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  War and Terror
    

May 2009

Al-Qaeda spreads its tentacles
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda - working through Afghan and Pakistani partners - is present in almost every Afghan and Pakistani province along the fluid border between the two countries. Having learned from the mistake of going into business under its own name in Iraq, al-Qaeda remains behind the scenes, protected by local gunmen, but capable of influencing the fight against United States and foreign "infidels" in South Asia. - Philip Smucker (May 29,'09)

Obama steps into diplomatic minefield
United States President Barack Obama has to tread carefully on his visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or his favorable image in the Middle East could be tainted for good. If he overstates his case over the Iran nuclear issue or support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the trip could backfire and cause unwanted backlashes in Israel and Iran. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 29,'09)

Pyongyang shakes up pacifist Japan
The Japanese government, prompted by this week's nuclear and missile tests by North Korea, is finalizing plans that would enable the military to carry out pre-emptive strikes as part of a new defense plan to be presented by the end of the year. The era of Japan's strong pacifism, as enshrined in the United Stated-imposed "peace constitution", may be coming to an end. - Kosuke Takahashi (May 29,'09)

Taliban keep grip on kidnapped Canadian
Canadian journalist Beverly Giesbrecht, who after converting to Islam became known as Khadija Abdul Qahhar, was kidnapped by a "good" Taliban leader late last year. A ransom of US$740,000 was agreed, but then the price shot up when the Pakistani bureaucracy became involved. Now Khadija is ill, but her captors are not budging. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 29,'09)

Al-Qaeda strikes back in Lahore
Wednesday's suicide attack in Lahore which claimed the lives of 23 people was not, as widely believed, an act of retaliation for the Pakistan military's offensive against militants in Swat. Al-Qaeda planned and financed the mission because its key sanctuaries in the border areas with Afghanistan have been "violated". - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 28,'09)

A test of Washington's resolve
United States and South Korean forces have gone on "high alert" after North Korea's nuclear test, but beyond that sensational term Washington has little response but to plaintively search for allies to scold Pyongyang. China and Russia are unlikely to step beyond verbal condemnation, and the US's commitment to a much-vaunted plan to blockade the Hermit Kingdom is still in doubt. - Donald Kirk (May 28,'09)

Size matters for North Korea's nukes
Seismographic estimates of North Korea's nuclear test on May 25 place the device's payload as roughly the size of the Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. Experts maintain that simply detonating a bomb does not mean Kim Jong-il has the power to decimate Seoul or Tokyo by the press of a button. Still, the North's scientists are getting better, and the bombs bigger. - Matthew Rusling (May 28,'09)

THE ROVING EYE
Pipelineistan goes Iran-Pak
A deal was finally signed this week in Tehran by which Iran will sell gas from its South Pars mega-fields to Pakistan by way of the 2,100-kilometer, US$7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan pipeline. For the moment, Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia win. Washington and NATO lose, not to mention Afghanistan. But will Balochistan province also win? If not, all hell will break loose, creating an even greater, regional, ball of fire. - Pepe Escobar (May 28,'09)

BOOK REVIEW
A flawed study of 'rogue' Iran
The Secret War with Iran by Ronen Bergman
Though readers are often cautioned not to judge a book by its cover, in this case the politically charged sub-title (Control of a 'Rogue' State) defines the contents perfectly. Instead of providing a serious look at the covert intelligence wars between Iran and the West, the author attempts to frame it as a "terrorist" state bent on undermining the international system. - Mahan Abedin (May 28,'09)

Beijing weighs its options
North Korea's latest nuclear test again puts China on the spot. The issue, though, is not whether Beijing has the leverage and is willing to use it against Pyongyang; it is the calculation of what impacts on what specific goals such pressure would generate, given that China's overriding and vital concern is stability on the Korean Peninsula. - Jing-dong Yuan (May 27,'09)

Taliban stuck between anvil and hammer
As Pakistani forces continue to push the Taliban into Afghanistan, the future of US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization operations comes into question. US forces may very well drive the militants back across the frontier, putting them in a position to negotiate for their future in Pakistan. - Brian M Downing (May 27,'09)

Kim Jong-il tests US-China cooperation
The complex dynamics which for centuries have marked relations between the political entities on the current Korean Peninsula - and their gigantic Western neighbor - show that Korean national pride refuses, despite China's unavoidable presence - or precisely because of it - subordination. The influence of Beijing - given its relationship with the United States - on Pyongyang, should not be overestimated. - David Gosset (May 27,'09)

World powerless to stop North Korea
Despite widespread condemnation of North Korea's nuclear test by the world's major powers, there is nothing they can do to stop Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. The bigger question is whether South Korea and Japan will decide to go nuclear - a move that would undermine the influence of the United States and China in Northeast Asia. - Santaro Rey (May 26,'09)

Sri Lanka wards off Western bullying
China and Russia have invited Sri Lanka to get involved with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and will ensure that the "international community" does not torment Colombo. Sri Lanka is becoming the theater where Russia and China are challenging the United States' global strategy to establish a North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in the Indian Ocean region. There is moral muddiness all around. - M K Bhadrakumar (May 22,'09)

Moderate Tamils chart new course
Over the past two decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam hijacked the Tamil cause. The ultra-nationalist movement did not allow moderate Tamil leaders who believed in a democratic approach to speak up, and in many cases intimidated or killed them. With the fall of the LTTE, leaders who fled are willing to come back. The Tamil political landscape is being relaid. - Ameen Izzadeen (May 26,'09)

Iran courts the US's allies
The weekend's summit between Iran and United States-backed Pakistan and Afghanistan has given Tehran an opportunity to deepen ties for the fight against terrorism and narcotics, as well as to strengthen its position ahead of proposed direct dialogue with the US. By presenting Iran as a regional power, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also boosts his chances of re-election in June. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 26,'09)

Finger-pointing riles Hezbollah
A recent report that claims Hezbollah is to blame for the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri is filled with unlikely claims - and no evidence to back them up. That Hezbollah was linked to the case two weeks ahead of parliamentary elections sets off alarm bells. - Sami Moubayed (May 26,'09)

Al-Qaeda keeps its eyes on Afghanistan
A militant cell was on the brink of an assassination attempt on Pakistani chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani last year, but it was halted by top al-Qaeda leaders, an al-Qaeda insider has revealed to Asia Times Online. They feared the backlash from such an incident would damage their overall objective - to win the war in Afghanistan. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 22,'09)

DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA
The pressure of an expanding war
For those old enough to remember, the United States has been here before. Administrations that start expanding a war such as Afghanistan find themselves locked in, even as the situation deteriorates. In Vietnam, the result was escalation without end. If the fighting in the Afghan south heats up, pressure for more troops may rise, as could pressure for more air power, more drone power, more of almost anything. - Tom Engelhardt (May 22,'09)

THE ROVING EYE
Slouching towards balkanization
Washington is focused on the Pakistani province of Balochistan like a laser. In an evolving strategy of balkanization of the country - increasingly popular in Washington foreign-policy circles - Balochistan has very attractive assets: natural wealth, scarce population and a port, which is key for Pipelineistan plans. - Pepe Escobar (May 21,'09)

Israel plays on Obama's Iran policy
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is determined to negotiate with the United States, but he wants to do so from a position of strength. Israel's pressure on Washington to link the Palestinian issue to Iran's nuclear program makes this very difficult. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 21,'09)

A neo-con Yankee in Karzai's court
Clearly frustrated with Afghan President Hamid Karzai but hesitant to replace him at this
critical juncture, the Barack Obama administration reportedly plans to neatly sidestep him by placing the politically dexterous former US ambassador to the UN and Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, into a powerful, unelected position in the government. But a newly emboldened Karzai won't easily walk into the sunset. -/STYLEhidden width= src=/images/f_images/sidespacer5.gif498TD width=B/atimes/Middle_East/KE29Ak02.html M K Bhadrakumar (May 20,'09)

Fears of a Taliban spread
The Taliban phenomenon in Pakistan is confined to the western border with Afghanistan, where the military and militants are currently engaged in fierce battle. Any movement of the Taliban towards the north may complicate Pakistan's relations with China, Central Asia and Russia, even jeopardizing the stability of the region.(May 20,'09)

Al-Qaeda seeks a new alliance
As a part of its plan to create a strategic rel=topA href= cellPadding=A href=corridor stretching from Afghanistan through Pakistan to Iran, al-Qaeda wants to ally with Jundullah, an Iranian insurgent Sunni Islamic organization opposed to Tehran. A similar alliance between al-Qaeda and a Pakistani militant group proved highly successful. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 20,'09)

DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA
Torture memos and historical amnesia
As long as Americans think of themselves as "exceptional" in history, the larger pattern of imperial crimes committed doesn't tend to penetrate and the revelation of certain specific grim acts - whether the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam years or the torture memos of today, often backfire, serving only to efface terrible crimes. - Noam Chomsky (May 20,'09)

The rise and fall of Prabhakaran
All the pujas India performs to Lord Ganesh for good luck each morning cannot wash away the guilt the nation bears - the curse of 70,000 dead souls. India created Tigers supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, but when he was pressured, he struck back. He killed a beloved leader and became India's eternal enemy. - M K Bhadrakumar (May 19,'09)

Tigers leave unfinished business
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka made a series of pivotal blunders over the past few years, but not one as big as the decision to wage a defensive war when its fighters lacked the numbers and the firepower for such a strategy. The Tigers are as a result now defeated, yet the ethnic conflict which led them to take up armed struggle 25 years ago is far from over. - Sudha Ramachandran (May 19,'09)

Maliki breaks with Shi'ite coalition
Iraq's United Iraqi Alliance, which has controlled parliament since 2005, is falling apart. The worst blow to the all-Shi'ite coalition comes from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who wants to reposition his Da'wa Party as non-sectarian while allying with powerful local leaders - including rising star Muqtada al-Sadr. - Sami Moubayed (May 18,'09)

Limits to the Saudis' jihadi crackdown
Riyadh's ability to curb the capabilities of Islamist rebels at home bodes well for its blossoming international role in counter-jihadi efforts. However, huge differences in economic conditions, religious hierarchy and tribal structures will make it difficult to replicate the success in extremist hot spots like Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. (May 15,'09)

Pakistan reels under Swat offensive
The Pakistani military claims it has killed more than 700 militants and that it is closing in on Taliban strongholds in the Swat area of North-West Frontier Province. The week-long offensive has displaced close to a million people, and many more are expected to flee the fighting. This unfolding humanitarian crisis looms as a bigger threat than the Taliban. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 14,'09)

  For pictures from the Yar Hussain refugee camp in the Swabi district, North-West Frontier Province, click here

China, Russia face up to Taliban threat
China and Russia are stepping up ties with a focus on Central Asia - and not due to fears of Washington's designs on the region. They fear the US's planned surge in Afghanistan is a last, desperate attempt before a hasty exit, and that the Taliban could capitalize and creep into Central Asia and their own Muslim-dominated regions. - Dmitry Shlapentokh (May 14,'09)

Iran to US: 'It's a culture thing'
From pornography to fashion, Tehran is fighting a losing battle as it struggles to keep American culture out of Iranian society. This is one of the main reasons Tehran is not responding to US overtures. The Islamic Republic is afraid that Washington will attempt to "soft topple" the regime through cultural aggression. - Shahir Shahidsaless (May 14,'09)

Pipelineistan goes Af-Pak
From the "Las Vegas of Central Asia" to the backlands of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan to Beijing, Moscow and Washington, the politics of "blue gold" (natural gas) and great-power politics are playing out in a lethal liquid war. -Pepe Escobar (May 13,'09)

Crisis of confidence in US-Israel ties
Ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, relations between the two countries are at an uncharacteristic low. The bottom line, though, is that despite talk of the US getting tough, President Barack Obama is in no position to wield the big stick. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 13,'09)

US choice hardly McChrystal clear 
The selection of Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal as the new top United States commander in Afghanistan has been hailed by the Pentagon and the press. A closer look at his career, which includes five years as a commander of counter-terrorism operations, not counter-insurgency, indicates he will continue with the special operations and airstrikes that have proved so counter-productive in Afghanistan. - Gareth Porter (May 13,'09) 

SPEAKING FREELY
'Hitler' up for re-election
If Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is another "Hitler", as he is regularly cast, then there would be no need for him to run for re-election - his rivals would have already been shot. And even if he were, why isn't the United States supporting his reformist opponents? - William Wedin (May 13,'09)

A new fight over the Iran 'threat'
United States President Barack Obama has made good on his promise to pay more attention to the troubles in Afghanistan, and now increasingly in Pakistan. Powerful pro-Israel factions inside and outside the US government are fighting hard to redirect attention to where they believe it belongs - on Iran and its nuclear program. - Jim Lobe and Daniel Luban (May 12,'09)

Afghanistan defies the US battle plan
Prior to the Vietnam War, counter-insurgency thinking was considered a new and even adventurous way of defeating wars of national liberation. Later, it became synonymous with Western ideas of development - turning a backward traditional society into a vigorous modern nation. Afghans see the concept in a different light: a foreign power is occupying their land, just like the Russians, British, Persians and Mughals before them. - Brian M Downing (May 12,'09)

Taliban on the run in Swat
Pakistan's massive military campaign to oust Taliban forces from a swathe of North-West Frontier Province in and around Swat has left as many as 700 militants killed, the government claims, and the Taliban on the run or under siege in most places. Up to 1.5 million residents may be displaced in coming weeks and ethnic tensions are simmering. This is exactly the situation al-Qaeda has been waiting for. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 11,'09)

Sri Lanka's Tamils watch in silence
Around the world thousands of Tamils are protesting the war in Sri Lanka, urging the United Nations to put an end to the battle that has left many of their people trapped in a tiny war zone. Yet Sri Lanka's Tamils are remarkably quiet. Some say they fear government retribution, others claim they're simply fed up with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. - Ameen Izzadeen (May 11,'09)

Colombo sticks to its guns
Sri Lanka's leaders believe nothing and no one should interfere at this pivotal juncture of their offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, despite the chorus of international disapproval over the climbing civilian casualty rate. The prickly response to Western interference in the war is nothing new, and Colombo has powerful Asian friends it can turn to for support. - Sudha Ramachandran (May 11,'09)

Balochistan is the ultimate prize
Strategically, the Pakistani province of Balochistan is mouth-watering: east of Iran, south of Afghanistan, and boasting three Arabian sea ports, including Gwadar - a harbor built by China - which is the absolute key. The only acceptable scenario for the Pentagon is to take over Gwadar, gaining a prime confluence of Pipelineistan and the US empire of bases. The die has been cast. - Pepe Escobar (May 8,'09)

This is the concluding article in a two-part report.
PART 1: Obama does his Bush impression

VIDEO
In Pakistan's Swat Valley
Syed Saleem Shahzad
meets the locals in northern Pakistan, where the Taliban hold sway. (9 min, 19Mb) (May 8,'09)

Al-Qaeda seizes on Taliban's problem
Taliban operations launched through the Pakistani tribal areas into Afghanistan have been seriously disrupted this year. If more troops are relocated from the border with India to this region, the Taliban will suffer further disruptions. Al-Qaeda sees this as an opportunity. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 7,'09)

Iraq on brink of third great mistake
If Iraq's leaders treat Sunni groups that are being infiltrated by al-Qaeda as potential enemies, it would be one of the most disastrous decisions made since 2003 - it would push the Sunni community back down the path of resistance and insurgency. - W Andrew Terrill (May 7,'09)

Muqtada comes in from the cold
The Western perception of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is of a firebrand militant attached to strings pulled in Iran. The face Muqtada presented on a visit to Turkey at the weekend - his first public appearance in nearly two years - told a very different story, one of a "cultural, economic and political rebellion", no guns, and of solidarity with Ankara on the issue of Kurds. - Sami Moubayed (May 6,'09)

Why suicide bombers are back in Iraq
In the past two months, there have been 25 suicide bombings in Iraq, bringing the seemingly forgotten war back into the media spotlight. The United States may be downplaying the violence as a "last gasp" by al-Qaeda, but the reality is that insurgents are responding to Washington's unclear terms of withdrawal. (May 6,'09)

Hamas feels the heat from Syria
Damascus is pushing hard to reinvent itself, taking major steps to prove its willingness to be a leading powerbroker in the region and leave its reputation as a sponsor of terrorism behind. In a move that would have dramatic implications in the region, Hamas' political leadership could be asked to hit the road. - Special Correspondent (May 6,'09)

Obama could learn from Karzai
There is supreme irony in the suggestion that what is helping Afghan President Hamid Karzai more than anything else to wrap up his re-election on August 20 is that Western politicians were so quick to distance themselves from him. Without the opprobrium of their company, Karzai gained some key alliances and a new credibility - even respectability - in Afghan eyes. It all reads like a morality play. - M K Bhadrakumar (May 5,'09)

Al-Qaeda gets a new target
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has made a bold decision in answering the call from the United States for all of Pakistan's politicians to throw their weight behind the military to take on militants. The move is also dangerous. By turning his back on Taliban and al-Qaeda members he once lauded, Sharif has made himself a prime target, and al-Qaeda has already fired a graphic first shot. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 5,'09)

Exposed jihadis put Pakistan on the spot
The tales that seven Pakistani fighters caught in Afghanistan told interrogators sent shock waves all the way to Washington. Evidence of a jihadi network openly doing business in Pakistani cities was all the United States needed to convince the leaders in Islamabad - both government and opposition - that the time had come to stand united against militancy. Al-Qaeda has already mapped its reponse. - Syed Saleem Shahzad (May 4,'09)

Britain bruised by its Basra adventure
With a somber military ceremony in Basra, Britain bade farewell to its six-year, controversy filled stint in Iraq. Its legacy is still unfolding, but the country's involvement is by far and away its most problematic foreign adventure since the Suez crisis of 1956, and the costs are still being counted both at home and in Basra. - Ronan Thomas (May 4,'09)

A shot in the arm for Hezbollah
Fireworks and celebratory gunfire crackled through Beirut's streets after the release this week of four Lebanese generals arrested in 2005 over former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri's assassination, with Hezbollah expected to benefit from the dramatic turn of events at June's elections. - Sami Moubayed (May 1,'09)

US hides behind Iran sanctions threat
Proposed legislation introduced into the United States Senate this week would place "crippling sanctions" on Iran by targeting its energy imports. Tehran has reacted angrily, placing a question mark over any further moves towards US-Iran dialogue. It could be that this was precisely Washington's intention. - Kaveh L Afrasiabi (May 1,'09)

BOOK REVIEW
Behind the Afghan propaganda
Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould
Providing an honest overview of the US's involvement in Afghanistan dating from the Cold War, this book raises useful questions for anti-imperialists, "liberal imperialists" and neo-cons alike. As independence continues to elude the Afghan people, the full extent of Washington's meddling is revealed. - Anthony Fenton (May 1,'09)

 April 2009

vspace= BR

ATol Specials



Syed Saleem Shahzad reports on the Afghan war from the Taliban side
(Dec '06)

How Hezbollah defeated Israel
By
Mark Perry and
Alastair Crooke
(Oct '06)

Mark Perry and
Alastair Crooke
talk to the 'terrorists'
(Mar, '06)

  The evidence for and against Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program

  Nir Rosen goes inside the Iraqi resistance

Nir Rosen rides with the 3rd armored cavalry in western Iraq

Islamism, fascism and terrorism

by Marc Erikson


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