Monday, June 15, 2015
Russia Direct: There are now concerns in the media that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria will finally fall without Russia’s support. Do you share such concerns?. But there is another question: With no support for Assad, who should the Kremlin back? Should Russia support an obscure [opposition] coalition that consists of Islamists or nationalists, some of who are allegedly moderate?
RD: Given the Kremlin’s hesitant position towards supporting Assad’s regime and the ISIS threat, will Moscow and Washington be able to come up with a compromise on Syria?
RD: The second Syrian Peace Talks took place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, while the first one was held in Moscow. How can you account for such a shift?
RD: But the Astana Peace talks brought together Syria’s opposition, right?A.M.: Yes, the opposition that attended these negotiations is monochrome, but not the real opposition, which consists of radicals who believe that they have enough potential [to win the war]. Again, . And the main mistake of Americans and Europeans is that they missed this complexity. Initially, they assumed that as the worst-case scenario the radicals would form a sort of Al-Qaeda, but, in reality, we have seen a qualitatively different phenomenon [ISIS].
RD: ISIS seems to expand its influence beyond the Middle East and attract people from all over the world. Recently, a student from Moscow State University decided to leave her family and join the Islamic State. Do you think it is a specific case or a result of increasing ISIS propaganda?. There is a version that she went to ISIS to teach Russian. The question is: Whom was she going to teach?
RD: Nevertheless, there are some claims that ISIS propaganda is threatening Russia.
RD: And what is to be done to prevent it?
RD: So, you mean that the authorities whacked the hornet’s nest.
RD: Recently, ISIS announced its intention to acquire nuclear weapon through Pakistan. Given that such statement is propagandistic in its nature and hardly likely realistic, nevertheless, what are the chances of such a scenario?And this threat is real. And . And this is impossible to predict, like it was impossible to foresee the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Something is bound to happen.
RD: Yet despite the ISIS threat, Russia hasn't so far joined the coalition to fight ISIS together with the U.S. and other Middle East countries ... .
By Kunal Singh
Recent remarks by a Pakistani general have reopened the debate on South Asia’s nuclear stability.
For 15 years, since its inception in February 2000, General Khalid Kidwai served as Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division. Now an adviser to Pakistan’s National Command Authority, Kidwai was a speaker at the recent biennial Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference. Offering a glimpse into Pakistan’s strategic thinking, he explained Pakistan’s shift from a strategy of “minimum credible deterrence” to “full spectrum deterrence.” During his talk, Kidwai justified Pakistan’s induction of battlefield nuclear weapons with operational ranges as low as 60 kilometers on the pretext of anon-existent “Cold Start” doctrine.
Kidwai’s remarks have re-opened the debate over South Asia’s nuclear stability. A Stimson Center essay by Jeffrey McCausland has expanded on the dangers of Pakistan incorporating tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). For instance, Pakistan’s Army would have to use this weapon early in any battle, lest the conventionally superior Indian forces intrude deep into Pakistani territory and foreclose on the option of deploying TNWs. Moreover, Pakistan’s forces would have to ensure a concentration of Indian troops in the target area so that the damage inflicted can justify the use of a nuclear weapon. In general, command and control of tactical nuclear weapons can also be tricky in the heat of conventional battle.
Meanwhile, India’s doctrine allows it to retaliate with a massive nuclear strike to inflict unacceptable damage even in response to a “small” nuclear attack. Whether India would elect to exercise this option or not is another matter.
Overall, the deployment of TNWs should aim to save Pakistan from a conventional defeat and prevent further escalation to the level of strategic nuclear weapons. The ability of Pakistan’s TNWs to do either is dubious.
While the TNWs do not tilt, in this writer’s opinion, the scales one way or the other from what was set in 1998, there are other changes afoot in the region that call for greater examination. The re-emergence of the debate, courtesy of Kidwai, offers an occasion to look at these changes. With its growing leverage over Pakistan and Afghanistan, Beijing is likely to displace Washington from the region. Before that, however, let us recapitulate the old debates on nuclear stability in South Asia and the role played by the United States.
The nuclear stability debate after the 1998 tests was divided into two camps: nuclear optimists and nuclear pessimists. The optimists argued that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both states would stabilize the region simply because any war between the two nations would have catastrophic possibilities. The pessimists, on the other hand, pointed to the organizational problems that might lead to deterrence failure, and concluded that proliferation would have destabilizing effects.
Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, though on opposite sides of the divide, extricated this debate from the vague theoretical premonitions and placed it in the more realistic contemporary regional framework of South Asia.Ganguly, an optimist, believes that post nuclearization conflicts between India and Pakistan erupted because of regional tiffs and not as a consequence of nuclearization. Further, he believes that these conflicts did not escalate, thanks to the potential deterrence effects of nuclear war.
Kapur meanwhile chastises the earlier nuclear pessimists for conceding the deterrence effects of nuclear weapons to the optimists and restricting their arguments to organizational problems. He reformulates his position as one of “strategic pessimism.” While accommodating the realities of South Asia, Kapur further nuances the debate by introducing a distinction between revisionist and status-quo powers. A territorially dissatisfied power, if conventionally weaker than its adversary, will employ destabilizing tactics under the nuclear umbrella. The threat of nuclear weapons deters the conventionally stronger adversary from using its full might and thus will protect the revisionist power from large-scale conventional defeat. Moreover, the introduction of nuclear weapons internationalizes any minor dispute between the two countries, thus guaranteeing a settlement better than that which the weaker power could have negotiated on its own.
The U.S. Role
The role played by the U.S. to contain the possibilities of nuclear exchange in South Asia has been glorified or belittled, depending on which account you read. The nuclear optimists, as believers in the deterrence capabilities of nuclear arsenal, do not credit the U.S. for dousing all flames in nuclearized South Asia. The pessimists credit everything but nuclear weapons for de-escalation.
Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Bill Clinton on July 4, 1999 is often cited as the reason for Pakistan’s withdrawal from the Kargil War. Ganguly disagrees. He points out that the Tiger Hill – one of the strategic points captured by the invaders – was evacuated by India “a good ten hours before” the meeting between Sharif and Clinton. The pessimists hit back with a narrative of the roles played by Robert Gates, then America’s deputy national security advisor, during the 1990 crisis; and later by Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of State, and Richard Armitage, his deputy, during the 2002 standoff.
According to an interview Robert Gates gave to Seymour M. Hersh (one of the world’s best-known investigative journalists), Gates told Pakistan’s Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg that the U.S. had war-gamed every conceivable scenario between Pakistan and India, and there wasn’t a single way Pakistan could win. The American Ambassador Robert B. Oakley recalled Gates warning Beg to not expect any help from the U.S. in the event of war. Gates’ “mission” apparently cooled temperatures on both sides. The American also offered satellite reconnaissance data to reassure leaders about the withdrawal happening on both sides.
Following the launch of Operation Parakram by India in the aftermath of the terror attack on Indian parliament in December 2001, one million troops were facing each other across the the Line of Control and the international border. Collin Powell visited New Delhi after a stopover in Islamabad and assured India of Musharraf’s intention to crack down on terrorism. The fragility of the gains was exposed by a terrorist attack that killed 32 at the Indian army camp at Kaluchak in Jammu. Before the outraged Indians could initiate an assault, Richard Armitage extracted a promise from Musharraf to end infiltration “permanently.”
Christine C. Fair, an astute scholar who specializes in South Asia, has tabulated the Correlates of War (COW) Militarized Interstate Disputes (MID) data, concluding that the rate of conflict between India and Pakistan increased as the nuclear level of Pakistan proceeded from “Nonnuclear period” through “Incipient nuclear period” to “De facto nuclear period” and full-fledged post-test “Nuclear period.”
For two of those four periods – incipient nuclear period and nuclear period – the U.S. provided considerable military and economic aid to Pakistan, leading Fair to conclude that U.S. support may have emboldened Pakistan further to pursue its revisionist agenda.
China’s Role: Past, Present and Future
Pakistan’s route to nuclear weapons could have been much more onerous if not for Chinese support. China sought to tie India into perennial conflict with its western neighbor thus stymieing India’s ability and desire to pursue a greater role in Asia.
The recent visit of Xi Jinping to Pakistan opened the floodgates, with China pledging $46 billion dollars to Pakistan’s infrastructure and energy development. The deal envisions a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs from Gwadar Port in Baluchistan to Kashgar in Xinjiang. Gwadar is crucial to China’s “One Belt, One Road” program, as it is the point where the belt and the road meet. The CPEC will greatly shorten the route for energy imports into China. Gwadar provides China with an alternative to the Strait of Malacca, which can be choked by India.
Pakistan has since its birth steadfastly defined winning in terms of Kashmir and Afghanistan, legacies of “Two-Nation theory” and British colonialism. Thanks to China’s accommodation of Pakistan in the former’s One Belt, One Road initiative, the latter is realizing the benefits of regional connectivity. CPEC is expected to link East Asia to South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East, facilitating trade and investment across the continent. Chinese investment will diversify Pakistan’s economic options and create constituencies that will a) not remain fixated on the eastern border and b) seek peace that will enable them to harness the dividends of new opportunities. This development is likely to reduce the probability of nuclear belligerence from Rawalpindi.
As China supplants U.S. as Pakistan’s primary ally and gradually increases its profile in Afghanistan, it understands its responsibility to monitor the potential for a nuclear exchange in South Asia. As a seeker of global leadership, China is prepared to demonstrate its regional leadership credentials. Beijing, as a result, is likely to adopt a more neutral stance between India and Pakistan. It has been increasingly wary of taking Pakistan’s side in the dispute over Kashmir and the India-Pakistan wars. In a sign of changing realities, Chinese officials have shown interest in civil nuclear cooperation with India.
While the incipient factors seem encouraging, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The next time, whenever it is, India and Pakistan come close to a conflict with nuclear clouds overhead, the role of China will be much more important than it has been in the past. And that role will be studied by scholars in great detail.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/pakistan-christian-congress-urges-government-to-release-asia-bibi/#sthash.fm2aSAh4.dpuf
After shutting down offices of Save the Children due to "anti-state" activities, Pakistan has reversed its decision. But rights activists say the government wants to control civil society to hide its own "shady" actions.
The Pakistani government has made a U-turn and suspended an order it issued closing the office of the international NGO Save the Children in the capital Islamabad, an official said Sunday.
Authorities did not give any reason for the reversal.
Saeed Ahmed, a spokesman for the NGO in Pakistan, was quoted by the AP news agency as saying that they had no word from the government on the decision.
"We would appreciate relevant government authorities to communicate to us officially," Ahmed told the AP.
Save the Children had been on the security agencies' watch list since 2012 when some unsubstantiated reports emerged that the UK-based international aid agency had connections with Dr. Shakil Afridi, an alleged CIA spy.
Pakistani authorities claim that Afridi ran a fake polio vaccination campaign in the northwestern city of Abbottabad to confirm the presence of former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the American intelligence agency. Save the Children denies the accusations.
In September 2012, the Pakistani government ordered foreign workers of Save the Children to leave the country within two weeks. However, it temporarily suspended its decision a week later.
Local sources say that the foreign staff of the non-governmental organization had already left the country before Pakistan's June 11 decision to close down the group's offices countrywide.
The government has not given an official explanation for its decision to ban Save the Children, but an official told the AFP news agency that the aid group "was doing something which was against Pakistan's interests."
On Friday, June 12, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar also said that no NGO working against Pakistan's national interest will be allowed to continue its work in the South Asian country.
"We welcome NGOs in Pakistan, but they need to understand our laws and constitution," Nisar told reporters in Islamabad, adding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government wouldn't allow any NGO to work "under the table." He said that some non-governmental civil society groups in Pakistan were working for India and Israel, with whom Islamabad had bitter relations.
Save the Children issued a statement on Friday confirming its office in Islamabad had been sealed by the government.
"Save the Children was not served any notice to this effect. We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels," it said.
The focus of the NGO's work is on children's rights, health, education and food security. It has been active in Pakistan for more than 35 years and has over 1,200 local employees.
A Save the Children official told the Reuters new agency that the government had already been stopping aid shipments entering the country, "blocking aid to millions of children and their families."
Social freedoms under threat
Dr. Mehdi Hasan, former chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told DW that the Pakistani government should tell what kind of proof it had in relation to Save the Children's alleged anti-state activities and links with Afridi.
The veteran activist also said that NGOs should be open about their work and that they should brief the media about their activities on a regular basis.
But many other rights activists say that the government has a history of mistrusting foreign NGOs, and point out that this is not the first time it has accused a rights organization of working for Pakistan's "enemies," which most often includes the country's regional rival India.
"The government and the army don't trust the civil society. Human rights violations are rampant in many parts of the country, and the authorities want to conceal them. That is why they are not only muzzling freedom of press but also other social freedoms. We should look at Save the Children closure from this perspective," a Lahore-based development expert told DW on condition of anonymity.
A lack of accountability
But Usman Qazi, a civil society activist based in Islamabad, is of the view that the NGOs also need to "put their house in order," especially in relation to accountability towards the communities they work with, as well as other segments of the civil society like media, academia, trade associations, and political parties.
"As an activist, I would never support the muzzling of a civil society outfit, especially one that has a positive international reputation. At the same time, my interaction with a cross section of Pakistani society tells me that the NGOs are immensely unpopular and are resented quite widely. They are viewed as supply driven, corrupt, self-serving and unaccountable. This includes all NGOs - national and foreign," Qazi told DW.
"I believe this perception emboldened the authorities to take a bold step like that, knowing that they do not have to fear any reprisal locally against this decision."
According to journalist Abdul Agha, the accusation against some NGOs that they are involved in "shady" activities applies better to Pakistan's ubiquitous intelligence organization, the ISI.
"Which is a shadier organization than the ISI? What is happening in Balochistan and in the northwestern areas of the country in the name of battle against extremists is not only shady but also dangerous. The army and its agencies are not accountable to anyone," he told DW.
According to reports, there are 19 more NGOs that the government wants banned. The authorities haven't revealed their names yet.
"The civil society is determined to expose human rights violations by the state, and it is not acceptable in Pakistan. The authorities will do their best to silence dissent," Agha added.
By Tim Craig
One year after Pakistan’s army launched its offensive in the country’s northwestern tribal belt, Pakistani deaths from terrorist attacks are at an eight-year low but U.S. officials say more work is needed before the country can reverse its reputation as a top incubator of Islamist militancy.
After a decade of bloodshed that killed more than 50,000 civilians and soldiers, Pakistan’s military finally became fed up last June when a homegrown militant group, the Pakistan Taliban, attacked Karachi’s international airport. In response, Pakistan’s air force and army beganpounding North Waziristan, destroying two cities there while also ordering the evacuation of more than a million residents.
Since then, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has plunged as the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda appear to have fewer havens.
During the first five months of this year, 500 civilians died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan compared with 787 during the same period last year and 1,536 in 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. The last time the start of a year was so peaceful was in 2007 — before the Pakistan Taliban emerged as a serious threat to domestic security.
But analysts caution Pakistan still remains vulnerable to major terrorist attacks similar to the Taliban assault on the school in Peshawar in December that killed about 150 teachers and students. And whatever gains the Pakistan army has made are clouded by the perception that it simply shifted much of the problem across the border into Afghanistan — but the militants who are now there could easily migrate back into Pakistan with time.
“Some people were displaced, but we should not be misled,” said Ijaz Khan Khattak, former chairman of the International Relations Department at the University of Peshawar. “This is a long war, and in long wars, lulls do happen. This is just a small lull.”
Though U.S. officials credit Pakistan for making serious gains against both the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda, there is less optimism about its efforts in combating groups such as the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban, which focus attacks on Afghanistan.
And with tensions between Pakistan and neighboring India once again rising, few analysts expect Pakistani leaders to now follow through on their promise to also crack down on militant groups that have a decades-long history of carrying out attacks in India. There are also concerns that Pakistan still isn’t taking the threat posed by the Islamic State, which is trying to gain a foothold in the region, seriously.
“We think the operation has absolutely eliminated the safe havens in Miranshah and Mir Ali [in North Waziristan], which were real fundamental concerns for us, the Afghans, and also Pakistanis in recent years,” said one U.S. official, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the matter. “The focus for us as we move forward: First, some of these militants have dispersed around Pakistan and continue to plan attacks against not only Pakistanis, but also against Afghans, Americans and others inside Afghanistan.”
The official added, “And it’s is going to take a sustained effort to make sure these groups don’t reconstitute in the cleared areas.”
For many Pakistanis, however, there is little doubt that the year-long operation is starting to show signs of real success.
In Peshawar, which had been a center of violence, ambulance drivers say they are finally starting to relax because they are no longer being called out every other day to respond to attacks. In the capital of Islamabad, which has not experienced a major terrorist attack in more than a year , some Westerners are again visiting shopping malls and cafes. And foreign leaders, business executives and sports teams are slowly trickling back into Pakistan for official visits.
“The politicians from this province were always facing a serious threat, but now those political leaders are roaming freely without any fear,” said Shah Farman, a lawmaker in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where police report a 50 percent drop in attacks.
Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, said so far 2,763 terrorists have been killed in tribal areas during the first year of the operation while another 218 have been killed in Pakistani cities. Thousands of other have been detained, Bajwa said.
In December, Pakistani forces killed al Qaeda’s global operation’s chief,Adnan el Shukrijumah, who had been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Earlier this spring, Pakistan also arrested another top al Qaeda operative, Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, and handed him over to U.S. authorities.
Ashraf Ali, former president of the FATA Research Center, said many high-value targets simply fled North Waziristan as the Pakistan military moved in. As a result, security has steadily worsened in Afghanistan, which is experiencing record numbers of troop and civilian casualties this year.
“According to unconfirmed reports, 70,000 to 80,000 fighters may have just crossed the border,” Ali said.
The challenge of cross-border movement has been one of the enduring struggles of the 13-year-old war in Afghanistan. When the operation began last June, Pakistani leaders say they asked former Afghan President Hamid Karzai to deploy more forces to that side of the border.
Karzai, who is deeply skeptical of Pakistan’s motives, refused, they say.
Since Afghan President Ashraf Ghani succeeded Karzai in September, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have improved dramatically, according to U.S. officials and government leaders in both countries.
But Ghani is staking his political reputation on Pakistan being able to nudge the Afghan Taliban, which has historical ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence outfit, into peace talks. Pakistan so far has been unable to accomplish that.
And both Afghan and U.S. officials remain frustrated that Pakistan’s operation has not seriously disrupted the Haqqani Network, which they blame for some of bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan. Many Haqqani Network commanders are believed to have resettled in Peshawar, Karachi or in South Waziristan, according to local tribal officials.
Last month, the group carried out an assault on a guest house in Kabul, which killed 10 foreigners including one American. The attack was planned from Peshawar, according to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Ali Mohammad, a Kabul-based political and security researcher, said such attacks demonstrate that elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence hierarchy still can’t be trusted to follow through on pledges from Pakistani leaders that they are targeting all terrorist groups.
“We are seeing very strong statements from the Pakistan military leadership, but the big question is, what is going on in the local army units, in the local ISI offices, where they often have local agreements with these groups?” said Ali Mohammad, who was referring to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).
But Saad Muhammad, Pakistan’s defense attaché to Kabul from 2003 to 2006, predicted peace talks between Afghan Taliban and Ghani’s government would begin soon, perhaps immediately after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends in mid-July.
“Ashraf Ghani has put all of his eggs in Pakistan’s basket, so if something doesn’t happen, he becomes a weakened man, and that would be disastrous for Pakistan,” said Muhammad, who still maintains informal contact with some elements of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership. “Pakistan will not break contact with the [Afghan Taliban], but it will begin pressure after pressure. You can put some people under arrest. You can harass them. You can break up their meetings.”
Still, other analysts and Pakistani leaders note that the weakening of groups such as the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban is opening up other security concerns,including the potential rise of the Islamic State in the region.
As they’ve lost the ability to route money and resources through North Waziristan, and perhaps eventually Quetta, where much of the Afghan Taliban leadership resides, analysts say branches of the militant groups increasingly will turn to the Middle East based Islamic State for support. Of particular concern is that the conflict may then become even more sectarian in nature, similar to Islamic State’s offensive in Iraq.
Even if Islamic State emerges as the top threat to Pakistan, though, that in itself would be a sign that the military operation has worked, said Muhammad Amir Rana, an Islamabad-based security analyst.
“We are now no more a special case,” Rana said. “Now, we just have the same kind of problems that other Muslim countries are facing.”