Tuesday, July 30, 2013
President Barack Obama has asked two senior Republican senators to travel to Egypt to meet with its military leaders and the opposition, as Cairo's allies struggle with how to address the turmoil convulsing the country. Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hope to travel to Egypt next week, Graham said on Tuesday. "The president reached out to us, and I said obviously I'd be glad to go," Graham told reporters outside the Senate. "We want to deliver a unified message that killing the opposition is becoming more and more like a coup" and to encourage the military to move toward holding elections. He said specifics of the trip, including with whom he and McCain would meet, had not yet been worked out. McCain and Graham, two of the Senate's most influential voices on foreign policy matters, have at times been harsh critics of Obama's foreign policy. The White House has recently been reaching out to them on a range of issues. U.S. officials have been grappling with how to respond to the situation in Egypt since its elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, was ousted by the military on July 3. In particular, they have struggled with how to handle the $1.55 billion in mostly military aid Washington sends to Cairo each year. Egypt has long been an important U.S. ally in a tumultuous region and officials in Washington value their ties to its military leaders, many of whom have studied in the United States. U.S. law bars sending aid to countries in which there has been a military coup, and Obama administration officials have been scrambling to talk about events in Egypt without using the word. GLOBAL ANXIETY Mursi is being held in a secret detention facility in Egypt. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, on Monday became the first outsider to see him since he was deposed. His fate - and a deadly crackdown by security forces on his supporters - has raised global anxiety about a possible bid to crush Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood. Senator Rand Paul has introduced an amendment to a Senate transportation funding bill that would end military aid to Egypt under the law banning aid after coups and redirect the money to domestic infrastructure projects. Senate Republicans discussed how to deal with the amendment during their weekly lunch meeting on Tuesday. It could come to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday, although it was not expected to win much support. The Obama administration has made clear it does not want to make a decision about events in Egypt - or the aid. Obama's Democrats control hold a majority of seats in the Senate. Several Republicans, including McCain, Graham and Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said they thought the situation in Egypt was too fluid for a vote so soon. "I may come to think we need to cut off aid, but I'd like to go over there and talk to the military and to any members of the government and Brotherhood factions to find out what is going on the ground, and send a clear message to the people in charge of Egypt that there are certain expectations here in America that are bipartisan in nature," Graham said. Corker said he felt Washington needed to weigh in one way or the other on whether the situation in Egypt was a coup, and look at changing the law if necessary. "We can't just leave it hanging out there. We are a nation of laws. That's where we need to go," he said. "But now is not the time, September is the time to do after we know the best route forward."
Israel and Palestinians launched a fresh effort here Tuesday to hammer out a long-elusive peace deal that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state as the United States set an ambitious timetable of nine months for achieving such an agreement. “Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the next nine months,” US Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian officials invited to the US-brokered talks, said in a prepared statement to reporters.
The United Nations says an estimated 6.8 million people continue to need humanitarian assistance in Syria, which has been experiencing deadly unrest since March 2011. "So far this year, UN agencies and humanitarian partners have organized 21 cross-line convoys and reached nearly 1.8 million people with food, water and health supplies in hard-to-reach areas,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday. “The World Food Program (WFP), working with 22 local NGOs [non-governmental organizations], has reached 2.4 million people with food assistance so far this month. The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners have provided primary health care and medical supplies throughout the country,” UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey said at a daily news briefing at the UN headquarters in New York. “More than 153,000 children have received medical check-ups through 51 UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]-supported mobile medical teams in all 14 governorates,” he added. “The UN refugee agency has provided more than 1.4 million people with essential aid, including cash assistance, across Syria this year,” the spokesman stated. According to reports, the West and its regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside Syria. According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and a total of 7.8 million of others displaced due to the violence.
Hasan Rouhani’s government is expected to include key members who hold degrees from US and European universitiesJust days after Hasan Rouhani’s election victory in Iran, his top advisers and allies gathered for a closed-door strategy session at a think tank run by the new president. The group, lugging spread sheets, notes and policy papers, also carried something new into the mix — an array of degrees from Western universities.Soon after Rouhani’s swearing-in Sunday, he is expected to unveil key members of his government and give more clarity about his behind-the-scenes brain trust. In all likelihood, the core of his team will include figures whose academic pedigrees run through places such as California, Washington and London. The Western-looking credentials of Rouhani’s inner circle are no surprise. Rouhani himself studied in Scotland. What remains unclear, however, is how much they could actually influence Iranian policies and foster potential outreach diplomacy such as direct talks with the US or possible breakthroughs in wider negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. “Studying in the West doesn’t mean you would make concessions to the West,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. “What it does mean is that the level of understanding and ability to pick up nuances are much higher. The next step is seeing how much of that can translate into changes at the top with the ruling clerics, where it really counts.” On many levels, this is the fundamental question as the clock starts on Rouhani’s presidency after eight years of the hectoring style of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There is little doubt that Rouhani will bring a far calmer and more measured approach. That alone may help with efforts to rebuild strained ties with Europe and open new possibilities for deal-making after the expected restart of nuclear talks with world powers. But Rouhani’s Western-educated political entourage is not about to steer Iran in a completely new direction after his election victory last month. Rouhani, a cleric and former top nuclear negotiator, does not stand against the Islamic system or the firm controls at the top: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. Khamenei has final say in all key matters, including Rouhani’s selections for key Cabinet posts such as the foreign and intelligence ministers. That leaves Rouhani — effectively the international face of Iran — with the task of projecting a new image of dialogue rather than diatribes on the world stage. Inside Iran, Rouhani has to adopt the role of salesman: trying to get Khamenei and the ruling clerics to buy into his views that interaction with Washington and its allies could bring dividends such as steps to ease tightening economic sanctions. Many of those being considered for Cabinet posts share Rouhani’s approach, including a former deputy foreign minister, Mahmoud Vaezi, who holds degrees in electrical engineering from California State University, Sacramento and San Jose State University. He began his doctorate in foreign relations at Louisiana State University but finished the degree in Poland. Vaezi was head of the foreign ministry’s European and American affairs section from 1990-97 under reformist President Mohammad Khatami. In recent years, Vaezi has been a senior figure at Rowhani’s Center for Strategic Research. “The potential candidates … are those who understand international relations and understand the language of the West,” said Tehran-based political analyst Behrouz Shojaei. “This shows Rouhani is serious in seeking to ease tensions with the outside world and improve Iran’s economy.” Another potential contender for foreign minister is Mohammad Javad Zarif, who did postgraduate studies at San Francisco State University and obtained a doctorate in international law and policy at the University of Denver. Zarif also raised his profile in the US as a diplomat at Iran’s UN Mission in New York during a five-year posting that ended in 2007. In one of his last public events, Zarif was a headline speaker at a conference in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on conflict resolution whose participants included the current US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Meanwhile, Hossein Mousavian, currently a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is likely to hold a key foreign policy adviser role. Mousavian also graduated from Sacramento State. Officials with academic roots in the West are nothing new in the Middle East. Many Gulf Arab leaders and top officials studied in Europe or the US Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to high school outside Philadelphia and returned to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jordan’s King Abdullah II attended boarding schools in England and Massachusetts and then moved on to Britain’s royal military academy Sandhurst. But Iran’s elected leadership — the presidency and top parliamentary posts — has had far fewer Western-educated figures. In the years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Western credentials were viewed with suspicion. Ahmadinejad, who studied in Iran, has strongly favored advisers who also have homegrown academic backgrounds. Rouhani’s administration could mark a strong break and include advisers whose connections with the West straddle before and after the Islamic Revolution. Among them is Rouhani’s younger brother, Hossein Fereidoun, who is helping the president-elect put together his Cabinet list. Fereidoun was a member of the security team when the Islamic Revolution’s leaders, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, returned from exile in France in 1979. He later served in Iran’s U.N. Mission. Rouhani previously went by the family name Fereidoun, but dropped it in an apparent attempt to hide from authorities before the Islamic Revolution. The review of potential candidates for economic roles includes Chamber of Commerce president Mohammad Nahavandian, who holds a doctorate in economics from George Washington University, and Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, who holds an economics doctorate from Paisley in Britain, and was spokesman of Rouhani’s campaign office. A possible candidate for the critical oil ministry post is Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, a former deputy oil minister and president of Iran’s state oil company, who has an engineering degree from California State Polytechnic University. But speculation was growing that Rouhani could look to a former oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, who was ousted when Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. Some semiofficial Iranian news agencies, including ISNA, cited sources saying that Rouhani will tap a former defense minister, Mohammed Forouzandeh, as the chief nuclear negotiator. Such a choice would bring a relative novice in international dialogue into a critical role. Rouhani’s aides have not commented on the report, and other names such as former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati have been raised in the Iranian media. Other noteworthy possibilities include Ali Jannati as head of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, where the wide-ranging mandate includes oversight of foreign media in Iran. Jannati is considered a moderate, but his father, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, is an ultra hard-line cleric who often leads the nationally broadcast Friday prayers from Tehran University.
It’s easy to overanalyze What It All Means — given that Obama and Clinton are not only the two most famous politicians in the country but also have, well, a past. Once rivals for the top office, they became allies of a sort with Clinton serving as Obama’s top diplomat. But, Clinton isn’t announcing for president anytime soon (although we do believe she will run) and Obama isn’t endorsing anyone for president anytime soon (and probably won’t ever). Sometimes a lunch is just a lunch. That said, the lunch that launched 1,000 “will she” and “will he” stories does give us a chance to write about something that has intrigued us of late: The idea that Clinton may well be the heir to a vast majority (or at least a majority) of the campaign talent that elected and then reelected Obama. Earlier this month, Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s reelection race, and Mitch Stewart, who ran the 10 swing state operation for the president, signed on to “Ready for Hillary,” the super PAC that is functioning as a campaign-in-waiting for Clinton should she decide to run. While the Bird/Stewart hires drew attention when they were announced, it’s hard to overestimate what the duo’s decision to work for a Clinton vehicle (and said vehicle’s willingness to have them) means going forward. The single most valuable commodity in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is the staff talent that Obama cultivated during his two presidential campaigns. While some of the top names — David Plouffe, David Axelrod, Jim Messina, Dan Pfeiffer etc. — are Obama-ites through and through and won’t likely ever work on another presidential campaign, there is a whole layer of staff talent beneath them that is itching to bring what they learned in 2008 and/or 2012 to bear on another campaign. Bird and Stewart are at, or near, the top of that list — due in no small part to their expertise in building a field operation, a major weak spot of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Getting Bird and Stewart does not, of course, mean that the Obama campaign team — such as it is once some of the more senior people peel off to make megabucks in the private sector — will move en masse to Clinton if she runs in 2016. But, it does create at least the possibility that Clinton might have the lion’s share of those people in 2016, as opposed to their scattering to a variety of candidates in the race. This may well be a moot point — under two scenarios. In the first, Clinton doesn’t run, leaving the Birds and Stewarts of the world in search of another candidate. In the second, she does run and, in so doing, drives all of the other serious challengers (Joe Biden and so on) out of the race. Under the latter scenario, every ambitious staffer — those tied to Obama and those not — has no choice but to sign on with Clinton. Still, in these early days of the 2016 presidential race, staff hires are critical. Keep an eye on any other Obama campaign talent starts moving toward Clinton.
President Barack Obama will propose a "grand bargain for middle-class jobs" on Tuesday that would cut the U.S. corporate tax rate and use billions of dollars in revenues generated by a business tax overhaul to fund projects aimed at creating jobs. His goal, to be outlined in a speech at an Amazon.com Inc facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is to break through congressional gridlock by trying to find a formula that satisfies both Republicans and Democrats. Efforts to reach a bipartisan "grand bargain" on deficit reduction have been at an impasse for months. Senior administration officials said Obama is not giving up on a big deficit-cutting package, but given that no agreement appears on the horizon, he is offering a new idea to try to follow through on his 2012 campaign promises to help the middle class. "As part of his efforts to focus Washington on the middle class, today in Tennessee the president will call on Washington to work on a grand bargain focused on middle-class jobs by pairing reform of the business tax code with a significant investment in middle-class jobs," said Obama's senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. A spokesman for John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, criticized the idea even before the release of the plan's details, saying it further backs Obama's policies on taxes and spending "while leaving small businesses and American families behind." Obama wants to cut the corporate tax rate of 35 percent down to 28 percent and give manufacturers a preferred rate of 25 percent. He also wants a minimum tax on foreign earnings as a tool against corporate tax evasion and increased use of tax havens. The new twist is that in exchange for his support for a corporate tax reduction, he wants money generated by the tax overhaul to be used on a mix of proposals such as funding infrastructure projects like repairing roads and bridges, improving education at community colleges, and promoting manufacturing, senior administration officials said. Obama's proposal would generate a one-time source of revenue, for example, by reforming depreciation or putting a fee on accumulated foreign earnings. Officials gave no specific figure on how much money would be raised, but Obama called for $50 billion for infrastructure spending in his State of the Union speech in February. The White House hopes the idea will gain some traction in Congress because Republicans want corporate tax reform and Democrats want spending for infrastructure, so this offers something for both sides. Administration officials said they recognize, however, that the climate is difficult in Congress with Republicans adamantly refusing anything that is seen as increasing spending and Democrats in no mood to cut taxes and get nothing for it. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee on the Senate Banking Committee, sounded a skeptical note, but said he has yet to see the proposal's details. "It would have to be a massive deal, I think, for any kind of Republican to look at revenues as part of this," Corker said on MSNBC. He said it would have to include "transformative structural changes" for programs such as Medicare for the elderly and the Social Security retirement system. Obama's speech in Chattanooga is the latest in a series of speeches aimed at making good on his promises to boost the U.S. economy in ways that help the middle class. He is looking to breathe new life into his second term, which has so far found successes to be fleeting.
In an operation carried out with military-like precision, Taliban fighters disguised as police and armed with bombs broke 250 prisoners out of a Pakistan jail on Tuesday with the help of what appeared to be insider informants. The attack in the city of Dera Ismail Khan showed the ability of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban to strike at the heart of Pakistan's heavily guarded prison system and walk away with dozens of senior Taliban fighters and commanders. The overnight assault on the Central Prison took place despite reports that regional officials had received intelligence days, if not weeks, ago suggesting such an attack was imminent. Officials blamed a combination of negligence and lack of communication among Pakistan's many security agencies, but some suggested there may have been a degree of insider help. Just hours before the attack, army and police units had met at the jail to discuss security, one source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. "It is very difficult to attack such a place without proper information or contacts," said the police source, adding that some prisoners were suspected to have been in touch with the Taliban by mobile phones provided by sympathetic wardens. "They are corrupt, lazy and unprofessional. And the militants may have supporters in the city." Another senior official in the provincial capital of Peshawar said only about 70 of the 200 prison guards who were meant to be on duty were present that night. "Most policemen ran for their lives once the attack started, leaving their weapons behind," the official told Reuters. "They could have easily killed some of the attackers but they even gave up their own guns, providing the attackers with more ammo." The attack came a year after a similar mass jailbreak in the northern town of Bannu which Taliban militants said was carried out with inside help from prison guards. An inquiry later found there were far fewer guards on duty than there should have been. A senior Taliban official told Reuters separately the latest attack was masterminded by Adnan Rashid, a Taliban commander who was himself freed in last year's prison break. "LOCKS ARE BROKEN!" This time, Pakistani Taliban said they had sent a squad of 100 fighters and seven suicide bombers on a mission to free some of their top leaders, and they said they released 250 prisoners - a number roughly matched by Pakistani authorities. Fighting continued into the early hours of Tuesday, with explosions and machine gunfire rattling the city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on the edge of Pakistan's lawless ethnic Pashtun tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. As the attack unfolded, gunmen blew up electricity lines to the prison and detonated bombs to breach the outer walls. They fought their way inside using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, and called the names of Taliban prisoners they wanted to release through loud speakers. Once inside, attackers shot open most of the locks and used bombs to blast their way deep into the prison, shouting "All the locks are broken! Those who want to escape, now is your chance," prison officials who were there at the time told Reuters. Gunmen also took over a nearby house and hospital, holding the residents hostage as they fired on police from the rooftops and laid ambushes for reinforcements. Describing the chaos that gripped the town that night, police Constable Gul Mohammed said he had been rushing to the scene when he was confronted by two boys holding rifles. "They told me to stop," he told Reuters. "I told them I am a policeman, and that's when they opened fire." He added that he was shot three times. At least 12 people were killed, officials said, including five policemen and four prisoners from the minority Shi'ite branch of Islam. Their throats were slashed by gunmen, officials said. The Taliban are mostly majority Sunni Muslims. The carefully planned attack underlines the growing capabilities of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, an offshoot of the insurgents of the same name in neighbouring Afghanistan. Despite promising peace talks with the insurgents during an election campaign this year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears to be accepting the use of military force may be unavoidable after a series of high-profile attacks. QUESTIONS The senior security source in Peshawar said an army intelligence unit had sent a "red alert" to the regional interior department four days ago warning of a "huge attack of Dera Ismail Khan and surrounding areas". Another security official in Peshawar said the warning was sent two weeks ago, saying telephone call intercepts indicated the militants had been planning a jail break and that interrogations of captured fighters confirmed it. Mushtaq Jadoon, the town's civil commissioner, said the 253 escaped prisoners included 30 top militants and six people on death row. Those who escaped are believed to have been whisked away to nearby South and North Waziristan, areas where the Taliban has strongholds. Asked about the possibility of an insider job, an Interior Ministry spokesman said there had been warnings of a big attack in the region for some time. "There have been complaints that prisoners have cell phones there," the spokesman said. "I presume there could have been something from inside, some sort of intelligence from inside." Security forces said they had imposed a curfew on the city and the gun battle was over by dawn. A Reuters reporter at the scene saw security forces and bomb disposal squads conducting searches amid ruined walls pocked with bullet holes. The audacity of the latest assault raised embarrassing questions over how well-prepared security forces are following a series of high-profile attacks, and underscores the challenges facing the new government in combating the militancy. The heavily guarded jail at Dera Ismail Khan houses about 5,000 prisoners. About 250 are Taliban and members of banned sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group that has killed hundreds of Shi'ites this year. "It was a heavily guarded jail and considered one of the most protected prisons in the province," said a senior government official in Peshawar. "We will investigate how the militants managed to come from the distant tribal areas and break into the jail and take away their people." The attack came the day lawmakers were due to choose a new president in a largely ceremonial vote, and two days before a major Shi'ite festival which security officials have warned could be attacked.
Energy Fraud: Nawaz Sharif’s advisor Musaddiq Malik, Mian Mansha and Abdullah Yousuf in Power Plant Scam
A letter about the energy policy, blaming a gang of four for what is described as a con operation, had the parliamentary corridors on fire. The thrust of the letter was that the IPPs are being paid in the name of clearing circular debt as part of a larger conspiracy. It questions the credentials of the people who are involved in the energy policy and alleges this to be a clear case of conflict of interest. The quartet is named as Mian Mohammad Mansha, his nephew Shahzad Saleem, Nadeem Babar and Saqib Shirazi of the Atlas Group. The key players, according to the anonymous letter, are IPP power plant owners—mainly Sapphire Power, Liberty Power (Mukati Group of Karachi) and, among others, Said Power. The hired henchmen for them are Abdullah Yousaf (Chairman of IPPs Association—IPPAC), Mussadaq Malik (Special Assistant to the PM and Minister of Water and Power) and Shahid Sattar (Planning Commission official). It gives profiles of all of them, which raises a number of questions about them but Sheeshnag keeps it for the moment and only mentions the profile of one—Mussadaq Malik. He is described as somebody who gets in every government from Musharraf to the Interim government and is now part of the PML (N). He is a pharmacist who first emerged as the expert of development in Nasim Ashraf’s National Commission of the Human Development. Now he comes as the biggest energy expert that this country ever saw. Most people remember him as the Jamiat’s goon from FC College in Lahore. He was recommended by Syed Babar Ali to Nawaz Sharif to which Mian Sahb readily agreed—such being the mutual back-scratching arrangement among the tycoons. It is yet to be seen what Syed Babar Ali, otherwise a rare respected tycoon, saw in this pharmacist-turned-developer-turned-energy expert. The letter explains in detail the energy policy of 1994 and 2002 and concludes that “the project costs, operational expenses, debt repayments and return on equity is covered under the Capacity Purchase Price (CPP) invoice and the fuel cost is covered under the Energy Purchase Price (EPP). Both investors are forwarded separately by companies to NTDC/WAPDA.” The letter gives a long detail of what it alleges to be a scam. In short, it says, “the 1994 Power Policy IPPs (total 14) continue to skim and make illegal profits on the fuel (both liquid and gas fired plants) by lying about their heat rebates (plant efficiency). Such profits are conservatively estimated to be four to five per cent. Due to delays and tariff deals, they lost the remaining cushion/padding, yet have made fabulous returns.” “The 2002 Power Policy IPPs (total 13) over invoiced the initial project setting up cost and continue to skim and make illegal profits on operational expenses and heat rate (fuel consumption). They skim money at three levels (excluding the original project cost)—operational expense, over invoiced fuel and kickbacks from OMCs.” The letter alleges that annual returns are in the range of 35 percent to 40 percent. “Inclusive of original project cost—a payback period of two years. Not bad.” The letter asks some questions: Why did the PM-designate visit Mansha’s Raiwind farm for a briefing on circular debts and energy issues? Considering that Mansha is the leader of the nine IUPPs who have invoked Government of Pakistan guarantee and is in the Supreme Court, to say the least, was it not embarrassing? Mansha and Nadeem Babar are in the energy task force. Guess what—their key recommendation—pay IPPs. Isn’t this a conflict of interest? Munir Malik was the lawyer of IPPs. How will he defend the case of the State as Attorney General against them? Why did PPIB and NEPRA approve without background the checking the efficiency of diesel gensets installed at the Mansha and Atlas plants and indeed the efficiency/heat rate of all power plants set up under 2002 power policy? Is it true that the government is giving Muzaffargarh power plant to Mansha? If so, why not bid it first? Why doesn’t the government adjust the “stolen amounts” and then the tariff formula? It suggests that the government should ask the IPPs to share the burden with the masses. “The full adjustment should be made in six to eight quarterly payments. This will save the government Rs 200 billion as equity for starting the mid-term programme of setting up coal fired projects. Assuming a 70/30 debt equity ratio, as used by the IPPs, the government can set up thousand MWs of power generation in next three years.” Now, all of this seems to come from another lobby, which definitely has an interest. But they do have a point that needs to be studied. Otherwise, they have sent it to the SC for taking it up. God save us. - See more at: http://lubpak.com/archives/278031#sthash.m8gi7eLT.dpuf
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG Afghan forces are now leading the fight here. They managed an air assault last week, for example, and they may be winning the respect of the Afghan people. But the bottom line for Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is simple: Afghanistan still needs the United States and will for years to come. The problem for General Dunford, the commander of American and allied forces here, is that most Americans no longer seem to believe that the United States needs the war in Afghanistan. In an interview on Sunday that he had requested, General Dunford, 58, sought to counter an abundance of disheartening news recently about the war and to make a case for why American troops need to stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends next year. A central theme in his pitch: Americans will not be fighting and dying here after 2014. Afghans are already doing most of the fighting, he said, and by the end of next year “the actual fighting on a day-to-day basis will all be done by Afghans.” Still, “Afghan forces, at the end of 2014, won’t be completely independent,” he said. “Our presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.” American forces will be critical behind the scenes for at least another three or four years, he said, to help Afghans master the nuts-and-bolts of running a military: logistics, intelligence analysis, developing the air force. “We’re not talking about putting people on the ground, in harm’s way,” General Dunford said. For American generals, running the war effort in Afghanistan has always been as much a diplomatic sales job as a battlefield command. Most often, that has meant managing President Hamid Karzai, whose occasional anti-American outbursts have included a threat to join the Taliban and calling Americans demons. But a steady drumbeat of bad news has forced General Dunford to turn his attention to the home front in an effort to counter the spreading perception that the war is a failed enterprise. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that only 28 percent of Americans think the war is worth fighting. Among the developments from Afghanistan that are fueling the disillusionment was a botched effort by the United States to open peace talks with the Taliban, which prompted Mr. Karzai to angrily suspend negotiations on a long-term security deal that would keep Americans here after 2014. Then there was the anti-American tirade by Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff, and an ugly spat over whether the United States should pay Afghanistan $70 million in fees to get its equipment out of the country. The response within the Obama administration has been a renewed debate on the so-called zero option — pulling out all American troops when the NATO combat mission here ends next year. Congress has also jumped into the fray with a Senate measure to withhold $5 in aid for every $1 Afghanistan charges the United States to move the equipment. The poor poll numbers “reflect the noise that’s been out there for the last 60 days,” the general said, asserting that ground realities were better than portrayed in news reports. With the summer fighting season now almost half over, he said, Afghan forces “have proven very resilient.” He described Al Qaeda, the reason the United States came to Afghanistan, as a shell of its former self, with only about 75 members in Afghanistan, and most of them too busy trying to stay alive to plan attacks in the West. But keeping Al Qaeda on the margins would require American Special Operations Forces to remain after 2014 alongside regular troops focused on training, General Dunford said. As in previous interviews, his focus was narrow, on Afghan security forces. He avoided talk of the debilitating level of corruption within the government, the weakening commitment to human rights among many Afghan officials, the faltering economy and uncertainty about next year’s presidential elections. He did concede, however, that today “investing in Afghanistan, you could argue, was a gamble.” But, if the elections are held and Afghan forces are able to keep the vote relatively secure, “it begins to be a risk like everywhere else,” he added. By giving the Afghan Army and the police the tools needed to take on the Taliban, the United States “is providing the Afghan people with an opportunity to decide what kind of government they want to have.” Other American and European officials have been far less certain that the election will be a cure. Some contend the Afghan government is as big a threat to the country’s stability as the Taliban, if not a greater one. But few disagree that the Afghan security forces have improved significantly, despite absorbing thousands of combat deaths this year and contending with a desertion rate so high that a quarter to a fifth of the 352,000 soldiers and police officers must be replaced each year. To stay on track, the Afghans would need hands-on support from American forces through at least 2017, General Dunford said. He declined to specify how large a force should remain, undoubtedly aware that wading into a policy debate has proved treacherous for past commanders. The Obama administration has indicated that it would probably leave no more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, plus a few thousand contributed by NATO allies. General Dunford said that he asked the administration for more time to make an assessment, but added, “I don’t have reason to believe we’ll ask for more than that.” The general has good reason to be cautious. After President Obama ordered tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, administration officials complained the president had been pressured into the decision by commanders who publicly advocated for more troops. Since then, the White House has at times cut the military out of its deliberations on the pace of the troop drawdown and the future shape of the mission. In the interview, General Dunford was careful not to get ahead of the administration. When asked whether American forces would use air power to aid Afghan troops in battle after 2014, or help them evacuate the wounded, he replied, “That will be a policy decision that will be made sometime next year.” Asked if the military could handle the eventuality of the zero option, the general replied: “Absolutely.”
By Kevin Sieff Since its troops swept into Afghanistan 12 years ago, the United States has dispatched hundreds of State Department employees to keep track of the massive American investment in developing the country. The days of such oversight are now ending. Nearly all U.S. diplomats are confined to Kabul because of the shrinking footprint of the American military, which once protected and transported civilian officials. That leaves diplomats here with a predicament: How do they oversee billions of dollars in projects, most of which are far from the capital, when they can’t leave Kabul? Beyond simply monitoring projects, the diplomats — often in small teams living in far-flung districts — have tried to nurture local Afghan governments in hopes of providing stability after U.S. troops withdraw from areas where the Taliban is active. Some U.S. officials say they were plucked from their regional posts as they were identifying important problems with government corruption and abuse. The State Department is planning some unusual ways to continue monitoring U.S.-funded projects. It will hire private contractors, who will submit photos with time and location stamps to prove that they visited the sites. Firms in Kabul might call far-off provinces by phone to ask villagers about education, nutrition or confidence in the government. Contractors might assess the progress of dams or roads by flying overhead and capturing aerial images. American officials will meet their Afghan counterparts during the local officials’ trips to Kabul.In some cases, the U.S. government may accept that its new posture has precluded any possibility of oversight. “We have built a lot of stuff, and we do worry whether or not we, and the Afghans, can keep it together,” said a U.S. official who, like several others interviewed, was not authorized to speak on the record to the media. “The goal is to maintain our core activities or programs, and that’s what we have to concentrate on.” In recent years, a “civilian surge” sharply increased the number of U.S. officials deployed to Afghanistan by the State Department, USAID and other agencies. They advised the national and local governments and tried to better monitor development projects, which have a history of multimillion-dollar waste, according to U.S. government investigators. The current retrenchment is a necessary part of the war’s endgame, U.S. officials say, but it presents a challenge for a Foreign Service accustomed to performing much of its own on-the-ground oversight in countries with major American aid programs. Some officials expressed confidence in the new process, saying Afghans are largely ready to manage U.S.-funded programs along with their own institutions. Projects that cannot be monitored may be shuttered, they said. “It shouldn’t matter whether we are there physically,” said another U.S. official. “What should matter is that they see a future for their country, and it’s a future that is led by Afghans.” In both Afghanistan and Iraq, State Department employees have relied heavily on the U.S. military for security. Civilian officials often have lived at Army or Marine bases, meeting regularly with local power brokers and inspecting the way aid dollars were being spent. When diplomats have taken day trips from Kabul, they typically have traveled on military aircraft, another dwindling resource here. In March 2012, there were 423 civilian officials spread across 83 installations in Afghanistan. By January 2014, there will be fewer than 99 people in 11 locations, officials said. “We can’t maintain that footprint, as much as we would like to, without the support from the military that goes with it,” said U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham. “There’s no way we could do that on our own.” Unforeseen security problems have hastened the civilian drawdown, officials said. Last August, a USAID officer, Ragaei Abdelfattah, was killed in a suicide attack in eastern Konar province. In April, a U.S. diplomat, Anne Smedinghoff, was slain in the capital of southeastern Zabul province. Last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, also led to more risk-averse security policies for American civilian employees overseas. After April’s attack in Zabul, the State Department temporarily barred its employees stationed at bases outside Kabul from leaving them. Worried about “insider attacks,” it also ordered that diplomats could not travel in convoys that included Afghan soldiers. “We joked that the embassy would prefer that we never see Afghans,” said one U.S. official. The military’s consolidation has been lightning fast, forcing the State Department to remove employees from districts where they were once deemed critical. Some former U.S. officials in Afghanistan argue that they were withdrawn during an important stage of their missions. “There are still local tribal conflicts that go all the way to the president’s office. . . . The police in some districts are still literally raping and pillaging,” said a third U.S. official, who was formerly based in southern Afghanistan. “But the embassy’s mentality is: ‘It’s the end. Wrap it up. Get out.’ ” After the civilian drawdown in Iraq, the State Department looked for a private-sector solution to monitoring programs there that would be too dangerous for government employees to visit. In 2009, USAID issued a $14 million, three-year contract to the Washington-based QED Group to provide such oversight. But an inspector general report last year found that “the program did not operate as intended and, therefore, the contract did not significantly improve program management and oversight at USAID/Iraq.” The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has charged in recent reports that millions of dollars have been wasted on U.S. development efforts, including agriculture projects, hospitals that lack the staffing and operating budget to function, and a large utility where contractors were paid for work not completed. “As U.S. and coalition forces withdraw, it will become steadily more difficult for both the implementing and oversight agencies to monitor projects,” John F. Sopko, the special inspector general, told Congress in April. USAID officials said some of SIGAR’s allegations, including claims that projects were badly monitored, were products of poor research by the inspector general. “I can’t say that’s not true, but it’s not universally true,” said Larry Sampler, USAID’s acting assistant to the administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, responding to Sopko’s critique. “We do get out” to projects, he said. Sampler acknowledged, however, that the lack of security, particularly in southern and eastern Afghanistan, has “forced us to look for alternative mechanisms for monitoring and oversight.” Some critics, including U.S. government officials, have questioned the effectiveness of the “civilian surge,” which began in 2010.They argue that it often failed to improve Afghan governance and effectively track development spending. U.S. diplomats forced to travel with convoys of military personnel, critics say, were often unable to get a realistic sense of progress or public opinion because the troops’ presence was so disruptive. But with $15 billion in USAID funds invested in Afghanistan, no one doubts the importance of oversight and sustainable programs. “Some of what we had hoped to achieve in the districts and provinces hasn’t proved out as regularly or as quickly as we wanted,” Cunningham said. “But a lot of good work has been done in trying to prepare for this, and trying to move away from projects that are heavy on oversight and [include] big commitments of personnel resources.”
The proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for an attack on Dera Ismail Khan’s Central Jail. The militia said that over 100 militants, including suicide bombers took part in the attack. A curfew was clamped in the area after the militants launched the attack.
The controversial presidential election being held today has the potential to sour the political atmosphere for years to come. An uncalled for intervention by the Supreme Court (SC) and the weak-kneed abdication of its independence by the Election Commission of Pakistan has blighted the respect of both of these institutions. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the major opposition party in the National Assembly and Senate, has boycotted the presidential election. Other parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and the Balochistan National Party-Awami have also joined the boycott to protest against what is being called a one-sided decision of the SC in favour of the ruling PML-N. These developments have adversely affected the political landscape of the country and may lead to a polarization that would prove deleterious to the working of democracy over the next five years. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and PML-N’s embrace, the resentment against it amongst the Sindhi nationalists and the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) with whom PML-N had only lately forged alliances, and Imran Khan’s anticipation that the presidential crisis could lead to a grand opposition alliance in the future, are developments with serious political repercussions. True to its track record in recent years, the MQM, as the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah also said, has once again embarked on fulfilling its constant desire to be part of the government. Senator Raza Rabbani, who was the PPP’s presidential candidate, has dismissed the speculations that his party may support the PTI’s candidate, saying outrightly that they do not intend to attend any session on July 30, so supporting any candidate is out of the question. The Senate, National and provincial Assemblies will be the venues for the presidential election today, where the electoral college for the president’s election will vote. The presiding officer in the National Assembly would be the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court and in the provincial assemblies, the Chief Justices of the respective High Courts. The rules of the house have already been suspended temporarily yesterday through a motion in the National Assembly. A strategy for the presidential polls has been discussed between Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Similarly a meeting of the parliamentary party of the PPP has been arranged for today, but nothing is yet known about its agenda. One could speculate that it would reiterate its stance to boycott the presidential election and devise the party’s future strategy. Alhough Imran Khan was inclined to boycott the election because of the SC’s controversial order to hold the election on July 30 without hearing the other stakeholders, his party leadership and their presidential candidate, Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed, prevailed in favour of participation. In this backdrop, the presidential elections will leave nothing but a bad taste in the mouth. Are we goiing to see a replay of the days when presidential addresses were drowned out by the opposition’s disrupting voices? The newly elected head of state might be hard put to it to prove that he will be a neutral and all weather President. That we would unravel our democratic dispensation at this stage on an issue as meaningless as the election date falling in the last leg of Ramazan was not expected by any sane mind.
Daily TimesThe Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Monday accused the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Supreme Court (SC) of negligence over the rescheduling of the presidential election unilaterally on the petition of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, with the former staging a walkout from the National Assembly. Announcing boycott of the presidential elections, PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, however, offered to contest the election if the presidential poll is held on August 6, earlier announced by the ECP. PTI, on the other hand, stuck to its stance of taking part in the election for president for “strengthening the democratic process”. On the onset, speaking on a point of order‚ Makhdoom Amin Fahim alleged that advancing of the polling date amounted to pre-poll rigging and said July 30 is not acceptable to PPP, ANP, PML-Q and BNP-Awami. Fahim said that the ECP is an independent body and Supreme Court does not have authority to order it. “The weakness of the ECP has pushed the matter to the Supreme Court,” he opined. He acknowledged that the PPP and its allies do not have the required strength to win the election but they fielded Raza Rabbani to strengthen the democratic process and fulfil constitutional requirements. Fahim said that the Supreme Court unilaterally gave verdict on an application submitted by PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq and did not hear the presidential contenders or stakeholders. He appealed to Imran Khan to “hit a six” by announcing to boycott the presidential election, saying the opposition would be powerful if it is united. Meanwhile, PTI’ deputy parliamentary leader Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi while backing the viewpoint of the PPP declared that the PTI does not agree with its strategy. He held the ECP responsible for the controversy on the presidential election and said that the Supreme Court had also committed negligence by advancing the date of the election without hearing the parties concerned. Qureshi said that the PML-N and its allies have numerical superiority and the opposition was not in a position to get its candidate elected even if there were a unanimous candidate. tanveer ahmed
At least six people were killed, including five policemen as the Tehreek-e-Taliban mounted a late night assault on the prison in Dera Ismail Khan late on Monday, Express News reported. The prison, which holds as many as 5000 prisoners, including as many as 250 militants, some of them high profile commanders, was attacked from multiple sides just before midnight. Militants and suicide bombers disguised as police men reportedly stormed the main gate of the prison. Several explosions were also heard after militants launched the attack. The blasts were reported to be a mix of rocket attacks, grenades and suicide blasts. Up to 40 gunmen wearing police uniforms launched their attack by blowing up the electricity line to the prison and detonating heavy explosions that breached the outer walls, said provincial prisons chief Khalid Abbas. Militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the responsibility for the attack and claimed that they had managed to free many of their men. The assault lasted for over five hours. Curfew imposed Authorities imposed a curfew in the area till the matter settles. Deputy Commissioner DI Khan Ameer Khattak appealed to the people to stay in their homes. Prisoners escape Reportedly, some militants also managed to escape from the prison following the deadly attack. There were conflicting reports on the number of militants who managed to escape. DI Khan Commissioner Mushtaq Jadoon said dozens of prisoners had escaped. “The Taliban have loudspeakers and they are calling the names of their friends,” he said. The TTP claimed that they were looking in particular for two commanders. One of them is Sufi Mohammad, the TTP commander for Swat. The other is Shaikh Abdul Hakim. It could not immediately be confirmed that these two commanders were, if at all, being held at the assaulted facility. Security forces responding to the attack reported that six prisoners, who had earlier managed to escape, have been recaptured at on Darband road. The curfew was also expanded to Attala road. At least two suspected terrorists were also killed in an encounter with the police. Police officials claimed that as many as six terrorists had been killed. Express News correspondent Ramzan Seemab said that militants and security forces were engaged in fierce fighting. Additional contingents of security forces, including army troops, were also been dispatched to the area cordoned off the site. On Sunday, at least three prisoners managed to escape from this same prison when inmates Dera Ismail Khan Central Jail attacked and took some of the guards as hostage. Surrounding buildings under attack Militants have also launched an attack on buildings surrounding the prison, including a radio station and a hospital. A nearby house was also reportedly attacked where the militants took the residents hostage and laid an ambush for security forces’ reinforcements. Earlier, before launching an attack on the central prison, militants had cut off the electricity to the area. The central jail is located in the centre of Dera Ismail Khan, surrounded by commercial, residential and government buildings. Pakistani militants have launched successful raids on prisons several times before. Last year, nearly 400 prisoners were freed when the Taliban attacked a prison in the northern town of Bannu. After that attack, militants told Reuters they were helped by insiders in the security services. An inquiry later found there were far fewer guards on duty than there should have been and those who were there lacked sufficient ammunition.
Taliban insurgents wearing police uniforms and armed with mortars attacked a prison holding hundreds of militants in northwest Pakistan on Monday and escaped with over 200 prisoners after a gunfight with security forces, officials said. At least six policemen were killed and seven others wounded in the brazen attack in Dera Ismail Khan, senior city administration official Amir Khattak told AFP. Provincial prisons chief Khalid Abbas said the attackers escaped after three-hour long gunfight with security forces. "Security forces have entered the prison and cleared the building after which we have started counting prisoners with flashlights as there is no power in the prison and it is making our job difficult," Abbas told AFP. "We cannot say at the moment that how many prisoners have escaped. It will take about three hours then we will be able to say something about escaped prisoners." The violence comes hours before Pakistani lawmakers are expected to vote for the country's new president. The attack targeted the Central Prison in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, close to the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents are active. The jail holds up to 5,000 prisoners including some 300 militants involved in attacks on security forces and sectarian killings, he added. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack. "Some 150 Taliban, including 60 suicide bombers, attacked the Central Prison and managed to free about 300 prisoners," Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP by telephone. However Pakistani authorities did not verify the claim. Abbas said up to 40 militants wearing police uniforms entered the jail after bombing its outer wall. "Attackers threw hand grenades on prison guards," Abbas said, adding that at least two prison staff were wounded in the attack. Khattak said "some prisoners had escaped and a curfew has been imposed in the city". Residents in Dera Ismail Khan reported hearing loud blasts and gunfire, and said the electricity supply to several parts of the city had been suspended. A local police official said he saw militants carrying rocket launchers and firing at the jail. "Militants were firing rockets at the jail and I also heard gunfire from inside the building," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said security forces had cordoned off the area around the prison where intelligence agency offices and the police headquarters are located. Shaukat Yousafzai, spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, confirmed the attack. "The army has been called in to counter the militant attack," Yousafzai said. Pakistan is battling a Taliban-led domestic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and security personnel since 2007. Washington considers the border tribal areas a major hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan. Later Tuesday, members of both houses of parliament and the four provincial assemblies in Pakistan are to elect a new head of state, replacing outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari.
A rare and dangerous strain of a mutated polio virus has reappeared in Pakistan to the dread of the long-time polio-free world. Dr Alias Durray, chief of the World Health Organisation’s polio eradication programme in Pakistan, confirmed to Dawn that the strain, which has close genetic similarities with the globally eradicated P2 strain, has paralysed a baby boy in Mastung district of Balochistan. This latest case has followed the one reported from Jafarabad district of the province in May this year. Mastung and Jafarabad district are 300 kilometres apart. The polio virus has three types of strains termed P1, P2 or P3 strain. Immunity from any one strain does not protect a person from the other strains. The P2 virus had been eradicated globally in 1998, and only the P1 and P3 strains remain. What is sad is that a strain similar to the mutated polio virus had been stopped after it first broke out and struck 15 children in Qila Abdullah area of Balochistan in 2011. “This outbreak was successfully stopped with a series of campaigns,” recalled the WHO official. “From then on, the virus was sporadically detected in Jafarabad (one case), Gadap (3 cases), North Waziristan (4 cases) and now in Mastung. On each occasion, except in North Waziristan, the response to these cases was campaigns using the oral polio vaccine (tOPV),” he said. Dr Durray stressed that launching campaigns was the strategy for protecting children from outbreak-related cases, and strengthening routine immunisation was the foundation. At the global level, the virus has been identified in Somalia, Nigeria and Afghanistan as well. An official in the Prime Minister’s Polio Cell also confirmed the disturbing news, but only on the condition that he was not identified. He said that the mutated polio virus “can occur in an area with very low routine immunisation coverage”. The response to this virus is the same as to the wild poliovirus (P1 and P3 viruses) – repeated, high-quality vaccination with oral polio vaccine. Another high-ranking expert of the WHO, not authorised to talk to the media, told Dawn that although the latest mutated form was very close to the P2 strain of the polio virus, it could not be labeled P2. “P2 polio virus was eradicated from the world in 1998 leaving the world with only P1 and P3” he remarked. He explained that all the viruses were of similar types but were genetically different. However, he said all three types caused paralyses among infants. “The tOPV is only administered to a child during routine immunisation which is held when a child is born,” said the WHO expert. He explained that the tOPV vaccine was not used during special polio campaigns since P2 had been eradicated, and according to WHO standards in routine immunisation, tOPV was given to children only so that the P2 strain of the virus did not resurface. Eruption of such cases from Balochistan has raised a big question mark on the overall performance of the immunisation campaigns of the federal government. Recently, the WHO and the federal government decided to launch an emergency Supplementary Immunisation Drive (SID) throughout Balochistan, disclosed an official of the ministry of health services, regulations and coordination, not authorised to speak to the media. A round of the SIDs is planned in the province from August 19 to 21. Once a population is fully immunised against polio, it would be protected against the spread of all strains of the poliovirus, said the official. Sources in the PM Polio Monitoring Cell recognise that the solution is the same for all polio outbreaks: immunise every child several times, with the oral vaccine to stop polio transmission, regardless of the virus strain. One source noted that “the lower the population immunity, the longer these viruses survive.” In recent months, the PM Polio Cell has registered 22 polio cases in all. Most of them were reported from Fata, different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Attempts to get comments of the Federal Minister for NHSR Saira Afzal Tarar in this regard did not succeed. Chief of the PM Polio Cell Dr Altaf Bosan was also not available for comments on the emerging dangerous situation.