Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turkey seeks tie-up with Iraq

Turkey and Iraq held the first ministerial meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC) in Istanbul on September 17-18. To give substance to the HLSCC, eight Turkish and 10 Iraqi ministers with responsibility for various portfolios gathered at a joint cabinet meeting. The ministers then held face-to-face meetings with their counterparts to elaborate joint projects in their respective fields. 

The parties agreed to sign agreements or memorandums of understanding in over 40 areas. The detailed technical work on these projects will continue before final approval at the Turkish-Iraqi inter-governmental meeting during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Baghdad in October. 

The Turkish and Iraqi delegations agreed to cooperate on a widerange of issues, ranging from environmental cooperation to energy partnership. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said he agreed with his Iraqi counterparts to "develop joint projects for the production and transportation of natural gas and oil". The two delegations discussed the renewal of the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline carrying Iraqi crude oil to world markets through Turkish territory. Yildiz referred to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's remarks during the Nabucco signing ceremony in July that Iraq could export up to 15 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe through the Nabucco pipeline. He said that they will continue their bilateral talks on signing a memorandum of understanding on this issue. 

One of the most remarkable decisions was to create a free-trade area and form a joint commission to streamline mutual investments. This idea reflects the political weight that Ankara attaches to the HLSCC initiative: aimed at integrating both economies. Turkey also has initiated a similar HLSCC process with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Syria and expects this form of partnership to include other countries in the region. Ankara also plans to organize a Turkish-Arab forum. 

Given Turkey's experience of a free-market economy, it could spearhead the integration of the regional countries into the global economy. In return, the region might serve as a future destination for Turkey's growing exports and investments, while Turkey could also attract capital from the region, especially the Persian Gulf, to stimulate its economic development. 

The Turkish government increasingly views such bilateral partnerships as the nucleus of a regional cooperation scheme, which might evolve into an organization similar to the European Union. The Turkish press has started to discuss the prospect that the current idea of "full economic cooperation" might produce a common market, which could eventually lead to political integration. The idea is to use economic interdependence as a peace building project to ensure the stability of the region. Obviously, the prospects for such an ambitious vision, among others, depend on the elimination of political differences and conflicts of interest among the regional countries. 

The need to reduce political tension brings to the fore another area of cooperation agreed at the HLSCC: combating terrorism. Ankara has been fostering closer relations with Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq, to tackle the threat posed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is using northern Iraq as a safe haven to carry out its terrorist campaign inside Turkey. The tacit support of the Northern Iraqi Kurdish authorities for the PKK and the inability of the Baghdad regime to end the PKK's presence in the region has long strained Turkish-Iraqi relations and has provoked occasional Turkish cross-border operations. 

Ankara's engagement policy has partly paid off, as the Iraqi authorities have taken steps toward reducing the activities of the PKK inside their country. Moreover, a trilateral Turkish-Iraqi-American security mechanism has been established to coordinate the fight against the PKK. Speaking at the end of the HLSCC, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyar Zebari reiterated Baghdad's support for Turkey's fight against the PKK, arguing that "no armed entity can operate on our territory under the Iraqi constitution". 

Nonetheless, the intensification of PKK terrorism inside Turkey in recent weeks has raised questions about the effectiveness of Turkey's campaign against the PKK despite the improvement of diplomatic relations. A spokesperson for Turkey's Chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug announced that the Turkish army conveyed a request to the government to extend its mandate to conduct cross-border operations in northern Iraq for another year. The current mandate, originally granted in October 2007, will expire on October 17, and the renewal of the authorization will require parliamentary approval. 

Although representatives of the opposition parties declared that they would support the renewal bill, the government has yet to clarify its position on the issue. The discussions on the cross-border military authorization bill may further test the government's efforts to solve the Kurdish issue through closer diplomatic ties with Iraq and enhancing democracy at home. 

The conclusions of the HLSCC meeting signifies a major step toward the implementation of Turkey's new policy of boosting closer political and economic integration with its Middle Eastern neighbors, through the creation of new inter-governmental institutions. The road to this goal will be long and full of political obstacles, such as the ones raised by the issue of terrorism. Moreover, at a more fundamental level, this new process highlights Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's efforts to fulfill his grand vision for his country. 

As he has advanced in his academic work, Davutoglu assigns Turkey with the mission of reviving the once glorious Islamic and Turkish civilization. His remarks at the HLSCC echo his geo-cultural vision, which was already formed in his seminal book, Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic Depth). 

Davutoglu described the meeting as a historical turning point for bilateral relations and the region, adding that the projects created at the gathering "will link Basra [southern Iraqi province] to Edirne [western Turkish province]. The fate of Baghdad and Istanbul will be joined ... If the Turkish-Iraqi process expands [to other countries], the Middle East will no longer be mired in crises and conflicts, but it will be transformed into a common economic area, with a common political dialogue and security mechanism ... An area that will be able to revive that great civilization"

Obama Crafts New Plans For Iraq, Afghanistan

On his busy first day in office, President Barack Obama ordered military commanders, Joint Chiefs, national security advisers and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to launch a comprehensive review of Iraq policy.

Thirty-eight days later, Obama had his new Iraq plan, and he chose to unveil the strategy at Camp Lejeune, N.C., before a rapt audience of Marines. The plan centered on three goals: a responsible combat troop pullout, sustained diplomacy and comprehensive "engagement" in the Mideast.

"Let me say this as plainly as I can," Obama told the assembled Marines, "by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

Obama entered the Oval Office with a mountain of challenges to tackle, including the meltdown of the U.S. economy. But also at the top of his agenda was setting a new plan for U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his Feb. 27 speech, Obama said that the United States would pare its 142,000 combat troops to a transitional force of 35,000 to 50,000 by August 2010. Those residual forces would have three jobs, he said: train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces, conduct counter-terrorism missions and protect ongoing civilian and military initiatives.

All U.S. forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2011, Obama said.

"As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq," Obama said.

The plan marked one notable shift in his position from his campaign -- an extended timetable of 19 months for withdrawal, instead of 16.

After the Lejeune speech, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates promptly outlined their support for the plan.

Mullen, who in July had said setting timetables was dangerous, said after Obama's speech that he was comfortable with the president's strategy. Mullen explained on March 1 on "Fox News Sunday" that the conditions had improved "fairly dramatically," thanks in part to the surge, and were now right for Iraqi leaders to successfully take control of the country.

Gates told NBC's "Meet the Press" on March 1 that it was "fairly remote" that changing conditions in Iraq would alter Obama's plan, although he noted that Obama has the authority to change the strategy if U.S. security is endangered.

After August 2010, troops would be consolidated in a smaller number of bases for their protection, Gates said. The risk to troops there has gradually declined, Gates said.

Obama acknowledged that Iraq was not yet secure and that there would be "difficult periods and tactical adjustments" as the U.S. withdraws.

That put it mildly, said critics of the plan, many of whom predict a dramatic increase in violence as August 2010 approaches.

Obama should have given himself more flexibility, said Meghan O'Sullivan, a Harvard lecturer and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

"What is more important -- adherence to the 18-month timetable or safeguarding Iraqi and regional stability?" O'Sullivan said in the Washington Post.

Other critics noted that political stability has not increased as security in Iraq has improved. Disputes inside Iraq remain on fundamental issues, including whether the nation's constitution is supreme law and how Iraq's regions should share in the country's rich resources, critics say.

"The United States will not be able to leave behind a stable and functioning Iraq until these disputes are resolved," Qubad J. Talabani, representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States, told the Post.

Obama Puts Renewed Attention On Afghanistan

Obama's strategy in Iraq is tied to his plan for Afghanistan, where the president said he would send an additional 17,000 troops this spring and summer, a hefty boost to the 36,000 already there. Even more could be committed after further review, the White House said.

Al-Qaida is supporting a resurgent Taliban and threatens America from its posts along the Pakistani border, Obama said. The troops are needed to "stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," the president said in announcing the decision Feb. 17.

Obama added that the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved by troops alone, stressing his plans for more diplomacy and development there.

The administration has said it plans to press U.S. allies in NATO to commit more troops. Obama also aims to invest more in Afghanistan�s economic development.

White House officials also have said they plan to demand the Afghan government do more to improve security in the country, including weeding out corruption and squelching the thriving illicit opium trade.

Some experts say challenges in Afghanistan are even thornier than those in Iraq.

Critics argue that troop increases could be counterproductive in Afghanistan, given resentment there for U.S. forces. Critics also have argued that Obama is escalating spending and stretching troops thin for a war with an undefined mission.

After seven years, the U.S. has not broken al-Qaida or the Taliban, has not found Osama bin Laden, and the Afghan government is still "woefully corrupt and ineffective," argued New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

"Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down," he wrote.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., on March 3 said he was uneasy with Obama's plan to raise troop levels before a goal was defined. He estimated it would take 600,000 troops to quell violence there.

Obama's plan amounts to a troop shuffling from Iraq to Afghanistan that won't work, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University international relations professor, said in the Washington Post. The U.S. has achieved modest and tenuous gains in Iraq, he noted.

"To imagine that simply trying harder in Afghanistan and Pakistan will produce a happier outcome is surely a fantasy," he said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

U.S. prosecutors vie for Sept. 11 plotter trials

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in New York, Washington and Virginia are vying to try the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks if their cases are moved into U.S. civilian courts, the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo war crimes court said.
File photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (2nd L) and Waleed Bin Attash (L) sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 19, 2009. (REUTERS/Janet Hamlin)

The Obama administration said last week it would decide by Nov. 16 whether to try Guantanamo prisoners in a revised version of the much-maligned military tribunals or in regular civilian courts.

Case files for self-described 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged al Qaeda co-conspirators are already under review by U.S. attorneys in four federal court districts, the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo court, Navy Captain John Murphy, told journalists at the base late on Sunday.

Those are Washington, the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, and the Eastern District of Virginia, he said.

"They are working with us in a joint review of these cases and it is our collaboration that will ultimately make its way in written reports that go up to the attorney general and the secretary of defense to make a decision," Murphy said.

The Obama administration has ordered the Guantanamo detention camp shut down by Jan. 22 and is still debating what to do with the 226 captives it holds. Murphy said he still hopes to try 65 of them in military tribunals.

Some of those have already been indicted in U.S. federal courts, though Murphy would not say how many.

President Barack Obama has said he considers military commissions to be an appropriate forum for terrorism trials of Guantanamo captives but would prefer to try them in the federal courts if feasible.

Many congressional representatives, Republicans and Democrats alike, have tried to block efforts to move any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, where they would enjoy U.S. constitutional rights.


The federal court districts in question are near the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and holding the accused plotters' trials near the sites of the hijacked plane attacks would draw from a pool of jurors close to the conflagration.

The five defendants are accused of 2,973 counts of murder and could be executed if convicted.

Moving the cases into the federal courts, where the rules are well established, would remove one major criticism of the ever-changing Guantanamo tribunals, which have undergone several revisions since U.S. President George W. Bush first authorized them shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Obama has asked Congress for additional changes to the 2006 law underpinning the current set of rules, including banning the use of evidence obtained through coercion and making it more difficult to use hearsay evidence.

The changes were approved in the Senate but are still pending in the House of Representatives, which has given no indication when or if it will take up the matter.

"We all understand that ultimately whether we can proceed with a case or not will be dependent on what the legislation looks like in the end," Murphy said.

If the tribunals survive, they could be held at other locations once Guantanamo is closed, Murphy said, adding that no location had been decided upon.

Over the objections of military defense lawyers, pretrial hearings were scheduled at Guantanamo this week in the Sept. 11 case and in the case of a Saudi prisoner accused of plotting boat-bomb attacks on ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Obama asked last week for a 60-day freeze on the proceedings, until his administration decides where the trials will take place. The judges scheduled hearings to consider that request and to address the Sept. 11 defendants' request to fire all their lawyers.

"President Obama's words apparently don't amount to a hill of beans in (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates' Guantanamo," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is working with civilian defense lawyers.

"What part of 'Halt' does the Department of Defense not understand?"

The military defense lawyers contend the hearing is designed to give the defendants another chance to boast of their guilt as they have in previous hearings, providing more non-coerced confessions for use against them at trial.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Musharraf backtracks, denies diverting US aid

Facing flak in Pakistan, former president Pervez Musharraf today backtracked from his statement that the US military aid meant for the war on terror was diverted to bolster defences against India.

In a statement issued in Philadelphia, Musharraf, currently on a lecture tour of the US, said Pakistan "never violated any agreement or mis-utilised US funds."

"As far as the equipment issued to a military unit is concerned, the equipment moves wherever the unit is deployed," he said.

"The US at the time was aware of what we were doing," he was quoted as saying by Dawn News.

His U-turn came three days after he admitted in a TV interview that the military aid provided by the US to Pakistan for the war against terror during his tenure had been used to strengthen defences against India. He had also said he "did not care" whether the US would be angered by his disclosure.

"No question was asked regarding US funds for fighting the militants in this interview or at any other time," Musharraf said in the statement. "I have never said Pakistan violated any agreement."

The US State Department had said it took "very seriously" Musharraf's admission, but refrained from stating whether it would investigate the matter.

Washington has given a whopping over USD 7 billion in aid to Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks in America to fight terrorism.

Musharraf's retraction came on a day when Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi accused him of doing disservice to the nation by making remarks on the aid issue.

"If he (Musharraf) has said what has been printed in newspapers, then he has not done any service to Pakistan. If he has said this, he has not strengthened Pakistan's case," Qureshi told reporters in his hometown of Multan.

After Musharraf's disclosure, India had said his statement did not come as a surprise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The perpetual grief over 9/11

THE anniversary of the infamous tragedy of Sept.11, 2001 and its subsequent ramifications induce, throughout the world, deep feelings of sorrow.

9/11 should never have taken place. Regardless of the situation, targeting civilians is unconditionally reviled. No matter where we stand on war, and how do we wish to rationalize and define extremism, and even terror, we must pause to remember those who died on that day, and the many, many more who died in the months and years that followed. Sadly, we must even pause today for those who will die tomorrow, in order to avenge the victims of the Twin Towers.

9/11 was a tragedy that should have been studied within the parameters of US foreign policies Muslim countries, in the Middle East in particular. If we do not wish to venture that far, then an honest look at the period that followed the first Gulf War of 1990-91, and the tragic sanctions that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is certainly warranted.

Anger, when it becomes protracted and multifaceted, is at risk of inspiring extremism and justifying terror. But there are other facets to be examined when political violence is to be scrutinized. 9/11 cannot be divorced from surrounding events, preceding tragedies or subsequent ones. By doing so, one undermines the seriousness of the tragedy.

And while one simply cannot pardon blind hate or terror, how can one honestly argue that the millions who perished in Iraq, prior to or following 9/11 ought not to be remembered on that day as well?

Does their fate have any link at all to the tragedy? And what about the many thousands who died in Afghanistan, including the 90 people who were burned alive when NATO forces bombed two fuel tankers in the northern part of the country a few days ago? Do they not deserve commemoration as well? Are not their destinies somehow intimately intertwined? This cannot be denied.

Yet, such a view is overshadowed by another which in some ways reflects man’s most basic primal instincts and the lust for sheer revenge. Examining the Bush legacy — which, if anything, gave life and credence to the idea that violence is a justified political ways of achieving set goals and even economic interests — one comes face to face with the ultimate antitheses of such a notion.

But with the help and expertise of media czars, especially the likes of Fox News, such primeval ways of thinking were embraced with ease. “Shock and Awe” was much more sophisticated than 9/11; it was accompanied by a voice over, and eloquent commentators who kindly explained exactly what we were seeing on the screen, but the idea was still the same. Innocents died so horribly that political scores would be settled and gains could be exacted.

But Barack Obama is not George W. Bush, we are told. The new president has promised to fix what his predecessor destroyed, and Muslims — and the world as well — are still waiting to see.

When the US president spoke in Cairo, on June 4, he said: “So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.” 

Obama spoke and Muslims listened. They clapped and cheered when he greeted the Cairo crowd with “Assalamu alaikum.” Sadly, they were desperate for validation, for hope, that perhaps in the recognition of these common aspirations of which he spoke, perhaps there would be some softening of the US iron fist that is slowly strangling Muslims in so many parts of the world.

And although Obama went to great lengths to express a common humanity, his forces continue to ravage Muslims without pause: news from Afghanistan is ever grim. Iraq’s calamities are also continuing. His statements on Palestine are lukewarm and faithfully precluded with a solemn pledge of America’s undying allegiance to the Jewish state. Keeping these things in mind, it is at times difficult to have full trust in the sincerity of the president’s proclamations.

MUSLIMS, like the rest of humanity, remember 9/11 with a somber pause. They remember the day’s victims, all of them, and they wonder if the death count will end any time soon.

The lessons of that day are still buried beneath our anger, frustration, and prejudice.

The tragedy of 9/11 and the previous and subsequent tragedies are too serious, too terrible to give up hope so quickly that common sense will prevail, that horrible scenes will be replaced by better ones, that dialogue will replace hostility, and that Obama will meet even the minimum expectations of the Muslim world.

9/11 should not be a political episode to underscore the reason of why the fight in various Muslim countries should continue; nor should it be an opportunity to rejoice at the death of “infidels.”

We should collectively abhor the rationalization of violence on the basis of vengeance, and consider what it might take to relieve those afflicted with a sense of hostility: Could it perhaps be that our common aspirations to peace and freedom are somehow out of reach? Could it be possible that we just might be culpable for the denial of those simple aspirations to peace and freedom?

We must embrace again the anguish of what happened on 9/11, ever aware that the body count grows even today. And although the wreckage of that horrible day was cleared away years ago, the lessons of that day are still buried beneath our anger, frustration, and prejudice.

To unearth these lessons, we must widen our horizons, from New York to Baghdad, from Kabul to Gaza, cities that are in some way worlds apart, but in other ways much closer than we may innocently suspect.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Terror toll in Maharashtra was more than J&K in 2008

The restive state of Jammu and Kashmir is the first name that usually comes to mind when one thinks ofterrorism in the country. Thusit may come as surprise to many that in 2008 the number of victims of terror in Mumbai was just two less than in Kashmir.

The single terror strike of 26/11 on Mumbai resulted in the deaths of 164 people. In contrast there were 708 terrorist attacks in J&K during 2008 in which 166 people were killed. Thus at the end of the year the total number of terrorists' victims in J&K was only two more than in Mumbai.

And if the death toll of seven from the September 29, 2008 Malegaon bomb blast is added to number of persons killed during 26/11 attack in Mumbai then it emerges that in 2008 more people died at the hands of terrorists in Maharashtra than in insurgency-hit J&K.

The number of people falling victim to terrorists' bullets in J&K has been steadily declining over the past few years. The toll came down from 540 in 2006 to 268 in 2007 and finally 166 last year.

During the same period Maharashtra had a bad year in 2006 when 187 people were killed in Mumbai suburban train bombings and 37 people died of explosions at Malegaon. It was followed by a lull in 2007 when no major attacks took place and terror shifted to other places such as Hyderabad, Ajmer, Ludhiana and Varanasi. The quiet was shattered at the fag end of 2008 when the three day terror siege of Mumbai left 164 dead.

In fact J&K now is not as severely hit by terrorism as many other parts of India. It stands a distant third on the list in terms of lives lost to terror in 2008. It was the Naxal-affected states that suffered most -- where 721 civilians and security men were killed. The Northeast came second with 512 deaths. In both these regions the number of terrorist attacks has only been going up every year since 2006, whereas they are on the decline in J&K.
Mumbai and Terror

Mumbai's vulnerability to terror can be understood from the fact that since 1993 it has witnessed bomb blasts at 22 locations. These explosions killed 333 people and injured more that one thousand. Moreover, it is the only megapolis in the world to have been serial bombed twice -- once in 1993 and then again in 2006.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Terror challenge more grave after 26/11: Chidambaram

NEW DELHI: After Mumbai attacks, Pakistan-based groups like Lashker-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed persist in their attempts to launch terror attacks in India posing "grave" challenge, home minister P Chidambaram warned on
Monday. ( Watch Video )

"Terrorist groups including LeT and JeM persist in their endeavour to launch terror attacks. They continue to innovate new ways and means of deniability. They find support among disgruntled elements within India," Chidambaram said.

Inaugurating a three-day long conference of Directors General and Inspectors General of police organised by Intelligence Bureau, Chidambaram cross border terrorism "is a matter of deep concern" and policing in India was always a challenge and after "26/11, the challenge has become more grave."

"Let me state our position clearly. On terrorism, our stance is zero tolerance. We shall raise our level of preparedness to fight any terror threat attack and, in the case of threat or attack, our response will be swift and decisive," the home minister said.

He said the security agencies have neutralised 13 terror modules in the first six months of this year.

Describing 26/11 attacks as a "game-changer", he said "We meet under circumstances that pose formidable challenges to the security of the nation. The attacks in Mumbai on November 26, last year were a game changer. We can no longer afford to business as usual," he said.

The home minister said the country's security faces many threats from sources like -- terrorism, Left Wing Extremism and insurgency -- in certain states.

On Left-Wing extremism, Chidambaram said it was purporting to be a radical form of communism. "Today, various groups adhering to this outdated ideology have their pockets of influence in 20 states," he said, adding the banned CPI (Maoist) remaining the most potent of the Naxal groups with a presence in 17 states and a 90% share in Naxal violence.

In a bid to expand its network and influence, the Maoists have been seeking alliances with secessionist and terrorist elements in the country, the Home Minister said.

"It has been keenly seeking ideological resonance and tactical understanding with the Northeast insurgents and has begun to lend support to their secessionist ideology and demands," he said

Obama 'powerless' to stop wars - Bin Laden

AL-QAEDA leader Osama Bin Laden warned President Barack Obama that he is "powerless" to halt the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and must rethink his policy on Israel, in his first message for three months.

The message, which accused "neo-conservatives" of maintaining a grip on the White House, was released Sunday, two days after the United States marked the eighth anniversary of Al-Qaeda's September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. 

Titled "Message to the American People,'' the video -- released by the As-Sahab media branch of al-Qaeda -- features a still image of Bin Laden and an audio statement, said the IntelCenter US monitoring group. 

Bin Laden said that among "some other injustices," US support to Israel motivated al-Qaeda to launch the September 11 attacks, IntelCenter reported. 

He also stated that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were driven by the pro-Israeli lobby in the White House and corporate interests, and not by Islamic militants. 

"If you think about your situation well, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups," he said. 

"Rather than fighting to liberate Iraq -- as Bush claimed -- it (the White House) should have been liberated.'' 

Bin Laden harangued Mr Obama for keeping appointees of Republican President George W. Bush such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Robert Petraeus as head of US Central Command running the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"Reasonable people knew that Obama is a powerless man who will not be able to end the war as he promised, but rather, will continue it to the highest point possible," said the al-Qaeda chief. 

"The bitter truth is that the neo-conservatives continue to cast their heavy shadows upon you." 

Bin Laden urged Americans to pressure the White House to end the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and US support to Israel, rather than succumb to what he called "the ideological terrorism" exercised by neo-conservatives. 

If the wars are not ended "all we will do is to continue the war of attrition against you on all possible axes, like we exhausted the Soviet Union for 10 years until it collapsed with grace from Allah the Almighty and became a memory of the past," Bin Laden said. 

If Americans want to end their confrontation with al-Qaeda they must reconsider their attitude towards Israel, Bin Laden said. "Put the file of your alliance with Israelis on the discussion table," he stated. 

"Ask yourselves to determine your position: is your security, your blood, your children, your money, your jobs, your homes, your economy, and your reputation dearer to you than the security of the Israelis, their children and their economy? 

"If you choose your security and cessation of war, and this is what the polls have shown, this requires you to work to punish those on your side who play with our security," Bin Laden said. 

"We are ready to respond to this choice on aforementioned sound and just bases."

Bin Laden typically releases such a statement annually around September or October. 

The last audiotape by the al-Qaeda leader was released on June 3. In that missive he scorned Mr Obama's overture to the Islamic world and warned of decades of conflict ahead. 

That audiotape aired on the al-Jazeera satellite news channel less than an hour after Mr Obama landed in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's home country, at the start of a Middle East tour.

Bin Laden has a 50-million-dollar bounty on his head and has been in hiding for the past eight years. 

Intelligence officials, military analysts and other experts have long believed he is hiding along the remote mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

In March, an audio attributed to Bin Laden accused some Arab leaders of being "complicit" with Israel and the West against Muslims and urged holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories. 

The same month, he urged the overthrow of the Somali president.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An Afghan headache

WASHINGTON wants closure, but election fallout continues.

REALPOLITIK suggests that the sooner a functioning government can be established in Kabul the better. But after weeks of revelations about widespread fraud in the August 20 election, the prospect of moving on quickly in Afghanistan remains elusive. At the weekend, opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah urged supporters not to take to the streets in protest, but insisted he would not be part of a national unity government with President Hamid Karzai - the solution being pressed by the international community.

With about 90 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Karzai has more than 54per cent support but the stories of bribery and ballot-box interference have destroyed confidence in the outcome. Monitors suggest up to 23per cent of votes counted so far could be fraudulent, according to a report in The Sunday Times. 

It's a mess, but the problem is what happens next as governments involved in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force face falling domestic support for involvement in Afghanistan. It is a particular headache for the US, which favoured Mr Karzai in the first presidential election in 2004. With Americans increasingly unhappy about their troops in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama needs the electoral debacle to go away before it undermines his military strategy. 

The problem is that while there seems little alternative to a continued international presence in the region, support is also dropping in Britain and Europe. David Kilcullen, the Australian counter-terrorism expert, says the international community must be prepared for the long haul against a Taliban strategy to "basically wait us out until we get tired and go home". 

Under General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of the ISAF, the focus is on turning a counter-terrorist operation into a bigger nation-building exercise - one that could take a decade to achieve. As part of this, he is expected to ask Mr Obama soon to commit extra troops to the 60,000 Americans already on the ground. All this at a time when support for the war in Afghanistan has plummeted among the American public and media commentators, and when Mr Obama's own popularity is being tested by his health plan. 

A nation-building strategy in Afghanistan makes sense, but it needs the support of the people to work and such trust will be harder to establish if electoral fraud is ignored or minimised. The assumptions that Mr Karzai would be re-elected because he was favoured by the West misread the changes in the electorate in recent years. As William Maley of the Australian National University wrote in this paper recently: "Afghanistan's problem is not that ordinary Afghans do not understand democracy. It is that some in the political elite do not like it". 

In April, Australia reaffirmed its commitment to securing a stable Afghanistan by increasing our forces there, although there is little interest in any further commitment. We share with our 41 partners in the ISAF the goal of denying Islamist extremists and terrorists a safe haven and a breeding ground in that country. But this will not be achieved through a military strategy alone. It must involve civilian development, including building state institutions and addressing corruption. 

Last month's election was seen as an important step in developing that civic society. It will be hard to resolve this crisis, but a credible government in Kabul is an essential prerequisite for achieving a stable Afghanistan.

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