Iran and the Arab Spring

Iran and the Arab Spring


Iranian women pray at a Shia shrine in Mashhad, about 540 miles northeast of Tehran. File Photo
APIranian women pray at a Shia shrine in Mashhad, about 540 miles northeast of Tehran. File Photo

In a campaign radiating primarily from Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals, Tehran is being held responsible for aggressively masterminding the rise of a ‘Shia-crescent’ in West Asia.

The advent of the Arab Spring has challenged Iran’s capacity to exert its influence in its turbulent neighbourhood. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have emerged as major players trying to occupy some of the regional political space over which revolutionary Iran’s influence has been dominant so far. After the onset of the Arab uprisings, Turkey has visibly emerged as a major role player, especially in Egypt, where a transition towards democracy appears imminent, and in Syria, where the assertion of a political alternative to the country’s Baathist dictatorship is still far from certain.

As the Arab pro-democracy revolt winged into Bahrain, Saudi Arabia became the vanguard of “counter-revolution” and protector-in-chief of the petro-monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia’s military assertion in Bahrain to crush the pro-democracy protests there has led to the commencement of an intense open-ended cold war with Tehran, which is likely to be waged in large parts of the region. While there has been no concrete evidence of any Iranian involvement in support of the Bahraini uprising, Saudi Arabia, nevertheless, has been vociferously accusing Iran of fomenting subversion in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Apart from Saudi Arabia, the GCC includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Iran is being blamed for pursuing a region-wide sectarian agenda, with the aim of foisting Shia domination across the Muslim world. In this demagogic campaign against Iran, radiating primarily from Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals, Tehran is being held responsible for aggressively masterminding the rise of the so-called “Shia-crescent” in West Asia.

While the accusation that Iran is trying to impose its version of Shia Islam on Sunnis is unsubstantiated, the rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world between Tehran and others, including Saudi Arabia, is, nevertheless, real. In this battle for ascendancy, Iran has fortified itself by bonding with Shias outside its borders, whenever the opportunity for intra-Shia ingratiation emerged.

Iran has asserted its aspirations to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world since the dawn of its Islamic revolution in 1979. Even while revolutionary Iran was in the throes of an existential war with Iraq in the 1980s, Tehran took concrete measures to exert its influence in the Levant — a large area in south-west Asia bounded by the Taurus mountain ranges, the Arabian desert and the Mediterranean Sea. For geostrategic reasons, Iran and the Syrian regime of former President Hafez al-Assad, rival to the then Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, became firm allies. Apart from reasons of realpolitik, Iran-Syria ties acquired a binding religious dimension. Like the majority of Iranians who are Shias, the Syrian leadership has belonged to the Alawite sect, which has Shia roots. Thus, the Syria-Iran alliance acquired a reinforcing faith-based dimension, which imparted steel to a political arrangement that was meant to enforce a favourable regional balance of power.

The Syria-Iran alliance subsequently expanded to include Hizbollah, a highly motivated group, which emerged from the matrix of the Shia underclass of southern Lebanon. Backed by the former President Assad, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) trained Hizbollah in Lebanon’s Balbek area, a cultural treasure trove known for its magnificent Roman ruins, in close proximity to the Syrian border.

The Iran-Syria-Hizbollah axis has been greatly reinforced by its shared visceral animosity towards Israel. Hizbollah’s success in denting the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006, imparted to this alliance — led by Iran — an unprecedented sense of self-belief. This self-confidence was also reflected in the alliance’s increasingly robust engagement with the non-Fatah factions of the Palestinian resistance, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Damascus is currently the headquarters of the Hamas leadership in exile. Iran’s influence over the Islamic Jihad as well as Hamas has also been well established.

The U.S. debacle in Iraq opened the door for Iran’s assertion in Iraq, mainly through the transnational and local Shia religious, and socio-political networks. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Iran, on account of its deep-rooted connections, had emerged as the most influential external player in Iraq. With oil-rich Iraq now entering its camp, Iran has established a contiguous and autonomous zone of influence stretching from the Iranian segment of the Persian Gulf coast to the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, passing through Iraq and Syria.

Despite the steady rise of Iranian influence over the past two decades, the Arab Spring has severely jolted Iran’s strategic dominance in the Levant. This challenge has originated from Turkey, which, ironically, was, ahead of the Arab pro-democracy uprisings, fast emerging as Tehran’s key ally.

Turkey has challenged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ironclad grip on power, by advocating reforms, and supporting a new power-sharing arrangement in the wake of Syrian uprising, that has been calling for a fundamental change. Tensions between Turkey and Syria have surged after Ankara opened its doors to Syrian refugees fleeing embattled border towns. The escalation of political tensions between the two is now acquiring a scary military dimension, after Syria deployed troops and heavy weapons close to the Turkish border. The friction is unlikely to end anytime soon as the Syrians have spurned the somewhat feeble political alternatives offered by Turkey to defuse the crisis.

Given the culture of vendetta and a natural disinclination to political compromise, Syria appears to have rejected the Turkish proposal of adopting in Syria the Lebanese confessional model, where power is shared among the country’s majority and minority social groups. The Syrian regime is unlikely to accede to the confessional model because the ruling Alawites are in a minority. Besides, less than half-a-century ago the Alawites had been brutally marginalised before the late Hafez al-Asaad asserted himself by way of a military coup.

Turkey’s attack on the Assad regime — the lynchpin for promoting Iranian influence in the Levant — has therefore bred a serious clash of interests between Ankara and Tehran.

These tensions are unlikely to ease anytime soon, as Iran and Turkey now appear to be opening up yet another battleground for confrontation, by competing for influence over the non-secular militant wing of the Palestinian leadership. After the onset of the Arab Spring, the differences between the two sides over resolution of the Palestinian conflict appear fundamental. While Iran, Syria and Hizbollah continue to advocate armed resistance, Turkey appears to open up a new paradigm for Palestinian reconciliation through dialogue.

Consistent with its activism on the Palestinian issue, Turkey appears to be seeking in post-Mubarak Egypt a new heavyweight ally as a counterweight to the Iran-led camp, which has been exercising its militant influence over the Palestinian factions. During their strategic dialogue in Ankara last month, Turkey and Egypt flagged their joint interest for shaping developments in Palestine.

Turkey and Egypt are now likely to impart further momentum to their initiative on Palestine on account of the Muslim Brotherhood factor. Since the advent of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003, the Turks have, with considerable focus, been cultivating the pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, including the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In engaging the Muslim Brothers, Turkey’s devout businessmen, organised under an umbrella organisation, MUSIAD, have extended solid financial support. The Turkish charity IHH, with possible links to MUSIAD, has also networked extensively with Muslim Brotherhood representatives. With the Muslim Brothers likely to do well in the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections, the Turks have positioned themselves well to develop a special relationship with Cairo.

Among the interested parties abroad, the Israelis have already sensed the possibility of a paradigm shift taking place in the manner in which regional support is being mobilised for the Palestinians. Departing from the confrontational tone that had been used by both sides since the bloodbath last year, on the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship “Mavi Marmara,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon appeared to welcome Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal. Speaking to Turkish mediapersons, Mr. Aylaon said that “if for instance today a declaration comes from Ankara, from the meeting of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and (Khalid) Mashaal ‘yes they are going to go with unity’; it is also in our interests that Palestinians have unity. We know that once they sign, they sign for everybody and we don’t have to worry about this.”

Faced with the serious challenge to its influence from Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the Levant and its Persian Gulf backyard, Iran, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, is already mounting a herculean effort to safeguard its core interests. In this exercise, the Iranians are actively supporting President Assad’s regime in Syria. The cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia can only be expected to hot up in the foreseeable future. Fuelled by the oil wealth that both countries possess, the Iran-Saudi cold war is likely to be fought along a vast area, encompassing Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf as well as the Levant.

Pakistan Loses Nine Soldiers In Separate Districts

9 soldiers killed in attacks

QUETTA: Attacks killed nine soldiers on Tuesday, targeting troops in the militant-infested tribal badlands near Afghanistan and further south on the border with Iran, officials said.

The deadliest attack killed five paramilitary troops travelling in a routine convoy between the towns of Turbat and Mand, some 680 kilometres southwest of Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province.

“Five paramilitary soldiers were martyred and five others were wounded in the bomb blast,” a paramilitary commander said.

The convoy was en route to a remote border base near the town of Mand, he said requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

Local police and security officials confirmed the attack and toll.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Balochistan has seen a recent upswing in violence linked to a separatist insurgency, sectarian violence.

In the tribal belt, three soldiers were killed in North Waziristan, considered a leading militant fortress and where Pakistan is under huge US pressure to launch an offensive against the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network.

Officials said a bomb was detonated by remote-control near Miranshah, the main town in the tribal district, soon after the convoy left for the town of Datta Khel, ripping through a truck carrying army and paramilitary troops.

“Three soldiers were killed and 15 wounded,” an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

Another security official said the bomb was planted in a drain near the market in Miranshah and exploded at a time when authorities had imposed a routine curfew so the military convoy could go past.

In the neighbouring district of South Waziristan, a paramilitary soldier was killed when Taliban militants attacked a check post in the Makeen area, security officials in the main northwestern city of Peshawar said.

Another Writer Pointing-Out the Big Soap Opera In Kurram Agency

[SEE:  Is Kurram Offensive Just Another Soap Opera?]

Skewed objectives and inherent operational failure in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a former Deputy Director in India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and an independent analyst based in Singapore. (Illustration by Amarjit Sidhu)

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray is a former Deputy Director in India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and an independent analyst based in Singapore. (Illustration by Amarjit Sidhu)


Its time yet again for an over hyped anti-militant operation in Pakistan. On 3 July, the Pakistani army and the para-military forces launched full-scale operations in the Kurram Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) area, along the Afghanistan border. Named after the famous mountain range Spin Ghar, Operation Koh-i-Sofaid (White Mountain), intends getting rid of this tribal Agency of the presence of militants affiliated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistani Taliban. However, by all means, the operation is doomed to fail in its key objectives.

TTP cadres have used Kurram as a transit route between North Waziristan and Orakzai Agency and the Tirah Valley. It lies opposite Afghanistan’s Paktia, Nangarhar and Khost provinces and its central mountainous region provides enough safety to the militants, fleeing to escape military operations or drone attacks from other parts of the country. At least since 2007, parts of Kurram have virtually had no contact with the rest of Pakistan. The only land route– the Peshawar-Thall-Parachinar Road – has been blocked by the militants.

Effectively for the Pakistani state, claiming Kurram is a project that ideally involves settling questions of sovereignty and making the civilians inhabiting this area Pakistani citizens, in the true sense of the term.

However, the planned operations suffer from a range of weaknesses- some tactical and the rest deliberate.

Firstly, the operations presumably have a skewed objective- to go after the anti-state Pakistan Taliban and to spare the Good (Afghan) Taliban and its affiliates like the Haqqani network who have extended their influence into the Kurram agency. The Haqqani network has an agreement with the local TTP militants to use the area as transit point to launch attacks against NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. This tactic of “pick and chose” makes the operation thoroughly weak from the very beginning. Its not clear whether the intended enemy can be identified and neutralised, while coexisting with the ones to be protected.

Secondly, the focus area of the operations appears to be wrong. In spite of being inspired by the name of a mountain, the operations are taking place mostly in the plains of lower and upper Kurram. It is rather curious as most of the militants are known to have their facilities or presence in the Central Kurram region, which is remote and is marked by high-altitude mountains. News reports do present us narratives of continuing operations in central Kurram and of soldiers being air dropped into the mountains. But the fact remains that much of the operation is actually happening in the plains and not in the mountains. Operations in central Kurram, if any, will be limited to securing the road that connects lower with upper Kurram.

Lower and upper Kurram have already seen sectarian violence between the Shias and Sunnis, which along with militant activities has displaced people from the settled areas. None of them have significant and permanent militant presence. This explains the rather smooth and resistance-free operations while clearing areas like Manato, Domeki and Gawaki.

The Pakistan military blames scarce resources for not going to Central Kurram, the same reason it cites to avoid operations targeting the Good (Afghan) Taliban and the Al Qaeda bases in North Waziristan. The use of tanks and artillery in operation Koh-i-Sofaid so far explains the mindset of the troops, who have no project of venturing into the mountainous zones.

Thirdly, the end result of such huge sweep operations is generally found to be minimal in its impact. Unlike a war, large military operations against insurgents/ militants are mostly demonstrative of the state’s weakness rather than its strength. It merely acknowledges the fact of a historical state retreat from militant infested areas. A large military operation is only a poor attempt to apply a quick fix remedy to a chronic problem.

With so much preparation and hype built around the operation, it must have provided the militants adequate fleeing time. Pakistani authorities gave the militants about 15 days do so, as it notified 80 square kilometre area in the region as a conflict zone.

Fourthly, even if we are to assume that the forces will be able to clear the Agency off militant presence, dangers of the area lapsing into militancy again can not be ruled out. Since the forces lack the capacity and intention to stay put in those areas and oversee the establishment of permanent security and governing structures, a militant re-takeover will always be a possibility, as soon as the forces retreat. The experience is quite similar with all the previous anti-militancy operations the Pakistani state has launched, except perhaps Balochistan.

Fifthly, anti-militant operations need to take into the concerns of the civilian population into account, to the extent possible. Notwithstanding the absence of accurate data, preliminary reports have suggested that almost 28000 people have already been displaced. Apparently, little effort has gone into preparing for the human tragedy.

The FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA), the sole agency responsible for dealing with the problem, is apparently starved of resources as well as ideas. Considering that it had at least 15 days (since the day of notification of the conflict zone) to prepare for these incidents, it appears to have done little. The 1000 tents it put up with help from the UNHCR have all been filled up and there is need for lot more. No other facility like emergency medical kits has been made available to the displaced people. As the operations unfold, more such stories of organisational ill-preparedness are likely to emerge.

Operation Koh-i-Sofaid, for sure, has an overwhelming component of failure attached to it. The skewed fight against terrorism in Pakistan will neither help this fragile state nor the world.

(Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray, a former Deputy Director in India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) is an independent analyst based in Singapore. He can be reached at or on Twitter @BibhuRoutray)

Afghan refugees lose homes, family to Pakistan shells

Afghan refugees lose homes, family to Pakistan shells

By Mohammad Anwar


(Reuters) – A rocket fired from Pakistan struck a small mud house in the mountain-top Afghan village of Chogam two weeks ago, killing Juma Gul’s son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.

Two days later Gul had fled down to the Shultan valley, joining hundreds of other displaced families taking refuge from a barrage of cross-border shells landing in mountainous eastern Kunar province.

They have killed dozens, including children, the government in Kabul says.

“We are poor people, we don’t have food to eat or water to drink. Who is going to protect us from this misery?” Gul, aged in his 60s, asked with tears in his eyes. “There is no help from the government or foreign troops, we live a difficult life.”

Governor Fazlullah Wahidi said the attacks have displaced over 1,000 people from their homes in Kunar alone. The Sarkani, Shigal, Dangam, Nari and Khas Kunar districts are all still under fire, he added.

In just an hour on Wednesday morning, a Reuters witness saw 10 artillery shells hit high areas around the Shultan Valley, about 300 km (186 miles) northeast of the Afghan capital Kabul. They appeared to come from across the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he would not respond with military force to the shelling, infuriating many Afghans. Some 300 people also protested the shelling in the Kunar provincial capital Asadabad on Tuesday.

“It is better to live under the Taliban and in peace. This government is even not able to stop Pakistan from shelling innocent people,” said Mustafa, who goes by one name and lost his brother a week after the rocket barrage began in early June.

“I ask the Taliban to revenge the blood of innocent lives, in Pakistan. The Taliban are brave people and they are able to hit back,” he said. “We are not with the Taliban or any other group but people in my village were massacred very brutally.”

Karzai’s parliament, despite facing internal turmoil after a government-backed court ruled in June to unseat 62 lawmakers, has focused debate on the attacks for several days, and wants to see sterner action. The issue even sparked a physical fight between two female lawmakers in parliament.

Pakistan has rejected Afghan allegations of large scale cross-border shelling, saying that only “a few accidental rounds” may have crossed the border when it pursued militants who had attacked its security forces.

There are insurgents on both sides of the remote, porous and disputed mountainous border and it is difficult to verify events. Pakistan has in the past fiercely contested cross-border attacks by NATO forces chasing insurgents.

The Afghan Interior Ministry says nearly 800 rockets have killed 42 people, wounded 55 and destroyed 120 houses.

Mohammad Rasool, who lives in the Shultan valley and took in a family of eight who had fled the rocket attacks, warned that Kabul needed to help the refugees.

“The government must help these people get a new shelter somewhere,” he said. “We can’t keep them here forever.”

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi, writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

President Karzai Flays Terrorist Attack On Border Police Personnel

[A cross-border attack in the opposite direction took place here on the same day, perhaps both reports are of the same incidents (SEE:  Peace body member killed in Bajaur).  Can we interpret this to mean that the same bunch of criminal Pakistani militants are attacking in both directions, erasing the Durand Line, or is this the work of two seperate factions coming together?]

“Taliban chief in Bajaur Agency Maulana Faqir Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the other day attack on a checkpost in Kit Kot area of the region.

President Karzai Flays Terrorist Attack On Border Police Personnel


Wednesday, July 06, 2011 Kabul (BIA) President Karzai condemned with strong words the terrorist attack from Pakistani border troops on Afghan border police personnel in which some policemen were killed and wounded.

President Karzai condemned with strong words the terrorist attack from Pakistani border troops on Afghan border police personnel in which some policemen were killed and wounded. Reports indicate that yesterday around 150 terrorists had entered from Pakistan into Afghan border territories in Gurdish area between Nuristan and Kunar provinces and attacked police posts as a result of which a number of border police personnel were martyred and some other were wounded. President Karzai strongly condemning the attack of the terrorists from that side of the border said that Afghanistan is decisive to carry on the security transition process despite the destructive and wild terrorist attacks that are organized by the enemies of the people of Afghanistan. President Karzai asked the Pakistani government to prevent terrorists entering from Pakistan into Afghanistan and by their terrorist attacks they are threatening the lives of the people of Afghanistan. He instructed the Ministry of Interior to send reinforcements to the border areas for foiling the attacks of the enemies and clear the area from the existence of terrorists. Saddened over the martyrdom and injuries of Afghan border policemen of the country at this terrorist attack, conveyed his deep sympathies to the families of the martyrs and the wounded.

Kazakhstan Is Safe From Islamist Revolution

Kazakhstan Is Safe From Islamist Revolution

U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech on June 22 outlining plans for U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised a number of questions from the international media and public. Much of the focus has been on U.S. goals and objectives in Afghanistan, the danger of a radicalizing Pakistan and the drain the war has had on the U.S. economy.

But events last month in Kazakhstan, a stable U.S. partner and major oil and gas producer to Afghanistan’s north, raise further questions about what U.S. withdrawal and Taliban resurgence will mean for the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Given the region’s battle with Islamist militants tied to the Taliban and al-Qaida in the late 1990s, a resurgent Taliban in northern Afghanistan could again foster instability in the resource-rich region.

The ground for a re-emergence of militant activity in Central Asia is fertile. Last September, 28 Tajik troops were killed in a shootout with militants and the country’s second-largest city was rocked by a suicide blast that killed three policemen. One year ago, Kyrgyzstan witnessed ferocious interethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek citizens in the Ferghana Valley, a region known as a hotbed of extremist activity. In addition, the fallout from the massacre of Uzbek civilians by government troops in Andijan in 2005 lingers ominously in Uzbekistan.

Amid these threats, Central Asian governments continue to repress any overt signs of Islamic organization as potential centers of anti-government activity. In the past, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir — both banned in Central Asia — have attracted a number of recruits fed up with their countries’ weak economies, repressive leaders and hopeless futures.

But recent news out of Kazakhstan, reputedly the most stable country in the region and a major oil and natural gas supplier for the United States, Russia and China, is potentially the most concerning. On May 17, the western Kazakh city of Aktobe experienced what local media called its first-ever suicide bombing — an attack that was followed a week later by a car bombing outside a building belonging to the security services in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Since Kazakhstan has been relatively immune to the religious and ethnic conflicts that have plagued its neighbors in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the bombings highlight the danger that is implicit for Central Asia in cross-border violence emanating from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Wendell Schwab, an expert on Islam in Kazakhstan from Indiana University, said although the number of conservative Kazakh Muslims has increased over the last few years, he does not believe Kazakhstan’s stability will be compromised.

“There is not much, if any, violence done in the name of Islam in Kazakhstan,” Schwab said.

But with an Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus raging across the Caspian Sea from Kazakhstan’s western provinces, some believe Kazakhstan could be ripe for the type of extremist-inspired instability its long-serving president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has thus far been able to contain.

In April, Sabatai Amanov, a Kazakh resident reportedly trained in Pakistan as a bomb manufacturer, was gunned down by Dagestan security forces. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that over the past two years, seven Kazakh citizens have been killed fighting for the Islamist insurgency in Dagestan.

To investigate the reasons that Kazakh citizens are taking up arms in Dagestan, Russian news agency Regnum recently conducted a number of interviews with security experts familiar with the insurgency. They concluded that large numbers of Dagestanis working in western Kazakhstan’s oil fields combined with great discrepancies in income among the local population and access to jihadist literature and web sites have attracted some Kazakhs to religious extremism.

“Jihadi ideology is an alternative to other socio-economic ideologies,” Schwab said. “If people are satisfied with their current lives and government, as most Kazakhs are, there is little possibility for a massive increase in the number of jihadis.”

Schwab said conditions in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are more likely to spawn support for extremist ideas.

Such extremism reached its height in Central Asia in the late 1990s. At that time, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, was operating out of bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The movement made incursions into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that severely tested undertrained and ill-equipped government forces. Many IMU militants were battle-tested soldiers from the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Chechen wars. The IMU funded their activities through the drug trade, using routes in Central Asia that tapped into the Russian and European markets. Presently, a breakdown of stability in northern Afghanistan and a continuation of the Dagestani insurgency in Russia’s southwest promise a return to this type of narco-terrorism in the region.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently reported on the resurgence of the IMU in northern Afghanistan, saying, “If left unchecked, observers warn, alliances between the al-Qaida-linked IMU and the Taliban could not only destabilize northern Afghanistan but establish it as a launching pad for attacks across Central Asia and beyond.”

This may be true for the regions of Central Asia directly bordering Afghanistan. But it is unlikely to spread to Kazakhstan, where the per capita gross domestic product — at $12,600 based on purchasing power parity — is about four times higher than in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and twice as high as in Turkmenistan.

Moreover, the likelihood that the standard of living of Kazakhs will increase even higher in the next decade or so remains relatively high.

Kazakh officials maintain that the May attacks were criminal acts, not terrorism. It remains to be seen whether this is wishful thinking from a government that has thus far escaped the scourge of sectarian violence that has afflicted its neighbors, or is the beginning of a dangerous trend arching out of Afghanistan, through Central Asia, and into the North Caucasus.

Once the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan, time will certainly tell.

Dana Abizaid is a history teacher at the International Community School in Istanbul.

A Severe Lack Of Toilets And Lost Treasure

A Severe Lack Of Toilets And Lost Treasure

Or, Does The Indian Belief System Care About Its People??
By Ted Twietmeyer

A few days ago, a cable channel aired a Vanguard documentary about the lack of toilets in India. It was graphic and disgusting to see people defecating outside. This isn’t their fault as these people are born into the caste system at the lower levels and destined under 5,000 year old Indian culture to live a hellish life. A lack of toilets for miles won’t stop nature’s call. Clearly the Indian government has shown little regard for the health and well being of its own people, but we’ll see that so have temple priests, too.

In the Vanguard documentary, an Indian doctor stated there are 1.6 billion people in India with 600 MILLION having no access to a toilet.



Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, India

A recent news story revealed a lawsuit was filed in India, the purpose of which was to confirm stories of hidden treasure under Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. The government ordered an audit of all the vaults under the massive temple which revealed a staggering 11 BILLION dollars in gold, silver, coins, jewelry and previous stones. Then the government declared the treasure will stay right where it is. Some of the vaults under the temple had not been entered in 150 years.

Should we fault the decision of the government for permitting private ownership of the treasure? Clearly this treasure could be used to help millions of Indian people if those who have stewardship over it permitted it.

The most logical question that comes to mind is why one cent of this treasure will not be used to help the quality of life for the Indian people. It may be the ultimate act of hypocrisy.

There is a connection here with the most popular Indian religion of Hinduism. Hinduism is the most prevalent Indian belief system in India and is a part of this huge temple. Yet Hindu is considered as a way of life and nothing more.

Below is a Wiki statement summarizing Hinduism:

“When we think of the Hindu religion, unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one god; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.”

If you have a religion with countless compartmentalized gods, no fear and consequences of doing wrong, no sin, no clearly defined dogma, no belief in eternal life and now higher power over everything – then what do you have? Exactly what does “a way of life” really mean? It provides very little impetus for personal improvement or hope.

Yet this “way of life” only seems to conflict with countless statues of gods and god-like figures all across in India. If Hindu followers only see their religion as a way of life, then why have these people expended vast amounts of time, money and talent to carve all these statues and build temples? Why is the huge treasure kept under the temple? What purpose does it serve, why was it hidden from the people and how did it come to be there? We may never hear direct answers to these questions. But we do know that a common control technique in all religions is to require some type of sacrifice, which usually involves money at the very least.

Most likely fear is the origin of 11 billion dollars in treasure, and what stuffs collection plates and baskets in Christian religions. Religions basically serve to control people using fear-based outcomes for disobedience. It effectively is what constitutes control over believers and “keeps ’em coming back for more.” Human beings inherently have a greater fear of what they cannot see verses what they can see.

There exists a plethora of illnesses, viruses and bacteria which breed wherever a lack of sanitation exists. Feces inherently have E-coli bacteria and other pathogens. Any doctor will tell you urine itself is sterile when produced by healthy uninfected people, but airborne bacteria quickly breeds on contact with the fluid. A lack of toilets for 600 million Indian people is an utterly disgusting way of life, forced upon the second most populated country in the world. Nearly all of the poorest people in the western world have access to a toilet somewhere.

How temple priests, stewards of an 11 Billion Dollar treasure – can ignore their fellow human beings living in unhealthy damnation is beyond comprehension, regardless of cultural differences. There must be a special place in hell reserved for people like that.

Caring for fellow human beings is a universal principle everywhere on Earth. Even the poorest, most destitute tribes in jungles make visitors feel welcome and help them. So what’s wrong with these temple priests?

Ted Twietmeyer



Vanguard TV documentary “The World Toilet Crisis”

Taliban again refute claims of peace talks with West

Taliban again refute claims of peace talks with West


Washington and London have both acknowledged there have been recent contacts with insurgents although former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he expected it could take months before any headway could be made. — Photo by Reuters

KABUL: The Afghan Taliban again refuted on Wednesday claims they had entered into talks with the West to try and find an end to the war, saying any contacts with foreign countries had only been to negotiate prisoner exchanges.

In a statement emailed to media, the Taliban also repeated their long-standing position of rejecting any negotiations for peace as long as foreign troops were in Afghanistan.
“The rumour about negotiation with America is not more than the talks aimed at the exchange of prisoners. Some circles call these contacts as comprehensive talks about the current imbroglio of Afghanistan,” the Taliban said.

“However, this shows their…lack of knowledge about the reality. It is clear as the broad daylight that we consider negotiation in condition of presence of foreign forces as a war stratagem of the Americans and their futile efforts.”

Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States was in direct talks with the insurgents but that talks were not at a stage where the Afghan government was sitting down with the militants.

Washington and London have both acknowledged there have been recent contacts with insurgents although former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he expected it could take months before any headway could be made.

But so little is known about these contacts that they have been open to widely different interpretations and any discussions that may be taking place are still not at a stage where they can be a deciding factor.

Despite trumpeting military gains, particularly in southern Afghanistan, foreign leaders and military commanders have long recognised the need for a political solution to a war that has now dragged on for almost 10 years.

In Wednesday’s statement, the Taliban said they had been in contact with “some” countries to arrange prisoner exchanges, including most recently with France for the release of two French journalists and their Afghan translator last month.

The men were seized outside Kabul on December 30, 2009 and held captive for 18 months.

France has denied any ransom was paid to secure the release of the two men, and their Afghan interpreter Reza Din. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said revealing details of the negotiations could damage efforts to free other French hostages in Africa.

The Taliban said they were also continuing “direct and indirect” contacts to secure the release of US and Canadian prisoners.

In June 2009, insurgents captured US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in southeastern Afghanistan and have released videos showing him in captivity dressed in both Afghan clothing and in military uniform.

In those videos, Bergdahl is seen denouncing the war in Afghanistan and calling for the United States to withdraw its troops from the country, in what the US military has called illegal propaganda.

Bergdahl’s abduction prompted a large-scale manhunt but US officials have declined to comment whether they have tried to negotiate his release.

Russian ‘Laser Hooligan’ Attacks on Airline Pilots Rise Tenfold

Russian ‘Laser Hooligan’ Attacks on Airline Pilots Rise Tenfold

By Ekaterina Shatalova

Laser “hooligans” tried to blind the pilots of two passenger planes landing at an international airport in Moscow today as attacks with light-beam pointers surge in Russia.

The planes touched down safely at Vnukovo airport after unknown assailants aimed laser pointers into the cockpits at about 2:00 a.m. Moscow time, Sergei Izvolsky, a spokesman for the Federal Air Transport Agency, said today by phone. One plane was arriving from Istanbul and the other flying from Yakutsk in Russia’s Far East, he said.

“Landing is usually done manually, so temporary blindness during the approach is a threat,” Izvolsky said.

More than 50 cases of “laser hooliganism” have been recorded this year, compared with five last year, Izvolsky said, adding that most have occurred in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don. Several pilots were temporarily blinded in attacks this year without serious consequences, he said.

Chechnya banned sales of laser pointers today after a similar incident yesterday, which led to the arrest of 17-year- old boy, the Rossiya 24 state television channel said on its website.

The Rostov police have called for similar measures, RIA Novosti said today. A man with a laser pointer was arrested on June 26 for trying to blind pilots, the news service reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ekaterina Shatalova in Moscow

Cross-border terrorism

“Deeply entrenched on both sides of the border, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban protect and support each other.”

Cross-border terrorism

“Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to devise a strategy to combat cross-border terrorism in each other’s countries.” While this may be an appropriate thing to say after a meeting between Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Umer Daudzai in Islamabad, the ground realities hardly support this aspiration. How can cross-border terrorism come to an end when Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban and provides them shelter on its soil? It is these Afghan networks that have been consistently carrying out attacks against foreign and Afghan troops across the border in Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. The Afghan security forces, on the other hand, have little or no control over the border areas, which, after the retreat of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops led by the US to well-guarded military bases, have been converted into a virtual no-man’s land, from where attacks are increasingly launched into Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has found save havens in these areas, inducing a process of reverse osmosis, i.e. attacking Pakistan that once exported jihadis to all its neighbours.

These ground realities make these high-sounding vows sound completely hollow. No measure can prove effective in the obtaining circumstances and end cross-border attacks, which have assumed a disturbingly high frequency in recent weeks. Even as the foreign secretary and Afghan foreign minister were holding talks in Islamabad, mortars were fired from Afghanistan into North Waziristan Agency, which injured four children. In Bajaur Agency, some 300 militants crossing over from Afghanistan attacked a check post, leading to the death of a soldier and injury to another. This was the sixth such attack in a month. On the other hand, the Afghan foreign ministry has alleged that rockets were fired from Pakistan into Afghan province Kunar, which caused deaths and injuries to civilians.

This situation is the result of a basic contradiction at the heart of Pakistan’s security policy that purports to support the ‘good’ Taliban and prosecute the ‘bad’ Taliban, disregarding the nexus between the two.Therefore, not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan is under massive attack. In this context, it is doubtful if Pakistan will be able to achieve its policy objectives in Afghanistan after the US troops withdrawal for which it has nurtured and protected the jihadi proxies, who are now running amok. These objectives, central being the holy grail of ‘strategic depth’, have become all the more difficult since the US is becoming impatient with Pakistan for fooling it through double games all the years of its presence in Afghanistan. Not only has the US Congress pulled shut the purse strings and stopped a substantial amount of funding to Pakistan, President Obama has vowed to use all resources to eliminate militants in surgical strikes, be it through drones or killing of high profile targets through raids like that carried out in Abbottabad to eliminate Osama bin Laden. The US is shifting from counter-insurgency, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of people in addition to conducting military operations through boots on the ground, to counter-terrorism, eliminating terrorists through sophisticated military technology and means, without committing substantial ground forces. The Americans are also reported to be talking directly to the Taliban, neatly bypassing Pakistan, due to their deep suspicions and mistrust of Pakistan’s intentions, a development that should weigh heavily on the calculations of the architects of our security policy. Pakistan’s dual policy towards the Taliban can unravel the whole game plan for which Pakistan exposed its land and people to grave risks, whose diminishing returns and serious damage are becoming apparent now.

Pak faces the music

Pak faces the music


By M K Bhadrakumar
Big chunks of militants that Pakistan trained have turned against their mentors. This is the troubling ground reality.
The spectre haunting Indian pundits scouring the Hindu Kush is of anarchy and civil war beyond 2014 when the United States pulls out its troops. They visualise the fragile Afghan nation splitting on ethnic lines and irredentists taking up arms. It explains prime minister Manmohan Singh’s crest-fallen remark last week that the drawdown that president Barack Obama ordered “hurts us.”

It was a surprising remark since if one single conclusion can be drawn from the 10-year old war, it is that so long as foreign occupation continues, Afghanistan will remain in turmoil and it impacts negatively on regional stability.

The fear psychosis of Pakistan engineering a Taliban takeover stems from a false assumption that it is the US military presence that prevents the deluge and the mistaken belief that Pakistan is indeed capable of making another attempt as it did in the 1990s to conquer Afghanistan. Alas, the legend survives that starry-eyed young Talibs in black headgear stormed Kabul in September 1996 and drove out the battle-hardened militia of Ahmed Shah Massoud. But in actuality, it was a full-fledged Pakistani military operation.

A repetition of this invasion is beyond Pakistan’s capability today. Nor is the Pakistani military leadership naïve to overlook that the political environment has changed. The paranoia of civil war is whipped up by lumpen elements who thrive when a war prolongs and becomes an industry. Both among (non-Pashtun) Afghans and among western war contractors, they are to be found. Two, the US is interested in stirring up the insecurities of non-Pashtuns, which provides raison d’etre for continued western military presence.

However, what we are currently witnessing on Pakistan’s border region with eastern Afghanistan may turn out to be the politico-military scenario for the foreseeable future. It is four months since the US forces began withdrawing from combat positions in the Pech valley in the eastern province of Kunar bordering Pakistan.

The withdrawal that began on February 15 was completed over two months and was, according to American claims, part of a shift of the forces to more populated areas. Suffice to say, the region has become a safe haven for hard core militant groups, ranging from Taliban who fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hizb-i-Islami and Al-Qaeda affiliates to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan complained that in cross-border attacks, militants have killed 56 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and tribal police and injured 81 personnel in June alone. In turn, Afghan officials say Pakistani forces launched hundreds of rockets onto their side and killed at least 40 people.

President Hamid Karzai put the figure as 470 rockets in June. On Sunday, over 300 militants crossed into Pakistan and attacked a Pakistani checkpost. The Pakistani army spokesman Maj Gen Attar Abbas has been quoted as saying, “For quite some time we have been highlighting that there are safe havens across the border. Something should be done about these.”

Legitimate border
The Durand Line, which Pashtun tribes never accepted as legitimate border, has all but disappeared. Pakistan has virtually come under armed attack by Pashtuns from the Afghan side. Big chunks of militant groups that Pakistan trained and equipped have turned against their mentors.

This is the profoundly troubling ground reality. The US commander in Afghanistan, David Petraeus responded that the ‘focus of the war’ is about to shift from the Taliban strongholds in the south to the poorly-guarded border with Pakistan in the east. His tantalising offer is that Pakistan faces a veritable ‘low intensity war’ across the Durand Line and the US can help salvage the war and assist Pakistan regain control over its territory.

The political reality is no less grim. The Pakistani bombardment incites Pashtun anger. Hundreds of Pashtuns took part in anti-Pakistan demonstrations in Kabul over the weekend. At the same time, Pakistan’s grip over the Quetta Shura is loosening. The western intelligence has gained direct access to the Taliban leadership and can do without Pakistan’s help.

The first meeting between the US officials and Taliban leaders took place in a village outside Munich in Germany as far back as November. The talks were apparently productive and lasted for 11 hours. A second meeting took place in February in Qatar and a third again in Germany in May. Following the meeting in May, the US approached the United Nations to separate the Taliban from Al-Qaeda in the world body’s list of terrorists.

In short, Pakistan’s assumption of being the central player in Afghanistan is under challenge. Make no mistake that the US military has been humbled in the Hindu Kush and Petraeus is leaving the battlefield to head the CIA as a dissatisfied general who failed to win his last war.

The Pentagon surveys the unfinished legacy. Obama warned Pakistan in no uncertain terms in his speech on the drawdown of troops. As a commentator put it, ‘AfPak’ has transformed as ‘PakAf’.

The happening in Kunar has ominous overtones and the Pakistani military leadership senses the need of rethink. As far as India is concerned, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao did the right thing by taking note of incipient signs of rethink. This is a crisis Pakistan has to tackle and the best India can do is not to do or say anything that exacerbates Pakistan’s acute sense insecurity. There is no scope for triumphalism because we too are stakeholders in the outcome of the battle Pakistan is waging for survival.

(The writer is a former diplomat) 

U.S. drones kill four militants in North Waziristan

U.S. drones kill four militants in Pakistan’s Waziristan


(Reuters) – Two U.S. drone aircraft fired three missiles into a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Tuesday, killing at least four militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The drone strike took place in Mir Ali town, 24 km (15 miles) east of the region’s main town of Miranshah.

“The house has been completely destroyed. Militants have cordoned off the area and are removing bodies from rubble,” a local intelligence official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters adding that four militants were killed in the strike.

It was not possible to verify the deaths independently. Militants often dispute official casualty tolls.

North Waziristan is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants and the United States has been pressing Pakistan to launch a military offensive there.

Washington and its Western allies say militants launch attacks on their forces in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

U.S. forces have intensified strikes by remotely-controlled drones in Pakistan’s border regions since the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces in the country on May 2.

Eighty-eight militants were killed by U.S. drones in June, according to a Reuters tally based on statements from intelligence officials.

Pakistan publicly opposes drone attacks, saying they complicate its efforts to fight militants who want to topple the pro-U.S. government and impose strict Islamic rule in the country.

Women-run Afghan media offer untold side of story

Women-run Afghan media offer untold side of story

A man from an aid-distribution team uses a stick to control a crowd of Afghan women who gather to get relief in Kabul 01 March 2002. – AFP Photo

KABUL: Farida Nekzad has faced threats of kidnapping, acid attacks and a plot to blow up her apartment since she founded her first news agency in Afghanistan seven years ago.

Members of the Taliban e-mailed some of the warnings; others arrived over the phone. One caller warned she would be murdered and disfigured so horrendously that her family would not be able to recognise her body.

But the mother-of-one, whose most recent project is a news agency that spearheads coverage of the problems that Afghan women face, is undeterred.

Wakht, or ‘Time’ in Nekzad’s native Dari, is one of a handful of majority female media outlets springing up across a country where women’s voices often go unheard.

It has seven female reporters and three male journalists and operates across 10 provinces.

Nekzad, who has start-up funding from private donors and hopes to become self-supporting through advertising within 18 months, aims to expand from text reports to multimedia ones.

“In 30 years of war, women and children are the ones to suffer the most … but they are not given any attention and have no media coverage,” Nekzad told Reuters, referring to

decades-long violence sparked by the Soviet invasion in 1979.

A long-time journalist with international media awards under her belt, Nekzad first received threats when she co-founded privately-owned news agency Pajhwok, in 2004 in Kabul.

Her husband has also received written warnings saying he would be killed as punishment for his wife’s work. Nekzad’s new project increased the threat to the safety of both.

The only news agency of its kind, Wakht joins five women-owned radio stations spread across Afghanistan, that have also been the target of violence and intimidation.

They face constant opposition from the Taliban, challenges from more conservative sectors of a devoutly Muslim society, and staffing and management issues related to employing women in a country where only a minority work outside the home.

One in Kabul was torched, taking it temporarily off the air.

Female journalists at Radio Sahar, set up in the western city of Herat, say they have received death threats.

A female-run television channel, called Shiberghan TV after the capital of northern Jowzjan province, will air from mid-September, but finding women willing and able to work on camera is a constant struggle.

“Not Easy Being A Female Leader”

Since the austere Taliban government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, women in Afghanistan have won back basic rights in education, voting and work, which the militant group considered un-Islamic.

But they face an uncertain future as Afghan and foreign leaders have embraced the idea of seeking a negotiated end to ten years of war, through talks with the Taliban.

Female Afghan lawmakers and analysts warn the talks could result in women losing the rights they have regained, but still struggle to exercise in a male-dominated society.

“It is not easy being a female leader in Afghanistan. I suffer from it constantly,” said Nekzad, speaking in fluent English and dressed in a velvet black headscarf, long blouse and flowing ebony floor-length skirt.

The 34-year-old was educated in Afghanistan and India, a country she has visited regularly since registering Wakht a year ago, to keep a low profile after the barrage of Taliban threats.

Until March, she turned down invitations to appear on talk shows and at conferences, fearing for her safety.

She leads Wakht’s coverage on domestic violence, the bartering of girls and women between families and the widespread but illegal practice of forced marriages.

Though common across the country, such stories rarely make the mainstream media, despite funding for many outlets coming from Western donors who are keen to promote women’s rights.

And even dedicated outlets struggle. Wakht’s reporters have in the past been lured away by rivals with big cash offers, in what Nekzad sees as an attempt by more conservative factions of society to silence the agency.

“We are also ignored,” Nekzad said, adding that Wakht employees are often not invited to events, and must ask journalists from other outlets about what is taking place.