Sunday, November 14, 2010

China to build another nuclear reactor for Pakistan

Pakistan's increasing reliance on China will be seen as headache for the US, which uses civilian and military aid to gain leverage over Islamabad in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists.
"It's no secret that this is in the pipeline. We have a power shortfall and this is one of the ways of meeting it," said an official speaking on condition of anonymity.
President Asif Ali Zardari is due in China this week for the opening of the Asian Games. Plans for a fifth atomic energy reactor follow confirmation of a deal to build two 650MW reactors at Chashma, in Punjab province, on top of one civilian reactor which has already been completed and another due to be finished next year.
The US has opposed the plans because Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
There are fears that fissile material might fall into the hands of Islamic extremists which are headquartered along the border with Afghanistan.
Last month, the Institute for Science and Security claimed that Pakistan had secretly accelerated the pace of its nuclear weapons programme. The Washington-based nuclear watchdog obtained satellite images showing that a row of cooling towers at Khushab-III reactor had been completed, suggesting the plant could soon begin producing plutonium.
Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst in Islamabad, said confirmation of a fifth reactor had emerged just as President Obama was cementing ties with India – timing that suggested it was a deliberate signal to Washington.
"China is very interested in doing these deals and is willing to sell things that other countries won't so the Pakistanis think they have this leverage over the US, that they have another provider of support," he said.
Abdul Basit, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "We have ongoing civil nuclear co-operation with China, in accordance with our international obligations and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards."

Afghanistan: How Well Is the U.S. Really Doing in Kandahar?

Surghar Daily

NATO commanders are boasting of dramatic progress just weeks into the U.S.-led push into Taliban strongholds around Kandahar province. They say the heavily pounded insurgents have fled some areas for good, setting the stage for the Kabul government to finally establish its rule in the region and to initiate reconstruction. These upbeat claims coincide with talk about behind-the-scenes negotiations with the militants, suggesting that for all the fierce hostilities, an endgame is in mind, if not in sight.
But the military's purported gains in the southern war zone do not align with the bleak picture painted by most sources on the ground.
When General David Petraeus assumed command of U.S. and multinational forces in June, he inherited a slow-cooked counterinsurgency strategy that put a priority on protecting Afghans over Taliban body count. There was also deepening skepticism about the war from the American public and President Obama, who declared a summer 2011 timetable to start withdrawing troops. And Petraeus had a deadline: a war review was slated for December, meaning measurable results had to be posted within months, not years.
So while counterinsurgency has remained the stated strategy, military planners have gone back to what they do best: killing insurgents as aggressively as possible, with the aim of dealing a decisive blow to the Taliban in Kandahar, the movement's birthplace and strategic nerve center.
Now, as the fighting season winds down, the coalition's spin machine is in high gear. A host of recent stories have supported the military's assertion that clearing operations in districts surrounding Kandahar are making headway, with some going so far as to say that insurgents have been "routed." These stories tend to be lopsidedly sourced to military and civilian officials. Yet many reports from journalists embedded with troops in the field are at variance with the official assertions.
Most describe a stalemate at best, or even describe the Taliban as having the initiative. Aid organizations, meanwhile, note that civilian casualties in Kandahar are at an all-time high. Thousands have fled their homes en masse. Development projects are at a near standstill.
There's a familiar precedent to all of this. Before the Kandahar offensive, a military-driven public-relations thrust came in advance of the siege of Marjah, a Taliban-held town in central Helmand province's opium-poppy belt. In the weeks ahead of the February operation to oust them, military officials framed the operation as a stepping-stone for the broader push east. With most of the Taliban already long gone, U.S. forces encountered few hiccups in Marjah.
A governor was quickly installed as part of a government-in-a-box strategy that would connect neighboring population centers and take them into Kabul's orbit. But since then, the insurgents have regrouped in Marjah.Nine months on, despite some small improvements — increased commerce, reopened schools — the Taliban still threatens anyone who might cooperate with the Afghan government in Marjah, which has continued to struggle under a replacement governor. Hit-and-run attacks harass U.S. forces there each day.
It is still too early to gauge the impact of operations around Kandahar. As they do every year, insurgents have begun to decamp for the borderlands for the winter — which would bring a decline in violence in any event. Embedded reporting is also limited to narrow snapshots and not the bigger picture. Sometimes, even those glimpses are not available.
In October, for instance, a day before a key operation kicked off in Arghandab district, all media embeds were abruptly cancelled. (The two-week blackout was followed by bold assertions of success.) Some of the secrecy may relate to the ongoing black ops carried out by special-forces units to dismantle the Taliban's leadership structure.Senior military sources insist that on any given day, two to three low- to mid-level commanders are killed, along with as many as 20 to 30 foot soldiers. These figures are impossible to confirm.
In the meantime, NATO commanders have intimated that contacts between Afghan officials and the Taliban are taking place with the U.S. military's consent. But with their efforts overwhelmingly focused on wiping out insurgents, there's a growing consensus this is nothing more than a psychological ploy to confuse the enemy — and one that could backfire.
By targeting Taliban commanders, some say that the coalition risks further atomizing an insurgency that already has many moving parts, leaving less experienced guerrillas to fill the vacuum and extend the fighting. The political deal needed to take troops home could well be pushed further out of reach. At the same time, optimistic reports from Kandahar could create unrealistic expectations among the American public.
If the Taliban remains robust when fighting resumes in the spring, what remains of U.S. popular support may come crashing down. In that case, any exaggeration of the current campaign's progress would be more than misleading. It would be self-defeating.

US readies Afghan police for security handover

On a hillside above the city of Kandahar, a US soldier demonstrates to a group of Afghan police how to apply a tourniquet to a bleeding leg.
"The next thing we're going to go over is what to do if someone is shot in the chest," said the US Military Police officer from the 504th MP Battalion.
Lessons like this one at police sub-station 8, a small, heavily-fortified joint US-Afghan base, are taking place across the country as NATO troops rush to prepare Afghan forces to take responsibility for security nationwide.
The Afghan police have been seen typically as corrupt, incompetent and largely incapable of working unsupervised by US or NATO troops. Huge numbers of recruits leave after a short time because of the risks they face.
But despite the obstacles on a national level, and the sometimes fraught relations between US troops and their Afghan partners, both sides at police sub-station 8 insist that the training is progressing well.
After some Afghan National Police (ANP) officers tried out the techniques demonstrated, the morning session moved on to crime scene procedures.
"This is another thing we can help you with. This will help you prosecute the bad guys in Afghanistan," Private Steven Van Hulle told the group of about 10 policemen as they sat in a courtyard below machine-gun nests.
Nearby, a US military police sergeant took aside four senior officers to lecture them, with the aid of an interpreter, on leadership and the importance of setting an example to their men.
Setting up checkpoints, clearing buildings, patrolling, engaging with the public and marksmanship are the other main areas the training covers.
The police are seen as central to the goal of getting the Afghan authorities to take the lead in the fight against the Taliban, who were ousted after the US-led invasion in late 2001 but who continue to wage a deadly guerrilla war.
There are currently about 80,000 police officers and US and NATO forces hope to bring that number up to 134,000 by October next year, alongside the 170,000 personnel planned for the army by the same date.
US military leaders back the government's plan for the Afghan police and army to assume responsibility for security by 2014, with the timetable for the handover likely to dominate an upcoming NATO summit.
But there is still work to do, despite coalition claims of progress in building the capacity of local forces.
"The Afghan police are the problem and they are the solution to the problem," British Major General Nick Carter said last week before he handed over command of Afghanistan's volatile south to a US counterpart.
American military police here say that the wider problems that afflict the force are not issues at this sub-station.
"We've had a couple of examples where guys have left," said Lieutenant Derick Hoy, one of the MPs running the training, but added that absenteeism was not a major problem.On patrol, the US soldiers put the Afghans at the front so they can engage with local people and encourage them to go to the police station to resolve their problems.The Americans say illiteracy is a problem. Half of the men they are training can neither read nor write, a reflection of the high illiteracy rate in the country as a whole, which is estimated at up to 80 percent.
They hoped to bring in a contractor to provide reading and writing classes for the officers, who earn around 11,000 Afghanis (255 dollars) a month.
"Obviously the education poses a problem. But there are not many things out there (on the streets) that you need to read and write for. Back at the office the NCOs can do the paperwork." said Hoy.
Hamadullah Giagargund, 24, was one of the policemen at the morning session."The most important thing I learned was how to find IEDs," he said, referring to the improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs, which are the Taliban's weapon of choice to kill or maim patrolling security forces.
Giagargund and his classmates all said they were happy with the training, which they said was far better than the basic one-month course they got when they first joined the national force.

Karzai says US should reduce operations' intensity

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States must reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations, especially night raids that fuel anti-American sentiment and could embolden Taliban insurgents.

Karzai's remarks in an interview Saturday with The Washington Post come as the international military coalition has stepped up pressure on insurgents at the same time that the president has set up a peace council in hopes of reconciling with the top echelon of the Taliban.

"The time has come to reduce military operations," Karzai said in the interview. "The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan ... to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life."

Karzai also said he met with one or two "very high" level Taliban leaders about three months ago, but described a peace process in its initial stages — one that amounts to little more than "the exchange of desires for peace." He said, however, that he believes Taliban leader Mullah Omar has been informed of his discussions.

He said the Taliban share his feeling that the nine-year-old war has taken too high a toll on the people of Afghanistan.

"They feel the same as we do here — that too many people are suffering for no reason," Karzai said. "Their own families are suffering."

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, claims the 30,000 U.S. reinforcements and thousands of troops dispatched to the war this past year have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency, although the coalition is not claiming victory.

In the past three months, more than 300 insurgent leaders have been captured or killed, more than 850 lower-level militants have been killed and at least 2,170 foot soldiers have been apprehended. NATO officials say the captures are key to crippling insurgent networks.

Karzai said the U.S. should end the rising number of Special Operations forces night raids that aggravate Afghans and could strengthen the Taliban insurgency.

He said he wants American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers will only make the war worse.

"I don't like it in any manner and the Afghan people don't like these raids in any manner," Karzai said. "We don't like raids in our homes. This is a problem between us and I hope this ends as soon as possible. ... Terrorism is not invading Afghan homes and fighting terrorism is not being intrusive in the daily Afghan life."

Karzai said in the interview that he was speaking out not to criticize the United States but in the belief that candor could improve what he called a "grudging" relationship between the countries, although he said tension had eased and he feels he can talk openly about his feelings. "We don't shout at each other as often as we did before," Karzai said.

White House officials had no immediate comment early Sunday.

Karzai has repeatedly criticized civilian casualties caused by U.S. and NATO operations.

The number of Afghan civilians killed or injured in the war soared 31 percent in the first six months of the year, but Taliban bombings and assassinations were largely responsible for the sharp rise, according to the United Nations. The U.N. said the number of deaths and injuries caused by NATO and Afghan government forces dropped 30 percent compared with the first six months of last year, largely a result of curbs on the use of air power and heavy weapons.

President Barack Obama has set July 2011 as a target to begin drawing down U.S. troops, if conditions allow, but American officials expect troops to be in Afghanistan for some time after that. Karzai has said he wants Afghan security forces to be able to take the lead in protecting and defending the nation by 2014. The mechanics of that transition will be a key topic of a three-day NATO meeting that starts Friday in Lisbon, Portugal.

Aung San Suu Kyi demands release of political prisoners

Asfandyar says he is not going to quit active politics

Awami National Party (ANP) leader Asfandyar Wali Khan on Saturday dismissed media reports that he was resigning from “active politics” due to security and health issues.

Addressing a press conference at the Chief Minister’s House after chairing the party’s central working committee meeting, he said he would not leave active politics until achieving his goals.

He dispelled the media reports that the ANP was likely to give him the ‘rehbar status’ to keep him off the active politics over security threats and health conditions.

Asfandyar Wali had narrowly survived a suicide attack at his Wali Bagh residence on October 2, 2008. He was immediately moved out and security around him stepped up to guard him against any possible attack.

The idea of keeping him off active politics, according to party sources, was aimed at “securing” him. “That idea could not win support from the central committee meeting on Friday,” the sources said.

The party had accorded ‘rehbar status’ to late Khan Abdul Wali Khan when his health deteriorated and made his son Asfandyar Wali Khan the party president.

“I have achieved many of the party goals, for example, renaming the province and provincial rights (under the 18th Amendment). However, I will continue to play my role as long as I have not achieved remaining goals, such as peace,” the nationalist leader declared.

Asfandyar, meanwhile, was categorical that kidnapping of his cousin and vice-chancellor of Islamia College University, Dr Ajaml Khan, would not make him rethink over the war against militancy. “No way... I will not back out form this war,” he said while admitting that the kidnappers might try to “blackmail” him over the demands for the release of kidnapped educationist. In the second video this week, the kidnappers set November 20 as new deadline to let the government consider their demands for Dr Ajmal’s release. However, the provincial government says it received no demands yet.

They central ANP president aired the party’s concerns on the introduction of new tax to support the floods victims. “We support broadening tax base. But we cannot support the move to burden the taxpayers more,” he announced.

Asfandyar Wali repeated the ANP demand for operation in Karachi to purge the metropolitan city of weapons. “You need operation to deweaponise the city,” he said, adding that peaceful Karachi “is in interest of everyone and Karachi does not belong to one ethnic group”.