From purely an Indian point of view, Pakistan is in a seething cauldron of political turmoil, but that is a sure straw in the wind indicating the globe’s hurtling toward WWIII.
Pak Prime Minister will be grilled February 13 by its Supreme Court and if found guilty of contempt, will be jailed for 6 months and debarred from holding any office for 5 years.
A few canton courts in Switzerland had found President and “Mr 40%” Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto guilty of having numbered accounts full of slush funds stolen from Pakistan.
There are many who think the Pak Supreme Court is acting out a script created by the Pak army as it is sick of its corrupt politicians.
Should this bother India?
Should it bother the world?
Almost everyone is foxed about the real cause for the West becoming suddenly wary of Pakistan and its very obviously dubious role in Afghanistan’s Taliban and the ISI contribution to global terrorism … something the both NATO knew all along.
The reasons, experts say, are the following:
1. According to Islamic sources, Afghanistan is endowed with US$ 17 trillion worth mineral wealth that includes gas, oil and several varieties of rare earth, besides a huge cache of precious stones. Western estimates say some 30% of that figure could be closer to the truth.
2. The cash strapped Western powers want to exploit this, parting with very little to the Afghans, allege Islamic nations. The opposite side defends itself by citing the number of body bags that have gone back to the USA, the money pumped in to teach democracy to the tribal warlords, the sacrifices made to drive away the Soviet brand of communism, blah, blah.
3. The majority of the world’s hitherto richest nations, burdened by their own debt with no other solution in sight, began laying their bets in alternative routes to Afghanistan for 2 things – to carry away the stuff from the barren hills where terrorists are lying in wait to ambush every unwary traveller – commercial, military, friends, foes, curious onlookers … virtually everyone.
4. Afghans keep doing this because, in their opinion, all these varieties of sides had never thought one little bit about the starving millions of Islamic tribal populations in Afghanistan except making fun or eulogising them in Hollywood movies like the third instalment of Rambo wins the war in the dusty desert.
5. A sizeable number of Afghans still believe that the real Rambo was Osama bin Laden … who began fighting western exploitation upon realising who are and were the baddies. None disputes the fact that bin Laden was plucked from Saudi Arabia, planted in Waziristan [the Pak-Afghan border] sans even a passport, visa, but with plenty of money, arms and ammunition. The Afghans had accepted all this to drive the occupying Soviet troops away and succeeded in that measure.
6. Though none admits it openly, somewhere along the way, the West suspected the motives of Osama and vice versa vide 9/11. The significance of 9/11 is that 911 is the same as 100 in India – in attempting to call for police help during an emergency.
7. In this case, the Islamic world saw the significance of the number as a warning issued to the West and obliquely called for global aid.
8. The Western world says that 9/11 has a sinister ring – threatening the might of the world’s largest armed power.
9. One thing led to another. After planes pounded the twin towers of World Trade Centre, the war against terror began culminating in Osama being laid low in Abbottabad – a Pakistani army town within 80 km of its capital Islamabad on Mayday 2011. Mayday, in telegraphic parlance of deep sea and mid-air communications also mean emergency or 911 or ‘danger!’
10. The Americans do not admit to any of these. The world already had accepted Osama as the globe’s most dangerous man and hence had to be eliminated. Pakistan knows this … but they sheltered a man wanted in the USA so, Pak motives have become suspect … following other double dealings in the region … especially terrorist attacks in India, is the Western refrain.
11. Pakistan’s grouse too is more or less simple. Their argument – never openly stated – goes thus: Pakistan pulled the American Foreign Policy’s chestnuts out of the fire from Afghanistan when none know of the mineral wealth. Now that everyone knows about it, we want out cut. Else, we shall make everyone’s lives a misery, mainly because, the nation out to help the West happens to be India – the very nation meant to be bled to death by Pakistan by none other than the West!
12. India’s angle too is more or less very clear. India wants to call the Pakistani bluff over Kashmir once and for all and end that neighbour’s worst export terrorism into Indian soil. The Kashmir angle is very interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Kashmir’s western side [we call it POK, Pak calls it Azad – free] when reunited will allow a direct access for the West to take the natural wealth out of Afghanistan, take it through the land route till the Indian port of Kandla [Gujarat].
13. Iran is, however, the fly in the ointment. Already in possession of a battle-ready army with a vast amount of wealth generated by oil, Iran is said to be attempting to acquire nuclear weapons too [denied vehemently by Tehran] to threaten the global trade route of Straits of Hormuz through which most oil tankers have to travel to reach the Red Sea, cross the Suez Canal and reach the Mediterranean – to supply sustenance to the industrial giants in Europe besides crossing the Atlantic to reach the Americas. That would augment Iran’s Shia prestige in the Islamic world to export its brand of faith, fanaticism and/or both aided by fearful terrorism – whatever one calls it.
14. The global trade going round the Cape of Good Hope [Cape Town in South Africa] is no option as the journeys become unviable and long. The storms in the end of the Dark Continent, the threat of pirates from its eastern coast has already got the world in tenterhooks. [Incidentally, there are serious allegations about the pirates of Somalia being controlled from Karachi, Pakistan!]
15. In all, there are all the ingredients to start off a 3rdWorld War!
16. Yes, India should be worried as none can predict what the Pakistanis would do when the chips are completely down for them.
17. And yes … the world at large should be worried too … as Pakistan will certainly try to convince the entire Islamic World about the West being the real villains blaming the religion propounded by Prophet Muhammad [Peace Be Unto Him] due to a wicked conspiracy to sell weapons and make more money.
18. And in their anger, none will ever bother to remember that when the West had sold the weapons, the buyers were the Islamic nations themselves and they were used to kill their own brothers across the borders!
Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a U.N. resolution condemning Syria’s violent repression of anti-government demonstrators, effectively quashing efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad’s government as it intensifies a nearly year-long crackdown say Colum Lynch, Alicia Fordham and Joby Warrick in a report published in The Washington Post.
The veto dealt a blow to attempts by the United States and its European partners to rally behind an Arab League plan that would require Assad to yield power and make way for a democratically elected unity government. The vote followed weeks of negotiations in which diplomats had significantly watered down the resolution in a bid to win broad support.
“The United States is disgusted” by the Russian and Chinese vetoes, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote. “A couple of members of this council remain steadfast in their willingness to sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant.”
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, countered that the United States and its partners had undermined the prospects for a deal, saying they had promoted a strategy aimed at “regime change” by backing the opposition’s pursuit of power and fueling “armed methods of struggle.”
The rift left the diplomatic process in disarray, with Arab League delegates vowing to press ahead with their plan for a political transition in Syria, while Russia announced that officials would travel Tuesday to Damascus, where they will meet with Assad and try to push a competing plan to bring the Syrian government and the opposition together for direct talks.
But some Syria experts were worried that it was already too late for diplomatic solutions. “Things are slipping out of control on the ground so much that I’m not sure that [the resolution] could have stopped the killing,” said Andrew Tabler, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The U.N. deadlock came a day after Syrian authorities moved to crush resistance in the town of Homs, killing scores of civilians on the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Hama. Estimates of those killed late Friday varied widely, but the assault seemed to be the strongest attempt yet by the government to put down the protests. Although casualties have been heavy for months, Syrian forces have largely abstained from the use of heavier weaponry. Activists now worry that the attack heralds a new and more aggressive strategy on the part of Assad’s government.
On Saturday, crowds gathered in Homs for the first funerals of the dead, with tens of thousands shown in video footage massing around coffins and shrouds decked with flowers. An opposition spokesman said that after the funerals, people were waiting eagerly to hear the results of the U.N. vote.
“We were hoping they would change their opinion,” said the spokesman, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Rami. “Unfortunately they used their veto. The people here are not so much disappointed. We will rely on Allah, the holy God, and after Allah, we will rely on the Free Syrian Army.”
The 13 to 2 Security Council vote capped weeks of tumultuous negotiations that pitted the United States, the European Union and the Arab League against Russia, Syria’s most powerful remaining protector in the 15-member council.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rice, along with their European and Arab counterparts, pushed repeatedly to avoid the Russia veto, agreeing to abandon the sharpest provisions in a draft resolution, including calls on states to prevent the supply of weapons to Syria, and to reinforce a set of Arab League sanctions on Damascus. They also added language that explicitly ruled out the use of the resolution as a pretext for future military action.
In Washington, President Obama issued a statement shortly before the vote casting Syria’s latest military operations as the last gasp of a crumbling regime and urging Assad to step down.
Envoys from Russia and China had signaled this past week that they would recommend their capitals support the U.N. resolution, according to senior council diplomats. But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, ultimately rejected the compromise draft, proposing a set of last-minute amendments Saturday that were rejected by Washington and other sponsors of the resolution.
“We are not friends or allies of President Assad,” Lavrov insisted ahead of the vote. “We try to stick to our responsibilities as a permanent members of the Security Council, and the Security Council by definition does not engage in domestic affairs of member states.”
Senior administration officials pointed to the wide margin of support for the resolution, with developing countries such as Pakistan, India, South Africa and Azerbaijan all siding against the Assad government. “There was a hopeful aspect” to the vote, Rice said. “More and more countries are united in saying the violence must stop, change must come.”
White House officials acknowledged that the vote was a blow to diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian crisis. The focus now appears to shift to the Arab League, where a vote on sanctions by Arab nations could come later this month.
But critics of the administration’s incremental diplomacy in Syria said the administration was partly to blame for Saturday’s outcome.
“This has been a slow-motion train wreck,” said David Schenker, an adviser to the Pentagon on the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration. “We aimed low, and we fell short.”
Rather than attempting to sell the Russians on a toothless resolution, Schenker said, the White House should be mobilizing a “coalition of the willing” to help Syria’s beleaguered rebels with weapons and training. “If we continue to defer both to the Arab League and the U.N., the Syrian people are doomed.”
Saturday’s vote carried political risks for Moscow and Beijing, which have defied the wishes not only of Washington and its European powers, but confronted a coalition of influential and wealthy states likely to be driven even more deeply into the Western camp.
“There is nothing in this text that should have triggered a veto. We removed every possible excuse,” said Britain’s U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant. “The reality is that Russia and China have today taken a choice: to turn their backs on the Arab world and to support tyranny rather than the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
In Syria, demonstrators were bracing for another possible onslaught.
Col. Malik Turki, a commander with the armed group known as the Free Syrian Army, said when reached by telephone in Turkey that he had received dozens of calls from Syrians asking him to supply them with weapons after the events of Friday night. He accused the authorities of pushing the country toward civil war and the international community of failing to stop government assaults.
“The Syrian citizens will do anything to get what is needed for their Defence as the international community is giving this regime one chance after the other,” he said.
US concerns grew over possible Israeli strikes on Iran, said Gary Thomas in a Voice of America report.
Talk of a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is again rumbling in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington. Israel is reported to be increasingly anxious about Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme and at least one U.S. official is reported to be warning that an Israeli attack is not far off.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak says the world is running out of time to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is reported to believe Israel could launch strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities within the next five months.
Iranian officials deny any intention to build nuclear weapons and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned Friday Iran will retaliate in full force if its nuclear facilities are attacked.
But there are differences between the U.S. and Israel over how to deal with the situation.
A 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran - the highest collective judgment of all U.S. intelligence agencies - said that while Iran was making technical advances, it had not yet committed to actually assembling nuclear weapons.
In a 2009 VOA interview, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta predicted Iran could have a nuclear bomb sometime between 2010 and 2015, but had not yet decided whether to take that final step.
"Well, our view is and our intelligence is that while they are proceeding to develop a nuclear capability in terms of power and low-grade uranium that there's still very much a debate going on within Iran as to whether they should proceed further," Panetta said at the time.
Iran Intelligence Revised
A revised intelligence estimate last year came to the same conclusion about Iran's nuclear programme, U.S. officials said.
"They (the Iranians) are certainly moving on that path, but we don't believe they've actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told a congressional committee on Tuesday.
But the view is very different in Jerusalem, where Iran's nuclear programme is seen as a threat to Israel's very existence.
Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, writing in the prestigious New York Times Magazine Jan. 25, quoted top officials in Jerusalem as saying that Israel could not wait much longer before striking Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iran has so far enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent purity. Experts say Iran would have to reach at least 90 percent to use it in a weapon.
"If Iran is indeed enriching to bomb grade - and I haven't seen anything suggesting that we know that they are or that we strongly suspect that they are - then they're that much closer to the proverbial one screw turn away (from a bomb)," Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the U.S. intelligence Council, told VOA this week.
"Uranium is the critical dimension, and in the time line that was laid out in the public portion of the 2007 estimate, we're in the window, the first half of this decade," Fingar added.
Washington Prefers Sanctions
The Obama administration is opposed to any military action against Iran at this time, and is instead counting on stiffer international sanctions against Iran's critical oil industry to force Tehran away from any weapons development.
Fingar backs that strategy, adding that a pre-emptive attack on Iran could backfire.
"If it's correct that Tehran has not yet made the decision to go for a bomb, attacking the facilities would seem to greatly increase the likelihood of rallying the (Iranian) public behind not just the nuclear programme and the government, but the need to have an independent deterrent capability, a nuclear deterrent capability," Fingar said.
Intelligence analysts say it is difficult to determine when Iran crosses the so-called "red line" into nuclear weapons production because so much of the technical work is "dual use" - usable for both military and peaceful purposes.
CIA Director David Petraeus told a congressional committee this week a key indicator would be if Iran begins enriching uranium to 90 percent purity.
"There's no commercial use for that arguably- in fact, not arguably," Petraeus said. "I think factually the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium that they have exceeds any requirement, for example, for the Tehran Research Reactor for the foreseeable future."
But while Washington has publicly spelled out its so-called "red line" on Iranian nuclear development, Israel has not.
Some U.S. officials worry that the "red line" for Israel may be when Iran moves key sections of its nuclear facilities to hardened underground sites out of the reach of missiles and bombs.
Whatever its threshold, Israeli Defence Minister Barak said this week Israel cannot wait until it is reached. "Whoever says later," Barak told a gathering of security experts, "may find out that 'later' is too late."
As if to emphasize his point for a Western audience, he switched from Hebrew to English for the phrase.
In a related development, Turkey too is trying to navigate the tricky sectarian divides of the Middle-East, says Dorian Jones in a report to Voice of America filed from Istanbul.
As Turkey increasingly tries to play the role of broker in Mideast diplomacy, there are concerns its conservative Muslim prime minister is pursuing a religious agenda. But in a speech this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied he is advocating regional policies along sectarian lines.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has worked in his decade-long leadership towards closer relations within the Middle East, especially among the two dominant sects of Islam Sunni and Shi'ite.
Turkish foreign policy expert Soli Ozel says though Turkey's Muslim population is overwhelmingly Sunni, the government has played the role of mediator between both Sunnis and Shi'ites across the region.
"Turkey tries to present itself as more of an ecumenical force than a sectarian force. Therefore, it wishes to be able to speak to all sides -- the Sunni, Shi'ia and Kurd alike, rather than take sides with the Sunnis. Because if it does that, then it will be part of the division between Shi'ia and Sunni, which is going to take this region to (an) even more hellish situation than exists today," Ozel said.
The Middle East is divided between followers of the Shi'ite and Sunni sects of Islam. Iran is the largest Shi'ite state, and the leadership of both Iraq and Syria are also Shi'ite.
Ankara in the last month has strongly criticized Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for what it says is a policy of targeting the country's Sunni minority. With Syria, Ankara has strongly opposed President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on the opposition, which is mainly Sunni.
Sinan Ulgen, a former senior Turkish diplomat and research fellow of the U.S.-based Carnegie Institute, says while the policies can be seen as supporting democracy in Syria and stability in Iraq, they are also viewed through the prism of religious sectarianism.
"There are reports coming out of the region essentially portraying Turkey, or accusing Turkey, of playing the Sunni card. And in this particular case, of course perception matters even more than reality," Ulgen noted.
Diplomatic tensions have been rising between Turkey and Iran, which until recently enjoyed close relations with Turkey. In addition to its opposition of Tehran's close ally, Syria, Turkey infuriated the Iranian leadership with a decision to deploy NATO radar as part of a missile defense system primarily aimed at Iran.
Still, in a speech to his deputies, Erdogan on Tuesday denied his government is following a sectarian agenda to support Sunni aims.
He said his government is neither against nor behind any sect, and that those who perceive its policies as interference should first look at themselves. He said Turkey does not discriminate and does not base its policies on what he called "artificial elements."
Erdogan also said his government is planning to organize a regional meeting of Sunni and Shi'ite leaders later this month aimed at defusing regional tensions.
Last month, Turkey offered to host an international gathering aimed at resolving growing tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program, which is suspected of being used to develop atomic weapons.
Researcher Ulgen says Ankara knows religious sectarianism could further destabilize the Middle East. "The polarization of sectarian tensions would essentially mean long years of instability in the region -- whether it's Iraq, whether it's Syria, whether it's Lebanon -- and these are very heterogeneous societies. And if sectarian tensions are on the rise, it's going to be much more difficult to bring and peace and stability to these societies," Ulgen stated.
Still, observers warn divisions in the Middle East are increasing along sectarian lines. And helping to resolve that divide poses a major diplomatic challenge to Turkey.
Meanwhile, in a report filed by Karen Parrish of the American Forces Press Service, US Defence Secretary Leon E Panetta has been quoted as saying thatNATO is serious about Afghanistan.
US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta said he will stress during this week’s NATO defence ministers conference that ongoing coalition commitment is essential to success in Afghanistan.
“One of the pillars of our strategy is to build on successful partnerships, and NATO is, without question, one of the most successful military alliances in history,” the secretary told reporters traveling with him to Brussels.
Panetta said ministers will discuss key issues such as funding for Afghanistan’s army and police forces, as well as carrying through the strategy agreed upon at the alliance’s November 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. The strategy calls for leading up to security transition to Afghan forces in 2014 and then consolidating the Afghan lead for security responsibility.
As the strategy outlines, Panetta said, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will shift during the final phase of transition to Afghan lead in mid-to-late 2013 from a primarily combat mission to a training and advisory role as Afghan forces take responsibility for security there.
“We’ve got to stick to the Lisbon strategy,” Panetta said. “The United States has a very strong commitment to Lisbon and to the strategy that was laid out there. What we want is for all of our partners to adhere to that strategy.”
Panetta said he understands French President Nikolas Sarkozy’s recent statement that he would remove French combat troops from Afghanistan after an Afghan soldier killed four French troops Jan. 20. While he was saddened at the loss of life, Panetta added, his understanding is that the French government still plans to contribute to ISAF, possibly with trainers.
“My hope is that at this ministerial, we can discuss this decision and hopefully bring [France] back into the Lisbon strategy so that we can all walk forward together,” he said.
ISAF efforts turned a corner in 2011, the secretary said, with lower levels of violence, a sustained ISAF effort targeting Taliban leaders and an Afghan army that “stepped up to the challenge” of assuming security in parts of the country.
“About 50 percent of the population of Afghanistan will now be under Afghan governance and security,” he said. “That’s an important step.”
Next year will be even more critical, Panetta noted, as Afghan forces take responsibility for the final, tougher areas in Afghanistan, while 2014 will involve “consolidating the transition, making sure those gains are, in fact, held.”
Panetta said President Barack Obama has made clear that U.S. troops will have an enduring presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 -- in counterterrorism and “train, advise and assist” roles, for example. No final decisions have been made about exact numbers or missions after 2014, he added.
The secretary said he will seek 1 billion euros in funding for Afghan army and police forces in discussions with his fellow defence ministers, and that he would like to expand the current funding pool to include more nations, such as Arab countries, Japan and South Korea.
“The key is to have a sufficient and sustainable [Afghan] force that can be there for the future,” Panetta said. “One of the things we’ll be discussing is the size that force should be, but a lot of that is going to be dependent on the funds.”
The secretary said another key message he brings to the ministerial conference is the strong and continuing U.S. commitment to Europe and to NATO. He added he hopes to encourage the alliance to adopt a strategy-based approach to future defence needs, as the United States did.
The recently released U.S. defence strategic guidance informs Defence Department planning for the military up to 2020, the secretary said, and “in many ways … NATO has to go through the same process, of looking forward and deciding what kind of force” it wants by the end of the decade.
DOD’s Joint Operational Access Concept, also released in recent weeks, stresses that U.S. forces must in the future operate and deploy quickly, across services and domains, and with an integrated attention to cyber and space threats along with sea, land and air operations.
In September, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen outlined his vision for NATO moving forward. “We must prioritize, we must specialise, and we must seek multinational solutions,” he said. “Taken together, this is what I call ‘smart defence.’”
Panetta acknowledged that budget pressures argue for combining defence capabilities within the alliance, but he told reporters that shedding vital programmes can be risky. “What I don’t want to see is ‘smart defence’ used as an excuse for not maintaining core capabilities,” the secretary said.
The danger in future crises is that a nation that opts out of the situation “could take an important capability with it that NATO may need,” he added.
Panetta said he also hopes to discuss future European engagement between U.S. and other NATO troops. Even after the Defence Department removes two of the Army’s brigade combat teams from Europe, he said, the region will host the world’s largest U.S. military presence, which will then be 37,000 troops.
A senior defence official said Panetta will meet tomorrow before the formal ministerial conference with representatives from ISAF troop-contributing nations, including non-NATO members Australia and Georgia. During the ministerial sessions, the secretary will confer with NATO ISAF member nations’ ministers, and will meet Feb. 3 with representatives of all 50 troop-contributing nations, the official said.
Ministers also will discuss operations in Kosovo, where Kosovo-Serbian clashes sparked through late last year, the official said.
“The ministers are going to review strategy and force posture … [and] make sure that we maintain sufficient capabilities there to deal with any renewed flare-up in tensions,” the official said.
In a despatch to Voice of America, Ayaz Gul claimed Pakistan has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan
Pakistan says it has no “hidden agenda” in Afghanistan and has rejected as “frivolous” allegations that it is supporting Afghan Taliban insurgents in their deadly attacks on NATO forces.
At the end of her day-long talks with Afghan officials in Kabul Wednesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters that her country wants peace and stability in Afghanistan, saying continued conflict in the neighbouring country is “a threat to the existence of Pakistan”.
She reiterated that her country is determined to support any Afghan-led effort aimed at establishing peace in the war-ravaged nation.
“We have to start engaging in the end of blame games. We have to evolve a cooperative approach which is there to deal with the common challenges that both the countries face," Khar said. "Let me also say quite clearly that Pakistan has no hidden agenda in Afghanistan.”
Following the talks with Foreign Minister Khar, President Hamid Karzai said his government recognized the “effective role Pakistan can play” in the Afghan peace process. The Afghan leader also noted that insecurity on both sides of the border has inflicted great harm to the people and progress of the two countries.
Khar’s visit coincided with the leak of a secret NATO report alleging that Taliban insurgents are targeting international forces in Afghanistan with the help of the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI.
The Pakistani minister dismissed the report, saying it can be disregarded "as a potentially strategic leak”.
“For me, this is old wine in an even older bottle. I don’t think these claims are new these claims have been made for many years. I think it will be important to look at the conversations which are taking place with the Taliban by many other important capitals of the world,” Khar stated.
Khar was referring to reported contacts between Taliban and American officials aimed at helping the insurgents to set up a political office in Qatar before the launch of peace negotiations.
President Karzai’s own efforts to engage in peace and reconciliation with the Taliban suffered a major blow late last year when a suicide bomber killed Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Afghan allegations that the assassination was planned in Pakistan undermined bilateral ties and foreign minister Khar’s visit to Kabul on Wednesday was aimed at helping repair the troubled relationship.
Nevertheless, leaked NATO reports indicated the exact oppositeaccording to the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] and London Times.
A classified NATO military report obtained in Afghanistan by news organizations says Pakistan's secret services are helping Taliban in directing attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The BBC and "The Times" newspaper in London quote the report as saying Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency is "intimately involved" with the Afghan insurgency.
The document alleges that Pakistan knows the locations of senior Taliban leaders and that "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly."
It also says the Taliban assume they will be able to retake control of Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw from the country -- a move scheduled to take place by the end of 2014.
The leaked report was prepared by the U.S. military at Bagram Air Base near Kabul and given to top NATO officers in December.
The BBC says it was based on materials obtained in 27,000 interrogations of more than 4,000 captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.
The BBC says the report quotes one senior Al-Qaeda detainee as saying "Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can't [expletive] on a tree in Kunar [Province in Afghanistan] without them watching. The Taliban are not Islam. The Taliban are Islamabad."
Claim Is 'Nothing New'
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has rejected the report as "frivolous," saying Islamabad "is committed to non-interference in Afghanistan."
But Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid -- a noted author on Taliban and Al-Qaeda militancy in the region -- told RFE/RL that there is nothing surprising in the claim that Taliban and other militants receive support from elements within Pakistan's intelligence services.
"It's very well known amongst NATO militaries [and] amongst the U.S. military," he said. "I was told by senior American generals that they approached [former U.S.] President [George W.] Bush and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld back in 2005 about the support that the Taliban were getting from Pakistan.
"But it was ignored by Bush at that time. So this is nothing new, I think, for anyone. But the fact that it should be leaked and that it should come in such language, I suppose, is going to create quite a furor."
U.S. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States has long been concerned about "ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks."
But Kirby said the U.S. Defence Department had not yet seen the document reported by the BBC and "The Times."
Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, confirmed the existence of the document. Nonetheless, Cummings said it was "a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions" -- and not a strategic assessment.
'A New Phase' In Cooperation
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined immediate comment on the report. But the accusations are expected to further strain ties between Western powers and Islamabad, which has long denied backing militant groups that seek to topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who arrived in Kabul on February 1 for a previously planned one-day visit, said Pakistan "can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak." She described the report as "old wine in an even older bottle."
Before the news reports about the leaked document, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said Khar's visit was aimed at opening a "new phase" in cooperation between the two countries.
Kabul has long accused Pakistan of interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs by helping Taliban insurgents.
But relations have been particularly poor since last September, when Aghan peace envoy and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated -- a killing that Kabul blamed on Pakistani spies.
Kabul says the bomber who killed Rabbani was a Pakistani and has accused Islamabad of hindering the investigation.
But Kabul also is seeking Pakistan's help to convince the Taliban's senior leadership -- known as the Quetta Shura -- to join peace talks in Saudi Arabia with members of the Afghan government.
On February 1, the Taliban denied reports that its leadership would soon meet in Saudi Arabia with Karzai's envoys.
Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban is "in the process of creating an understanding with the international community" through a liaison office in Qatar.
But he said the Taliban "has not reached the actual process of negotiation" with the United States or its allies. He said confidence measures must first be completed.
A senior official in Karzai's government said on January 30 that a meeting was planned in Saudi Arabia with "some" factions willing to join peace talks.
Saudi officials are reluctant to host the talks unless the Taliban renounces ties to Al-Qaeda.
Taliban Fighters Killed
News of the alleged leaked report came as Pakistan's military said warplanes killed up to 31 Taliban fighters in an attack on hideouts in the country's north-western tribal area.
Political administrators Wajid Khan and Amir Gul said bombing operations had taken place early on the morning of February 1 in the Orakzai and Kurram tribal areas.
A military official speaking under condition of anonymity said four hideouts in the Orakzai district used by supporters of Taliban commanders Mullah Tufan and Moheyuddin were destroyed.
The same official said Moheyuddin might have been killed in the bombing also.
The attacks come after fierce fighting in the Kurram district where Pakistani government troops and militants fought over a strategic mountaintop overlooking routes in Afghanistan.
Some 60 combatants were killed in that battle.
Voice of America in a different report said the surge of Afghan insider attacks are alarming US, NATO
A growing number of attacks by Afghan troops on U.S. and NATO forces are raising questions as Afghanistan prepares to take more responsibility for security.
NATO said a man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot and killed a coalition service member in southern Afghanistan, the same day U.S. lawmakers demanded better screening to prevent so-called insider attacks.
Afghan officials said the latest shooting took place in the Marjah district of Helmand province Tuesday, and the Afghan soldier claimed the death was an accident. But statistics show similar attacks have increased dramatically in recent years.
The U.S. Defence Department says of the more than 40 attacks by Afghan security personnel on American troops since 2007, 75 percent have taken place in just the past two years.
The chairman of the House of Representatives' Armed Service Committee says the vetting of Afghan security forces "has been tragically weak."
Republican Representative Howard (Buck) McKeon called for U.S. Defence officials to do more to screen out troops, police or Afghan security contractors who could pose a threat to American personnel. He also accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of complicating the situation by banning the use of foreign security contractors in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Brigadier General Stephen Townsend agreed more needs to be done, especially as U.S. troops will increasingly be embedded with Afghan forces as trainers and advisors. He said the U.S. military is increasing its use of biometric technology to prevent Afghans who could pose a threat from working with U.S. troops.
Deputy Assistant Defence Secretary David Sedney told the committee part of the reason for the jump in the number of attacks is the increasing success U.S. forces. He says that has made carrying out so-called "insider attacks" a higher priority for the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
U.S. data shows at least 60 percent of the attacks are motivated by personal issues.
U.S. officials say they are increasing the amount of training U.S. forces get to help them identify such personal issues - such as insults or slights - that could result in an "insider attack." They also say Afghan forces have started to train their security personnel on cultural differences that could cause friction.
Last week, France announced it was pulling its combat troops from Afghanistan a year early, in 2013, after an Afghan soldier killed four French troops during a training exercise in eastern Afghanistan on January 20.
Earlier this month, an Afghan soldier shot and killed an American service member in the south. And in December, an Afghan soldier opened fire and killed two members of the French Foreign Legion.
NATO officials have said such incidents are isolated cases.
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty’s Eugen Tomiuc explains the Drones.
U.S. President Barack Obama made a rare admission January 30 when he acknowledged that the United States’ has used unmanned aircraft -- known as "drones" -- to attack high-value terrorist targets on Pakistan’s territory.
What is a drone, exactly?
A drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is a pilotless plane which can be guided by remote control, or can navigate automatically based on pre-programmemed software.
What are drones used for?
Drones, which come in numerous shapes and sizes, have a wide range of potential civilian and scientific uses, including law-enforcement and industrial monitoring. But they are overwhelmingly used for military purposes, mainly for reconnaissance and combat operations.
Why have drones been in the news so much in recent years?
Drones have been developed for decades by various countries. They came to their recent military prominence due to two factors: (1) technological advances allowing unmanned flying objects to be accurately guided over large distances and (2) better intelligence gathering on the ground, which makes it possible to pinpoint and strike high-value military targets while keeping civilian casualties and other collateral damage as low as possible.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama began using them on a large scale against militants and Al-Qaeda terrorists in the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Based on unofficial accounts, 45 suspected U.S. drone strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal belt in 2009, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
Which countries manufacture, use, and export drones and how much do they cost?
Many countries are attempting to manufacture drones, but most of them are either technologically unsophisticated or are being used strictly for civilian purposes.
The United States and Israel are the two most important manufacturers of military drones.
The United States is both the largest producer and the most frequent user of the aircraft.
The U.S.-made Predator (which costs $4.5 million-$11 million per unit) or the larger, more expensive and more advanced Reaper ($30 million per unit) are the best-known UAVs.
The American military now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 some 10 years ago. The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones in the 2012 budget.
Israel was the first country which developed military drone technology after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, during which its air force sustained large losses.
It manufactures a wide array of drones, including one of the largest and most advanced models in the world -- the Heron TP Eitan, which costs an estimated $35 million.
With a wingspan of 26 meters it is the size of a Boeing 737 passenger jet and can reach an altitude of 12,000 meters.
It can also stay in the air for more than 20 consecutive hours -- making it possible for Israel to fly surveillance missions above Iran.
Israel is also a top drone exporter. Despite a recent deterioration in diplomatic relations with Israel, Turkey is reported to use Israeli-made drones in surveillance operations in northern Iraq.
Israel has reportedly sold components and technology for as many as 60 of its Orbiter 2M and Aerostar drones to Azerbaijan, one of Israel’s closest Muslim allies.
What operations have drones been used in recently?
Intelligence gathered by surveillance drones is reported to have played a crucial role in the success of the special forces’ killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
U.S. drones have been employed successfully against Islamic militants in Somalia, and Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
In two spectacular attacks, U.S. drones killed militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman, with two successive strikes in Yemen in September and October 2011.
Most recently U.S. officials have revealed that unarmed drones have been used to protect American diplomats, including those in Iraq.
In December 2011, Iran claimed to have brought down and captured a U.S. drone and rejected America’s request to return it.
However, it is not clear if and how Iran actually brought it down or if they are truly in possession of the wreckage.
What other countries are developing drones?
Iran claims to have successfully tested a long-range combat drone called the Karrar in 2010. According to Tehran, the aircraft is four meters long, and has a range of 1,000 km -- which puts it within striking range of Israel.
Nuclear archrivals Pakistan and India also say they are in possession of combat-capable drones, although it is unclear how developed or how efficient their UAVs are.
Many other countries, including world powers Russia and China, have been trying to manufacture deployable drones for a long time. But technological difficulties and a lack of accurate intelligence gathering capabilities imposes limits on the effectiveness of their use.
It is not just nation states that have shown an interest in drones. There have been unconfirmed reports that Hezbollah used a drone in the 2006 war in Lebanon. Al-Qaeda was also once reportedly looking into the possibility of using UAVs.
-- sourced and compiled by Southern Features