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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

by legitgov


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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