Seeking credibility

Seeking credibility

Jan. 18, 2007

Daily Times (Pakistan)
Just as the Washington bureaucracy was joining its voice with the NATO commanders in Afghanistan to protest Pakistan’s ‘double-faced’ approach to the problem of cross-border Taliban raids from Pakistani territory, the Pakistan army has attacked and killed some more ‘terrorists’ based in South Waziristan. The army spokesman says they were ‘militants’ training in some local compounds, which means they were Al Qaeda and Taliban elements along with their local Waziristani facilitators. Predictably, however, the tribal member of parliament from the region, Maulana Mirajuddin, says they were simply ‘locals’ working in the compounds with the help of Afghan ‘powindas’, or migratory labourers. Unfortunately, such is politics in Pakistan that everyone who is anyone in the opposition will say that the government is lying while those who support the government will feel unsure because the government mysteriously fights shy of supplying sufficient proof whenever the army goes on the offensive and ‘takes out’ foreign militants. It has happened twice in Bajaur, and one can safely declare that more people disbelieve the official story than believe it. In fact the opposition made such a big show of its anger that it made its MPA resign from Bajaur in protest. Thus, despite the fact that there is no earthly reason why the government should lie and deliberately kill its own people needlessly, most people will be inclined to believe that the eight ‘foreigners’ (read the Taliban) were all ‘innocent’ local people.

Why is Pakistan able to show the NATO commanders evidence that it has ‘taken out’ foreign miscreants and terrorists holed out in Pakistani territory but is unable to provide the same evidence to the people of Pakistan? When Ahmad Shah Massoud used to catch Pakistani-intelligence officers in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban, he used to put them on TV and then show close-ups of their documents. India, too, has been ready to show Pakistani ID cards carried by the ‘freedom-fighters’ it killed in Kashmir. But Pakistan, which is said to have killed a lot of foreign terrorists in Waziristan, has not been able to consistently give credible proof that they were indeed ‘foreigners’.

According to ‘intelligence reports’ put out by the army spokesman, there were “25-30 foreign terrorists and local facilitators occupying a complex of five compounds in the area and three out of the five compounds have been destroyed, killing most of the terrorists present in those compounds”. But the fact that Pakistani helicopters raided the distant thickly forested village on the border of North and South Waziristan when US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not lost on anyone. Although non-partisan sources in the area say the camps belonged to the local mercenary pro-Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and only eight people were killed, no one in Pakistan is going to swallow the story.

With good timing, President General Pervez Musharraf told a gathering of corps commanders in Rawalpindi that Pakistan would “destroy any hideout used by militants that it finds on its territory” and that “we shall not allow any illegal cross border activity or any terrorist to take refuge in our area, and if it happens it shall be dealt with by direct military action”. While he said this, however, thousands of people gathered in Tank in Waziristan and protested the killing of ‘innocent people’ by the Pakistan army.

The fact, however, is that there are many telltale signs pointing to the presence of Al Qaeda and its supporters in Waziristan. The entire world knows that after the 2001 invasion the Taliban fled across the Durand Line and took refuge in this tribal area. The locals denied it because they were either on the take or simply scared. Steadily all the elders opposed to giving shelter to Al Qaeda were shot dead by these dangerous elements. The most convincing proof came after Bajaur One and Bajaur Two. Since the first Bajaur raid was carried out by American drones, Al Qaeda took its revenge inside Afghanistan near Spin Boldak by killing many troops of the Afghan army. And since Bajaur Two was claimed by the Pakistan army, the revenge was taken in Dargai in Pakistan through a suicide-bomber. How is Pakistan’s credibility to be upheld at home and abroad? Why is the government not willing to make a public show of the evidence it has of foreigners killed in the raid?

The fact of the matter is that the US-Pakistan disagreement over what really goes on this side of the Durand Line has reached a dangerous level. The Americans are now increasingly inclined to accuse Pakistan of complicity in the trouble that Afghanistan is having with the Taliban. Indeed, from the latest statements in Islamabad one can infer that a ‘hot pursuit’ type of pre-emptive strike from NATO forces could actually take place. That would create more problems for Pakistan than it would solve for America.

On the American side, there is a need to be careful while relying on Afghan reports of foul play by Pakistan. There is a lot of easy twisting of facts going on in the region. This should be apparent to the NATO command. When it claims that 50 Taliban have been killed in a showdown, the Taliban retort that not a single man from their hordes has been killed. It all depends on how many people believe you.

British Zionist Press Claims Saudi Complicity in Plan to Bomb Iran

Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran

Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Sarah Baxter

The head of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence service, has assured Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, that Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.

Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad’s director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility.

The Israeli press has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, held meetings with Saudi colleagues. The reports were denied by Saudi officials.

“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” a diplomatic source said last week.

Although the countries have no formal diplomatic relations, an Israeli defence source confirmed that Mossad maintained “working relations” with the Saudis.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who recently visited the Gulf, said it was “entirely logical” for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace.

Bolton, who has talked to several Arab leaders, added: “None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn’t trumpet it as a big success.”

Arab states would condemn a raid when they spoke at the UN but would be privately relieved to see the threat of an Iranian bomb removed, he said.

Referring to the Israeli attack on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility in 2007, Bolton added: “To this day, the Israelis haven’t admitted the specifics but there’s one less nuclear facility in Syria . . .”

Recent developments have underscored concerns among moderate Sunni Arab states about the stability of the repressive Shi’ite regime in Tehran and have increased fears that it may emerge as a belligerent nuclear power.

“The Saudis are very concerned about an Iranian nuclear bomb, even more than the Israelis,” said a former head of research in Israeli intelligence.

The Israeli air force has been training for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear site at Natanz in the centre of the country and other locations for four years.

Morocco changes tack in anti-terrorism policy

Photo

Three suspects arrive at the court room in Sale near Rabat March 2, 2007. Morocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Morocco changes tack in anti-terrorism policy

By Tom Pfeiffer

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques

and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions.

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country’s towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco’s Muslims.

Suicide bombings in May 2003 killed 45 people and tarnished a reputation for stability that helped staunch U.S. ally Morocco draw growing numbers of tourists and record foreign investment.

An anxious security sweep saw the closure of unregulated mosques and the arrest of more than 3,000 people on terrorism-related charges.

“The security services may have been badly prepared, which explains why we arrested thousands of people,” said Moroccan political analyst Mohamed Darif. “They have now begun to master the situation and no longer arrest just anyone.”

Around a third of those rounded up since 2003 remain in prison and Islamist advocacy groups say many are held on flimsy evidence after being forced to sign false confessions, something the government denies.

Security experts say the authorities have a better grip on the situation after building up a database of potentially dangerous Islamists and managing to infiltrate some networks to ward off attacks before they happen.

European governments are hungry for Morocco to share its knowledge, fearing Algeria-based Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could use the kingdom as a springboard for attacks in Europe, according to European security experts.

Intelligence appears to have improved — arrests are announced less often and tend to involve smaller numbers of suspects.

Moroccans have been linked to several plots targeting European states in recent years.

Two were convicted in Spain for train bombs in the suburbs of Madrid that killed 191 people and wounded 1,857 in March 2004. A Moroccan court convicted a drug trafficker in December of links to the attacks.

Analysts say Spanish intelligence officials are increasingly worried about the establishment of al Qaeda training camps deep in the Sahara, as far away as Mali and Mauritania.

Last month, Moroccan police arrested five members of a suspected terrorist cell that was also active in Spain, according to a security source.

“There’s a suspicion that a lot of traffic goes through Morocco and lots of people who are important in facilitating that are sitting in Morocco,” said Peter Neumann, director at the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London.

SOFT POWER

Last year Sheikh Mohammed Maghraoui, a Saudi-funded religious figure, told followers that girls as young as nine could marry.

His comment was interpreted as a fatwa, or religious edict, and was condemned by media and human rights groups. The government ordered the closure of dozens of Koranic schools linked to Maghraoui.

In Morocco, only the Senior Council of Ulemas, or religious experts, is authorised to issue religious decrees.

Government officials say counter-terrorism is not the main goal of the imam training programme.

They say the aim is to ensure that imams have the necessary skills to do their job and are in tune with modernising reforms carried out since King Mohammed came to the throne in 1999.

Knowing a few verses of the Koran will no longer be enough to confer authority.

They will be taught how to dispense advice, arbitrate in disputes, help with literacy programmes among the poor and made aware of new laws such as one giving married women more rights.

“This is more than just a response to 2003. It’s a demand from society today that the state does what is necessary,” said Hakim el Ghissassi, a cabinet member at Morocco’s Ministry for Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs.

“In this era of satellite TV, people no longer accept to see religious officials who are not trained.”

Morocco is also sending religious experts to Europe under agreements with countries including France and Spain that have large Moroccan expatriate populations.

A new European Council of Ulemas will help improve Islamic instruction in Europe and ensure imams are better trained and more socially involved, said Ghissassi.

“If today we deny religious instruction to the young, where will they look for it?” said Ghissassi. “On extremist Internet sites with self-proclaimed radical Imams.”

Some analysts are doubtful that improving the quality of Islamic instruction will stop young, second-generation Moroccans in Europe signing up for jihad.

“It’s not the control of religious organisations that will put an end to terrorism,” said Olivier Roy of France’s National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS). “The young who radicalise do so outside the context of the mosque.”

Along the Russian-Georgian border, war games or prelude to war?

http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44931000/jpg/_44931625_tanks_afp.jpg

Along the Russian-Georgian border, war games or prelude to war?

Although both countries claim the military exercises are simply for practice, some wonder if the old dispute is again flaring.

By Fred Weir

MOSCOW – Both Russia and Georgia claim to fear a fresh attack from the other. That’s why, each insists, they’re staging war games and building up military forces to levels unseen since last August’s brief but brutal war over the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia.

Some experts suggest the Russians may be testing President Barack Obama, who arrives in Moscow on Monday, the very day Russia’s current military mobilization is scheduled to end. Together with its new allies South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow is this week holding its biggest post-Soviet army maneuvers amid the tense, mountainous borderlands where last summer’s war raged. Georgia has denounced the Kavkaz-2009 games, which feature 8,500 troops and 200 tanks, as “pure provocation” and a possible prelude to renewed hostilities. Last month, Moscow slammed considerably smaller NATO-sponsored exercises in Georgia in nearly identical terms (read more Monitor coverage here).

“The Georgian government is very agitated around these Russian war games, and is at least suggesting that it is connected with the Obama visit to Moscow,” says George Khutsishvili, director of the independent International Center for Conflict and Negotiation in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. “The fear here is that if Obama reveals some weakness in his talks in Moscow, that it could lead to a renewal of the war…. I don’t take this seriously, but there is no doubt that these military exercises are a demonstration of force on the anniversary of the war. They show that Russia is ready.”

Among other things, Russia is testing several new weapons – such as the T-90 tank – and fresh tactics adopted following harsh assessments of its Army’s performance during the August war (read more here).

In Northern Ossetia, the Russian border region linked to South Ossetia, where the bulk of the war games are taking place, there is also deep unease over the dueling exercises.

“We are hearing about concentrations of Georgian troops near the border, and this is deeply alarming for us,” says Olga Vyshlova, editor of the daily Severnaya Ossetiya newspaper in Vladikavkaz, the capital city of North Ossetia. “The Caucasus is not a calm region. If the Russian troops are building up their skills to protect us, what’s wrong with that?”

A fierce dispute still rages over who started last summer’s war, which broke out barely a week after Russia had completed its then largest-ever regional war games, Kavkaz-2008. The consensus of experts, a year on, is that Russia may have been looking for reasons to attack Western-leaning Georgia, but Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili gave Moscow an ideal pretext by launching a surprise military assault to retake the Russian-protected breakaway statelet of South Ossetia on the night of August 7 (read more Monitor coverage here).

The Kremlin’s point of view is that Mr. Saakashvili has still not relinquished his dream of recovering separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force, even though both have since been recognized as independent states by Moscow. Hence, this week’s massive Russian war games are presented as a defensive gambit.

“The purpose is to cool down any possible fantasies in Saakashvili’s circle, to show that Russia is ready to defend Abkhazia and Ossetia,” says Valentin Rudenko, director of the independent Interfax-Military news agency. “Russia has no intention of upsetting the present status quo. Its aims are defensive.”

But some experts maintain that Russia has unfinished business with Georgia, and that a new war may be in the cards as early as mid-July. Pavel Felgenhauer, a military expert with the Russian opposition weekly newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, argues that Moscow needs a fresh conflict to consolidate its hold on South Ossetia, control the oil and gas resources of the Caspian region, and rid itself of the all-too-resilient Saakashvili.

“These Russian military exercises have grown in scope each year, and last year, they were a direct preparation for war with Georgia,” Mr. Felgenhauer says. “It could be the same this year.”

He argues that South Ossetia, a tiny enclave that existed in a kind of no-man’s land between Russia and Georgia until last summer’s war joined it forcibly with Russia, has become economically unviable since Russian troops sealed its border with Georgia.

“The people in South Ossetia nearly starved last winter,” Felgenhauer says. “Basically, South Ossetia cannot survive unless it has an open border with Georgia,” as it did in the past.

Since Russia refuses to negotiate the status of South Ossetia with Saakashvili, “that suggests they are planning to deal with him through regime change,” Felgenhauer adds.

Russia and NATO last week put aside their differences over last summer’s Caucasus war and renewed their military cooperation, but serious tensions remain over US support for Georgia’s eventual membership in the Western military alliance.

Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, have argued that Saakashvili is an illegitimate leader and an unstable personality with whom Moscow can never do business.

But nearly three months of rolling demonstrations by Georgia’s opposition have failed to unseat Saakashvili and left the Kremlin with few options to manage the deteriorating relationship with its wayward neighbor.

“Saakashvili and the opposition are locked in a stalemate, at a very low level,” says Mr. Khutsishvili. “It’s all subsided, but nothing is solved. Most people don’t want either side to win, but want the country to move forward.”

As for the rumors of war, he says: “The mood here is very tense. But few people think an attack from Russia is imminent.”

NATO-ization of Georgia in full swing

more about “NATO-ization of Georgia in full swing…“, posted with vodpod

NATO-ization of Georgia in full swing

The first stage of controversial NATO-led military exercises has been completed in Georgia, with the second phase scheduled to start in three days.The maneuvers kicked off on May, 6, involving 14 countries. The second phase begins on May, 21 and will go on until June, 3.“Staff exercises were aimed at training the compatibility of multinational forces while carrying out peacekeeping missions,” Giovani Savareze, the representative of the alliance to the trainings said.“These exercises will bring Georgia even closer to NATO,” he added.Moscow strongly opposes the drills, calling them an open provocation given the armed conflict in nearby South Ossetia in August 2008. President Dmitry Medvedev said they would increase tension in the region.Read more“Naturally, we are concerned about NATO military exercises in Georgia. They can’t make us happy in any way. On the contrary, they create problems, tensions, and I don’t think they will help European security in any way, and they will heat up tension in Georgia itself,” Medvedev told journalists at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday.The Foreign Affairs Ministry of South Ossetia has also expressed concerns over the military activity, claiming that Georgia today is the main cause of instability in the Caucasus.An official statement from the Ministry urged NATO to consider the consequences of its actions.“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Ossetia calls on NATO management and the alliance member states to soberly evaluate possible consequences of the military support for Georgia which is the main source of danger and regional destabilization. And also the purposefulness of the policy of dragging the aggressor state into the military block.”The exercises are being held against a backdrop of political turbulence in Georgia. An alleged coup plot was uncovered recently while opposition protests against the president are entering their second month.Nineteen countries were initially going to take part in the games but Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Serbia withdrew at a late stage due to various reasons.

EU to delay Georgia war report

EU to delay Georgia war report

ANDREW RETTMAN

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The result of an EU-sponsored enquiry into the origins of the 2008 Georgia war is set to be delayed by two months, amid rising fears of fresh hostilities in the region.

EU diplomats in Brussels on Friday (3 July) agreed to the postponement from 31 July to September following a request from the Swiss-led investigation, the so-called IIFFMCG. The decision must be rubber-stamped by EU ministers, with the next ministerial due on Tuesday.

Orthodox priest blesses Georgian soldiers (Photo: jimforest)
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Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, in charge of the probe, said she needs more time due to fresh material coming to light at a late stage, EU sources explained. The enquiry’s €1.6 million EU budget is to remain unchanged.

Ms Tagliavini’s findings could prove politically explosive.

If the report hangs blame on Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili, it could reinforce calls from Russia and the Georgian opposition for him to step down. If it burdens Russia, it could damage EU-Russia relations and impact Russia’s participation in international conflict resolution mechanisms.

IIFFMCG documents leaked to German magazine Der Spiegel in June look bad for the Georgian leader.

The papers said the probe has found no evidence that Russian tanks entered Georgia’s rebel-held South Ossetia region on 7 August, the day of Georgia’s attack on the rebel capital.

One of the enquiry’s experts, retired British colonel Christopher Langton, said the “country can only blame itself” for Russia’s reaction. Another

expert, German lawyer Otto Luchterhandt, said Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia were entitled to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN charter.

The Georgian president remained bullish in a TV address on Friday. “I want to assure that it [the probe] will say that we were right,” Mr Saakashvili said.

The postponement comes at a time of mounting tension in Georgia.

A team of 20 OSCE monitors responsible for South Ossetia left Georgia on Friday after Russia declined to extend its mandate. Russia has also shut down a mission of 130 UN observers in Georgia’s rebel-held Abkhazia territory.

The departures leave an EU monitoring mission – the EUMM, composed of 220 unarmed personnel – as the only international entity standing between the hostile forces.

The EUMM itself became a target on 21 June when a mine explosion killed the driver of an ambulance traveling in an EU convoy near the Abkhazian border. Georgia says 19 of its citizens have been killed in similar attacks since open warfare ended last August.

“We are not going in the right direction by withdrawing these two missions,” an EU diplomat told EUobserver. “Things will remain tense. We are going to have a hot summer.”

Russia flexes muscle

Russia’s decision to hold large-scale military exercises in the Caucasus this week has also raised concern. The “Kavkaz 2009″ wargames involved over 8,000 Russian troops, reportedly including Russian units in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and neighbouring Armenia.

Russian analysts Pavel Felgenhauer, who predicted the 2008 conflict, and Andrei Illarionov, a former Kremlin aide, have pointed to the risk of fresh hostilities after the visit to Moscow on 6 July of US president Barack Obama.

“The current situation resembles the situation of last year in the pre-war period,” Medea Turashvili, a Tbilisi-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, an NGO, told EUobserver.

A new conflict could serve the interests of Mr Saakashvili, who has faced opposition protests on the streets of Tbilisi since March, by rallying public support against an outside aggressor.

It could also help Russia to show who is boss in the post-Soviet sphere at a time when Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are building closer relations with the EU and, in some cases, Nato.

“Russia has made no secret of the fact it wants to see president Saakashvili removed,” Georgia’s EU ambassador, Salome Samadashvili, told this website. “It is important for Moscow to demonstrate that it can still orchestrate regime change in its neighbourhood.”