Friday, September 4, 2009

NATO must tell Russia of Afghan plans in case of fiasco’

MOSCOW: NATO should keep Russia informed on operations in Afghanistan as they could heighten unrest near Russian borders, the Russian envoy to the alliance said on Friday on Echo of Moscow radio station.

“We want to know about military strategy, about military planning and political planning in case NATO runs into a total fiasco,” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO in Brussels, said. “If they leave there like they left Vietnam, they will leave behind broken china, a shaken hornet’s nest, with only Russia and our Central Asian partners nearby,” the envoy added. He noted that Russia was supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan by allowing the alliance to use Russian territory to transit supplies to NATO forces, and was also providing direct bilateral aid to the Afghan government. “As we help, we also need to know what is going on there,” Rogozin said.

Coordination: He said the situation for NATO in Afghanistan was becoming increasingly “dramatic” and pointed to a NATO airstrike on Friday that Afghan authorities say killed around 90 people as proof of alliance disorganisation in the country. “In truth, there is not serious coordination among various NATO contingents inside Afghanistan so far despite all the efforts that have been made over the past few years,” he said.

‘Army to chase Taliban till end’


MINGORA/RAWALPINDI: Inaugurating a rehabilitation centre for young men taken and trained to become terrorists and suicide bombers by Taliban, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said the military has broken the terrorists’ backs and Operation Rah-e-Rast would continue as long as the last terrorist was not eliminated.

The army chief, visiting Malakand on Friday, later told a gathering of local leaders and soldiers that the terrorist network had been dismantled and peace restored to the Swat valley. He also discussed issues of rehabilitating and resettling the internally displaced population of the area.

“The army will chase these militants till the very end.” He also hoped that the people of these areas would support the armed forces in their mission. Local elders assured Kayani of their complete support to the army.

According to an ISPR statement, Gen Kayani visited the newly-built community police-training centre in Kalam, where he also met with recruits.

Rehabilitation centre: According to military officials, the ‘Sabawoon’ (morning light) Rehabilitation Centre will look after the young men brainwashed and indoctrinated by Taliban for suicide attacks on security forces and other targets in Swat. Many such youths were arrested by troops or found in camps raided by security forces during search and clearance operations in the valley.

Based in Malakand, the would-be Taliban will be nursed back to a “proper state of mental health”. “A team of specialist doctors, both from the Army and civil, is dedicated for this purpose. 32 children are presently undergoing the rehabilitation process,” the ISPR release said.

Signs of progress in Afghanistan

CNN.COM-The first surprise is Kabul airport. The new terminal — “a gift of the people of Japan” — appears to have been airlifted in from a small American city; light-filled, modern and staffed by young men in uniforms of khaki pants and blue shirts who politely answer travelers’ questions as they direct traffic through the quiet, marble halls of the terminal.

This is quite a change from the old Kabul airport terminal, which was not much more than a big shed that broiled in summer and froze in winter with one wheezing baggage belt disgorging luggage to a chaotic press of travelers.

I have visited the Kabul airport since 1993 and it has been an accurate barometer of Afghanistan’s shifting fortunes. In the mid-90s the country was in the grip of a civil war in which hundreds of thousands died and the airport of the capital was littered with the carcasses of airplanes large and small that had crashed on landing or takeoff during the past decade-plus of war.

Under the Taliban — whose fantasies about establishing a 7th century utopia here on earth did not extend to the simplest acts of real governance — no effort was made to clear up this mess. Once their regime fell in 2001, gradually the rusting hulks of the crashed planes were cleared from the runways.

Then came the mine sweepers. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and the strategically significant Kabul airport was mined particularly heavily. It took years for the mine sweepers to clear the airport runways but now they are long gone, as they are from much of the country.

Lost in the deluge of the recent media coverage of the rising violence and the flawed presidential election in Afghanistan are the markers of real progress over the past eight years, which in a small but important way is exemplified by the turnaround at Kabul airport.

Consider that:

• More than five million refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban. This is one of the most substantial refugee repatriations in history, yet it is little remarked upon because it has largely gone so smoothly.

• One in six Afghans now has a cell phone. Under the Taliban there was no phone system.

• Millions of kids are now in school, including many girls. Under the Taliban girls were not allowed to be educated.

• In 2008, Afghanistan’s real GDP growth was 7.5 percent. Under the Taliban the economy was in free fall.

• You were more likely to be murdered in the United States in 1991 than an Afghan civilian is to be killed in the war today.

Some reading this may be thinking — can this really be right? But do the math: In 1991, almost 25,000 people were murdered in the United States at a time when the American population was approximately 260 million. In Afghanistan today some 2,000 Afghan civilians are killed each year by the Taliban and coalition forces out of a population of around 30 million

A comparison with Iraq is also instructive. As the violence peaked in Iraq in early 2007 more than 3,500 Iraqi civilians were being killed every month. Adjusting for population sizes, civilians in Iraq were 20 times more likely to be killed two years ago than they are today in Afghanistan.

Of course none of this is to deny the existence of epic corruption in Afghanistan, the massive drug trade, the scandal of billions of dollars of aid wasted on failed aid projects that have principally enriched giant American contractors like DynCorp, and the resurgence of the Taliban.

These are all too real, but they are only part of the story, and for Afghans who have lived through an invasion by a totalitarian superpower that killed one in ten of their family members, then a civil war that killed many more, and then the Taliban who brought security at the price of living in a completely failed theocratic state, the most important fact is that history is now behind them and that the future promises something better.

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank that promotes innovative thought from across the ideological spectrum, and at New York University’s Center on Law and Security. He’s the author of “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader,” and the editor of the AfPak Channel.

Shoot-out in Swat

A lashkar shot dead three militants after an hour-long gun battle in the Kabal tehsil of Swat. The area had been among those where militants had the strongest hold. Elsewhere in Swat too we are hearing of people identifying militants and in several cases handing them over to authorities. The fear that the militants had exerted has clearly begun to fade. For months local people had been unable to defy the Taliban. They speak now of the kind of terror they suffered under for months, often with great bitterness. We were also informed that support for the extremists was widespread. Indeed even the ANP government had contributed to this misperception by enforcing the Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Swat. It was said people wanted Shariah law and that there was support for those who advocated it.

The actions we are seeing now in the area suggest this is simply not accurate. People are ready to act against militants and to take matters into their own hands to do so. Most seem to hold little sympathy for them. They are indeed ready to challenge them at some risk to themselves, as the actions of the lashkar demonstrated. But there is also the fact that the militants possessed sufficient gun power to hold out for a prolonged battle. They also seemed sufficiently motivated to do so. These are somewhat ominous signs and suggest there is a need to drive home the victory that is being claimed. For the moment top militant leaders, including Maulana Fazalullah, remain free; their whereabouts are unknown and until they are apprehended the risk of some attempt at reorganization in the future will remain. The authorities need to lay out their strategy in this respect. Troops, who still man check posts and pickets across Swat and remain posted in cities, cannot be kept deployed forever. It may be necessary to think about a local force to defend Swat and perhaps the lashkars that have come up spontaneously in some places can be used for this purpose. But this should not form the lone pillar of official strategy. Events in Swat in the past have shown that, more than anything else, people seek access to equitable justice. They also seek opportunity and development. It is offering them this that will prove the hardest blow to militancy.

US Official Reaffirms Need for Afghanistan Society Building

It has been about six months since the Obama Administration unveiled a new strategy boosting efforts to rebuild Afghan civil society. That is part of a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A top State Department official is acknowledging the need to show real progress soon.A senior U.S. official acknowledges the clock is ticking on showing the effectiveness of America's multibillion dollar attempt to rebuild Afghanistan. The effort has been deemed a foreign policy priority of the Obama administration.The Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Jack Lew, on a visit to India, spoke with a small group of Indian and American reporters in the capital. He told them it is critical to continue the effort to transfer skills and tools to Afghans so foreigners do not need to have a permanent presence there.
"It is a challenge after just a few months of implementation to be able to speak with confidence about when these things will occur," said Lew. "But the president has been clear, the Administration has been clear that there's a need for demonstrable progress on a short order."
The deputy secretary, who is the State Department's chief operating officer, adds that Congress and the administration itself will hold those responsible accountable to show a difference is being made in Afghanistan.
Programs underway include training the Afghan National Army and police, as well as building capacity in Afghan government ministries. President Obama, in late March, outlined a comprehensive plan to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida in order to bring security to Afghanistan and to construct a civil infrastructure.Lew says these efforts "address a direct threat to the United States." The deputy secretary is to visit Afghanistan next week. His trip comes at a critical time with the results of the country's presidential election still uncertain and worries a disputed outcome, due to allegations of widespread ballot box stuffing, could spark further civil violence.The White House is now reviewing strategic recommendations made by the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Details are confidential but they are believed to include the possibility of adding more troops to the already 60 thousand Americans in uniform deployed there in the eight-year old war. This comes at a time when opinion polls show dropping support among Americans for the military effort in Afghanistan, where Afghan, American and NATO coalition forces together are fighting the Taliban.

Furor over Obama's speech 'silly season'

Associated Press
The White House on Friday dismissed as pointless the furor over President Barack Obama's plan to deliver a televised back-to-school speech to the nation's students.
"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Obama's planned address to students has prompted a surprising push-back from some quarters over what the White House sees as an important but innocuous topic.
Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda and overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender in 2012, said Obama's speech is "uninvited" and that the president's move raises questions of content and motive.
Many school districts have decided not to show Obama's speech, to be delivered at 12 noon EDT Tuesday, partly in response to concerns from parents.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Friday defended Obama's plan to address students.
"The bottom line is we need the president of the United States of America to use his bully pulpit to talk to kids about the importance of education and to help inspire kids," she said on "The John Gambling Show" on radio station WOR NewsTalk Radio 710 in New York.
Gibbs said former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches to students. He said Obama's speech will not be partisan but rather a chance for children to get "a little encouragement as they start the school year."
The White House spokesman said he couldn't speak to the motivations of some school districts.
"Look, there are some school districts that won't let you read 'Huckleberry Finn,' " Gibbs said.
He said the administration understands that some districts have logistical concerns with the timing of Obama's speech.
The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. Obama will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

NATO airstrike in Afghanistan kills up to 90

KABUL -- A NATO jet blasted two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, setting off a huge fireball Friday that killed up to 90 people, Afghan officials said.

The NATO command said a "large number of insurgents" were killed or injured in the pre-dawn attack near the village of Omar Khel in Kunduz province. An Afghan police officer said the 90 dead included about 40 civilians who were siphoning fuel from the trucks.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The top NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has ordered curbs on airstrikes after a strong backlash among Afghans against the high number of civilians killed in such military operations.

Police Chief Gulam Mohyuddin said Taliban fighters stopped the vehicles as they were about to cross the Kunduz River.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a public affairs officer, said NATO warplanes attacked and destroyed the two tankers after determining that there were no civilians in the area.

She said that NATO and the Afghan government are investigating reports of civilian casualties.

Another NATO spokesman said one reason the fuel tankers were targeted was they are frequently used in suicide attacks.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said insurgents hijacked the trucks as they were headed from Tajikistan to supply NATO forces in Kabul.

When the hijackers tried to drive them across the Kunduz River, the vehicles became stuck in the mud and the insurgents opened valves to release fuel and lighten the loads, he said. He said about 500 villagers swarmed the trucks to collect the fuel despite warnings that they might be hit with an airstrike, he said.

Mujahid said no Taliban died in the attack.

Kunduz Gov. Mohammad Omar, who also gave the 90 deaths figure, said a local Taliban commander and four Chechen fighters were among those killed.

Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Humanyun Khmosh, director of the Kunduz hospital, said 12 people were being treated for severe burns. He could not say whether they were civilians or insurgents, although one was a 10-year-old boy.

He said the hospital had only one confirmed death - a truck driver.

In Kabul, the deputy chief of the U.N. mission, Peter Galbraith, said he was "very concerned" by reports of civilian casualties in Kunduz and that all efforts must be undertaken to care for the wounded and compensate families of the dead.

"Steps must also be taken to examine what happened and why an air strike was employed in circumstances where it was hard to determine with certainty that civilians were not present," he said, adding that a U.N. team would be sent to Kunduz to investigate.

Kunduz province had been relatively peaceful until violence began rising earlier this year. German forces who are based there come under almost daily attack, including rockets and mortars at their bases and small arms fire against patrols.

Violence has soared across much of the country since President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, shifting the focus of the U.S.-led war on Islamic extremism from Iraq.

Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, making it the bloodiest month for American forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

Rising casualties during this summer's fighting have undermined support for the war in the U.S., Britain and other allied countries.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the war is worth fighting and signaled for the first time he may be willing to send more troops after months of publicly resisting a significant increase.

At a Pentagon news conference, Gates said Obama's efforts are "only now beginning" to take effect and should be given a chance to succeed.

"I don't believe that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers," Gates said. Later, he added: "I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan."

China and India Dispute Enclave on the Edge of Tibet

TAWANG, India — This is perhaps the most militarized Buddhist enclave in the world.
Perched above 10,000 feet in the icy reaches of the eastern Himalayas, the town of Tawang is not only home to one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred monasteries, but is also the site of a huge Indian military buildup. Convoys of army trucks haul howitzers along rutted mountain roads. Soldiers drill in muddy fields. Military bases appear every half-mile in the countryside, with watchtowers rising behind concertina wire.
A road sign on the northern edge of town helps explain the reason for all the fear and the fury: the border with China is just 23 miles away; Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, 316 miles; and Beijing, 2,676 miles.
“The Chinese Army has a big deployment at the border, at Bumla,” said Madan Singh, a junior commissioned officer who sat with a half-dozen soldiers one afternoon sipping tea beside a fog-cloaked road. “That’s why we’re here.”
Though little known to the outside world, Tawang is the biggest tinderbox in relations between the world’s two most populous nations. It is the focus of China’s most delicate land-border dispute, a conflict rooted in Chinese claims of sovereignty over all of historical Tibet.
In recent months, both countries have stepped up efforts to secure their rights over this rugged patch of land. China tried to block a $2.9 billion loan to India from the Asian Development Bank on the grounds that part of the loan was destined for water projects in Arunachal Pradesh, the state that includes Tawang. It was the first time China had sought to influence the territorial dispute through a multilateral institution. Then the governor of Arunachal Pradesh announced that the Indian military was deploying extra troops and fighter jets in the area.The growing belligerence has soured relations between the two Asian giants and has prompted one Indian military leader to declare that China has replaced Pakistan as India’s biggest threat.Economic progress might be expected to bring the countries closer. China and India did $52 billion worth of trade last year, a 34 percent increase over 2007. But businesspeople say border tensions have infused business deals with official interference, damping the willingness of Chinese and Indian companies to invest in each other’s countries.
“Officials start taking more time, scrutinizing things more carefully, and all that means more delays and ultimately more denials, “ said Ravi Bhoothalingam, a former president of the Oberoi Group, the luxury hotel chain, and a member of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi. “That’s not good for business.”
The roots of the conflict go back to China’s territorial claims to Tibet, an enduring source of friction between China and many foreign nations. China insists that this section of northeast India has historically been part of Tibet, and should be part of China.Tawang is a thickly forested area of white stupas and steep, terraced hillsides that is home to the Monpa people, who practice Tibetan Buddhism, speak a language similar to Tibetan and once paid tribute to rulers in Lhasa. The Sixth Dalai Lama was born here in the 17th century. The Chinese Army occupied Tawang briefly in 1962, during a war with India fought over this and other territories along the 2,521-mile border.
More than 3,100 Indian soldiers and 700 Chinese soldiers were killed and thousands wounded in the border war. Memorials here highlighting Chinese aggression in Tawang are big draws for Indian tourists.“The entire border is disputed,” said Ma Jiali, an India scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government-supported research group in Beijing. “This problem hasn’t been solved, and it’s a huge barrier to China-India relations.”
In some ways, Tawang has become a proxy battleground, too, between China and the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetans, who passed through this valley when he fled into exile in 1959. From his home in the distant Indian hill town of Dharamsala, he wields enormous influence over Tawang. He appoints the abbot of the powerful monastery and gives financial support to institutions throughout the area. Last year, the Dalai Lama announced for the first time that Tawang is a part of India, bolstering the India’s territorial claims and infuriating China.Traditional Tibetan culture runs strong in Tawang. One morning in June, the monastery held a religious festival that drew hundreds from the nearby villages. As red-robed monks chanted sutras, blew horns and swung incense braziers in the monastery courtyard, the villagers jostled each other to be blessed by the senior lamas.
At the monastery, an important center of Tibetan learning, monks express rage over Chinese rule in Tibet, which the Chinese Army seized in 1951.“I hate the Chinese government,” said Gombu Tsering, 70, a senior monk who watches over the monastery’s museum. “Tibet wasn’t even a part of China. Lhasa wasn’t a part of China.”
Few expect China to try to annex Tawang by force, but military skirmishes are a real danger, analysts say. The Indian military recorded 270 border violations and nearly 2,300 instances of “aggressive border patrolling” by Chinese soldiers last year, said Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research, a research organization in New Delhi. Mr. Chellaney has advised the Indian government’s National Security Council.“The India-China frontier has become more ‘hot’ than the India-Pakistan border,” he said in an e-mail message.Two years ago, Chinese soldiers demolished a Buddhist statue that Indians had erected at Bumla, the main border pass above Tawang, a member of the Indian Parliament, Nabam Rebia, said in a session of Parliament.Tawang became part of modern India when Tibetan leaders signed a treaty with British officials in 1914 that established a border called the McMahon Line between Tibet and British-run India. Tawang fell south of the line. The treaty, the Simla Convention, is not recognized by China.“We recognize it because we agreed to it,” said Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. “If China agreed to it now, it would be a recognition of the power of the Tibet government at that time.”China has grown increasingly hostile to the Dalai Lama after severe ethnic unrest in Tibet in 2008. This year, it turned its diplomatic guns on India over the Tawang issue. China moved in March to block a $2.9 billion loan to India from the Asian Development Bank, a multination group based in Manila that has China on its board, because $60 million of the loan had been earmarked for flood-control projects in Arunachal Pradesh. The loan was approved in mid-June over China’s heated objections.
“China expresses strong dissatisfaction to the move, which can neither change the existence of immense territorial disputes between China and India, nor China’s fundamental position on its border issues with India,” Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a written statement.
In May, weeks after China first tried to block the loan, the chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi, now retired, told a prominent Indian newspaper that China posed a greater threat than Pakistan.
Another official, J. J. Singh, the governor of Arunachal Pradesh and a retired chief of the Indian Army, said the next month that the Indian military was adding two divisions of troops, totaling 50,000 to 60,000 soldiers, to the border region over the next several years. Four Sukhoi fighter jets were immediately deployed to a nearby air base.
Since 2005, when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China visited India, the two countries have gone through 13 rounds of bilateral negotiations over the issue. A round was held just last month, with no results.
“The China-India border has got to be one of the most continuously negotiated borders in modern history,” said M. Taylor Fravel, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is a leading expert on China’s borders. “That shows how intractable this dispute is.”