The British and Pakistani Armies: Sharing Both a Personal and Institutional Future

The long relationship between the British and Pakistani armies is transforming, from one based mostly on pomp, ceremony and personal friendships, to one based on shared strategic interests.

The Pakistan Army can sometimes be more British than the British Army, at least when it comes to pomp and ceremony. Its cavalry officers have the best horses, and they play in the top polo competitions in Argentina and England; many of their sons go to Britain’s top boarding schools; and they even fashion their moustaches in the same manner as Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener.

According to Carey Schofield in her book Inside the Pakistan Army, after independence in 1947 the Pakistan Army inherited the majority of the British Indian Army regiments that were facing the threat on the Afghanistan ‘frontier’. As a result, it initially had British officers mentoring in the military academies and staff colleges.

Now the relationship has come full circle with a Pakistan Army major, Uqbah Malik, becoming the first instructor from a Muslim country to teach British cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He has also trained the Jordanian crown prince, Emirati princes and Afghan cadets. Malik’s role reflects a British bid to learn from the Pakistan Army’s operational and doctrinal training of military forces in the Middle East. Under Malik, British cadets have trained with their Pakistani counterparts in Pakistan, a historical first observed first-hand by the author, and now British NCOs are on their way to becoming part of Pakistan’s military academy at Kakul. There is also talk of a British Major heading to become an instructor in Pakistan, and at present there is a Pakistani colonel at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, where he is a member of the Directing Staff and has his own syndicate group.

Since the US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan it has been no secret that the West – and, in particular, the Americans – have seen the Pakistan Army, and especially its intelligence services, as the biggest external obstacle to the destruction of the Taliban.

Whenever the relationship with the US has soured, particularly after a US military helicopter strike killed at least 24 Pakistani troops in 2011, British
senior officers have been brought in to keep the Pakistani military on-side. It has even been argued by the Americans and Afghans that the British military has been too soft on the Pakistanis and cared more about Pakistani concerns than those of the Afghans.

The former British envoy to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard CowperColes, wrote in his book, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign, that two British defence chiefs, Field Marshal Charles Guthrie and General Lord Richards formed close friendships with the Pakistani top brass. Ahmed Rashid, in his book, Descent into Chaos: The World’s Most Unstable Region and the Threat to Global Security, also said that Richards was too close to the Pakistani military’s viewpoint. According to former US Vice President Dick Cheney, Guthrie’s friendship with General Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler of Pakistan, helped the Americans to forge a close relationship with the Pakistanis in their efforts to hunt down and capture the majority of AlQa’ida’s leadership.

More recently, Chief of the General Staff Sir Nicholas Carter has described Pakistan’s former Chief of Army General Raheel Sharif, as ‘a great adviser and mentor’. This month, Carter became the first British Army chief to be the main guest to attend a Pakistan Army cadets’ passing out parade, an honour reserved normally only for Saudi and other Arab royal families. In the past year alone, Carter has been to Pakistan three times, more times than he has been to any other non-NATO member.

It was these personal British friendships that have kept Pakistan from completely falling out with the US and NATO. Now the British army wants to capitalise on this relationship as it bids to evolve into a smaller, but smarter, force. History and pomp and ceremony aside, the UK–Pakistan relationship is becoming more strategic, to the extent that the two armies could even fight together against a common enemy. Carter, along with Commander Field Army Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders, have put Pakistan at the forefront of their defence engagement policy. They are keen to learn from the Pakistan Army’s reported success in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which Sanders praised, going so far as to say that what the Pakistan Army had achieved in Waziristan and the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas ‘has not been achieved for 150 years’. One of the cornerstones of this success was how the army leadership used the militants’ own narrative against them: enforcing regulations on hate speech; scrutinizing more closely the curriculums in religious schools; prohibiting media coverage of terrorist organisations; and, crucially, declaring that only the Pakistani state – as a Muslim state – could declare jihad – non-state actors such as the Taliban or Daesh did not have the authority to do so. The British army, which has been operating in Muslim countries such as

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Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, is engaging the Pakistanis on ‘lessons learned’. So the question for the British is how they can use the religion card to fight militants who justify their war against the UK based on theology.
The UK is also keen to leverage Pakistan’s historically close ties to the Gulf. In his book, Churchill’s Empire, Richard Toye claims that Winston Churchill wanted the new state of
Pakistan to replace the old British Indian Army as the guardian of the Gulf, and in 1956 Pakistan were close to taking part in the Suez Crisis on behalf of the British. At the time, the Egyptians under President Gamal Abdel Nasser saw Pakistan as a Western and British lackey. This year, Pakistan’s continuing close ties to the Gulf were made clear
when General Raheel Sharif became the head of a newly formed military alliance of mostly Sunni Islamic states led by Saudi Arabia, known as the ‘Muslim NATO’. Indeed, Pakistan continues to be a key provider of security to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, both of which are vital for the UK’s own security: intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia is key to stopping terror plots in the UK, while Bahrain now serves as a permanent base for British forces in the Persian Gulf. Pakistan and the UK have already worked together
in the Gulf, particularly on counterpiracy operations in the Horn of Africa and Persian Gulf.

Britain, under its own new East of Suez policy, can in the long-term benefit from cooperation with the Pakistani Army. The trust between the two armies built during the Afghan war is set to pay dividends both in the Middle East and at the prestigious academies in the UK.
The author knows that the 32 Engineer Regiment of the British Army is partnering in counter-IED capability with the Pakistan Army Engineers, and the British Army’s 77th
Brigade are conducting intellectual level engagements on perception management of the enemy, the cultural side of the war and media strategy. The two armies hold an annual counterinsurgency conference, focusing not just on combat, but also diplomacy and refugee management. The author is aware that the British Army is also sending officers to the Centre for International Peace and Security – which prepares officers to deploy in conflict zones – at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad
to learn from Pakistan’s experiences in peacekeeping.
Britain is also using the Pakistan Army to help with the recruitment of more British Muslims – the majority of whom are of Pakistani origin – into the UK armed forces. British Muslims have reportedly been reluctant to join the armed forces partly because they believe that the UK is waging a war against Islam. By saying that the British and Pakistani armies are fighting against terrorists and not Islam, the army is attempting a new approach, and the author has seen first-hand that Pakistani military officers are regular guests at recruitment events to help to explain this. The British Army has invited Pakistan Army officers to address key community leaders in cities such as Manchester
and Birmingham to help not just with recruitment but also to explain what it is doing in regional conflicts.
The British and Pakistani armed forces appear now to be on the same page, from training each other’s officers and soldiers, to countering violent extremism in their communities and showing a united front, whether on the Afghan border or in the Gulf. The message being given is that the two militaries are fighting the same enemy, whether it be on the Pakistani–Afghan border or in the Middle East. With geopolitical alliances shifting rapidly, and with instability and conflict raging from North Africa to Southeast Asia, the UK–Pakistan military alliance that was born in 1947 on polo fields and golf courses is now playing a key role in both Pakistan’s and Britain’s defence engagement with the wider world. Both armies stand to benefit from this in the decades to come.

Kamal Alam
Kamal has been a Visiting Fellow at RUSI since July 2015 and specialises in the Pakistan Army’s relationship with the British Army. Previously he has advised the British Army on Syrian affairs.

With thanks to Kamal Alam and RUSI for allowing me to use this.

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Taliban leader goes missing in UAE

 

Mutasim confirmed to be missing in the UAE. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan on Monday officially confirmed that a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim, who had started dialogue with Kabul-backed negotiators in Dubai, has been missing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

After a mysterious silence for nearly two weeks, the Afghan Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed that Mutasim is missing.

“The Afghan government confirms that Agha Jan Mutasim has disappeared in the UAE and we are talking to UAE senior officials to determine his fate,” the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ahmed Shakaib Mustaghni said in Kabul.

“The talks, unfortunately, have not yet produced any results and we do not have any moredetails,” Mustaghni told his weekly press briefing, according to the recorded version of the briefing received here.

When contacted, Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told The Express Tribune that he had seen media reports and has no other information.

Mutasim’s family and friends had confirmed to The Express Tribune last week that they had lost contact with him in Dubai for ten days. They were concerned that the UAE authorities had detained and shifted him to an unknown location in Abu Dhabi.

Mutasim, a former Taliban cabinet minister and close aide to the Taliban chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had launched his alternate peace movement. And contrary to the Taliban policy, held talks with Karzai’s negotiators.

After their first meeting, they had agreed to hold more talks to push the peace process.

Sources close to Agha Jan had told The Express Tribune that he had been working on a plan to convene a big conference of religious scholars.

Mutasim’s move was seen a major embarrassment for the Taliban as he was thought to be the first senior leader to have openly started talks with Karzai’s government.

President Hamid Karzai had personally welcomed the Dubai peace initiative. He also urged other Taliban leaders to join the move after receiving Kabul-backed negotiators.

However, the Taliban reacted angrily to Agha Jan’s “unauthorized negotiations” with Karzai’s High Peace Council and had publicly disowned him.

The dissident Taliban leader’s detention is seen a serious setback for Karzai’s efforts to lure some Taliban leaders to join the intra-Afghan dialogue in the last day of his Nato-backed regime.

Karzai is scheduled to step down as the long serving elected leader of Afghanistan if a new leader is elected in the first round of the April 5 presidential elections.

New US reality: An empire beyond salvation

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US Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t hide his frustration anymore as the US-sponsored Palestinian peace process continued to falter. After eight months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, he admitted while on a visit to Morocco on April 4 that the latest setback had served as a “reality check” for the peace process. But confining that reality check to the peace process is hardly representative of the painful reality through which the United States has been forced to subsist in during the last few years. 

The state of US foreign policy in the Middle East, but also around the world, cannot be described with any buoyant language. In some instances, as in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, and most recently in Palestine and Israel, too many calamitous scenarios have exposed the fault lines of US foreign policy. The succession of crises is not allowing the US to cut its losses in the Middle East and stage a calculated “pivot” to Asia following its disastrous Iraq war. 

US foreign policy is almost entirely crippled. For theObama administration, it has been a continuous firefighting mission since George W Bush left office. In fact, there have been too many “reality checks” to count. 

According to the logic of the once powerful pro-Israel Washington-based neoconservatives, the invasion of Iraq was a belated attempt at regaining the initiative in the Middle East and controlling a greater share of the energy supplies worldwide. 

Sure, the US media made much noise about fighting terror, restoring democracies and heralding freedoms, but the neo-cons were hardly secretive about the real objectives. They tirelessly warned about the decline of their country’s fortunes. They labored to redraw the map of the Middle East in a way that they imagined would slow down the rise of China and the other giants that are slowly but surely standing on their feet to face up to the post-Cold War superpower. 

All such efforts were bound to fail. The US escaped from Iraq, but only after altering the balance of power and creating new classes of winners and losers. The violence of the invasion and occupation scarred Iraq, and also destabilized neighboring countries by overwhelming their economies, augmenting militancy and creating more pressure cookers in political spaces that were, until then, somewhat stable. 

The war left the US fatigued and set the course for a transition in the Middle East, although not the kind of transition that the likes of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had championed. There was no “New Middle East” per se, but rather an old one that is in much worse shape than ever before. 

When the last US soldier scheduled to leave Iraq had crossed the border into Kuwait in December 2011, the US was exposed in more ways than one. The limits of US military power was revealed – by not winning, it had lost. Its economy proved fragile – as it continues to teeter between collapse and “recovery”. It was left with zero confidence among its friends. As for its enemies, the US was no longer a daunting menace but a toothless tiger. 

There was a short period in US foreign policy strategy in which Washington needed to count its losses, regroup and regain initiative, but not in the Middle East. The Asia Pacific region, especially the South China Sea, seemed to be the most rational restarting point, and for a good reason. 

Writing in Forbes magazine in Washington, Robert D Kaplan described the convergence underway in the Asia pacific region. He wrote, “Russia is increasingly shifting its focus of energy exports to East Asia. China is on track to perhaps become Russia’s biggest export market for oil before the end of the decade.” 

The Middle East is itself changing directions, as the region’s hydrocarbon production is increasingly being exported there; Russia is covering the East Asia realm, according to Kaplan, as “North America will soon be looking more and more to the Indo-Pacific region to export its own energy, especially natural gas.” 

But the US is still being pulled into too many different directions. It has attempted to police the world exclusively for its own interests for the past 25 years. It has failed. “Cut and run” is essentially an American foreign policy staple, and that too is a botched approach. Even after the piecemeal US withdrawal from Iraq, the US is too deeply entrenched in the Middle East region to achieve a clean break. 

The US took part in the Libya war, attempting to do so while masking its action as part of a larger drive by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization so that it shouldered only part of the blame when things went awry, as they predictably have. Since the January 25 revolution, its position on Egypt was perhaps the most inconsistent of all Western powers, unmistakably demonstrating its lack of clarity and relevance to a country with a massive size and influence. 

However, it was in Syria that US weaknesses were truly exposed. Military intervention was not possible – and for reasons none of which were moralistic. Its political influence proved immaterial. Most importantly, its own legions of allies throughout the Middle East are walking away from beneath the US leadership banner. The new destinations are Russia for arms and China for economic alternatives. 

President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia in late March might have been a step too little too late to repair America’s weakening alliances in the region. Even if the US was ready to mend fences, it has neither the political will, the economic potency, nor the military prowess to be effective. True, the US still possesses massive military capabilities and remains the world’s largest economy, but the commitment that the Middle East would require from the US at this time of multiple wars and revolutions is by no means the kind of commitment the US is ready to impart. In a way, the US has “lost” the Middle East. 

Even the “pivot” to Asia is likely to end in shambles. On the one hand, the US’s opponents, Russia notwithstanding, have grown much more assertive in recent years. They too have their own agendas, which will keep the US and its willing European allies busy for years. The Russian move against Crimea had once more exposed the limits of US and NATO in regions outside the conventional parameters of Western influence. 

If the US proved resourceful enough to stage a fight in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the battle – over energy supplies, potential reserves, markets and routes – is likely to be the most grueling yet. China is not Iraq before the US invasion – broken by decades of war, siege and sanctions. Its geography is too vast to besiege, and its military too massive to destroy with a single shock and awe. 

The US has truly lost the initiative, in the Middle East region and beyond it. The neo-cons’ drunkenness with military power led to costly wars that have overwhelmed the empire beyond salvation. Now, US foreign-policy makers are mere diplomatic firefighters, from Palestine, to Syria to Ukraine. For the Americans, the last few years have been less a “reality check”, more the new reality itself. 

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). 

British under-18s ‘at risk’ of being radicalised? #SignsOfARadicalBaby #RT

Exclusive: Sharp increase in under-18s ‘at risk’ of being radicalised into jihadists

 

Government scheme identifies 940 children in danger of being drawn into violent extremism

from The Independent.co,uk

The number of children and vulnerable adults identified as potential violent extremists by a controversial Government anti-radicalisation initiative has surged by more than 25 per cent in the past year.

Since last April at least 940 people have been referred for assessment under the Channel programme  because of concerns they are at risk of being drawn into terrorism, according to official figures.

The numbers, disclosed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) via a Freedom of Information request, include 467 under-18s – representing more than a third of all juvenile referrals since the scheme, which is primarily tasked with addressing Islamic extremism, was launched in 2007.

The sharp increase is likely to cause further concern in Muslim communities already angered by the London Mayor Boris Johnson’s recent comments calling for children deemed to be at risk of being radicalised by their parents to be taken into care.

Mr Johnson had called for the law to be changed “so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public”.

Boris Johnson had called for the law to be changed 'so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public'

Boris Johnson had called for the law to be changed ‘so that children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public’

His remarks sparked outrage among many British Muslims, with some taking to Twitter using the hashtag #SignsOfARadicalBaby to lampoon the mayor’s views.

Acpo had previously published details of the total number of referrals up to March last year, but the new figures offer a more detailed breakdown of cases by age, as well as providing an updated total to the end of January.

According to the figures, 153 children under 11, another 690 aged 12-15, and 554 aged 16-17 have been referred since 2007. A further 2,196 adults have also been assessed. The total of 940 so far for 2013-14 marks an increase of just over a quarter on 748 cases in 2012-13.

The Government’s guide for those tasked with implementing Channel describes it as an early intervention process to safeguard children and adults from being drawn into terrorism-related activity.

The programme is co-ordinated by the police but draws on input from across a spectrum of public services, including children’s and adult welfare centres, schools and healthcare providers.

Individuals are assessed by a multi-agency panel to identify an appropriate “support package” for their requirements. But many Muslims complain that the programme amounts to community surveillance.

Jahangir Mohammed, the co-author of a report critical of the Government’s wider Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, published by the civil liberties campaign group Cage, said: “These figures show that the net of those considered susceptible to radicalism and potentially terrorism is being cast to pick up more and more people.

“The idea that there are 843 people under the age of 15 that are potential terrorists is simply ludicrous. The figures are a sign of a failed policy. There is an urgent need for a review of the nature of referrals and public scrutiny of how the policy is operating.”

Acpo reports that Channel activity primarily takes place in Muslim communities because Islamic-inspired terrorists currently pose the greatest threat to the UK.

Not all of those referred are deemed to require intervention. Last year Acpo said about 22 per cent of cases were assessed to be vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism and received further support.A Home Office spokesman said a notable proportion of individuals receiving support were referred because they were at risk of far-right extremism.

In numbers:

940 people referred to Channel programme as potential violent extremists since last April

467 of those were under 18

153 were under 11

748 cases reported in 2012/2013

Current Iran “Crisis” Began With Overthrow of Democratically Elected Government in 1953

 

Tanks in the streets of Tehran, 1953.Tanks in the streets of Tehran, 1953. (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Manufactured Crisis, investigative journalist Gareth Porter details the manipulation and fabrications that have accompanied the current Iranian nuclear situation. The main difference between this and the Iraq war conspiracy, the author says, was that the neoconservatives who were carrying it out never got the war on Iran they wanted.

Obtain this book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, from Truthout with a minimum contribution. Just click here. You will be enhancing your knowledge, supporting progressive authors and backing the vital journalism of Truthout.

Have we narrowly averted a war with Iran, and were the Neocons again behind the bellicose threats against Tehran?  Investigative journalist Gareth Porter offers his perspective, as detailed in Manufactured Crisis in this interview with Truthout.

MARK KARLIN: You use the phrase Manufactured Crisis as the title of your book about the Iran nuclear scare. Were you thinking about Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’s manufactured crisis to justify the Iraq War as precedent?

GARETH PORTER: No, I wasn’t thinking of the direct parallel with the “manufactured crisis” that preceded and paved the way to the invasion and occupation of Iraq when I first came up with the title. But the more I have uncovered about the details of manipulation and fabrications that have accompanied the Iranian crisis, the clearer it has become that the parallel between the two “manufactured crises” is extremely close.

In fact, the book shows that the Bush administration was laying the groundwork for creating a false WMD case against Iran in much the same way that it did in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Readers will be shocked to find that the information that the Bush administration exploited politically most effectively in making the case for a covert nuclear weapons program in Iran came from a German intelligence agency source – a member of the same MEK terrorist organization – just as the source of the famous Iraqi “mobile bioweapons labs” story told by Colin Powell in a UN speech had been the source that the BND [German federal intelligence service] had code-named “Curveball.”

But the parallels between the two conspiracies are even stronger: In both cases the BND warned the US government not to rely on the information from its source, which had been passed on the CIA, because they had concluded it was not trustworthy. And equally startling, in both cases, the Bush administration officials pressured top CIA officials to use the information anyway, while keeping poor Colin Powell ignorant of the BND warning!

I show that the “manufactured crisis” over Iran’s nuclear program was part of a war conspiracy every bit as heinous as the Iraq war conspiracy. The main difference was that the neoconservatives who were carrying it out never got the war on Iran they wanted. 

MARK KARLIN: You describe three primary stages to the Iranian nuclear crisis diplomatic narrative.  Can you briefly describe them?

GARETH PORTER: The first stage was triggered by the discovery of the Natanz enrichment facility in 2002 by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, a terrorist organization that was working hand in hand with Israel. The Bush administration, in coordination with Israel, used that event to launch an [International Atomic Energy Agency] investigation that was intended by the two allies to put Iran on trial for deceiving the IAEA for two decades in order to cover up a nuclear weapons program. That would in turn make it possible to haul Iran before the UN Security Council, giving the Bush administration a basis for a potential military option.

But the IAEA investigation fizzled out, but the Bush neoconservative-Israel alliance had a secret weapon – a set of documents that was said to have come straight from a Iranian nuclear weapons research project. In 2008, the IAEA, cooperating closely with the Bush administration, began pushing those documents as evidence for Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions, thus beginning the second phase of the crisis. 

The third phase of the crisis began with an IAEA report in November 2011 that was based almost entirely on intelligence coming from Israel. It was the signal for the phase of punishing sanctions against Iran’s oil exports and Central Bank, which followed immediately.  

MARK KARLIN: What is your perspective on the current “bridge” agreement with Iran between the United States and its allies on the development of its nuclear program?  

GARETH PORTER: I’m not sure that it was really necessary to have such an agreement, which appears to have been primarily pushed by the US side. The time spent on negotiating it could have been spent on negotiating the long-term agreement that they are now finally tackling more than three months later. One of the problems I see with it is that it may have reinforced the tendency for Obama administration policymakers to feel that the sanctions had put them in the driver’s seat in the negotiations. 

MARK KARLIN: Was regime change in Tehran a major goal of the Iranian nuclear scare?  

GARETH PORTER: For the Bush administration’s neoconservative inner core it was absolutely the major goal.  John Bolton and David Wurmser, both close to the Likudists, believed that regime change would require the use of US military force, which was the anticipated end result of the strategy they cooked up with Israel in 2003-04 to make the case that Iran was threatening to get nuclear weapons – the Iran equivalent of the Iraq war conspiracy that involved Wurmser as well.

MARK KARLIN: Within Israel, although Netanyahu was threatening a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, a significant number of former prominent Israeli politicians, the military and intelligence services were arguing that such an attack would be a mistake. What explains the unprecedented public disagreement with Netanyahu?

GARETH PORTER: The most important thing to understand about the Israeli threat of war on Iran, as I document in great detail in the book, is that it was always a political ruse which no Israeli government ever intended to actually carry out. It didn’t start with Netanyahu, but he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak refined it to an art form. The public disagreement with the idea of attacking Iran is a reflection of the fact that the Israeli military and intelligence establishment never supported an attack – although many believed that threatening to do so was necessary and effective. After 2011, however former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan broke publicly with the policy, because he believed that Netanyahu was irresponsible and had taken unnecessary risks of provoking Iran.

MARK KARLIN: How did you go about researching the book, given all the smoke screens thrown up around Iran’s nuclear programs. You provide very detailed footnotes to buttress your argument.

GARETH PORTER: It was a combination of two things that gave me sufficient evidence to make what I believe is an iron-clad case that the narrative about an Iranian nuclear weapons program was a fiction: First, I was able to establish clearly one falsehood in the narrative after another by identifying a series of contradictions between the official line and verifiable facts on the public record. In other words close analysis and the use of logic was crucial. Second, although most officials from the Bush and Obama administrations were not interested in cooperating with my investigation, some former intelligence officials and a key German source provided some key insights and facts that helped to give my account much more documentary basis.

MARK KARLIN: Can you summarize the “mystery of the laptop documents”?

GARETH PORTER: The “laptop documents” were the ones said to have come from the purloined laptop of a scientist in a purported Iranian secret nuclear weapons research project. But the Bush administration was always unwilling to answer questions about their origins. Fortunately I was able to penetrate that mystery thanks to a former high-ranking German official who told me on the record how the documents were given to German intelligence by a member of the Muhjadehin-e-Khalq, the terrorist organization that had worked for Saddam against the Iranian regime and then developed close ties with Israel’s Mossad.  I show in the book that the documents could not have been authentic, contrary to the IAEA’s official line that they were “credible” and that they were fabricated by Mossad.

MARK KARLIN: What shadow does the US overthrow of the democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 – and its long-term military support of the Shah – cast over the US confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program?

GARETH PORTER: The US relationship with the Shah, which was a central element of US Middle East policy for decades from 1953 until 1979, cast a long shadow on the policy of the Reagan administration toward Iran’s nuclear program. The Reagan administration was still looking for an opportunity to overthrow the Islamic regime and restore a cooperative government, and its support for Saddam’s war against Iran in the 1980s was the essential reason for trying to stifle the Iranian nuclear program in the early 1980s. I show that the misguided US policy led to Iran’s deciding to have its own uranium enrichment capability, contrary to its original plan. 

MARK KARLIN: You single out Robert Gates, who has a best-selling memoir out now, as a key figure in laying the foundation for the Iran nuclear scare. Can you expand on his role?

GARETH PORTER: Gates had a twofold interest in keeping Iran as an adversary at a time when President Rafsanjani was trying to thaw the relationship in 1990-91. His career had almost been ruined by his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which had gone off the rails when Rafsanjani had made the Reagan administration secret 1985 U.S. mission to Tehran public. But more important, he became CIA director in 1991 at a time when the agency desperately needed a substitute for the Soviet threat that had disappeared. I show in the book how he exploited the idea that WMD proliferation in general was the new equivalent of the Soviet threat and that Iran was the primary candidate to play the heavy on that issue.

MARK KARLIN: You appropriately single out the United States and Israel as perpetuating a war cry about Iran’s nuclear program, but haven’t other non-Persian and non-Shi’ite Arab states played a behind-the-scenes role in supporting the United States and Israel, particularly Saudi Arabia? 

GARETH PORTER: It is certainly true that the Saudis and other Gulf Arab regimes were extremely suspicious of Iran’s nuclear program and wanted the United States to do something about it.  But it’s a bit more complicated than The New York Timescoverage led the public to believe. The WikiLeaks documents show that those regimes were extremely concerned about the Israeli threat to attack Iran during the Bush administration’s second term, which most Gulf security officials believed would have disastrous consequences, and they wanted the United States to prevent it.  

Obtain this book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, from Truthout with a minimum contribution. Just click here. You will be enhancing your knowledge, supporting progressive authors and backing the vital journalism of Truthout.

Copyright, Truthout

 
 

Russian sanctions as war and farce

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If we come to a minefield, our infantry attacks exactly as if it was not there – Marshal Georgy Zhukov 

Let’s start with the serious stuff. As Russia’s Federation Council ratifies a treaty with Crimea, concluding the formal annexation, Ukraine signs the political chapters of an association agreement with the European Union (EU). The signing of the full EU agreement will only happen later in 2014.

These are the facts on the ground. Now let’s turn to comedy hour – also known as the sanctions war.

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The oh-so democratic EU has punished the democratic Crimea referendum by sanctioning 33 Russians and Crimeans with asset freezes and travel bans, according to that Magritte-style walking fiction, European Council President Van Rompuy. The EU also canceled the EU-Russia summit in Sochi on June 3. And the vast, Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the European Commission (EC) has taken time out from subsidizing European cows to prepare for “possible economic sanctions”, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The EU is irretrievably split on what to do. Whatever it does, Moscow’s capacity to make the EU badly hurt is stronger. There may be another meek set of sanctions next week, as Merkel advertised. But that’s it.

European poodle action mirrors His Master’s Voice – as in US President Barack Obama solemnly imposing, by executive order, further sanctions on “senior officials of the Russian government.” Other US targets are private businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only exceptionalist logic legally allows sanctions on private individuals deemed responsible for political steps taken by the country they live in. International lawyers should have thought about sanctioning the entire US population for the Bush-Cheney junta’s disaster.

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Well over 60% of Americans and Europeans are against a New Cold War against Russia. Putin’s approval rating in Russia is around 75% – and arguably similar all across the developing world. Still, no one will lose money betting on the juvenile amateurism of the Obama administration. As if they and selected European minions could intimidate Moscow with some cosmetic “message”. The American sanction religion, imposed with a conquistador/slave owner fury, did destroy Iraq for years – and was supposed to destroy Iran as well. But Russia is not Iraq or Iran.

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I love a man in sanction uniform
Sanctioned Russians are not exactly quaking in their made-in-London brogues. After all, the practical impact of these sanctions is exactly zero. And most people targeted have minimal direct links with the US.

The original American list included Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin and presidential aide Vladislav Surkov. They laughed it off, loudly – adding it felt like a badge of honor. The expanded list includes key Putin advisers and even some of his friends.

Obama, Iran-style, sanctioned the Bank of Russia – a minor player (less than US$10 billion in assets; compare it with giant Sberbank at $528 billion). But Bank of Russia is used by some Gazprom subsidiaries for some low-key deals – even as Gazprom owns its own bank, GazpromBank. The “message” here is that Washington is watching Gazprom.

Chief of Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov is a key adviser on Ukraine and a top negotiator with the US, the EU and NATO. The – counterproductive – “message” implied here is that Moscow and Washington are not talking anything substantial in the immediate future. So much for the West’s “diplomatic efforts”.

Then there’s Yuri Kovalchuk, a board member of the Bank of Russia, a key business adviser and – allegedly, no conclusive evidence – Putin’s personal banker. The message here is of the “I’m gonna git you sucka” kind.

Finally, among the notables, there’s Gennady Timchenko, who has absolutely nothing to do with Ukraine. He’s an energy deal operator, controlling oil and natural gas trading firm Gunvor. In this case, the “message” is that the US will target Russia’s energy deals. Message void, because the EU – which needs Gazprom badly – is not inclined to sanction Timchenko.

Other sanctioned include the head of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov, Chief of Military Intelligence Igor Sergun and Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin.

They are all part of the Russia-US team involved in the Northern Distribution Network – the long, across-Central Asia highway that will allow NATO to flee Afghanistan. A swift Moscow counter-attack would be to leave the Americans and Europeans hanging dry – or to close the NDN altogether.

Idiot soldier

I want to be sanction-free
Moscow, predictably, struck back. The Russian Foreign Ministry has “repeatedly” stressed that using sanctions is a “double-edged thing” and it will have a “boomerang” effect against the US.

Already barred from entering Russia is a nasty bunch including the senile John McCain, plus Robert Menendez, Daniel Coats, Mary Landrieu, Harry Reid, John Boehner and Obama advisers such as the cosmic mediocrity Ben Rhodes. Vicky “F**k the EU” Nuland has not made the list – yet.

Moscow is playing it cool because it may choose among a staggering array of counterpunches. It enjoys the support of the BRICS group of emerging powers, the non-aligned movement (NAM) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Composing with the US, Moscow agreed to impose sanctions on Iran, and is a key player in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations. If the sanction comedy goes on, Moscow has already announced it will play hardball with the P5+1, will cease to sanction Iran, and may even, finally, weaponize Tehran with jewels of the S-400 variety.

Moscow – the number one oil and gas exporter on the planet – can also play further hardball with Europe’s dependency on Gazprom; clinically target US companies working in Russia; speed up the BRICS-coordinated escape from the US dollar, as in a new international payment system in a basket of currencies for the BRICS as well as other emerging markets; and even activate the ultimate economic nuclear bomb – which is to accept payment for Russian oil and gas in ruble, yuan, euros or gold, thus delivering a terminal blow to the petrodollar.

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the end of the comedy hour.

By Pepe Escobar

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com

How Crimea plays in Beijing

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“We are paying very close attention to the situation in Ukraine. We hope all parties can calmly maintain restraint to prevent the situation from further escalating and worsening. Political resolution and dialogue is the only way out.” 

This, via Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, is Beijing’s quite measured, official interpretation of what’s happening in Ukraine, tailored for global consumption. 

But here, in a People’s Daily editorial, is what the leadership is really thinking. And the focus is clearly on the dangers of regime change, the “West’s inability to understand the lessons of history”, and “the final battlefield of the Cold War.” 

Yet again the West misinterpreted China’s abstention from the UN Security Council vote on a US-backed resolution condemning the Crimea referendum. The spin was that Russia – which vetoed the resolution – was “isolated”. It’s not. And the way Beijing plays geopolitics shows it’s not. 

Oh, Samantha …
The herd of elephants in the (Ukraine) room, in terms of global opinion, is how the authentic “international community” – from the G-20 to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) – who has had enough of the Exceptionalist Hypocrisy Show, has fully understood, and even applauded, that at least one country on the planet has the balls to clearly say “F**k the US”. Russia under President Vladimir Putin may harbor quite a few distortions, just like any other nation. But this is not a dinner party; this is realpolitik. To face down the US Leviathan, nothing short of a bad ass such as Putin will suffice. 

NATO – or shorthand for the Pentagon dominating European wimps – keeps issuing threats and spewing out “consequences”. What are they going to do – launch a barrage of ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads against Moscow? 

Furthermore, the UN Security Council itself is a joke, with US ambassador Samantha “Nothing Compares to You” Power – one of the mothers of R2P (“responsibility to protect”) – carping on “Russian aggression”, “Russian provocations” and comparing the Crimean referendum to a theft. Oh yes; bombing Iraq, bombing Libya and getting to the brink of bombing Syria were just innocent humanitarian gestures. Samantha The Humanitarian arguably gives a better performance invoking Sinead O’Connor in her shower. 

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin was polite enough to say, “these insults addressed to our country” are “unacceptable”. It’s what he added that carried the real juice; “If the delegation of the United States of America expects our cooperation in the Security Council on other issues, then Power must understand this quite clearly.” 

Samantha The Humanitarian, as well as the whole bunch of juvenile bystanders in the Obama administration, won’t understand it. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov gave them a little help; Russia didn’t want to use the Iranian nuclear talks to “raise the stakes”, but if the US and the EU continue with their sanctions and threats, that’s what’s going to happen. 

So the plot thickens – as in a closer and closer strategic partnership between Tehran and Moscow. 

Secessionists of the world, unite? 
Now imagine all this as seen from Beijing. No one knows what exactly goes on in the corridors of the Zhongnanhai, but it’s fair to argue there’s only an apparent contradiction between China’s key principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and Russia’s intervention in Crimea. 

Beijing has identified very clearly the sequence of affairs; long-running Western interference in Ukraine via NGOs and the State Department; regime change perpetrated with the help of fascists and neo-nazis; a pre-emptive Russian counterattack which can be read as a by-the-book Samantha The Humanitarian R2P operation (protecting Russians and Russian speakers from a second coup planned in Crimea, and thwarted by Russian intelligence.) 

On top of it Beijing well knows how Crimea has been essentially Russian since 1783; how Crimea – as well as a great deal of Ukraine – fall smack into Russian civilization’s sphere of influence; and how Western interference directly threatened Russia’s national security interests (as Putin made it clear.) Now imagine a similar scenario in Tibet or Xinjiang. Long-running Western interference via NGOs and the CIA; a take over by Tibetans in Lhasa or Uighurs in Kashgar of the local administration. Beijing could easily use Samantha’s R2P in the name of protecting Han Chinese. 

Yet Beijing (silently) agreeing to the Russian response to the coup in Kiev by getting Crimea back via a referendum and without a shot fired does not mean that “splittists” Tibet or Taiwan would be allowed to engage in the same route. Even as Tibet, more than Taiwan, would be able to build a strong historical case for seceding. Each case bears its own myriad complexities. 

The Obama administration – like a blind Minotaur – is now lost in a labyrinth of pivots of its own making. A new Borges – that Buddha in a gray suit – is needed to tell the tale. First there was the pivoting to Asia-Pac – which is encircling of China under another name – as it’s well understood in Beijing. 

Then came the pivoting to Persia – “if we are not going to war”, as that Cypher in Search of an Idea, John Kerry, put it. There was, of course, the martial pivoting to Syria, aborted at the last minute thanks to the good offices of Moscow diplomacy. And back to the pivoting to Russia, trampling the much-lauded “reset” and conceived as a payback for Syria. 

Those who believe Beijing strategists have not carefully analyzed – and calculated a response – to all the implications of these overlapping pivots do deserve to join Samantha in the shower. Additionally, it’s easy to picture Chinese Think Tankland hardly repressing its glee in analyzing a hyperpower endlessly, helplessly pivoting over itself. 

While the Western dogs bark …
Russia and China are strategic partners – at the G-20, at the BRICS club of emerging powers and at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Their number one objective, in these and other forums, is the emergence of a multipolar world; no bullying by the American Empire of Bases, a more balanced international financial system, no more petrodollar eminence, a basket of currencies, essentially a “win-win” approach to global economic development. 

A multipolar world also implies, by definition, NATO out of Eurasia – which is from Washington’s point of view the number one reason to interfere in Ukraine. In Eurasian terms, it’s as if – being booted out of Afghanistan by a bunch of peasants with Kalashnikovs – NATO was pivoting back via Ukraine. 

While Russia and China are key strategic partners in the energy sphere – Pipelineistan and beyond – they do overlap in their race to do deals across Central Asia. Beijing is building not only one but two New Silk Roads – across Southeast Asia and across Central Asia, involving pipelines, railways and fiber optic networks, and reaching as far as Istanbul, the getaway to Europe. Yet as far as Russia-China competition for markets go, all across Eurasia, it’s more under a “win-win” umbrella than a zero-sum game. 

On Ukraine (“the last battlefield in the Cold War”) and specifically Crimea, the (unspoken) official position by Beijing is absolute neutrality (re: the UN vote). Yet the real deal is support to Moscow. But this could never be out in the open, because Beijing is not interested in antagonizing the West, unless heavily provoked (the pivoting becoming hardcore encirclement, for instance). Never forget; since Deng Xiaoping (“keep a low profile”) this is, and will continue to be, about China’s “peaceful rise”. Meanwhile, the Western dogs bark, and the Sino-Russian caravan passes. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

Pepe Escobar may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com