IN THE NEWS: NO ENDGAME IN AFGHANISTAN? (MAY 20, 2019)

Written by admin on Monday, May 20th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

No endgame in Afghanistan?
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Monday, May 20, 2019
By KAMRAN YOUSAF

The United States and the Afghan Taliban recently held another round of talks in Qatar as part of efforts to seek a peaceful end to the prolonged war in Afghanistan. After the weeklong huddle in Doha with Taliban negotiators, US special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad reported “steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war”.

He conceded that the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient “when so much conflict rages and innocent people die”. He noted: “We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

The current talks focused on two main issues — time frame for the withdrawal of US forces and firm guarantees by the Taliban that the Afghan soil will never be used again by any terrorist outfits such as al Qaeda.

The sticking point, however, is the Taliban’s refusal to agree on a ceasefire and hold direct talks with the Kabul administration. While the US insists no deal is possible without cessation of violence and intra-Afghan dialogue, insurgents are adamant that these issues would be dealt with once the foreign forces leave the country. Hence, the stalemate continues.

What has further undermined the prospects of any peace deal is a statement by Taliban Chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in which he asserted that the US is on the verge of defeat.

According to Voice of America (VoA), he made this claim in an April 28 speech to an “internal gathering” in Doha, Qatar, just two days before he led his team of insurgent negotiators into fresh talks with US interlocutors. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: TAX AMNESTY NO SOLUTION FOR PAKISTAN’S WOES (MAY 19, 2019)

Written by admin on Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Tax amnesty no solution for Pakistan’s woes
SOURCE: Asia Times
Sunday, May 19, 2019
By IMAD ZAFAR

In what can be seen as another U-turn by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government, it has introduced a tax amnesty and new tax-declaration scheme to bring black money into the legal economy. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who while sitting in opposition was always critical of tax amnesties, had opined that they were the root cause of economic disparity. Khan maintained that amnesty schemes were meant to benefit the elite, people who earned money through corruption and used these programs to turn black money into white.

What is more notable is that Khan did not bother to get this new tax program through via parliament, but instead through the cabinet, and President Arif Alvi passed the ordinance in a hurry to avoid opposition in the National Assembly.

This is not the first time a Pakistani government has passed this kind of tax-amnesty program; governments led by the Pakistan People Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also introduced similar programs. However, since Khan was a vocal critic of such schemes, it was expected that he would not take this route himself.

Khan’s adviser on finance, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, was asked how this tax program is different from similar schemes introduced in the past, and all he could reply was that this time the government was not blackmailing anyone and making it mandatory for the people benefiting from this program to start filing tax returns. If Sheikh has any knowledge of the history of the Pakistani economy, and one guesses that he probably does, he could have avoided giving such a lame answer, as all the tax amnesties introduced in the past had the same motive but did not prove beneficial for the economy, nor was the proportion of tax filers increased. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: HERE WE GO AGAIN (MAY 18, 2019)

Written by admin on Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Here we go again
SOURCE: Dawn
Saturday, May 18, 2019
By IRFAN HUSAIN

THE sanctions, the threats, the arms build-up, the shrill accusations and the allegations against Iran are all from a B-movie we have seen before.
They are all part of the march to war that preceded the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago. Thousands of lives and six trillion dollars later, the region and the world are in a far worse place.

But empires never learn from their mistakes. Before Iraq, there was the Vietnam quagmire that cost nearly 60,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.

What is in its DNA that has put the US on such a violent path?

In fact, in its 239 years as an independent country, the US has seen only 17 years of peace. The rest of the time has been spent on fighting major and minor wars around the world. From its string of wars against a defenceless indigenous population to heroic actions like the invasion of Panama, the US has used its overwhelming military muscle to impose its will on those too weak to defend themselves.

But every now and then, it has encountered foes that had the tenacity and the courage to give it a bloody nose. The North Vietnamese taught the Americans that there were limits to their power, a lesson reinforced by Iraqi militias.

And now, the hopelessly outgunned Afghan Taliban are forcing the Americans to eat humble pie in the grinding war of attrition that has been going on for 18 years in Afghanistan. The current negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans are an indication of the latter’s desperation to exit the arena.

Given this track record, why do people like John Bolton, the national security adviser to Trump, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, think they’ll do better against Iran? Granted that they are ideological hawks, and are itching to attack Iran at Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behest, but an armed conflict will be no walk in the park. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: HOW TOXIC IS THE ENVIRONMENT WE LIVE IN (MAY 17, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

How toxic is the environment we live in
SOURCE: Herald magazine (Dawn)
Friday, May 17, 2019 (Posted)
By NARMEEN HAMID and ALEESHA HAMID

We have all experienced heartache at some point in our lives. It is usually the romantic, melancholic variety that writers and poets wax lyrical about, but this has nothing in common with that sharp pain in the chest which can take one’s breath away and require a headlong dash to the nearest emergency. The doctor there does not see the cute emoji we attach to lovelorn texts but rather clogged blood vessels and dysfunctional muscular tissue. This reality check usually comes as a rude shock to us.

In much the same way, we may romanticise the air that surrounds us all we want – the cool breeze in the summer that carries the sweet scent of jasmine or the dreamy fog in the winters that makes one want to snuggle in bed with a hot cup of tea – but in reality few of us realise how pernicious that breeze or fog is or what havoc it is wreaking on our bodies.

The truth is that we are breathing in poison with every breath we take and it is taking a terrible toll on our health. Here is how: in the short-term, exposures of a few hours or a few days can contribute to ear, nose and throat irritation. The irritation usually disappears with the removal of the pollutants. Those living in Lahore are familiar with these symptoms when these appear along with our annual smog season.

The misperception is that when the smog clears the air quality improves.

Not really. The pollution level comes down and becomes invisible after the smog leaves but it still remains above danger levels. Such short-term exposure may also cause and aggravate lower-respiratory and chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma and bronchitis. In people with heart disease, it can lead to heart attacks, arrhythmias and even death. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PEACE TALKS SHOULD BE GIVE-AND-TAKE PROCESS (MAY 17, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Peace Talks Should be Give-and-Take Process
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Friday, May 17, 2019 (Posted)
Editorial

Afghan peace process has been highly controversial and unproductive. The first official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were held in July 2015, in Pakistan, in the presence of observers from the US and China but the second round was stalled following the confirmation of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death.

In the hope of resuming talks with the Taliban leadership, a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China, was formed, but the death of Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the US drone attack in Baluchistan triggered mistrust between Washington and Islamabad leading to QCG’s disintegration.

Although the Taliban and the Afghan government held second round of talks in late October 2016, it was also proved abortive.

However, the Taliban offered peace talks with the United States after the election of Donald Trump as the president. Before US response, diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and China attended a peace conference in Moscow to facilitate talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. On 23 October 2017, the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was willing to negotiate with the Taliban. A meeting between a senior US state department official and the Taliban representatives was reported in July 2018, but it could not be confirmed.

On 12 October 2018, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha, which continued up to now as the sixth round of talks was held recently. But the Taliban still refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE ANNOUNCES ‘PAKISTAN PROVINCE’ (MAY 16, 2019)

Written by admin on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Islamic State Announces ‘Pakistan Province’
SOURCE: Gandhara
Thursday, May 16, 2019

*IS claimed credit for last month’s suicide blast in a marketplace in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan that killed 20 people and left nearly 50 injured

The Islamic State (IS) group says it has established a “province” in Pakistan, days after the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region.

Both of the divisions formerly fell under the “Khorasan Province” or ISKP — the name the Middle East-based terrorist group uses for its regional operations launched in early 2015 from bases in the border region of Afghanistan — according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats.

The “Islamic State Pakistan Province,” in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer this week in Mastung, and it reported shooting at a gathering of militants linked to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban militant group in Quetta.

Both the districts are located in violence-hit province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Several separatist Baluch groups and sectarian organizations also are active in the province.

There was no immediate reaction available from the Pakistani government.

Islamabad maintains there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country. Pakistani military officials say an ongoing nationwide military-led “intelligence-based operation” is primarily aimed at denying space in Pakistan to extremists linked to any terrorist groups. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PAKISTAN – TRADE DEFICIT CONTRACTS 13% IN JUL-APR FY19 (MAY 16, 2019)

Written by admin on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Trade deficit contracts 13% in Jul-Apr FY19
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Thursday, May 16, 2019
By SALMAN SIDDIQUI

KARACHI: Pakistan’s trade deficit widened over 22% to $2.66 billion in April 2019 because of increase in imports, particularly the expensive petroleum products for running oil-fired power plants during the current summer season when demand rose sharply.

The trade deficit stood at $2.18 billion in the previous month of March, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) reported on Wednesday.

“Possibly oil imports have increased…oil prices have gone (significantly) up in the international market in recent weeks and months,” said Arif Habib Securities’ Head of Research Samiullah Tariq while talking to The Express Tribune.

Imports increased 14.39% to $4.75 billion in April compared to $4.16 billion in March, the PBS data showed. Exports improved 5.81% to $2.09 billion in April compared to $1.98 billion in the previous month.

The bureau is yet to report sector/category-wise breakdown of imports and exports, which will come later in the month.

Oil imports make up around one-fourth of the total import bill, which stood at $45.47 billion in first 10 months (Jul-Apr) of the current fiscal year 2018-19, Tariq estimated.

To recall, Pakistan placed an order for the import of furnace oil recently, after quite a long gap. The order was made in an attempt to resume power production from oil-based power plants in the summer season.

However, the country reduces reliance on oil-based plants in winter as they produce the most expensive electricity in the energy mix.

Accordingly, they are given least priority in the energy merit list. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: THE BALOCH VS. BEIJING (MAY 15, 2019)

Written by admin on Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

The Baloch vs. Beijing
SOURCE: Newsweek Pakistan
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

*MILITANCY IN PAKISTAN’S BALOCHISTAN PROVINCE TAKES AIM AT CHINESE INVESTMENT

A vast Chinese-funded infrastructure project in Pakistan has become a major trigger for separatist insurgents, galvanizing their movement as they employ new tactics—including suicide attacks—in an escalation that could rattle Beijing, observers say.

A deadly weekend attack by gunmen who stormed the luxury Pearl Continental hotel in Gwadar, a port on Pakistan’s southern coast, was the latest high-profile assault linked to the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

CPEC—part of China’s massive Belt and Road initiative—seeks to link its western province Xinjiang with Gwadar, giving Beijing valuable access to the Arabian Sea and conferring new roads, ports, and airports on Pakistan. Pakistani authorities routinely tout Gwadar, a former fishing village, as “the next Dubai.”

The problem is that Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province through which much of CPEC runs, is a Pandora’s Box of Islamist, sectarian, and separatist insurgencies.

Saturday’s attack was claimed by the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Chinese and Pakistani investors visiting the hotel, isolated high on a ridge overlooking the port, were the target, a spokesman for the BLA said. “We warn China to stop her exploitative projects in Balochistan and do not support Pakistan in the genocide of Baloch people, otherwise, we would respond with more attacks,” the English-language message to media read. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: AFGHAN TALIBAN CHIEF NEGOTIATOR: ‘US ON VERGE OF DEFEAT’ (MAY 15, 2019)

Written by admin on Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Afghan Taliban Chief Negotiator: ‘ US on Verge of Defeat’
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Wednesday, May 15,2019

ISLAMABAD – The Taliban’s chief negotiator says in newly released remarks that the United States is on the verge of defeat and will quit Afghanistan soon “either of their own accord, or they will be forced out.”

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai made the assertions in an April 28 speech to an “internal gathering” in Doha, Qatar, just two days before he led his team of insurgent negotiators into fresh talks with U.S.
interlocutors. Pro-Taliban social media outlets Friday released video of Stanekzai’s speech, one day after the U.S. special reconciliation envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team wrapped up the week-long negotiations with
Taliban representatives in the Qatari capital.

In the speech, Stanekzai praised what he called the bravery of the Afghan nation for defeating past British and Soviet invasions of their country and resisting the current foreign military presence, referring to the U.S.-led coalition, which is training and advising pro-government forces in battles against the Taliban.

“God has helped us defeat three super powers in the last century. The third super power that we are currently confronted with is also on the verge of defeat, inshallah (God willing). You will soon hear they also will withdraw (from Afghanistan) either of their own accord or they will be forced out,” Stanekzai told the gathering.

Former US defense chief warning

On Saturday, former U.S. Defense Chief Robert Gates said there is a “real risk” that if American troops withdraw from Afghanistan before the Afghan government is stable, the Taliban might retake control of the country. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: CHINA’S MILITARY BASE IN TAJIKISTAN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN? (MAY 14, 2019)

Written by admin on Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

China’s Military Base in Tajikistan: What Does it Mean?
SOURCE: Central Asia and Caucasus Analyst
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 (Posted)
By STEPHEN BLANK

The Washington Post recently reported that China has an operating military base in Tajikistan, confirming earlier accounts of this base and opening a window on China’s interests and strategic developments across Central Asia. However, China may have a second base situated in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan. Chinese forces have been present there since 2017, around the same time that the base in Tajikistan became functional. The newly discovered base, along with the base in Djibouti and the possible base in Afghanistan, reflects the pressures building from within the PRC and PLA to project military power beyond China’s borders, e.g. in the South China Sea.

BACKGROUND: Located 12-14 kilometers from the Tajik-Afghan border and 30 kilometers from the Tajik-China border in Gorno-Badakhshan province, the Chinese base overlooks a crucial entry point from China into Central Asia. It is also close to the vital Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, which is a key way station for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Satellite reconnaissance shows the presence of heliports and the base’s suitability for an approximately battalion-sized force supported by armored vehicles, in other words, light infantry. These facts, in and of themselves, highlight the nexus between the BRI program and its strategic political implications along with its more obvious economic objectives.

Chinese military cooperation with Afghanistan and Central Asia dates back to 2016 and the base in Tajikistan as well as the likely second base in Afghanistan proper probably originate in 2016-17 if not earlier. Indeed, in 2016 China formed the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism with Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as a vehicle for intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism and in fact, the Pentagon predicts a Chinese base also in Pakistan. Evidently, the QCCM had other, less overt, objectives from Beijing’s standpoint. Neither is this the first sign of China’s ability to encroach on Tajikistan’s sovereignty as earlier “territorial rectifications” occurred because Tajikistan essentially could not pay its debts. (more…)