Tajik First Deputy Prime Minister Dies Suddenly On Way To Power Plant Inspection

Tajik First Deputy Prime Minister Dies

First Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Ghulomov (center) during a recent meeting with a UN Development Program delegation.First Deputy Prime Minister Asadullo Ghulomov (center) during a recent meeting with a UN Development Program delegation.

August 03, 2011
DUSHANBE — Tajikistan’s first deputy prime minister, Asadullo Ghulomov, has died suddenly at the age of 57, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reports.

Unconfirmed reports suggested Ghulomov died of a stroke.

A government official confirmed to RFE/RL that Ghulomov died during a helicopter trip to inspect the Sangtuda hydroelectric power plant in the south of the country.

Ghulomov was born in February 28, 1954, in Danghara, some 70 kilometers south of Dushanbe. Danghara is the home district of Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon.

Ghulomov graduated in 1976 from Tajikistan’s Polytechnical University and had served as first deputy prime minister since December 2006.

He is survived by a wife and four children.

Gaming in Waziristan

still from Conic studies 8

Gaming in Waziristan

Noor Behram | Butler Brothers | Nooshin Fahrid 

19 July – 5 August, 2011

Tuesday – Friday, 11am-5pm

Thursday 21 July, 6-9pm: Exhibition launch with Clive Stafford Smith in public conversation with Shahzad Akbar on the drone effect.

Friday 29 July, 6.30 – 8.30pmLAST Fridays: Gaming in Waziristan as part of Becks South London Festival of Art Night

Exhibition includes:

Noor Behram, Documents from the Frontier, 2007-2011

A cache of hitherto unseen images taken by a local journalist Noor Behram in the tribal regions of Pakistan reveal the unequal human cost of remotely controlled war machines. Courtesy Reprieve. QuickTime movies compiled by Iben la Cour.

Photos document alleged US drone strike victims in Pakistan

Photos document alleged US drone strike victims in Pakistan

David R Arnott writes

GRAPHIC WARNING: This post contains graphic images which some viewers may find disturbing.

At the Beaconsfield Gallery in London last Friday, I sat in a darkened room and watched as dozens of images of death and destruction lit up the wall in front of me. Gruesome photos of mangled bodies and destroyed buildings, each accompanied by the name of a village and a date. The war they depict does not officially exist.

The photographs were taken by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, and they document what he says are the civilian victims of unmanned aircraft ‘drone’ attacks carried out by U.S. forces.

Noor Behram via AP

In this Aug. 23, 2010 photo provided by Noor Behram, a man holds debris from a missile strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The Beaconsfield gallery in London is staging an exhibit of photographs taken by Behram allegedly showing innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region.

Over a three year period Behram was able to travel to around 60 attack sites in Waziristan, a region that is usually off-limits to the international media. His images, fuzzy, washed-out and often poorly composed, are an incongruous sight in an art gallery, but these are photographs taken as a form of documentation, rather than for their aesthetic value.

In this, Behram follows a path set out by the renowned French photographer Gilles Peress, who declared in a 1997 interview that “I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history.” Peress’ project A Village Destroyed, which documented a 1999 massacre in Kosovo, illustrated the important role that photography can play in human rights investigations.

Noor Behram via AP

The body of an eight-year-old boy killed by a missile strike in Makeen, South Waziristan, Pakistan, in a photo taken on Feb. 14, 2009.

Behram explained his own motivation in taking the pictures: “I have tried covering the important but uncovered and unreported truth about drone strikes in Pakistan: that far more civilians are being injured and killed than the Americans and Pakistanis admit,” he told the AP’s Sebastian Abbot last month.

As Abbot reported, U.S. officials do not publicly acknowledge the existence of the drone program, but they have said privately that the strikes harm very few innocents and are key to weakening al-Qaida and other militants.

Noor Behram via AP

A man stands next to a destroyed vehicle after a missile strike on a funeral in South Waziristan, Pakistan, on July 8, 2009.

The Beaconsfield exhibition, Gaming in Waziristan, is a collaboration with the NGO Reprieve, which has provided legal representation to prisoners on death row and Guantanamo Bay inmates. Reprieve has launched an initiative named “Bugsplat” - the term used by the CIA to describe a successful drone hit - which calls for an inquiry into the use of drones and says that some of the attacks may have constituted war crimes.

“We currently have a monopoly, or effective monopoly, on armed drones,” John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, told Reuters last month. “This technology will spread, and it will be used against us in years to come.”

In one tense district, Afghan crisis comes into focus

[We are witnessing the slow motion reversal of Afghanistan right back into Taliban hands.  The death and destruction have all been unnecessary and the efforts wasted in futility.  The only way to help the people of Afghanistan is for the US and NATO to focus on repairing the damaged country, but there is no room for this in Imperial plans, which are all focused down the road, all the way into Central Asia.  It was never about finding and destroying the intelligence assets, 'Al-CIA-da," it was about reaming-out Afghanistan and the entire region.]

In one tense district, Afghan crisis comes into focus

BY JONATHAN S. LANDAY

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

SAROBI, Afghanistan – The atmosphere inside the district headquarters had grown as torrid as the pulsing summer heat outside when tempers finally exploded.

“If you keep rudely interrupting me, I’ll stomp on you,” thundered Ali Ahmad, a grizzled tribal elder. Dozens of men leapt from the floor, some with fists and teeth clenched, others pushing apart would-be brawlers.

The uproar that ended the traditional tribal parley last week was a measure of the volatility that’s left Sarobi the only one of 15 districts in Kabul province that the U.S.-led international security force hasn’t transferred to Afghan responsibility.

This Taliban-haunted district’s dysfunctional governance, power struggles and long-standing rivalries offer a grim microcosm of the national crises that plague Afghanistan. Together, they’re fueling fears that the drawdown of allied combat forces that began last month could push the country deeper into turmoil and perhaps even all-out civil war.

Sarobi’s struggles may not be unique in Afghanistan, but the 425-square-mile district of sweeping mountains and remote valleys, home to about 120,000 people, is especially crucial to the country’s fate.

Sarobi is a strategic gateway to Kabul, the Afghan capital. The main highway linking Kabul to the Pakistani border runs through here, a vital corridor for trade, travel and U.S. military supplies.

The highway skirts the Kabul River, plunges through the cliffs of the Kabul Gorge and finally spills into a mountain-ringed basin, where it feeds an azure lake formed by a decrepit, Soviet-built hydroelectric dam. Tracing a route that invaders used for centuries, it passes between rocky choke points that make perfect defenses.

In 1996, after overrunning the district center, Taliban fighters took less than 24 hours to storm into Kabul, 30 miles to the west, where they consolidated their grip on Afghanistan and set the world on a collision course with Sept. 11, 2001.

Residents of Sarobi – a clutter of ramshackle stores, flyblown fruit stands and dank eateries straddling the highway – recall the factional battles that convulsed the town during the civil war that followed the 1989 pullout by Soviet troops.

“I hope God doesn’t bring those times back,” said Rahmatullah Ahmadzai, sitting in his shop stuffed with DVDs and CDs, which the Taliban banned as un-Islamic. “The Taliban say that killing one music shop owner is the same as killing 12 French soldiers.”

Some 3,900 French troops are deployed in Sarobi and a neighboring district. French commanders had hoped to begin pulling them out as early as this past February but the move was delayed until late this year. a prospect that still fills residents and officials with dread.

“The security here depends on the foreigners,” warned Hazrat Mohammad Haqbin, a veteran bureaucrat who runs the district administration. “A neutral force of some kind will be needed here when the French leave. People in this region are murderous to each other and they will kill each other.”

Violence is way down from when the French deployed here three years ago and lost 10 soldiers in an ambush, the French army’s single biggest loss in 25 years. The Taliban fire at vehicles on remote stretches of the highway and stage occasional bomb strikes, though they stay away from Sarobi town.

The insurgents, however, may just be waiting for the French to leave. They’re in many parts of the district , and residents say they have a stronghold in the remote Uzbin Valley, where Afghan forces rarely venture.

“There are so many Taliban in the valley,” said Malik Waheedullah, a tribal elder. “The government hasn’t been there yet.”

Local politics are making the situation more brittle. Rival groups of tribal leaders, businessmen and other prominent figures are competing over who’s the real district council, exchanging charges of nepotism, greed and corruption that nearly turned last week’s parley into a punch-up.

“This piece of paper will ignite fighting between the people of Sarobi,” Ahmad yelled. He displayed a government certificate that verifies the victory of the 50-member “official” council in a March election that Kabul held in an apparent bid to tighten its grip on the district.

Both groups have ties to the Taliban: The brother of one official council member served several years in U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay. Others include local powerbrokers and former commanders of anti-Taliban militias-turned-political parties that many Afghans fear are rearming, preparing for the vacuum that the U.S.-led military drawdown is creating.

District councils have no real power, but they resolve local feuds and act as partners in small-scale foreign aid projects, roles that confer influence and prestige on members – and provide opportunities to skim funds and corner contracts.

Tribal elders selected Sarobi’s “unofficial” council of 80 members from among themselves four years ago. Because of its informal nature, the group reached understandings in some areas with Taliban fighters that allowed it to employ locals who were desperate for work on projects such as drilling wells and building culverts, members said.

“We have worked in places controlled by the Taliban,” recounted Waheedullah, an unofficial council member. “The official council can’t go to my village.”

Unofficial council members warned that the truces will collapse unless the official council, whose members they accuse of buying votes, allows their group to remain in an unpaid advisory role. Otherwise, they said, aid projects will stall, fueling support for the Taliban.

Moreover, they said, the official council is hamstrung by its association with President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government, which pays council members a monthly salary of about $130.

“The Taliban has warned people to cut their connections to the government. Otherwise they will saw their heads off with a shoestring,” said Allah Mohammad, the clerk of the unofficial council.

Abdul Mubin Tawkalzai, the official council chairman, denied the vote-buying allegations against his 50-member group. Those who are making the charges are just angry that they lost their races for the new body, he said.

“They are losing their economic interest and their public reputation and are being pushed out of the district’s political scene,” said Tawkalzai, a heavyset, bearded man. “The election was transparent and there were no problems.”

He dismissed the idea that his council is too closely associated with the Karzai government to supplant the unofficial group, saying, “We are independent people.”

A June report by the International Crisis Group research agency identified Tawkalzai as a former Northern Alliance commander whose militia fought over Sarobi in the late 1990s against a militia aligned with the Taliban.

Tawkalzai – whose nom de guerre is Commander Mubin – and his former rival faction leader “have continued to exert considerable influence over Sarobi through their relatives and proxies, several of whom are fighting on behalf of the Taliban,” said the report, quoting residents.

Adding to the tensions, Karzai’s government has decided to establish and arm a 300-man volunteer police unit in Sarobi under a U.S.-funded program that’s designed to boost security in rural areas. But some warlords associated with Afghanistan’s three decades of factional slaughter have used the Afghan Local Police program to build personal militias known as “arbaki.”

Ordinary Afghans accuse the formations, which are trained by U.S. special forces, of committing crimes and other abuses with impunity.

“Who is going to recruit these arbaki? The former commanders of the mujahedeen,” said Haqbin, the district chief, in apparent reference to Mubin and other power barons. “Instead of weakening these former commanders, this will strengthen them.”

Sarobi residents worry that the departure of foreign troops will turn back the clock to the chaos of the 1990s, when rival factions battled over checkpoints used to extract tolls from drivers who dared to ply the highway.

“There were 20 different checkpoints along this road” remembered Lal Gul Sahebzada, who runs a teahouse in the town bazaar. “If you were in a truck carrying goods, you had to pay a huge amount of money at each checkpoint.”

“At some checkpoints, they’d release a dog to frighten you into paying them,” he continued. “There was one fighter whose commander called him ‘Dog’ and used him to do the same thing.”

(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this report.)

Turkmenistan: Police Crack Down on Abadan Reporters; President Reprimands Cell Company

This Explains the Loss of My Turkmen Readership

[My traffic numbers reflect the significant loss of what was once nearly 60% of my readership.  The following quote comes from an article I posted last year:

“The “No Sunglasses” website is the 24th most popular website in Turkmenistan.Sep 4, 2010]

Russian MTS Loses $140 Million, 2 Million Turkmens Lose Internet Connection

Oil payment row and India-Iran ties

Oil payment row and India-Iran ties

ATUL ANEJA

Green fuel emission control petrol Euro III and IV units of HPCL. File photo
The Hindu

As Indian firms line up behind Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners, their moves are likely to invite Iran’s hostility which could easily spill over into the political realm.

India’s ties with Iran need urgent attention as an unresolved row over oil payments threatens to drag the relationship, once described as “strategic,” to a new low.

The problem arose in December 2010 when the Reserve Bank of India, under U.S. pressure, decided to no longer use a clearing mechanism to pay Iran for its crude. Washington and its western allies had exhorted India not to use the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) currency swap system to pay Iran. They argued that this mechanism, established at the initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) and in operation since 1974, was disconcertingly opaque. Consequently, it was difficult to ascertain whether the money flowing into Iran’s coffers was not used to fortify the country’s nuclear programme. Faced with these objections, India, according to theFinancial Times, began using the German bank, EIH, for making payments. However, this channel broke down in May 2011, after the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran.

Iran is India’s core energy partner — its second largest oil supplier. Nearly 12 per cent of India’s total demand, around 4,00,000 barrels a day, feeds India’s refineries and petrochemical complexes. The Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MPCL) is the largest oil importer from Iran. The IOC, BPCL, HPCL and Essar are also major consumers of Iranian crude.

Because of the difficulties over payments, Indian companies have accumulated a debt of nearly $5 billion. With the payment row festering, Iran decided to halt supplies to Indian firms for August. However, as the deadline for the payments neared, both sides scrambled to achieve a breakthrough. On July 31, Iran’s Oil Ministry website SHANA reported that the payment row had been settled. India would pay part of the debt “promptly” and the rest would be “gradually settled.” The Ministry’s optimism notwithstanding, details of the inner workings of the new mechanism and the prospects of its durability remain far from clear. (Media reports say that India and Iran have finalised the settlement of dues through a Turkish bank arrangement.)

The possible collapse of Iranian supplies will have far greater ramifications than a mere commercial impediment in a buyer-seller relationship. Iran’s decision not to supply oil, if implemented, will deliver a serious blow to the evolution of a robust geostrategic relationship between New Delhi and Tehran, of which a highly developed energy partnership has to be the core. Aware of the importance of establishing a strong political relationship, India and Iran, with Pakistan as the third party, had begun negotiations on the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. Had the pipeline materialised, it would have not only generated obvious economic benefits but also imparted regional stability, premised on mutually beneficial interdependence.

Despite the unrealised potential of the IPI or any of its variants, Iranian officials privately concede that the energy relationship between India and Iran should move on. Before threatening to stop supplies, Iran had begun to show fresh interest in seeking Indian investments in its oil and gas sector. Alive to the recent Indian energy forays in neighbouring Central Asia, Iranians were also considering working with India on a possible fuel swap arrangement in the future. Under this mechanism, Iran could export energy to India from its terminals, in return for an equal amount of oil delivered across the border to Iran, which may have been tapped by Indian firms in Central Asia.

Quite recently, India’s induction into the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member appeared to have led Tehran, to consider afresh, the need for reinforcing its ties with New Delhi. “We realise that India in the future is likely to play an ever-larger global role, and we want to position ourselves well as this process unfolds,” an Iranian academic in Tehran, who did not wish to be named, recently told this correspondent.

Apart from energy, there are two key elements that define the relationship. One of them is trans-continental transit. Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas is the starting point of the north-south corridor which can ferry goods northwards towards the Caspian, and further into Russia and Europe. But, more critically, India needs Iran to physically access Afghanistan. It can do so from the Iranian port of Chabahar, from where a land corridor extends northwards before entering Afghanistan. For reasons of geography, Iran is central to India’s Afghan policy.

The importance of Iran to fulfil India’s aspirations in Afghanistan is bound to heighten as NATO, most likely without imparting much stability, begins to pull out of the country, in accordance with a three-year time table. In a likely political vacuum, there will be demands on India, Iran, its Central Asian neighbourhood and possibly Russia to play a proactive role in Afghanistan. That would, however, require a powerful vision and strategic cooperation, including intelligence sharing and political coordination at an unprecedented level, for which serious preparations have to begin right away. In fact, with western forces stepping out, in a manner not very different from the Soviet withdrawal from the country in 1989, India may find it necessary to initiate the evolution of a regional mechanism, where neither Pakistan nor China is left out, so that Afghanistan — a country prone to multiple influences — has a realistic chance to rebuild.

However, the manner in which the oil payments row is being handled suggests that New Delhi, far from strengthening ties with Tehran from a larger regional perspective, might have, after considerable deliberations and probably in line with the thinking in Washington, decided to scale down its ties with Iran. Alternatively, India-Iran ties, of which Afghanistan is a key component, might have become the victim of governmental drift, reflecting complete liberation from a larger strategic vision that should otherwise inform a vibrant relationship between the two countries.

It is, therefore, disappointing that India, instead of quickly arriving at a new payment agreement with Iran and defusing a major crisis, has apparently decided to place heavier reliance on Saudi Arabia as an alternative fuel supplier.

Reuters has quoted K. Murali, HPCL’s head of refineries and international trade, as saying that the company has sought an additional supply of one million barrels in August from Saudi Aramco.

India’s greater reliance on Saudi Arabia may not be temporary, confined to warding off its current difficulties with Iran. Indian refiners may already be restructuring their procurements by probing alternative suppliers, especially Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, to offset their dependence on Iran. In its annual report, MRPL has noted that given “the enhanced level of sanctions on Iran in future, [and] the non-resolution of the current payment crisis, the availability of Iranian crude may be difficult.”

As Indian firms appear to line up behind Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf partners, their moves are likely to invite Iran’s hostility, which could easily spill over into the political realm. The decision to increase dependence on Saudi Arabia and reduce procurements from Iran is particularly ill-timed because of the rapid escalation recently of a Cold War between the two countries. Since the advent of the Arab Spring — the expression for the rising tide of pro-democracy movements since January that are sweeping across West Asia and North Africa — relations between Riyadh and Tehran have turned nasty. Saudi Arabia’s decision in March to send troops into neighbouring Bahrain to quell, what was described by Riyadh as a pro-Iran Shia uprising, has added a sharp emotive edge to the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Iran’s foes have also accused Tehran of fomenting the rise of the so-called “Shia crescent” in the region — a mythical Iran-led Shia alliance that allegedly is trying to foist a sectarian anti-Sunni agenda in the region.

By siding with the Arab petro-monarchies to meet its energy requirements, India has, inadvertently or otherwise, forced itself into the throes of the Saudi-Iran Cold War. For many influential Iranians, India’s move would be seen as taking sides — a deliberate decision to join the anti-Iran camp led by the United States and its regional allies, chiefly Saudi Arabia. In highly politicised Iran, which is particularly on edge after the onset of the Arab Spring, this is combustible material, which can rapidly inflame public passions against India and eventually lead to the undermining of New Delhi’s core interests in Afghanistan, compulsorily channelled through Iran.

Amid the fluidity of the Arab Spring and its accompanying firmament, India needs to navigate skilfully to establish parallel and independent relations with both Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, and Iran, its strategic partner, for the protection of its interests in Afghanistan and, later, in energy-rich Iraq, where Tehran’s influence runs deep. But a balanced and vibrant relationship with the two regional giants will become possible only if India assesses its difficulties with Iran not as an isolated technical issue but as one which can define the contours of its influence in the region.