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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)

U.S. Taxpayers Subsidize Afghan Insurgents

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 May 8, 2012 @ 9:22 am
by Malou Innocent

Less than a week after President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and proclaimed, “We broke the Taliban’s momentum,” the chairs of the Senate and House intelligence committees offered a candid assessment of the U.S. mission. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), alongside Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I think we’d both say that what we found is that the Taliban is stronger.” Their observations are the type of unvarnished truth that our military and civilian leaders typically avoid. U.S. and NATO officials meeting in Chicago later this month should take heed, especially since American taxpayer dollars are helping to fund the insurgents we’re fighting.

In a not-much publicized report last August from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, researchers found that after the illegal opium trade, the largest source of funding for the insurgency was U.S. contracting dollars. It found that Afghan companies under the Host Nation Trucking program use private security contractors who then turn around and pay insurgents and warlords who control the roads we must use. Although the Commission on Wartime Contracting report did not mention how much was funneled to the insurgency, a similar protection racket was also uncovered a couple of years ago.

Task Force 2010, assembled by General David Petraeus, examined the connections between insurgents and criminal networks on the one hand and Afghan companies and their subcontractors for transportation, construction, and other services on the other. The task force estimated that $360 million in U.S. tax dollars ended up in the hands of insurgents and other “malign actors,” including criminals, warlords, and power-brokers.

The $360 million “represents a fraction of the $31 billion in active U.S. contracts that the task force reviewed,” Associated Press reporters Deb Riechmann and Richard Lardner explained. As Brussels-based International Crisis Group observed in a depressingly frank June 2011 report:

Insecurity and the inflow of billions of dollars in international assistance has failed to significantly strengthen the state’s capacity to provide security or basic services and has instead, by progressively fusing the interests of political gatekeepers and insurgent commanders, provided new opportunities for criminals and insurgents to expand their influence inside the government. The economy as a result is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen.

Is it any wonder why pouring massive piles of cash into a broken and war-ravaged system resulted in failure? Those who follow the news from Afghanistan will see how rent-seeking inadvertently strengthens that country’s twin evils: corruption and insecurity. As journalist Douglas A. Wissing writes in his eye-opening new book, Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, in addition to foreign development advisers preoccupied with their own career advancement, development money itself was not countering the insurgency but rather paying for it. Combined with an enemy whose strategy was always about exhaustion, the result has been catastrophic.

Wissing writes, “I learned that the linkage between third-world development and US national security that foreign-aid lobbyists peddled to American policymakers was a faith-based doctrine with almost no foundation in research.” Year after year, the American public was spoon-fed government reports that lacked honesty about why our top-down security and development programs were constantly failing. Buildings were poorly constructed. Projects were bereft of proper oversight. Schools were built without teachers to staff them. Road construction contracts financed insurgent racketeering operations.

The undistorted evidence of a European-based think tank, a bipartisan congressional commission, and a report from military experts, assembled by the war’s former commander, leads to one conclusion: the war is inadvertently throwing American taxpayer dollars at insurgents killing American troops. What about this self-aggrandizing system is making Americans safer? Moreover, what about the safety of the Afghans whom planners in Washington swore to protect from the Taliban? In spite of the tripling of U.S. troops since 2008, a recent report by the U.N. mission concluded that 2011 was the fifth straight year in which civilian casualties rose.

As Feinstein said to CNN on Sunday, “The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They’ve gone up north. They’ve gone to the east. Attacks are up.” After over a decade of inadvertently funding the enemy and alienating the local people, Americans should not be surprised with such a dire outcome. If anything, they should be surprised that their elected leaders are finally telling the truth.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

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US adds Qods Force general as ‘Narcotics Kingpin’ for heroin, weapons smuggling in Afghanistan

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By Bill RoggioMarch 7, 2012

Today the US Department of the Treasury added an Iranian Qods Force general to the list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan “as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism.” The Iranian general supported the drug smugglers in order to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan.

General Gholamreza Baghbani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force’s branch in the Iranian city of Zahedan, “allowed Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran in return for assistance,” Treasury stated in a press release that announced the designation. The “assistance” was given to the Taliban.

“For example, Afghan narcotics traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban on behalf of Baghbani,” Treasury said. “In return, General Baghbani has helped facilitate the smuggling of heroin precursor chemicals through the Iranian border. He also helped facilitate shipments of opium into Iran.”

General Baghbani is not the first Qods Force general to be designated by the US for supporting terrorist activities in Afghanistan, but he is, as Treasury noted, the first to be designated under the Kingpin Act. The US has designated other Iranian Qods Force officers, including General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, for aiding the Taliban.

General Hossein Musavi is the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” Treasury stated in the Aug. 3, 2010 designation. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Colonel Hasan Mortezavi is described as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Qods Forces’ Ansar Corps is the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashad in northeastern Iran. Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]

Al Qaeda is also known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to funnel its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad].

Several Taliban commanders based in western Afghanistan have stated that they have received weapons, cash, and training from Iranian forces. Taliban commanders and units train inside Iran to conduct attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. In addition, al Qaeda operatives are also known to receive support from the Ansar Corps; Mashad is a transit point for al Qaeda operatives en route to Afghanistan.

US commanders have accused Iran of directly supporting the Taliban. On May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.

“The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran,” McChrystal said at a press conference. “The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”

ISAF has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. (Note: ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ‘s queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered). ISAF officials have directly linked Qods Force to several of the Taliban commanders.

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On the world stage, Obama the idealist has taken fright

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Bin Laden’s killing aside, his foreign policy has all been waffle, dither and drift – with a trail of acts of dismaying expediency

Candidates run on hope. Incumbents run on their record. But Barack Obama, lining up for a second term at the White House next year, has little to offer on either score. The heady optimism of 2008 has dissipated. At home, Obama is primarily associated with hard times: only 34% of voters approve of his handling of the economy, according to a recent poll. Abroad, his presidency has come to stand for impotence and incompetence. He promised new beginnings; what he has delivered, for the most part, is waffle, dither and drift.

If this verdict seems harsh, take a quick tour round the globe. Everywhere the pillars of American superpower are crumbling. The old habit of hegemony, formed in the postwar decades and confirmed in 1989 as Soviet power imploded, is fading as fast as a Honolulu sunset.

Part of the explanation is faltering industrial and financial clout, reflecting the rapid rise of rivals like China and India. But that is compounded by another central element: Obama’s persistent failure to stand up, in practical, substantive ways, for the values, beliefs and interests he so eloquently espouses.

Obama’s early, anguished indecision over keeping his promise to close Guantánamo Bay now looks like a grim portent. So, too, does his administration’s failure to support the Iranian students whose “green revolution” was so cruelly suppressed in Tehran in 2009. When the Arab spring took hold this year, the man who in Cairo had preached the pre-eminence of the democratic ideal took fright. Tunisia did not matter much. But when he faced accusations of becoming the president who “lost” Egypt, Obama’s dither default setting was triggered anew.

In the event he achieved the worst of all worlds. Hosni Mubarak, that staunch, unlovely friend of the west, was deposed with Washington’s belated blessing – to the lasting mortification of another key American ally, Saudi Arabia. Now the army-led, supposedly caretaker regime that replaced him appears equally unappealing. Egypt may soon require a second revolution, and next time the Islamists may not act so coy. For its part, Riyadh absorbed the lesson of US unreliability and took matters into its own hands by crushing dissent in Bahrain.

In Libya, as elsewhere, Obama talked the good fight from the sidelines. Speaking about Syria in August, he condemned President Bashar al-Assad‘s “imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering” of pro-democracy demonstrators and demanded he step aside immediately. The call came after months of White House debate about the consequences of supporting change in Damascus. Assad, meanwhile, contemptuously ignores US mouthings, and a fracturing Syria accelerates towards the abyss.

Obama’s handling of his legacy wars – Afghanistan and Iraq – provides little to crow about on the stump. The Afghan troop surge has not brought about the looked-for breakthrough. Instead, casualties are up, while the Taliban, in contrast, have increasingly resorted to targeted terror tactics – such as last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and head of the high peace council.

Any examination of whether Obama and his diplomats and commanders want a negotiated Afghan peace settlement finds President Dither at his most infuriating. Speaking at the end of Ramadan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader, clearly signalled interest in pursuing talks to create a new political order acceptable to all Afghans. But Washington seems more intent on threatening Pakistan than ensuring a peaceful transition in Afghanistan after 2014. Much the same may be said of Iraq, where US concerns focus less on the stability of a country it so massively destabilised than on how Iran may exploit the US withdrawal.

Obama’s foreign policy under-achievement leaves a global trail. He spoke out forcefully in Prague about the necessary inevitability of a nuclear bomb-free world. But his carrots and sticks have had little impact on North Korea’s or Iran’s ambitions, while the Libyan war delivered a clear message: if Muammar Gaddafi had not abandoned his nuclear weapons programme in 2003 he might still be in power now.

As a candidate Obama condemned Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgian territory. But as president he offered Vladimir Putin’s regime a “reset” of relations amounting to a reward for bad behaviour. Along the Pacific rim, meanwhile, widely shared perceptions of a lack of political resolve in the face of China’s military expansionism are fuelling an arms race from Taiwan and Malaysia to Vietnam and Australia.

Amid multiple disappointments, one dismaying act of expediency stands out: Obama’s open-ended threat to veto UN recognition of a Palestinian state. After the three-year runaround handed out by Israel’s last-ditcher, “no surrender” prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama had the chance to deliver a symbolic blow for peace, something surely right up his street. But with a wary eye on the 2012 campaign, he just couldn’t do it. Under Obama, the empire does not strike back. It strikes out.

If Obama is re-elected it won’t be due to his international achievements – unless you think killing Osama bin Laden is worth another four years.

Simon Tisdall

 Original Article

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