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US cuts put British-backed Afghan hydropower project in doubt December 12, 2011

Cuts to the US government’s Afghanistan development programme have put in doubt the future of a 220-tonne hydroelectric generator that British forces hauled across the desert of Helmand more than three years ago.

The September 2008 operation to sneak the heavy machinery across 100 miles of hostile territory in northern Helmand to the Kajaki dam was acclaimed by the British army as one the most daring operations of its kind since the second world war.

The operation, in which at least 100 insurgents were killed, was also touted as a turning point in the battle to win hearts and minds in southern Afghanistan by bringing electricity to the region.

In adding a third turbine to the hydroelectric station at Kajaki, one of the most delayed aid projects in history would finally be completed. US engineers constructed a power plant in the 1970s with two turbines but left a space for a third.

Three years after the British delivered it, the £3m turbine remains packed up and its future in doubt as the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) ponders whether installing it makes financial or strategic sense.

With the USAid budget slashed from $4bn in 2010 to $2bn this year, and the US Congress calling for further reductions, the US military and USAid are currently discussing what it describes as a “cost analysis and best-case scenario for implementation of work at Kajaki dam given funding and time restrictions”.

Options include further delaying the turbine installation and instead refurbishing power lines, substations and the existing turbines.

“Money is always an issue,” said Ken Yamashita, the USAid mission director in Kabul. “Because of things like security and costs have gone up. What we are looking at very carefully is see how we can get the most economic solution.”

Military sources in the capital say the delay has alarmed John Allen, the US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, who wants to see progress on a project that has long been regarded as a key part of the campaign.

Nato commanders are particularly exasperated because of the efforts made in recent months by the US marine corps to correct one of the blunders of the 2008 British operation: that although the turbine was safely delivered, there was no plan to bring the 700 tonnes of cement required to install the turbine.

Route 611 to Kajaki running from Sangin, the heart of the Helmand insurgency, was far too dangerous and USAid’s contractors refused to complete the job.

In October the marines finally carried out operations to clear insurgents from the villages along the road. In theory, all that now needs to happen is for the road to be hardened to withstand heavy trucks.

Yamashita said doing everything that Kajaki requires – new transmission lines, substations and the new turbine – could still happen, but “it is unrealistic to think that to do so in a sustainable manner can be in done in the short term in a few years”.

The needs of Kajaki also have to be balanced against the need for electricity all over the country, and other infrastructure projects.

“So if we look at that then it becomes a question of prioritising, is it Kajaki over something else in the north in the east and so one and so forth? That’s part of the difficult conversation,” said Yamashita.

Although the third turbine would raise the output of the dam from 32 megawatt to 48, even that is not a huge amount of power for a region enjoying fast economic growth.

He said even with three turbines, the plant would not meet the surging electricity demand from the two key regional cities of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, which is currently relying for much of its electricity needs on giant diesel generators provided by the US army, which are hugely expensive to operate.

“[The Kajaki dam] is important and necessary for the valley,” he said. “It will not be sufficient to meet all of Kandahar’s needs.”

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Pakistan has had enough | Simon Tisdall November 28, 2011

Readers of Dawn newspaper, commenting online, were in no doubt how the Pakistani government should respond to Saturday’s killing by US forces of 24 soldiers on Pakistan’s side of the Afghan border. “Pakistan should acquire anti-aircraft defence systems … so that in the future Pakistan can give Nato forces a proper reply,” said Ali. “This is outrageous,” wrote another reader, Zia Khan. “We should cut off all ties with the US. As long as we are getting US [anti-terror] aid … Pakistan will be attacked in such a manner. They can never be trusted.” Another, Obaid, turned his wrath on the Pakistani authorities: “Our self-centred establishment with their fickle loyalties can’t even demand that the killers be tried in a neutral court … What is the ability of our armed forces? If they can’t repel or intercept an attack of this intensity, then what’s their purpose? This is not a time to get mad. It’s time to get even.”

The fury of these respondents comes as no surprise, but Washington should treat it with deadly seriousness all the same, for this latest outrage is another fateful signpost on the road to a potential security and geostrategic disaster that may ultimately make Afghanistan look like a sideshow.

The 10-year-old Afghan war, neither wholly won nor lost, is slowly drawing to a close – or so Washington postulates. But what has not stopped is the linked, escalating destabilisation of the infinitely more important, more populous, and nuclear-armed Pakistan. If Washington does not quickly learn to tread more carefully, it may find the first US-Pakistan war is beginning just as the fourth Afghan war supposedly ends.

Anti-American feeling in Pakistan is becoming institutionalised at the higher levels of government, while opposition figures such as Imran Khan see their popularity rise on the back of diatribes aimed at Washington. Pakistan’s western-educated, secular political elite is under brutal attack from Islamist militants who revile them as Washington’s stooges. The knock-kneed government is mocked and despised for failing to stand up to its infidel paymasters even as Pakistan’s own “war on terror” death toll rises into the tens of thousands.

Since 2001, when the Bush administration bluntly told Islamabad it must take sides, be either “for us or agin us” in the newly declared “war on terror”, Pakistan has struggled under a plethora of imperious American demands, démarches and impositions that are at once politically indefensible and contrary to the perceived national interest.

The last year has been another humiliating one at the hands of the country’s principal ally. Pakistanis have looked on impotently as US special forces flouted its sovereignty and killed Osama bin Laden under the army’s nose; as the US stepped up drone terror attacks in Pakistani territory despite repeated protests; and as people-pleasing US senators and Republican presidential candidates have taken to picking on Pakistan and its aid bill in uninformed foreign policy rants.

Hillary Clinton and the Pentagon top brass have responded to Saturday’s killing with the usual expressions of regret and of determination to “investigate”, without formally admitting responsibility. Their pronouncements are worthless, transparently so.

The belief that weak, impoverished, divided Pakistan has no alternative but to slavishly obey its master’s voice could turn out to be one of the seminal strategic miscalculations of the 21st century. Alternative alliances with China or Russia aside, Muslim Pakistan, if bullied and scorned for long enough by its western mentors, could yet morph through external trauma and internal collapse into quite a different animal. The future paradigm here is not another well-trained Indonesia or Malaysia. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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Troy Davis execution delayed while US supreme court considers stay September 22, 2011

The execution of Troy Davis was delayed temporarily on Wednesday night as the US supreme court considered a last-minute appeal just as he was due to be put to death by lethal injection.

As the first news came in at the Jackson prison that houses death row, a huge cheer erupted from a crowd of more than 500 protesters that had amassed on the other side of the road.

Davis’s supporters kissed each other and threw placards which read “Not in my name” into the air.

But the jubilation was short-lived. Talk of a reprieve from the US supreme court quickly gave way to rumours of a stay, and finally the realisation that the court had only ordered a temporary delay as it considered the matter. The mood then grew more sombre as the waiting game that has now been going on for years with Davis resumed.

Until the delay it seemed almost certain that Davis would be executed. Earlier on Wednesday, Georgia‘s supreme court had rejected a last-ditch appeal by Davis’s lawyers over the 1989 murder of off-duty policeman Mark MacPhail, for which Davis had been convicted despite overwhelming evidence that the conviction is unreliable.

A Butts County superior court judge had also declined to stop the execution.

Davis’s attorneys had filed an appeal challenging ballistics evidence linking Davis to the crime, and eyewitness testimony identifying Davis as the killer.

The White House declined to comment on the case, saying: “It is not appropriate for the president of the United States to weigh in on specific cases.”

At the maximum security prison in Jackson where the execution was scheduled to take place, busloads of Troy Davis supporters from his home town of Savannah came in to register their anger and despair at what they all agree is the planned judicial killing of an innocent man.

Edward DuBose, a leader of the Georgia branch of the NAACP, said it was not an execution, but a “murder”.

The protest heard from Martina Correia, Davis’s eldest sister, who delivered a statement from about 20 family members gathered around her. She was heavily critical of what she described as the defiance of the state of Georgia and its inability to admit that it had made a mistake.

She pointed out that the state’s parole board had vowed in 2007 that no execution would take place if there was any doubt. “Every year there is more and more doubt yet still the state pushes for an execution,” she said.

Correia, who has cancer, struggled to her feet in honour of her brother, just a few hours from his probable death. But she exhorted people not to give up.

“if you can get millions of people to stand up against this you can end the death penalty. We shouldn’t have to live in a state that executes people when there’s doubt.”

DuBose gave an account of a 30-minute conversation he had with Davis on death row on Tuesday night. “Troy wanted me to let you know – keep the faith. The fight is bigger than him.”

DuBose said that whether the execution went ahead or not, the fight would continue. He said Davis wants his case to set an example “that the death penalty in this country needs to end. They call it execution; we call it murder.”

Hundreds of people gathered outside the prison, many wearing T-shirts that said: “I am Troy Davis”. The activist Al Sharpton said: “What is facing execution tonight is not just the body of Troy Davis, but the spirit of due justice in the state of Georgia.”

Larry Coz, the executive director of Amnesty in the US, which has led the international campaign for clemency, said demonstrations were happening outside US embassies in France, Mali, Hong Kong, Peru, Germany and the UK.

“We will not stop fighting until we live in a world where no state thinks it can kill innocent people.”

After winning three delays since 2007, Davis lost an appeal for clemency this week when the Georgia pardons board denied his request, despite serious doubts about his guilt.

Some witnesses who testified against Davis at trial later recanted, and others who did not testify came forward to say another man did it. But a federal judge dismissed those accounts as “largely smoke and mirrors” after a hearing Davis was granted last year to argue for a new trial, which he did not win.

Davis refused a last meal. He planned to spend his final hours meeting with friends, family and supporters.

Davis has received support from hundreds of thousands of people, including a former FBI director, former president Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI.

Parliamentarians and government ministers from the Council of Europe, the EU’s human rights watchdog, had earlier called for Davis’s sentence to be commuted.

Renate Wohlwend of the council’s parliamentary assembly said: “To carry out this irrevocable act now would be a terrible mistake, which could lead to a tragic injustice”.

The US supreme court gave him an unusual opportunity to prove his innocence last year, but his attorneys failed to convince a judge he did not do it.

State and federal courts have repeatedly upheld his conviction.

Prosecutors have no doubt they charged the right person, and MacPhail’s family lobbied the pardons board Monday to reject Davis’s clemency appeal. The board refused to stop the execution a day later.

“He has had ample time to prove his innocence,” said MacPhail’s widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris. “And he is not innocent.”

Spencer Lawton, the district attorney who secured Davis’s conviction in 1991, said he was embarrassed for the judicial system that the execution has taken so long.

“What we have had is a manufactured appearance of doubt which has taken on the quality of legitimate doubt itself. And all of it is exquisitely unfair,” said Lawton, who retired as Chatham County’s head prosecutor in 2008.

“The good news is we live in a civilized society where questions like this are decided based on fact in open and transparent courts of law, and not on street corners.”

Davis supporters pushed the pardons board to reconsider his case.

They also asked Savannah prosecutors to block the execution, although Chatham County district attorney Larry Chisolm said in a statement he was powerless to withdraw an execution order for Davis issued by a state superior court judge.

“We appreciate the outpouring of interest in this case; however, this matter is beyond our control,” Chisolm said.

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