Saturday, January 28, 2012
... China’s concerns about the future development of Pakistan will likely limit the extent to which it will help Pakistan out of its economic difficulties. While China has an interest in maintaining strong security ties with Pakistan, the notion that Chinese ties could serve as a replacement for U.S. ties is far-fetched. Instead of wringing its hands over Chinese influence with Pakistan, the U.S. should seek Beijing’s cooperation in encouraging a more stable and prosperous Pakistan.
- bth: this article is well worth reading in full. I do find its timing interesting from the Heritage Foundation. It seems to be calling the bluff of Pakistan with regard to the China card.
The Pakistani army and government are essentially saying they will open the border to NATO supply columns but it will cost cold hard cash. The US is replying that they don't have to have the southern supply lines opened as slack was being taken up by the air and northern routes, but if a deal were possible it must cost less than the extra cost it is paying from the north. Meanwhile the Taliban is stepping up its tempo and the allies are slowing down. Oh and Russia and its former republics are making a killing shaking us down and negotiating an anti-missile ballistic treaty at the same time.
Then the Panetta claims that the Pak Army must have known about OBL and by the way the US wants the safe release of the doctor arrested for 'treason' for tipping off the CIA. Now the obvious question is why is it treason to help capture the worst terrorist in modern times? Panetta makes clear though that we want him out of Pakistan in good condition.
Meanwhile Pakistan has suggested that the thousands of trucks stuck in transit in Pakistan could be attacked by terrorists and that the price of fuel in Afghanistan for civilians is being jacked by allies buying off the open market (likely). No doubt some will start to go up in flames, probably near army bases and in sight of insurance adjusters. The US responds by interviewing truck drivers in Pakistan that are being bankrupted by the embargo. Pak then says it would need millions if not billions to fix the damaged roads caused by the trucks.
The US and Pak are at loggerheads over the shooting of 24 border guards as if the Pakistani Army really cared. Then by the way its leaked that Mossad did a false flag operation into Iran via Baluchistan impersonating CIA operatives. Now Pak and Iran are busy shooting each other's smugglers, border guards and fishermen and oddly enough relatives aren't claiming the bodies which means they are likely not local and there for other reasons than the economic efficiencies of smuggling. Oh and by the way the Paks are shaking down Afghan truck drivers carrying civilian goods to get some extra spending money.
All the while the Islamist parties in Pak are stirring the pot of social unrest and the Pak government and army are suggesting that if they left, then look what the international community would have to deal with.
So we know the US has a price they are willing not to exceed per month for a truck tariff. We know that the US wants the doctor out of harms way, Pakistan to put tagants in its ammonium nitrate fertilizers and to get Pak to be serious about counter terrorism otherwise we'll start naming names as Panetta just said Pak Army helicopters had been identified flying over OBL's compound prior to the raid. Pak wants cash for trucks and probably more for the good doctor and no country - US, India, Afghanistan or Iran encroaching on its patch; and a free trade zone for cotton products might not be a bad idea either.
Curious how this is all going down. In the meantime the US DoD is raiding its budget to pay for skyrocketing supply costs, not to mention a way out of Afghanistan after 2014 and Pakistan has run out of cash for its army, its fuel subsidies and food. Pakistan is ready to blow and not even the Army wants to overthrow the civilian government and take charge of the wreckage.
I leave with this, has any country ever won a war where its enemies controlled its supply lines? I can't think of one. Why would Afghanistan be any different?
Six more Pakistanis have been killed by Iranian border agents. The incident has been noted widely in the press in Pakistan, but I find no reports on the incident originating in Iran. This latest incident follows three fishermen killed by Iran around December 7 (although at least one report says there were four killed by Iran in the incident) and three Iranian border guards crossing into Pakistan on January 2 to kill a Pakistani national they were chasing. The guards were detained by Pakistan and released on January 15 after Iran paid blood money to the family of the victim.
The fishing incidents of course were in the coastal waters around the southernmost part of the Iran-Pakistan border and the latest incident was also near the southern end of the border. The January 2 incident was a bit farther north, about halfway to the southern edge of Afghanistan....
-bth: this article is worth reading in full. Note that families have not claimed the bodies. What is happening on the Pak/Iranian border?
Daily Times - Leading News Resource of Pakistan - ANALYSIS: Voices from FATA and the panic — III —Farhat Taj
.... Families of the target killed leaders hold officers of the Pakistan Army and the ISI stationed in Waziristan at the time responsible for the killings. The government of Pakistan never had any impartial investigations to verify the claims of the families. But it is pertinent to note that the so-called ‘free’ media of Pakistan usually follows the military establishment’s line on matters related to the Afghan policy, including an uncritical dissemination and promotion of the distorted information about the events on both sides of the Durand Line. This context of the media-military alliance of Pakistan seems to explain why the perspective of the family members of the target killed tribal leaders has never been accommodated by the media. Large sections of the international media, which has no independent access to FATA, have also breached professional standards by uncritically projecting the information and narratives picked up from the Pakistani media.
The families of the target killed leaders do not view the militants based in Waziristan, including foreign militants, as anything more than an ‘irregular’ army of the state who were and still to this date are ordered by the regular army commanders based in Waziristan to carry out the killings in order to silence the tribal opposition to the state’s Afghan policy through terror. Moreover, the militants are also directed for cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan. Secondly, the establishment, the family members argue, needs this kind of irregular army for the ‘necessary’ acts of terrorism to plausibly deny any state involvement in them and thus continue their double-dealing in the war on terror.
In terms of state control, several people draw a parallel between the Taliban fighters and the soldiers of the FC, a paramilitary force of Pakistan. The FC soldiers are abused in all kinds of brutal ways by the military establishment and these poor men from the poorest Pashtun families continue to suffer in silence. The Taliban are, in the words of some of the affected family members, like the ‘irregular’ FC soldiers of the military establishment and they just execute the orders given by their handlers from the Pakistan Army. The Taliban fighters are also eliminated by the state’s agents when they are no more useful for the state in its double-dealing in the war on terror whereby the Pakistan Army ostensibly fights the Taliban but tacitly recruits, trains and arms them in order to beat the US in Afghanistan and to create a reign of terror in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan to assure the world that the Pakistani Pashtun are enraged by the US attack on Afghanistan. ...
-bth: this opinion piece from the Daily Times of Pakistan is worth reading in full.
PESHAWAR: Unidentified gunmen shot dead the head of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl’s Landi Kotal chapter in Peshawar’s Shahi Bagh area, police said on Wednesday.
Gul Rehman Afridi was returning home from an evening walk as per his routine, when motorcyclists intercepted him and opened indiscriminate fire, DSP Tariq Habib told The Express Tribune.
Some children who were playing in a nearby park noted down the motorcycle’s registration number, the DSP said.
He said that Afridi received three bullets, two in his chest and one in his head. An FIR has been registered against unidentified men and investigations had begun, he said.
This is the second attack on a JUI-F leader this month. On January 2, a local leader was killed and his driver was seriously injured when attackers opened fire at their vehicle in Lakki Marwat.
‘We will make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state’:JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman – The Express Tribune
KARACHI: Chairman Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on Friday that the JUI-F would sweep elections if only the establishment stops interfering.
Addressing the “Islam Zindabad” rally in Karachi Fazlur Rehman responded to a popular criticism that his party never won many votes in elections, said that if establishment stops influencing elections, they would win.
The JUI-F chief continued to target the establishment saying Pakistan was made as an Islamic and welfare state, however, the security establishment had transformed it into a security state.
He also answered criticism from some quarters that the JUI-F wanted sharia by force. “It is said that we want the enforcement of sharia at gun point,” he said adding this was false.
Yet, today, Rehman said, 60 per cent of the budget was dedicated to defence where on the other hand people were dying from starvation.
He said that the people in the west were protesting at the Wall Street are fed up of their capitalistic banking system and are demanding for “an Islamic banking system,” and that this was part of the overall downfall of the west.
Referring to the War on Terror said the US and its allied forces were losing in Afghanistan and their economic system was crashing, which has prompted their poor citizens to protest against their rulers and their policies....
-bth: original article is worth reading in full.
As fuel becomes scarcer and pricier in the Afghan capital Kabul, many are pointing the finger at NATO for buying up oil products domestically to make up for blocked supplies from Pakistan.
NATO has been unable to bring in fuel across the Pakistan border since late November, when Islamabad imposed a blockade and choked off a major supply artery for the 130,000-strong American-led force.
Relations between Islamabad and Washington have been deteriorating fast, and Pakistan closed the route in protest at a NATO airstrike on its border that killed 24 of its soldiers on November 26.
Since then, the United States has had to pay six times as much to import supplies via alternative routes, according to an Associated Press report on January 20.
While most of NATO’s supplies are now coming in via Uzbekistan along a route known as the Northern Distribution Network, NDN. Even before Pakistan closed down the supply route, NATO was switching over to the NDN because of frequent attacks on convoys on the roads south. US officials say 85 per cent of the fuel for the military now come from the north.
Afghan businessmen say the international force is topping this up with purchases inside the country. This is affecting the market, forcing up prices and making petrol and public transport more expensive for the locals.
Farid Alokozay, head of the government agency responsible for petroleum products, said NATO was increasingly buying in fuel from domestic firms.
Mohammad Qorban Haqjo, chief executive of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, confirmed that 20 local firms had signed a lucrative fuel supply deal with NATO.
“The contract was signed recently and is worth one billion dollars,” he said, adding that some of the firms belonged to relatives of senior Afghan officials....
... Critics of Mr Gilani say that in the face of his government's dismal economic performance, his upbeat statements show the government is either in denial or ignorant of realities.
"During the last four years, we have seen four governors change hands at the State Bank of Pakistan, four finance ministers, four finance secretaries, and five heads of the Central Board of Revenue," points out Dr Ashfaq Hasan Khan, a former adviser to Pakistan's Ministry of Finance.
"The level of turnover in the government's economic team only reflects the inconsistency and confusion with which they have handled the economy."
But Pakistani officials insist that after a difficult patch, the economy is showing signs of bouncing back. Figures from the first six months of the current fiscal year show significant improvement in remittances and exports - mostly led by cotton crop production, which was much better than expected.
With foreign exchange reserves at about $16bn (£10.2bn), the government says it is optimistic that the economy will grow at a little less than 4% this year....
-bth: Pakistan has A-bombs but no economy or cash. Saudi Arabia could pick up a bomb on the cheap if they wanted if they haven't already.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says he is concerned about a Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. find al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Panetta told the CBS-TV program 60 Minutes, Shikal Afridi provided key intelligence that was “very helpful” in the successful May 2 Navy SEALs raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. Panetta's interview will be broadcast Sunday.
Pakistan has arrested Afridi, charging him with treason. The doctor, who was working for U.S. intelligence, ran a vaccination program to collect DNA to verify bin Laden's presence in the compound.
Panetta says Pakistan's arrest of “somebody who was helping to go after terrorism” is a “real mistake.”
The U.S. defense secretary says he believes someone in authority in Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding. Panetta said there were intelligence reports of Pakistani military helicopters passing over bin Laden's compound, which was the largest one in the area and was surrounded by five-and-a-half meter walls.
Panetta acknowledged he does not have any hard evidence Pakistan's government knew where bin Laden was, but his “personal view” is that “somebody, somewhere probably had that knowledge.”
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has once again blamed that someone in authority in Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts before US forces went in to find him. In an interview on Saturday, he said Intelligence reports found Pakistani military helicopters had passed over the compound in Abbottabad. “I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget, this compound had 18-foot walls… It was the largest compound in the area,” he was quoted as saying by news agencies.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Iranian courts have sentenced two bloggers to death for "spreading corruption," and government security forces have arrested four other journalists, in the lead-up to the nation's March elections.
"In the past two weeks, security forces have reportedly arrested four journalists," the U.S. State Department said in a statement, "including Shahram Manouchehri, Sahamedin Bourghani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, and Marzieh Rasouli, and Iranian courts confirmed death sentences for bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, both of whom were not accorded due process and now face imminent execution on charges of 'spreading corruption.'"
The State Department faulted Iran for trying "to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections."
...Global corporations — wherever they’re based — will create good jobs for Americans only if Americans are productive enough to summon them. Problem is, a large and growing portion of our workforce isn’t equipped to be productive.
Put simply, American workers are hobbled by deteriorating schools, unaffordable college tuitions, decaying infrastructure and declining basic R&D. All of this is putting us on a glide path toward even lousier jobs and lower wages.
Get it? The strategic responsibility for making Americans more globally competitive can’t be centered in the private sector because the private sector is rapidly going global, and it’s designed to make profits rather than good jobs. The core responsibility has to be in government because government is supposed to be looking out for the public, and investing in public schools, colleges, infrastructure and basic R&D.
But here’s the political problem. American firms have huge clout in Washington. They maintain legions of lobbyists and are pouring boatloads of money into political campaigns. After the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, there’s no limit.
Who represents the American workforce? Organized labor represents fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers and has all it can do to protect a dwindling number of unionized jobs.
Republicans like it this way, and for three decades have been trying to convince average working Americans government is their enemy. Yet corporate America isn’t their friend. Without bold government action on behalf of our workforce, good American jobs will continue to disappear.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Two months into Pakistan's blockade on NATO supplies crossing into Afghanistan, thousands of trucks are crowding the port in Karachi where drivers, fed up with waiting, are starting to desert.
For a month, directors of transport companies, drivers and their helpers hung around patiently, buoyed by rumours of an imminent reopening of the border, shut after US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26.
But the botched raids snowballed into the biggest disaster in Pakistani-US relations since the 2001 American invasion began after the 9/11 attacks.
Two months on, Pakistan is still reviewing the relationship and no one knows when the border will reopen, through which passes 25 percent of the supplies needed by the 130,000 foreign troops under US command in landlocked Afghanistan....He says more than a thousand trucks are stranded in Karachi. In addition, there are containers and military vehicles -- about 5,000 according to a count provided by the authorities in early January.
Since then, more have arrived by boat.
Hundreds of oil tankers are filling huge car parks by the sea.
"Most of the tankers are loaded with fuel, so helpers have to look after them to avoid looting," said Afridi....
EU Oil Embargo: Sanctions Benefit Iran's Revolutionary Guards - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International
The EU has banned oil imports from Iran to try and pressure the regime into making concessions over its controversial nuclear program. But even though the Iranian economy is suffering, Tehran is refusing to give ground. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards are profiting from the sanctions...
So much for expansionary fiscal contraction in the UK. Not that that’s a surprise.
The UK Office of National Statistics has just released preliminary estimates for real GDP growth in 2011Q4. The 0.8% contraction (q/q SAAR) was large than consensus , and in fact larger than the 0.6% decline forecasted by Deutsche Bank on 1/18. Figure 1 illustrates the fact that a year and a half after the election of a coalition government bent on a path of austerity, the UK economy is likely to be entering a new recession (not that growth was so great even before the dip).
Figure 1: Annualized q/q growth rate of real UK GDP (blue), preliminary figure for 2011Q4; and Deutsche Bank forecast (red). Source: UK ONS, and Deutsche Bank, Global Economic Perspectives, 18 Jan 2012.
In my view, this is pretty much the nail in the coffin that an expansionary fiscal contraction will occur, even in a relatively small, open economy with a flexible exchange rate (see JEC/Republicans for an exposition, and this post for a critique)...
-bth: worth reading in full.
...The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and the FBI have for months been conducting a criminal investigation into possible contracting fraud and falsification of records.
In the wake of the scandal, the Army, which runs the cemetery, pushed out Arlington’s top two leaders, Superintendent John C. Metzler and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham. At a hearing before McCaskill’s subcommittee in 2010, Higginbotham invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not answer any questions about the cemetery’s sloppy contracting procedures.
During Wednesday’s hearing, McCaskill praised the cemetery’s new leadership, saying that in almost every facet — from how it handles veterans’ remains to its new contracting procedures — the changes have amounted to a “sea change.”
“I am impressed that the amount of progress has been substantial and significant,” she said.
But she said she was concerned that the missing $12 million, which was discovered by Army auditors last year, has not been found. The Army’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Peter Vangjel, testified that his office would continue to monitor the cemetery’s finances on an annual basis. He said the missing money was particularly troubling because cemetery’s previous management had asserted “they were short of funds when in fact they had funds they couldn’t account for.”... The missing $12 million was part of $27 million in unspent funds found by the auditors. So far, $15 million of that has been recovered, cemetery officials said, although it is not clear how the money was found. The cemetery has begun to use that money to pay for updates to its computer systems, burial equipment and a new columbarium.
The cemetery is also making progress in accounting for every grave, which was required by legislation sponsored last year by McCaskill. The effort, still not complete, has revealed possible errors with thousands of graves, many as small as typographical errors in paperwork.
But the effort will mean that the cemetery will have to update its visitor brochures, which say that its “624 acres shelter the remains of over 320,000 servicemen and women.” That estimate, as Condon testified at the hearing, has been badly out of date for years.
In fact, she said, the grave-by-grave review shows that the number is more than 400,000.
-bth: going from 320K to 400K buried is quite an adjustment. Missing $12 million? You've got to be kidding. Missing? This is not Baghdad, this is Arlington National Cemetery.
A few years ago Gina Gray blew the whistle on this mess and on these two administrators. She got fired by these clowns and possible crooks and then had her email hacked and someone who could hire a contractor to hack her email impersonated her for awhile probably to find out who she was talking to and what they knew about the then alleged now confirmed improprieties. It later turned out that what she was telling me was true.
The Army buried it until Congress got involved over the incompetence and wrong doings with contractors that were supposed to be providing computer software to Arlington but turned out to be crooks and cronies. Unfortunately many in Congress, some of whom I personally approached, did not want to get involved and frankly ignored the problem because of the political implications at many levels.
Their excuse was that it was a Virginia issue and we should take it up with Sen. Webb. Webb unfortunately really didn't want to look very hard into this either, which for many of his strengths and interests, calling the administrators of Arlington incompetent crooks was not one of them - even if true. McCaskill and a few others finally stepped in and with some Congressional attention, the Army couldn't keep sweeping the problem under the rug and then the whole rotten mess came out.
My recommendation is that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs should take over Arlington from the Army. The VA competently manages over 100 national cemeteries, has administrators, procedures and computer systems with enough professionalism and economy of scale to do it right. The Army which manages just a couple of cemeteries really can't do this well and will never do so because of scale. Also Arlington is an afterthought and career dead end for the Army and those assigned to it. Our 400+K buried there deserve better than this mess quite frankly.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
...Today’s unmanned systems are only the beginning. The original Predator, which went into service in 1995, lacked even GPS and was initially unarmed; newer models can take off and land on their own, and carry smart sensors that can detect a disruption in the dirt a mile below the plane and trace footprints back to an enemy hide-out.
There is not a single new manned combat aircraft under research and development at any major Western aerospace company, and the Air Force is training more operators of unmanned aerial systems than fighter and bomber pilots combined. In 2011, unmanned systems carried out strikes from Afghanistan to Yemen. The most notable of these continuing operations is the not-so-covert war in Pakistan, where the United States has carried out more than 300 drone strikes since 2004.
Yet this operation has never been debated in Congress; more than seven years after it began, there has not even been a single vote for or against it. This campaign is not carried out by the Air Force; it is being conducted by the C.I.A. This shift affects everything from the strategy that guides it to the individuals who oversee it (civilian political appointees) and the lawyers who advise them (civilians rather than military officers).
It also affects how we and our politicians view such operations. President Obama’s decision to send a small, brave Navy Seal team into Pakistan for 40 minutes was described by one of his advisers as “the gutsiest call of any president in recent history.” Yet few even talk about the decision to carry out more than 300 drone strikes in the very same country....
-bth: worth reading in full.
... According to the complaint, Chavez and Gomez allegedly paid lookouts to monitor SENTRI pass drivers -- noting the time of day, as well as the make, model and color of their cars -- as they drove over the bridge.
The lookouts targeted students and professionals who typically have consistent routines.
Once they identified a possible target, they followed the car as it returned to the Mexican side of the border. Then, they approached the car at night, copied the vehicle identification number (VIN) off the dashboard and gave the number to Chavez and Gomez.
They also planted GPS tracking devices on the car so they could monitor its movements between Juarez and El Paso.
The complaint alleges that Chavez and Gomez took the VIN to a Texas-based locksmith who had access to key code sources for the vehicles. With that information, the locksmith made two keys for each vehicle -- one for Chavez and Gomez, and the other for Juarez-based accomplices.
The co-conspirators allegedly used their copy of the key to unlock the trunk of the target vehicle at night and place two duffel bags inside. The bags contained about 60 pounds of marijuana each and were both secured with zip ties.
The unsuspecting driver transported the drugs across the border unknowingly, and according to the complaint, Chavez and Gomez retrieved the drugs using their key once the driver was in the United States....
An exclusive TOLOnews report shows how Pakistani military officials are harassing traders and truck drivers trying to bring goods into Afghanistan.TOLOnews footage gathered in Peshawar and at the Afghan border by reporter Tamim Hamid, shows Afghan traders complaining that Pakistani officials have extorted money from them and even in some cases beaten them with the butts of their Kalashnikovs.
Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan to supplies after a Nato helicopter strike on a border outpost on November 26 killed 24 soldiers. The repercussions are badly hitting Afghan traders.
In Nangarhar province, the closed border has precipitated a 50 percent drop in customs revenue.
Revenue at the border in Nangarhar was 7 billion Afghanis ($140 million) in the first nine months of this year, down from 14 billion Afghanis ($280 million) in the same period a year ago, according to customs officials.
Afghan traders have asked the Afghan government to tackle the issue as soon as possible.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Documentary reveals how contaminated water at the nation’s largest Marine base damaged lives - The Washington Post
...“Semper Fi” follows Partain and Jerome “Jerry” Ensminger, the men credited with uncovering records showing that the amount of leaked fuel that led to water contamination was many times greater than the Marine Corps acknowledged.
A congressional hearing in 2007 revealed that the camp ignored a directive from the Navy to inspect its water systems for possible contamination and to develop a protocol for the safe disposal of hazardous compounds.
The Marine Corps at Lejeune routinely dumped fluids containing harmful chemicals, which leached into groundwater and eventually contaminated a well. For decades, buried tanks also leaked fuel, allowing the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen, into the ground nearby.
But Camp Lejeune failed to study the health risks of its water after toxic compounds were discovered in the early 1980s, and did not notify Marines and their families. Up to a million people who rotated in and out of the base from the late 1950s to the late 1980s relied on the water to drink and bathe.
The Marine Corps has said it wasn’t aware of the contaminants until the mid-1980s and that contacting the 750,000 to 1 million military personnel and civilians who lived at Camp Lejeune during those decades is too large an undertaking.
The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sent a survey last year to about 300,000 people who lived or worked at the Marine base before 1986. The agency expects to release the findings in early 2014....
-bth: birth defects were five times normal rates at Lejeune. These marines and their families were needlessly exposed to toxins in the water supply for decades and the problem was deliberately understated and covered up? How is this not a betrayal of the trust those marines and their families put in the Navy and the Corp for their basic well being?