puzzled by the attempts of the United States and NATO to persuade Afghanistan to replace Russian weapons and military equipment, such move leads to reduction of Afghan’s military potential, Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“The course taken by the United States and NATO to persuade Kabul to replace Russia-made small arms and aircraft is surprising, as it will inevitably lead to a decrease in the combat capabilities of the Afghan armed forces and further deterioration of the situation,” Kabulov said.

The diplomat reminded that a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on Russia’s defense industry assistance to Afghanistan had entered into force in November 2016, adding that the document created the legal framework for Russian assistance in arming and equipping the Afghan security forces.

“At the moment, negotiations are underway on repairs and supplies of spare parts for the Afghan Air Force’s helicopters for various purposes, produced in Russia (the Soviet Union),” Kabulov added.

Afghanistan Parliamentary Election

The parliamentary election in Afghanistan is unlikely to take place in July in the current circumstances, Kabulov said.

“I do not think that the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan will be held in July this year as scheduled. The Taliban continue to control about half of the country’s territory, engage in hostilities, organize and carry out terrorist attacks in large cities, and, apparently, are not going to make compromises and reconciliation with the Afghan government,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is also unlikely to accomplish all the necessary procedures before the date set for the vote, given that the commission has announced earlier that the registration of voters will complete only by early August, the diplomat noted.

Furthermore, disagreements between the presidential administration and its political opposition regarding the parameters of the upcoming elections still remain unresolved, the official noted.

“In my opinion, if elections are conducted in the current circumstances, their results will not improve the political situation in the country and confidence in the current government, will not force the armed opposition to cooperate with the government,” Kabulov added.

The diplomat also noted that the Daesh terror group posed a serious threat to holding the election.

“The Daesh jihadists pose a serious threat to the security of the conduct of elections, especially in the north and a number of eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Some polling stations in the provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Faryab and Ghazni are the most problematic in terms of security, according to the IEC data. I think that, in fact, the list of problematic areas in terms of organization of voting is much longer,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan Reconciliation Talks

Russia considers the so-called Moscow format of talks an optimal platform for the promotion of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov noted.

“Unfortunately, the existence of a large number of international formats on the Afghan issue has not significantly contributed to the involvement of the Taliban in peace negotiations. In this regard, we consider the Moscow format of consultations launched by us in early 2017 as the optimal platform for substantive negotiations to promote national reconciliation and establish a constructive dialogue between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Kabulov said.

Kabulov also noted that Moscow considered the format of talks in the Afghan capital as one approach toward achieving a collective solution to the problems surrounding Afghan settlement.

“A signal of international support for the resolution of the intra-Afghan conflict through political dialogue with the government of Afghanistan has been sent to the Taliban. The Taliban ignored the recent meeting of the ‘Kabul process’ in the Afghan capital, insisting on direct talks with the United States,” the diplomat added.

In February 2017, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Afghanistan came together in Moscow for talks to promote the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan through regional cooperation with Kabul in the leading role. Apart from the aforementioned states, the latest round in April gathered five Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The United States refused to take part in the meeting.

Afghanistan has long suffered political, social and security-related instability because of the simmering insurgency, including that of the Taliban, but also because of the actions of the Daesh terror group.

The United States has been in Afghanistan for almost 17 years following the 9/11 attacks. Before his election, Trump slammed sending US troops and resources to the Central Asian country.

March 14, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia, Pakistan edge closer in new cold war conditions

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 22, 2018

Afghanistan, no doubt, was what brought Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow on a ‘working visit’ on February 20. This was Asif’s second meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the past 5-month period. They last met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September.

The Russian Ministry took pains to highlight Asif’s visit. A ‘working visit’ cuts out protocol frills and gets straight to transacting business. Yet, Moscow made an exception and issued a glowing ‘curtain-raiser’ to hail Asif’s arrival. There must have been strong reasons to do so. The regional backdrop is indeed tumultuous. The new Cold War is slouching toward the Hindu Kush and Central Asian steppes and Pakistan’s geography is regaining the criticality in strategic terms reminiscent of the 1980s.

The Russian statements have become highly critical of the US regional strategies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Moscow has concluded that the US is determined to keep an open-ended military presence in the region. On the other hand, Russia is being kept at arm’s length from the Afghan problem. Instead, Washington is directly engaging the Central Asian states, bypassing Russia, including at the military level. Clearly, Washington is working hard to undermine Moscow’s leadership role in the region in the fight against terrorism and to challenge Russia’s notion of being the provider of security to the former Soviet republics neighboring Afghanistan.

Given the experience in Syria (where the US is covertly encouraging the ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to make the going tough for the Russians and to create new facts on the ground that weaken Syria’s unity), Moscow is increasingly wary of US intentions vis-à-vis the ISIS in Afghanistan. To be sure, the growing presence of ISIS in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan facing the Central Asian region deeply worries Russia. Moscow has repeatedly hinted that the US could be facilitating the transfer of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. But the Americans move on, ignoring the Russian barbs. The pattern in Syria is repeating.

Lavrov brought up the US-ISIS nexus in the discussions with Asif. The Russian side has floated the idea that the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be put to use “to develop practical measures to curtail ISIS influence in Afghanistan and prevent it from spreading to Central Asia.”

From Lavrov’s remarks following the talks with Asif, it appears that the SCO summit, which is scheduled to be held in Qingdao (China) in July, may make some moves/initiatives on the Afghan problem. Last year Russia injected a new lease of life into the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. China will be hosting the next meeting of the Contact Group. The fact is that with the admission of Pakistan and India as full members, SCO now represents all key neighbors of Afghanistan.

At the media briefing after the talks with Asif, Lavrov outlined that Russia and Pakistan have common ground in regard of the Afghan situation. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry readout stated that the two ministers “agreed to closely coordinate in all Afghanistan-related processes for a regional solution of the Afghan conflict.”

Indeed, the articulations from both sides regarding the talks in Moscow on Tuesday suggest that Russia and Pakistan intend to work closely together to coordinate their approaches to the Afghan situation. Russia has promised to step up military support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorist operations. Significantly, as per a decision taken earlier, a new commission on military-technical cooperation between the two countries is being set up. Of course, this is happening at a time when the Pakistani military is preparing to face any cuts in US military aid.

To be sure, the talks in Moscow took place in the new cold war conditions. The critical difference today, compared to the eighties, would be that, as the Russian Foreign Ministry curtain-raiser put it,

  • “Today, Pakistan has become an important foreign policy partner of Russia. Both countries cooperate productively at international organisations, in particular at the UN and its agencies. Cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is based on coinciding or similar positions on most issues facing the international community, including terrorism and religious extremism.”
  • “Opportunities for joint work expanded considerably after Pakistan joined the SCO as a fully-fledged member in June 2017…”
  • “The fight against terrorism is a key area of cooperation… The situation in Afghanistan arouses common concern. We are particularly concerned about the growing influence of the ISIS terrorist group in Afghanistan and its efforts to consolidate its positions in the country’s north and east. We advocate a regional approach towards resolving the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We expect participants in the Moscow format of consultations on the Afghan issue and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to work productively.”

The pronounced convergence over Afghanistan can be expected to create synergy for an all-round expansion and deepening of the Russia-Pakistan relationship. Lavrov gave an upbeat account of the relationship as it stands today. Russia’s interest lies in boosting Pakistan’s grit and capacity to withstand US pressure. Interestingly, Lavrov and Asif also discussed Syria where the US has lately switched to an offensive mode against Russia. (See my blog US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria.) Again, Asif voiced Pakistan’s opposition to the sanctions against Russia.

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campaign against Pashtuns undermines rule of law

By Rahim Nasar | Asia Times | February 11, 2018

For the last six decades, Pakistan’s Pashtuns have been oppressed by the establishment. Marking opponents with the black stamp of treason has been the establishment’s most effective tool for silencing the ethnic group’s leaders when they dare to criticize state policy-makers.

The promotion of Pashtun cultural stereotypes – the portrayal of the Pashtuns as a violent and extremist ethnic group – has led to them being internally exiled as  the war against militancy is waged in the  FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas a semi-autonomous tribal region in the country’s  northwest). Young Pashtuns are targeted by the security forces and many have been killed extrajuducially, which has had a radicalizing effect.

Since 2001, the indigenous Pashtuns living in the FATA, a safe haven for Afghan mujahedeen, have been enduring the dreadful consequences of the so-called war against terror. Grievances have been fuelled by ethnic predjudice and unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

On January 12, the extrajudicial killing of 27-year-old shopkeeper Naqeeb Mehsood by Karachi counterterrorism police sparked outrage in the Pashtun community. The Sindh provincial government and police allegedly tried to cover up the incident, but Pashtun youths took to social media to raise awareness of the more than 443 young Pashtuns that they say have been killed extrajudicially in Karachi.

The ongoing policy of using extrajudicial killings to counter militancy  highlights the violent nature of Karachi’s police. To end the extrajudicial killings and bring about change in the FATA, thousands of Pashtuns led by Manzoor Pashteen marched 400km from Dera Ismail Khan District in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to Islamabad, the capital, earlier this month to tell the government that enough is enough.

They staged a sit-in until January 10 in front of the National Press Club in a peaceful manner, challenging the notion that they are  unruly and violent. However, Pakistan’s media ignored the protest, providing no coverage. Only the international media covered the sit-in and publicized the protesters’ five key demands. Their list of demands is as follows:

The return of missing Pashtuns

Since the war against militants in the FATA and other Pashtun areas, tens of hundreds of Pashtuns have been arrested by law enforcement agencies. The protesters demand that they be released or be given an open trial.

The mysterious disappearance of young Pashtuns is an unacceptable violation of international law. Pakistan is a country that has a constitution, courts, and set penalties for those who commit crimes. The arrest and torture of young people on mere suspicion is wrong and undermines and discredits the justice system.

An end to discrimination against Pashtuns

Whether one accepts it or not, ethnic discrimination is on the rise in Pakistan, where being Pashtun means being viewed with suspicion. Pashtun cultural stereotyping; the arbitrary imposition of curfews, the disrespectful behavior of army personnel when interacting with youths, women and tribal elders; unnecessary check posts; security checks targeting indigenous Pashtuns in their home area;  and surprise raids on homes are among the grievances forming the basis for the second demand. The government of Pakistan has never taken this issue of cultural discrimination into account and this must change if ethnic harmony is ever going to become a reality.

Clearing landmines

There are deadly landmines  all over the FATA. In 2017 alone, more than 73 children became landmine victims, and the number of disabled people in the region is increasing at an alarming rate. Providing a safe environment for citizens is the most important duty of the state, and it must do much more to address the problem, say the protesters.

A judicial commission on extrajudicial killings

Since the 1951 assassination of the statesman Liaqat Ali Khan and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, judicial commissions have been demanded to investigate the killings of key figures in Pakistan, but nothing has been done yet.

The passiveness of judicial commissions has resulted in culprits escaping justice. A judicial commission under the supervision of the chief justice to investigate extrajudicial killings of Pashtuns is another demand of the protestors. Extrajudicial killing is an open and direct challenge to rule of law. The failure of rule of law amounts to the failure of the state.

Police officer must be brought to justice

The final and most popular demand of the Pashtun long march participants is the immediate arrest and execution of Rao Anwar, a former ssenior superintendent in the Karachi police’s counterterrorism department. The fugitive rogue policeman has the backing of former president Asif Ali Zardri (co-chairman Pakistan People’s Party). Despite having a salary of just 70,000 rupees (US$635) per month, Rao is believed to have assets, including property and luxury vehicles, worth 4.5 billion rupees.

Since 2011, Rao has allegedly extraudicially killed more than 443 innocent young Pashtuns and Urdu speakers in Karachi alone. The fact that he remains at large is unacceptable. Everyone should be equal before the law. Flouting the rule of law and backing killers will lead to anarchy and ultimately a failed state.

February 12, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

China to Build Second Foreign Naval Base, This Time in Pakistan

Sputnik – 05.01.2018

China is planning to build its second foreign naval base in Pakistan following the ribbon cutting ceremony for its first overseas base in Djibouti last July.

Sources close to the People’s Liberation Army have confirmed to the South China Morning Post that a Chinese naval port is being built at a strategic location on Pakistan’s southern coast.

“China needs to set up another base in Gwadar for its warships because Gwadar is now a civilian port,” Zhou Chenming, a Chinese military analyst, told the South China Morning Post on Friday. “Gwadar port can’t provide specific services for warships,” Zhou said; hence the need for a new base.

Gwadar is less than 50 miles east of the Pakistan-Iran border and sits in Balochistan Province, where fiercely independent Baloch nationalists have waged guerrilla wars against both the Pakistani and Iranian governments. “Public order there is a mess,” Zhou said.

“China and Pakistan have found common ground in terms of maritime interest in the region,” Pakistani analyst Sheikh Fahad says. “Gwadar port can be used for joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean, further increasing the naval outreach of China and Pakistan in the region. Gwadar port will increase the countries’ naval movements and further expand defense cooperation, especially in the naval field,” Fahad noted.

In mid-December, Lawrence Sellin, a retired US Army Reserve colonel, reported for the Daily Caller that high-ranking Chinese and Pakistani officials had met in Beijing to discuss future projects.

Last June, a Pakistani diplomat said China’s help was needed as an “equalizer,” pointing to the naval base as all-but-inevitable. “Previously it was the US and Saudi Arabia… Now it’s China,” the diplomat told NBC. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman later dismissed the report as “pure guesswork,” but now it seems the port will, in fact, be built.

Experts have noted that India is keeping a close eye on the development of China-Pakistan relations. “China finds it very useful to use Pakistan against India and ignore India’s concerns, particularly on terrorism issues. That has created a lot of stress in the relationship between Beijing and Delhi,” Rajeev Ranan Chaturvedy, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, told SCMP.

But “Indian naval capabilities and experience in the Indian Ocean region are fairly good — much better than Pakistan and China,” Chaturvedy said.

January 5, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , | 8 Comments

2018 will see US fighting three and a half wars in Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 31, 2017

At a ‘press gaggle’ at the Pentagon on Friday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis revealed that there isn’t going to be any withdrawal from the Syrian conflict. The Trump administration, on the contrary, plans to expand the presence by deploying diplomats and contractors to the north of Syria. Mattis called this a shift “from what I would call an offensive, terrain-seizing approach to a stabilizing” one.

That is to say, he explained, while the diplomats would work toward the “initial restoration of services” and to manage and administer rebuilding cities, the Pentagon will “bring in contractors” for training people on how to clear IEDs” (improvised explosive devices), etc. and alongside there will be a continuing military component to the US presence that “would move our diplomats around, protect them.” Mattis insisted that there is a “demarcation line” separating the US military zone in north and northeastern Syria, which the “Russian regime” and Syrian government are well aware of and are tacitly respecting so far.

Evidently, the US will continue its alliance with the Syrian Kurdish militia (known as YPG) in northern Syria, including the supply of weapons. The US defense spending bill for 2018 has made provision for sending weapons worth $393 million to US partners in Syria. Overall, $500 million, which is an increase of $70 million over 2016) is the allocation for Syria under ‘Train and Equip’ requirements. The budget mentions the opposition forces supported as a part of the train and equip program in Syria as 25,000 strong. The figure will now go up to 30,000 in 2018. Besides, the US and British military are training several hundred militants to create a New Syrian Army to fight the Syrian government forces in the south. (According to Russian estimates, most of the recruits are from ISIS and al-Qaeda groups.)

To be sure, the US’ ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria is back on track. But the Syrian conflict is also transforming as another template of a broader regional confrontation with Iran (and Russia) in the Middle East. The petard of Iran is useful to encourage the Sunni Arab petrodollar states to bankroll the war and overall make the US military interventions in the Middle East to be “self-financing”. (Mattis said, “We’ve got a lot of money coming from international donors for this, including Syria.”)

Meanwhile, this also means that the wars in Syria and Yemen are going to get fused at the hips, as it were. While the Obama administration was inclined to acknowledge that Iran’s interference in the war in Yemen, if at all, has been very minimal, the Trump administration has swung to the other extreme and brands the war as quintessentially a manifestation of Iran’s expansionist policies in the region. This creates the raison d’etre for more direct US intervention in the war in Yemen.

That makes it two full-bodied wars. Then, there is half a war to be added, which is in the nature of the Trump administration’s agenda to generally push back at Iran anywhere and everywhere (eg., Iraq, Lebanon), and, if possible, to bring about a ‘regime change’ in Tehran. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post last week, the US and Israel have set up 4 working groups to advance their “joint work plan” against Iran. This decision has been taken apparently at a secret meeting at the White House in Washington two weeks ago and will be put into the pipeline in 2018.

These two and a half wars become three and a half wars if we are also to add the Afghan war, which is entering its 17th year in 2018. The US has upped the ante by seeking a military solution to the Afghan war, disregarding the saner advice that a political solution is the best way out. The big question is whether 2018 will witnesses a US-Pakistani showdown.

A report in the New York Times on Friday hinted at the Trump administration “strongly considering whether to withhold $255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Islamabad… as a show of dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there.” Evidently, the US’ capacity to leverage Pakistani policies is touching rock bottom. The next step could be to deliver on the threat to punish Pakistan. If that happens, there will be hell to pay.

Indeed, in the above cauldron, one hasn’t included the succession in Saudi Arabia, which can likely happen during 2018; the growing instability in Egypt; the continuing anarchy in Libya; or the Saudi-Qatar rift and the consequent unraveling of the GCC. Who says the US is about to cut loose from the Middle East and escape to the ‘Indo-Pacific’? Do not overlook that an overarching priority of the US’ Middle East strategy is also to evict Russia from the region as it managed to do in the early 1970s so as to contain the bear in its lair in Eurasia.

December 31, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CPEC heading north to Hindu Kush

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 26, 2017

From the Indian perspective, today’s announcement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Beijing and Islamabad are open to extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan dramatically changes the power dynamic in the region. Wang was speaking at a press conference following the first meeting in Beijing today of the newly created China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Dialogue format at foreign minister level, which has been a Chinese initiative. (Xinhua )

Some early deductions are possible. First, for the first time in the region, China is deploying the Belt and Road Initiative to leverage regional security and stability in South Asia. Of course, the economic aspects are there in terms of connectivity, infrastructure development, expansion of trade and investment and so on, but if Kabul becomes a CPEC partner, something fundamentally changes in the 3-way Afghan-Indian-Pakistani equation. That this would be happening under China’s mentorship is important.

Second, India is getting surrounded by BRI projects – north, east, south and west. It lacks the energy and resources to project and sustain a counter-strategy. All we are left with is our vacuous negative propaganda to malign the BRI for which there are no takers abroad. By implication, Afghanistan is rejecting India’s notions of “territorial sovereignty”, et al. At the same time, China’s interest in Indian participation in the BRI is self-evident. Time is running out for India. New thinking is needed urgently.

Third, Wang’s statement in Beijing on Monday during a media briefing on the agenda for Chinese diplomacy in the coming year singled out North Korea and Afghanistan as two regional problems where China intends to push for peacemaking. Today’s disclosure fits in with that. The trilateral format may eventually provide the platform for a regional initiative. The joint press release issued after today’s meeting called on the Taliban “to join the peace process at an early date.”

Fourth, China is displeased that the US is seeking a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The Trump administration is pursuing a dangerous strategy that can destabilize the entire region surrounding Afghanistan. But China will not confront the US, either. Instead, China is introducing a counter-narrative. The US will increasingly find itself in a false position by threatening Pakistan even as Afghanistan is edging toward the CPEC to “conduct win-win trilateral economic cooperation”.

Fifth, the geopolitical implications are profound. Wang today outlined that the CPEC will eventually extend northward to link with the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC), which connects China with the Arabian Peninsula. The CCWAEC starts from China’s Xinjiang and traverses Central Asia before reaching the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula. It crosses the five Central Asian countries and 17 countries and regions in West Asia (including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). It is a vast landmass, which is rich in resources but backward in infrastructure.

Finally, there is a high degree of foreign-policy coordination between Beijing and Moscow. We must anticipate that it is a matter of time before Russia evinces interest in the CPEC in one form or another. President Vladimir Putin disclosed on Monday that during a phone conversation with his Turkmenistan counterpart, the subject of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project came up. “He invites us to participate. Generally, certain projects are indeed implemented there, and quite successfully, including by Turkmenistan. But we must take a look, of course, at how feasible projects of this kind will be,” Putin has been quoted as saying.

Indeed, the bottom line is that the tense relations with Pakistan — and the downhill slide in the relations with China — through the past 3-year period virtually shut India out of the power dynamic in the region and reduces it to a lone bystander. The scenario looks pretty bleak.

December 26, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 1 Comment

Pentagon weighs regional players in Afghanistan

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 18, 2017

The Pentagon’s latest 6-monthly report on the Afghan situation to the US Congress conveys the picture of ‘work in progress’ in regard of President Trump’s new strategy. It exudes an air of optimism. The 100-page report reiterates that the US is determined to bludgeon the Taliban into submission and make them crawl to the negotiating table.

The Pentagon’s assessment of the role of various regional powers, although the unclassified portions, provides food for thought. For a start, the report refrains from any overt criticism of Pakistan’s role. There are references to Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan but no allegation that the insurgents are getting Pakistani support. An indirect reference appears where the report takes note that “certain extremist groups—such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network—retain freedom of movement in Pakistan.” On the other hand, the report also acknowledges that Pakistani military operations have “disrupted some militant sanctuaries.”

Secondly, the Pentagon underscores that the military-to-military leadership with Pakistan “remains critical to the success of our mutual interests in the region.” But to move forward in regional cooperation, “we must see fundamental changes in the way Pakistan deals with terrorist safe-havens.” The US intends to deploy “a range of tools to expand cooperation with Pakistan in areas where our interests converge and to take unilateral steps in areas of divergence.” Curiously, the latter part regarding “unilateral steps” has been left unexplained.

Interestingly, the report acknowledges that there are sanctuaries on Afghan soil for terrorist groups that create violence in Pakistan and walks a fine line as regards the “mutual security interests” of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It scrupulously refrains from apportioning blame. This is difficult to understand. Does the Pentagon mean that the Afghan government pursues certain policies over which the US has no control? Or, is it that there are rogue elements within the Afghan state structure?

Among regional actors, Pentagon comes down heavily on Russia’s role. Moscow’s intentions have been shown to be hostile, aimed at undermining the US’ influence in the region by “engaging with the Taliban and putting pressure on Central Asian neighbors to deny support to US and NATO efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.” But there is no allegation in the report that Russia is helping the Taliban with arms supplies.

Indeed, the chances are very remote that US and Russia would cooperate in the war effort in Afghanistan. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed last week that the US is forcing Afghan army to get rid of Kalashnikov rifles, which the military is trained to handle, with a view to eliminate Russia as a partner in any significant way. The Pentagon report claims that Afghan-Russian relations are under strain due to Moscow’s “acknowledgment of communication with the Taliban and support of the Taliban’s call” for US and NATO’s withdrawal.

In comparison, when it comes to China, the Pentagon wears kid gloves. Amazingly, the report says, “China’s low, but increasing levels of military, economic and political engagement in Afghanistan are driven by domestic security concerns… and China’s increasing desire to protect its regional economic investments.” China is seen as a benign presence. China’s involvement with the Quadrilateral Consultative Group is singled out and there is a hint at China’s potential to influence Pakistani policies.

Evidently, the US keeps in view that a need might arise for the Northern Distribution Network to be activated via the Central Asian region if push comes to shove in the relations with Pakistan.

The portion on Iran is highly nuanced. The report says in as many words that “Iran and the United States share certain interests” in Afghanistan and although Tehran on the whole seeks to “limit US influence and presence” in Afghanistan, particularly in western Afghanistan, it “could explore ways to leverage Iran’s interests in support of US and Afghan objectives in the areas of counternarcotics, economic development and counterterrorism.” The report shows understanding that “Iran’s ultimate goal is a stable Afghanistan where Shi’a communities are safe, economic interests are protected and the US military presence is reduced.”

This is a surprisingly positive assessment at a juncture when Trump is ratcheting up anti-Iran rhetoric and Nikki Haley is firing away. Clearly, the rhetoric is meant to appease Israel and Saudi Arabia, while the Pentagon, which is steering the actual policies on the ground, just stops short of acknowledging that Iran could be a factor of stability in Afghanistan.

The most interesting thing about India, of course, is that the US appeals to Delhi to provide more assistance to Afghanistan, but limited to “economic, medical and civic support”. No surprises here.

December 18, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pakistan, Iran step up military ties

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 8, 2017

The two-day visit by Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Tehran (November 6-7) must be noted as a significant event. Bajwa was received by President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Defence Minister General Amir Hatami, apart from top military commanders.

This might have been the first time that a visiting Pakistani army chief met the commander of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Of course, the IRGC can be described as the Praetorian Guards of the Islamic regime and it functions under the supervision of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but its special forces wing known as the Quds Force (under its charismatic commander General Qasem Soleimani) undertakes sensitive missions abroad. Quds Force reports directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Without doubt, General Bajwa’s meeting with the commander of the IRGC General Mohammad Ali Jafari in Tehran on Tuesday becomes an event of exceptional importance. The Trump administration recently ‘sanctioned’ the IRGC.

At the meeting with Bajwa, Jafari offered to share the IRGC’s ‘experiences’ with the Pakistani military. To quote Jafari, “Having 40 years of the experience of resistance against enemies’ threats, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to transfer its defense and popular resistance experiences to Pakistan.” He warned that the ‘regional (Muslim) nations and states are facing the US and the Zionist regime’s enmity and certain attempts have also been made to foment insecurity in Pakistan, which should be confronted by reliance on popular forces along with Armed and security forces.’ (FARS )

Indeed, enhanced security and military cooperation between Iran and Pakistan was repeatedly stressed by both sides. Notably, IRNA cited President Rouhani as saying that Iran is ‘determined’ to expand military cooperation in various areas such as training, joint exercises, military industry as well as exchange of experiences’. Rouhani added that terrorism, sectarian and ethnical differences are two main problems in the Muslim countries and ‘some global powers’ have a role in fueling them. He said that big powers are against unity and brotherhood between Muslim countries.

Bajwa assured his Iranian interlocutors that Pakistan will not allow any third country to interfere in its relations with Iran. An ISPR press release in Islamabad on Bajwa’s meetings said, “Leaders of both sides agreed to stay engaged for enhanced bilateral cooperation while jointly working to assist in bringing positive developments in other issues concerning the region.”

All in all, both Iran and Pakistan sense the need to draw closer to try to harmonise their regional policies even as they are circling the wagons to counter growing US pressure. The mounting tensions between Iran on one hand and the nascent US-Saudi-UAE-Israeli axis on the other hand make it imperative for Tehran to preserve peace and tranquility on its eastern border with Pakistan. For Pakistan too, Iran’s positive neutrality vis-à-vis its rivalries with India is useful and necessary. (Tehran Times )

Both Iran and Pakistan are stakeholders in the developing situation in Afghanistan. They share disquiet over the prospect of an open-ended US military presence in Afghanistan and harbor suspicions regarding American intentions. Yet, it remains to be seen if in a clean break from the past, Tehran and Islamabad can indeed work together on the Afghan problem – although the recent trend of targeted anti-Shi’ite attacks by new insurgent groups such as the Islamic State Khorasan (possibly with US/Saudi/Israeli backing) must be worrying Iran and Pakistan alike.

Bajwa’s discussions in Tehran dwelt on cooperation in intelligence sharing. Clearly, regional alignments work to Pakistan’s advantage, especially on two templates: India’s close ties with the US and Israel (which Tehran surely watches closely); and, the rising hostility between Iran and the US-Israeli-Saudi axis. On the contrary, Pakistan faces a challenging trapeze act, what with a Saudi-UAE axis preparing for a no-holds-barred showdown with Iran regionally.

To be sure, the growing Iran-Pakistan proximity will be welcomed by China and Russia. Iran is keen to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. Similarly, the $30 billion energy agreements signed between Russia and Iran a week ago (during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran) have been interpreted as a move by Moscow to build up strategic assets in the Persian Gulf. The Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak was quoted as mentioning Gazprom’s plan to build pipeline(s) to supply gas to India and/or Pakistan from the Persian Gulf.

At the meeting in Tehran with Bajwa on Monday, Zarif underlined Iran’s readiness to supply gas to Pakistan. Interestingly, on Sunday, Gazprom signed an initial agreement with Iranian state-run investment fund IDRO to cooperate in unspecified oil, gas and energy projects in the region.

November 8, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

International Community Starts Call for US to Ban All Nuclear Explosions

Sputnik – 21.10.2017

For over 20 years, the US has been signatory but not party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a 1996 UN ban on all nuclear explosions, for any purpose. With nuclear weapons back in the international spotlight, nonproliferation advocates have called on the US Senate to at last ratify the treaty.

Six of the nine nuclear states have not passed the CTBT: China, India, Israel (although Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons), North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. France, Russia and the United Kingdom are the only nuclear states to have signed and ratified the treaty — but the treaty can only go into effect when all 44 Annex 2 countries, nations that had or were researching nuclear power, ratify the treaty. In addition to the six nuclear state holdouts, Egypt and Iran are also Annex 2 states that have not ratified. The other 36 have done so.

Hans Blix, who once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressed skepticism that the US would ever pass the treaty, because Washington wished to keep “freedom of action for the United States.” He pushed for the US Senate to ratify the treaty, as it was signed by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Bans of nuclear tests “should be the least difficult of all arms control issues,” Blix said to the press on Wednesday.

​On Sputnik Radio’s Loud and Clear, hosts Brian Becker and Walter Smolarek spoke to two prominent figures in the nonproliferation movement: Greg Mello, the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament advocacy organization; and Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste watchdog with anti-nuclear power and nuclear weapon organization Beyond Nuclear.

Kamps chastised former US President Barack Obama and the Democrat-dominated Congress of 2009-2010 for not ratifying the treaty. “It’s not so easy to ratify a treaty,” said Mello. “You need two thirds, in other words, you need 67 [US Senate votes]. Complicating it is that there are some Democrats that are part of the ‘war party.’ Whenever an arms control treaty comes into the Senate, there the war party — in both political parties — wants to attach conditions: benefits to the arms contractors and to the nuclear weapons labs. They demand a very high ransom for ratifying any treaty, and so the ransom required for the CTBT signing was the resuscitation of the nuclear weapons establishment after its bad years after the end of the Cold War.”

Mello also discussed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) signed by the two largest nuclear powers, Russia and the US, in 2010. The treaty was meant to limit nuclear missiles, bombers and launchers. To pass it through the US Senate, Mello said, “the ransom required was basically the modernization and renewal of every single warhead and every single delivery system in the US stockpile, along with the factories.”

“So in other words, the Republicans, which held New START hostage, got everything they possibly could have gotten. To get that thing ratified, the cost ended up being so high that it can completely obviate the original purpose of the treaty, which was thought to be a step by some toward nuclear disarmament. But if you’re adding nuclear armament to get the treaty signed, then you can end up going one step forward, two steps back.”

“There’s a war party,” Kamps agreed. “It has its clutches in the United States Senate and it certainly has its clutches in the Pentagon. There are elements of our government, elements of our military that really like to have that option of nuclear weapons.”

They like it enough, Kamps goes on to say, to openly lie to the American people. “You know, from the early 60s until the early 90s, it turns out — we just found out from the National Security Archives a few years ago — that a lot of those underground [nuclear] tests leaked into the environment. Something like a third of the tests in the United States, a third of the tests in the Soviet Union, a third of the tests perhaps even in a place like China, were leaking through cracks and fissures — and sometimes even intentional venting of the radioactive contamination.”

“All the countries helped the others keep it secret for fear that their domestic populations would then start asking questions about their own nuclear weapons testing. The CIA, for example, helped to keep the Soviet and Russian underground test leaks quiet so that Americans would not ask any questions here about our own.”

Although the heyday of nuclear testing has ended, Mello claims that the tests continue in the form of subcritical tests. These are tests that use a very small amount of fissile material, such as uranium or plutonium, that cannot sustain a chain reaction. These “nuclear tests which don’t involve the significant fission yield are nonetheless nuclear tests just the same,” said Mello, “and they’re taking place in Nevada and also Novaya Zemlya [in Russia] and in the laboratories. With combining the data from these [subcritical] tests with computer models and very fast computers that are available to both countries, fast enough in Russia and plenty fast here, too, it is possible to get a lot of data and do a lot of nuclear weapon design.”

In other words, the superpowers stopped test-detonating monstrous bombs because advances in computer technology meant they no longer needed to. The US and Russia can keep their arsenals cutting-edge without exploding megaton-yield devices as they once did.

Kamps adds that there is a “trillion dollar nuclear modernization plan, under first Obama and now under Trump. They’re dabbling with new designs: new military applications, new military uses. It’s very dangerous, very problematic… we’re really in a race against time to try to abolish these weapons before they abolish us.”

October 21, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

US drone attack kills 3 in Pakistan’s tribal region

Press TV – September 15, 2017

A US drone strike has killed three people in the tribal area of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border.

“Two missiles were dropped on the home of Maulvi Mohib and three people have been killed,” said Baseer Khan Wazir on Friday. Wazir is the political agent and the most senior administrator in the Kurram Agency region in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.

Afghan Taliban sources said the attack targeted Pakistan-based Haqqani militants who are allied to the Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

Two sources said Mohib was affiliated with Haqqani. “He remained associated with the Haqqani network but wasn’t a prominent figure,” said one senior Taliban member.

Another Taliban member, whose name was not mentioned in the report either, said Mohib was part of the Afghan Taliban. “We don’t differentiate the Haqqani network and Taliban. This is just a propaganda of the Western media.”

The US-led international forces in Afghanistan had no immediate information on the strike.

The United States carries out internationally-condemned extrajudicial drone strikes in several Islamic countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.

If confirmed, it would be the first US drone strike inside Pakistan since President Donald Trump outlined his new Afghanistan strategy.

The US president unveiled his administration’s new strategy in Afghanistan last month. He said he would prolong US military intervention in Afghanistan, ordering added forces in the region.

US officials have urged the neighboring Pakistani government to crack down on Haqqani militants operating in Pakistan. Islamabad, however, denies there are any militants on its side.

Observers predicted an increase in US drone attacks inside Pakistan when Trump came into power, but since January there have only been a few.

Another option being weighed by Washington, according to US officials, is targeted sanctions against Pakistani officials with links to extremist groups such as Haqqani.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, however, told Reuters on Monday that such a move would be counterproductive.

Trump, who had initially called for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, argued that his “original instinct was to pull out,” but that he was convinced by his national security team to take on the militants there.

The United States, under the presidency of Republican George W. Bush, and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. Insecurity remains in the country despite the presence of foreign troops.

September 15, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment

Iran says Europe not on agenda of gas exports

Press TV – July 7, 2017

Iran says it has removed an old plan to export natural gas to Europe and is instead focusing on exports to its neighbors as well as India.

Amirhossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy minister of petroleum for trade and international affairs, said Europe’s gas market was already saturated with excessive supplies and had thus lost its priority in Iran’s gas export plans.

“Iran’s key priority should be exports to the neighboring states as well as India,” Zamaninia told Iran’s IRNA news agency.

He further emphasized that the landmark nuclear agreement that Iran had sealed with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany in 2015 and the subsequent removal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic had already provided an appropriate opportunity to pursue plans to export natural gas to the neighboring states.

Iran had for years pursued plans to export natural gas to Europe. A tentative scheme that was developed in cooperation with Nabucco – a consortium led by Austria’s OMV – envisaged piping Iranian natural gas from the southern energy hub of Assaluyeh to Turkey and thereon to Europe. However, Nabucco eventually abandoned Iran in 2008 after complications grew the most important of which were US-engineered sanctions against the Iranian energy sector.

A parallel plan to export Iranian gas to Europe – again through Turkey – has been pursued by Switzerland’s EGL, also known as Elektrizitaetsgesellschaft Laufenburg,

Based on the EGL scheme, the Iranian natural gas would be taken to Greece and Albania through Turkey. It would thereon flow to Italy through a pipeline under the Adriatic Sea before reaching Switzerland. However, this scheme had a fate similar to that of Nabucco.

Over the past few years, Iran had been pursuing exporting natural gas to Kuwait, Oman and Iraq.

In late June, the country started exporting gas to Iraq by virtue of an agreement that was signed in 2013.

Talks over exports to Kuwait and Oman have been presently stalled over technical issues.

An ambitious project to pipe gas to India through Pakistan – that had been in the offing for almost two decades but delayed due to disputes over pricing and the related technicalities – has also been recently revived.

Iran is further exporting about 30 million cubic meters of gas to Turkey which before Iraq was its only export destination since 2001.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment