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Militants attack key NATO base in Afghanistan

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KABUL – The Taliban said Sunday they were behind an attack on NATO’s main base in southern Afghanistan, the third on international forces in a week, showing their determination to meet fire with fire.


US soldiers walk to board a helicopter at an airfield in Kandahar on May 7. The Taliban has said they …

As US and NATO troops escalate operations against the militants in their heartland of Kandahar province, the Taliban are making good on threats of a nationwide campaign against targets allied with the Kabul government.

“We attacked Kandahar air base with rockets last night,” Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, told AFP by phone from an undisclosed location.

The attack in Kandahar was the third on international forces in a matter of days after a suicide attack in the capital on Tuesday and an attack on Bagram Airfield, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul, the following day.

Seven hours of fighting at Bagram resulted in the deaths of an American contract worker and 16 militants, NATO said. Nine NATO soldiers were wounded.

Earlier this month the Taliban announced a new nationwide campaign of attacks in Afghanistan, targeting diplomats, Afghan parliamentarians and foreign contractors, as well as foreign forces.

Ahmadi said that one rocket landed near a shopping strip on the Kandahar Airfield (KAF), another near a helicopter landing zone.

The attack had caused “massive damage,” he said, adding that the militants had killed 13 foreign soldiers and wounded many others.

The Taliban regularly exaggerate the impact of their operations.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there were no fatalities in the attack, which began around 8:00 pm (1530 GMT) on Saturday.

“A number of ISAF personnel and civilian workers have been injured and are receiving medical treatment. There are no confirmed fatalities,” an ISAF statement said.

A total of five rockets were fired into the base and “a number of insurgents were attempting to enter the base on the north side. They were repelled by security forces,” it said.

KAF is the main base in the area for troops fighting the insurgency, which is concentrated in Kandahar. It houses around 23,000 personnel.

The base regularly comes under rocket fire, when all personnel are ordered to take cover until an all-clear is sounded.

KAF sits on the edge of Kandahar city, the provincial capital, where Taliban are digging in as US, NATO and Afghan troops build an operation aimed at squeezing the militants out of their traditional home.

The attack came just hours after Britain’s new foreign minister William Hague met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to discuss the security situation in Afghanistan, where Britain has 10,000 troops.

Hague, accompanied by Defence Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, said they had made clear to Karzai that Britain expected to see his government make progress to match the international strategy for ending the insurgency.

Britain’s military and aid commitment in Afghanistan is the second-biggest behind the US.

There are currently 130,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban insurgency under US and NATO command.

The number of foreign troops is set to rise to 150,000 by August as part of a US-led counter-insurgency strategy aimed at speeding up the end of the war now well into its ninth year.

Most of the fresh troops are being deployed to the southern hotspots of Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand province, and military planners say they hope to have eradicated the Taliban threat by the start of Ramadan in August.

The road between Kabul and Kandahar was the scene on Sunday of a Taliban ambush on a police convoy that killed the police chief of a district of Ghazni province, the provincial governor, Mohammad Musa Akbarzada said.

Mohammad Nabi Patang, police chief of Andar district, was travelling to the provincial capital, also called Ghazni, when his convoy was attacked, Akbarzada told AFP.

The Taliban were blamed for a bomb attack on an Afghan police vehicle on Saturday in the Manogay district of Kunar province, in which four police officers and four civilians were wounded, the interior ministry said.

In Kapisa province northeast of Kabul, five Afghan civilians were killed on Saturday when an anti-tank mine left over from the Soviet invasion exploded as they were digging on their farmland, the ministry said.

‘Final Solution’ Frenzy –From Afghanistan with Love

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By Tariq Saeedi

With Qasim Jan in Kandahar, Khalil Azad in Kabul, SM Kasi in Quetta, and GN Brohi in Nushki and Dalbandin

(nCa) – Had Van Gogh been given a canvas the size of the Eurasian landmass in 1890, he would probably have painted what the United States in painting now: Spectacular psychosis smothering withered sanity, towering talent defeated by raging madness, sky-high ambition smashed by rock-hard realities, a troubled genius in self-immolation.

What we are witnessing today, and what may unfold in the coming months, is Von Gogh’s ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ on cosmic scale. — Welcome to the ‘Final Solution,’ Made in USA.

In this series of investigative reports we shall sum up the results of thousands of kilometers of arduous and risky travel by our team in search of clues scattered in the harsh terrain of the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the adjoining, equally unforgiving, landscape of Afghanistan and Iran.

Our startling findings are explained and augmented by experts and sources in Moscow, Washington, Kabul and New Delhi.

This series starts with what is happening in Pakistan and will expand gradually to cover the Greater Central Asia and its immediate neighbourhood.

We will tell a dreadful story, segment by segment, part by part.

This is the first part of our ‘Final Solution’ Frenzy series and in this report we shall describe what we found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the subsequent report we shall connect these findings with explanations and interpretations of experts.

As with our previous reports, this series would be abrupt and incomplete. It is not possible to come up with an alpha-to-omega story, complete in all respects, merely through investigative reporting. Without generous leaks from well placed sources a story of this kind must remain unfinished.

So, let’s start cutting through the web of deceit, ambition, cruelty, backstabbing and violence.

Training camps in Afghanistan

There were persistent reports that the Americans, through their contractors, were operating at least two training camps, churning out an assortment of terrorists.

It sounds strange that a country supposedly fighting a global war against terrorism would train its own terrorists. Nevertheless, the crux of investigative journalism is that every lead, no matter how ludicrous, should be followed to its logical end if it promises some relevance.

In one of our earlier reports (Mumbai Mystery: American Designs on Pakistan and India), we uncovered that the Americans had tunneled into some Jihadi outfits in Pakistan. The links to all four parts of our Mumbai report are given at the end of this narrative.

In the Mumbai report we mentioned that as far as we had been able to determine, the earliest deal between the Americans and the Jihadis took place in Quetta in August 2007.

With the help of our experts in Moscow, we predicted in our Mumbai report that bombings and acts of terrorism were likely to increase in Pakistan in the coming months. Our Mumbai report was published in December 2008 and since then Pakistan has hardly seen a day of respite.

There is no joy in being right in this case; we are not gloating. All we are trying to register is that most of the substance of our previous reports has withstood the test of time.

We also told in our Mumbai report that Michael Vickers, the assistant secretary of defence for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (ASD/SOLIC&IC) was the author of the chaos that were going to be systematically unleashed in Pakistan. It is necessary to remind that Vickers was directly running the Jihadi war against Soviet Union for about six years and he has personal contacts with almost all the players in the current mix.

We underlined in our Mumbai report that Vickers would mainly use United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) for beating Pakistan to near-pulp. Here, again, we were right on the mark, as we shall show in our subsequent reports in this series.

Based on the findings in our previous reports, we started examining the possibility of existence of American terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Interviews with some knowledgeable persons in Afghanistan and Pakistan suggest that at least one of the training camps run by the American contractors is located in either Ghowr or Uruzgan province of Afghanistan.

What is important from the point of view of our reports is not the exact location of these camps but the fact that they do exist at all. We will return to the subject of these camps in our succeeding reports in this series.

Chicken lunch before hawk chase

It was early October 2009. We were sitting in a killi – a small clan-village – in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, not far from the border with Afghanistan. We shall not disclose our exact location but it was somewhere between the towns of Dalbandin and Nushki in Chagai district of the Balochistan province of Pakistan.

The chicken, cooked hastily, was tasty without being tender. The flatbread was improbably large, perfectly round and evenly baked.

The lunch over, we started planning on the travel route for the next few days. Most of the legwork by our field contacts had been completed already. We were about to start verifying some of the leads that looked significant.

The first, and the closest point, was where we expected to see some young men who were not Muslims. We started off after downing a pot of excessively sweetened black tea.

They are not Muslims

We drove for about an hour and reached a place almost at the border of Afghanistan. It was pre-evening (Asr) prayer time when we reached a small, nondescript teahouse.

“When I point at someone with my eyes, just watch but not overtly and not immediately. And, don’t talk when you look,” said our local contact in a low voice.

We sat down on the palm-frond mat on the dirt floor. After a while, he looked meaningfully to his right and quickly averted his eyes. In a few seconds we gave a brief, furtive look and saw two bearded young men, somewhere in their late teens, dressed in slightly dirty baggy trousers and long shirt, no different from everyone around, walking toward a low mound to attend to the call of nature. They emerged shortly from behind their mound that served as open air toilet and went straight to the prayer mat.

Some ten minutes later, our local partner made a similar gesture toward another young man, with a mere hint of a beard on an otherwise smooth face, who was also walking to the toilet-mound. He also returned after unburdening his urinary bladder and walked directly to the prayer mat.

We had seen enough; there was no point in sitting there any more and attracting unnecessary attention.

“This kind of people started appearing more than a year ago,” said our local man.

“After attending to the call of nature, they don’t even wash their hands. They don’t perform necessary ablutions (Wudoo) before going from toilet to prayer mat,” he said after we had started driving to the next point in our journey.

“They are not Muslims,” he said.

Yes, we could see that they were not Muslims. After attending the call of nature, it is mandatory for all Muslims to perform ritual ablutions before they can stand for prayers. The only exception is when water is not available, which was clearly not the case.

‘Taliban’ in American Helicopters

After having seen the young men who wanted to look like practicing Muslims without bothering to go through the obligatory ablutions for prayers, our next stop was to meet someone who could tell us about ‘Taliban’ being transported in American helicopters.

We drove on a dirt trail for about thirty minutes and reached another point, still not far from the Afghan border. One of our local contacts in Afghanistan had confirmed earlier that he had spoken to some people who had seen the so-called Taliban being carried in American helicopters. He was waiting for us at a makeshift gasoline station. Border crossing is no big deal in those parts.

Our man told that he had spoken to several people who had seen bearded young men disembarking from American helicopters near the border of Afghanistan with Pakistan. Based on the accounts narrated by our contact person, we understood that batches of four to ten persons were dropped twice or thrice a month, every time at a different location but always in walking distance from the Pakistan border.

The villagers on the Pakistani side of the border also confirmed that illegal border crossing was a universally common phenomenon on the entire border line in Chagai district.

Next, we drove to see the man who had been left for dead.

Murder after prayers

In a killi about thirty kilometers from the Afghan border we met Osman (not his real name). He is in his early forties and told a tale that is not uncommon in those areas.

He said that two persons, who said that they were Afghan traders, hired his car for a day trip along the border. Since it was the area where anything can happen at any time, Osman took a friend along for company.

The ‘Afghan traders’ said that they had to meet some people near the border and the trip would be over in less than half a day. At a deserted place near the Afghan border the clients said that since it was prayer time, they should stop the car and pray.

Osman and his friend also joined the prayer, led by one of the Afghans. Soon after completing the prayer, while rising from his prayer position, the prayer leader took out a pistol from his side pocket and shot straight at Osman’s friend. He was hit in the shoulder and fell back like a log.

Then he pointed the weapon at Osman and pulled the trigger again. Osman was wearing a loose and baggy shirt and the bullet passed through his shirt sleeve, grazing his upper arm slightly. He also fell down, pretending that he had also been hit.

The two Afghans took the car, sped toward the border, and into Afghanistan.

Osman says that when the car snatchers disappeared, he carried his friend on his shoulder for about a couple of kilometers before he found someone willing to give him a lift to the hospital. His friend survived but remained bedridden for more than six months.

Less than a week later the car was found connected to an act of terrorism in Quetta.

Unregistered automobiles

There were reports that more than half of the automobiles and motorbikes in a wide swath of Balochistan, from Dalbandin to Taftan in the north, and from Pasni to Gwadar in the south, were running without any number plates.

This was the easiest thing to verify. All we had to do was to drive around the area and look at every vehicle to see whether it had a registration plate or not. Yes, more than half of vehicles of all description did not have any registration number at all.

It was difficult to understand the reason for this mass anomaly. An unregistered vehicle is an ideal getaway transport for terrorists, criminals and everyone else interested in breaking the law.

Theft of cars

Driving from place to place in pursuit to confirm the findings of our team, we heard repeatedly that theft of motor vehicles, especially cars and SUVs, was an organized crime, reaching the scales of a sophisticated business in Balochistan. Stealing a parked automobile is definitely easier than snatching it at gunpoint.

What we could gather from our conversation with several people was that vehicles were stolen from all parts of Pakistan and smuggled across the border to Afghanistan. Sometimes, a car is stolen as per specifications of the client i.e. a particular make, model and colour.

These cars and SUVs go to Afghanistan and some of them are used for cross-border forays into Pakistan and Iran, as seen in Osman’s case. Sometimes these vehicles, after commitment of a crime, are abandoned deliberately to put the investigators on the wrong trail.

So far, we had found that some young men are regularly crossing over from Afghanistan to Pakistan, some of them were Muslim in appearance but not in essence, and quite possibly some of them are being carried by Americans in their helicopters close to the border of Pakistan. We had also found that automobiles were being stolen or snatched at gunpoint, taken to Afghanistan, and later used in the acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

What next?

Funding mechanism

A terrorist must work for someone. Self employed terrorists are far and few between. If they were working for someone, there must be a system to provide them with funds when in Pakistan.

This was a challenge. With a small team running on a shoestring budget we could not trail anyone for long. Tracking multiple targets was simply impossible.

We did the next best thing — We watched the moneychangers in Quetta, the administrative centre of Balochistan province.

Quite a few moneychangers in Quetta are concentrated in one of the bustling streets of the cramped city. With the help of cooperative fruit vendors, shoeshine boys, tobacconists, and just plain loiterers, we created a temporary network to keep an eye on some moneychangers.

In a few days we found that some people were changing US dollars to Pak rupees regularly. This, in itself, can hardly be called a suspicious activity except for the fact that they were not changing all of their money from a single vendor. Instead, they went from moneychanger to moneychanger, never converting more than $ 2000 from a single vendor. This was an obvious precaution to avoid being noticed.

Because of our insufficient capacity to study the money-changing phenomenon in detail, this can, at best, be considered implied evidence. The thing to remember is that terrorism is a comparatively low cost enterprise.

The corridor of instability between Afghanistan and Iran

In our first investigative report on Balochistan, published in March 2005, we reported that a corridor of instability exists in the territory of Pakistan through which all kinds of players were traveling from Afghanistan to Iran and Back. This report is not available on our own website anymore because we lost our archive after it was hacked. However, the report received wide audience and it can be seen at dozens of portals; two links are given at the end of this narrative.

In that report we said that if you marked Shah Ismail and Ziarat Sultan Vais Qarni in Afghanistan and Jalq and Kuhak in Iran, and connected Shah Ismail with Kuhak through a slowly arching line, and Ziarat Sultan Vais Qarni with Jalq through another line running in parallel with the first one, the space between these two lines would form a corridor that is used by the American defence contractors, and many other kinds of players, to travel between Afghanistan and Iran through Pakistan.

Now we would like to report that the corridor has somewhat narrowed down in width but there is more activity through it to destabilize Iran, and put pressure on Pakistan.

The main reason why it is so easy for anyone to use this corridor to travel between Afghanistan and Iran is that the patrolling in Balochistan is done mainly by the irregular militia and (FC) frontier constabulary, mostly manned by illiterate personnel.

To check on this theory, we drove across the breadth of Chagai, Kharan, and Panjgur districts, reaching just four kilometers from the border of Iran near Kuhak. Throughout the journey we encountered several check posts and mobile patrols but hardly anyone could even read our identity documents much less determine whether we were genuine travelers or someone else in disguise.

We also learned during this road trip that at least two Indian nationals had been caught, using this corridor to reach Iran.

It is worth mentioning that the corridor of instability identified by us terminates right near the town of Pishin in Iran where an act of terrorism several months ago took the lives of dozens of people, including 15 senior officials of Pasdaran.

In the next two reports, hopefully at intervals of about a week or so, we shall describe how a Russian atheism specialist explains the phenomenon of suicide bombing and how a Russian counterterrorism expert decodes our findings to create a fairly understandable picture.

Plans to reconcile Afghan fighters show progress

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KABUL: Afghanistan has made progress encouraging insurgents to lay down their weapons, an official in charge of peace talks in the war-torn country said on Wednesday but that help from neighbour Pakistan remains crucial.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made reconciling with insurgents a priority of his second term and plans are afoot for a large assembly — or peace jirga — involving different factions of Afghan society, for late April or early May.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai is in charge of a plan to reintegrate low-level cadres of the insurgency into society and also leads preparations for the peace jirga. He said there were signs that some insurgents were responding positively to both policies.

“Some delegations are coming from different provinces, they are meeting with the leadership of the government and they are indicating their willingness to join this process and on that front there is a lot of contact ongoing,” Stanekzai told Reuters.

“The representatives of one of those groups have come to Kabul … all these are indications that the people of Afghanistan are tired of the war and they want to find a way out of this current situation.”

That was a reference to the militant group Hizb-e-Islami, which last month sent a delegation to Kabul for talks with government officials.

Stanekzai said a programme to encourage fighters to give up weapons in return for jobs, training and protection from other militants, was also gradually bearing fruit.

“There are people who are joining with laying down their weapons and with this reintegration process,” Stanekzai said. There were initial indications, he said, that insurgents in the provinces of Baghlan, Herat and Kunduz wanted to join the reintegration programme.

Washington has exerted pressure on Kabul to take greater responsibility for security in Afghanistan by setting a July 2011 deadline for U.S. troops to start withdrawing from the country, but has said it is premature to expect the Taliban to talk.
“This is a jirga of the Afghan people. We will not draw the line that who is the opposition or who is the insurgent on the other side,” Stanekzai said. Community leaders who attend could include Taliban sympathisers, he said.

There are three main insurgent factions in Afghanistan: the Taliban, loosely led by the Quetta Shura in Pakistan, Hizb-e-Islami, and the Haqqani network, which is thought to lead attacks in the east and southeast of Afghanistan.

None has formally agreed to attend the peace jirga and the Taliban has dismissed Kabul’s reintegration efforts.

Stanekzai said on an individual level he believed there was support for the peace jirga among the Taliban but “when it comes to the formal responses, it’s very difficult to find out who is their real spokesman.”

PAKISTAN CRUCIAL

The insurgency in Afghanistan is at its deadliest since the war started in 2001, and critics have blamed the resurgence of groups like the Taliban on insufficient oversight of the war by Washington and NATO, and a weak Afghan government.

Stanekzai said Pakistan’s support was necessary to make reconciliation a success. If Pakistan’s recent arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Baradar was intended to prevent the spreading the insurgency in Afghanistan, he said, then he welcomed it.

“(But) if they are replaced with others who continue with the same kind of operation, and those who are willing to join the peace process … are then arrested, then it will not be welcome,” Stanekzai said.
The Afghan government has asked Islamabad to repatriate Baradar to his native Afghanistan. Last month, the former top U.N. envoy to Afghanistan said talks he was involved in with top Taliban leaders were scuppered by Baradar’s arrest.

“We are formally hearing from the officials from Pakistan, they are supportive of these initiatives, but at the same time we need to see a fundamental change in their policy to Afghanistan and both countries need to genuinely cooperate,” Stanekzai said.

GORDON DUFF: WHY IS AMERICA SUPPORTING THE INDO-TALIBAN?

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ARMED AND FINANCED ALMOST ENTIRELY BY AMERICA AND INDIA

THE TALIBAN “ENEMY” IS OUR OWN CREATION

By Gordon Duff STAFF

Two years ago analysts claimed most of the Taliban were fighting America simply because “they were there.” Though this may be true to some extent still, other factors have made this statement obsolete. Not only is America financing the Taliban, we are arming it and, through our ally India, training it as well. This is the “understory” behind the news that is never reported and the reports handed out to the press.

First we started by blaming the Taliban for the massive increase in narcotics production after the Taliban were forced out of power. Is it a coincidence that America invaded Afghanistan after Al Qaeda and bin Laden, only when opium production was entirely eradicated in Afghanistan? We never found bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan under virtual “house arrest” prior to 9/11, an incident, despite misleading stories to the contrary, he has never been tied to in any way. In fact, we never really found Al Qaeda or any training camps either. We did, however, manage to start a war against the Afghan tribes, a war that stretched into Pakistan, a war that is left America and the Karzai government in control of part of the city of Kabul and nothing else.

The traditional blame for American failures is passed on to President Karzai, accused of being a weak leader or tied to the massive corruption and narcotics dealing that have overwhelmed Afghanistan. Even more blame has been placed on failed American policies of aligning with minority tribes in the north known to be generally hostile to the majority of Afghanistan’s population. These things, though true, are little more than excuses covering larger scandals, much larger and much more insidious.

A couple of weeks ago, it was quietly admitted that the massive new Afghan national police force was a failure, not just because it was feared and hated across the country or that it was untrained, ethnically unbalanced and a black hole of lost money. It was also selling its weapons and ammunition to the Taliban, weapons and ammunition paid for by the United States, the best money could buy, far above the quality available to our enemies from local sources. We did nothing about this other than let the story die on the vine as usual.

We had long known that the primary source of funds for the Taliban was the protection money paid them to allow supplies to come through their territory to reach American forces. Prices per truck, and the trucks number in the thousands per week, have gone from $300 USD to nearly $1500 USD. Now, it seems, massive transportation contracts have been given to individuals in Afghanistan that own no trucks but rather sub-contract to unknown companies. We are no longer certain that we haven’t actually hired the Taliban itself to do America’s logistical support in Afghanistan. They used to provide security. Now they may even own the trucks themselves.

INDIAN INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Despite the fact that our primary ally, Pakistan, has been telling us that India has been arming and training terrorists in Pakistan, we continue to allow this. Thousands of Indian “security forces” hostile to Pakistan man “consulates” along the Pakistan border. It is reported that they are arming Taliban forces, forces that should be called the “Indo-Taliban” to fight inside Pakistan. This, of course, constitutes America allowing an enemy to openly operate against its own allies and even its own forces. What could be the political inducement for this?

Why would the Pakistan government send a high level delegation to Washington to ask our government to end supporting India’s effort to train and arm the Taliban, a group America is currently fighting against? Could India’s close relationship with Israel, a nation over half the members of congress signed a pledge of “undying and unconditional support” for be a factor? The only historical equivalent would have been for America to bring Canada into Vietnam to arm and train the Viet Cong. The only secret that is more poorly kept than this one is our decision to “attack” Marjah, the drug capital of Afghanistan, attack an enemy that had withdrawn or may have never existed and to “protect” the opium crop we used to claim financed the Taliban.

Who would want to interfere with a narco-empire stretching over, not only Afghanistan, but an entire region, governments that loosely support American efforts as long as drug revenue keeps coming.

WHAT WILL JUNE BRING?

With 30,000 new troops coming into Afghanistan while the remaining support for the Karzai government crumbles around us and corruption level reach new highs, can a military solution in support of a totally dysfunctional narco-state really bring about democratic reforms and eliminate the origins of political extremism? Will more tapes of Osama bin Laden surface, perhaps now including mortgage advice or talking about basketball scores? With tape recorders almost impossible to buy anymore and every cheap digital camera having a full video capability now, will we, at least, start getting a look at the short fat black haired bin Laden clone again? Did he die too? Can’t we do more to invent “infamous evildoers” and “enemy strongholds” for us to spend our billions in endless and fruitless pursuit of?

Written by rohitkumarsviews

April 5, 2010 at 10:10 am

Turkey keen to cooperate with Pakistan in all fields

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Both countries to upgrade strategic ties, jointly defeat terrorism; Zardari, Gul have heart-to-heart meeting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Turkey on Wednesday expressed resolve to upgrade their strategic partnership and intensify political and economic cooperation besides jointly defeating militancy and terrorism that continue to claim scores of innocent lives in Pakistan and Turkey.

The understanding came at a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Turkish President Abdullah Gul here at the Presidency which reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations.
The one-on-one meeting between the two presidents was followed by a delegation level formal talks which were attended on the Pakistan side by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Minister for Food & Agriculture Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Interior Minister Rehman A Malik, Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, Finance Adviser Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh besides other senior officials.

On Turkish side, Minister of State Prof Mehmet Aydin, Minister for Health Prof Recap Akdag, Minister for Agricultural & Rural Affairs M Mehdi Eker, were present besides Turkish Ambassador Babar Hizlan, members of parliament and other senior officials.

During the meeting, President Zardari said the public-private partnership model of development adopted by Pakistan could open new horizons of cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey and lend greater depth and substance to the existing cordial ties between the two countries and transform it into a strategic partnership.

Briefing the media on the meeting, Spokesperson for the President Farhatullah Babar said during talks President Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the need for upgrading communication links to further boost trade, commerce and people-to-people contacts. He said the existing rail link needed to be upgraded so as to open up and connect vast European and Asian markets to the benefit of not only Pakistan and Turkey but also of all people in the region. He suggested that the train may be named after the Turkish President as ìGul Trainî.

The president said the proposed 6,500 km Islamabad-Istanbul rail link would vastly improve regional connectivity. It may be mentioned that as per the decision taken during the ECO Ministerial meeting in Tehran in March last year, the demonstration run of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul container train was launched on August 14 last year.

During President Zardari’s January visit to Istanbul, the Turkish railway authorities also gave a detailed briefing on the prospects of the Islamabad-Istanbul container train. Turkey also offered to assist Pakistan in upgrading its railway network to facilitate operationalisation of the Islamabad-Istanbul container train.

Farhatullah Babar said the two presidents also witnessed the signing of three bilateral agreements between the two countries in the Presidency at the conclusion of the delegation level talks.

The bilateral agreements signed on Wednesday pertained to MoU for collaboration in the fields of agro-based industries, MoU between the Board of Investment of GOP and Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency (ISPAT) and MoU on cooperation in Planning between the Government of Pakistan and Government of the Republic of Turkey.

After the signing ceremony, the two presidents read out their respective statements to the press. In a joint press talk, President Zardari said Pakistan greatly values its strategic partnership with Turkey which is rooted in shared interests, common concerns and convergence of perceptions on regional and global issues.

“Pakistan is an important country of the region and the world because of its flourishing democracy and strategic location and our bilateral relations are also an example for the entire world,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

President Zardari said Pakistan and Turkey have reiterated the commitment to boost relations in the diverse fields, including economy, trade, investment, agriculture, infrastructure development, defence and people-to-people contacts.

“Keeping in view the huge potential, we have decided to pay special attention to re-energise our trade relations for the mutual benefit of our people and meet the agreed targets,” he added.

President Zardari said the private sector plays a pivotal role in trade enhancement and economic development and to harness potential of the private sector, the two countries had launched Pak-Turk CEO’s forum during the visit of the Turkish prime minister to Pakistan last October.

He said the second meeting of the CEO forum is being held in Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon and in Lahore Thursday. The president said both Pakistan and Turkey condemn terrorism and extremism and “we have reiterated our staunch resolve to jointly defeat this menace”.

He said during talks with President Abdullah Gul, he briefed him on Pakistan’s campaign against extremism and militancy which enjoyed full support of the people. He said the remarkable success of the military operations in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan are a result of national unity and immense sacrifices of the people and armed forces.

President Zardari said Pakistan and Turkey hold identical views on Afghanistan and “we will continue to lend our support to Kabul’s national efforts to achieve durable peace, prosperity and sustainable development”.

In his remarks, Turkish President Abdullah said Turkey has long standing and historical relations with Pakistan and efforts will be made to further strengthen these relations in future. He said there should be more delegation level visits and meetings to take the relations to new heights.

Appreciating Pakistan’s role in the war against terror, he said the prevailing environment of reconciliation and harmony in Pakistan will guarantee the success of Pakistan in the fight against the menace of militancy and extremism.

The Turkish president also urged the international community to help Pakistan in the fight against this menace. Responding to a question for promoting trade relations between the two countries, the Turkish president said Pakistan and Turkey enjoy excellent brotherly relations but these have not been translated in the fields of economy, commerce and trade.

He said efforts will be made to take the trade between the two countries to the tune of five billion dollars in the shortest possible time. He described his visit to Pakistan as very important and expressed the confidence that it will give new dimensions to relations between the two countries.

He said the Wednesdayís talks will result in concrete outcome and both the countries will enhance their cooperation in economy, trade and energy. He appreciated Pakistan for its contribution to war on terror and also commended the political parties for joining in to root out the menace.

He urged the international community to express solidarity with Pakistan to win the war. He emphasised the need for improving rail link between the two countries and enhanced trade through train service.

President Gul said the energy cooperation is another important field where both the countries can cooperate to overcome Pakistan’s power crisis. He said during his visit to Lahore on Thursday he looked forward to further promoting cultural relations with Pakistan besides people-to-people contacts.

President Zardari thanked Turkey for cooperating with Pakistan, especially in hosting bilateral meetings with Afghanistan, to bring peace and stability in the region. He said Pakistan enjoys excellent relations with Afghanistan and is cooperating to bring peace in that country.

Answering a question, President Abdullah Gul said both the countries have great potential for economic and trade relations but it is unfortunate that it has not yet enhanced properly.He hoped that his current visit would lead to enhanced trade and economic relations. He was confident that the bilateral trade would touch $2 billion mark in a year or two and ultimately swell to $5 billion a year.

A fatal attraction

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By: Momin Iftikhar Momin

The February 26 attack by a suicide team on a guest room and hotel complex, frequented by Indian officials and workers in the fashionable quarters of Kabul has brought into full glare the dilemmas confronted by the Indian strategic planners overseeing the Afghanistan operations. The issues at stake are the raising of the Indian military profile in Afghanistan and rationalising the political cost for civilian and military casualties that are inevitable to rise as the strategy is proceeded with in earnest. Opportunities beckon; the US is set on a deadline of rolling back its military deployment within five years starting from 2011 and its allies would be dashing for the exit door in an even shorter timeframe. Filling the military vacuum by sending in forces fulfils the ultimate Indian desire of landing a pincer on Pakistan’s western flank but the costs, such an investment could incur, could be staggering.

A measure of the pain that may be confronted was starkly laid out by the Indian military casualties sustained during the latest Kabul attack. Among the total 17 deaths Indian share stood at six; a toll that included two Indian officers of the major rank, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police constable and an embassy staffer from Kandahar Consulate, who, despite attempts to conceal his identity was in all probability a senior RAW operator. That is not all!

In addition to the four casualties inflicted upon the Indian military establishment in Afghanistan, there were six injured military men of unspecified rank that were carried home by the IAF’s Boeing 737-200 aircraft, expeditiously dispatched in the wake of attack. There are no details in the media regarding the identity of these injured army persons or the tasks they were performing in the risk-laden environs of Kabul, but it is manifest that the threat to Indian military-intelligence presence in Afghanistan is escalating. The latest attack was third in a series of bombings targeting the Indian presence in Kabul. In July 2008, a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosive into the entrance to the Indian Embassy killing more than 50 people including the Defence Attaché. In October 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Indian Embassy extracting a toll of 17.

The perception that the threat to the security of Indian presence in Afghanistan is mounting, is not lost on the planners in the South Block. The hard reality of a strategic failure in Afghanistan, after an investment of almost a decade following the 9/11, is beginning to stare India in the face.

The terrorism card, so successfully played by India in defining the terms of negotiations with Pakistan has failed to stick in Afghanistan. Credibility of the Indian vision of a politico-military balance in Afghanistan has come to be frequently questioned by the US military commanders. There is a growing awareness that dependence on India has been a major reason for landing the US in the quagmire of Afghanistan by clouding its judgment with faulty premises and engineered intelligence. The US commanding general in Afghanistan has obliquely pointed out to the folly of following the Indian urgings. In his assessment of the situation submitted to President Barack Obama in August 2009, General Stanley McChrystal warned that India’s growing influence in the country could “exacerbate regional tensions” and encourage “counter measures” by Pakistan.

Afghanistan has become a test case for India in its attempts at power projection in the region. To circumvent the geographical barriers imposed by the Pakistani landmass, India has invested heavily in building the 218km Zaranj-Delaram Highway to link Southern Afghanistan with the Iranian port city of Chah Bahar. This enables India to bypass Pakistan and transport goods and equipment from Iran to Kabul and across Afghanistan. By committing $1.2 billion towards building infrastructure, India has become a major donor in a war ravaged Afghanistan. There are around 5,000 Indian personnel who have arrived in Afghanistan to engage in the reconstruction effort. Following up the Indian significant presence and taking advantage of the excuse provided by their security concerns, India has inducted around a battalion of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in Afghanistan. Moreover, to test waters for enhancing the military profile, India has started sending military doctors and education instructors in Afghanistan. The two Indian Army majors killed in the latest Kabul blasts belonged to these two categories.

Despite setbacks, the ambition of placing boots on ground has not lost traction with the hawkish strategic quarters in India. Former Indian Army Chief, General Shankar Roy Chaudhry, has described the military involvement in Afghanistan as “a war of necessity.” General Deepak Kapoor, too, has argued that that the Indian military presence in Afghanistan could give it some strategic depth against Pakistan; saying the Indian military presence in Afghanistan could be used to squeeze Pakistan. C Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian analyst, has expressed similar thoughts. “Why is India’s contribution to Afghan security so low? If countries so far from Afghanistan – like Canada and Australia – have deployed troops there, what is holding back Delhi, such an important neighbour and economic partner of Kabul?” he argues. Sushant K Singh, editor of a strategic affairs journal Pragati, recently wrote: “An Indian military involvement in Afghanistan will shift the battle ground away from Kashmir and the Indian mainland” recommending that the Indian military should operate independently in Afghanistan.

But much lies betwixt the cup and the lip. The envisioned Indian strategy to curtail the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, envelop it (Pakistan) from the west and find ingress into the energy rich Central Asian Republics lies in tatters. Indian perspective and the intelligence upon which the US has relied so much stands discredited and discarded. It has taken eight long years for the US to know the ropes and finally acknowledge that Indian presence and ambitions, particularly those dreaming of a military presence in Afghanistan are a recipe for grand chaos and disaster.

The Indian developmental work in Afghanistan stands out as a masquerade to screen her naked ambition for dominance in Afghanistan which is unacceptable to the Pashtun majority. Indian presence, seeking to alter the flow of history and tradition, is bound to result into a backlash. In case the Indian administration dares to land a military contingent into Afghanistan, its disastrous foray into Sri Lanka with Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 shall certainly appear to be much milder in comparison.