A Royal Mess

[A “reverse North Waziristan” being staged by American mercenary “Taliban”?  (SEE:  Collaboration Between Pak Army, US Army and TTP Pakistani Taliban).]

A Royal Mess

By Imtiaz Gul

US-Taliban talks
As the US troop drawdown begins, talks over Kabul’s future appear to be headed nowhere

As the US troop drawdown in Afghanistan begins amid news of a mini-surge of ‘special troops’ being relocated from Iraq to Afghanistan, negotiations over Kabul’s future appear to be headed nowhere.

Why should the Taliban step forward for talks if they are not sure of what might befall them two months down the lane? What is there on the table for them as a bait?

The major obstacle is the conflicting, and at times mutually exclusive, concerns and objectives of major stakeholders. The interests of a predominantly non-Pashtun Afghan civilian and military establishment, the interests of the United States that flow from an imposing approach eager to circumvent even President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan’s longterm considerations for its safety in the border regions, and of course its paranoia with what it perceives as a growing Indian footprint in Afghanistan. This cocktail of conflicting interests and competing approaches is sure to keep the pot boiling, with the month of June having been the deadliest in terms of foreign troop casualties (which according to the I-casualties website soared to at least 289 by end June 2011, compared to 711 for the entire 2010).

One would hope that the financial crunch at home would dissuade the US from throwing money at tribal chiefs and drug lords to buy peace. The Americans have already corrupted the Afghan sociopolitical landscape beyond redemption

Let us look at three recent events which underline the fragility of the situation and the vulnerability of the incumbent government in Kabul. On June 28, Taliban militants attacked the heavily guarded Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul, an assault that ended only after Afghan security forces called on their international allies for help. This attack came hours after the head of the Afghan central bank resigned and fled to Washington, where, on June 27, he went public in denouncing the government of President Karzai for its failure to clean up a smoldering banking scandal that involves a number of big guns of the current system.

Earlier, on June 23, a special court that had been commissioned to examine allegations of fraud during last year’s parliamentary elections declared that it was invalidating the mandates of 62 members of the 249-member parliament. That decision essentially suspended the assembly’s work until the lawmakers are replaced. These dramatic but alarming events prompt basic questions about Afghanistan’s underlying stability, and also put a big question mark on the reconciliation process that the United States is pursuing right not.

In last week of May, weekly Der Spiegel magazine reported that Germany had hosted two rounds of talks between “mid-ranking officials from the Obama administration” and representatives of Mullah Omar. It said the talks centred on the possible establishment of US military bases in Afghanistan after it withdraws combat troops, an idea already snubbed by the Taliban, but now being negotiated with the Afghan government, which has referred the matter to its parliament.

The American pointman for the region, Marc Grossman, is desperately looking for genuine interlocutors, particularly those who could get the reclusive Mullah Omar on board the reconciliation process. On the other hand, Gen Petraeus, who oversaw the surge last year, and was a reluctant supporter of the drawdown beginning this July, believes the Taliban need a little more hammering before they could submit to talks dictated by the United States from a position of strength. Petraeus, the new secretary of defence, and many others also have a different view on Pakistan. They believe they could work around the country which shares a 2,560km border with Afghanistan, and which is the major conduit for Afghan and US-NATO troops’ food and fuel supplies. The Karzai government, on the other hand, hopes to gain access to Taliban via the High Peace Council, led by Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani. For this, Karazai, until his latest outburst against alleged “Pakistani shelling of Afghan villages and security posts”, had hoped to coopt Pakistan as well into the “outreach-strategy”. One would hope that Karzai’s anger does not derail the series of bilateral consultations that are aimed at finding common ground for lending some substance to the reconciliation process.

But, at the moment, what matters more than the Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral pursuits is whether the United States a) can develop a consensus within, and b) gives President Karzai and other Afghans a free hand in creating space for reconciliation and a real drawdown in the insurgency.

The divisions in Washington became visible within hours of Obama’s announcement in favour of cutting down troops in Afghanistan, which costs the US and its allies about $2 billion a week (at least a million dollars per foreign soldier). It is clearly the State Department and the White House pitched against the deeply entrenched Pentagon-CIA lobby, with no clear strategy in sight.

Why should the Taliban step forward for talks if they are not sure of what might befall them two months down the lane? What is there on the table for them as a bait? Neither the US nor the Afghan government has put on the table what may be considered as an incentive for the militants. Also, why should the amorphous Taliban compromise their current position when they believe that the major objective the US establishment is pursuing is to fragment the insurgency and then use one faction against the other. Underlying this strategy is the belief that the Taliban are divided with no central authority. That is why the US pressure on Pakistan to decapitate and neutralise the Haqqani network, while it would like to open communication channels with Mullah Omar’s fighters.

Diplomatic sources look at the recent border incursions by Afghan Taliban into Bajaur and Upper Dir areas also as a “motivated campaign” to pressure Pakistan into a crackdown on militants in North Waziristan. Some officials present at a recent ISAF meeting headed by Gen Petraeus called this campaign a “reverse North Waziristan” – a phrase the outgoing chief commander also used with reference to the border skirmishes. The Pakistani shelling is also directly related to these “mercenary attacks” and are easy to interpret; cynics in Islamabad argue that these cross-border attacks from Afghanistan are meant to stretch the Pakistani army even further, engage it at more fronts, thereby creating a situation which the US-led international community can use to make a case for intervention in Pakistan.

At the moment this may be far-fetched but not impossible. It requires both Islamabad and Kabul to watch out and keep the tempers down, rather than escalating the situation through verbal rhetoric. The overriding self-interest of the sole Superpower can turn things topsy turvy if something goes against its plans. And right now, not much is going its way. One would hope that the financial crunch at home would dissuade the US establishment from throwing money at tribal chiefs and drug lords for buying peace. By doing so since the launch of the Operation Enduring Freedom, the Americans have ended up corrupting the Afghan sociopolitical landscape beyond redemption. The looming danger is that if they cannot do it by money this time, they will be tempted to do it by force to claim victory against a reticent but determined Taliban force. And that may not augur well for the region.

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and author of the book “The Most Dangerous Place – Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier email: imtiaz@crss.pk

Moodys Slams Portugal With Junk Bond Rating, An Act of “Economic Vandalism”

Portugal ratings cut by Moody’s angers Europe

by AHN

Vittorio Hernandez – AHN News

Brussels, Belgium (AHN) – The European Commission is angry at ratings agencies following the Tuesday downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service of Portugal’s rating to junk.

EC President Manuel Barroso, the former prime minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004, questioned the international ratings agencies’ objectivity and called the downgrade of Lisbon as financial vandalism.

Barroso blamed the agencies for driving economies into bankruptcy and causing destabilization to the global financial system.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble questioned the lack of justification for Portugal’s four-notch downgrade and Moody’s warning that Portugal may need a second bailout.

UN Office of World Trade and Development Director Heiner Flassbeck sought the dissolution of the ratings agency before they further damage financially struggling nations or a prohibition on the agencies from rating countries.

Pedro Passos Coelho, the new prime minister of Portugal, lamented Moody’s downgrade for hitting the nation despite Lisbon’s efforts to meet requirements of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

A similar cut on Greece’s rating led Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis to call as madness the ratings agencies’ action in the eurozone debt crisis.

Barroso found it strange that none of the three major ratings are based in Europe, apparently unaware that Fitch is French-owned. He said the commission is crafting tougher rules to clamp down on the ratings agencies.

Article © AHN – All Rights Reserved

Obama Offers To Gut the Budget To Achieve Deal With Republicans

[SEE:  The Neoconservative Moment–Trimming the “Dead-Beats” from the National Payroll]

Obama offers $4trn cuts to break deficit deadlock

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Senior Republican Eric Cantor had walked out of earlier talks led by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, but is now talking about getting results

AP

Senior Republican Eric Cantor had walked out of earlier talks led by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, but is now talking about getting results

The fraught negotiations on a US deficit reduction plan gained new impetus yesterday, as President Barack Obama proposed a far larger package of spending cuts and tax increases, including changes in long-sacrosanct government retirement and health care programmes, that would save up to $4trn (£2.5trn) over the next decade. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Congressional leaders from both parties, Mr Obama described the discussions as “very constructive and frank”.

A further round of talks would take place on Sunday when, he hoped, the “hard bargaining” would be done to get a deal. But, he stressed, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

The White House session was the latest attempt to strike a deal that will avert a Republican threat to block an increase in the authorised government debt ceiling. That limit, $14.3trn, has already been reached. Without an increase in place by 2 August, the Treasury says the US Government will start to default on debt repayments for the first time in its history.

With its new gambit, the White House aims to show its seriousness about bringing the country’s finances back on to an even keel, getting under control a budget deficit that will reach $1.5trn in 2011. Administration officials also say a more ambitious package has a better chance that the smaller $2.5trn target the parties have been talking about thus far.

By offering to reduce the benefits paid by Social Security and Medicare, which the Democrats have always defended, Mr Obama is putting pressure on Republicans to drop their resistance to tax increases of any kind. Concentrating everyone’s mind is the approaching debt deadline, amid warnings that even a partial US default would throw world financial markets into chaos.

“I think there’ll be a spirit of trying to get results here,” the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, said as the latest talks started.

The emerging plan still faces stiff opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. Many Democrats fiercely oppose any cut in Medicare benefits in particular, arguing that the party would be deprived of a potent issue in the upcoming election campaign. But Republicans, led by the new Tea Party intake into Congress, still insist that all savings should be secured exclusively by spending cuts that would reduce the size of government.

Some Democrats argue that Mr Obama could settle the issue at a stroke, bypassing Congress entirely and citing the 14th amendment to the US constitution. Passed in 1868, in the wake of the Civil War, the amendment flatly declares that “the validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned”. Some legal scholars say this renders superfluous any congressional attempt to impose a ceiling on that debt.

Turkmenistan: Photos and videos from Abadan – bombed a suburb of Ashgabat

Turkmenistan: Photos and videos from Abadan – bombed a suburb of Ashgabat

Ferghana

Website of the Turkmen human rights activists , “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” published a few photos from the event – the town of Abadan, twenty kilometers from the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, where last night and tonight was heavy fire and exploded and stores of weapons and ammunition.

Exploding Abadan
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Exploding Abadan
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Exploding Abadan
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Exploding Abadan
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Exploding Abadan FIREWORKS?  yeah, sure.
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Exploding Abadan
Photo © «Chronicles of Turkmenistan”

Northern Alliance-Based Afghan Intelligence Agent Wipes-Out Provincial Reconstruction Team In Panjshir

Afghan official kills two NATO soldiers in Panjshir: police

BAZARAK, Afghanistan

(Reuters) – An agent from Afghanistan’s intelligence unit opened fire at a foreign base on Saturday, killing two soldiers from the NATO-led coalition and wounding a third, the police chief of normally peaceful northern Panjshir province said.

The agent from the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was in the Panjshir valley for personal reasons, when he got into an argument with soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), police chief General Qaseem Junglebagh told Reuters.

“He had a pistol, opened fire and killed two soldiers from the PRT. He injured a third who opened fire and killed the NDS agent,” Junglebagh said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed there had been a shooting in Panjshir that caused “a number of ISAF casualties” but declined to comment further.

The deaths are the latest in a string of killings of foreign troops by Afghan security forces. Often NATO forces have been targeted by men they were mentoring or fighting beside.

The deputy governor of Panjshir, Abdul Rahman Kabiri, also confirmed two soldiers had been killed, and said the NDS agent worked in Kabul but was originally from Panjshir’s Dara district, where the shooting took place.

Kabiri and Junglebagh said they had no details on the cause of the argument.

Panjshir and Bamiyan, which have long been peaceful anti-Taliban strongholds, are the only provinces that will be handed over in their entirety in the first phase of transition. Both are already largely in Afghan hands.

A month ago, an Italian civilian was killed in a dispute with villagers in Panjshir province. It was the first killing of a foreigner in the province in years.

Other areas slated for transition include the cities of Herat in the west, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand in the south, long a Taliban stronghold and still one of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Ahmad Qiam, writing by Emma Graham-Harrison, editing by Michelle Nichols and Sugita Katyal)

Gul Bahadur Blames “US Agents” for Miramshah IED Attack On Convoy

Taliban deny hand in attack on convoy

By Pazir Gul
Three security personnel were killed and 14 others injured when the convoy was attacked with an IED.—APP photo

MIRAMSHAH: The Taliban leadership in North Waziristan has reacted sharply to a recent bomb attack on a convoy in the area, saying the US agents — not the Taliban militants —had attacked the military personnel to achieve their own objectives.

Three security personnel were killed and 14 others injured on Tuesday when the convoy was attacked with an improvised explosive device. Security forces, believing militants holed up in a local hospital were behind the strike, demolished the facility on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Taliban Shura met at an undisclosed location. A one-page statement released after the meeting, which was presided over by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said: “Mujahideen Shura of the North Waziristan gives last warning to those elements who carried out the improvised explosive device attack and opened fire from main bazaar a few days ago. If these people don’t stop their activities then action will be taken against them.”

The Shura asked the Taliban and their supporters to kill those elements who were involved in criminal activities and said the Taliban would own responsibility for their action.

Gul Bahadur said that Mujahideen could never commit such acts, adding the US agents were involved in these activities to serve its interests.

He said the Taliban had never used bazaars and other public places for attacks and had no plan to do so in future.

Karachi Ethnic Cleansers Moving-Up To Grenades and RPGs

No end to killings as grenade, rocket attacks mounted

Policemen investigate the site of a burnt clothing market in a violence-hit western neighbourhood of Karachi.—AFP

KARACHI: Arson, hand grenade and rocket attacks made Friday the deadliest day of recent violence, which was earlier restricted to targeted killings mainly in the western district, as it spread to southern and eastern parts of the metropolis, police and witnesses said.

At least 23 more people, including two young boys, were killed by midnight in the city where routine businesses remained suspended amid fears of violence and a call for what the Muttahida Qaumi Movement had said would be a peaceful protest and mourning.

While most killings were carried out in Orangi Town and the old city areas, more than half a dozen shops were burnt in Aligarh Colony and a commercial centre was set on fire in Kharadar. Besides, arsonists set fire to a truck in New Karachi, a rickshaw in Gulistan-i-Jauhar and a taxi in a Drigh Road area.

In the early hours, four rockets were fired in Turk Muhallah, Mujahidabad, Patni Muhallah and Gujarat Muhallah of Baldia Colony though they did not cause any casualty.

Eighteen-year-old Iqbal Arifeen was gunned down in an early morning attack by armed riders in Orangi Town Sector 11-1/2 within the remit of the Iqbal Market police station. The firing also left his paternal uncle, Qadem Khan, 34, wounded.

A young man, Arshad, was shot dead within the remit of the Mominabad police station. Qasba Colony remained the worst-affected area with the killing of six people within a span of a few hours in separate incidents of firing.

An official at the Pirabad police station said armed attacks reported in Qasba Colony No 1½ and 2½ claimed lives of 24-year-old Saifullah, 27-year-old Sakhi-ur-Rahman, 31-year-old Akbar alias Jumman. Intense firing also left 29-year-old Muhammad Usman and 10-year-old Yousuf Khan dead and four others, including a 12-year-old girl, wounded.

Also from the same area, the body of an unidentified young man was brought to the Qatar Hospital in Orangi Town.

The Kati Pahari trouble spot witnessed two more killings on Friday. Rafiullah and Muhammad Arif were gunned down in separate incidents of firing, said an official of the Shahrah-i-Noor Jehan police station.

In Saeedabad, three youngsters were killed in an armed attack in Sector 9-D. Two of them were identified as Amjed Masih and Bismillah Khan, a police official said. All the three bodies were shifted to the Civil Hospital Karachi, he added.

In Gulshan-i-Iqbal, armed men near Hassan Square opened fire on a rickshaw, a taxi and two cars which were passing through Sir Shah Muhammad Suleman Road.

The firing killed grocery trader Dost Muhammad and left his two brothers, Lal Muhammad and Noor Muhammad, badly wounded, said an official at the Aziz Bhatti police station.

“The deadly attack also claimed the life of another young man, Muhammad Danial,” the official said. He added that all victims and bodies were shifted to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.

Firing in New Karachi Sector 5-M left a 60-year-old scrap dealer, Ghulam Sarwar, dead and two others wounded, police said.

In Baldia Town, a 12-year-old boy was hit by a stray bullet and died during treatment at the Civil Hospital. “Shah Abad was a resident of Ranghar Muhallah in Sector-7 and suffered a gunshot wound near his home,” a police official said.

In Malir, officials said, a young man was found shot dead in Model Colony. The body with a bullet in the head was shifted to hospital.

The old city areas, which had remained somewhat calm during the past three days, witnessed several hand-grenade and arson attacks besides firing incidents on Friday.

A 32-year-old watchman, Abdul Qayyum Gujjar, was gunned down in firing near Bombay Bazaar within the remit of the Kharadar police station. The victim was father of three and hailed from Bhurewala in Punjab, the police said.

In the same vicinity near the Machi Miani Market on G.Alana Road, a 29-year-old labour, Fazal-ur-Rehman, met the same fate. “He was a resident of Lyari and originally belonged to Mansehra,” said an official at the Kharadar police station.

The area witnessed yet another killing later when armed men targeted 42-year-old Noor Muhammad Khan near Sheedi Village.

The victim was said to be an activist of the Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party and originally hailed from Quetta.

Earlier, armed riders on two motorbikes lobbed off a hand-grenade at people preparing to open shops near Bhimpura that left three of them dead.

“Two victims have been identified as Hussain Ghahchi and Maoo Jee while another one remained unidentified,” said an official at the Napier police station.