Speculation surrounding ‘arrested’ Taliban

The Lahore High Court on Friday issued an emergency order blocking the handover of five arrested Taliban to United States or Afghanistan. The court issued the order after a petition filed by Khalid Khwaja of Defence of Human Rights stating that the arrested Afghan Taliban Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mulla Abdus Salam, Mulla Kabir, Mulla Mohammed and Amir Muaaviya were being handed over to the Americans. The judges have invited the government to submit its arguments on March 15.

Only a day before the High court decision, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office had said Mullah Baradar would be repatriated to Afghanistan. Different interpretations of the capture of Baradar, reputed to be Afghan Taliban’s deputy leader, and others are in circulation.  One is that these are honest captures, another that those arrested are Taliban ‘negotiators’ in reality and attempts will now be made to reach a deal with the Taliban while they are in custody.  While the Pakistani government can file an appeal against the High Court ruling in the Supreme Court, there is no sign that it will do so, at least in the immediate future.

The Real News anchor Paul Jay talks to Mohammad Jubaid, a Pakistani researcher, to gain an understanding.

Behind the Friday bloodshed in Kabul

Today’s attacks in Kabul, killing at least 17 and wounding around 40, are significant for a number of reasons. The Taliban have been under pressure in the US-led military operation around Marjah in Helmand province and in Pakistan. The Kabul attacks are intended to draw the attention from the areas of pressure in the south. These attacks also demonstrate that the Afghan capital remains vulnerable, even after the much publicized American military surge in the country. By promptly claiming responsibility, the Taliban have warned President Karzai, who recently staged a political coup by his unilateral action to take full control of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Complaints Commission when parliament was in recess. Until now, the commission had three of its five members appointed by the Western donors and the body had been harsh in its criticism of fraud in the presidential election. President Karzai will now appoint all five members.

The targeting of Indian hostels is significant because India is the leading regional donor to the Afghan government, with over a billion dollar investment and at least 4000 Indians working in Afghanistan. And the attacks came just after a brief round of talks between India and Pakistan in Delhi. America has been urging them both to reduce tensions and Pakistan to concentrate on the fight against its domestic insurgency and in Afghanistan.

Murder in Dubai

Leading Israeli figures are congratulating themselves over the assassination of the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. But the affair has been escalating every day. While Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman gleefully said there was ‘no proof’ that the Mossad spy agency carried out the killing, the opposition Kadima leader Tzipi Livni applauded the killing. Her comment: “The fact that a terrorist was killed, and it doesn’t matter if it was in Dubai or Gaza, is good news to those fighting terrorism.”

The Dubai authorities have been releasing information drip by drip that increasingly points the finger at the Israeli secret service Mossad. And the controversy refuses to go sway. Israel has declined to confirm or deny it carried out the assassination. Most statements made in Israel only deepen the mystery, or signal Mossad’s involvement in the assassination in a foreign country in violations of that country’s laws.

The operation may have succeeded in eliminating a leading Palestinian opponent of Israel. However, its political fallout should not be underestimated as Israel is under unprecedented international pressure. The authorities in Dubai have been making new revelations almost every day.

These disclosures reinforce the sense of a botched operation that could have serious consequences for the ability of Israelis to move around the world. And they have put friendly governments on the spot.

No wonder there are loud complaints and verbal expressions of outrage, though little concrete action in terms of uncovering the facts. And the British government has had to strenuously deny suggestions that it might have been told by a serving officer of Mossad in advance of the Hamas official’s assassination.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia is the latest to reprimand Israel over the forging of Australian passports used in the killing. Describing himself as a life-long supporter of Israel, Rudd said he was ‘deeply concerned’ about the affair and pledged that Australia would  ‘not be silent on this matter’. His government did not expressly blame Israel. Rather it summoned Israel’s ambassador Yuval Rotem and demanded an explanation. The Israelis have so far refused to talk about the affair.

With the latest information made available by Dubai, the total number of fake foreign passports used by the assassins is 26, including  –  

United Kingdom – 12

Irish Republic 6  

French 4

Australian 3

German 1

The government of Dubai has demanded the arrest of the Mossad chief – a move an Israeli official has ridiculed. But Interpol has issued ‘wanted notices’ for a number of suspects. It is a serious matter. More serious are political repercussions for Israel and the vestiges of President Obama’s hopes of restarting the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

The likelihood of the British government initiating change in the UK law on universal jurisdiction has suffered a setback. Serving and ex-Israeli officials would have to think hard before visiting Britain and other countries. And the assassination would encourage Israel’s opposition abroad. We have certainly not heard the last of the affair.

Charlie Wilson’s Afghan legacy

Former Congressman Charlie Wilson, who died on February 10, was America’s answer to James Bond, the fast-moving, globe-trotting character in Ian Fleming’s novels, who foiled enemies and conquered beautiful women with ease. Wilson’s achievements in Congress were not many. Often he had other things on his mind. However, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, his helpful role in pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s is beyond dispute. Wilson’s portrayal by George Crile in his book Charlie Wilson’s War and by Tom Hanks in the 2007 Hollywood film enhanced his reputation.

The prime mover of United States policy to support Islamist groups in the final phase of the Cold War was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. President Carter himself signed the first, secret, order that began channeling U.S. aid to the Mujahideen. The move lured the Soviet Union into a disastrous military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The prosecution of the war against the Soviet occupation forces would have been impossible without President Ronald Reagan and his CIA director, William Casey. From Kalashnikovs to advanced Stinger missiles, all that might help the Mujahideen in defeating the Soviet Union was fair game. Such was their ideological commitment and focus on the bull’s eye, without sufficient regard for what might follow.

In later years, when he had retired from Congress, Charlie Wilson seemed to acknowledge what few defense hawks of that era can do even now. Speaking of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Soviet defeat, he said, “That caused an enormous amount of real bitterness in Afghanistan and it was probably the catalyst for Taliban movement.” His comment, in 2001, was extraordinary for the fact that it was made at all when the trend of ahistorical abstractions had become fashionable. Despite the monstrous nature of the 9/11 attacks, the notion that terrorism started on that day lies at the heart of problems in countering it.

Afghanistan has puzzled and challenged external intervenors throughout its history. Each time, impudence has made military intervention look easy. Initial military successes have followed. Why it has been difficult to extricate without paying a high price tells something about the Afghan people that no intervenor seems to have really understood. The British and the Russians found this in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Now the United States and allies are in a similar situation. President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 ambition of transforming Afghanistan into a Western-style democracy has been scaled down under the Obama administration. What to do instead is far from clear, except to resort to the fire-fighting measures of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to prevail over the Taliban, and to raise large Afghan military and police forces to take over security, so U.S. troops can draw down or get out.

Afghans are much more canny and wise than their detractors think. The formulation of a successful plan for the country requires a deeper understanding of Afghan society, its potential and limits. It is important to recognize that not all Afghans who have taken up arms to oppose foreign troops are Taliban. The presence of foreign troops in the country tends to unite Afghans. It is particularly true of Pashtun tribes, dominant in the south and east. When foreign troops are not in the country, tribal conflict comes to the fore. The same Afghan code of honor, which dictates that every protection and hospitality must be extended to a guest, also expects the guest not to behave in a manner contrary to the interests of the host. There were indications both before and after 9/11 that many Afghans felt Osama bin Laden was crossing the limits of this code and were uncertain about how to deal with him.

When leaders have emerged without outside intervention, Afghan society has been relatively peaceful. This was the case for four decades before the monarchy was overthrown in 1973 by the king’s own cousin. For centuries, attempts to create a centralized system in Afghanistan have failed. The Pashtun tribal system and various smaller ethnic communities have been, and want to remain, decentralized.

Afghanistan needs a plan that shows proper regard for these characteristics of Afghan society. Such a plan must have regional powers – Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China and India – as cosignatories. But with the recent deterioration in U.S. relations with China and Iran, it is difficult to see how a start can be made.

Video Source: RethinkAfghanistan.com

Why, oh why?

Deepak Tripathi cannot understand why China and Russia would support the United States on the issue of sanctions against Iran when Washington’s real agenda is regime change. To see Iran fall into the American sphere in a region where most regimes already are in the American sphere? It would be like chopping the branch one is sitting on.

Iran arrests insurgent leader, accuses CIA and Mossad

In the latest twist in the war of attrition between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, the Iranian authorities have announced the arrest of Abdolmalek Rigi, leader of the Sunni insurgent group said to be responsible for a major attack in October 2009 in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province.

More than 40 people were killed, including 15 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in the attack. Jundallah, based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, is said to have close ties with al Qaeda, and operates inside Shi’a-majority Iran.

Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi has promptly accused the American CIA and the Israeli intelligence service Mossad of having links with Jundallah. According to Moslehi, Rigi was at an American military base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his arrest and the United States ‘utilized an Afghan passport’ for him.  

Details of the circumstances surrounding Rigi’s capture are unclear. First, Iran’s state television network Press TV reported that he was apprehended on a flight from Dubai to the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan. The authorities in Dubai are furious at the recent assassination of a leading Hamas figure on their soil – assassination for which the Israeli secret service is widely suspected. However, al Jazeera English, quoting other Iranian sources, said the arrest took place on a flight to an Arab country, indicating Dubai.

And the Iranian news agency quoted a politician as saying, “Rigi was arrested in Persian Gulf waters while he was traveling on a plane via Pakistan to an Arab country.” It seems the aircraft was forced to land in Iranian territory, where it was searched and he was arrested.

Rigi had been on the Iranian secret service’s watch list for years. Iran accuses Jundallah of carrying out mass murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, acts of sabotage and bombings. The group has targeted civilians and government officials, as well as the Iranian security forces. Reporting on Rigi’s capture, Press TV referred to the American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who revealed in a New Yorker magazine article in July 2008 that US Congressional leaders had secretly agreed to former President George W. Bush’s request for $400 million, which gave the United States a free hand in arming and funding terrorist groups such as Jundallah.

A year before, the ABC network had reported the group had been ‘secretly encouraged and advised by American officials’ to destabilize the Iranian government.

NATO civilian killings take on massacre proportions

The Afghan government says that at least 27 civilians have been killed in a NATO air attack in Uruzgan province. NATO subsequently confirmed its aircraft bombed a suspected insurgent convoy, but ground forces later found a number of individuals killed and wounded, including women and children. And, in a separate inciden in the northeastern province of Kapisa, a French missile hit a car, killing at least two civilians, including a child.

The BBC correspondent Chris Morris in Kabul said the attacks in Uruzgan were not part of Operation Mushtarak in the Marjah area of the neighboring province of Helmand. Accounts from Uruzgan says three vehicles were targeted by helicopters. The provincial governor Sultan Ali told reporters that all the dead were civilians.

A NATO statement said it was thought the convoy of vehicles contained Taliban on their way to attack Afghan and foreign forces. According to an interior ministry spokesman in Kabul, 42 people were traveling in the convoy. All of them were civilians. And Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan, later released a statement saying he was ‘extremely saddened’ at the civilian deaths.

In an ill-timed intervention on the same day, the head of the US Central Command Gen. David Petraeus told the American audience on the NBC program Meet the Press: “This is just the initial operation of what will be a 12 to 18-month campaign as General McChrystal and his team mapped it out.”

About 2000 Dutch troops are deployed in Uruzgan as part of the NATO contingent in Afghanistan. The Netherlands’ military mission has become such a divisive issue in the country’s domestic politics that the coalition government collapsed over the weekend. It looks increasingly likely that the Dutch troops will be withdrwan later this year.

Meanwhile, there have been new attacks on pro-government targets in Afghanistan and on the Pakistani side of the frontier. In Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, a suicide bomber killed 15 people, including a tribal chief, Mohammad Haji Zaman, who is said to have played an important role in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and war against al Qaeda and the Taliban around the Tora Bora cave complex in Safed Koh (White Mountains). Haji Zaman was a Mujahideen warlord in the 1990s and had been living in Peshawar, north-western Pakistan. He had returned to Afghanistan recently.

In Pakistan, an army convoy came under bomb attack in the Swat valley, where security forces carried out an operation against the militants last year. At least five people were killed and many others wounded in the today’s explosion.