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China steps up Afghan role as Western pullout nears

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By Sanjeev Miglani
KABUL – Sun Jun 3, 2012 3:38am EDT

(Reuters) – China and Afghanistan will sign an agreement in the coming days that strategically deepens their ties, Afghan officials say, the strongest signal yet that Beijing wants a role beyond economic partnership as Western forces prepare to leave the country.

China has kept a low political profile through much of the decade-long international effort to stabilize Afghanistan, choosing instead to pursue an economic agenda, including locking in future supply from Afghanistan’s untapped mineral resources.

As the U.S.-led coalition winds up military engagement and hands over security to local forces, Beijing, along with regional powers, is gradually stepping up involvement in an area that remains at risk from being overrun by Islamist insurgents.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai will hold talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Beijing this week, where they will seal a wide-ranging pact governing their ties, including security cooperation.

Afghanistan has signed a series of strategic partnership agreements including with the United States, India and Britain among others in recent months, described by one Afghan official as taking out “insurance cover” for the period after the end of 2014 when foreign troops leave.

“The president of Afghanistan will be meeting the president of China in Beijing and what will happen is the elevation of our existing, solid relationship to a new level, to a strategic level,” Janan Musazai, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry, told Reuters.

“It would certainly cover a broad spectrum which includes cooperation in the security sector, a very significant involvement in the economic sector, and the cultural field.”

He declined to give details about security cooperation, but Andrew Small, an expert on China at the European Marshall Fund who has tracked its ties with South Asia, said the training of security forces was one possibility.

China has signaled it will not contribute to a multilateral fund to sustain the Afghan national security forces – estimated to cost $4.1 billion per year after 2014 – but it could directly train Afghan soldiers, Small said.

“They’re concerned that there is going to be a security vacuum and they’re concerned about how the neighbors will behave,” he said.

Beijing has been running a small program with Afghan law enforcement officials, focused on counter-narcotics and involving visits to China’s restive Xinjiang province, whose western tip touches the Afghan border.

Training of Afghan forces is expected to be modest, and nowhere near the scale of the Western effort to bring them up to speed, or even India’s role in which small groups of officers are trained at military institutions in India.

China wants to play a more active role, but it will weigh the sensitivities of neighboring nations in a troubled corner of the world, said Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University who has been studying the future of Sino-Afghan ties.

“I don’t think that the U.S. withdrawal also means a Chinese withdrawal, but especially in security affairs in Afghanistan, China will remain low-key and cautious,” he said. “China wants to play more of a role there, but each option in doing that will be assessed carefully before any steps are taken.”

JOSTLING FOR INFLUENCE

Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors Iran and Pakistan, but also nearby India and Russia, have all jostled for influence in the country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, and many expect the competition to heat up after 2014.

India has poured aid into Afghanistan and like China has invested in its mineral sector, committing billions of dollars to develop iron ore deposits, as well as build a steel plant and other infrastructure.

It worries about a Taliban resurgence and the threat to its own security from Pakistan-based militants operating from the region.

Pakistan, which is accused of having close ties with the Taliban, has repeatedly complained about India’s expanding role in Afghanistan, seeing Indian moves as a plot to encircle it.

“India-Pakistan proxy fighting is one of the main worries,” said Small.

In February, China hosted a trilateral dialogue involving officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban.

It was first time Beijing involved itself directly and openly in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Musazai said Kabul supported any effort to bring peace in the country. “China has close ties with Afghanistan. It also has very close ties with Pakistan and if it can help advance the vision of peace and stability in Afghanistan we welcome it.”

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in BEIJING; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

Minister: Sanctions Will Not Affect Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipe Project

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Sanctions imposed against Iran will not affect the IP gas pipeline project and therefore Pakistan will continue to pursue it, Pakistan’s Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Asim Hussain said.

He went on to say that, Pakistan is determined to complete the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline despite the sanction imposed against Iran, IRNA reported.

According to a statement issued by Pakistan’s Ministry for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Pakistan needs to meet its energy demands immediately and for this, all options are to be availed.

Based on agreement between the two countries, Iran agreed to export 21.5 million cubic meters of natural gas daily, 7.8 billion cubic meters annually.

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Hundreds of slaughtered civilians isn’t a "huge number" for Obama

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United States, Washington: US President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 30, 2012. (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

Published: 31 January, 2012, 22:08

On Monday afternoon, Barack Obama became the first president to host a virtual town hall live on the Internet.

While that might be a feat worthy of the record books, President Obama did something else during his address that America has become accustomed to: he lied to the world.

Speaking Monday during a live web-chat hosted by Google, the president took on a series of issues submitted by the American people. Over the span of 45 minutes, President Obama addressed the Stop Online Piracy Act while refusing to side with either end of the argument, admitted to the world that he isn’t all that swell of a dancer and took a query from a professional puppeteer. In between ignoring the real issues or offering any sort of solid solution to the nation’s biggest problems, the president did put something rather important out for the world to ponder: America’s ongoing drone missions aren’t really all that bad.

If you ask anyone outside of the Oval Office — or especially America — they might tell you otherwise.

Tackling a question posed on drone strikes, President Obama defended the ongoing missions on Monday, saying they were necessary to target terrorists in a most effective manner. “For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in,” the president said on the topic of drones. While an argument could easily be made that operating drone missions in lieu of putting boots on the ground is best for the US Armed Forces, the president put a lot on the line Monday when he downplayed the result of the strikes.

Those drone attacks, carried out by unmanned aircraft controlled thousands of miles away, don’t do a lot of harm, said the president. According to Obama, drones had

 “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” and he added that it’s “important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

How small is that not-so huge number? If you ask anyone outside of the American intelligence community, they’ll tell you it is in the hundreds.

But what’s a few hundred civilian deaths, right?

Obama suggested that continuing the drone program would not be detrimental to the safety of foreign citizens, but studies conducted outside of the US say otherwise. Last summer, the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism argued that since America began drone strikes, at least 385 civilians had been executed in US-led attacks. Of those statistics, the Bureau added that around half of the dead were children under the age of 18.

If you don’t take the word of foreign reporter’s, even American intelligence can confirm that the “not a huge number” statistic might be a bit of an exaggeration. One senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity added to CNN last year that CIA drone strikes had taken the lives of 50 civilians in all. As drone strikes go unreported and deaths unaccounted for, the actual number, unfortunately, is probably much higher than what either the CIA or the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can come up with. In a single strike last March, 26 Pakistanis were killed during a US strike over Islamabad. Once all deaths were accounted for, it was revealed that over a dozen of the deaths in that single raid were suffered by innocent civilians.

When the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released their findings last year, they said that the number of civilians killed in US drone strikes were probably 40 percent higher than what the US was actually reporting. Between 2004 and 2011, they put the estimate of civilian deaths at a figure of 385, but added in the research that the toll could actually come close to tallying 775 casualties.

Which, if you ask President Obama, is not a huge number.

If 775 isn’t a huge number, than 56 is practically a fraction. That’s the number of children executed by US drones in the first 20 months of the Obama administration.

“Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many,” responded Unicef to the news at the time.

In 2009 alone, almost 600 civilians were killed on the ground in Afghanistan, and the United Nations put 60 percent of that figure as a direct result of airstrikes, drone or otherwise. In Pakistan, civilians say they are terrified of the robotic planes and the damage that they have already done. “There was not a single Taliban militant in Pakistan before 9/11 but since we joined this war, we are facing acts of terrorism, bombing and drone strikes,” Movement for Justice leader Imran Khan told the press in 2011.

In Libya, where the United States never even engaged in an official war, according to Obama, American troops launched 145 drone strikes in an attempt to oust the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in a matter of months. As with most drone missions, the Department of Defense has not released any official statistics on what casualties were caused by the strikes.

Regardless of what damage a drone strike can have on enemy insurgents, experts say that the toll visited on civilians is several times that of militants. In a 2009 report from the Brookings Institute, Senior Fellow Daniel L Byman wrote that “for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.”

In Pakistan where drone strikes have become practically commonplace, civilians are terrified that they will become the next accidental target of American aircraft. Saadullah, a teenage boy who spoke with a BBC reporter last year, lost both of his legs in drone strikes. Three of his relatives, all civilians, have also been killed by American strikes. Asghar Khan, an elder in Islamabad that also spoke to BBC, said three of his relatives were also shot down in airstrikes.

“My brother, my nephew and another relative were killed by a drone in 2008,” said Khan. “They were sitting with this sick man when the attack took place. There were no Taliban.”

A decade after the US began so-called cooperation with Pakistani intelligence, anti-American sentiments continue to grow as do the number of casualties. “When we intervene in people’s countries to chase small cells of bad guys, we end up alienating the whole country and turning them against us,” counterterrorism expert David Kilcullen tells the Brookings Institute.

Now as the US puts surveillance drones over the skies of Iraq even after that war has officially ended, yet another country is becoming concerned that drones will drop bombs on their own civilians. “We hear from time to time that drone aircraft have killed half a village in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the pretext of pursuing terrorists,” 37-year-old café owner Hisham Mohammed Salah told the New York Times just this week. “Our fear is that will happen in Iraq under a different pretext.”

Under the Pentagon’s new revised budget, the US will phase out around 100,000 military staffers while adding droves of drones to its already established arsenal of robotic planes. Will drones soon become the United States’ not-so-secret weapon and phase out its Armed Forces personnel entirely? It’s not out of the question. After all, a drone strike authorized by Obama last year led to the death of two American citizens with alleged terrorist ties.

Don’t worry, though. Obama says these things are kept on a tight leash. Who actually pulls on that is as good of a guess as anyone’s, though. In November, the Wall Street Journal wrote that the “signature” strikes that account for most of the CIA’s drone missions only end up on the desk of the president after they are carried out. The US must only inform Pakistan of those strikes, by the way, if they believe the death toll will exceed 20.

Which really isn’t that big of a number either.

Source – RT

Have US policymakers (POTUS) gone crazy?

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By: Justin Raimondo | Published: November 30, 2011

Is there a single region of the world where the United States government isn’t scheming to grab more control, more influence, and have more of a military presence?

In Pakistan, a memo has been unearthed from “President” Zardari to Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the joint chiefs of staff, proposing a coup d’etat in which the military and intelligence chiefs would be replaced – with US “political and military support” – in favour of individuals more compliant with the American agenda. Also in Pakistan: an outright attack by US and Afghan forces on a Pakistani military base, a “mistake” in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed.

Is the United States government actively trying to destabilise Pakistan – in order to be able to pull off a “coup” and move in with US troops in support of “democracy”? Are we, in effect, at war with Pakistan? Sure seems like it.

In Iran, we’re running a terrorist operation that strikes at both military and civilian targets, and we’ve just announced a new round of sanctions. Not content with a campaign of economic strangulation, prominent US lawmakers and former top national security officials are harbouring, succouring, and defending a known organisation whose goal is “regime change” in Iran. Hardly a day goes by without a threat of military action emanating from Washington.

In Syria, we are supporting armed “protesters” whose goal is the overthrow of the Syrian government. In Libya, our proxies recently succeeded in doing the same. In Egypt, we are reprising our record of support for mobs demanding the ouster of the government – while in Bahrain, we take the side of the reigning king as angry mobs gather in the public square.

In Eastasia, we are intervening in a regional dispute, claiming to be a “resident Pacific power,” and scheming to make the South China Sea (of all places!) an American lake. The much-vaunted “Pacific pivot” has us setting up a new military base in Australia and sending 2,500 US troops to man it. Is this because China is planning to send the Peoples Liberation Army Down Under – or because the Americans are looking to expand the string of major military bases that allows them to project power (and impose their will) all over the globe? Of course it’s just a coincidence that, in tandem with our Asian offensive, we’re about to announce an agreement to base US warships in Singapore, right on China’s doorstep.

Our ambitions, however, are hardly limited to Eastasia. In Central Asia, aside from our decade-long campaign to subjugate Afghanistan, we’re spending tens of millions of US taxpayer dollars to prop up some of the most repressive regimes on earth. The idea is to encircle both Russia and China: toward this end we are courting the dictators of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, and haggling with the newly-elected government of Kyrgyzstan to retain our basing rights.

In Europe, we are intervening massively – via the Federal Reserve, this time – in order to shore up insolvent banks, support the Euro, and prop up the decadent welfare states of the EU. On a more militaristic note, via Nato we’re intervening – again! – in Kosovo, Serbia’s lost province, where rebellious Serbs are defying the gangster “government” in Pristina and defending their autonomy: naturally, we aim to crush them. Since the Obama administration has come into office, new bases have sprung up in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. And if the long reach of Uncle Sam into the very heart of Europe isn’t evident in the legal troubles of Julian Assange, then one is wearing blinders.

In Africa we are invading Somalia, sending the Marines to Uganda, and scheming with Kenya and Ethiopia to pacify great swathes of the continent. This is being done in the name of the “war on terrorism,” but in reality it is a response to Chinese economic penetration of the dark continent, which the US sees as a threat. A ring of new military bases is being set up in Yemen, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the Seychelles from which to run our ongoing “drone war” against alleged “terrorist” outposts in Somalia and the Arabian peninsula. This is not to mention the “secret” bases reportedly operating in “Israel, Kuwait, the Philippines and many other places,” as Catherine Lutz points out in an excellent overview of what the late Chalmers Johnson called our “empire of bases.”

In South and Central America, the American military presence is rapidly expanding, with seven new bases in Colombia since 2008, two new naval bases in Panama – and those are just the ones we know about. What we don’t know is the extent of Washington’s covert operations south of the border, including supplying arms to Mexican drug cartels – a truly shocking scandal which is being steadfastly ignored by the openly pro-Obama “mainstream” media.

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