Monday, June 26, 2017



Donald Trump has never lacked for chutzpah. The president once encouraged Russia to break into Hillary Clinton’s email server. (His press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Monday that was merely a joke.) He long decried talk of Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election as “fake news,” and has only come to grudgingly acknowledge that Russia did indeed try to interfere. But now, in a gesture that represents the audacity of, well, audacity, Trump is now saying it was President Obama who colluded with Russia.

Following Washington Post investigation last week outlining the Obama administration’s response to Russian hacking last summer and autumn, Trump tweeted Monday morning that his predecessor’s weak response amounted to collusion.
“The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected [Hillary] Clinton would win,” Trump tweeted, followed by another claiming that Obama “did not want to ‘rock the boat.’ He didn't ‘choke,’ he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good.”
Forget for a minute that we know Russia was trying to aid the Trump campaign and prevent Clinton from being elected: Does Trump have a germ of a legitimate point? Should Obama have done more to sound the alarm about Russian interference? Trump seemed to get a boost for this idea over the weekend from an unlikely source: Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and an aggressive interlocutor on the Russia question.
"I think the Obama administration should have done a lot more when it became clear that not only was Russia intervening, but it was being directed at the highest levels of the Kremlin," Schiff said on CNN's State of the Union. Back in September, Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein, also a California Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a joint statement saying Russian interference in the U.S. election was being directed by the “very senior levels” of the Russian government—a thinly veiled reference to President Vladimir Putin. “We call on President Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity,” Schiff and Feinstein wrote. “Americans will not stand for any foreign government trying to influence our election. We hope all Americans will stand together and reject the Russian effort.”
But from what we know, Obama not only did not collude with Russia—an idea that is ridiculous on the face of it—he handled an extremely difficult political and intelligence conundrum that would have been a challenge for any outgoing American president who learned that an adversary was working tirelessly to defeat his would be successor, in this case Hillary Clinton.
Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush: Each of these presidents who either couldn’t or wouldn’t run again would have faced a huge conundrum if they found out that Russia was aiding their hoped-for successor’s opponent. The closest this actually once came to happening was Nixon’s 1968 dealings with the North Vietnamese government to delay peace negotiations with the outgoing Johnson administration in an effort to hurt the candidacy of LBJ’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee. But neither the Humphrey campaign nor the Johnson White House knew about the collusion.
Obama was acutely aware, and rightfully so, of the simple fact that if he was too vocal about the Russian interference he would seem to be intervening in the election, using national intelligence to aid the Clinton political campaign. Given that Trump had even gone so far as to say during a nationally televised presidential debate with Clinton that he might not accept the outcome of the election—another shocking breach of standard political norms by the mogul—Obama had to be especially cautious lest he fuel Trump’s paranoid claim that the election was rigged.
Recall that in July, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention—Hillary Clinton’s big moment to project a positive message for her campaign—Wikileaks dumped 20,000 purloined documents from the Democratic National Committee. In August, the White House received a report from the CIA, according to the Post, confirming suspicions that Russia had launched a major effort to interfere with the American election.
Did Obama do nothing? Did he dismiss it as fake news and throw a tantrum? No, he behaved like a president and ordered further investigation on what Russia may or may not have done. The Russians were warned to back off. Video feed to the Situation Room was cut off to minimize the chances of leaks.
Since the CIA is just one of numerous American intelligence agencies, Obama pressed to find out if others agreed. Eventually, a stunning 17-agency consensus would emerge that Russia was trying to interfere in the American election.
At the same time, the Trump campaign was emerging as the coziest with Moscow since the Cold War began in 1945. Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort resigned following disclosures about huge payments from the pro-Moscow leadership of Ukraine. Language denouncing Russian aggression against its neighbors was excised from the Republican Party’s platform. Trump continued his friendly-to-Putin comments.
By September, while the vast web of American intelligence agencies was forging a consensus, Obama confronted Putin at an international summit in  China and warned him to back off. Congressional leaders were briefed about the possibility of Russian interference. Trump himself was clued in during his national security briefings, according to the Post.
On September 22, it was Schiff and Feinstein who made the first public comments calling out Russia. And here Schiff was clear that he wanted Obama to be more outspoken. But consider Obama’s dilemma: There was still no interagency consensus and, more tricky politically, the GOP leadership in Congress wasn’t in agreement yet that Russia had interfered. Had Obama gotten out in front of the agency consensus, he would have been clobbered by Trump, the Republicans in Congress, the conservative pundit/advocacy infrastructure and probably within the government from agencies that had yet to agree with the CIA. He was wisely prudent.
On October 7, Obama had CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issue a statement calling out the Russians. He left it to the professionals rather than making himself—a political actor who was on the trail for Clinton—the face of these claims. Unfortunately for Obama and Clinton, the announcement was overshadowed by the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump described untoward sexual intimidation of women.
For the remainder of the race, Trump would deny that Russia had anything to do with the hacking, saying during one debate that it could have been done by a “400-pound” person in a bedroom. As president, Trump is only willing to acknowledge that Russia might have been part of a hack that could have involved other countries, even though no U.S. intelligence agency has pointed to another national having joined the Russian operation.
If Obama had sounded the alarm himself earlier and more forcefully, it almost surely would have backfired and looked political. That’s a judgment call, of course. But Obama made a decision in real time under difficult circumstances. What’s Trump’s excuse for continuing to obfuscate, distort and deceive?

By Criticizing Obama, Trump Contradicts His Own Comments on Russian Meddling

President Trump has accused his predecessor of “doing nothing” in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — a misleading statement that contradicts his previous comments.
Mr. Trump’s latest assertions were made after The Washington Post reported on Friday that President Barack Obama was aware of Russia’s campaign as early as August, but did not publicize the findings for fear of politicizing the election and of escalating aggression from the Kremlin.
“I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “Fox and Friends” that aired on Sunday. “If he had the information, why didn’t he do anything about it?”
Mr. Trump has consistently refused to acknowledge Russia’s involvement, and his assertions about Mr. Obama and his own ignorance are highly misleading. Here’s an assessment.
Mr. Trump’s claim of receiving recent knowledge is false.
Since last summer, the accusations of Russian cyberattacks have been widely reported, and it is clear that Mr. Obama — and Mr. Trump — were aware of the malfeasance, though Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge Russia was behind the hacking.
The Democratic National Committee said last June that Russian hackers had obtained a trove of internal emails and opposition research, prompting Mr. Trump to suggest that the committee fabricated the story or hacked itself.
“We believe it was the D.N.C. that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the D.N.C. doesn’t hack Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails,” he said in a statement.
A month later, as consensus grew within the intelligence community that Russia was the culprit, Mr. Trump declined to condemn President Vladimir V. Putin.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference, referring to the emails that were deleted from Mrs. Clinton’s private servers. On Monday, the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, said during a briefing that Mr. Trump was “kidding” at the time.
As the official nominees of their parties, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton began receiving intelligence briefings in early August. On Sept. 22, Democrats leading the House and Senate Intelligence Committees issued a statement accusing Russia “based on briefings we have received.” Four days later, during the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump declined to agree, adding it could be China or “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
On Oct. 7, the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement saying they were “confident that the Russian government” directed the cyberattacks.
Mr. Trump again expressed doubt that Russia was responsible. During the second presidential debate, he said, “Maybe there’s no hacking.”
His charge that Mr. Obama “did nothing” is also incorrect.
Though some Democrats were dissatisfied with Mr. Obama’s response and say his administration should have done more, Mr. Obama did act.
John O. Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, warned his Russian counterpart against meddling on Aug. 4, 2016, according to his testimony to Congress in late May. Around this time, the Department of Homeland Security also warned state governments of attempts to access voter registration systems and encouraged them to seek assistance, Jeh Johnson, the former homeland secretary, has said.
In September, Mr. Obama warned Mr. Putin directly at a Group of 20 summit meeting in China. Mr. Obama confirmed at a news conference in December that he had told Mr. Putin to “cut it out,” and explained that he held back from retaliating for fear of Russia escalating the cyberattacks.
On Dec. 29, Mr. Obama issued sanctions against Russia and ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives. Two days later, Mr. Trump said he still wasn’t convinced. (Last week, The Post reported that Mr. Obama had also authorized the planting of cyberweapons within Russia’s infrastructure.)
On Jan. 6, the office of the director of national intelligence released a declassified report. After being briefed that day on the cyberattacks, Mr. Trump issued a statement pointing to “Russia, China and other countries.”
After his inauguration, Mr. Trump expanded the pool of culpability in multipleinterviews and still would not formally declare Russia responsible.
This spring, numerous intelligence officials, including Mr. Brennan and Mr. Johnson, have testified before Congress and confirmed that Russia meddled in the election. James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, said in an interview that he was “absolutely” certain of Russia’s actions. James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, also said he had “no doubt” of it.
Mr. Spicer was asked whether the president believes that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
“I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Mr. Spicer said.

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Daesh threatens to close girls’ schools in Punjab
International Wahhabi terrorist organization that has also been active in Pakistan Daesh has threatened to close girls’ schools in Punjab. Threatening pamphlets from Daesh have been found in Government Girls High School in Danga city of Punjab.
According to information, when the girls’ school, located in Danga city of Gujrat district, opened on 5th January, threatening pamphlets were found on which it was written “we are disciples of Osama Bin Laden, close the school otherwise you will be responsible for the loss of one thousand girls. Long Live Daesh”. Police and officials of elite force cordoned off the school immediately after the pamphlets were found and school’s security has been increased whereas the incident has spread fear among students and their parents.


Allama Raja Nasir Abbas Jafari, secretary general, Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, has said that Shia majority area of Parachinar was made Gaza of Pakistan because they suffered the same atrocities at the hands of takfiri terrorists which oppressed Palestinians suffered at the hands of racist Zionists in fake state of Israel.

Addressing a hurriedly-called press conference in Islamabad along with other religious scholars, he denounced the callousness of the powers that be towards the victims of terrorism in Parachinar who were staging a sit-in to protest against the loss of precious human lives.
He said that nobody has paid attention towards the grievances of Parachinar and its ill-fated victims of terrorism. He said that internet and mobile service was also suspended in Parachinar because the biased and cruel authorities wanted to gag their voice and wanted that the world should not hear the voice of oppressed Shia Muslims of Parachinar.
Allama Jafari accused of Colonel Ajmal of scorning the people of Parachinar including women in the name of security. He demanded action against him. He said Shia Muslims were registering their protest on Eid day against the brutalities in Pakistan.
He also expressed grief over loss of lives in Ahmedpur Sharqia in Bahwalpur where over 140 people burnt alive due to overturning and explosion in an oil tanker.

Can Pakistan’s Banned Organizations Rejoin the Mainstream?

By Syed Arfeen

“Though Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is not listed as a political organization but it is a political entity, we want to register JuD as a political party. We played a positive role in the politics and we want to continue it,” said Hafiz Masood in Islamabad on March 27 this year.
Masood, brother of JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was speaking in a closed-door session on “Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Different Brands of Militants.” The discussion, organized by the think tank Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), centered on the reintegration of banned outfits like Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), and Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).
Later, during a press briefing on April 26, the spokesman of the Pakistan Army, Major General Asif Ghafour, released a confessional video statement from Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesman of the banned Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
According to Ehsan, India’s intelligence agency (the Research & Analysis Wing or RAW) and the Afghan intelligence arm National Directorate of Services (NDS) aim to destabilize Pakistan and both are funding anti-Pakistan elements.
The back-to-back crucial developments sparked a debate about the reintegration and mainstreaming of banned outfits in the country.
According to the National Counter Terrorism Authority, there are 64 banned outfits in Pakistan. These organizations were declared proscribed under section 11B (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997. The section states that an organization is proscribed if “a) The Federal Government, having reason to believe that an organization is involved in terrorism, by order, lists it in the First Schedule; b) It operates under the name as an organization listed in the First Schedule or it operates under a different name; c) The First Schedule is amended by the Federal Government in any way to enforce proscription.”
The process of banning religious organizations in Pakistan kicked off back in 2001 when two violent sectarian outfits – Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and  Sipah-e-Muhammad – were proscribed by the Ministry of Interior (MoI).
Jamat-ud-Dawa and its charitable arm, Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) were recently included on the MoI watch list. The top leadership of JuD and FIF has been placed under house arrest, including JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. The crackdown on both organizations was carried out under section 11D (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act:
Where the Federal Government, has reason to believe that an organization is acting in a manner it may be concerned in terrorism: 1) The organization may be kept under observation, if a) The name of the organization is listed in the Second Schedule by order of the Federal Government; or b) It operates under the same name as an organization listed in the second Schedule.
Earlier, media reported that a trained cadre of banned outfits will be inducted into the para-military forces. Background interviews conducted by The Diplomat suggest that the new policy was devised last year by the then-director general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar.
In April last year, he handed over two deradicalization plans to Nawaz Sharif, prime minister of Pakistan. The first proposal was to be implemented through the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the other was under the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). There was a role assigned to at least six different government departments in the proposed plan.
The proposal was to segregate different kinds of extremist on the basis of their history and nature of involvement in militancy. Some individuals are associated with the welfare work of banned outfits and some are part of the propaganda arm, while others actually take up arms against the state. Therefore, each individual would be reviewed according to his level of involvement in militant activities.
Pakistan is not the only country trying to develop a mechanism to rehabilitate militants. Deradicalization plans for repentant militants already exist in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Morocco, and Jordan adopted such plans much earlier. Pakistan has another significant example: neighboring Afghanistan, where Hezb-i-Islami has announced it will shun violence and join mainstream politics in the country. The United Nations lifted its ban on the Hezb-i-Islami chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in February this year. The historic move was a result of a deal that was brokered between the Afghan government and Hekmatyar.
Pakistan is also running at least two deredicalization centers – Sabaon and Mashal – in the Sawat area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Explaining the rationale of new proposed deredicalization program, retired Lt. Gen. Amjad Shoaib said that in January 2004, under orders from General (retd.) and then-President Pervez Musharraf, camps of banned outfits were dismantled and the militants were flushed out. It was a big blunder; for two years these men had been motivated and trained to wage jihad and then suddenly they were asked to vacate the area. “Those elements perceived that Pakistan betrayed the cause of Kashmir and [that’s when] Punjabi Taliban was formed. At that time nobody thought of starting a deradicalization program,” Shoaib explained.
Shuja Nawaz, a fellow at the Washington, DC-based South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council does not see rapid movement toward these goals given the lack of careful consideration of the deradicalization  and de-weaponizing of Pakistani society. He believes that ties between these shadowy jihadi groups and the political system prevent firm actions. Nawaz, who author of the book Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, says, “Mainstreaming can only occur when wider actions alter the school systems and curricula and to remove the vestiges of Ziaist [referring to General Zia-ul-Haq] policies and systems in both the civil and military are effected. That needs political gumption, a rare commodity in Pakistan today.”
There is a strong opinion that the reintegration of defunct outfits is unlikely. Because banned organizations are ideologically motivated, the chances of them abandoning their philosophy are slim. But contrary to this viewpoint, there is also a firm belief that the militant landscape of Pakistan is complex and threatening and requires a multi-fronted approach to neutralize the threat. A multi-pronged reintegration framework is important to neutralize the conventional militant groups and remove them from the terrorism landscape.
Yet if Pakistan moves forward, “India would be aghast,” Javed M. Ansari, executive editor of India Today, told The Diplomat. “It [would] be viewed as an attempt to legitimize organizations that are intrinsically anti-India.”
Ansari adds, “Mainstreaming might be a good idea theoretically but I don’t believe it’s possible. The raison d’être of such organizations is radicalization. For them to change would mean giving up the very basis of their existence. Therefore I do not believe that elements such as these [will] change their spots.”
Before reintegration of extremist or militants, there is a process of deradicalization and that, too, is a time consuming task, and a less understood one. Sometimes the exercise takes months, other times it continues for several years. In all cases, deradicalization focuses on the mental, behavioral and ideological transformation of the former militant.
While speaking to The Diplomat about the process of deradicalization and reintegration of defunct outfits, Shuja Nawaz was not optimistic. “Pakistan will have to remove the conditions that led to the categorization of these groups as terrorist entities to begin the process of altering how the U.S. and the international community view mainstreaming, howsoever defined,” he explained. “I am not sanguine about any progress. This will continue to hurt Pakistan without giving it any real advantage in dealing with its neighbors or the world at large.”
Many in the country believe that if these organizations renounce violence, submit themselves to the Constitution of Pakistan, and go through a rigorous exercise of deradicalization and debriefing, they should be allowed to kick off their political activities but the approach should be adopted under parliamentary oversight and should be limited to conventional groups like JuD, JeM, and some sectarian outfits.
“Are they prepared to support the constitution of Pakistan and renounce trying to change the political and religious system that is guaranteed by the constitution? Are they prepared to disarm and make their youth go through deradicalization programs? Are they prepared to carry out reform in their educational systems and the madrassas they control? Are they prepared to be useful to the state instead of promoting religious extremism? That appears difficult. If they are prepared to carry out this long list of what needs to be done and fulfill all the articles of the National Action Plan, there is every possibility that they could join the political process,” stated acclaimed writer and journalist Ahmed Rashid.

Joint Press Release By China, Afghanistan And Pakistan

At the invitation of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China visited the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan from June 24th to 25th. During this visit, the three parties condemned the recent terrorist attacks occurred in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and extended condolences to the deceased and sympathy to the affected people. The three parties had in-depth exchange of views on the Afghan issue, the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral cooperation, and reached consensus on the following points:
1. The three parties are all committed to maintaining regional peace and stability, enhancing regional connectivity and economic cooperation and promoting shared security and development.
2. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are willing to improve relations with each other, strengthen political mutual trust, enhance cooperation in various fields including counter-terrorism, and jointly meet security challenges. The Chinese side hopes Afghanistan and Pakistan could maintain stable and sound relations, and is willing to provide necessary assistance in this regard based on the needs of both sides.
3. Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to establish a crisis management mechanism, which will include prevention through timely and effective intelligence and information sharing and other mutually agreed measures. This would enable the two sides to maintain timely and effective communications in case of any emergencies, including terrorist attacks, with a view to seeking proper solution through dialogue and consultation and preventing deterioration of the situation which might have negative effect on the bilateral relationship. The Chinese side will support this mechanism.
4. The three parties agree to establish the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ dialogue mechanism to cooperate on issues of mutual interest, beginning with economic cooperation.
5. The three parties believe that peace and reconciliation is the fundamental solution to the Afghan issue, which could not be solved by violent means. The Chinese side and the Pakistani side support the “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” reconciliation process, and stand ready to continue to play a constructive role in advancing this process. The three parties call on the Afghan Taliban to join the reconciliation process at an early date.
6. The three parties believe that the Quadrilateral Coordination Group should be revived to create an enabling environment for peace talks and for Taliban to join the peace talks.
7. The three parties support the Kabul process and hold the view that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization-Afghanistan Contact Group should be revived as early as possible to play a constructive role in moving forward the Afghan reconciliation process.

'China and Russia want US out of Afghanistan'

Analyst Paulo Casaca tells DW the US must keep an eye on a hostile China-Pakistan-Russia alliance in Afghanistan, and that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis is unclear about what he means by a regional solution to the conflict.
Afghanistan James Mattis in Kabul (Reuters/J. Ernst )
DW: Pentagon chief Jim Mattis (main picture) says the US will opt for a "regional solution" to the Afghan war. Since this is not a new recommendation, and former US president Barack Obama also sought the same strategy, what does the Trump administration want to achieve through it?
Paulo Casaca: I don't think that a decision has been made on this issue. Mattis was not very clear in his Congress speech about what a regional solution might mean. President Donald Trump has delegated the authority and responsibility for Afghanistan to Jim Mattis, which means the main thrust of the US' Afghanistan policy will remain militaristic.
The regional solution implies that Pakistan should be seen as a "partner" and not as an "obstacle" to resolve the Afghan problem. How would that pan out this time?
A regional solution does not imply an agreement with Pakistan, but the general tone of the administration's declarations on and off record on the issue implies the continuation of the previous administration's approach of dealing with Pakistan as a partner.
It is now clearer than ever that accepting Pakistan as the solution rather than the problem to the Afghan conflict will doom any US military effort in Afghanistan.
How crucial is it to bring India and Pakistan on the same page to resolve the Afghan conflict? And will it be possible for Pentagon to convince Islamabad and New Delhi to cooperate on Afghanistan?
I think this option is not on the table. Russia, China and Pakistan clearly favor the inclusion of the Taliban in the Afghan government. They do not consider India or even the US as potential partners. In reality, the only factor that has brought these three countries closer together is the aim to keep the US and India out of Afghanistan.
China offered mediation to improve ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan. What is Beijing's interest in Afghanistan, and why is it increasing its role in the war-torn country?
The Chinese diplomacy is very active all around the world, and it is only natural that Beijing pays special attention to countries at its borders, and particularly when a country like Afghanistan is so destabilized.
China's reinforcement of its relations with Pakistan also means its closer ties with the Taliban.
Some analysts say that the Taliban do not depend on Pakistan as much as they did in the past? Do you agree with the assessment?
I think the analysis carries weight. Since the time when only Pakistan was willing to recognize the Taliban authority in Afghanistan to the present day, the Taliban have achieved a number of diplomatic successes. They have now direct contacts even with major powers such as Russia and China.
The most important development has been the partnership between the Taliban and Iran. Following the assassination of an Iranian diplomat in Mazar-i-Sharif in the 1990s, the relations between Tehran and the Taliban became very tense, to the point where Iran openly campaigned for the overthrow of the Taliban regime. But gradually, the situation has evolved to a point where Iranian authorities might have replaced Islamabad as the main provider of external support to the Taliban.
The main financial pillar of the Taliban is drug trafficking, and most of Afghan narcotics are traded through Iran.
The killing of the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Pakistan's Baluchistan province after his long stay in Iran also shows how close ties are now between Iran and the Taliban.
How do you see the increasing involvement of Russia in the Afghan conflict, and will it hinder US efforts in the region?
Russia's realignment in Afghanistan, forging a strategic partnership with Pakistan and China and engaging with the Taliban, seems to be geared by a single objective: to confront the US wherever it is possible.
Russia is willing to emulate the policy the West adopted toward Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of the country in the early 1980s. It is now supporting any group that can make the life difficult for Washington and its allies, ignoring the long-term consequences such as the dangers posed by jihadism to Russian security.
The US needs to realize it is facing a hostile tripartite alliance of Pakistan, Russia and China in Afghanistan. It must answer the challenge by promoting its own alliance with India and the European Union.
But the biggest challenge is related to who will conquer another tripartite grouping - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. These three countries depend heavily on both China and Russia, and it is clear that they do not want to create any friction with them. A lot will now depend on the maneuvering skills of the two alliances to forward their interests in the Central Asian region.

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18 Israeli fighter jets along with two Gulfstream aircraft landed in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to prevent any hostile or military moves by former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz who was replaced with Saudi King Salman's son.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced on Wednesday his decision to replace Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz with his own son, Mohammed bin Salman.
After the decision was announced, the Israeli air force sent 18 of its fighter jets, including F16I, F15CD and F16CD, along with two Gulfstream aircraft, two tanker airplanes and two C130 planes, special for electronic warfare, to Saudi Arabia at the demand of the new crown prince bin Salman to block his cousin (bin Nayef)'s possible measures.
According to a royal decree, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, was also named deputy prime minister, and shall maintain his post as defense minister, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Wednesday.
Saudi media announced that King Salman has called for a public pledge of allegiance to the new crown prince in the holy city of Mecca on Wednesday night.
The SPA also confirmed that 31 out of 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s succession committee chose Mohammed bin Salman as the crown prince.
Just days ago, the Saudi king stripped Nayef of his powers overseeing criminal investigations and designated a new public prosecution office to function directly under the king’s authority.
In a similar move back in 2015, the Saudi king had appointed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the heir to the throne after removing his own half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from the position.
Under the new decree, King Salman further relieved Mohammed bin Nayef of his duties as the interior minister. He appointed Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef as the new interior minister and Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Salem as deputy interior minister.
Mohammed Bin Salman is already in charge of a vast portfolio as chief of the House of Saud royal court and chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, which is tasked with overhauling the country’s economy.
The young prince was little known both at home and abroad before Salman became king in January 2015.
However, King Salman has significantly increased the powers of Mohammed, with observers describing the prince as the real power behind his father’s throne.
The power struggle inside the House of Saud came to light earlier this year when the Saudi king began to overhaul the government and offered positions of influence to a number of family members.
In two royal decrees in April, the Saudi king named two of his other sons, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Prince Khaled bin Salman, as state minister for energy affairs and ambassador to the United States, respectively.
Late April, media source disclosed that Mohammad bin Salman has literally bribed the new US administration by paying $56m to Donald Trump.
According to reports, bin Salman is paying off the US to buy its support for finding a grip over the crown.
"Since Uncle Sam's satisfaction is the first step for the Saudi princes to get on the crown, paying off Washington seems to be a taken-for-granted fact," Rami Khalil, a reporter of Naba' news website affiliated to the Saudi dissidents wrote.
He added that since the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) is like a sword over the head of the al-Saud, they have no way out but to bribe the US, noting that the Yemen quagmire is also another reason for Riyadh to seek Washington's support.
Also, a prominent Yemeni analyst said earlier this month that the US has been paid several trillion dollars by Saudi Arabia to protect its crown, adding that Riyadh has recently bribed Washington's support for the Yemen war with $200bln.
"Washington has asked for more money to defend the Saudi regime and Riyadh has recently paid $200bln to the US for the costs of its support for the war in Yemen," Saleh al-Qarshi told FNA.
"This is apart from the huge amounts of money that Saudi Arabia pays to the US treasury for protecting its crown," he added.
According to al-Qarshi, former Saudi Intelligence Chief Turki al-Feisal revealed last year that his country has bought the low-profit US treasury bonds to help the US economy.
As the defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman has faced strong international criticism for the bloody military campaign he launched against neighboring Yemen in 2015 amid his rivalry with bin Nayef, the then powerful interior minister.
Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen since March 2015 to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led aggression has so far killed at least 14,000 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in Yemen also announced that more than a thousand Yemenis have died of cholera since April 2017 as Saudi Arabia's deadly campaign prevented the patients from travelling abroad for treatment and blocked the entry of medicine into the war-torn country, continues hitting residential areas across Yemen.
Despite Riyadh's claims that it is bombing the positions of the Ansarullah fighters, Saudi bombers are flattening residential areas and civilian infrastructures.
According to several reports, the Saudi-led air campaign against Yemen has drove the impoverished country towards humanitarian disaster.
Nearly 3.3 million Yemeni people, including 2.1 million children, are currently suffering from acute malnutrition. The Al-Saud aggression has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
The WHO now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Iraq.

Economic crunch jolting Gulf monarchies

by Lal Khan
The deteriorating economic situation in the Kingdom due to the collapse of oil prices explains the fissures within the Al Saud family.
The Saudi King Salman’s midnight decree installing his son Mohammed bin Salman as the heir apparent exposes the internal crisis of the monarchy. The deteriorating economic situation in the Kingdom due to the collapse of oil prices is behind these drastic changes and is the cause of fissures within the Al Saud family.
The new crown prince now holds the portfolio of the defence minister, deputy prime minister, and is in charge of managing the economy and privatizing the world’s largest state oil company Aramco. The sudden shake-up has taken place at a time when the Saudi war in Yemen has gone terribly wrong, the traditional rivalry with Iran is becoming fiercer, and Saudi is now facing a perilous standoff with Qatar.
These changes have made Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman heir to his father’s throne which gives the 31-year-old unhindered powers to push through his policies on the economy and foreign affairs. Saudi Arabia has been hit by a major fall in oil prices, which collapsed from more than $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $30 last year and remain under $50 today. The crash in oil revenues along with the extravagant state spending mainly on the upper and middle class Saudis has seen the Kingdom’s budget deficit burgeon.
Saudi Arabia and other monarchical regimes in the Gulf only managed to survive the onslaught of the 2011 mass upheaval in the Arab world because of extravagant concessions to their tiny populations. However they cannot afford to continue to function the old way The government is also slashing construction projects, forcing contractors to lay off workers. There has been a backlash from migrant workers who hail mainly from Pakistan and other poor Asian countries with protests that often turn violent because of the severe repression of the state.
Saudi Arabia’s monopoly on the world oil market has been cut by US shale oil extraction. The Saudis are the largest oil producers amongst the OPEC countries that had cut production in the hope of raising prices. But the Americans raised shale oil production keeping these prices at bay. These low oil prices along with an increasingly costly war in Yemen have aggravated the crisis of the Saudi economy and led to cuts in state spending and falling pay scales for even Saudi nationals.
The budget deficit in 2016 was more than $100 billion. Foreign reserves have fallen by more than 25 percent since 2014. Saudi loans from foreign banks have sharply risen and the state is trying to borrow more from the global bond and financial markets.
This stark economic and social crisis is the basis of the regime’s policy of deporting and sacking immigrant workers, and encouraging native Saudis to take over. However, this policy of ‘Saudisation’ has failed repeatedly with the number of migrant workers rising from one million to ten million since the 1980s. With the escalating crisis, the regime is pushing even harder to expel foreign workers. According to some reports in 2013 there were between 2 to 4 million people- 12.7 percent to 25 percent of the population-living on about $17 a day which is considered the poverty line in Saudi Arabia. The regime is overtly worried of amass eruption with this aggravating socioeconomic crisis.
Most analysts are sceptical about how the new Crown Prince will handle these burning social, economic and foreign policy issues. A Bloomberg analyst wrote, “Given who’s calling the shots in Riyadh and Washington, it is not really a question of if but rather of when a new escalation with Iran starts... Under Mohammad’s watch, Saudi Arabia has developed aggressive foreign policies and he has not been shy about making strong statements against Iran.”
Saudi Arabia and other monarchical regimes in the Gulf only managed to survive the onslaught of the 2011 mass upheaval in the Arab world because of extravagant concessions to their tiny populations. However they cannot afford to continue to function the old way.
Despite the relative calm on the surface, contradictions have been accumulating that can erupt sooner rather than later. The shake-up in Saudi Arabia imposes new dangers. The Economist wrote, “Oil is likely to remain cheap for a long time, the politics of religion are tearing at the region, and many Arab states have collapsed into civil war. Yet rule by a callow, hot-headed prince could be just as dangerous as stagnation under a gerontocracy.”
The cuts and austerity measures can be the sparks that could trigger such revolts. The so-called stability in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Israel and other crucial states in the region is extremely fragile. Wars usually give birth to revolutions.
The strategists of Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regimes are aware of this fact. Hence they have resorted to proxy wars in other people’s lands and to propping up external conflicts to crush domestic revolts. But mass upheaval in any country can spread throughout the region faster than the 2011 uprising.
People’s emancipation from wars, mayhem and misery can only be achieved by transforming this coercive system through a socialist revolution across the entire Middle East.