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Project Taliban

Project Taliban

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Project Taliban

Religious seminaries have a long history but Taliban (students of the seminaries) emerged as an independent and separate political entity in mid 1990s. They ostensibly rose as a player in Afghan politics to fill the vacuum created by the dramatic decline of former mujahideen in the early 1990s but the Taliban movement bore a clear made-in-Pakistan mark on it for three reasons.

First, almost 95 percent of them were trained in religious seminaries in Pakistan as Afghan refugee children along with locals were attracted by the widening network of seminaries operating in Pakistan, mostly with the financial support of Arab countries. Religious education imparted by the aforementioned seminaries was characterised by the Wahabi school of thought. The students were politicised as these seminaries were run by Pakistani religious political parties who used these institutions as their political base. Religious political parties belonging to the Deobandi school in Pakistan took pride in regarding these Taliban as extension of their political and sectarian influence in Afghanistan. The formation of the “Council for the Defense of Afghanistan” by Pakistani religious political parties to defend the Taliban regime in 2000 was a clear demonstration of this fact.

Second, the Taliban, like their predecessor mujahideen, were launched and facilitated by the Pakistani security establishment to establish hegemony over Afghanistan. In fact the Taliban have been considered an important strategic asset for implementing the policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. This explains prolonged Pakistani support for and investment in the project. In the 1990s Taliban offices functioned openly in all the major cities of Pakistan.

Third, before formally and systematically launching Talibanisation inside Afghanistan, the Taliban led by Molvi Sufi Mohammad, had worked on a pilot project of imposing “Sharia” in the Malakand division of Khyber Pakhtukhwa province in Pakistan. When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and started ruling Afghanistan Talibanisation started gripping FATA. Taliban ascendency in the area increased as their leadership retreated from Afghanistan after the collapse of their regime in Kabul after 9/11. They regrouped on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line and started a new stage of war in Afghanistan in 2003. The TTP though technically a separate entity has enjoyed close ideological and organisational relationship with the main body of the Taliban. The TTP fighters are fighting in Afghanistan along side their Afghan comrades and the TTP also depend on their Afghan counterparts for sanctuaries in the Afghan border areas where Afghan government’s writ is minimal.

There are a number of myths attached with Taliban in the state sponsored narrative over the years as the Taliban became the backbone of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. They are projected as the so-called resistance movement against foreign occupation. Nothing can be further from truth. From their inception in 1994 till 9/11 they fought against Afghans as there was not a single foreign soldier on Afghan soil during that period. They have basically waged war against the Afghan state. The Taliban fought to overthrow the regime led by Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Masood. They also attacked Gulbadin Hikmatyar’s organisation and other Afghan factions. In fact their links with Al Qaida and their support for OBL turned Afghanistan into a theater for international military conflict.

Similarly to camouflage their mercenary nature Taliban they also projected themselves as “representatives of Pashtuns” against the domination of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This is again a very misleading spin. Talibanisation is first and foremost aimed at decimating historical Pashtun national identity and is also geared towards demonising Pashtuns in regional and international politics. Pashtun culture has been the main victim of the Taliban onslaught. In fact Pashtuns in Afghanistan have suffered the most because of Taliban attacks in terms of loss of life and destruction of infrastructure. It is also hardly a coincidence that Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan have borne the brunt of Taliban’s terrorist attacks in Pakistan. In a similar vein it is claimed that Taliban can’t be defeated in Afghanistan. In fact they are defeated on daily basis in Afghanistan, but their sanctuaries on the east of Durand Line enable them to carry on and launch fresh attacks.

Discussing the Taliban Project here is not meant to deny other factors responsible for war in Afghanistan. It is a fact that Afghanistan has been a victim of the machinations of the imperial “Great Games” and Cold War rivalries. Big powers including the erstwhile Soviet Union, US and European Powers cannot absolve themselves from the responsibility of bloodshed and destruction in Afghanistan during the last decades. But the present stalemate in resolving the conflict in and around Afghanistan is due to Taliban.

In the 2014 Pakistan visit of Dr. Ashraf Ghani Pakistani leadership had promised to facilitate talks between the Afghan government and Taliban. It was also decided that while forging peace with reconcilable elements, both the countries will fight together against those who refuse to enter the peace process. The Taliban have used this engagement to launch a full fledged war against Afghan state. They have owned responsibility for some horrendous terrorist attacks in Afghanistan particularly in Kabul. Afghan public opinion has seriously turned against negotiation with Taliban. Taliban have failed to develop any significant political capital on both sides of the Durand Line due to their undeniable links with terrorist activities. The paradox of Pakistani policy is that it is crushing them in Pakistani territory but supporting them in Afghanistan. It is very difficult for Pakistan to deny responsibility for Taliban activities in a situation where Mr. Sartaj Aziz has formally accepted the presence of Taliban leadership in Pakistan.

Project Taliban, a remnant of Cold War, is a hindrance to peace in Afghanistan. It is the biggest obstacle in establishing normal state to state relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also the most major source of regional instability in South and Central Asia that threatens the prospects of important regional economic development projects and regional connectivities such as CPEC, TAPI and other initiatives. Pakistan has to take rethink its policy about Project Taliban. It will go a long way in transforming Pakistan into a normal state.

CSX Train Bearing Hazardous Material Derails Two Miles From Capitol In Washington, D.C.

900 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE.

Train derails in DC, leaks hazardous material – fire fighters

Russia-Today

The DC fire service has issued a warning about a derailed train on the city’s Rhode Island Avenue.

A number of wagons have left the track in the Road Island Avenue area of the city. There are no reports of any fires, though a liquid substance is leaking from one of the cars.

Hazmat fire trucks have arrived at the scene, while the area is being isolated.

As a precaution, Rhode Island Metro and Rhode Island Avenue have been shut down. The train was being run by the CSX transportation company.

NATO Building-Up Border With Russia, 4,000 Additional Troops To Baltic

NATO Allies Preparing to Put Four Battalions at Eastern Border With Russia

Wall Street Journal

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense says buildup is response to Moscow’s military activity near the Baltics

NATO and U.S. flags flutter as a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter flies over the military air base in Siauliai, Lithuania on Wednesday. NATO and U.S. flags flutter as a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter flies over the military air base in Siauliai, Lithuania on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Western allies are preparing to put four battalions—a force of about 4,000 troops—in Poland and the Baltic countries as part of an effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to reinforce its border with Russia as Moscow steps up military activity, officials said Friday.

The U.S. is likely to provide two battalions, while Germany and Britain would likely provide a battalion each, according to Western officials.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, visiting Brussels, confirmed the overall size of the force and said the buildup was a response to more Russian activity around the Baltics—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—where tensions have been rising.

“The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops,” Mr. Work said in an interview. “From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.”

Russian officials have repeatedly said their own buildup and exercises are a response to NATO’s troop buildup and aggressive posture to Moscow.

NATO defense ministers in February approved in principle the deployment of an Eastern European troop presence, though diplomats said the new contribution numbers aren’t finalized. NATO’s military arm, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, has sent the recommendations to the alliance headquarters in Brussels, where they are being reviewed.

NATO officials want to make sure the force is multinational and are asking smaller allies to make contributions, such as logisticians, for supporting forces.

The participation of a sizable German force is particularly important, alliance officials have said, to creating an effective deterrent against Russia and cement Berlin’s emerging role as a bigger player in NATO.

Germany had been cautious about the troop presence on the eastern border of NATO. The move is unlikely to be popular at home where attitudes to the military are still shaped by post-World War II pacifism. But Chancellor Angela Merkel and her top officials have been making the case for more German engagement on international security matters, arguing the country’s safety and export-driven economy depend on global stability.

German officials said Friday they were considering plans ahead of a NATO summit in Warsaw in July to lead a battalion to be based in Lithuania, but a final decision hadn’t been reached.

“We are currently reviewing how we can continue or strengthen our engagement” on the alliance’s eastern periphery, Ms. Merkel said Friday.

During his recent trip to Germany, President Barack Obama discussed with Ms. Merkel the German contribution, according to German and U.S. officials.

Gregor Gysi, a prominent far-left lawmaker, slammed the German government, saying that the move would send the wrong message on the eve of the 75th anniversary in June of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

“To send troops to the Russian border now is to forget history and to escalate,” Mr. Gysi said in a statement.

A Bertelsmann Foundation poll published last week found that just 31% of Germans would support sending German troops to defend the Baltic states or Poland against an attack from Russia. About half of Germans oppose setting up NATO bases in eastern members of the alliance to deter Russia, the poll found, while 40% said they would support such a move.

“We aren’t passive observers and we take all necessary military measures to compensate for such a reinforced and absolutely unjustified military presence,” Alexander Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO, said in a statement.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense declined to comment, but a British official said no final decisions have been made on deploying U.K. troops to the region.

Mr. Work said the precise U.S. contribution was still being discussed. But other officials said the U.S. was discussing sending two battalions. The U.S. battalions are likely to be drawn from brigades the U.S. has said it would begin rotating in and out of Europe.

Tensions have grown after Russian warplanes repeatedly buzzed a U.S. warship, the Donald Cook, operating in the Baltic Sea off the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad earlier this month

Mr. Work said it is an accepted practice for planes to fly over ships to announce their presence, as long as they do it from a safe altitude. But the Russian fighter planes flying over the Cook were simulating attack runs, a provocative maneuver, and came far too close, he said.

“I grew up in the Cold War in the military, and when I heard the Russians buzzed the Donald Cook I said, ‘What is new?’ But it was really new,” Mr. Work said. “This type of activity, this type of repeated simulated attack runs, at an extremely low level is unsafe and dangerous.” Russia has said the U.S. was operating too close to its military bases in Kaliningrad.

NATO and Russia have begun efforts to try to reopen military-to-military communications as well as increase transparency around exercises. Mr. Work said the U.S. and Russia effectively communicated about their separate operations in Syria.

As NATO increases its troop presence in the Baltic region, Mr. Work said, more will need to be done to avoid the potential for an accident or crisis.

One risk, Mr. Work said, is that a Russian pilot flies too close to a U.S. ship and then crashes. “You just don’t want those miscalculations and misunderstandings to occur,” he said.

Before the deployments are completed, one point of contention could be whether the infantry forces within each battalion should be from one nation or multiple. Some NATO officials believe each battalion should be from a single country, to ensure it can fight effectively.

But U.S. and NATO officials have said to make sure the force is a real deterrent to Russian aggression they would like it to operate under the alliance flag and command and control system.

Poland and the Baltic nations have been pressing for as large a presence as possible. The U.S., Germany and the U.K. have said the force must be in keeping with the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, which prohibits substantial numbers of combat troops from being permanently stationed on Russia’s borders.

NATO officials said while the 1997 document doesn’t put a precise number, a force of four battalions is in keeping with those restrictions. U.S. and German officials say because the forces will rotate in and out of the Baltic region they won’t constitute a permanent force.

Russian officials have said NATO is playing games with words and is in violation of the act.

USS John C. Stennis Denied Hong Kong Port of Call, After S. China Sea Intimidation Cruise

160429121705-ash-carter-uss-stennis-super-169U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (left) and Philippine Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin shake hands on a Marine Corps V-22 Osprey as they depart the the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) after touring the aircraft carrier as it sailed in the South China Sea on April 15, 2016.

China denies Hong Kong port call request by U.S. carrier group

THE japan-times2

by Jesse Johnson

U.S. Department of State East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau spokeswoman Gabrielle Price told The Japan Times on Saturday that the USS John C. Stennis and accompanying vessels were denied the visit recently.

“We were recently informed that a request for a port visit by a U.S. carrier strike group, including the USS John C. Stennis and accompanying vessels, to Hong Kong was denied,” Price said. “We have a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, including with the current visit of the USS Blue Ridge, and we expect that will continue.”

It was not immediately clear what had prompted the Chinese move, but the strike group has been patrolling in the South China Sea. Beijing claims most of the waters there and has sparked concern in Washington and in regional capitals over its massive land-reclamation program. Some of the artificial islands it has created are now home to military-grade airstrips and radar installations.

On April 15, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, accompanied by Philippine defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, visited the Stennis during one of these patrols, a move widely seen as both promoting stronger defense ties with Manila and underscoring U.S. freedom of navigation concerns.

U.S. military ships and aircraft are known to make routine stops in Hong Kong, even after the return of the financial hub by Britain to China in 1997.

These visits have occasionally been halted amid periods of increased tensions, including after a midair collision between a U.S. surveillance aircraft and a Chinese plane in 2001 off China’s southern Hainan Island.

Analysts say Washington believes military ties between the two rivals are key to avoiding misunderstandings amid the increased tensions in the region.

As part of these ties, China has been invited to the U.S.-led RIMPAC exercises this summer in Hawaii. China took part in the biannual drills — the world’s largest such exercises — for the first time in 2014.

But with the Hong Kong denial, as well as a looming court ruling on Beijing’s South China Seas claims, which it has said it will ignore, there has been speculation that the RIMPAC invitation may be rescinded.

While aboard the Stennis last month, Carter had dismissed calls for China to be disinvited. “Our approach has always been to try to include everyone,” he said.

American congressmen had previously called for the invitation to be rescinded.

Still, according to Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, the Hong Kong denial “gives more ammo to the argument” for pulling the RIMPAC offer.

“But my sense is it will take more than a scrubbed port visit to derail China’s invite,” Graham said. “The U.S. government overall still regards military-to-military engagement as a positive lever and doesn’t want to cut links first.”