Turkey joins probe to solve Rabbani murder

Turkey joins probe to solve Rabbani murder

SEVİL KÜÇÜKKOŞUM

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan is set to establish a joint mechanism to investigate the assassination of former Afghan
President Rabbani.
Turkish President Gül (C) joins hands with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts, Karzai (R) and Zardari, during a joint press conference<br />
in Istanbul. New mechanism aiming to investigate a high profile assassination is expected to ease regional tensions. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL” /></div>
<div><strong>Turkish President Gül (C) joins hands with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts, Karzai (R) and Zardari, during a joint press conference in Istanbul. New mechanism aiming to investigate a high profile assassination is expected to ease regional tensions. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL</strong></div>
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Turkey has stepped up to ease tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose tempers steamed after former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated six weeks ago. Hosting the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan yesterday for a trilateral summit to resume dialogue between the two states, the parties decided to designate a trilateral mechanism for the investigation of the Rabbani assassination.

“We have decided to establish a cooperation mechanism to clarify the Rabbani assassination,” Turkish President Abdullah Gül said yesterday at a joint press conference with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts.

The mechanism, which will work in parallel with domestic investigators in Pakistan and Afghanistan, will include officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, a high-level Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News. The mechanism will enable Pakistan and Afghanistan to carry out dialogue through the process and present their claims with evidence. The first meeting of the mechanism had yet to be scheduled, the official said. Turkish diplomatic source said intelligence, military and police bodies will participate in the mechanism.

Click here to view the full text of the joint statement adopted by presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.

“The cooperation mechanism will begin work at the scene of the attack” where Rabbani was killed, according to a joint declaration released after the meetings.

Burhanuddin Rabbani’s son Selahaddin Rabbani, who is also Afghanistan Ambassador to Ankara, also participated the summit. The decision to set up a trilateral mechanism was decided during Gül’s talks with his counterparts Aghanistan’s Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s Asif Zardari at an Ottoman palace overlooking the Bosphorus yesterday.

The meeting ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan today in Turkey was the first between the two neighbors since the assassination of Rabbani, a former Afghan leader and peace negotiator, on Sept. 20.

Afghanistan accused Pakistan of refusing to cooperate in the murder investigation, which according to Afghan authorities was planned in Pakistan and committed by a Pakistani suicide bomber. The meeting arose after 17 people died in the deadliest attack yet against the U.S.-led NATO mission in Kabul.

“I thank both presidents because of their confidence in Turkey,” Gül said, stressing the importance of the gathering after the tension flared due to recent killings.

Setting up a cooperation mechanism for investigating Rabbani’s assassination was “extremely critical for the peace process, as it has proven terrorism is affecting two countries in a negative way,” Karzai said. “We were talking to the Taliban about peace until the assassination of Rabbani.”

“Our desire for peace is misunderstood or misused. We cannot keep talking to suicide bombers,” he added, referring to Taliban forces who allegedly killed Rabbani. “Maybe this assassination was done to block the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Gül at the press conference.

The three presidents signed agreements enshrining their commitment to cooperate in the fields of education, banking system and joint military exercises. The trilateral meeting is the sixth in Turkey, resulting from a regular consultation mechanism established in 2007 to encourage the two countries to cooperate.

A committee of foreign ministers is also expected to be set up and meet more often than the trilateral summits occur, a Foreign Ministry official told the Daily News.

The trilateral summit will be followed by an international conference today in Istanbul on the theme of “Security and cooperation in the heart of Asia.” Nearly 20 countries and international organizations are expected to attend.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton changed her plans and canceled her visit to Istanbul at the last minute to stay with her ailing mother. U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman is expected to replace her.

For tomorrow’s meeting the participants have a plan to shape a mechanism for regional security cooperation. A Turkish diplomat said the negotiations were ongoing to reconcile reservations of some regional countries with a set of confidence-building measures as part of this mechanism.

The Cult of Personality In Turkmen Driver Seat

[At least it doesn't rotate anymore, at least, not until Dec. 12.]

Gilt statue of Turkmenbashi has again become the capital of Turkmenistan attraction

Anna Kurbanov

And yet, during the reign of Berdymukhamedov in Turkmenistan disappeared many reminders of Turkmenbashi …

Gilt statue of Turkmenbashi – the first president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov (in office 1991-2006) – once again became the capital of Turkmenistan attraction. A year ago, it dismantled along with the pedestal – 75-foot Arch of neutrality, which was built in front of the presidential palace in 1998, when the country celebrated the fifth anniversary of the country’s neutral status. New – now 95-foot copy of the same – the Arch of Neutrality by the decree of the current president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is built in the southern part of the capital, where it creates a modern administrative and cultural center. A few days ago gilt Turkmenbashi again took his place at the top of the arch in the shape of a tripod.

Feature of the 12-meter-coated with gold-leaf statue was that it revolved with the sun and “at Turkmenbashi” could check the time of day. Today, a statue motionless, but, as reported in the municipality of Ashgabat, the mechanism of rotation will be re-launched on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the adoption of neutrality – December 12. The Turkmen capital is still a lot of monuments first president – Independence Park, the buildings of the Ministry of National Security and Internal Affairs, Academy of Agriculture.

Right at first a bronze bust of Turkmenbashi, known for his authoritarian regime and the cult of personality, was second after awarding him the title of Hero of Turkmenistan in 1995. It was in that year the UN passed a resolution on the country’s neutral status. Total Saparmurat Niyazov, winning the title of Hero of six times.

The current head of state – Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (elected in 2007) was awarded the title Hero of Turkmenistan on 25 October in connection with the 20th anniversary of independence. In his anniversary speech Berdimuhamedov only once referred to the Turkmenbashi, noting that “the great merit of the first President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov – Turkmenbashi was that he made the main principle of his policy good will – the desire of the people.”

And yet, during the reign of Berdymukhamedov in Turkmenistan disappeared many reminders of Turkmenbashi. His name does not ring in the texts of the anthem and oath, many factories and renamed the company that bears his name and the name of his mother and father. The country returned to the Gregorian calendar – January is no longer called “Turkmenbashi.” Restored opera and circus arts, the Academy of Sciences. The new version of the Constitution excluded the highest representative body – the People’s Council (People’s Council), carrying Niyazov’s many functions of Parliament.

Stable presence of Turkmenbashi, but restored gilded statue is written by the book “Rukhnama” (On spirituality), recognized during his life sacred and standing in a row with the Koran. Her teaching continues in all schools. However, very soon, “Rukhnama” replace the book “Turkmennama” (On the Turkmens), which was the first presentation of the play during the holiday show at the anniversary celebrations in the country.

Source: ITAR-TASS

Despite Experts’ Warnings, Tajikistan Is Damming Uzbek’s Water for Controversial Roghun Dam Project

   PRESS

         EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN

            IN THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

When the application at odds with the reality

The agency “Khovar” October 26, 2011 issued a formal statement of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan on the progress of the construction of Rogun.

The main content of the statement reduces to the fact that the Tajik side continues to adhere to the agreements concluded with the World Bank for an international project expertise Rogun, and is not going to start the initial phase of works to block the channel of the Vakhsh River – a tributary of the Amu-Darya, without waiting for final results international examination of the project.

There are no obstacles work of international experts is not, and all work performed on the object Rogun are only repair and restorative in nature.

 And now let us turn to the specific facts. In the above statement, the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan stated that “the technical feasibility, economic profitability, environmental safety Rogun tested many times and not once this project has not received a negative assessment.” However, this statement is absolutely untrue.

Project Rogun, as we know, was prepared in the 70s of last century, that is, during the Soviet period and has not been any peer review, especially since the objective of international expertise. The object was started construction in 1976 in accordance with the directives of the XXIV Congress of the CPSU have not had any discussions or revisions, and with the collapse of the USSR, work at this facility were terminated. That is why the Tajik side can still submit any material on the examination of the object.

For anybody who is familiar with the project Rogun is no secret that on-site at the base of the future grand dam height of 335 m was observed with the seismotectonic fault displacements on it and placed it in a strong salt layer thickness up to 100 meters, which is prone to erosion .

Naturally, an international consortium of experts, the examiner could not, among others, not to cause serious doubts about the decisions taken in the draft. In particular, given the presence of a seismotectonic basis of the dam breaking and the salt layer, without checking the stability and reliability that can not even think about the construction of dams, especially when you consider that the area where going to build Rogun, located in an area with seismic 8 – 10 points on the Richter scale. Reasonable and a legitimate claim of experts met with the Tajik side, striving to make every effort to exclude these exploratory drilling and, in turn, this could not cause a serious disagreement between the experts of the international consortium and the Tajik authorities.

Thus, the approval of the Tajik authorities about full compliance with the international consortium are not true. The media repeatedly printed statement by the Minister of Industry and Energy of Tajikistan S. Gul that the Tajik side is not going to change its decision on the continuation of the Rogun regardless of the outcome of environmental and social assessment of the project.

The fact that the Tajik plans by the end of this year to begin work on blocking the Vakhsh River to the dam, well known to experts of the World Bank. This refers to the build, not waiting for the international examination, an intermediate dam height of 120 feet and put the international community with a fait accompli.

Not correspond to reality and approval of the Government of Tajikistan, which is currently conducted only repair work in the Rogun.

Than in this case to explain that in the past 2010 so-called “damage control” only cost to the state budget of almost $ 150 million. This year the budget for this work has laid 191 million. Finally, the draft budget for 2012 for the purpose laid down 223 million dollars more.

We also know that the site Rogun work up to five thousand people, and everyone understands that the repair work is the number of workers required.

All of these facts, which is trying to silence the Tajik government in a statement, show yet another unseemly attempt to hide from the international community the true situation and, without stopping before any potentially disastrous technological, environmental and social impacts, to implement the project Rogun.

Thus it is impossible not to draw attention to the fact that all statements and appeals addressed to the leadership of Tajikistan to heed the opinion of independent international experts and to abandon the construction of a grand, the world’s highest dam, whose construction in the world had long been under way, and find alternative sources of electricity production, in particular the construction of small hydropower stations, unfortunately, is not properly understood.

Hot Air and Optimism Do Not Pave “Silk Roads” Nor Roads of Any Other Type

Clinton’s Dubious Plan to Save Afghanistan With a ‘New Silk Road’

Most analysts seem to agree that the antiquity-era trade route is never coming back, so why is it America’s new favorite idea for Central Asia?

kucera nov2 p.jpg

Afghan President Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Clinton meet in Washington / Reuters

When foreign ministers from Afghanistan, its neighbors, and several European countries meet today in Istanbul, U.S. diplomats will be pushing them to sign on to an ambitious plan for the future of Central Asia. The “New Silk Road,” as the State Department is calling their strategy, would link the infrastructure — roads, railways, power lines — of the ‘Stans of post-Soviet Central Asia southward through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. At the same time, they would work with the governments to reduce legal and bureaucratic impediments to trade, like corrupt border crossings.

The hope is that this would produce a flowering of East-West overland trade akin to the original Silk Road, by which China traded with the Middle East via Central Asian trade centers like Kashgar, Bukhara, and Samarkand. “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan’s and India’s growing energy needs and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech outlining the vision. “Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.” (Clinton was originally scheduled to pitch her counterparts in Istanbul, but the death of her mother forced her to cancel the trip.)

If this is the best Washington can come up with, the future for Afghanistan looks bleak

But hope may be the only thing driving on the New Silk Road. The State Department has few good options in Afghanistan, and the U.S. doesn’t want to leave (or at least wants to seem like they won’t leave) a disaster behind once it starts pulling troops out in 2014. So it cast about for ideas and found the New Silk Road proposal, which had been bouncing around the post-Soviet think tank circuit in Washington since the mid-oughts.

The plan’s architect is Fred Starr, the chair of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, a small Washington, D.C. think tank, with the backing of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. State Department officials have long been wary of the plan, initially dismissing it as unworkable. But it began to gain favor last year at U.S. Central Command, and with its commander at the time, General David Petraeus. Since Marc Grossman became President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year, replacing the late Richard Holbrooke, the State Department has come around to support the strategy. And Clinton has appeared to embrace it as the economic foundation of the U.S.’s post-2014 strategy for Afghanistan, promoting it in her meetings last month with the presidents of three of Afghanistan’s neighbors: Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The origins of the plan, however, lie in geopolitics rather than economics. In the mid-oughts, there were a variety of programs by which the U.S. tried to unite South and Central Asia, including an effort to tie together the electrical grids of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with those of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Authority for the Central Asian countries were also moved under a new State Department bureau, taking them out of the Europen bureau with the rest of the post-Soviet republics and connecting them with South Asia. What these schemes all have in common is that they attempt to weaken the economic (and as a result, political) monopoly that Russia, by dint of the centralized Soviet infrastructure, has on these countries.

As Marlene Laruelle writes in a new book, Mapping Central Asia, which includes a great chapter on the revived metaphor of the New Silk Road: “The underlying geo-economic rationales of these Roads is to exclude Moscow from new geopolitical configurations.”

The State Department doesn’t say this, of course, and it’s possible (even likely) that the people now implementing the strategy don’t think of it as such. Clinton even implied that there could be some sort of connection with the Russia-led Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which is the basis for Vladimir Putin’s notorious Eurasian Union.

But this geopolitical vestige lives on in the current iteration of the New Silk Road. Look at a map of South and Central Asia — ideally, one where you can see topography and the quality of roads — and it’s apparent that the most sensible way to ship goods from India west is not the northern route over the massive mountain passes and crumbling roads of Central Asia. It’s the southern route, through Iran and Turkey. But, obviously, a U.S.-backed plan can’t include Iran.

There are also political barriers to inter-Central Asian trade. George Gavrilis, an expert on Central Asia and borders, described them in a recent piece in Foreign Affairs. Many of the countries in the region, he notes, have persistent problems with their neighbors: Pakistan with Afghanistan and India, Uzbekistan with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Trade agreements are fragile and susceptible to political difficulties; the border between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was closed for 18 months following last summer’s violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. More fundamentally, a region-wide strategy would be unlikely to work because the countries that surround Afghanistan — China, Pakistan, Iran and the ‘stans — all have very different interests and little desire to cooperate with one another. “I love the idea,” Gavrilis told me when I asked about the New Silk Road. “But I just don’t see how it can be implemented,”

Notwithstanding the romance of the original Silk Road, Laruelle notes in her book, the geopolitical situation has changed quite a bit in the centuries since. “The border divisions of the 20th century have transformed these ancient trans-continental routes into cul-de-sacs of nation-states and no simple political will to declare a zone a ‘crossroads’ can suffice to influence the reality of being in the margins,” she writes.

And the reason the first Silk Road died out? Sea transport became much cheaper, which is still true today. So plans, she continues, “to modify in depth the status quo of global trade, three-quarters of which is carried out by sea, by replacing it with continental trade on the pretext that, once upon a time, caravans used to travel along these routes, can not be taken seriously.”

The State Department, in its public statements on the plan, highlights a handful of existing or proposed projects on which the New Silk Road could be modeled, including a free-trade agreement signed last year between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline. But they give little reason for optimism. The Pakistan-Afghanistan agreement was laboriously, personally brokered by Holbrooke but has yet to be implemented, and with relations between the two countries suffering, may never actually happen.

The TAPI pipeline has been discussed since the 1990s, but as with similar schemes, insecurity in Afghanistan has scared away companies that might have the capital to build such a pipeline. With U.S. and NATO troops departing, the security situation is likely to decline even further, a problem that the plan’s boosters acknowledge. “We have continued insecurity and instability in Afghanistan,” Sham Bathija, senior economic adviser to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, said at a recent conference in Washington on the strategy. “Yet we have no choice but to forge ahead.”

It’s not clear what eventually convinced the State Department to embrace the New Silk Road. Starr is an eloquent proponent, and his enthusiasm can be infectious. But more than anything, the adoption of the plan speaks, as Bathija suggests, to the lack of good options for post-2014 Afghanistan. If this is the best Washington can come up with, the future for Afghanistan looks bleak.

But that’s not to say that there are no other choices. Instead of pushing an ambitious multilateral plan for Afghanistan, Gavrilis’ article suggests the U.S. should work with the countries it can actually do something with, tailoring individual strategies to each particular country’s interest: “Resuscitating region-wide approaches is a fool’s errand that will not save Afghanistan. It is time for the international community to dump diplomatic niceties and work with those neighbors whose policies could be molded to Afghanistan’s benefit.”

This lacks the romance of the Silk Road and the ambitious vision of a thriving Europe-Asia trade corridor. But it has a lot better chance of succeeding.

Violent “democratization” of Libya may lead to another civil war

Photo: EPA

As could be easily predicted, the NATO-led overthrow of the Libyan government risks to push the country into the depths of bloody chaos. While prominent human rights groups keep reporting severe violations by the rebel forces, it has turned out that many of the local militia leaders are abandoning the promise to give up their weapons even after the death of Col. Gaddafi. According to their claims, militia commanders are intending to preserve their autonomy as “guardians of the revolution”. Without any doubt the presence of such “guardians” will hardly help to bring peace and stability to the troubled region. Once again an attempt of the so-called “democratization” violently conducted by the US and its NATO allies has led to some extremely bitter results.

The questionable activities of the Libyan rebels have become a subject of concern of Human Rights groups a long time ago. While the Gaddafi army was the one to blame for severe violations of human rights, the reports of such organizations as Amnesty International managed to break this stereotype. The leaders of Libya’s new government – National Transitional Council are describing their goals as an intention to build a modern democratic state, based on the values of “moderate” Islam. However the documented involvement of the Libyan militia in killings, abductions and torture hardly meets the standards of a democratic state.

Now the issue of the militias has become one of the most serious challenges that Libya’s new provisional government is facing. Lots of independent brigades have spread around the country, creating an escalating threat of the internecine confrontations.

While the NTC leader Mohammed al-Alagi is promising that his government will never tolerate any extremist ideology, the actions of the militia brigades question this statement.

“We are a Muslim nation, with a moderate Islam, and we will maintain that. You are with us and support us – you are our weapon against whoever tries to hijack the revolution,” says al-Alagi. However the self-proclaimed “guardians of the revolution” may have their own ideas about who would be the next to blame for “hijacking the revolution”.

This idea is fully backed by the Amnesty International report, entitled “The Battle for Libya – Killings, Disappearances and Torture”.

“Opposition fighters and supporters have abducted, arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed former members of the security forces, suspected Gaddafi loyalists, captured soldiers and foreign nationals wrongly suspected of being mercenaries fighting on behalf of Gaddafi forces,” says the report.

The rebel authorities seemed to find a loophole to avoid the accusations of war crimes. “They are not the military, they are only ordinary people,” said al-Alagi about the militia brigades. Now even the new government has to admit it has a problem with the uncontrollable militia units.

“Nobody wants to give up arms now, and many tribes and cities are accumulating arms ‘just in case,’ ” said Mahmoud Shammam, a spokesman for the council’s executive board.

“This could lead to a mess, to conflict between the councils,” says Ramadan Zarmoh, a leader of the Misurata military council, claiming that the city’s militia should disband itself almost immediately after a new defense ministry is formed. “If we want to have democracy, we can’t have this.”

However, militia leaders have clearly demonstrated not only their unwillingness to give up arms but also a strong intention to take part in the political process. Local leaders in Misurata have already threatened to intervene in the appointment of a new prime minister. If the situation continues to develop at this rate, Libya risks being dragged down to the brink of another civil war – even more chaotic and bloody than the previous one.

Iran to disclose documents on U.S. as ‘terrorism sponsor’

Iran to disclose documents on U.S. as ‘terrorism sponsor’

MOSCOW, November 2 (RIA Novosti) – Tehran will release 100 documents showing Washington’s role in sponsoring terrorist activities in Iran and the entire Middle East region, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, according to the Fars news agency.

“We have a hundred irrefutable documents on the U.S. role in directing terror and terrorists in Iran and the region,” Ayatollah Khamenei said ahead of November 4 marking the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

“By releasing these documents, we will dishonor the U.S. and those who claim to be the advocates of human rights and the campaign against terrorism,” he said.

His remarks follow the U.S. allegations that Tehran plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million.

Iran has denied any involvement.

Pakistan grants India Most Favoured Nation trade status

[Maybe there is hope for Pakistan and India after all.  SEE:  Gilani wants India to light-up Pakistan]

Pakistan grants India Most Favoured Nation trade status

Pakistani Rangers (in black) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) lower their respective country flags during the daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check-post at Wagah border, on the outskirts of Lahore May 11, 2010. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD

(Reuters) – Pakistan’s cabinet unanimously decided Wednesday to grant India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status, a major breakthrough that could bolster efforts to improve relations between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Trade has long been tied to political issues between the hostile neighbors, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

There are hopes that progress in trade ties will help bolster a fragile peace process, which the two resumed in February, with political implications likely to outweigh any practical benefits.

“This was a decision taken in the national interest and all stakeholders, including our military and defense institutions, were on board,” Information Minister Firdos Ashiq Awan told reporters.

Pakistan’s military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history, sets security and foreign policy.

Critics say Pakistan’s generals have been so obsessed with a perceived security threat from India for decades that their judgment on vital issues such as the economy has become clouded.

“It’s a very powerful step, and a welcome step in the right direction,” Indian Trade Secretary Rahul Khullar told Reuters in New Delhi.

“It’s good for business. It’s good for commerce, and most importantly it increases confidence on the economic front that both Pakistan and India are committed to moving the social and trade agenda forward.”

But underscoring the sensitivities, an angry Pakistani journalist covering Awan’s press conference described the decision as a “crime.”

Islamabad has been looking increasingly isolated after India signed a wide-ranging agreement with Afghanistan last month, and the unilateral U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May which heavily strained ties with ally Washington.

“It’s (MFN status) a very major milestone in terms of change in the mindset of Pakistan,” said retired Pakistani general and prominent commentator Talat Masood.

“I think they have realized they can’t have bad relations with the United States and at the same time continue to have very poor relations with India because this synergy will be very dangerous for Pakistan.”

Islamabad wants a major say in shaping any peace settlement in Afghanistan, where India is taking an active but low-profile approach to building influence through aid and investment.

But Islamabad has alienated both the Washington and Kabul governments — who will play a central role in any reconciliation — because of its suspected links with militant groups fighting Western and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

The United States is likely to applaud Pakistan’s decision to give India MFN status.

Peace across the heavily militarized frontier between India and Pakistan is crucial for the United States to draw down troops and stabilize Afghanistan without sparking off a proxy war between New Delhi and Islamabad in that country.

Awan said commerce officials from the two countries would meet in India in mid-November to discuss ways to boost trade.

India broke off talks after the November 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants that killed 166 people.

While India granted Pakistan MFN status in 1996, Pakistan hesitated.

Pakistani officials want New Delhi to remove non-trade barriers against Pakistan goods. Pakistan has long complained that Indian quality standards and customs procedures have hindered the flow of Pakistani goods into India.

Of the $1.4 billion in trade recorded in 2009/10, Indian exports to Pakistan stood at $1.2 billion while Pakistan exports to India totaled $268 million, according to official data.

The wider economic disparity is just as stark. Pakistan reported 2.4 percent growth in gross domestic product in the 20100-11 fiscal year while India reported 8.5 percent growth.

Since the 1960s, when Pakistan was an Asian tiger economy and India a basket case, India’s economy has swelled to $1.06 trillion, more than eight times the size of Pakistan’s $207 billion.

Trade ties were severed after the second war between the two countries in 1965 and have yet to recover fully.

But despite the challenges, the two now appear more keen to remove barriers to trade and the two countries’ commerce ministries say trade could easily triple in three years.

(Additional reporting by Qasim Nauman and Rebecca Conway in Islamabad and Matthias Williamsin New Delhi; Editing by Nick Macfie; Writing by Michael Georgy)

Arab League Official: Syria Accepts Arab Plan without Reservations

Arab League Official: Syria Accepts Arab Plan without Reservations

by Naharnet Newsdesk
W460

Syria on Wednesday fully accepted an Arab League plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed in the revolt-hit country, during a closed-door ministerial meeting at the organization’s Cairo headquarters, a League official said.

“The Syrian delegation accepted the Arab League plan without reservations and in its entirety,” the official said.

The Arab roadmap calls for an immediate halt to the bloodletting in Syria, the removal of tanks from the streets, and the start of a dialogue between the Damascus regime and its opponents.

The plan was submitted Sunday to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem at a meeting in Doha and a reply had been initially due on Monday, but Syria asked for a delay to allow its leadership to mull the proposals.

Hours before the gathering, the country’s largest opposition group urged the pan-Arab body to freeze Syria’s membership in the organization.

Syrian state media reported late Tuesday that Damascus and the Arab League had agreed on the proposals, and that an announcement would be made Wednesday in Cairo.

“Syria and the Arab League are in agreement over the final paper concerning the situation in Syria and the official announcement will be made at Arab League headquarters tomorrow (Wednesday),” said the reports.

But Arab League deputy chief Ahmed Ben Helli later told Al-Arabiya television that a response had still not been received.

“The secretary general of the Arab League has not yet received Syria’s official response to the document submitted by the ministerial committee” to end the violence, Ben Helli said.

The plan was submitted Sunday to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during a meeting in Doha and a reply had been initially due Monday, but Syria asked for a delay to allow its leadership to mull the proposals.

On Tuesday, an Arab League diplomat told Agence France Presse in Cairo that “there has been agreement on some minor amendments.”

Syria’s Arab League representative Youssef Ahmed told AFP in Cairo that Damascus would respond to the plan on Tuesday.

“We are dealing positively with the last proposal, which was drafted (at Sunday’s meeting) in Qatar,” he said.

Algerian Foreign Minister Murad Medelci also sounded upbeat.

“We had a good meeting in Doha and we have found some common group with our Syrian friends. I hope this will be confirmed in Cairo,” he said.

But some diplomats in Cairo have expressed concern the response from Damascus will be tied to conditions to gain time.

“Syria’s answer could be ‘yes, but’ — a maneuver to buy time,” said one diplomat who attended the Doha talks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under mounting world pressure to end the violence and implement wide-ranging political reforms to meet the aspirations of protesters who have rallied almost daily since mid-March.

The Arab proposal is aimed at ending a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which the United Nations says has claimed more than 3,000 lives, mostly civilians.

There were more reports of bloodshed on Wednesday.

Gunmen stormed a factory in the central province of Homs and killed 11 workers while security forces shot dead five civilians in several Homs neighborhoods, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

There were no further details but the pro-government daily Al-Watan reported that “11 civilians were massacred by terrorists” on Tuesday in Homs.

The Syrian regime has repeatedly said it is fighting “armed terrorists” and Assad pledged to carry out reforms but stressed he will not make changes amid chaos.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council urged “the Arab League to freeze Syria’s membership, ensure the protection of civilians and recognize the SNC as the representative of the Syrian revolution.”

The statement followed a similar call Sunday by Facebook activists, after almost 100 people died Friday and Saturday in the bloodiest two days of the uprising against Assad’s regime.

State television carried Wednesday live images of a pro-regime rally from the northern city of Raqqa where it said thousands demonstrated in support of reform and to denounce foreign interference.

The Istanbul Protocol

Participators pose for a group photo session during the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on November 2, 2011. - Participators pose for a group photo session during the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on November 2, 2011. | AFP/Getty Images/BULENT KILIC

Participators pose for a group photo session during the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on November 2, 2011.

AFP/Getty Images/BULENT KILIC

Seeking stability in Afghanistan, delegates in Istanbul make security pact

More than a dozen countries in the volatile region around Afghanistan have reached a security agreement that emphasizes non-interference in the troubled country’s affairs, in a diplomatic push to prevent proxy wars and state partition as NATO troops withdraw.

The Istanbul Protocol commits signatories to protect Afghanistan’s “sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” and promises cooperation on the dismantling of “terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens.”

Such promises are less notable than the list of countries that pledged agreement, which reads like a “who’s who” of potential rivals if Afghanistan descends further into civil wars backed by outsiders.

Delegations that adopted the protocol, at an ornate hall on the waterfront in Istanbul, include Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Copies of the agreement given to journalists did not include a signature from Uzbekistan, initially touted as a member of the regional group, but no Uzbek officials were available to comment.

“Afghanistan is not only the heart of Asia but also the heart of the whole world, because all of the international organizations are working together to a common end there,” said Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “So security and stability in Afghanistan will mean stability in the whole of the region.”

The regional foreign ministers also agreed to meet again in June 2012 in Kabul. Like other Western countries, Canada sent a delegation that “welcomed and supported” the agreement; Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said this represents a positive trend towards Afghanistan’s neighbours taking a greater share of the responsibility for the country.

“Canada has done its share, with heavy loss of life,” Mr. Obhrai said.

The emphasis on regional solutions comes in part from Western plans to reduce the number of troops in the country, pulling out perhaps a quarter of the 130,000 soldiers by next year. This has raised concerns among Afghanistan’s neighbours about the potential fallout: Iran’s foreign minister gave a speech warning that the recent assassination of Afghan Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani represented part of a “conspiracy” to destabilize Afghanistan.

“Iran warns against every step that could bring Afghanistan to the edge of collapse or partition,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, according to a transcript of his speech.

Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Zalmai Rassoul, who co-chaired the event with his Turkish counterpart, said he was satisfied with the agreement but that the more difficult test would be its implementation.

“Regional cooperation is not only theory,” Mr. Rassoul said. “Regional cooperation means working together for an environment that is free of terrorism, drugs, and organized crime.”

Hope of stability

Hope of stability

Oman Observer

By Ulf Mauder and Stefan Korshak -
Central Asia’s sole democracy, Kyrgzstan, now has a fighting chance of staying that way, but it will be a battle, political observers said after the once-turbulent country held peaceful elections for a new president.
Nearly two-thirds of voters gave their support to Almazbek Atambayev, the current prime minister who has a reputation for pragmatism and who stood up to the rule brought down in 2010.
The vote surprised not only his 15 rivals but many observers who had predicted Kyrgyzstan would fail to choose a clear victor in Sunday’s poll — and would descend into political turmoil.
Atambayev, 55, was the highest-profile politician in the country after interim President Roza Otunbayeva. With her he has pushed through constitutional changes reducing the power of the country’s executive branch, so as to prevent a return of authoritarian government.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) indicated Atambayev’s victory had been generally in keeping with democratic principles. But they also totted up a disconcerting crop of violations, including poorly maintained electoral rolls, ballot-box stuffing, and voters’ receiving and casting multiple ballots.
Criticism like this from Western vote monitors is common in Central Asia, but the response in Bishkek was anything but typical for the region. “Well if they (the OSCE) gave us that rating, then that’s pretty much the way we worked,” said Kyrgyzstan Central Election Commission chairman Gulnar Dzhurbaev.
“We will work on fixing the problems,” he said, in comments to Aki-Press. Political observers were predicting Atambayev would take the same workmanlike approach to the many problems facing Kyrgyzstan, which is strategically placed on transportation routes between China and Russia.
But success would not come easily, they said. “All 16 presidential candidates were positively disposed towards Russia,” said Andrei Grozin, Director of the Central Asia section of the Commonwealth of Independent States political research institute.
“But from Atambayev, besides rhetoric, there are already practical results,” he said in reference to the incoming president’s pro-Russian credentials.
In comments to the Interfax news agency, Grozin pointed to the steady increase in trade with Russia since Atambayev became prime minister in 2010, and said his policy of economic engagement with Moscow was one of the strongest selling points he had with voters.
In comments to the BBC after the election, Atambayev gave a broad hint of which way regional geopolitical winds were blowing, saying Manas Air Base — a section of Bishkek airport rented by Washington to supply its military operations in nearby Afghanistan — must shut down in 2014 when its lease runs out.
But even if Atambayev manages to jump-start Kyrgyzstan’s weak economy — close to half of the country’s citizens still depend on subsistence farming — and to kick out the United States as well, regional power groupings remain to stymie his leadership.
Among them are local powerbrokers like the Ata Shura (Fatherland) political party, and the country’s Uzbek minority, who live in the historically turbulent Ferghana valley.
In June last year, Kyrgyzstan was rocked by severe ethnic unrest between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, with an estimated 2,000 people dying in the cities Osh and Jalalabad.
Beyond thorny domestic politics and potentially explosive ethnic tensions, Kyrgyzstan’s culture of strong family and clan ties, which tend to promote nepotism and widespread corruption, were perhaps the greatest impediments to Kyrgyzstan’s development, said Kyrgyzstan political scientist Valentin Bogatyrev in comments to dpa.
Atambayev will take office in December. In one of his first post-election comments, he spelled out his administration’s goal. “My goal is to unite the country. That is what we must do first.”

Karzai rules out early resumption of Taliban talks

Karzai rules out early resumption of Taliban talks

Presidents Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan (L) and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan greet media members in Istanbul November 1, 2011. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

By Jonathon Burch and Myra MacDonald

ISTANBUL

(Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai ruled out on Tuesday an early resumption of talks with the Taliban after a summit meeting with Pakistan which appeared to yield no breakthrough on a bitter rift between the two neighbours.

Karzai’s comments could undercut U.S. efforts to pick up the threads of talks ruptured by the assassination in September of Afghan peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace emissary.

“We cannot keep talking to suicide bombers, therefore we have stopped talking about talking to the Taliban until we have an address for the Taliban … until that day we have said we will be talking to our brothers in Pakistan to find a solution to the problem that we have,” he said.

Shortly after Rabbani’s assassination, Karzai had said there was no point talking to the insurgents and therefore it was best to talk directly with the Pakistanis — accused by Afghanistan of giving the Taliban safe haven and support.

His reiteration of that comment while speaking at a news conference alongside Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suggested that the talks hosted by Turkey in Istanbul had failed to ease tensions between Kabul and Islamabad.

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of supporting Taliban insurgents who have launched a string of attacks in recent months as the United States and its allies prepare to pull out most combat troops by the end of 2014.

Afghanistan has also said that Rabbani’s killer was sent from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where it says some of the Taliban leadership is based.

The talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan – their first since Rabbani’s assassination – were meant to smoothe the way for a broader conference on Wednesday, to which other countries including India and those with troops fighting in the 10-year Afghan war have been invited.

The United States has made clear it is still open to reaching an accord with those insurgents who are willing to sever ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and respect the Afghan constitution — though it insists it will fight them while also pursuing talks.

Pakistan has long pushed for talks with the insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan which is increasingly spilling over into Pakistani territory. Its critics accuse it of backing insurgents to extend its own influence over Afghanistan and counter rival India.

Both the United States and Pakistan have said that talks with insurgents should be an Afghan-led process. Pakistan also insists it is being used as a scapegoat for the failure of U.S.-led troops to bring stability to Afghanistan.

“The situation in the region is a very complex one … the NATO armies, the world armies have been there for the last 10 years. If it was such an easy issue they would have solved it, the fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has always been known as the graveyard of empires,” Zardari told the news conference.

“Obviously there are interest groups, obviously there are non-state actors, whenever we go three steps forward some state actor, non-state actor or some interest group moves in.”

Karzai’s comments, however, suggested he was in no mood to relent on his earlier assertion that Taliban talks were pointless — though the summit was attended by the army and intelligence chiefs of Afghanistan and Pakistan along with their foreign and interior ministers.

“We have been hurt badly, our desire for peace has been either misunderstood or misused and we have learnt a lesson from the manner in which we pursued the peace process,” Karzai said.

“MOVE BEYOND WORDS”

At Tuesday’s talks, Afghanistan urged Pakistan to take concrete steps to curb Islamist militants who it said were a threat to both countries.

Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told reporters the two neighbours had been trying for several years to build trust “but I think we have failed to see results on the ground.”

“So we are at a stage where we need to move beyond words, beyond expressions of commitments. We need to get to a stage where we actually do concrete things that will address our concerns with regards to our security,” he said.

Ludin said Islamabad’s cooperation was vital to the security of Afghanistan but also to Pakistan, which has also faced a wave of bombings by the Pakistani Taliban.

“So the message we are really bringing today is to tell Pakistan, ‘Look, you’re not doing us a favour by helping with bringing peace and security to Afghanistan … It’s a question of peace and security in Pakistan that’s also suffering at the hands of terrorism.'”

Islamabad, which denies supporting the Taliban, has complained in turn that insurgents from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, have been using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks in Pakistan.

Ludin also said Afghanistan wanted Pakistan to deal with the Haqqani network — a powerful insurgent group which says it owes allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, but has traditionally been seen as close to the ISI.

Former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has accused the Haqqani network of acting as “a veritable arm” of the ISI and blamed it for an attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul shortly before Rabbani’s assassination.

Pakistan denies supporting the Haqqani network and attributes its lack of action against the group to the fact that its army is already overstretched fighting Pakistani Taliban militants and others.

A senior U.S. administration official said on Monday that Pakistani action against the Haqqani network did not necessarily need to be military.

Instead it would include “ensuring that intelligence doesn’t go to the Haqqani network” and “that they don’t benefit from financial resources or flow of finances”.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

Potholes In the New Silk Road?

Is the US Still Building Counter-Terrorism Center In Batken, Kyrgyzstan?

[The Russian base in southern Kyrgyzstan is for the (CSTO) Collective Security Treaty Organization's Rapid Reaction Force.  The reported plans for the American Counter-terror training center at Batkin may or may not materialize.

It is not so much that the US and NATO are being sucked into Central Asia, as it is an intentional outcome of careful planning and subversive techniques.  None of the Central Asian countries, with perhaps Uzbekistan as an exception, really have indigenous terrorist problems.  Whatever random terror acts do occur are usually attributed to anonymous sources, implying that they could be the covert actions of foreign governments seeking to use controlled "Islamist" assets to destabilize the region (SEE:  America’s “Islamists” Go Where Oilmen Fear to Tread ).  The fact that there are two counter-terror centers being built in Kyrgyzstan suggests that the two opposing govts. have interests which temporarily coincide in the Fergana Valley.  The fact that the two efforts are not billed as "joint" efforts reflects the two opposing strategies that, for a time, run parallel there.  The close proximity of the two tracks could just as easily bring the opposing tracks together in a violent head-on collision. 

Fergana is the battlefield that the US has chosen for the planned US/Russian conflict, with Uzbekistan serving as rear base.  Russia will set astride Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in any conflict with Uzbekistan and its Imperial backers.  Mutual cooperation over Afghanistan is set to end, whenever withdrawal or repositioning of US forces shifts the drug war away from Afghanistan.  When it becomes clear that the US has washed its hands of any drug-eradication efforts there, the space between the two sides will become clear whenever Russian scorched-earth tactics put Afghanistan out of the narco-state business.]    

US Sucked Into Central Asia Strife?

Russia and the US are set to help build counter-terrorism centres in Kyrgyzstan. Will they get sucked into regional disputes?

When Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva announced last month that the country would be building two ‘counter-terror training centres’ in the south of the country – one with US help, and the other with Russian assistance – there were few details available. One thing that was clear, though, was that the delicate position that the country occupies, both geographically and geopolitically, has forced the United States into a careful balancing act between its two closest military allies in Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The purported need for such centres is the threat of Islamist terrorists entering the region from Afghanistan, via Tajikistan. But so far, there’s scant evidence that even Tajikistan – which borders Afghanistan – has seen such an influx, let alone Kyrgyzstan.

Yet some in the government genuinely fear that southern Kyrgyzstan is a potential breeding ground for Islamist radicalism, in particular among the ethnic Uzbek population in the south. More than 10 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population is ethnic Uzbek, and they are concentrated in the southern part of the country. There have been two episodes of massive interethnic violence between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, in 1990 and 2010. The death toll from last year’s pogroms is still unknown, but is estimated at more than 2,000.

The recent spate of violence has prompted speculation that disaffected Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan could be ripe targets for recruitment by Islamist organizations like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The Ferghana Valley, which includes southern Kyrgyzstan and parts of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is conservative and religious, and has been the site of most of Central Asia’s radical Islamist activity. That activity, while relatively small in scale, has frequently been seized upon by the region’s governments to justify extreme security measures.

And, while the spectre of instability spilling over from Afghanistan may well be part of the motivation for setting up the centres, the fear of neighbouring Uzbekistan also weighs heavily in Bishkek’s considerations. In fact, some observers believe it’s foremost in the minds of Kyrgyzstan’s leaders.

Relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have, after all, been difficult since the two republics gained independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago. Kyrgyzstan’s leaders have long suspected Uzbekistan of having designs on their territory, and in one notorious episode in 2000, Uzbekistan’s military carried out military exercises aimed at taking over a reservoir across the border in Kyrgyzstan.

Such fears have grown over the last year as a result of the interethnic violence. Kyrgyzstan was concerned that Uzbekistan might use the violence as a pretext to invade. And while Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, got rare international acclaim for his measured handling of the crisis, the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan has nevertheless roused Uzbek nationalism. Karimov has tried hard to prevent that anger from boiling over, including by closing the border between the two countries. But that in turn has angered residents of southern Kyrgyzstan, who rely heavily on trade with Uzbekistan, further heightening tensions.

The two proposed training centres would be close to the Uzbekistan border – the US-built centre would be in the village of Kyzyl-Kiya, in the far south-western Batken region, while the Russian one would be located in Osh, the main city of southern Kyrgyzstan. And their location near Uzbekistan isn’t an accident, says Alisher Khamidov, an expert on southern Kyrgyzstan.

‘Unresolved border disputes make the risk of interstate conflict real,’ Khamidov says. ‘Otunbayeva is hoping that the centre will deter potential military action by Uzbek security services or border troops against Kyrgyz forces deployed in Batken.’

Bishkek, however, has taken pains to dispute such contentions. Its defence ministry, for example, released a statement saying that ‘the bilateral Kyrgyz-American project against international terrorism and religious extremism, transnational organized crime, prevention of drug smuggling, is not oriented against third countries.’

Kyrgyzstan is also treading carefully around the geopolitical implications of the training centres. The country is already the only one in the world to host both US and Russian air bases, and the fact that Otunbayeva has rhetorically linked the two new training centres suggests that she’s trying to maintain that balance. Those familiar with her thinking believe that she’s particularly interested in using the United States as a bulwark against Uzbekistan incursions, but can’t run the risk of antagonizing Moscow by appearing to favour Washington too heavily.

‘I don’t think Otunbayeva considers potential Russian and US training centres equally important,’ Khamidov says. ‘The US training centre is more important for practical reasons, whereas the Russian one is for symbolic/geopolitical ends, to soothe Russian officials’ suspicions about the Kyrgyz government.’

US officials haven’t discussed many of the details of their plans for their training base, but the United States has an obvious interest in shoring up its defence relationship with Kyrgyzstan: its Manas air base, near Bishkek, is a key transit and refuelling hub for operations in Afghanistan, and has been the subject of controversy in Kyrgyzstan, and there have been many calls to evict the base. By building a counter-terror training centre in the south, the Pentagon likely hopes to solidify its ties with Kyrgyzstan, decreasing the chances US forces will be kicked out of Manas.

But the United States is perhaps even more invested in the military relationship with Uzbekistan, which is the key node of the Northern Distribution Network, the supply line that carries military cargo to Afghanistan through the former Soviet Union.

Russia has been involving itself in local conflicts in the post-Soviet space since 1991, and Moscow has an interest in checking the influence of Uzbekistan, whose leaders are considerably more wary of Moscow than those in Kyrgyzstan. The chances of an interstate conflict would likely not be large even without a United States or Russian military presence in the area. Still, Russia would probably take the side of Kyrgyzstan if one did occur.

But in disputes between the two countries, the United States will certainly be forced into a difficult juggling act to maintain its relations with both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. All this begs the question of whether a US presence in southern Kyrgyzstan will help prevent such conflicts, or draw the United States more clearly into them.