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JFP 9/26: Officials fess Afghan war futile; Ireland backs Palestine #UNbid
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 26 September 2011 - 3:47pm
Just Foreign Policy News
September 26, 2011
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Ireland Backs Bid for Palestinian Statehood
Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore to the UN General Assembly: "The decision of President Abbas to seek Palestine's membership of the United Nations is entirely legitimate and understandable. Palestine has the same right to membership of the United Nations as Ireland or any other Member of this Organisation. Some would seek to argue that Palestine cannot be recognised as a State because its borders remain to be agreed. But if the borders of Palestine are still a matter for negotiation, then so, by definition, are those of Israel which is rightly a full member of the UN..."
"The day will come, not too far off, when the General Assembly will be asked to vote on a proposal to admit Palestine as a member of this Organisation or perhaps, as an interim step towards the achievement of that goal, to accord Palestine non-member observer state status. Provided that the resolution is drafted in terms that are reasonable and balanced, I expect Ireland to give its full support."
*Action: Cut the War Budget, Not Medicare Benefits
On Monday, President Obama announced his latest proposal for reducing future government deficits. The President proposed to cut Medicare spending by $248 billion over ten years, but the President's proposal doesn't include one dollar of new cuts to the Pentagon's budget for war. Urge the President and your representatives in Congress to cut the war budget before any cuts to Medicare benefits.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Jackie Robinson of Palestine
Abbas' "no excuses" policy - firm opposition to violence to prevent the U.S. and Israel from having an excuse to block Palestinian national aspirations - is akin to Jackie Robinson's commitment not to be provoked by racist attacks when he integrated major league baseball. Mahmoud Abbas has held up the Jackie Robinson side of the bargain. The question now is whether the "international community" will hold up the Branch Rickey side of the bargain.
Cuts in Military Spending Are On the Table - If People Who Want Them Mobilize
Talk by Just Foreign Policy at the conference "The Military-Industrial Complex at 50" on the possibility for cuts in projected military spending under the Budget Control Act, and the effects that cuts in military spending would have on protecting domestic spending and saving jobs.
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1) Even as US officials pledge revenge against the Haqqani network of Afghan insurgents, there is a growing belief that it could be too late, the New York Times reports. The Haqqanis probably will outlast U.S. troops in Afghanistan and command large swaths of territory there once the shooting stops, the Times says. "Whoever is in power in Kabul will have to make a deal with the Haqqanis," said Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who served in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. "It won't be us. We're going to leave, and those guys know it."
"Some have become convinced that after 10 years, it's a bridge too far to try to change Pakistan's strategic calculus," said Col. Bob Cassidy, who recently returned from Kabul after serving as a top aide to Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, a senior US commander.
Top Haqqani network leaders have indicated that they are willing to negotiate, but on their own terms, the Times says. Some intelligence officials see Haqqani operations like the US Embassy attack this month as a very public message from the group that it will not be cut out of any grand bargain.
For Americans who worked with them in the 1980s, the fact that the Haqqanis are now fighting their former US allies is no shock; the Russians were the foreign occupiers before; now the Americans are, the Times says. "The Haqqanis have always been the warlords of that part of the country," said Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer. "They always will be."
US officials who were once optimistic they could change Pakistani behavior through cajoling and large cash payments now accept a sober reality: as long as Pakistan sees its security under threat by India's far larger army, it will rely on militant groups like the Haqqanis, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba as occasional proxy forces, the Times says.
[This is exactly what US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson told Washington two years ago in a leaked cable: the US policy of trying to pressure and bribe Pakistan into changing its "strategic calculus" was futile - JFP.]
2) The Pentagon insists high-profile assaults by Afghan insurgents are a sign of a weakened enemy, but former officials and analysts say Taliban tactics could be fatal to U.S. strategy, AFP reports. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who advised the US commander in Afghanistan in 2009, said the Obama administration needed to hold a frank public debate about war aims instead of engaging in "constant spin." "We may be winning tactically, but insurgents may be winning a battle of political attrition that will ultimately be strategically decisive," Cordesman wrote in Friday's Washington Post.
3) An American CIA employee was killed by an Afghan employee in an attack at the CIA station in Kabul, the New York Times reports. The C.I.A. station in Kabul, the agency's largest outpost overseas, is part of the US embassy complex.
4) Defense contractors won't be able to bill the government for more than $693,951 a year in total salary and compensation for any executives under a proposal headed for congressional approval, Bloomberg reports.
5) UNICEF is warning of "irreversible impacts" of wage cuts, tax increases, benefit reductions and reductions in subsidies on children and other vulnerable groups as IMF austerity programs sweep across the developing world, the Guardian reports, challenging IMF and World Bank claims that children and the poor would be protected from IMF austerity measures.
6) Thousands of Palestinians cheering and waving flags gave President Abbas a hero's welcome in the West Bank Sunday, as he told them triumphantly a "Palestinian Spring" had been born following his historic speech to the U.N. last week, AP reports. Abbas' popularity has skyrocketed since he asked the U.N. on Friday to recognize Palestinian independence, defying threats from Israel and the US. "We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but the Palestinian Spring is here," Abbas said. "A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will reach its goal."
7) Pakistani officials lashed out against US allegations of supporting the Haqqani network, accusing the U.S. of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan, AP reports. Unilateral U.S. raids into Pakistan could have explosive implications in a country where anti-American sentiment is widespread, AP notes. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the U.S. against sending troops into Pakistan. "Any aggression will not be tolerated," Malik said.
U.S. officials have said Washington needs to keep engaging with Pakistan, a reflection of limited US options, AP notes. Around half of the U.S. war supplies to Afghanistan are trucked over Pakistani soil, and Washington knows that it will likely need Pakistan's cooperation in bringing insurgents to the negotiating table.
8) The Defense Department intends to sell $53 million worth of military equipment and support to Bahrain, including bunker buster missiles and armored vehicles, Mother Jones reports. "This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics," said Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch. "It will be hard for people to take US statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons," McFarland said.
9) Saudi Arabia's king announced women would be given the right to vote and stand in elections for municipal councils - which have few powers - in 2015, Reuters reports. The king did not address broader issues of women's rights in a country where women are not allowed to drive and require a male relative's permission to work or leave the country. But the announcement was hailed by liberals and activists who said it raised hopes that other demands for greater democratic and social rights might one day be met.
1) Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan
Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane and Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, September 25, 2011
[U.S. Ambassdor to Pakistan Anne Patterson's September 2009 cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks, in which she told Washington that its policy of trying to pressure or cajole Pakistan to attack the Haqqani network was futile:
US embassy cables: 'Reviewing our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy'
Washington - They are the Sopranos of the Afghanistan war, a ruthless crime family that built an empire out of kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, even trucking. They have trafficked in precious gems, stolen lumber and demanded protection money from businesses building roads and schools with American reconstruction funds.
They safeguard their mountainous turf by planting deadly roadside bombs and shelling remote American military bases. And they are accused by American officials of being guns for hire: a proxy force used by the Pakistani intelligence service to carry out grisly, high-profile attacks in Kabul and throughout the country.
Today, American intelligence and military officials call the crime clan known as the Haqqani network - led by a wizened militant named Jalaluddin Haqqani who has allied himself over the years with the C.I.A., Saudi Arabia's spy service and Osama bin Laden - the most deadly insurgent group in Afghanistan. In the latest of a series of ever bolder strikes, the group staged a daylong assault on the United States Embassy in Kabul, an attack Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged Thursday was aided by Pakistan's military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. According to two American officials, cellphones used by the attackers made calls to suspected ISI operatives before the attack, although top Pakistani officials deny their government played any role.
But even as the Americans pledge revenge against the Haqqanis, and even amid a new debate in the Obama administration about how to blunt the group's power, there is a growing belief that it could be too late. To many frustrated officials, they represent a missed opportunity with haunting consequences. Responsible for hundreds of American deaths, the Haqqanis probably will outlast the United States troops in Afghanistan and command large swaths of territory there once the shooting stops.
American military officers, who have spent years urging Washington to take action against the Haqqanis, express anger that the Obama administration has still not put the group on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations out of concern that such a move would scuttle any chances that the group might make peace with Afghanistan's government.
"Whoever is in power in Kabul will have to make a deal with the Haqqanis," said Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who served in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. "It won't be us. We're going to leave, and those guys know it."
When their threat was less urgent, the Haqqanis - estimated at 5,000 to 15,000 fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan - were not a top priority for the Americans. But even then the United States also had little leverage against them. The Haqqanis have expanded their reach and numbers as top American officials have tried repeatedly over the last decade to berate and cajole officials in Pakistan to cut ties to a group it considers essential for its own security, all with little effect.
"Some have become convinced that after 10 years, it's a bridge too far to try to change Pakistan's strategic calculus," said Col. Bob Cassidy, who recently returned from Kabul after serving as a top aide to Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, a senior American commander in Afghanistan.
Now largely run by two of Mr. Haqqani's sons, who experts say are even more committed Islamists than their father, the network is in a position of strength as the United States tries to broker a peace deal in Afghanistan before pulling its troops from the country.
In recent days, top Haqqani network leaders have indicated that they are willing to negotiate, but on their own terms. The group maintains close ties to the Taliban, but often works independently, and some intelligence officials see Haqqani operations like the American Embassy attack this month as a very public message from the group that it will not be cut out of any grand bargain.
One former American intelligence official, who worked with the Haqqani family in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, said he would not be surprised if the United States again found itself relying on the clan. "You always said about them, 'best friend, worst enemy.' "
For Americans who worked with them in the 1980s, the fact that the Haqqanis are now fighting their former American allies is no shock. The Russians were the foreign occupiers before; now the Americans are.
"The Haqqanis have always been the warlords of that part of the country," said Mr. Sageman, the former C.I.A. officer. "They always will be."
On Feb. 19, 2009, the day before Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's new senior military commander, was due in Washington for his first meetings with the Obama administration, the American Embassy in Islamabad sent a classified cable to the State Department.
American officials believed that General Kayani, Pakistan's onetime spymaster, had for years overseen Pakistan's covert support for militant groups like the Haqqani network, and the cable offered blunt advice about the coming talks.
"The single biggest message Kayani should hear in Washington is that this support must end," said the cable, written by Ambassador Anne W. Patterson.
In the 30 months since, few in Washington believe that Pakistan's support of armed militia groups has diminished. American officials who were once optimistic they could change Pakistani behavior through cajoling and large cash payments now accept a sober reality: as long as Pakistan sees its security under threat by India's far larger army, it will rely on militant groups like the Haqqanis, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba as occasional proxy forces.
The new urgency for a political settlement in Afghanistan has further limited Washington's options for fighting the Haqqani network. During high-level discussions last year, Obama administration officials debated listing the group as a "Foreign Terrorist Organization," which allows for some assets to be frozen and could dissuade donors from supporting the group. While some military commanders pushed for the designation, the administration ultimately decided that such a move might alienate the Haqqanis and drive them away from future negotiations.
Officials chose to take the more incremental step of naming individual Haqqani leaders as terrorists, including Badruddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani. Senior American officials said there was once again a fierce debate inside the Obama administration about whether to put the entire group on the terrorist list.
2) US Fights A War Of Perceptions In Afghanistan
Dan De Luce, AFP, September 24, 2011
Washington - The Pentagon insists high-profile assaults by Afghan insurgents are a sign of a weakened enemy but former officials and analysts say Taliban tactics could undercut the effects of a US-led military campaign.
After a series of dramatic attacks, including a firefight outside the US embassy and the killing Tuesday of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the insurgents were resorting to headline-grabbing violence because they had been defeated on the battlefield.
Panetta told senators Thursday the tactics were the "result of a shift in momentum in our favor and a sign of weakness in the insurgency."
But former officials and experts are less upbeat about the course of the war, and say the insurgency has always employed assassination as a weapon to undermine the Afghan government's authority.
"Assassination is not a new tactic, but has been a key component of the Taliban's repertoire since they were formed in 1994," said Seth Jones, a former defense official who worked with commanders in Afghanistan.
In the south, the focus of a surge in US troops, the Taliban has been damaged and pushed back in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said Jones, echoing US military assessments.
The insurgency, however, still enjoys the lifeline of sanctuaries in Pakistan and has shifted some its operations outside the south, he said.
"My concern with some of the recent progress in Afghanistan is: unless the Taliban is effectively targeted in its sanctuaries in Baluchistan and Karachi, are the gains in Afghanistan only temporary?"
"This is the million dollar question," he told AFP.
Like insurgents in other wars, the Taliban seeks to strike at public perceptions, to sow doubts about the ability of the Afghan government to provide security or broker a peace deal, said Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution. She said that "the assassination tactic is precisely the most rational policy for the Taliban right now and they would be crazy to be mounting attacks with massive forces because they would likely be slaughtered."
Battlefield victories were not the ultimate aim and instead the insurgents were pursuing assassinations to "maintain pressure and fear," she said. "It's not just the assassination of very visible people but assassinations of district officials or people who cooperate with the US government or the (Hamid) Karzai government," she said. "And it has a profound effect on how people feel about their security."
The killing of Rabbani, who was leading Kabul's peace efforts, put the Pentagon in a difficult position, as it was clearly a setback but Panetta and other top officials warned against overstating its effect.
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who advised the US commander in Afghanistan in 2009, said Friday the Obama administration needed to hold a frank public debate about war aims instead of engaging in "constant spin."
US troops have made headway in the Taliban's former bastions in the south and taken out key insurgents, according to Cordesman. But the Afghan government remained anemic and it was not at all clear its security forces could hold on to cleared areas as NATO-led forces gradually withdraw through 2014.
"We may be winning tactically, but insurgents may be winning a battle of political attrition that will ultimately be strategically decisive," Cordesman wrote in Friday's Washington Post.
3) C.I.A. Employee Is Killed in Attack on Kabul Compound
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, September 26, 2011
Kabul, Afghanistan - An American employee of the C.I.A. was killed and a second American was wounded by an Afghan employee on the grounds of an annex to the United States Embassy here, officials in Washington said on Monday.
The attack was on a building used by the Central Intelligence Agency in Kabul, according to several Western officials, and is near the presidential palace. American officials in Washington confirmed that the person killed in the attack worked for the C.I.A, but it was not clear what position the person held.
The C.I.A. station in Kabul, the agency's largest outpost overseas, is part of the embassy complex.
4) Pentagon may cap executive pay reimbursement at $694,000
Brian Friel, Bloomberg Government, September 18
Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors won't be able to bill the government for more than $693,951 a year in total salary and compensation for any executives under a proposal headed for congressional approval.
The Senate is mulling an expansion to all executives from current rules limiting the cap to contractors' top five executives. The House has approved a cap on all employees of defense vendors. While the full Senate has yet to vote on its committee-approved version, and the two chambers must still reconcile their differences, the expanded executive pay limit has a good chance to survive.
Total compensation includes wages, salaries, bonuses and deferred compensation.
"There is no logic in having a cap on executives one through five, and then executives six through whatever can make more than the statutory cap," Mike Steen, a government contracting consultant with the Huntsville, Ala., law firm Beason & Nalley, said in a recent interview.
The House-passed version of the 2012 defense authorization bill would apply the cap to all employees of contractors who do business with the Pentagon. The Senate Armed Services Committee's version would apply the cap only to managers and executives.
The change, which would only affect Defense Department contracts, would have little effect on salaries at major vendors, the head of a firm that specializes in accounting for defense contractors said. It only means the vendors can't submit claims for compensation above that amount.
"You can pay yourself what you want," Veronica Eyenga, president and chief executive of VBP Outsourcing, a Glen Burnie accounting firm, said in a recent phone interview.
For the top five federal contractors by prime contract value in 2010 - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon - the average reported annual compensation was $8 million per executive, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Steen, a former executive at the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which reviews military deals for unallowable executive compensation costs, said large companies with billions of dollars in government work can prorate the costs of executive pay across numerous contracts.
If Congress expands the cap to all employees, companies could be blocked from billing the government for highly specialized, expensive employees, such as a scientist or engineer working on a project for the military, Steen said. "That person's salary would also be limited," he said.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 federal workers, is lobbying Congress to lower the cap to $200,000 for all contractor employees.
"Any amount above $200,000 is, quite frankly, a premium that the taxpayers cannot afford to pay a contractor workforce that is already lavishly rewarded," AFGE Public Policy Director Jacqueline Simon said in a recent e-mail.
The White House Office of Management and Budget sets the executive compensation limit based on the median amount of compensation during the previous year for the top five highest-paid executives at each home office and each segment of publicly traded companies with annual sales over $50 million. OMB set the current limit of $693,951 on April 15, 2010.
Three lawmakers - Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa); and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) - sent a letter to OMB Director Jacob J. Lew on Sept. 15 asking him to update the total using more recent data.
"The American people deserve to know exactly how much government contractor executives will charge the taxpayer for their salaries this year," the lawmakers wrote.
OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack did not provide a comment.
Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for Falls Church-based General Dynamics, the fourth-largest government vendor, declined to comment on the proposed legislation.
"Since those provisions are not yet law, it would not be appropriate for us to speculate about what the potential impact might be," he said in a recent e-mail.
Officials at the other four largest government contractors did not respond to requests for comment.
Non-defense agencies still would only review the compensation costs for the top five executives if the change for defense contracts passes Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has not yet scheduled full Senate consideration of the 2012 defense authorization bill. Lawmakers from the two chambers will meet after Senate passage to work out differences between the two versions of the bill before final passage.
5) Austerity measures risk irreversible impact on children, warns Unicef
UN children's fund challenges pledges by IMF and World Bank to safeguard poor people from the worst of the global downturn Larry Elliott, Guardian, Sunday 25 September 2011 06.46 EDT
The UNICEF report:
Washington - Pledges by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to safeguard poor people from the worst of the global downturn are being challenged by the United Nations, which is warning of the "extraordinary price" being paid by children and other vulnerable groups as mass austerity programmes sweep across the developing world.
A study by the UN children's fund, Unicef, said there would be "irreversible impacts" of wage cuts, tax increases, benefit reductions and reductions in subsidies that bore most heavily on the most vulnerable in low-income nations.
It found that between 2010 and 2012 a quarter of developing nations were engaged in what it called excessive belt-tightening, reducing spending to below the levels before the financial crisis began in 2007.
Both Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, and Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, said at the weekend that their organisations were seeking to build social safety nets to protect the weakest.
But Unicef said: "In the wake of the food, fuel and financial shocks, a fourth wave of the global economic crisis began to sweep across developing countries in 2010: fiscal austerity."
The report looked at IMF spending projections for 128 countries. "While most governments introduced fiscal stimuli to buffer their populations from the impacts of the crisis during 2008-09, premature expenditure contraction became widespread beginning in 2010 despite vulnerable populations' urgent and significant need of public assistance," it said.
The analysis showed that the scope of austerity was severe and widening quickly. Of the 128 countries, 70 reduced spending by nearly three percentage points of GDP during 2010 and 91 planned cuts in 2012.
A comparison of the 2010-12 period with the three years before the financial crisis began showed that nearly a quarter of developing countries were undergoing "excessive contraction", defined as slashing spending to below pre-crisis levels.
The study found that governments had relied on five main ways of saving money: cutting or capping wages (56 countries); phasing out or removing subsidies, primarily fuel but also on electricity and food (56 countries); rationalising or means-testing social programmes (34 countries); reforming pensions (28 countries) and increasing consumption taxes on basic goods (53 countries).
Although the IMF has put a greater emphasis in recent years on ringfencing pro-poor spending, Unicef said there was a heightened risk of social spending falling below levels needed to protect vulnerable populations.
"Current austerity policies may have major impacts on social spending and other expenditures that foster aggregate demand, and therefore recovery. It is therefore imperative that decision-makers carefully review the distributional impacts, as well as possible alternative policy options, for economic and social recovery."
The report noted that children and poor households were likely to be most affected by budget cuts. "The limited window of intervention for foetal development and for growth among infants and young children means that deprivation today, if not addressed properly, can have irreversible impacts on their physical and intellectual capacities, which will, in turn, lower their productivity in adulthood; this is a an extraordinary price for a country to pay."
6) President Abbas declares 'Palestinian Spring'
Dalia Nammari, Associated Press, Sun, Sep 25, 2011
Ramallah, West Bank - Thousands of Palestinians cheering and waving flags gave President Mahmoud Abbas a hero's welcome in the West Bank Sunday, as he told them triumphantly a "Palestinian Spring" had been born following his historic speech to the U.N. last week.
Abbas' popularity has skyrocketed since he asked the U.N. on Friday to recognize Palestinian independence, defying appeals from Israel and the United States to return to peace talks. His request has pushed the region into uncharted waters, and left the international community scrambling over how to respond.
Thousands of people crowded Abbas' West Bank headquarters in the city of Ramallah to get a glimpse of the 76-year-old president upon his return from New York. Abbas was uncharacteristically animated, shaking his hands and waving to the audience.
Abbas compared his campaign to the Arab Spring, the mass demonstrations sweeping the Arab world in hopes of freedom, saying that an independent Palestinian state is inevitable.
"We have told the world that there is the Arab Spring, but the Palestinian Spring is here," he said. "A popular spring, a populist spring, a spring of peaceful struggle that will reach its goal."
7) Pakistani Officials Meet To Discuss US Allegations
Associated Press, September 24
Islamabad - Pakistan's army chief convened a special meeting of senior commanders Sunday following U.S. allegations that the military's spy agency helped militants attack American targets in Afghanistan, the army said.
The government also summoned home the country's foreign minister early from a trip to the United States to attend a meeting of all major political parties to discuss the American allegations of support for the militant Haqqani network.
Senior Pakistani officials have lashed out against the allegations, accusing the U.S. of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan. The public confrontation has plunged the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan alliance to new lows.
Pakistan's leaders have shown no indication they plan to act on renewed American demands to attack the Haqqani network in its main base in Pakistan, even at the risk of further conflict with Washington, which has given the country billions in aid.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Sunday that the U.S. should consider military action to defend U.S. troops if Pakistan's spy agency continues supporting militants who are attacking American forces.
Unilateral U.S. raids into Pakistan could have explosive implications in a country where anti-American sentiment is widespread.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the U.S. on Sunday against sending troops into Pakistan. "Any aggression will not be tolerated," Malik told reporters in Islamabad. "The nation is standing united behind the armed forces, which is the front line of Pakistan's defense."
Pakistan claimed to have severed its ties with Afghan militants after the 9/11 attacks and supported America's campaign in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have long suspected it maintained links. The comments by Mullen, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the most serious yet accusing Pakistan of militant ties, although he didn't cite any specific evidence.
Despite the seriousness of the U.S. claims, which appear to accuse Pakistan of state-sponsored terrorism, Mullen and other U.S. officials have said Washington needs to keep engaging with Islamabad, a reflection of its limited options in dealing with the country.
Around half of the U.S. war supplies to Afghanistan are trucked over Pakistani soil, and even as it accuses Islamabad of complicity with Afghan insurgents, Washington knows that it will likely need Islamabad's cooperation in bringing them to the negotiating table. Washington is also concerned about the danger of further instability in the nuclear-armed state.
8) US Resumes Arms Sales to Bahrain
Aaron Ross, Mother Jones, Fri Sep. 23, 2011 1:29 PM PDT
Less than three months after including Bahrain on a list of human rights offenders requiring the United Nations' attention, the Obama administration seems to have changed its mind. The US now believes Bahrain is "an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East," according to a statement from the Defense Department, which intends to sell $53 million worth of military equipment and support to the Gulf state, including bunker buster missiles and armored vehicles.
"This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics," said Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch, which flagged the sale yesterday. "By continuing its relationship as if nothing had happened, the US is furthering an unstable situation."
McFarland was referring, of course, to the Bahraini government's crackdown earlier this year against peaceful protesters, primarily Shiites, who momentarily captured the West's attention with their demands for greater political, social, and economic rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy. In response, state security forces killed over 30 people and arrested some 1,400 more. Many were reportedly tortured.
The heavy-handed tactics succeeded in crushing the initial wave of protests, but the situation remains volatile. Police continue to violently repress anti-government activists; on Friday, they fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters during a demonstration ahead of tomorrow's parliamentary by-elections.
With the exception of its statement at the UN and tepid condemnation from the White House, the US has refrained from publically criticizing its longtime ally, which hosts the Navy's Fifth Fleet. In 2010 alone, the US approved more than $200 million in arms sales to Bahrain. Although the proposed $53 million deal is the first since last November, it will almost certainly go through, a Defense Department spokesman told Mother Jones. That's because Congress would have to pass specific legislation to stop the sale-an unusual, if not unprecedented, action.
But whatever the explanation, McFarland argues, the move casts a shadow on the US's professed support for the ideals of the Arab Spring. "It will be hard for people to take US statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons," she said.
9) Saudi King Gives Women Right to Vote
Reuters, September 25, 2011
Jeddah - Saudi Arabia's king announced on Sunday women would be given the right to vote and stand in elections, a bold shift in the ultra-conservative absolute monarchy as pressure for social and democratic reform sweeps the Middle East.
It was by far the biggest change in Saudi Arabia's tightly-controlled society yet ordered by the 88-year-old Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who took power six years ago with a reformer's reputation but has ruled as a cautious conservative.
In practice, the measure will do little to change how the country is run: Saudi Arabia's rulers allow elections only for half of the seats on municipal councils which have few powers. Only men will vote at the next elections which will take place next week; women will be allowed to vote in 2015.
The king did not address broader issues of women's rights in a country where women are not allowed to drive and require a male relative's permission to work or leave the country.
But the announcement was hailed by liberals and activists who said it raised hopes that other demands for greater democratic and social rights might one day be met.
"This is great news," said Saudi writer and women's rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider. "Women's voices will finally be heard. Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians."
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