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Uzbekistan torture ignored by the west, say human rights group December 13, 2011

Western governments have turned a blind eye to criticism of torture and rights abuses in Uzbekistan to preserve relations with the state pivotal to supplying Nato forces in Afghanistan, according to a human rights watchdog.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic of 28 million people, had failed to keep promises to stop the use of torture, including electric shocks and simulated asphyxiation, in its criminal justice system.

“The west has to wake up to the fact that Uzbekistan is a pariah state with one of the worst human rights records,” Steve Swerdlow, HRW’s Uzbekistan researcher, said. “Being located next to Afghanistan should not give Uzbekistan a pass on its horrendous record of torture and repression.”

Uzbekistan’s relations with the US and EU soured in 2005 after a government crackdown on an uprising in the eastern city of Andizhan. Witnesses say hundreds were killed when troops opened fire on crowds.

Following harsh western criticism of the bloodshed and systematic human rights violations in the mainly Muslim nation, Uzbekistan evicted US forces from a key air base.

But Washington and its major allies have since reconciled with the country, which is a vital link in the supply line to Nato troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

President Islam Karimov, 73, has ruled his resource-rich nation with an iron fist for more than 20 years. He defends his authoritarian methods by saying he needs to forestall any rise of Taliban-style Islam.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Uzbekistan in October to thank Karimov for maintaining Uzbekistan’s role in a supply route that is becoming increasingly important since US ties with Pakistan deteriorated.

HRW said in March that Uzbek authorities had forced it to close its local office after obstructing its work. The group said its latest report, which cited numerous cases of torture, was based on more than 100 interviews conducted in Uzbekistan between 2009 and 2011.

An HRW spokesperson said: “The governments traditionally viewed as champions of the cause of human rights in Uzbekistan – the US, EU and its key members – have muted their criticism of the government’s worsening human rights record, including its continuing and widespread use of torture.”

Uzbek officials could not immediately be reached for comment. HRW said the use of torture appeared to be designed to break a detainee’s will to the point where they would sign a prepared confession or refrain from asserting their rights. It said it had heard several stories of detainees subjected to abuses to force them to confess to offences such as theft or to implicate others.

Citing one example, HRW quoted a criminal lawyer as saying his client who was “perfectly healthy” 10 days before had been tortured and forced to drop the services of independent counsel. “I noticed he couldn’t walk,” HRW quoted the lawyer as saying. “He quietly recounted that all his ribs were broken … He had lost hearing in one ear.”

The lawyer said he wanted to publicise the matter but the detainee refused, fearing for the safety of his family. In 2008, Uzbekistan introduced habeas corpus, a legal action through which a court is obliged to determine the lawfulness of a person’s detention. Karimov said the move showed the justice system was being liberalised.

But HRW said it had seen no improvement in Uzbekistan’s human rights record. Arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment remained rife, it added.

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Trapped NATO fuel trucks set on fire in Pakistan


December 13, 2011

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Trapped NATO fuel trucks set on fire in Pakistan 12 Dec 2011 A group of fuel tankers contracted to NATO forces in Afghanistan were set on fire by armed militants on motorcycles who ambushed the convoy in southwest Pakistan, officials said. The gunmen opened fire on the trucks, killing one driver and forcing the others to stop in an area 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, police official Abdul Qadir said. The eight trucks were then set alight.

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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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US Military Vacates Pakistani Air Base

U.S. military vacated an air base in Pakistan’s southwest Sunday, meeting a December 11 deadline set by Islamabad in response to NATO’s November 26 air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The Pakistani military said it took over the Shamsi base in Baluchistan province shortly after the last U.S. personnel departed.

The Pakistani government ordered the move as part of several punitive measures reflecting Pakistani anger about the deadly incident.  Islamabad also closed its border crossings to trucks delivering supplies to NATO forces in land-locked Afghanistan and boycotted an international conference in Bonn on Afghanistan’s future.

There was no immediate confirmation of the base withdrawal from U.S. officials.

Pakistan accused NATO forces of deliberately targeting Pakistani soldiers during an operation against militants on the border with Afghanistan.  The U.S. military and NATO deny the charge and have launched investigations of the incident.

U.S. intelligence experts say the withdrawal from the Shamsi air base is not likely to have a major impact on the drone war in the border region because the U.S. military can fly the unmanned planes out of air fields in Afghanistan.

In another development, two prominent Pakistani Taliban members have denied claims by the group’s deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Mohammad that the militants are engaged in peace talks with Islamabad.

Mohammad had announced Saturday that negotiations with the government were progressing well and could soon lead to an agreement.  The Pakistani government has not confirmed any negotiations with the militants but officials have spoken of a need for dialogue.

The United States has long pressured Pakistan, a major U.S. aid recipient, to fight the Islamist militants who use bases in Pakistani tribal regions to attack U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Also Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani denied reports that President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a stroke and offered to resign.  Mr. Zardari flew to the United Arab Emirates Tuesday after falling ill.  Medics say the president likely suffered a transient ischemic attack, which can produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage to the brain.

Mr. Gilani said the president was making good progress and needs to rest for two more weeks before returning home.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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Afghanistan: the lost decade | Editorial December 6, 2011

There is one set of figures about the war in Afghanistan that puts the problems of trying to end it into their true perspective. The US is spending $120bn more in fighting the war this year than the Afghan exchequer is raising in tax revenue. Even the cost of the war to Britain, at £6bn (according to a former UK ambassador’s evidence to the foreign affairs select committee) is over three times what Kabul can afford. So in what sense is Kabul ready to take over Afghanistan’s security when foreign troops stop combat operations in less than three years’ time? Ten years on from the Bonn conference in 2001, with so many mistakes made, the basic questions only pile up.

Then, Pakistan‘s strategic relationship with US was not in doubt. Now, after a year in which that alliance has been stretched to breaking point, not least by the recent Nato airstrike in which 24 Pakistani troops were killed, it is. Then, the northern warlords were offered seats in government. Now, Hamid Karzai is at odds with them, particularly over their opposition to talks with the Taliban. The insurgents have been suppressed in the south as a result of the surge of US troops, but there has been a 600% rise in attacks in the east, which Nato commanders put down to Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence (ISI). History is repeating itself. The no-shows at the conference in Bonn on Monday – Pakistan and the Pashtun who boycotted a recent Loya Jirga – were as significant as the ones who turned up.

There are slivers of good news. Secret talks between the Taliban and the Americans have survived the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani , and progress is being made on setting up a Taliban representative office abroad. But mostly, the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan remains a triumph of hope over realism.

This is as much a British military delusion as an American one. The outgoing British deputy commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General James Bucknall, revealed to this newspaper that special forces operations were killing between 130 and 140 insurgent leaders every month. He used this statistic as evidence of progress in pushing the Taliban back. Yet it is these same night raids which would have to stop if substantive talks with the Taliban ever got under way. If they have an influence over them, the ISI will now actively hold back Taliban leaders from talking to the Americans. So wherein lies the general’s progress? Is it the ability after nearly six years of deployment for a provincial governor to travel between Lashkar Gah and Nad Ali by road instead of helicopter? Or the handing over of some of Helmand’s districts to ethnic Tajik Afghan forces, who are almost as foreign to the southern Pashtun Helmandis as the Brits are? Before the British blundered into Helmand there was no heartland for the Taliban to terrorise. After five years of bloody fighting, is this progress?

Even those who hope against hope that a pro-western government in Kabul can survive the withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014 (longer, that is, than Najibullah survived the withdrawal of Soviet forces) have to admit that the regional landscape today is far more fragile. The drone attacks that Barack Obama is ever more insistent on using in airspace that is not America’s to fly in, like Pakistan’s and Iran’s, travel in exactly the opposite direction from the one that is needed to seek Pakistan’s and Iran’s buy-in to an international settlement of the conflict. Drone attacks are the ultimate Bush-era unilateral weapon and they are so tempting to use because, unlike the investment in blood that Gen Bucknall was talking about, they don’t involve Nato casualties. But they do cause high casualties and generate unswerving local opposition to the peace Nato is trying to impose. No end to the conflict in Afghanistan or the tribal areas of Pakistan is possible, until all the governments of the region buy into it. Ten years on, that lesson has still to be learned.

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Nato braces for reprisals after deadly air strike on Pakistan border post November 28, 2011

Nato forces in Afghanistan were braced on Sunday for possible reprisals from Pakistani-backed insurgents following the coalition air strike along the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Senior officers from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), were scrambling to resume contacts with their Pakistani counterparts in the hopes of setting up a joint investigation into the incident.

But Pakistani officers severed communications and Islamabad cut Isaf’s two supply routes running through Pakistan.

It also gave the US two weeks to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, which has been used to launch American drone aircraft.

One Isaf source voiced concern that the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, could go much further and use its suspected influence over insurgent groups in the tribal areas along the Afghan border to launch reprisal attacks on Nato. “This will come back at us, and at a time and a place of their [the ISI's] choosing,” the source predicted. In September the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said the ISI was using insurgent groups such as the Haqqani network to wage a “proxy war” in Afghanistan.

The incident, and the subsequent breakdown in relations with Pakistan, is a particular blow to the Isaf commander, US general John Allen, who sees the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan as one of the keys to the Afghan conflict and who had been in Pakistan the day before the border incident for talks with the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, to discuss border co-operation.

In an interview in Kabul on Sunday, Allen refused to discuss details of the incident, saying it was under investigation. But he said: “We don’t know where all of this will end up with Pakistan. We have been good friends with them for a long, long time, and this is a tragedy.”

Isaf officers say the strike on Pakistani border positions took place when a joint force of Afghan and Isaf special forces carrying out a counterinsurgency operation in southern Kunar province came under fire and called in “close air support” from Nato aircraft. The air strikes hit two Pakistani border posts in the Mohmand tribal area on Saturday.

Pakistan’s military refused to accept that its checkposts had been hit by accident, insisting that Isaf knew the location of the posts, on a mountaintop at Salala, next to the Afghan border.

Major General Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, told the Guardian on Sunday that he did not believe Isaf or Afghan forces had received fire from the Pakistani side. “I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by Isaf,” said Abbas. “If Isaf was receiving fire, then they must tell us what their losses were.”

Pakistani officials said the posts hit are 300 metres into Pakistani territory, but Isaf officers say the border in that area is disputed.

Abbas said, however, that the firing lasted for over an hour, while Isaf made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using an established border co-ordination system to report that they had come under fire. He said that the map references of the posts were previously passed to Isaf.

“This was a totally unprovoked attack. There are no safe havens or hideouts left there [for militants] in Mohmand,” he said.

“This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

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Pakistan Orders US Out of Airbase November 27, 2011

Pakistan has ordered the United States to move out of an airbase on its territory, after shutting down NATO’s two main overland supply routes into Afghanistan.  Popular anger is mounting in Pakistan after NATO’s killing of 24 Pakistani military personnel in a cross-border airstrike Saturday.

American forces have been given 15 days to vacate the Shamsi airbase in southwestern Pakistan, where the U.S. sometimes lands unmanned drone aircraft used to attack militants on Pakistani territory.

Pakistan ordered the departure a day after choking off the two main land routes for moving nonlethal supplies to U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Saturday’s killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by U.S. aircraft was a “tragic unintended accident.”  He has told Pakistan’s prime minister the attack was as “unacceptable and deplorable as the deaths of Afghan and international personnel.”

With a NATO investigation into the matter pending, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to convey the “deep sense of rage” in Pakistan.  She said the attack demonstrated “complete disregard for international law and human life, and… negates the progress made by the two countries on improving relations.”  Clinton responded by saying she was deeply saddened, and promised to work with Pakistan on the issue.

Pakistan also is reexamining its decision to attend a major Afghanistan peace conference in Bonn next month, but has made no final announcement.

Retired Lieutenant General Talat Masood, an expert on Pakistan’s strategic affairs, says the killings have dealt a severe blow to the already negative perceptions of the U.S. among Pakistanis.

“The majority of the people think that it was an aggression committed by the U.S. by design. The public sentiment has become very anti-American,” Masood stated. “And, of course, it gives a big handle to the media to spread the nationalist frenzy.”

Pakistani television networks broadcast images of the soldiers’ funerals Sunday.  Soldiers’ coffins were draped in the Pakistani flag and airlifted to their respective hometowns for burial.

Masood says a thorough and transparent investigation into why and how the airstrike took place may have a chance at soothing some of the anger in this country.

“I think if the investigation takes place in which Pakistan is taken into full confidence, and if the truth comes out that this was a gross miscalculation on the part of some of the intelligence people – and they apologize, and they compensate – I think it would make definitely a difference,” Masood said.

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden used Afghanistan as a base to plan and execute the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in a Pakistan compound earlier this year.  U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan have faced a constant challenge with the Pakistan border, which is frequently crossed by Pakistan-based militants.

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Pakistan outrage at ‘Nato attack’ November 26, 2011

Pakistani officials have responded with fury to an apparent attack by Nato helicopters on an Afghan border checkpoint they say killed 26 soldiers.

The “unprovoked and indiscriminate” attack took place in Mohmand tribal region, the Pakistani military said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called it “outrageous” and convened an emergency meeting of the cabinet.

Nato’s force in Afghanistan is investigating and has offered condolences to the affected families.

The alleged attack took place at the Salala checkpoint, about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the Afghan border, at around 02:00 local time (21:00 GMT).

Two officers were among the dead, officials said, and 14 soldiers were reported wounded.

Prime Minister Gilani cut short a visit to his hometown to return to Islamabad, where he called an emergency meeting of the cabinet.

A foreign ministry statement said he was taking up the matter with Nato and the US “in the strongest terms”.

Within hours of the alleged attack it was reported Pakistan had closed the border crossing for supplies bound for Nato forces in Afghanistan – a move which has been used in the past as a protest.

Continue reading the main story

ANALYSIS




There have been several incidents over the last three or four years in which Nato helicopters are said to have carried out attacks on Pakistani border checkpoints.

On those occasions, Nato has come back with the explanation that soldiers were mistaken for insurgents, saying there was insurgent activity in those areas at the time.

Pakistani officials at the moment are saying that there was no such activity on Saturday and that therefore this was not a case of mistaken identity.

So this is definitely going to damage relations.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Karachi says furious Pakistani officials insist there was no militant activity in the area at the time.

The incident looks set to deal a fresh blow to US-Pakistan relations, which had only just begun to recover following a unilateral US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

‘Heartfelt condolences’

A senior Pakistani military officer told Reuters news agency that efforts were under way to transport the bodies of the dead soldiers to Mohmand’s main town of Ghalanai.

“The latest attack by Nato forces on our post will have serious repercussions as they without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

Some reports suggest more than one checkpoint was attacked, and our correspondent says that as most checkpoints would not be manned by more than 10 or 15 men, the high death tolls points to more than one target.

In a statement, Isaf commander Gen John R Allen said the incident “has my highest personal attention and my commitment to thoroughly investigate it to determine the facts”.

“My most sincere and personal heartfelt condolences go out to the families and loved ones of any members of Pakistan Security Forces who may have been killed or injured.”

In apparent response to the attack, lorries and fuel tankers were being stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials and local media said – part of a key route supplying Nato equipment to Afghanistan.

“We have halted the supplies and some 40 tankers and trucks have been returned from the check post in Jamrud,” Mutahir Zeb, a senior government official, told Reuters.

Pakistani troops are involved in fighting the Taliban in the crucial border region area. Hundreds of militants have been resisting attempts by the security forces to clear them from southern and south-eastern parts of the district.

Anti-militant operation

The checkpoint at the centre of this latest incident was set up to prevent insurgents crossing over the border into Afghanistan, our correspondent says.

He says the movement of insurgents from the area into Afghanistan has been a concern for the Nato-led Isaf and the US.

The US has been targeting militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border for several months, often using unmanned drone aircraft.

Last year, US helicopters accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers near the border, also prompting Pakistan to temporarily close the border to Nato supplies.

In October, Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani warned the US against taking unilateral action in nearby North Waziristan.

He said that the US should focus on stabilising Afghanistan instead of pushing Pakistan to attack militant groups in the crucial border region.

Washington has for many years urged Islamabad to deal with militants in the area.

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US removes Afghanistan commander Peter Fuller for criticising Karzai November 5, 2011

Major General Peter Fuller, a top US commander in Afghanistan, has been relieved of his duties after criticising the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), relieved Fuller as deputy commander of the effort to train Afghan security forces after Fuller told Politico that Afghan leaders were “isolated from reality”, a US defence official said.

Pentagon spokesman George Little had said on Friday that defence secretary Leon Panetta was aware of the remarks and Fuller had been speaking for himself, not the US defence department.

“The secretary has full trust and confidence in General Allen’s judgment with respect to his decision in this case,” Little said in response to Allen’s decision to relieve Fuller of his duties.

Speaking in a Politico interview that ran on Thursday, Fuller depicted Afghan officials as detached and unappreciative of American sacrifices and financial contributions to Afghanistan after 10 years of war.

The interview painted Fuller as critical of Karzai’s recent comments suggesting Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if it went to war with the United States.

“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me – I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6bn and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care?’”

The interview quoted Fuller as saying Afghanistan did not recognise the sacrifice in “treasure and blood” the US was making for its security.

In July 2010 Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, over remarks he and his aides made in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged the president and other civilian leaders.

While Fuller’s job was far less senior than McChrystal’s, the training of Afghan security forces has become more and more central to Nato’s mission in Afghanistan as foreign forces gradually seek to put Afghan soldiers and police in charge of security.

Afghan security forces are far more numerous than they were and better skilled, but they still have inadequate fighting skills, poor equipment and widespread illiteracy.

While Obama plans to remove the 33,000 extra troops he sent following a 2009 review of Afghan war strategy, security conditions remain troubling. The United Nations says violence is at its worst level since the war began in 2001.

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