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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

ISIS “Coincidentally” Appears Along China’s One Belt, One Road

By Tony Cartalucci – New Eastern Outlook – 01.07.2017

Two Chinese teachers based in Pakistan’s southwest province of Baluchistan were reportedly abducted and murdered by militants from the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIS).

CNN, in an article titled, “‘Grave concern’ over Chinese teachers reportedly killed by ISIS in Pakistan,” would attempt to portray the act of terrorism as a random strike aimed at China’s expanding economic activity abroad.

In reality, the terror attack was very precise in terms of location and purpose, and fits into a larger pattern of violence and political instability that has plagued Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and China’s ambitions there for years.

US Using Proxies to Disrupt China-Pakistan Economic Corridor 

Baluchistan, and more specifically, the port city of Gwadar, serve as the central nexus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is a complex and expanding system of rail, roads, ports, and other infrastructure projects built jointly with the Pakistani government to facilitate regional economic growth – and an integral component of the much larger One Belt, One Road initiative.

Disrupting China’s economic lifelines to the rest of the world is an open objective of US policymakers. A paper published in 2006 by the Strategic Studies Institute titled, “String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power across the Asian Littoral.” identified Gwadar by name as one of several components of China’s “String of Pearls.”

The report states explicitly in regards to a possible “hard approach” toward Beijing that:

There are no guarantees that China will respond favorably to any U.S. strategy, and prudence may suggest to “prepare for the worst” and that it is “better to be safe than sorry.” Is it perhaps better to take a hard line towards China and contain it while it is still relatively weak? Is now the time to keep China down before she can make a bid for regional hegemony? Foreign policy realists, citing history and political theory, argue that inevitably China will challenge American primacy and that it is a question of “when” and not “if” the U.S.-China relationship will become adversarial or worse.

What better way to contain China’s regional ambitions than to mire economic development in places like Baluchistan with armed militancy, or obstruct it altogether with a US-backed independence movement in the province?

US policymakers have noted just that. In a 2012 paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled, “Pakistan: The Resurgence of Baluch Nationalism” (PDF), it would be stated unequivocally that (emphasis added):

If Baluchistan were to become independent, would Pakistan be able to withstand another dismemberment—thirty-four years have passed since the secession of Bangladesh—and what effect would that have on regional stability? Pakistan would lose a major part of its natural resources and would become more dependent on the Middle East for its energy supplies. Although Baluchistan’s resources are currently underexploited and benefit only the non-Baluch provinces, especially Punjab, these resources could undoubtedly contribute to the development of an independent Baluchistan.

Baluchistan’s independence would also dash Islamabad’s hopes for the Gwadar port and other related projects. Any chance that Pakistan would become more attractive to the rest of the world would be lost.

Not only would it be Pakistan’s loss regarding the Gwadar port, it would be China’s loss as well.

And while the paper attempts to claim the US stands nothing to gain from Baluchistan’s independence, the US State Department has spent years and an untold sum of money and resources supporting just such an independence movement. Additionally, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace itself hosted an event by the “Baloch Society of North America,” advocating US intervention in the province toward achieving “independence.”

The US State Department’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and convicted financial criminal George Soros’ Open Society via “Global Voices” funds a long list of organizations in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province advocating everything from autonomy to outright independence. This includes the Association for Integrated Development Balochistan (AID Balochistan), The Balochistan Point, and the Balochistan Institute for Development.

The US NED-funded Institute for Development Studies & Practices’s (IDSP) president regularly uses social media like Twitter to make and support statements calling for Baluchistan’s independence and depicting the province as a “colony” of Pakistan. So do virtually all other members of the above mentioned organizations funded by the US government.

The long list of US-funded Baluchistan-based organizations regularly link to op-eds and propaganda depicting violence in the province as one-sided and perpetuated by Pakistani forces alone – echoing the same sort of intentionally skewed public relations campaigns supporters of US-backed violence in Syria have undertaken since 2011.

And just like in Syria, the violence being spun, excused, or glossed over directly meshes with US interests – in this case – impeding Chinese-Pakistani cooperation in Baluchistan and beyond.

Violence in Baluchistan Benefits US Proxy War with Iran Also 

That the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for this latest attack, following in the wake of a larger attack on Tehran, Iran, is particularly significant. It was US policymakers who, in a 2009 Brookings Institution policy paper titled, “Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran,” would mention Baluchistan and Baluchi separatists by name as possible conduits, safe havens, and proxies for conducting armed conflict against Iran.

Creating violence in Baluchistan, Pakistan thus serves to not only mire Chinese ambitions across Asia, it assists Washington’s long-standing objective to encircle Iran with hostile state and non-state actors ahead of eventual regime change operations against Tehran.

Previously, the United States has attempted to use a variety of local groups to foment political instability and violence. Now it appears that all of its geopolitical mischief is being lumped under the catch-all, the “Islamic State.” In reality, the militants who kidnapped and murdered the two Chinese teachers in Baluchistan, Pakistan, were likely local militants the US has been backing for years, and whose role in destabilizing Pakistan is increasingly understood by local and global audiences.

Assigning blame to the Islamic State appears to be a means of disassociating America from the violence it is intentionally fueling across the region.

The Islamic State “coincidentally” appearing in virtually every geopolitical theater on Earth US interests are impeded or challenged by local and regional interests helps explain why not only the Islamic State exists in the first place, but explains how it has managed to survive and continue to thrive despite multinational efforts by nations like Russia, Syria, and Iran to defeat it.

Through state sponsorship, the Islamic State’s source of logistical, political, and military power ultimately lies in Washington, London, Brussels, Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha – where Russian-Syrian-Iranian military and political power cannot reach.

For those wondering where the Islamic State will strike next, one needs only to look at a  world map and identify where else US interests are being impeded by an increasingly multipolar world unwilling to yield to Wall Street and Washington’s corporate-financier monopolies. As illustrated in this recent and abhorrent attack in Baluchistan, Pakistan, important points along China’s One Belt, One Road project would be important places to look out for.

By targeting teachers, such terrorism seeks to incite fear across the very workers who are part of implementing this ambitious regional economic plan. It is a motive that resides far above the crude ideological motivations generally assigned to the Islamic State, and instead resembles well thought-out – if not sinister – geostrategic planning.

July 1, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

US court dismisses Yemen drone strike wrongful death suit

RT | July 1, 2017

A US appeals court has upheld a decision dismissing a lawsuit brought by a Yemeni man whose family was killed by a US drone strike. The plaintiff alleges that his family members were innocent bystanders when they were struck by the missile.

The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which consisted of a three-judge panel, came to an agreement with lower courts that stated they, too, did not have the authority to judge government military actions. An August 2012 drone strike in Yemen, which killed, among others, Salem bin Ali Jaber and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, is what this case is based upon.

Faisal bin Ali Jaber is a Yemeni engineer. He and his family sued the US government for the deaths of Salem, his brother-in-law, and Waleed, his nephew. Jaber made the claim that the deadly strike was in violation of the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.

Jaber’s family members were killed by a “signature strike,” which target individuals through information and data obtained from electronic devices such as mobile phones.

In 2015, the families of the two deceased men brought a case against the US government, then-President Barack Obama and other US officials, for “wrongful deaths.”

Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote a rare separate opinion, although she also wrote the decision in the case as the three-judge panel was unanimous.

“Of course this begs the question, if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will?”

The outcome that Jaber and his family wanted for the case was a declaratory judgement, which would make the court admit that the US violated international law governing the use of force when killing his family members with the drone strike.

Court documents from 2015 say the family made the claim that the hellfire missile attack by a US drone, which was deployed in the Yemeni village of Khashamir, which killed their family members, was unlawful.

Judge Brown didn’t hesitate to question some of the US government’s practices in the case.

“Of course this begs the question, if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will?” She continued, “the spread of drones cannot be stopped, but the US can still influence how they are used in the global community – including, someday, seeking recourse should our enemies turn these powerful weapons 180 degrees to target our homeland. The Executive and Congress must establish a clear policy for drone strikes and precise avenues for accountability,” Brown said in her opinion of the case.

Brown also stated that US congressional oversight is a “joke” and that “our democracy is broken.”

The other two judges on the panel did not join in Brown’s separate opinion, Reuters reported.

Read more:

  Families sue US govt, seek official apology over drone killings in Yemen

July 1, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt cut ties with Qatar

Press TV – June 5, 2017

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties and all land, sea and air contacts with Qatar, accusing the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs.

Riyadh took the lead on Monday to sever relations and other countries fell in line after an official source said the kingdom “urges all brotherly countries and companies to do the same.”

A Saudi official cited by SPA said the country decided to “sever diplomatic and consular ties with Qatar, and to close all land, sea and aviation ports” in order to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”

The “decisive” measure, the Saudi statement said, was due to “gross violations committed by authorities in Qatar over the past years.”

The United Arab Emirates gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing their “support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organizations,” state news agency WAM reported.

Bahrain News Agency said the tiny kingdom was cutting ties with Doha over its insistence on “shaking the security and stability of Bahrain and meddling in its affairs.”

Egypt accused Qatar of supporting “terrorist” organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood which it has been cracking down on since the 2013 coup against the country’s first ever democratically-elected leader, Mohamed Morsi.

Meanwhile, a Saudi “coalition” waging a war in Yemen said it was ending Qatar’s membership. The measure, it said, was due to Doha’s “practices that strengthen terrorism, and its support to organizations in Yemen, including al-Qaeda and Daesh, as well as dealing with the rebel militias.”

Qatar regretted the decision, saying “the measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.” Doha-based Al Jazeera TV quoted Foreign Ministry as saying that the decisions would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents.”

“The aim is clear, and it is to impose guardianship on the state. This by itself is a violation of its (Qatar’s) sovereignty as a state,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to the severance of ties as an “incitement campaign based on fabrications, which reflects an intention to harm Qatar.”

Pakistan, another member of the “coalition” which has recently tried to distance itself from the Saudi group’s anti-Iran agenda, made it clear that the country had no plans to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.

UAE carriers Etihad, Emirates and flydubai said they would suspend flights to and from Doha from Tuesday. Qatar Airways said it has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia with immediate affect.

Trump factor

The crisis follows US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, marked by the signing of a record $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the visit was aimed at getting Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations in the region to stand in “unity” with Israel and confront Iran.

After Trump’s visit, tensions escalated between Riyadh and Doha because of an article in Qatar’s state-run news agency in which the emir was quoted as criticizing the US, Saudi Arabia, and their client states for attempting to stir up tensions with “Islamic power” Iran.

The Qatari government quickly deleted the comments, saying the state agency had been hacked but the official denial failed to stop the rift between the Persian Gulf Arab countries from widening.

Saudi media then viciously attacked Qatar, accusing it of having “betrayed” the other Arab countries particularly at a time when they had attempted to stage a show of “unity” against Iran in a much-publicized and extravagant series of events in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also blocked Qatari websites and broadcasters. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani later said the country was being targeted in a “hostile media campaign, which we will confront.”

Prelude to invasion?

Qatar, home to the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops, long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood which has another admirer in Turkey.

Western officials have also accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Takfiri extremists like al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front. Saudi Arabia and the UAE similarly stand accused of supporting other Takfiri groups and the escalation exposes an underlying bitter rivalry among the neighbors for influence.

Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was quoted as saying that the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is rooted in “accumulated differences from the past even though both countries are followers of the Wahhabi school.”

Wahhabism is the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia, which is freely preached by government-backed clerics there and inspiring terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Qaeda.

Prominent Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan said in a Twitter post that the diplomatic rupture is a “prelude” to a military action against Qatar.

“The next move may be a military offensive to change the regime in Qatar. It’s a war planned months ago,” wrote the editor-in-chief of the Rai al-Youm news website.

Saudi Arabia, UAE falling out over Yemen?

Recent reports have suggested Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were divided over their role in Yemen on which they have been waging a deadly war for more than two years now.

In a recent interview with Middle East Eye online news portal, Saudi-backed former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi accused the UAE of acting “like an occupation power in Yemen rather than a force of liberation.”

Yemeni sources have revealed that the United Arab Emirates was trying to establish control over the strategic island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, which Hadi had rented out to the country for nearly a century.

Tensions have taken a turn for worse under Saudi Arabia’s new rulers who have adopted an aggressive policy, waging a destructive war on Yemen, severing relations with Iran and assisting militants in Iraq and Syria to topple their governments.

June 5, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Things that Saudis can’t buy off

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | May 29, 2017

There is something obscene about anyone who held high positions in the government – for example, an Ambassador or an Army Chief – taking up a post-retirement job as employee of a foreign government. Pakistan’s former army chief General Raheel Sharif should not have accepted the offer made by Saudi king Salman to appoint him as the head of a newly-formed Islamic Military Alliance.

It is common sense that the assignment would effectively make the Pakistani general a vassal of the House of Saud. What was the need for it? A Pakistani general is almost certainly a very wealthy man who really doesn’t need more money. And if Gen. Sharif had an insatiable itch to continue to fight terrorism till the end of his life, Pakistan itself provided ample opportunities.

Why Saudi Arabia? The only plausible answer is — avarice. The Saudis’ capacity to lure foreign elites is a legion. According to reports, Salman gave away to US President Donald Trump personal gifts alone worth $1.2 billion. One heavy sword made of pure gold and studded with diamond stones weighing 25 kilograms alone was worth $200 million. Then, there is this 125 meter long yacht, which is apparently the world’s tallest personal yacht, with 80 rooms with 20 royal suites.

Maybe, the yacht is useful for Trump’s escapades, but what will he do with a 25 kg sword? Obviously, Salman was bribing Trump. As quid pro quo, Salman probably expects Trump to close the file on the 9/11 attacks and drop the idea of seeking compensation for the victims’ families under the US legislation known as Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.

Of course, Saudis do not have to give away such lavish gifts to the elites in Pakistan (or India.) A Mont Blanc ballpoint pen, Rolex wrist watch, an odd job for the nephew or son-in-law – that generally does the trick. To be sure, by Pakistani standards, Gen. Sharif must be getting a fat salary.

However, the amazing part is that the Pakistani government gave him an exceptional ‘No Objection Certificate’ to take up such an assignment. The Pakistani leadership would have known that the Saudis had a certain agenda in creating the Islamic Military Alliance. The Saudi intention is to rally Sunni Muslim countries and create a phalanx against Shi’ite Iran. No matter the gloss put on the IMA being an anti-terror enterprise, the alliance’s Iran orientation was crystal clear.

The Pakistani press reported that Iran’s ambassador in Islamabad Mehdi Honardoost called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi twice during the month of April alone to convey Tehran’s disquiet over Sharif’s appointment. But the government remained impassive.

The birds are now coming to roost. One outcome of Trump’s visit to Riyadh last week is that the Islamic Military Alliance now stands pretty naked as a Sunni Muslim alliance to fight Iran. Not only that, the alliance will fight Iran in secret collaboration with Israel. The Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has bragged in a media interview, “We will not wait for the war to be waged on Saudi soil. We will make sure that the war is waged in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”

Now, this is all spinning out of control. Imagine Gen. Sharif landing the IMA troops in Badar-e Bushehr and leading the charge of the light brigade to Shiraz and Esfahan and on to Tehran to overthrow the Iranian regime.  Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Gen. Sharif is reportedly developing cold feet and is contemplating to resign from his job and return to Pakistan.

Even if that is not the case, Pakistani leadership should order him to return home. It will be extremely damaging to Pakistan’s interests any which way one looks at it, if it gets entangled in the Saudi-Iranian tensions. As the African proverb says, ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt’.

The really bizarre part of it is that Trump’s rhetoric about Iran is all baloney. Trump is a bluff master. He will now walk away laughing with the sword and the yacht. Read a report in the New York Times – As Iran and U.S. Leaders Trade Barbs, Big Deals Proceed.

May 30, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Militarism | , , , , | 2 Comments

Pakistan to give Iran gas talks another shot

The Iranian part of the gas pipeline is complete but Pakistan has run into repeated delays for the 780-km section to be built on its side of the border.

The Iranian part of the gas pipeline is complete but Pakistan has run into repeated delays for the 780-km section to be built on its side of the border
Press TV – March 25, 2017

A Pakistani delegation will be visiting Iran next month to revive talks on a planned gas pipeline which has been set back for years because of US and Saudi opposition, an Iranian news agency says.

Iran’s gas delivery should have started in December 2014 but Pakistan has failed to complete its section of the pipeline under the contract signed back in 2010.

According to Fars news agency, Pakistani officials have officially announced their readiness lately to resume the negotiations and decided to send a delegation to Tehran in the middle of the Persian month of Farvardin which began on March 21 or in early Ordibehesht.

“Although Pakistani officials are subject to the policies of Saudi Arabia and America, the government under pressure from the Pakistani people and businessmen is willing to provide for conditions so that the Iranian natural gas reaches Pakistan,” the source said.

According to the unnamed source, the Pakistani negotiating team has been given complete freedom to negotiate the volume, time and mode of gas imports from Iran and reach a final conclusion.

“Pricing is up for the later stage and if we reach an initial conclusion, we will also get to that phase,” the source added.

The energy crisis in Pakistan which suffers about 12 hours of power cuts a day has worsened in recent years amid 4,000 megawatts of electricity shortfall. The nation of 190 million people can only supply about two-thirds of its gas needs.

Contractually, Pakistan has to pay steep fines to Iran for failing to build and operate its section of the pipeline. Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh has said that Tehran decided not to take the matter to international arbitration because Islamabad did not have any money to either pay the penalty or build the pipeline.

Pakistan has however pushed ahead with talks to receive gas from Turkmenistan through a pipeline which is exponentially longer and costlier than the Iran route and has to cross volatile terrain in Afghanistan.

Qatar is currently one of the main suppliers of liquefied natural gas to Pakistan after the two sides signed a 15-year agreement in February 2016 for shipment of 3.75 million tonnes of LNG a year.

In their last negotiations with Iran, the Pakistanis reportedly said they preferred LNG to natural gas.

However, Iranian energy experts have dismissed the proposal as another delaying tactic given that the first Iranian LNG production is years off, while the Pakistanis have started talks to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan.

For years, Islamabad has been under US and Saudi pressure to opt out of the Iran project even though this would entail going the extra mile of more than 700 km across the violence-wracked Afghanistan to get gas from Turkmenistan.

March 25, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | , , , | Leave a comment

Taliban’s Quetta Shura, Haqqanis check out peace talks

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 24, 2017

A US state department official told the Associated Press on Thursday that Washington wants to work with Moscow on regional efforts to end the 16-year Afghan war and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be discussing this during his visit to the Russian capital on April 12.

The Trump administration’s idea of seeking Russian cooperation to bring about national reconciliation in Afghanistan signifies a radical departure from the consistently negative approach taken by the Barack Obama presidency aimed at keeping Moscow out of the Afghan problem as far and as long as possible. This is of course brilliant news. (See my recent opinion piece in the Tribune titled The grand bargain.)

However, Trump’s best-laid plans in this direction are surely going to run into big headwinds. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Army General Curtis Scapparotti may have already made a valiant attempt to raise dust by saying on Thursday that he has seen “increased influence” of Russia of late in Afghanistan “and perhaps even supply to the Taliban.” Hot-shot generals do not usually speculate, and the word “perhaps” has simply no place in their vocabulary, but then, this is politics with the objective of caricaturing Russia in adversarial terms.

The Russians promptly hit back saying that the accusation by the general is “absolutely false.” A top Russian diplomat heading the Afghan desk in the foreign ministry, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov retorted that “these statements are fabrications designed to justify the failure of the US military and politicians in the Afghan campaign, we cannot find any other explanation.” (Sputnik )

Indeed, the NATO general could have been indulging in a blame game. The point is, Scapparotti spoke soon after reports appeared that the Taliban have captured the strategically-located Sangin district in the southern Helmand province. It is a humiliating setback for the US and NATO since more of their soldiers had been killed in Sangin during the war than in any of the 400-odd districts in the country. (Read a BBC commentary here on the significance of Sangin in the chronicle of the Afghan war.)

But, coming back to Tillerson’s talks in Moscow, it is significant that Trump is taking his time to announce his strategy for Afghanistan. He is apparently pondering over the wisdom of deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan in the absence of an exit strategy. Under the circumstances, there is a good possibility that Trump would sense the rationale behind the regional initiative taken by Russia on Afghan national reconciliation.

Pakistan announced today its intention to take part in the forthcoming Moscow conference. Afghanistan has already stated its participation. Presumably, Iran, China and India also will attend the conference. Meanwhile, AP reported today that Pakistan brought together seven top Taliban leaders for a meeting in Islamabad last week “to try and press them into peace talks ahead of a multi-nation meeting in April in Moscow.”

The Taliban leaders who attended the meeting included key figures in the leadership such as Mullah Muhammed Abbas (who took part in direct talks with the Afghan government in July 2015 in Pakistan), Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Muhammed Turabi, Mullah Saaduddin (from the Quetta shura), Mullah Daud (Peshawar shura) – and, most important, Yahya, a senior member of the Haqqani network, and Latif Mansour, secretary of the Taliban leadership council.

This would suggest that the Taliban could be tiptoeing toward the regional format on Afghanistan soon. Of course, there will be hiccups on the way to the conference table, since some Taliban factions could be counting on an outright military victory and a takeover in Kabul. Pakistan will have to do the heavy lifting, ultimately.

March 25, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIGAR Report Notes US Failures in Afghanistan

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 23.03.2017

A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001?

It is worth recalling that since 2001, around 2250 US military personnel have died and over 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan and the war is not over—yet. Apart from it, as the report notes, the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it collectively spent to reconstruct the whole Europe after the Second World War, marking this the “largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our (US) nation’s history.” Given the scale of the loss, it cannot be gainsaid that it is also the greatest failure the US has suffered ever since. And as the report highlights, “after 15 years the task is incomplete.”

Afghanistan, for the US, remains a “high risk” territory—something that warrants, the US policy makers think, a long-term military presence. Despite spending a whopping US$70 billion on establishing Afghan security forces—almost half of the reconstruction budget going to this particular sector of national reconstruction— the report finds that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain acutely incapable of tackling the war on their own.

While the report places the onus of responsibility on Afghan forces for ceding territory to the Taliban, the fact remains that the US forces have not left the country either and remain militarily engaged.

According to the US-Afghanistan Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (BSA), the very purpose of retaining a significant strength of US troops and military personnel is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.”

However, despite the fact that two years have passed since the agreement was signed, no major progress has been seen in terms of the Afghan forces’ ability to recover territory from the Taliban. On the contrary, as the SIGAR report notes, “approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016.”

What this indicates is that the US has been unable to achieve, so far, its publicly stated objectives. According to the SIGAR report, the other “high risk” areas include corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counter-narcotics, contract management, oversight, strategy and planning.

Curiously enough, SIGAR does not mention the rising threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the threat it is posing to the regions surrounding this country. The regions surrounding Afghanistan include Central Asia, South Asia and China.

Were the Islamic State to be allowed, by not taking action against it, to spread in Afghanistan and be able to set foothold in this region, it will spread utter devastation—something that will directly serve the US interest against Russia and China. Not only will it jeopardize China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project but will also cause a manifold increase in the threats of ISIS finding support in China’s Xinjiang province and in Central Asia states i.e., Russia’s “under belly.”

No wonder, the US doesn’t see ISIS as a “real threat” to their interests in Afghanistan because it is not, as yet, posing any direct threat. For the US, the primary threat remains the Taliban and the imperative of silencing their movement remains the primary objective.

It is for this reason that both China and Russia have found a justifiable reason in establishing contacts both with the Afghan government and the Taliban in order to prevent ISIS from gaining foothold in Afghanistan. While China has already started to conduct counter-terror operations in co-operation with Kabul, Russia is equally setting itself up to lead the peace process by holding a global peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.

What are Trump’s options for an un-winnable war?

Given the dark scenario depicted in the report, it seems that the US military is deeply interested in raising troop levels in Afghanistan. But the question is: will sending more troops do any good when 16 years of war have led only to deterioration? What it will do is intensify the war with the Taliban and provide ISIS a ready-made scenario to gain strength.

It is obvious that the US cannot win the war against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, the question of actually winning the war has lost whatever significance it previously had. Therefore, the new question that must be raised and duly addressed is how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Levant?

It is again self-evident that ISIS doesn’t figure as a threat in the US officials’ calculation. Therefore, China and Russia must step up their efforts and help negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role is crucial in this regard and fortunately enough, both Russia and China are on good terms with Afghanistan’s immediate and most important neighbour.

Therefore, the best option for the US/the Trump administration is to engage with countries that can actually pave the way for settlement. On the contrary, were the US to continue to walk the lonely path in Afghanistan, it will continue to progressively lose space and momentum to China-Pakistan-Russia nexus just as it lost space and advantage in Syria after Russia started its own military campaign in September 2015. As such, with Russia and China willing to facilitate a peace settlement, the US needs to tap into this opportunity and turn the “disastrous war” into a meaningful settlement.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pakistan Asks Facebook, Twitter, to Help Crack Down on Online Blasphemy

Sputnik – 18.03.2017

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for a crackdown on those who would blaspheme against Islam on social media, and claims to have contacted Facebook and Twitter to ask for their help in suppressing online sacrilege.

“All relevant institutions must unite to hunt those who spread such material and to award them strict punishment under the law,” Sharif said.

Minister of the Interior Ministry (MoI) Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that an official from Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, DC, was dispatched to Facebook and Twitter, asking them to help identify Pakistanis both at home or abroad who have insulted Islam.

He went on to say Pakistan would seek to extradite any Pakistanis living abroad if they were accused of blasphemy so they could be tried in an Islamic court.

Facebook, at least, has answered the call and will send a delegation to Pakistan to help them fight blasphemy, according to a statement from Pakistan’s Interior Ministry. Facebook told the MoI that they were “aware” of Pakistan’s concerns, and wanted to reach a mutual understanding with the Islamic Republic.

Facebook told the Associated Press that it seriously considers requests from governments, but its ultimate goal is to “protect the privacy and rights of our users.”

“We disclose information about accounts solely in accordance with our terms of service and applicable law,” continued Facebook.

Pakistan already extensively censors online content that depicts blasphemy, pornography, suicide and other things deemed objectionable. YouTube was blocked in the South Asian nation from 2012 to 2016, until it agreed to assist the government in censoring their content.

Facebook itself was blocked for a short period of time in 2010 due to it being the platform of choice for many artists participating in “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”. Some sites, such as Reddit and Imgur, remain banned.

Pakistan has some of the world’s strictest blasphemy laws. “Outraging the religious feelings of Muslims” carries a three year prison sentence as well as fines. Defiling a Quran is life in prison. Speaking ill of Mohammed is punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch claims that from 1987 to 2014, more than 1,300 Pakistanis have been accused of blasphemy and more than 60 of the accused have died in extrajudicial killings.

March 18, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment