Gunmen kill fourth Afghan cleric
BBC News - Wednesday, 13 July, 2005
Suspected Taleban militants have shot dead a pro-government cleric in southern Afghanistan, the fourth such killing in the past two months. Maulvi Saleh Mohammad was shot by gunmen on a motorcycle in Lashkargar, the capital of Helmand province.
A leading cleric in Paktika province and two in Kandahar have also been killed in recent weeks. Separately, the US military said it had killed 17 suspected militants in two days of clashes in the south.
Maulvi Saleh Mohammad was the head of the powerful clerics' council, or ulema, in Helmand. No one has yet said they carried out the attack, but Haji Mohammed Wali, spokesman for the provincial governor, blamed Taleban fighters.
"He was on his way home from the mosque after prayers and he was shot and martyred by two gunmen on motorcycles," Mr Wali said. "The attackers fled the area."
The killing follows the murder of leading cleric Agha Jan and his wife in eastern Paktika province last Friday. On 3 July, Maulvi Mohammad Musbah was shot dead in Kandahar and in late May gunmen there killed another supporter of President Hamid Karzai, Maulvi Abdullah Fayaz.
Taleban spokesman Mullah Abdul Latif Hakimi said its fighters carried out the three attacks. On Wednesday, the US military said it had killed 17 suspected insurgents in two days of fighting in southern Zabul province.
Six more suspected militants were captured and 23 other people were being questioned, a US military statement said. The fighting took place in mountainous terrain close to where the US said it killed more than 70 suspected militants in fighting last month.
Violence linked to the Taleban has risen this year ahead of parliamentary elections in September. More than 500 people, most of them suspected militants, are estimated to have lost their lives in bloodshed in the south and east in the past four months.
Police officer killed, Taliban fighter arrested in Uruzgan
GHAZNI CITY, June 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): An Afghan police officer was killed and a Taliban fighter captured an overnight clash in the southern province of Uruzgan, officials said Wednesday.
Colonel Abdul Wadood, a senior highway police official in the Ghazni province, told Pajhwok Afghan News the fighting erupted after Taliban insurgents ambushed a convoy of the highway police near Tirin Kot city.
Gul Agha, a police official with the convoy, was killed and Taliban fighter Mullah Karim captured with a Kalashnikov and 10 remote-controlled bombs, Wadood concluded.
Two injured in rocket attack near Kandahar Airfield
July 13, 2005 - Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan - Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Two civilians working at Kandahar Airfield were wounded July 11 in a rocket attack. Both were treated at Kandahar Airfield hospital and were transported to Germany for continued treatment. They are in stable condition.
Four rockets landed around 4 a.m. U.S. forces launched a search of the area where the rockets are believed to have been launched from but were unable to locate the attackers. Both workers were employed by Kellogg, Brown and Root, a U.S. firm that provides logistical services to U.S. forces stationed abroad.
Wanted militant among six held in southern Afghanistan
KABUL, July 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Military officials claimed they had captured six suspected Taliban, including a most wanted militant, during raids in two districts of the violence-hit Kandahar province on Wednesday.
Mohammad Sarwar, deputy commander of the military corps No. 205, told Pajhwok Afghan News three militants were netted in Khakriz and two in the Arghandab district of the restive Kandahar – a stronghold of the ousted student militia. The military had claimed arresting two armed motorcyclists, believed to be Taliban, in Mesh district of the same province a week earlier.
Elsewhere in the country, police said a key Taliban official involved in attacking the government and US forces over the last three years, had been nabbed in the southeastern Paktia province.
Ghulam Nabi Salem, deputy police chief of the province, told this news agency Mullah Mohammad Anwar was arrested on Wednesday near his house in the Zurmat district. Soon after the arrest, he was handed over to the coalition forces for investigations.
Salem added the arrested militant was wanted to security forces in several cases. He could not be captured for being hiding in Pakistan and masterminding disruptive activities from across the border.
Theory of inside job in Afghan prison break
Kabul: Hundreds of US and Afghan troops backed by helicopters hunted yesterday for four alleged al-Qaeda militants who escaped from the heavily guarded prison at Bagram air base. Following the escape on Monday, the US military said it would conduct an investigation into the breakout.
"It is a very serious matter for us," Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry O'Hara said, asked if the escapees might have received inside help from guards. "We will carry out an investigation on the issue certainly."
The escape is the first known from the base and a serious embarrassment for the US military. Colonel O'Hara refused to identify the four men, referring to them as"dangerous enemy combatants".
But Afghan officials named the men as Abdullah Hashimi, a Syrian, Mahmoud Ahmad Mohammad, a Kuwaiti, Saudi Mahmoud Alfatahni, a Saudi Arabian, and Mohammad Hassan, a Libyan.
The US military provided Afghan security forces with photographs of the escapees, which showed bearded men in orange prison uniforms whose ages appeared to range from 20 to 40.
Afghan role for Australia forces
BBC News / Wednesday, 13 July, 2005
Australia is to send 150 special forces troops to Afghanistan by September to help counter increasing rebel attacks. Prime Minister John Howard said the deployment would begin in the run-up to Afghanistan's parliamentary elections and would last 12 months.
Canberra sent more than 1,500 troops to Afghanistan in 2001 but they were withdrawn the following year. The decision to send soldiers back followed requests for support from the Afghan government, Britain and the US.
"It's fair to say that the progress that's been made in the establishment of a legitimate government in Afghanistan has come under increasing attack and pressure from the Taleban in particular and some elements of al-Qaeda," Mr Howard told reporters.
Mr Howard did not say where the Australian troops would be based. But he said that at least some of them will be under the operational control of US forces, and correspondents say this suggests that they are likely to be deployed in southern or eastern Afghanistan, where a wave of violence has killed hundreds of people in recent months.
These regions have seen intensified clashes between US forces and insurgents who back the former Taleban regime, along with a string of attacks against Afghan security forces and prominent clerics who support the government.
Mr Howard said Canberra would also consider dispatching to Afghanistan up to 200 soldiers as part of a reconstruction team early in 2006. Australia currently has one engineer in Afghanistan involved in mine clearance.
The US-led coalition has some 18,000 troops pursuing remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaeda in southern and eastern Afghanistan, while Nato has a further 8,000 peacekeepers based in other parts of the country. Nato says it expects to temporarily increase its current force of around 8,000 troops by a further 2,000-3,000 to provide extra security ahead of the elections.
Belgian F-16 jets fly into Kabul for poll security
KABUL, July 12 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Four F-16 jets belonging to the Belgian contingent in the NATO-led multinational peacekeeping force deployed in Afghanistan flew into Kabul on Tuesday.
International Security Assistance Force's Air Force Commander Brigadier General D. Van Laethem said the aircraft would help boost security for the September elections. The jets could quickly reach the farthest sweeps of Afghanistan.
Earlier, the Dutch contingent chipped in with as many planes to strengthen the peacekeeping force's headquarters in Kabul. The four planes would be formally handed over to the ISAF command at a ceremony here on Thursday, Laethem said, adding they would remain in Afghanistan for six months.
There are currently 8,300 peacekeepers form different nations deployed to Afghanistan. NATO, US and Afghan forces are in a bid to secure the first post-Taliban parliamentary vote.
Afghan Drug-Fighting Efforts Failing-US Lawmakers
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
13 July 2005 -- U.S. lawmakers say Afghanistan's program to fight poppy trade appears to be on the brink of a failure. They told the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday that a failure would undermine work to stabilize the country and spread more drugs throughout the world. Administration officials acknowledged disappointment in the program so far, but asked for patience in the effort they said will be long term and expensive.
Nancy Powell, acting assistant secretary of state for the bureau of narcotics, told the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid that the administration is disappointed and deeply concerned by the results of the program.
The U.S. Congress last year allocated about 1,000 million dollars to fight Afghanistan's poppy trade but the crop is at record levels and this year is on track for another bumper crop.
Kabul concerned about refugee repatriation
LONDON, July 12 (IranMania) - Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali urged Iranian officials to consider the present critical situation in Afghanistan in their program to repatriate Afghan refugees.
Speaking to IRNA, Jalali lauded Tehran's full support for Kabul, particularly for the Afghan refugees living in Iran. He thanked the Iranian nation and government for their hospitality toward the Afghan nation during the past three decades.
The Afghan minister admitted that hosting Afghan refugees put an extra financial burden on Iran during these years. Jalali said about 1.5 million Afghan refugees are living in Iran while those in Pakistan number three million.
Afghan refugees in Iran are sent back to their country in accordance with a tripartite agreement signed in Geneva by representatives of Iran, Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees in April 2002 for the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees.
UN rules out 100pc refugee repatriation by year's end
PESHAWAR, July 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): The United Nations, apparently contradicting the statement of a Pakistani minister, has ruled out the repatriation of all refugees by the end of the current year.
The United Nations Higher Commissionaire for Refugees (UNHCR) Wednesday described 2005 as an ordinary year in terms of repatriation of Afghan refugees. This year, 400,000 refugees will return home.
Earlier, Pakistan's Minister for State and Frontier Regions Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind was reported as saying all Afghan refugees would be sent back to their homeland by the end of the year.
However, UNHCR spokesman in Islamabad Babar Baloch told Pajhwok Afghan News the SAFRON minister had been misquoted. He tended to explain the timeline reported by the media was inaccurate and unrealistic for achieving the goal of cent percent refugee repatriation.
"I myself was present at Rind's press conference, in which he spoke about the repatriation. The minister had said given the present scale and speed of repatriation process, 400,000 refugees will return home this year," Baloch added.
According to UNHCR estimates, three million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan, with more than 96,000 refugees returning home this year. Wajiha Afzal, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Peshawar, said the current repatriation pace indicated 400,000 Afghans would be repatriated till December 31.
Navy SEAL Is Protected by Afghan Villagers
ABC News 7/12/05
July 12, 2005 — Despite the most advanced training in the military, it is unlikely the Navy SEAL who was rescued in Afghanistan earlier this month would have survived had it not been for the kindness of Afghan villagers.
The SEAL, who is not being publicly identified by the military, had been missing for four days, after a fierce firefight with the Taliban that left his three other team members dead.
He survived the firefight because a rocket-propelled grenade knocked him off his feet when the gun battle began and sent him tumbling down a ravine. Later, one of the helicopters that came to rescue the team was shot out of the sky by the Taliban, killing the 16 special operations forces on board.
Wounded in the legs by shrapnel, the surviving SEAL hid in the mountainous terrain of eastern Afghanistan. He walked for miles through pouring rain and thick mud, according to a U.S. official. The soldier had no radio contact and his tracking beacon was not working. Ninety-six hours later, the SEAL encountered a local Afghan shepherd who took the American to the safety of his nearby village.
But the ordeal was far from over. The military official told ABC News that Taliban fighters sent word to the village that the American soldier be turned over to them, but the villagers refused. The Afghan man who had found the SEAL then got word to the U.S. military base at Asadabad that he was safe, and rescuers were then on the way retrieve him.
The missing SEAL was brought to safety on July 3. The bodies of two of his team members were found a few days later, and the body of the fourth was located just last weekend. And the Afghan man and his family have fled the village for fear of reprisal from the Taliban, according to an interview with the man in Time magazine.
Renovated bank, first in Kabul, opens
July 13, 2005 Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan - Coalition Press Information Center (Public Affairs)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan continues to march along the path to reconstruction as a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held July 7 for a newly renovated bank branch.
"This shines as yet another example of the many positive steps forward occurring in this great country," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher M. Nolta, a Coalition engineer and a liaison officer with the Afghan government.
It is the first opening of a renovated bank in Kabul province. Two more are scheduled for renovation. The bank is to be a government bank supporting the payrolls of government officials and employees such as the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, Nolta said.
"There have been a lot of issues in getting government workers paid due to the financial infrastructure in this country," Nolta said. "This bank's opening will make getting officials paid a lot easier, and that will increase the stability and security of this country in a big way."
More than 12,000 government workers will be able to cash their paychecks at this one branch alone, said Nolta. The building has undergone several renovations, including the installation of a bathroom, teller windows and a reinforced vault, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan.
The project cost $55,000 from the U.S. military's Commander's Emergency Response Program, which provides funds for projects that can help Afghans quickly.
Pak-Iran joint venture for Afghanistan
Daily Times (Pak) - July 12, 2005
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Iran are considering cooperation in a venture to develop the livestock sector in Afghanistan. The cooperation between the two countries will be undertaken from the platform of the Economic Coop-eration Organisation (ECO), a senior government official told Daily Times. He said Pakistan and Iran had the expertise to develop the livestock sector in Afghanistan which is a neighbour of both countries.
The ECO which comprises Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz-stan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan has been working to promote cooperation between the member countries to solve the numerous challenges facing the region.
The official said the ECO headquarters in Iran had informed the livestock authorities in Islamabad through the foreign ministry about a joint venture between Islamabad and Tehran in developing animal herds in Afghanistan where the consumption of meat is comparatively higher.
"We think Afghanistan's meat requirement is higher as Afghans prefer mutton and beef to vegetables," the official said. After viewing these estimates, the government of Pakistan is of the view that the meat shortage in Pakistan is caused by the alleged smuggling of animals into Afghanistan, the official said.
This also makes meat dearer in Pakistan which has already permitted the import of live animals from India. Meat prices have also been on the rise due to the shortage of animals, the official said.
Due to this factor, the government is of the view that both the formal and informal sector for animals be developed in Afghanistan to help Pakistan meet its meat requirements.
The official said the proposal sent from the ECO secretariat was being considered by the authorities concerned. The modalities for cooperation in this regard are being finalised, the offical added. The official said Pakistan had been facing a drought situation for the last few years which had adversely affected the livestock sector in the country.
This has resulted in a shortage of animals and has resulted in the prices of meat increasing to a record high, the official said. Pakistan has already finalised a new livestock policy.
"Every policy being made in Pakistan, which directly or indirectly refers to foodstuff has always been linked to food requirements in Afghanistan as Pakistan informally includes Afghanistan's wheat requirement in its national requirement, the official said.
He said the ECO proposal was encouraging as a developed animal sector would benefit Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan and Iran will look into how to increase the numbers of goats and sheep in Afghanistan which are largely looked after in traditional herds.
Since the recent rainfalls have removed the effects of drought in Afghanistan to a large extent, there is definitely a likelihood that people will again invest in livestock, the official said.
Illegal marble excavations in Faryab prompt calls for action
MAIMANA, July 13 (Pajhwok Afghan News): Residents of the Almar district in the northern Faryab province have asked the government to take effective measures to halt illegal excavations of marble by in the area.
They complained errant individuals were flouting relevant rules by using dynamites to excavate marbles, which often resulted in unwarranted wastage of the precious stones.
Haji Usman (60), a stone-cutter, told Pajhwok Afghan News on Wednesday special techniques and equipment were required for marbles excavations, but the use of explosives were causing a big loss to the reserves. He stressed action should be taken against the illegal miners.
Hujjatullah, another dweller of the district, described marble reserves as a huge asset, whose exports could fetch the government a handsome amount of foreign exchange.
Mohammad Asif, a mining engineer, said the red and white colour marbles were in great demand in Central Asia. He too underlined the imperative of official vigilance on the unlawful activities of greedy elements damaging mineral resources.
Approached for comments on the issue, Faryab's Deputy Governor Syed Ahmad Saeed said a special team had been organised to discourage illegal excavations in the district.
Meanwhile, an official of the provincial justice department said marble excavation was an unlawful act, which must be stopped. He called for the government to initiate steps for bringing the culprits to book.
The war-ravaged country has vast reserves of gas, copper, metal including gold and precious stones. But decades of conflict hampered exploration of these reserves on the one hand and influential warlords used the national wealth as their personal assets on the other.
Pakistan 'thwarted attack in UK'
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Islamabad provided information that had led to "some arrests". He also pledged Pakistan would provide any more useful information it had. The Home Office refused to comment. At least 52 people died in suspected suicide attacks in London on 7 July. Police believe at least three attackers were Britons of Pakistani descent.
Mr Sherpao was speaking at a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He said: "Before the general elections in the UK we received reports that this sort of situation might arise, and attacks were aborted because of information provided by the government of Pakistan, and arrests were made in various countries and here."
Mr Sherpao declined to give further details on the information provided. However, he added: "Whatever information, I don't want to be specific in this case because that would not be proper at this juncture, but whatever useful information that we have we will be providing to the British government."
The minister refused to comment on media reports that British authorities had sought access to a 25-year-old Briton arrested in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province, in May.
Pakistan's arrest of a computer expert with alleged al-Qaeda links in July last year was said to have provided information leading to a number of arrests in his own country and the United Kingdom.
Pakistani authorities said Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan was a key piece in the al-Qaeda jigsaw. British detectives believe three British men of Pakistani descent died carrying out the London attacks. If they are confirmed as suicide attacks, they would be the first of their kind in the UK.
A fourth suspected bomber has not yet been identified by police. British Muslim leaders have reacted with shock to the news that the bombers may have been British-born young people from their community. The Muslim Council of Britain's secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, said: "Nothing in Islam can ever justify the evil actions of the bombers.
Foul play in the Great Game
By M K Bhadrakumar / Asia Times Online / July 13, 2005
In a landmark speech at Johns Hopkins University in 1997, the then-US deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, said: "For the last several years, it has been fashionable to proclaim or at least to predict, a replay of the 'Great Game' in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The implication of course is that the driving dynamic of the region, fueled and lubricated by oil, will be the competition of great powers to the disadvantage of the people who live there.
"Our goal is to avoid and to actively discourage that atavistic outcome. In pondering and practicing the geopolitics of oil, let's make sure that we are thinking in terms appropriate to the 21st century and not the 19th century. Let's leave Rudyard Kipling and George McDonald Fraser where they belong - on the shelves of historical fiction. The Great Game, which starred Kipling's Kim and Fraser's Flashman, was very much of the zero-sum variety. What we want to help bring about is just the opposite, we want to see all responsible players in the Caucasus and Central Asia be winners."
The chancelleries in the region, and indeed all chroniclers of Central Asian politics, studied Talbott's speech with interest. Talbott's erudition as a scholar-diplomat in Russian language and literature, history and politics was worthy of the highest respect. Of course, the Bill Clinton presidency was at its high noon and it was the first time that US policy towards the "newly-independent states" of the Central Asian region had been spelt out authoritatively.
Yet, eight years on, precisely what Talbott was keen on avoiding seems to be unfolding in Central Asia. The geopolitics in Central Asia have lately begun to engender rivalries. The summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held in Astana on July 5-6 draws attention to it. The summit's call on the US-led "anti-terrorist coalition" to define a deadline on its military presence on the territory of SCO member countries is a strong signal. Washington tried to deflect SCO's call by claiming that it was guided by bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Thereupon, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry promptly clarified in a statement that no future scenarios of the US military contingent operating out of its territory had been envisaged under its bilateral agreement with Washington other than "the desire of Uzbekistan as a proactive member of the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan" - virtually echoing the SCO's call. Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva also joined issue with Washington: "All of us are part of the anti-terrorist coalition, including our country. However, there is a time limit for everybody who comes to stay somewhere. We are members of the SCO. We raised this issue together with other member states."
Despite these blunt Uzbek and Kyrgyz statements, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice parried at a press conference in Beijing on July 10. Rice said that it was for Afghanistan to decide on the presence of US troops and "there is still a fight going on in Afghanistan ... there is still a lot of terrorist activity in Afghanistan ... the terrorists still have to be defeated in Afghanistan ... and so it is our understanding that the people of Afghanistan want and need the help of US armed forces." Besides, Rice claimed that it was not a matter of US forces alone since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also had contingents in the region.
Just a day later, Kyrgyzstan gently but firmly nudged the discussion back to where it belonged. In his very first remarks on July 11 after his resounding victory in the Kyrgyz presidential election, Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev said politely but firmly: "Afghanistan has had presidential elections. The situation there has stabilized. So now we may begin discussing the necessity of US military forces' presence. When and how it will happen, time will show."
The "dialogue" between Washington and the Central Asian capitals is indeed becoming curiouser and curiouser. The "Tulip" revolution was supposed to have been Washington's finest hour in Central Asia. President George W Bush eloquently cited the "regime change" in Kyrgyzstan as an inspiration for all freedom-loving peoples - and as a vindication of his democracy project. Yet, it is no longer feasible to obfuscate the reality that Washington's influence in Bishkek has touched its nadir.
Bakiyev won on a platform offering "stability". His huge mandate tapped into people's fears about a recurrence of the upheavals that they twice witnessed in the recent months - in their own country and in next-door Andijan in Uzbekistan. Russia played a crucial role in bringing together Bakiyev and the prominent leader from the north, Felix Kulov, which became the winning ticket in the Kyrgyz election. Moscow is not hiding its joy in Bakiyev's victory. Washington's best hope now would lie in the Bakiyev-Kulov combine falling apart. That is a pretty thin hope to cling on to, after aspiring to be the kingmaker.
It is extraordinary that the US's prestige and influence as a superpower has plummeted dramatically in Central Asia in such a short span of time since October 2001- so much so that Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which used to be overtly keen to be friendly, have today become thoroughly disillusioned with Washington's regional policy. How could this have happened?
The fundamentals of the US policy in Central Asia as spelt out by Talbott eight years ago identified four dimensions: promotion of democracy; creation of free market economies; sponsorship of peace and cooperation within and among the countries of the region; and the integration of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus with the larger international community.
But what has changed is that the Bush administration has surreptitiously redefined the thrust of priorities towards the region in terms of its global policies. The result is that the US no longer has a policy intrinsic to the pressing demands of the transition economies in the Central Asian region - the substantive theme in Talbott's speech. Today everything has become relative in the US calculus - everything in Central Asia needs to be factored into the priorities of policy toward Russia or China. By "promotion of democracy", for example, Talbott envisioned a slow and gradual process of the US assisting Central Asian countries in evolving the "requisite institutions and attitudes" conducive for the growth of a democratic culture. He admitted candidly that this would be a long haul as "the very newness of democracy was itself a major obstacle to the process of democratization" in Central Asia.
There was, evidently, no scope for "color revolutions" in Talbott's scheme of things when he involved civil society in the Central Asian region and the Caucasus as the handmaiden of the democratization agenda. Again, with regard to the security dimension of US policy, Talbott emphasized American assistance in "the resolution of conflicts within and between countries and peoples in the region". Regional stability and reconciliation had a centrality in Talbott's policy framework, whereas they took a back seat in the Bush administration's priorities. Interestingly, Talbott pinpointed "internal instability and division" as having historically provided "a pretext for foreign intervention and adventurism" in the region.
Thus, though the US had profoundly differed from the Russian perspectives on the Tajik civil war (1992-96) and would have had some good reasons to work against the Tajik settlement in 1996 (put together by Russia and Iran), Talbott said, "The difficulties in implementation are sobering, but the recent accord provides a real opportunity for reconciliation, not only within Tajikistan, but with benefits for the surrounding countries as well."
In the period of the Clinton presidency, US prestige and influence in Central Asia peaked. The Bush administration, ironically, reaped a good harvest of this legacy. The openhearted welcome that Central Asian leaderships extended to the US military presence in their region in 2001 testifies to that. But the ease with which Washington squandered such enormous goodwill is appalling.
The "Rose" revolution in Georgia in December 2003 was the turning point. It usually takes 10 years' hindsight to cast an aspersion on current history, but a question is bound to come up: what, ultimately, has the US gained by deposing Eduard Shevardnadze? Do the gains outweigh the losses?
It was in Georgia that the cutting edge in the Bush administration's regional policy came into full view - aimed at dominating the region; establishing unilateral advantage over other powers no matter their legitimate interests; and, shepherding the region into a security architecture notionally headed by NATO but firmly under US command. Russia's Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and then-US secretary of state Colin Powell worked in tandem behind the scenes to ensure that the transfer of power from Shevardnadze to Mikheil Saakashvili did not degenerate into a Caucasian street brawl. (They had a similar compact in ensuring the transition in Baku from the late Hydar Aliyev to his son.) But once Saakashvili was safely ensconced in power in Tbilisi, Washington left Moscow high and dry. The "Rose" revolution showed that the Bush administration preferred to compartmentalize the relationship with Russia. This impacted on Russian policy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said recently, "We do not accept the attempts to place post-Soviet states before a false choice ... either with the US or with Russia. We are ready for cooperation on a basis of mutual consideration of interests ... We understand the West's objective interests in the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] space and only want that the methods of realization of these interests should also be understandable, transparent, that they would rest on the universally recognized rules of international law, and not infringe either on the rights of the peoples of the CIS countries to decide their future themselves, or on the lawful rights and interests of Russia in this space, where we want to develop equal, mutually beneficial cooperation with our neighbors."
Shevardnadze's fall sent shockwaves through Central Asia. He was an iconic figure, a tough veteran of Kremlin politics - by far senior to the CIS leaders in the Soviet hierarchy. And how Washington rubbished its old, time-tested ally ("Shevvy") was for Central Asian leaderships a morality play about the ephemeral nature of American friendships. Such betrayals do not look good in the Orient. The Central Asian leaderships began edging away from the US and closer toward Russia and China. In the face of this, the US response was to push for "regime change" in Central Asia as well. But the macabre events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in March and May this year had a totally unexpected outcome.
The indications are that a review of American policy toward Central Asia is underway in Washington. It cannot be a difficult exercise. It is easy to pinpoint when things go horribly wrong. A good starting point would be Talbott's prescient speech exactly eight years ago.
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian career diplomat who has served in Islamabad, Kabul, Tashkent and Moscow.
Intelligence Brief: Shanghai Cooperation Organization
PINR - July 12, 2005
Overshadowed in the Western press by the G8 summit of leading industrialized nations and the complications to it caused by the London transit bombings, another summit -- the July 5 meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan of the heads of government of the six members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (S.C.O.) -- promised to have greater geostrategic significance than the more widely reported events.
Created with its present membership of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2001, the origins of the S.C.O. date back to 1996 when Beijing initiated the Shanghai Five, which included all the current S.C.O. members except for Uzbekistan. The official purpose of the alliance, according to its founding declaration, is to form a comprehensive network of cooperation among the member states, including military security, economic development, trade and cultural exchange.
Translated into geostrategic terms, the S.C.O. arises from a confluence of interests among the major power centers of China and Russia, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, with the exception of Turkmenistan, which pursues a foreign policy of studied neutrality and isolation.
The overall strategic aim of the alliance for Beijing and Moscow is curbing Washington's influence in Central Asia in order to establish a joint sphere of influence there. For Beijing, the most important goal is to get a lock on the considerable energy resources of the region, but it also seeks markets for its goods, outlets for investment and collaboration against Islamist movements. Moscow has leagued with Beijing in order to restore some of its influence over its "near abroad." The regimes of the Central Asian states want support for their survival against opposition movements, economic development assistance and increased trade and investment.
Up until the June summit, the S.C.O.'s effectiveness as a strategic alliance had been limited by the reluctance of the Central Asian states to abandon their multi-directional foreign policies geared to gaining maximum advantage by playing off the West -- particularly the United States -- against the incipient Moscow-Beijing axis. The picture changed in 2004 and 2005 as the result of successful regime changes in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, and, most importantly, Kyrgyzstan, which awakened Central Asian leaders -- including the new regime in Kyrgyzstan, which faces determined opposition -- to their vulnerability.
Realizing that Washington and Brussels would prefer pro-Western market-oriented regimes to the authoritarian, clan-based and crony systems currently in place in the region, Central Asian leaders began to perceive that multi-directionality might be a luxury too expensive to afford, and moved towards casting their lots with Moscow and Beijing through the S.C.O., paving the way for the alliance to act for the first time with political effect. The key figure in the shift was Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who had faced Western censure for his violent suppression of an Islamist rebellion against his regime in the city of Andijan May 13-14, 2005.
Geopolitical Outcomes of the S.C.O. Summit - The path to the summit was smoothed and cleared by a meeting in Moscow between Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 1. Advancing their vision of geopolitical multipolarity, which includes removing or at least diminishing Washington's influence in Central Asia, the two leaders issued a joint declaration on "world order" rejecting efforts by any powers to achieve a "monopoly in world affairs," divide the world into "leaders and followers," and "impose models of social development" on other countries. The declaration was clearly aimed at perceived attempts by Washington at regime change that would establish a world of market democracies arbitrated by U.S. power.
With the Sino-Russian declaration setting its theme, the report issued at the end of the S.C.O. summit and signed by all participants included a clause rejecting attempts at "monopolizing or dominating international affairs" and insisting on "non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states."
Applying the general principle of non-interference specifically, the S.C.O. declaration called for a timetable to be set for the closure of U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan that support Washington's operations in Afghanistan, but are also elements of Washington's strategy of creating a permanent arc of bases spanning East Africa and East Asia. Following the summit, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement that the U.S. Khanabad airbase could serve no other purpose than support operations for the Afghan intervention: "Any other prospects for a U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan were not considered by the Uzbek side." Washington responded that were Tashkent to insist on closure of the Khanabad base, the U.S. had other options.
Satisfying Beijing's interests, the S.C.O. also became the first regional bloc to oppose the bid by Japan, Brazil, Germany and India to enlarge the United Nations Security Council's permanent membership. Calling for consensus on U.N. reforms after careful consultation, the S.C.O. declaration rejected deadlines for those reforms and early voting on draft proposals.
Despite the slap at New Delhi, India, along with Pakistan and Iran, sought and was granted observer status in the S.C.O., an acknowledgment of the organization's growing geostrategic importance. Joining Mongolia, the three new observers see the S.C.O. as a permanent presence that will increasingly affect their security and economic interests.
The Bottom Line - After an initial period of halting growth, the S.C.O. has emerged as an alliance serving as an effective vehicle for Beijing's and Moscow's geopolitical aims.
Look for the alliance to continue to further the interests of the Moscow-Beijing axis as long as those two power centers are careful to maintain their accord and the regimes in Central Asia depend on the axis for political support. As the S.C.O. grows in strength, Washington's influence in Central Asia will diminish.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein - The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations.
Army study: U.S. facing hard choices
By Michael Kilian Washington Bureau / Chicago Tribune / July 12, 2005
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has consistently rejected any contention that the Army is stretched too thin in fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a new Army study has concluded the service is so strained that the U.S. will soon "need to decide what military capabilities the Army should have and what risks may be prudent to assume."
Numerous critics and outside defense policy groups have warned that the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has taxed the Army so badly that it will have difficulty meeting any new crises elsewhere, but the new assessment comes from an in-house undertaking prepared by the RAND Corp.'s Arroyo Center, the Army's federally funded research institute.
"The challenge the Army faces is profound," senior RAND analyst Lynn Davis, lead author of the report, said in a statement accompanying the study. "Any approach is fraught with risks and uncertainties, along with significant costs and some possible changes in the Army's long-term goals."
Afghanistan deployment - Even as the Army was studying the report, it announced Monday that it is augmenting its troop strength in Afghanistan this month with a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division that just returned from Iraq in March. And the Army's latest monthly recruitment figures released Monday show the service and its reserve components likely will not meet recruitment goals for this fiscal year.
The report--"Stretched Thin: Army Forces for Sustained Operations"--was to have been released Monday, but a RAND spokeswoman said it had been postponed to allow "further review" by the Army. Nonetheless, Davis indicated the report raises significant questions about the Army's future and the burdens the Pentagon and taxpayers will have to bear to field adequate forces.
The study further calls into question the Pentagon's ability to carry out its policy of maintaining the capacity to fight two major regional wars simultaneously while also providing troops for national security at home and the war on terrorism.
This policy is being re-evaluated as the Pentagon prepares its congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review--a four-year survey of the military's status, resources, strategies and needs that must be submitted in February.
According to the RAND study, the strain on the Army is so great that combat units are spending one of every two years deployed on overseas battlefields, instead of one of every three years, as called for in troop deployment guidelines.
These frequent absences from the U.S. and the exposure to combat not only have a negative effect on recruiting but interfere with the Army's ability to train troops in new skills or have them available to deal with contingencies elsewhere.
The RAND report is expected to detail some possible solutions, though each carries a price. One would be increased use of the Army National Guard, though that service has been experiencing serious recruiting problems, and Guard units are supposed to be deployed overseas no more than one year out of six.
Another would be expanding the number of brigades in the Army and reserves, though that would cost billions of dollars beyond current appropriations.
Recruitment shortfall - On the recruiting front, with only three months to go in fiscal 2005, the Army is 40 percent short of its goal of recruiting about 80,000 new troops for the year. To meet that threshold, it would have to exceed its recruiting goals by an average of 2,600 individuals in each month.
In June it exceeded its monthly goal by 507 recruits--and the goal was just 5,650 new troops, the second-lowest total for the year. The Army failed to meet its recruiting goals in each of the preceding four months.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the Army's June recruiting figures "a bit of good news," though the same could not be said for the Army National Guard, which missed its 5,032 target by 695 recruits. Navy Reserve recruiting also was down, but that service is downsizing.
The 700-person 82nd Airborne detachment is being sent to Afghanistan to provide additional security for that country's National Assembly and provincial council elections scheduled for Sept. 18--a role the unit performed earlier this year in Iraq. Its mission is to permit offensive operations against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces while enhancing local security.
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