Bear nettles the eagle, dragon smiles

Bear nettles the eagle, dragon smiles

By M K Bhadrakumar

From an apparently impromptu remark on Monday, the United States has elevated the Russian parliamentary election held on December 5 to a core issue of US-Russia ties. The dramatic escalation of rhetoric scatters the continued pretences over the Barack Obama administration’s “reset” of relations.

In a swift move, Beijing has also stepped forward to express understanding for Moscow. The faultlines will impact on the regional and international situation on a host of issues in the coming period.

To recap, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost no time to offer comment on the Russian parliamentary election when speaking on the sidelines of the Bonn Conference II in Germany on Monday, she aimed barbs at the Kremlin claiming she was “worried” about the conduct of the ballot and “Russian people, like people everywhere deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted”.

Clinton spoke out even before the results of the election were fully available. In fact, a complete vote count was available from the vast regions of Russia only on Wednesday. It revealed that the ruling party United Russia (UR) suffered a severe jolt by losing as many as 77 seats they held in the outgoing 450-member parliament. The UR scraped through with a simple majority of 238 seats.

Clinton made it out to be that the Kremlin orchestrated a Soviet-style 98% victory for the UR. While Western media have gone to town interpreting the result as a big “defeat” for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who is making a bid for presidency in the election on March 4), Clinton argued in a diametrically opposite direction as if the Kremlin leadership trampled the popular opinion and consolidated its grip on power.

Curiously, Clinton didn’t let go the topic after her remarks in Bonn, but revisited it the very next day to give a further stinging rebuke to the Russian leadership from a high-profile podium right in Russia’s doorstep – Vilnius, Lithuania – in the presence of the entire community of the post-Soviet states and Old and New Europe. Her choice of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) forum was particularly symbolic since the regional body is the inheritor of the Cold War legacy of the famous Helsinki Accords of 1975.

What prompted the US onslaught? A simple explanation could be that Clinton grabbed a chance to throw mud at Putin and make his bid for the presidency in the Kremlin in the Russian presidential election on March 4 as difficult and as controversial as possible.

A spring in mid-winter 
Indeed, enough indications were available in recent weeks that Washington felt annoyed at the high probability of Putin’s return as Russia’s president at a formative period in world politics. Putin means an assertive Russia – a Russia that will negotiate hard to influence world events, a Russia that will cement its cooperation and coordination with China, a Russia that will forcefully counter the US’s crucial Middle East project to re-establish its hegemony over the region in the new conditions of “democracy”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry routinely ridiculed Clinton’s remark, but Moscow’s reaction finally came when Putin spoke on Wednesday after letting the US secretary of state say all she had to say. Putin tore into Clinton. He said:

I looked at the first reaction of our US colleagues. The [US] secretary of state was quick to evaluate the elections, saying that they are unfair and unjust, even before she received materials from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights [OSCE] observers. She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal. They heard the signal, and with the support of the US State Department, began active work.

Putin then went on to allege that “hundreds of millions” of foreign money have been used to influence the outcome of Russia’s elections and Russia must protect its sovereignty:

When money from abroad is invested in political activities inside another country, this concerns us … We are not against foreign observers monitoring our election process. But when they begin motivating some organizations inside the country, which claim to be domestic but in fact are funded from abroad … this is unacceptable. We will have to think about improving our laws in order to make those fulfilling the tasks of a foreign state aimed at influencing our domestic [political] process more responsible.

The response is strongly worded, no doubt, and four things must be noted. One, this has been a rare personal accusation of Clinton herself for inciting instability in Russia. Two, Putin segregated the US State Department within the Barack Obama administration as working according to a plan of action. Three, Putin hinted at hard evidence of US meddling in the hands of the Russian intelligence. Finally, he indicated that Moscow won’t take this lying low.

Clinton can hardly complain that Putin took a personal tone. The US State Department’s campaign against Putin had of late assumed a vicious tone even by the standards of the tumultuous Russian-American relations. A fortnight ago Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) featured a report over Putin’s personal life, with the seeming intent of animating an anti-Putin tsunami in the social media network in Russia.

One cannot recall Russian official media descending to such abysmally poor taste to attack Bill Clinton even at the peak of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. In retrospect, the US seems to have anticipated that the Russian intelligence had come in possession of hard evidence pointing toward the American meddling in Russian politics. The RFE/RL commentary would appear to have been a diversionary measure to get the eagle out of the trap that was actually intended for the bear.

Clinton’s attempt seems to have been broadly in the same direction when she took to the high ground and made Russia’s election an epochal issue of the progress of democracy in the 21st century. From this point, actually, Obama administration is left with no alternative but the ridiculous one of kindling a Tahrir Square-like eruption in Moscow.

According to the tabulation by the New York Times, by Thursday evening more than 32,000 people had clicked a Facebook page to say they would gather near the Kremlin. The daily carefully assessed, “Even if half that number showed up, that would make it the largest political protest since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

But the advent of the Arab Spring in the middle of the Russian winter in Moscow can only have predictable consequences. Beijing is also watching the unnatural phenomenon. If the New York Times senses that Putin “struggled to regain his footing after his party, United Russia, suffered big losses in the elections on Sunday”, attentive observers in Beijing have concluded otherwise.

It’s Putin, stupid!
Even as Clinton in spoke in Bonn on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei drew just the opposite conclusions. He said, “We [China] believe that the election will be beneficial for Russia’s social unity, national stability and economic development.” He said China respected the choice of the Russian people, and would work with the Russians to push forward the “comprehensive partnership of coordination” between the two countries.

China made a deliberate decision to take a clear-cut stance as early as Monday although the reverse suffered by UR in the poll was known in Beijing. The Xinhua news agency in a pithy comment with Beijing dateline on Monday had even added a note of caution:

Despite looking very likely to win the parliamentary election, many challenges lie ahead for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, as it comes to terms with a severely reduced majority. Some analysts are citing the poor state of Russia’s economy for the drop in support. The party is also seen by many as having failed to reduce corruption, and not carrying out promises to improve government efficiency. There has also been a large amount of criticism of Putin’s government on Internet chat rooms and online forums.

By Tuesday, however, Xinhua carried a full commentary strongly rebutting the US allegations and the “caricature-like description” of the “forgone conclusion that Russia’s ruling party United Russia, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has won the State Duma elections”.

The nuanced commentary estimated that the core issue was not ‘democracy’ in Russia, but Putin:

Putin’s world-view is said to be ‘anti-western’ … American politicians have no interest in seeing the ‘tough guy’ at the apex of Russian power … the White House will not be delighted at the prospect of dealing with ‘prickly’ President Putin again … Russia’s election is just in line with its own interest, far from echoing the need of Western countries. Mrs Clinton’s reaction seems understandable.

Xinhua noted that Russia’s policies did not always concord with its own self-interest and at times Moscow preferred to act on issues in line with the “Western practice”, but even then, such acts “could not be a precise docking” with the western agenda and therefore, Western pressures on Russia continue. The commentary, by the way, was attributed to the People’s Daily columnist Li Hongmei.

Quite obviously, China is keeping in view the big picture of the power dynamic on the world scene. Beijing never quite concealed its high regard for Putin as a consistent advocate of the imperatives of Sino-Russian strategic ties. But the current acrimony in the US-Russia relations also comes at a crucial juncture for China.

On a range of fronts, coordination with Russia has become a very vital aspect of the Chinese regional policy. Not less than four times, top Chinese foreign ministry officials traveled to Moscow for consultations through the month of November.

The Russian-Chinese coordination is at an all-time high level. Their “joint” veto in the United Nations Security Council over the resolution regarding Syria has no parallel. They followed up blocking a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission at Geneva from being transferred to the Security Council in New York. Beijing helped Moscow to get the BRICS adopt Russia’s stance on Syria as its common position.

On Iran, too, the two countries are thwarting the US moves to impose additional sanctions. (Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin recently suggested that it is time the UN Security Council rolls back even the existing sanctions regime.) On Asia-Pacific, Russia stands by China in accordance with the two countries’ joint statement adopted last year in September.

Russia and China both oppose the establishment of US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military bases in Afghanistan. They are both interested in enhancing Pakistan’s strategic autonomy. They worked together at the recent Istanbul conference (November 2) to derail Clinton’s pet New Silk Road project. A high water mark will probably be reached when Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin travels to Beijing (and Tehran) to discuss the US’s missile defense (ABM) program, which is posing a major hurdle in the US-Russia relations.

Beijing has been closely but silently viewing the US-Russia shadow play over ABM and Rogozin’s consultations must be on the basis of quiet signals that Beijing wants to talk things over. Russia and China have specific interests on the ABM issue, but any degree of coordination, however tentative, would still form a new template in international security.

Above all, Beijing counts on Putin to somehow ensure that the pending negotiations over a trillion-dollar gas deal are concluded at an early date. With the US establishing a military base in Australia and strengthening its presence in Singapore and also rallying the Asian countries to help revitalize its leadership role, China’s energy security concerns are becoming acute.

In sum, the trajectory of the current US-Russia acrimony and Putin’s success in weathering the furious American onslaught on his political career are of the highest importance to China. If the eagle has actually ended up in a trap it thought it had set up for the bear, that becomes a matter of joy for the dragon.

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.

Kabul attack: Did ISI exact revenge on Afghanistan in the aftermath of Mohmand?

Kabul attack: Did ISI exact revenge on Afghanistan in the aftermath of Mohmand?

A number of well coordinated attacks clearly targeting Shia Muslims in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar have killed at least 58 Shias in Afghanistan. A Pakistani anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has accepted the responsibility of the attacks. (Source)

A spokesman for an Pakistani extremist group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Almi claimed responsibility in a phone call to Radio Mashaal – a Pashto language radio station. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, (LeJ) is a murderous anti-Shia group founded which acts act as surrogate for Taliban and al-Qaida. The Pakistani Taliban has its roots in anti-Shia violence, and LeJ acted as the training ground for its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. LeJ maintained training camps in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime but has not mounted attacks in Afghanistan in recent years. The group is believed to be supported by Pakistan’s spy agency, ISI. The group also claimed responsibility for the massacre of 29 Shia pilgrims on a bus in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province in September, and an attack on an Ashura procession in Karachi in 2009 which killed 30 people. Earlier this year, the Pakistani courts freed Malik Ishaq, one of LeJ’s founders. Ishaq had faced dozens of murder charges but the courts said there was lack of evidence – his group had allegedly killed numerous witnesses who may have testified against him. (Source)

LeJ is one of several aliases of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) or Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamat (ASWJ), a group with known links with Pakistan’s military establishment. Recently, its chief Malik Ishaq, a confessed killer of more than 70 Shia Muslims, was released by Pakistan ISI-backed judiciary. According to a recent statement by Human Rights Watch“Some Sunni extremist groups are known to have links to the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies.” It is, however,  a fact that LeJ-SSP does not represent majority of moderate Sunni Muslims. In fact, it represents its Saudi-ISI masters.

The attacks on Afghanistan’s Shia Muslims mourning Imam Hussain highlight the terrifying vision of Pakistan’s foreign policy elite who favour a return to Taliban rule in Afghanistan,  as per the recommendations of the USIP-Jinnah Institute report.  Towards this end, the ISI has undermined the elected government by first entrapping Hussain Haqqani and forcing a replacement with the more plaint, Sherry Rehman of the Jinnah Institute.

The undermining of the PPP government by pro-Taliban policians like Imran Khan (PTI) and Nawaz Sharif (PML N) has been facilitated by a politically-biased Judiciary which has also done its best to release Lashkar-e-Jhangvi mass murderers.  These developments are carefully caliberated to ensure that the security establishment’s goal of “Strategic Depth” is revived and those who disagree with the Taliban are removed from the scene.  The recent boycott of the Bonn Conference (widely believed to have been dictated by the security establishment) is also linked to the attacks on Shia muslim mourners in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, contrary to Pakistan pro-establishment media, the mass murder of Shias is NOT a sectarian conflict. The tragic attacks on Shia mourners of Imam Hussain, the Holy Prophet’s grand-son, in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of an ideology whose manifesto is very clear as per this letter of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Operating under different names such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Taliban, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Jundullah, these terrorists share a common ideology as well as logistical patronage and financial support.  Mercenaries move freely from one group to another and this nexus is responsible for not just the mass murder of Shia muslims.  The same groups also target Ahmedi Muslims, Sunni Muslims (both Barelvis and anti-Taliban Deobandis) and Christains.

In the deadliest incident today (Ashura 2011), a suspected suicide bomb struck a shrine packed with Shia mourners of Ashura in the capital, Kabul, killing at least 54 people. Another blast struck near a Shia mosque the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif at about the same time, killing four. A third attack on Shia Muslims was reported in Kandahar in which five persons were injured.

Ashura is the climax of Muharram, the month of mourning for the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. The event is celebrated by Shia and Sunnis with respect and devotion to the family of the Prophet Muhammad. However, Saudi Salafis/ Wahhabis and the Saudi-ISI affected extremist Deobandis in Pakistan and elsewhere consider the Ashura event as un-Islamic.

Though Taliban have in the past massacred Afghan Shias in Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan, there is not much precedence of such attack on Shia Muslims’ Ashura gathering in Afghanistan. Therefore, the current attack has all the hallmarks of similar attacks by ISI-SCP backed LeJ-SSP terrorists on Shia Muslims in Pakistan. Taliban’s Haqqani Network has close links with SSP-LeJ, both groups are currently besieging Toori Shias of Parachinar with the help of Pakistan’s ISI.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of the unprecedented nature of the attack, saying it was “the first time that, on such an important religious day in Afghanistan, terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place”.

The near-simultaneous explosions happened at about midday (07:30 GMT). In Kabul, the bomb went off near a gathering of hundreds of Shias singing at the Abu Fazal shrine. Fifty-four people were killed in the blast, said health ministry spokesman Norughli Kargar, while 150 were injured. The bomb which exploded near the main mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif was apparently strapped to a bicycle, and went off shortly after the Kabul blast. Balkh province Deputy Police Chief Abdul Raouf Taj said the device exploded as a convoy of Shias, shouting in celebration of Ashura, passed by, AP reported. At least 4 Shias were killed and 20 were injured. Elsewhere, police said at least three people were wounded by a motorcycle bomb in the southern city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland.

The attacks come a day after an international conference on Afghanistan’s future was held, in the German city of Bonn. Pakistan boycotted the conference, after a Nato attack killed 24 of its troops at a checkpoint near the Afghan border last month.

Grave of one of the Ashura attack victims in Kabul’s Kart-e-Sakhi


Pakistan upgrades air defences on Afghan border

Pakistan upgrades air defences on Afghan border


Offici­al says steps taken to avert air incurs­ions from Afghan­istan and to respon­d to any future air strikes. PHOTO: AFP/ FILE

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has upgraded its air defence system on the Afghan border to make it capable of shooting down aircraft,after Nato strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, a security official told AFP on Friday.

“Now we have a fully equipped air defence system on the Afghan border. It has the capability to trace and detect any aircraft,” the official in the northwestern city of Peshawar told AFP by telephone.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the step had been taken to avert air incursions from Afghanistan and to respond to any future air strikes.

“The system has also been upgraded to immediately respond after detecting any aircraft or helicopter and to shoot it down,” he added.

Pakistan shut its border to Nato supply convoys on November 26, the same day as the deadliest single cross-border attack of the 10-year war in Afghanistan.

The government also ordered the United States to leave the Shamsi air base in the southwest, widely reported as a hub in the covert CIA drone war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s border area with Afghanistan.

Pakistan gave tacit support to the programme, but no US drone strike has been reported on Pakistani soil since November 17.

The November 26 attacks brought the fragile Pakistani-US alliance to a fresh low, already reeling from an American stealth raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden near the Pakistani capital on May 2.

It was after that raid, conducted by US Navy SEALs who flew in from Afghanistan, that Pakistan first upgraded its defence systems on the border.

US President Barack Obama has expressed condolences over the November 26 border deaths, insisting it was not a “deliberate attack” by Nato as claimed by the Pakistani army.

Pentagon Thinks That “Real Men” Don’t Need Sissy Psych Help

Pentagon opposes mental health program for Guard

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

The Pentagon is urging Congress not to create a mental health program for National Guardsoldiers that backers argue is necessary at a time when suicides among them are at record levels.

“I was really surprised that the Department of Defensedecided to oppose this,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “It’s just a no-brainer to make sure that this is out there for every Guard and Reserve member wherever they live.”

The Pentagon says the program, which would embed mental health workers in Guard and Reserve units when they train one weekend a month, is unnecessary and would be difficult to staff at a time when “mental health providers are in short supply nationally,” according toDefense Department position paper.

However, advocates such as the National Guard Association of the United States say that a pilot program in California, using civilian counselors part-time, has helped link 16,000 state guardsmen with mental health services since its inception in 2006.

Murray released Pentagon data Thursday showing that more National Guard troops have died from suicide each of the past five years than were killed in combat or died of accidents or illnesses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were 146 suicides among non-active duty Guard and Reserve soldiers last year, pushing total Army suicides to a record level. This year through October, 98 non-active duty Guard and Reserve soldiers have committed suicide, the Army says.

A House version of the Pentagon funding bill includes the program. Murray says that as the two chambers hammer out a compromise on Defense funding in days ahead, Pentagon opposition could kill it.

The program goal is to encourage troubled soldiers to seek counseling when they need it. The military already does something similar for active-duty units, embedding therapists both stateside and in the war zones.

TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a contractor with TRICARE, the military’s health care plan, sponsored the California pilot program. The result was that among soldiers who went into counseling, the percentage who self-referred increased from 36% to 57%, according to TriWest.

“That’s the big hurdle, getting someone to talk to somebody,” said Scott Celley, a TriWest spokesman.

The therapist are available to talk and, where serious issues arise, make referrals, in some cases to free community resources for soldiers who are unemployed or otherwise without health insurance, says Army Col. Darc Keller, with the California National Guard.

About 40% of soldiers in one aviation unit recently returned from combat were without civilian jobs, Keller said.

CIS Secret Agencies Endorse the American Deception of a Central Asian Terrorist Underground

[Individual secret agencies are coming together to declare a common threat in Central Asia from a non-existent terrorist underground.  This is setting the stage for the coming creation of a Central Asian rapid reaction force (to be used primarily for crushing political dissent), without defining the author of that budding force.  Will it be Western-oriented or Russian, in composition, or will there be two competing forces? 

The only links between “al-CIA-da”-linked terrorist groups anywhere in the world is the common denominator of the CIA hand.  If there are roving bands of irregular warfare fighters prowling around select Central Asian countries the real question is.  The CIA has turned mass-murder into an art form, creating a prototype of roving gang which is familiar to all governments by now.   Which government is behind the alleged “Islamists” of Central Asia, American, or copycat competitors?  Every government has learned from watching American covert warfare over the past thirty years, especially for the past ten years.  Did the Kazakh president manufacture his own “Islamists,” to justify a wave of political repression, just as Bakiyev allegedly raised the specter of Mullah Abdullah to provide cover for ethnic rioting unleashed in the Osh region in southern Kyrgyzstan?  Did Karimov claim unseen “terrorists” blew that railroad bridge to cover his feud with Tajikistan? 

Everyone has learned that anybody can commit any act of violence and blame it on mysterious, though unseen, “militant Islamists.”  The Pandora’s Box of “limited warfare” has been opened and no one can slam it shut.]

Secret services say about the presence in Central Asia, domestic extremist underground


The special services of CIS countries to recognize the presence of Central Asian domestic extremist underground, passesKirTAG .

“We have to note the existence of an internal underground in the form of extremist organizations operating in Central Asia.Events in the north and south of Kazakhstan , as well as in the Rasht Valley of Tajikistan showed infiltration of extremists from outside and building sustainable communities within the countries of Central Asia “- December 9, said first deputy chairman of the Counterterrorism Center of the CIS countries Moldiyar Orozaliev in the course of the Bishkek expert advice of representatives of the practical units to combat terrorism and extremism, security agencies and special services of CIS countries of Central Asia.

The press office of the CIS ATC, the meeting was attended by experts of the ATC, the committees and the national security services of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan , Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan , as well as representatives of the CIS bodies, as the Coordination Council Service Commanders of Border Troops and the Office for the Coordination of anti- organized crime and other dangerous types of crimes on the territory of the Commonwealth.

According to the participants, the current operational situation in the Central Asian region can be characterized as a stable instability. There is still a wide range of threats specific to this region: the radicalization of populations, including those based on the use of distorted religious slogans, drug trafficking, the trend towards greater international and extremist organizations.

Significant impact on security in the region continue to have the processes taking place in the northern areas borderingAfghanistan .

“Security in the region can not cause us concern. This is due to negative trends as in Kyrgyzstan and abroad because of the proximity to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where the threat of terrorism. Recently, we are concerned and the situation in Kazakhstan. One can not ignore the factor of external forces interested in destabilizing the situation in the country “, – noted, in particular, the first deputy chairman of the National Security Committee of Kyrgyzstan Kolbay Musaev, transfers .

According to him, in Central Asia are experiencing increased religiosity of the population and the politicization of Islam, but on the basis of propaganda on the Internet and radical Islam, there are autonomous terrorist cells. Many terrorist and extremist organizations provoke ethnic conflict, realizing that this is one of the most vulnerable places.

According to experts ATC, special attention of the security and intelligence services of the CIS should be focused on counter-terrorism and anti-sabotage protection of energy infrastructure, transportation, communication facilities, as well as algorithms Exercises joint action anti-terrorist unit of the Commonwealth, directed, First of all, to prevent terrorist attacks.

The international news agency “Fergana”

In Tajikistan, they do not believe in version pro terrorist attack on the railway in Uzbekistan

In Tajikistan, they do not believe in version pro terrorist attack on the railway in Uzbekistan


Closure of the railway line Amuzang-Khatlon from Uzbek railroad company “Uzbekistan Railways” is purely political. As the correspondent of IA REGNUM , this is noted in a joint statement, consignors and consignees of Tajikistan issued on December 8.

“The railway line closed-Khatlon Amuzang Uzbekistan unilaterally for more than 20 days, and the fact that the Uzbek side leaves unanswered queries about the timing of Tajikistan resumption of freight trains on the specified route indicates that Uzbekistan has a purely political purposes, a terrorist attack allegedly occurred is invented, “- said in a statement.

As we already reported , the railway line Amuzang-Khatlon was closed by the Uzbek side in the middle of November.Uzbekistan explained this fact by the explosion, allegedly occurred at 31 km “Galaba-Amuzang” and the destruction of the foundations of the bridge.

The international news agency “Fergana”