Excerpts from Syed Shahzad’s Book on “Al-Qaeda’

[The following excerpts are taken from murdered journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad’s new book Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.  In the quotations given below, Syed does what he does best, something that no other Pakistani journalist has been able to do, provide detailed inside information on “al-Qaeda,” Taliban and the ISI, stuff that no man could possess and live to write about.  He wrote about these things for several years, surviving long enough to fill in many details of the “al-Qaeda” story.  It was as though he alone was charged with writing the false narrative promoted by the CIA, that “al-Qaeda” was a large functioning organization which controlled much of Pakistan, especially FATA and the Tribal Regions.  All of his writings on Pakistan, since his short-lived venture into Afghanistan in 2006 (which ended abruptly with his arrest by the real Afghan Taliban), have built on the false narrative that the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) terrorists are “al-Qaeda,” or at least that was how he described their adventures in South Waziristan in his many Asia Times articles.  By interweaving reports of Zawahiri and bin Laden sightings into the narrative, the IMU of Yahir Yuldeshev effectively became “al-Q” to the world.   Even now, after his passing, Syed is advancing the fictional tale that Islamists within the Pakistani armed forces are part of “al-Qaeda.”

One thing remained consistent throughout Syed’s writings on bin Laden’s “Islamist Internationale,” even though he lived in Pakistan, he always attacked the Pak military for its history with the Islamists without ever touching upon the subject of American extra-curricular activities with the same jihadis, since the anti-Soviet war ended.  Not once has he mentioned American use of Pakistan’s Islamists as a central element of US foreign policy in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere. 

I am certain that his presence is missed by the CIA secret planners of this war.  He provided an important service to advancing the story that they want us to believe it.]

Saleem Shahzad, Al Qaeda and ISI

By Khaled Ahmed

Anyone who has read Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 by Saleem Shahzad (Pluto Press 2011) will come to the following conclusions:

1) It is Al Qaeda rather than the Taliban who plan militant attacks in Pakistan and that the Taliban execute no operations without the permission of Al Qaeda; 2) Jihadi organisations are subservient to Al Qaeda at the same time as some are also extensions of the Pakistan Army; 3) TTP was shaped by Al Qaeda through Uzbek warlord Tahir Yuldashev after the 2007 Lal Masjid affair; 4) ‘Retired’ army officers earlier handling proxy jihad defected to Al Qaeda but continued to use contacts within the military on behalf of Al Qaeda; 5) Benazir was killed by Al Qaeda and not Baitullah Mehsud; he was merely an instrument; 6) Mumbai was done by Al Qaeda through former Pakistan Army officers with help from Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) without the knowledge of the ISI despite the fact that LeT was on ISI’s leash; 7) Army officers or freedom fighters trained by army for Kashmir jihad spearheaded Al Qaeda’s war against Pakistan Army; 8) Islamic radicalisation of Pakistani society and media mixed with fear of being assassinated by Al Qaeda agents – who include ex-army officers – have tilted the balance of power away from the state of Pakistan to Al Qaeda; 9) Punjabi Taliban are under Haqqani Network which is supposed to be aligned with Pakistan Army; 10) Pakistan Army has ex-officers in Al Qaeda as well as serving officers collaborating with these ex-officers.

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Saleem Shahzad, who enjoyed the confidence of many Al Qaeda militants and never betrayed their whereabouts, writes: ‘There were at least 600,000 youths there since 1979. At least 100,000 Pakistanis were active members or different Jihadi cadres. Over 1 million students were enrolled in various Islamic seminaries, and there were several hundred thousand supporters of Pakistan’s Islamic religious parties. The main handler of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets had been Pakistan’s army, which itself was not immune to the influence of radicalism. Several army officers had pledged their allegiance (bait) to different Jihadi spiritual leaders, including Maulana Akram Awan of Chakwal. These groups were known in the Pakistan Army as pir bhai groups. Although General Pervez Musharraf had purged some of these elements from the Pakistan Army after 9/11, including his very close friend, the then deputy chief of army staff, Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani, he was unable to completely eradicate the radical tendency, which had become deep-rooted in Pakistan’s security services during the period from 1979 to 2001’ (p. 9).

Al Qaeda bent its principles constantly to take more allies on board. One was Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ): ‘Slowly and gradually this strategy began to work, and brought thousands of new recruits into the Al Qaeda fold. Among them were two well-known brothers, Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, from Karachi who were now linked to Al Qaeda through Jundullah. Dr Arshad Waheed was later killed in Wana in South Waziristan in a CIA drone strike, and soon afterwards Al Qaeda’s media wing Al Sahab released a documentary on his life and exploits to inspire the younger generation. Subsequently several army officers joined the Al-Qaeda cadre’ (p. 9).

Radicalisation was facilitated by Jamaat-e-Islami: ‘Its student wing had been formed in the 1948 as the offshoot of Jamaat-e-Islami, and by the 1970s it dominated all the country’s major educational institutions, including the University of Karachi, University of Punjab, and University of Peshawar. Most of the middle-class members of Pakistan’s leadership had belonged to the IJT as students, including Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan Muslim League leaders Javed Hashmi and Ehsan Iqbal, Pakistani law minister Dr Babar Awan, and almost 80 percent of Urdu-language newspaper and electronic media opinion writers and television talk show anchors in Pakistan’ (p. 10).

Uzbeks that Al Qaeda brought to Waziristan were critical in forming the violent mood of the militants: ‘Tahir Yuldashev played a key role in the recruiting of such tribal militants as Abdullah Mehsud. Yuldashev headed an Uzbek force of 2,500 men. The Uzbeks were to give the Pakistani militants lessons in brutality to establish a reign of terror: their tactics included routinely slitting the throats of their foes’ (p. 13).

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Al Qaeda’s central hero was Captain Khurram Ashiq of the Pakistan Army who was followed by his brother Major Haroon Ashiq to become Al Qaeda’s hand that wielded the sword: Khurram was an assault commander of the elite anti-terrorist Zarrar Coy from Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG) in 2001 when he flipped after 9/11. Because of his Salafi background he was shaped into a warrior by LeT. He wrote to Saleem Shahzad about his brother too. ‘Major Haroon Ashiq hung up his boots right after 9/11. On his release from service, he joined LeT. One of my unit officers Major Abdul Rahman also followed suit. I joined the outfit soon after, without caring for the consequences’ (p. 83).

For Captain Khurram faith came before country. While on a UN mission in Sierra Leone he clearly demonstrated it: ‘Khurram built a mosque and a Madrassa in Sierra Leone, despite the opposition of his commander, Brigadier Ahmad Shuja Pasha, later chief of the ISI’ (p. 85). Both brothers had joined the LeT, but had soon ‘realised that the LET was just an extension of Pakistan’s armed forces’ (p. 86).

Haroon read classical Muslim academics like Imam Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn-e-Khaldun and Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab. Among modern-day scholars he studied the works of the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Syed Qutb, as well as the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Syed Abul Ala Maududi’ (p. 86). Haroon then severed his ties with the Kashmiri struggle and move to North Waziristan with his family. Khurram and Rahman then went to the Afghan province of Helmand in 2007 (p. 87) where Khurram was martyred, after which Rehman joined Haroon in Al Qaeda, becoming the lynchpin of the Mumbai attack in 2008.

As an Al Qaeda terrorist, Haroon enjoyed contacts inside the army: ‘Haroon developed a silencer for the AK-47. This became an essential component of Al Qaeda’s special guerrilla operations. He then visited China to procure night vision glasses. The biggest task was to clear them through the customs in Pakistan, Haroon called on his friend Captain Farooq, who was President Musharraf’s security officer. Farooq went to the airport in the president’s official car and received Haroon at the immigration counter. In the presence of Farooq, nobody dared touch Haroon’s luggage, and the night vision glasses arrived in Pakistan without any hassle [Farooq was a member of the Hizbut Tahrir, a fact discovered by the military intelligence as late as nine months after his posting as Musharraf’s security officer. After being spotted, he was briefly arrested and then retired from the Pakistan Army]’ (p. 88).

Al Qaeda targeted NATO supplies through Haroon in 2008: ‘Haroon travelled through North Waziristan to Karachi. When night fell, he stayed in army messes in the countryside. Being an ex-army officer he was allowed that facility. He spoke English and Urdu with an unmistakable military accent’ (p. 92). He took revenge on Major General Ameer Faisal Alavi because the latter had killed a lot of Al Qaeda men – including Abdur Rehman Kennedy – as leader of a Pakistan Army assault on Angor Adda in North Waziristan. Haroon ambushed Alavi in Islamabad ‘jumping out of his car and killing Alavi with his army revolver’ (p. 93). Haroon believed in the Ghazwa-e-Hind (Battle for India) hadith and thought End of the World was near, and the advent of the Mahdi was at hand with the help of the armies of Khurasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan) (p. 200).

Haroon is now in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi after failing to kidnap an Ahmadi, Sarwar Khan. (The police officer in Adiala jail told Saleem Shahzad he had started admiring his prisoner.) In custody he admitted to killing Major General Alavi and kidnapping Hindu filmmaker Satish Anand with the help of one Major Basit from Karachi. After he discovered that Anand had no money to give he released him on orders from Al Qaeda’s Ilyas Kashmiri ‘if he embraced Islam’ which Anand immediately did. Later Al Qaeda decided that to refill its empty coffers it will abduct only non-Muslims, in particular, Ahmadis. (A 2011 kidnapping of an Ahmadi in Rawalpindi happened just a little ahead of the time of writing – KA.)

The Mumbai operation was actually the revival of an old ISI plan. The idea was to deflect the Pakistan Army away from Waziristan and get it to fight India instead. This nearly succeeded: ‘Pakistan’s militant leaders Mullah Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud announced that they would fight alongside Pakistan’s armed forces in an India-Pakistan war, and the director general of ISI, Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, confirmed this understanding in his briefing to national and foreign correspondents, when he called Fazlullah and Baitullah Mehsud Pakistan’s strategic assets’ (p. 95).

Saleem saw Al Qaeda busily pursuing the goal of weaning Pakistan away from the West with violence and ideology. Pakistan’s own teleology of moving from mild to harsh Islam across its history helped. He saw Al Qaeda achieving the following objective: ‘Pressure on the ruling Muslim elites and the Muslim masses to break their alliance with the West and support the Islamists’ cause of a global struggle for the freedom of occupied Muslim lands and establishment of a Global Caliphate’ (p. 125).

The joint declaration of the Pakistani Parliament and the subsequent statement issued by the Pakistan Army on 9 June 2011 seem to indicate that Al Qaeda is winning in nuclear Pakistan more effectively than in Somalia and Yemen.

Philippines Removes Foreign Markers From Disputed South China Sea Reefs

[SEE:  Option: America]

Philippines Removes Foreign Markers From Disputed South China Sea Reefs

Simone Orendain | Manilla, Philippines

Photo: Reuters
Demonstrators protest against what Manila claims to be Chinese intrusions into Spratly Islands territories claimed by the Philippines front of the Chinese consulate in Makati’s financial district of Manila June 8, 2011.

The Philippines navy says it has removed foreign marker posts that were placed on reefs and banks it says are part of its territory in the South China Sea.

Military officials say the unidentified wooden posts were last week removed from Boxall Reef, which is part of the much-disputed Spratly group of islands.

At the end of May, the navy says it recovered some other posts from the Amy Douglas Bank area, which is within waters the Philippines considers to be in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Military spokesman Major Neil Estrella says an investigation continues into where the posts came from.  He says the navy recently added more patrol boats and is spending more time keeping watch on the waters of the westernmost part of the country.

“And because of these maritime patrols we were able to locate markers.  So we removed these markers.”

Estrella says the navy has stepped up patrols to verify fishermen’s reports of seeing foreign vessels around territory claimed by both the Philippines and China.

Rising tensions

In the South China Sea, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim all or part of the Spratlys, which are believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.  In recent months, exchanges over the claims have grown more heated, particularly between China and Vietnam, and China and the Philippines.

The Philippines says in recent weeks it had run-ins with China over several incidents on the South China Sea.  One of the strongest allegations was that in March two Chinese patrol boats intimidated an exploration ship in waters within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone.

Philippines officials have demanded that China follow the U.N. Convention on Laws of the Sea regarding territorial claims.  China, however, says that it has held sovereignty over the South China Sea for centuries.

Philippines authorities have indicated they plan to formally protest the issue to the United Nations.

US reassurance

While China has said it prefers to directly deal with individual countries over the territorial dispute, President Benigno Aquino has asked the United States for help.

During a speech at a renewable energy forum in Manila this week, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas indicated Washington’s support on the issue.

“The Philippines and the United States are strategic treaty allies.  We are partners.  We will continue to consult and work with each other on all issues including the South China Sea and Spratly Islands.”

Angry response 

China responded furiously last year after the United States joined several countries at a regional security summit in calling for a multi-lateral approach to resolving South China Sea disputes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also declared that the U.S. has a national interest in maintaining free navigation through the waterway.

Philippines media is reporting China’s Foreign Ministry has reassured the Philippines it would not use force to settle the dispute.

In Central Asia, Russian wave ebbs away

In Central Asia, the Russian minority is dramatically shrinking. In Kazakhstan, Russians assimilate; elsewhere, they wait with the proverbial suitcase under the bed.
In Central Asia, Russian wave ebbs away

Source: PhotoXpress

On a summer afternoon in Almaty, Panfilov Park is a popular place to be. In the shadow of Zhenkov cathedral, the world’s second-highest wooden structure, crowds of teenagers and young Kazakh families sing karaoke, lick ice cream and try their luck on the fairground machines. The women – it is mainly women – entering the cathedral are for the most part representatives of the country’s aging Russian population.

 

Kazakhstan’s ethnic makeup has changed dramatically since independence, when Kazakhs were a minority in the new country. Two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1988 census showed that 39.7 percent of the population of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic were ethnic Kazakhs, and 37.8 percent were Russians. There were also sizeable minorities of Ukrainians, Germans, Uzbeks and other nationalities. Two decades later, 63.1 percent of independent Kazakhstan’s population were Kazakhs and the Russian population had declined to just 23.7 percent.

 

The mass exodus of the 1990s has slowed to a trickle, but Russians continue to leave Kazakhstan each year. Among the aging ethnic Russian population, the birthrate is much lower than among Kazakhs or Kazakhstan’s Asian minorities.

 

Kazakhstan was a special case within the former Soviet Union. Before the border between Russia and Kazakhstan was established, there was little distinction between north Kazakhstan and South Siberia. Like Siberia, Kazakhstan served as a place of exile for many nationalities – among them Koreans, Chechens and Volga Germans – removed from their homelands under Stalin’s rule. Today, the country is home to over 100 different ethnic groups.

 

As in the other Central Asian republics, newly independent Kazakhstan saw a reaction against the country’s former masters. However, this was quickly reversed when the danger of territorial claims by Moscow on the majority-Russian regions of north Kazakhstan became apparent. In addition to moving the country’s capital to the northern city of Astana to put a Kazakh stamp on the north, the government has also tinkered with regional administrative and electoral districts to ensure a Kazakh majority in most regions. At the same time, President Nursultan Nazarbayev took a more pro-Russian course, building a close relationship with Moscow, and giving the Russian language official status.

 

Political freedoms may be limited in Kazakhstan, but the need to keep the peace has resulted in a nationalities policy that, while it doesn’t please everyone, is widely considered to be sensitive and forward-looking. “On inter-ethnic relations, the Kazakhstan government is quite tolerant and progressive, in comparison both to Central Asia and to Europe. Nation-building in Kazakhstan was based on two things – the multinational aspect, and the idea of “Kazakhness”,” said Zharmukhamed Zardykhan, Assistant Professor at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research (KIMEP).

 

Nadezhda, a Russian teacher in Almaty, says that Russian and Kazakh people live together peacefully. “But the politics have changed,” she said. “Previously, the Russians were the older brother, who helped the younger brother. Now everything has been reversed. The Russians who have stayed are a national minority. The Kazakhs are the titular nation.”

 

There are, however, few Russians in top government positions, despite representatives of other minorities, notably Prime Minister Karim Massimov, who is an ethnic Uighur, and central bank governor Grigoriy Marchenko, who is of Ukrainian descent (both are natives of Kazakhstan). Any candidate for the presidency faces a tough Kazakh language exam.

 

“Although the Russian language is deemed ‘equal’ to Kazakh under the constitution, legislation and programs of ‘Kazakhization’ since 2001 are increasing the use of the Kazakh language as the main language of government,” states a report from Minority Rights Group International (MRGI). “This is proving to be an obstacle to access to education and employment in the civil service for a large part of the Russian minority population.”

Russia eyes bigger role in Afghanistan, wants to rebuild: envoy

Russia eyes bigger role in Afghanistan, wants to rebuild: envoy

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony after arriving on an official visit at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL | Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:36am EDT

(Reuters) – Russia wants to enlarge its presence inAfghanistan and rebuild the country where Soviet troops fought a disastrous decade-long war, Russia’s envoy to Kabul said, describing ties between the two former foes as the best in 20 years.

Although Russia has refused to send troops to join the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, Moscow has been flexing its muscles in the region bordering much of ex-Soviet Central Asia, which Russia views as its traditional sphere of influence.

“Relations, I think, are at their highest in the past 20 years, and they are moving and expanding … But I would like them even wider,” Russian ambassador Andrey Avetisyan told Reuters in an interview in Russia’s vast, opulent Kabul embassy on Thursday night.

Russia has embarked on a series of infrastructure and hydroelectric projects in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union lost 15,000 troops fighting mujahideen insurgents before trudging away from the country in 1989.

Strengthening this relationship, Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal is currently in Russia on a 12-day trip, where he is holding meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and other high-ranking officials.

His trip follows Russia’s scrapping a year ago of almost $12 billion of debt owed by Afghanistan to Russia.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in the Kazakh capital Astana this week, praised a June 14 agreement between Moscow and Kabul to boost trade and economic ties. Karzai spoke to Medvedev at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit this week.

“A country with a functioning economy, with people having jobs, is less dangerous,” said Avetisyan, who worked in the Soviet embassy in Kabul in the 1980s, becoming fluent in Afghanistan’s two main languages Dari and Pashto.

Avetisyan said Russia’s quest for stability in Afghanistan stems from its fear of what he described as Afghanistan’s two main threats: terrorism and drugs.

Escalating violence across Afghanistan in the 10th year of an increasingly unpopular war has sent tremors of worry across Russia, which borders mainly Muslim former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and which is battling a growing Islamist insurgency in its own volatile North Caucasus.

Health officials warn that Russia’s position as the world’s top user of heroin, which is smuggled from Afghanistan through Central Asia’s porous borders, is spurring an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

HOUSING PROJECTS

Avetisyan said Russia hopes this year to embark on constructing affordable housing, reminiscent of the Soviet occupation when Moscow built infrastructure across the country.

Each year, Russia hopes to build about 1 million square meters of housing, starting with Kabul and with an eye to expanding to other cities.

Russia also wants to be involved in hydroelectric dam projects and a proposed gas pipeline stretching from ex-Soviet Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Though Afghanistan was devastated by the Soviet Union’s war here, which by some estimates killed millions and destroyed its once-thriving agriculture, both sides are looking through “rose-tinted glasses,” Avetisyan said.

“The recollection (of the Soviet era) is better than I expected when I came here. The feeling among the Afghans from people on the street to the ministers is very friendly. And it is mutual,” he said.

He said Russia is “not to ever be involved in any military activities here… We are ready to come and help” on the development side.

PREMATURE TRANSITION

Under a gradual transition process beginning next month, U.S. and NATO troops plan to hand security for all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Avetisyan however criticized that date as premature.

“In the three years that are left before 2014, I have doubt that it is indeed possible to build a strong army and police,” he said, adding such training requires at least five years.

NATO is racing against the clock to train Afghanistan’s ill-equipped and illiterate army and police. Critics have warned progress is slow and that security gains cannot be upheld.

“We support the transition as we want everything in Afghanistan to be Afghan-led … But the situation in the country today makes us worried about the preparedness,” he said.

(Created by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

US to replace two P3C Orion aircraft

[At first glance, it would seem strange that the US was now replacing the surveillance aircraft that had been patrolling Balochistan and its coastal waters, considering that the region has been designated as a “international strategic corridor” for military and economic development (SEE: The Stunning Investigative Story on the Birth of Balochistan Liberation Army–Mar 1, 2005 ).  Since the release of the Baloch Liberation Army story, the Pak Army has moved to secure the weak points in western Balochistan outlined in the story.  It is uncertain, at this point, whether this was self–defense on Pakistan’s part, or whether this shared action in Balochistan had been the plan all along, considering the rumored establishment of US bases in the region. 

With the ever-changing face of the US/Pakistani relationship, it is nearly impossible to understand the complex balancing act between United States, Pakistan and “al-Qaeda.”  If the CIA is the actual state backer of the “al-Qaeda” commandos who attacked Mehran, destroying the original P3C, does that mean that the US believes that it has gone too far in destabilizing Pakistan (along with the Abottabad incident), or in exposing the “Islamist” penetration of the Pak military?  Or is it that the Orions were also supplying info to the American side that the Western planners now need, or that the new P3Cs will come filled with new hidden surprises?] 

US to replace two P3C Orion aircraft

This picture taken on May 23, 2011, shows the burnt wreckage of a P-3C Orion aircraft at the PNS Mehran naval airbase. – Photo by AP

ISLAMABAD: The US has decided to supply two P3C Orion aircraft to Pakistan to replace the aircraft that were destroyed in the PNS Mehran attack on May 22nd, diplomatic sources told DawnNews.

According to sources, the US will also be supplying F-16 aircraft and its spare parts.

Moreover, it is also expected that the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen will soon be visiting Pakistan to convey US President Barrack Obama’s message, sources added.

Official sources had earlier told Dawn that the destruction of the two four-engine all-weather P3C Orion aircraft would temporarily affect the Pakistan Navy’s counter-terrorism and surface and underwater reconnaissance operations.

The aircraft is designed for surface and underwater reconnaissance and anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel operations. It is rated as the fastest turbo-prop long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) platform used worldwide and is also called the airborne destroyer.

The aircraft is 116 feet long and has a maximum speed of 410 knots. Its distinguishing features are long endurance, multiple role capability, variety of integrated sensors and above all the capacity to carry a wide array of anti-surface and subsurface weapons such as harpoon, torpedoes, depth charges, mines and rockets. It can fly a mission of at least 18 hours.

Russia, Turkey, and the US Push for Regime Change in Syria

 USS Monterrey

Russia, Turkey, and the US Push for Regime Change in Syria

by M K Bhadrakumar

Seldom it is that the Russian Foreign Ministry chooses a Sunday to issue a formal statement.  Evidently, something of extreme gravity arose for Moscow to speak out urgently.  The provocation was the appearance of a United States guided missile cruiser in the Black Sea for naval exercises with Ukraine.  The USS Monterrey cruiser equipped with the AEGIS air defense system is taking part in joint Ukrainian-US exercises, Sea Breeze 2011.

There is nothing extraordinary about a US-Ukraine naval exercise.  Last year, too, an exercise took place.  But, as Moscow posed, “While leaving aside the unsettled issue of a possible European missile shield architecture, Russia would like to know, in compliance with the Russia-NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] Lisbon summit decisions, what ‘aggravation’ the US command meant by moving the basic strike unit of the regional missile defense grouping being formed by NATO in the region, from the Mediterranean to the East?”

The Foreign Ministry statement then went on to give its own explanation that the Monterrey was sent to European waters as part of the US administration’s phased adaptive approach to building the European segment of the global missile shield.  The program’s first stage envisages the deployment of a group of US warships in the Adriatic, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to protect South Europe from possible missile strikes.  The role of the US warship’s missiles in the Sea Breeze 2011 anti-piracy exercises is also unclear, the statement said.

“We have to state that our concerns continue to be ignored and under the guise of talks on European missile shield cooperation, efforts are under way to build the missile shield configuration whose consequences are dangerous and about which we have numerously informed our US and NATO partners,” the Russian statement added.

The US claims that this is a routine naval exercise.  On the other hand, Moscow asks: “If this is an ordinary visit, then it is unclear why a warship with this type of armament was chosen to move to this quite sensitive region.”

Without doubt, the US is stepping up pressure on Russia’s Black Sea fleet.  The US’s provocation is taking place against the backdrop of the turmoil in Syria.  Russia is stubbornly blocking US attempts to drum up a case for Libya-style intervention in Syria.  Moscow understands that a major reason for the US to push for regime change in Syria is to get the Russian naval base in that country wound up.

The Syrian base is the only toehold Russia has in the Mediterranean region.  The Black Sea Fleet counts on the Syrian base for sustaining any effective Mediterranean presence by the Russian navy.  With the establishment of US military bases in Romania and the appearance of the US warship in the Black Sea region, the arc of encirclement is tightening.  It is a cat-and-mouse game, where the US is gaining the upper hand.

Ostensibly, the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad is repressive since almost everyday reports are coming out that more bloodshed has taken place.  But the Western reports are completely silent as to the assistance that the Syrian opposition is getting from outside.  No one is interested in probing or questioning, for instance, the circumstances in which 120 Syrian security personnel could have been shot and killed in one “incident”.

The Western, Saudi, Israeli and Turkish involvement in Syria’s unrest is almost crystal clear but that is beyond the zone of discussion when we speak of “Syria on the boil”.  In short, Russia has lost the information war over Syria.  Henceforth, its dilemma will be that it will be seen as being obstructionist and illogical when a laudable democratization process is unfolding in Syria and the “Arab Spring” is straining to make an appearance.

Moscow has made it clear that it will not brook a resolution at the United Nations Security Council over Syria, no matter its wording or contents.  It also voted against the Western move at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week to open a Syria nuclear file — similar to the Iran file — at the UN Security Council.

Moscow’s dilemma is that it cannot openly explain its side of the US’s geopolitical agenda toward Syria.  Any such explanation will expose the hollowness of the US-Russia reset, which the Kremlin under President Dmitry Medvedev assiduously worked for.  But Washington is not going to let Russia off the hook either.  It is certain to tighten the noose around Assad’s neck.

Put simply, the US wants Russia to leave Syria alone for the West to tackle.  But Russia knows what follows will be that the Russian naval base there would get shut down by a pro-Western successor regime in Damascus that succeeds Assad.

The stakes are very high.  Last year, the deputy head of Russian military intelligence was killed in mysterious circumstances while on an inspection tour of the naval base in Syria.  His body was found floating on the Mediterranean off the Turkish coast.  To be sure, many intelligence agencies are deeply embroiled in the Syrian broth.

First and foremost, a regime change in Syria has become absolutely critical for breaking Israel’s regional isolation.  The US-Israeli hope is that the back of the Hezbollah can be broken only if the regime of Assad is overthrown in Damascus and the Syrian-Iranian alliance is ended.  Again, a regime change in Syria will force the Hamas leadership to vacate Damascus.  Hamas chief Khalid Meshaal has been living in Damascus under Assad’s protection for several years.

All in all, therefore, any movement on the Israel-Palestine peace process on Israeli terms will be possible only if the US and Israel crack the hard Syrian nut.  Washington and Tel Aviv have been trying to persuade Russia to fall in line and accept “defeat” over Syria.  But Moscow has stuck to its guns.  And now by sending the warship to the Black Sea, US has signaled that it will make Russia pay a price for its obduracy and pretensions as a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern power.

The parliamentary election result in Turkey ensuring another term for the ruling “Islamist” party AKP (Justice and Development Party) significantly strengthens the US position on Syria.  Ankara has hardened its stance on Assad and has begun openly criticizing him.  A more obtrusive Turkish role in destabilizing Assad and forcing a regime change in Damascus can now be expected in the coming weeks.  Ironically, Turkey also controls the Bosphorus Straits.

By improving ties with Turkey in the past decade, Moscow had been hoping that Ankara would gradually move toward an independent foreign policy.  The Kremlin’s expectation was that the two countries could get together and form a condominium over the Black Sea.  But as events unfold, it is becoming clear that Ankara is reverting to its earlier priorities as a NATO country and US’s pre-eminent partner in the region.  Ankara cannot be faulted: it made a shrewd assessment and drew a balance sheet concluding that its interests are best served by identifying with the Western move to effect a regime change in Syria.

Additionally, Ankara finds it profitable that it identifies with the Saudi approach to the upheaval in the Middle East.  The wealthy Arabs in the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf are willing to send their “green money” to Turkey.  Ankara also shares Saudi misgivings about Iran’s rise as regional power.

In sum, the US is slowly but steadily getting the upper hand over its agenda of a regime change in Syria.  Whether Moscow will buckle under this immense pressure and accept a rollback of its influence in Syria is the big question.  Moscow has threatened to cooperate with Beijing and adopt a common stance over Syria.  But Moscow’s ability to counter the American juggernaut over Syria is weakening by the day.

The course of events over Syria will certainly impact profoundly on the US-Russia reset.  The Obama administration seems to have done its homework and concluded that it is worth taking that risk for the sake of ensuring Israel’s security.  The warship that sailed into the Black Sea carries a blunt message to Russia to accept that it is a mere pale shadow of the former Soviet Union.


Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service.  His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, and Turkey.  This article was first published by Asia Times on 14 June 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

 

U-M professor calls for investigation of alleged CIA spying against him

U-M professor calls for investigation of alleged CIA spying against him

University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, author of the influential Middle Eastern politics blog Informed Comment, is calling for an investigation of reports that the Bush White House directed the Central Intelligence Agency to dig up information that could be used to discredit him.

Former CIA counter terrorism official Glenn Carle told the New York Times that on at least two occasions members of the Bush administration asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Cole, whose blog was seen as critical of the U.S. war effort.

The CIA is prohibited from collecting information about Americans in the U.S. and Carle said that he refused to investigate Cole, but he indicated that others within the agency did compile a report containing derogatory information about him.

Cole said that the revelations come as a “visceral shock.”

“It seems to me clear that the Bush White House was upset by my blogging of the Iraq War, in which I was using Arabic and other primary sources, and which contradicted the propaganda efforts of the administration attempting to make the enterprise look like a wild shining success,” he said on his blog today.

“You had thought that with all the shennanigans of the CIA against anti-Vietnam war protesters and then Nixon’s use of the agency against critics like Daniel Ellsberg, that the Company and successive White Houses would have learned that the agency had no business spying on American citizens.”

Cole said that his colleagues have suggested that blackballing by the Bush administration may be the reason for a decline in offers to participate in panel discussions.

“I hope that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees will immediately launch an investigation of this clear violation of the law by the Bush White House and by the CIA officials concerned.”