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JFP News, 8/20: Low Turnout in Afghan Election
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 20 August 2009 - 6:01pm
Just Foreign Policy News
August 20, 2009
Demand, from the Senate, an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
The Afghan people are tired of war. Recent polls show Americans agree. But our leaders are not yet tired of war in Afghanistan. The Senate has not yet even debated whether the Pentagon should publish an exit strategy. Urge them to do so.
Background: By How Many Days Can We Shorten This War?
Why we need a Senate debate.
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1) A top Afghan election official said he thinks 40 to 50 percent of the country's 15 million registered voters cast ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election - a turnout that would be far lower than the 70 percent who cast ballots for president in 2004, AP reports.
2) Iran has lifted a yearlong ban and allowed U.N. inspectors to visit the nearly completed Arak nuclear reactor as well as granting greater monitoring rights at the Natanz uranium enrichment site, George Jahn reports for AP. The IAEA had been seeking additional cameras and inspections of the Natanz site, to keep track with the rapidly expanding enrichment program.
3) The opposition Free Democrats in Germany have called for a plan to bring home the 4,500 German troops serving in the NATO force in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. According to opinion polls, the majority of those asked say they are opposed to German soldiers remaining in Afghanistan. The Federal Armed Forces Association, which represents more than 210,000 soldiers, said it had reservations about the Free Democrats' call for a withdrawal plan, but that it approved of the question being put forward publicly so that it could be debated.
4) Fifty advocacy organizations called on Congress to stop "vulture" investment funds from purchasing poor countries' debt at deep discount and pursuing legal action for its nominal value, undermining the impact of bilateral and multilateral debt cancellation, Inter Press Service reports. The groups include the NAACP, the Jubilee USA Network, TransAfrica Forum, the American Jewish World Service, the United Methodist Church and Africa Action. The groups urged Congress to pass HR 2932 - introduced by Rep. Waters and Rep. Bachus - which would limit the ability of vulture funds to use U.S. courts to garner exorbitant profits.
5) Peru's President Garcia said Peru supports OAS efforts toward resolving the situation in Honduras and backs the "San Jose Agreement" aimed at seeking a peaceful settlement of the crisis, Xinhua reports. During a meeting with Honduran President Zelaya, Garcia said the Peruvian government would only support a government with democratic institutions, and expressed hope actions taken by the OAS would help Honduras to restore democratic order at an early date.
6) Aid groups say military involvement in humanitarian aid projects in Afghanistan is undermining aid groups and putting them at risk, Deutsche Welle reports. The aid groups say the activities are blurring the distinction between combatants and aid workers.
7) UN officials dispute Israeli government claims that the route of its security wall in the West Bank is not intended to be permanent, the Washington Post reports. Much of the unfinished work on the wall involves "fingers" of the barrier around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank, potentially controversial in a climate in which the Obama administration is trying to curb Israeli activity in the West Bank as a prelude to restarting peace talks, the Post says.
8) President Uribe stepped closer to extending his presidency when Colombia's Senate voted in favor of an effort to allow him to run for reelection, the Washington Post reports. Uribe, elected in 2002, was reelected after a constitutional amendment permitted his reelection in 2006. Opponents of reelection have accused Uribe's supporters of enticing prospective voters in Congress with lucrative business deals.
1) Turnout Appears Low As Afghans Vote For President
26 killed in election day attacks in Afghanistan
Jason Straziuso and Robert H. Reid, Associated Press, August 20, 2009 3:51 PM
Kabul - Taliban threats scared voters and dampened turnout in the militant south Thursday as Afghans voted for president for the second time ever. Insurgents killed 26 Afghans in scattered attacks, but officials said militants failed to disrupt the vote.
After 10 hours of voting, including a last-minute, one-hour extension, election workers began to count millions of ballots. Initial results weren't expected for several days.
A top election official told The Associated Press he thinks 40 to 50 percent of the country's 15 million registered voters cast ballots - a turnout that would be far lower than the 70 percent who cast ballots for president in 2004.
2) Diplomats: Iran improves access to nuke activities
George Jahn, Associated Press, Thursday, August 20, 2009 1:01 PM
Vienna - Iran has lifted a yearlong ban and allowed U.N. inspectors to visit a nearly completed nuclear reactor as well as granting greater monitoring rights at another atomic site, diplomats said Thursday.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited the nearly finished Arak heavy water reactor last week, the diplomats told The Associated Press. Separately, they said Iran agreed last week to IAEA requests to expand its monitoring of the Natanz uranium enrichment site, which produces material for nuclear fuel that can be further enriched to provide fissile material for warheads.
The diplomats demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.
The agency had been seeking additional cameras and inspections of the Natanz site, to keep track with the rapidly expanding enrichment program which - if modified - can make the fissile core of warheads.
Iran's stonewalling had raised agency concerns that its experts might not be able to make sure that some of the enriched material produced at Natanz is not diverted for potential weapons use.
Since its clandestine enrichment efforts were revealed more than six years ago, Iran has steadily increased activities at its cavernous underground facility at Natanz, a city about 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of Tehran, shrugging off three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions and rejecting talks meant to entice it to mothball the activity.
3) German Party Calls for Plan for Removal of Troops From Afghanistan
Judy Dempsey, New York Times, August 21, 2009
Berlin - After ignoring the issue of Afghanistan for much of the federal election campaign so far, the Free Democrats, an opposition party that hopes to join Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in the next government, have called for a plan to bring home the 4,500 German troops serving in the NATO force there.
In doing so, the party has broken ranks with most of the major parties, which have tried to keep the issue of Germany's controversial Afghan presence out of the public eye.
"The next government must formulate a precise plan that spells out how a pull-out of the German Army over the coming years would look," Jürgen Koppelin, a federal legislator and defense expert for the Free Democrats, said in a newspaper interview Wednesday. "Our soldiers in Afghanistan and their families need to know that the mission will end."
According to opinion polls, the majority of those asked say they are opposed to German soldiers remaining in Afghanistan.
Only the opposition Left Party, a relatively new grouping of former East German communists and West German trade unionists, has been consistently outspoken about Afghanistan, demanding the immediate end of the mission.
On Thursday, Franz Josef Jung, the conservative defense minister, who has refused to use the word "war" to describe the operations of the German contingent, told ARD, the public television channel, that it was possible the army could remain in Afghanistan for 10 more years, until that nation's security forces have been trained.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat foreign minister who will run against Mrs. Merkel for the chancellery, echoed that sentiment. He told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that he believed German soldiers could be in Afghanistan for 10 more years "or longer." That will not go down well with his party, which has a strong pacifist wing that opposes the Afghan mission.
Critics of the government's policy say it has never adequately explained to the public the strategy and goals of the mission.
Among those critics is the Federal Armed Forces Association, a politically independent institution that represents more than 210,000 soldiers.
"What is needed more than ever is public support for our men and women serving in Afghanistan," said Wilfried Stolze, the association's spokesman. "But the politicians, including the chancellor, have shown no courage in explaining to the public why our troops are there in the first place."
Mr. Stolze said that his group had reservations about the Free Democrats' call for a withdrawal plan, but that it approved of the question being put forward publicly so that it could be debated.
4) 'Vulture Funds' Prey on Poor Debtor Nations
Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service, 19 August
Washington - Fifty advocacy organisations are calling on the U.S. Congress to put a stop to investment funds which purchase heavily indebted countries' debt and jeopardise the impact of bilateral and multilateral debt cancellation to over 30 countries.
The groups - which include the NAACP, the Jubilee USA Network, TransAfrica Forum, the American Jewish World Service, the United Methodist Church and Africa Action -are seeking a stop to what they have dubbed "Very Unscrupulous Loan Transfers from Underprivileged countries to Rich, Exploitive Funds".
These so-called VULTURE funds purchase heavily indebted countries debt at pennies to the dollar and then "aggressively pursu(e) their claims through the seizure of assets, litigation and political pressure, seeking repayments that are far in excess of the amount that they paid for the debt," the groups say.
The strategies used by VULTURE funds act in direct contradiction to international efforts to cancel debt for the world's poorest countries - a movement which has already cancelled over 90 billion dollars in debt.
"Since 1996 donor countries - including the U.S. - have committed 90 billion dollars in bilateral and multilateral debt relief to over 30 countries. VULTURE funds profit from this debt relief," Michael Stulman, associate director of policy and communications at Africa Action, told IPS.
Such funds have used U.S. courts as a venue for suing poor countries for the debts they incurred in the past.
In one case cited in a letter cosigned by the members of the coalition, FG Hemisphere Fund successfully sued the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for 105 million dollars for a 30-million-dollar loan incurred in 1980 by the infamously corrupt Mobutu Sese Seko government. A judge in Washington ordered the DRC to pay up to 80,000 dollars a week as a result of the lawsuit.
"The DRC is being forced to siphon these desperately needed resources from initiatives like health care, education, combating HIV/AIDS, and access to clean water to its impoverished citizens to pay off wealthy corporations such as FG Hemisphere," said Melinda St. Louis, deputy director of the Jubilee USA Network.
In another judgment, Zambia was forced to pay Donegal International 15 million dollars on a debt that Donegal acquired for three million dollars. The judgment represented 60 percent of the debt relief Zambia received in 2007.
The civil society groups urge Congress to pass House Resolution (HR) 2932 - introduced on Jun. 18 by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters and Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus - which would limit the ability of VULTURE funds to use U.S. courts to garner exorbitant profits.
"We cannot allow vulture funds to erode the progress that has enabled many of the world's most impoverished nations to reduce poverty," Waters told IPS in an email message. "Over the past year, we have seen how the actions of a small number of unscrupulous and exploitative investors can hurt innocent people and cause economic chaos. We cannot allow the world's poorest countries to be exploited by these bad actors," she said.
Of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) list of 41 countries eligible for debt relief, at least 20 have been threatened or subjected to legal action by commercial funds who make their profits from recovering loans given to HIPC.
The resolution would serve to both limit the profits which funds could make from trading in HIPC debt as well as require increased transparency from funds filing lawsuits in U.S. courts.
Funds would be required to disclose how much they paid for the debt on the secondary market.
5) President: Peru supports OAS' efforts to stabilize Honduran situation
Xinhua, August 20, 2009
Peru supports the Organization of American States (OAS)'s efforts toward stabilizing the situation in Honduras and backs the "San Jose Agreement" aimed at seeking a peaceful settlement of the political crisis in Honduras, President Alan Garcia said on Wednesday.
During a meeting with ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Garcia said the Peruvian government would only support a government with democratic institutions, and expressed the hope that actions taken by the OAS would help Honduras to restore democratic order at an early date.
The best way for a peaceful resolution of the crisis is that the OAS acts to urge the rival sides in Honduras to implement the "San Jose Agreement", Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Garcia Belaunde told media before the meeting.
In his "San Jose Agreement," a compromise proposal drafted on July 22, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias proposes that Zelaya be allowed back into the country to form a government of national unity and reconciliation, while granting a political amnesty to those who carried out the coup.
6) Aid groups assert military activities jeopardize their work in Afghanistan
Sabina Casagrande, Deutsche Welle, 19.08.2009
Insurgents are increasingly attacking development workers. Humanitarian organizations say this is tied to the militarization of aid, causing a blurring of lines between humanitarian assistance and a military agenda. Afghanistan is rated as one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers at the moment. According to figures from the German aid organization Welthungerhilfe, 23 security incidents and five deaths made July the worst month of the year for aid agencies.
The Welthungerhilfe's secretary-general, Wolfgang Jamann, said the increasing involvement of the military, such as Germany's Bundeswehr, in humanitarian projects was a major factor for this development. "The Bundeswehr and other armies are using development activities for their military purposes," Jamann said. "This puts our activities in danger and blurs the line between civil and military activities."
Ashley Jackson, a researcher from the development agency Oxfam based in Kabul, said she was critical of military staff from PRTs doing humanitarian work in villages with guns and tanks. "They're not doing this for the good of the Afghan people primarily; they're doing it to further their own aims: to create a sense of loyalty, to buy allegiance from these communities," Jackson said.
Jamann said his staff working in Afghanistan is increasingly perceived as being part of the various groups that intervene in Afghanistan from foreign countries. "So there's no more distinction between those who carry arms and those who are there, like Welthungerhilfe, for different purposes," he said. "The proximity of the Bundeswehr forces and Welthungerhilfe staff in similar regions blurs this line and puts our people in danger."
Jackson also said this commingling has been detrimental. "It creates confusion in the minds of the Afghan public, but also provides an excuse for insurgents to target civilian institutions and aid workers," Jackson said. "The use of humanitarian and development aid to further political and security objectives has limited the humanitarian space in Afghanistan."
A report from Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA, published earlier this year confirms the aid organizations' assessment. "Aid agency staff is being increasingly targeted by the Taliban and other insurgents for their perceived instrumentalization by, and support of, alien political agendas," said Antonio Donini from the university's Feinstein International Center. "Aid agencies are justifiably concerned that they may be tarred with the same brush as the foreign militaries, with potentially deleterious consequences for their security," Donini said in his briefing paper "Afghanistan: Humanitarianism Under Threat."
7) Momentum Slows for Israel's Barrier
Cost, Legal Concerns and a Drop in Violence May Leave Controversial Project Unfinished
Linda Gradstein and Howard Schneider, Washington Post, Thursday, August 20, 2009
Maale Adumim, West Bank - Cost overruns, court rulings and a decline in violence have led Israel to slow construction of a barrier through and around the occupied West Bank, and many analysts predict the project, which is a deep source of contention between Israelis and Palestinians, will not be completed.
The last substantial work on the barrier, a network of fences and concrete walls flanked by a military patrol road, was finished in 2007. The construction underway now largely involves moving parts of it off Palestinian land in response to a series of Israeli Supreme Court rulings that found that the barrier had in some cases isolated families and sealed off villages from farmland to a degree that security concerns did not warrant.
A portion of the barrier in the sparsely populated southern West Bank remains unfinished, and the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a recent memo that "for budgetary and other considerations" it did not plan to complete the barrier around Maale Adumim, a major Jewish settlement east of Jerusalem.
That will leave as much as 40 percent of the barrier's 420-mile planned route unfinished. Even with the substantial gaps, Israeli military officials and politicians credit the barrier - one of Israel's more controversial undertakings - with a decline in suicide and other bombings originating from the West Bank. Palestinians refer to the barrier as the "apartheid wall," saying that it is an effort to fence them off and that it effectively places as much as 10 percent of West Bank territory on the Israeli side without negotiations.
Though Israel says it can easily dismantle or move the barrier once a final border is established, U.N. officials who monitor the project say they are dubious. Even as construction on the wall itself has slowed, work on an array of related infrastructure - checkpoints, gates, special bypass roads - continues in what they regard as an effort to institutionalize the barrier as part of the landscape.
"We sincerely hope things will change," Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said at the debut Wednesday of a short U.N. documentary on the barrier, narrated by Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters.
The barrier was started in 2002 amid a violent Palestinian uprising, and its route was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice five years ago. Although it accepted Israel's right to defend itself, the court criticized the degree to which the barrier, rather than following the armistice line established after Israel's 1948 war of independence, meandered through the West Bank to encompass Jewish settlements while isolating Palestinian towns, separating farmers from their land and, in some cases, stranding Palestinians on the Israeli side of the wall.
Since 2007 the political dynamics around the barrier have shifted. That year, an Israeli government commission reviewing the military budget criticized the handling of the barrier's construction and its $2.5 billion cost. Much of the unfinished work involves "fingers" of the barrier around Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank, potentially controversial in a climate in which the Obama administration is trying to curb Israeli activity in the West Bank as a prelude to restarting peace talks.
8) Colombian Vote Bolsters Uribe's Chances to Seek Third Term
Juan Forero, Washington Post, Thursday, August 20, 2009 1:40 PM
Bogota, Colombia - President Álvaro Uribe, whose government has forged a close alliance with the United States to fight Marxist guerrillas and drug traffickers, stepped closer to extending his presidency when Colombia's Senate voted late Wednesday in favor of an effort to allow him to run for reelection.
Just a month ago, Colombia's influential newsmagazine, Semana, declared Uribe's chances of going for a third term "dead." Even some of the president's supporters had said there was not enough time before the May election for the country's highest court to approve a constitutional amendment permitting him to run for reelection and for authorities to convene a referendum that would ask Colombians whether they approved of a third term.
But Thursday, Uribe's supporters in Congress were buoyant after the Senate voted 56 to 2 to stage a referendum. The president's opponents, who say the reelection effort violates the constitution, boycotted the vote, though its leaders acknowledged not having the votes to stop the bill.
Uribe, elected in a landslide in 2002, was reelected after a constitutional amendment permitted his reelection in 2006. During his tenure, Colombia has driven rebel groups into isolated, rural regions. Uribe's government has received more than $5 billion in U.S. aid to reorganize a once hapless military and establish an ambitious drug-fumigation program.
But his administration has been mired in scandals that increasingly concern Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress. Some of Uribe's top aides are under investigation by the attorney general's office in a vast wire-tapping case, and the army has been implicated in the slayings of up to 1,600 civilians. Opponents of reelection have also accused Uribe's supporters of enticing prospective voters in Congress with lucrative business deals.
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