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Iran Signs Free Trade Agreement With Eurasian Economic Union

By Adam Garrie | EurasiaFuture | May 17, 2018

Iran has just signed an agreement to enter a three year provisional free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). According to EAEU official Tigran Sargsyan,

“The temporary agreement stipulates an effective dispute settlement mechanism, including arbitration… It also creates a joint committee of high-ranking officials and establishes a business dialogue”.

The EAEU’s current members are Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, while the bloc has existing free trade agreements with Vietnam, Uzbekistan and Moldova. Aside from Vietnam other ASEAN states including Indonesia and Thailand have been in early level discussions about the possibility of a free trade arrangement with the EAEU, while Serbia and Turkey have also considered joining.  Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak has said that Iran could become the sixth full member in the future. Today’s Iran-EAEU free trade agreement will function as a test to determine the viability of long term Iranian membership of the trading bloc. Novak stated,

“The move to enter into a temporary agreement making for a free trade zone to be set up between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union, which is currently at an advanced stage, will obviously trigger further development of our bilateral trade and expansion of investment cooperation”.

While many will see EAEU membership as a further means for Iran to create new economic partnerships away from regions whose financial and commercial structures are subservient to a hostile United States, in the long term, it means far more to Iran than a means of skirting increasingly ridiculous sanctions from Washington in the light of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA.

For Iran, EAEU membership represents a new opportunity to expand its economic horizons beyond its current Middle Eastern partners. In this sense, just as Iran has a long history of ‘thinking east’ in terms of economic connectivity and cultural exchange, today’s EAEU presents Tehran with a modern cooperative model to expand its peaceful economic interactions to greater Eurasia. Beyond this, with proposals to integrate Pakistan into the North-South Economic Corridor, Pakistan and Iran could cooperate in order to form two unique and mutually complimentary road corridors.

The North-South Transport Corridor is a joint initiative of nations who have built and continue to expand shipping and road links between South Asia, Northern Eurasia and Europe. The map below shows the basic route which begins with a shipping lane between India and Iran’s Chabahar Port on the Gulf of Oman, before travelling north through Iran to the Caucasus and into Russia, while also linking up with existing rail routes from Iran into Central Asia and west into Europe via Turkey.

While countries as diverse as Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan have embraced the North-South Corridor as a means of creating greater opportunities for economic enrichment through joint cooperative efforts, in India, the project has been sold as a rival to China’a One Belt–One Road. This has been the case even though the North-South Corridor is vastly more limited in its geographical expanse vis-a-vis the global Chinese project and perhaps even more crucially, the other partners in the North-South Transport Corridor do not share India’s zero-sum vision of the project.

In particular, India is keen to present the North-South Transport Corridor as a rival to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking China to the Indian ocean via a large road and rail network whose western terminus is Pakistan’s Gwadar port.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan recently announced that his country is interested in linking up with existing routes along the North-South Transport Corridor. This gives Pakistan the opportunity to link the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with the North-South Transport Corridor, which would serve the long term strategic interests of the wider region, in terms of linking Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea with Iran’s Chabahar Port on the Gulf of Oman.

Under such a scenario, goods from China would enter Pakistan via newly built road and rail routes and could then travel in one of two directions. First of all, goods could travel south through Pakistan to Gwadar where from there they could go in multiple directions including into Africa, Europe via the Suez Canal, or the wider Middle East via the Gulf of Oman/Chabahar and the Persian Gulf. Alternatively, goods could travel north into Central Asia and ultimately into Russia via Pakistan. This second option was proposed by geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko in early 2017 when he wrote,

“The enhanced trade relations that were mentioned above [see full piece] can only occur if Russia and Pakistan are connected to one another through CPEC, no matter how indirectly due to the geographic distance between them and Moscow’s reluctance to officially endorse this trade route in order to preserve its strategic “balancing act” with India. The second part of this conditional implies that the private sector needs to drive these two countries’ CPEC connectivity since the Russian state isn’t going to do so because of delicate political reasons, which thus allows one to envision three possible solutions, all of which are inclusive of one another and could in theory exist concurrently.

The most probable of the three is that Russia could connect to CPEC via the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan, which is already a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and through which a lot of bilateral trade already traverses. Furthermore, the Eurasian Land Bridge between East Asia and Western Europe is expected to pass through this international corridor as well, so it’ll probably be easiest for Russia and Pakistan to trade across this route by linking up at CPEC’s Urumqi hub in China’s Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.

Considering that Xinjiang’s capital city is located closer to Russia’s southern Siberian border than to CPEC’s terminal Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, there’s also the chance that a more direct north-south trade route could be established between Russia and Pakistan via this avenue. After all, Russia’s “Pivot to Asia” (which is officially referred to as “rebalancing” in Moscow’s political parlance) isn’t just international but also internal, and it aspires to develop resource-rich Siberia just as much as it aims to chart new international partnerships. With this in mind, there’s no reason why southern Siberia couldn’t one day be connected to CPEC via the nearby Urumqi juncture.

Lastly, Russia’s already building a North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) through Azerbaijan and Iran in order to facilitate trade with India, so the opportunity exists for it to simply use this route’s overland transport infrastructure to reach Pakistan in the event that the Iranian terminal port of Chabahar is ultimately linked with nearby Gwadar. Even if that doesn’t happen, then there’s still nothing preventing private Russian businessman from using Chabahar or even the more developed port of Bandar Abbas as their base of operations for conducting maritime trade with Gwadar or Karachi. This would in effect make India’s “brainchild” the ironic basis for Russian-Pakistani economic relations”.

Both Pakistan’s willingness to embrace the North-South Corridor, thereby integrating it into CPEC which itself forms a crucial artery of One Belt–One Road and Iran’s eagerness to become a member of the EAEU, could help to speed up the process of wider inter-connectivity between China’s Pacific Coast, the Middle East and Russia’s wider economic sphere in northern Eurasia.

If all of these existing links became inter-connected, one would see Gwadar taking on the adding function of becoming Central Asia and Russia’s gateway to the wider shipping routes of the Indian Ocean, while Chabahar would act as a parallel route for goods from both CPEC and the wider Indian Ocean, into the Caucasus, Russia or the Middle East.

Iran’s membership in the EAEU would help to expedite this process as the routes from Iran into Armenia and finally, into Russia would all constitute a single market. Were Turkey to join the EAEU, this would make transcaucasian trade into Turkey and the wider Mediterranean region all the more simple, as it would also allow Iran to act as a conduit between the Caucasus and Turkey, thus avoiding the politically prickly issue of direct trade from Armenia into Turkey. Turkey and Armenia’s mutually healthy relations with Iran, means that Tehran could be a physical arbiter of trade between two nations with historically (and currently) poor relations.

Over all, a strong and southward looking EAEU will help to strengthen both Iran-Pakistan relations through enhanced South Asian-Northern Eurasian trading networks, while also helping to facilitate the smooth transport of goods along One Belt–One Road from the Pacific into the Middle East, western Eurasia and further south into Africa along Indian Ocean maritime belts.

May 17, 2018 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suffering in Silence

Warning: This video contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.

Suffering in Silence Films | March 16, 2015

This investigative documentary is about war on terror in Pakistan. It is a journey through silent sufferings of victims of war on terror, innocents killed in US drone strikes as collateral damage, the terrorised community living under war, the civilian victims of war on terror and internally displaced people (IDP) due to war. The documentary focuses on most important aspect of the war within Pakistan, which is “chemistry between war on terror and terrorism itself”.

This documentary analysed psychological impact of war on the community in North West Pakistan, specially focusing on the intensified feelings of revenge in youngsters and its after effect in the form of suicide bombings as well as dangerously spread terrorism and involvement of “third hand” in the current situation. It also talks about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children witnessing war and terrorism.

Zooming in the community suffering in silence, the documentary tells the untold stories of civilian victims of drone attacks, journalists witnessing the unsaid truth, psychiatrist trying to heal injured souls, displaced people living miserably in harsh conditions of temporary camps, politicians running anti-war campaign and volunteers trying to comfort people in the war torn society.

Documentary asks that if the right to life is absolute for innocent civilians without any discrimination of race, how can Pakistan allow killing of thousands of innocent civilians as collateral damage?

Talking about how war on terror has facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups and motivated further violent attacks, it gives detailed psychoanalysis of tribal culture & the community prone to be recruited by the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.

Challenging US claims of “surgically precise” (1) drone attacks on terrorist networks in Pakistan, the documentary “Suffering in Silence” unveils the contrary situation on the ground. Following two years of intensive research, exclusive interviews with victims and witnesses of war on terror including drone strikes and army operations, experts on Geo-political situation, psychiatrists and review of several media reports—this documentary highlights extremely detrimental and counterproductive effects of current US drone strike policy as well as highly damaging and terrorism provoking war policy of Pakistan.

Documentary advocates that:

Intensity of agony doesn’t alter with geography. There has to be an end to hypocrisy. Right to life and a peaceful life should be equal for all. Life of an innocent child living in FATA should be considered as precious as of an innocent child living in New York. Pain means same for all. The pain of losing a loved one, the pain of witnessing transition of your child from being healthy to disable for life is same for all. The pain for searching your loved ones under the rubble of a school or home is as intense as it would be anywhere else in the world. For us watching news on our TV screens, the “militants” killed in drone strikes or killing of 50,000 people in suicide bomb blasts can be just a news. But for those who lost their loved ones, it’s not just news, it’s their torturous biography.

The least rest of the selfish world can do, is it to realise Pakistan’s sacrifices in an attempt to make this world a safer place.

Music

“Night Song” by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

May 6, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi prince’s Narasimha Rao moment

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 8, 2018

Ten days have passed since the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman in a sensational interview with Time magazine recognized Israel’s right to exist and talked up future ties between the two countries. MBS hinted at the possibility of cooperation with Israel, adding the caveat that “we have to have a peace agreement (between Israel and the Palestinians) to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Ten days are enough to shake the world – Bolshevik Revolution in Russia took only that long. By now MBS’s statement should have set the Muslim Middle East on fire, since after all, he is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and is destined to be the future Custodian of the Holy Places. On the contrary, there has been no violent reaction in the Islamic world to MBS’ extraordinary remarks.

Could this be his “Narasimha-Rao moment”? In India too, there was some agonizing when Prime Minister Rao took the decision in 1992 to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The conventional wisdom was that there might be a political backlash from the Indian Muslim community. But nothing of the sort happened. And over the years the Indian political elite not only got adapted to the Israel ties but took to it with gusto once it became apparent that the Palestine issue was passé in the Indian public opinion.

Clearly, Rao made a shrewd assessment of the gains and losses. MBS too must have done that since the Saudis and Israelis have been having sub-soil contacts for a while already. There is every reason to anticipate that the Saudi-Israeli political ties are transforming. The big question is, if Saudi Arabia takes the lead, how long can the rest of the Muslim Middle East hold back?

The other Persian Gulf oligarchies will take the cue from MBS. The UAE, in particular, is already trudging the same path – if anything, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, also called MBZ, is somewhat ahead of MBS (whom he reportedly mentors.) Egypt already has diplomatic ties with Israel and Jordan always kept communication lines open to Israel. Qatar too has had dealings with Israel. The so-called “Shi’ite Crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) may be an exception, while Turkey is regarded as an “outsider” by the Arab countries.

What about Pakistan? There has always been an opinion among the Pakistani elite that Islamabad should pragmatically deal with Israel. The former dictator Pervez Musharraf has brazenly spoken about the desirability of Pakistan having dealings with Israel in mutual interest. Interestingly, in August 2016, Pakistani and Israeli air force jets (plus the UAE air force) took part in the annual “Red Flag” war simulation exercise hosted by the US at the Nellis Air Force base in Nevada as part of advanced combat training exercise.

The Red Flag is regarded as the biggest and best simulation of war in the world. Interestingly, in 2015, the air forces of the United States, Israel, Singapore and Jordan had participated in the Red Flag and it was reported at that time that Israeli planes had even refueled the Jordanian fighter jets in the air, on the way to the US.

Some degree of proximity between Pakistan and Israel can be expected to develop in the downstream of the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement, especially if it blossoms as a quasi-alliance (which seems highly likely in a near-term scenario). To be sure, it will not escape Israel’s notice that the Islamic Military Alliance created by the Saudis has the former Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif as its commander-in-chief. Significantly, during his interview with Indian media while visiting Delhi recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to be drawn into public discussions regarding the Modi government’s “surgical strikes” against Pakistan, hinting evasively that Israel and Pakistan kept rules of mutual conduct.

Netting the big fish in the Islamic ocean has always been a foreign-policy priority for Israel. (We tend to overlook that Judaism and Islam are Abrahamic religions.) And as the biggest Islamic power, Pakistan is a pristine whale shark, 40′ long and weighing 20 tons. The marine biologists say that though carnivorous, the whale shark is unlikely to take a nibble out of an unwary surfer, and is in fact, so friendly that people often swim with it.

April 8, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Political party asks Pakistan to cut ties with the US

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid | Asia Times | April 5, 2018

A political party with close links to a man designated a global terrorist and connected to a number of other groups in Pakistan classified as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States, has urged the government of Pakistan to sever ties with the US.

The Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party affiliated with terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, a globally designated terrorist, made the plea to sever ties with Washington after the US moved to increase pressure on radical groups in Pakistan early this week.

The US designated two groups – the MML and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TAJK) – as Foreign Terrorist Organizations on Monday, claiming they were fronts for the LeT, which is banned in Pakistan.

The US move deals a blow to the political ambitions of Saeed, who launched a campaign earlier this year to contest the general elections in a bid to become prime minister.

“The US is clearly interfering in Pakistan’s internal matters and should stay away from local politics,” MML spokesman Tabish Qayyum told Asia Times. “This is a breach of our fundamental rights as citizens of Pakistan, where no proof exists against us or our leadership pertaining to their alleged involvement in terrorism.”

In the build-up to February’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris, Islamabad designated Saeed and his groups terrorists as part of the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018. It amended the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, to include all United Nations-sanctioned terror groups, including those in Pakistan.

This meant that along with Saeed and his LeT, affiliated groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation were also designated terror groups in Pakistan. However the MML, which was founded in August last year and has sworn allegiance to Saeed as its “spiritual guide,” wasn’t named in the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance, or on the US list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”

The US State Department’s announcement on Monday night was the first instance of the MML being named as an international terror group.

“We are a separate entity from LeT and JuD, you can’t just lump us all together,”MML spokesman Qayyum told Asia Times. “This is clearly a case of Islamabad taking orders from Washington and curtailing the rights of its own citizens. We urge Pakistan to reconsider its ties with the US.”

Registering to run in election

Echoing Qayyum, MML’s Finance Secretary Ehsan Ullah told Asia Times that the US announcement was a setback for the party as it had been finalizing plans to legally register with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

“With the FATF announcement, and the government of Pakistan’s declaration against Hafiz Saeed, we had figured a legal way out to help us get registered with the ECP, complying with the financial scrutiny underlined by the FATF and also the legal requirements of the country,” he said.

“The US move is designed to damage our political growth, because we are a political threat for our rivals. If Pakistan had any self-respect it would sever ties with the US,” he added.

While the ECP registration remains pending because the Interior Ministry has underlined the MML’s links with LeT and Saeed, the JuD is confident the judiciary will help Saeed’s groups.

“The government is an American and Indian puppet, but the judiciary knows who is truly patriotic and who truly works for the interests of Pakistan,” JuD spokesman Nadeem Awan told Asia Times.

Last month the Lahore High Court extended its stay order against Saeed’s arrest as the government sought time to file replies and evidence. JuD insiders say the government cannot provide any evidence in court, which won’t stop questions being asked about the complicity of state institutions with Saeed and his groups.   

“Let’s not forget that we are only asking for Hafiz Saeed’s support just like the Pakistan Muslim LeagueNawaz (PML-N) has done in the past,” said Qayyum. “So it’s stark hypocrisy that the PML-N is asking for a ban on us, while they have used the same names to become the ruling party,” he said.

JuD spokesman Awam, meanwhile, says none of Saeed’s groups are involved in any suspicious activities.

“All state institutions know about our activities. We have never conducted any act that could be described as terrorism as per Pakistani laws and policies,” he said, adding that Saeed was the “voice of Pakistanis” and a “freedom fighter for Kashmir.”

“Now look at the bloodshed in Kashmir – do you think this government, that is an Indian stooge, can do anything about innocent Kashmiris dying under Indian occupation?” he asked. “Kashmir was declared as Pakistan’s jugular vein, and when it bleeds, the body can’t survive.”

April 5, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , | Leave a comment

US expects India to engage Pakistan in Kashmir talks

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 4, 2018

The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US State Department Alice Wells is visiting India on April 3-6. This is strictly not a ‘bilateral event’, but Ambassador Wells’ discussions with senior Indian government officials are expected to cover “regional and global issues”, according to the US state department announcement. Presumably, Afghanistan will be on top of the agenda of discussion.

Ambassador Wells has emerged as the Trump administration’s key interlocutor on the Afghan problem. A career diplomat, low-key but very effective in the absence of turf rivalries, she is able to galvanize the search for a political process in Afghanistan in such a short period of time. Ambassador Wells has succeeded in building up a good rapport with the Pakistani officials who are in a position to make or mar her project. During her extraordinarily open-ended visit (for “several days”) to Pakistan last week, Ambassador Wells was received by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Ambassador Wells’ consultations in Delhi come at a sensitive juncture. For, no matter what the Pentagon commanders might like, President Donald Trump wants the war to end before his campaign for a second term begins and Ambassador Wells’ task is cut out for her. Delhi must understand that this is not a routine visit she is undertaking for an exchange of views with think-tankers and officials on the sidelines of the US-India-Japan trilateral taking place today. In fact, the trilateral is the sideshow.

The Taliban is tiptoeing toward the negotiating table and Ambassador Wells’ persuasiveness and diplomatic skill has made all the difference. (For the uninitiated, let me introduce to them her masterly briefing on March 9 at the US Institute of Peace in Washington – Signs of Hope for Afghan Peace Talks.)

The traffic on the diplomatic track has become dense lately since the meeting in the White House in Washington between Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the US Vice-President Mike Pence on March 17. The international conference in Tashkent on March 26-27 has served the purpose of generating a modicum of regional consensus. The Russian daily Kommersant reported quoting “sources” that although no formal invitation was extended to the Taliban to participate in the conference, “at the last minute, they expressed a desire to come to Tashkent.”

Be that as it may, Taliban was surely eavesdropping outside the conference hall and would have noticed from the Tashkent Declaration that there is not a single voice in the international community that disapproves of the Afghan government’s unconditional offer of peace talks. Ambassador Wells proceeded to Kabul after the Tashkent conference and then moved on to Islamabad last Thursday.

Interestingly, Pakistan handed over a “terror dossier” to Kabul last Thursday containing evidence of terrorist sanctuaries on Afghan soil. It is a veritable action plan for the Afghan side and their American mentors as to what Pakistan expected them to do by curbing the terrorist activities from bases within Afghanistan. And, four days later, The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Janjua, accompanied by the Director General Military Operations Maj Gen Shamshad Mirza and other senior officials travelled to Kabul for downstream talks. These talks are expected to prepare the ground for the visit by Prime Minister Abbasi’s visit to the Afghan capital on April 6. (Abbasi is proceeding from Kabul to China on a 3-day visit.)

We may expect Abbasi’s visit to Kabul on Friday to be a watershed event. It is entirely conceivable that in a not-too-distant future the Taliban may announce its formal response to the Afghan government offer for peace talks. The coming days and weeks, therefore, are of critical interest.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government announced on Sunday the dates for the long-delayed parliamentary elections and the first-ever local council elections – October 20. Of course, there is a big question mark about the feasibility of holding elections in Afghanistan in the prevailing circumstances with roughly half the country contested by insurgents.

On the other hand, it is the Taliban’s participation in these elections that can make a world of difference, giving them the legitimacy they badly need and providing the country’s democratic process the traction that it never could really acquire in the past decade or more. The US’ allies are extremely keen that the political legitimacy of the Afghan political system is enhanced. The speech made by the European Union foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Tashkent conference was particularly notable for being a stirring call to the Taliban to rise to the momentous occasion in their country’s history.

Suffice to say, any Pakistani-Afghan consensus to put a moratorium on cross-border terrorism will be a major development. The US is actively promoting it. So is China. Pakistan can be expected to reciprocate. But we aren’t quite there, yet.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the US government-funded media organ, that Islamabad and Washington are yet to find “common ground” on a range of issues. Faisal didn’t specify the problem areas, but it stands to reason that a principal one will be Pakistan’s tense relations with India.

Quite obviously, we should anticipate that the Trump administration hopes to bring India on board. Put differently, the Trump administration’s “regional approach” for Afghanistan demands that India-Pakistan tensions do not complicate the path of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Wells is likely to meet with the Foreign Secretary and NSA Ajit Doval while in Delhi. Significantly, on the eve of Ambassador Wells’ departure for India on Monday, the US state department amended its designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba, identifying Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir as LeT affiliates, making it impossible for them to register as political parties in Pakistan.

Clearly, the Trump administration hopes that Delhi will appreciate this as friendly gesture, underscoring that Washington is receptive towards India’s genuine concerns in regional security. It doesn’t need much ingenuity to figure out that Ambassador Wells would also have taken Pakistani officials into confidence that capping the political ambitions of Hafeez Saeed can be an important confidence-building measure at this point.

Now comes the big question: How does India respond to the totality of the emergent situation surrounding Afghanistan? Sadly, the explosive violence in Jammu & Kashmir just at this juncture will make things very difficult for Delhi to rise to the occasion and optimally align the Indian foreign policies with the broader trends leading toward peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the bottom line is that India is a stakeholder. Clearly, a leap of faith is needed. The Modi government would chaff at the very idea of holding talks with Pakistan, facilitated by Washington and under close US monitoring, when the 2019 poll is sailing into view.

But in politics and diplomacy, there may be moments when drinking from the chalice of poison is necessary – to borrow the memorable words of Iran’s Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an analogous situation in his country’s contemporary history when he allowed himself to be persuaded to agree to a ceasefire against the Iraqi aggressor who had bled his country white in the 8-year war (1980-1988.)

Given the complete policy breakdown in Jammu & Kashmir, what is the alternative? And, the crisis in J&K is only deepening; the wounds are threatening to turn gangrene.

April 4, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 3 Comments

US in Afghanistan to Influence Russia, Iran, China – Russian Foreign Ministry

Sputnik – March 14, 2108

The United States retains its presence in Afghanistan to exert influence on neighboring countries and regional rivals – namely, Russia, Iran and China, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Director Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“In our opinion, the United States is in Afghanistan primarily with the aim of controlling and influencing the political processes in its neighboring countries, and also demonstrating its power to its regional competitors, primarily China, Russia and Iran. The United States is clearly trying to achieve destabilization of Central Asia and later transfer it to Russia in order to subsequently present itself as the only defender against potential and emerging threats in the region,” Kabulov said.

According to the diplomat, Russia and other countries neighboring with Afghanistan have questions about the true goals and time frame of the US military presence in the Central Asian country.

“If the United States and its NATO allies intend to continue their destructive policy in Afghanistan, this will mean that the West is heading toward the revival of the Cold War era in this part of the world. We closely monitor the developments and are ready to respond in cooperation with our partners and other like-minded people,” Kabulov noted.

The diplomat pointed out that Washington still failed to understand that the Afghan conflict could not be resolved solely by military means, stressing that it was impossible to defeat the Taliban by force.

Moscow is puzzled by the attempts of the United States and NATO to persuade Afghanistan to replace Russian weapons and military equipment, such move leads to reduction of Afghan’s military potential, Zamir Kabulov told Sputnik in an interview.

“The course taken by the United States and NATO to persuade Kabul to replace Russia-made small arms and aircraft is surprising, as it will inevitably lead to a decrease in the combat capabilities of the Afghan armed forces and further deterioration of the situation,” Kabulov said.

The diplomat reminded that a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on Russia’s defense industry assistance to Afghanistan had entered into force in November 2016, adding that the document created the legal framework for Russian assistance in arming and equipping the Afghan security forces.

“At the moment, negotiations are underway on repairs and supplies of spare parts for the Afghan Air Force’s helicopters for various purposes, produced in Russia (the Soviet Union),” Kabulov added.

Afghanistan Parliamentary Election

The parliamentary election in Afghanistan is unlikely to take place in July in the current circumstances, Kabulov said.

“I do not think that the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan will be held in July this year as scheduled. The Taliban continue to control about half of the country’s territory, engage in hostilities, organize and carry out terrorist attacks in large cities, and, apparently, are not going to make compromises and reconciliation with the Afghan government,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is also unlikely to accomplish all the necessary procedures before the date set for the vote, given that the commission has announced earlier that the registration of voters will complete only by early August, the diplomat noted.

Furthermore, disagreements between the presidential administration and its political opposition regarding the parameters of the upcoming elections still remain unresolved, the official noted.

“In my opinion, if elections are conducted in the current circumstances, their results will not improve the political situation in the country and confidence in the current government, will not force the armed opposition to cooperate with the government,” Kabulov added.

The diplomat also noted that the Daesh terror group posed a serious threat to holding the election.

“The Daesh jihadists pose a serious threat to the security of the conduct of elections, especially in the north and a number of eastern provinces of Afghanistan. Some polling stations in the provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Faryab and Ghazni are the most problematic in terms of security, according to the IEC data. I think that, in fact, the list of problematic areas in terms of organization of voting is much longer,” Kabulov said.

Afghanistan Reconciliation Talks

Russia considers the so-called Moscow format of talks an optimal platform for the promotion of national reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov noted.

“Unfortunately, the existence of a large number of international formats on the Afghan issue has not significantly contributed to the involvement of the Taliban in peace negotiations. In this regard, we consider the Moscow format of consultations launched by us in early 2017 as the optimal platform for substantive negotiations to promote national reconciliation and establish a constructive dialogue between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Kabulov said.

Kabulov also noted that Moscow considered the format of talks in the Afghan capital as one approach toward achieving a collective solution to the problems surrounding Afghan settlement.

“A signal of international support for the resolution of the intra-Afghan conflict through political dialogue with the government of Afghanistan has been sent to the Taliban. The Taliban ignored the recent meeting of the ‘Kabul process’ in the Afghan capital, insisting on direct talks with the United States,” the diplomat added.

In February 2017, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Afghanistan came together in Moscow for talks to promote the national reconciliation process in Afghanistan through regional cooperation with Kabul in the leading role. Apart from the aforementioned states, the latest round in April gathered five Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The United States refused to take part in the meeting.

Afghanistan has long suffered political, social and security-related instability because of the simmering insurgency, including that of the Taliban, but also because of the actions of the Daesh terror group.

The United States has been in Afghanistan for almost 17 years following the 9/11 attacks. Before his election, Trump slammed sending US troops and resources to the Central Asian country.

March 14, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia, Pakistan edge closer in new cold war conditions

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 22, 2018

Afghanistan, no doubt, was what brought Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif to Moscow on a ‘working visit’ on February 20. This was Asif’s second meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the past 5-month period. They last met in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA session in September.

The Russian Ministry took pains to highlight Asif’s visit. A ‘working visit’ cuts out protocol frills and gets straight to transacting business. Yet, Moscow made an exception and issued a glowing ‘curtain-raiser’ to hail Asif’s arrival. There must have been strong reasons to do so. The regional backdrop is indeed tumultuous. The new Cold War is slouching toward the Hindu Kush and Central Asian steppes and Pakistan’s geography is regaining the criticality in strategic terms reminiscent of the 1980s.

The Russian statements have become highly critical of the US regional strategies in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Moscow has concluded that the US is determined to keep an open-ended military presence in the region. On the other hand, Russia is being kept at arm’s length from the Afghan problem. Instead, Washington is directly engaging the Central Asian states, bypassing Russia, including at the military level. Clearly, Washington is working hard to undermine Moscow’s leadership role in the region in the fight against terrorism and to challenge Russia’s notion of being the provider of security to the former Soviet republics neighboring Afghanistan.

Given the experience in Syria (where the US is covertly encouraging the ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates to make the going tough for the Russians and to create new facts on the ground that weaken Syria’s unity), Moscow is increasingly wary of US intentions vis-à-vis the ISIS in Afghanistan. To be sure, the growing presence of ISIS in the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan facing the Central Asian region deeply worries Russia. Moscow has repeatedly hinted that the US could be facilitating the transfer of ISIS fighters from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. But the Americans move on, ignoring the Russian barbs. The pattern in Syria is repeating.

Lavrov brought up the US-ISIS nexus in the discussions with Asif. The Russian side has floated the idea that the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization can be put to use “to develop practical measures to curtail ISIS influence in Afghanistan and prevent it from spreading to Central Asia.”

From Lavrov’s remarks following the talks with Asif, it appears that the SCO summit, which is scheduled to be held in Qingdao (China) in July, may make some moves/initiatives on the Afghan problem. Last year Russia injected a new lease of life into the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. China will be hosting the next meeting of the Contact Group. The fact is that with the admission of Pakistan and India as full members, SCO now represents all key neighbors of Afghanistan.

At the media briefing after the talks with Asif, Lavrov outlined that Russia and Pakistan have common ground in regard of the Afghan situation. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry readout stated that the two ministers “agreed to closely coordinate in all Afghanistan-related processes for a regional solution of the Afghan conflict.”

Indeed, the articulations from both sides regarding the talks in Moscow on Tuesday suggest that Russia and Pakistan intend to work closely together to coordinate their approaches to the Afghan situation. Russia has promised to step up military support for Pakistan’s counter-terrorist operations. Significantly, as per a decision taken earlier, a new commission on military-technical cooperation between the two countries is being set up. Of course, this is happening at a time when the Pakistani military is preparing to face any cuts in US military aid.

To be sure, the talks in Moscow took place in the new cold war conditions. The critical difference today, compared to the eighties, would be that, as the Russian Foreign Ministry curtain-raiser put it,

  • “Today, Pakistan has become an important foreign policy partner of Russia. Both countries cooperate productively at international organisations, in particular at the UN and its agencies. Cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is based on coinciding or similar positions on most issues facing the international community, including terrorism and religious extremism.”
  • “Opportunities for joint work expanded considerably after Pakistan joined the SCO as a fully-fledged member in June 2017…”
  • “The fight against terrorism is a key area of cooperation… The situation in Afghanistan arouses common concern. We are particularly concerned about the growing influence of the ISIS terrorist group in Afghanistan and its efforts to consolidate its positions in the country’s north and east. We advocate a regional approach towards resolving the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We expect participants in the Moscow format of consultations on the Afghan issue and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to work productively.”

The pronounced convergence over Afghanistan can be expected to create synergy for an all-round expansion and deepening of the Russia-Pakistan relationship. Lavrov gave an upbeat account of the relationship as it stands today. Russia’s interest lies in boosting Pakistan’s grit and capacity to withstand US pressure. Interestingly, Lavrov and Asif also discussed Syria where the US has lately switched to an offensive mode against Russia. (See my blog US-Russia rivalry surges in Syria.) Again, Asif voiced Pakistan’s opposition to the sanctions against Russia.

February 21, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campaign against Pashtuns undermines rule of law

By Rahim Nasar | Asia Times | February 11, 2018

For the last six decades, Pakistan’s Pashtuns have been oppressed by the establishment. Marking opponents with the black stamp of treason has been the establishment’s most effective tool for silencing the ethnic group’s leaders when they dare to criticize state policy-makers.

The promotion of Pashtun cultural stereotypes – the portrayal of the Pashtuns as a violent and extremist ethnic group – has led to them being internally exiled as  the war against militancy is waged in the  FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas a semi-autonomous tribal region in the country’s  northwest). Young Pashtuns are targeted by the security forces and many have been killed extrajuducially, which has had a radicalizing effect.

Since 2001, the indigenous Pashtuns living in the FATA, a safe haven for Afghan mujahedeen, have been enduring the dreadful consequences of the so-called war against terror. Grievances have been fuelled by ethnic predjudice and unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

On January 12, the extrajudicial killing of 27-year-old shopkeeper Naqeeb Mehsood by Karachi counterterrorism police sparked outrage in the Pashtun community. The Sindh provincial government and police allegedly tried to cover up the incident, but Pashtun youths took to social media to raise awareness of the more than 443 young Pashtuns that they say have been killed extrajudicially in Karachi.

The ongoing policy of using extrajudicial killings to counter militancy  highlights the violent nature of Karachi’s police. To end the extrajudicial killings and bring about change in the FATA, thousands of Pashtuns led by Manzoor Pashteen marched 400km from Dera Ismail Khan District in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to Islamabad, the capital, earlier this month to tell the government that enough is enough.

They staged a sit-in until January 10 in front of the National Press Club in a peaceful manner, challenging the notion that they are  unruly and violent. However, Pakistan’s media ignored the protest, providing no coverage. Only the international media covered the sit-in and publicized the protesters’ five key demands. Their list of demands is as follows:

The return of missing Pashtuns

Since the war against militants in the FATA and other Pashtun areas, tens of hundreds of Pashtuns have been arrested by law enforcement agencies. The protesters demand that they be released or be given an open trial.

The mysterious disappearance of young Pashtuns is an unacceptable violation of international law. Pakistan is a country that has a constitution, courts, and set penalties for those who commit crimes. The arrest and torture of young people on mere suspicion is wrong and undermines and discredits the justice system.

An end to discrimination against Pashtuns

Whether one accepts it or not, ethnic discrimination is on the rise in Pakistan, where being Pashtun means being viewed with suspicion. Pashtun cultural stereotyping; the arbitrary imposition of curfews, the disrespectful behavior of army personnel when interacting with youths, women and tribal elders; unnecessary check posts; security checks targeting indigenous Pashtuns in their home area;  and surprise raids on homes are among the grievances forming the basis for the second demand. The government of Pakistan has never taken this issue of cultural discrimination into account and this must change if ethnic harmony is ever going to become a reality.

Clearing landmines

There are deadly landmines  all over the FATA. In 2017 alone, more than 73 children became landmine victims, and the number of disabled people in the region is increasing at an alarming rate. Providing a safe environment for citizens is the most important duty of the state, and it must do much more to address the problem, say the protesters.

A judicial commission on extrajudicial killings

Since the 1951 assassination of the statesman Liaqat Ali Khan and the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, judicial commissions have been demanded to investigate the killings of key figures in Pakistan, but nothing has been done yet.

The passiveness of judicial commissions has resulted in culprits escaping justice. A judicial commission under the supervision of the chief justice to investigate extrajudicial killings of Pashtuns is another demand of the protestors. Extrajudicial killing is an open and direct challenge to rule of law. The failure of rule of law amounts to the failure of the state.

Police officer must be brought to justice

The final and most popular demand of the Pashtun long march participants is the immediate arrest and execution of Rao Anwar, a former ssenior superintendent in the Karachi police’s counterterrorism department. The fugitive rogue policeman has the backing of former president Asif Ali Zardri (co-chairman Pakistan People’s Party). Despite having a salary of just 70,000 rupees (US$635) per month, Rao is believed to have assets, including property and luxury vehicles, worth 4.5 billion rupees.

Since 2011, Rao has allegedly extraudicially killed more than 443 innocent young Pashtuns and Urdu speakers in Karachi alone. The fact that he remains at large is unacceptable. Everyone should be equal before the law. Flouting the rule of law and backing killers will lead to anarchy and ultimately a failed state.

February 12, 2018 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

China to Build Second Foreign Naval Base, This Time in Pakistan

Sputnik – 05.01.2018

China is planning to build its second foreign naval base in Pakistan following the ribbon cutting ceremony for its first overseas base in Djibouti last July.

Sources close to the People’s Liberation Army have confirmed to the South China Morning Post that a Chinese naval port is being built at a strategic location on Pakistan’s southern coast.

“China needs to set up another base in Gwadar for its warships because Gwadar is now a civilian port,” Zhou Chenming, a Chinese military analyst, told the South China Morning Post on Friday. “Gwadar port can’t provide specific services for warships,” Zhou said; hence the need for a new base.

Gwadar is less than 50 miles east of the Pakistan-Iran border and sits in Balochistan Province, where fiercely independent Baloch nationalists have waged guerrilla wars against both the Pakistani and Iranian governments. “Public order there is a mess,” Zhou said.

“China and Pakistan have found common ground in terms of maritime interest in the region,” Pakistani analyst Sheikh Fahad says. “Gwadar port can be used for joint naval patrols in the Indian Ocean, further increasing the naval outreach of China and Pakistan in the region. Gwadar port will increase the countries’ naval movements and further expand defense cooperation, especially in the naval field,” Fahad noted.

In mid-December, Lawrence Sellin, a retired US Army Reserve colonel, reported for the Daily Caller that high-ranking Chinese and Pakistani officials had met in Beijing to discuss future projects.

Last June, a Pakistani diplomat said China’s help was needed as an “equalizer,” pointing to the naval base as all-but-inevitable. “Previously it was the US and Saudi Arabia… Now it’s China,” the diplomat told NBC. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman later dismissed the report as “pure guesswork,” but now it seems the port will, in fact, be built.

Experts have noted that India is keeping a close eye on the development of China-Pakistan relations. “China finds it very useful to use Pakistan against India and ignore India’s concerns, particularly on terrorism issues. That has created a lot of stress in the relationship between Beijing and Delhi,” Rajeev Ranan Chaturvedy, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, told SCMP.

But “Indian naval capabilities and experience in the Indian Ocean region are fairly good — much better than Pakistan and China,” Chaturvedy said.

January 5, 2018 Posted by | Militarism | , | 8 Comments

2018 will see US fighting three and a half wars in Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 31, 2017

At a ‘press gaggle’ at the Pentagon on Friday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis revealed that there isn’t going to be any withdrawal from the Syrian conflict. The Trump administration, on the contrary, plans to expand the presence by deploying diplomats and contractors to the north of Syria. Mattis called this a shift “from what I would call an offensive, terrain-seizing approach to a stabilizing” one.

That is to say, he explained, while the diplomats would work toward the “initial restoration of services” and to manage and administer rebuilding cities, the Pentagon will “bring in contractors” for training people on how to clear IEDs” (improvised explosive devices), etc. and alongside there will be a continuing military component to the US presence that “would move our diplomats around, protect them.” Mattis insisted that there is a “demarcation line” separating the US military zone in north and northeastern Syria, which the “Russian regime” and Syrian government are well aware of and are tacitly respecting so far.

Evidently, the US will continue its alliance with the Syrian Kurdish militia (known as YPG) in northern Syria, including the supply of weapons. The US defense spending bill for 2018 has made provision for sending weapons worth $393 million to US partners in Syria. Overall, $500 million, which is an increase of $70 million over 2016) is the allocation for Syria under ‘Train and Equip’ requirements. The budget mentions the opposition forces supported as a part of the train and equip program in Syria as 25,000 strong. The figure will now go up to 30,000 in 2018. Besides, the US and British military are training several hundred militants to create a New Syrian Army to fight the Syrian government forces in the south. (According to Russian estimates, most of the recruits are from ISIS and al-Qaeda groups.)

To be sure, the US’ ‘regime change’ agenda in Syria is back on track. But the Syrian conflict is also transforming as another template of a broader regional confrontation with Iran (and Russia) in the Middle East. The petard of Iran is useful to encourage the Sunni Arab petrodollar states to bankroll the war and overall make the US military interventions in the Middle East to be “self-financing”. (Mattis said, “We’ve got a lot of money coming from international donors for this, including Syria.”)

Meanwhile, this also means that the wars in Syria and Yemen are going to get fused at the hips, as it were. While the Obama administration was inclined to acknowledge that Iran’s interference in the war in Yemen, if at all, has been very minimal, the Trump administration has swung to the other extreme and brands the war as quintessentially a manifestation of Iran’s expansionist policies in the region. This creates the raison d’etre for more direct US intervention in the war in Yemen.

That makes it two full-bodied wars. Then, there is half a war to be added, which is in the nature of the Trump administration’s agenda to generally push back at Iran anywhere and everywhere (eg., Iraq, Lebanon), and, if possible, to bring about a ‘regime change’ in Tehran. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post last week, the US and Israel have set up 4 working groups to advance their “joint work plan” against Iran. This decision has been taken apparently at a secret meeting at the White House in Washington two weeks ago and will be put into the pipeline in 2018.

These two and a half wars become three and a half wars if we are also to add the Afghan war, which is entering its 17th year in 2018. The US has upped the ante by seeking a military solution to the Afghan war, disregarding the saner advice that a political solution is the best way out. The big question is whether 2018 will witnesses a US-Pakistani showdown.

A report in the New York Times on Friday hinted at the Trump administration “strongly considering whether to withhold $255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Islamabad… as a show of dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there.” Evidently, the US’ capacity to leverage Pakistani policies is touching rock bottom. The next step could be to deliver on the threat to punish Pakistan. If that happens, there will be hell to pay.

Indeed, in the above cauldron, one hasn’t included the succession in Saudi Arabia, which can likely happen during 2018; the growing instability in Egypt; the continuing anarchy in Libya; or the Saudi-Qatar rift and the consequent unraveling of the GCC. Who says the US is about to cut loose from the Middle East and escape to the ‘Indo-Pacific’? Do not overlook that an overarching priority of the US’ Middle East strategy is also to evict Russia from the region as it managed to do in the early 1970s so as to contain the bear in its lair in Eurasia.

December 31, 2017 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CPEC heading north to Hindu Kush

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 26, 2017

From the Indian perspective, today’s announcement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Beijing and Islamabad are open to extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan dramatically changes the power dynamic in the region. Wang was speaking at a press conference following the first meeting in Beijing today of the newly created China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Dialogue format at foreign minister level, which has been a Chinese initiative. (Xinhua )

Some early deductions are possible. First, for the first time in the region, China is deploying the Belt and Road Initiative to leverage regional security and stability in South Asia. Of course, the economic aspects are there in terms of connectivity, infrastructure development, expansion of trade and investment and so on, but if Kabul becomes a CPEC partner, something fundamentally changes in the 3-way Afghan-Indian-Pakistani equation. That this would be happening under China’s mentorship is important.

Second, India is getting surrounded by BRI projects – north, east, south and west. It lacks the energy and resources to project and sustain a counter-strategy. All we are left with is our vacuous negative propaganda to malign the BRI for which there are no takers abroad. By implication, Afghanistan is rejecting India’s notions of “territorial sovereignty”, et al. At the same time, China’s interest in Indian participation in the BRI is self-evident. Time is running out for India. New thinking is needed urgently.

Third, Wang’s statement in Beijing on Monday during a media briefing on the agenda for Chinese diplomacy in the coming year singled out North Korea and Afghanistan as two regional problems where China intends to push for peacemaking. Today’s disclosure fits in with that. The trilateral format may eventually provide the platform for a regional initiative. The joint press release issued after today’s meeting called on the Taliban “to join the peace process at an early date.”

Fourth, China is displeased that the US is seeking a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The Trump administration is pursuing a dangerous strategy that can destabilize the entire region surrounding Afghanistan. But China will not confront the US, either. Instead, China is introducing a counter-narrative. The US will increasingly find itself in a false position by threatening Pakistan even as Afghanistan is edging toward the CPEC to “conduct win-win trilateral economic cooperation”.

Fifth, the geopolitical implications are profound. Wang today outlined that the CPEC will eventually extend northward to link with the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC), which connects China with the Arabian Peninsula. The CCWAEC starts from China’s Xinjiang and traverses Central Asia before reaching the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula. It crosses the five Central Asian countries and 17 countries and regions in West Asia (including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). It is a vast landmass, which is rich in resources but backward in infrastructure.

Finally, there is a high degree of foreign-policy coordination between Beijing and Moscow. We must anticipate that it is a matter of time before Russia evinces interest in the CPEC in one form or another. President Vladimir Putin disclosed on Monday that during a phone conversation with his Turkmenistan counterpart, the subject of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project came up. “He invites us to participate. Generally, certain projects are indeed implemented there, and quite successfully, including by Turkmenistan. But we must take a look, of course, at how feasible projects of this kind will be,” Putin has been quoted as saying.

Indeed, the bottom line is that the tense relations with Pakistan — and the downhill slide in the relations with China — through the past 3-year period virtually shut India out of the power dynamic in the region and reduces it to a lone bystander. The scenario looks pretty bleak.

December 26, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 2 Comments