Suicide blast kills child, four Afghan policemen

9 04 2009
Source: AFP

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber killed a child and four anti-drugs policemen in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, police said, as the US military reported killing 10 militants in overnight raids.

The blast occurred in the town of Lashkar Gah, capital of the turbulent southern province of Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan’s opium production — a lucrative trade that helps bankroll a Taliban-led insurgency.

A man walked up to a four-vehicle police convoy and detonated explosives strapped to his body, deputy provincial police chief Kamaludin Khan told AFP.

Four counter-narcotics policemen and a nine-year-old child were killed, while seven policemen and two civilians were wounded, Khan said.

The policemen were heading out to eradicate opium fields south of the town, he said.

Khan blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan”, a term often used to refer to Taliban militants who are waging a bloody insurgency that profits from the huge opium and heroin industry.

Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, most of it coming from Helmand, where some of it is also manufactured into heroin in drugs labs.

The 1996-2001 Taliban government was able to radically cut back Afghanistan’s opium production but the insurgents now earn millions of dollars a year from the trade, officials say.

They take a “tax” from opium farmers and also earn money from protecting trafficking routes and fields, using the cash to buy weapons for their insurgency, according to Afghan and Western officials.

Part of an international effort to stabilise Afghanistan and rid it of extremists linked to Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Pakistan is a costly effort to tackle the drugs trade, which also feeds government corruption.

The Taliban swept to power in 1996 and were removed five years later in a US-led invasion after they did not hand over their Al-Qaeda allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The militants rose from Kandahar province, which is still one of their strongholds.

The US military said that Afghan and international troops raided a Taliban cell in the province’s Maiwand district overnight and killed six militants.

The cell was involved in attacks against Afghan soldiers and their international counterparts, it said.

A separate US military statement said four militants, one of them a woman carrying weapons, were killed in the eastern province of Khost in another overnight operation.

The raid targeted the Haqqani network and a separate outfit called the Islamic Jihad Union, it said.

The Haqqani group falls under well-known Soviet resistance commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is believed to be close to the fugitive Tailban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Al-Qaeda.

Haqqani’s sons are said to have taken over militant activities from their now elderly father. The Islamic Jihad Union is also linked to Al-Qaeda.

There was no independent confirmation that the dead were all militants.

Last year was the deadliest of the Taliban-led insurgency, associated with extremist violence also picking up across the border in Pakistan.

US President Barack Obama has launched a new sweeping strategy to combat the mounting threat from extremists and turn around the insurgency in Afghanistan, including a focus on eliminating Al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan.





Bombs kill six in Afghanistan: officials

6 04 2009
Bombs kill six in Afghanistan: officials

KABUL (AFP) — Bomb blasts in eastern Afghanistan on Monday killed two members of the Afghan security forces and four insurgents, officials said, in new incidents linked to a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

The bloodshed came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited German troops based in the north and the top US military commander, Admiral Mike Mullen, wound up a visit to assess efforts to reverse the flagging war.

One of the blasts struck a joint Afghan police and army operation aimed at “halting terrorist activities” in the eastern province of Khost on the border with Pakistan, the interior ministry said in a statement.

“One soldier and a border policeman were martyred while another policeman was wounded during the operation when their vehicle was blown up,” it said. Six suspects were arrested.

Elsewhere in the same province, four militants were killed in an explosion in a house.

“It seems that they were making a bomb that exploded,” Sabari district chief Dawlat Khan Qayomi told AFP.

Pakistan’s semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal area across the border from Khost is a stronghold for Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, whom Afghan and US officials say mount cross-border attacks against troops in Afghanistan.

There are 42 nations contributing to a NATO-led force, dominated by the United States, that is helping Afghanistan fight the rebels.





New Afghan law worries Nato chief

5 04 2009

Women in Afghanistan

The law has been described as “oppressive” for women

Nato’s head says it could be difficult to persuade European countries to contribute more troops to Afghanistan because of controversial new laws.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the planned laws violated human rights and were unjustifiable when Nato troops were dying to protect universal values.

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.

Aides to President Karzai insist the law provides more protection for women.

Permission

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the BBC’s Mark Mardell: “We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me.”

Nato chief’s Afghan law fears

He added: “I have a problem to explain and President Karzai knows this, because I discussed it with him. I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I’m sending the guys to the Hindu Kush.”

France’s Human Rights Minister Rama Yade also expressed her “sharp concern” at the law, saying it “recalls the darkest hours of Afghanistan’s history”.

The UN earlier said it was seriously concerned about the potential impact of the law.

Human rights activists say it reverses many of the freedoms won by Afghan women in the seven years since the Taleban were driven from power.

They say it removes the right of women to refuse their husbands sex, unless they are ill.

Women will also need to get permission from their husbands if they want to leave their homes, unless there is an emergency.

The law covers members of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population.

It was rushed through parliament in February and was backed by influential Shia clerics and Shia political parties.

Defenders of the law say it is an improvement on the customary laws which normally decide family matters.

A separate family law for the Sunni majority is now also being drawn up.

Nato is holding its annual summit in Strasbourg.

President Obama is to present his new Afghan strategy to his allies.

Ahead of the meeting, a number of leading charities warned that an increase in military deployments in Afghanistan could lead to a rise in civilian casualties.

They called on Nato leaders gathering in Strasbourg to do more to protect the population.

Last year more than 2,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan.

In a report titled Caught in the Conflict, 11 aid groups including Oxfam, ActionAid and Care called on Nato to change the way it operates.

“The troop surge will fail to achieve greater overall security and stability unless the military prioritise the protection of Afghan civilians,” Matt Waldman, head of policy for Oxfam International on Afghanistan, said.





US claims Gulf donors fund Taliban fighters

26 03 2009

By James Blitz in London and Daniel Dombey in Washington
source Financial Times

The US has told its Nato partners that funds from individuals in Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia now rival drug money as a source of financing for Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The US launched a high-profile push to reduce Gulf funding for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant groups operating out of Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. As a result, in recent years insurgent links to Afghanistan’s burgeoning heroin trade have become the principal focus.
But Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expressed fresh concerns to Nato ambassadors during a briefing this week on the US’s strategic review of Afghan-Pakistan policy, which is expected to be announced on Friday.

“He said that the prime source of funding for the Taliban is not from narcotics but from private individuals in the Gulf region,” said a western diplomat, without giving further details.

Another official attending the meeting said Mr Holbrooke had suggested that much of the funding from poppy production appeared to go to individuals linked in some way to the Afghan government.

“There is real concern about funding for extremists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region coming from the Gulf, which we understand rivals or exceeds the money they are getting from drugs,” said another diplomat, quoting estimates of $150m-$300m for insurgents’ drugs cash.

Diplomats made clear that the money did not appear to come from Gulf governments but from groups and private individuals.

The US has for some time been pushing Saudi Arabia to ensure that funds raised for charities do not ultimately finance Islamist militants.

The drive has been headed by Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary in the administration of George W. Bush, who was this week formally retained in his post by Barack Obama, Mr Bush’s successor as president. Mr Levey has pushed for years for Saudi Arabia to oversee effectively the international activities of Saudi-based organisations through a charities commission.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment late on Wednesday.

Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury official now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a US think-tank, said the Saudis had made improvements since the September 11 attacks.

But he said: “The Saudis are generally reluctant to concede either that there is Saudi-based financial support for terrorism or that Saudi counter-terrorism efforts are inadequate.”

The Afghanistan-Pakistan review will be one of the centrepieces of attention at next week’s Nato summit, with the US still looking for more aid from its European allies to boost Afghanistan’s security forces.

Some diplomats complain it is more difficult to secure consensus for such aid when the US review has not been released barely more than a week before the summit. Some Europeans worry that if the summit is seen as little more than a rubber-stamp for barely digested US conclusions on Afghanistan, it will be hard to win support for more resources for the conflict.





Bomb Blast Kills Afghan Lawmaker

20 03 2009


19 March 2009

Wrapped body parts of lawmaker Dad Mohammad Khan and others killed in Helmand province on 19 Mar 2009
Wrapped body parts of lawmaker Dad Mohammad Khan and others killed in Helmand province on 19 Mar 2009

A roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan has killed a prominent lawmaker who was openly critical of the Taliban.

The attack Thursday killed Dad Mohammad Khan and four other men in southern Helmand province, the heart of the Taliban’s growing insurgency.

Khan was a member of parliament, former intelligence chief and a longtime critic of the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing and praised Khan as a leader who worked to bring peace to the region.

Khan fled Afghanistan during the Taliban rule and returned after the extremist government was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

He is the 10th member of parliament to be killed since democratic elections in 2005.

Elsewhere, international and Afghan forces say they killed two suspected insurgents and captured four others in a raid on an al-Qaida cell in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province. But the district’s chief is condemning the raid.

Bati Kot district chief Khaibar Momand said those targeted were actually civilians. He told the Associated Press that three of those detained are the district’s development director and his sons.

Separately, NATO led forces said they captured 18 suspected insurgents in eastern Logar province, including a suspected insurgent leader.





‘Pashtunistan’ holds key to Obama mission

15 02 2009

Source: Gaurdian

The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the ‘Af-Pak’ question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam?
?

Relaxing one evening last week at the Cuckoo’s Cafe, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed on the point of causing a major incident.

As ever in the region, there had been no warning. The weather was just right, a warm late winter evening. The view was even better – unmarred by the security subtly positioned on surrounding buildings. From his table, Richard Holbrooke, 67, the diplomat charged with calming what fellow members of the administration call the most dangerous place in the world, looked out over the giant Badshahi mosque and the imposing Lahore Fort, both more than 300 years old. Carefully invited politicians, writers, human rights activists and journalists from Lahore’s liberal elite chatted at tables around him.

It was not that Holbrooke did not enjoy the barbecued spicy kebabs, Lahore’s speciality, it was just he had one special request. He wanted daal, the plain lentil curry that is the humblest dish in South Asia. For such a distinguished guest, none had been prepared. “The bulldozer”, credited with negotiating an end to the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, usually gets his way and this time was no exception. Daal was soon on its way.

Tonight Holbrooke will land at the Palam air force base, adjacent to the main civilian airport in New Delhi. It will be the last stop on a journey that has led the diplomat across the broad swathe of territory stretching from central Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Indus river. Call it the central front of the global “war on terror”, the fulcrum of the “arc of crisis”, Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, “AfPak”, no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama’s new team.

“The situation there grows more perilous every day,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: “It’s tougher than Iraq.”

First, there is the local situation. Since launching an offensive in 2006 the shifting alliance of insurgents which make up the Taliban in Afghanistan have established control – or at least denied government authority – over a large part of southern and eastern Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband last week spoke of a “stalemate” – something senior generals and security officials have known for some time.

Local Afghan forces are still far from able to take on the insurgents without assistance from the 73,000 Nato troops now in country. The government is corrupt and ineffective. Opium production has exploded. Across the border in Pakistan, despite continuing military operations, authorities seem unable to push the Islamic militants on to the defensive. And somewhere in the mess is al-Qaida, though few can say exactly where.

Then, there is the regional situation. There is little love lost between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The two former countries have been at loggerheads since splitting in the aftermath of independence from Britain. Kabul’s relationships with New Delhi are warm, a cause and consequence of their mutual animosity towards Islamabad.

“Both India and Pakistan would justify their involvement [in Afghanistan] as a deterrent against the other,” said Chietigj Bajpaee, South Asia analyst for the Control Risks group.

Finally, there is the global situation. “AfPak”, or more specifically the area dominated by the Pashtun tribes around the border mountains, has become the “grand central station” of global Islamic militancy, intelligence sources told the Observer. Young westerners head up to the tribal areas, the semi-autonomous zones which line the Pakistani side of the porous frontier, to visit makeshift al-Qaida training camps to learn how to blow up trains or planes back home. British intelligence track about 30 individuals of high risk through Pakistan each year. Others are known to be fighting with the Taliban against Nato troops.

It is this hideous puzzle that Holbrooke has been sent to sort out. If he can. “It is not too late. If they get the approach right and make an effort to really understand the problems, they can still do it,” said Hekmat Karzai of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, Kabul.

Holbrooke will not do it alone, however. Obama has assembled a powerful team of new and old faces entirely to revamp the American “AfPak” strategy. On a global level, Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, will take charge. Holbrooke will work on the region and the political track. On the military side, David Petraeus, the general credited with turning Iraq around, is now tasked with winning Afghanistan too. He has been clear that engaging with the largely Pashtun tribes, who bear the brunt of the fighting and provide most of the support for the insurgents, is an essential part of his strategy. As those tribes stretch across the border into Pakistan – a frontier which they cross more or less at will – Petraeus has focused on Afghanistan’s neighbour too.

The complexity of the problems is forcing what UK diplomats call a “recalibration” of objectives. The Americans are more blunt. Defence secretary Robert Gates said the aim is not to build a “central Asian Valhalla”. Creating a liberal, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan has been, at the very least, postponed.

“We have certainly pulled back from the aims of a nice, happy, Scandinavian-style democracy,’ said Steve Cohen, at the Brookings Institution policy research centre, Washington.

The priority now is stabilisation. “There is a recognition that before… nation building, you have to clear the ground,” said Seth Jones, of the US-based Rand Corporation thinktank. For Waliullah Rahmani, of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Kabul, “until Afghanistan is stabilised, you can’t have good governance, development or democracy.”

First stop on Holbrooke’s “listen and learn tour” was Pakistan. As he travelled, the militants sowed death. In Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier city, last Wednesday a member of the provincial parliament was killed by a roadside bomb, the first elected politician to die in the current violence. The same day, Afghan Taliban launched an attack on government buildings in Kabul which involved eight suicide bombers and killed 28. The Afghan government blamed it on Islamabad’s spies.

In Pakistan, those Holbrooke met were impressed by the envoy’s apparent desire to hear what Pakistanis had to say. In Lahore, Jugnu Mohsin, a newspaper publisher, described how when told how Lahore was once known as a tolerant city where all religions thrived, Holbrooke, who backpacked through the region as a young man, wanted to know if it had become more conservative.

“He wanted to know about the Badshahi (mosque), who built it. He was interested in the culture and history of the place,” said Mohsin. “He was basically there to learn, to inform himself, not to tell us what was what.”

Others agreed, though pointed out that Holbrooke’s open mind might have revealed a lack of detailed knowledge. “He is candid… and not given to the pro-India fixation of the Bush administration,” said Ikram Sehgal, an analyst who briefed Holbrooke on the security concerns of Pakistani businessmen. “We’ve turned a real corner.”

Washington has poured an estimated $1bn a year in military aid into Pakistan since 2001 and is worried that it is not getting value for money. There are also persistent question marks over the Pakistan security establishment’s possible support of some Taliban elements.

Indians make frequent accusations. “We have no illusions in India that Pakistan is a major player in Afghanistan,” says MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat. “Pakistan estimates that at some point the US will withdraw … [so] it can’t let the Taliban go out of its hands.”

Islamabad denies this, accusing New Delhi of joining with Kabul to foment violence amid separatists in Pakistan’s south-west province of Balochistan and of spying from two consulates they have established along the border. “The Pakistanis have real concerns about Indian activities such as road construction or building the national parliament,” said Jones of the Rand Corporation.

Holbrooke was taken on an aerial tour of the restive Pashtun tribal areas, flying by helicopter over Waziristan, the epicentre of militancy, to see the rugged and remote terrain. Yesterday, a missile fired from an American drone destroyed a house and at least 20 Taliban fighters in areas the envoy flew over, the latest in a series of highly controversial strikes.

Holbrooke stopped in the Khyber Pass, a key supply route for troops in Afghanistan and under attack in recent months, for a briefing with local commanders. Impressed, local observers pointed out that neither Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, nor prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, have dared to do the same. Holbrooke had met both in Islamabad.

Then it was on to Lahore for meetings with former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif – who said Holbrooke had admitted that there had been “mistakes” in past US policy – and the rooftop dinner.

Then Holbrooke was on the move again to a frozen, snowy Kabul. The gritty, depressing, grey weather reflected the mood of the visit. Not only is it widely recognised that the Afghan project is in deep trouble but the Obama team believe President Hamid Karzai is at least in part responsible. Relations have deteriorated badly since the halcyon days when the Afghan tribal leader seemed the perfect man to lead his country. Obama himself is said to regard Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Hillary Clinton has called his country a “narco-state”.

Holbrooke arrived last Thursday and did not see the Afghan president until yesterday. Kabul was quiet – on account of the weather, power cuts and a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country 20 years ago.

Obama has long promised to put 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan as part of a wide-ranging review of American policy and the first soldiers are expected to arrive before late spring. John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, in Washington, believes the US commitment could eventually rise to 100,000 troops.

“The immediate problem is to stop the bleeding. The 30,000 troops is a tourniquet … [but] that is all we have,” he said. “If Obama is a two-term president then by the end of his time in office there may only be marine embassy guards in Iraq. But there will still be tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan.”

There is also the matter of Afghanistan’s coming elections, already postponed once. Some experts believe the polls might solve America’s “Karzai problem”. “Karzai will either improve his performance or he will be ex-president Karzai. That is the wonderful thing about elections,” said Nagl.

Diplomats in European capitals fret about a weakened, re-elected Karazi with no real mandate. Sultan Ahmad Bahin, an Afghan government spokesman, said that Holbrooke had reassured the Afghan government of continuing American co-operation and of the new focus that Obama will bring.

Few locals showed much interest in the visit. “He’s going to do what for us? These people just go backwards and forwards for nothing,” said Karim, 34, a shopkeeper. “The Taliban have been killing us for seven years now.”

For Bashir, a Kabul taxi driver, the Americans would leave. “The Soviets couldn’t stay in our country. How can the Americans stay?” he asked.

A preoccupation for Obama and the Europeans is domestic public support for the war in Afghanistan. White House strategists believe it will hold up much better than the conflict in Iraq. “The polling has been very supportive. Iraq was a phony war but al-Qaida really is in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Cohen.

That makes the job of persuading Americans that the war needs to be fought much easier. It is not hard to point out the genuine threats of a region where there are thousands of Islamic militants, nuclear weapons and where the 9/11 plot was hatched. “The main task will be to persuade the allies, especially the Europeans,” said Cohen.

Finally on to New Delhi, where Holbrooke will step into a diplomatic atmosphere poisoned by November’s Mumbai terrorist attacks. India holds Pakistan responsible for the three-day siege which left 179 people dead and many more injured. Relations with Islamabad are at their lowest ebb since the two nuclear-armed neighbours nearly went to war over Kashmir in 2001 and 2002.

Bajpaee, the analyst, argues that Holbrooke’s best hope is to convince India to take a step back in Afghanistan to calm Pakistani concerns. Delhi may just be happy to let the US turn the screws on Islamabad. The Indians say they intend simply to “listen” to Holbrooke. The envoy too is going to be listening. The encounter may be much quieter than “the bulldozer” likes.

Divided Pashtun Nation

Which nation with homogenous ethnic make-up, a common language, religion and values is not a nation? The answer: Pashtunistan.

The Pashtuns, of whom there are now an estimated 40 million spread from south-western Afghanistan through to central Pakistan, (plus communities in cities such as Karachi and abroad in the UK), were divided on lines drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, when he separated the British Indian Raj and the Kingdom of Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century the Pashtun tribes fought ferociously, following their honour code of revenge. In Afghanistan, they dominated the emerging state.

But it was not all war. Pashtun culture, particularly poetry and a famous love of flowers, also flourished.

In the post-colonial era, an educated elite campaigned for a nation state but with little popular support. In the past decade, Pashtun identity has fused with more global, radical Islamic strands. Experts, however, warn against branding current violence a ‘Pashtun insurgency‘.

The Pashtun world

• The world population of Pashtuns is estimated at 42 million, and they make up the majority of the population of modern-day Afghanistan.

• Pashtun tradition asserts they are descended from Afghana, grandson of King Saul of Israel, though most scholars believe it more likely they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders.

• Pashtuns are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

• The largest population of Pashtuns is said to be in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

• Pashtun culture rests on “Pashtunwali”, a legal and moral code that determines social order and responsibilities based on values such as honour (namuz), solidarity (nang), hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge.





Radical Books Raise Fears in Indonesia of Spread of Militants’ Ideas

9 02 2009

SOLO, Indonesia — At a small, back-street bookstore here, the young employees, wearing matching green skullcaps and sporting wispy chin beards, stock books with titles like “Waiting for the Destruction of Israel” and “Principles of Jihad.”

Image

Peter Gelling for The International Herald Tribune
In Solo, a cluster of publishers have issued Islamist texts, which do not sell well but popularize radical ideology. One book was by a man involved in the Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

The New York Times

Solo is known as a bastion of a conservative brand of Islam.
They work quietly, listening to the voice of a firebrand Islamic preacher playing on the store’s sound system, his sermon peppered with outbursts of machine-gun fire.
Another young man, a customer, sifts through a pile of DVDs that chronicle the conflicts in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Sudan. T-shirts, stickers and pins on sale at the back of the store are emblazoned with slogans like “Support Your Local Mujahedeen” and “Taliban All-Stars.”
The jihadi books at the store, which is called Arofah, have been made available by a small but growing group of publishers in and around Solo, a commercial city known as a bastion of conservative Islam.
Many of the publishers openly support the ideological goals of Jemaah Islamiyah, a banned Southeast Asia terrorist network that has been implicated in most of the major terrorist bombings in Indonesia.
The publishers, about 12 so far, still have limited prospects for sales and influence. Radical books generally do not sell well in Indonesia, where a vast majority of the population of 240 million practice a moderate brand of Islam.
A book by one of the Bali bombers, whose attacks on nightclubs in 2002 killed 202 people, is considered a success for its genre but sold only about 10,000 copies.
Nevertheless, the publishers have caught the attention of some counterterrorism experts, who fear they are proof of how interconnected, and resilient, the Jemaah Islamiyah movement is in Indonesia.
By most accounts, the Indonesian authorities have had great success in weakening Jemaah Islamiyah’s militant arm since the Bali bombings, jailing or killing most of its top leaders. But they have been less successful in fighting the organization’s ideology, which counterterrorism experts say spreads within an informal association of groups operating in mosques, prisons and schools around the country, providing a continuing source of recruitment.

“The most interesting aspect is what the publishing operations reveal about the overlapping networks binding Jemaah Islamiyah together,” said Sidney R. Jones, an analyst with the nonprofit International Crisis Group in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

“This organization is not some Arab import,” Ms. Jones said of Jemaah Islamiyah. “It’s an extraordinary social organization linked by family, schools, culture, training and now businesses.”
She notes that Solo is not only the base for the publishers, but also the site of Pesantren al-Mukmin, an Islamic boarding school that has educated some of the country’s most notorious extremists. Some of the publishers have taught at the school, and Abu Bakar Bashir, a militant Islamic cleric who helped found the school, originally conceived of the idea of opening publishing houses in Solo that could specialize in books on Islam, Ms. Jones said. Mr. Bashir served time in prison on conspiracy charges in several bombings, including those in Bali.
The International Crisis Group, an organization established to prevent or resolve deadly conflicts, says there is a chance that the growth in publishers of radical books could have an upside, possibly indicating that Jemaah Islamiyah is beginning to wage jihad through the printed page rather than violent acts.
“Some publishers may be playing a more positive than negative role, directing members into above-ground activities and enabling them to promote a jihadi message without engaging in violence,” said a report issued last year by the International Crisis Group.
But Indonesian authorities say that the message of jihad, once put into book form, often enters classrooms and Islamic study circles, ultimately helping to draw young people into Jemaah Islamiyah’s ranks. And that could allow the militants to regroup as a potent fighting force.
Most of the books celebrating radical Islamic thought are Indonesian translations of Middle Eastern works. But the publishers are also picking up the works of some local authors.
One was Imam Samudra, who was executed for his role in the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002.
The publishers are also hoping to publish the work of another Bali bomber, Ali Ghufron, better known as Mukhlas, the former operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah.
Before his execution last year, he wrote 10 books, including an autobiography that his lawyer says portrays the Bali bombings as justifiable acts of vengeance for the ill treatment of Muslims around the world.
Solo’s publishers can afford to print such jihadi books by piggybacking on a broader trend: the ballooning demand in Indonesia for mainstream Islamic texts.
Books that explore the Islamic faith — addressing issues like how to be a good Muslim woman, or Islamic beliefs about life after death — are the biggest sellers here now. One popular love story with an Islamic theme sold hundreds of thousands of copies and was recently made into a movie.
“The mainstream Islamic publishing industry is booming right now,” said Setia Darma Madjid, chairman of the Indonesian Book Publishers Association. “Writers and publishers recognize that these themes appeal to readers right now, and so they are rolling out hundreds of books on the subject.”

At least some publishers of radical texts say they, too, are just meeting market demand, not trying to spread an ideology.

One such publisher is Bambang Sukirno, who owns the Aqwam Group and its imprint Jazera, which got its start with Imam Samudra’s first book. He said he was only addressing a topical subject, just as “journalists and others around the world are doing.”

“We see that this ‘terrorism’ phenomenon, whether you like it or not, has seized space in this world,” he said.

So far, the government has taken no action against the publishers despite its crackdown on Islamists. Officials are worried about terrorist attacks but are also trying to nurture their young democracy and the freedoms that democracy guarantees.

“The publication of such material is an issue; we are not very happy about it,” said one senior counterterrorism official in the government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “However, because we are in the process of democratization, it is problematic how we would be able to control the publication of such material.”

Mr. Sukirno said he was not worried that the government would shut down his company.
“Democracy in Indonesia is thriving, and if the government ever tried to interfere in the publishing industry, well, that would be dangerous,” he said. “Interference would just give birth to waves of resistance and undermine democracy.

“Books,” he said, “are a reflection of a civilized nation.”





US anti-terror aid for Pakistan cut by $50m

29 01 2009

Source: Daily Times, India Today

LAHORE: The United States has paid Pakistan $100 million for its frontline-state role in the war on terror, against an originally planned amount of $150 million, a private TV channel reported on Monday. Talking to the media in a ceremony of Pakistan Microfinance Network in Islamabad, Finance Adviser Shaukat Tareen said the reason for the reduced funding was a new payment system in the US. He said the government was in contact with the US administration and was expecting to receive a positive response in this regard, the channel said. –daily times monitor.

The US has deducted $55 million out of the $156 million bill set by Pakistan for rendering its military services to fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda in volatile bordering tribal areas adjacent to war-torn Afghanistan.

Shaukat Tarin, a financial advisor in the prime minister’s office, said the US had “changed the format” for money released under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Islamabad, resulting in a “massive” deduction.

Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, has mobilised its more than 100,000 troops in tribal areas to contain Islamic militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, and bills US for the expenditure.

The cut in its reimbursements is a setback to the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto.

Tarin said Islamabad had taken the matter of the deducted money with Washington.

Pakistan joined the US-led international alliance against terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, with Islamabad getting some $297 million every year since 2003, in the form of Foreign Military Grants to quell the Taliban militancy.

But the authorities in Washington have said repeatedly that Islamabad was not doing enough to control Islamic insurgency in its ungoverned tribal region.

The new US government, led by President Barack Obama, has vowed to focus more on Pakistan in its policy to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In its efforts, the new administration would link Pakistan’s aid with the security in the border region in Afghanistan, the White House said in a policy statement last week.

Pakistan, which has recently avoided default by obtaining a $7.6 billion loan package from the IMF, is relying heavily on US to revive its economy.

The US has so far provided between $10 and $11 billion of aid for social development as well as in form of military aid. But Pakistan says it has suffered financial losses many times more than it has collectively received aid from American and its western allies after becoming front line state in the ongoing war against terrorism.





Fata insurgency challenge of highest order: Obama

24 01 2009

Source: Pakistani newspaper

WASHINGTON, Jan 23: An international challenge of the highest order and an urgent threat to global security is how the new US President Barack Obama described the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his maiden speech to his diplomatic corps.

Mr Obama was equally forceful while talking about another pivotal issue that has occupied US policy makers for half a century: the Middle East. ‘Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats,’ he said.

‘Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so too is a future without hope for the Palestinians,’ he added.

Reacting to his statement, the pro-Israeli neo-con media welcomed Mr Obama’s commitment to Israel but rejected his suggestion for creating a better future for the Palestinians. ‘We need to wipe them out,’ said a neo-con blogger. Some Arab commentators were also disappointed.

‘Mr Obama dispelled any notions of a change in the US Middle East policy,’ As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, told a US media outlet. ‘It’s like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza.’ But both groups noticed that Mr Obama acted fast, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush who ignored the Arab-Israeli conflict for too long and was not sincere to his own peace plan.

Just two days after talking oath, Mr Obama made telephone calls to Washington’s long-standing allies in the Middle East – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

But his Thursday afternoon statement at the State Department makes it clear that he is equally, if not more, focused on South Asia. ‘Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.

‘This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.’

Drawing a parallel between the two issues, Mr Obama observed: ‘There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problem in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the al Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border.’ He also acknowledged that the military option alone cannot end this crisis. ‘And there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said. ‘This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.’ The American people and the international community must understand that the situation in the two countries ‘is perilous and progress will take time,’ he warned.

Mr Obama conceded that violence in Afghanistan was ‘up dramatically.’ In describing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mr Obama did not focus only on the existence of the so-called terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan, indicating that his administration is open also to pointing out the drawbacks of its Afghan allies.

‘A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services,’ he said. Mr Obama then turned to the issue that he also highlighted during his election campaign: militancy in the tribal areas.

‘Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border,’ he said, adding that this does not only threaten Afghanistan but also is a threat to the United States. ‘While we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists remain at large and remain plotting,’ he warned. Toning down his election rhetoric, which focused on using the US military might to subdue the militants, in this policy statement Mr Obama spoke instead of setting ‘achievable goals.’ ‘Going forward, we must set clear priorities in pursuit of achievable goals that contribute to our collective security,’ he said.

Mr Obama said that his administration was committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely.

‘We will seek stronger partnerships with the governments of the region, sustained cooperation with our Nato allies, deeper engagement with the Afghan and Pakistani people and a comprehensive strategy to combat terror and extremism,’ he declared.

‘The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defence of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States,’ the new US president warned.

Earlier, President Barack Obama has described his new chief diplomat Hillary Clinton Hillary as “an early gift” to the State Department.

“It is my privilege to come here and to pay tribute to all of you, the talented men and women of the State Department,” Obama told the employees during a visit to underscore “my commitment to the importance of diplomacy in renewing American leadership.”

“I’ve given you an early gift, Hillary Clinton,” he said amid laughter and applause. “You will have a secretary of state who has my full confidence,” he said of his one- time Democratic rival for the nation’s highest office.

The former first lady too, leaving the bitterness of the election campaign behind, reciprocated his sentiments: “We are not only honoured and delighted, but challenged, by the president coming here on the second day.”





The Afghan-Pakistan militant nexus

29 12 2008

Source: BBC News

Seven years after 9/11, the US has declared the Afghan-Pakistan border region to be the new frontline in its war on terror. Use the map to see how militants operate on either side of the border. (Text: M Ilyas Khan)

Helmand, Chaghai

Kabul’s writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province.

Since 9/11, this region has been in turmoil. In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the Taleban have a major base. The chief commander is Mansoor Dadullah. From there they control militant activities as far afield as Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west, Oruzgan in the north and parts of Kandahar province in the east. They also link up with groups based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The Helmand Taleban, unlike comrades elsewhere in Afghanistan, have been able to capture territory and hold it, mostly in the southern parts of the province. They constantly threaten traffic on the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.

Kandahar, Quetta

Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual centre of the Taleban movement and also the place of its origin. The supreme Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made the city his headquarters when the Taleban came to power in 1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, preferred it to the country’s political capital, Kabul.

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As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar has seen some high-profile jailbreaks and assassination bids, including one on President Karzai.

The Afghan government has prevented the Taleban from seizing control of any significant district centre or town. International forces have large bases in the airport area as well as at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the western suburbs of Kandahar city.

But the Taleban have a strong presence in the countryside, especially in southern and eastern areas along the border with Pakistan. Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taleban have used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, as a major hideout as well as other Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.

Mullah Omar is probably in hiding in Kandahar or Helmand.

Zabul, Toba Kakar

Afghanistan’s Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar, along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The mountans are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured them for al-Qaeda suspects.

Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special circumstances. In early 2002, Taleban militants fleeing US forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul. Occasionally, Taleban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes when infiltration through South Waziristan is difficult due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border guards.

Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Oruzgan and Kandahar. There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.

South Waziristan, Paktika

South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), is the first significant sanctuary Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan after 9/11. Militants driven by US troops from the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town, Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis. Some moved on to urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and fought the Pakistani army during 2004-05.

The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is Baitullah Mehsud. The western half, along the border with Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where the chief commander is Maulvi Nazir. The Mehsuds only live on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs inhabit both sides of the border.

These sanctuaries directly threaten Afghanistan’s Paktika province, where the US-led forces have a base in the Barmal region and several outposts along the border to counter infiltration. Pakistani security forces also man scores of border checkposts in the region.

However, infiltration has continued unabated and the number of hit-and-run attacks on foreign troops has been one of the highest in this region. Militants based in the region are known to have carried out strikes as far away as the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

North Waziristan, Paktia, Khost

The North Waziristan region is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost. North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from where militants have been successfully destabilising not only Paktika and Khost, but other Afghan provinces such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and Logar. Groups based in Waziristan region are known to have carried out some recent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.

Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost and Paktia. During the Taleban rule of 1997-2001, these provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of the Kandahari Taleban who held power over the rest of the country. In the current phase of the fighting they coordinate with the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with their own leadership that dates back to the war against the Soviets in 1980s.

The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in North Waziristan. He has wielded considerable influence over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan. He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region. Mr Haqqani is now an old man, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over most of his work.

There are many Arab and other foreign fighters in North and South Waziristan. This is due to Jalaluddin Haqqani’s close links with the al-Qaeda leadership. He married an Arab woman in the 1980s.

In view of the sensitivity of Waziristan region, US-led forces have set up a large base in Khost from where they conduct operations not only along the Waziristan region to the south but also in parts of the border region in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces to the north.

Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar

As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the ’80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.

Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.

Mohmand, Bajaur, Kunar

Analysts have long suspected Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal region to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders. The Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts are also believed to be the stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the main Afghan guerrilla leaders of the 1980s. Mr Hekmatyar fought the Taleban in 1990s, but after 9/11 started working with them. The actual extent of cooperation is not known. The groups in Mohmand and Bajaur are members of an umbrella organisation which is headed by South Waziristan’s Baitullah Mehsud known as the Tehreek-e-Taleban (Pakistan Taleban).

Militants based in Mohmand and Bajaur have been striking at installations and supply lines of international forces based in the Narai region of Afghanistan’s Kunar province. In recent months, they are also reported to have crossed the Hindu Kush foothills to carry out attacks on foreign troops in the Sarobi, Tagab and Nejrab areas around Kabul.

Oruzgan, Ghazni, Wardak, Logar

For a long time the Taleban were unable to maintain sustained pressure on the country’s south-central highlands. But with safe sanctuaries in the border region – from the Baramcha area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of Pakistani Balochistan, the Waziristan country and Bajaur-Mohmand territory to the east – the Taleban finally have the capacity to challenge the government in this region. The roads in Ghazni and Oruzgan are not as safe as they were a couple of years ago and officials are losing the will to maintain the government’s authority.

Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taleban groups have multiplied in secure border regions over the last few years. Safe havens have also afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new recruits. The Waziristan region is also known to be a haven for young suicide bombers and trained in remote camps. The Taleban also appear to have had access to sophisticated military equipment and professionally drawn-up battle plans.

The strategy appears to be the same as in 1980s – ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Sporadic attacks on the security forces and the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have also crept closer to Kabul. At the same time, the Taleban have destroyed most of the education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link between the central government and the isolated agrarian citizenry.

Oruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak on the left and Logar on the right. Safe and quiet until less than two years ago, both these provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by Taleban fighters. The same is true of militants putting pressure on Kabul from Sarobi and Tagab in the east, with their tentacles stretching back to Laghman, Kunar and Bajaur.

Swat

A former princely state, Swat, in northern Pakistan, was governed by a British era law which a court declared unconstitutional in early 1990s, triggering a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic law in the district.

The insurgency was effectively put down in 1994, but it re-emerged after 9/11, and was joined by many battle-hardened militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring district of Dir. During a 10-month long operation that still continues, the security forces have disrupted the infrastructure of the militants but is still to clear them out of the area. The militants have been targeting the security forces, the police, secular politicians and government-run schools.