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New turning point in Yemen-Nasser Arrabyee

Posted by admin On March - 5 - 2015 Comments Off

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Former Yemeni president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled to the southern city of Aden this week, where he plans to rally support against the country’s Houthi rebels
The crisis in Yemen saw a new turning point this week with the news that former president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi had withdrawn his resignation following his flight to Aden, the capital of the south of the country, where is trying to re-establish his authority.

Last Friday, Hadi escaped house arrest in the capital Sanaa and secretly travelled to Aden. He had been held by the capital’s new rulers, the Houthi rebels, ever since his resignation last month.

After Hadi’s arrival in Aden he nullified steps taken after September 2014, when the Houthis took control of Sanaa and Hadi and UN envoy Jamal bin Omar signed a Peace and Partnership Accord with them. The agreement set up a constitutional agreement between the Houthis, Hadi and the country’s other political groups.

This accord has now been rejected by Hadi and his allies in Aden. Last September, Hadi was under the influence of the Shia Houthis. In Aden, he is closer to the Yemen Muslim Brotherhood, which is opposed to the Houthis.

Negotiations are continuing in Sanaa under the sponsorship of the UN, but Hadi now wants these to be transferred to Aden, considered to be a safer environment. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has welcomed Hadi’s move to Aden and supported the cancellation of steps taken in coordination with the Houthis. It has also approached the UN Security Council for help.

However, the Houthi Revolutionary Committee (HRC), in charge of the government in Sanaa, still controls all institutions in both the south and north of the country.

On Monday, the HRC asked the former cabinet to act as a transitional authority until a new government is formed. The HRC has also ordered some former ministers to be put on trial and appointed new ministers from the ranks of deputies.

Hadi was unable and perhaps unwilling to act as president after the Houthis took over last month. During his house arrest he many times said he would not retract his resignation and wanted only to go abroad for medical treatment.

In Aden he is under the influence of the enemies of the Houthis, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. Gulf Arab countries like Qatar support moves to defeat the Houthis, regardless of what this could lead to in the already war-torn country.

But it will not be easy to defeat the Houthis, and a campaign against them could lead to further conflict and destruction in Yemen. Even if the parties agree to go to Aden for continuing dialogue and negotiations, the Houthis will want to take control of the city, as they have done in Sanaa.

Aden is under the control of Popular Committees made up of tribesmen paid by Hadi. The state army and security forces have virtually collapsed, and the Houthis have accused the Popular Committees tribesmen of having links with Al-Qaeda.

One of the main leaders of the committees, Abdel-Latif Al-Sayed, was one of Al-Qaeda’s leaders before he became a confidant of Hadi.

Exiled leaders, including tribal leader Hamid Al-Ahmer and military leader Ali Muhsen, might now return from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to participate in fighting the Houthis, who defeated them in Sanaa.

The Houthis accuse Bin Omar of conspiring with Hadi to relocate to Aden. A delegation from seven political parties, including the Al-Islah Party, the main opponent of the Houthis, went to Aden on Tuesday to meet Hadi.

The party of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, one of the biggest, has been accused of supporting the Houthis. Saleh met this week with the Russian ambassador in Yemen, who is trying to mediate the conflict.

Hassan Zaid, secretary-general of the Al-Hak Party, considered close to the Houthis, has called for an alliance with Saleh’s Party “to rescue Aden from Al-Qaeda.”

Many Houthi leaders claim that Hadi has turned to Al-Qaeda for
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/10535/19/New-turning-point-in-Yemen.aspx

Syriza: The radical left’s Greek Spring?-IOSIF KOVRAS and NEOPHYTOS LOIZIDES

Posted by admin On February - 2 - 2015 Comments Off

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Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias. Demotix/Czuko Williams. Some rights reserved.

In a critical national election held on January 25th, Syriza, the Greek radical Left, secured a landslide victory winning 149 out of the 300 seats in the Greek parliament. The image of hundreds of domestic and international reporters squeezed behind the 40-year old leader, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, in the ballot box best captures the global attention to political developments in Greece.

The phenomenon of Syriza has captured the hearts and minds of European intellectuals. For many informed observers Greece is the prelude of tectonic changes that would shape future European politics, as there is a wave of elections in in 2015 countries facing similar challenges, including Portugal and Spain. The rising popularity of the Spanish ‘Podemos’ movement makes it plausible to see another party of the radical left gaining electoral support in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis.

In a pre-electoral speech in Athens, Mr. Alexis Tsipras and Mr. Pablo Iglesias, the leaders of Syriza and Podemos respectively, addressed the audience together promising ‘Syriza, Podemos, Venceremos’ (literally “Syriza, we can, we’ll win”).  So, should we expect a ‘spill-over’ of governing radical left parties in Europe or is, this, another Greek exceptionalism?

Although it is very difficult to make an accurate prediction within such a volatile political context, the chances of replicating the success story of Syriza elsewhere in Europe are slim.

First, whether the Greek radical left will be seen as a model relies primarily on Syriza’s performance in the effective management of the crisis. The tight external conditionality attached to the bailout is coupled with a limited timeframe within which crucial decisions need to be taken.

Syriza’s honeymoon period is very short, and it is therefore highly probable to disappoint many domestic and European sympathizers. By February 28th, Athens would have to reach an agreement for the extension of the bailout with the Troika (ECB, EU, IMF). Otherwise, the Greek government would lose access to approximately 11 billion euros in bailout bonds to protect Greek bank capital needs in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund.

Apart from the external influences, there are also a number of reasons endogenous to the Greek political system that makes it difficult to replicate the model of Syriza abroad. For starters, the Greek electoral law, guided by an unusual majoritarian ‘winner take all’ logic makes it easier for a radical party to form a government. In sharp contrast to most other European countries operating under some form of proportional representation, in Greece the first party receives a premium of 50 seats (that is a sixth of the total 300 seat parliament).

Hence, while in most continental European countries the first party needs to participate in broad coalition government and convince a number of partners on the credibility of its program, a real obstacle for radical parties, Syriza under Greece’s current electoral system only needed to secure the first position (and following the elections the support of the small and unpredictable Independent Greeks party of the populist right).

Similarly, Greece is the only country in the Eurozone where the economic recession triggered a political crisis, marked by governmental instability, electoral rise of the far right and mass MP defections. A unique feature of the Greek political system since the beginning of the recession in 2009 is the high number of MP defections who crossed the floor. In our study we found that the period between 2010-2012 approximately 75 MPs defected; since then this number has increased.  

It is worth remembering that Syriza is a broad church, ranging from radical Marxists to social democrats with radically different policy preferences in dealing with the crisis. Within such a highly volatile political context, it becomes impossible for Syriza to maintain the loyalty of all its MPs in the long term, especially if they have to make painful concessions in the negotiations regarding debt restructuring. A wave of defections, similar to that experienced by all governing parties in the past three years will weaken Syriza’s negotiating power and will disappoint domestic and international sympathizers.

Finally, another reason why the Syriza experiment may prove difficult to bear fruit elsewhere is related to the idiosyncratic structure of the party itself. In sharp contrast to Podemos, which emerged from a loose grassroots social movement, Syriza participated in the parliament even before the crisis, even though as a party with minimal electoral support. Hence, power structures were already present, while it could also draw on experienced mainstream politicians.

In fact, Syriza was very effective in attracting a number of influential MPs from the dominant socialist party (PASOK) that crumbled after the mismanagement of the crisis. In that respect, it is difficult to draw parallels between the Syriza and Podemos; even at the leadership level Mr. Tsipras has more than fifteen years of professional political experience climbing fast the ranks of party politics, while Mr. Iglesias is a newcomer in professional politics propagating his distrust to established politicians.

For all these reasons it may prove difficult for the electoral success of the Greek radical left to spill over to other European countries. Europe’s radical left will have to go through a harsh winter before its ‘Greek spring.’ More importantly, punishing Syriza to prevent the rise of Podemos will add another catastrophic decision in the management of Europe’s debt crisis. Instead the humanitarian crisis in Greece should be dealt on its own right taking into consideration Greece’s particularities.
–Dr. Iosif Kovras is a Research Fellow at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Dr. Neophytos Loizides is a Reader in International Conflict Analysis at the University of Kent.

Solutions trump ideology in India-Abhirup Bhunia

Posted by admin On January - 4 - 2015 Comments Off

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When Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is on the global bestselling list, it is safe to assume that people don’t just acknowledge inequality passively but are also interested in understanding its disturbingly rampant existence and even doing something about it. Unease among ordinary citizens have resulted in occasional demonstrations too, such as the Occupy movement.

This apparent discomfort over the skewed “system” has brewed for some time now, and not just in the United States. In fact in an

 
interview, Piketty attributed some of the success of his book to the fact that there is a growing concern with rising inequality. A Pew Research Center Poll released in December 2013 found that almost 75% of people in developing or emerging economies view inequality as “a very big problem”.

But even as concern over inequality reaches its peak, there is a decisive resurgence of the business-friendly rightwing, electorally speaking. Recent electoral outcomes (the most authoritative barometer of gauging citizens’ mood) in the world’s largest and oldest democracies, India and the US, have seen the re-emergence of two right-wing parties with resounding blows to those with center-left lineages: Democrats in the US and the Congress Party in India.

So, given that inequality is a problem and inclusive development is universally desirable, are people trusting the economic right to put things in order? Have ordinary people reposed faith in markets to deliver all-encompassing development? As of now, this can only be an assumption, and given that ideology itself is perhaps no longer a factor in electoral choices, an assumption that risks being wide off the mark.

As Frank Luntz wrote in The New York Times in the aftermath of the Republican romp in the US mid-term elections, “Americans don’t care about Democratic solutions or Republican solutions. They just want common sense solutions that make everyday life a little bit easier.”

Transport that to India, and it’s the exact same feeling. The Indian electorate today is practical-minded and looks for solutions to problems, rather than ideological alignments. Voters’ loyalties are no longer fixed, let alone unconditional. The smart new electorate denies any party a cakewalk and punishes false or empty promises. They’ll vote those who will promise “better days are coming” (Achhe din anne wale hain, the winning Bharatiya Janata Party’s 2014 election slogan) and then walk the talk.

It will be a fairly uphill task to analyse the BJP’s astounding win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with scientific precision. But with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that it is the politics of aspiration, rather than that of cynicism, that won Narendra Modi the hearts and minds of ordinary Indians.

In all his campaign speeches – and there were many – Modi would quickly venture from the obligatory anti-Congress rant into practicable solutions to India’s problems, from the dismal public health to lack of value-added manufacturing, corruption and vested interests, to deficiencies in higher education; thus convincing the people that he has the practical solutions to India’s endless problems.

With India’s rather awkward history of hero-worshipping, the fondness of Modi quickly turned out to reach insane levels with many expecting the alchemist to wave a magic wand and turn everything right. So far, things have moved with a much less divine or magical speed.

As to the contention as to whether Indians really veneered to the right in their economic thinking when they voted this summer, perhaps it is only the economic historians who will have the most accurate stories to tell. However, the very fact that Modi won on a plank of “minimum government, maximum governance” is telling. Minimum government refers to the hackneyed concept of shrinking the state – from regulatory, welfare and other domains – a thinking which belongs to the economic right.

The idea that “the government has no business being in business” is one that’s held by the BJP and its [approximate] counterpart in the US, the Republicans. America’s Grand Old Party, like the BJP, holds conservative familial, religious and socio-cultural views. Likewise their party-men wear their nationalism on the sleeves.

The economic problems in India, as in America, and indeed across the world, are remarkably similar in terms of broad contours: inflation, lack of growth, unemployment, inequality. It is not as if these two countries serve to illuminate a global generalization.

However, it is an interesting observation that wide-ranging disquiet over inequality has in recent times converged with the electoral triumph of the economic right in two of the world’s most celebrated democracies.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online’s regular contributors.

Abhirup Bhunia, a political economist, is currently an associate with a New Delhi-based advisory firm.

(Copyright 2014 Abhirup Bhunia)
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-171214.html

Cuba to stand by its communist principles, Castro says; ‘US got isolated trying to isolate Cuba’ — Rene Gonzalez

Posted by admin On January - 4 - 2015 Comments Off

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Raul Castro.
Cuba’s leader Raul Castro said the country would not give up its political values for which it has fought. Calling for mutual respect in the new development of relations with the United States, Castro stated Cuba would continue its socialist route.
“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours”, Castro told Cuba’s National Assembly in a session on December 20.
Having expressed gratitude to US President Barack Obama for his initiative to open a “new chapter” in the two countries’ history by making a decision to lift the blockade, Castro stressed that the US president’s move would in no way make Cuba abandon the ideas it has struggled for over half a century.
“Cuba is a sovereign country, with its people having determined its path to socialism and its political system by expression of will”, Raul Castro said, adding that blood has also been shed to stand for the national ideas.
Cuba’s communist rule must be respected by US, while the two countries work on advancing their relations, the leader said, adding that his state was ready for the dialogue on a wide range of issues, on terms of “mutual respect”.
The leader said that he would attend the Summit of Americas next year in Panama, which will be the seventh meeting of the 34-nation bloc, with Cuba to participate for the first time. Castro is expected to have further discussions with President Obama at the meeting, although the list of US delegates has not been announced yet.
Having reassured the National Assembly and the people of Cuba that the new political turn would not lead to the country renouncing its ideas, the president saluted his older brother, Fidel Castro, closing his speech with “Viva Fidel!” The latter has not been seen since Washington’s decision to reset diplomatic ties with Havana and exchange prisoners was announced earlier this week.

Rene Gonzalez of the Cuban Five.
‘US got isolated trying to isolate Cuba’ – Rene Gonzalez of the Cuban Five
December 18, 2014 — RT, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — A step of reconciliation with Cuba was inevitable, as the US was becoming increasingly isolated in its failed attempts to isolate Cuba while their competitors were building closer ties with the island, Cuban intelligence agent Rene Gonzalez told RT.
Gonzalez was arrested in 1998 with four other members of the Wasp Network, secretly deployed by Cuba in Miami to monitor the expat community. After spending 13 years behind bars on charges of espionage, he was released in 2011, and has now been reunited with three other members of the group, exchanged for US intelligence agent Alan Gross, and another unnamed spy.
“I found the returnees in good spirits and happy”, Gonzalez said, refusing to be drawn on the particulars of the surprise prisoner exchange, which came alongside news that Washington was to open an embassy in Havana, and “normalise” relations with Cuba.
“In terms of its attitude towards Cuba the United States gradually found itself in isolation, while their goal was to isolate Cuba”, Gonzalez said.
Not only was the world community changing its attitude towards Cuba and demanding a similar policy change from Washington, but business circles within the US itself did not want to miss opportunities to their competitors, Gonzalez believes.
“They saw their economic competitors increasingly converging with Cuba while they could not do that. In the end, this process has led to a lot of people, those who are in power, coming to a conclusion that the situation in the relations between Cuba and the United States cannot remain the same.”
Lifting the blockade will take time but the first step has already been made and there is no turning back, believes Gonzalez, choosing to focus on events that eventually “will bring happiness to millions” besides the four families already reunited with their loved ones. “All four of them [the Cuban Five anti-terrorists] worked for their government in another country, protecting national interests. I don’t care who got paid what, or what they did [during their intelligence work]. I want to think about the four families that will be happy at New Year’s. I even prefer thinking of Alan Gross being reunited with his, as well as my comrades”, explained Gonzalez.
“The five of us set an aim for ourselves – to come out better people than we went in, and we have achieved it… All the burdens of the trial, and all the mud-slinging from the US has not broken us”, he said. “Now they can share their joy and happiness, and thus help make Cuba a place we all want it to be.”
http://links.org.au/node/4211

In 2008 Mumbai Killings, Piles of Spy Data, but an Uncompleted Puzzle-JAMES GLANZ, SEBASTIAN ROTELLA and DAVID E. SANGER

Posted by admin On December - 22 - 2014 Comments Off

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Indian police on guard outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel on Nov. 28, 2008. Credit Sajjad Hussain/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In the fall of 2008, a 30-year-old computer expert named Zarrar Shah roamed from outposts in the northern mountains of Pakistan to safe houses near the Arabian Sea, plotting mayhem in Mumbai, India’s commercial gem.

Mr. Shah, the technology chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terror group, and fellow conspirators used Google Earth to show militants the routes to their targets in the city. He set up an Internet phone system to disguise his location by routing his calls through New Jersey. Shortly before an assault that would kill 166 people, including six Americans, Mr. Shah searched online for a Jewish hostel and two luxury hotels, all sites of the eventual carnage.

But he did not know that by September, the British were spying on many of his online activities, tracking his Internet searches and messages, according to former American and Indian officials and classified documents disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

They were not the only spies watching. Mr. Shah drew similar scrutiny from an Indian intelligence agency, according to a former official briefed on the operation. The United States was unaware of the two agencies’ efforts, American officials say, but had picked up signs of a plot through other electronic and human sources, and warned Indian security officials several times in the months before the attack.

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From left: Zarrar Shah, Sajid Mir and the American David Coleman Headley. Mr. Shah was the technology chief of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Credit ProPublica/Frontline, left and right; Department of Justice
What happened next may rank among the most devastating near-misses in the history of spycraft. The intelligence agencies of the three nations did not pull together all the strands gathered by their high-tech surveillance and other tools, which might have allowed them to disrupt a terror strike so scarring that it is often called India’s 9/11.

“No one put together the whole picture,” said Shivshankar Menon, who was India’s foreign minister at the time of the attacks and later became the national security adviser. “Not the Americans, not the Brits, not the Indians.” Mr. Menon, now retired, recalled that “only once the shooting started did everyone share” what they had, largely in meetings between British and Indian officials, and then “the picture instantly came into focus.”

The British had access to a trove of data from Mr. Shah’s communications, but contend that the information was not specific enough to detect the threat. The Indians did not home in on the plot even with the alerts from the United States.

Clues slipped by the Americans as well. David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who scouted targets in Mumbai, exchanged incriminating emails with plotters that went unnoticed until shortly before his arrest in Chicago in late 2009. United States counterterrorism agencies did not pursue reports from his unhappy wife, who told American officials long before the killings began that he was a Pakistani terrorist conducting mysterious missions in Mumbai.

That hidden history of the Mumbai attacks reveals the vulnerability as well as the strengths of computer surveillance and intercepts as a counterterrorism weapon, an investigation by The New York Times, ProPublica and the PBS series “Frontline” has found.

Continue reading the main story
Although electronic eavesdropping often yields valuable data, even tantalizing clues can be missed if the technology is not closely monitored, the intelligence gleaned from it is not linked with other information, or analysis does not sift incriminating activity from the ocean of digital data.

This account has been pieced together from classified documents, court files and dozens of interviews with current and former Indian, British and American officials. While telephone intercepts of the assault team’s phone calls and other intelligence work during the three-day siege have been reported, the extensive espionage that took place before the attacks has not previously been disclosed. Some details of the operations were withheld at the request of the intelligence agencies, citing national security concerns. “We didn’t see it coming,” a former senior United States intelligence official said. “We were focused on many other things — Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the Iranians. It’s not that things were missed — they were never put together.”

After the assault began, the countries quickly disclosed their intelligence to one another. They monitored a Lashkar control room in Pakistan where the terror chiefs directed their men, hunkered down in the Taj and Oberoi hotels and the Jewish hostel, according to current and former American, British and Indian officials.

That cooperation among the spy agencies helped analysts retrospectively piece together “a complete operations plan for the attacks,” a top-secret N.S.A. document said.

The Indian government did not respond to several requests for official comment, but a former Indian intelligence official acknowledged that Indian spies had tracked Mr. Shah’s laptop communications. It is unclear what data the Indians gleaned from their monitoring.

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A redacted document contained an analysis of intelligence gathered from Zarrar Shah’s online activities.
Asked if Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, Britain’s eavesdropping agency, should have had strong suspicions of a looming attack, a government official responded in a statement: “We do not comment on intelligence matters. But if we had had critical information about an imminent act of terrorism in a situation like this we would have shared it with the Indian government. So the central allegation of this story is completely untrue.”

The attacks still resonate in India, and are a continuing source of tension with Pakistan. Last week, a Pakistani court granted bail to a militant commander, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused of being an orchestrator of the attacks. He has not been freed, pending an appeal. India protested his release, arguing it was part of a Pakistani effort to avoid prosecution of terror suspects.

The story of the Mumbai killings has urgent implications for the West’s duel with the Islamic State and other groups. Like Lashkar, the Islamic State’s stealthy communications and slick propaganda make it one of the world’s most technologically sophisticated terror organizations. Al Qaeda, which recently announced the creation of an affiliate in India, uses similar tools.

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Although the United States computer arsenal plays a vital role against targets ranging from North Korea’s suspected assault on Sony to Russian cyberthieves and Chinese military hacking units, counterterrorism requires a complex mix of human and technical resources. Some former counterterrorism officials warn against promoting billion-dollar surveillance programs with the narrow argument that they stop attacks.

That monitoring collects valuable information, but large amounts of it are “never meaningfully reviewed or analyzed,” said Charles (Sam) Faddis, a retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief. “I cannot remember a single instance in my career when we ever stopped a plot based purely on signals intelligence.”

The targeting of Mr. Shah’s communications also failed to detect Mr. Headley’s role in the Mumbai attacks, and National Security Agency officials did not see for months that he was pursuing a new attack in Denmark.

“There are small successes in all of this that don’t make up for all the deaths,” said Tricia Bacon, a former State Department intelligence analyst, referring to intelligence and broader efforts to counter Lashkar. “It’s a massive failure and some small successes.”

Lashkar’s Computer Chief

Zarrar Shah was a digitally savvy operative, a man with a bushy beard, a pronounced limp, strong ties to Pakistani intelligence and an intense hatred for India, according to Western and Indian officials and court files. The spy agencies of Britain, the United States and India considered him the technology and communications chief for Lashkar, a group dedicated to attacking India. His fascination with jihad established him as something of a pioneer for a generation of Islamic extremists who use the Internet as a weapon.

According to Indian court records and interviews with intelligence officials, Mr. Shah was in his late 20s when he became the “emir,” or chief, of the Lashkar media unit. Because of his role, Mr. Shah, together with another young Lashkar chief named Sajid Mir, became an intelligence target for the British, Indians and Americans.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which translates as “the Army of the Pure,” grew rapidly in the 1990s thanks to a powerful patron: the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), the Pakistani spy agency that the C.I.A. has worked with uneasily for years. Lashkar conducted a proxy war for Pakistan in return for arms, funds, intelligence, and training in combat tactics and communications technology. Initially, Lashkar’s focus was India and Kashmir, the mountainous region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Continue reading the main story
GRAPHIC
Missed Signals Before the Mumbai Attacks
Intelligence agencies in three countries tracked conspirators and deployed high-tech surveillance tools in advance of the Mumbai attacks, but they did not put the pieces together.
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But Lashkar became increasingly interested in the West. A Qaeda figure involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center was arrested in a Lashkar safe house in 2002. Investigators dismantled a Lashkar network as it plotted a bombing in Australia in 2003 while recruiting, buying equipment and raising funds in North America and Europe. In 2007, a French court convicted in absentia the ringleader, Mr. Mir. He remained at large in Pakistan under ISI protection, investigators say.

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Lashkar’s alliance with the ISI came under strain as some of the militants pushed for a Qaeda-style war on the West.

As a result, some ISI officers and terror chiefs decided that a spectacular strike was needed to restore Lashkar’s cohesion and burnish its image, according to interviews and court files. The plan called for a commando-style assault in India that could also hit Americans, Britons and Jews there.

The target was the centerpiece of Indian prosperity: Mumbai.

Hatching a Plot

Lashkar’s chiefs developed a plot that would dwarf previous operations.

The lead conspirators were alleged to be Mr. Mir and Mr. Lakhvi, according to interviews and Indian court files, with Mr. Shah acting as a technical wingman, running the communications and setting up the hardware.

In early 2008, Indian and Western counterterrorism agencies began to pick up chatter about a potential attack on Mumbai. Indian spy agencies and police forces gathered periodic leads from their own sources about a Lashkar threat to the city.

Starting in the spring, C.I.A. warnings singled out the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and other sites frequented by Westerners, according to American and Indian officials. Those warnings came from electronic and human sources, not from tracking Mr. Shah, other officials said.

“The U.S. intelligence community — on multiple occasions between June and November 2008 — warned the Indian government about Lashkar threats in Mumbai,” said Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of the Office of National Intelligence. “The information identified several potential targets in the city, but we did not have specific information about the timing or the method of attack.”

United States spy agencies also alerted their British counterparts, according to a senior American intelligence official. It is unclear if the warnings led to the targeting of Mr. Shah’s communications, but by the fall of 2008, the British had found a way to monitor Lashkar’s digital networks.

So had the Indians. But until the attacks, one Indian official said, there was no communication between the two countries on the matter.

Western spy agencies routinely share significant or “actionable” intelligence involving threats with allies, but sometimes do not pass on less important information. Even friendly agencies are typically reluctant to disclose their sources of intelligence.

Britain and India, while cooperative, were not nearly as close as the United States and Britain. And India is not included in the tightest intelligence-sharing circles of international, eavesdropping agencies that the two countries anchor.

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Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who would survive the Mumbai attacks, at a railway station in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008. Credit Sebastian D’souza/Mumbai Mirror, via Associated Press

Intelligence officials say that terror plots are often discernible only in hindsight, when a pattern suddenly emerges from what had been just bits of information. Whatever the reason, no one fully grasped the developing Mumbai conspiracy.

“They either weren’t looking or didn’t understand what it all meant,” said one former American official who had access to the intelligence and would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “There was a lot more noise than signal. There usually is.”

Continue reading the main story
Leaving a Trail

Not long after the British gained access to his communications, Mr. Shah contacted a New Jersey company, posing online as an Indian reseller of telephone services named Kharak Singh, purporting to be based in Mumbai. His Indian persona started haggling over the price of a voice-over-Internet phone service — also known as VoIP — that had been chosen because it would make calls between Pakistan and the terrorists in Mumbai appear as if they were originating in Austria and New Jersey.

“its not first time in my life i am perchasing in this VOIP business,” Mr. Shah wrote in shaky English, to an official with the New Jersey-based company when he thought the asking price was too high, the GCHQ documents show. “i am using these services from 2 years.”

Mr. Shah had begun researching the VoIP systems, online security, and ways to hide his communications as early as mid-September, according to the documents. As he made his plan, he searched on his laptop for weak communication security in Europe, spent time on a site designed to conceal browsing history, and searched Google News for “indian american naval exercises” — presumably so the seagoing attackers would not blunder into an overwhelming force.

Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who would survive the Mumbai attacks, watched Mr. Shah display some of his technical prowess. In mid-September, Mr. Shah and fellow plotters used Google Earth and other material to show Mr. Kasab and nine other young Pakistani terrorists their targets in Mumbai, according to court testimony.

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Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist who would survive the Mumbai attacks, at a railway station in Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008. Credit Sebastian D’souza/Mumbai Mirror, via Associated Press
The session, which took place in a huge “media room” in a remote camp on the border with Kashmir, was part of an effort to chart the terrorists’ route across the Arabian Sea, to a water landing on the edge of Mumbai, then through the chaotic streets. Videos, maps and reconnaissance reports had been supplied to Mr. Mir by Mr. Headley, the Pakistani-American who scouted targets. “The gunmen were shown all this data from the reconnaissance,” said Deven Bharti, a top Mumbai police official who investigated the attacks, adding that the terrorists were trained to use Google Earth and global positioning equipment on their own. “Kasab was trained to locate everything in Mumbai before he went.”

If Mr. Shah made any attempt to hide his malevolent intentions, he did not have much success at it. Although his frenetic computer activity was often sprawling, he repeatedly displayed some key interests: small-scale warfare, secret communications, tourist and military locations in India, extremist ideology and Mumbai.

He searched for Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” previous terror strikes in India and weather forecasts in the Arabian Sea, typed “4 star hotel in delhi” and “taj hotel,” and visited mapsofindia.com to pore over sites in and around Mumbai, the documents show.

Still, the sheer scale of his ambition might have served as a smokescreen for his focus on the city. For example, he also showed interest in Kashmir, the Indian Punjab, New Delhi, Afghanistan and the United States Army in Germany and Canada. He constantly flipped back and forth among Internet porn and entertainment sites while he was carrying out his work. He appeared to be fascinated with the actor Robert De Niro, called up at least one article on the singer Taylor Swift, and looked at funny cat videos. He visited unexplainable.net, a conspiracy theory website, and conducted a search on “barak obama family + muslim.”

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In late September and again in October, Lashkar botched attempts to send the attackers to Mumbai by sea. During that period, at least two of the C.I.A. warnings were delivered, according to American and Indian officials. An alert in mid-September mentioned the Taj hotel among a half-dozen potential targets, causing the facility to temporarily beef up security. Another on Nov. 18 reported the location of a Pakistani vessel linked to a Lashkar threat against the southern coastal area of Mumbai, where the attack would occur.

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Eventually Mr. Shah did set up the VoIP service through the New Jersey company, ensuring that many of his calls to the terrorists would bear the area code 201, concealing their actual origin. But in November, the company’s owner wrote to the fictitious Indian reseller, Mr. Singh, complaining that no traffic was running on the digital phone network. Mr. Shah’s reply was ominous, according to Indian law enforcement officials, who obtained evidence from the company’s communications records with F.B.I. assistance after the attack.”Dear Sir,” Mr. Shah replied, “i will send trafic by the end of this month.”

By Nov. 24, Mr. Shah had moved to the Karachi suburbs, where he set up an electronic “control room” with the help of an Indian militant named Abu Jundal, according to his later confession to the Indian authorities. It was from this room that Mr. Mir, Mr. Shah and others would issue minute-by-minute instructions to the assault team once the attacks began. On Nov. 25, Abu Jundal tested the VoIP software on four laptops spread out on four small tables facing a pair of televisions as the plotters, including Mr. Mir, Mr. Shah and Mr. Lakhvi, waited for the killings to begin.

In a plan to pin the blame on Indians, Mr. Shah typed a statement of responsibility for the attack from the Hyderabad Deccan Mujahadeen — a fake Indian organization. Early on Nov. 26, Mr. Shah showed more of his hand: he emailed a draft of the phony claim to an underling with orders to send it to the news media later, according to American and Indian counterterrorism officials.

Before the attacks started that evening, the documents show, Mr. Shah pulled up Google images of the Oberoi Hotel and conducted Wikimapia searches for the Taj and the Chabad House, the Jewish hostel run by an American rabbi from Brooklyn who would die in the strike along with his pregnant wife. Mr. Shah opened the hostel’s website. He began Googling news coverage of Mumbai just before the attacks began.

An intercept shows what Mr. Shah was reading, on the news website NDTV, as the killings proceeded.

“Mumbai, the city which never sleeps, was brought to its knees on Wednesday night as it came under an unprecedented multiple terror attack,” the article said. “Even as heavily armed police stormed into Taj Hotel, just opposite the Gateway of India where suspected terrorists were still holed up, blood-soaked guests could be seen carried out into the waiting ambulances.”

A Trove of Data

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In the United States, Nov. 26 was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. A long presidential election fight was over, and many officials in Washington had already drifted away for their long weekend. Anish Goel, director for South Asia at the National Security Council in the White House, left around 6 a.m. for the eight-hour drive to his parents’ house in Ohio. By the time he arrived, his BlackBerry was filled with emails about the attacks.

The Pakistani terrorists had come ashore in an inflatable speedboat in a fishermen’s slum in south Mumbai about 9 p.m. local time. They fanned out in pairs and struck five targets with bombs and AK-47s: the Taj, the Oberoi Hotel, the Leopold Cafe, Chabad House, and the city’s largest train station.

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Calls During the Attacks
These Internet-based phone calls were recorded in the control room in Karachi as Zarrar Shah and others directed the terrorists in Mumbai. Translated from Urdu.

play
The control room gives tactical advice to the terrorists in Mumbai. (0:40)
Control Room: Hello, Salam?
Kasha?
Terrorists in Mumbai: Salam back to you
yes, yes.
Control: Do you understand that you guys need to start heading down? And start cleaning out downwards?
Whoever is standing down there, shoot at him, if there’s another, shoot at him … throw a grenade, and go down.
Mumbai: [Unintelligible] … We don’t have grenades.
Control: Don’t you have four grenades?
That’s plenty of grenades.
Mumbai: Yes.
Control: So why don’t you use two of them? Keep two with you, one on each of you. Use two.
Throw one, then fire and go down to the next floor.
play
The terrorists in Mumbai exchange fire with security forces. (0:31)
Terrorists in Mumbai: Peace be unto you.
Control room: And peace be unto you.
Mumbai: Peace be unto you.
Control: And peace be unto you, yes?
Mumbai: [Unintelligible]
Control: Yes?
Mumbai: I’ve been hit by fire, please pray.
I’ve been hit by fire, please pray.
Control: Where did they hit you?
Where have you been hit?
Where have you been hit?
Mumbai: I’ve been hit on the arm.
Control: May God almighty protect you. Their people have gotten injured too, they are picking them up and taking them to the hospital.
[gun shots]
Mumbai: [Unintelligible] One, one [unintelligible]. Have killed a commando.
Control: Praise be to God. Praise be to God.
God almighty.
Mumbai: [Unintelligible]
Control: Listen, don’t hang up, don’t hang up.
The killing was indiscriminate, merciless, and seemingly unstoppable over three horrific days. In raw, contemporaneous notes by analysts, the eavesdroppers seem to be making a hasty effort to understand the clues from the days and weeks before.

“Analysis of Zarrar Shah’s viewing habits” and other data “yielded several locations in Mumbai well before the attacks occurred and showed operations planning for initial entry points into the Taj Hotel,” the N.S.A. document said.

That viewing history also revealed a longer list of what might have been future targets. M.K. Narayanan, India’s national security adviser at the time, appeared to be concerned about that data from Mr. Shah in discussions with American officials shortly after the attacks, according to the WikiLeaks archive of American diplomatic cables.

A top secret GCHQ document described the capture of information on targets that Mr. Shah had identified using Google Earth. The analysts seemed impressed by the intelligence haul — “unprecedented real-time active access in place!” — one GCHQ document noted. Another agency document said the work to piece the data together was “briefed at highest levels nationally and internationally, including the US National Security Adviser.”

As early reports of many casualties came in, Mr. Goel said the focus in Washington shifted to a question already preoccupying the White House: “Is this going to lead to a war between Pakistan and India?” American officials who conducted periodic simulations of how a nuclear conflict could be triggered often began with a terror attack like this one.

On Nov. 30, Mr. Goel was back at his office, reading a stack of intelligence reports that had accumulated on his desk and reviewing classified electronic messages on a secure terminal.

Amid the crisis, Mr. Goel, now a senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation, paid little attention to the sources of the intelligence and said that he still knew little about specific operations. But two things stood out, he said: The main conspirators in Pakistan had already been identified. And the quality and rapid pacing of the intelligence reports made it clear that electronic espionage was primarily responsible for the information. “During the attacks, it was extraordinarily helpful,” Mr. Goel said of the surveillance.

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But until then, the United States did not know of the British and Indian spying on Mr. Shah’s communications. “While I cannot comment on the authenticity of any alleged classified documents, N.S.A. had no knowledge of any access to a lead plotter’s computer before the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008,” said Mr. Hale, the spokesman for the Office of the director of National Intelligence. As N.S.A. and GCHQ analysts worked around the clock after the attacks, the flow of intelligence enabled Washington, London and New Delhi to exert pressure on Pakistan to round up suspects and crack down on Lashkar, despite its alliance with the ISI, according to officials involved. In the stacks of intelligence reports, one name did not appear, Mr. Goel clearly recalls: David Coleman Headley. None of the intelligence streams from the United States, Britain or India had yet identified him as a conspirator.

The Missing American

Mr. Headley’s many-sided life — three wives, drug-smuggling convictions and a past as an informant for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration — would eventually collapse. But for now, he was a free man, watching the slaughter on television in Lahore, Pakistan, according to his later court testimony. At the time, he was with Faiza Outalha, his Moroccan wife, having reconciled with her after moving his Pakistani wife and four children to Chicago.

Mr. Headley’s unguarded emails reflected euphoria about Lashkar’s success. An exchange with his wife in Chicago continued a long string of incriminating electronic communications by Mr. Headley written in a transparent code, according to investigators and case files. “I watched the movie the whole day,” she wrote, congratulating him on his “graduation.”

About a week later, Mr. Headley hinted at his inside information in an email to fellow alumni of a Pakistani military school. Writing about the young terrorists who carried out the mayhem in Mumbai, he said: “Yes they were only 10 kids, guaranteed. I hear 2 were married with a daughter each under 3 years old.” His subsequent emails contained several dozen news media photos of the Mumbai siege.

Almost immediately, Mr. Headley began pursuing a new plot with Lashkar against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He went to Denmark in January and cased the newspaper, meeting and exchanging emails with its advertising staff, according to his later testimony and court records. He sent messages to his fellow conspirators and emailed himself a reconnaissance checklist of sorts, with terms like “Counter-Surveillance,” “Security (Armed?)” and “King’s Square” — the site of the newspaper.

Those emails capped a series of missed signals involving Mr. Headley. The F.B.I. conducted at least four inquiries into allegations about his extremist activity between 2001 and 2008. Ms. Outalha had visited the United States Embassy in Islamabad three times between December 2007 and April 2008, according to interviews and court documents, claiming that he was a terrorist carrying out missions in India.

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Mr. Headley also exchanged highly suspicious emails with his Lashkar and ISI handlers before and after the Mumbai attacks, according to court records and American counterterrorism officials. The N.S.A. collected some of his emails, but did not realize he was involved in terrorist plotting until he became the target of an F.B.I. investigation, officials said.

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That inquiry began in July 2009 when a British tip landed on the desk of a rookie F.B.I. counterterrorism agent in Chicago. Someone named “David” at a Chicago pay phone had called two suspects under surveillance in Britain, planning to visit. He had contacted the Britons for help with the plot, according to testimony. Customs and Border Protection used his flight itinerary to identify him while en route, and after further investigation, the F.B.I. arrested him at Chicago O’Hare Airport that October, as he was preparing to fly to Pakistan. For his role in the Mumbai attacks, he pleaded guilty to 12 counts and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

After disclosures last year of widespread N.S.A. surveillance, American officials claimed that bulk collection of electronic communications led to Mr. Headley’s eventual arrest. But a government oversight panel rejected claims giving credit to the N.S.A.’s program to collect Americans’ domestic phone call records. Case files and interviews with law enforcement officials show that the N.S.A. played only a support role in the F.B.I. investigation that finally identified Mr. Headley as a terrorist and disrupted the Danish plot.

The sole surviving attacker of the Mumbai attack, Mr. Kasab, was executed in India after a trial. Although Pakistan denies any role in the attacks, it has failed to charge an ISI officer and Mr. Mir, who were indicted by American prosecutors. Though Mr. Shah and other Lashkar chiefs had been arrested, their trial remains stalled six years after the attack. Mr. Menon, the former Indian foreign minister, said that a lesson that emerged from the tragedy in Mumbai was that “computer traffic only tells you so much. It’s only a thin slice.” The key is the analysis, he said, and “we didn’t have it.”

James Glanz reported from India, New York and Washington; Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica reported from Chicago, India, New York and Washington; and David E. Sanger reported from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Andrew W. Lehren from New York, Declan Walsh from London, and Jeff Larson of ProPublica and Tom Jennings and Anna Belle Peevey of Frontline from New York.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/22/world/asia/in-2008-mumbai-attacks-piles-of-spy-data-but-an-uncompleted-puzzle.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility- PETER BAKER

Posted by admin On December - 18 - 2014 Comments Off

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WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.
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Related Coverage
 U.S. Frees Last of the ‘Cuban Five,’ Part of a 1990s Spy Ring DEC. 17, 2014  As Havana Celebrates Historic Shift, Economic and Political Hopes Rise DEC. 17, 2014  Taking Cuba Off the Blacklist Leaves Only North Korea as Cold War VestigeDEC. 17, 2014 Pope Francis Is Credited With a Crucial Role in U.S.-Cuba AgreementDEC. 17, 2014
The American Prisoner Alan Gross and Cuban-American RelationsDEC. 17, 2014
News Analysis: For Obama, More Audacity and Fulfillment of Languishing PromisesDEC. 17, 2014 “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
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Obama on Change to U.S.-Cuba RelationsObama on Change to U.S.-Cuba RelationsThe president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba.
. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”
For good or ill, the move represented a dramatic turning point in relations with an island that for generations has captivated and vexed its giant northern neighbor. From the 18th century, when successive presidents coveted it, Cuba loomed large in the American imagination long before Fidel Castro stormed from the mountains and seized power in 1959.
 Students celebrated in Havana after news that Washington had released three Cuban spies in a prisoner exchange. Credit Roberto Morejon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Continue reading the main story But the relationship remained frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a thorn in the side of multiple presidents who waited for Mr. Castro’s demise and experienced false hope when he passed power to his brother, Raúl. Even as the United States built relations with Communist nations like China and Vietnam, Cuba remained one of just a few nations, along with Iran and North Korea, that had no formal ties with Washington.
Mr. Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with Cuba and relaxed some travel restrictions in 2011. But further moves remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to deliver satellite telephone equipment capable of cloaking connections to the Internet.
After winning re-election, Mr. Obama resolved to make Cuba a priority for his second term and authorized secret negotiations led by two aides, Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga, who conducted nine meetings with Cuban counterparts starting in June 2013, most of them in Canada, which has ties with Havana.
Pope Francis encouraged the talks with letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro and had the Vatican host a meeting in October to finalize the terms of the deal. Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to seal the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct substantive contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years.
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How America’s Relationship With Cuba Will Change
Which travel and trade restrictions will be eased or eliminated.
 
OPEN Graphic On Wednesday morning, Mr. Gross walked out of a Cuban prison and boarded an American military plane that flew him to Washington, accompanied by his wife, Judy. While eating a corned beef sandwich on rye bread with mustard during the flight, Mr. Gross received a call from Mr. Obama. “He’s back where he belongs, in America with his family, home for Hanukkah,” Mr. Obama said later.
For its part, the United States sent back three imprisoned Cuban spies who were caught in 1998 and had become a cause célèbre for the Havana government. They were swapped for Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, according to a senior American official. Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, officials said, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds,” a distinction critics found unpersuasive.
The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 Cubans identified as political prisoners by the United States. Although the embargo will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.
Mr. Castro spoke simultaneously on Cuban television, taking to the airwaves with no introduction and announcing that he had spoken by telephone with Mr. Obama on Tuesday.
Photo

 Pope Francis played a vital role in the rapprochement. Credit Franco Origlia/Getty Images “We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations,” he declared, emphasizing the release of the three Cubans. “President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Only afterward did Mr. Castro mention the reopening of diplomatic relations. “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved,” he said. “The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.” But, he added, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”
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Mr. Obama is gambling that restoring ties with Cuba may no longer be politically unthinkable with the generational shift among Cuban-Americans, where many younger children of exiles are open to change. Nearly six in 10 Americans support re-establishing relations with Cuba, according to a New York Times poll conducted in October. Mr. Obama’s move had the support of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Human Rights Watch and major agricultural interests.
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Michael S24 minutes ago
What’s this erasing cold war hostility stuff? The embargo is still in place.

Shilee Meadows45 minutes ago
This president seems to use the long game very well and to his advantage. He never gave up on Ben Laden and the sanctions on Iran and Russia…

Michael Stavsen45 minutes ago
The idea of separation of powers was so that there should be checks and balances, precisely so that one part of the government cannot do as…

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At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Gross said he supported Mr. Obama’s move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, adding that his own ordeal and the injustice with which Cuban people had been treated were “a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”
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But leading Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, did not. In addition to Mr. Rubio, two other Republican potential candidates for president joined in the criticism. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a “very, very bad deal,” while former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it “undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.”
A leading Democrat agreed. “It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that if he extends his hand in peace, that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Cuban-American.
While the United States has no embassy in Havana, there is a bare-bones facility called an interests section that can be upgraded, currently led by a diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will become the chargé d’affaires pending the nomination and confirmation of an ambassador.
Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, and the president announced that he would attend a regional Summit of the Americas next spring that Mr. Castro is also to attend. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month to talk about migration, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker may lead a commercial mission.
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Next in AmericasU.S. Frees Last of the ‘Cuban Five,’ Part of a 1990s Spy Ring
Close this panel 2074 CommentsShare your thoughts.  All 2074Readers’ Picks 1353NYT Picks 38newestNYT Pick cwchilmark 16 hours ago Its nice to see not all of Obama’s foreign policy seems stuck in the 20th century. This strikes me as good for the American people and good for the Cuban people.

As with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and others throughout the world since the U.S. colonization of the Philippines in 1898, Fidel Castro knew that if the “leader of the free world” was opposed to his fellow country people’s freedom, he had to look elsewhere for support. That antidemocratic tragedy has occurred over and over again for over a century.

Thank you, Mr. President, for your historic attempt to establish normal diplomatic relations with the people of Cuba. It may be 50-plus years to late, but it i welcome by democracy-loving Americans and other people throughout the world.

FlagReply897RecommendShare this comment on FacebookShare this comment on TwitterNYT Pick winthropo muchachodurham, nc 15 hours ago I was born in 1950 in Miama (traditional pronunciation) Beach and grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve seen my parents come back from vacationing in Cuba when the dictator Batista was still in power and giving me the nickname that appears above; I’ve seen the Cuban Missle Crisis with portable missle launchers with missles afixed rolling down US 1 through Ft. Lauderdale towards Homested AFB; I’ve been through the drills at Bayview Elementary school where we were taught to “duck and cover” under our desks in case on a nuclear strike against Port Everglades; I’ve seen the children of Cuban professionals enter that elementary school speaking little or no English and welcomed with open arms; I’ve seen the boat people risking their lives to touch U.S. soil; and I’ve seen a small but politically powerful group of anti Castro Cubans in South Miami preventing the end of the boycott/embargo for generations, thanks to cowardly politicians, after the boycott/embargo had long ceased to have any meaning other than to prolong the suffering of the Cuban people.

Thank God we finally have some rationality and humanity towards our neighbors a mere 90 miles from our shores. God bless Cuba and the United States!
FlagReply1198RecommendShare this comment on FacebookShare this comment on TwitterNYT Pick Ecce HomoJackson Heights, NY 15 hours ago Statements like those issued by Senator Menendez and Senator Rubio are not at all helpful. Insisting that Alan Gross was “innocent” whereas the released Cubans were “spies” fails to rise above partisanship.

More than half a century ago, our government decided to try to undo the Cuban revolution by ostracizing Cuba politically and economically. It hasn’t worked, and there is no sign that it will ever work. On the contrary, our Cuban policy is opposed by most of the world.

It’s time for a different approach. If we can maintain normal political and economic relations with China despite their repressive regime, surely engaging with Cuba is worth a try.
That Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio would criticize his release is despicable.

Who cares if it was a fair deal or not, we have to move out of the 1960s.
Time to think about the future and not the past.
Amazing what can be accomplished when you do not have to run for re-election.
What a stunning addition to your legacy and to the moment, Mr President!
 This is a great day for so many reasons. First, the release of Alan Gross will make his family whole again and allow him to heal after such a long and arduous ordeal. Secondly, having been to Cuba, and having had family live there, I have always felt that the best thing we could do for Cuba was to open an embassy and restore our relationship with Cuba. This will create trade and International support which every other country has been giving to Cuba for decades. I lived in Albania which reminds me of Cuba in many way and how the introduction of open relations always improves living conditions for the people. If we can forgive Viet Nam we can do the same for Cuba. The only battle I foresee is the Bacardi family reiterating the Helms-Burton law which requires complete repatriation of Bacardi’s loss when Castro took over the country and closed Bacardi’s operations. I also hope that the Cuban community can finally stand behind this decision. For all my issues I have with the President I voted for, I applaud this decision. Finally, I thank the Pope for his intervention in this matter. This is such a good step forward during a time when there is so much wrong happening around the world.

Pope Francis put Cuba on the agenda during his March 2014 meeting with Obama. Eight months later, we have diplomatic relations. What a global player Francis has become! Conservatives, don’t forget Pope Benedict XVI was vigorously opposed to the U.S. Embargo of Cuba. It is time for Americans to tell the Batista-dictatorship beneficiaries that their property claims are long past absurd.

You cannot accumulate great fortunes under the protection of a brutal dictatorship and then when that blows up, flee to a democratic nation to enforce your claims. Absurd!

Perhaps President Obama should now turn the administration of Guantanamo to the Cuban government, in an effort to bring to a close another sad chapter in our history.
 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/world/americas/us-cuba-relations.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=span-ab-top-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

The dismal state of human rights in Pakistan-Dr Farzana Bari

Posted by admin On December - 13 - 2014 Comments Off

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The writer is a human rights activists and director of the Gender Studies Centre. She tweets @drfarzanabari
The International Day of Human Rights was observed on December 10 by the international community to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The UDHR sets international standards of human rights in which every individual is entitled to certain fundamental rights, irrespective of his/her class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and other social divisions. It states in its Article 1 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. The principle of universal human rights is enshrined in several international human rights bills and instruments. However, there is a contradictory trend of increasingly pronounced international commitments to human rights, and growing inter-state and intra-state disparities and vulnerabilities around the world. Extremes of wealth and poverty are the hallmarks of the modern world. According to the Global Wealth Report 2013, the top 0.6 per cent of the world population owns 39 per cent of global wealth. Massive vulnerabilities are created along the lines of class, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and other social divisions around the world. Nearly half of the world’s population lives below the poverty line. About 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation services. Around 121 million children in the world do not have access to education, while if only one per cent is spent less on the purchase of armaments worldwide, this should be sufficient to send all children to schools globally.
Within this global context of integrated economies and inequalities, there was not much to celebrate on International Human Rights Day this year at both the international and national levels. The unjust social and economic development of the country, with its fast-diminishing capacity to deliver to ensure fundamental rights, protection and security to citizens has progressively deteriorated. Neoliberal economic policies have engendered multiple vulnerabilities in our society. It is the socially weak and marginalised who are affected the most by economic disparities and the poor performance of the state when it comes to ensuring rights of citizens. Those whose rights are at greater risk include the poor in general, women, religious minorities, people with disabilities, IDPs, transgenders, bonded labourers, child labourers, people with HIV/AIDS, sex workers, people in prisons and shelters, and people living in conflict zones and disaster-prone areas.
Women are the single largest group whose fundamental rights are systematically threatened by the state and society. The dual system of patriarchy and capitalism positions them as second class citizens legally and socially. This leads to a low investment in their human capital by the family and the state, and creates the basis for gender disparities. For example only 45 per cent of Pakistani women are literate compared with 69 per cent of men. They have the worst health status in the world. We are losing 276 women per 100,000 live births. Nearly 12 per cent of the burden of disease in the country is due to reproductive health problems.
Women’s participation in the formal economy is only 22 per cent while the majority works in the informal sector where there is no legal cover to ensure labour rights. There is also a gender gap in political participation and representation of women as voters, candidates and representatives. Presently there is not a single women minister in the federal government.
Women’s weak socio-economic position makes them vulnerable to all forms of violence. Domestic violence is rampant, women are killed in the name of tradition and honour, and are even bought and exchanged to settle family disputes. This culture of impunity makes the country one of the most dangerous places to live in for women. Rising conservatism in society further endangers women’s rights of mobility, working and participating in political processes. They are attacked by radicals for seeking education and employment.
Our record regarding the treatment of religious minorities is disgraceful. They are discriminated in public and economic life. The roots of faith-based discrimination, hatred and intolerance lie in the very nature of the Pakistani state. Certain laws in the Constitution discriminate against non-Muslims. There seems to be a correlation between growing militancy and the increasing incidents of discrimination and violence against non-Muslim Pakistanis. Mob violence against the Christian community; kidnapping and abduction of Hindu women and forcefully converting them to Islam by marrying them to Muslim men; Sikhs from Fata being asked to pay jazyia; distribution of hate material targeting Ahamdis and attacking their places of worship happens with complete impunity. The ramification of the state’s policy of supporting and promoting a certain interpretation of faith can be seen in the sectarian violence that is rampant in the country.
People with disabilities constitute 19 per cent of the population and are living with little or no government support. The two per cent quota of jobs meant for them is not implemented. Police brutality against blind people in Lahore who were protesting against this non-implementation recently shocked the nation.
The military operation in Fata has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with well over 5.5 million people having to leave their homes. Currently, there are two million IDPs living in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The transgender community is another vulnerable group, which has recently been given citizenship rights. However, they are socially excluded and lack opportunities to integrate in the larger society. They are restricted to certain professions, like singing, begging, dancing and are also forced to engage in sex work due to poverty. This makes them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Natural disasters have played havoc with lives and adversely affected the country’s economy. The massive earthquake of 2005 left over 83,000 dead, while the devastating flood of 2010 affected 20 million people. Nearly 32.8 million people have been victims of these disasters. Sixty per cent of the poor are living in dire conditions as a result of a neo-liberal economic doctrine. The policies of privatisation, downsizing, liberalization, deregulation and promoting free markets have forced millions into poverty. Within this context of exclusion and marginalization, commemorating the International Day of Human Rights this year seemed like a meaningless exercise.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th,  2014.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/805874/the-dismal-state-of-human-rights-in-pakistan/

Overturning Ataturk’s legacy-RADHIKA SANTHANAM

Posted by admin On December - 13 - 2014 Comments Off

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DIFFERENT VISIONS: “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist rule indicates a reversal of the secular state structure that Kemal Ataturk had succeeded in ushering in.” A file photo showing supporters of the AKP holding portraits of Ataturk and Mr. Erdogan in Istanbul.
By keeping secularists at bay and riding on his popularity in Turkey’s heartland, President Erdogan is trying his best to shake off Ataturk’s long shadow

There are two sights that the eye grows accustomed to in Istanbul: Turkey’s red flag that flutters just about everywhere and paintings and portraits of the man responsible for this overt display of nationalistic pride, the country’s first President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Turkey is a proud nation and a land of paradoxes — and both for the same reasons. For despite 99 per cent of its population being Muslim, the country has secular credentials; despite society, much like India, being collectivistic and traditional, cities are Westernised and modern, and despite being located near war-torn Iraq and Syria, Turkey is a relatively peaceful bridge between Europe and Asia.

Everywhere we go, Istanbul, Safranbolu or Ankara, the Turks are always ready with a joke or a Bollywood reference when we tell them that we are from India — or what they call “Hindistan.”

“The Turks seem a happy lot,” we tell a cheerful looking tea shop owner in Cappadocia. “Not at all,” he shrugs as he offers us hot salep. “We have lots of problems. And they are only growing.”

The sentiment seems to be shared by other Turks too. Concerns regarding the erosion of secular values by a pro-Islamist government and the inability to fully adjust to modernity can be found in some pockets of the country.

Over the past two months, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s 12th President, has, true to his style, courted more trouble with some controversial statements that point towards a vision far flung from Kemalism — more than ever before.

Controversial statements
First Mr. Erdogan chose what could only be called the most inappropriate platform, a summit in Istanbul on justice for women, to preach to his country that women are not equal to men. “Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women: motherhood,” he said to an audience that included his daughter. “You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”

The President didn’t stop there, but proceeded to provide an explanation for this: it’s simply “natural.” He opined that “the laws of nature” prevent equality and the “delicate” frame of women obstructs them from working like men.

Mr. Erdogan’s remarks come exactly a month after a Hürriyet Daily News report stated that “287 women were killed in the first ten months of 2014 alone,” a fact that sought to provide context to the gender equality report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development just the previous day. According to the OECD report, Turkish women are treated the worst in Europe and the Central Asia region, which includes 46 countries. That a report on this finding ran across four columns of the front page of the newspaper, sidelining even reports on advancements by Islamic State militants in Kobane and details on the mine disaster in Karaman province, is of great significance.

“Turkey is becoming a terrible place for women,” a restaurant owner said to us one evening in Istanbul. “It’s worst in rural areas. Can you believe a woman is not even allowed to smile at her father?”

This is in stark contrast to the Turkey that Ataturk had envisioned for women. There is widespread consensus that women under Ataturk’s rule had enjoyed a better place in society: a secular civil code replaced Sharia law, polygamy was replaced with monogamy, and unequal rights regarding divorce, ownership of property, custody of children, etc. were replaced with equal legal rights. Women were not represented in politics earlier; Ataturk granted them full suffrage.

Mr. Erdogan also sparked outrage among historians last month. He stressed at a conference that “Muslim seafarers” had discovered America — a good 300 years before Christopher Columbus had set foot there — and that “Islam had developed and spread on the continent even before Columbus had arrived.” He claimed that Columbus himself had recalled “seeing a mosque at the top of a hill [on] the shores of Cuba.” He added that if permission was granted, “a mosque would be fitting for that hill today.”

And on December 9, he again stirred up a hornet’s nest when he proposed that lessons in Ottoman, an old form of Turkish that uses a version of Arabic script and that was replaced by Ataturk with the Latin alphabet, be made mandatory in high schools.

But Mr. Erdogan’s contentious statements, often laced with religious overtones, are far from new. On several occasions he has proposed that more mosques be built in Turkey. Under his rule, secular schools have been converted to religious ones, public offices are seeing more headscarves than ever before, and Turkey’s long-standing problem with its Kurdish minority could be solved, he once said, by appealing to “common Islamic values.”

It’s not just his conservatism but also his autocratic tendencies that are earning him brickbats. His defence of the gargantuan presidential palace in Ankara, reportedly bigger than the White House, the Palace of Versailles and the Buckingham Palace, bears testimony to this. The lavish structure, which sprawls across 50 acres of forest land and which reportedly costs a whopping $615 million, was once Ataturk’s private estate. Surveys show that more than 60 per cent of Turks consider the self-indulgence (though he claims it “belongs to the people”) a waste of money. “This palace amply testifies to Erdogan’s megalomania, his lust for rank and opulence and his yearning to revive the ancient Ottoman imperial wealth and glory, with himself on the sultan’s throne,” Sayed Abdel-Meguid wrote in Cairo-based Al-Ahram. But the President is undeterred by all the negative reportage in both national and international press. “You don’t cut corners when it comes to prestige,” he said in Istanbul. “Let me tell you, it [the palace] has 1,150 rooms, not 1,000 as people say.”

Economic reforms
Yet Turkey’s belief in Mr. Erdogan’s abilities as a leader is staunch. The country has placed faith in him repeatedly since he founded the Justice and Development Party in 2001. This is not entirely surprising given his vision for a “new Turkey,” one that is under way. Ever since he came to power the first time on the heels of a banking and currency crisis, economic growth has averaged 5.5 per cent, GDP has tripled, exports have quadrupled, living standards have improved and it is believed that he has worked much harder than his predecessors to bring Turkey under the European Union’s fold. By 2023, the President has promised, Turkey will secure a spot in the world’s top ten economies.

But economic growth often comes with a cost: Mr. Erdogan attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to “ban twitter,” journalists are increasingly being censored, civilian protests have been stymied through police force, attempts have been made to suppress the Army — considered the bulwark of secularism— and the government is slowly trying to gain control over the judiciary.

“This is not Ataturk’s Turkey,” the restaurant owner shook his head. “We find this new government scary and we fear for our children’s future.”

This authoritarian and Islamist rule indicates a reversal of the secular state structure that Ataturk had succeeded in ushering in. But is that really the primary concern of Turks today, given that the majority of them, as polls show, find Mr. Erdogan’s conservative values appealing? Are they really proud of the paradoxes? With mounting criticism has also come growing praise for his vision to place Turkey prominently on the global map. So we won’t know till the next election. But what is abundantly clear is this: by keeping secularists at bay and riding on his popularity in Turkey’s heartland, Mr. Erdog˘an is trying his best to shake off Ataturk’s long shadow.

radhika.s@thehindu.co.in
http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/overturning-ataturks-legacy/article6686787.ece?homepage=true

Call for Solidarity with Kobanê-Gezi Platform NYC

Posted by admin On October - 20 - 2014 Comments Off

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On Monday, October 6th, ISIS forces entered the autonomous Kurdish canton of Kobanê in Western Kurdistan (North Syria) following a siege which began on September 15th.  Defending Kobanê are the skilled but ill-equipped People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), who are up against The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a religious extremist organization bent on slaughtering, enslaving, and raping hundreds of thousands of civilians using advanced American and Russian weapons.

The International Coalition led by the US, which bears great responsibility for the present bloodbath in the region, has been hesitant and late in taking any action that would have hindered ISIS from entering Kobanê.  For the time being the US has contented itself with remaining as an onlooker to the ongoing barbarism, at times bombing some secondary targets only for appearance.  Although this attitude seems to be changing as a result of rising international pressure, this will not prevent the International Coalition from being responsible for a potential massacre in Kobanê, if the Kurdish forces are ultimately defeated.

Turkey, a strategic partner of the US in the region, bears a particularly big responsibility for the current situation.  The city of Kobanê is presently besieged by ISIS from three sides.  The fourth side in the north is the border to Turkey.  Kurds throughout the region have been demanding for weeks from the Turkish government to open up a corridor from other Kurdish cantons from Northern Syria to Kobanê, so that they can concentrate their military forces there to fend off ISIS.  Turkey, however, is purposefully obstructing any such movement into Kobanê.  This is particularly hypocritical, since it has been well-documented that the Turkish government has been financially and logistically assisting Islamist fundamentalists besides ISIS, including allowing cross-border movements in order to overthrow the Assad Regime.

The march of ISIS into Kobanê has ignited massive demonstrations throughout Turkey, particularly in North Kurdistan (Southeast Turkey).  The response of the Turkish government has been one of violent repression, leading to the death of 35 protesters on the first few days of the protests.  All of these events have seriously threatened the ongoing but fragile peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdish National Liberation Movement.  The end of this peace process would most likely be the start of a bloody civil war in Turkey, which could spark further turmoil across the entire Middle East.

In short, we are convinced that the International Coalition and Turkey are waiting for ISIS to first crush Kobanê, and then the other autonomous Kurdish cantons in the region — all of which stand as the only way of establishing peace through pluralistic and democratic governing in the region.  This is nothing but playing with fire.

We are calling for solidarity with the resistance in Kobanê and helping the Kurds echo their demands.  ISIS must be swiftly and decisively defeated.  To that end, the Turkish government must stop its military manipulation of the situation for its own interests.  We demand that the Turkish government allow Kurdish forces located beyond Kobanê unrestricted access to the city by opening its border gate to Kurds rather than ISIS fighters.  Moreover, any attempt of Turkey with or without the support of the International Coalition to create a buffer zone in Kobanê must be stopped, for such posturing lays the ground for an invasion of other Kurdish territories.  If Kobanê falls, the result will be an uncontrollable spiral of more wars and massacres across the whole of the region — and history will clearly note who is responsible for it!

Long live the resistance of Kobanê!  Bijî berxwedana Kobanê!

Gezi Platform NYC
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http://www.topsite.com/goto/mrzine.monthlyreview.org

Afghanistan Faces Uncertain Future-Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR

Posted by admin On October - 20 - 2014 Comments Off

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Hindu Kush gets a godfather

«Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain,
 if history has taught us anything,. it’s that you can kill anyone».
Al Pacino in the film The Godfather Part II

The outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai used his national address in office before leaving the presidential palace to warn the new government headed by Ashraf Ghani that the ongoing violence in Afghanistan provided a convenient excuse for the US to maintain its bases in the country.

«My advice to the next government is to be very careful with America and the West», Karzai cautioned in his speech, saying that Afghanistan could be friendly with Western countries but only if the relationship was balanced.

Karzai insisted that his peace process with the Taliban had failed because «America did not want peace» and that the war was not among Afghans but «for the objectives of foreigners».

On a bitter note, he added, «War in Afghanistan is based on the aims of foreigners. The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners. But Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war».

Indeed, stung to the quick, the Empire struck back almost immediately. Apart from the signing of the US-Afghan security pact, the second major step taken by the Ghani government has been the reopening of the file on the infamous Kabul Bank fraud case, which the Americans had been pressing for.

Anyone who has been following Afghan politics closely over the years would know that the reopening of the Kabul Bank controversy is an unmistakable warning by Washington to Karzai and his associates – in fact, to the ancien regime as such: ‘Behave or else.’

Blackmail and threats of retribution are going to be the most lethal weapons in the hands of the US in steering the Afghan political transition along a sequestered avenue. The heart of the matter is that a huge section of the Afghan political class stands compromised through various doings during the past decade beyond the pale of law.

Never mind, Washington only might have led some of these souls up the garden path. The important thing is that Washington has an institutional memory of the DNA of the Afghan political class and it has had selective use of it in the past as well.

Thus, at times, Washington had implicitly threatened even powerful Afghan personalities who once collaborated with the US but lately showed signs of intransigence – deceased or alive still – that they could be hauled up for trial before international war crime tribunals. Ironically, Ghani’s first vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum himself faced the American music at one time for allegedly having committed human rights violations as a «warlord».

The rampant corruption and venality and the propensity of Afghan elites to salt away their ill-gotten wealth abroad – Dubai is a favorite destination – works well for the US in today’s circumstances, as they could be easily silenced if they dared to pose impediments to the working of the national unity government. What comes readily to mind is the famous line in movie legend by Marlon Brando, «I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse».

This is where detractors among foreign analysts who doubt the sustainability of the newly-installed national unity government in Kabul need to hold breath. They tend to overlook that the US is immensely experienced in the making and marring of politicians in the developing countries.

Indeed, in the Afghan context, the US has a counter-strategy to make the arrangement that it tenaciously put together in Kabul through months of effort, including at the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, to work. The US is not going to throw in the towel and helplessly watch the national unity government disintegrate, the serious contradictions within it notwithstanding.

Indeed, this is not to underestimate the contradictions, either, because the national unity government is not merely a co-habitation of two rival politicians but its future also is predicated on the cordial sharing of power (for which there is no historical precedent in Afghanistan) between two sets of diverse constituents comprising figures (many of whom also with sharply etched ethnic identities and who themselves may represent interest groups.)

In sum, many of the constituent groups are not monolithic and are in a state of incessant mutation depending on how interests coalesce or conflict at any given time – not only in Kabul but also at the local level. Suffice to say, the Americans have introduced in Kabul an incredibly complex power calculus and the challenge of making it work will be formidable.

However, on the other hand, there are signs that the US is taking the Afghan intelligence set-up firmly into its hands – with the British intelligence ably supporting. (Significantly, British Prime Minister David Cameron was the first foreign dignitary to visit Kabul after Ghani’s government took over.) It is improbable that any regional power such as India or Iran could hope to have the kind of working relationship they might have enjoyed with the Afghan security establishment during Karzai’s rule.

All in all, therefore, the main thrusts of Washington’s approach to the political transition in Kabul would suggest that Afghanistan is turning into a crucial hub of the US’ regional strategies – imposition of a national unity government involving figures who have worked very closely with America in the past; the signing of the security pacts providing for establishment of long term American military presence in bases over which Kabul cannot exercise any control whatsoever; the overtly-threatening posturing toward Karzai and his associates or other potential ‘trouble-makers’ in the Afghan political spectrum; and, the tightening of the grip over the Afghan intelligence.

Curiously, the security pact compels the Afghan government to surrender sovereignty over the country’s airspace and freely allows the US to bring in «technology» – shades of the missile defence system!

It is almost certain that the bases in Afghanistan provide the Pentagon and the US intelligence a good platform to undertake spying missions on neighboring countries. Again, it is inevitable that at some point the US and NATO may deploy components of the missile defence system in these military bases. Article 7 of the pact (Use of Agreed Facilities and Areas); Article 8 (Property Ownership); Article 8 (Positioning and Storage of Equipment and Materiel); Article 10 (Movement of Vehicles, Vessels, and Aircraft); Article 12 (Utilities and Communications); Article 15 (Entry and Exit); and, Article 16 (Importation and Exportation) – these articles virtually mean a surrender of Afghan sovereignty over a range of activities that the US may undertake from its military bases in Afghanistan in the neighboring countries.

So, what could be the American game plan? What emerges beyond doubt is that the US is consolidating in Afghanistan against the backdrop of its «pivot» strategy in Asia and at a time when the Central Asian region itself could be heading for a «transition». The Obama administration deliberately cultivated in the recent years an impression to the effect that the US forces are «withdrawing» from Afghanistan. Many regional powers, including India, began beseeching Washington with pleas not to do that. But the stunning reality is that the US is, on the contrary, becoming deeply embedded in the hugely strategic region of what has been known as «Inner Asia» – but with greater efficiency, cutting out unnecessary flak, reducing the financial burden of the war and avoiding combat role that imperils the lives of soldiers and would militate public opinion at home.

Of course, the US’ consolidation in Afghanistan still remains dependent on three or four key factors. A crucial factor here will be the outcome of the Taliban’s concerted strategy to demoralize, weaken and destroy the Afghan armed forces – and, in turn, the latter’s capacity to weather the storm.

A second factor will be the progress toward good governance in Afghanistan, which on the one hand means winning the trust and confidence of the people and eroding the Taliban’s support base within the country, while on the other hand, creating a favorable environment for the revving up of the Afghan economy, which today is all but one hundred percent dependent on foreign aid.

Thirdly, the big question remains: What are the prospects of a settlement with the Taliban? Equally, it is also necessary to ask: Is the US indeed interested in a settlement with Taliban – except on its own terms; and, paradoxically, would Taliban serve the US’ regional strategies as a geopolitical tool, as Karzai seemed to suggest.

Finally, regional politics has always been a major vector of the Afghan problem and currently, the international mileu has also become considerably volatile of late.

Each of these factors becomes a variable in itself with the potential to modulate the US strategies in the post-2014 scenario.
–Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR

Former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. Devoted much of his 3-decade long career to the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desks in the Ministry of External Affairs and in assignments on the territory of the former Soviet Union.  After leaving the diplomatic service, took to writing and contribute to The Asia Times, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. Lives in New Delhi
http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2014/10/18/afghanistan-faces-uncertain-future-iii.html

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