PESHAWAR: Around 250 families have moved out of central Kurram Agency after the start of an operation by the security forces against militants. According to a private TV channel, a camp has been set up at New Durrani village with a capacity to accommodate 1,500 families. Sources said arrangements had been made at the camp for the provision of necessary ration to the IDPs. People have been asked to get themselves registered at the camp to get the required facilities.
WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is sending nearly $45 million in military equipment, including four small drones, to Uganda and Burundi to help battle the escalating al Qaeda threat in Somalia.
The latest aid, laid out in documents obtained by The Associated Press, comes as attacks intensify in Somalia against the al Qaeda-linked group al Shabab, including an airstrike late Thursday that hit a militant convoy, killing a number of foreign fighters, according to officials there.
No nation immediately took responsibility for the latest airstrike, though US aircrafts have attacked militants in Somalia before.
US officials, including incoming Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, have warned that the threat from al Shabab is growing, and the group is developing stronger ties with the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Panetta told lawmakers earlier this month that as the core al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan undergoes leadership changes, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, the US needs to make sure that the group does not relocate to Somalia.
The Pentagon plan is aimed at helping to build the counter terrorism capabilities of Uganda and Burundi, two African Union nations that have sent about 9,000 peacekeeping forces to Somalia.
The military aid includes four small, shoulder-launched Raven drones, body armor, night-vision gear, communications and heavy construction equipment, generators and surveillance systems. Training is also provided with the equipment.
In addition, the Pentagon will send $4.4 million in communications and engineering equipment to Uganda. Somalia has not had a fully functioning government in two decades. The government had controlled just a small slice of the capital Mogadishu, but officials have said that the peacekeeping offensive is enabling them to wrest swaths of territory in the city and in southern Somalia from the insurgents.
The aid is part of a $145.4 million package that Pentagon officials approved and sent to Capitol Hill last week as part of a notification process before the equipment can be delivered. Up to $350 million in military aid can be distributed this year to support counter terrorism operations in other countries.
The Pentagon routinely releases the military aid in three or four installments each year, and the first package approved earlier this year was for about $43 million.
So far, none of the assistance this year has gone to Yemen — which has been a top counter terrorism priority for the US. Last year, the Pentagon allocated $155 million for aid to Yemen, and military leaders had proposed as much as $200 million for this year.
But US officials have become increasingly alarmed about the violent anti-government protests and unrest rocking the country.
Protesters are demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s powerful sons and other members of his inner circle leave the country, even as Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia receiving treatment for injuries he suffered in an attack on his palace earlier this month.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that aid to Yemen has been interrupted by the chaos there, and once that ebbs the US will consider what next steps to take.
But US officials consider AQAP in Yemen one of the most serious and immediate threats, fueled in part by radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been linked to a number of attacks in the US, including the Christmas Day 2009 attempted airliner bombing.
The Pentagon aid package also includes funding for a number of other North African countries, including several where there is a continuing threat from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
By DEB RIECHMANN
The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan said Monday that Pakistan must prove it wants an end to the war by preventing militants from hiding out on its soil and enabling those who launch attacks on the Afghan side of the border.
An Afghan man prepares coal to make a fire for cooking, outside of a local restaurant, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, June. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Ahmad Nazar)
An Afghan man looks out of a local guest house, near a building which was destroyed during the civil war of 1990s in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, June. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
Marc Grossman, U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in Kabul that discussions among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States being held this week in the Afghan capital are important to coordinate efforts to find a political resolution to the nearly decade-long war.
He said they also are an opportunity to clearly convey to Pakistani officials that part of their responsibility for bringing peace is to stop supporting insurgent safe havens and those who attack Afghans and international forces in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been pretty clear that going forward here, we want the government of Pakistan to participate positively in the reconciliation process,” Grossman said at a news conference. “Pakistan now has important choices to make.”
Grossman and representatives from more than 40 nations are attending a meeting of the International Contact Group. The group’s 11th meeting comes after President Barack Obama announced last week he was ordering 10,000 U.S. troops home by year’s end; as many as 23,000 more are to leave by September 2012. That would leave 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The 33,000 total to be withdrawn is the number Obama sent as reinforcements in December 2009 as part of an effort to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and hasten an eventual political settlement of the conflict. The U.S. and its allies plan a full combat withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Michael Steiner, German representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said at the news conference that the international community’s engagement will not end in 2014, when Afghan security forces are to have the lead responsibility for security across the nation, a process he said is on track.
“I think we have a strategy which is working despite the difficulties we have,” Steiner said. “I am not painting here any illusions. We will have problems ahead. But I think we have a realistic strategy.”
Separately, the U.N. World Food Program announced Monday it will cut food assistance to more than 3 million Afghans in about half the country’s 34 provinces because of a shortage of money from donor nations.
The U.N. agency said it had planned to help feed more than 7 million people in Afghanistan this year, but a shortage of donor funds means only 3.8 million people will be helped through meals provided at schools and training and work programs. It said it needed an additional $220 million to continue its work in Afghanistan at the level originally planned.
The program will focus food assistance on helping the most needy Afghans, especially women and children, said Bradley Guerrant, the agency’s deputy country director.
“We are working hard to raise the funds needed to restart these activities as soon as we can,” he said.
Also, two roadside bomb blasts killed seven civilians Monday in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan, the Interior Ministry said. A vehicle struck one of the bombs in Qarabagh district, killing four civilians, including two children, the ministry said. Another vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Ghazni city, killing three civilians.
(Novum / AP) – DERA ISMAIL KHAN – Armed men in a car with tinted windows in northwestern Pakistan a Taliban commander slain. That is what the Pakistani intelligence sources said Monday.
The victim, Shakirullah Shakir, was slain near the town of Miran Shah in North Waziristan tribal region. Shakir was commander and spokesman of the Fidayeen-e-Islam, part of the Taliban engaged in suicide bombings.
The responsibility for the liquidation unclaimed.
The participation of the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan in the international conference on terrorism held in Tehran over the weekend becomes a major diplomatic and political victory for Iran at the present juncture of regional politics. Both Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai were received by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.
One main focus of the conference was to highlight that the United States has been using international terrorism as the pretext to intervene in Afghanistan and in the Middle East and to interfere in their internal affairs. Khamenei’s message to the conference, in a nutshell, highlighted the “calculations of satanic world powers, which use terrorism in their policies and planning to achieve their illegitimate goals”.
Khamenei alleged that the US finances and arms terrorist groups in the region and, most interestingly, he singled out for reference the “crimes” by the Blackwater (Xe Services) group of “assisting terrorist groups” in Pakistan as “part of this shameful and unforgettable list of American acts of terrorism”.
Expressing solidarity with the growing criticism by Islamabad and Kabul against the excesses of the US’s military operations in AfPak, Khamenei added, “The deadly attacks by the American drones against defenseless families in villages [of Pakistan] and in the most deprived areas of Afghanistan have repeatedly turned weddings into mourning ceremonies.” Khamenei said in a scathing attack on the US’s regional policies:
With such behavior, it is a shame [for the US] to claim to be leading the fight against terrorism … From the standpoint of the leaders of the hegemonic powers [read US], everything that threatens their illegitimate interests is viewed as terrorism. All struggles intended to defend a cause against the occupiers and interventionist forces are regarded by them as terrorism.
Zardari highlighted at the conference that Pakistan had suffered immensely during the decade of the US-led war in Afghanistan. He said over 5,000 Pakistani security personnel had lost their lives and the estimated damage in financial terms amounts to US$37 billion for the Pakistani economy. Zardari stressed the importance of the “vital need for a collective campaign” by the regional states in the “war on terror”.
Overlapping security interests
Karzai, on the other hand, said, “I believe that the campaign against terrorism is not possible through merely military means.” He called for unity, a firm stand and “collective cooperation” by Muslim states in the fight against terrorism.
On the eve of the conference, Zardari and Karzai held a tripartite meeting with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which, again, “urged close cooperation among regional countries” over the issues of “peace and security in the Middle East”. The Iranian president’s office said, “[Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan] pledged to expand their cooperation in political, security, economic and cultural areas as well as fighting terrorism and foreign interventions.”
From the Iranian perspective, a main objective was to forge common thinking with Pakistan and Afghanistan that the continuance of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan adversely impacts on all three countries’ national interests and on regional security and stability. This comes out clearly in the meetings Khamenei had with Zardari and Karzai.
Khamenei sought an “all-out expansion of ties” between Iran and Pakistan and cautioned Zardari that “Washington is trying to sow seeds of dissension in Pakistan to meet its illegitimate goals”. He expressed his appreciation that the Pakistani people were well aware of the US’s “ominous intention” and are resisting the US’s “hegemonic plots”.
Khamenei’s reference went beyond the earlier allegation by Ahmadinejad that Tehran had “specific evidence” of a US conspiracy to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Khamenei seemed to imply that the US plans to destabilize the Pakistan’ state in order to weaken it and to break its resolve to resist US dominance, as well as to hamper its capacity to play an effective role in the region.
Clearly, the tensions that have accrued in the US-Pakistan relationship in the recent period provide the backdrop for this exchange. This is the first time that such a reference has been made at Khamenei’s level. Zardari’s delegation included Interior Minister Rehman Malik, which suggests the Pakistani expectation of Iran sharing details of its perception regarding the security implications of the US’s regional policies.
Malik indeed had a separate meeting with Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, who was previously Iran’s defense minister and belongs to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Iranian account of the meeting suggested that it was mainly concerned with the activities of the terrorist group Jundallah, which operates out of Pakistan in Iran’s eastern border province of Sistan-Balochistan.
“We discussed ways to collaborate on the fight against extremists and terrorists who use Pakistani soil for actions against Iran’s interests,” Mohammad-Najjar said. Significantly, Tehran is making a distinction between Jundallah and the Pakistani state, whereas there have been earlier allegations of Pakistani complicity. Whether Malik (who was a former head of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency) also met with Iran’s powerful Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi remains unclear.
At his meeting with Karzai, Khamenei frontally attacked the US plans to set up military bases in Afghanistan. “The Americans are after permanent bases in Afghanistan, which is a dangerous issue because as long as US troops are in Afghanistan, there would be no real security. The Afghan people are suffering from the US military presence in their country and this presence is a great pain for them and the entire region”, he said.
The meeting with Karzai took place two days after US President Barack Obama’s announcement of a troop drawdown in Afghanistan. Khamenei told Karzai that a rapid pullout of US troops was in the interests of Afghanistan and the region. He was confident that Afghanistan was capable of “controlling its affairs and determining its fate”.
Having said that, all indications are that in the Iranian assessment, the US may be compelled to abandon its earlier plans to set up military bases in Afghanistan due to a combination of circumstances – the Taliban’s uncompromising opposition, the US’s economic crisis and overall war weariness and the urgency to concentrate on the Middle East and Africa.
Meanwhile, Tehran keeps urging Karzai not to give in to the US plans. What worries Iran most is that the planned US military bases include Herat and Shindad in western Afghanistan on the border with Iran.
The big question is how tangible will be an Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan regional axis over the Afghan problem. The short answer is that the axis is both a matter of appearance as well as of some substance and how the proportion works out will depend on the acuteness of the situation in Afghanistan and the regional milieu.
At this point in time, the varying degrees of antipathy felt toward the US on the part of Pakistan and Afghanistan on the one hand and Iran’s inveterate standoff with the US on the other give impetus to the three neighboring countries drawing closer.
Both Zardari and Karzai undertook the visit to Tehran with the full awareness that it signified an act of “strategic defiance” of the US – and more important, they knew that Washington would get the message as well. That is to say, the “Iran connection” gets them some room to maneuver vis-a-vis the US.
But then, there are also specific interests for Kabul and Islamabad to forge an understanding with Iran. Karzai would like to secure all the political support that Iran can provide that enables him to press ahead with the reconciliation with the Taliban.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which is represented in Karzai’s government, lived in exile in Iran for five years. Iran also wields influence over a variety of non-Pashtun forces that happen to harbor misgivings about Karzai’s peace plans of reconciling the Taliban.
In a worst-case scenario, Iran could prove to be a “spoiler”, while Karzai’s negotiating strength substantially increases via-a-vis the US (and Pakistan) in political terms if Iran is seen as his partner.
Iran’s support for the peace process as next-door neighbor is an imperative need for Karzai to reach a durable Afghan settlement. The bottom line is that reciprocally Tehran would expect Karzai to keep in mind at all times the red line regarding Iran’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan and acts accordingly.
Karzai has managed to maintain good equations with Tehran all through despite US interference. From this angle, Khamenei’s strong demarche with Karzai regarding US military bases in Afghanistan could prove to be a clincher.
In the past, Iran’s and Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan often proved to be at loggerheads. But a qualitative change has taken place. For Pakistan, gnawed by apprehensions of the US’s intentions toward it, Iran as a friendly neighbor becomes a critically important asset today.
Especially so, as Iranian inputs regarding the US’s covert activities inside Pakistan will be of invaluable use and solidarity with Iran helps mitigate the US pressure. For Tehran, too, it is important that Pakistan does its utmost to ensure that Jundallah activities from its soil are curtailed and the possibility of third countries exploiting Jundallah as a means to destabilize Iran is excluded.
Equally, Pakistan is a major Sunni country and Iran’s interest lies in ensuring that it does not become part of the Saudi-led alliance against Iran in the Middle East. Iran can flaunt its friendship with Pakistan to expose the Saudi campaign to whip up the phobia of a Shi’ite-Sunni schism in the Middle East today by way of branding Tehran as the leader of the Shi’ite camp and rallying the Sunni Arab opinion.
The Taliban used to be a divisive issue in the Iran-Pakistan relationship. But this is no longer the case, as the cutting edge of the Afghan situation today for both countries lies in regard to the US’s military presence. Both Iran and Pakistan agree that a long-term US presence in Afghanistan should be somehow scuttled. Also, the Taliban have transformed, which is what the direct contacts between them and the US (without Islamabad’s knowledge) suggest.
Above all, Iran’s comfort level is much higher today regarding a fair deal in an Afghan settlement for the Afghan groups with which Iran has enjoyed historical and cultural links. The old-style Pashtun dominance of Afghanistan is a non-starter as there has been a sort of “political awakening” among the Afghan people.
Iran also would factor in that the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the ensuing downstream consequences have greatly reduced the capacity of the Pakistani state to dictate an Afghan settlement unilaterally. Karzai is the best bet under the present circumstances for both Iran and Pakistan as the leader of an “Afghan-led” peace process. All these elements have contributed to the broad convergence of interests between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
How this convergence plays out in the coming weeks and months will have a significant bearing on the course of events in Afghanistan and it will no doubt impact the reconciliation process with the Taliban.
Iran will have the maximum interest in forging a regional axis out of this broad convergence of interests and concerns and making it a real driving force that shapes events to come rather than acts as a mere catalyst. But it takes two – or in this case three – to tango.
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.
[It seems as though the “jihadis” are turning against the terrorists in Kurram, according to Pak Army plans, even though the US considers them all to be terrorists. This is the main point of contention. According to TheNews, Saeed is a Haqqani.]
TTP has claimed a series of high-profile attacks in the nearly two months since US troops killed Osama bin Laden. — Photo by Reuters
PESHAWAR: A Pakistani Taliban warlord who claims to control hundreds of foot soldiers said Monday he had broken with the militia and would form his own anti-American group along the Afghan border.
Fazal Saeed described himself as the leader of Pakistan’s umbrella Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) faction in the tribal district of Kurram, but said he had run out of patience with the network for killing civilians.
TTP has claimed a series of high-profile attacks in the nearly two months since US troops killed Osama bin Laden.
Hinting at a possible a split in Pakistan’s deadliest militant outfit, blamed for more than 4,500 deaths in attacks since July 2007, Saeed said he had decided to form a new organisation — Tehreek-i-Taliban Islami.
“I repeatedly told the leadership council of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan that they should stop suicide attacks against mosques, markets and other civilian targets,” Saeed told AFP by telephone.
“Islam does not allow killings of innocent civilians in suicide attacks,” he said, likening what TTP does in Pakistan to “what US troops are doing in Afghanistan” and vowing to continue the fight alone against the Americans.
“I have therefore decided to quit TTP,” Saeed said, claiming to have defected along with “hundreds of supporters.” A 10-member consultative council will meet within days to formulate the group’s programme, he told AFP.
Saeed said he was TTP leader in Kurram, one of seven districts in Pakistan’s tribal belt known as havens of Taliban and al Qaeda linked groups fighting US and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan.
He denied that his defection had anything to do with the government, or Pakistani intelligence and security agencies.
“I have no links with them,” Saeed said, adding that he considered America as “our main enemy” and describing attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan as “justified.”
He said his goal was to enforce sharia law and Islamic rule in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claiming that he had supporters all over Pakistan.
Kurram is unique in that its upper part has a Shia Muslim majority while its lower reaches are dominated by Sunni Muslims. There have been outbreaks of sectarian violence between the two communities.
Shia travellers to Peshawar and adjoining cities have often been attacked by groups of Sunni militants backed by the Taliban.