Gangs fighting in Karachi over drugs and patronage?

Bombs going off in Kabul today, and in Khybar agency. And signs of a major turf war in Pakistan. There are many law-abiding people in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is hard to envision the many internal issues getting resolved very soon. Below are some excepts from today’s Al Jazeera on the fighting in Karachi. Note that drugs are involved and political patronage. Does this imply that the drug industry in Pakistan and the political patronage system are connected?

Maybe we should be surprised, but we are not. Most of us cannot remember that there was a similar article last Aug 2, in which there was the statement:

> Over the years, criminal gangs have been used by political parties in a city-wide war for influence in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue.

Below are selected statements from the article in Al Jazeera. [click on the title for a link to the source article.] RLC

Karachi violence claims more lives: Escalating gang violence in Pakistani port city claims lives of at least 37 people in past 24 hours.

At least 37 people have been killed in Karachi in the past 24 hours in another outbreak of gang-related violence that has claimed hundreds of lives in Pakistan’s commercial capital and main port city.

… spats between rival gangs have intensified in recent weeks.

… a senior leader of Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was among those killed on Wednesday, ….

…The attacks happened as Karachi’s main party, the MQM, said it was rejoining the national PPP-led coalition government.

“Most of the killings have resulted from clashes between criminal gangs …,”.
“It’s not the kind of fighting that we saw last month; this is more of a gang war.”
But police said turf wars between gangs dealing in drugs and extortion rackets were by no means a new development in Lyari.

“These gangs regularly clash and kill members and supporters of rival groups,” ….
…. the killings were directly related to gang warfare conducted with the patronage of the country’s political elite.

Security officials say this is because the killers are being protected by senior politicians.

They say the violence is being used to stoke recently ignited ethnic passions both for political gains and as a means by criminal gangs to fight turf wars behind the facade of political activism.
“Everything boils down to politics,” said Hyder.

A city of more than 18 million, Karachi has a long history of violence, and ethnic, religious and sectarian disputes and political rows can often explode into battles engulfing entire neighbourhoods.
….

About 300 people were killed in July, making it one of the most deadliest months in almost two decades. Human rights groups say 800 have been killed since the start of the year.

Attacks against the Shia in Pakistan: From The Friday Times

The following is an article from The Friday Times [Lahore, Pakistan] that reveals some of the ugly features of Pakistan’s internal politics. This source used to be only available for a small fee but it is now free. Take advantage of it.
Consider what it means to live as a minority person in a place like this. But also consider what is entailed in being a journalist in this place. It takes courage to put your name on an article that calls a spade a spade in a place where there is little assurance that a journalist will be protected. Altogether 39 Pakistani journalists have been killed since the 1990s, the most recent being Salim Shahzad, who reported on the hypocrisy of the Pakistani government. RLC

Balochistan crisis: Sectarian groups continue to target the Persian-speaking Shia community, which is not sure if the state wants to protect it
By Zia Ur Rehman

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi behind Hazara killings in Quetta


Eleven people, including a woman, were killed on July 30 when gunmen opened fire on a passenger vehicle near Pishin bus stop in Quetta. All the victims were Hazaras. The incident sparked violent protests and Quetta was completely shut down on July 31.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years; they include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers.

This is not the first such attack on members of the Shia Persian-speaking Hazara community. On July 10, two Hazara policemen were shot and killed on Qambrani Road. On June 22, two people were killed and 11 others injured in Hazar Ganji area when armed men ambushed a bus carrying pilgrims to Iran.

Syed Abrar Hussain Shah, a former Olympian, deputy director of Pakistan Sports Board, and recipient of the prestigious presidential Pride of Performance and Sitara-e-Imtiaz medals, was gunned down on June 16 near Nawab Nauroz Khan Stadium in Quetta. Shah, who belonged to the Hazara community, has represented Pakistan in the Olympics thrice and won a gold medal at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.

In another sectarian attack near Mirgahi Khan Chowk on May 18, unidentified men shot dead seven members of the Hazara community, including a baby, and injured five others. Most of the killed were vegetable vendors.

Seven Hazara men were killed and several injured in a rocket and gun attack in Hazara Town on May 6. There were Frontier Constabulary and Police checkposts nearby, but the attackers fled.

Over 200 Shia Hazaras have been killed in Balochistan in the last three years, according to elders of Hazara tribe and media sources. They include businessmen, political leaders, government employees, clerics, police cadets, vegetable vendors, and daily-wage workers. Hazaras are identifiable because of their Mongoloid features.

A large number of Hazaras have also been killed in attacks on religious processions. Last year, over 80 Shias, most of them Hazaras, were killed in a bombing on a Shia procession on September 3.

“Members of our community have been targeted persistently for the last 10 years by sectarian outfits, especially the banned militant organisations Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP),” said Abdul Khaliq, chairman of Hazara Democratic Party.

LeJ has accepted responsibility of most of these attacks. A spokesman for the LeJ in Balochistan, who ironically identifies himself as Ali Sher Haidri, said his group would avenge the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by targeting not only government officials and security forces, but also Hazara Shias.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a “jihad” similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Handbills distributed in Quetta recently have warned the Hazaras of a “jihad” similar to the one carried out against the Hazaras of Afghanistan by the Taliban; the Taliban regime had killed 12,000 Hazaras in central Afghanistan.

The 3.5 million Hazaras in Balochistan are said to have migrated to Quetta from Afghanistan a century ago. In the 1990s, the Taliban massacred the community – the third largest in the country – killing thousands in Bamyan, Ghazni and parts of Uruzgan that later became the Daykundi province. They had accused the Hazaras of collaborating with the Afghan Northern Alliance (ANA) fighting the Taliban regime in Kabul. According to an Amnesty International report, about 12,000 Hazaras were killed in central Afghanistan by the Taliban.

“Hundreds of Pakistani young men from militant organisations including the SSP, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jundullah and Harkatul Mujahideen fought with the Taliban against the ANA,” said an expert on militancy who teaches at Balochistan University. “The same men are now killing the Hazaras in Balochistan.” He said the Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups accuse the community of colluding with the Americans and causing the downfall of the Taliban. Quetta is reportedly the new hub of the defeated Taliban factions, and has become a major site of expression of the hatred
towards the Hazaras.

The LeJ network in Quetta is being run by Usman Saifullah Kurd, Dawood Badini and Shafiqur Rind, a senior police official said. Kurd, who heads the LeJ in Balochistan, has trained a new group of killers who are carrying out attacks on the Hazaras, he said. Rind was arrested in 2003 from Mastung area of Balochistan while Kurd was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Unit in Karachi on June 22, 2006. Both fled from the Anti-Terrorist Force jail in Quetta on January 18, 2008. Rind was rearrested, but Kurd is still at large.

A source in the SSP said Kurd had recently met Malik Ishaq, a founding member of the LeJ, in Rahim Yar Khan and invited him to visit Quetta to address the banned SSP’s public meetings.

Ishaq, accused of having masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 from behind the bars, was recently released by the Supreme Court after 14 years in prison.

The Hazara community had expressed concerns over his release. “The courts are releasing top leaders of banned organisations, and that shows these groups are getting stronger once again,” said a Hazara religious scholar.

According to the Hazara Democratic Party chairman, Kurd’s escape from jail was proof that these groups have inside support. He said the government claims to have arrested the attackers in all the cases, but they are never brought before the court or the public.

“The government has failed to tackle sectarian violence and protect the Hazara community,” Khailq said, whose predecessor Hussain Ali Yousafi was also killed for being a Hazara in 2009.

Hazara elders believe intelligence agencies know about the activities of banned outfits and the whereabouts of their leaders, who simply operate under new names. They believe the state is either indifferent or supporting them.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights.
He can be contacted at zia_red@hotmail.com

Sobering news from Pakistan. A low-grade war in Karachi – or in all of Pakistan?

The news from Pakistan is worrisome. We have already noted how badly things have been moving there for many years, with signs of the price the Pakistan people are paying for a double-minded administration. The latest evidence is the fighting in Karachi. Here are some quotes from the Al Jazeera article [8/2/11].

Karachi violence leaves 34 dead in single day: Interior minister vows to restore peace after at least 34 people are killed and 90 vehicles burnt over 24-hour period.
02 Aug 2011 16:14

Dozens of people were killed and scores of vehicles burned in Karachi in the latest violence on Tuesday [EPA]

> 34 people have been killed in the past 24 hours.

> at least 18 of the killings targeted political activists,

. . .

> The latest round of violence has been attributed to a fight for political influence in the city between Karachi’s main parties, Tyab said.

> police say about 200 people were killed in last month alone,

> Local media put the toll even higher, with the Dawn newspaper reporting that 318 people were killed during the month.

> in Orangi, Karachi’s largest and one of its poorest slums… More than 100 people were killed during three days of violence in the slum [recently].

> violence has since spread to other parts of the city of more than 18 million.

> On Monday, at least 90 vehicles were set ablaze in different parts of the city.

> In one incident, at least 80 motorcycles were burnt when dozens of people stormed a textile factory late on Monday and set fire to the vehicles parked outside the industrial unit.

> Over the years, criminal gangs have been used by political parties in a city-wide war for influence in Karachi, which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue.

> criminal elements were “exploit[ing] the breakdown of law and order”.

> “While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order, they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups and it is they who hold the key to peace”.

> the political parties in Pakistan have been exploiting the divisions that exist in this city … and often they will turn to the underworld, the criminals, to carry out their dirty work,” he said.

> The HRCP had previously said that 1,138 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of 2011, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Siddique on the corrosive power of politics on Pakistan’s military

Abubakar Siddique of Radio Free Europe has a great statement of the problem with Pakistan’s military: It has long been not only rich [holding land, many companies, large trust funds, investment funds, etc.] but also politically entrenched. The combination of wealth and political power is corrosive everywhere. Siddique describes the extant problem [see also Tariq Ali, “The color Khaki”]. RLC

Radio Free Europe: Feature article
Pakistan: Armed With Power, Perks, And Privileges
June 04, 2011
By Abubakar Siddique

It has been a turbulent month for the Pakistani military.

First came the May 2 killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, on Pakistani soil, by American commandos. The raid led to questions of how the Al-Qaeda leader could find a safe haven alongside Pakistan’s elite military training academy, and how such a raid could be successfully carried out unbeknownst to the armed forces.

Then came the deadly insurgent attack on a naval base in Karachi on May 22-23, which took 16 hours to contain and which resulted in the death of at least 10 military personnel and four militants. Eyebrows were raised over how the armed services could fail to protect a key military installation.

Capping off the month was the kidnapping on May 29 of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. His abduction in the capital came shortly after he had written an investigative piece alleging that the Karachi attack stemmed from a breakdown in secret negotiations between the navy and Al-Qaeda.

There have been allegations that journalist Syed Salim Shahzad was tortured and killed by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency.
Days after Shahzad warned that he had received threats because of his report, his tortured body was discovered far from the capital. Suspicions turned toward the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, considered an integral part of what Pakistanis refer to as the “military establishment.”

Human rights campaigners and journalists are clamoring for investigations into Shahzad’s death as well as reports he had been threatened by the ISI, which the intelligence agency denies.

An Old Debate Rekindled

It is far from open season on the military, which takes the lion’s share of foreign aid, possesses enormous wealth, and has dominated political and economic life in Pakistan for decades.

But lawmakers, the media, and the public have now become emboldened enough to rekindle an old debate about the considerable perks and privileges enjoyed by the country’s powerful military.

Why, they ask, are immense resources being used to prop up bloated security institutions while a growing and impoverished population is left wanting?

The grumbling can be expected to get louder in the coming days.

“There are a lot of questions about where the resources are going,” says Islamabad-based author and journalist Zahid Hussain, who asks “whether the huge military budgets are properly utilized?

“There are also questions about the…military’s own professionalism,” he says. “Professionalism in dealing with this kind of situation. Particularly, there are questions about the army running other businesses and not concentrating on their professional duties.”

These are the type of questions that Hussain has suffered personally for asking in the past.

In a 2002 article for “Newsweek” magazine, he documented how the Pakistani military had carved out a corporate and real-estate empire that gave the then-ruling generals enormous wealth, power, and advantages.

‘Military Generals Play Golf All The Time’

In response, Hussain was banned for years from covering the press conferences of President General Pervez Musharraf, who held office from 1999-2008.

Others have suffered more for going against the grain in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation, which has been ruled by military dictators — Musharraf being the last — for more than 30 of the years since its founding in 1947.

Sixty-year-old Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir has spent most of her life campaigning for the rights of religious minorities and landless farm workers effectively bound to a life of modern-day slavery.

Her work has placed her in direct opposition to the military’s dominance of the Pakistan’s decision-making process. For this she has been imprisoned and placed under house arrest.

Peaceful demonstrations she has orchestrated have been met with harsh police violence, and her family’s businesses have suffered as her patriotism has been questioned.

Nevertheless, Jahangir continues to be one of the most vocal public voices questioning the perks enjoyed by the military.

“These military generals play golf all the time,” she said on a popular night-time talk show on May 26. “And then they talk about where they will get plots [of land]. Please tell me how a marriage hall can operate in a sensitive [military] installation such as the [naval base] that was attacked in Karachi recently. Have you heard this happening anywhere else?”

An Immense Economic Machine

Jahangir’s comments have attracted angry press statements and letters to the editor from former senior military officers, as have more subdued criticisms lodged on other TV talk shows and newspaper columns.

It will take a lot more than public questioning to put a dent in the military’s immense economic machine, however.

Under the country’s annual budget released on June 3, the military gets a major slice of the pie — about 25 percent. Healthcare and education, by contrast, receive only a sliver — less than 5 percent combined.

. . . [For more, click on the title above]

The ISI had been threatening the journalist that turned up dead and mutilated

Now it comes out that the ISI had threatened Saleem Shahzad, bureau chief of Asia Times Online, several times. He disappeared and his body showed up on May 31 badly mutilated. He was not only killed but tortured. Shahzad was of course a Pakistani citizen who of course should have been protected by the ISI; that the organization threatened him was reason for him to share some of the evidence with others who now have brought it into the open. Would we expect whoever did this to admit to have brutalized a journalist for not revealing his sources? It is no surprise that the ISI has denied it. RLC

04 Jun 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com
Why the ISI is Lying By Hameed Haroon
It has come to my notice that a spokesman of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while speaking to the official national news agency in Islamabad yesterday has questioned the “baseless allegations” levelled by Human Rights Watch on the basis of an email from Saleem Shahzad, the bureau chief of the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, in their possession. Shahzad was murdered three days ago near Islamabad after being abducted by unknown persons.
I wish to state on record that the email in the possession of Mr Ali Dayan, the monitor for Human Rights Watch (HRW) stationed in, Lahore Pakistan, is indeed one of the three identical emails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW, his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself. I also wish to verify that allegations levied by HRW at the ISI are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalist’s email.
In their denial issued Wednesday, an anonymous spokesman from the ISI has questioned the “baseless allegation” levelled against ISI by Mr Dayan of HRW. I wish to state on the record for the information of the officers involved in investigating journalist Saleem Shahzad’s gruesome murder that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad’s last testimony. Mr Shahzad’s purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat. The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr Shahzad by email with me, tersely phrased as “for the record”, at precisely 4:11am on October 18, 2010, wherein he recounted the details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad between the director general-media wing (ISI), Rear-Admiral Adnan Nazir, with the deputy director general of the media wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, also being present.
The ostensible agenda for this meeting was the subject of Mr Shahzads’s story in Asia Times Online with respect to the Pakistan government freeing of senior Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Baraadar. Mr Shahzad informed the senior officials that the story was leaked by an intelligence channel in Pakistan, and confirmed thereafter by the “most credible Taliban source”. The senior officials present suggested to Mr Shahzad that he officially deny the story, which he refused to do, terming the official’s demand as “impractical”.
The senior intelligence official was “curious” to identify the source of Mr Shahzad’s story claiming it to be a “shame” that such a leak should occur from the offices of a high profile intelligence service. Mr Shahzad additionally stated that the rear-admiral offered him some information, ostensibly “as a favour “ in the following words: “We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, diaries and other materials during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name on the list I will certainly let you know.” Mr Shahzad subsequently confirmed to me in a conversation that he not only interpreted this conversation as a veiled threat to his person, he also informed me that he let an official from the ISI know soon thereafter that he intended to share the content of this threat with his colleagues. ….
Source: The Indian Express URL: http://newageislam.com/NewAgeIslamWarOnTerror_1.aspx?ArticleID=4774

[For more click on the title above]

I realize that Manvendra Singh is an Indian criticizing a Pakistani organization, but he has described the real reason for this crime well:
Last Updated : 05 Jun 2011 10:53:28 AM IST

Saleem Shahzad was killed because his writings affected the image-building of an institution that is being devoured from within. His writings didn’t affect the image of the militants of Al-Qaeda or the various shades of the Taliban. The truth didn’t hurt them one bit. Rather it only exposed their infiltration of the armed forces, for which the militants groups are not in the least bit sorry. His writings irritated only the image-makers of the Pakistani military ‘establishment’. For their well-cultivated image of being in control of the destinies of the institutions as well as that of the country has taken a serious beating. . . . Establishments and governments don’t like the truth as news items, discussion points, power presentations etc. They know the truth well, but like it concealed from the public conversations.

[For the source, go to Establishment paranoia and Shahzad’s murder
http://expressbuzz.com/opinion/op-ed/establishment-paranoia-and-shahzad%E2%80%99s-murder/281206.html

The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad: Pakistan’s intelligence service is implicated

Many journalists have been killed in Pakistan, so the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad can be considered more of what we have seen there for so many years. It was only last year that Pakistan was declared the most dangerous country on earth for journalists. But what makes his murder so much more heinous is that he was last seen in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. This is an outfit that Shahzad’s research could never trust because he was trying to declare to the world what the ISI and other secretive elements of the government were doing. That he died in their hands reveals what they are: A brutal gang all their own; as some have said, “A state within a state.” Note that it was not enough to silence him; not enough to kill him: they had to brutalize him, pulverize his body. Such is in store for anyone who want to reveal what the ISI is doing.

Is the pen really mightier than the sword? I would hope so. I deeply admire the courage of many Pakistani journalists who continue to describe the world as they find it, in a country so threatening to those who would purvey the truth as they as they best can. It’s a dangerous place and what they do is a dangerous game. It is easy to criticize journalism, especially in retrospect, but at least such courageous people are out there, digging around to find out what is really happening, not just what those in power want tell the world in their own interest.

We grieve not only for Mr. Shahzad and his family, but also for the many other journalists who must be terrified by his murder. And we grieve for the Pakistani people. No one deserves the kind of government they have. I have despaired of writing one more time that Pakistan is the most dangerous place on earth. Its government is inept, weak, subject to the intimidating pressures of its own military-industrial complex, which is notoriously duplicitous. The Pakistani people don’t deserve such leadership, and yet they continue to be endlessly subjected to it; to a misinformed – no, a deliberately dis-informing – government.

And what hope is there for a realistic and fair solution to the Afghanistan war as long as this Pakistan regime has an influence on the issue?

Some links to recent reports:
Carlotta Gall in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/world/asia/01pakistan.html?_r=1&ref=carlottagall
Pakistani Journalist Who Covered Security and Terrorism Is Found Dead.
A well-known Pakistani journalist has been found dead after being abducted over the weekend in an upscale neighborhood here and receiving repeated threats from Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. … He disappeared Sunday evening in the center of this capital just two days after writing an article suggesting that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force. Pakistan’s armed forces, specifically the navy, have been highly embarrassed by the 16-hour battle that ensued at the base when six attackers climbed over a wall and blew up two American-made naval surveillance planes. Ten people were killed in the attack, and American and Chinese technicians working on the base only narrowly escaped injury as they were driven out through a hail of bullets. … Coming soon after the American raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden, which caught the Pakistani Army and Air Force flat-footed, the attack on the naval base has shocked the entire country. The armed forces chiefs have been deeply angered by the humiliation they have suffered from both episodes, and in particular the many questions raised about their competence by Pakistan’s increasingly rambunctious news media. . . .

Al Jazeera: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2011/06/20116124216513177.html
… Syed Saleem Shahzad had earlier told a rights activist he had been threatened by the country’s intelligence agencies. He was found dead on Tuesday, and police said his body showed signs of torture. Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency. “He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance,” he told Reuters news agency. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Human Rights Watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible.” … His death underscores the dangers of reporting in Pakistan, which in 2010 was called the deadliest country for journalists.

Foreign Policy Online: http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/06/01/daily_brief_pakistani_journalist_found_tortured_murdered_0
Pakistani police yesterday found the body of kidnapped journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in a canal in the Mandi Bahauddir area of Gujarat district southeast of the capital Islamabad, from where Shahzad had been kidnapped on his way to a TV interview nearly two days before (NYT, ET, Tel, LAT, BBC, Reuters, Daily Times, WSJ, AJE, AFP). Shahzad’s body reportedly bore extensive signs of torture, including broken ribs and wounds to his face, abdomen and internal organs (AFP). He was buried today in Karachi, his hometown (AP). Suspicion for the kidnapping and killing has fallen on Pakistan’s intelligence services, who according to Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan had threatened Shahzad as recently as last October (Post, Reuters, The News). Hasan told reporters Monday that he had been able to confirm through anonymous sources that Shahzad was in the custody of the intelligence services (NYT). Shahzad wrote a story Friday for the Asia Times alleging that al-Qaeda was responsible for last week’s attack on a Pakistani naval base after Shahzad said navy officials refused to release sailors arrested for their alleged links to al-Qaeda.

Khalil Nouri’s new article: An illustration of strategic change in Eurasian relations

A new article by Khalil Nouri in the HuffingtonPost illustrates how integrated are the issues in Afghanistan and the wider region of Central Asia. Locally the to-and-fro of negotiation is between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the interests of the respective parties actually include China, India, Russia, and of course the United States. Not much will happen without those and other parties engaging in the discussions. Afghanistan and its neighbors, once isolated and marginal to the current of world affairs, now commands a prominent place in world concerns. A civil war that is a surrogate international war; nuclear arsenals in the region; vitally needed reserves of gas, oil, and vital minerals; transport lines and pipelines that must remain open if the great populations centers of the world are to be supplied — these issues force the interests of the Eurasian powers to converge in Central Asia.

But in a sense there is no “Central Asia” without the wider configuration of nations whose interests now clash in this region as well as a few key places elsewhere. The Indian Ocean, the Gulf, Iran, East Asia, eastern Africa — these regions are likewise involved in the concerns of Central Asians.

I repeat myself on the pace of world change, but the process seems so awesome, as the emergence of new situations generates a plethora of unforeseeable possibilities. Crucial to this process is the ever-faster pace of technological development. The technologies of communication and transport are enabling social interchanges to trip relays of influence and interest all around the world, at an ever faster pace. New localities take on significances they have never had before, or at least not for a long time. This is the relevance of these developments for Central Asia. What was formerly marginal is now becoming more fully engaged with other places and peoples — and in certain respects becoming inescapably crucial to whatever happens next. [For a link to the source of the Nouri article click on the title above.]

A Paradigm Shift on the Chessboard of the Afghan “Great Game”
Khalil Nouri.
HUFFPOST: Posted: 05/17/11 12:29 PM ET
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/khalil-nouri/afghanistan-pakistan_b_862292.html?view=print

Ever since Pakistan began lobbying against Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai’s efforts to build a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him to look to Pakistan instead — and its Chinese ally — for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the Afghan economy, it was perceived to be Pakistan calling the shots for a new move on the chessboard of the Great Game.
However, despite how attractive that move may seem to them, it cannot come to fruition when few to even none of the players will consent to an all Afghan initiative; but in actuality, they are keeping the Afghan majority at bay from asserting their desire for such a plan. That said, this Pakistani rush to stack the deck in their favor in Afghanistan will fail due to the fact that there can only be one legitimate way to obtain stability in Afghanistan; through an all Afghan national ratification of a reconciliation process put forth for a genuine endgame to this decades-old grinding war in Afghanistan.
Subsequent to Pakistan’s clandestine call in Kabul, the Kremlin announced a three-day official visit by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to Russia at the invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev. This was scheduled ahead of Zardari’s trip to Washington, which has already been postponed; and now seems quite unlikely to take place anytime in the near future. Meanwhile, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul was immediately sent to Beijing for a quick rendezvous with his Chinese counterpart. And, thereafter, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was due to arrive in Moscow last Thursday on an official visit.
It seems, by all appearances, that this quartet is attempting to make strides towards an effort to introduce a model initiative initially engineered by Pakistan’s craving for a prime leadership status in Afghanistan’s forthcoming endgame.
However, in the wake of the May 2 killing of Osama Bin Laden and the Great Game players’ interlaced stopovers in Moscow and Beijing, along comes another keen contestant in the game, but a solitary one; the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must nowconsider steps to advance his partnership cajolement with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.
These interwoven trips are all a push for strategic positioning by the aforementioned Great Game playing quartet in a post U.S. troop drawdown environment starting in July 2011 and ending in 2014. It also boils down to acrimoniously preventing a long term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan, as the frontrunner to this antagonism, seeks to legitimize this notion where all parties have yet to give their endorsements. On the other hand, the underrepresented by majority, inept and weak government of Hamid Karzai who seems to have grown closer to Pakistan over the last year, cannot weather an outcome where all the key players have the decisive upper hand in this Great Game. Therefore, Karzai, whether he likes it or not, will have to abide by any outcome dictated to him by the major players. ….

[For more, click on the title above.]

Pakistan’s nuclear race

I have cried “Wolf!” so many times about Pakistan that it’s not worth saying any more. How many times can you say, “This is dangerous!” and still have anyone pay attention?

Thankfully, Andrew Bust of Newsweek has said it so well that it has to be interesting. Pakistan’s nuclear activity is another terrifying reality — besides what is known about its duplicitous participation in the activities of the Taliban/Al Qaeda:

At a moment of unprecedented misgiving between Washington and Islamabad, new evidence suggests that Pakistan’s nuclear program is barreling ahead at a furious clip.

Pakistan is aggressively accelerating construction at the Khushab nuclear site, about 140 miles south of Islamabad. The images, analysts say, prove Pakistan will soon have a fourth operational reactor, greatly expanding plutonium production for its nuclear-weapons program.

It’s dangerous because Pakistan is also stockpiling fissile material, or bomb fuel. Since Islamabad can mine uranium on its own territory and has decades of enrichment know-how—beginning with the work of nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan—the potential for production is significant.

[An] official who works on nuclear issues told Newsweek that intelligence estimates suggest Pakistan has already developed enough fissile material to produce more than 100 warheads and manufacture between eight and 20 weapons a year. “There’s no question,” the official says, “it’s the fastest-growing program in the world.”

Nukes, after all, are a valuable political tool, ensuring continued economic aid from the United States and Europe. “Pakistan knows it can outstare” the West, says Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy. “It’s confident the West knows that Pakistan’s collapse is too big a price to pay, so the bailout is there in perpetuity. It’s the one thing we’ve been successful at.”

Raymond Davis Affair and the Plot against Osama Bin Laden

My student Fahim has been saying all along that there was something strange about the Raymond Davis affair. No one really believed that the reason he shot the two men following him in Lahore on January 27 was because they were trying to rob him, as he claimed. There were more reasons to ask questions once it became known that the two men were with the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service. Fahim repeatedly said that there had to be something more to the affair than the public was being told.

If so, we may never know. Whatever the reason, Davis made sure that both of the men were dead — he shot them in the back as they were fleeing and then went back to put more bullets into one of them who seemed still to be alive.

But now we may have an additional piece of relevant information: for many months the Americans were planning an attack on a location they supposed was Osama Bin Laden’s hiding place. The raid on the Bin Laden compound was planned with utmost secrecy. Now that it has been pulled off, with impressive speed and efficiency, we wonder: Could Davis have been protecting information critical to the plot against Osama? Was that why he took such pains to exterminate his ISI pursuers?

We of course will never know. This is pure speculation. Even so, it is hard to deny Fahim’s point: Davis was up to something important; his behavior makes little sense unless something else was at stake.

One issue is evidently beyond speculation, as many have noted: Pakistan’s military should be embarrassed: They were either incompetent or in cahoots with Bin Laden, one or the other. It’s hard not to believe that they were aware of his presence in their midst — how could they not have been protecting him?

But whatever one might speculate, Fahim seems to have it right: Davis was protecting the critical plot to attack Osama Bin Laden.

Afghanistan – Pakistan talks. Reason for optimism?

I know I should know better, but the news that the Pakistanis and Afghans are talking separately, without the direct involvement of the Americans or [apparently] anyone else encourages me. What we know is that both governments are frustrated with the Americans. When both countries signal a desire to talk we wonder if they have reached a point of fatigue with the war and are ready address their concerns with a new seriousness. That key leaders of the Pakistani military are involved is significant, because we know they are disgusted with the Americans and trying to get them out. Can their talks with the Afghans indicate that they are fed up enough to curtail their support for the Taliban?

I would like to suppose that they are now trying to address certain inescapable realities: that the war benefits neither country while it nourishes radical elements that neither government can tolerate and at the same time prosper; also that opportunities await a time of peace, when the material benefits of strategic location and their respective resource bases could be realizes.

Years ago in a discussion among old hands at civil war elsewhere I heard someone say that such wars only end when everyone is tired of war and want to try something else. I would like to believe that both sides – even the Pakistanis, even the Taliban – would like to try something else. In the case of Afghanistan, war has been virtually continuous for two generations; in the case of Pakistan the practice of cultivating holy war fighters for a fruitless war against India has created an incendiary situation inside the country.

It may be wishful thinking, but I would like to hope so.

Below is a portion of the AP report on their meetings:

Pakistan says it firmly backs Taliban peace talks
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Sat Apr 16, 1:31 pm ET
KABUL, Afghanistan – Pakistan stands strongly behind efforts to make peace with the Taliban and that while the U.S. will play a role in any reconciliation, Kabul should set the parameters for any talks to end the war, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani said Saturday.
At a news conference, Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said a new Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials is being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process.
Any solution to the war requires the support of Pakistan, and in particular elements of its security forces, which are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan.
Gilani, army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and spy chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and other officials flew to Kabul at a time when U.S. relations with both nations are deeply strained. Having the trio of Pakistan’s power elite at the Afghan presidential palace at the same time underscored the importance of the daylong round of talks.
“We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership,” Gilani said. “It is for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped.”
The U.S. backs reconciliation efforts, saying that it is willing to negotiate with members of the Taliban who renounce violence, sever ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network and accepts the Afghan constitution. It’s unclear whether the U.S. currently sees these as preconditions to talks or desired outcomes. But Gilani said that “conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful.”
“Is the U.S. on board?” he asked, repeating a reporter’s question. “Yes, the U.S. is on board and whatever will be decided will be decided between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States.”
Gilani stressed solidarity between the two nations, which share a 1,500-mile (2,430-kilometer) border. He denied that Pakistan’s tribal areas were a safe haven for terrorists — a frequent allegation made in both the U.S. and Afghanistan.
“We are fighting a war on terrorism,” he said. “If there are military actions in our area, people they go to Afghanistan and if there is a military action by NATO forces, they come to Pakistan. Therefore, we should have more intelligence cooperation, more defense cooperation and more political cooperation.”
“We must complement each other. … There should be no blame game.” …

[For the whole article click on the title above]