Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The spectacular terror attack in Mumbai five years ago that held the bustling city under siege for more than three days was planned and plotted to lift the spirits of the Lashkar-e-Taiba cadre. Ten suicide bombers were trained to undertake the long sea journey, hold hostages and inflict maximum damage on India’s financial nerve centre. Apart from the havoc they wreaked at multiple locations in the city of dreams, the attacks were central to the Lashkar’s own survival as the ‘Army of the Pure’, the literal meaning of the outfit. Key conspirator David Coleman Headley alias Daood Geelani would reveal to officials from the National Investigation Agency (NIA), three years later, that the senior leadership of the LeT was having problems holding on to their cadre. Headley, who made several trips to Mumbai to videograph the key locations which were finally targeted on 26/11, was at one point, also willing to shift to al Qaeda. An NIA document that contains extracts from his confession reveals that a year before the Mumbai terror attacks, Headley had dinner with LeT’s military chief Zaki-ur-Rehaman Lakhvi in Muzaffarabad. That was the time, Headley says, "My country, Pakistan, was undergoing an identity crisis in the wake of the happenings in Afghanistan and FATA areas of Pakistan. A debate had begun among the outfits whether to fight in Kashmir or in Afghanistan. The 'clash of ideology' led to splits in many of the outfits. The decision of Abdur Rehman… to split from LeT and fight in Afghanistan was part of this trend. Zaki had a serious problem in holding the LeT and convincing them to fight for Kashmir and against India." The most chilling line in Headley’s confession, reads, "I understand this compelled the LeT to consider a spectacular terrorist strike in India… this accelerated the Mumbai attack project. Earlier, it was a limited plan to attack only Taj Hotel in Mumbai with a couple of attackers like it used to happen earlier. But now it seemed to be a grand plan of LeT to strike Mumbai at multiple locations with multiple attackers.” Five years after the terrorist strike, the Lashkar has not lost sight of its enemy. India remains that enemy. Two weeks after the Mumbai attack, I had the occasion to visit the Lashkar’s headquarter in Muridke, a small town on the outskirts of Lahore. Ajmal Kasab – the lone LeT terrorist caught alive and later hanged – had told his interrogators that he had initially been trained in Muridke. While there, when I asked my handlers – one of whom was the son-in-law of Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed – they made no effort to distance themselves from Kasab. When asked if they considered India their enemy, the response was a swift and straight forward, "Without doubt." Five years later, India’s security apparatus continues to prepare for the threat from Lashkar. At the conference of director generals of police, three days short of the fifth anniversary of the Mumbai attack, the only group Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned in his speech was the LeT. "Resurgence of terrorist groups, particularly Lashkar-e-Taiba and increased infiltration attempts call for heightened vigil and coordination by our security forces," he said in a reiteration of the threat from the LeT. The Lashkar hit hard when it was down and on the verge of a split. Today, it can hit even harder.
China monitored the flight of two US bombers that flew across its newly-declared "air defence identification zone", its defence ministry said. The B-52 planes flew over disputed islands in the East China Sea on Tuesday without announcing themselves, defying new Chinese air defence rules. Japan and the US are strongly opposed to the air zone declared by China. They have accused China of unilaterally attempting to alter the status quo and escalate regional tensions. The new air zone, announced by China on Saturday, overlaps with an air zone set out by Japan and covers disputed islands that are controlled by Japan. The islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, have been a source of severe tension between the two nations for months. Japan says China's new zone is "invalid" and has asked its airlines not to provide flight information to the Chinese. Both the ANA and JAL airlines had initially complied with the Chinese request for their flight plans but said late on Tuesday they would stop doing so. They had not encountered problems passing through the zone, they said. 'Manage and control' The unarmed US aircraft took off from Guam on a flight that was part of a regular exercise in the area, US officials said. A Pentagon official said the US had followed "normal procedures" during the bombers' flight and had not filed flight plans with China. China says aircraft passing through the zone must obey its rules, including identifying themselves, or face "emergency defensive measures". However, Wednesday's defence ministry statement after the US flight made no reference to any emergency measures. "China's air force monitored the entire course [of the US bombers], identified them in a timely way, and ascertained the type of US aircraft," the statement said. "China will identify all aircraft activity in East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone", it added. "China has the ability to effectively manage and control the relevant air zone." The US flight is being seen as a clear signal that the US will not recognise Chinese control over its newly-declared zone, correspondents say. The flight will also reassure America's allies in the region - Japan in particular - that Washington will stand by its security commitments, reports the BBC's Martin Patience from Beijing. But, says our correspondent, the big fear is that a misstep on the part of one of the parties could trigger a crisis. New US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, in her first speech since assuming her post, criticised China's move. "Unilateral actions like those taken by China... undermine security and constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea," she said in Tokyo. 'Provocation'
U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the United States would like to see the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Afghanistan signed "as quickly as possible" to enable U.S. troops to operate in the country post -2014. It comes after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday that he is in no hurry to sign the accord in a meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice. "It's something we are prepared to sign and we'd like to sign and move forward on as quickly as possible, and that's what we continue to convey," Jen Psaki told reporters. Karzai has said that he would not sign the BSA until after a presidential election due in April, and that there should be peace in Afghanistan before the BSA is signed. "Deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's election would not provide the United States and NATO allies with the ability to plan for a post-2014 presence that's of vital importance," Psaki said. "It also puts at risk the pledges of NATO and other nations, financial pledges that were made at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences, and it also doesn't give the Afghan people -- and this is a very important component -- the certainty that they need as well on their end, as they're also going into an election season." On Tuesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in an exclusive interview with TOLOnews that, "We have no magic wand" to bring peace and broker a deal with the Taliban to convince President Hamid Karzai to sign the security pact between the two countries. "I assured President Karzai the whole purpose of twelve years of American investment and presence in Afghanistan has been to help the Afghan people enjoy lasting peace and security," Rice told TOLOnews. "The whole purpose of the Bilateral Security Agreement if President Karzai chooses to sign it is to enable the United States to continue supporting Afghanistan in its efforts to achieve lasting peace and security, but it can't be achieved overnight as people know." "We have no magic wand. We have the ability to continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces, train, advise and assist them as they mature into a highly capable military," she said. On Monday evening, President Karzai met Rice in Kabul at the presidential palace and refused to back down on his decision not to sign the BSA by the end of the year. The pact would allow thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan post- 2014. A majority of the 2,500-member Loya Jirga called on President Karzai to sign the document by the end of this year. "We welcome very much the results of the Loya Jirga and the people of Afghanistan in the Loya Jirga stated overwhelmingly their desire for the BSA to be agreed and agreed promptly and urged that it be signed as soon as possible before the end of the year," Rice said. The U.S. troops who stay beyond 2014, when most foreign combat forces leave, would primarily train and mentor Afghan forces. Some special forces would stay to conduct "counter-terror operations." The Afghan security forces currently number at around 350,000 men. Their greatest deficiency, according to experts, are logistics, which is one of the reasons many are adamant about the US and other coalition countries continuing to advise, train and assist the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah has welcomed the appointments of new Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen. Raheel Sharif and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood. In a statement‚ he also congratulated both the generals for their appointment and expressed the confidence that they will work with zeal for protection of geographical borders of the country as well as tackling other challenges.
Born in Quetta on June 16, 1956 to Major and Mrs Muhammad Sharif, newly-appointed army chief Raheel Sharif grew up steeped in the military tradition. Sharif’s older brother, Shabbir Sharif, was a course-mate of General (rtd) Pervez Musharraf, and was killed during the 1971 war with India. He attained his formal education at Government College Lahore and later went on to attend the Pakistan Military Academy. After graduation, he was commissioned in 1976 in the battle hardened and renowned 6th battalion The Frontier Force Regiment in which his elder brother was also commissioned. As a young officer, he performed his duties in Gilgit in an infantry brigade and also served as adjutant of Pakistan Military Academy. Over the years, Sharif climbed up the military ladder mentored by Musharraf who handed him command of the 11th Infantry Division in Lahore. Despite the common surname, Raheel Sharif is not related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but is known to be close to tribal affairs minister Lieutenant-General Abdul Qadir Baloch, a key confidante of the Sharif family. As a brigadier, he has commanded two infantry brigades including an independent infantry brigade group. He has been the General Ofﬁcer Commanding of an infantry division and the Commandant of the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy. As a Lieutenant General, Sharif served as Corps Commander for two years before taking over as Inspector General Training and Evaluation in which capacity he oversaw the training of Pakistan Army. On Nov 27, the government approved Sharif’s appointment for the slot of Chief of Army Staff, a position that he will be taking over from Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who will be stepping down on Nov 29 after serving as military chief for six years. The general is married with two sons and a daughter.
Pakistan on Wednesday named a career infantry officer credited with re-writing the infantry manual as its new all-powerful army chief, a key position as the country fights a Taliban insurgency and increasing Islamist violence.Sharif is seen as a moderate who views the militant threat inside Pakistan as just as important as the strategic tussle with India. "Sharif has played a big role in convincing the army that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and assorted militants inside Pakistan are as big a threat (as India)," a retired senior army officer who Sharif has served under told Reuters. The TTP is a group of Islamist militants in the country's lawless tribal areas next to Afghanistan. Sharif's appointment came as somewhat of a surprise as three other men had been seen as leading candidates.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has two demands before he'll sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States and that he'll approve the document as soon as those demands are met -- despite saying earlier he would wait until his country's presidential election is completed in April 2014. RFE/RL's Akbar Ayazi sat down with Karzai in Kabul for an exclusive interview to discuss the Afghan president's views. RFE/RL: Mr. President, you called a consultative Loya Jirga to consider the Bilateral Security Agreement negotiated with the United States. Now that the Jirga has concluded, are you happy with its recommendations and have you achieved what you intended to get from it? Hamid Karzai: The Afghans now want to conclude an agreement with the United States, and the Loya Jirga has done well in backing it. We consider this agreement to be in the interests of Afghans. But our condition is to ensure the protection of Afghan homes. The Americans should stop attacks against Afghan homes. Another condition is peace in Afghanistan. If we don’t have peace, this agreement will turn into a disaster for Afghanistan instead of a blessing. RFE/RL: Mr. President, the Loya Jirga has recommended adding 36 new clauses to the draft security agreement. One of the clauses recommends that you sign the agreement before the end of this year. The head of the Loya Jirga [former president Sibghatullah Mojadiddi] also demanded the same from you. So are you going to add these new clauses and sign the agreement before the end of 2013? Karzai: I have demanded an end to all American attacks against Afghan homes and the beginning of a realistic peace process. Whenever the Americans meet these two demands of mine, I am ready to sign the agreement. And when these two demands are implemented, this agreement is in Afghanistan's interests. On the issue of elections, last night the U.S. national security adviser [Susan Rice] assured me that America is not going to interfere in the elections and that it wants the elections to be conducted on time. In addition, if possible, it wants to see the elections concluded in the first round and even if it goes into a second round [they are committed to back the process.] They have assured me about this. But I will see what happens. RFE/RL: Are you saying that Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, has assured you the United States will help in holding free and fair elections? Karzai: I talked to the U.S. national security adviser about this and I explained to her the situation during the previous presidential election. I briefed her about how America and other Western nations interfered in the previous presidential election, how they delayed the election, how they maligned the first round ballot. Keeping in view that experience, and as the president of Afghanistan today, it is my duty not to allow foreigners to either malign Afghanistan's next presidential election or stretch the process so that they can manipulate it. She assured me that this time there will be no interference in our election. So for now, I have her assurance. But I am watching them to see whether they interfere in the election or not. And I will talk about it then. RFE/RL: In your speech during the Loya Jirga, you demanded an end to operations or attacks against Afghan homes, help with conducting free and fair presidential elections, and support for a meaningful peace process. But it has been reported that in your talks with the U.S. national security adviser, you demanded the freeing of 17 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Is that true? What did you demand? Karzai: This was a demand made by the jirga. If you look at the 29th clause of their recommendations, it says that America should release all Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay immediately and hand them over to Afghanistan. So if the Americans want to implement the recommendations of the Loya Jirga, and one of the clauses that the Loya Jirga has recommended is an immediate signing of the security agreement, then they cannot ignore this other clause that demands the freeing of Afghan prisoners. Such things are not acceptable. RFE/RL: In your view, why are the Americans insisting on signing this agreement soon? Karzai: The Americans have their own agenda and their own plans. Whatever is behind their programs or their plans is up to them. But we Afghans need to have our own plans. We showed the Americans that Afghanistan wants friendship and an alliance with them. We are not against them. But in this friendship and alliance with the United States, the Afghans want to protect Afghanistan's interests. We don't want to stand against American interests. But we want to protect our homeland. And what are our homeland's interests? Our interest is to protect the homes of the Afghans from American attacks, night raids, and the unnecessary suffering of our people so that Afghan women and children are not forced to abandon their homes at night because of fears of American bombs and helicopters. You know well that in Afghanistan during the past few years people have taken their women and children to the mountains just to protect them from American attacks at night. It is impossible to have a security agreement with America while our people are still forced to leave their homes because of the fear of American forces. So if America wants to conclude a security agreement with us, America needs to respect the security of Afghan homes and let the Afghan children, men, and women live in their homes in security. RFE/RL: Mr. President, after meeting you on November 25, Susan Rice said in an interview the United States is worried that after failing to convince you to sign the agreement, Washington may be prompted to plan the withdrawal of all of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. You also know that America is committed to spending billions of dollars on strengthening Afghan security forces and on security in Afghanistan. Are you ready to endanger this $8 billion or $9 billion in American aid? Karzai: It is up to the Americans whether they want to stay or go. Even if we sign a thousand agreements with them, if it doesn't suit their interests they will leave -- just as they left Afghanistan alone in 1990s during the years after jihad. I was a deputy foreign minister then and I saw how the West abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. I used to go to them and ask them to leave one junior official behind in their embassy. But they closed their embassy and left. So if it is not in their interest, they will never come here. If America wants to be in Afghanistan today, it is because of their own interests --- whether it is security interests or their major economic interests. As an independent nation, we have the right to protect and promote our interests. RFE/RL: In your last speech to the Loya Jirga, you elaborated on one issue very clearly. You said that peace in Afghanistan is in the hands of the United States and Pakistan. Can you elaborate on that? Karzai: Based on many reasons and I can prove this, the ongoing war in Afghanistan is being imposed on us and Afghans are being sacrificed in it for someone else's interests. We are not blocking the interests of the United States or other major powers. But we are demanding that if you consider Afghanistan the place from which to advance your interests, then you should also pay attention to Afghanistan’s interests. We are not demanding anything else. RFE/RL: Mr. President, are you saying that Pakistan and the United States are responsible for the current instability in Afghanistan? And can they do anything to stabilize the situation here? Karzai: To a very large extent, they are responsible. The Afghan government also shares this responsibility. Our weaknesses and our mistakes are part of this failure. But, as you know well, all of the major terrorist havens are in Pakistan, and the United States has said that the terrorist sanctuaries are in Pakistan. The American newspapers have repeatedly reported that U.S. contracts strengthen some of the armed factions. So why are they giving these contracts out? Six or seven years ago, I had a strong disagreement with the United States over these private companies. Who were these private security firms and why was I against them? These security companies were all of those people who were supported by the Americans and trained by them and who were being given up to $2 billion a year. And they were employed to protect American supply convoys. But in reality, they were a major cause for insecurity. RFE/RL: Do you think that the Afghan security forces are able to deal with the Taliban on their own? Karzai: This is our responsibility. We are all Afghans and we know each other well. Whether we would fight the Taliban or make peace with them -- that is our problem. Last year, during my visit to Washington, in a very important briefing a day before I met U.S. President [Barack Obama], his national security adviser Tom Donilon, and senior White House officials, generals, and intelligence officials, the national security adviser met with me. He told me: "The Taliban are not our enemies and we don't want to fight them." I told him "This is a very good thing and this is what we want. We have been urging you for years to stop bombing people and fighting people inside of Afghanistan. So if you don't consider the Taliban your enemies and don't want to fight them, then why are you raiding Afghan homes every night? If you don’t consider the Taliban your enemies, which are something I want you to do and am happy you have recognized, then why are you going into Afghan homes in the name of looking for the Taliban every night?" My question is whether this will go on after the security agreement. This is why I can never allow it to happen. The security agreement should end American operations.
The Obama administration says there may be no residual force in Afghanistan after 2014 unless President Hamid Karzai signs a new security agreement sooner rather than later. Karzai, who met Monday with national security adviser Susan Rice, wants additions to the proposed agreement, and says he will not sign it until after the Afghan elections in April. In a statement, the Obama administration said Rice told Karzai that, "without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan." The U.S. and allies will end combat operations in Afghanistan after 2014, but are considering the maintenance of a residual force to help train Afghan forces and perform counterterrorism operations. The statement said that Rice "stressed" to Karzai that "we have concluded negotiations and that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's elections is not viable, as it would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence." Rice left Afghanistan on Tuesday.