Rigi met US, Indian envoys in Afghanistan before arrest

Sikander Shaheen:
ISLAMABAD – The presence of Jundullah’s top man Abdol Malek Rigi in Afghanistan, a day prior to his arrest, is seen as part of covert meetings between US and Indian diplomats with Taliban and some unidentified leaders.

This newspaper, earlier, first published a story on January 30 last and a subsequent story on February 7 that a series of covert meetings were taking place between US and Indian diplomats with Taliban leaders, however, the whereabouts and origins of these leaders could not be ascertained due to the lack of sufficient details and highly covert manner in which these meetings were arranged.

UN based sources in Afghanistan informed this scribe on Wednesday that they were frequently getting reports regarding the presence of top brass of some banned outfits including those jihadi outfits the chiefs of which had lucrative head-moneys and were involved in terrorist activities in this region. Although the exact details regarding the visits of Abdol Malek Rigi to Afghanistan at any specific venue are still required because of his “lack of facial familiarity and acquaintance” within the locals, yet his frequent covert visits remained under heated discussions in informed Afghan quarters lately.

The fact stands undisputed that CIA had very strong links with Jundullah and was actively backing its operations against Shiite Muslims in Iran as well as in different parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Stealthy visits of the banned militants in Afghanistan, off and on, have much to do with the incompetence of Afghan government and active collusion of US and India using Afghanistan as cross-border militancy card against Pakistan.

Just recently, the arrests of three top leaders of Taliban by Pakistani authorities were not welcomed by Afghanistan and India at all, and soon after these arrests that had been termed by Pakistani authorities as a major breakthrough in combating militancy, voices were heard from New Delhi and Kabul that the pertinent development was a major blow to ‘peace efforts’ and arrested brass was presumably willing for talks with Afghanistan government! This policy of cribbing from both these states reflects the malice on part of Afghanistan that blindly follows the dictates of US and its cronies to avail of every bid that undermines Pakistan’s dignity. Read more of this post

Turkey’s affiliations are swinging from West to East.

Turkey’s affiliations under the leadership of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a devout Muslim — are swinging from West to East. This is good news for the Arab world as Ankara is a major political and military player on the international stage with substantial clout. In recent times, Turkey has thawed the freeze with Syria by signing a slew of economic, cultural, social and strategic cooperation agreements and is mulling over lifting visa restrictions for Syrian and Lebanese nationals.

At the same time, Turkey is reaching out to Armenia by setting up a commission to study the World War I conflict that robbed the lives of over a million Ottoman-Armenians. Last October, Ankara and Yerevan signed protocols designed to establish ties that would result in the reopening of their border but the main sticking point is Armenia’s insistence that Turkey and the international community officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey has always resisted that damning label and always insisted that those who died were casualties of conflict.

Simultaneously, the Erdogan government is cementing relations with Russia with trade and energy agreements; Russia currently supplies around 65 percent of Turkey’s natural gas requirements and may assist Turkey with the construction of a nuclear energy plant. This new closeness has resulted in plans to extend cooperation to the South Caucasus — traditionally within Russia’s sphere of influence — as well as visa-free travel for the citizens of both nations.

Likewise, Ankara currently enjoys good relations with Tehran. Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks in Ankara with Prime Minister Erdogan involving the transportation of Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, establishing a joint refinery, jointly constructing industrial centers and increasing bilateral trade from $10 billion annually to $30 billion. The Turkish minister of state said Turkey is keen to begin a “golden age” in Turkish-Iranian ties. While Turkey is against nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, it backs Iran’s right to nuclear energy and does not support anti-Iranian sanctions.

But there the love fest ends. Ankara’s relations with some of its traditional allies are strained to say the least.

Its important strategic alliance with Washington, which culminated in America’s Incirlik Air base was shaken when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Turkey was against the Iraq war from the get-go and blames it for strengthening Kurdish secessionist ambitions. And when, in 2007, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution in favor of Armenia’s stance on the alleged “genocide,” Turkey temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Washington.

However, for its part, the US government tends to tread softly with Turkey in light of its NATO role as a strong eastern bulwark and its hosting of Incirlik which was a crucial asset during the Cold War and the 1991 Gulf War. Turkey’s importance to Washington was reflected by President Barack Obama’s official visit, last April — criticized within some US circles as blessing a country embarked on establishing a powerful Islamic bloc contrary to American interests. The US has also fervently backed Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, which has been somewhat of an annoyance to European countries that are vehemently opposed. Linda Heard
—AN

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Dangerous games in the Gulf

THE more things change in the Middle East, the more they seem to remain the same. As if tensions in the world’s most volatile region weren’t high enough, the United States has decided to “upgrade” its military presence in the Gulf. Washington is deploying new defences against possible Iranian missile attacks by placing battle ships off the Iranian coast and anti-missile systems in at least four Gulf countries. It goes without saying that the ostensible provocation and justification for the US moves is the increasingly hawkish posturing and rhetoric of the Iranian regime and the apparent threat potential to America’s allies in the region. However, you do not have to be a genius to know that the real reason behind the US actions against Iran is Israeli pressure on the Obama administration. Tel Aviv has never really kept its designs against Iran and its nuclear ambitions a secret. Of late, with an increasingly belligerent regime in power in Israel, an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations looks like an increasing possibility.

So maybe the Obama administration is trying to send the message to both Iran and Israel that Washington means business and takes the so-called threat from Teheran seriously. For this dangerous situation, Iran has to blame no one but itself. Whether its nuclear programme is peaceful or not, its jingoistic rhetoric and confrontational posturing have provided the Western powers with a perfect excuse to increase their involvement and presence in the region. Teheran may be entitled to nuclear power under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). However, with its aggressive approach to acquiring it, it has isolated itself internationally and alienated itself from its Arab neighbours. Read more of this post

THE SALE OF PAKISTAN

Only the Air-Condition Pakistani class could think of such a wheeze and get away with it. Who says our leaders are brain dead? May Allah continue to shower His blessings upon the Zardari/Bhuttos, the Sharifs and all their hanger ons! Amen.

“Islamabad has established an extraordinarily welcoming investment environment that financiers will find hard to resist. The government’s Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy — spelled out on the Board of Investment’s website — effectively legalises foreign land acquisitions. It permits state land to be purchased outright or leased for 50 years, and allows investors to determine the size of their acquisitions (with no upper ceiling). These features apply to a broad range of agriculture from crops, fruits and vegetables to forestry and livestock farming.”

What a brilliant idea! Sell the most fertile parcels of state land to the oil saturated Arabs [the Saudis, the Emiratis and the assorted dung heads of Arabia] pocket your commission and live happily ever after in the Disney world of Dubai and the fleshpots of London’s Edgeware Road/Park Lane. As to the landless, sweating masses – turn them into Talibans, a la Swat style and get the Americans to keep them in their place by ‘droning’ them.

Only the Air-Condition Pakistani class could think of such a wheeze and get away with it. Who says our leaders are brain dead?  May Allah continue to shower His blessings upon the Zardari/Bhuttos, the Sharifs and all their hanger ons! Amen.


Putting the country on sale

The Nation, Jan. 31, 2010.

For those of us who had thought that the scheme of leasing out a million acres of agricultural land to foreign investors had been shelved by the government, the statement of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week served as a rude awakening. Shamelessly reaffirming his government’s commitment to go ahead with the sinister plan, he gave odd justifications for going ahead with it. He was in Dubai for a meeting of Frie-nds of Pakistan who are supposed to help us in this time of need. The Arab countries that have expressed interest in this unethical land grab, obviously have a poor sense of friendship. The message they, as well as the other so-called friends, are sending out is that when a friend is in need, exploit the friend and get a good price for his family silver.


One has yet to see anything worthwhile coming out of this motley group of countries that have created yet another club for the avowed purpose of helping out Pakistan in consideration of the price it has paid for fighting terrorism and to strengthen the now not-so-new democracy. Going by the Foreign Minister’s recent statement, it seems that the club serves the interests of the generous prosperous friends more than those of the one going around the globe with a begging bowl. Knowing the desperation of the beggar friend whose functionaries do not miss an occasion to register their economic helplessness and to plead with servile eyes and tones for some charity, these so-called affluent friends seem to be finding good bargains for whatever is to be grabbed in the state of Pakistan. All in the name of friendship of course.

It is surprising that after the treatment meted out to us by our best friend and ally, we still have a stomach for these so-called friendships, and as if one were not enough, we are willing to follow the tunes of this assortment of pied
pipers.


The government, instead of relying on such fickle friends, should be focusing on the wealth of resources at its disposal waiting to be managed properly.
After all, that is what it is there for. Or does the democratic government
believe that its sole purpose is to stay afloat in the short term, even if it means auctioning the country’s vital resources in a grand loot sale? Certainly, something better is expected of a democratic government.

In a ridiculous attempt at justifying the scheme, the Foreign Minister has now informed us that the land that the government intends to lease out is not owned by anyone. By that he means that the land is not owned by any private
individual. But does that mean that these precious acres are lawaris? Does he not know that land not owned by any private individual is owned by the state of Pakistan and is therefore collectively owned by the people of Pakistan?
Does he not know that the government is entrusted with looking after this land and not to sell it off to greedy friends mouthing sincerity? Does the government have no obligation to find ways of util-ising the invaluable resource for the betterment of the people it claims to represent?

To further expose his poverty of vision, the Foreign Minister said that the land to be leased out is not under cultivation and therefore we should not object to handing it over to the foreign investors who will pump in the
resources to cultivate it. Is it the best our democratic government has to offer us? If investors from distant lands with no tradition of agriculture can come and cultivate it, it should not be difficult for Pakistanis to do it, what with an agricultural heritage and knowledge going back to pre-historic times. Instead of wasting government funds on retrogressive schemes like the Benazir Income Support Programme that make beggars of able-bodied citizens rather than helping them stand on their feet, couldn’t the government spend them on helping landless farmers cultivate the land that it wants to throw away to foreign investors?

It is very unfortunate indeed that the government would insist on pushing such a hare-brained and patently nefarious scheme down our throats at the insistence of its dubious friends. But then, it is not just one nut in the
machine that the government is mowing down Pakistan and its citizens with. Whether it is for loans taken from the foul international financial institutions or for aid that it hopes to get from its best friend under the Kerry-Lugar Act,
or for crumbs it hopes to collect from the so-called Friends of Pakistan, the government is willing to compromise the well-being of the people in whose name it governs the country.

To be fair, the present government is only partially responsible for this state of affairs. In recent times, all successive governments have followed the same path. Whether it was the ‘Islamic’ dictatorship of Ziaul Haq or the quasi-democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif that followed, or the moderate-dictatorship of Musharraf or the Q-government that he gave birth to, those at the helm of affairs have shown a similar poverty of
vision when it comes to managing the country’s economy and the abundant resources at their disposal. They come with new mantras and programmes, but beneath the shallow surface, nothing changes on this count. Those in charge of the future of the Paki-stani people have shown a propensity to become willing partners in their exploitation at the hands of investors, states and multilateral financial institutions. Together, this evil partnership has made a rich land poor, turning its gold to dust.

Granted that the present government has inherited much of this legacy from its predecessors, there is still no excuse for continuing with it, especially when the cost has become too high for the people of Pakistan to bear. More
than millions and billions of dollars that the government is breathlessly running after, what is actually required is a political vision that appreciates the true worth of this land and its people.



Going gaga over grain


By Michael Kugelman
Dawn News, Sep. 17, 2009.


Last May, while Pakistan’s military was waging its offensive in Swat, Islamabad officials were simultaneously launching another offensive in the Gulf: a charm offensive to secure investment in Pakistani farmland.

Appearing at ‘farmland road shows’ across the region, the investment ministry representatives depicted Pakistan’s soil as the perfect solution to the Gulf nations’ food insecurity.

Such efforts have paid off for Islamabad (and according to media reports, more shows have been staged in recent days). Pakistan’s farmland is an increasingly popular target for wealthy, food-importing nations who, because of the volatility of world food markets, are taking food security matters into their own hands. These states (and also private investors) aim to buy or lease farmland overseas, grow their own crops and export them back home.

Given their lack of transparency, the details surrounding these investments are sketchy and the facts elusive. In Pakistan, uncertainty reigns over the exact amount of land made available to investors, the quantum of land sold or leased so far, and who is in fact doing the investing.

Still, even without these details, there is strong evidence to suggest that the race for Pakistan’s farmland — if not halted prematurely by farmers’ opposition or investor change-of-hearts — could trigger droves of land deals, acute resource shortages and even political strife.

Islamabad has established an extraordinarily welcoming investment environment that financiers will find hard to resist. The government’s Corporate Agriculture Farming (CAF) policy — spelled out on the Board of Investment’s website — effectively legalises foreign land acquisitions. It permits state land to be purchased outright or leased for 50 years, and allows investors to determine the size of their acquisitions (with no upper ceiling). These features apply to a broad range of agriculture from crops, fruits and vegetables to forestry and livestock farming.

Land investors flock to countries with strong legal protections. Cambodia’s government has reportedly established a national land concession authorising public land to be allocated to foreigners — and the country is now experiencing what the BBC describes as an ‘epidemic of land-grabbing’. Conversely, in India, foreign companies are banned from owning farmland — and considerably fewer investors have come calling.

Pakistan, like Cambodia, provides the legal cover farmland investors look for. However, the CAF goes beyond legal protections. It also offers generous financial incentives such as 100 per cent foreign equity; exemptions on land transfer duties; and customs-duty-free, sales-tax-free agricultural machinery imports.

Legal protection and financial incentives — what more could a foreign land investor in Pakistan want? Security, of course, and Islamabad purports to have this covered as well, through the formation of a 100,000-strong security unit. Pakistan’s government is so serious about concluding land deals that it has offered to deploy a force almost a fifth the size of the army to protect investors’ new holdings.

A rash of foreign land acquisitions in Pakistan would deepen the country’s resource crisis. Pakistan already suffers widespread water shortages, and could be water-scarce by 2020. However, supplies could dry up much sooner if enormous quantities of water are siphoned off to support large-scale, water-intensive agricultural production schemes.

To understand the scale of Pakistan’s water shortages, take a look at Aquastat, the FAO’s water statistics database. Of all the nations most often associated with relinquishing farmland, only one — Kenya — has less water availability per capita than Pakistan’s 1400 cubic metres. In fact, of the nearly 200 countries listed in the database, only 35 have less water than Pakistan — many of them the parched countries of the Gulf that are seeking the water-laden farmland they lack at home.

Indeed, quests for overseas farmland are water hunts as much as they are land hunts. Yet investors are seemingly so seduced by Islamabad’s legal and financial inducements that they disregard the fact that Pakistan’s water supply can barely sustain its own farming, much less that of immense foreign agribusiness projects.

Pakistan’s water and energy shortages could also limit the possible benefits accruing from the deals, including better technology, more employment and higher crop yields. With limited energy to operate upgraded farm machinery, and limited water to irrigate cropland, farming job prospects could suffer and talk of increased yields could become irrelevant.

Land deals could mean not just compromised small-holder livelihoods but also widespread displacement. Not surprisingly, critics argue that big land acquisitions could spark violent responses and mass political unrest. Such predictions may be premature — other than in Madagascar, opposition has been relatively localised — but they are not far-fetched in Pakistan.

Here’s why. According to the World Food Programme, 77 million Pakistanis are already food-insecure, and many of them live in the country’s most volatile areas. Foreign land holdings could cause a flare-up of this food vulnerability powder keg at the worst possible time. During the height of last year’s global food crisis, Pakistan imposed export bans to keep domestic food prices down.

According to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the UAE — which hopes to grow rice and wheat in Pakistan — then requested blanket exemptions from these bans.

Islamabad eventually relaxed export restrictions on Basmati rice. So a politically explosive scenario — such as the UAE trucking rice out of a drought-stricken or war-ravaged Pakistan and exporting it back to the Gulf while hungry locals look on — is not at all unrealistic. Throw that investment-protecting security force into the mix, and things could get really ugly.

Furthermore, there are long-standing rifts between Pakistan’s rural poor and its wealthy, landholding elite. Scores of huge land acquisitions — particularly if they displace poor labourers — would exacerbate these class-based cleavages.

Ominously, the Taliban’s actions in Swat reveal a new ability to exploit class divisions by pitting landless farmers against their landlords. Militants may well use farmland acquisitions as a pretext for fomenting a fresh class revolt in Punjab, the fertile, populous province coveted by the Taliban and reportedly ground zero for the farms race in Pakistan. Such a thought is enough to make one wonder if those farmland road shows are really worth the effort.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

The Toy Boxes Of Arabia

I expected it but not so soon. Eat your heart out, O you Sheikh of Dubai. The dung head next door is going to build a 1 km tall Tower of all Towers. While the Palestinians are shackled and the Chosen Ones overlord the whole of Middle East this enlightened luminary of House of Saud, aka The Corrupt of the Earth, can find no better use for his petro dollars than building another sand tower. Al Waleed once was the largest stockholder of Citi group and CNN’s Riz Khan a few years ago eulogised him in a widely publicised biography as the man with vision. Well, some vision. Fisk puts the absurdity of the situation succinctly thus:

“Afghanistan is collapsing in blood; Iraq remains a state of semi-civil war; the Israelis continue to thieve land for Jews and Jews only from the Arabs who hold the title deeds to that property – and Prince al-Waled wants to build a tower reaching a kilometre into the sky. Do the Saudis – who gave so much largesse to the Taliban (we have to forget this, of course, along with the fact that the Saudis provided most of the murderers of 9/11, which is why we bombed Kabul rather than Riyadh) – not have the slightest idea of what is going on around them?”



Robert Fisk’s World: The stakes get higher as Arab princes try to outdo each other

Do the Saudis not have the slightest idea of what is going on around them?

Prince al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia is quite a man.

He says he doesn’t want to be the prime minister of Lebanon – everyone who wants to be the prime minister of Lebanon says that – but he is immensely wealthy. True, his bank balance has sunk from $23.7bn to a mere $13.3bn since 2005 (thus sayeth Forbes magazine). But he’s just announced that he wants to construct the world’s tallest building – a 1km-high goliath which will dwarf his neighbour emir in Dubai who last month opened the paltry 25,000ft Burj Khalifa amid the sand dunes of his bankrupt creditors. The nephew of King Abdullah, al-Waleed understandably calls his company Kingdom Holdings. He also happens to be a major shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – which is why you won’t be reading these words in The Times. Long live Kingdom Holdings, I suppose.

Because yesterday morning, I was taking an al-Jazeera television crew around the repulsive, obscene, outrageous, filthy, stinking slums of the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps not far from my home in Beirut, a place of such squalor that the gorge rises that human beings even live there. Sabra and Chatila – yes, the site of that infamous massacre in 1982 when Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel slaughtered up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians while the Israeli army surrounded the camps, watched the killings – and did nothing. They were the survivors of the great exodus or ethnic cleansing of 1948 – or their sons or grandsons – who fled Galilee for the “temporary” safety of Lebanon and, like the visa applicants of the movie Casablanca, wait and wait – and wait – to go home. Which they will never do. “I am very positive,” Prince al-Waleed said when he announced his new priapic tower, to be constructed in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. “We are always looking for new investments.”

Now I know that there are a lot of fine philanthropists in the Gulf, Prince al-Waleed among them, but what is one to make of all this? Afghanistan is collapsing in blood; Iraq remains a state of semi-civil war; the Israelis continue to thieve land for Jews and Jews only from the Arabs who hold the title deeds to that property – and Prince al-Waled wants to build a tower reaching a kilometre into the sky. Do the Saudis – who gave so much largesse to the Taliban (we have to forget this, of course, along with the fact that the Saudis provided most of the murderers of 9/11, which is why we bombed Kabul rather than Riyadh) – not have the slightest idea of what is going on around them?

For example, we all know that the Americans maintain stocks of weapons among their allies. They keep munitions in South Korea and, indeed, in the Arab Gulf (aka Saudi Arabia). But very quietly this week, they agreed to double their munitions supplies in Israel from $400m of weapons to $800m. Of course, Washington’s gift of $9bn to Israel up to 2012 – never, of course, to be spent on those illegal colonies which are built against international law on Arab land but which Barack Obama now pusillanimously ignores – has nothing to do with this. But don’t imagine that – in the event of a new “preventive” war – Israel cannot draw on these supplies for its own army and air force. After all, it was a missile taken to Saudi Arabia by the US marines for use against Iraq in 1991 that ended up in the hands of the Israeli air force as part of a quid pro quo for not joining in the war against Baghdad – and which was subsequently used to kill civilians in a Lebanese ambulance in 1996.

But these days, Arab compliance reaches new heights every day. Now, for example, we have the Egyptian government – and its ever popular president (see the American-approved presidential election results which are way above 90 per cent) – building a wall around Rafah, part of the vast mass of poverty which constitutes Gaza, thus preventing food, gasoline (and, no doubt, weapons) from reaching the trapped Palestinians of this prison camp. A camp, one has to add, which meets with the full approval of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, whose honourable involvement in the invasion of Iraq has now been outdone by is extraordinary success as peace envoy to the Middle East.

Egypt’s intelligence boss (a certain Mr Sulieman who might be the next president of Egypt were it not for his pattern of heart attacks) approves of this wall, which is a very definite assistance to Israel and which will yet further impoverish the Palestinians of Gaza to the point at which the inhabitants of Sabra and Chatila might actually feel themselves lucky they don’t live in “Palestine”.

In Israel itself, the deputy foreign minister humiliates the Turkish ambassador – while complaining about an anti-Semitic series on Turkish television – by forcing the diplomat to sit on a low sofa, refusing to shake hands and addressing him, with two colleagues, from higher chairs. The foreign minister himself, our dear friend Mr Lieberman, has now acquired the habit – every time poor old (and I mean old) US envoy George Mitchell raises the question of Jerusalem – of walking out of the room. That’s what Obama’s point man is worth. Israel’s crazies – Netanyahu is a moderate chap by comparison – now prove that Israel can be just as much a banana Raj as the rest of the Middle East.

But fear not. The princes and the emirs and the caliphs and the presidents will be able to outbid each other in towers and hotels. I have a bigger painting set than yours. I have a sharper pencil, more crayons, a larger train set (Qatar, please note), a bigger bear than yours. And the world will watch this tragedy and marvel at the toy boxes now being opened in the Middle East. And, by the way, how many crayons do the children of Sabra and Chatila have?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

%d bloggers like this: