Newsbud Exclusive-The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg: An Analysis

An exposé on the expansionist agenda of NATO which shows no intention of slowing down!

We travel to people and places important to us. If somebody looked at our travel itineraries over time, it would not be difficult to discover our priorities, our likes and dislikes, our beliefs and fears, the general pattern of how we live our lives and what we think about.

The same applies to political figures. Whom they travel to meet can reveal a lot about their current political agenda and the way they go about putting it into practice. It might even be possible to predict certain of their future moves.

Considering that, at this time, NATO activities are bringing Europe one step closer to another global conflagration (so familiar from both recent and more distant European past), it is worth examining the travels of its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and seeing what they can tell us about current and future NATO moves.[1]

Jens Stoltenberg is a long-time Norwegian politician of centrist social-democratic orientation and was the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party.[2] His father Thorvald Stoltenberg was also a well-known figure in the same political party and, at different times, held the posts of defense minister (1979-1981) and foreign minister (1987-1989 & 1990-1993).[3] The younger Stoltenberg served two times as the prime minister: 2000-2001 and 2005-2013. It should be noted that he was in charge of Norway during the July 22, 2011 bomb attack on the government building in Oslo and the subsequent Breivik massacre.

Stoltenberg's party lost the majority in the parliamentary elections of September 2013 and, as a result, he lost the post of the prime minister. Conveniently, the chief NATO position became open a year later and he was chosen to replace the neo-liberal Iraq-war Bush ally Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO summit in Wales in September 2014. It appears that Stoltenberg's nomination received the strongest support from the German chancellor Angela Merkel who was able to convince other NATO leaders to vote for him.[4]

This is interesting in light of the fact that both Merkel and Stoltenberg have been alleged to have had contacts with the Soviet KGB in their youth. All throughout the last decade there were occasional reports in the Norwegian media about the alleged "grooming" of the young Stoltenberg by the KGB agents in Oslo in the 1980s under the code name Steklov.[5] Stoltenberg denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the allegations were a part of the brutal campaign by his right-wing opponents. It is curious though that Stoltenberg toned down the aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric of his NATO predecessor Rasmussen. However, it is the actions that count and they are no different than Rasmussen's.

The 13th Secretary General

Stoltenberg's first day on the job as NATO's Secretary General was October 1, 2014. He is the 13th Secretary General since NATO's founding in 1949 and let's hope that this number is not a sign of bad luck for him, Europe, or the world.

Stoltenberg's first foreign trip took place just 5 days later and it was to Poland. This choice of the first destination is very revealing. Poland is the most populous among East-Central European NATO members and plays the key role in the new NATO doctrine of putting pressure on Russia in the North. It is also the  most important ally of the pro-NATO government in Ukraine and is actively engaged in assisting the Kiev side in the civil war. The fact that the next NATO Summit will take place in Warsaw in July 2016 was likely also the topic of discussion.

Stoltenberg's second trip exposed even more clearly the contours of a logic that has the encirclement of Russia as its main driving force. It was a two-day trip to Turkey on October 9-10, 2014. Just like Poland in the North, Turkey is the most important NATO member in the South. At the same time, due to its numerous internal problems and imperial historical tradition, Turkey is the most "troublesome" of all NATO allies. We have witnessed the exponential increase in the hostilities between Turkey and Russia within the last year, linked, primarily, to the Russian military intervention in Syria, but also to the situation in Crimea and the general Black Sea region. It is worth remembering that Russia and Turkey have fought a long series of wars in the past centuries and that this region has now once again become one of the most explosive places in the world.

This was not Stoltenberg's only visit to Turkey so far. He visited it much more recently on April 21-22, 2016 and this should be taken as an indicator of the further deterioration of the Russo-Turkish relations. At the same time, Stoltenberg visited the squadron of NATO ships based in the Aegean Sea, the official purpose of which is to monitor the refugee situation, but which at the same time keeps a very close watch on the Russian navy activity in the area.

Every time Stoltenberg visits Turkey, he also has to visit Greece in order to appear fair to both NATO members which have a lot of unresolved issues, including the division of Cyprus. Hence he visited Greece right after Turkey on both occasions, the first time on October 30, 2014, and the second time on April 22, 2016. Recently, Greece has intensified relations with Russia as  exemplified in the May 2016 visit of the Russian president Vladimir Putin. Of extreme importance in this respect was Putin's visit to the Orthodox monastic community on Mount Athos.[6] This Christian Orthodox connection may turn out to be the eventual undoing of NATO, but that is a topic that requires a separate studious treatment.

Stoltenberg also visited two ongoing NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He visited Afghanistan twice, first, quite early in his tenure on November 6, 2014 (which shows the high priority of this operation), and then on March 15, 2016. He visited Kosovo only once on January 23, 2015. It is very important to note that his visit was officially announced as the visit to the KFOR troops, even though he met with the entire Kosovo Albanian leadership. This was done in order to save NATO itself from an embarrassing and open dissension among its members, considering that four NATO member states do not recognize Kosovo's independence: Spain, Slovakia, Romania, and Greece. This issue remains an Achilles heel of NATO and will no doubt be even more exploited by its opponents in the future.

Moreover, is it surprising that the country most visited by Stoltenberg so far is neither Poland nor Turkey nor the U.K. and the U.S., but Germany? In fact, Germany is the only NATO member state in which Stoltenberg met not only with the leadership, but also addressed the meetings of political parties. He gave a speech at the annual meeting of the conservative Bavarian CSU parliamentary group in Wildbad Kreuth on January 8, 2015 and the social-democrat SPD conference in Berlin on February 8, 2015. This intense focus on Germany shows to what extent the support of German political elites is crucial for the continued existence of NATO. Let's not forget that one of the most concise definitions of NATO was given by its first Secretary General Lord Ismay when he said that the purpose of NATO is "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down."[7] Stoltenberg also took part in the Munich Security Conference, the annual gathering of the erstwhile Cold Warriors, on February 6-7, 2015.

Forums and Conferences

In addition to the Munich conference, it is interesting to see which other international conferences and forums were attended by Stoltenberg because this will give us a sense of the network of NATO-friendly international non-governmental organizations. One of these is the Snow Meeting organized every year by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which Stoltenberg attended on January 15-16, 2015. Another is the Brussels Forum organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and attended by Stoltenberg on March 20, 2015 and again on March 18, 2016. This not-for-profit organization has been one of the strongest advocates of the NATO expansion in Europe and sponsors the whole variety of activities connected to NATO promotion. One can say that the GMF is one of the most significant tools of NATO soft power. It is financially supported by the German government as well as many corporate sponsors. The close association between the GMF and Stoltenberg is also revealed by the fact that one of his first speeches in office was the address to the GMF in Brussels on October 28, 2015.

Tightly related to the GMF is the POLITICO magazine, considering that its Editor-in-Chief John F. Harris is on the GMF Board of Trustees.[8] And, indeed, Stoltenberg attended the launch party for the European branch of POLITICO in Brussels on April 23, 2015. No doubt that POLITICO is a new addition to the usual suspects of the U.S. public diplomacy (propaganda) warfare in Europe, such as the Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.

While he was in the U.S. on May 25-27, 2015, Stoltenberg delivered a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, D.C., another think tank whose raison d'être is to promote NATO interests in Europe and beyond. Stoltenberg visited the U.S. on two more occasions, most recently, on April 4-7, 2016. He also took part in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 22-23, 2016.

Non-NATO states

The key part of the job of a NATO Secretary General is to lobby  - using the stick, the carrot, or both - the (remaining) non-NATO states in Europe, the post-Soviet region, North Africa, and the Middle East to closely tie their foreign policy to NATO goals and projects, even if they stop short of becoming actual members. Obviously, the pressure to integrate into NATO is the strongest in Europe and it is therefore not surprising that Stoltenberg visited almost all militarily neutral European states. The first on his list was Finland which he visited on March 4-5, 2015, then came Sweden on November 9-10, 2015, Serbia on November 19-20, 2015, and Switzerland on January 22-23, 2016 (on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos). All these states (barring perhaps Switzerland) are currently under intense propaganda barrage by the external and internal NATO-friendly political forces to give up their traditional military neutrality and join NATO. Stoltenberg's visits were an important component of the carefully designed psychological operation to turn up the heat on the unwilling general population of these states. This is especially evident in the case of Montenegro which Stoltenberg visited twice, first, on June 10-11, 2015 and, then, again on October 14-15, 2015. His visits were used by the Montenegrin regime of Milo Djukanović to increase the popular support for NATO membership. The regime's attempts were not successful as the majority of the Montenegrin citizens still remain opposed to NATO.

Stoltenberg also visited two former Soviet states, Georgia on August 26-27, 2015, and Ukraine on September 21-22, 2015. The ruling elites of both states have become willing collaborators in NATO's Eastern expansion, which turned these states into overt and covert battlefields with Russia. Both the winners and the losers of this NATO-Russia geopolitical chess game are known. The winners are the military-industrial-intelligence complexes and the losers are the ordinary people. On all sides.

It should also be noted that Stoltenberg visited several non-NATO states in the Middle East and North Africa. He visited Jordan on December 8-10, 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the NATO-sponsored organization Mediterranean Dialogue, which includes seven states: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunis.[9] He continued on to Qatar on December 10-12, 2014 to mark another anniversary: the 10th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, a NATO-led project that brings together NATO member states and Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain.[10] Stoltenberg paid another visit to the region more recently. He visited Kuwait on February 29, 2016, Iraq on March 1, 2016, and the UAE on March 2, 2016.

Overall, in the period included in this analysis (October 2014 - June 2016), Stoltenberg made slightly less than 90 trips. His travels expose the expansionist agenda of NATO which shows no intention of slowing down. However, the intention is one thing and its becoming reality quite another.

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Filip Kovacevic is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

Notes

[1] All the information about Stoltenberg's travels comes from the official NATO website

www.nato.int and concerns the time period from his becoming the Secretary General until early June 2016 when the analysis was conducted.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jens_Stoltenberg

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorvald_Stoltenberg

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29424512

[5] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=ba6_1413068110

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/putin-visits-orthodox-monastic-community-at-mount-athos/2016/05/28/af53bf56-24d0-11e6-b944-52f7b1793dae_story.html

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/opinion/16iht-edwheatcroft16.html?_r=0

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Marshall_Fund

[9] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_60021.htm

[10] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_58787.htm?

 

The Alliance of Neutral States (ANS): Putin’s Anti-NATO Grand Design for the Balkans

Capitalizing on the popular dissatisfaction with the neoliberal Atlanticist political & economic status quo

For about two decades, it appeared that the end of the Cold War in Europe left the Balkan states with no long-term geostrategic option except the so-called Euro-Atlantic integrations underwritten by the ideology known as Atlanticism. This option reached the peak of its strength after NATO's military intervention in the Bosnian conflict in 1995 (which was its first out-of-area military operation since the founding in 1949) and NATO's 78-day long war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. More covertly, NATO forces also intervened in the Macedonian-Albanian conflict in 2001.

As the result of these offensive military undertakings, Bosnia and Kosovo essentially became NATO protectorates with the civilian administrations being supervised by the EU, while the U.S. military bases and auxiliary facilities were quickly established in both. In addition,  Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania became the members of NATO in 2004 and Croatia and Albania in 2009. All remaining Balkan states, surrounded by NATO members from all sides, rapidly developed close military and intelligence linkages with NATO headquarters in Brussels. This process was greatly helped by the fact that the ruling political elites in these states, except to some extent in Serbia and the Serb Republic (a political subunit within Bosnia), openly acted as NATO's agents of influence and advocated membership, even though this contradicted the political will of the majority of the population.

These Balkan political elites have been allowed to compensate for the obvious lack of internal democratic legitimacy by the endless praise from the high-level officials in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, London, and Washington, DC. Organized crime, corruption, lawless privatizations, massive unemployment, widespread poverty and hopelessness have simply been swept under the rug. The typically loud defenders of human rights and the rule of law have looked the other way. Evidently, the Atlanticist end justified all and any "dirty" means. Geography trumped democracy.

Progressive Resistance

It is true that even during this period there were political forces which advocated alternative scenarios, mostly based on the Titoist policy of non-alignment and the "third way" in international affairs. However, their activities were constantly being subverted by the well-oiled,  imported NATO propaganda machinery in the government, in the media, and in the non-governmental sector. Their members were generally young people who were enthusiastic, honest and genuinely committed to the public good, but were plagued by the lack of funding and faced with frequent media blackout and open discrimination. Nonetheless, their programs articulated the most promising and humane geopolitical vision for the Balkans. They conceptualized the Balkans as a territorial bridge between the West and the East rather than as the place of persistent confrontation, or the "line of fire" as formulated by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015.[1] They wanted the Balkans to become a force for peace and human dignity in the world.[2] Their vision still remains the best option for the Balkan peoples.

However, even though these progressive groups still continue to be active with no less enthusiasm than before, they are being increasingly superseded in their anti-NATO efforts by the revival of the once vanquished (and left for dead) U.S. Cold War opponent. Since the beginning of conflict in Ukraine in early 2014, Putin's administration has returned to the Balkans with political force and funding not seen since the days of the tsar Nicholas II.

Enter Putin (in the footsteps of Nicholas II)

It is worth remembering that in summer 1914 Nicholas II entered what came to be known as the WWI in order to protect Serbia and the Serbian people from the Austro-Hungarian invasion. Some political circles in both Russia and Serbia understand the decades-long NATO's military activities in the very same historical key, especially with regard to the status of Kosovo. While the possibility that history will repeat itself in this respect is, thankfully, still far remote, it cannot be denied that recent developments go a long way in creating the ominous atmosphere for the eruption of localized violence in the near future.

These developments all relate to the declining popularity of the Atlanticist geopolitical narrative in the Balkans and the foremost among them is the public articulation of a new Balkan grand design by the Putin administration. Just as the fundamental component of the U.S. grand design for the Balkans is its eventual full integration into NATO, Russia has now articulated a clear and precise counter-design. Instead of joining NATO, the remaining non-NATO Balkan states (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia) are to form the alliance of neutral states (ANS).

The Lovćen Declaration

What the ANS means in practice can best understood if we examine the first formal document in which it has been articulated. This so-called Lovćen declaration was signed by the representatives of the United Russia party (founded by Putin and currently chaired by the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev) and the Montenegrin opposition party Democratic People's Party in the historically significant Montenegrin village of Njeguši on May 6, 2016.[3]

Njeguši is the birthplace of the Montenegrin royal dynasty of Petrović-Njegoš which ruled over Montenegro for more than 200 years and developed very close political and family ties with the long-ruling Russian dynasty of Romanovs. Moreover, the declaration was signed in the house in which one of the most famous rulers of the dynasty, Petar II, known as the Montenegrin Shakespeare, was born. The name of the declaration also has an important historical connotation as it comes from the nearby mountain Lovćen on the top of which the Petar II's mausoleum is located.

One of the most powerful political figures in Montenegro, the metropolitan Amfilohije, the chief bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, was present at the signing and gave his blessing. Though in the past Amfilohije has been known to support the authoritarian and pro-NATO prime minister Milo Djukanović around the election time, he has always publicly opposed NATO membership and has given fiery speeches on its "evil nature" to the point of accusing NATO for continuing Hitler's anti-Slavic project.[4]

Even more importantly, Amfilohije's involvement with the Lovćen declaration reveals one of the fundamental components of Putin's overall geopolitical plan - the nurturing and intensification of the religious Christian Orthodox connection between the Russians and the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans. This includes not the Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians, but also the Greeks and Bulgarians whose states are in NATO and whose religious "awakening" can easily subvert NATO from the inside. The strength of this connection and its future implications have seriously been underestimated by the Atlanticist circles. There are clear indications that these circles have been taken by surprise and now, in their first reactions, seek to minimize the importance of Putin's ANS efforts.

The Atlanticist Response

For example, the journalist Gennady Sysoev, Balkan correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, who is known in Montenegro for his NATO-friendly commentaries, claims that Putin's undertaking is bound to end in failure because the partners of the United Russia in the Balkans are in the political opposition and the ANS goes against the officially proclaimed policies of the Montenegrin and other Balkan governments.[5] However, Sysoev is intentionally silent on the fact that, given the present political instability in Montenegro, Bosnia, and Macedonia, the United Russia's political partners, which, it is true, are now in the opposition, might be able to come to power at some point in the not too distant future. Indeed, they have entered the partnership with Russia's ruling political party precisely because they intend not to be the opposition any longer and expect financial and logistical help from Putin in their electoral political activities. They will hardly be disappointed. The Lovćen declaration spells out in detail all aspects of political, economic, and social relations in which the Russian support will be forthcoming.

The NATO-controlled media in Montenegro quickly seized on Sysoev's article and summarized it under the title "Putin's party relies on marginal figures."[6] The speed of translation and publication suggest the high degree of coordination. However, the title of the article is misleading because the very same method has been used by the U.S. and NATO intelligence services to control the governments of East-Central European states since the collapse of communism. Countless small parties with just a handful of parliamentary deputies were formed with the money coming from the various "black budgets" with the task of entering the governing coalition and then steering the entire government in the direction charted by their foreign founders and mentors. These parties have had minimal public legitimacy, but have made a great political impact with their "blackmail" potential. As they also don't cost very much, the CIA, the MI6, and the BND regularly create them for every new election cycle.

Now the Russians (primarily, the SVR and the GRU) are using the same rulebook for their own geopolitical interests. In addition, however, Putin's grand design for the Balkans embodied in the ANS is also likely to prove durable not only because it builds on the traditional cultural and religious ties linking Russia and the Balkans, but also because it rides on the wave of the enormous present popular dissatisfaction with the neoliberal Atlanticist political and economic status quo.

# # # #

Filip Kovacevic is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=5a7_1425064348 ;  See also my previous BFP article on the destabilization factors in the Balkans, http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/03/03/bfp-exclusive-who-is-trying-to-destabilize-the-balkans/

[2] Consider for instance the activities of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro and similar organizations across the ex-Yugoslav political space, http://mnmne.org/

[3] http://ruskarec.ru/politics/2016/05/06/u-crnoj-gori-je-potpisana-lovcenska-deklaracija-sa-jedinstvenom-rusijom_591025

[4] http://www.dan.co.me/?nivo=3&rubrika=Drustvo&datum=2015-07-21&clanak=501981

[5] http://kommersant.ru/doc/2982518

[6] http://www.vijesti.me/vijesti/putinova-stranka-se-oslanja-na-marginalce-887562

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BFP Exclusive- What the New York Times Did Not Tell You About NATO & Montenegro

The New York Times throws its weight behind those whose global code of conduct is nothing else but the expression of the war-mongering slogan "might makes right."

On December 2, 2015, the foreign ministers of NATO member states, including the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, agreed to grant a membership invitation to Montenegro.[1]

In response to this indisputable historical fact, the New York Times published two articles, a front page article and an editorial, which, due to their selective and biased treatment of the issue at hand, make it impossible for the readers to gain an objective understanding of the complexity of the situation on the ground. Both articles are consistent with the goals of an expansionist U.S. foreign policy and show little desire to engage with the expansionism's destabilizing consequences not only in Montenegro and the Balkans, but also in Europe and beyond.

The NYT Front Page Article

The front page article, signed by Steven Erlanger, is entitled "NATO Unveils Plans to Grow, Drawing Fury and Threats from Russia."[2] As is evident, Montenegro is not even mentioned in the title, and this is the treatment of Montenegro and its citizens that Erlanger demonstrates throughout the article. Apparently, for Erlanger, looking down from on high, it does not really matter what the citizens of a sovereign state think about their country's future. He is more than willing to erase Montenegrin individual and collective subjectivities and present Montenegro as a mere pawn in the Great Powers' geopolitical chess game. According to him, all that matters is that NATO is on track in implementing "its plans" and that Russia reacted not only negatively, but "in fury."

The old Orientalist cliché, so well described by the Palestinian-American critical theorist Edward Said, is being repeated here. While the West is presented as cool and rational (making its plans into reality), the East is emotional and unpredictable (reacting with threats and fury). According to Erlanger's elitist account, here once again we have the case of the "mature" and powerful West scoring against the "immature" and powerless East.

The fact that the ultimate decision about joining NATO will not be made by NATO foreign ministers but by the people of Montenegro themselves is not only disregarded by Erlanger, but it is intentionally presented in the way that falsifies the reality on the ground. Namely, in the only reference to the Montenegrin internal politics in the entire article - and it is no more than a half-sentence -, Erlanger writes that Montenegro is "eager to join." This is very far from being true.

The majority of people in Montenegro actually prefer the option of military neutrality. However, the government of Montenegro, in order to preserve its undemocratic grip on power, has undertaken an immense and well-financed propaganda effort to convince the NATO decision-makers that the anti-NATO sentiment is losing ground. The Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, a corrupt opportunist well-connected to the shadowy networks of organized crime and intelligence services,[3] in power since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, even called those who are against NATO membership "the enemies of the state." However, the objective assessment of Djukanović's tenure can easily show that it is him who is the authentic destroyer of the Montenegrin state, considering that no state institution in Montenegro today is free from the control of his inner circle of family and friends.

Moreover, it is clear that Djukanović is ready to do anything it takes to stay in power. In late October 2015, the special police forces instructed by Djukanović brutally suppressed civic anti-government demonstrations. Anybody found on the street was tear-gassed and beaten without mercy.[4]

None of this is mentioned by Erlanger. It simply does not square well with his account in which NATO figures as the champion of democracy, rule of law, and human rights, protecting the world against evil dictatorships.

The NYT Editorial

The editorial article does not score much better on the scale of fairness and objectivity than Erlanger's geopolitical propaganda piece. It is entitled "Russia's Fury Over Montenegro and NATO."[5] Again, we have the issue of the Russian "fury" and NATO's "coolness." We have Vladimir Putin being made the centerpiece of the article, instead of the focus being directed to the people of Montenegro who are the only legitimate decision-makers on the subject of Montenegro's NATO membership.

Just like in Erlanger's article, there is only a brief mention of the internal political realities in Montenegro. It is tucked to the end of the article like an after-thought. It refers to the issue of the "sharply divided sentiments among Montenegrins" concerning NATO membership. While this comes closer to the reality on the ground than Erlanger's "eagerness to join," it is still misleading. Namely, the sentiments are not "sharply divided," because there is a clear majority of those who are against membership. The Djukanović's government is well-aware of this fact and that is why it is trying to find ways to block the initiative for holding the referendum on the subject.

Instead of promoting the right of ordinary people to have a say on matters that will significantly affect their lives, as one would expect from any liberal newspaper, the New York Times throws its weight behind those whose global code of conduct is nothing else but the expression of the war-mongering slogan "might makes right."

# # # #

Filip Kovacevic is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles & conference presentations and hundreds of newspaper columns and media commentaries. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco. He can be contacted at fk1917@yahoo.com

NOTES

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/02/europe/nato-montenegro-membership-invitation/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/03/world/europe/kerry-nato-syria-russia.html?_r=0

[3] See my earlier BFT article - http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/02/05/bfp-exclusive-the-citizenship-policies-of-the-us-puppets-the-case-of-montenegros-milo-djukanovic/

[4] http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/violence-in-montenegros-capital-an-overview/

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/opinion/russias-fury-over-montenegro-and-nato.html

 

BFP Exclusive- Stoltenberg in Belgrade, Biden in Zagreb

The U.S.-NATO Diplomatic Offensive in the Balkans

The recent visits of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Belgrade and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden to Zagreb within a week of each other show that both the U.S. and NATO are in the process of trying to augment their influence in the Balkans.

For more than a decade, after the overthrow of the regime of Slobodan Milosević in Serbia in 2000, the Balkans have been perceived by the U.S. and NATO decision-makers as their own fairly secure geopolitical playground. It is true that there has been a certain degree of displeasure with the behavior of various Serb political leaders both in the Serbian political entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Republika Srpska) and in Serbia proper. However, considering that these contrarian activities were essentially sui generis and did not depend on external support, they were criticized rhetorically, but were, in real terms, simply swept under the rug, hoping that in time they would go away by themselves. They were treated like the case of a bad cold. Sure it is obnoxious and slows you down, but if you just rest for a while, it will disappear even if you do nothing about it. And, after all, almost all politicians in contemporary Balkans have plenty of financial "skeletons" in their respective luxury closets, so that they are not all that difficult to keep on the short leash.

However, starting about two years ago, but intensifying after the outbreak of the violent confrontations in Ukraine in early 2014, the Balkan geopolitical chessboard suddenly became much more complex. Not only did the Chinese government institutions and banks begin to be active in financing various large-scale infrastructure projects in the Balkans,[1] but also the Russian government started to comment publicly on internal political developments in various Balkan countries. In many respects, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to play the role reserved since the end of the Cold War only for the U.S. State Department. This could hardly go unnoticed in Washington and Brussels and became the cause of an increasing concern.

The first time the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted in this way was during the wide-spread anti-government protests in Macedonia (FYROM) in the first months of 2015.[2] It sided with the official narrative of the government of Nikola Gruevski and against the activities of the opposition. It perceived the Gruevski government as favorable to Russia's own geopolitical interests and the opposition as doing the bidding of the Western powers, especially the U.S.

It is interesting to note that not long afterwards, reacting to an internal political crisis in another Balkan state, this time in Montenegro, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its public pronouncements took the side of the opposition as against the government. In fact, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Djukanović, directly accused the Russian government of assisting the opposition protests in the country.[3] Most observers interpreted Djukanović's claim as a Machiavellian strategy to get support and sympathy from NATO and the U.S. despite the documented abuses of the corrupt, authoritarian regime he has been running for more than 25 years. Djukanović's accusations received a stinging rebuke from Moscow.[4] In fact, having read the original statement of the Ministry in Russian, I can say that I have not seen such a strongly worded statement issued by the Russian government against another state's leader since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It appears that the decision-makers in Brussels and Washington noticed the same thing and, as a result, decided to initiate the on-going diplomatic initiative in which the visits of high-level officials play a crucial role. That is the context in which the visits of Stoltenberg and Biden should be placed.

However, in addition to understanding the general context, it is also important to look at the specific content of these visits in order to be able to discern the shape of things to come.

Stoltenberg in Belgrade      

Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Belgrade was the first visit of a NATO General Secretary in ten years. As is well known, Serbia (at that time still a constituent component of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) suffered tremendous human and material damage during the 78-day long NATO bombing campaign in the spring of 1999. Even conservative estimates indicate that several hundred civilians, including children, were killed by the bombs. It is no surprise then that opposition to NATO and NATO-led activities runs high among the ordinary people in Serbia. This represents a big problem for NATO geopolitical expansionists who would like to assimilate Serbia into the fold.

If we examine the choreography of Stoltenberg's visit carefully, we begin to notice the cogs in the propaganda machinery to sway the "hearts and minds" of the Serbian citizens in favor of NATO. This effort centers on the figure of Stoltenberg and uses the facts of his personal biography in a manipulative way. Namely, Stoltenberg's father - Thorvald Stoltenberg - was a diplomat at the Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade when Jens was a small child. So, in all his public appearances in Belgrade, Stoltenberg stressed the experiences of his early childhood.[5] He recited the Serbian children's song. He recalled his Serbian governess (and his first ice-cream) with a great deal of emotion. He confessed that he adored the Serbian cuisine. The culmination was when he twitted that, in his heart, he was in fact a person from Belgrade (Beogradjanin). No doubt, a true Hollywood scenario, but for a B-movie. The NATO PR specialists know well that the first step to accepting the message is to trust the messenger.

But, it did not stop there. The Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, actively wooed by NATO as well as by the U.S., announced with an air of triumph that NATO has "returned" 25 kilometers of the Serbian airspace to the Serbian control.[6] The fact that Serbia did not have a complete control over its airspace was not widely known and Vučić would probably have tried to avoid talking about it, if asked even a week earlier. Now, however,  NATO's "return" of the airspace was the front page news.

Was there anybody to ask the basic question as to under what legal authority NATO held on to this part of the Serbian airspace at all? The 1999 military intervention itself violated international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. In other words, this situation is equivalent to that of a thief returning a piece of your property after 15 years and, instead of reporting him to the police, you throw a party in his honor. Would any credible leader, committed to the well-being of  his or her country's citizens, do something like this? Obviously, Vučić has his own reasons, which appear to have little to do with the public interest, but, arguably, quite a lot with the issues he discussed privately with Biden during his visit to Washington in September.[7]

Biden in Zagreb

Biden himself has come to the Balkans yet again. I have chronicled his Balkan connections in two previous BFP articles.[8] On November 25, 2015, Biden came to Zagreb to take part in the summit of the Balkan presidents called the "Brdo-Brijuni Process." It is an annual summit organized jointly by the presidents of Croatia and Slovenia and the name comes from the two well-known conference resorts (Brdo kod Kranja in Slovenia and Brijuni in Croatia). It is a recent invention which started in 2013 and is a kind of the consolation prize for those Balkan countries which are not the full members of the European Union. The way things stand, however, it appears that they will remain in this status for a long time to come.

Biden was specifically invited by the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. As I have shown in my previous BFP articles, Grabar-Kitarović is the key champion of the U.S.-NATO power in the Balkans.[9] She has served both as the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Croatian Ambassador to the U.S. and her most recent function, before being elected president in January 2015, was NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. In many respects, Croatia is NATO's hub for the Balkans and it plays a large role in NATO's anti-Putin designs. Croatia, for instance, granted citizenship to one of the most vocal Putin's critics, the former world chess celebrity Gary Kasparov.[10]

That there was a certain degree of urgency to this summit is exposed by the fact that the annual "Brdo-Brijuni" summit was already held in Budva, Montenegro in June 2015.[11] This is why this summit was labeled "extraordinary" even by the organizers. In other words, the geopolitical winds started blowing from the direction which is not particularly pleasant for the U.S.-NATO long-time "orderers" of the Balkans.

Biden's statement at the summit echoed the unabashedly expansionist spirit now under the increasing strain from both Russia and China. He admitted that the region was "of extraordinary significance" for the U.S. which should be interpreted to mean that the U.S. and NATO would protect their geopolitical gains using any and all means at their disposal.[12] The implication is that, in case it becomes necessary, this may also include the long-favored method of the "regime change" as well as the violation of the democratically expressed will of the majority. This strategy has already been put into practice in Montenegro where the majority of the population does not want NATO membership and yet the government of Milo Djukanović, in tight coordination with the embassies of several NATO states and the U.S.-based lobbyists, has been trying to shove it down their throats for years.

However, the most revealing statement at the summit was made by another new-Cold-War warrior against Russia, former Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk, now in the position of the President of the European Council (the figurehead EU President). He spoke more concretely about the "Euro-Atlantic" (NATO) future of the region than about its integration into the EU, even though he did express the opinion that all of the Balkans would eventually be invited in.[13] If we disregard Tusk's bureaucratic platitudes, the picture that emerges is that the EU expansion has definitely stalled and that those Balkan countries left out on the other side of the "Fortress Europe" should begin thinking about political alternatives. Otherwise, the augmented NATO militarization of the Balkans is imminent and, in the context of the deep economic and social crisis brought about by the anti-humanist neo-liberal model, this will likely lead to the flare-ups of violence all across the region.

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NOTES:

[1] For a more detailed analysis, see my earlier BFP article "China and the Balkans," http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/12/15/bfp-exclusive-china-the-balkans-this-geopolitical-battle-in-its-beginning-phases/

[2] http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/biepag/node/156; http://balkanist.net/russia-macedonia-pan-slavism/

[3] http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/montenegro-says-russia-trying-to-force-regime-change/540359.html

[4] http://rbth.com/news/2015/10/27/moscow-perplexed-by-rusias-accusation-of-provoking-protests-in-montenegro_534477

[5] http://www.blic.rs/Vesti/Politika/607535/BEOGRADjANIN-U-SRCU-Znamo-gde-je-sef-NATO-odrastao-ali-jednu-jos-vazniju-stvar-ne-znamo; http://www.blic.rs/Vesti/Politika/607996/Vucic-Svaka-vrsta-naseg-loseg-odnosa-sa-NATO-moze-da-nam-steti

[6]http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/ci/story/1/%D0%9F%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0/2111284/%D0%9A%D1%84%D0%BE%D1%80+%D1%83%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%83%D0%BE+%D0%BE%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%9A%D0%B0+%D0%B7%D0%B0+%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B5+%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B4%D1%83%D1%88%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3+%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B0+%D0%A1%D1%80%D0%B1%D0%B8%D1%98%D0%B5.html

[7] http://www.blic.rs/Vesti/Politika/590705/Vucic-i-Bajden-EU-ce-biti-cela-kad-Srbija-udje-u-nju

[8] See my BFP articles - "Joe Biden in Munich: Incentivizing the U.S. Balkan Vassals," http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/02/17/bfp-exclusive-joe-biden-in-munich-incentivizing-the-us-balkan-vassals/ and "Biden's Balkan Sphere of Influence," http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/06/07/bfp-exclusive-bidens-balkan-sphere-of-influence/

[9] See my BFP articles - "The Balkans Presidential December: A Test for the U.S.-NATO Empire, "  http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/12/23/bfp-exclusive-the-balkans-presidential-december-a-test-for-the-us-nato-empire/ and "The Balkans Elections Update: Croatia & Greece," http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/01/29/bfp-exclusive-the-balkans-elections-update-croatia-greece/

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/28/chess-champion-garry-kasparov-croatian-citizenship

[11] http://www.rtvbudva.me/vijesti/danas-u-budvi-pocinje-dvodnevni-sastanak-lidera-brdo-brioni-procesa/8766

[12] http://www.blic.rs/Vesti/Politika/609053/SAMIT-U-ZAGREBU-Bajden-Ova-regija-je-od-izuzetnog-znacaja-za-SAD

[13]http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/11/Region/2116595/Lideri+Jugoisto%C4%8Dne+Evrope+u+Zagrebu.html; http://www.blic.rs/Vesti/Politika/609254/Tusk-Nema-sumnje-da-je-buducnost-Zapadnog-Balkana-u-EU/komentari

 

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 20, 2015

Turkmenistan to CIS: ‘Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!,’ United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

Islamabad's recent offer to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table for renewed peace talks with the Afghan government is just one example of Pakistan's influence over the Taliban movement in general and its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in particular. According to some Taliban sources, Pakistan is now taking a two-pronged approach in dealing with the movement. On the one hand, the Pakistani authorities are backing Mansoor and negotiations with Kabul but, on the other hand, they are also supporting the hawkish anti-Mansoor faction in order to keep the new supremo in check and continue the fight in Afghanistan. A senior Afghan intelligence official confirmed this, pointing out that Pakistan recently helped Mansoor's rival Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" launch large-scale offensives in the south of the country, which prompted Mansoor to offer Zakir to become his first deputy or Taliban shadow defense minister. Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that the United States is now implicating Pakistani intelligence in the Taliban's takeover of Kunduz as well:

APNewsBreak: US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed by a U.S. military attack because they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity, The Associated Press has learned.

The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents describing the site. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons. After the attack — which came amidst a battle to retake the northern Afghan city of Kunduz from the Taliban — some U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified, the former officer says. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country's Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.

U.S. Keeps Troops in Afghanistan as Kabul Takes Desperate Measures 

The Associated Press emphasizes that it is unclear whether the responsible commanders knew about these reports or that the site was a hospital. But although the U.S. keeps changing its story every few days, it is becoming more and more evident that the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz was deliberately targeted. The American military's "unannounced and forced entry" into the hospital compound immediately after the bombing suggests that Washington is not telling the whole truth. Interestingly, there is no public evidence to suggest that a Pakistani was killed in the attack, which makes the allegations against the ISI even more curious. Meanwhile, government forces have managed to drive the Taliban out of Kunduz - the Taliban claim to have withdrawn by their own choice "to avoid further civilian casualties" - but the situation remains highly volatile. The fall of Kunduz has put Afghanistan back on the map and U.S. President Barack Obama used the opportunity to announce that thousands of American troops will stay in the country when he leaves office:

Citing 'very fragile' security in Afghanistan, Obama slows pace of U.S. troop withdrawal Reversing policy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announced on Thursday he will prolong the 14-year-old U.S. military engagement there, effectively handing off the task of pulling out troops to his successor. Calling it a "modest but meaningful" adjustment to winding down the American presence in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghan forces were not yet as strong as they needed to be given a "very fragile" security situation and the United States will maintain a force of 9,800 through most of 2016. Obama had previously aimed to withdraw all but a small U.S.-embassy based force in the capital, Kabul, before he leaves office in January 2017. Under the new plan, troops will be drawn down to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and will be based at four locations - Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

It comes as no real surprise that Obama won't keep his promise to end the war in Afghanistan. First of all, Obama is not known for keeping his word, and second, it has long been painfully obvious that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the deteriorating security situation. U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani and the American military, which had been lobbying for slowing the withdrawal, immediately welcomed Obama's decision but the announcement also engendered criticism. The Taliban reacted as expected, emphasizing that this "means they aren't sincere about a peaceful solution to the Afghan crisis." Russia's Foreign Ministry joined in the criticism as well and stressed that "this forced step is another graphical evidence of the full blunder of the 14-year Washington military campaign and its allies in Afghanistan." And nothing illustrates this better than Kabul's latest idea:

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents. But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.

The Afghan Local Police (ALP) is part of the U.S. legacy in Afghanistan. U.S. planners created the ALP in 2010 to support the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). General David Petraeus modeled the program after the 'Sons of Iraq' initiative. Many ALP members are former Taliban who are now on the payroll of the United States. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen when the money dries up. But the biggest problem are the serious human rights abuses at the hands of ALP units, which are nothing more than village militias with AK-47s. Contrary to what the name suggests, Afghan Local Police members don't have police powers and don't care about the law. Although ALP forces have repeatedly been accused of all kinds of heinous crimes, including torture, rape and murder, Kabul is now planning to expand the program. This shows that the Afghan authorities are becoming increasingly desperate in the face of Taliban advances across the country:

Another Afghan district falls to the Taliban Reports from the northwestern province of Faryab indicate that the Taliban has overrun yet another district in Afghanistan. Ghormach, a district that borders Turkmenistan, is now effectively under Taliban control, according to the jihadist group and the Afghan press. The fall of Ghormach took place just 10 Days after the Taliban seized the districts of Garziwan and Pashtun Kot in Faryab; the Afghan government later claimed to have liberated Garziwan. On week prior, the Taliban attempted to seize control of Maimana, the provincial capital of Faryab. The two districts are on the outskirts of Maimana, and control access from the east.

Turkmenistan to CIS: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here!

Ghormach's seizure by the Taliban is not only noteworthy because the district borders Turkmenistan but also because warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum and his family are still being celebrated for the successful government offensive in Faryab province. As previously discussed, the success in Faryab was short-lived. The insurgents picked up where they had left off as soon as Dostum returned to Kabul. Faryab has long been one of the most contested provinces in Afghanistan and it looks as if this won't change anytime soon. To make matters worse, the situation on the Tajik border isn't much better either. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about Russia's possible return to the Tajik-Afghan border. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov fueled the speculations in the run-up to last week's Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) meeting, which focused on the issue:

Russia, ex-Soviet states to jointly defend borders in crisis The leaders of ex-Soviet states, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded to growing instability in Afghanistan on Friday by agreeing to create a joint task force to defend their bloc's external borders if a crisis arises. The move could mean that Russian troops, as part of collective forces, will be deployed to Afghanistan's borders as the U.S.-led coalition gradually withdraws from the country, leaving behind a power vacuum. They agreed on the creation of what is described in a summit document as a "grouping of border (forces) and other institutions from CIS member states designed to resolve crisis situations on the external borders".

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to convince his CIS colleagues that closer military cooperation is necessary because the situation in Afghanistan is "close to critical". However, it remains to be seen how much this agreement is actually worth. Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, for his part, remarked after the meeting that the CIS is pretty much useless and that the issues discussed "are detached from reality." Disagreements between CIS members have often rendered the organization useless. So Karimov might have a point. At any rate, Russian President Putin and Kazakh President Nazarbayev used the latest CIS meeting in Kazakhstan to draw attention to the alarming situation in Afghanistan and to call for closer cooperation in dealing with the problem. Whereas Tajikistan welcomed the initiative, Turkmenistan preferred to deny that there is any problem and to attack anyone who suggests otherwise:

Turkmenistan Strongly Denies ‘Incidents’ at Afghan Border Turkmenistan has registered no incidents at its border with Afghanistan, the Central Asian state's government said on Friday, denouncing as untrue a remark by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strongly worded statement came ahead of a meeting of ex-Soviet nations to discuss the security of Afghan borders, among other issues, and followed comments by Nazarbayev who said he was aware of "incidents" that had happened at the Afghan-Turkmen border, but did not elaborate. "The Turkmen side expresses its extreme concern and incomprehension with regards to such a statement by the president of Kazakhstan about the situation on Turkmenistan's state border, which is untrue," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Turkmenistan's strongly worded statement indicates that Nazarbayev struck a nerve by bringing up the situation on the Afghan border. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry was not impressed by the harsh words coming from Ashgabat and defended Nazarbayev's remarks. After all, it is absolutely ludicrous to deny that there has been unrest on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Last year, Turkmen forces even crossed the border in order to drive the insurgents back and there have been several "incidents" ever since. According to the foreign-based website Alternative News of Turkmenistan, the Turkmen military has stationed up to 70 percent of its combat-ready military equipment along the Afghan border. The Turkmen government is obviously aware of the alarming situation in northern Afghanistan, but for some reason Ashgabat is now trying to play down the issue. Perhaps this has something to do with Turkmenistan's efforts to push the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense:

Hunt on for leader to lay $10 billion TAPI gas pipeline The four-nation consortium has revived the search for a leader to help lay the $10-billion TAPI gas pipeline, laying bare the lack of confidence among the countries to go ahead on their own and threatening to delay the project further. Just two months back, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had agreed to co-own the project with TurkmenGaz, the state-owned firm of Turkmenistan, expected to make the majority investment in laying the 1800-km pipeline that would begin the construction work in December. Now again the timeline looks shaky. "The key challenge is to select a consortium leader or a partner. We are still looking for one," said BC Tripathi, chairman of GAIL, the state-run firm that represents India in the consortium. The top executives of GAILBSE 1.97 % and other state companies representing three other nations have been negotiating the terms between themselves and figuring out the nuances of the project for the last two months since the oil ministers of the four countries agreed in Ashgabat to go on their own without waiting for a firm with experience in laying and operating pipeline to lead the consortium.

United National Movement Protests Georgia's Talks with Gazprom

Although a TAPI consortium leader is nowhere to be found and the Taliban are making themselves at home on the Turkmen-Afghan border, Turkmenistan is already starting with the construction of the ambitious pipeline project in an attempt to diversify its gas exports. In order to lessen the increasing dependence on China, the Turkmen authorities are also turning to Japan and still promoting the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline. Russia's launch of cruise missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea should serve as a warning to supporters of the Trans-Caspian project but Ashgabat and Baku refuse to give up on the pipe dream. Azerbaijan's efforts to strengthen its position in the energy market suffered recently an unexpected setback when close ally Georgia announced its plans to buy more gas from Russia and Iran. The words of Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze caused a great stir and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili had to travel to Baku to calm the waves:

Georgian PM Reaffirms ‘Friendly, Strategic’ Relations with Azerbaijan PM Irakli Garibashvili said on October 12 that Tbilisi’s relations with Baku will remain “friendly and strategic” and dismissed talk of “diversification, replacement of Azerbaijani gas” supplies as “utterly absurd”. 

Georgian Energy Ministry said late last week that Tbilisi was open for talks with Gazprom on possible gas supplies for private entities in Georgia in order to, as Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze and his deputy put it, “diversify” energy supplies for the country. Kaladze, who met Gazprom chief executive in Brussels in late September, reiterated on October 12 that private entities might be interested in purchasing Russian gas if the price is acceptable. After the Georgian Energy Minister spoke about possible gas supplies from Gazprom last week, PM Garibashvili made a brief and unannounced visit to Baku on October 10, where he met Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, triggering speculation in Tbilisi that the surprise visit aimed at mending ties after potential fallout caused by Tbilisi’s suggestions over Gazprom gas supplies.

Georgian opposition parties tried to exploit the situation and some people went as far as alleging that the government plans to revise the country's relations with Azerbaijan. Garibashvili vehemently denied this and assured everyone that things will stay as they are. The Georgian Prime Minister stressed that talks with Gazprom are just about a possible increase of transit of natural gas to Armenia. Neither President Giorgi Margvelashvili nor the Georgian opposition were entirely convinced by Garibashvili's words. Last Friday, Tbilisi police detained Tamar Chergoleishvili, the head of pro-Saakashvili TV channel Tabula TV, one of her producers and another activist when they were hanging up posters mocking former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Gazprom. One day later, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the central government building to protest against the negotiations with Russia's energy behemoth:

Tbilisi Protests Russia’s Gazprom On Saturday, at the State Chancellery, the protest ‘No to Gazprom’ rallied against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market. Energy giant Russia is believed to attempt to re-enter Georgia and is said by some to be a non-trivial tool for the Russian government to manage political processes on the ground. The concerns arose after the government initiated talks with Russian energy company Gazprom. The rally involved politicians, public activists and members of the National Movement, as well as concerned citizens from all over Georgia. Tabula, a political magazine, organized the protest action against Gazprom’s possible entrance into the Georgian energy market.

Tamar Chergoleishvili is not only the head of Tabula TV but also the editor-in-chief of the Tbilisi-based Tabula magazine. Tabula is known for its pro-United National Movement (UNM) views, which is hardly surprising considering that Chergoleishvili is the wife of senior UNM leader Giga Bokeria. As mentioned last week, the opposition party is currently trying to prevent the government from taking control of another important pro-UNM media outlet. According to the latest polls, neither the Georgian Dream ruling coalition nor the UNM have benefited from the endless fighting. Although many voters are disappointed by the government, the UNM isn't gaining any support as more and more Georgians don't know which party they should vote for. But more worrying for the West are the rising pro-Russian sentiment and the declining support for joining the European Union and NATO:

NDI Poll on Foreign Policy Issues

Number of Georgian respondents who support “government’s stated goal to join the EU” has dropped by 17 percentage points over the past year to 61%, according to a public opinion survey, commissioned by the NDI and fielded by CRRC in August. Asked whether they support or not Georgia joining Russia-led Eurasian Union, 31% responded positively, same as in April 2015, and 46% negatively, up by five percentage points from four months earlier. When the respondents were offered a choice between two answers – “Georgia will benefit more from joining EU and NATO”, and “Georgia will benefit more from abandoning Euro-Atlantic integration in favor of better relations with Russia” – 45% chose the former and 30% the latter.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 13, 2015

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line, Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor faced a lot of opposition within the movement, when he officially took over from Mullah Omar two months ago. Several leading Taliban commanders decided to go their own ways and Mullah Omar's family only reluctantly endorsed the new supremo. Despite all that, the Taliban have stepped up their game in the first few weeks of Mansoor's reign, dashing Kabul's hopes that the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death would weaken the group. It seems like an eternity ago that Kabul and the Taliban were holding peace talks to stop the fighting. At the end of July, the two sides were about to meet in Pakistan for the second round of talks when Afghan intelligence leaked Omar's death to the press, thereby unleashing a new wave of violence. After the Taliban demonstrated their power in Kunduz, Pakistan renewed its offer to restart the talks and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reminded his Afghan colleagues that they should have kept their mouth shut:

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif says working for revival of Afghan peace talks The Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he is trying to revive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban group which was stalled by the announcement of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death. In televised remarks to the media Nawaz said “The news of Mullah Omar should not have been broken just before the start of the second round of talks.” Sharif further added “We are now trying to resume the (peace) process and pray to God to crown our efforts with success.”

Afghanistan Turns to Russia for Help as Taliban Gain Ground

Given that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) more or less controls Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the Pakistani government should be able to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, or at least the faction that is interested in talks with Kabul. Mansoor supported the reconciliation process and authorized the delegation for the first round of talks. That is why several top Taliban commanders turned against him. U.S. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and allies forces in Afghanistan, just told the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee that 60 percent to 70 percent of the Taliban movement may ultimately be reconciled with Kabul but that is of course still a long way off. As for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, they will have no choice but to talk to Mansoor and his Pakistani backers if the Taliban continue to gain ground across the country:

Afghan Taliban’s Reach Is Widest Since 2001, U.N. Says The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat. In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas. The data, compiled in early September — even before the latest surge in violence in northern Afghanistan — showed that United Nations security officials had already rated the threat level in about half of the country’s administrative districts as either “high” or “extreme,” more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.

As The New York Times pointed out, the United Nations' assessment is at odds with Gen. Campbell's rosy assessment in his recent testimony to Congress. The top U.S. commander even had the nerve to play down the alarming situation in Kunduz, while at the same time, the U.S. was using the latest crisis to tell its NATO allies that they will probably have to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has already endorsed the idea. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is seeking help from other countries as well. Last week, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum visited Grozny and Moscow to ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. During his meetings with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and top Russian officials, Dostum commended Russia's campaign in Syria and stressed that Kabul needs Moscow's support because "ISIS is trying to make Afghanistan into a bridgehead." This clearly resonated with his Russian hosts:

Afghanistan's Dostum Turns To Old Ally Russia For Help "The Russian side is committed to support and help Afghanistan in terms of helping its air and military forces," Dostum's spokesman, Sultan Faizy, told RFE/RL by telephone. "We're lacking air support, weapons, ammunition. We need a lot of backing and support to fight against terrorism." But Faizy said that would not mean direct military intervention by Russia, which is still mindful of the 1979-89 war that killed some 15,000 Soviet soldiers and has repeatedly said it would not send troops to Afghanistan. Faizy said that Moscow had promised to evaluate the situation in Afghanistan and "see what they can help with."

An Afghan parliamentary delegation also visited Moscow to ask for support. Russian Federation Council member Igor Morozov told TASS that the Afghans cited a lack of helicopters as the reason for the Taliban takeover of Kunduz and Morozov used the opportunity to have a dig at the Americans. Zamir Kabulov, President Putin's special envoy to Afghanistan, announced after the meetings that Moscow and Kabul are planning to sign a deal on the delivery of several Mi-35 helicopter gunships later this month. That is music to the ears of Afghan Air Force (AAF) commanders who have repeatedly complained about the useless MD 530F helicopters provided by the United States. Whether or not Russia considers extending its "anti-ISIS" bombing campaign to Afghanistan, remains unclear. Kabulov dodged the question when he was asked but he provided an explanation for the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan:

ISIS training militants from Russia in Afghanistan, 'US and UK citizens among instructors' Russian officials accused Washington of orchestrating the deterioration of security in Afghanistan and the expansion of Islamic State there. “It seems like someone’s hand is pushing freshly trained ISIL fighters to mass along Afghanistan’s northern border. They don’t fight foreign or Afghan government troops,” Kabulov said. He added that on several occasions Taliban groups that refused to join Islamic State were “set up” to be targeted by airstrikes. “The Afghan Army practically has no aircraft. Only the Americans do. These details bring some very bad thoughts and concerns. We have to take them into account and draw conclusions accordingly,” he said.

Russia Sends Helicopters to Alleviate Tajikistan's Border Woes 

Kabulov emphasized that the Afghanistan branch of ISIS numbers already 3,500 fighters despite emerging only one year ago. Russia's military intelligence chief Igor Sergun added that the Islamic State's expansion in Afghanistan is in line with Washington's long-term goal of destabilizing Central Asia and "surrounding Russia and China with a network of regimes loyal to America and hotspots of tension." As the situation in northern Afghanistan deteriorates, Russian officials seem to be stepping up their ISIS rhetoric in an effort to justify further military involvement in the region. Although the Russians are clearly exaggerating the threat posed by ISIS, the increasing activities of insurgents on the Tajik-Afghan border cannot be denied. Tajikistan's intelligence agency claims that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have massed in close proximity the border and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently briefed his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the latest developments during a meeting in Sochi:

Tajikistan 'Extremely Concerned' About Situation Along Afghan Border President Emomali Rahmon has said Tajikistan was "extremely concerned" about the situation along the Tajik-Afghan border. During a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on October 6, Rahmon said the situation in Afghanistan was "getting worse by the day." "Practically, fighting is going on along more than 60 percent of the Tajik border with Afghanistan," he added.

Russian President Putin also voiced concerns about the deteriorating situation on the border but both leaders agreed that there was no need for boosting Russian military presence in Tajikistan. Apparently this didn't include helicopters. One day after the meeting between Putin and Rahmon, a Russian Defense Ministry official announced that Russia will reinforce its 201st military base in Tajikistan with Mi-24P attack and Mi-8MTV transport and combat helicopters. The helicopters will be stationed at Ayni Air Force Base, which was renovated with $70 million from India a few years ago. Both India and Russia have been trying to gain control of the base, to no avail. The Tajik Defense Ministry just clarified that Russia can use the base but it remains under Tajik control. Russia's military presence in the country is a controversial issue because Russian soldiers are not always on their best behavior:

Russian officer sacked for assaulting Tajik taxi driver A court at Russian’s military base in Tajikistan has delivered a judgment over the case of Russian officer Denis Borisenko, who was charged with assaulting a Tajik taxi driver and stealing his vehicle. Under a ruling handed down at the court at the Russian military base, Senior Lieutenant Denis Borisenko was sacked and he will pay compensation (60,000 Russian rubles (RR) to local tax driver Dilshod Khoushov. According to investigators, Borisenko was drunk when he attacked Khoushov and drove away in his car. Borisenko later hit another vehicle and was detained at the scene. 

A few weeks ago, two other Russian soldiers were convicted of killing a Tajik taxi driver and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Such crimes and similar incidents reignite the never-ending debate about Russia's military presence in the country from time to time but the Tajik government hasn't been swayed by the criticism. In fact, Dushanbe has never been easily swayed by criticism. Washington has apparently realized this and preferred to keep quiet while the Rahmon regime was cracking down on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). Even after the IRPT had been branded a terrorist organization, the U.S. only voiced mild criticism in an emailed statement, which went largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities are coming up with evermore charges against arrested IRPT lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov and the remaining top officials of the Islamic Renaissance Party:

Tajik Prosecutors Say 23 Islamic Party Officials Arrested Tajik prosecutors say 23 top officials of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (HNIT) have been arrested, many on suspicion of leading a deadly mutiny by a serving deputy defense minister in early September. The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office said on October 6 that criminal probes are under way against the party officials who face charges including terrorism, inciting religious and racial hatred, and attempting to seize power by force. Many also face forgery, fraud, and other economic crime charges.

U.S. Tries to Keep Georgia in Line

As Tajikistan continues its crackdown on the IRPT without much resistance from the West, Georgia is probably wondering what the secret is. After the Georgian authorities recently tried to shut down pro-opposition private TV broadcaster Rustavi 2, the United States immediately reprimanded the government and U.S. Ambassador Ian C. Kelly met with Rustavi 2 executives to assure them that the U.S. Embassy "is closely following" the case. Rustavi 2 has long been a thorn in the side of the current government due to its close ties to former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM). Three opposition activists were detained for assaulting a lawmaker from Georgian Dream ruling coalition during a rally in support of Rustavi 2 in front of the parliament building. The UNM has tried to exploit this by calling for a snap election but even other government critics reject the idea:

Free Democrats against holding snap election The Free Democrats has rejected a proposal by the National Movement to hold a snap election one year before the next scheduled one. The Free Democrats has now ruled out supporting a snap election. The party was a member of the Georgian Dream coalition but withdrew in November, when party leader Irakli Alasania was dismissed as defense minister. Also the foreign minister and minister of Euro integration resigned in protest and are now active members of the Free Democrats. Maia Panjikidze, the former foreign minister, said Tuesday that the Free Democrats do not support holding a special election. She said there is indeed dissatisfaction about the government, but it is a signal for them to feel responsibility. However, she said, only one year is left until the parliamentary election. 

Irakli Alasania's Free Democrats would like to remove the "pro-Russian" government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili sooner rather than later but they won't join forces with the UNM to this end. In Georgia, the crimes of the Saakashvili regime haven't been forgotten. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is now considering to take a break from prosecuting Africans and Serbs to investigate one of these crimes: the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. Much to the dismay of Moscow, the statements coming from The Hague and Saakashvili's reaction suggest that an investigation is going to be every bit as "objective" as previous ICC "investigations." After all, the ICC would never dream of going after a would-be NATO member. Georgian Foreign Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli underlined Tbilisi's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration once again during recent meetings with EU and NATO officials in Brussels but the Georgians have no illusions:

Georgian Deputy FM: MAP Not Expected at NATO Warsaw Summit

Georgia is not likely to get NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the alliance’s summit next year in Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said. According to him the Georgian officials and diplomats’ rhetoric abroad in communication with NATO partners is different from messages they try to use for domestic consumption in Georgia. He said that although knowing that there is a little chance for MAP, Georgia is still pushing the issue intensively in its talks with NATO partners as a “bargaining” tool in order to then get at least something; but domestically, he said, the authorities do not want to prioritize MAP in order not to create false expectations, because it will then cause frustration, which will be exploited by the “Russian propaganda” in Georgia.

Georgia's quest for NATO membership has played into the hands of the "Russian propaganda" and contributed to a rise of pro-Russian sentiments in the country, as more and more people began to realize that Georgian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan for nothing at all. Equally worrying for the West are Tbilisi's latest efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia and Iran. Georgia wants to diversify its gas imports away from Azerbaijan, which provides about 90 percent of the country's gas imports at the moment. That is why Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze met last month with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to discuss Russian gas supplies. To make matters worse, Khaladze announced a few days ago that Georgia is not only talking about additional supplies from Russia but also "actively working in respect of Iran." This didn't go down particularly well in Washington:

Deputy FM Says Georgia Told by U.S. not to Rush into Full-Scale Cooperation with Iran Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Davit Dondua, said the U.S. has asked Tbilisi to “refrain from full-scale cooperation” with Iran until Tehran fully complies with the Vienna nuclear deal reached in July. “We have permanent contacts with our American colleagues, who are asking us to refrain from full-scale cooperation with Iran and from becoming open [for Iran] for now – until all the commitments agreed in Vienna are fulfilled and until Iran is given final green light,” Dondua said on October 9. “We are telling our American and other friends that we remain committed to the policy and sanctions pursued by [the West] in respect of Iran, but you should also take into consideration specifics of Georgia’s situation. Iran is a regional state, our important partner, including from the economic point of view, and we want some sort of space for maneuvering,” Dondua said.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: October 6, 2015

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary, If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov-Kadyrov Will Come to ISIS & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

After the Taliban shocked the world by seizing the northern Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz, the Afghan government pulled out all the stops to retake the city. Leaving the strategic city of 300,000 in the hands of the Taliban would create major problems for Afghanistan and neighboring countries, given the fact that Kunduz is an important transport hub for the north of the country and a gateway to Central Asia. For example, the distance to Tajikistan is only about 70 kilometers (44 miles). Aware of city's importance, Taliban fighters tried to win residents over with a "charm offensive" but they quickly fell back into old patterns. As government forces were struggling to launch a successful counterattack, U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani was coming under increasing pressure. He tried to shift the blame on others and replaced the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar Safi, who had just reappeared after watching the fall of the provincial capital from abroad. But despite rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, Ghani could not hide the fact that the Afghan security forces are unable to cope with the situation and that they need help to retake the city:

More US airstrikes as special forces join fight against insurgents outside Kunduz American special operations troops joined the battle around Kunduz on Wednesday, exchanging fire with Taliban fighters near the airport where Afghan forces withdrew after ceding control of the city two days before, the U.S.-led coalition announced. U.S. aircraft carried out more airstrikes against Taliban forces threatening the Kunduz airport, where Afghan government are regrouping after fleeing the city Monday. The increased American support follow signs that Afghan forces are struggling in the face of the massive Taliban assault, which has plunged the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani into the deepest crisis of its first year in office.

U.S. Bombs Hospital to Help Afghans Retake Kunduz

After three days of intense fighting, Afghan forces, led by U.S.-trained special forces from the Crisis Response Unit (CRU) and supported by U.S. special forces, eventually managed to retake control of key areas in Kunduz on October 1. According to local officials, more than 300 insurgents, including Arab, Chechen and Pakistani jihadists, were killed during the battle. Afghanistan’s Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Murad Ali Murad, who was in charge of the operation, said that the Taliban had planned to stage a major propaganda coup by bringing their new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor to Kunduz. Security forces foiled this plan but government claims that the entire city had been cleared of insurgents were swiftly contradicted by residents who pointed out that the Taliban are still controlling several party of Kunduz. While ground forces were trying to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance, the American military was ramping up its airstrikes across northern Afghanistan, with dire consequences:

Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan At least 19 people were killed when a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz was badly damaged early Saturday after being hit by what appears to have been an American airstrike, sparking international outrage. The United States military, in a statement, confirmed an airstrike at 2:15 a.m., saying that it had been targeting individuals “who were threatening the force” and that “there may have been collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Accounts differed as to whether there had been fighting around the hospital that might have precipitated the strike. Two hospital employees, an aide who was wounded in the bombing and a nurse who emerged unscathed, said that there had been no active fighting nearby and no Taliban fighters in the hospital. 

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini and other Afghan officials, on the other hand, insisted that Taliban fighters had entered the hospital and were using it as a firing position. Given that Afghan officials have a long history of distorting the truth to cover up their own crimes and the crimes of their Western partners, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) strongly denied the claims and pointed out that "these statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present." As MSF rightly noted, "this amounts to an admission of a war crime." Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy, the U.S. initially tried to play the 'collateral damage' card but Gen. John F. Campbell later confirmed that MSF was right:

US commander says Afghans requested US airstrike in Kunduz The U.S. airstrike that killed 22 at a medical clinic in northern Afghanistan over the weekend was requested by Afghan forces who reported being under Taliban fire, and was not sought by U.S. forces, the top commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan said Monday. Gen. John F. Campbell made the statement at a hastily arranged Pentagon news conference. He said he was correcting an initial U.S. statement that said the airstrike had been in response to threats against U.S. forces. "We have now learned that on Oct. 3, Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support from U.S. forces," Campbell said. "An airstrike was then called to eliminate the Taliban threat and several civilians were accidentally struck. This is different from the initial reports which indicated that U.S. forces were threatened and that the airstrike was called on their behalf."

Afghan officials are probably having second thoughts about the "Taliban threat" after Campbell tried to shift the blame on the Afghans, basically admitting that U.S. and Afghan forces committed a war crime. As MSF emphasized, the Americans had the GPS coordinates of the hospital and knew exactly what they were bombing. But the attack comes as no real surprise considering that the hospital has previously been targeted by Afghan security forces who were "irked" by its policy of treating the wounded from all sides of the conflict. Thanks to the latest attack, they finally got what they wanted. Doctors Without Borders announced on October 4 that it was forced to withdraw from Kunduz after U.S. jets destroyed its facility amid a growing humanitarian crisis in the city. Security forces have now regained control of most of the strategic provincial capital but there is no end in sight to the fighting in northern Afghanistan:

Taliban overruns another 2 districts in Afghan north As fighting in the city of Kunduz continues, the Taliban seized two more districts in the Afghan north.`The district of Wardoj, which has switched hands in the past, and Baharak were overrun during Taliban assaults over the past two days, the jihadist group and Afghan officials reported. Dawlat Mohammad Khawar, the district governor for Wardoj, “confirmed that the Afghan security forces have retreated from Wardoj following hours of gun battle with the Taliban militants,” Khaama Press reported. Additionally, the Taliban overran the Baharak district in Badakhsan. “On Friday Mujahideen stormed the district and after intense fighting with the enemy and soon seized control of the district as well as overrunning a number of the checkpoints based near the district headquarters for the security arrangements,” the Taliban stated on Voice of Jihad. 

China Keeps Mum on Violence as Xinjiang Marks 60th Anniversary

Badakhshan was relatively stable as long as troops of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were stationed there but after they handed over control to the Afghan security forces, the province turned into one of the most contested areas in Afghanistan. Neighboring Tajikistan and China are keeping a close eye on the situation. Beijing's efforts to stop the violence by facilitating peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban suffered a major setback at the end of July when Afghan intelligence spilled the beans on Mullah Omar's death. It remains to be seen whether or not new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor will stick to previous understandings that Omar reached with Beijing regarding Xinjiang. The Chinese authorities would prefer not having to worry about Uyghur jihadists on Afghan territory given that Uyghur jihadists on Chinese territory are already causing enough problems:

China slams a lid on news of violence from its western frontier Earlier this month, a knife-wielding gang attacked security guards at a coal mine in Xinjiang, a volatile region in the northwest of China. By the time the attack was repelled, at least 40 people had been killed or injured, according to a report by Radio Free Asia, which quoted a local state security chief about the incident four days after it occurred. Chinese state media still hasn’t reported on the Sept. 18 coal mine attack, more than two weeks later. It’s only the latest example of what appears to be a Chinese government news blackout on growing violence in Xinjiang, an oil-rich region crucial to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan for a Silk Road economic development belt stretching across Asia. Other unpublicized incidents include a police shooting of eight suspects in June; the police killing of two men in May after they reportedly attacked a patrol; and a Han Chinese town official knifed to death, also in May.

Whereas Chinese media tries to keep a lid on bad news from Xinjiang, U.S. propaganda outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA) continues to rub salt into the wound. Thanks to the help of the local authorities, RFA won't run out of useful material anytime soon. In addition to frequent terrorist attacks, there are plenty of absurd anti-terror measures to talk about. One of the more reasonable ideas is to teach Chinese soldiers Uyhgur folk dances and songs in an effort to improve relations between the military and the local population. As Chinese officials emphasize time and again, the military plays a vital role in safeguarding the stability of the autonomous region. At the end of September, Beijing released a 20,000-word white paper on ethnic equality, unity and development in Xinjiang, lauding the "tremendous achievements" in the region and highlighting the fight against terrorism and religious extremism. The white paper was issued on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Xinjiang's founding on October 1, 1955:

China stresses stability, security on Xinjiang's founding anniversary Top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng on Thursday said that long-term stability and security is the top priority in Xinjiang, stressing counterterrorism as the focus of the current work. Yu, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, made the remarks at a grand rally in Urumqi, the regional capital, marking the 60th anniversary of the autonomous region's founding. "The three forces (separatism, terrorism and extremism) are the biggest threats for Xinjiang and the common enemies for people of all ethnic groups. We must clench our fists tight and take the initiative to crack down on violence and terror activities strictly and lawfully and fight the three forces," Yu said.

Yu Zhengsheng and other central government officials toured Xinjiang ahead of the anniversary festivities to pose for a few photo ops and to check how the fight against the 'three evils' is going. During their tour, Yu made the case for expanding an aid program for Xinjiang in order to help the region fight terrorism. According to the Xinjiang white paper, Beijing has poured more than 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.2 trillion) into the autonomous region between 2010 and 2014. Yu's statements indicate that this is only the beginning, as the Chinese government spares neither trouble nor expense to ensure Xinjiang's long-term stability and security. If recent media reports are to be believed, these efforts could also include Chinese military involvement in Syria. Chinese naval expert Zhang Junshe dismissed the reports as rumors but the growing presence of Uyghurs in Syria has certainly not gone unnoticed in Beijing:

Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’ The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an al Qaeda-affiliated Uighur jihadist group that is operating in Syria, recently released a video that includes photos of children with weapons and jihadist garb accompanied by an Uighur-language nasheed [A cappella Islamic music]. The children were described as “little jihadists” on the TIP’s official Twitter feed. This is not the first time that the TIP has shown children in training. In July, the group first publicized a training camp in Idlib, which appears to be in the same area. Several of those photos depict the children learning how to operate AK-47’s, sub-machine guns, and other handguns. In both cases, many of the children appear to be Uighur, but it is possible that some are native Syrians. The group’s former military leader was a native Syrian and the group has featured other Syrians in its ranks before.

If ISIS Won't Come to Kadyrov, Kadyrov Will Come to ISIS

Considering Turkey's meddling in "East Turkestan" and Syria, it is hardly surprising that the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is being linked to Turkish intelligence. Much to the dismay of Turkish officials, Uyghurs in and around Jisr al-Shughur are now at risk of being killed by Russian airstrikes. As Ankara is seeing its hopes dashed, Turkish Islamist "charities," such as IMKANDER and Özgür-Der, took a break from supporting NATO-backed jihadists in Syria and elsewhere to protest against Russia's intervention. These protests won't stop Russia's campaign in Syria but they could encourage Moscow to make another attempt at putting IMKANDER on the Al-Qaida Sanctions List. However, Russian officials have no illusions about the West's "War on Terror." Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who keeps eliminating IMKANDER's beloved terrorist leaders, just emphasized again that "the main target of the West is Assad and not the 'Iblis State' terrorist organization." Therefore, Kadyrov asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for permission to take matters into his own hands:

Kadyrov asks Putin to allow Chechen infantry to fight in Syria The head of the Chechen Republic has asked the Russian president to send Chechen units to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, adding that his fighters have sworn to fight terrorists till the end. “This is not idle talk, I am asking for permission to go there and participate in special operations,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in the Friday interview with the RSN radio. “Being a Muslim, a Chechen and a Russian patriot I want to say that in 1999 when our republic was overrun with these devils we swore on the Koran that we would fight them wherever they are,” the Chechen leader said. “But we need the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to do this,” he emphasized. According to the Russian Constitution, the president is also the commander-in-chief of the military forces.

Ramzan Kadyrov's expertise in fighting terrorism is well-known. That is why another former warlord, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, visited Chechnya the other day to get some advice from him and ask for Russian support in the fight against ISIS. The Chechen leader was immediately hooked and assured Dostum that Russia won't let Afghanistan down. Some people in Moscow want to get rid of Chechnya's "enfant terrible" and probably wouldn't mind sending him to Afghanistan or Syria but President Putin counts on Kadyrov to maintain order and stability in Chechnya, by all available means. This includes public naming and shaming of ISIS supporters. Although there have been a few isolated cases of attempted ISIS recruitment in Chechnya, the group has not been able to get a foothold in the Chechen republic. Local security forces are doing their best to nip the threat in the bud, forcing the Islamic State to focus on neighboring Dagestan:

IS's North Caucasus Affiliate Calls For Recruits To Join It In Daghestan The Islamic State extremist group's North Caucasus affiliate, Wilayat al-Qawqaz (Caucasus Province) has issued a call for would-be militants in Russia to join it and fight against Russian forces rather than joining IS in Syria. In a video message released last week by Furat Media, IS's official Russian-language media wing, the leader of IS's Caucasus Province in Daghestan, Abu Mukhammad Kadarsky (Rustam Asilderov), said this was the wish of IS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Despite the propaganda, IS's Caucasus Province is weak and unlikely to attract large numbers of recruits to swell its ranks in the forests of Daghestan, particularly as winter draws near.

The Islamic State's Caucasus Province got off to a bad start. Its first official attack in Russia, allegedly targeting Russian army barracks in Dagestan, was just made-up and now the group is struggling to find new recruits. Wilayat Qawqaz owes its existence to the defection of several Caucasus Emirate (IK) commanders. This has crippled the once powerful terrorist organization and seems to have caused some bad blood between the groups. IK's affiliate in Syria was really upset when the Russian "kuffars" didn't target ISIS positions during their recent bombing campaign. It is not exactly a secret that Moscow's primary objective is to support the Syrian government against all terrorists, regardless of whether they belong to ISIS or "moderate" groups "vetted" and armed by the United States. And another important objective is to prevent Russian jihadists fighting in Syria from returning to Russia:

Russian Jailed For Fighting Alongside Islamic Militants In Syria A Russian man from the city of Tyumen has been sentenced to two years in jail for fighting with Islamic militants in Syria. The regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says Vitaly Makarov, a convert to Islam, was found guilty by a court of taking part in military operations in Syria in 2013-2014 with an illegal armed group loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group. FSB First Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov said earlier this month that some 2,400 Russians are fighting alongside IS militants and other extremist Muslim groups in Syria and Iraq.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Obama Deifies American Hegemony

Obama Regime Accepts No Responsibility for the Destruction of the Lives & Prospects of Millions

Today is the 70th anniversary of the UN. It is not clear how much good the UN has done. Some UN Blue Hemet peacekeeping operations had limited success. But mainly Washington has used the UN for war, such as the Korean War and Washington’s Cold War against the Soviet Union. In our time Washington had UN tanks sent in against Bosnian Serbs during the period that Washington was dismantling Yugoslavia and Serbia and accusing Serbian leaders, who tried to defend the integrity of their country against Washington’s aggression, of “war crimes.”

The UN supported Washington’s sanctions against Iraq that resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. When asked about it, Clinton’s Secretary of State said, with typical American heartlessness, that the deaths of the children were worth it. In 2006 the UN voted sanctions against Iran for exercising its right as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty to develop atomic energy. Washington claimed without any evidence that Iran was building a nuclear weapon in violation of the non-proliferation treaty, and this lie was accepted by the UN. Washington’s false claim was repudiated by all 16 US intelligence agencies and by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors on the ground in Iran, but in the face of the factual evidence the US government and its presstitute media pressed the claim to the point that Russia had to intervene and take the matter out of Washington’s warmonger hands. Russia’s intervention to prevent US military attacks on Iran and Syria resulted in the demonization of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. “Facts?!, Washington don’t need no stinkin’ facts! We got power!” Today at the UN Obama asserted America’s over-riding power many times: the strongest military in the world, the strongest economy in the world.

The UN has done nothing to stop Washington’s invasions and bombings, illegal under international law, of seven countries or Obama’s overthrow by coup of democratic governments in Honduras and Ukraine, with more in the works.

The UN does provide a forum for countries and populations within countries that are suffering oppression to post complaints—except, of course, for the Palestinians, who, despite the boundaries shown on maps and centuries of habitation by Palestinians, are not even recognized by the UN as a state.

On this 70th anniversary of the UN, I have spent much of the day listening to the various speeches. The most truthful ones were delivered by the presidents of Russia and Iran. The presidents of Russia and Iran refused to accept the Washington-serving reality or Matrix that Obama sought to impose on the world with his speech. Both presidents forcefully challenged the false reality that the propagandistic Western media and its government masters seek to create in order to continue to exercise their hegemony over everyone else.

What about China? China’s president left the fireworks to Putin, but set the stage for Putin by rejecting US claims of hegemony: “The future of the world must be shaped by all countries.” China’s president spoke in veiled terms against Western neoliberal economics and declared that “China’s vote in the UN will always belong to the developing countries.”

In the masterly way of Chinese diplomacy, the President of China spoke in a non-threatening, non-provocative way. His criticisms of the West were indirect. He gave a short speech and was much applauded.

Obama followed second to the President of Brazil, who used her opportunity for PR for Brazil, at least for the most part. Obama gave us the traditional Washington spiel:

The US has worked to prevent a third world war, to promote democracy by overthrowing governments with violence, to respect the dignity and equal worth of all peoples except for the Russians in Ukraine and Muslims in Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Obama declared Washington’s purpose to “prevent bigger countries from imposing their will on smaller ones.” Imposing its will is what Washington has been doing throughout its history and especially under Obama’s regime.

All those refugees overrunning Europe? Washington has nothing to do with it. The refugees are the fault of Assad who drops bombs on people. When Assad drops bombs it oppresses people, but when Washington drops bombs it liberates them. Obama justified Washington’s violence as liberation from “dictators,” such as Assad in Syria, who garnered 80% of the vote in the last election, a vote of confidence that Obama never received and never will.

Obama said that it wasn’t Washington that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty with a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. It was Russia, whose president invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimera and is trying to annex the other breakaway republics, Russian populations who object to the Russophobia of Washington’s puppet government in Ukraine.

Obama said with a straight face that sending 60 percent of the US fleet to bottle up China in the South China Sea was not an act of American aggression but the protection of the free flow of commerce. Obama implied that China was a threat to the free flow of commerce, but, of course, Washington’s real concern is that China is expanding its influence by expanding the free flow of commerce.

Obama denied that the US and Israel employ violence. This is what Russia and Syria do, asserted Obama with no evidence. Obama said that he had Libya attacked in order to “prevent a massacre,” but, of course, the NATO attack on Libya perpetrated a massacre, an ongoing one. But it was all Gaddafi’s fault. He was going to massacre his own people, so Washington did it for him.

Obama justified all of Washington’s violence against millions of peoples on the grounds that Washington is well-meaning and saving the world from dictators. Obama attempted to cover up Washington’s massive war crimes, crimes that have killed and displaced millions of peoples in seven countries, with feel good rhetoric about standing up to dictators.

Did the UN General Assembly buy it? Probably the only one present sufficiently stupid to buy it was the UK’s Cameron. The rest of Washington’s vassals went through the motion of supporting Obama’s propaganda, but there was no conviction in their voices.

Vladimir Putin would have none of it. He said that the UN works, if it works, by compromise and not by the imposition of one country’s will, but after the end of the Cold War “a single center of domination arose in the world”—the “exceptional” country. This country, Putin said, seeks its own course which is not one of compromise or attention to the interests of others.

In response to Obama’s speech that Russia and its ally Syria wear the black hats, Putin said in reference to Obama’s speech that “one should not manipulate words.”

Putin said that Washington repeats its mistakes by relying on violence which results in poverty and social destruction. He asked Obama: “Do you realize what you have done?”

Yes, Washington realizes it, but Washington will not admit it.

Putin said that “ambitious America accuses Russia of ambitions” while Washington’s ambitions run wild, and that the West cloaks its aggression as fighting terrorism while Washington finances and encourages terrorism.

The President of Iran said that terrorism was created by the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and by US support for the Zionist destruction of Palestine.

Obama’s speech made clear that Washington accepts no responsibility for the destruction of the lives and prospects of millions of Muslims. The refugees from Washington’s wars who are overflowing Europe are the fault of Assad, Obama declared.

Obama’s claim to represent “international norms” was an assertion of US hegemony, and was recognized as such by the General Assembly.

What the world is faced with is two rogue anti-democratic governments—the US and Israel—that believe that their “exceptionalism” makes them above the law. International norms mean Washington’s and Israel’s norms. Countries that do not comply with international norms are countries that do not comply with Washington and Israel’s dictates.

The presidents of Russia, China, and Iran did not accept Washington’s definition of “international norms.”

The lines are drawn. Unless the American people come to their senses and expel the Washington warmongers, war is our future.

# # # #

Paul Craig Roberts, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author, is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has been reporting on executive branch and cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. He has written or co-written eight books, contributed chapters to numerous books, and has published many articles in journals of scholarship. Mr. Roberts has testified before congressional committees on 30 occasions on issues of economic policy, and has been a critic of both Democratic and Republican administrations. You can visit his website here.

© PaulCraigRoberts.org

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 29, 2015

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires, Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

With the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine dominating the headlines, the latest escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has gone largely unnoticed. It all started on September 24, when Azerbaijani forces shelled Armenian villages in the northeastern Tavush region close to the border. Mortar and gunfire killed three civilian women, aged 41, 83 and 94, and wounded four other residents. It was the highest number of civilians killed in one day for quite some time. Moreover, targeting villages with mortar fire is not a common tactic and has only rarely been seen since the end of the war in 1994. As Armenia called on the international community to get involved and prevent a further escalation of the conflict, Azerbaijan tried to play the innocent by using Israel's tried and tested 'human shields' rhetoric. But it quickly became clear which side is provoking an escalation:

Four Armenian Servicemen Killed by Azerbaijani Fire Four Armenian servicemen were killed today in an offensive operation launched by Azerbaijan on Sept. 25. Norayr Khachatryan (b. 1995), Robert Mkrtchyan (b. 1995), Harout Hakobyan (b. 1997), and Karen Shahinyan (b. 1997) of the Artsakh Armed Forces were killed in the Azerbaijani attack, announced the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR) Ministry of Defense. According to the Ministry, Azerbaijani forces used Turkish-made TR-107 rocket launchers in the attack. Intensive shelling reportedly took place on Sept. 24 and 25. A day earlier, 83-year-old Parakavar resident Baydzar Aghajanyan and Berdavan residents Shushan Asatryan, 94, and Sona Revezyan , 41, were killed by Azerbaijani artillery fire targeting Armenian border villages in Armenia’s Tavush province. Four other residents were also wounded in the attack.

Azerbaijan Kills Armenian Grannies, Blames Armenia

True to form, after killing seven Armenians in two days, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of escalating the conflict in an attempt to derail negotiations between the countries' Foreign Ministers and the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group in New York. Ironically, that is exactly the strategy that Azerbaijan has been using time and again in the run-up to important meetings and negotiations. The OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs were not swayed by Baku's antics and urged the warring parties to accept an OSCE mechanism to investigate ceasefire violations. Armenia has already agreed to discuss the details of the mechanism and Azerbaijan is now under pressure to follow suit. The month of September has taken a turn for the worse for Baku. Two weeks ago, Azerbaijani officials were chuffed to bits, thinking that they have a golden opportunity to claim the moral high ground in the conflict with Armenia:

Armenian 'Activist' Defects To Azerbaijan An Armenian man has defected to archrival Azerbaijan in a case that is sure to rankle in Yerevan. Vahan Martirosian, who says he is the head of an NGO called Internal National Liberation Movement, told reporters in Baku on September 18 that he had requested political asylum in Azerbaijan. There is no NGO by that name in the official registry. Martirosian slammed the policies of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, calling them anti-Armenian, and said Azerbaijani media are the only source offering "truthful information" about the current situation in Armenia.

Azerbaijani media is not exactly known for offering "truthful information" about anything but Martirosian went even further in his efforts to please his new hosts. The Armenian "activist" vowed to draw the international community's attention to the "criminal regime" of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and claimed that most people living in Nagorno-Karabakh would vote to join Azerbaijan if they were allowed to hold a referendum. Martirosian's strange Baku press conference perplexed not only the Armenian authorities but also the country's opposition and civil activists because they couldn't recall ever meeting him during protests in Armenia. Ruzanna Marguni, the woman who accused Martirosian of stealing $3,800 from her apartment before he left the country, described him as "a skillful fraudster." This being the case, Martirosian's defection is not the propaganda coup the Aliyev regime had been hoping for and it won't help to deflect attention from Azerbaijan's crackdown on journalists and human rights activists, which is once again causing tensions between Baku and the West:

Aliyev Goes On The Attack Against EU Values Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has thrown down the gauntlet in the face of criticism from the European Union, accusing the bloc of being "anti-Azerbaijani" and mocking European values amid the ongoing refugee crisis. During a joint press conference with visiting Czech President Milos Zeman in Baku on September 15, Aliyev blasted a recent European Parliament resolution that condemned his country's human rights situation and called for the release of all political prisoners and imprisoned journalists. Speaking earlier on September 15 at the opening ceremonies of a new school in Baku, Aliyev called on the country's youth to stay away from "foreign influence and the so-called Western values that our people do not share."​

Aliyev and Co. were furious about the latest "anti-Azerbaijani" European Parliament resolution. Baku responded by canceling the planned visit by a European Commission delegation and by suspending its participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, an inter-parliamentary forum of the EU and its eastern neighbors which was established as part of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative. Some Azerbaijani lawmakers have even called for rethinking Azerbaijan's participation in the Eastern Partnership. As usual, Baku's anger about "anti-Azerbaijani" activities is not only directed at Brussels but also at "some circles" in the United States. After cracking down on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at the end of last year, the Aliyev regime is now going after Voice of America and other foreign media outlets. And last but not least, Azerbaijan continues its half-hearted campaign against the U.S.-backed Gülen movement, much to the joy of Turkish President Erdogan:

Azerbaijan deports Turkish citizens for Nur movement propaganda Turkish citizens, suspected of promoting the Nur movement in Azerbaijan, were deported from the country.   The Yasamal district court fined Turkish citizens Sunkur Nurulla and Senol Miktat AZN 2000 under article #300.04 (violation of the law on religious freedom) of the Code of Administrative Offences.   Under the court decision, they were deported from Azerbaijan. In addition, 5 Azerbaijani citizens faced fine AZN 1500.

Tajikistan's Attempt to Prove IRPT-Nazarzoda Plot Backfires

If Aliyev eventually wants to get rid of the Gülen movement altogether, he can ask his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon for advice. Rahmon is currently demonstrating how to rid oneself of pesky opposition groups. Government forces had a hard time catching former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda but the Tajik regime is now making the best of the situation by using Nazarzoda's rebellion to crush the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) once and for all. To this end, they have come up with an elaborate plot linking Nazarzoda and the IRPT, putting even the most ludicrous conspiracy theories to shame. On September 17, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General's office set the stage with an official statement saying that IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri had ordered Nazarzoda to establish 20 small criminal groups. Charitable foundations of foreign countries allegedly provided the funding. This story is becoming more convoluted and more implausible day by day:

Tajikistan State Media Rants Undermine Uprising Account In providing updates to its would-be insurgency and smears of the opposition almost daily, Tajikistan’s government has succeeded mostly in undermining its own credibility.

A dispatch circulated by Khovar state news agency on September 26 reaches new heights of implausibility. The story contends that the alleged renegade deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda had plotted his uprising since 2010 in collusion with the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT). Allegations that plotting should have been happening for so long at the highest level is at best an astonishing admission of incompetence by Tajikistan’s security structures. Alternatively, Dushanbe is spinning a yarn in full confidence that nobody within the country, including all the diplomatic stations based there, will dare to question its narrative.

International extremist organizations, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. and the EU have all featured in recent Tajik state media ramblings about the alleged Kabiri-Nazarzoda plot. Ironically, Washington has been remarkably silent on Tajikistan's crackdown and just showcased its support of the Rahmon regime by donating tactical equipment worth $260,000 to the country's OMON unit, which made headlines a few months ago when its commander defected to ISIS. Khovar lashed out at the U.S. nevertheless. Even Russian analysts, who are usually quick to blame unrest in Central Asia on the West and/or extremists, had to take flak because they dared to cast doubt on the government's narrative. Dushanbe's main problem is that the narrative doesn't stand up to scrutiny, as the Tajik authorities learned when they confronted IRPT deputy leader Mahmadali Hayit with a member of Nazarzoda's group:

IRP deputy leader confronted with member of Abduhalim Nazarzoda’s group His defense lawyer, Jamshed Yorov, says Hayit was confronted with one of members of mutinous general’s armed group on September 22. “The men said that Mahmadali Hayit and IRP leader Muhiddin Kabiri allegedly met with General Abduhalim Nazarzoda on March 6 and drew the plan of attacks on the government institutions and distributed public positions among them,” they lawyer said. “Hayit, however, managed to prove that there was no such a meeting. At that time, Hayit was at IRP’s head office to hold a post-election meeting. All accusations were rebutted,” Yorov noted.

Predictably, the Tajik authorities couldn't take the embarrassment. Jamshed Yorov's colleague Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is also defending the Islamic Renaissance Party, was pressured to abandon his clients and later detained after he refused to play along. Buzurgmehr's detention came shortly after the Prosecutor General's office formally charged the 13 arrested IRPT members with creating a criminal organization. They face between 15 and 20 years in jail if they are found guilty. As Buzurgmehr told RFE/RL's Tajik service before his arrest, the IRPT members deny having anything to do with Nazarzoda's rebellion and the creation of criminal groups. It appears that this won't stop the Tajik regime from prosecuting them. However, instead of putting all their efforts into destroying the IRPT, the Tajik authorities would be well advised to pay more attention to the alarming situation on the Afghan border:

Islamic Jihad Union claims to control areas along Afghan-Tajik border

The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), an al Qaeda and Taliban-linked group that operates in Afghanistan, has claimed it controls large areas of the northern border with Tajikistan. While the IJU’s claim cannot be independently confirmed, the jihadist group released several photos of a small team of fighters purportedly crossing the Amu Darya River in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz. It is unclear exactly where the crossing took place, but it likely occurred in the district of Qala-i-Zal, the only district in Kunduz that borders the Amu Darya River. The northern Kunduz districts of Imam Sahib and Dasht-i-Archi, which also border Tajikistan and the Panj River, are considered to be contested or controlled by the Taliban. The IJU is an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which joined the Islamic State this past summer. The IJU swore allegiance to the Taliban’s new emir, and has been active in the Taliban’s “Azm” spring offensive.

Taliban Seize Kunduz as U.S. Mulls Drawdown Options 

As if the IJU's announcement was not worrying enough, the Taliban have been making significant progress in Kunduz province in the last few days. The provincial capital has been under siege for months and was already on the verge of falling to the Taliban earlier this year. After keeping the insurgents at bay during the summer, government troops eventually lost the fight for Kunduz on September 28, when the Taliban managed to take over the city. One of their first actions was to release 700 prisoners - most of whom were Taliban - from Kunduz city prison. New Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor lost no time in commenting on his first major victory and urged residents to cooperate with the city's new masters. As the world reacted with shock to the news, the Afghan government tried to play down the devastating defeat and vowed to retake the city but that is easier said than done:

Afghan Forces Seek to Regain Kunduz, Major Northern City, From Taliban A day after the Taliban took their first major city in 14 years, a counterattack was underway Tuesday, but ground forces sent from other provinces to recapture the northern city, Kunduz, were delayed by ambushes and roadside bombs, officials said. American forces carried out an airstrike outside the city Tuesday morning, said Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the United States forces in Afghanistan. He did not specify the target, but said the strike was carried out to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces. Ghulam Rabbani, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said ground forces from Kabul and the northern province of Balkh had been repeatedly ambushed by the Taliban on their way to Kunduz. Some of the reinforcements were waiting in nearby Baghlan to meet with the forces from Kabul, said Col. Abdul Qahar, an Afghan Army spokesman in the north.

In addition to offensives in Kunduz and Helmand province, Taliban fighters have also been consolidating their grip on areas in eastern Afghanistan, where they just overran a U.S.-built military outpost on the Pakistani border. As discussed last week, warlord-turned-vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum succeeded in driving back the insurgents in Faryab province but his victory was short-lived. All in all, the security situation in Afghanistan is alarming, to the say least. To make matters worse, the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State recently launched its first attack on Afghan security forces. Up until then, ISIS had largely focused on fighting the Taliban. The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed and even the U.S. is now acknowledging the threat after initially playing down the issue. In light of the Taliban's largest victory in years and the rise of ISIS, the timing of General John Campbell's testimony before Congress about the U.S. "withdrawal" could hardly be any better:

U.S., Allied Military Review New Options for Afghan Pullback U.S. and allied defense officials, increasingly wary of White House plans to scale back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, are reviewing new drawdown options that include keeping thousands of American troops in the country beyond the end of 2016, American and allied officials said. The top international commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, has sent five different recommendations to the Pentagon and to North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials in Brussels, each with its own risk assessment, officials said. Some officials worry that too large a cut could cause the Afghan government to come under increased pressure from the Taliban and other militants, officials said. Others believe a smaller force of several thousand Americans still could be effective at backing the Afghan government.

The options range from keeping the current U.S. presence of about 10,000 toops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to continuing with the planned drawdown to a force of several hundred troops by the end of 2016. Taliban leader Mansoor has already announced his preferred option, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. Washington is probably not going to consider this option and the continued presence of thousands of U.S. contractors is a non-negotiable matter, anyway. The only ones leaving Afghanistan currently in record numbers are Afghans, much to the dismay of the Afghan government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that he wants to tackle the problem by introducing a "combination of security and economic measures." He didn't specify which sort of measures he was alluding to but Kabul's social media campaign is definitely not going to stem the tide:

Afghanistan Tries To Stem Tide Of Migration 'Brain Drain' "Don't go. Stay with me. There might be no return!" That's the message Kabul is sending to Afghans thinking of abandoning their home country for a new life in the West. The Refugees and Repatriations Ministry has launched a slick social-media campaign to get its message out, and doesn't pull any punches in its effort to dissuade Afghans from making the jump to Europe. Graphics being circulated on Facebook and Twitter show that the ministry is using a healthy dose of stark images and guilt to urge Afghans to fulfill their patriotic duty and stay on to help rebuild their war-torn nation.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The New Great Game Round-Up: September 22, 2015

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once & for All, Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

At the beginning of last week, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan gathered in the Tajik capital Dushanbe for a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The summit came at an inconvenient time for host Emomali Rahmon, who was struggling to quell a small rebellion led by former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Rahmon had sacked Nazarzoda immediately after identifying him as the mastermind of the attacks that rocked the country on September 4. The renegade general subsequently fled with his supporters toward Romit Gorge, about 45 kilometers east of Dushanbe, and kept the Tajik authorities on their toes for several days. Nazarzoda's rebellion overshadowed Tajikistan's 24th independence anniversary as well as the CSTO summit and left dozens of people dead until the general was eventually eliminated on September 16:

Tajik Mutineer And Special Forces Commander Killed In Battle Tajikistan's authorities say they have killed the fugitive general who mutinied two weeks ago. In the fight, however, the commander of the most elite special forces unit in the country, the Alfas, was killed as well. The former general, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, was killed on September 16 at 14:00 local time after a day-and-a-half-long battle in the Romit Gorge at an altitude of 3,700 meters above sea level, Tajikistan's Interior Ministry and State Committee on National Security said in a joint statement. During the fighting, the chief of the Alfas, Colonel Rustam Khamakiyev, and three other officers of the Alfas and OMON (a special forces unit of the Interior Ministry) were killed, the statement added.

Tajikistan Exploits General's Rebellion to Crush IRPT Once and for All 

The motive for Nazarzoda's mutiny remains unclear and there are many different theories about what caused the violence, ranging from a coup attempt to the always popular Islamist angle. However, the most likely explanation seems to be that the former Deputy Defense Minister went rogue after being warned about an impending prosecution against him. Nazarzoda was a field commander of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) during the Tajikistani civil war and joined the Defense Ministry in 1997 after the government signed a power-sharing deal with the UTO. Despite the power-sharing deal, the Tajik regime has tried to neutralize a number of former UTO commanders over the years. The crackdown on political opponents is now again picking up pace. At the end of last month, the Tajik Justice Ministry banned Central Asia's only officially registered Islamic party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), and Nazarzoda's rebellion offers a perfect opportunity to crush the IRPT once and for all:

Tajikistan Pins Recent Violence on Islamic Party Slowly, over months and years, the government of Tajikistan has been eroding the peace accord that ended the civil war. On September 4, a pair of attacks in and near Dushanbe set off a chain of accusations that have seemingly ended with the final closure of the country’s most prominent opposition party*. If the state is to be believed, a constellation of bogeymen connived to overthrow the government right under the defense ministry’s nose. The Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office released an official statement today linking the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), its exiled leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and (until the day of the attacks) Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement says that Nazarzoda, on behalf of Kabiri and the IRPT, established 20 “small criminal groups” in recent years. The two attacks in early September–in Vahdat and Dushanbe–were preceded by an influx of “so-called charitable funds of foreign countries.”

Nazarzoda in the past had links to the IRPT when both were part of the United Tajik Opposition fighting against the government but even then his connections to the party were tenuous at best. Dushanbe's claims that Nazarzoda was a member of the IRPT don't hold water. Nevertheless, the government lost no time in blaming the Islamic Renaissance Party for the outbreak of violence. IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri rejected the accusations and argued that Nazarzoda's motives rather lie in the government's "erroneous" policies. Kabiri has been living in self-imposed exile since March because he had seen it coming. While the manhunt for Nazarzoda was still underway, the Tajik authorities launched an all-out attack on the IRPT. Police seized the party's property and began arresting the remaining IRPT leaders in Tajikistan. As for Muhiddin Kabiri, he hasn't been forgotten by the Tajik regime as well:

Tajikistan reportedly turns to Interpol over IRP leader The Interior Ministry of Tajikistan is reportedly preparing documents to turn to Interpol over the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) leader Muhiddin Kabiri. An official source at the Interior Ministry says the documents for detention and extradition of Kabiri will be sent to the country where he is probably living now. “Criminal proceedings have not yet been instituted against Muhiddin Kabiri, but the Prosecutor-general’s Office is going to institute criminal proceedings against him one of these days,” the source added.

The latest crackdown may very spell the end of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan. Warnings that the party's closure will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups have apparently fallen on deaf ears in Dushanbe. In the eyes of Tajik President Rahmon, most opponents are terrorists anyway. That is also a popular view among Rahmon's CSTO colleagues. As usual, threats of terrorism and extremism were high on the agenda during the CSTO summit in Tajikistan and the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan was of course discussed as well. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev raised a few eyebrows when he went as far as to link Tajikistan's border worries with the Nazarzoda rebellion. However, the most noteworthy statement regarding the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border came from a Kommersant source close to the CSTO Secretariat:

Russia may deploy soldiers on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan: CSTO The Russian forces may return on Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan amid fears the deteriorating security situation may affect the security of Central Asian countries, it has been reported. A source close to the Secretary General of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has said the return of Russian forces on Afghanistan-Tajikistan border is not unlikely. According to the Russian newspaper – kommersant, the Russian forces may return once they receive a request from the government of Tajikistan.

Dostum Urged to Fight ISIS after Short-Lived Success in Faryab

Up until now, Dushanbe has only requested technical assistance from the CSTO and another source pointed out that the current situation does not require the continued presence of Russian forces or CSTO contingents on the Tajik-Afghan border. In the meantime, Russia is encouraging the Afghan government to deal with this problem on its own by offering more military hardware in exchange for Afghanistan's provision of security along the Tajik border. It is doubtful that this will be enough to secure the border considering the bad shape of the Afghan security forces despite years of training by the United States and its allies. Moscow is not impressed with the results of NATO's mission in Afghanistan as President Putin emphasized once again during the CSTO summit. In addition to the escalating violence, the Kremlin is worried about the rising opium production. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, raised this issue recently at the UN Security Council:

ISIL Gains Control Of Several Drug Trafficking Routes From Afghanistan The Islamic State (ISIL) extremist group has taken control of a number of drug trafficking routes from Afghanistan, Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said Thursday. The envoy urged the UN Security Council to closely monitor and respond quickly to developments in the drug situation in Afghanistan, as international terrorist groups use drug trafficking to fund their activities. "There is information that a group of militants from ISIS [IS] already control a part of the routes of illegal drug supply from the Badakhshan Province [in northeastern Afghanistan]," Churkin said.

Taliban fighters are constantly causing trouble in Badakhshan but Churkin's assertion that ISIS controls a part of the drug supply routes from the province comes as a surprise. It is not the first time that Russian officials have highlighted the connection between ISIS and the Afghan drug trade. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, claimed last year that ISIS "obtains fabulous profits by providing half of the total heroin supply to Europe via destabilized Iraq and some African countries." After suffering a few setbacks in Afghanistan, ISIS has gained a foothold in the war-torn country and is now vying with the Taliban for influence. As the fighting between the two groups escalates, some people are pinning their hopes on First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to destroy ISIS' stronghold in Nangarhar province and repeat the success of his Faryab campaign. They seem to have missed that Dostum's success in Faryab didn't last very long:

Troops Battle Insurgents in Faryab After Short-Lived Clearance Despite weeks of military clearing operations in Faryab, to rid the area of insurgents, the militants immediately returned to their old battle field following Vice President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's return to Kabul. In August, Dostum donned his military uniform and joined troops on the Faryab frontline. After only a few weeks they cleared the area. However, peace was short-lived and insurgents have once again overrun the area.

Two months ago, Dostum and the powerful governor of Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor agreed to join forces with government troops in order to subdue the insurgents in northern Afghanistan. Noor has recently followed Dostum's example in leading military operations in the north but as Dostum's short-lived success in Faryab shows, defeating the insurgency won't be easy. While the government is stepping up its efforts, the Taliban are trying to settle differences that emerged after the confirmation of Mullah Omar's death. Mullah Omar's family and several other leading Taliban figures didn't approve of new supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Instead they preferred Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob. After weeks of infighting and intense negotiations, Yaqoob and his family eventually agreed to a power-sharing deal and pledged allegiance to Mansoor, much to the dismay of the remaining Mansoor critics:

Afghan Taliban divided as talks between two factions fail The Afghan Taliban may split into two factions, said a spokesman for one group on Saturday, because they cannot agree who should be leader following the death of their founder.  

On Saturday, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a spokesman for the anti-Mansour faction, said talks between Mansour and the dissatisfied commanders had failed. Niazi's comments come after Omar's son Yaqoob and brother Manan swore allegiance to Mansour this week. Omar's family had initially opposed Mansour but agreed to support him after he agreed to a list of their demands. Niazi said Mansour had threatened to cut Taliban funds that Manan had been receiving if he did not support Mansour's leadership.

Kadyrov Takes Unique Approach in Dealing with ISIS Recruitment

A split of the Taliban into two factions would complicate the messy situation in Afghanistan even further and drive more Taliban fighters into the arms of ISIS. The much-hyped terrorist group has managed to establish new branches in several countries by wooing jihadists away from other groups. The Islamic State's "Wilayat Qawqaz" in the North Caucasus is a prime example of this highly successful franchise model. ISIS' Caucasus branch made headlines at the beginning of this month when it claimed responsibility for its first official attack in Russia, which allegedly targeted barracks of the Russian army in southern Dagestan. Unfortunately, security forces and local residents were quick to deny that an attack took place and pointed out that the supposed target doesn't even exist. To make matters worse for "Wilayat Qawqaz," ISIS recruiters in Chechnya are facing unexpected problems:

Chechen Leader Takes Unique Approach in Dissuading Youths From Joining ISIL Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov has taken a blunt approach to flushing out pro-ISIL extremist sentiment in his republic, holding direct face-to-face talks with youths suspected of supporting the terror group, Chechen television channel Grozny has reported. At the event, conducted earlier this week, Kadyrov faced down several young men, who he shamed for voicing their sympathies for the terror group on social media. The talk was attended by local Imams, the heads of municipalities, and the youths' parents; it was then broadcast on Chechen television. Speaking at the event, parents noted that they had tried to raise their children to become pillars of support for their families, devout Muslims and worthy members of their communities and their country. They emphasized that they did not need sons "who betrayed family, relatives, friends, Islam and the Chechen people."

Kadyrov made it quite clear to the humiliated ISIS supporters that "there's no place in Chechnya for anyone who even glances in the direction of ISIS." The Chechen leader is well known for his unorthodox measures and never shies away from causing a scandal. Lately, Kadyrov picked a fight with the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk city court over a ruling that labeled a booklet containing quotes and commentary on verses from the Quran as "extremist." He vowed to appeal the court ruling and branded the responsible judge and prosecutor "national traitors and shaitans [devils]" - a term that is usually reserved for terrorists. Kadyrov also didn't mince his words when he added his two cents to the debate on the alleged participation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in the First Chechen War. While it seems highly unlikely that Yatsenyuk fought in the North Caucasus, other Ukrainians definitely supported the "Chechen rebels" and two of them just went on trial in Chechnya:

Russia puts Ukrainians on trial for Chechnya killings Two Ukrainians went on trial in Russia on Tuesday accused of murdering dozens of Russian soldiers in Chechnya in the 1990s while fighting with separatists in a nationalist hit squad. The powerful Investigative Committee said that the supreme court of Chechnya in Grozny began hearing the case of Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, both of whom are charged with murder and belonging to a militant organisation. The men have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year after being arrested separately when they came to Russia last year.

Klykh and Karpyuk are accused of being members of the infamous Ukrainian ultranationalist group Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), which bears all the hallmarks of NATO's 'Gladio' operations. Since its inception in late 1990, UNA-UNSO participated in several conflicts against Russia or Russian-backed forces, ranging from the War in Abkhazia to the First Chechen War. Last year, the group caught again Russian authorities' attention when its members featured prominently in the Euromaidan movement. Chechnya's supreme court will probably use this opportunity to make an example of the two Ukrainian defendants after Ukrainian nationalists repeatedly voiced support for their "Chechen brothers" and even celebrated the terrorist attack in Grozny last December. Although the situation in the North Caucasus has been relatively quiet in recent months, the local authorities have to keep their guard up all the time:

Another Imam Shot Dead In Russia's North Caucasus An imam in Russia's Daghestan region in the North Caucasus has been killed. The Investigative Committee of Russia says two masked men shot dead Magomed Khidirov early in the morning of September 9 while he was on his way to a mosque in Novy Kurush. The killing of Khidirov, 34, came three weeks after another Islamic cleric, Zamirbek Makhmutov, 32, was shot dead in Russia's Stavropol region neighboring Daghestan.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

The Rise of the Inhumanes

A new species have risen from the poisonous American environment of arrogance, hubris & paranoia

America’s descent into totalitarian violence is accelerating. Like the Bush regime, the Obama regime has a penchant for rewarding Justice (sic) Department officials who trample all over the US Constitution. Last year America’s First Black President nominated David Barron to be a judge on the First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Barron is responsible for the Justice (sic) Department memo that gave the legal OK for Obama to murder a US citizen with a missile fired from a drone. The execution took place without charges presented to a court, trial, and conviction. The target was a religious man whose sermons were believed by the paranoid Obama regime to encourage jihadism. Apparently, it never occurred to Obama or the Justice (sic) Department that Washington’s mass murder and displacement of millions of Muslims in seven countries was all that was needed to encourage jihadism. Sermons would be redundant and would comprise little else but moral outrage after years of mass murder by Washington in pursuit of hegemony in the Middle East.

Barron’s confirmation ran into opposition from some Republicans, some Democrats, and the American Civil Liberties Union, but the US Senate confirmed Barron by a vote of 53-45 in May 2014. Just think, you could be judged in “freedom and democracy America” by a friend who legalized extra-judicial murder.

While awaiting his reward, Barron had a post on the faculty of the Harvard Law School, which tells you all you need to know about law schools. His wife ran for governor of Massachusetts. Elites are busy at work replacing law with power.

America now has as an appeals court judge, no doubt being groomed for the Supreme Court, who established the precedent in US law that, the Constitution not withstanding, American citizens can be executed without a trial.

Did law school faculties object? Not Georgetown law professor David Cole, who enthusiastically endorsed the new legal principle of execution without trial. Professor Cole put himself on the DOJ’s list of possible federal judicial appointees by declaring his support for Barron, whom he described as “thoughtful, considerate, open-minded, and brilliant.”

Once a country descends into evil, it doesn’t emerge. The precedent for Obama’s appointment of Barron was George W. Bush’s appointment of Jay Scott Bybee to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Bybee was John Yoo’s Justice (sic) Department colleague who co-authored the “legal” memos justifying torture despite US federal statutory law and international law prohibiting torture. Everyone knew that torture was illegal, including those practicing it, but these two fiends provided a legal pass for the practitioners of torture. Not even Pinochet in Chile went this far.

Bybee and Yoo got rid of torture by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques.” As Wikipedia reports, these techniques are considered to be torture by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, medical experts who treat torture victims, intelligence officials, America’s allies, and even by the Justice (sic) Department.

Others who objected to the pass given to torture by Bybee and Yoo were Secretary of State Colin Powell, US Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, and even Philip Zelikow, who orchestrated the 9/11 Commission cover-up for the Bush regime.

After five years of foot-dragging, the Justice (sic) Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Bybee and his deputy John Yoo committed “professional misconduct” by providing legal advice that was in violation of international and federal laws. The DOJ’s office of Professional Responsibility recommended that Bybee and Yoo be referred to the bar associations of the states where they were licensed for further disciplinary action and possible disbarment.

But Bybee and Yoo were saved by a regime-compliant Justice (sic) Department official, David Margolis, who concluded that Bybee and Yoo had used “poor judgement” but had not provided wrong legal advice.

So, today, instead of being disbarred, Bybee sits on a federal court just below the Supreme Court. John Yoo teaches constitutional law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Boalt Hall.

Try to imagine what has happened to America when Harvard and Berkeley law professors create legal justifications for torture and extra-judicial murder, and when US presidents engage in these heinous crimes. Clearly America is exceptional in its immorality, lack of human compassion, and disrespect for law and its founding document.

Hitler and Stalin would be astonished at the ease with which totalitarianism has marched through American institutions. Now we have a West Point professor of law teaching the US military justifications for murdering American critics of war and the police state. (Also here & the professor’s article is here)

William C. Bradford, the professor teaching our future military officers to regard moral Americans as threats to national security, blames Walter Cronkite for losing the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War by reporting the offensive as an American defeat. Tet was an American defeat in the sense that the offensive proved that the “defeated” enemy was capable of a massive offensive against US forces. The offensive succeeded in the sense that it demonstrated to Americans that the war was far from over. The implication of Bradford’s argument is that Cronkite should have been killed for his broadcasts that added to the doubts about American success.

The professor claims to have a list of 40 people who tell the truth who must be exterminated, or our country is lost. Here we have the full confession that Washington’s agenda cannot survive truth.

I am unaware of any report that the professor has been censored or fired for his disrespect for the constitutionally protected right of freedom of expression. However, I have seen reports of professors destroyed because they criticized Israel’s war crimes, or used a word or term prohibited by political correctness, or were insufficiently appreciative of the privileges of “preferred minorities.” What this tells us is that morality is sidetracked into self-serving agendas while evil overwhelms the morality of society.

Welcome to America today. It is a land in which facts have been redefined as enemy propaganda, a land in which legally protected whistleblowers are redefined as “fifth columns” or foreign agents subject to extermination, a land in which America is immune from criticism and all crimes are blamed on those whom Washington intends to rule.

Barron, Bybee, Yoo, and Bradford are members of a new species—the Inhumanes—that has risen from the poisonous American environment of arrogance, hubris, and paranoia.

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Paul Craig Roberts, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author, is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has been reporting on executive branch and cases of prosecutorial abuse for two decades. He has written or co-written eight books, contributed chapters to numerous books, and has published many articles in journals of scholarship. Mr. Roberts has testified before congressional committees on 30 occasions on issues of economic policy, and has been a critic of both Democratic and Republican administrations. You can visit his website here.

© PaulCraigRoberts.org

 

Processing Distortion with Peter B. Collins: False Flags Over Turkey

Peter B. Collins Presents Sibel Edmonds

Sibel Edmonds provides details of the recent "terrorist event" in Suruc--which she suspects was staged. Edmonds is the FBI whistleblower who is editor/publisher of BoilingFrogsPost.com and this episode of Processing Distortion is being posted with no subscription required.

Edmonds was in the vicinity of Suruc at the time of the incident, and got advance tips that such an event was imminent. Since April, the Turkish military has been preparing for war, and after Suruc, President Erdogan made a deal with Obama to get more involved in the war in Syria. She gives us some critical information on the domestic problems in Turkey: weakening economy, the influx of refugees from Syria, etc. She also confirms that Israel has a number of installations along the Iran border in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. Near the end of our chat, Edmonds talks about former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose recent indictment has disappeared from the news media, despite the media's failure to report the full story of Hastert's corruption.

*Sibel Edmonds is editor and publisher of Boiling Frogs Post, founder and president of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC), and author of the acclaimed book Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story, and The Lone Gladio, a Political Spy Thriller. Ms. Edmonds is a certified linguist, fluent in four languages, and has an MA in public policy from George Mason University and a BA in criminal justice and psychology from George Washington University. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.

Listen to the Preview Clip Here

Listen to the full episode here (This episode open to all):

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The EyeOpener Report- Sibel Edmonds on Turkey, Syria & the Kurdish Question

Syria is once again the center of attention with Washington and Ankara agreeing on "ISIS-free zones" that each partner is interpreting in its own way. Joining us to explore those interpretations is Sibel Edmonds of BoilingFrogsPost.com, just back from the region with intel on a possible timeline for increased military action in the country. In this conversation James and Sibel discuss Turkey's battle against the Kurds and how the Kurdish population are being used by the US and Israel as pawns in a complex chess game. We also examine the recent bombing in Suruc and signs that it was a false flag provocation.

Here is when & where we @ BFP broke Syria News long before US media:

The Continued Blackout on West’s Secret Training & Support Camp in Turkey for War on Syria (Dec 3, 2011)

BFP Exclusive: Syria- Secret US-NATO Training & Support Camp to Oust Current Syrian President (Nov 21, 2011)

BFP Exclusive- Hundreds of US-NATO Soldiers Arrive & Begin Operations on the Jordan-Syria Border (Dec 11, 2011)

BREAKING: US Troops Deploying on Jordan-Syria Border (YouTube, Dec 11, 2011)

The New Great Game Round-Up: August 12, 2015

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams & More!

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

The recent confirmation of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar has aggravated the alarming situation in Afghanistan. New Taliban supremo Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is struggling to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Omar's death and the Afghan peace talks have been put on hold for the time being. Many of Mansoor's critics oppose the talks with Kabul and favor Mullah Omar's son Yaqoob as Taliban leader. A few days ago, Afghan parliament member Abdul Zahir Qadir created a stir when he claimed that Yaqoob was assassinated in the Pakistani city of Quetta on behalf of Mansoor and Pakistani intelligence agencies. The Taliban immediately denied the claims but Yaqoob's whereabouts are still shrouded in mystery. As more and more leading Taliban figures come out in opposition to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, senior members of the movement are meeting in Pakistan to resolve the dispute:

Taliban Hold Open Meetings in Pakistan to Discuss Leadership

Senior members of the Taliban are reportedly holding open meetings in Pakistan to discuss the disputed appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as the group's new chief in the wake Mullah Omar's death. Several top Taliban leaders have expressed strong opposition to Mansour's leadership, calling him a puppet of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Sources within the Afghan government told TOLOnews on condition of anonymity on Thursday that scores of Taliban members - including both those who agree and disagree with Mansour's appointment - met with clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Wednesday to resolve the dispute over Omar's successor.

Taliban Strain Pak-Afghan Ties with New Wave of Terror

As many as 300 clerics or ulema reportedly met in Pakistan to mediate between the rival groups. Influential Pakistani cleric Sami ul-Haq, the "Father of the Taliban," was chosen by both sides to lead the reconciliation efforts. Haq has endorsed new Taliban leader Mansoor and he tried to convince Mullah Omar's family of doing the same by telling them that people would never forgive them if they "wasted sacrifices of thousands of Afghan Mujahideen by creating divisions within the Taliban movement." Mullah Omar's only surviving brother Abdul Manan Niazi, who is the anti-Mansoor faction's spokesman, said that they are willing to accept any decision taken by the ulema. The religious scholars are expected to announce their decision within the next few days. Predictably, the huge Taliban meetings didn't go unnoticed in neighboring Afghanistan. Many Afghans were furious about the fact that the Taliban were allowed to meet openly in Pakistan while unleashing a new wave of terror in Afghanistan:

Attacks on army, police and U.S. special forces kill 50 in Kabul A wave of attacks on the Afghan army and police and U.S. special forces in Kabul have killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds, dimming hopes that the Taliban might be weakened by a leadership struggle after their longtime leader's death. The bloodshed began on Friday with a truck bomb that exploded in a heavily populated district of the capital and ended with an hours-long battle at a base used by U.S. special forces. It became the deadliest day in Kabul for years. The Islamist insurgents claimed responsibility for both the police academy attack and the battle at the U.S. special forces base, though not for the truck bomb.

Friday's attacks ended a period of relative calm in Kabul and heralded the start of a terror campaign shaking Afghanistan. One day after the attacks in the Afghan capital, up to 29 people were killed in the northern province of Kunduz when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted members of an irregular anti-Taliban militia and on Monday another Taliban suicide bombing struck Kabul, killing five people and injuring a least 16. Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh was quick to point out that new Taliban leader Mansoor is trying to show his critics that he remains committed to fighting the Afghan government. Considering that one of Mansoor's first actions was to distance himself from the peace talks, Saleh may have a point. Furthermore, Saleh emphasized Pakistan's role in enabling such Taliban attacks and this issue has also been highlighted by many other Afghans, including President Ashraf Ghani:

Afghan President Points Finger at Pakistan After Bombings in Kabul Under pressure after a wave of deadly bombings in the Afghan capital, President Ashraf Ghani on Monday accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to mass gatherings of Taliban fighters in its territory, where such attacks are planned. Mr. Ghani’s words, a sharp break from the conciliatory tone he had taken toward Pakistan for much of his first year in office, came just hours after a suicide car-bomb struck a crowded entrance of the international airport in Kabul, leaving at least five people dead and 16 wounded. Attacks in the Afghan capital over the last four days have left nearly 70 people dead and hundreds wounded. After the news of Mullah Omar’s death, Mr. Ghani told his ministers that Pakistan had promised him that no new Amir ul-Momineen, as the Taliban call their leader, would be selected on its soil and that no large gatherings of the Taliban would take place to give him legitimacy. But within days, not only had Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Omar and been endorsed in large ceremonies in Quetta, but also he had announced that his new deputy would come from the Haqqani network, an aggressive organizer of terrorist attacks that has strong links to the Pakistani military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

A senior Afghan official recently suggested that Sirajuddin Haqqani's was mainly promoted to Mansoor's deputy because of his networks in urban areas. It appears that he already used these networks. The attacks in Kabul bore many of the hallmarks of the Haqqani network, reinforcing Ghani's argument that "war is declared against us from Pakistani territory." Ghani essentially buried the peace process on Monday by saying that he no longer wanted Islamabad to bring the Taliban to the table. Instead he urged the Pakistani authorities to destroy the group's sanctuaries in Pakistan. As usual, the Pakistanis have other ideas. However, the overt influence over the Taliban also entails all kinds of problems. Mansoor's critics are trying to exploit this issue for their own political ends and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) cited the same point as a key reason for pledging allegiance to ISIS. Mullah Omar's death has been a gift from heaven for ISIS in Afghanistan and the group spares neither trouble nor expense to woo more fighters away from the Taliban:

ISIS release horrific execution video, claiming to be filmed in Afghanistan The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group has released a new execution video claiming to be filmed in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. A group of ten men is shown being blown up after forcing them sit on Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted beneath them in the ground. They have been accused of apostasy and supporting the Taliban militants in their fight against the ISIS affiliates and being the supporter of ISI.

Turkmenistan Refuses to Give Up on Pipe Dreams  

As ISIS and the Taliban are trying to outdo each other in terms of barbaric crimes, the violence is escalating all over the country. Women and children are dying in record numbers and the Afghan security forces have been suffering casualties at an "unsutainable rate" for quite some time. To make matters worse, Kabul is losing even more fighters due to desertions. That is why local militias are playing an increasingly important role, especially in northern Afghan provinces such as Faryab. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is now personally leading the fight in Faryab to take the pressure of the local pro-government forces, which were unable to cope with the Taliban on their own. He would have preferred to bring his own 9,000-strong militia to the frontline but President Ghani didn't allow this for various reasons. Nevertheless, Dostum didn't travel to Faryab without support. He took his two sons along to show his determination. Not only Afghanistan is counting on the Dostum family to win the fight on the Turkmen border. Turkmenistan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans:

Consortium Leader Picked for Trans-Afghan Pipeline The pipeline intended to forge a new export route through Afghanistan for Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches has made a fresh stride with the naming a consortium leader for construction. Turkmenistan’s state news agency reported on August 6 that state-owned Turkmengaz will be in charge of bringing TAPI — named for the initials of the four countries it crosses — into existence. Backers of the project, which include the United States and the European Union, appear to be unfazed by occasional and loosely sourced reports of unrest along the Turkmen-Afghan border that would stand to disrupt any major construction work. Security issues do not typically feature in official statements on TAPI, which suggests either that anxieties are overblown or that the parties to the project are simply hoping for the best.

French energy giant Total and several other foreign majors initially evinced interest in leading the consortium, but only on condition of getting a stake in the Turkmen gas field that will feed the pipeline. Turkmenistan refused to accept this condition, prompting one company after another to back out of the project. Even as Turkmenistan was coming under increasing pressure to diversify its gas exports, the Turkmen authorities didn't budge an inch. However, they didn't want to give up on the pipeline either. In a last-ditch attempt to implement the project, Ashgabat proposed to put Turkmengaz in charge of constructing the pipeline. The three other TAPI countries were apparently every bit as desperate as Turkmenistan and endorsed the idea despite Turkmengaz's lack of capacity and experience. Although the construction is scheduled to begin in December, TAPI's actual implementation remains highly doubtful and the same is true of Turkmenistan's other pipe dream:

NATO: We'll Help Protect Trans-Caspian Pipeline

NATO could get involved in protecting a potential trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which Russia strongly opposes, an alliance official has said. The idea of building a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to carry natural gas from Turkmenistan's massive reserves to Azerbaijan and then further on to Europe has been on the drawing board for a long time, but has been held back for a number of reasons, not least Russia's strong opposition. But now a NATO official has said that the alliance would play a part in protecting it. In an interview with Azerbaijani news website AzVision, NATO's South Caucasus Liaison Officer William Lahue weighed in on the pipeline and made some surprisingly bold endorsements of it...

Lahue pointed out that the construction of the Trans-Capsian gas pipeline is technically possible and suggested that NATO's "protection" could remove political obstacles. Given that Washington and Brussels are the driving forces behind the Trans-Caspian project, Lahue's bold statement comes as no real surprise. Russia and Iran, the project's opponents, have seen it coming. That is why they convinced the other Caspian states of rejecting a foreign military presence (i.e. NATO) in the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan desperately wants to diversify its gas exports, and even more so after the recent dispute with Gazprom over unpaid deliveries, but Ashgabat will think twice about asking NATO for "protection." Currently, Turkmenistan's only viable pipeline project is the fourth branch line of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline, which could yield at least a small-scale expansion into Kyrgyzstan's energy market:

Kyrgyz, Turkmen leaders discuss energy and transport issues Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have agreed to move forward in building a railroad and a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Kyrgyzstan during Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's official visit to Bishkek on August 5. It is Berdymukhammedov's first official visit to Kyrgyzstan. "The construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China via Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan will be implemented in the very near future," Berdymukhammedov said after his talks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev.

Russian Soldiers Cause a Stir in Tajikistan

Tajikistan will host the longest section of the new 1,000-kilometer Line D and is already looking forward to getting millions of dollars in transit fees every year. The poor Central Asian country needs the money more than ever after remittances from labor migrants in Russia, which account for almost half of the country's GDP, declined sharply in recent months due to Russia's economic problems. One could argue that Tajikistan is suffering from Western sanctions as much as Russia. But Tajikistan's close ties with Russia are also creating other problems. The never-ending debate about Russian military presence in the country was recently reignited after a group of drunken Russian soldiers in their underwear got into a brawl with local Tajik men who confronted them about their rude behavior. And just as the Tajik government was trying to assure its people that Russian soldiers don't enjoy "judicial impunity," Tajiks were reminded of another controversial incident last year:

Tajik Murder Trial Starts For Russian Soldiers Two Russian soldiers suspected in the killing of a Tajik taxi driver last year have gone on trial in the capital, Dushanbe. Russian army's deputy platoon commander Fyodor Basimov and former military unit commander Ildar Sakhapov were arrested in August last year after taxi driver Rahimjon Teshaboev, 36, was found dead near Dushanbe. An autopsy revealed that Teshaboev, a father of three, was severely beaten before his throat was slashed.

http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/081115_GGR4.pngAccording to the Tajik service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Ildar Sakhapov admitted to killing the taxi driver. The judge said that Basimov had just assisted Sakhapov who had planned the murder. Two correspondents from RFE/RL's Tajik Service attended the trial and filmed a few minutes. The presiding Russian judge had granted them permission to do so but the present Russian officers were apparently not big fans of "anti-Russian U.S. propaganda tool" RFE/RL. As RFE/RL and others like to point out, hosting Russian military bases entails a few problems but that applies to foreign military presence in general. Moreover, the escalating violence in northern Afghanistan has reinforced Dushanbe's decision to let the Russians stay in the country for the foreseeable future. Instead of kicking out Russian soldiers, the Tajik authorities are going after Western-backed schools:

Tajikistan greenlights take over of Gulen-run schools Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has authorized the take over and renaming of a network of schools run by the U.S.-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen, in the country, according to Tajikistan's national news agency NIAT Hovar. In accordance with the decision signed by Rahmon, seven schools run by the Selale Educational Institution are going to be turned into public schools, and renamed as "schools for gifted children", the agency said. The decision to shut down the Gulen-run schools, and reopen them as state-run schools with different names was announced in May.

Gülen's schools in Tajikistan have been under high scrutiny for months, and with good reason. The Tajik regime sees the potential radicalization of the population as a major threat to its rule. This has led to some questionable decisions. The defection of Tajikistan's OMON commander to ISIS served as a warning that Dushanbe's war on Islam does more to fuel radicalization than to stop it but Rahmon & Co. didn't learn their lesson. Although experts are warning that the closure of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) will cause its members to go underground and join extremist groups, the regime is doing its best to destroy the IRPT. In doing so, the Tajik authorities risk boosting the terrorist recruitment that they are trying to stop. Tajikistan recently requested Interpol to put 16 Tajik ISIS fighters on the wanted list and announced that the list could be expanded significantly:

Tajikistan puts 16 people fighting for Islamic State on wanted list through Interpol

Interpol has put on the wanted list 16 Tajik citizens who are accused of involvement with the Islamic State terrorist group at the request of Tajikistan, a spokesman for Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security (SCNS) told TASS on Friday. He noted that "the list of wanted Islamic State supporters could grow to 600 and more people." "More than 600 our fellow countrymen are fighting in the ranks of Islamic State, their names and presumable locations in Syria, Iraq and partially in Afghanistan, are known to the country’s law enforcement agencies. Criminal cases against them have been opened under the "mercenary activities" article," the spokesman said. "Explanatory work is conducted among relatives of Islamic State supporters, other methods are used, which made it possible to return several young people to their home country."

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

         

The New Great Game Round-Up: August 5, 2015

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit, Russia: ISIS Comes- NED Goes & More

*The Great Game Round-Up brings you the latest newsworthy developments regarding Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We document the struggle for influence, power, hegemony and profits in Central Asia and the Caucasus region between a U.S.-dominated NATO, its GCC proxies, Russia, China and other regional players.

On July 31, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban were scheduled to meet in Pakistan for the second round of the recently launched Afghan peace talks. The first round of talks in the hill resort of Murree just outside Islamabad was hailed as a "breakthrough," raising hopes that the warring parties could come to an agreement. Pakistan's efforts to facilitate the meeting and the attendance of Chinese and U.S. officials signaled widespread support for the peace talks. But just as people were getting their hopes up, two days before the next meeting in Pakistan, BBC's Afghan Service dropped a bombshell by reporting the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Two weeks earlier, the Taliban leader had purportedly endorsed the peace talks in a statement posted on the Taliban's official website, making the reports of his death all the more surprising. It was not the first time that Mullah Omar's death has been reported but this time everyone agreed that Mullah Omar was dead:

Afghan government formally confirms death of Mullah Omar The government of Afghanistan formally confirmed the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. A statement by the President Palace said “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan.” The statement further added “The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.”

Mullah Omar's Death Spoils Afghan Peace Talks

Pakistan reportedly confirmed the death as well and the U.S. deemed the reports credible. According to Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), Mullah Omar died in a hospital in Karachi in April 2013. A former Afghan Taliban minister and member of the central leadership mentioned the same time of death and added that Omar died of tuberculosis. Last but not least, Mullah Omar's family and the Taliban leadership officially confirmed the death after Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor had been chosen as Omar's successor. As usual, the Taliban put their own spin on the whole story by claiming that "Mullah Omar never visited Pakistan or any other country except Afghanistan" but all parties agreed to finally acknowledge the death of the long-time Taliban leader and move on. However, the choice of Mullah Omar's successor didn't go down well with everyone:

Mullah Omar's son says he cannot support new Taliban leader

No sooner had the Taliban selected a new chief to replace Mullah Omar than deep fractures emerged on Friday, as the former leader's son said he rejected the choice of successor. Mullah Yacoob, Mullah Omar's oldest son, said he and three other senior leaders walked out of a meeting called to elect a leader, and were demanding a wider vote. “I am against the decision to select Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as leader,” he told The Associated Press.

Signs of deep fractures within the Taliban movement have already surfaced during the Afghan peace talks. Mansoor endorsed negotiations with Kabul, whereas battlefield commander Abdul Qayyum "Zakir" went as far as threatening to join ISIS if the talks continued. Zakir is now spearheading efforts to form a new leadership council that would replace the existing Quetta Shura because he wants to see Mullah Omar's son Yacoob as the new supremo. With the Taliban in disarray, the prospects for the Afghan peace talks are bleak. Although Mansoor is clearly more inclined toward dialogue, he felt the need to pander to his audience by distancing himself from the peace process. Moreover, he offered to meet his critics and address their grievances. Mansoor emphasized the "need for unity" as "the world tried its best to create rifts in our ranks." His top priority is to stop the factionalism that has been fueled by Mullah Omar's death. Otherwise, the Taliban are also going to lose more fighters to ISIS:

IMU Pledges Allegiance to Islamic State Only days after the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar was announced, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan terrorist group has reportedly sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. In a video posted by the IMU-controlled Furqon TV on July 31, a figure identified as the group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Ali, stands in front of the black flag of IS and pledges loyalty to the organization. The rest of the 16-minute video shows IMU militants carrying out attacks on Afghan army posts in Zabul province, which borders Pakistan. Usman Ghazi, the IMU’s leader since 2012, features in the clip. This is the first time the IMU’s central leadership has formally sworn allegiance to ISIS. But it is not the first report of IMU-linked militants allying themselves with ISIS.

Mullah Omar's jihadist credentials have long prevented more insurgents from joining ISIS. The confirmation of his death is going to have profound ramifications for the Taliban movement and the Afghan peace process. Remarkably enough, shortly after his death was finally confirmed, Pakistani media reported that Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani network, has also been dead for some time. Members of the Haqqani family and the Taliban immediately denied the reports and published a statement purportedly quoting Jalaluddin Haqqani as mourning the loss of Mullah Omar and giving his backing to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Sirajuddin was recently named as Mansoor's deputy. Considering that the Haqqani network is a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service, there is some evidence to suggest that Pakistan used Mullah Omar's death to put more easily controllable leaders in charge of the Taliban. After all, the Pakistani authorities don't want to take any chances in light of the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [emphasis mine]:

Any attempt to obstruct, impede CPEC will be thwarted: COAS The army chief on Friday reiterated that any attempt to obstruct or impede the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will be thwarted. According to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday evening,, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif congratulated the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) on its 88th anniversary. He also commended the deep ties between Pakistan and China. Gen Raheel also fired broadsides at state and non-state actors trying to destabilise Afghanistan. “Our cooperation for regional stability will squeeze space for state and non-state actors for a stable Afghanistan,” the statement added.

Turkish Meddling in Xinjiang Overshadows Erdogan's China Visit

It remains to be seen whether or not the 'all-weather friends' Pakistan and China will be able to walk the talk. Given that new Taliban leader Mansoor has to put his house in order first, it is unlikely that the Afghan peace talks will resume anytime soon. As the Taliban are already killing each other over Mansoor's appointment, China is also getting worried about how Mullah Omar's death will affect previous understandings with the Taliban regarding Xinjiang. Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura normally promised Beijing not to allow Uyghur jihadists to operate autonomously or launch attacks against China from Afghan territory. These kind of guarantees are more difficult to obtain when dealing with various warring factions. The Chinese authorities spare neither trouble nor expense to convince other state and non-state actors of supporting China's war on terror. Mullah Omar and the Taliban more or less kept their promises but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not to be trusted in this regard:

Turkish president opposes terror against China Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to cooperate with China to fight against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) during his visit to Beijing, a clear signal that observers say indicates Turkey is ready to remove obstacles in Sino-Turkish ties and seek closer economic cooperation. 

During his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Erdogan said that Turkey will respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, oppose any terrorist acts against China, including those launched by ETIM, and will not allow any force to harm Sino-Turkish ties. He added that Turkey is also a victim of terrorism, China Central Television reported.  Zan Tao, an expert on Turkey affairs and an associate professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that Erdogan's remarks about ETIM are very clear and strong, compared with his previous remarks over similar matters.

Erdogan's visit to China came at a crucial moment in Sino-Turkish relations. China is Turkey's second-largest trade partner and both countries want to boost economic cooperation in order to build a new Silk Road but disagreements over China's Uyghur minority have strained the relationship significantly in recent months. Beijing publicly reprimanded Ankara twice for its support of the East Turkestan independence movement by revealing damning information about Turkey's role in Uyghur smuggling and terror operations. The latest disclosure was prompted by an ongoing row over Uyghur refugees in Thailand and a vicious propaganda campaign during Ramadan, which has given rise to anti-China sentiments in Turkey. In the run-up to his China trip, Erdogan eventually tried to defuse the situation as Asians in Turkey were about to get lynched. A few days ago, the Turkish President then continued his reconciliation efforts in Beijing, much to the dismay of the East Turkestan crowd at home:

Erdoğan’s ’terrorism’ reference regarding Uighurs draws public criticism Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's use of the term “terrorism” in reference to Uighurs -- an ethnic Turkic minority in western China -- while in Beijing where he pledged to cooperate with the Chinese government to combat terrorism, including activities by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), have drawn fierce criticism from the Turkish public as well as opposition lawmakers. "For the president of Turkey, these remarks were not proper. Just to make a gesture to China, Erdoğan's remarks are not only misleading and wrong, but also will encourage Chinese officials to treat Uighurs as they used to do in the past," veteran Turkish diplomat and former deputy for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Faruk Loğoğlu told Today's Zaman. "Considering the fact that Uighurs have been subjected to restrictions and pressure over their identity and religion, this reference to ETIM would likely to undercut righteous struggle of Uighurs to fully realize their cultural and religious rights," said Oktay Vural, deputy chairman of opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The far-right MHP and its paramilitary youth wing, the Grey Wolves, have been leading Turkey's fight against Asian tourists and "China's brutality in East Turkestan" but Erdogan and the Turkish government are doing their bit as well. Ankara's support of the East Turkestan independence movement is being exposed more and more. A few weeks after Beijing complained that Turkish diplomats in Southeast Asia are handing out travel documents to Chinese Uyghurs, Reuters revealed lately that the documents even list "East Turkestan" as their nationality. Erdogan's pledge to respect China's territorial integrity and to support Beijing's war on terror should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. Even Ankara's flirt with a Chinese air defense system cannot disguise the fact that relations between the two countries remain uneasy. To make matters worse, Turkey's favorite terrorist group has recently called on China's Uyghurs to join its "caliphate," which means more work for Turkish border guards:

Turkey detains 457 Syria-bound 'foreign terror' suspects Almost half of the 457 people detained by Turkish authorities on the Turkish-Syrian border between January 1 and June 30 are Chinese nationals, Turkish Armed Forces sources told Anadolu Agency Wednesday. According to the sources, out of the 457 people detained, 241 are Chinese, 13 British, seven Afghans, five Germans, two Americans, one Australian, five Azerbaijanis, one Bangladeshi, five Belgians, one Brazilian, two Bulgarians, one Danish, one Moroccan, 12 French, 30 Palestinians, six South Koreans, five Dutch, one Kazakh, two Maldivian, one Egyptian, one Romanian, 56 Russians, two from Trinidad and Tobago island, one Slovakian, nine Saudis, six Tajiks, two Tunisians, 29 Turkmen, three Uzbeks, two Iranians, two Spanish and two Italians.

The suspects were detained at the Turkish border when they tried to enter Syria illegally and were being treated by authorities as suspected “foreign terrorist fighters", the sources added.

Russia: ISIS Comes, NED Goes

The exceptionally high number of Chinese nationals detained on the Turkish-Syrian border suggests that either the Turkish authorities are deviating from standard operating procedure by actually preventing Uyghurs from crossing into Syria or previous estimates of Uyghur fighters in Syria were dead wrong. Turkey has now officially declared war on ISIS but wannabe caliph al-Baghdadi and his minions don't have to be afraid because the Kurds are the real target. Only a small fraction of the more than 1000 "terrorist suspects" recently detained in Turkey were ISIS supporters while over 80 percent of the suspects were linked to the PKK. The Russian authorities can consider themselves fortunate to have convinced the Turks of arresting two suspects linked to ISIS recruitment in Russia. LifeNews just reported that the man in charge of ISIS recruitment in Russia has been identified and that two of his subordinates in Turkey were detained. This comes shortly after ISIS made headlines in the North Caucasus:

Russia says security forces kill 14 Islamist militants Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) forces killed eight Islamic State militants on Sunday and six other Islamist rebels on Monday in the North Caucasus, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said. NAK said the rebels killed on Sunday in the republic of Ingushetia were involved in "terrorist crimes" including killing law enforcement officials and extorting money. NAK identified one of those killed in Ingushetia as Adam Tagilov, who it said was behind fighting in the city of Grozny, capital of Chechnya, that killed more than 20 people — policemen and militants — in December 2014.

The killing of eight ISIS "rebels" on Sunday was one of the first major incidents involving ISIS in Russia. Given that ISIS has taken over from the Caucasus Emirate as the leading terrorist group in the North Caucasus, it was certainly not the last one. Russian officials have been hyping the ISIS threat from day one and the actual emergence of ISIS supporters in the North Caucasus provides the perfect pretext for ramping up the war on terror. Human rights activists have their work cut out but they have to look for new sources of funding if they don't like the "foreign agent" label. After the Kremlin has long been threatening to go after organizations that receive funding from abroad, they are now finally walking the talk. The Russian NGO "Committee Against Torture," which has long been a thorn in the side of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was one of the first groups to adapt to the new circumstances:

Igor Kalyapin announces creation of "Committee to Prevent Torture" The "Committee against Torture" (CaT), liquidated because of being put on the registry of "foreign agents", will be replaced by the "Committee to Prevent Torture" (CPT). The new organization will continue working in Chechnya, said its chairman Igor Kalyapin. "This week we'll submit documents (to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of the Russian Federation – note of the "Caucasian Knot") on the liquidation of the organization; and on the following week, the CaT ceases to function. On August 3, another interregional organization – the "Committee to Prevent Torture" – will start working," the TASS quotes Mr Kalyapin as saying. He stressed that the new organization will not receive any foreign funding and will exist "solely on donations of Russian citizens," the RIA "Novosti" reports.

Russian NGOs will now have to make do without grants from the U.S. government, George Soros and other generous foreign sponsors. Although Russia is just following the example of the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the U.S., the West is of course freaking out. On July 21, Russia's Justice Ministry issued warnings to the Committee Against Torture and 11 other Russian NGOs that were identified as "foreign agents." The MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the foreign NGOs on Russia's "patriotic stop list," announced shortly thereafter that it is closing its branch office in Moscow because the new regulations make it "impossible to operate effectively" in Russia. George Soros' Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) are just two of the many high-profile NGOs on the "patriotic stop list." The Khodorkovsky Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Jamestown Foundation and others could join them soon. These organizations are at risk of being banned from Russia:

U.S. National Endowment for Democracy Becomes Russia's First 'Undesirable Organization' The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S.-based international organization that exists to promote democracy, was declared an “undesirable organization” Tuesday by Russia's Prosecutor General's Office, meaning all its activities are banned on Russian soil. “Using the capabilities of Russian commercial and non-commercial organizations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to recognize election results as illegitimate, to organize political action with the goal of influencing government policy, and to discredit Russian army service,” the Prosecutor General's Office said in an online statement. Earlier this month, senators of the Federation Council — the upper chamber of the Russian parliament — proposed a list of 12 foreign NGOs whose work they said posed a threat to national security and who should therefore be declared undesirable. The NED was one of them.

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Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here