Shaitan Offering Bait to 125 Pakistani Journalists

[The US Office of Public Diplomacy has always served as a front group for the American ultra-right.  I would hope that Pakistanis were intelligent enough not to fall for this CIA penetration operation, but judging by the number of similar Pakistani journalists that have already been groomed by the US, I know that this is a golden fish hook which ordinary human beings have little chance to resist.]

US to offer 125 scholarships to Pakistani journalists in 2011

WASHINGTON: The US has agreed to offer 125 scholarships to Pakistani journalists during 2011 as part of public diplomacy and capacity building cooperation, Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said after leading discussions with senior American officials on public diplomacy. The scholarships will be extended to journalists both in the private and public sectors, officials said as Pakistan and the US began their three-day Strategic Dialogue. Besides, the US will also offer training to 80 public administrators to help build capacity of Pakistani officers. The training will be offered to information officers from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and media-affiliated public organisations, officials said. Kaira was assisted in the discussions by Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani and Federal Information Secretary Mansur Sohail. Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Judith Michael led the US side. Kaira told journalists, the two sides also discussed the project of national data centre for e-governance to facilitate public access to information.

Soviet Era Toxic Time-Bombs Ticking In Ukraine

Soviet Era Toxic Time-Bombs Ticking In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — The devastation left by the toxic sluge spill in neighboring Hungary is a stark reminder that Ukraine is home to dozens of potentially larger ecological disasters.

Built hastily in 1986 to prevent further escape of radioactivity into the environment and to protect personnel working on the site, the Chornobyl shelter isn’t considered a permanent solution to containing 200 tons of nuclear fuel. Already there are defects in the structure and the possibility of collapse cannot be excluded, a 2006 International Atomic Energy Agency report states. Recently, an American concern was commissioned to finish building a new containment unit whose construction was first started by a French concern in 2003.
The toxic sludge that has killed nine and injured 120 in Hungary and left large-scale environmental damage in its wake has reached the Danube River delta in Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast.

The good news for Ukraine is that Hungary appears to have contained the harm of the orange-red alkaline spill before it reached far down the waterway.

But the devastation left by the industrial pollution comes as a stark warning that Ukraine is home to dozens of potentially larger ecological disasters, many of which have not been properly addressed.

“A hazardous situation could erupt in just about any oblast,” said Dmytro Skrylnikov of the Bureau of Environmental Investigation, a Lviv-based nongovernmental organization.

The Hungarian disaster erupted on Oct. 4 when 757 million liters of sludge burst through a crack in the wall of a 10-hectare storage reservoir at an aluminum plant 160 kilometers southwest of Hungary’s capital of Budapest.

This is the same amount of crude oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the British Petroleum crisis that lasted four months until it was capped on July 15.

The caustic mass – an aluminum production by-product – in Hungary has coated 50 square kilometers in red slurry wiping out fish, microorganisms and wildlife along its path, and also destroying 300 homes and properties.

Crop production for human consumption will not be seen for quite a while.

The spill, described by officials as a man-made accident triggered by negligence, is now considered Hungary’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

But experts say the challenges facing Hungary with this accident are miniscule compared to the scale, risks and aftermath Ukraine would face in dozens of potential environmental tragedies.

Toxic dumping ground

The accident is a wake-up call about the region’s legacy of crumbling Soviet-era heavy industry. In Ukraine’s case, it’s also a reminder about the nation having been the toxic dumping ground of the Soviet Union.

Though Ukraine’s surface area made up 3 percent of the total area of the former Soviet Union, it possessed 25 percent of its industrial potential and, therefore, a quarter of its industrial pollution, according to the Environment and Security Initiative, a joint effort of international organizations.

Under the Soviet system, the economy of Ukraine used 1.3-1.5 billion tons of raw materials every year.

Most of which returned into the environment as waste. By 1991, 17 billion tons of waste had accumulated in Ukraine on a surface area of 53,000 hectares, according to the Environment and Security Initiative.

A study conducted by the World Health Organization released in 2007 rated Ukraine 47 out of 53 European countries in the number of deaths caused by environmental factors – 155,000 deaths per year.

Ukraine placed ahead of Belarus and Russia in the study, the latter having placed last.

According to the environmental protection ministry, more than 2.6 billion tons of hazardous waste was present in Ukraine in 2009. Approximately 35 billion tons of accumulated waste occupies 165,000 hectares of land.

The majority of hazardous waste is located in three oblasts: Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhya all of which have behemoth, Soviet-era heavy industrial plants and factories.

As of Jan. 1, there was approximately 20,500 tons of pesticides requiring disposal. The environmental ministry said this was an approximate figure since there could be other unknown pesticide storage sites.

By comparison, Hungary generated a little over 1 million tons of hazardous waste in 2007, whereas Ukraine generated more than 2.5 million tons of hazardous waste.

Skrylnikov from the Bureau of Environmental Investigation warned that significant dangers exist across the country.

“This is because proper control isn’t exercised over the outer parts of reservoirs and equipment, negligence in assessing the impact of new sites as well as corruption when issuing permits, during privatization or bankruptcy proceedings of enterprises. The new owners use any means to acquire valuable sites and land while leaving local governments with sites containing industrial waste,” he added.

The risk is considered high enough for First Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev to sign an order on Oct. 8 that formed a government commission charged with inspecting potential environmental hot spots in Ukraine to prevent a catastrophe.

Local hot spots

Ukraine’s environmental ministry and the Bureau of Environmental Investigation have named two plants whose industrial waste ponds, if breached, could cause a disaster similar to the one in Hungary: Mykolayiv Alumina Plant and Zaporizhya Aluminum Plant.

They have a combined 25 million cubic meters of waste in storage.

The environment ministry confirmed that it has started inspecting industrial, hazardous and toxic waste storage sites across the nation.

In 2008, a pipeline that pumped waste byproduct sludge burst at the Zaporizhya plant and ended up flooding four streets. The cause of the pipeline burst was human error.

A giant potassium salt mine in Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast is also a disaster waiting to happen, environmentalists warn. More than 40 years ago a factory was built there to mine the deposits of potassium salt and produce fertilizers.

The factory has three mines, a mine pit, two industrial waste dams and a mining waste dump, all of which negatively impacts the environment and which are hazardous facilities.

The industrial waste dams are close to overflowing, which could wreak havoc on the regional waterways – one of them has cracks already.

“The water contains practically every element in the periodic table, including radioactive heavy metals,” said Skrylnikov.

Former President Viktor Yushchenko designated the site an environmental disaster zone in February. Recently, the Ukrainian government has started removing toxic waste from the dump, Europe’s largest site of hexachlorobenzene, a hazardous chemical. It plans to remove 8,500 tons of it by the end of 2010. Altogether there’s 11,400 tons of it underground.

The total cost to prevent an environmental catastrophe in this area alone, is estimated at Hr 3.5 billion, or more than $400 million.

The carcinogens located underground had eroded the steel barrels in which they were stored and have been seeping into the ground water. They’ve been “underground” for 30 years.

The waste is being taken to an Odesa port where it is treated and then shipped to the United Kingdom for further utilization.

Acidic sludge has been seeping into local water reservoirs just 10 kilometers outside of Lviv city from a lubricant factory for 30 years, the environmental ministry said.

The ministry said it needs to immediately assess the environmental situation at the bankrupt factory to avert an environmental catastrophe. Local villagers in the area have been suffering from polluted water wells and air.

Prydniprovsky Chemical Plant in Dniprodzerzhynsk on the Dnipro River also doesn’t meet environmental safety standards, according to environmentalists.

Processing enriched uranium from 1949 to 1991, the plant has accumulated seven tailing ponds containing industrial and radioactive waste in an area of 2.43 million square meters, 250,000 square meters of which has uranium waste.

All seven of the tailing ponds are considered to be in unsatisfactory condition.

But the largest tailing pond along Ukraine’s section of the Dnipro Basin is a 73-hectare pond containing 12 million cubic meters of non-radioactive and radioactive waste, which is located just one kilometer from the right bank of the Dnipro Reservoir.

The dam lacks proper filters, security and safety checks, among other bare necessities.

Another site requiring immediate clean-up action is the Stebnytsky Potassium Plant in Lviv Oblast. Mining has halted, but it still remains one of Ukraine’s largest deposits of potassium salts.

The plant isn’t in operation because of an environmental disaster in 1983 when a dam burst at the reservoir. As a result, more than 5 million cubic meters of salt solution entered the Dnister River, Ukraine’s second largest.

The Chornobyl zone still poses a threat and contains several potential radiological hot spots, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Not officially closed until 2000, Chornobyl still leaks to this day.

Construction of a confinement shelter over the ruins of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant’s containment unit finally re-started this year, after 25 years.

The current shelter isn’t seen as a permanent solution but for years Ukraine and international donors mulled an implementation plan.

Enough money was finally raised and an American company was given the go-ahead to build a 108-meter tall sliding arch structure, which will take five years to build and which is expected to last for 100 years and cost $1.4 billion.

Until the structure is built, it is at risk of leaking radioactive fuel. Five million people, including the residents of Ukraine’s capital and largest city, Kyiv, live nearby. If a big leak breaks out, the entire region could be contaminated.

Source: Kyiv Post

Ahmadinejad galvanizes Lebanon’s Palestinians

Ahmadinejad galvanizes Lebanon’s Palestinians

Franklin Lamb,

Shatila Camp

“The only solution to the Palestinian issue is for the invaders (Israelis) of the occupied Palestinian land to leave, and give the Palestinians their rights and return all the Palestinian refugees to their original land. Iran supports Lebanon’s bitter struggle in confronting Israeli assaults. We demand with all seriousness and insistence the liberation of all occupied land in Lebanon and Syria”.  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bint Jbeil 10/15/10

In the days since Iran’s president Ahmadinejad completed his visit to Lebanon, and given the continuing lively discussion across the local and international political spectrum evaluating the impact of his historic appearance, one thing appears fairly clear.  US State Department official Jeffrey Feltman who came to Beirut quick from Saudi Arabia on orders from the White House to “do something!” to offset the Iranians unprecedented  reception, may have been a bit wide of  the mark in his evaluation. Feltman repeated this past weekend the March 14 pro-US and Saudi prediction that: “ I don’t think Ahmadinejad’s” visit will have a lasting effect.  It’s not something extraordinary. Its impact will remain for a couple days and that’s it.”

One  largely unnoticed achievement of the Iranian President’s visit remains among the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon.  Close to a quarter million of whom are “ living in cages” to  borrow  President Carter’s description during his meeting this week with Hamas leader Khaled Mashall in Damascus,  to describe how their sisters and brothers are forced to exist in Gaza.

Apart from the Shia community, the largest number of the approximately 750,000 who, waited at various events to greet and hear Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were Palestinian refugees. It is the Lebanese Shia, living in south Lebanon, the Bekaa  and in Dahiyeh, who are the primary beneficiaries  of the more than one billion dollars in recent reconstruction aid from Iran.

This  infusion of funding contributed to Hezbollah’s  increase in political power and its ability to achieve public services in its neighborhoods which were previously ignored by the state.  The massive rebuilding projects created  pockets of thieving construction economies, mainly in the Hezbollah areas of Ghouberi Municipality, Bir Abed and Haret Hreik, near the  Palestinian refugee camps of Burj al Barajeneh, Mar Elias and Shatila. This area saw, since the 2006 war, the rebuilding of 235 multi unit apartment buildings (80% completed as of 10/19/10 in probably the most efficient building project of its kind in history according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The Iranian largess has quietly benefited thousands  of Palestinians in these areas even though they are forbidden by law to travel to south Lebanon to visit or work and must remain north of the Litani river on penalty of arrest and imprisonment.

During a 10/18/10 morning tour of nearly completed Waad (promise) residential buildings, bombed into smoldering mountains of rubble during the 2006 war,  this observer interviewed several Palestinian laborers and craftsmen working side by side with equally skilled and hard working Syrian workers.  What was learned is what Hezbollah officials have revealed, regarding Waad (Promise) and Jihad al Bina (struggle construction company) both now firmly on US Terrorism lists solely for political reasons.  Both organizations have discretely hired, in addition to laborers, hundreds of Palestinian engineers, craftsmen,  architects, and “syndicate professionals.”  These job offerings go to Palestinian refugees despite being forbidden to them by Lebanese laws enacted by a government that does not even pretend to comply with internationally mandated civil rights for refugees.

Nearly a week now since Ahmadinejads departure, the 12 Palestinian camps and two ‘gatherings’, especially among the young people, are still abuzz with often excited discussions of his visit.

This reaction, despite much that is being erroneously reported these days about the current “lost” generation of Palestinians in Lebanon resulting, so it is said, from the devastation that beset this community following the August 1982 departure of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These are legitimate concerns with sociological studies on the subject often presenting shocking indices of social decline, ennui, passivity, and hopelessness.  It is well known that Lebanon’s  camps have deteriorated  and  that the quality of life continues to disintegrate. But the young people still appear resolved to follow the spirit of their elders who founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization.  Discussions among many in the camps here inevitably turn to questions of “what went wrong?” and “how can we fulfill our parents dreams and take up the mantle of Liberation and Return that we heard from our elders”, “how  can we unite Hamas and Fatah”,  and “how to confront the expanding apartheid regime in Palestine”?

What President Ahmadinejad brought to the under 30 generation in the Palestinian camps is more hope, energy and self confidence.

Lacking unified  leadership of their own, many Palestinians  in Lebanon have been looking to Hezbollah and Iran as a model to revive the Palestinian liberation movement.  The veteran American journalist Jonathan Randel, in Lebanon this week finishing a book on Palestinians in Lebanon suggests that Hezbollah’s 1985 removal of Israeli occupation forces from one-third of Lebanon’s southern villages was likely one of the factors that  gave those under occupation in Palestine confidence  to achieve the first intifada,1987-93.

Iran’s President easily connects with young people and is unquestionably committed to the full right of refugees return to their country.  In a side meeting with representatives of the refugees camps community and some of their allies, Iran’s President could not have been more emphatic and clear about this.  Included in his counsel to young Palestinians during his visit were the following:

  • “Stay in school and help care for all members of your family.  It is you who will join the villagers of south Lebanon and liberate Palestine.  People like you make revolutions”;
  • Do not become discouraged by what might appear to be a bleak period in occupied Palestine and in Lebanon’s camps.  Ignore those who say the Palestinian revolutionbelongs to the past.
  • Palestine will be liberated.  It is a scientific certainly that this criminal occupation will end and  that all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be able to go back to their ancestral lands
  • The splintering of the  Palestinian body politic has been caused largely from external forces but increasingly with internal dimensions that must be resisted;
  • It is the duty of the international community to help you secure basic rights in Lebanon until your certain return to Palestine. Iran is prepared to fulfill its duty in this regard;

·         “Lebanon is the focus point of  the resistance and standing against occupiers and oppressors and is playing an excellent role”;

·         “Your return to Palestine may happen sooner than you think and is only a matter of time and perhaps the coming war will achieve this”;

Mohammad, a young Palestinian  dentist allowed only to practice inside Shatila Camp due to Lebanon’s discriminatory labor laws explained:  “President Ahmadinejad has been a hero to many of us here in the camps since he first became President of Iran.  Unlike most Arab leaders, he is committed to  the liberation of Palestine as if he were himself a Palestinian. He encourages us and speaks like our leaders used to speak before they seem to have given up our national struggle.  If fact, he is more Palestinian than many Palestinians I know. We trust him and feel we have someone to support and protect us. Like  Hassan Nassrallah  he has bolstered our confidence to struggle to return to Palestine. Both of these great men are like uncles to the  Palestinian generation now becoming adults. Published originally in bitterlemons-international.org

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com


Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon

PLEASE SIGN HERE!

http://www.petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html

“Failure is not an option for the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, our only choice is success”

15 year old Hiba Hajj, PCRC volunteer, Ein el Helwe Palestinian Camp, Saida, Lebanon

Please check our website for UPDATES:
www.palestinecivilrightscampaign.org

Franklin P. Lamb, LLM,PhD
Director, Americans Concerned for
Middle East Peace, Wash.DC-Beirut

Pakistan kept in the dark about Afghan peace contacts

Pakistan kept in the dark about Afghan peace contacts

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD | Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:22am EDT

(Reuters) – Pakistan is being kept out of efforts by the Afghan government and the United States to end nearly a decade of war with the Taliban, which could be a sign of Washington’s mistrust of Islamabad’s intentions.

NATO and Afghan officials have confirmed preliminary contacts between President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Taliban, whose leadership is based in Pakistan’s northwestern frontier province and the Baluchistan capital of Quetta.

Pakistan’s sway over the insurgents makes it a key ally for Washington in its attempts to stabilize Afghanistan, but Islamabad’s reluctance to crack down on what it sees as insurance in any Afghan settlement has also angered the United States.

“We haven’t been consulted or informed or asked to facilitate any talks. We are not in the loop,” a senior Pakistani security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Other officials said they were aware of these contacts but they had not been taken into confidence about anything.

The Obama administration is under pressure to show successes in Afghanistan ahead of a December strategy review and the planned start of a troop drawdown set to begin next July.

Analysts say NATO’s facilitation of the Afghan talks without involving Pakistan could be aimed at pressuring it into taking tougher action against the militants who fuel violence in Afghanistan from their Pakistani sanctuaries.

“Perhaps this is another attempt by NATO to send a warning message to Pakistan that unless it adheres more to NATO’s line, Pakistan can be excluded from these talks,” said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and expert on Islamist militancy.

The U.S. forces have stepped up a military campaign in Afghanistan and also intensified missile strikes by pilotless drone aircraft and helicopter incursions on militants’ safe havens on the Pakistani side of the border.

Such a strike this month, in which two Pakistani soldiers were killed, infuriated Pakistan and led it to shut down a supply route for NATO, while militants and gunmen attacked convoys along the second main route.

Although Pakistan is officially an ally in NATO’s campaign against militancy in Afghanistan, it has been accused of playing a double game by covertly supporting activists fighting there.

The Pentagon this month expressed concern that some elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had interactions with the insurgents that “may be seen as supporting terrorist groups rather than going after them.”

UNREALISTIC APPROACH

Pakistani officials, meeting in Washington this week for a “strategic dialogue” where Afghanistan is likely to loom large, are adamant that peace in Afghanistan is not possible without Islamabad’s help.

“Nothing can be done without us because we are part of solution. We are not part of the problem,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told reporters last week.

Another security official was more blunt.

“Without Pakistan or the ISI, it’s not going to work. … Let them try their options,” he told Reuters.

Ahmed said Pakistan had a “lot of cards” to scuttle any efforts to end war in Afghanistan.

“The most significant card is that all main Taliban leaders … are living in Pakistan and Pakistanis can exert pressure on them.”

Pakistan could use these leaders and their factions as bargaining chips as efforts to stabilize Afghanistan gather pace and also check the growing influence of its arch-rival India in Afghanistan.

But despite its dominant role in Afghanistan, there is a limit to Pakistan’s influence over Taliban as well, analysts say.

“The Taliban will take care of Pakistan’s interests but not at the cost of their own interests. This is very clear because it will damage their credibility among Afghans,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on tribal and militant affairs. “ISI also knows this and it will not put too much pressure on the Taliban.”

Rashid said Pakistan’s role was crucial in shaping up a final settlement to the Afghan problem, but it should also address concerns of the international community.

“The Pakistan military should show more understanding of the interests of other regional countries in Afghanistan. I don’t think it’s happening right now.”

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Miral Fahmy)

More Bodies Dumped Along Bolochistan Highways

The Baloch Hal News

QUETTA: Two more bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch missing persons were recovered from a desolate place of Mastung, some 50 kilometers from provincial capital, on Thursday morning. The family members accused security forces of killings during their illegal detention.

Local people spotted the dead bodies in Ghanji Dori area of Mastung and informed the police about it. Bodies were taken to nearby hospital and later shifted to Quetta for autopsy where they have been identified as Faqir Mohammad Baloch, an employee of Cadet College, Mastung, and Zahoor Baloch, member of the Central Committee of BSO-Azad.

“The victims received single bullet each in their heads which passed through the skull and there were also signs and marks of tortures in their faces and other parts of bodies,” hospital sources told The Baloch Hal.

“Both the victims were Baloch and i had received several dead bodies that had been killed in similar manner,” the sources said.

Soon after being informed about recovery of dead bodies, highly worried relatives of missing persons rushed to the hospital in large number.

The police registered the case against unknown persons and started the investigation.

According to family members, Faqeer Mohammad Baloch was whisked away allegedly by security personnel near a FC check post in Mastung on September 25 while he was going to Cadet College Mastung. “My son was not alone at that time they also detained his colleague but later released him after checking his national identity card,” mother of Faqeer Mohammad said.

According to spokesman of BSO-Azad,  Zahoor Baloch was picked up from Mastung Bazaar during the holy month of Ramadan.

Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), Nasurrallah Baloch said that both the victims were listed missing for months. “Security personnel are involved in killing of innocent Baloch people and the provincial government seems to be powerless and helpless before them,” he said and adding “It was matter of great concern that in Balochistan the rights of human being are trampled down by state functionaries but humanitarian organizations are not taking any step in this regard.” It is the biggest crime against humanity that people in custody are being shot dead, he added.

He claimed that around 32 dead bodies have so far been recovered since July 4, 2010.

Talking to Balochistan Express, Home Secretary, Akbar Durrani said that in most of the cases people did not launch their First Information Report (FIR) thus the law enforcement agencies face difficulties to chase the culprits involved in these heinous crimes.

“The family members should cooperate with the law enforcement agencies then we, the government, will be able to take appropriate steps to break up the chain of criminals,” he said and adding that family members of victims accused forces but do not provide evidence.

He admitted that bullet-riddled bodies are being recovered from different districts but we can not say that all cases are linked with each others. Even the family members do not inform the concerned police station when any incident takes place.

More Garbage From Western Militarist Minds

[There is nothing so blind as a Western militarist, always thinking that the next military strike will be the one to force submission  upon the enemy.  Where were these guys when Bush pulled the plug on the original 911 war, in order to take war to the entire region?  No military voices spoke-up demanding that the Afghan war be finished before invading Iraq, because none of them wanted to end any of these wars, only prolong them and multiply them.  Now that politicians are fighting-back against the awful price that has so far been paid, the arm-chair fascists are demanding that we pay a higher price, pleading for one last chance to redeem their embarrassed manhood.]

Inflict enough pain and Taliban will negotiate

James Brown

The West must be patient. The new strategy has barely had time to start working.

IN FEBRUARY Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar at a madrassa in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Mullah Baradar was the Taliban’s second in command, surpassed in seniority only by Mullah Omar.

At the time of his capture he was responsible for the planning of Taliban strategy across the whole of southern Afghanistan. Baradar’s capture was unusual and unexpected. That morning raid may mark the point at which a failing Afghan war was turned around.

In the months since Baradar was captured, coalition forces have captured or killed a succession of senior Taliban commanders across Afghanistan. In three weeks last June, three successive Taliban shadow governors for the province of Baghlan were killed or captured within days of being appointed to their role.

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The Haqqani insurgent network that facilitates the majority of attacks on Kabul has lost three leaders due to coalition operations this year. As one NATO senior official put it, this year “the Taliban are experiencing a whole new level of pain”.

Ask most Australians, though, and they will probably answer that the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. Some 49 per cent of respondents in an Essential Report poll this week would withdraw our soldiers immediately. Greens Senator Bob Brown believes “all MPs owe it to our troops to be fully informed on Afghanistan and the reality is that military success is not on the horizon”. He’s only partially wrong.

At the tactical level the war in Afghanistan this year has been remarkably successful. The surge of troops and equipment, the last portion of which is only now arriving in Afghanistan, has allowed the coalition to strike into distant areas such as Marjah that previously had to be left to the Taliban.

But at the strategic level the war has been a disaster. The Dutch have withdrawn from Uruzgan province, the Canadians, Poles and Italians have all set withdrawal dates, and President Barack Obama has signalled that the US will contemplate troop reductions from July.

The UK has little appetite to remain in Afghanistan. Its coalition government has one eye on forthcoming defence budget cuts and the other on the morose procession of fallen soldiers returning through the streets of Wootton Bassett.

Unlike the Taliban, coalition leaders are subject to the vicissitudes of democratic electoral cycles. Politics is indeed the enemy of strategy and nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.

Perceptions in Afghanistan of the war are more important than reality. In a counter-insurgency fight the support of the population is the difference between victory and defeat. As an Afghan friend explained to me in Kabul last year, history has shown Afghans the folly of casting their lot before they know which will be the victorious side.

For the past nine years the Taliban have waged a propaganda war against the coalition that has been much more sophisticated than their tactical military operations. Taliban spokesmen have massaged media relationships to paint a picture of themselves as a monolithic insurgent force.

Successful spin conducted via satellite phone has taken a mix of ragtag local fighters, criminal networks and ideological extremists and linked them to the mythology of the Soviet-destroying mujahideen. For a long time we’ve all been convinced that the Taliban are winning.

Taliban propaganda has become more shrill in recent weeks. Their efforts have been devoted to denying reports that reconciliation talks are under way between the Taliban and the Karzai government.

Something is changing in the way our enemies are fighting this war. The Taliban are becoming more political. Their spokesmen are sounding more like Sinn Fein and less like the IRA.

In the Malayan counterinsurgency, the British learnt that the best way to convince insurgents to lay down their arms was to have ex-insurgents deliver messages of reconciliation to their former colleagues.

For the coalition to win in Afghanistan it will have to negotiate with the moderate Taliban while continuing to hunt the irreconcilable insurgent extremists. Winning in Afghanistan will also mean tolerating the corrupt Karzai government – a traumatic concept for many Afghans. This is far from an ideal outcome but it is an achievable one.

The key to defeating the Taliban in the near future is to inflict enough military pain to force them to the negotiating table. The key to defeating the Taliban in the long term is to create enough opportunities for education for the Afghan people so that they will never again let the Taliban re-assert themselves.

Mullah Baradar was born in a small village in Deh Rahwood, Uruzgan, not far from the Tangi Valley where Australian soldiers recently fought a fierce and controversial battle. In Uruzgan our Special Operations Task Group continues to track down Taliban leaders who spread civilian casualties and fear among the population. They’ve been helped no doubt by information passed on from Baradar’s captors.

While our politicians debate Afghanistan in the Parliament this week our soldiers in Uruzgan will be training Afghan National Army officers to read as well as lead. AusAID staff will be teaching modern agricultural techniques to Afghan farmers. The AFP will be training Afghan National Police to track down narcotics networks. In Kabul UN workers will be training Afghan journalists to investigate corruption in their own government.

Our coalition partners will be building roads connecting remote Afghan valleys and allowing villagers to judge the world for themselves, rather than submitting to the

world-view of their local Taliban commander.

Progress in Afghanistan is possible, and our soldiers can make a tangible difference there. Let’s just hope that our politics don’t get in the way of a strategy that has just barely had time to start working.

James Brown served as an officer in the Australian Army before joining the Lowy Institute’s International Security Program as a military associate.

NATO Sec. Gen. Talking Out of His Ass

Afghan rebels on back foot like “never before”: NATO

A U.S. Marine from Lima Company 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines returns fire during a shootout with Taliban fighters in Karez-e-Sayyidi, in the outskirts of Marjah district, Helmand province, May 15, 2010. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

BERLIN | Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:28am EDT

(Reuters) – Rebel forces in Afghanistan have been forced onto the back foot and are now under more pressure than they have ever been, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday.

After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Rasmussen said NATO was looking forward to handing principle responsibility for security in Afghanistan to local forces from next year, and that the timing for this looked good.

“The insurgency is under pressure, under pressure like never before in Afghanistan. Our aim for this year was to regain the momentum,” Rasmussen told a news conference. “Now we have it.”

Rasmussen and Merkel said a meeting on November 19-20 in Lisbon — where NATO will unveil a new strategic plan for the military alliance — had been at the forefront of their talks.

A revamped NATO would remain the “bedrock of transatlantic security,” the secretary general said, adding “I believe that that will include missile defense for Europe.”

He said he hoped NATO heads of government would in Lisbon agree to build a system to protect Europe against missile attack, adding that he hoped this would “go together with a clear offer toRussia to cooperate and to benefit.”

Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, said he wanted NATO to step up cooperation with Russia on missile defense and Afghanistan. Russia is due to attend the Lisbon summit.

“These relations (with Russia) have already improved substantially from where they were a year ago,” he said. “I think we can lay the foundation for a long-term strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.”

Rasmussen reiterated his desire to see NATO become a forum for consultation on international security matters.

“Who would suffer if our partners in Europe, central Asia, north Africa and the Middle East were to deepen their cooperation with NATO?,” he said at a separate event in Berlin.

“Who stands to lose if countries such as China, India and Pakistan were to engage in a closer dialogue with NATO?”

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Christian Ruettger; editing by Noah Barkin)

PetroChina Discovers Oil Reservoir in Xinjiang Region

PetroChina discovers oil reservoir in far western China

 

PetroChina says it has found commercial oil flows in the Mobei oilfield in the Xinjiang autonomous region of Northwest China, bordering Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This is expected to add tens of millions of metric tons to the company’s current crude oil reserves, according to China National Petroleum Corp., PetroChina’s parent company.

Two wells in Block 116 of the Mobei field in the Junggar basin have yielded significant flows of light crude, says a company spokesman. The basin is estimated to have 8.6 billion tons of crude oil resources and 2.1 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, but currently only 21.4% of the oil and 3.64% of the gas have been proven.

PetroChina’s Mobei oilfield is China’s fourth-largest onshore field. The company expects production of 20 million tons of oil equivalent this year, or 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day.

China’s Rare-Earth Monopoly

China’s Rare-Earth Monopoly

The rest of the world is trying to find alternatives to these crucial materials.

By Adam Aston

 

For three weeks, China has blocked shipments of rare-earth minerals to Japan, a move that has boosted the urgency of efforts to break Beijing’s control of these minerals. China now produces nearly all of the world’s supply of rare earths, which are crucial for a wide range of technologies, including hard drives, solar panels, and motors for hybrid vehicles.

An attractive material: Neodymium (shown here) is one of the rare-earth elements that are key to making very strong magnets for compact electric motors.
Credit: Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements

In response to China’s dominance in rare-earths production, researchers are developing new materials that could either replace rare-earth minerals or decrease the need for them. But materials and technologies will likely take years to develop, and existing alternatives come with trade-offs.

China apparently blocked the Japan shipments in response to a territorial squabble in the South China Sea. Beijing has denied the embargo, yet the lack of supply may soon disrupt manufacturing in Japan, trade and industry minister Akihiro Ohata told reporters Tuesday.

Rare earths are comprised of 17 elements, such as terbium, which is used to make green phosphors for flat-panel TVs, lasers, and high-efficiency fluorescent lamps. Neodymium is key to the permanent magnets used to make high-efficiency electric motors. Although well over 90 percent of the minerals are produced in China, they are found in many places around the world, and, in spite of their name, are actually abundant in the earth’s crust (the name is a hold-over from a 19th-century convention). In recent years, low-cost Chinese production and environmental concerns have caused suppliers outside of China to shut down operations.

Alternatives to rare earths exist for some technologies. One example is the induction motorused by Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors in its all-electric Roadster. It uses electromagnets rather than permanent rare-earth magnets. But such motors are larger and heavier than ones that use rare-earth magnets. As a rule of thumb, in small- and mid-sized motors, an electromagnetic coil can be replaced with a rare-earth permanent magnet of just 10 percent the size, which has helped make permanent magnet motors the preferred option for Toyota and other hybrid vehicle makers. In Tesla’s case, the induction motor technology was worth the trade-off, giving the car higher maximum power in more conditions, a top priority for a vehicle that can rocket from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. “The cost volatility going into the rare-earth permanent magnets was a concern,” says JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer. “We couldn’t have predicted the geopolitical tensions.”

More manufacturers are following Tesla’s lead to shun the rare-earth materials, although the move means sacrificing space and adding weight to vehicles. A week after the China dust-up began, a research team in Japan announced they had made a hybrid vehicle motor free of rare-earth materials, and Hitachi has announced similar efforts. BMW’s Mini E electric vehicle uses induction motors, and Tesla is supplying its drive trains to Toyota’s upcoming electric RAV 4. Given the volatility of rare-earth supplies, and the advantages induction motors offer in high performance applications, “It makes sense for car companies to give serious thought to using induction motors,” says Wally Rippel, senior scientist at AC Propulsion. Rippel previously worked on induction motor designs at Tesla and GM, where he helped to develop the seminal EV1.

Beware of smiling bears

“The idea implicit in Medvedev’s plan ― that Russia should have veto power over all security-related decisions of NATO or the EU ― must be rejected. Given that Russia’s own new military doctrine presents NATO as a potential threat, its leaders can logically claim that NATO enlargement undermines Russian security.”

Beware of smiling bears

By Janusz Onyszkiewicz

WARSAW ― Remember the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), aimed at enshrining “commonly-shared values” between Russia and the European Community?

Signed in 1994 during the hopeful early days of Russia’s first-ever democracy, the PCA was bolstered in 1999 by the creation of the European Union’s Common Security Defense Policy (CSDP).

Both sides often refer to this desire to forge closer relations as a “strategic partnership.” But as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Deauville, it would be wise to recognize that the Kremlin appears to be changing the terms of this nascent relationship.

In the wake of Russia’s apparent departure from democratization during Vladimir Putin’s presidency, and of the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, the EU has adopted increasingly cautious language, sounding less optimistic about the prospects of a real partnership.

Thus, the European Security Strategy, adopted in 2004, says only that, “we should continue to work for closer relations with Russia, a major factor in our security and prosperity. Respect for common values will reinforce progress towards a strategic partnership.”

Russia’s August 2008 invasion of Georgia produced a sterner variation: “No strategic partnership is possible if the values of democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law are not fully shared and respected.”

Russians, meanwhile, are struggling to reconcile their disparate views on Europe. Some profess to be “sick and tired of dealing with Brussels bureaucrats.” As Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Duma’s foreign relations committee, put it, “In Germany, Italy, France, we can achieve much more.”

Kosachev and others do not believe that the EU is committed to serious talks on “hard” security, a Russian imperative ― and with good reason. How to deal with Russia on security issues _ particularly on energy security ― is one of the most divisive issues facing the EU.

Despite their commitment to speak to Russia with one voice, various EU countries negotiate with Russia bilaterally whenever possible (especially over lucrative business contracts), congregating under the EU umbrella only when necessary. That gives Russia great scope to play one country against another.

Russia, meanwhile, harbors deep disappointment with the West for its actions after communism’s collapse. During the Gorbachev era, it was assumed that the West would stick to the essence of its Cold War containment policies.

Russians expected that, once their country was seen to be no longer confrontational and expansionist, it would be treated as a legitimate partner, not as a defeated enemy.

It would retain its status alongside the United States’ on the world stage, its territorial integrity would be unquestioned, and it would be left to manage its domestic affairs without outside interference or criticism.

Growing resentment toward the West has reinforced Russian leaders’ enduring penchant for the concepts of “Great Powers” and “spheres of influence,” and the belief that international relations is a zero-sum game, in which others’ gain is Russia’s loss.

Thus, they cannot accept that more robust multilateral institutions, confidence, cooperation, and interdependence could assure international security. On the contrary, Russia’s loss of superpower status is completely unacceptable.

Economic growth during the Putin years, combined with the defeat of Georgia ― which was regarded in Russia as the beginning of a great political comeback ― provided the confidence needed to embrace efforts to re-model the transatlantic security architecture.

Medvedev’s proposed transatlantic security treaty would enshrine the principle of avoiding external force to resolve national disputes, which would rule out international intervention in the conflicts affecting the northern Caucasus, including Chechnya.

The status quo would be reinforced further by the principle that no country may increase its security to the detriment of another. But it is unclear who decides what is detrimental.

Worse, the freedom to join military treaties, stipulated in the Helsinki Accords of 1975 and in other major international agreements like the Charter of Paris for a New Europe or the Charter for European Security, is ominously omitted. The expansion of military alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), would be declared a threatening measure.

Europe should react to this Russian proposal, first, by acknowledging that Russia has a critical role to play in transatlantic security, and that it should be treated not only with caution, but also with respect.

At the same time, a range of institutions already deals with the issue: the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the NATO-Russia Council, and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, to name but a few. These existing institutions might need to be reinvigorated and fortified, but there is no need for more of them.

Second, the principle of the indivisibility of European and U.S. security, so fundamental during the Cold War, remains valid. Security initiatives should therefore first be discussed bilaterally within the NATO-EU framework; only then should a common position be presented at the OSCE. Speaking to Russia with one voice is absolutely essential.

Third, the idea implicit in Medvedev’s plan ― that Russia should have veto power over all security-related decisions of NATO or the EU ― must be rejected. Given that Russia’s own new military doctrine presents NATO as a potential threat, its leaders can logically claim that NATO enlargement undermines Russian security.

Russia should nonetheless be consulted on all major security issues.

NATO-Russia consultation during the drafting of the latest NATO Strategic Concept is a good example ― an approach that Russia itself rejected before adopting its new military doctrine. Consultations on the Medvedev Plan should also include other former Soviet-bloc countries, such as Ukraine.

The best way to proceed on the Medvedev Plan would be an OSCE declaration similar to the one adopted in Istanbul in 1999 ― that is, a political resolution, not a legally binding treaty.

According Russia more formal recognition as a great power might help EU and U.S. efforts to engage its leaders in a serious security dialogue. But no treaty should be signed so long as the sincerity of Russia’s commitment to the norms of international behavior remains in doubt.

Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish minister of defense, is a chairman of the Council of Euro-Atlantic Association. For more stories, visit Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org http://www.europesworld.org).

Zalmay Khalilzad Hates Pakistan

Get Tough on Pakistan

By ZALMAY KHALILZAD

WHEN I visited Kabul a few weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai told me that the United States has yet to offer a credible strategy for how to resolve a critical issue: Pakistan’s role in the war in Afghanistan.

In the region and in the wider war against terrorism, Pakistan has long played a vital positive part — and a troublingly negative one. With Pakistani civilian and military leaders meeting with Obama administration officials this week in Washington — and with The Times report on Tuesday that Afghan and Taliban leaders are holding direct, high-level talks to end the war — cutting through this Gordian knot has become more urgent and more difficult than ever before.

Pakistan has done, and continues to do, a great deal of good: many of the supply lines and much of the logistical support for NATO forces in Afghanistan run through Pakistan. Drones striking terrorists and militants in the tribal areas do so with the Pakistani government’s blessing and rely on Pakistani bases. And Pakistani security services have worked with the Central Intelligence Agency to capture hundreds of Qaeda operatives.

At the same time, Pakistan gives not only sanctuary but also support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist network. This has hampered our military efforts; contributed to American, coalition and Afghan deaths; and helped sour relations between Kabul and Washington.

What’s more, Pakistani military leaders believe that our current surge will be the last push before we begin a face-saving troop drawdown next July. They are confident that if they continue to frustrate our military and political strategy — even actively impede reconciliation between Kabul and Taliban groups willing to make peace — pro-Pakistani forces will have the upper hand in Afghanistan after the United States departs.

When dealing with Pakistan, the Obama administration, like the George W. Bush administration, has pursued two lines of action. First, it has tried building up Afghan security forces, providing military assistance and supporting the Afghan economy and state institutions, all in hopes of hardening the country against Pakistan-backed insurgents.

Second, the U.S. has tried to soften Pakistan’s support of extremist militants through enhanced engagement as well as humanitarian, economic and military assistance; indeed, Congress last year approved a five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid, and among the options being discussed by American and Pakistani officials this week is a security pact that would mean billions of dollars more. But such efforts have led to only the most incremental shifts in Pakistan’s policy.

To induce quicker and more significant changes, Washington must offer Islamabad a stark choice between positive incentives and negative consequences.

The United States should demand that Pakistan shut down all sanctuaries and military support programs for insurgents or else we will carry out operations against those insurgent havens, with or without Pakistani consent. Arguments that such pressure would cause Pakistan to disintegrate are overstated. Pakistan’s institutions, particularly the country’s security organs, are sufficiently strong to preclude such an outcome.

Nonetheless, this aggressive approach would require the United States to think through a series of likely Pakistani responses. To deal with an interruption of our supply lines to Afghanistan, for example, we must stockpile supplies and start bringing in more materiél through the northern supply routes and via air.

At the same time, we should present clear, significant incentives. In exchange for demonstrable Pakistani cooperation, the United States should offer to mediate disputes between Pakistan and Afghanistan; help establish a trade corridor from Pakistan into Central Asia; and ensure that Pakistan’s adversaries do not use Afghanistan’s territory to support insurgents in Pakistani Baluchistan.

More fundamentally, the United States needs to demonstrate that, even after our troops depart Afghanistan, we are resolved to stay engaged in the region. To that end, the United States should provide long-term assistance to Pakistan focused on developing not only its security apparatus, but also its civil society, economy and democratic institutions.

Finally, the United States should facilitate a major diplomatic effort focused on stabilizing South Asia. This must involve efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Based on my recent discussions with Pakistani officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari, I believe the civilian leadership would welcome such a move.

Without inducing a change in Pakistan’s posture, the United States will have to choose between fighting a longer and bloodier war in Afghanistan than is necessary, at the cost of many young American lives and many billions of dollars, or accepting a major setback in Afghanistan and in the surrounding region. Both are undesirable options.

Instead, the Obama administration should be forcing Pakistan to make some choices — between supporting the United States or supporting extremists.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the president of a consulting firm, was the ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration.

Obama Butts-In on Pakistan State Dept. Meeting

Josh Rogin

Dozens of U.S. and Pakistani officials are meeting this week at the State Department in 13 different working groups spanning all elements of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, but the real action is in a few, select side meetings, where participants tell The Cable that the Obama team is taking a markedly tougher tone with the Pakistanis than before.

One key meeting Wednesday afternoon was between National Security Advisor in-waiting Tom Donilon and what’s known as the “core” group of Pakistani officials: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, and Ambassador Husain Haqqani.

President Barack Obama dropped in on that meeting and stayed for 50 minutes, according to an official who was there, and personally delivered the tough love message that other top administration officials have been communicating since the Pakistani delegation arrived. Obama also expressed support for Pakistan’s democracy and announced he would invite Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to the White House in the near future.

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped in unannounced on another meeting between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Kayani. She delivered the message that Washington’s patience is wearing thin with Pakistan’s ongoing reluctance to take a more aggressive stance against militant groups operating from Pakistan over the Afghan border. A similar message was delivered to Kayani in another high-level side meeting Wednesday morning at the Pentagon, hosted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm.Michael Mullen, two senior government sources said.

The message being delivered to Pakistan throughout the week by the Obama team is that its effort to convince Pakistan to more aggressively combat groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba will now consist of both carrots and sticks. But this means that the U.S. administration must find a way incentivize both the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, which have differing agendas and capabilities.

“The Obama side is calculating that Pakistan’s military can deliver on subjects important to the U.S. but doesn’t want to, while the civilian leadership in Pakistan wants to, but isn’t able,” said one high-level participant who spoke with The Cable in between sessions.

The carrots are clear. A State Department official confirmed to The Cable that the two sides will formally announce on Friday a new $2 billion military aid package for Pakistan, focusing mostly on items that can be used for counterterrorism. Unspecified amounts of new funding for the reconstruction effort related to the Pakistani flood disaster are also on the table. In exchange, the United States not only wants increased Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan and Baluchistan, but also increased operational flexibility for U.S. special forces operating inside Pakistan’s borders.

The sticks are less clear. Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq Zalmay Khalilzadargued in a New York Times op-ed Tuesday that the Obama administration should threaten to take down terrorist havens in Pakistan, without Islamabad’s consent if necessary. The Carnegie Endowment’s Ashley Tellis wrote that the United States should condition aid to Pakistan on increased cooperation and even consider throwing more support toward India’s role in Afghanistan, an idea the Pakistanis despise.

The timing of these op-eds and the change in the Obama administration’s tone is not being seen by many as a coincidence.

The Pakistanis believe that their extensive efforts to expand military operations in South Waziristan don’t get enough recognition in Washington. They also say privately that whatever incentives the United States is offering are not enough to compensate for the huge political and security risks that would come with a full-on assault on insurgent groups they have tacitly supported for decades.

Hanging over the whole discussion are reports that the United States is supporting and even providing escorts for the reconciliation talks in Kabul between the Afghan government, led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and senior Taliban officials. The New York Times reportedWednesday that these talks were going on without the approval or involvement of the Pakistani government, ostensibly to prevent elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from moving to thwart them.

“Pakistan is still resisting [moving on groups in North Waziristan] because it still hasn’t fully finished with its ongoing operations [in South Waziristan] and also because it doesn’t know what will happen with the talks with the Taliban and would much rather not antagonize the Haqqani network at this juncture,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

Nawaz noted that the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan has now reached the third set of meetings, and that there is more pressure to show concrete results to validate the need for such a high-level format. “I hope there will be some clarity on what the objectives are on both sides and also some clarity on red lines so we don’t have to relive this movie again and again,” he said.

Nawaz also predicted that another point of contention will permeate the chatter in the hallways between Pakistani and American interlocutors — Pakistan’s desire to have Obama visit sometime soon.

“The big underlying issue that won’t be on the agenda but will probably be discussed is President Obama’s upcoming visit to India and that he won’t be coming to Pakistan,” he said. “It will point to the imbalance in the relationship.”

In a read out, the White House said that Obama has committed to visit Pakistan some time in 2011.

Qureshi, Holbrooke, and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will talk about all these issues at a jointBrookings/ Asia Society event Wednesday evening.

US ‘to cut aid to Pakistan army units over abuse’

US ‘to cut aid to Pakistan army units over abuse’

Pakistani army units believed to have killed unarmed prisoners or civilians during anti-Taliban offensives are to be denied training and equipment from US forces, according to reports.

Pakistani army soldiers patrol a street in Miranshah, the main North Waziristan town along the Pakistan: US 'to cut aid to Pakistan army units over abuse'

Pakistani army soldiers patrol a street in Miranshah, the main North Waziristan town along the Pakistan Photo: AFP/GETTY

The aid cuts are the latest in a series of developments highlighting the uneasy relationship between Washington and its vital ally, sometimes seen as hindering the fight against al-Qaeda.

The White House has not yet informed Pakistan of its decision even though senior Pakistani officials are in Washington for a series of talks this week, according to The New York Times, citing officials from both countries.

It comes just as the two nations seek to smooth over their latest crisis after Nato helicopters killed Pakistani troops along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and Islamabad responded by blocking the main transit point for US war supplies.

Barack Obama’s administration has “a lot of concern about not embarrassing” the Pakistani military, a senior official told the Times.

Some US-backed Pakistani Army and special operations troops who have been in action against Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan along the lawless border region will be affected by the decision, the newspaper said.

The move would be in line with a law known as the Leahy Amendment, which requires the United States to cut off aid to foreign military units found to have committed gross human rights violations.

Units from Indonesia and Colombia have been affected in the past, but this would be the first time it would hit a country of such strategic importance as Pakistan. It receives about $2 billion (£1.26 billion) in US aid for its military each year.

“I told the White House that I have real concerns about the Pakistani military’s actions, and I’m not going to close my eyes to it because of our national interests in Pakistan,” the amendment’s author Senator Patrick Leahy told the Times.

A senior Pakistani official involved in discussions about the matter told the newspaper that the United States had expressed concern about reports of hundreds of extrajudicial killings committed by the Pakistani military. Pakistan was addressing the issue, he said.

But the official noted that so far, the US government “has not threatened us with withholding of assistance or training for any of our military units on these grounds.”

Meddling on in Afghanistan: U.S.

Meddling on in Afghanistan: U.S.

NARAYAN LAKSHMAN

The United States finds itself doing a precarious tightrope act between India and Pakistan this week, with the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue kicking off in Washington exactly two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama boarding a flight to India.

Nowhere was the tension more evident than in Wednesday’s State Department briefing and, more specifically, on the subject of Afghanistan. At the briefing, Department spokesman P.J. Crowley hinted that Pakistan had been “meddling” in Afghanistan’s politics and emphasied that India would continue to play a constructive role in Afghanistan.

Mr. Crowley’s first salvo came in response to a question on whether countries such as India and Iran — and not just Pakistan — had a role in the ongoing reconciliation talks between the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan and the Taliban.

He responded, “We recognise Afghanistan’s need to have a dialogue with its neighbours. We have had concerns about Iran’s meddling in Afghanistan, just as we have had concerns about other countries meddling in Afghanistan,” a likely reference to Pakistan.

Suggesting that Pakistan’s earlier support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan might still rankle in the U.S.’ memory, Mr. Crowley noted: “To the extent that the Taliban once ruled Afghanistan, there were a small number of countries that recognised that government. Pakistan was one of them.”

However, Mr. Crowley said that “to the extent that the solution to Afghanistan does involve a regional solution”, the U.S. recognised countries like India “had an interest in a stable Afghanistan and can play a constructive role”.

To reach that regional solution, dialogue was essential and hence, the U.S. was engaging Afghanistan’s key neighbours to build effective, sustainable relationships across the region.

This was one of the reasons why Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke had talked about the importance of the transit trade agreement — an agreement that would improve trade between India and Afghanistan routed through Pakistan.

There was a clear message to the visiting Pakistani delegation in Washington as well. Mr. Crowley said: “We have made no secret of the fact that we’ve told Pakistan clearly that we believe that the existential threat to Pakistan is not India; the existential threat to Pakistan involves extremism within its own borders.”

And, equally, a hint to India: “Likewise, we’re having a similar conversation with a country like India. We believe that there the potential for cooperation certainly outweighs what might be perceptions about competition in the region.”

The State Department had also clearly determined that peace and stability in Afghanistan would not be feasible without Iran’s contributions to the process. Notwithstanding the differences on nuclear politics, Mr. Crowley said, “we have not ruled out that there are overlapping areas of interest that we have with Iran with respect to a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. We are not ruling out that as an area of potential dialogue…”

“Wikimedia” is accused of extremism for placing appeal of “Voice of Beslan”

“Wikimedia” is accused of extremism for placing appeal of “Voice of Beslan”

Oct 19 2010, 22:30

The “Wikimedia”, which oversees the Russian-language section of the online library “Wikipedia”, can be charged with extremism for placing the appeal of the All-Russian Public Organization “Voice of Beslan”: “To everyone sympathizing the victims of Beslan terror act!”, which is on the federal list of extremist materials.

The second material from the list found by the website employees themselves was the book “Doctrine of Fascism” by Benito Mussolini.

On October 1, the “Wikimedia” office was called from the division to combat extremism of the Moscow GUVD (City Interior Militia Department) and told that the division had received an application claiming that Russian “Wikimedia” was responsible for posting the texts from the federal list of extremist materials on the website. However, the materials were not specified.

As reported by Stanislav Kozlovskiy, administrator of the Russian section of “Wikipedia”, there is no threat of stopping the website, because the servers and the management company are in Florida.

“We give freedom to add and edit materials; we simply cannot keep track of such a mass of incoming data,” Mr Kozlovskiy said in his interview with the “Gazeta.Ru”.