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Posts Tagged ‘Killing

Who are behind Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder?

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By: Sajjad Shaukat

In wake of continued terrorist acts in Pakistan, on March 2 this year the cold-blooded murder of the country’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti has intensified the debate that as to who are behind his assassination. Although Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan, a militant group has taken the responsibility of Shabaz’s murder, yet Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies are investigating in connection with some foreign hands or the possible involvement of Xe International, (formerly Blackwater) and indian intelligence agency RAW, specifically looking into the activities of a white foreigner who is acting as a “security consultant” in Islamabad. In this regard, some high officials of Pakistan have revealed that a third hand or party might be involved in the assassination of the federal minister for minorities.

Some intelligence officials told a Pakistani newspaper that they found suspect-the activities of the foreigner who was living under the umbrella of a NGO and running an office in sector G-11 of Islamabad. They indicated, “nobody knows what he is doing in Islamabad and on what mission”, he is. The paper explained that the foreigner also met with some security officers a couple of days back posing as “security consultant” and interviewed them regarding the current security situation of Pakistan, asking them whether Pakistan could face Libya-like situation in the near future. In this respect, a Pakistan’s renowned newspaper insisted, “the fact that the foreign hand that has been creating unrest in the country for a long time now could be behind the incident cannot be ruled out…links between foreign intelligence agencies like Indian RAW, Israeli Mossad and American CIA and militants have been suspected…RAW is even known for having provided financial and military support to spread violence in Pakistan.” In another report, the paper, while quoting “well-informed sources” disclosed that in 2010, the Obama administration deployed over 400 pro-India and pro-Israel CIA agents in Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi, the country’s biggest cities.

Washington hired these contractors from private security companies like Blackwater, and leading Indian and Israeli businessmen including their secret agencies which have been clandestinely and heavily funding such companies to carry out secret operations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa as per their interests against the Islamic countries. Some reliable sources suggest that the Blackwater has hired 286 houses in different residential sectors of Islamabad for their suspicious activities. Regarding the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the police confirmed that the terrorists used 7.62 mm-AK-47 Klashnikov, an automatic gun and sprayed 35 bullets with two guns, adding that police recovered all the 35 empties from the scene.

It is notable that the terrorists threw on the road the pamphlets with Kalma-e-Tayyaba printed on them and also the name of the holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) after killing Shahbaz Bhatti. Th fact remains that no Muslim can ever think of dropping on ground such sacred material. Nevertheless, that condemnable act might also have been committed precisely to divert the investigations away from the real terrorists which belong to RAW, CIA and Mossad.

It is mentionable that through their secret agencies, the concerned foreign countries want to fulfil their multiple-nefarious aims against Pakistan by the murder of the federal minister for minorities affairs. In this regard, firstly, they intend to divert the attention away from the issue of Raymond Davis including his companions who are agents of the American CIA and were on an anti-Pakistan mission. Especially, Davis is part of the illegal activities of the Blackwater whose employees entered Pakistan in the guise of diplomats. Secondly, these covert agents of the related intelligence agencies want to distort the image of Pakistan in the comity of nations as they have already tarnished the country’s image through various subversive activities-are now working against Pakistan by taking advantage of the country’s deteriorated law and order situation which they have themselves created through their secret forces. Notably, in this context, the rulers and leaders of the western countries have strongly condemned the murder of the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, expressing outrage and termed it as “unspeakable”, “unacceptable” and a “dastardly crime”, and also called it an attack on the values of tolerance. In this regard, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the assassination of Bhatti was “absolutely brutal and unacceptable”. He also stated that the minister’s murder showed what a huge problem we have in our world with intolerance. He further added, “I will send not only our condolences but our clearest possible message to the government and people of Pakistan that this is simply unacceptable.” US President Barack Obama pointed out that he was saddened by the “horrific” assassination. He said, “I am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti,” and “condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a US Senate committee, “I was shocked and outraged by the assassination of Bhatti…I think this was an attack not only on one man but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths.” German Federal Foreign Minister, Dr Guido Westerwelle, expressed his shock and dismay over the assassination of Bhatti, and said, “he was the only Christian who was passionately committed to the rights of minorities in Pakistan.” Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian leaders have also expressed similar views. However, this is what the anti-Pakistan secret agencies wanted to achieve through the murder. Thirdly, the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti was actually aimed at further creating rifts between different religious communities, accelerating sectarian violence in Pakistan. Fourthly, it is noteworthy that Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World; hence the US, India, Israel and some western powers are determined to weaken it. Despite American cooperation with Islamabad, its main aim along with India and Israel remains to de-nuclearise our country whose geo-strategic location with the Gwadar port entailing close ties with China irks the eyes of these countries, therefore, they are in collusion to destabilise Pakistan. For this purpose, a well-established network of Indian army, RAW, Mossad and CIA which was set up in Afghanistan against Pakistan in order to support insurgency in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and separatism in Balochistan have been extended. Fifthly, the major aim of these external secret agencies is to show that Pakistan is a prejudiced country where religious extremism is running high, and where people cannot tolerate other religious communities, particularly Christians. Sixthly, by creating such an aggravated situation, these secret forces are determined to isolate Pakistan with the efforts of Indo-Jewish and American lobbies which are already working on the anti-Pakistan agenda.

Nonetheless, while taking cognizance of the real aims of the external intelligence agencies in relation to the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the patriot people of Pakistan must wake up in order to apprehend the secret forces which have been trying to weaken the country. For this purpose, foreigners such as covert operatives who are running clandestine networks in the country must be captured by our intelligence agencies with the cooperation of public as quickly as possible. In this respect, a comprehensive strategy must be prepared to secure the lives of all people as well the survival of the country.

What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising

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By: Peter Beinart

We’re almost two weeks into the revolution in Egypt and the American media keeps asking the question that my extended family asks during all world events: Is it good for Israel? Ask a Jewish question, get a Jewish answer, by which I mean, another question: What’s good for Israel?

Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”

Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people-the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”

But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.

More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence.

Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.

All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.

The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.

Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep-and understandable-rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.

Leaked CBI documents: Militants to target Foreign Nationals at Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

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Siyast Aur Pakistan

Naxalite separatist militants will be targetting foreign nationals and athletes in next week’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi – according to TOP SECRET documents leaked to PKKH from New Delhi’s Central Bureau of Investigation, Special Crime Unit.

The reports identify two separate militant groups, one of which has come under the radar as recently as 18th of September, as the athletes and forward teams start arriving in New Delhi.

LEAKED INTELLIGENCE DOCUMENTS FROM CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, NEW DELHI

The militant groups are said to have been supplied with explosives, gelatin sticks and detonators by ‘a large network’, related to the August 27th incident in Madhya Pradesh where a hundred and sixty three (163) trucks laden with explosives went missing. NDTV reported at the time the trucks were loaded with detonators and gelatine sticks which were being sent from the government’s Dholpur Factory in Rajasthan to Chanderi and Sagar town in Madhya Pradesh.

Both companies are owned by Jaikishan Aswani, who has close links with extremist Hindu militant groups.

With barely days to go before the start of the Commonwealth Games, the leak of these documents is bound to raise serious doubts over the security and threat perception for the games, already reeling from planning and construction issues as well as the pull-out of leading international athletes citing security and hygeine concerns.

On Tuesday, September 21st, an Australian television news crew managed to enter the main games arena carrying a suitcase with an explosives detonation kit without being stopped.

The Channel 7 journalist who also filmed blackmarket explosives on sale near New Delhi, walked into the venue carrying the case, capable of triggering upto 200 explosions if fitted with a detonator, without attracting suspicion.

The Indian government has asked the army to be on alert in view of the Commonwealth Games. The alert was sounded after several nations raised security concerns following the September 19 Jama Masjid shooting in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured and a bomb went off in a car near the firing spot.

However, the fact that this latest information regarding the naxalite plans to specifically target foreign nationals and athletes has come to light this late, security officials are said to be horrified at what lies in wait as athletes start arriving in Delhi for the games.

‘We knew there would be threats and we had covered most of the ground where we saw these threats coming from. However this new information is absolutely devastating since we just do not know enough at this stage to be able to confidently reassure the public that the games will go on without incident. All we know is that there are people intent on killing the foreign nationals and that they have the means to do so. There is a serious amount of explosives and detonation kits channeled into Delhi specifically for these games’, said a security official to PKKH on condition of anonymity.

Who guards the guardians in Kabul?

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Pakistan Daily

Mercenaries and private military companies and their suspicious intelligence network in Afghanistan have ultimately challenged the legitimate function of the Afghan state. They are the prime reason behind the distances between the regular soldiers and civil society across the country. Secret and underground arm business between these contractors, the Taliban militia and former warlords has raised many questions about the instability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. These private security firms and their criminal militias have minimized the power of the state and government. They have hijacked the Afghan state. The state is no more existed in its legitimate form, there are many states functioning from south to north and from west to east. There have been differences, distances and clefts between civil society and the Afghan national army.

The army soldiers either joining the network of these companies for a lump sum salary every month or receive compensation for joining the Taliban in night fight against NATO and the Afghan govt forces. The privatized military industry patronized by former jihadi leaders and drug smugglers has become a hot debate in the print and electronic media in Afghanistan. These jihadi leaders, former so-called Mujahideen, warlords, war criminals and their private security and intelligence firms have been deeply involved in the killing, and torturing of the civilian population across the country since the US invasion in 2001.

These so-called Mujahideen have never stopped their private security companies from the killing, raping and looting their countrymen. They will never ask this because all these so-called leaders, like warlord Abdul Rasul Syyaf, General Fahim, Karim Khalili, Prof, Rabbani, Sabghatullah Mujaddidi and President Karzai’s brothers have established their own private security companies and private militias. They have recruited and recruit young unemployed and poverty stricken Afghans, receive money from the Americans, smuggle weapons in and outside Afghanistan, rape women prisoners, and young girls. They run the business of China white heroin and share their network with the Taliban for spreading their business across south and central Asia.

A former warlord commander Mr, Ruhullah is chairman Kandahar security groups. His men collect taxes and share it with the Taliban. According to the Kaleed research report, his criminal mafia has been involved in the killing of innocent passengers. Moreover, soldiers of this security company along with the Taliban forces fight NATO in night. Another criminal security firm belongs to former General Qasim Fahim and his brother. Sources from Afghanistan revealed that strategic solution international collect information, protect guardians and established its own criminal militia across the country. Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and his son Hamid Jan Wardak have also established a security company under that name of N.C.L Security Company. General Rahim Wardak and his company have also been involved in criminal activities and killings of innocent Peoples. Warlord, Sabghatullah Mujaddidi (Former President of Afghanistan) has established a mafia group under the name of elite security company.

The recent release low quality disinformation documents by the WikiLeaks is based on the non-technical reports of these private military and intelligence firms in Afghanistan. Their illiterate, criminal and non-technical informers have gathered such a low quality disinformation reports which caused misunderstandings between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. They accused ISI for its tacit support to Taliban on one hand and beg Pakistan for bringing Afghan Taliban to the table of talks on the other.

Keeping in view their illegal military and terror related activities, President Hamid Karzai renewed his demand for the elimination of the suspicious network of these contractors saying they are a source of corruption that undermining support for the war against the Taliban insurgency. The contractors are “running a parallel security structure in the country, they are looting and stealing from the Afghan people” and “some of them turn into terrorist groups at night time,” The President revealed in ABC TV programme. The better-paid private criminal militia needs to be disbanded in order for the Afghan police force to be built up, he said. The US in Afghanistan and Iraq has found that the military has shrunk so much since the Cold War ended, therefore, decided to use private military companies to directly support military operations.

Experts say, there are over 100 private security and military contractors with approximately 64,000 uniformed personnel. These private military companies do not spend all funds on their projects in a particular country. They steal money and transfer it to a safe destination. The issue of the presence of Blackwaters in Pakistan and Afghanistan has become complicated issue. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik is consecutively denying its presence in the country, while media reports say, Blackwaters has been involved in target killings. Private Contractor began to enter Afghanistan after the US intervention in 2001. Two years ago, Afghan President ordered a law-making process in motion, but the process continued.

Private Security Firms Regulation are still being debated, including their process, staff identification, the weapons used and general requirements for their owners and staff. The criminal record of their soldiers (former Afghan warlords, drug mafia, human traffickers, rapists, and murderers) and their involvement in looting, rape and other illegal activities is another question raised in Afghan parliament. Ordinary Afghans don’t know about the basic function of these firms. They don’t know regarding the multitude of security actors in the country. They recently came to known that these private contractors are corrupt; they are bringing more guns into the country, supply guns to Pak-Afghan Taliban and smuggle narcotics drugs. They use govt permits for smuggling weapons into Afghanistan and then to Pakistan, they dishonestly register part of their weapons their sophisticated arms are not reported. They buy weapons from black market and employ those who are already armed. They arm other groups organize violence and create conflict mechanism.

Majority of Afghans criticise them as overbearing and abusive. Before issuing the order, President Hamid Karzai accused these firms for their involvement in robbery, malpractice and misusing their authority. Their suspicious activities, lake of transparency, Profit motivated job not by national foreign policy or security interests. As they are not accountable to the state they have no strict regulatory regime. This private sector intelligence and security agencies have created misunderstanding during their operations in various states. What are they doing in Afghanistan and how they run their business, nobody knows. But one thing is clear; they badly affected the fighting capabilities of the professional armies of NATO allied states.

If they recruit and train mercenaries for war, why the Taliban are being accused for the recruitment and training of their cadets? It means they prepare people for their own ideological war. Keeping in view their mysterious activities, at the national level, Afghan state will need to tighten regulatory provisions in domestic law and enhance enforcement. States that depend on mercenaries and private military, intelligence and security companies during peace and war, military operations, intelligence gathering, police training and many other fields, have suffered from the disease of incapacity of their states. Their states authority has become limited and their national security and military policies have been influenced by these private firms. No doubt, the situation is going worse and what we said in the past that private companies or security agencies are working for money not for national interests, proved to be true.

The illegal activities of the private military companies can put in danger the country’s relations with the other states. In Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the activities of these companies are viewed more suspicious. According to the British commander in Afghanistan, Major General Nick Carter, “Afghan private security firms fuelling corruption, Security firms need to be properly regulated and registered. An Afghan newspaper once reported about the criminal nature of these companies; “Ignoring the authority of local police and lacking respect of traffic laws and bad road manner, such as not stopping at intersections, using one-way roads in the wrong direction, driving too fast and pushing people to the side of roads. A DynCorp guard company was also once seen slapping an Afghan Minister, the newspaper reported. NATO-led troops do not trust Afghan national security forces as Afghan soldiers at least twice opened fire on their colleagues and mentors, killing two Americans and three Britons in the past months. Police in night hand to hand with Taliban fights coalition forces all the night while in day time they protect them.

Musa Khan Jalalzai, The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban, based in London

The Cycle Of Violence in Kashmir

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By: Rohit Kumar

India’s Prime Minister has asked for an end to the cycle of violence in Kashmir. This is a noble request but the cycle needs to be carefully understood so as to determine who can end it, and how. The violence in India dates back to an indigenous uprising in Indian-Held Kashmir that erupted in response to rigged elections almost two decades ago. Indian response to the protests was the use of military forces armed with special powers under a Draconian legislative act passed by the Indian Centre. The scenario that emerged was of killings, rapes, unmentionable brutalities and atrocities by the forces that were let loose on the Kashmiris. The response was the birth of a homegrown militant movement that soon attracted support from across the border – from their kith and kin across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir – and indeed from many other places.

The Indian answer? Use more force. This was how the cycle of violence was created and this is how it continues to this day.

Ever since then the freedom struggle has alternated between militant activity, street protests and political maneuvers. The grievances of the Kashmiris have never been addressed in fact these have increased as the Indian military has increased its presence and atrocities, with the timid backing of the Indian Central Government who is intent on reinforcing failure in Kashmir no matter which party is in power. After Pakistan agreed to stop the movement of militants across the Line of Control (LoC) there was no reciprocity from India – in fact, India stepped up its vilification of Pakistan and, later, began using its influence in Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan, thereby starting another cycle of terror which militant Hindu organizations and other Hindu extremists were all too eager to join. This second cycle has led to non-state actors exploiting the situation to their advantage.

India’s response is to respond with more sponsorship of the violence and terror in Pakistan. The cycle continues.

The recent political protests in Indian-Held Kashmir warranted an overwhelmingly honest political response, not another large scale massacre of Kashmiris. Will this spawn another cycle of militancy? We have to wait and see. The Maoists and other insurgent groups have shown interest in the plight of the Kashmiris in India – an ominous signal that India should not ignore because its use of force in the nort-east has failed to achieve results. Violence has increased manifold, and the civil security apparatus in the Red Corridor is in the Naxals’ crosshairs. Even so, India chose to deliberate on whether to send in its Army or not, after dozens of CRPF troopers were ambushed and killed in June.

To stop these cycles of violence, all India has to do is stop pedaling – that is indubitably the best way to stop a cycle. Blaming others will not work. Not wanting to talk, and even using talks as a façade for other policies, will not work. India has to choose before it is forced to make a choice.

The Mystery Behind the Rockets from Sinai

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CNN

First, it was resolute denial. The Egyptian government declared that the two rockets that hit the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba earlier this week, killing a Jordanian taxi driver and injuring four others – as well as the rocket that hit near the Israeli port of Eilat – could not have come from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Never mind that the rockets were of the regionally popular Grad variety, known to have a flight range of just 25 miles (40 km); that would take the volatile Gaza Strip – 190 miles (300 km) away – off the hook as the source. Egypt also said that its long expanse of desert in Sinai was not relevant to any investigation of where the rockets came from. Never mind that it is inhabited by an often rebellious Bedouin population implicated in previous terrorist attacks. Cairo said Egypt was too well monitored and too secure to be the launchpad for the rockets.


A damaged car sits at the site of a rocket attack in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, Jordan, on Monday, Aug. 2, 2010

Then, two days after its denials, after discovering evidence of a misfired rocket in the Sinai desert, Egypt admitted, grudgingly, that the rockets came from Egyptian territory. But it said Hamas, which rules Gaza, is to blame.

Israel and some Jordanian officials have also pointed the finger at Hamas, the Islamist group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 after routing forces loyal to its rival, Western-backed Fatah faction, which continues to govern the West Bank. It’s an easy accusation to make. Hamas has often been accused by Israel, Fatah and neighboring Arab states of instigating violence to derail peace negotiations.

But with no real evidence beyond the suggested motives, the rocketing of Aqaba and Eilat remains a whodunit. Hamas, ever wary of Israeli retaliation, has vehemently denied responsibility for the attacks. Fringe Islamist groups within Gaza have defied Hamas’ official rocket ban in the past, and it’s likely that Palestinian or Islamist extremists were behind the attack. Some observers have suggested that Bedouin smugglers in Sinai – under pressure from a shrinking Gaza smuggling industry after Israel loosened its blockade – had hoped to reignite tensions in order to buttress their role as intermediaries in the Palestinian enclave’s economy.

In any event, leaders of Sinai’s Bedouin communities say they are on edge, tensely expecting that Bedouin could take some of the blame, as they have for previous terrorist attacks in Egypt. And in Taba, the Sinai border resort town directly adjacent to Eilat and Aqaba, the unease is palpable. “The tourist industry is sleeping right now,” says Mahmoud, a Bedouin taxi driver who declined to give his last name. “There’s a war,” he adds, driving down an empty road past the Taba Hilton, where a 2004 bombing killed more than 30 people. “Everyone says the rockets came from Sinai, but we don’t know who launched them.”

“If it is true [that the attacks originated in Sinai], it will affect the Bedouin of Sinai,” says Abu Mohammed, a sheik from the Sawarka tribe of northern Sinai, near the Gazan border. “The government could arrest 200 to 300 people all because of one person. It could be a big problem.”

Egyptian media and wire reports, quoting unnamed security sources, said Egyptian security forces were combing the mountainous desert around Taba and had enlisted the help of 100 Bedouin to conduct the search. It’s not the first time Bedouin cooperation has been utilized for such a mission; following a series of terrorist bombings of Sinai resort areas from 2004 to 2006, the government says, Bedouin tribesmen helped track down dozens of locals it believed to be implicated in the attacks. But thousands of Bedouin were arrested in the process. And despite several highly publicized goodwill gestures by the Cairo regime in the past few months – including the release of hundreds of jailed Bedouin and the announcement of new job initiatives in the area – the police brutality and discrimination of recent years continue to dominate the consciousness of many in Egypt’s desert border zone. Says Abu Mohammed: “Until today, the government has released 180 people who were imprisoned. But there are still 200 to 300 who are in jail.”

But Beshir Abdel Fattah, a security analyst and Sinai expert at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, believes that the Egyptian government knows better than to repress the Sinai Bedouin. “There is a new era in the relationship between the police and the Bedouin,” he says. “[State authorities] know that not all Bedouin are responsible for this.”

Nevertheless, there is still nervousness. To the southwest of Abu Mohammed’s village, a road connects northern Sinai to the south at the sleepy town of Nakhl, continuing from there through rocky desert and rose-hued craggy mountains to Taba. It’s a few hours’ drive along a route that is mostly empty – and often breathtaking. But it’s a road that for years, and despite the recent talk, no foreigner has been allowed to follow. It’s too dangerous, explain some of the drivers who ply Sinai’s desert roads. They cite Bedouin-government tensions for their reluctance. To get to the area where Egypt meets Gaza, the drivers insist on a circuitous alternative: a seven-hour route that takes you out of Sinai and bypasses the center of the peninsula before heading back in to reach the troublesome border with the Hamas-ruled strip.

Taliban names removed from U.N. list – how times have changed

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In all the noise about the war in Afghanistan over the last week, including the WikiLeaks uproar and a spat between Pakistan and Britain over remarks made by Prime Minister David Cameron about Pakistan’s links to Islamist militancy, one piece of news carries real significance.

On Friday, five Taliban members were struck off a U.N. Security Council list of militants subject to sanctions in a move designed to smooth the way for reconciliation talks with insurgents. Among those, two of the five were dead. The other three – Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, a former Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the last Taliban ambassador to Islamabad before 9/11, and Abdul Satar Paktin – are no longer subject to the asset freeze and travel ban imposed on those on the list.

To get a sense of quite how significant a change this is, consider how Mullah Zaeef – who now lives in Kabul and says he is no longer an active member of the movement – describes his treatment when he was arrested in Pakistan in early 2002, according to his book “My Life with the Taliban”. The Pakistani official who arrested him told him: “Your Excellency, you are no longer an Excellency! America is a superpower. Did you not know that? No one can defeat it, nor can they negotiate with it. America wants to question you and we are here to hand you over to the USA.”

Turned over to the Americans near Peshawar after being driven there from Islamabad, he says he was attacked and his clothes ripped with knives. “The Pakistani soldiers were all staring as the Americans hit me and tore the remaining clothes off my body. Eventually I was completely naked, and the Pakistani soldiers – the defenders of the Holy Koran – shamelessly watched me with smiles on their faces, saluting this disgraceful action of the Americans.”

“That moment,” he says, “is written in my memory like a stain on my soul.”

That was followed by long years of humiliation and degradation in jails first in Afghanistan and later in Guantanamo. Finally freed from Guantanamo without charge on Sept. 11 2005, he returned to Kabul where he has lived under government protection.

The decision by the United Nations, with American support, to remove the names of Mullah Zaeef and others from the sanctions list is possibly the closest Washington has come since 9/11 to offering some kind of legitimacy to the Taliban movement which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

It is an important step for a movement which some analysts argue always craved legitimacy – it was recognised only by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan when it was in government – and which in any negotiations about giving it an eventual share of power in Afghanistan would be looking for the kind of funding and trade possibilities that only international recognition can provide.

It should also make it easier to open the kind of informal contacts that could eventually pave the way to more serious negotiations. Mullah Zaeef – who in his book speaks of his loyalty to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar – was involved in earlier meetings in Saudi Arabia which were reported to have focused on the possibilities of reconciliation with the Taliban.

The United States and its allies have increasingly spoken about the need for talks with the Taliban to try to bring an end to an unpopular war now into its ninth year, although Washington has also said it needs more time to end a stalemate on the ground so that it can enter any talks from a position of strength.

But if and when talks do start, one of the obstacles has been over how to talk to a movement whose members are on the United Nations “most-wanted” list.

The Taliban leadership is not expected to negotiate in public until their names are removed from the list. The United States and its allies are unlikely to remove those names from the list until the Taliban sever ties with al Qaeda. And the Taliban are unlikely to sever ties with al Qaeda until after negotiations start, since that is their biggest bargaining chip.

The removal of some names – even of former Taliban members – from that list is a small step to resolving that conundrum. Potential intermediaries can now travel more freely and if they choose to do so, open up lines of communication to agree on the kind of confidence building measures which would likely be an essential prelude to more organised talks. U.S. and other officials can also meet them without fear of sanction.

Whether those contacts succeed or not is a different question – the Taliban leadership will make their own calculations about whether they can win more at the negotiating table than by waiting out the clock for the Americans to leave. But they should help both sides to understand each other a bit more in a shadowy war where neither side, each from radically different cultures, has much of an understanding of the enemy it is fighting.

In the words of Mullah Zaeef again:

“The biggest mistake of American policy makers so far might be their profound lack of understanding of their enemy. The U.S. brought an overwhelming force to Afghanistan. They arrived with a superior war machine, trying to swat mosquitoes with sledgehammers, destroying the little that was left of Afghanistan and causing countless casualties on their mission, knocking down many more walls than killing insects. Till this very day, it is this lack of understanding and their own prejudices that they still struggle with.”