Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pakistan - US-Saudi nexus of evil

The US-Saudi joint show in Riyadh is over.
Leaders from some 55 Muslim-majority countries attended the so-called summit where they were lectured by none other than Trump and the Saudi King on how to fight ‘Islamic’ terrorism and what God really wants, among other things. They were told in categorical terms that the root of all evil in the Middle East, and even in the world at large, was Iran. They listened and came home.
Now we will see where they stand.
The silent participation of leaders from these 55 countries does not mean that all of them support this US-Saudi plan for exacerbating the sectarian divide and flooding the region with even more chaos and war. These leaders were gathered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to underscore its leadership of the Muslim world and that seems to be pretty much it.
Did they, for instance, have any say in drafting the belligerently anti-Iran Riyadh Declaration? I doubt it.
The hypocritical rhetoric and platitudes aside, this is what the declaration, issued at the end of the so-called summit on behalf of the 55 leaders gathered there, had to say about Iran:
“1- The leaders stressed the rejection of sectarian agendas, citing their dangerous repercussions on the security of the region and the world at large.
2- The leaders confirmed their absolute rejection of the practices of the Iranian regime designed to destabilise the security and stability of the region and the world at large and for its continuing support for terrorism and extremism.
3- The leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s hostile positions and continuing interference in the domestic affairs of other countries in a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and good neighbourhood, confirming their commitment to confront that.
4- The leaders are committed to intensify their efforts to observe the security of the region and the world at large, and firmly confront the subversive and destructive Iranian activities inside their countries and through joint coordination.
5- The leaders underlined the dangerous Iranian ballistic missiles programme and denounced the Iranian regime’s continuing violations of Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
” The points about Iran are tucked away towards the end of the declaration but they are far more significant than what precedes them. Initiatives like the Terrorist Financing Targeting Centre and the Global Centre of Combating Extremist Ideology that the declaration showcases are mere frills. The US-guided Middle East Strategic Alliance floated in the declaration is a new tag for old partnerships. The real thrust of the declaration is aimed against Iran.
Interestingly, the declaration welcomes the readiness of a number of Islamic countries to participate in the Saudi Coalition and finally clears the mystery about its mission; “to provide a reserve force of 34,000 troops for support operations against terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq”. And who would the Saudi coalition support? Not the Syrian government forces and its allies including Iran who are successfully defeating the terrorists for sure.
Under which international law would the Saudi coalition send troops to fight in the sovereign state of Syria? Or will it take the cue from the US-led coalition which bombs where it pleases and intervenes where it wants, regardless of what international law says? And who would the Saudi coalition forces support: The same imperialist coalition that has destroyed one Muslim country after another on the pretext of saving them? This much is written on the wall. The US-Saudi nexus has made its intentions on the Middle East clear. They intend to intensify and coordinate more closely their wars of aggression in the Middle East, and rally more countries to join in. They intend to continue to pay lip-service to fighting terrorism even as they spawn proxy terrorists and launch them on states and societies resisting their hegemony. They would add $110 billion worth of weaponry to the conflicts in the Middle East. The question is: Where do the 55 countries whose leaders had gathered in Riyadh stand on the Riyadh Declaration that was released on their behalf? More importantly: Where does our government stand on this US-Saudi partnership and our role in the Saudi coalition? Some explanation is surely in place, especially because we were constantly told that our inclusion in the Saudi coalition would not be at the expense of our ties with Iran. Was the Pakistani delegation consulted on Riyadh Declaration before it was issued? Did we give our consent to what it declared? Or, like our inclusion in the Saudi coalition, did we find out about the Riyadh Declaration after it was announced? Now that it has been announced, and it is clearly a declaration of war against Iran, what do we have to say?
Are we going to go along with what the Saudi royals decide for us, like we did in the case of our inclusion in the Saudi coalition without our knowledge, let alone consent? We were told back then that it is only an idea and nothing is decided about the coalition so we should wait to see how it develops and even influence its direction. Why embarrass our Saudi benefactors by pulling out of a coalition on paper, seemed to be the official logic. Now that there is no doubt left about why the Saudis are assembling their coalition and under whose umbrella, should Pakistan still be so polite? Why should we be forced to take sides?
There is a broad consensus in Pakistan not to get embroiled in foreign wars, especially at a time when the situation at home requires the undivided attention of our security forces.
International counter-terrorism cooperation is all very well but, as far as Pakistan is concerned, its focus should be on stabilising Afghanistan, where China, Russia, Central Asian states and Iran are our natural partners. It is no longer a secret that our long and supposedly close counter-terrorism cooperation with the US in Afghanistan was a fickle fraud.
We must never forget our partnership with the US and Saudi Arabia back in the 1980s when we all joined hands to flood Afghanistan with mercenary mujahedin.
Pakistan is still paying the price for that partnership.

Former President Asif Ali Zardari concerned over bid to stifle freedom of expression

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed grave concern over the government’s bid to make a pitch for stifling dissent and freedom of expression just when frontiers of human rights were expanding worldwide.
In a statement today he said that freedom of expression has been increasingly attacked by both state and non-state actors on various pretexts. “This trend must be resisted and reversed”. Next to the right to life, the right to freedom of expression is fundamental as all other rights flow from this right, he said. “Curbing right to freedom of expression in effect means curbing all other rights”.
The PPP cannot and will not allow it, he said.
Clamping a ban on social media and otherwise curbing expression and dissent in the name of vaguely defined ‘national security’ must not be allowed to go unchallenged.
The government cannot be allowed to wield power arbitrarily or whimsically. There has to be balance between concerns of ‘national security’ on the one hand and the fundamental right of people to freedom of expression on the other, he said. “The balance must be tilted in favor of freedom of expression in accordance with best democratic practices”
Zardari recalled how the previous PPP government endured media criticism that at times was vicious against his person and other leaders of the Party but at no stage the Party contemplated clamping curbs on the media.
Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar added that Zardari has already directed the Party’s legislative committee to deliberate on the issue and suggest appropriate legislative measures to ensure that the right to freedom of expression was not curbed on any pretext.
The PPP will forcefully resist bid to silence political dissent or curb freedom of expression in the name of security or ideology, he said.


Pakistan was helplessly wringing its hands over the rapidly developing strategic overhaul in the region as U.S. President Donald Trump danced the sword-dance with Saudi King Salman and condemned non-attending Iran at the Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh on Sunday. The Arab leaders, whose citizens Trump doesn’t want to visit America, sat and listened. What did Trump get for this tour de force? Nearly $110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years, in Saudi purchases.
Trump wanted predecessor President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran squashed and didn’t care if Europe, which was also part of the deal, got offended. He accused Iran of spreading terrorism in the Middle East; but Iran remains the only state fighting the Islamic State together with the United States while Turkey and Russia are more focused on targeting Syrian resistance and the Kurds. Trump accused Iran of spreading extremism in the region just as Tehran re-elected a moderate president in contrast to Saudi Arabia’s monarchic state. And while Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended the summit, the Iranian border-guards fired four cautionary mortars into Pakistani territory. Trump has pocketed Saudi dollars and will land in Washington shouting “more jobs for Americans” while Europe and the Middle East mull the crisis of handling the Islamic State.
Pakistan doesn’t want to ruin its equation with Iran which could have solidified into mutual dependence had it not been for U.N. and American sanctions against Iran. Also, it can’t refuse to go along with Saudi Arabia given its economic dependence on its expat labor in the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates plus many other unpublicized financial concessions. As it meditates sadly on its three alienated neighbors, Pakistan sees India getting along fine with the Kingdom while cozying up to Tehran, buying its gas-fields and building its ports. India doesn’t mind Trump getting close to Israel after decades of alienation over Palestine while Pakistan will feel greatly embarrassed by Arabs and Israel sailing in the same boat against “nuclearizing” Iran.

Pakistan’s foreign-vs-domestic policy dilemma

By Farhan Bokhari

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who spent part of the last week in China and seeks to spend the coming days in Saudi Arabia, is following in the footsteps of many other leaders. Apparently tired of staying at home to solve some of the most pressing internal challenges, Sharif appears to be turning increasingly towards a ‘foreign’ focus to establish his credentials. It’s an ironic choice by a leader who has failed to appoint a full-time foreign minister in the last four years of his five-year tenure.
Until recently, two of his advisers (one was fired apparently over leaking information to a Pakistani journalist) ran the Foreign Ministry and in the process apparently divided an institution once known for its excellence. With reports of foreign ministry officials beset by loyalty to one adviser or the other and with elections looming in a year’s time, its already too late for Sharif to begin repairing the damage. Even if a foreign minister is appointed to unify Pakistan’s main diplomatic arm, that will be too late in the day to begin repairing the damage.

As the discord deepens surrounding Pakistan’s tools of conducting its foreign policy, the prevailing challenges are much too vital to be ignored. Today, all of Pakistan’s borders with the possible exception of a slice of the border with China, are either under dispute or shared with neighbours who are increasingly wary of Islamabad. And while Pakistan indeed lives in a tough neighbourhood, its failure to redouble its own conduct of foreign policy has badly exposed the south Asian country to increasingly difficult challenges.
One part of this dilemma rests on the difficult issue of what appears to be a directionless Foreign Ministry with the absence of an empowered leadership at the top. There is no clear-cut answer on exactly why Sharif has failed to appoint a top leader as a minister to run the Foreign Ministry. Perhaps the prime minister prefers to keep the top levels of the ministry on a tight leash with a view to closely dictating its day to day workings. It’s no secret that a top bureaucratic aide to Sharif, with unprecedented authority, has won for himself an apt title — “de facto prime minister”. Irrespective of whatever has drawn Sharif to run the foreign policy apparatus without a foreign minister, the choice is a mind boggling one given the challenges the country faces.
Ultimately, however, the obsession with taking control of domestic affairs could well be the key driver. Ironically, though, with plenty of evidence suggesting the many contradictions in Pakistan’s internal outlook, the writing on the wall is all too clear. The past year has seen Sharif focus squarely on a battle for his own survival, following revelations of large-scale wealth belonging to his three children and subsequently discovered in the so called ‘Panama leaks’ scandal. The matter is far from resolved though the Supreme Court in Pakistan allowed some breathing space to the prime minister by ordering a further investigation. Even if Sharif wins this battle, he will still be haunted by allegations of corruption in the run-up to next years’ elections.
In the meantime, Sharif’s response so far has been driven by how he knows best to tackle political challenges. In recent weeks, the prime minister has travelled across Pakistan to attend public gatherings, where he has promised to speed up the process of development. Promises of building new highways and public transport projects have typically appeared central to Sharif’s vision of the future. In response to attacks on corruption, he has invited his opponents to appreciate his promise of a better future.
And yet, the promising future as spelt out by Sharif has failed to mask the many adverse challenges still waiting to be tackled. In sharp contrast to the promised highways and new fancy transport initiatives, Pakistan’s farmers have suffered one of the toughest economic downturns during Sharif’s tenure. And in spite of Sharif’s widely publicised credentials as the scion of a prominent business-cum-industrial family, Pakistan’s industry and sectors responsible for the country’s exports have continued to under-perform. Altogether, these powerful realities have failed to improve prospects for almost one-third of Pakistan’s population that lives in abject poverty.
In the meantime, while security conditions related to activities of militant Taliban have indeed improved since Sharif became the Prime Minister, the credit goes mainly to Pakistan Army for keeping up the pressure. The credentials of Sharif’s civilian regime was badly exposed recently when a widely respected former police officer revealed that meaningful progress had only taken place on three out of 20 fronts from a widely publicised set of security-related objectives. Clearly, Sharif’s government has much catching up to do beyond its frequent claims of running one of Pakistan’s most progressive governments.
And with Pakistan’s domestic outlook clearly in disarray beyond the mere lip service of the government, the country’s ability as a foreign policy player is increasingly in question. Irrespective of how many foreign destinations Sharif manages to touch down upon, its clear that Pakistan’s internal outlook today is no better than what the prime minister had inherited. And with elections due next year, Pakistan will likely witness only a few of the many pressing reforms that must have been solidly put in place to improve the country’s outlook by now.

Why the Trump-Led Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia Was a Disaster for Pakistan

The Donald Trump-led Arab Islamic American summit, held in Riyadh this weekend, was supposed to be Pakistan’s moment to cash its first check on the diplomatic investment it has made in the Saudi-led Islamic military coalition  – which former Army Chief Raheel Sharif militarily heads. After all, the long standing U.S.-Saudi relationship has helped Islamabad ally itself with both, and at a time when the duo was spearheading an “Islamic” summit it was natural for Pakistan to expect a share of the spotlight.
With this in mind, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent the entire duration of his flight to Riyadh rehearsing his address to the summit, which included leaders of 55 Muslim-majority states. It was time to drive home Islamabad’s perspective on countering Islamist terrorism – the theme of the event – considering Pakistan’s unique role as both victim and counterterrorism proponent. Raheel Sharif heads the counterterror militia, and the country is fourth on the Global Terrorism Index in terms of the most affected states.
Yet Nawaz Sharif wasn’t invited to address the summit. Neither was Raheel Sharif.
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It was bad enough that Pakistan didn’t get a say in what was predictably reduced to a Gulf gathering, rather than an “Islamic” summit. Trump’s speech itself further added salt to the wounds.
Not only did the U.S. president identify India as a victim of terror, he failed to acknowledge Pakistan as one. This at a time when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has stayed the execution of Kulbhushan Jadhav – an alleged Indian spy convicted of terrorism in Pakistan – and when deeming Kashmiri separatist militancy synonymous with “Pakistan-sponsored terrorism” is the official New Delhi stance.
It very well might not have been his intention, but by singling out India alone as a victim of terror among the South Asian states, Trump upheld New Delhi’s narrative on Kashmir, and completely shelved Pakistan’s claims of “India-sponsored terrorism,” specifically in the volatile province of Balochistan.
This would’ve been a setback at most gatherings, but for the U.S.-Saudi leadership to silence Pakistan’s narrative at an “Islamic” summit was particularly damaging, considering that Islamabad has long held Islam as a foreign policy tool and has based its support for the Kashmiri struggle on religious affiliation as well.
Trump also snubbed a request for a meeting with Nawaz Sharif, whom he only met with on the sidelines of the summit, while having well publicized talks with many other leaders.
As the U.S. president joined Saudi King Salman in being high on anti-Iran rhetoric, asking the Muslim world to isolate the nation that Trump said had “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror,” Pakistan’s repeated claim of the Saudi-led coalition not targeting a particular sect or state was significantly dented as well.
In jumping aboard, and militarily spearheading, the Saudi-led military alliance, Islamabad has alienated Tehran to a point that Iran is now openly threatening attacks inside Pakistan to uproot what it calls are “safe havens for Sunni jihadists.”
With its decades-old racist foreign policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan backfiring, ties with India continuing to plunge,  and now Iran earmarking it as an integral part of the Saudi camp, Islamabad is surrounded by a hostile neighborhood that is finding common ground in uniting against militancy originating in Pakistan.
And as Pakistan’s immediate neighbors accuse it of supporting terrorism, the snub for Pakistan at a counterterror conference, hosted by the country that Islamabad is going out of its way to protect against the much-touted “Shia crescent,” means that there are no buyers for Pakistan’s narrative on its role against terrorism.
Despite Saudis talking up Pakistan as a “leader of Muslim Ummah” whenever they need military support, Riyadh has never backed Islamabad’s stance on Kashmir, or even condemned Kabul for what Pakistan portrays as Indian voodoo forcing Afghanistan to act out against a “Muslim brother.” In fact Saudi Arabia has multiple defense agreements with India – the country Islamabad claims is responsible for funding terrorism in Pakistan.
While Washington sidelining Islamabad following Trump’s election was long coming, it is the continued lack of Saudi support at the international level that has reduced Pakistan’s status for the Kingdom of al-Saud to that of a security guard, without any contribution in narratives.
If Islamabad still needs a reason to abandon Islam as a foreign policy determinant, it only needs to look at its relations with its “Muslim brothers” in the neighborhood, and the consistent Saudi refusal to even allow Pakistan a say in the global Muslim narrative.
This is especially true when China, the only state that is backing Islamabad and giving it an economic lifeline, has staunch anti-Muslim policies in the region that is going to help Pakistan sustain itself.

Two Chinese language teachers kidnapped in Pakistan

Armed men pretending to be policemen kidnapped two Chinese language teachers in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Wednesday, provincial officials said, a rare attack on Chinese nationals that is likely to worry Beijing.
China has pledged to invest $57 billion in Pakistani road, rail and power infrastructure in a flagship project of its vast Belt and Road initiative for a network of modern-day "Silk Road" routes connecting Asia with Europe and Africa.
China's ambassador to Pakistan and other officials have often urged Islamabad to improve security, especially in the province of Baluchistan, where China is building a new port and funding roads to link its western regions with the Arabian Sea.
Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a Baluchistan government spokesman, said men pretending to be police officers kidnapped the Chinese teachers and wounded a passerby who tried to stop them.
"A Chinese couple has been kidnapped," Kakar told Reuters, adding that officials had earlier mistaken the wounded passerby for a security guard.
"(The passerby) inquired why they were doing this and they said they were from a law enforcement agency, but when he asked for their identification cards, they shot him," added Kakar.
No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but in the past Islamist militant groups have kidnapped foreigners in Pakistan to seek ransom or drum up publicity for their cause.
China's embassy in Islamabad confirmed two of its nationals had been kidnapped, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment sent after office hours.
Quetta police chief Razza Cheema said the teachers did not work on the Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as they did not have guards. Pakistan provides security for all Chinese workers on CPEC projects in Baluchistan.
"Armed men took the couple into custody at gunpoint when they were coming out from the center," Cheema told Reuters.
Another Chinese woman narrowly evaded the kidnappers outside a language center in Jinnah, on the city's outskirts, he added.
The numbers of Pakistanis studying Mandarin has skyrocketed since 2014, when President Xi Jinping signed off on the vast CPEC funding plans.
Security in Baluchistan has improved in recent years but separatists, who view the project as a ruse to steal natural resources, this month killed 10 Pakistani workers building a road near the new port of Gwadar.
Pakistan faces pressure to keep Chinese workers safe and reassure Beijing about its vast investments, said Vahaj Ahmed, a research analyst at investment bank Exotix Partners.
But the Quetta kidnappings were unlikely to "put the Chinese interests off track," he added.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

#SAUDI WAHABISTAN - ''A dangerous coalition''

THE obscenely opulent reception arranged in Donald Trump’s honour, with Arab autocrats lining up to pay homage to the American president, forgetting his inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric and his likening of the Saudi royal family to ‘slaveholders’ in the past, did not come as a surprise. Nor did the US leader’s softened tenor as he addressed the so-called Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh last week.
Indeed, there was no mention in Trump’s speech of ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, a term he often used during his election campaign. But what excited the Saudi and Gulf kings gathered at the forum was Trump’s tirade against Iran which he declared was the centre of terrorism and extremism. In the midst of their insecurity, these remarks struck a chord. In the new American president, the Arab despots found a trusted ally and protector that they had missed in his predecessor.
What was supposed to be an alliance against terrorism and extremism has virtually turned into an anti-Iran coalition further widening the regional geopolitical divide. By citing Tehran as the centre of gravity of terrorism, the American president has encouraged sectarian warfare among the Muslim-dominated countries thus diverting attention from the actual sources of extremism plaguing the region and beyond. What was supposed to be an alliance against terrorism has virtually turned into an anti-Iran coalition. Surely Tehran too is to be blamed for the ongoing proxy wars in the Middle East along sectarian lines. It is actively involved in the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars. But targeting the country as the bastion of terrorism and extremism is extremely dangerous. Ironically, Iran and the US forces have been collaborating in fighting the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq, while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are supporting some extremist Sunni militant groups fighting in Syria.
This approach of containing Iran is bound to further inflame the situation in the Middle East that will have spillover effects in other Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. Interestingly, it’s all happening as the Iranian people re-elected Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, as their president who was also responsible for reaching a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other nuclear states.
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were strongly opposed to the treaty and called for tougher US action against Tehran. The Iran nuclear deal was also the reason for the widening gap between Riyadh and Washington under the Obama administration. The Saudis were extremely worried by the possibility of a US-Iran rapprochement. But those fears lessened after the election of Trump who advocated a tougher stance against Iran and also vowed to scrap the nuclear deal — though it may not be possible considering there are five other signatories.
Hence the grand reception for the new US president when he chose the kingdom as the first destination of his maiden foreign visit as president. The Saudis have also obliged him by signing a multibillion-dollar arms deal and promising to invest billions more in infrastructure development in the US.
Those business deals with the prospect of generating thousands of new jobs in the US have certainly thrilled Trump. The development has also marked the return of the US to its traditional Saudi-centred Middle East policy.
However, given the Middle East civil war and the rise of more dangerous global terrorist groups like IS, a partisan American policy could complicate the situation, further destabilising the region.
It will certainly encourage Saudi Arabia to adopt a militarily more aggressive approach in Yemen and other troubled spots. It may also lead to an escalation in the Iranian proxy war in the region. There is some indication of a realignment of forces in the Middle East with Israel providing implicit support to the Saudi-led coalition of the Gulf countries. What is most worrisome is that any escalation may provide greater space to jihadi groups like IS and Al Qaeda.
This situation raises serious questions about Pakistan’s involvement in the Saudi-led alliance, sometimes described as the ‘Arab Nato’, with its clear anti-Iran bias and apparently divisive agenda. Whatever ambiguity there was about the aims and objectives of the 41-member coalition must be clear by now after the speech at the summit by Saudi King Salman Abdul Aziz who did not mince his words, describing Iran as the main enemy. A major question is whether we also agree with the Saudi agenda.
Frankly speaking, it didn’t matter that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not granted a private meeting with Trump or that he was not given an opportunity to address the summit. The main question is whether such a divisive Islamic alliance (in sectarian terms) in any way serves our national security and foreign policy interests. It certainly does not.
It was so obvious from the outset that the alliance would not work when its formation was announced unilaterally by the Saudi crown prince in the midst of the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen. It was a major mistake to commit ourselves to the coalition without having a clear idea about its objectives. Even worse was allowing retired Gen Raheel Sharif to head a phantom Islamic army.
With a former army chief in the top position, we cannot pretend that Pakistan is not an active partner in the military alliance. The government’s decision was in complete violation of the parliament’s resolution to not get involved in the Middle East civil war. It is also a failure of our foreign policy as we have been unable to clarify our position on the anti-Iran stance at the Riyadh summit. Indeed, it will now be much more difficult for us to extricate ourselves from what is rightly described as a ‘Sunni’ coalition without further antagonising Riyadh. But staying in an alliance which gets us involved in an intra-sectarian conflict will be extremely dangerous for the country.
One had hoped that an inclusive alliance of Muslim-majority nations would help bridge the sectarian divide and bring an end to the civil war in the Middle East. But the so-called Arab-Islamic-American Summit has dashed that hope and only added to the prevailing instability.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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China - Is The New York Times writing Chinese spy novels now?

By Curtis Stone 

On March 20, The New York Times reported that the Chinese government systematicallydismantled CIA spying operations in the countrykilling or imprisoning more than a dozenCIA sourcesBut at least one part of the report is falseand many Chinese are upset.
Xiakedaoa social media account run by the overseas edition of the Peoples Dailyresponded by wondering if the authors read Spy Games one too many timesbecause thereport reads like it has been ripped from the pages of the fiction spy novel.
According to The Times’ reportChinas national security organ “killed or imprisoned” about a dozen CIA “informants,” one of which was allegedly shot on the spot in front ofcolleagues in the courtyard of a government buildingThe story seems farfetched to saythe least.
As the report by Xiakedao explainsChinas national security organ is part of normal stateorgansThough Chinas national security forces exercise special powers to fulfill their dutyto protect the nations security and intereststhey must nonetheless comply with legalproceduresIn Chinaonly the Supreme Peoples Court has the power to deprive people oflifeCasually shooting suspected spies dead on the streetThis only happens in JamesBond 007 spy movies.
Xiakedao called this blockbuster-style approach to news reporting unreasonableUsingcommon senseone can see that the activities of Chinas national security forces areundertaken in accordance with the law and that the national security organ is notuntethered or rogueBut rather than investigate who was behind the U.Sspy network orwho their handlers were in BeijingThe Times wrote a story that rivals the best of Westernspy novelscreating confusion for those who seek to understand the situation.
Many netizens on Weibo reacted in anger at the reportAs one Weibo user commentedThe New York Timesin the absence of any evidenceblatantly accused China of “killing” U.SagentsHe called the report an “extremely sinister” way to provoke Americanresentment and hatred against China and added that China must not be indifferent orsilent. “The irresponsible American media should be condemned for grandstanding andmaking trouble out of nothing,” he wrote.
Chinese remain convinced that the sensationalized report is a figment of the authors’ imaginationand that common sense is needed to understand ChinaShot on the spotSounds like something one of the associates would do to stop China from crippling theoperationsuggested the report by Xiakedao.

The Baneful Apocalyptic Triad of USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia

Trump effectively blessed Saudi Arabia as a pillar of moderate Islam as part of his “Muslim reset”.

One Arab writer even hailed Saudi-US ties as one that “shaped the wider world” and although the wider world would undeniably agree with that reality, it would nevertheless consign such ties to the very negative end of the global affairs spectrum.
The Israeli press celebrated Trump’s royal treatment in Riyadh and observed how the president and select members of his cabinet danced with swords in a ceremony that must have nauseated the families of 9/11 victims.  Syrians, Yemenis and Christian minorities worldwide would have also watched that macabre spectacle with a foreboding sense of horror. 
Just about every symbolism linking Saudi Arabia and Israel was explored and publicized by the latter’s media, including a historic “first direct flight” from Riyadh to Jerusalem – reflecting the correct order of priority, both domestic and foreign, facing any US presidency!
One wonders when these two Middle Eastern lovers would emerge from the closet to announce a union, albeit a temporary one, to jointly exercise “regional peace” under Washington’s patronage.
Shadow Plays and Iran
Saudi Arabia remains the prima inter pares of the Washington-Riyadh-Jerusalem triad. This was underscored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who secretly begged Trump not to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. There are good monetary reasons for such shadow play. According to US investigative journalist Robert Parry, Saudi Araba provides billions of dollars for Israeli West Bank settlement construction in return for secret Israeli security cooperation.
Two primary issues currently preoccupy the triad. The first concerns the amount of wool needed to be pulled over the eyes of a historically corrupt Palestinian leadership as well as the Islamic world. This should nevertheless be a cinch sans any tectonic shocks to an admittedly fragile global system.
The second, far more vexatious issue concerns neutralizing Iran. While other major Middle Eastern oil producers have been devastated by post-9/11 invasions, regime changes and “civil wars” which render them prostrate before Saudi diktats, Iran continues to provide oil in significant quantities to an energy-hungry Asia. Without complete control over the Middle Eastern oil spigot, the triad cannot extract geopolitical concessions out of Asia which is rapidly weening itself away from fossil fuel dependency.
India is paving the way here. Sensing geo-economic insecurity on the horizon, it intends to become a “100 per cent electric vehicle nation” by 2030, backed by developments in its space program and a fast-growing native nuclear industry. The message is clear: Asia will not hedge its future on any Washington-brokered Middle Eastern “peace process” that is bound to fail.
A Doomed Religious Triad
Washington’s much-fantasized New World Order cannot be forged without neutralizing major oil producers such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Furthermore, any NWO requires a religious leap of faith. But how are the modern flag-bearers of three ancient, mutually-hostile religious ideologies going to resolve that?
Perhaps, the answer can be found in common apocalyptic undercurrents within the triad.
American evangelicals and “Messianic Christians” (who mimic Jewish forms of worship) had for the past five years eagerly awaited the destruction of Damascus as recorded in Isaiah 17:1. The cruelties perpetrated on Christian women and children from Damascus to Mosul did not trigger intercessory prayers from American evangelicals or their offspring worldwide. Instead, there was rapture-like rejoicing! The Christian teaching of repentance leading to vastly difference prophetic outcomes, including for Syria as recorded in Isaiah 19: 23-25, is routinely ignored by the Ayatollahs of the American religion.
One needs to study the heretical roots of American Christianity to realize why it hardly preaches or takes cognizance of the Ninth Commandment which reads “Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness”! Presenting false evidence annually at the United Nations to contravene other great commandments – namely Thou Shall Not Kill and Thou Shall Not Steal/Covet – never registers as “national sin” in the rabid evangelical psyche.
While Trump was hailed as Cyrus-incarnate by his Judas priests, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s Cyrus-like role in protecting his Christian minority went unacknowledged. Christians should revisit the following verse “I will bless those who bless you” (Genesis 12:3) and contemplate contemporary American reality. Instead of divine blessing, the US is reaping curse after national curse with its children plumbing new nadirs like trading sex for food.
The Assad government, facing a US-Saudi-facilitated international terrorist invasion from 90-odd nations, is being blessed with victory despite the triad’s efforts to reduce Syria into a pile of rubble. Russia, which has upheld Christian principles and precepts, remains remarkably resilient in the face of US-led Western sanctions. As a result, even Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov admits that Muslims fare better in Russia than anywhere else.
American evangelicals however frequently mistake “bloodletting” for “blessing.” Their cultic racket thrives as the religious arm of US foreign policy.
This resonates with the apocalyptic narrative of radical Islam; one where another Syrian landmark, namely the obscure town of Dabiq, plays a defining end-times role. Many (largely non-Arab) Islamists harbour hopes that a future Pakistani army may form the nucleus of a horde that will annihilate infidels from Khorasan to Jerusalem. The Muslim NATO being created by Saudi Arabia with US blessings has a Pakistani commander to underscore this popular doomsday narrative. Not surprisingly, the Saudis picked the Jewish firm of Burson-Marsteller to handle the public relations end of business.
Israel remains the ultimate eschatological raison d'être of any Muslim NATO. It cannot annul the prophecies of Islam but it can placate the Saudis by continually attacking Syria. Israeli Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant, whose ministry is the suspected recipient of Saudi largesse, even went as far as advocating the assassination of Assad just before Trump’s visit to Riyadh.
Pressure to attack Iran – which has the economic backing of Russia, India and China – can be delayed indefinitely by raining gradual misery on Syria. In any case, the downfall of Iran means the automatic ascension of Israel as the primary bogeyman of global jihad. Maybe, the Israeli deep state is expecting help from Saudi clerics to stoke the diversionary fires of Ghazwa-e-Hind – an event now interpreted as an apocalyptic showdown between Pakistan and India, although it has no basis in established Muslim traditions. Can Israel get Pakistan on-board via a Saudi shadow play?  
As long as Israel remains focused on playing up the Syrian and Iranian bogeyman, the Saudi-led bloc of “moderate Islam” may even grant some tactical, indirect imprimatur for the construction of the Third Temple for “all of humanity.” This scatter-brained hope is shared by a surprisingly motley lot, including Turkish sex cult guru Adnan Octar.
But what happens to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of Rock which currently stand in the way? As soon as they are razed or when the first Temple brick is laid down, “moderate” Arabs will revoke all prior tacit acquiescence. Perhaps, this is when the United States steps in to execute the greatest betrayal in modern history…

Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?

The lack of a coherent anti-terrorism strategy in Washington and by extension the West, as emergency services deal with the devastating aftermath of yet another terrorist atrocity in Europe – this time a suicide bomb attack at a concert in Manchester, England - has been thrown into sharp relief during President Trump’s tour of the Middle East.
Specifically, on what planet can Iran be credibly accused of funding and supporting terrorism while Saudi Arabia is considered a viable partner in the fight against terrorism? This is precisely the narrative we are being invited to embrace by President Trump in what counts as a retreat from reality into the realms of fantasy, undertaken in service not to security but commerce.
Indeed those still struggling to understand why countries such as the US, UK, and France consistently seek to legitimise a Saudi regime that is underpinned by the medieval religious doctrine of Wahhabism, which is near indistinguishable from the medieval religious extremism and fanaticism of Daesh and Nusra in Syria - those people need look no further than the economic relations each of those countries enjoy with Riyadh.
The announcement that Washington has just sealed a mammoth deal with its Saudi ally on arms sales – worth $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over 10 years – is all the incentive the US political and media establishment requires to look the other way when it comes to the public beheadings, crucifixions, eye gouging, and other cruel and barbaric punishments meted out in the Kingdom on a regular basis.
The sheer unreality of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with President Trump during the latter’s state visit to the country recently, lamenting the chaos and carnage in Syria, which he described as having been “one of the most advanced countries” prior to a conflict that has wrought so much death and destruction, the sheer unreality of this is off the scale – and especially so considering the role the Saudis have played in providing material, financial, and ideological and religious support to groups engaged in the very carnage in Syria as has just been unleashed in Manchester.
There are times when the truth is not enough, when only the unvarnished truth will do, and in the wake of the Manchester attack – in which at time of writing 22 people have been killed and 60 injured - we cannot avoid the conclusion that neither principle nor rationality is driving Western foreign policy in the Middle East, or as it pertains to terrorism.
Instead it is being driven by unalloyed hypocrisy, to the extent that when such carnage occurs in Syria, as it has unremittingly over the past 6 years, the perpetrators are still described in some quarters as rebels and freedom fighters, yet when it takes place in Manchester or Paris or Brussels, etc., they are depicted as terrorists. Neither is it credible to continue to demonize governments that are in the front line against this terrorist menace – i.e. Iran, Russia, Syria – while courting and genuflecting at the feet of governments that are exacerbating it – i.e. Saudi Arabia, previously mentioned, along with Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey. Here, too, mention must be made of the brutal and ongoing injustice meted out to the Palestinians by an Israeli government that shares with the Saudis a doctrine of religious exceptionalism and supremacy, one that is inimical to peace or the security of its own people.
Ultimately a choice has to be made between security and stability or economic and geopolitical advantage, with the flag of democracy and human rights losing its lustre in recent years precisely because the wrong choice has been made – in other words a Faustian pact with opportunism.
As the smoke clears, both literally and figuratively, from yet another terrorist atrocity, we are forced to consider how we arrived at this point. And when we do we cannot but understand the role of Western extremism in giving birth to and nourishing Salafi-jihadi extremism. Moreover, in the midst of the understandable and eminently justifiable grief we feel at events in Manchester, it behooves us not to forget the salient fact that Muslims have and continue to be the biggest victims of this terrorist menace, unleashed in the name of religious purity andsectarianism, and that it is Muslims who are also doing most to confront and fight it, whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan. It should not escape our rendering of the issue either that what each of those countries have in common is that they have all been victims of the Western extremism mentioned earlier.
It bears repeating: you cannot continue to invade, occupy, and subvert Muslim and Arab countries and not expect consequences. And when those consequences amount to the slaughter and maiming of your own citizens, the same tired and shallow platitudes we are ritually regaled with by politicians and leaders intent on bolstering their anti-terrorism and security credentials achieve little except induce nausea.
Enough is enough.

Pashto Ghazal - Hamayoun Angar - 'Bayla Ta Zuwand Na Teregee'

Central Asia's Anxious Watch On The Afghan Border

The view south from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan as spring sets in must be cause for some apprehension. Across the border, the security situation in northern Afghanistan has been sharply deteriorating since 2014.
For the previous decade or more, northern Afghanistan had been a relatively peaceful area -- particularly in the northwest, far from the problems of the Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad regions of Afghanistan. During this more peaceful time, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan implemented projects -- bridges, railways -- to better connect them to their southern neighbor.
There was fighting throughout this last winter in the Afghan provinces bordering Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, and the usual Taliban spring offensive is expected soon. If you listen to some Afghan officials, and others, it's not only the Taliban who are a threat in northern Afghanistan now.
There are some militant groups that include Central Asian nationals.
There is also a pro-Islamic State (IS) radio station calling itself Sedai Khelafat, mobile and with very limited range, which now broadcasts in northern Afghanistan, often in the Tajik and Uzbek languages.
And this year, there are also creeping suspicions among some in Afghanistan that the governments in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are dealing with people in Afghanistan whom the Afghan government considers the enemy.
It's a chaotic situation that promises to become much worse very soon, all the more so since some of the Central Asian militants who went to join IS or other militant groups in Syria and Iraq are reportedly making their way back from inevitable defeats there to Afghanistan.
So with spring coming, Qishloq Ovozi takes a look at what has been happening recently in the northern Afghan provinces that border Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
There is violence in Balkh Province (which borders Uzbekistan), the Taliban attack on the German Consulate in November being one example. But in Balkh, the violence is either lower than in the three provinces to the east and four to the west, or bloodshed receives less media coverage. In any case, it is not part of this review.
The situations in Bahglan, Samandar, and Sari Pul, which are just south of Takhar, Kunduz, Balkh, and Jowzjan, and east of Faryab, are arguably worse than in those provinces bordering Central Asia. But since they are not on the frontier with Central Asia, they are also excluded from this review.
The View South From Turkmenistan
The length of the Turkmen-Afghan border is 744 kilometers, although, as is the case with the Tajik-Afghan border, there are other figures for this frontier.
The Amu Darya River forms about the first 100 kilometers of the eastern Turkmen-Afghan border before turning sharply north, heading toward the Aral Sea.
From there, the Turkmen-Afghan border dips toward the southwest through relatively flat, sandy land, much of which is in or on the edges of the Gara-Gum (Kara-Kum) Desert. One more river -- the Murghab -- forms some 16 kilometers of Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan's Badghis Province.
The Afghan provinces that border Turkmenistan are, from east to west: Jowzjan, Faryab, Badghis, and Herat.
This area was arguably the most peaceful part of Afghanistan for more than a decade after the U.S.-led military operation started in late 2001.
The situation started to change in spring 2013, when hundreds of Taliban militants fought a weeklong battle with government forces in the Qaysar district of Faryab Province.
A small number of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had already started arriving in northwestern Afghanistan to help train local Taliban fighters, including teaching them how to make improvised explosive devices.
Pakistan's military operation in North Waziristan in summer 2014 pushed a large group of IMU fighters and their families (hundreds of them at least) into Afghanistan with many making their way to the northwestern provinces bordering Turkmenistan. Violence increased noticeably across northern Afghanistan after their arrival.
In late 2015, another group of IMU fighters arrived in Herat Province. This group was reportedly sent by IMU leader Usman Ghazi after he declared the group's allegiance to the IS militant group. Their purpose in Herat was to fight alongside a Taliban splinter group that had also declared loyalty to IS, in a battle with a group of "traditional" Taliban fighters.
The traditional Taliban faction eventually crushed their opponents, but some of the pro-IS IMU and Taliban militants escaped into other areas of northwest Afghanistan.
Residents and officials in Jowzjan Province blame IS for burning down some 60 houses in a village in late December and for killing six Afghan employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross in early February.
In late October, Rahmattulah Hashar, the head of Jowzjan's Darzab district, said the "armed people of Daesh [IS]" captured four villages in his district. The Afghan Islamic Press reported IS militants had killed a Taliban commander in Darzab and captured nine Taliban fighters.
In the extremely confusing situation in northwest Afghanistan, it is often difficult to say who exactly the enemy is. Afghan officials have repeatedly said that some militants, especially the foreign militants, alternate between calling themselves Taliban and IS.
Hashar does make a distinction, as he has specifically accused the Taliban of attacks in his district. And the Taliban does have a presence in Darzab district. A spokesman for the Jowzjan governor's office, Mohammad Reza Ghafari, said on February 15 that Taliban fighters abducted 52 farmers in Darzab. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed their capture, saying the farmers were "planting on disputed land" and a Taliban court would decide whether to punish them.
Darzab is in the southern part of Jowzjan Province. The two districts bordering Turkmenistan -- Qarqeen and Khamyab -- where the government exerts at best tenuous control, have been relatively quiet in recent months, possibly due to an offensive that Afghanistan's vice president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, led in Jowzjan and Faryab provinces in October.
An earlier security operation led by Dostum in October 2015 in the Khamyab district chased militants to an island in the Amu Darya, where the latter encountered border guards from Turkmenistan. The episode ended peacefully for the Turkmen border guards, who instructed the militants to return to the Afghan side of the river. For the militants, it reportedly ended in annihilation once they reached the south bank of the river.
More worrisome for the Turkmen government are events in the Ghormach district of Faryab Province. In mid-September, the Taliban launched an offensive in Faryab's southern Qaysar, Pushtun Kot, Khwaja Sabz, Almar, and Ghormach districts. On October 11, the Taliban captured Ghormach and held it for some 10 days before Dostum's attacks chased them from the district.
More than two years earlier, on May 24, 2014, an armed group crossed from Ghormach into Turkmenistan, killed three Turkmen soldiers, and took their weapons back with them into Afghanistan.
Further complicating the situation, in mid-March, fighting broke out between supporters of two pro-government parties, Jamiat-e Islami and Junbesh-e Melli Islami. At least five people were reported killed. Eight policemen were also wounded when both sides opened fire on them. The same two groups were involved in violence in Faryab in March 2016.
The first militants to cross the Turkmen border did so in February 2014 from the Badghis Province. They killed three Turkmen border guards.
Badghis has not seen the intensity of fighting witnessed in the Faryab and Jowzjan provinces recently, but it has become the second-largest area of opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, according to a 2016 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
In addition to the problems in Jowzjan, Faryab, and Badghis, the biggest concern for Turkmenistan at the moment just came from Herat. On March 8, an influential mujahedin commander from the days of the Soviet occupation, Ismail Khan, accused the Turkmen government of supplying arms to the Taliban. Khan said he told Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov that "weapons [sent] to Herat are supplied from Turkmenistan." (There has been fighting for weeks in Herat's southern Shindand district.)
Turkmenistan quickly dismissed Khan's accusation as "baseless," but more people in northwest Afghanistan are likely to believe Khan than the Turkmen government.
Turkmenistan is officially a neutral country, a designation granted by the United Nations in 1995. Turkmenistan successfully stayed out of the Afghan conflicts of the 1990s by remaining neutral. The killing of Turkmen troops by militants from Afghanistan raises questions about how much respect fighters in northwest Afghanistan now have for Turkmenistan's neutrality.
The Turkmen government is at least hedging its bets. Since the incidents in 2014, Turkmenistan has significantly increased defense spending, called up reserves, and reportedly deployed some 80 percent of its forces along the frontier with Afghanistan.
The Turkmen government has also pursued an often erratic policy toward the neighboring Afghan provinces, at first making contact with villages across the frontier and offering help with projects for river containment, electricity, and various forms of humanitarian aid, then changing policies and constructing barriers and ditches on the Turkmen side of the border.
Turkmen authorities also once allowed commanders of Afghan paramilitary forces to receive medical treatment in Ashgabat.
Officially, Ashgabat says there are no problems along the Afghan border.
The View South From Tajikistan
The length of the Tajik-Afghan border is unclear. The two most widely used figures for the border length are 1,206 or 1,344 kilometers. But if you drew a straight line from the easternmost point of their common border to the westernmost part, the distance would be about half that. The border zigzags from the east, through the Pamir Mountains until it hits the headwaters of the Pyanj (later Amu Darya) River, after which the meandering river becomes the border.
Most of the Tajik-Afghan border runs through the Pamir Mountains, only the last several hundred kilometers of the western frontier pass through the lowlands.

The Afghan provinces that border Tajikistan are, from east to west, Badakhshan, Takhar, and Kunduz.
In addition to Taliban fighters in these provinces there are also members of a group Afghan officials called Jundallah, a militant band that originated in Central Asia and first appeared in the late 1990s as the IMU and was allied to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The IMU sheltered with the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas in the first years after the U.S.-led operation started in late 2001.
IMU fighters have been trickling back in northeastern Afghanistan to link up with Taliban units for more than a decade, and several times during this period conflicts with Pakistani tribesmen or Pakistani military operations pushed groups of IMU fighters back into Afghanistan. In recent years, this IMU group was absorbed by its Tajik wing, Jamaat Ansarullah. The originally Uzbek-dominated group now includes several nationalities and is under Tajik command.
This group has maintained its alliance with the Taliban, unlike an IMU group in northwestern Afghanistan.
In late September 2016, the Taliban and Jundallah launched an attack on the provincial capital, Kunduz, briefly seizing it as they had done almost exactly one year earlier. The Taliban also briefly seized Kunduz Province's Qala-e Zal district, which borders Tajikistan. Fighting continues in that district and in the neighboring Imam Sahib district that also borders Tajikistan.
The militants also attacked in the neighboring Takhar and Badakhshan provinces in late September. They overran four districts in Takhar Province, two of which -- Khwaja Gar and Yangi Qala -- directly border Tajikistan.
Another district that borders Tajikistan -- Darqad, in the far northwest of Takhar Province -- has been under Taliban control for some time. There was a drone strike there at the start of March that Afghan forces say killed 15 Taliban militants and that followed Afghan air strikes on Darqad in late February.
Darqad is also the source of serious problems now between the Afghan, Tajik, and Russian governments. (More on that later.)
During that late September offensive, the Taliban also briefly captured two central districts in Badakhshan -- Wardoj and Baharak. Wardoj district has changed hands between government and militant forces several times since 2009.
The government now claims to have control over most of these districts, but attacks and assassinations continue to occur frequently in these three provinces and thinly stretched Afghan government troops move almost constantly from one hot spot to the next.
Kunduz Governor Assadullah Amarkhel said at the start of March that the Taliban were planning to attack the city of Kunduz again. Badakhshan Governor Ahmad Faisal said at the start of March he expected a military operation to start soon to recapture the Yamgan and Wardoj districts in his province. At the end of February, the Afghan National Army announced it had recaptured 14 villages in three districts of Takhar Province.
Of course all of this is a concern to Tajikistan's government -- although not so much because of the threat of the Taliban crossing the border. After all, Tajikistan hosts a Russian military base and together with the Russian military Tajik authorities have established three layers of defense in the Afghan border region.
But the presence of Jundallah, a militant group commanded by ethnic Tajiks, including some from Tajikistan, is something to worry about, especially as the Tajik government cannot claim to enjoy much popularity among its people.
A reported IS presence in the northeast is also causing unease, not only in Dushanbe but in Moscow as well, and that has raised questions in Afghanistan about possible connections the Russian and Tajik governments might have with the Taliban.
At the end of 2015, Tajikistan's independent Asia-Plus news agency reported that Russian officials met that summer with Taliban representatives at the Kulob military base, where Russia's 201st Division was stationed at the time. One of those Taliban representatives was identified as Qari Dinmuhammad Hanif, the commander who controlled the Darqad district in Takhar Province.
Since then, it has become clear that Russia is in contact with the Taliban. Moscow opened a channel to the Taliban after IS appeared in eastern Afghanistan, ostensibly because the Taliban was more effective than government troops at fighting IS in Afghanistan.
Provincial officials and military commanders in Badakhshan, Takhar, and Kunduz have blamed security setbacks on Russia supplying local Taliban units with arms. Afghan Channel 1 TV reported on February 28 that Russia was supplying arms to the Taliban units in Kunduz's Qala-e Zal, Iman Sahib, and Dasht-e Archi districts.
The same accusation has been made to justify Afghan government forces' failure to retake the Darqad district of Takhar Province.
And some Afghan officials have gone so far as to claim Tajikistan was allowing Taliban vehicles entry onto its territory for repair, allowing wounded Taliban to be treated at medical facilities in Tajikistan, and turning a blind eye to militants sheltering on heavily wooded islands in the Pyanj River.
Tajik authorities deny all this, and Russia denies giving weapons to the Taliban. But the mounting distrust serves to further complicate an increasingly chaotic situation.