As the Obama administration decides whether or not to withdraw its remaining 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, ominous signs are hovering over the country because of the Taliban’s recent offensive in Kunduz and the reckless American airstrikes on 3 October – killing 12 innocent medical workers and 20 patients and injuring 37 others – for which the White House has finally apologised and which the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has quite rightly called a “war crime”. The capital of an Afghan province bearing the same name, the ethnically diverse city of Kunduz is a strategic transport hub for northern Afghanistan. In an extraordinary show of strength after 14 years of insurgency and insurrection, in late September a resurgent Taliban unexpectedly overran Afghanistan’s fifth largest city. By the hundreds, battle-hardended Taliban fighters stormed the city in the early hours of the morning of 28 September 2015 and quickly seized key buildings and advanced on the airport.
They took control of most areas and freed hundreds of prisoners from the local jail. Ensuing attempts to retake the city resulted in humanitarian disaster. Notably, in 2009 a US airstrike in the area killed over 90 civilians but it appears no lessons were learned from that tragedy. President Obama ultimately called MSF’s international president Joanne Liu to tender his apology for the deadly attack on the field hospital in Kunduz but it was too little too late and involved at least four shifts, in as many days, in the US narrative. From initially blaming their Afghan colleagues on the ground for calling in the airstrike and denying knowledge Continue reading
As noted in earlier posts, big hopes were riding on the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). And as expected, the session was dominated by events in the ruined country known as Syria – once the beating heart of Arab nationalism – which we have discussed in recent posts here, here and here. Despite the veneer of cordiality, world leaders could not conceal the tensions between them. They are divided over the future of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. President Putin had thrown himself in the limelight in advance of the session by flexing Russia’s military might in the historic – without notice – style of the former Soviet Union. Predictably, on 28 September, he opportunistically presented himself as the missing link in the Syrian puzzle. The clever Russian president did not conceal his intentions in an impassioned speech which provided him the ideal opportunity to announce his future plans. Putin’s fans, like his blunt instrument in Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, rejoiced when military action ultimately became a reality and requested to be sent in as a ground force to fight (preferably hand-to-hand) the jihadis of ISIS.
After Putin had set the stage, just a couple of days later, on 30 September 2015, when Russia initiated airstrikes in Syria the west responded negatively and US defence secretary Ashton Carter accused the Kremlin of “pouring gasoline on fire”. However, unlike some others (e.g. Great Britain) Russia took military action with the consent of its parliament and at the invitation of a sovereign government – albeit the collapsing, murderous and much hated regime in Damascus. But Russia is nonetheless being condemned for attacking the Free Syrian Army Continue reading
Filed under Discussion, Iran, Israel, NATO, Pakistan, Palestine, Peace building, Politics, Russia, Taliban, The Middle East, UK, United States
The last British resident is being released from Guantánamo Bay after being detained there illegally for almost 14 years. American authorities reportedly informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that US defence secretary Ashton Carter had authorised Aamer’s release on 25 September 2015. Shaker Aamer was never charged but was accused of terrorism. His lawyers maintain that he was never involved in any terrorism and was cleared of all wrongdoing eight years ago. Aamer is a 46-year-old Saudi Arabian national. He has indefinite leave to remain in the UK and is also married to a British citizen. Owing to his harsh predicament, he may be able to claim at least £1 million in compensation from the British authorities if he is able to prove that the UK was complicit with the US in his detention, rendition and mistreatment by US personnel.
Nevertheless, Carter reportedly sought assurances over security measures in relation to Aamer on his return to the UK despite Downing Street and the White House seeing eye-to-eye on the decision to release the Saudi. In 2001, Aamer and his wife Zin Siddique had moved from London to live in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. The couple have four children and Aamer has never met the youngest child. He claims that he was doing charity work and helping run a school but the Americans contend that he was a central figure in Tora Bora and that when Afghan militias captured him in Jalalabad in 2001 Continue reading
President Putin has sent military assistance to Assad and is being dubbed “kingmaker” in any future transition to a new administration in Syria.
Speaking on a European tour mostly overshadowed by the refugee crisis and military escalation in the Syrian conflict, the US secretary of state John Kerry said that Russia’s newfound resolve to fight Islamists may present an opportunity to find a desperately needed political settlement for the war-torn country. After meeting Philip Hammond in London yesterday, Kerry said that they “agreed completely on the urgency of nations coming together in order to resolve this war that has gone on for much too long”. He explained that the Syrian war is the “root cause” of the refugee crisis. In Berlin he announced that the US would take 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. On 14 September, American officials said that Russia had sent a dozen of its most modern T90 tanks, 200 marines and other military hardware to reinforce an airbase near the Assad regime’s coastal stronghold of Latakia. It is now said that 28 aircraft and 28 helicopters have been dispatched and 2,000 personnel will be deployed. Russia has been flexing its vast military muscles in the Middle East again. All eyes are on Putin, an unlikely messiah. For him, in comparison to the jihadis of ISIS, the murderous Assad regime “is the lesser of the two evils.” (See update here.)
The Russian President, who is internationally alienated because of his despotic interference in Ukraine, quickly riposted allegations of wrongdoing by arguing that his administration aims to support the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression and is merely offering it necessary military-technical assistance. He is said to be the “kingmaker” in any future transition to another administration taking power in Syria. “Without Russia’s support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees Continue reading
Filed under Disarmament, Discussion, Europe, ISIS, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, Politics, Russia, Syria, Taliban, The Middle East, United States
As noted in our post The Iran Deal: Diplomacy Update, Islamabad’s nuclear weapons programme may be outpacing New Delhi’s. Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon’s study, A Normal Nuclear Pakistan, argues that our country has been producing 20 nuclear warheads annually in comparison to India’s five. (Presently, Islamabad has 120 warheads in comparison to New Delhi’s 100.) They estimate that at this rate Pakistan will, within a decade, join the ranks of Russia and the US in the league table of states possessing the largest nuclear arsenals. We also touched upon the copious use of drone strikes, by American and British forces, in Future Trends in Syria’s War and this post sheds further light on this important issue – one which chronically affects Pakistan. Emerging research suggests that apart from the US, Britain, Israel, China, and Iran – which have developed drones for military use – numerous Asian and European countries are pursuing drone programmes to reap the rewards of this unique class of weapon.
This post looks into the proliferation of drones and examines new trends emerging in this field. It has been reported that there have been 15 US strikes in Pakistan this year and only last week (6 September 2015) the Pakistan army confirmed that it killed three high profile militants in a first ever indigenous drone attack (by a UAV named “Burraq”) in the Shawal valley of the Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border. Such successes aside, one thing is for sure. The ethical, legal and tactical dilemmas thrown up by drone warfare will only intensify as their use becomes more and more widespread. Technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones have become the weapon of choice for carrying out clinical target killings Continue reading
Filed under Criminal Justice, Discussion, Drones, India, Iran, ISIS, Pakistan, Palestine, Politics, Syria, Taliban, The Middle East, United States
The unprecedented rise of terrorism in recent years has sent shock waves of horror all across the world. Our own country is badly affected by this malaise and we would like to extend our commiserations to the people of France in relation to the terrible tragedy that occurred in Paris. Our hearts are with the French – who have always stood with the people and the government of Pakistan by helping us in the fight against terrorism and extremism – and we would like to express solidarity with the families of the victims of the massacre. Nothing justifies such insanity. As a developing nation we are all too aware that a free press is the lifeblood of democracy. In our own country, the murder of 148 innocents, including 132 children, by the Taliban in the Army Public School in Peshawar on 16 December 2014 was a deeply shocking event. It really was the last straw.
It has been reported that the attack on the school was an act of revenge which aimed to “get even” for the Nobel Peace Prize jointly awarded to Malala Yousafzai. Consequently, measures to tackle the menace of terrorism have been taken in the form of the Constitution (Twenty-First Amendment) Act 2015 ( or “the amendment”) which was speedily passed by the National Assembly and Senate on 6 January 2015 and presidential assent was given the following day. Showing solidarity across the border in neighbouring India, legendary Indian actor Dilip Kumar, who was born in Peshawar, said that “[t]he massacre has wounded me beyond words. My heart longs to reach out to the parents who lost their sons and daughters in the worst crime any country has witnessed in recent years.” Continue reading
TARAKHEL v. SWITZERLAND – 29217/12 – Grand Chamber Judgment  ECHR 1185 (04 November 2014)
Abjectly neglected but strategically vital, war-torn Afghanistan’s festering wounds are unlikely to heal anytime soon. When my friend John and I recently met the Afghan Ambassador in the UK at his modest Ealing residence, sitting in the shadow of twin photographs of the Lion of Panjsher and President Karzai (as he then was) but nevertheless pragmatically arguing the case for peace with the Taliban, H.E. Dr Yaar and his staff were emphatic that Afghans are mistreated by the British and European authorities but that no one is bothered by it. Dr Fazal, a veteran battlefield doctor and a mild-mannered and pious leader of the Afghan community in the UK, who accompanied us to the meeting, concurred with H.E. Dr Yaar. Afghanistan’s stability is in everyone’s interest but that country’s future is looking exceedingly uncertain. The plight of Afghans seems just endless.
In this riveting case which paradigmatically demonstrates the difficult issues linked to asylum seeking in Europe, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court (ECtHR) held at para 122 that, in the absence of first obtaining “individual guarantees from the Italian authorities that the applicants would be taken charge of in a manner adapted to the age of the children and that the family would be kept together”, returning the Afghan applicants concerned from Switzerland to Italy “would be a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.” Continue reading