Thursday, 30 September 2010

CIA runs Private Army (Blackwater or Xe) in Afghanistan and Pakistan

The new book Obama’s Wars, by long-time Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, publicly confirms that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been running a private army of Afghan mercenaries since at least 2002. On September 22, the Washington Post reported that the 3,000-strong so-called Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) are “being used for surveillance, raids and combat operations in Afghanistan [and are] crucial to the United States’ secret war in Pakistan, according to current and former U.S. officials”..

Unnamed US “intelligence officials” told the Post that the CIA began to assemble the Afghan force “almost immediately” after the invasion of the country in 2001. According to the paper, the units are based in Kabul and Kandahar as well as Firebase Lilley and Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in Paktika province, which borders Pakistan. The Associated Press reported that “some have trained at CIA facilities in the United States”.

The CTPT units operate in secrecy and are unaccountable to either the Afghan army or the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Some of their activities, however, were revealed in the 76,000 US military documents published in July by WikiLeaks. The Post report notes that “Army field reports suggest that the Afghan paramilitary forces can… be ruthless. On Oct. 23, 2007, military personnel at Orgun-E reported treating a 30-year-old Afghan man for the ‘traumatic amputation of fingers’ on his left hand. The man had been ‘injured by Afghan OGA during a home breach’, according to the report.” Afghan OGA stands for “other government agency” and is “generally used as a reference to the CIA,” according to the Post.

Such acts of brutality are carried out with impunity. Jonathan Horowitz, a human rights expert from the Open Society Institute, told the Associated Press (AP) on September 22 that given the group’s secrecy, “accountability for their abuses is nearly impossible for most Afghans. These forces don’t fall under an Afghan military chain of command, and if a civilian is killed or maimed, the US can say it wasn’t the fault of the US.” The AP reported that Horowitz “added that Afghan civilians have regularly accused these paramilitary groups of physical abuse and theft of property during night raids”.

In one incident in June 2009, described by the AP, the Kandahar-based group went “on a killing spree” after one of its members was arrested, killing Kandahar’s police chief and nine other police officers. At the time, ISAF Lieutenant Commander Chris Hall told Agence France-Press that “there was no ISAF or coalition involvement at all” in the massacre..

In complete violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the CIA’s private army has been active in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border Afghanistan and are considered safe havens for Afghan fighters resisting the neo-colonial occupation. CNN reported on September 22 that a “former US counterterrorism official said a team would enter Pakistan to gather intelligence and to provide targeting information to help the CIA take out suspected terrorists with missiles from unmanned aircraft”.

Predator drone strikes, most of them in the tribal agency of North Waziristan, have escalated in August and September. So far this month, more than 90 people have died in 20 drone strikes. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, “Many have struck in and around Dattakhel, which has a population of about 40,000 people.” While those killed are invariably described as “terrorists” or “militants” by Pakistani and US intelligence officials, their identities are rarely confirmed and it is clear that hundreds of civilians have been killed.

Researcher Dr Zeeshanul Hasan Usmani, who runs the website Pakistan Body Count, told Pakistan’s Express Tribune on September 27 that a total of 2,063 civilians have been killed and 514 injured by drone strikes since they began in 2004. By his calculations, 57 civilians were killed for every single victim who was identified as a member of a specific terrorist organisation.

In an interview published on September 24 by, Haider, a resident of Peshawar, described how his brother-in-law was killed in a drone attack while visiting friends in the North Waziristan town of Miranshah. A total of 31 people died when a missile hit a house during evening prayers. Haider said: “The civilians in all these regions are extremely frightened and fearful. They can’t work in the day, nor can they sleep during the night. As soon as they hear the slightest sound of an aeroplane, they flee in panic from their homes and buildings trying to find a place for security.”

Mohammad Kamran Khan, a parliamentarian from North Waziristan, told the Express Tribune that during a recent visit to the area he encountered people who “were angry with me for the large number of civilians killed in these attacks. They were angry with the Pakistan government and our armed forces for not doing anything to put a halt to these attacks. Also, their hatred towards America was at an all-time high.”

The Pakistani government, while officially condemning the attacks, has been fully complicit with the CIA in carrying them out. Woodward’s book describes a meeting between then-CIA Director General Michael Hayden and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in November 2008 in which drone strikes were discussed. Zardari reportedly urged the CIA to continue the attacks, saying: “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”

The revelations in Obama’s Wars are compounding the crisis of the Zardari regime, which is widely hated for its grossly inadequate response to Pakistan’s devastating floods, as well as its collaboration with the US war in Afghanistan. The government immediately denied the book’s claims about the CIA’s private army operating in the country. Foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on September 24: “[O]ur policy is clear, we will never allow any foreign boots on our soil… so I can tell you there are no foreign troops taking part in counter-terrorism operations inside Pakistan.” Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the AFP that if any such forces were found they would “be fired upon”.

The US, however, is recklessly pursuing its expanded war in Pakistan, as it attempts to crush all resistance to its neo-colonial domination of the resource-rich region. In a provocative act on September 25, US helicopters twice pursued a group of alleged militants across the border into Pakistan from the Afghan province of Khost. According to Khost provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, the helicopters killed more than 60 people. On September 27, helicopters again crossed the border into the Kurram Agency, killing another five people.

Basit protested that the strikes were “a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which ISAF operates”. In response, an ISAF spokesman absurdly told McClatchy Newspapers on September 27 that the helicopters had pursued the militants “because of the imminent danger to the troops” and had acted “in self-defence”.
The Obama administration, which closely collaborated it. (WSWS)

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Friday, 24 September 2010

Obama at the UN: The arrogant voice of imperialism

Obama VS Obama; At the AIPAC meeting with Jews in USA

Obama VS Obama; At the Cairo meeting with Muslims in Middle East
President Barack Obama used his speech at the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to defend US wars and state terror abroad and to proclaim that the economic crisis has been resolved thanks to his Wall Street bailout.
The US president received a noticeably tepid response from the assembled UN delegates. While in his first address to the body last year, he was able to pose as a fresh alternative to the crimes carried out by the Bush administration, by now it has become clear to most on the international stage that his administration’s policies are largely in continuity with those of its predecessor.

In its tone and its content, the Obama speech was the authentic and arrogant voice of US imperialism.

Parroting remarks delivered by George W. Bush from the same podium, Obama began by invoking September 11, 2001, once again exploiting the terrorist attacks of that day to justify the acts of military aggression committed by both US administrations in the intervening nine years.

In the same breath, he referred to Wall Street’s financial meltdown of September 2008, as an event that “devastated American families on Main Street,” while “crippling markets and deferring the dreams of millions on every continent.”

These two events were presented as the source of the core challenges confronting the US administration. Supposedly in response to the first, the Obama administration has continued and escalated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan, while reaffirming Washington’s “right” to carry out unilateral military aggression anywhere on the planet..

In response to the second, the administration continued the massive bailout begun under Bush, committing more than $12 trillion to propping up the US banks and financial institutions, while holding none of those involved responsible for the criminal forms of speculation practiced on Wall Street.

Obama claimed that the so-called Wall Street reform legislation passed by his administration would ensure “that a crisis like this never happens again.” It does nothing of the kind, placing no serious limits on the speculative activities and profitability of the big banks and leaving Wall Street to continue with “business as usual.”

“The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression,” Obama told his UN audience. This statement flies in the face of the grim conditions confronting working people on every continent. This includes the US itself, where the official unemployment rate remains near 10 percent, the unemployed and underemployed account for 17 percent of the workforce, some 30 million people, and one out of every seven Americans is living below the poverty line.

While profits have returned to pre-crisis levels, the reality is that none of the underlying contradictions that have given rise to the deepest world economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s has been resolved. They have only grown in intensity. The response of the ruling classes throughout the world has been to redouble their attacks on the working class in an attempt to force it to pay for this crisis.

Obama followed his assertion about the economy being pulled back from “the brink” with an even more absurd claim that he would not “rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, not only for all Americans, but for peoples around the globe.”

In the US, throughout Europe and in much of the rest of the world, governments are pursuing unprecedented austerity policies that are ripping up basic social rights and dramatically lowering the living standards of working people. Meanwhile, Obama himself spoke before a global poverty summit the day before his speech, warning the world’s poorest that Washington was determined to break their cycle of “dependency.”

The US president’s lies about the economy were followed by the fraudulent claim that the military operations his administration is pursuing abroad are aimed at upholding “our common security.”

Obama said that he is “winding down the war in Iraq” and will pull out all of its occupation troops by the end of next year. At the same time, he declared Washington’s intention to forge “a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people,” by which he means maintaining a US protectorate over the oil-rich country in order to advance the geo-strategic interests of American capitalism.

He said that the drawing down US troops in Iraq had allowed the US military to be “refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven” in Afghanistan. This is another lie. US military and intelligence officials acknowledge that there are no more than 100 al Qaeda members in all of Afghanistan. The nearly 100,000 US troops deployed in that country are not combating “terrorism,” but asserting US neo-colonial control in a bid to advance Washington’s quest for hegemony in Central Asia.

In one of the speech’s more chilling passages, Obama bragged that “from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach” in the war on terror, that did not require “deploying large American armies.” In other words, while constrained in its ability to carry out another major military occupation, US imperialism is pursuing its policies by means of assassinations, drone missile attacks and the deployment of elite killing squads, and has arrogated to itself the right to target and kill its perceived opponents anywhere on the planet.

Obama used the speech to once again threaten Iran. Only days before his appearance at the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech urging elements within the Iranian ruling elite to carry out regime change in the country. He reiterated the vow made in his speech last year that Iran “must be held accountable” for its alleged violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

At least a quarter of Obama’s address was dedicated to the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” that appear to be on the brink of yet another breakdown in the face of Israeli intransigence and provocation.

For all the hackneyed rhetoric about the “Holy Land” and “our common humanity,” the Obama administration is pursuing these negotiations as a means of solidifying support among the Arab regimes for its escalating threats of aggression against Iran and to further its domination of the Middle East.

The content of the speech made clear the US administration’s unwavering complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Obama urged that a limited moratorium declared by the Israeli government be extended beyond September 26, when it is set to expire. He said Israel should do this because it “improved the atmosphere for talks,” not because the entire settlement activity in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is a violation of international law and multiple UN resolutions. In the same breath, the US president asserted that “talks should press on until completed,” presumably regardless of what Israel does.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has insisted that his government will not extend the moratorium, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had initially insisted that his delegation would be forced to walk out if it does not. An ever-pliant servant of Washington, Abbas has since indicated that he might back down on this threat.

The rest of Obama’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian question had an Orwellian flavor, in which Israel was presented as the victim. “The slaughter of innocent Israelis is not resistance—it’s injustice,” Obama declared. He made no mention of the slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians in the US-backed siege of Gaza in 2008-2009 or the criminal attack on the Gaza aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish civilians last May. The day the US president spoke, the UN issued a report charging that Israel’s actions were illegal and employed an “unacceptable level of brutality,” meriting war crimes prosecution.

The US president concluded his speech with an exaltation of “democracy” and “human rights,” which again echoed similar language employed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In Bush’s case, this phony democratic rhetoric was employed to justify US imperialism’s drive for dominance in the Middle East, where Washington demonstrated its commitment to “human rights” by carrying out mass killings, the detention of tens of thousands without charges or trial, and the infamous acts of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo..

In Obama’s case, the posturing as the global champion of democratic rights is no less contemptible. The target, however, appears to have shifted.

The Council on Foreign Relations, the establishment thinktank that enjoys close ties to the administration and the State Department, spelled this out. Noting Obama’s “full-throated endorsement of democracy as the best form of government,” it commented: “Yet the appeal of such an idea faces challenges at bodies like the UN. This is not, for example, the future world that Chinese leaders envision.”

Indeed, Obama followed his celebration of democracy by calling attention to his upcoming trip to Asia, ticking off the countries he will visit—India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan—and praising each for having promoted “democratic principles in their own way.” The itinerary includes the four largest countries that US strategists envision as bulwarks against the expansion of Chinese influence.

On the same day that Obama delivered his speech, the New York Times published a front-page article on the increasingly tense US-China relationship that was clearly based on the perspective of the US administration. The Times reported that “rising frictions between China and its neighbors in recent weeks over security issues have handed the United States an opportunity to reassert itself—one the Obama administration has been keen to take advantage of.”

It noted that Washington has inserted itself into territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian countries, organized provocative joint military exercises with South Korea near Chinese waters and has solidified its alliance with Japan, largely in opposition to China’s influence.

Under conditions of rising conflicts between Washington and Beijing over currency and trade relations, Obama’s praise for “democracy” at the UN represents a thinly veiled threat of new and far more catastrophic eruptions of American militarism. (WSWS)
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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Eritrea: The Siege State

Part 01; Media Release 

To prevent Eritrea from becoming the Horn of Africa’s next failed state, the international community must engage more with the country. Eritrea: The Siege State,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the fragile political and economic situation following the devastating war with Ethiopia (1998-2000). Just a decade ago, Eritrea might reasonably have been described as challenged but stable. Today it is under severe stress, if not yet in full-blown crisis. While not likely to undergo dramatic upheaval in the near future, it is weakening steadily. Its economy is in free fall, poverty is rife, and the authoritarian political system is haemorrhaging its legitimacy.

“As Eritrea continues on this trajectory, its current economic and political problems are only going to deepen”, says Andrew Stroehlein, Crisis Group’s Director of Communications. “While there is no open protest at the moment, the government cannot take this for granted over the long term. Change is really only a matter of time”. The militarism and authoritarianism which now define Eritrea’s political culture have their roots in the region’s violent history. The 30-year war for independence – achieved in 1991 – was part of a network of conflicts which devastated north-east Africa. The real significance of that legacy has only become clear in the last decade, as President Isaias Afwerki and a small cohort of ex-fighters have strengthened their grip on power, while suppressing social freedoms in favour of an agenda centred on an obedient national unity and the notion that Eritrea is surrounded by enemies.
Eritrea has fought in recent years, directly or indirectly, with Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan and involved itself in various ways in the conflicts in eastern Sudan, Darfur and Somalia. Relations with Ethiopia in particular remain extremely tense, in large part because Ethiopia has failed to abide by its Algiers Peace Agreement commitment to accept binding arbitration on their disputed border. (The boundary commission ruled that the town of Badme – the original flashpoint of the war – was in Eritrea.) The UN Security Council’s failure to compel compliance reinforced the sense in Asmara that the international community is inherently hostile. While Eritrea asserts that it is pursuing legitimate national security interests, its aggressive approach and abrasive tone have left it increasingly isolated.
The army has been the key stabilising force, but it is becoming less stable, riddled with corruption and increasingly weak. National service – originally intended to build the country – could well prove one of the catalysts for the regime’s eventual collapse. Some form of demobilisation is required but cannot happen overnight, as society and the economy are incapable of immediately absorbing tens of thousand former soldiers. A holistic approach is urgently needed and requires outside help. Instead of pushing the regime into a corner, the international community should engage with Eritrea on the basis of a greater understanding about the country’s past and current grievances. This might well remove one of the regime’s key rationales and ultimately empower more reform-minded and outward-looking elements within the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and wider society.
“It is inadequate and unhelpful simply to portray Eritrea as the regional spoiler”, says Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s acting Africa Program Director. “It is also the product of the political environment of the Horn as a whole. Ultimately, everything is interconnected, and a more comprehensive, integrated approach is needed by the international community to treat the severe problems confronting Eritrea and the region”.

Eritrea has been deeply troubled since independence in 1991. Following the devastating war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), an authoritarian, militarised regime has further tightened political space, tolerating neither opposition nor dissent. Relations are difficult with the region and the wider international community. At African Union (AU) behest, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions in 2009 for its support of the Somali Islamic insurgency. It has become, in effect, a siege state, whose government is suspicious of its own population, neighbours and the wider world. Economically crippled at birth, it is a poor country from which tens of thousands of youths are fleeing, forming large asylum-seeking communities in Europe and North America. But Eritrea is an extreme reflection of its region’s rough political environment, not its sole spoiler. More effort to understand the roots of its suspicions and greater engagement rather than further isolation would be a more promising international prescription for dealing with the genuine risks it represents.
The militarism and authoritarianism which now define the political culture have their roots in the region’s violent history. The 30-year war of independence was part of a network of conflicts which devastated north-east Africa. The real significance of that legacy has only become clear in the last decade, as President Isaias Afwerki and a small cohort of ex-fighters have strengthened their grip on power, while suppressing social freedoms and economic development in favour of an agenda centred on an obedient national unity and the notion that Eritrea is surrounded by enemies. Isaias’s supporters, diminishing in number, assert that only he has the vision to guide it through difficult times; the growing ranks of his critics argue that he has hijacked the nation-building process; betrayed the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands who achieved and defended independence, and brought ruin to the country.
Conditions are worsening dramatically. Since the 2001 crackdown that ended a brief period of public debate, jails have been filled with political prisoners and critics, religious dissidents, journalists, draft evaders and failed escapees. Isaias uses the standoff with Ethiopia to justify severe internal discipline and military adventures across the region. Ethiopia has reneged on part of the Algiers Agreement that ended the war, in particular by not accepting what was to have been a special commission’s binding decision on the border. The Security Council’s failure to compel compliance reinforced the sense in Asmara that the international community is inherently hostile. Eritrea subsequently placed restrictions on UN peacekeepers that led to their withdrawal in 2008 from the demilitarised zone between the belligerents, citing total lack of cooperation. Isaias’s foreign policy became even more fixated on forcing Ethiopia to accept the border decision, with proxy warfare rather than conventional diplomacy the favoured tool.
Militarised politics has spilled into foreign policy, the latter frequently involving armed responses and aggressive adventurism at the expense of conventional diplomacy. To date, Eritrea has fought, directly or indirectly, with Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan and involved itself in various ways in the conflicts in eastern Sudan, Darfur and Somalia. While it asserts that it is pursuing legitimate national security interests and lambasts the U.S. in particular for intervening in the affairs of others, the aggressive approach and abrasive tone have left it increasingly isolated. The willingness of potential friends to consider the legitimacy of at least some of its concerns is diminished by Eritrea’s unwillingness to demilitarise its foreign policy and to make concessions on any level.
The economy has been shattered by the vagaries of regional rainfall, the state’s destruction of the private sector and the huge costs of military mobilisation. Society more broadly is under enormous strain. Remarkably, there have not yet been serious protests, but pressure is building, both inside the borders and in the extensive diaspora, whose remittances have been a major financial support. A range of external opposition groups – though still deeply divided – are lining up against the regime.
To avoid a fresh crisis in the Horn of Africa, the international community and the Eritreans alike will need to demonstrate a new level of imagination and flexibility. It is vital that the international community engages with Eritrea, politically and economically, and rigorously assesses the country’s internal problems as well as its external pressures. Development assistance and improved trade links should be tied to holding long-promised national elections and implementing the long-delayed constitution. At the same time, in particular the UN Security Council should pressure Ethiopia to accept the border ruling. All this is necessary to prevent another failed state from emerging in the Horn. That outcome is otherwise distinctly possible given the widespread lack of support for the government within the country and the deteriorating state of the army, whose ability to either sustain Isaias Afwerki’s regime or to successfully manage regime transition is increasingly questionable. (ICG)
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Thursday, 16 September 2010

Turkey’s Crises over Israel and Iran

Part 01: Media Release

While suspicions in Western capitals about its relationship with Iran and tensions with Israel have dealt setbacks to its “zero-problem” foreign policy, Turkey shares many of the goals of its Western partners and should continue to play an important role in resolving Middle Eastern and other conflicts.

Turkey’s Crises over Israel and Iran , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses from Ankara’s perspective events since April 2010, particularly friction over policies which have fuelled arguments in the Middle East and Western capitals that the country has made a decisive turn to the East or is basing its foreign policy on an “Islamist” ideology. It finds that while this is not the case, Turkey and Israel in particular need to work to restore their strained relationship.

“Turkey has changed greatly over the past two decades, becoming richer, more self-confident and no longer dependent on Washington or Brussels alone”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “Despite the recent crises of confidence, all sides need to remember they still have a lot in common, and these commonalities remain a strong basis for improving stability in the region”.

Previously good ties to Israel gave Turkey a unique status as a go-between in the Middle East, including facilitation in Syrian-Israeli peace talks. But, in a development neither side appears to have foreseen, relations hit a low after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and a U.S. citizen of Turkish descent on 31 May, while seizing an international aid flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza.

Turkey and Israel should now take advantage of the UN-led panel of enquiry into the tragic incident to repair their relationship. Israel should focus on normalising ties, including, if its soldiers are found to have used excessive force or committed crimes, by prosecuting suspects and finding ways to give Turkey satisfaction in the matter. Ankara should use the enquiry to satisfy Israeli and international opinion about the Turkish activists’ intentions and play its part to improve relations by moving away from maximalist demands and confrontational rhetoric.

At the same time, the report argues that Turkey’s efforts, with Brazil, to secure a diplomatic settlement between Tehran and the international community over an aspect of the nuclear program should not be viewed as Turkey allying with Iran. Ankara had some U.S. encouragement to act as it did, and it has the same aim as its Western partners, namely to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

The distinct crises have given rise to misconceptions about Turkey’s engagement in the Middle East, the main aim of which is to build regional peace and prosperity. The U.S. and the EU should put aside clichés about Turkey “joining an Islamist bloc” or “turning its back on the West”. As a long-standing regional power, Turkey will at times pursue shared goals with its own tactics and methodology, but Ankara, Brussels and Washington can all achieve more working collaboratively in this difficult region.

“Ankara should do, and be encouraged to do, what it can when it sees an opportunity to resolve conflict in close cooperation with the U.S. and EU”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “But it should avoid becoming a party itself to regional disputes and should focus more efforts in its immediate neighbourhood, so as to be a more effective and credible mediator”.


Damage to Turkey’s relations with Israel and suspicions in Western capitals about its relationship with Iran have dealt setbacks to Ankara’s “zero-problem” foreign policy. At the same time, there have been many misconceptions about Turkey’s new engagement in the Middle East, which aims to build regional peace and prosperity. From a Turkish perspective, Israel and Iran issues have separate dynamics and involve more collaboration and shared goals with Western partners than is usually acknowledged. Ankara’s share of the blame for the falling out with Western friends and Israel has been exaggerated, but there are problems in the government’s formulation and presentation of its foreign policy. These include short-sightedness, heated rhetoric, over-reach and distraction from Turkey’s core conflict-resolution challenges in its immediate neigh­bourhood, including a Cyprus settlement, normalisation with Armenia, resolution of new Kurdish tensions and commitment to EU convergence.

Turkey-Israel relations are at a nadir after Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and a U.S. citizen of Turkish descent on 31 May 2010, as they seized a ship that Ankara had discouraged from sailing but said it ultimately could not stop from trying to break the blockade on Gaza. The U.S. and EU member states should back UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s four-person, UN-led panel of enquiry into the tragic incident. Israel should work to normalise its important relationship with Turkey, including, if its soldiers are found to have used excessive force or committed crimes, by prosecuting suspects, and finding ways to give Turkey satisfaction in the matter. For its part, Turkey should use the current enquiries to satisfy Israeli and international opinion about the Turkish activists’ intentions and play its part to improve relations with Israel by moving away from maximalist demands and confrontational rhetoric. Previously good ties gave Turkey a unique status as a potentially effective mediator in the Middle East, including in Arab-Israeli peace talks, but frayed relations with Israel and the U.S. need to be set right if this potential is to be realised.

Turkey is also being criticised for its attempts to mediate with Iran over its nuclear program, especially after voting against additional sanctions on 9 June at the UN Security Council. But Turkey’s “no” was not to reining in any Iranian nuclear military ambitions. Ankara argues that it (and Brazil) believed it had U.S. encouragement to negotiate the swap of a substantial amount of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile, as set out in the 17 May Tehran Agreement. It voted as it did in the Security Council, it says, to protect its negotiating leverage and to retain the Tehran Agreement as a possible way forward.
The U.S. and EU states should put aside simplistic clichés about Turkey “turning East”, “joining an Islamist bloc” or “turning its back on the West”. Turkey’s new foreign engagement has been first and foremost economic, with Christian and Muslim countries in Eurasia, the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East alike. The bulk of its trade and investment, its social, popular and educational connections, and the source of its intellectual and economic innovation all remain inextricably linked to EU states and the U.S.

Turkey also shares most of its Western partners’ goals in the Middle East, such as no nuclear weapons proliferation in the region, including Iran; a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that respects the full rights of both parties; and the elimination of al-Qaeda. It should find more ways to speak out for these common objectives. At the same time, its Western partners should recognise that due to geography and history, Turkey will reasonably pursue them at times with its own tactics and methodology.

Ankara can achieve more through a good working relationship with the EU and the U.S. than if it tries to forge ahead alone. The government and public opinion should avoid presuming, as they sometimes seem tempted, that the U.S. needs Turkey more than it needs Israel, or that personal relations with President Obama will substitute for policy substance. Even though Turkey is clearly becoming a stronger international player, cooperation with Washington and EU convergence are keys to its regional prominence and have contributed to its economic growth, boom in trade with neighbours and improved respect for human rights, as well as Istanbul’s growing reputation as a glamorous regional hub. Turkish leaders should also tone down populist or militant rhetoric, since it undermines allies’ trust, and resume more quiet dialogue with Israel to regain its unique ability to speak with confidence to all parties in its region.

Turkey has changed greatly over the past two decades, becoming richer and more self-confident, no longer dependent on Washington or Brussels alone. While Ankara should not exaggerate its own importance or capacities, its Western partners should recognise its genuine significance in its region and beyond and spend more time talking to it quietly, constructively and at high-levels. To this end, Washington and Ankara in particular might usefully consider establishing new mechanisms for regular dialogue and better coordination on the full range of their shared foreign policy interests, including in the Middle East. Moreover, while Turkey remains committed to its EU path, France and Germany must keep its membership perspectives credible, if all are to take maximum advantage of their shared Middle East goals. These commonalities remain a strong basis for cooperating to increase stability and diminish conflicts in the region.

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Great power rivalries intensify ethnic conflicts in Kyrgyzstan

In an expression of the deep political instability wracking Kygryzstan, fueled by great power rivalries in the region, the government postponed an international policing mission scheduled to deploy in the country’s south on September 2.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had committed to sending 52 observers to the Central Asian country, where violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek groups have taken place in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad.
The OSCE deployment, initially agreed in July, was prompted by demands from neighboring Uzbekistan, backed by Washington, which claimed that ethnic Uzbeks needed to be protected from the Kyrgyz majority.

Seeking to court ethnic Kyrgyz leaders in the run-up to October’s parliamentary elections, the government of President Rosa Otunbayeva has moved against the planned OSCE mission, which has been accused of acting as a Trojan horse for Uzbek interests.

Lydia Imanalieva, Kyrgyzstan’s representative to the OSCE, stated that the government “Believes that it would be reasonable, timely and useful if the [OSCE] starts actual work in Kyrgyzstan after the parliamentary election” due to be held in October.

Inter-ethnic fighting in the southern area of Kyrgyzstan bordering Uzbekistan broke out during the summer, with sporadic clashes taking place since. Scores of people from both Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups have been killed, with hundreds more wounded and thousands displaced. The clashes were prompted by the overthrow of Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, in April. The authoritarian leader was driven from office amidst angry street protests centered in the capital, Bishkek.

Bakiyev’s fall from power was followed by a scramble by rival factions of the country’s elite to form a government, while securing their local bases of power. An interim government, headed by Otunbayeva, was formed in the capital, Bishkek, without any popular base of support on the basis of its commitment to support the presence of US and Russian air bases.

This unpopular new regime has been unable to establish its authority in the formerly pro-Bakiyev southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad, where ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek leaders are still vying for power.

Otunbayeva had initially called for troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-led military alliance of which Kyrgyzstan is a member, to deploy to enforce order around Osh and Jalalabad. However, Uzbekistan, also a member of the CSTO, refused to agree to the operation, and, with the backing of the US, pushed for an OSCE presence instead.
While initially agreeing the deployment, Otunbayeva has sought to whip up Kyrgyz nationalism directed against the OSCE mission in an effort to find some sort of broader base of support for her government.

Both the US and Russia maintain key military installations in Kyrgyzstan, with Washington using its Manas air base as a major supply point for the occupation of nearby Afghanistan. The respective positions taken by the Kremlin and the White House on the question of the OSCE deployment in Kyrgyzstan are bound up with their efforts to advance their own national interests in Central Asia.

The Russian government, though it agreed in August to contribute seven officials to the OSCE deployment, has backed Otunbayeva’s decision. The Kremlin was clearly uncomfortable with any encroachment by the OSCE, an institution dominated by the Western European powers who are also members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in a country that Moscow regards as within its sphere of influence.

Russian envoy to the OSCE Anvar Azimov stated September 2 that the organization should respect the wishes of the Kyrgyzs government and “refrain from putting pressure on the Kyrgyz side.”

“Kyrgyzstan is still going through a difficult period in its history. At the same time, our organization’s obviously good intentions to help Kyrgyzstan restore interethnic harmony and public order, as well as strengthen the potential of its law enforcement services, have recently acted to a certain extent as a catalyst for political instability,” Azimov said at a session of the OSCE Permanent Council.

Moscow is concerned that the OSCE’s presence in Kyrgyzstan could further destabilize Central Asia, where the Russian elite has extensive oil and natural gas deals. The region is considered strategically vital to Russian national security.

In addition, Kyrgyzstan borders China’s volatile Xinjiang autonomous province, where ethnic riots broke out last year. While the administration of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has recently improved Russia’s diplomatic and strategic ties with the United States, under the policy of “resetting relations,” Moscow continues to develop its links with Beijing as a counterweight to Washington.

This month Russia and China, together with four of the five ex-Soviet Central Asian countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) took part in Peace Mission 2010. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the security group co-led by Moscow and Beijing, organized the military maneuvers, which involved 3,000 troops participating in an anti-terrorist exercise in Kazakhstan.

Uzbekistan and Washington promoted the OSCE deployment for their own reasons. Relations are strained between the government of President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan and Moscow. When the ethnic fighting broke out in Kyrgyzstan, Tashkent was opposed to a CSTO deployment to the area, as this would have meant the presence of a large number of Russian troops near the Uzbek border.

The US is also unwilling to accept a major additional Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan, a country of enormous strategic importance to its war efforts in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of US troops have passed through the Manas base since President Barack Obama instigated the Afghan “surge,” and the air base supplies one-third of all the fuel needed for US military aircraft operating over Afghanistan. In addition, Washington has agreed with Otunbayeva to construct a new military base in Osh.

While the Obama administration has recently improved relations with the Kremlin, largely in order to gain Russian logistical support to the war in Afghanistan, the aim of US imperialism in Central Asia is to displace Moscow as the principal power and win hegemony based on its residual military might.

This poses a profound strategic challenge to the Russian ruling elite. On the one hand, Moscow has backed the war in Afghanistan in order to crush an Islamist-led insurgency that it fears could spread across the region and into its own Muslim-majority provinces. For this reason, Moscow showed itself, at least initially, willing to acquiesce to the OSCE mission in Kyrgyzstan.

On the other hand, the Kremlin is aware that the explosion of US militarism in Afghanistan has destabilized the entire region, a situation made worse by Washington’s recent intensification of saber rattling against China. Fearing that Washington’s actions could provoke a wider conflict, possibly involving China, on its southern border, Moscow is only too happy to limit any initiative that expands US influence in the region.

Furthermore, Moscow is aware that, in the final analysis, a US victory in Afghanistan is only possible at the expense of Russian interests in Central Asia.

Washington has recently improved relations with Uzbekistan, providing the country with aid so that it can develop military supply lines through its territory. This is aimed at the short-term US goal of subduing Afghanistan, as well as its longer-term end goal of dominating the energy-rich Central Asian region.

Known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), the US has utilized railroads in the region to bring thousands of containers of materiel for the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan. Originating in the former Soviet republics of Latvia and Georgia, the supply lines pass through Russia and the Central Asian republics before entering northern Afghanistan and terminating at the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the US is building a major new military base.

Mazar-i-Sharif is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Uzbekistan, and much of the overland military supplies for the occupation come through the country. The US and its NATO allies are also developing Uzbekistan’s Termez airfield as an alternative logistics center to Manas. The German Bundeswehr recently signed an agreement with Tashkent to use Termez as a stop-off point for military flights en route to northeast Afghanistan, where German forces play a leading role in NATO’s mission. (WSWS)

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