News & Current Affairs

July 6, 2009

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:16 pm

US and Russia agree nuclear cuts

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reached an outline agreement to cut back their nations’ stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The “joint understanding” signed in Moscow would see reductions of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 each within seven years of a new treaty.

The accord would replace the 1991 Start I treaty, which expires in December.

Mr Obama said the two countries were both “committed to leaving behind the suspicion and the rivalry of the past”.

Separately, Russia also agreed to allow the US military to fly troops and weapons across its territory to Afghanistan, allowing it to avoid using supply routes through Pakistan that are attacked by militants.

On a range of issues, differences remain between us
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The two countries also will set up a joint commission to co-operate over energy, and fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking. Military co-operation, suspended since last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia, will be resumed.

However, on the contentious issue of US plans to base parts of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, the presidents merely said they had agreed to a joint study into ballistic missile threats and the creation of a data exchange centre.

‘Frank’ discussions

After three hours of talks at the Kremlin on Monday, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev publicly signed a joint understanding to negotiate a new arms control treaty that would set lower levels of both nuclear warheads and delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.

US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL
Each country to cut deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675 (currently 1,700-2,200)
Delivery systems to be within 500-1,000 range (currently 1,600)
Reductions so be achieved within seven years of new treaty
Treaty to be signed before Start I expires in December and include “effective” verification measures

“Within seven years after this treaty comes into force, and in future, the limits for strategic delivery systems should be within the range of 500-1,100 units and for warheads linked to them within the range of 1,500-1,675 units,” the document said.

Under the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, each country is allowed between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed nuclear warheads and 1,600 delivery systems – meaning each side might only be required to decommission a further 25 warheads.

Correspondents also point out that the proposed cuts would still leave the US and Russia able to destroy each other many times over.

A White House statement said the new treaty would “include effective verification measures” and “enhance the security of both the US and Russia, as well as provide predictability and stability in strategic offensive forces”.

Afterwards, Mr Medvedev said the talks had been “very frank and very sincere”, but that they had been, “without any doubt, the meeting we had been waiting for in Russia and the United States”.

“I would like particularly to stress that our country would like to reach a level of co-operation with the United States that would really be worthy of the 21st Century, and which would ensure international peace and security,” he said.

Russians spell out their hopes for Obama visit

But the Russian leader cautioned that there remained “differences on many issues”, most notably on the proposed US missile defence shield.

Mr Obama said he and Mr Medvedev were countering a “sense of drift” and were now resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can co-operate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

“We must lead by example, and that’s what we are doing here today,” he said.

The US president said he was confident a legally binding disarmament treaty would be signed by the end of the year, when Start I expires.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He said last week that he thought the former Russian president had “one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new”.

“I think that it’s important that even as we move forward with President Medvedev, that Putin understands that the old Cold War approaches to US-Russian relations is outdated, that it’s time to move forward in a different direction,” he told the Associated Press.

Mr Putin responded: “We stand solidly on our own two feet and always look into the future.”

Graph showing US and Russian nuclear weapon stockpiles

June 19, 2009

Somali MP gunned down in capital

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 9:11 pm

Somali MP gunned down in capital

map

A Somali politician has been killed by gunmen in the capital, Mogadishu, the government has confirmed.

Mohamed Hussein Addow’s killing is the third of a high-profile public figure in as many days.

A suicide attack killed the country’s security minister and 34 others a day earlier in Beledweyne, in the north.

Mogadishu’s police commander was also killed this week. Pro-government forces have been fighting radical Islamist guerrillas in the city since 7 May.

Friday’s fighting happened in the Karen district of northern Mogadishu – the area Mr Addow represented.

Earlier, the funeral of Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was held.

He was an outspoken critic of al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group which said it carried out Thursday’s suicide attack.

A combined force of radical Islamic militants, including al-Shabab, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, has been trying to topple the fragile UN-backed government for three years.

A moderate Islamist president took office in Somalia in January but even his introduction of Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country has not appeased the guerrillas.

February 13, 2009

Five children shot in Afghanistan

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 5:01 am

Five children shot in Afghanistan

Map of Afghanistan

Australia is investigating an incident involving its troops in southern Afghanistan in which five children are reported to have been killed.

An official statement said Australian special forces clearing houses in Uruzgan province in a hunt for militants, and came under attack.

They fired back at Taleban insurgents, and five children were among the dead.

Australia’s military has about 1,100 soldiers in Afghanistan, based mainly in Uruzgan province.

The incident took place on Thursday.

No Australian soldiers were injured, but a suspected militant was killed.

Two other adults and two more children were wounded.

The Australian defence department said in a statement it was “obviously concerned about any loss of life.

“It is for this reason that Australian forces operate under strict rules of engagement that aim to avoid and minimise civilian casualties.”

November 13, 2008

Iran envoy abducted in Pakistan

Iran envoy abducted in Pakistan

The car of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat

The diplomat’s car was hit by bullets

Gunmen have kidnapped a diplomat from Iran and killed his guard in the north-western Pakistani city of Peshawar, police say.

The Iranian diplomat was said to be the commercial attache of the consulate.

The incident happened a day after an American aid worker and his driver were shot dead as they traveled to work in a suburb of the city.

Violence has surged in the north-west in recent months with a wave of attacks blamed on Islamist militants.

A police officer told the AFP news agency that the diplomat was traveling to the consulate in Peshawar when the gunmen attacked his car.

“The attackers sprayed bullets, forcing the car to stop and then dragged out the diplomat while his police guard was killed,” Banaras Khan said.

Worsening security

The gunmen took away the diplomat in a separate vehicle, another policeman said.

Authorities have cordoned off the city’s main road and are trying to trace the diplomat.

In a similar incident two months ago, unknown gunmen kidnapped Afghan consul-general, Abdul Khaliq Farahi, from the same locality after killing his driver. Mr Farahi is still missing.

On Tuesday, American aid worker Stephen Vance and his driver were killed just outside their office in the University Town area in Peshawar. It is still not clear who the attackers were.

Map

Mr Vance worked for Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF) International, which is working to implement US-funded projects to help develop the troubled tribal belt.

Areas close to Peshawar – the biggest city in north-west Pakistan – are known to be Taleban and al-Qaeda strongholds.

The region has been hit by several bombings and suicide attacks recently.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber walked up to the gate of a stadium in Peshawar and blew himself up.

The attack happened as the governor of North-West Frontier Province left after a sports tournament.

He was unhurt but at least one man was killed and three people were injured.

The security situation across Pakistan has steadily worsened over the past few years, with Taleban militants holding sway over a large stretch of North-West Frontier Province.

But our correspondent says attacks on foreigners in Pakistan are rare. Across the border in Afghanistan aid workers and other foreigners have increasingly been targeted in recent months.

Gunmen attacked the car of a US diplomat in Peshawar in August, but she was unhurt.

September 19, 2008

India police kill ‘two militants’

India police kill ‘two militants’

Breaking News

Police in the Indian capital Delhi say they have killed two suspected militants in a shoot-out, days after a series of bomb blasts in the city.

A senior official said two policemen were injured in the clash with militants around a house in the Muslim dominated Jamia Nagar area.

There was a “fierce exchange” of gunfire around the house, eyewitnesses told the news.

At least 20 people died in a series of blasts in the city last week.

Television news channels showed an ambulance taking away a bloodied person from the crowded Jamia Nagar area after the gun battle ended.

Witnesses told the BBC that a large contingent of policemen surrounded a four-storey home where the suspected militants were supposed to be hiding.

“The police were firing at the fourth and top storey of the building. A lot of people had gathered around the building,” one eyewitness said.

On Wednesday, Delhi police issued sketches of three men who they believe were involved in the bomb attacks that hit the city on Saturday.

About 90 people were injured when the five devices went off in busy shopping areas within minutes of each other.

An e-mail purportedly from a group calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen” claimed it carried out the attacks.

September 15, 2008

Melbourne jury convicts militants

Melbourne jury convicts militants

Breaking News

A Muslim cleric and five of his followers have been convicted of belonging to a terrorist group which allegedly planned attacks in Australia.

A jury in Melbourne found Abdul Nacer Benbrika guilty of leading the group.

The cell was accused of planning to stage “violent jihad”, targeting the prime minister and major sports events.

Four other men were acquitted. Charges are pending against two others, in what is being described as Australia’s biggest-ever terrorism trial.

September 14, 2008

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

A Turkmen policeman in Ashgabat in February 2007

Bordering Afghanistan, Turkmenistan is a known route for the heroin trade

Authorities in Turkmenistan say they have “neutralized” a gang of drug traffickers in a security operation overnight in the capital Ashgabat.

The statement contradicted earlier media reports that security forces had been engaged in heavy gun battles with Islamist militants.

Some reports said at least 20 police officers had died in the fighting.

The claims are extremely difficult to confirm, as Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most tightly controlled states.

‘Sealed off’

The Central Asian nation borders Afghanistan to the east and is a known route for the global heroin trade.

In what analysts said was a rare confirmation of unrest in the ex-Soviet republic, the Turkmen foreign ministry said in a statement that “a criminal group involved in the illegal drug trade” had been “neutralized”.

The ministry did not say whether there were any casualties, or if any traffickers had been detained.

Foreign media organizations earlier said that Islamic militants were involved in the fighting, though the ministry made no reference to this.

The neighbourhood where the fighting took place, in Ashgabat’s northern suburbs, was sealed off until Sunday morning, an AFP reporter said.

September 12, 2008

Pakistan’s counter-insurgency quandary

Pakistan’s counter-insurgency quandary

The residents of Sheikh Yasin camp are not celebrating the inauguration of Pakistan’s new president.

Taheer, a farmer now resident in the Sheikh Yasin camp
The army’s killing people because America gives it money to fight terrorists, so it has to show it’s doing something
Taher, a farmer now resident in Sheikh Yasin camp

They jostle each other as they wait for hand-outs of bread and queuing for soup, ladled out from huge vats under a canvas tarpaulin crusty with flies.

More than 2,000 people have fled to the camp to escape an army bombing campaign against the local Taleban in the Bajaur tribal area near the Afghan border. More civilians were killed than militants, they say.

For many Pakistanis, this is what the “war on terror” has brought: displacement and death. There is resentment and anger.

Double game

Despite, or perhaps because of, the high price that Pakistan has paid since 9/11, there’s no consensus in the country about how to confront Islamist militancy.

Now with a new president and a relatively new government, once again questions are being raised about the country’s counter-insurgency policy.

Pakistan’s former military leader Pervez Musharraf swung between military offensives and peace talks with militants.

Neither worked, and the general, although a key American ally, was accused of playing a double game by maintaining links with the Taleban.

It’s not clear if it will be any different under the new civilian President, Asif Zardari, who took the oath of office this week. During his party’s short six months in government, it has also tried both war and peace.

But at his inaugural press conference, Mr Zardari seemed to signal a new line. He shared the podium with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president who has accused Pakistan of harboring and supporting the Taleban.

They pledged co-operation against the militants, something for which Washington has long been pressing.

‘America’s man’

“I think so far Mr Zardari has been more forthright and more articulate [than Musharraf] in his belief that the war on terror has to be fought with greater intensity and sincerity,” says Tariq Fathimi, a former ambassador to the United States.

“He has also been very categorical in stating that the war on terror is something that’s in the interest of Pakistan, and that must be something that pleases the Bush administration.”

resident of Sheikh Yasin camp

For Sheikh Yasin residents, the ‘war on terror’ has brought only misery

But for many in Pakistan, his performance has only strengthened impressions that he’s America’s man, and that’s a problem.

Most Pakistanis are opposed to their government’s participation in what they call America’s war. And a recent surge in US air strikes against suspected militant targets in Pakistan’s border region has not helped the new government.

“It is making things rather impossible for us,” says Rehman Malik, head of the Interior Ministry, “because when the people hear of an alien attack, nobody likes it, we’re talking about the sovereignty of our country.

“So we are fighting our war… and now we are asking the international community to help us.”

It’s not just the people – Pakistan’s army is also angry, and it’s still the country’s most powerful institution. Any new policy or approach by Asif Zardari would need its backing to be successful.

Analysts say the army is unsure about Mr Zardari but willing to work with him, especially if he can deliver clear parliamentary support for military action.

Pakistani soldiers in NWFP

The army is eager to get the government’s support

That source of popular legitimacy was sorely lacking under the previous administration. But the US air strikes complicate the relationship with the government.

“Within the army there is strong thinking that we are being let down by the government if it doesn’t respond,” says retired General Talat Masood.

“Because then, what would the people of Pakistan think about the army, which is just allowing national sovereignty to be violated in such a gross manner?”

There’s no doubt Pakistan is facing a huge problem of Islamic militancy. But many are convinced it can’t tackle this if it’s seen to be acting at America’s behest.

“Probably the only way to reverse it is to initiate a parliamentary debate,” says Zaffar Abbas, the Islamabad editor of Dawn Newspaper, “to have a home-grown policy to deal with militancy and religious extremism, which is somewhat de-linked from the American demand to have an international campaign against terrorism.

“Unless they are able to do it, it will be nearly impossible to deal with this menace of terrorism.”

Asif Zardari may have signalled that he’s willing to work closely with America. But as a democratically elected leader, he also says he’ll be directed by parliament.

How he handles that is crucial. His challenge is to truly make this Pakistan’s war.

Bush ‘approved’ Pakistan attacks

Bush ‘approved’ Pakistan attacks

Masked militants close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan (file image)

The US says militants are hiding out in north-west Pakistan

President George W Bush has authorised US military raids against militants inside Pakistan without prior approval from Islamabad.

An unnamed senior Pentagon official told the classified order had been made within the past two months.

On Wednesday, the US’s top military commander said strategy in Afghanistan was shifting to include raids across the border into Pakistan.

Pakistan has said it will not allow foreign forces onto its territory.

The Pakistani ambassador to the US has disputed the claim, first reported in the New York Times.

“In our bilateral discussions, no such idea has been mooted and will certainly not be accepted by Pakistan,” Husain Haqqani told Reuters.

“Pakistan would not accept foreign troops. This is not the best way to pursue the war against terror,” he said.

Meanwhile, security officials in Pakistan say they have killed up to 100 mostly foreign militants on the Afghan border. There has been no independent confirmation.

Growing frustration

The US say that Pakistan’s north-west tribal areas are being used as “safe havens” by militants preparing attacks on Afghanistan.

But Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said there was “no question of any agreement or understanding with the coalition forces whereby they are allowed to conduct operations on our side of the border”.

map Fata

He said the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan would be defended at all cost.

A senior Pentagon official told that Mr Bush gave his approval this summer for cross-border raids into Pakistan.

The order includes the use of conventional ground troops crossing the border into Pakistan to pursue militants there.

An unnamed former intelligence official told the New York Times that the Pakistani government is not told about intended targets because of concerns that its intelligence services are infiltrated by al-Qaeda supporters.

It is a sign of growing US frustration with Islamabad’s lack of assertive action against the militants.

There is also an increasing concern about the threat such militants pose to Nato troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, and potentially to the US, says our correspondent.

The US has been carrying out regular military air strikes on Pakistan from Afghanistan, but ten days ago US troops carried out a ground assault for the first time.

Pakistan said the raid in South Waziristan was a violation of its sovereignty and summoned the US ambassador to hear a “very strong protest”.

Islamabad fears that attacks by US troops could encourage support for the Taleban militants among tribal groups in the border area.

The latest revelation appears to be part of a slow change in US strategy towards Pakistan and will only add to the tensions between the two countries, our correspondent adds.

‘Common insurgency’

Officially, the US has stressed the need for co-operation with Islamabad.

Adm Mike Mullen testifying at the US House of Representatives

US ‘must target Pakistan havens’

On Thursday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told Congress that the US must continue to work closely with Pakistan.

“In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them,” he said.

“We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan… but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming.”

The US move to focus efforts on the Afghan-Pakistan border was welcomed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“Change of strategy is essential,” said Mr Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday.

“It means that we go to those areas which are the training bases and havens – we jointly go there and remove and destroy them.”

September 4, 2008

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistan fury over ‘US assault’

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan

Tension in Pakistan’s north-west has increased in recent months

Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest at an alleged cross-border raid which officials say killed at least 15 villagers in the north-west.

A number of civilians were reported killed in the raid, which Pakistan says was a violation of its sovereignty.

Correspondents say the raid appears to have been the first ever ground assault by foreign forces based in Afghanistan.

US-led and Nato forces said they had no reports of any such incursion. Border tensions have risen in recent weeks.

US aircraft have carried out air strikes in the region, but a ground assault would be unprecedented.

It is not clear who the target of any attack might have been.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan would not allow any foreign power to carry out attacks on its territory.

He was speaking hours after his motorcade was hit by sniper fire near the capital, Islamabad. Senior government officials say he was not in the car at the time.

‘Act of aggression’

Pakistani military and political officials say ground troops brought in by US-led coalition helicopters launched the attack in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan border early on Wednesday morning.

Map

Locals say soldiers attacked with gunfire and bombs. Women and children were among those reported killed.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said a “very strong protest” had been delivered to the ambassador, Anne Paterson.

“The ambassador said that she would convey it to her government,” he said.

The army called the attack an act of aggression which undermined the fight against militancy.

North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, who is in administrative charge of the tribal areas, called the attack “cowardly”.

“At least 20 innocent citizens of Pakistan, including women and children, were martyred,” he said in a statement.

There is mounting US pressure on Pakistan – a key ally in the “war on terror” – to crack down on militants, who use the border region to launch raids into Afghanistan.

The Afghan government and Nato say the border region is a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Pakistan says it is doing all it can to curb militancy.

On Monday, Pakistan’s military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in the neighboring Bajaur tribal area.

The government said this suspension of fighting was to respect the fasting month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

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