|Asia News Digest
Suicide Car Bomb Near U.S. Embassy in Kabul Kills 10
A suicide car bomb killed ten people, including two American soldiers, near the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Sept. 9, when an American convoy came under attack. The suicide bomber jammed his car against the Humvee carrying American soldiers. One eyewitness told AP that "right after the blast, American soldiers started shooting at another car." Since the attack occurred very close to the embassy, it is evident that somewhere along the line, some people in charge of security had allowed the car to enter to make the hit.
The Kabul incident is a reflection of what is happening in rest of Afghanistan. Senlis Council, an international policy think-tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris, and Brussels, has issued a report which found that the Taliban have regained control over the southern half of Afghanistan. "The Taliban front line now cuts halfway through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces," says the report.
The report blamed the "U.S.-and-U.K.-led failed counternarcotics and military policies for the situation. "The subsequent rising levels of extreme poverty have created increasing support for the Taliban, who have responded to the needs of the local populations," Senlis report said.
British Casualties in Afghanistan Rising
Fourteen British military personnel were killed in the crash of a reconnaissance aircraft near Kandahar on Sept. 2, making it the worst disaster for British troops since they arrived in 2001. A total of 36 British troops have died, with most in the last few months. Six soldiers were killed in action, in August alone. The British deaths are becoming another political nail in the coffin of the tottering Tony Blair. "It is very, very difficult for Britain to sustain losses at this level, said Robert Fox, defense correspondent for the Evening Standard newspaper on BBC television. "It's difficult because there have been so many questions raised about this operation from the beginning. Britain has nearly 4,000 troops in Helmand provinces where most of the recent casualties have occurred.
Other NATO countries are paying a price as well. A Dutch F-16 jet went down Aug. 31 in southern Afghanistan, in what was said, like the British crash, to be an accident, killing the pilot; three Canadian soldiers were killed Sept. 2 during a NATO offensive operation west of Kandahar. An Afghan official claimed that 89 Taliban militants were also killed in the operation.
Record Opium Crop in Afghanistan This Year
A UN survey estimates that poppy cultivation has increased 59% in Afghanistan this year, producing a record 6,100 tons of opium, the Chicago Tribune reported Sept. 2. Antonio Maria Costa, the UN's anti-drug chief, called the crop "staggering." Afghanistan now produces 92% of the world's supply, and much of it is produced in the South, where the Taliban insurgency has taken over a number of districts. Costa said the southern part of the country is "displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse." The UN survey shows 407,724 acres under cultivation, compared to 256,989 in 2005 and 331,360 in 2004.
India, Germany Sign Defense Cooperation Pact
India and Germany have signed a defense and security agreement to establish a strategic dialogue at the level of defense secretaries through a group called the India-Germany High Defense Committee (HDC), India Defence reported Sept. 8. The pact was signed during Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit last week to Germany. Mukherjee said the pact would change the bilateral relationship from "buyer-seller" status to that of a "partnership."
Mukherjee's visit followed that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Berlin in late August. During the Indian Premier's visit, it came to light that India was seeking access to German high-tech weapons technology and to facilitate intensive interaction between the armed forces of the two countries.
The agreement will open the doors of German technology transfer to India and provide the framework for holding joint naval exercises.
Indian Prime Minister Fears More Terrorist Attacks
Addressing the state chief ministers Sept. 5, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India faces "a wide array of complex internal security problems and threats." He said that "left-wing extremism and terrorism" are the main threats, while it is of equal importance "to assuage feelings of insecurity among our minorities, especially Muslims."
Expressing deep concerns about the increasing threats posed by the Naxalites in the economically most deprived states of India, Manmohan Singh said: "My approach to the Naxalite position is that we need a blend of firm, but sophisticated handling of Naxalite violence with sensitive handling of the developmental aspects. It is in the most neglected areas of the country that left-wing extremism thrives today. These are also the main recruiting grounds for Naxalite outfits."
As if on a cue, soon after Friday prayers Sept. 1, on the eve of the holy Muslim festival Shab-e-barat, two bombs went off in Malegaon in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Malegaon, located near Mumbai (formerly known in the West as Bombay), has seen Hindu-Muslim riots before. First reports indicate that more than 50 were killed and more than 125 were seriously injured. Most of those died are estimated to be Muslims.
Although not official yet, observers believe that the explosion was directly linked to the series of train bombs in Mumbai last July which killed more than 200 people. The objective of these terrorist attacks is an attempt to trigger communal violence in India between Hindus and Muslims, observers say.
Pakistan Reaches Agreement with Taliban/al-Qaeda
On Sept. 5, Azad Khan, a representative of the local Taliban, and North Waziristan's chief administrator Fakhar e-Alam, in the presence of Pakistani Army commander, Maj-Gen. Azhar Ali Shah, signed an agreement whereby the local Pakistani Taliban accepted the government demand not to indulge in attacks against the American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan by crossing the border. In return, the Pakistani Army will withdraw from the tribal agencies.
The Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan had become the safehouse of al-Qaeda and Taliban militia following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the winter of 2001. This is where the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangviboth banned in Pakistantrain their militia. Apart from the Afghan Pushtuns, who are trained here along with the al-Qaeda Arabs, the Uzbeks belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) under Tahir Yuldashev; Chechens; and Uighurs live and train in North Waziristan.
Observers point out that a similar agreement signed in South Waziristan two years ago did not work. But, Islamabad is keen to crush the growing insurgency in Balochistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is hoping that the peace agreement with Talibanized tribals of North Waziristan would enable him not only to divert more troops to Balochistan, but also to seek help of the Taliban elements within Balochistan in his operations against the Baloch tribes.
Musharraf: Pakistan Not Responsible for Afghan Insurgency
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has admitted that Taliban insurgents are coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal agencies, but at the same time he pointed out that the Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents also exist in Afghanistan. Arriving in Kabul a day after his army had signed a treaty with tribal elders along the southeastern Afghan borders, assuring the elders of complete withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from the tribal areas, Musharraf was in Kabul on a two-day (Sept 6-7) trip to assure Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he would fight the Taliban and al-Qaedathe enemies of the Karzai regime. While addressing the Afghan Army, Musharraf came out strong, saying Pakistan is not responsible for the growing insurgency within Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding what the Pakistani President said, NATO chief James Jones said that NATO will need more troops to prevent further worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan. Observers pointed out that Pakistan signed the truce with the tribal elders because its 80,000-strong army could not bring the situation under control. With the Pakistani border now unmanned, it is expected that the Taliban and al-Qaeda will mount massive pressure on the NATO- and U.S.-led coalition forces, which add up to fewer than 25,000.
Lt. Gen. Karl Elkenberry, the U.S. military chief in Afghanistan, told reporters Sept. 7 that the foreign and Afghan troops are now facing a three-headed monster: al-Qaeda/Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizbe Islami, and a group of Islamists led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Mujahideen commander. Elkenberry said these three groups have a symbiotic relationship and are receiving money from abroad.