Archive for January 19, 2016

December 16, 2015

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan closed schools across the country on Wednesday on the anniversary of last year’s Taliban attack that killed over 150 people, 144 of them schoolchildren, officials said.

The closure was part a day of national mourning and a precaution against militant attacks tied to the anniversary, said government spokesman Mushtaq Ghani. Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership attended a ceremony in the northwestern city of Peshawar to award medals to the victims’ families.

In his address, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resolved to weed out militant extremism, promising that: “We will take revenge for every drop of our children’s sacred blood.” In the wake of the attack, Pakistan stepped up its campaign against Islamic militants, lifting a moratorium on the death penalty and trying alleged militant extremists in military courts. The Pakistani army claims to having killed 3,400 Islamic militants in a major military push in the North Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border, which has long served as a safe haven for local and al-Qaida linked foreign militants. The operation was launched in June 2014, six months before a team of six or seven Taliban militants stormed the army-run school in Peshawar; the attackers all either blew themselves up or were shot and killed by the army.

The main Taliban umbrella group led by Maulvi Fazlullah, who has been based in neighboring Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the North Waziristan campaign. The Taliban and their allied Islamic militants have been waging a war against the state for over a decade, killing tens of thousands of people in a bid to install their own harsh interpretation of Islam.

Various public and private organizations held rallies across Pakistan to commemorate the tragedy and show solidarity in the fight against Islamic militants. For several days, mourners have placed flowers and floral wreaths, lighting candles and pasting the victims’ photos in various cities.

One of the people attending the Peshawar ceremony was Andleeb Aftab, a teacher at the school who was wounded in the attack and whose 14-year-old son Huzaifa was killed. “My son is a martyr. Martyrs never die. I still feel that my son is around,” she told The Associated Press. “I see him playing on the school grounds. Every child of this school is my son.”

Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Islamabad (AFP)

Dec 11, 2015

Pakistan test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Friday, the military said, two days after the government confirmed it would resume high-level peace talks with arch-rival India.

The test is the latest in a series carried out by India and Pakistan since both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability in 1998.

The military said it had fired a Shaheen III surface-to-surface ballistic missile which can carry nuclear and conventional warheads within a range of 2,750 kilometers (1,700 miles).

“The successful flight test with its impact point in the Arabian Sea, validating all the desired parameters … was aimed at validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system,” the military said in a statement.

The head of the Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General Mazhar Jamil, congratulated scientists and engineers involved on achieving a “significant milestone” which complemented the country’s existing deterrence capability, it said.

Jamil asserted that “Pakistan desires peaceful co-existence in the region for which nuclear deterrence would further strengthen strategic stability in South Asia”.

Pakistan last tested the Shaheen III on March 9 this year.

Relations between Pakistan and India — which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 — have always been fraught but soured further last August amid a rise in clashes along their borders and a row over a Pakistani diplomat meeting Kashmiri separatists.

On Wednesday India’s Foreign Minister held talks with her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad on the sidelines of a regional summit on Afghanistan, where they jointly announced they would resume high-level peace talks.

Source: Space War.


Washington (AFP)

Oct 7, 2011

Afghanistan and the United States Friday marked 10 years since the US went to war against the Taliban, triggering a decade-long conflict that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

US President Barack Obama honored all those killed since the start of the conflict launched against the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

“Ten years ago today, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our nation went to war against Al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan,” Obama said, calling it a “decade of sacrifice.”

He saluted “the more than half a million men and women who have served bravely in Afghanistan to keep our country safe, including our resilient wounded warriors who carry the scars of war, seen and unseen.”

“We honor the memory of the nearly 1,800 American patriots, and many coalition and Afghan partners, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan for our shared security and freedom,” the US president added.

On October 7, 2001, American planes dropped dozens of cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs on strategic targets in Kabul and other Afghan cities after the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.

Within weeks, the Islamic Taliban regime had crumbled under the onslaught of Operation Enduring Freedom. Its fighters had fled and Afghans poured out of their homes celebrating the collapse of one of the most repressive regimes in modern times.

The Pentagon puts the cost of the operation at $323.2 billion, while Brown University researchers say at least 33,877 people — foreign and Afghan troops, civilians, insurgents and others — have died. Of those 1,788 US troops have been killed, and 14,342 wounded, according to the Pentagon.

Ten years on, some US officials see a political settlement with the people they bombed out of power as the answer to resolving one of its longest wars in history that today outstrips the 10-year Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan.

Stanley McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan until he was sacked in 2010, delivered a speech on the eve of the anniversary saying the US-led NATO mission was “a little better than” halfway to achieving its military goals.

“We didn’t know enough and we still don’t know enough,” he said, adding the United States and its allies had a “frighteningly simplistic view” of recent history.

“When we arrived we were woefully underinformed, we also didn’t have the tools to get informed: we didn’t speak the language,” the retired four-star general said.

And he added that the subsequent invasion of Iraq made things “more difficult because it changed the Muslim world view of America’s effort.”

As the United States turned its focus to Iraq, committing tens of thousands of troops and billions of dollars to ousting Saddam Hussein, the Taliban began to transform from a rag-tag bunch of renegades into a well-disciplined militia.

Outside the White House on Friday, more than 200 protesters filed past, denouncing the war in Afghanistan, carrying model drones and banners that demanded an immediate NATO pullout.

But in Afghanistan, the anniversary passed without public commemoration by either the Afghan government or NATO while on the frontline, and it was business as usual for the 140,000 foreign troops still stationed there.

The anniversary also highlighted antagonism at Western troops, anger over thousands of civilian casualties and corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai, propped up by the United States and its foreign allies.

“We will be very pleased if they pull out from Afghanistan,” said street vendor Khan Agha, 30. “The US and its allies didn’t do good when they invaded.

“Despite all the hard times, we had good security in the Islamic regime of the Taliban.”

Obama said the United States was “responsibly ending today’s wars from a position of strength” though he warned “enormous challenges” remained.

But Karzai himself said his government and the US-led NATO mission had done “terribly badly in providing security to the Afghan people and this is the greatest shortcoming of our government and of our international partners.”

Writing in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph under the headline “It’s a fantasy to think we are winning the war in Afghanistan,” former British ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was scathing of Western strategy.

Military operations, he wrote, “are not curing the underlying disease” of the insurgency and only “a Herculean effort of American-led diplomacy” can correct the errors and omissions of the last decade.

Efforts to broker peace with the Taliban had made scant progress even before the September 20 assassination of Karzai’s peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani threw the government strategy for brokering a settlement into turmoil.

Some experts fear the country could be sliding back towards the kind of civil war that killed and displaced thousands of people in 1992-96.

Source: Space War.


Beijing (AFP)

Jan 15, 2016

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran next week, Beijing’s foreign ministry said Friday, as the world’s second-largest economy seeks greater diplomatic heft in a crucial and tense region.

Spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement that Xi would visit the three Middle Eastern countries over five days from Tuesday.

The trip, Xi’s first to the region as president, comes amid mounting tensions over the war in Syria and after protesters ransacked and burned the Saudi Embassy in Tehran over the execution of a Shiite cleric.

China depends on the Middle East for its oil supplies but has long taken a back seat in the region’s diplomatic and other disputes, only recently beginning to expand its role, especially in the Syrian crisis.

“China is the biggest importer of Middle Eastern oil,” Zhu Feng, professor at Peking University’s School of International Studies, told AFP. “So stability in the Middle East is what China would most like to see.”

As China’s economy has grown, its dependence on imported oil and natural gas has increased, making the Middle East a crucial part of Beijing’s strategy as it seeks to expand its influence through Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative, known as “One Belt One Road”.

The massive investment scheme aims to increase China’s footprint from central Asia to Europe through the use of loans to build infrastructure and transport networks.

Touted as a revival of ancient Silk Road trade routes, the initiative underscores China’s ambition to wield geopolitical power to match its economic might.

“Xi Jinping is very committed to projecting China’s image overseas, to boosting China’s international footprint to a level which is commensurate with its fast-growing economic and military power,” Willy Lam, professor of politics at Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

Beijing was trying to project power and influence in the Middle East, seeing an opening in the troubled region as US policy “hasn’t been very successful under (US President Barack) Obama”, he said.

China was presenting itself as “a mediator with no strings attached”, added Lam, in contrast to Washington, which has “vested interests in that part of the world going back four, five decades”.

– ‘Rare opportunity’ –

This week a Chinese diplomat urged “calm and restraint” between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but Xi’s trip was most probably organised before the discord erupted between Riyadh and Tehran, Zhu said.

“Clearly now there are tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, so he will be going there in the role of persuader” seeking cooperation against in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, Zhu said.

“China will try and do what it can, but it still won’t play a main role.”

In a commentary, the official Xinhua news agency said: “Although China never takes sides, it will be a rare opportunity for China to call for calm and restraint from both sides.”

In the past month, Beijing has hosted high-level members from both the Syrian regime and its opposition.

It has consistently urged a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis, despite being seen as having long protected President Bashar al-Assad, and four times vetoed UN Security Council measures aimed at addressing the conflict.

Last year, China helped broker a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, which has begun to emerge following years of international isolation.

Days after the signing of the historic framework agreement, Iran was approved as a founding member of the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is expected to provide funding for One Belt One Road.

On Wednesday, China published its first official Arab Policy Paper, claiming a “broad consensus on safeguarding state sovereignty and territorial integrity, defending national dignity, seeking political resolution to hotspot issues, and promoting peace and stability in the Middle East”.

Source: Space War.