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Trump fine-tunes peace deal with Taliban

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | August 22, 2019

The US President Donald Trump’s remarks at the Oval Office in the White House on August 20 regarding the Afghan peace talks and related issues exuded an overall sense of satisfaction that the “endless war” is finally ending —although issues still remain to be sorted out before the deal is closed.

This was also Trump’s first public assessment of the meeting he took last week with top officials, including the secretaries of state and defence, CIA director and US special representative on Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who leads the American team of negotiators at the Doha talks with the Taliban.

Trump said more than once during his remarks to the media on Tuesday that the talks with the Taliban are going well, and he made it a point to acknowledge publicly that the Taliban genuinely want to stop fighting with the US troops. As he put it,

“I will say this: The Taliban would like to stop fighting us.  They would like to stop fighting us.  They’ve lost a lot.”

Trump threw light on what to expect. Clearly, the status quo is untenable and Trump intends to withdraw troops. But he is also convinced that the US should “always have somebody there.” Trump left it vague. Is Eric Prince preparing to walk in through that door?

On the other hand, Trump didn’t mince words about the US having a a strong intelligence presence in Afghanistan. That is because, as he put it, “Nobody can be trusted. Nobody can be trusted. In my world — in this world, I think nobody can be trusted.”

Trump has bought into the US military and security establishment’s plea that for ensuring that 9/11 type attacks do not repeat, a total American withdrawal from Afghanistan will be far too risky.

Interestingly, Trump taunted Russia (or any other country) to try to replace the US and NATO in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. He flagged that USSR shrunk to Russian Federation following its Afghan intervention. That was the nearest Trump came to admitting that the Afghan war cannot be won.

Significantly, in Trump’s estimation, Taliban does have the capability to prevent Afghanistan becoming a revolving door for international terrorists if it has the political desire to ply such a role. He seemed to imply that a peace deal that accommodates Taliban’s interests and concerns could incentivise the latter to be an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Trump never once disparagingly referred to the Taliban. On the contrary, Trump feels no particular commitment anymore to protect the Ashraf Ghani government. He even let it be known that he could “understand” why the Taliban has no respect for the Afghan government.

Does this mean that Trump may pull the plug on Ghani’s set-up? Most certainly, Trump’s remarks suggest that the US is distancing itself from the Kabul government and is gravitating toward neutral middle ground in the Afghan fratricidal strife.

This works fine for the Taliban and Ghani’s political opponents who have been demanding an interim government. Equally, the tenor of Trump’s remarks would suggest that the US no longer makes a fetish of “Afghan-led, Afghan controlled” dialogue between the Taliban and the Ghani government.

Trump carefully sidestepped any reference to Pakistan. But it goes without saying that Pakistani role is of crucial importance to his efforts in the coming weeks to reach a final agreement with the Taliban.

Looking ahead, it is inevitable that the US’ dependency on Pakistan is only going to increase, given the long-term American military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan and the imperative need to preserve good US-Taliban equations at the working level to counter terrorist threats.

Clearly, in Trump’s scheme of things, the US can learn to live with a Taliban government in Afghanistan.

In this backdrop of a US-Pakistan-Taliban triangle taking shape on the Afghan political chessboard, Pakistan is the big winner. No doubt, Pakistan will go the whole hog to install a friendly government in Kabul. The US is unlikely to put roadblocks.

Conceivably, Pakistan’s agenda includes a settlement of the Durand Line question. The US and western allies as well as China and Russia (and Iran) will be supportive of the resolution of the dispute over Durand Line, without which the lawless Pakistan-Afghan border regions would continue to be a sanctuary for terrorist groups.

Pakistan can hope to leverage the preponderant hold of the Taliban in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. In turn, friendly, cooperative local governments in the Afghan border regions can be a factor of stability.

All in all, a favourable situation is at hand for Pakistan for the first time since independence in 1947. A big improvement in Pakistan’s internal security situation can be expected once a friendly government in Kabul stops promoting cross-border terrorism.

While big-power rivalries are a fact of life in world politics, the great game also allows convergence of interests between protagonists. The chances of China or Russia torpedoing the implementation of an Afghan peace settlement piloted and negotiated by the US under Trump’s watch are virtually zero.

In fact, Trump expressed no misgivings whatsoever on that score. On the other hand, the US is well aware that both China and Russia have direct links to the Taliban. The bottom line is that Afghanistan’s stabilisation is in everyone’s interests. Trump’s optimism is well-grounded that the endless war in Afghanistan is actually ending.

August 21, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Daesh Is Curiously Pursuing The Same Strategic Goal As India In Afghanistan

By Andrew Korybko | EurasiaFuture | 2019-08-18

Daesh claimed credit for a suicide bombing at a Pakistani mosque on Saturday that ended up killing the Taliban leader’s younger brother, briefly raising fears that the organization would pull out of its ongoing peace talks with the US in response. Those concerns were quickly dismissed after one of the group’s unnamed representatives told Reuters that “If someone thinks martyring our leaders would stop us from our goal they’re living in a fool’s paradise”, which was met with a sigh of relief by practically everyone in the world, that is, except India. The South Asian state doesn’t support the US’ decision to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, as the author elaborated upon earlier this year in his piece about “Reading Between The Lines: India Has Sour Grapes Over America’s Afghan Peace Talks“, which explained that New Delhi wants Washington to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely since its partner’s military presence guarantees that the landlocked country could be used to expand its “strategic depth” by functioning as a Hybrid War staging ground against the global pivot state of Pakistan.

It’s therefore curious that Daesh’s latest suicide attack in Pakistan could have fulfilled India’s political fantasy of sabotaging the US-Taliban peace talks and thus keeping the Pentagon indefinitely in Afghanistan. One would be inclined to believe that Daesh would prefer for the US to leave the country as soon as possible, yet the world’s most notorious terrorist group defied expectations through its brazen action that could have resulted in the opposite. While Daesh’s rivalry with the Taliban is well known, it’s difficult to believe that it would do what it did at this specific time given the ultra-sensitive context involved relating to the US’ possible withdrawal from Afghanistan if the peace talks succeed, so it certainly makes one wonder whether Indian intelligence might have had a hand in guiding events, at the very least. It wouldn’t exactly be unprecedented either since detained Hybrid War operative Kulbhushan Jadav admitted to organizing terrorist attacks in the Pakistani region of Balochistan, which is where Daesh’s latest one occurred.

There’s no way to know for sure whether this was the case or not, but it’s nevertheless a plausible theory when considering the aforementioned strategic variables at play. Indian intelligence has connections with terrorist groups and is using them as proxies for waging a Hybrid War on Pakistan that’s hitherto mostly been with the intent of sabotaging CPEC, so it’s not inconceivable that some of those same assets could be used to target the Taliban’s younger brother with the intent of provoking the group to pull out of its peace talks with the US. Should that have been the case, then this operation definitely failed, but it would reveal just how desperate India is to keep the American military in Afghanistan that it would resort to orchestrating a carefully calibrated terrorist attack that could have ended up being a global game-changer. It would also speak to just how distrustful India is of its new American military-strategic ally and represent an escalation of the incipient Hybrid War being waged by both of them against the other, albeit with India taking the step to make it kinetic whereas the US had kept it purely within the economic and diplomatic realms for now.

August 18, 2019 Posted by | War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Will Mercenaries Fight America’s Wars?

By Philip Giraldi | American Free Press | August 6, 2019

President Donald Trump’s pre-election pledge to end America’s useless wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan just might turn out to be somewhat less than what was promised if some political allies of the president have their way. For the past year there have been rumors circulating in Washington about the possibility of using mercenaries rather than American soldiers to keep the lid on a volatile Afghanistan and to arrange for regime change in countries like Venezuela.

It perhaps should surprise no one that a country dedicated to “free markets” should at least somewhat embrace the idea of using mercenaries to fight its wars. The concept is already embedded in the federal government, increasingly so since 9/11. A majority of the workers in the intelligence community as well as in the civilian ranks of the Pentagon are already paid contractors who work for the “Beltway bandit” firms that specialize in national security. A substantial number of those hires are armed paramilitaries operating in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Mideast and Africa.

The logic for going with contractors rather than employees has been that budgets go up and down, so it is the smart thing to have a lot of people working for you who are on one-year contracts and can be let go if the money to pay them is not authorized. The downside is that the average federal employee costs roughly $125,000 per year in pay and benefits. A contractor costs three times as much, which means that the taxpayer pays the piper for something that is a convenience for the government.

The most prominent advocate for mercenary armies is Erik Prince, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater was a major private military contractor in Iraq, where it provided security for State Department operations and facilities. Notoriously, in 2007, Blackwater employees shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad. One of Prince’s employees was eventually convicted of murder and three others have been convicted of manslaughter. Prince subsequently renamed the Blackwater security company and then sold it in 2010.

Prince, the scion of a wealthy Midwestern family that made its money selling auto parts, is himself a former Navy SEAL. Many of his Blackwater employees were drawn from the special operations community. His sister is Betsy DeVos, the conservative secretary of education, which certainly helps make sure that his views will be conveyed to the White House.

Two years ago, Prince was lobbying heavily in Washington in support of his plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan. He claimed that mercenaries operating in the special ops mode and not requiring a huge logistical tail could be more cost and manpower effective at fighting the similarly armed Taliban. But Prince did not see that as their primary mission, which would be training Afghan national forces while at the same time running the key elements in the country’s government that would support the effort, namely the treasury and national security team. In other words, it would be the foreign mercenaries in charge with the Afghan government going along for the ride until the situation would improve. Having the paid soldiers and their administrators in charge would also eliminate the pervasive Afghan government corruption, which has to this point crippled the war and training efforts.

It was a neat and also creative package that would at a stroke end direct U.S. involvement in the Afghan war, in a manner of speaking. It would also be quite lucrative for the company providing the mercenaries and the other support. Empirically speaking, however, it was always a nonstarter. The ability of a group of mercenaries to multitask in a difficult environment like Afghanistan has never been tested at this level, and it is impossible to imagine that the Afghan government would cede its authorities to a band of Americans and Europeans.

More recently, Prince has been supporting something similar, a private mercenary army of a few thousand men that would bring down the government of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicholas Maduro. Having learned from the Afghan experience that it is necessary to come up with the money before coming up with a plan, Prince has been discussing Venezuela with conservative Republican donors as well as with Miami-based Venezuelan millionaires, the so-called “bankers and oligarchs” that ran the country before the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 forced many of them to go into exile. He has been seeking $40 million in seed money for the operation.

In private meetings in the United States and Europe, Prince sketched out a plan to field up to 5,000 soldiers-for-hire on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. He has argued that a dramatic step is necessary to break through the standoff between Guaido and Maduro. Prince’s pitch detailing how he would accomplish a change in government features intelligence operations preceding deployment of those 5,000 mercenaries recruited in Latin America to conduct “combat and stabilization operations.”

The White House is cool to the plan, particularly in the wake of the poor intelligence that led to the badly bungled and embarrassing Venezuelan coup in May. It is currently more inclined to tighten sanctions to create more unrest, particularly as there are already reports of starvation in some parts of the country.

There also has been concern in Washington policy circles that the introduction of foreign soldiers in Venezuela could lead to civil war, something like a replay of what has been experienced in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Libya. But the most interesting aspect of the discussion is the fact that it is taking place at all. The United States of America, hostile to the ability of kings to initiate wars on their own authority, was founded in part in opposition to any permanent standing army beyond what was necessary for self-defense.

Now, the U.S. may be considering major military operations using mercenary armies to deal with undeclared and illegal wars thousands of miles away that do not even threaten the homeland. It is, unfortunately, just one more indication of how the United States has been changed beyond all recognition in the past 20 years.

August 7, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , | 3 Comments

Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

By Thomas L. Knapp | Garrison Center | August 2, 2019

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org)

August 2, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , | 3 Comments

Tulsi Gabbard Savages Trump Over Pushing US ‘Closer to Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe’ at Dem Debate

Sputnik – August 1, 2019

2020 presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard has skyrocketed to No. 1 in Google Trends after blasting the current US administration’s “warmongering” foreign policy during the second Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday.

Democratic House Representative for Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard has blasted the Trump administration for pushing the United States closer to the “brink of nuclear catastrophe” since relations with a number of nuclear armed countries have dramatically escalated in the past few months.

“Donald Trump and warmongering politicians in Washington have failed us. They continue to escalate tensions with other nuclear armed countries like Russia and China, and North Korea, starting a new Cold War, pushing us closer and closer to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Now as we stand here tonight, there are thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at us… As president, I will end this insanity”, she added.

Following her speech, Gabbard took the number one spot in Google Trends, becoming the most searched Democratic candidate on the platform.

‘Trump Betrayed US on Afghanistan Pullout’

Speaking at the second Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday, she also accused the US president of betraying the American people by failing to deliver on his promise to quickly withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Gabbard pledged to pull out all American forces from Afghanistan if elected president next year and end the 18-year war in the country:

“The leadership I will bring to do the right thing to bring our troops home within the first year in office. We have to do the right thing and end the wasteful regime change wars and bring our troops home. Every single month we are spending $4 billion on a continuing war in Afghanistan, $4 billion dollars every single month, rather than ending that war, bringing our troops home and using those precious resources into serving the needs of the people here in this country.”

The Iraq War veteran cited the example of the 2003 conflict, which broke out after the George W. Bush administration falsely claimed that Baghdad produced weapons of mass destruction.

“We were all lied to. This is the betrayal. The problem is that this current president continues to betray us”, she added.

Gabbard’s comments follow an interview by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Economic Club of Washington President David Rubenstein in which he emphasised that President Trump had ordered to “end the endless wars, draw down, reduce” the number of US troops stationed in Afghanistan before the 2020 elections.

Pompeo as well noted that he was hoping for a positive outcome of US negotiations with the Taliban, an Islamic insurgent movement, the Afghan government and opposition groups inside the country that will result in a peace agreement to put an end to the 18-year war.

President Trump has long expressed a desire to pull out American troops from Afghanistan, saying that the future reductions in US forces would be tied to progress in peace talks. In June POTUS indicated that the US was “doing fine” there and will soon see its soldiers halved to 8,000.

“As you know in Afghanistan, when I got there, it was 16,000 people. It’s now 9,000 people. And some good things are happening there frankly. No, I’d like to get out of the Middle East, we should have never been in the Middle East. We should have never been there, and I’d like to get out”, he told Time magazine.

Back in February, The New York Times reported that a Defence Department proposal for the peace talks with the Taliban stipulated that all American troops – an estimated 14,000 – be withdrawn in the next three to five years along with the rest of the international forces in the country.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil and overthrew the Taliban, which seized power in the Central Asian country in 1996. At the time, Washington said that Kabul had become a safe haven for al-Qaeda while the Taliban was in power.

Most US troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but a relatively small contingent has continued to support the Afghan Armed Forces in combating terrorism.

August 1, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , | 4 Comments

Iran’s Zarif drives Trump to insanity

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | August 1, 2019

At a time when the Trump administration has no problem negotiating with the secretary of the Russian national security council Nikolai Patrushev, who is technically under US sanctions since April 2018, the cut and thrust of Washington’s move to sanction Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif needs to be understood properly.

How did US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo try to explain the dispatch of Zarif to perdition? Pompeo’s statement on Wednesday attributed to Zarif a singular sin: a) Zarif “acted on behalf of the Supreme Leader”; b) Zarif took “direction from the Supreme Leader and his office”; c) Zarif was “a key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policies throughout the region and around the world”; d) and, Zarif has been “a senior regime official and apologist” of Iranian government and has “for years now been complicit in these (Iran’s) malign activities”.

Basically, Pompeo’s grouse narrows down to this: Zarif is a disciplined dutiful, loyal Iranian public servant who abided by the Iranian system of government founded in the concept of velāyat-e faqīh (‘guardianship of the Islamic jurist’.)

Does that become a sin? Any foreign minister has his job cut out for him — even Pompeo himself. Pompeo has no pretensions that he is holding the job entirely at the pleasure and discretion of his supreme leader President Trump. Trump, in fact, is an unforgiving stickler for loyalty. Ask James Mattis or Rex Tillerson.

The US establishment knows very well how the concept velāyat-e faqīh operates, how the alchemy of political power is formed in Iran, and how the decision-making process is reached. Even Trump would know it. Which is why he even tried to get through to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (and was duly snubbed.) So, where is the beef?

Simply put, Zarif per se is the problem. The Trump administration is desperately keen to put an end to Zarif’s contacts with the American elite. Zarif lived and worked for several years in America from the age of 17 — as a high school student, university student, and career diplomat, ending up as Iran’s representative at the UN from 2002 to 2007. He also kept closely in touch with the US academia and intellectual circles in his capacity as a professor and editor of scholarly journals in Tehran who has written copiously on disarmament, human rights, international law, and regional conflicts.

Indeed, what rankles the Trump administration is that Zarif has extensively networked with American intellectuals, politicians, think tankers and media persons — figures as diverse as Joseph Biden, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Hagel, Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Pickering, James Dobbins and Christian Amanpour.

Zarif took his job seriously and being a fluent English speaker, he could tweet and debate and spar with any American with delectable ease. Zarif outclassed the mediocre American foreign and security policy team.

Zarif’s periodical visits to New York (ostensibly to attend the UN events) increasingly became a nightmare for the Trump administration as he cast his net wide and ably put across Iran’s narrative. Trump singled out more than once that Zarif had meetings with Kerry, former state secretary who negotiated the 2015 Iran deal.

This is the crux of the matter. By imposing sanctions on Zarif, the US can deny visa to him and render unlawful (and liable to prosecution under law) any contact between him and any American national. Effectively, Trump instructed Pompeo to make sure that Zarif doesn’t come to New York between now and the 2020 November election so that his detractors and critics cannot hear from the horse’s mouth the Iranian narrative.

Trump feels exasperated that Iran is winning the information war. And he is worried that between now and November 2020, his re-election campaign may get booby-trapped. For any longtime observer of the US-Iran standoff, it is obvious that a sea change has appeared in the American discourses on Iran. There is an influential and ever growing body of opinion in the US today, which disagrees with Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy. This constituency rationally argues that Trump shouldn’t have dumped the 2015 deal.

Equally, there is a far better understanding today in the informed American opinion regarding Iran and its policies, and the zen of dealing with Persian nationalism beneath the veneer of Islamism. The surprising part is that such an awakening has happened despite the Herculean efforts by the Israeli Lobby to demonise Iran and to stymie all contrarian views in the media, think tanks and campuses — and the Hill.

Will Trump’s ploy work? Unlikely. The point is, Zarif is irrepressible. He will continue to tease, taunt, disparage, humiliate and expose and run down Trump’s Iran policies. Worse still, Zarif has driven a knife into the heart of the ‘B Team’ driving the US administration’s Iran policies currently. 

Trump’s sanctions against Zarif will not set an example for any other country which has diplomatic relations with Iran. In the final analysis, Trump will have to deal with Zarif, whether he likes him or not.

The best way to counter Zarif would have been to handpick an intellectually resourceful, dynamic state secretary. A mediocrity like Pompeo stands no chance with Zarif. This is a dumb thing Trump has done. He should have known better.

In 2001, Zarif was Iran’s main representative at the Bonn Conference, which brought together regional players in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban. His American counterpart at the event, James Dobbins — who was later named as the Obama Administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan — wrote a memorable essay titled Negotiating with Iran: Reflections from Personal Experience in the Washington Quarterly about Zarif’s erudition, wit and charm — and his pragmatism, which helped the two gifted diplomats to thrash out “over morning coffee and cakes” a deal that led to the replacement of the Northern Alliance government in Kabul with a US-backed interim set-up under Hamid Karzai. (Burhanuddin Rabbani remarked bitterly at that time he hoped that would be the last time a foreign power ever dictated to Afghans.)

Washington has now sanctioned the man who played a pivotal role in that fateful transition in Kabul leading to the installation of the US’ client regime in the Hindu Kush. Some gratitude!

August 1, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 4 Comments

US, Pakistan move in tandem to end Afghan war

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | July 28, 2019

The US State Department chose Friday to announce the decision to approve a $125 million aid package providing technical support to Pakistan’s fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft. Ironically, the news reached Delhi on the 20th anniversary of the Kargil Vijay Diwas, which symbolises, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi put it on Saturday, “India’s might, determination, capability, discipline and patience” to thwart Pakistan’s hostile acts.

Clearly, Washington has begun to “incentivise” Pakistan, in the downstream of the talks between President Trump and Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on July 22.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon also notified on Friday about a proposed $670 million follow-on support programme for the eleven C-17 Globemaster-III air-lift aircraft sold by the US to India in the recent years. By holding out the carrot to India, Washington hopes to create the hype that it is also favouring Delhi.

The intention here is to finesse Delhi’s criticism over the revival of US military aid to Pakistan. Of course, it will be a delusional thought that the US is balancing India and Pakistan. In reality, the Pentagon’s India proposal is a purely commercial transaction — “after-sales service”, which will generate good business for the US vendors — while the military aid to Pakistan providing technical and logistics support for its F-16 fighter jets is on concessional terms and signifies a major political decision.

Delhi will take note that the proposed US military aid may significantly enhance Pakistan’s offensive capability insofar as some of the F-16 jets are capable of delivering nuclear weapons.   

Indeed, the “big picture” emerging out of all this is that the US and Pakistan are marching ahead in tandem to implement the decisions taken by Trump and Imran Khan to swiftly end the Afghan war.

No sooner than Imran Khan left Washington on July 23, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford traveled to Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul for consultations with American, NATO and Afghan officials.

Dunford said he wants to ensure Gen. Austin S. Miller, the US commander in Afghanistan, has all he needs. He added that he wanted to take the pulse of US military operations in the country. Indeed, the pulse rate is rather high, as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan looms large.

Dunford insisted that the negotiations have not changed the military mission in the country. “Day to day, the mission hasn’t changed for General Miller and the team, and they are still taking the fight to the Taliban and supporting the Afghan military,” he said.

But that’s putting on a brave face. Evidently, the US is pushing forward a “face-saving way out of Afghanistan,” as former CIA deputy director Michael Morell has told Axios. The message has gone down the line in the State Department and the Pentagon that Trump wants to move quickly toward a deal to end the war in Afghanistan. Morell is deeply sceptical whether a deal with the Taliban will secure peace.

He said, “I would bet that the US intelligence community and policymakers have a pretty good understanding of what the Taliban’s intentions are. So we’re making a deal that we know isn’t going to be kept just to save face, just to maintain honour.” Morell repeated his past warnings that the Taliban is “ideologically not disposed to sharing power.”

However, an apocalyptic scenario cannot deter Washington anymore. On a parallel mission, the US special representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad also took off on July 23 from Washington to Kabul (where he is now speaking with members of the Afghan government as he works to encourage inter-Afghan conversations between the Taliban and the government.)

In immediate terms, Khalilzad expects Pakistan to deliver on the promise that Imran Khan made to Trump to the effect that he plans to meet with the Taliban to persuade them to hold negotiations with the government in Afghanistan. (Taliban has welcomed such a meeting.)

Imran Khan had said, “Now, when I go back after meeting President Trump … I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government so that the elections in Afghanistan must be inclusive where the Taliban also participate in it.”

It may seem a tough call, but the news from Kabul on Saturday suggests that Pakistan may have made some headway already. The Afghan state minister for peace affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi announced on Saturday that “We (Afghan government) are preparing for direct talks (with the Taliban.) The government will be represented by a 15-member delegation. We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country.”

The Norwegian capital Oslo is mentioned as the venue for the crucial meeting between the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban has not yet budged from its longstanding demand that a deal must be forged with the US first. Possibly, a deal may be announced after the 9th round of US-Taliban talks in Doha in the coming week.

Indeed, we are witnessing an utterly fascinating spectacle of diplomatic pirouette being played out between and amongst five main protagonists — Trump who is demanding an expeditious US withdrawal from Afghanistan, assuming Imran Khan will deliver on his promises; Imran Khan, in turn, going through the motions of persuading the Taliban to be reasonable while expecting generous US reciprocal moves to accommodate Pakistani interests; Ashraf Ghani, Afghan president, seeing the writing on the wall that US withdrawal is unstoppable, whilst still hoping to secure a second term in office; Khalilzad pushing the reluctant Afghan government to fall in line with a Taliban deal, while also negotiating with the Taliban for an orderly US withdrawal, albeit with a weak hand; and the Taliban on a roll, sensing victory. There are caveats galore. But the compass has been set.

July 28, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments

“US Causes Instability Anywhere It Sets Foot”

Al-Manar | July 20, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday that the United States causes instability and insecurity everywhere in the world it sets foot, including the Persian Gulf and South America.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the Venezuelan capital early Saturday after a six-day stay in New York.

Speaking to reporters upon arriving in Caracas, Zarif said that “anywhere the United States sets foot in, it causes instability there.”

“At the moment, the US is causing insecurity with its presence in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and also the South American region,” said Zarif.

He went on to add that, “I don’t know any place in the world where the US’s presence has brought stability.”

“Anywhere the US has set foot on, it led to pressure on the people and caused extremism and terrorism,” stressed the Iranian top diplomat.

While in Caracas, Zarif is slated to take part in the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Coordinating Bureau (CoB) on 20-21 July under the theme: “Promotion and Consolidation of Peace through Respect for International Law.” He will also meet with a host of Venezuelan officials before making a visit to Nicaragua and Bolivia.

July 20, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trump is finished with the Afghan war

By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | July 4, 2019

There could be several ways of interpreting the US State Department’s decision on Tuesday to designate the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, which imposes economic sanctions on the group and anyone affiliated with it. What is absolutely certain is that this is by no means an altruistic decision by Washington.

The BLA is based in Afghanistan and has been waging a violent armed struggle against Pakistan for the past decade and a half upholding the right of self-determination of the Baloch people and demanding the separation of Balochistan province from Pakistan, apart from being involved in ethnic-cleansing of non-Baloch minorities in Balochistan.

Curiously, the BLA’s timeline (starting from 2004) has been co-terminus with the US’ occupation of Afghanistan. It is inconceivable that the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan were unaware of the BLA’s subversive activities or who were its mentors. Islamabad has been shouting and screaming from the rooftop all this while that its adversaries exploited the group as a proxy to destabilise Pakistan.

Put differently, the timing of the State Department decision banning the BLA is noteworthy. Why now, at this juncture?

These are extraordinary times when almost anything and everything that the US does in the Greater Middle East would have an eye on Iran with which it is locked in an epochal rivalry. Can it be that by making this gesture, Washington hopes to recruit Pakistani military and intelligence to strengthen further its ‘maximum pressure’ strategy against Iran? The possibility cannot be ruled out.

Of course, this is not to suggest that Pakistan will make hostile moves against Iran. Although Pakistan-Iran relations have been highly problematic through the past four decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and their mutual animosity kept frothing from time to time, things never reached a flashpoint as both sides observed certain ground rules of how far to go and what not to do. In the present context, Pakistan will take utmost care not to get entangled in the US-Iran standoff.

Having said that, there is a vital US-Pakistani convergence over Iran that cannot be overlooked, either. That is, when it comes to the Afghan situation. Iran has made it clear that if the US attacks it, it will retaliate against American assets all across the region. There have been two statements at least by senior US officials lately that Iran is moving against American assets in Afghanistan. Iran, of course, has stoutly rejected the allegation, but the US is paranoid — and not without reason.

The point is, apart from the traditional links with the Shi’ite groups in Afghanistan, Tehran also has dealings with the Taliban. Coincidence or not, Washington moved against the BLA within days of an incident in the eastern Afghan province of Wardak on June 26 in which two US soldiers were killed by the Taliban in an ambush.

The incident took place only a day after after Pompeo stopped in the Afghan capital, Kabul, for daylong talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as other senior leaders and opposition politicians to discuss two topics, namely, the US’ ongoing efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban and the potential that Iran has to carry out actions that would jeopardise the US exit strategy out of Afghanistan. (Read a report in Geopolitics magazine entitled Two Topics Dominating Pompeo’s Visit to Afghanistan.)

In fact, the US apprehends that an extremely dangerous situation is arising in Afghanistan even as the withdrawal of American troops accelerates. President Trump disclosed in an interview this week with Tucker Carlson on FOX television that the US troop level has come down to 9,000 from 16,000 already. Trump made no bones about the fact that he is finished with the war in Afghanistan.

At one point in the interview, Trump bursts out, “I’d like to just get out.” Trump claims that he intends to keep a “very strong” intelligence presence in Afghanistan. He couldn’t care less anymore whether there will be a broad-based government in Kabul or a Taliban takeover. He’s well past that point of agonising. At one point, Trump implied to Carlson — who also happens to be an inveterate critic of America’s “endless wars” — that he no longer trusts the judgment or integrity of the military commanders. (By the way, Carlson accompanied Trump to the meeting with North Korea Kim Jong-Un in Panmunjom while NSA John Bolton was sent away to Mongolia.)

This is where Pakistani help becomes critical. Ghani’s government lacks legitimacy but the holding of a presidential election in September, as planned, depends heavily on a settlement with the Taliban. The US expects Pakistani help in three directions: one, persuading the Taliban to reach an agreement at the Qatar talks without any further delay; two, enabling the US to withdraw the troops expeditiously and in an orderly fashion; and, three, creating politico-security conditions to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power in Kabul. Of course, it is a tall order.

The Americans know that Iran can escalate in Afghanistan anytime it wishes. Afghanistan falls within the domain of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, commanded by the legendary general Qassem Soleimani who was the bête noire of the US and Israel in Iraq and Syria. Of course, if Soleimani creates a hopeless situation like in Vietnam (which forced the US into a humiliating retreat from the rooftop of the American embassy in Saigon), that will be highly damaging for Trump politically in the midst of his campaign for the 2020 election. And that is precisely why Trump is impatient to cut loose and get out from Afghanistan without even waiting for the implementation of any peace agreement with Taliban.

All this should be a morality play for the Indian strategists and policymakers as they pick up the debris of their own Afghan policies and its $2 billion price tag, which has been predicated so heavily through the past decade and a half on the US strategy. Equally, this should be a wake-up call for the Indian lobbyists who still want to bandwagon with the US in other regional theatres such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives or Nepal. (See blog US eyes Sri Lanka as its military logistics hub.)

For sure, the Afghan war has not ended. Trump recalled poignantly that the 9/11 attacks were not staged by Afghans but the Hindu Kush provided the plotters a “lab for terrorists”. Now, the US can only take the word of the Taliban that such a thing will not repeat. Washington’s best hope will be that Pakistan will keep an eagle’s eye to ensure that the terrorists from Afghanistan will not come visiting the US.

In turn, that is going to create an interdependency between the US and Pakistan. The IMF bailout, the ban on the BLA, the near-certainty that Pakistan is off the hook at the upcoming plenary of the Financial Action Task Force, an official visit by Prime Minister Imran Khan to the White House  — these are the starters from the US side. Pakistan is highly experienced in dictating the terms of engagement with the US.

July 4, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Taliban insurgents want peace, senior leader says at Moscow talks

Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai (L) and member of Political Office of Taliban Shahabuddin Delawar (R) in Moscow, May 28, 2019.
© Reuters / Mikhail Antonov
RT | May 28, 2019

Senior Taliban officials including the group’s top political advisor met with Afghan political figures in Moscow on Tuesday, saying they were committed to peace in Afghanistan.

The statement comes as US-led talks appear to have stalled, AFP said.

Taliban co-founder and political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said the insurgents want an end to 18 years of conflict – but would only sign a deal after foreign forces quit Afghanistan.

The Taliban are “really committed to peace, but think the obstacle for peace should be removed first,” Baradar said in a rare televised appearance at the start of the two-day meeting marking 100 years of diplomatic ties between Russia and Afghanistan. “The obstacle is the occupation of Afghanistan, and that should end,” Baradar said.

May 28, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | Leave a comment

Talks with US in Doha stumble over troop withdrawal timetable: Afghan Taliban

Press TV – May 6, 2019

The Taliban militant group says peace talks with the US — which have been underway in Qatar for months — have stalled over the key issue of a timetable for American and other foreign troops to pull out of Afghanistan, a longtime Taliban demand.

A Taliban political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told the AFP on Sunday that the two sides have so far failed to hammer out their differences on how to put their draft agreement on the withdrawal timetable into action.

The two sides are trying “to narrow the differences and have an agreement on a timetable which is acceptable to both sides,” but “that has not been achieved so far.”

He also explained that nothing would move forward “in principle” until America announced a withdrawal timetable.

“If we are not able to finalize it in this round, then … peace would be far away rather than being closer,” Shaheen added.

Since last year, sixth rounds of talks have been held in Doha between the militant group and US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and his delegation of about two dozen officials in the hope of ending an American war in Afghanistan that has dragged on for over 17 years.

The latest round began on May 1, and it is not clear if the talks were to continue Monday, which marks the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The negotiations have so far excluded Afghan officials. The Taliban refuse to hold talks with the government in Kabul, which the militant group views as illegitimate and a US puppet.

In February, Khalilzad claimed progress in the talks, saying that a deal was within reach by July.

Khalilzad has repeatedly said that for things to progress, the Taliban must ensure Afghanistan is never again used as a terrorist safe haven, implement a ceasefire, and speak to Afghan representatives.

The Taliban have said they will not do anything until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

Earlier this week, the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called on the US to end the use of force in Afghanistan instead of putting pressure on the militant group to cease fire.

“Instead of such fantasies, he [Khalilzad] should drive the idea home [to the US] about ending the use of force and incurring further human and financial losses for the decaying Kabul administration,” he added.

The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately comment on the Taliban’s latest statement.

The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the 2001 US-led invasion, but 17 years on, Washington — having failed to end the Taliban’s militancy campaign — is seeking truce with the militants.

Observers say the militant group is now negotiating from a position of strength as it has managed to strengthen its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56 percent of the country, down from 72 percent in 2015, according to a US government report released last year.

The Taliban have even continued to carry out daily attacks on Afghan security forces amid the negotiations.

Last week, thousands of tribal elders and other figures held a rare grand assembly — known as Loya Jirga — in Kabul to express their views about a peace deal with Taliban.

At the end of that meeting, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered Taliban a truce deal.

The militants were, however, quick to reject the offer and launched attacks on a police station in northern Afghanistan, leaving over a dozen people dead there on Sunday.

May 6, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | 1 Comment

US denies visa to ICC chief prosecutor, unhappy with her probing American war crimes in Afghanistan

RT | April 5, 2019

Washington has annulled the entry visa of Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, after the State Department vowed to shield Americans from “unjust prosecutions” of possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

“We can confirm that the US authorities have revoked the prosecutor’s visa for entry into the US,” Bensouda’s office told Reuters in an email. However, the move should not restrict her travels to the UN headquarters in New York City.

Less than a month ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that the US would not allow Americans to live in “fear of unjust prosecutions” just because thousands of citizens were sent to “defend” their country on the other side of the globe, some 7,000 miles away.

“If you’re responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of US personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have, or will get, a visa or that you will be permitted to enter the United States,” he warned in mid-March.

Over the last two years, the Gambian lawyer has been probing US-led war crimes in Afghanistan but has not yet opened a formal investigation into alleged atrocities conducted over the last 18 years. For now, the preliminary inquiry remains in Pre-Trial Chamber, even though Bensouda found a “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan.”

Only the American military system can judge the servicemen, Pompeo said, warning the ICC to drop their inquiry. “We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change course,” Pompeo warned.

The ICC is investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by various parties in the protracted conflict, including US forces, as detailed in a 2016 report. The part concerning unidentified members of the US military and intelligence relates to dozens of cases in 2003-2004, and alleged crimes like torture, cruel treatment, and sexual assault.

The ICC says those crimes may have been committed in furtherance of US policy in the freshly occupied country, rather than a set of individual unrelated atrocities. In light of this, Washington’s resistance to the probe may be more than a sign of principled rejection of any international authority over US nationals.

US courts have not been very forthcoming in prosecuting Americans for such crimes. A notable exception is the case of retired US Army Ranger turned CIA civilian contractor David Passaro. Over two nights in 2003, he tortured to death an Afghan man named Abdul Wali, who turned himself in after being accused of taking part in a rocket attack on a US base.

Passaro was sentenced to serve eight years and four months in prison, and later said he was a scapegoat for the US government, which wanted to show the public that it was holding the CIA accountable in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Read more:

International court judge resigns, citing ‘shocking’ interference from ‘above the law’ US

 

April 5, 2019 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment