|Asia News Digest
Taliban Boss Promises 'Hot Summer' for Occupiers in Afghanistan
Amidst a public spat between Kabul and Islamabad over security matters, the Taliban supremo, Mullah Omar, warned U.S.-led forces of "unimaginable" violence in coming months. "A large number of Afghan youths are pouring into Mujahideen camps to register their names for martyrdom attacks and to join the resistance," said a statement attributed to Mullah Omar, which was sent to various media networks. Meanwhile, Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who played a significant role in revving up agitation inside Pakistan during the Danish cartoon episode, has announced that his group will unleash a wave of suicide bombings, and has offered 100 kg in gold to anyone who kills the people responsible for the Prophet Muhammad cartoons published by European papers.
Two additional developments worry the U.S.-led forces. First, opium poppies are in full bloom once more this spring in Afghanistan, and it is anyone's guess what will be the final haul of Afghan opium this year. Experts expect it will be close to the record 5,000 tons produced under the watchful eyes of the U.S. occupiers in 2004.
The second worry is that the old U.S.-supplied Stingers are back in business, and this time with the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces are following up reports that Pakistan has supplied the Taliban with the battery packs that would make the Stingers active, making the NATO helicopters as vulnerable as the Russian copters were in the 1980s.
Did Pakistan Pay Big Bucks To Hush Up the 9/11 Commission?
According to the March 16 Friday Times, a weekly magazine published from Islamabad, the Pakistani Foreign Office paid, through its Washington lobbies, tens of thousands of U.S. dollars to get anti-Pakistan references dropped from the 9/11 inquiry commission report. The weekly said the story is based on disclosures made by foreign service officials to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at a meeting in Islamabad on March 14.
After the commission tipped off the lobbyists about the damaging revelations on Pakistan's role in 9/11, the lobbyists helped Pakistan win the sympathy of 75 U.S. Congressmen, the magazine said. The Friday Times claims that a lot of money was used to silence the 9/11 commission members.
India Plans Major Expansion in the Andamans
India is about to begin military expansion in the Andaman Islands, a strategically vital archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, according to observers and military commanders. The plans include construction of three new air bases to add to the existing one; increasing coast guard troop levels, and strengthening infrastructure at old facilities in the islands.
"Our expansion plans are totally transparent and the defensive measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the islands only," said Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh, commander-in-chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, Reuters reported March 16.
India has air and naval bases in addition to listening posts across the archipelago, as it considers its sea routes vital to its security.
Many Indian defense experts believe China has set up military and intelligence facilities in Myanmar's Cocos Islands, a few miles from India's Diglipur base, 115 miles north of Port Bliar in the Nicobar Islandsalthough the Indian naval chief last August said that he believed a Myanmar official statement that there were no such Chinese facilities in the Cocos.
Political Crisis Escalates in Thailand
"Pro-Democracy" demonstrators in Bangkok are now camped out around Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's office, while Thaksin has announced he is prepared to implement a state of emergency. Somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people joined the demonstration on Tuesday, March 14, marching to Government House and declaring their intent to stay until Thaksin resigns. These "democrats" are boycotting the election called for April 2, knowing they will lose massively, and are openly pushing for a violent confrontation, intended to justify a move by the King to replace the Prime Minister. The Nation, owned by Dow Jones, again has turned its website into a minute-to-minute command center, declaring on the homepage that "this war could be the decisive one."
One opposition Senator said from the stage that Thaksin should face a firing squad. Another Senator led the protestors in a cult ritual, telling the crowd to place pictures of Thaksin under a woman's crotch and curse him three times.
Thaksin told reporters in northeastern Thailand, where he was campaigning among his supporters: "I am ready to sign to impose a state of emergency rule if necessary. Security ministers have agreed that they may need it to help them maintain order, but if it is not necessary, I will not do that. There has been violence in the past, and many of those people are in the protest today."
One of the protest leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, led a 1992 uprising against the military government, marching his "Dharma Army" cult followers into the military lines and setting fire to military vehicles, provoking an over-response from poorly trained troops, killing dozens and bringing the government down.
A state of emergency would allow authorities to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge, search and arrest without warrants, and tap phones, among other powers.
Philippines President Exceeded Emergency Powers
The Philippine Human Rights Commission found that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo overstepped her emergency powers, the Philippines Inquirer reported March 14. Human Rights Commissioner Wilhelm Soriano said that Proclamation 1017, which gave Arroyo emergency powers on Feb. 24, lasting one week before she lifted it, "has no factual basis, because there was no lawless violence, rebellion, or invasion." He called for a review of the "factual basis" for its declaration.
In particular, the Commission said, the warrantless arrests and the raid on the Tribune newspaper would have been permitted only under martial law, which requires Congressional authorization. "As such, it [Arroyo's Emergency decree] cannot be used to justify acts that only under a valid declaration of martial law or suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus can be done," according to a former judge testifying before the Commission.