Return of the lion

Posted by Admin On Saturday, 28 September 2013 0 comments
Photo Gallery: Former Afghan Warlord Fears Descent into Violence
A groundskeeper walks past an exhibit featuring a gathering of mujahedeen commanders at the Jihad Museum in Herat. The district is the powerbase of Ismail Khan, who can be seen in the center.

Afghan Warlord: 'The West Must Give Us Our Weapons Back'
By Christian Neef
While the West is trying to extricate itself from the war zone in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, old warlords like Ismail Khan are preparing for a post-withdrawal period that many anticipate will be violent.
Ismail Khan abruptly gets up from his armchair. “I understood the question,” he says. “So you want to know whether now, 12 years after Western troops arrived, every village finally has electricity.” Afghanistan’s minister of water and energy walks over to a map on the wall on which rebuilt hydroelectric power plants, new solar plants and modern wind turbines are marked.
Khan grabs a pointer, taps it onto an area west of Herat and says: “This is where I came across the border from Iran with 17,000 men in 1996, during the Taliban era. Then we continued through Faryab and Mazar to Faizabad and back to Herat.” He drags the pointer to the north and then to the east, sweeping it across all the wind turbines and power plants, as if they were nothing but hindrances. “My militias fought bravely everywhere,” says Khan.
This minister doesn’t want to talk about water and electricity, or about what his ministry has been up to since the Taliban was ousted. All he wants to talk about is the past, about fighting the Soviets, about the regime of former President Mohammad Najibullah and about the Islamists after they assumed power in Afghanistan.
But when he mentions the Taliban, he is also talking about the future. He foresees a return of the fundamentalist Taliban, the collapse of the government in Kabul and the eruption of a new war between ethnic groups. He sees a future in which power is divided between the clans as it was in the past, and in which the mujahedeen, the tribal militias seasoned by battles against the Soviets and later the Taliban, remain the sole governing force.
Khan’s advisors sit at a respectful distance from the minister. Some have dozed off — it’s afternoon during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and their strength is waning. But now they are nodding their approval. Filled with reverence, they gaze at their boss, a diminutive Tajik with a magnificent white beard, who always wears an equally white pajama-like outfit known as a Perahan Tunban, together with a black turban.
A former warlord, Khan is now calling for the West to rearm him and his fellow...
A former warlord, Khan is now calling for the West to rearm him and his fellow former mujahedeen leaders.
The ‘Lion of Herat’
In truth, the 65-year-old minister is still what he was 30 years ago: a mujahed, or warlord, although he doesn’t like the latter term. “The Americans and English tried to discredit us with that word, until they realized that they couldn’t do without us in their fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban,” Khan, now an older, more peaceful man, says with a smile.
But he is also a man who had entire armies march across the Hindu Kush Mountains in the 1980s to fight the Soviets. He was one of the commanders in the ensuing civil war, in which Afghanistan’s ethnic groups — the Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks and Pashtuns — massacred one another and laid waste to the capital Kabul.
Khan, governor of the most important province in western Afghanistan until 2004, was known as the “Lion of Herat.” He still prefers to be addressed by his former title of Emir. But then he became too powerful for the Americans and President Hamid Karzai, so they removed Khan from office and brought him to Kabul to keep a closer eye on him. He was finally given the somewhat laughable position of water and energy minister, despite his feeling that he should have been offered the job of defense or interior minister instead. “I didn’t join this cabinet voluntarily,” says Khan.
His office is now in a dilapidated building on the street leading to the Darul Aman Palace on the outskirts of Kabul, a stately building that once housed the parliament and was reduced to a ruin in the country’s civil war. Khan, who has been water and energy minister for eight years, dedicates power plants, solicits bids for the construction of power lines and attends cabinet meetings. His ministry is not important in Kabul, and yet both the Americans and Karzai are afraid of him — especially Karzai.
The year 2014 is approaching, and with it the withdrawal of NATO troops. When Khan appears in public today, it is with the demeanor of the mujahed. “We cannot allow Afghanistan to be destroyed once again,” he said publicly late last year. He has also said that government forces are powerless in large parts of the country, that Afghans should arm themselves once again, new recruits should enlist and the command structures of the former militias ought to be reestablished.
The international coalition “has taken away our artillery and tanks and turned them into scrap metal. Instead, they have brought Dutch, German, American and French girls to our country, along with white soldiers from Europe and black soldiers from Africa, who were supposed to bring security to Afghanistan. They have failed,” Khan said in a speech at a rally in Herat.
In an interview with SPIEGEL, he said he fears that the Taliban will re-emerge...
In an interview with SPIEGEL, he said he fears that the Taliban will re-emerge once NATO withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. The country has changed dramatically since the fall of the Taliban, as this mobile phone advert in Herat city demonstrates.
Mujahedeen Comeback?
After the speech, President Karzai announced that the minister’s words had “nothing to do with the government’s policies.” An Afghan senator said that people like Khan smell blood, and that they see the withdrawal of Western troops as “the opportunity to launch another civil war and eliminate local rivals.” American four-star General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan until February, expressed his concerns in a letter to Karzai.
Khan laughs. “One letter? There were two. Karzai showed them to me. And I said to him: It’s a good thing that someone like Allen realizes what kinds of people we have here.”
“So you believe that the Taliban will return as soon as NATO is gone?”
“The arrogant Americans drove the most important Taliban out of Kabul, bombed the rest from the air and then ended the war,” says the minister. “So far, 2013 has been the bloodiest year yet in Afghanistan. The Taliban are in all the villages once again. They want all the power. Our army won’t be able to stop them.”
“And you could stop them?”
“We have 20 years of combat experience, and we defeated a superpower. We can deal with the Taliban too,” says Khan, leaning back in his chair. “But not this army,” he adds, waving his hand in the direction of the defense ministry. The Afghan army, trained by the West, has lost 63,000 men, or one in three soldiers, to desertion in the last three years.
Rarely have officials in Afghan government ministries spoken as frankly as they do today, now that the Western troop withdrawals have begun. And Ismail Khan is by no means an eccentric maverick. Marshal Mohammed Fahim, a former warlord and Afghanistan’s first vice president, speaks of a comeback by the mujahedeen. And Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of legendary mujahedeen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has even said publicly that his followers are arming themselves once again.
“Before the West leaves this place, it should give us back our planes and artillery, or the equivalent,” Khan says before going to pray.
The Trust of the People
The town where Khan gave a speech last November is called Shahrak Shuhoda, or Town of Martyrs. The road to Shahrak Shuhoda leads from Herat toward the Iranian border. It is a village of 130 families, who live in houses with covered inner courtyards, built less than a decade ago with German money. The residents of Shahrak Shuhoda are all former mujahedeen and their families, as well as the widows of fallen fighters. The school, also built with German funds, is called the “Ismail Khan School.”
Jalil Ahmad, a slim 25-year-old man, teaches at the school and is also a student of literature in Herat. His father and uncle died in the struggle against the communist government in 1990. He earns a monthly salary of €93 ($126), enough to buy a sack of rice, cooking oil and gasoline for his motorcycle. It isn’t much, and yet he is convinced that the Taliban would deprive him of even that small income if it returned to the region. It’s one of the reasons he attended the celebrated rally with Ismail Khan.
“There were 15,000 people there,” he says. “But what the government is saying about Ismail Khan isn’t true. He didn’t talk about rearmament or about the formation of new militias. He called for unity. He said that we shouldn’t be afraid of 2014, but that we should be well-prepared.”
But violence continues to plague the country. Here, a car burns near the US...
But violence continues to plague the country. Here, a car burns near the US consulate in Kabul after a car bomb attack followed by a gunfight in Herat earlier this month instigated by seven heavily-armed Taliban suicide attackers.
 Ahmad adds that people trust Khan, and that the mujahedeen leader has a good reputation in Herat. “They assumed power here twice: In 1992, when they overthrew Najibullah, and in 2001, after the fall of the Taliban. The region blossomed each time.”
But fear has become pervasive in all provinces as the Americans transport their containers across the Khyber Pass and the Germans fly their military equipment to Turkey. In Herat, the largest city in western Afghanistan, the fear isn’t immediately apparent. The population has swelled to one million, with four million people living in the surrounding area. Herat, which benefits from trade with Iran and Turkmenistan, seems cleaner and more orderly than other Afghan cities. The Taliban has never enjoyed any support in the region.
That must have changed at some point, though. In mid-September, a truck loaded with explosives blew up in front of the US consulate in Herat. A bomb destroyed a motorized rickshaw in the Obe District, causing 19 deaths, almost all of them women and children, say police. In the town of Karukh, Taliban militants recently killed Wali Jaan, a public prosecutor and the brother of National Security Advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
Part 2: Old Scores to Settle
“I believe the worst days are ahead of us,” says Said Hussein. He should know. He was a captain with the mujahedeen and remembers all too well what happened after the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Najibullah, put in office by Moscow, had another three years before he was toppled and the civil war began. He was later hung. Will the same thing happen to Karzai?
Hussein, 55, is a guard at the Jihad Museum in Herat, the only memorial site to the mujahedeen’s war of resistance in Afghanistan. It is located above the city, next to the heavily guarded United States Consulate. It provides an image of what could happen in Afghanistan after 2014.
The museum is closed, but Hussein is happy to open the building for us. Century-old English carbines, Soviet weapons and homemade grenade launchers are exhibited in glass cabinets. The displays convey the message that the Afghans defeated the Soviets like Davids to a Goliath.
On the way to the upper floor, there is a display of a group of mujahedeen, 50 figures made of cement and plaster, listening to their leader, a thickset man with a white beard: Ismail Khan. Then the room opens onto a monumental, 360-degree diorama that depicts the history of the resistance movement against the Soviet occupiers and the communist regime in Kabul.
There is a portrayal of tribal elders and village clerics, who unleashed the Herat resistance movement against the communist regime in March 1979. The garrison joined forces with the rebels, including Khan, a 31-year-old captain at the time. They massacred hundreds of civilians, together with the Soviet occupiers and their women and children. Soviet aircraft bombed Herat in response, killing 24,000 Afghans. Khan went underground and assembled his rebel army.
The museum depicts attacking Soviet tanks, burning villages, farmers wielding clubs as they fought the soldiers and the refugee treks to Pakistan. It also depicts the rebel war against the occupiers, which was also a struggle against communist Kabul, followed by the battles against Najibullah’s army in 1991 and, finally, the triumphal march of the mujahedeen into Herat in 1992.
Khan appears in many of the images, hidden among the other figures and yet easily recognizable. In one photo, he is sitting on an anti-aircraft missile used to shoot down Russian fighter jets, and in another he is shown promising a woman to bring home the body of her fallen son. In the final image, Khan is marching with the victors through the city’s triumphal arch.
There is very little mention of what happened after that, including the civil war and the period of Taliban rule, Khan’s flight to Iran and his return, his capture by the Taliban and his escape from the prison in Kandahar. The struggles that cost him his governorship in 2004 are not mentioned at all. At the time, local commanders staged a coup against him, prompting NATO troops and Karzai’s forces to intervene. Khan’s son died in the fighting. He undoubtedly has some old scores to settle.
‘Mr. Khan Helped Us a Great Deal’
“There are plenty of people here who would follow him immediately if it became necessary,” says museum guard Hussein. Then he tells the story of a US general who came to the museum and asked him whether he, Hussein, had handed in his weapons after the fall of the Taliban. Yes, Hussein replied, he had turned over his old Kalashnikov. But, he added, he still had two new Kalashnikovs, wrapped in oil paper and hidden in his house. The American said nothing for a moment and then thanked Hussein for his honesty.
“Weapons are being distributed everywhere in the villages, both here and in neighboring provinces,” says Hussein. “The price of a good Kalashnikov from one of the weapons markets in Pakistan or Iran is already up to $1,500 again. Demand is growing.”
Abdul Wahab Qattali, also known as General Wahab, is a good person to ask whether Herat is still a stronghold for Ismail Khan. He is sitting on the terrace of his restaurant in the northern part of the city, just as the evening call to prayer heralds the Iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their daily fast during Ramadan.
Wahab’s business is more than a restaurant. It is a glass palace in the middle of an amusement park where Herat residents celebrate weddings. It also includes a zoo and a pond, where visitors paddle around in swan-shaped gondolas. Others picnic in small pavilions above the lights of the city.
Wahab calls his business, which cost him several million dollars, a “citizens’ garden.” It is his second signature project, next to the Jihad Museum. “Mr. Khan helped us a great deal,” says Wahab, who once served as Khan’s chief of staff.
General Wahab has become prosperous in recent years. He also owns a large poultry farm with a refrigeration plant, and his family owns a TV and a radio station. He is in de facto control of the local parliament, which his son Sayed Wahid chairs. The son, 28, sits next to his father like a schoolboy. It is difficult to imagine that the will of the people was responsible for putting this young man into office. In Afghanistan, a person’s vote can be bought for $20.
Wahab is a diminutive man who harbors a great deal of anger. The people who are in power in Kabul have “no relationship with this country,” he says, as he walks through the citizens’ garden, greeting acquaintances and allowing his underlings to kiss his hand. The country’s current rulers came from abroad and “pushed the mujahedeen out of the way,” he explains. According to Wahab, the money flowing into the country is stolen in Kabul, so that the rest of the country sees none of it.
‘Everything Will Start All Over Again Next Year’
There is also a more specific reason for his anger. His company, the Faizi Group, spent eight years protecting NATO transports and the roads built in the region by the West. Wahab concedes that it was a good business. “I paid $1.7 million in taxes to the government, but I also created many jobs,” he says.
Some $800 million was invested in the new highway from Herat to Kandahar. Two years ago, Wahab was forced to turn over his control of the road to the government. Since then, he says, bridges have fallen into disrepair and a fifth of the route is already in poor condition. According to Wahab, the government doesn’t care about this, or about the 2,500 workers he had to let go. Some 30,000 jobs were lost in Herat, says Wahab, and residents are now barely able to afford the electricity imported from abroad. He explains that while he is merely losing money, local residents are struggling to survive.
At 9 a.m. the next morning, Wahab inspects his radio station, Azar Dokhtran Herat. Of the city’s 10 radio stations, his is the only one that exclusively targets young women and girls. A live call-in show hosted by two women, called “Good Morning,” is underway. The listeners talk about family problems, abuse and their efforts to find work.
What is happening in the studio is the mujahedeen’s attempt to build a bridge to the generation that has no memory of the wars, and yet will play an indispensable role if the cards are reshuffled in Afghanistan.
“It’s clear that everything will start all over again here next year,” says General Wahab. He isn’t willing to explain exactly why, but one gets a sense of what he means. The Taliban isn’t his biggest concern. Herat is Tajik country, where the ruling Pashtuns make up only a small percentage of the population. Everyone knows that a Pashtun will succeed President Karzai in Kabul, which will only lead to renewed strife. And NATO will be gone by then. So why not turn Herat Province into a separate principality of sorts once again? “We need someone with authority here,” says Wahab. “We need Ismail Khan.”
Fear of the Future
The first thing visitors see when they land at the Herat airport and drive into the city is an industrial park. It includes a small steel mill operated by Kabul Folad Steel, where we meet with the owner, Esmatullah Wardak.
There is currently no company in Afghanistan that produces construction steel. Builders have had to import reinforced steel from Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. Wardak, 40, has built a large factory building where steel bars are cast in a giant scrap melting furnace.
Ismail Khan? “He was the one who created this industrial park, with its 30,000 jobs, brought in electricity from Turkmenistan and Iran and made the city safe. It wasn’t the government in Kabul, which would have taken 100 years to do it,” says Wardak, as his prayer beads glide through his fingers. “And I’m not a member of his people. I’m not from his province, and I was never a supporter of his ideology.”
Wardak has invested $20 million in the last three years, and he employs 500 workers. Now the government in Kabul has given him the runaround. He brought in 10 engineers from India and Turkey, because there are hardly any professionals in Afghanistan, but their visas are not being renewed, at least not in Herat, despite an order from Karzai to renew the visas. “But his officials aren’t obeying the order,” says Wardak.
He stomps furiously through the dust in front of his factory building. “I’m not afraid of the NATO withdrawal. But I am afraid of whoever comes into power after Karzai.” Even this president, he says, has done nothing for Afghanistan in 12 years. “If something goes wrong with Iran, all they have to do there is flip a switch and we no longer have electricity.”
Wardak says that he will close his factory again unless Kabul does something to help him. According to Wardak, investment has declined by 60 percent since NATO announced its withdrawal. Real estate values have plummeted and business owners are taking their money out of the country. The adjacent factory, he says, used to assemble 400 motorcycles a day but now produces only 100.
“I deal in steel, but I’m also as tough as steel. I will close the doors in full view of the press and will unload my 500 people in front of the governor’s office.” What happens after that, he says, will no longer be his concern. His family is already in Dubai. He has a visa for Europe’s Schengen zone and one for the United States. All he has to do is drive to the airport and buy a ticket, he says. “Then I’ll be gone from here.”
Out at the airport at this very moment, the engines of a Boeing jet are churning up the yellow desert sand as a plane operated by the state-owned airline Ariana lands on the runway. It is filled with Afghan dignitaries, half of the Kabul government. They get into SUVs and are taken to Herat’s Friday Mosque, where Wali Jaan, the murdered brother of National Security Advisor Spanta, is being buried today.
Ismail Khan is also sitting in one of the vehicles. He is back in Herat. This time it will only be for two hours, but perhaps his next stay will be of a longer duration.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


Central Asia and Afghanistan: A Tumultuous History (Part 1 & 2)

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Contrary to popular perception, Central Asia is not likely to see an immediate explosion of violence and militancy after the U.S. and NATO drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014. However, Central Asia’s internal issues and the region’s many links with Afghanistan — including a web of relationships among militant groups — will add to the volatility in the region.


Central Asia has numerous important links to Afghanistan that will open the region to significant effects after the upcoming U.S. and NATO drawdown. First and foremost, Central Asia is linked to Afghanistan geographically; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share borders with Afghanistan that collectively span more than 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles). The Afghan border with Tajikistan, along the eastern edge of Afghanistan, makes up more than half of that distance, at 1,344 kilometers. The borders with Turkmenistan (744 kilometers) and Uzbekistan (137 kilometers) run along Afghanistan’s western edge. Most of the Tajik-Afghan border is mountainous and therefore poorly demarcated, and the topography of Afghanistan’s frontiers with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is largely desert.
Central AsiaCentral Asia and Afghanistan also have important demographic ties. Afghanistan is an ethnically diverse country, with more than a dozen ethno-linguistic groups represented substantially in the country’s population of slightly more than 31 million. The Pashtuns are the largest such group (42 percent), with Tajiks (27 percent), Hazaras (9 percent), Uzbeks (9 percent) and Turkmen (3 percent) constituting significant cohorts as well. The Tajik, Uzbek and Turkmen populations are concentrated primarily in northern Afghanistan and are largely contiguous to their ethnic brethren across the borders in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Cross-Border Cultures

Historically, Afghanistan’s borders with the Central Asian states did not exist in a modern sense; rather, they consisted of frontier areas that constantly shifted hands, given that warfare in the region was the norm. Indeed, the area comprising these states and northern Afghanistan was, at various times, part of a single state or empire. This changed with the coming of the Great Game between the Russian and British empires in the beginning of the 19th century. Russia’s imperial expansion into Central Asia coincided with the growth of the British domain over India, and the result was the establishment of a buffer zone in what is now Afghanistan. This set the borders of Afghanistan as we know them and — with the transition from the Russian Empire to the Soviet Union in the early 20th century — led to a closing off of the borders between Central Asia and Afghanistan for the first time in history. The ensuing 70 years of Soviet rule in Central Asia created significantly different political and cultural identities among the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen in the Soviet Union and those within Afghanistan, given the vastly different governing structures.
Ethnicities of Central AsiaHowever, ties were far from severed. Because of the geography of the border areas, interaction and movement between the peoples of Central Asia and Afghanistan was difficult to stop. Furthermore, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 created direct interaction between the Soviet Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen and their ethnic cohorts in Afghanistan, with many of the former participating in Soviet military operations (in large part because of their ethno-linguistic ties). The Soviet Central Asians’ exposure to their more tribal and religious Afghan counterparts (with certain groups becoming increasingly radicalized as a result of the invasion and the growing presence and strength of the mujahideen) also created a lasting impression among many Central Asians.

Ethnicities of Afghanistan and PakistanThe Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union only two years later created a dramatically new environment both within Central Asia and within Afghanistan. In 1991, the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (along with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan farther north) became independent states for the first time in modern history. Despite official Soviet policy to suppress religious activity, many Central Asians were practicing Muslims and even Islamists, which explains how Islamism took root in the region shortly after the Soviet collapse. Meanwhile, Afghanistan descended into internal conflict with the withdrawal of the Soviets and the declining assistance from the United States for the mujahideen. The eventual result was the rise of an Islamist group, deriving from the Pashtuns based in southern Afghanistan, known as the Taliban.

Security and Militancy Links

Beginning in 1994 and starting from their stronghold in Kandahar, the Taliban were able to spread their influence and control over much of Afghanistan. It took the movement only months to take control of most southern provinces from various Pashtun warlords, and they quickly made progress in capturing regional centers in the west and east of the country like Herat and Jalalabad. In 1996, the Taliban were able to wrest control of Kabul from the central government led by President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Defense Minister Ahmed Shah Massoud, both ethnic Tajiks. Then, in the late 1990s, the Taliban went after the last bastion of resistance in northern Afghanistan, coming into conflict with the concentration of relatively moderate Tajiks and Uzbeks, as well as the Shiite Hazaras, who all opposed the Taliban’s brand of Sunni Islamism and aims for territorial control.
The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan coincided with a number of significant developments in Central Asia. The post-Soviet regimes in the region had no experience of ruling their territories directly. Moreover, Central Asia faced immense economic and political challenges as Russia withdrew subsidies and the Soviet military-industrial complex with which the Central Asians were so integrated collapsed. Tajikistan descended into civil war almost immediately, when groups from the Kulyabi and Khujand regions known as the Popular Front were pitted against an array of opposition elements including Islamists, democrats and the Pamiri clan from the east collectively known as the United Tajik Opposition. Outside groups got involved in the civil war, supporting the different sides along political and ideological lines. Russia and Uzbekistan supported the secular and neo-communist Popular Front, while many Tajiks in Afghanistan supported the United Tajik Opposition, particularly the Islamist elements of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.
One of the groups that joined in the fighting alongside the United Tajik Opposition and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan would eventually become known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, led by Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev. Namangani — a seasoned military commander who had previously served in the Soviet army — and Yuldashev were Uzbeks from the Fergana region of the country, traditionally home to some of the most pious Muslims within Uzbekistan and Central Asia. Yuldashev and Namangani led a protest against the new Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the republic’s early days of independence, calling for Karimov to establish Sharia in Uzbekistan. When Karimov refused, the two leaders led several attacks, including bombings, armed assaults and kidnappings, against government and security targets in Uzbekistan. The two then fled into Tajikistan to escape Uzbek forces and join the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan against the Uzbek-supported Popular Front. While the Popular Front — led by current Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon — eventually won the civil war and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan was incorporated into the government in a power-sharing deal, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan continued operations against the Uzbek regime from its base in the remote and mountainous Tavildara Valley in eastern Tajikistan.
From 1999 to 2001, the Uzbek militant movement conducted a series of attacks in Uzbekistan and in Uzbek enclaves in southern Kyrgyzstan in the Fergana Valley. During this time, the Tajik government periodically pressured Namangani to leave Tajikistan and seek refuge in Afghanistan. It was at this point that Namangani linked up with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Taliban, and with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, to which Mullah Omar had given sanctuary in Afghanistan. The Taliban gave refuge to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in exchange for the Uzbek group’s participation in Taliban offensives against the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras in northern Afghanistan.
At that point, elements in northern Afghanistan led by Rabbani, Massoud, Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hazara leader Abdul Karim Khalili had created an anti-Taliban front known as the Northern Alliance. This created an amalgam of groups vying for power in northern Afghanistan but traveling and operating across borders. On one side was the Northern Alliance, supported by Uzbekistan, Russia and Iran, and on the other was the Taliban with support from al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The result was violence, lawlessness and a web of militancy and transnational linkages that made the borders between Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries wide open from a logistical and operational standpoint, harking back to the chaos of the pre-Soviet era.
Editor’s NoteThis is the first installment of a two-part series on the relationship between Central Asia and Afghanistan and the expected effects of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan on Central Asian security.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan reversed the Taliban’s takeover in many parts of the country. The resulting geographic shift in support for militant groups led to a degradation of Central Asian militants’ capabilities. However, the resurgence of the Taliban after the U.S. drawdown in 2014 could increase volatility in the region. The links between Central Asia and Afghanistan — particularly northern Afghanistan — can be expected to intensify in the coming years. This will have important political and security implications for the region and beyond.


The Taliban’s series of successes ended when the United States invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda. The U.S. invasion, facilitated by the support of the Northern Alliance and aided by Russia, was able to displace the Taliban and drive the movement from all major cities and towns within a few short months. The operation began in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north (Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum’s stronghold) and proceeded onto other parts of northern Afghanistan while taking on Kabul and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar shortly thereafter.
The invasion included U.S. security support to the Central Asian states that, with help from Moscow, made their territory available for logistical and support bases for U.S. and subsequently NATO operations into Afghanistan. This allowed the Central Asian governments and security forces in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to destroy many militant cells from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other groups, such as Hizb al-Tahrir, the remainder of which sought refuge south of the border.

Shifts in Militant Support and Activity

But the U.S. invasion did not eliminate the Taliban or the elements of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or al Qaeda that they supported. Rather, it drove them into remote parts of the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands or Pakistan proper. Pakistan provided the Taliban conducive conditions in which to seek refuge; not only did the mountainous terrain afford protection against conventional military threats, but Pakistan’s own large Pashtun community and the political support of elements of the Pakistani government and Inter-Services Intelligence allowed the Taliban to regroup and establish an insurgency (which also had the unintended effect of eventually spawning a Pakistani Taliban insurgency). The transnational militant groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda were not afforded the same cultural or political support and were thus degraded over time, though by no means eliminated completely.
Uzbek militants based in Central Asia and Afghanistan during the Taliban regime were not the only Uzbeks who had moved into Pakistan’s tribal badlands. Many Uzbeks had come during the decade between the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Taliban regime and had married into Pakistani Pashtun tribes. Many were part of the Haqqani network that later joined the Taliban when the militant group reached the northeastern parts of Afghanistan during its conquests. Also, they were not all part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as many were with al Qaeda and many were with the Baitullah Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.
The result was an insurgency by the Taliban against NATO military forces and the U.S.-supported regime of Hamid Karzai within Afghanistan, but a substantial degradation in the capabilities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda as they lost their former territorial sanctuary. The frequency of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacks in Uzbekistan and the Fergana Valley peaked in 2001, and Central Asia’s security environment over the next decade was much calmer compared to the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was not able to accomplish its goal of overthrowing Uzbek President Islam Karimov and establishing an emirate in Uzbekistan.
However, the region was not entirely quiet. Bombings attributed to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan occurred in Tashkent in 2004, and security forces put down an uprising in Andijan in Uzbekistan’s Fergana region in 2005 that was blamed on Islamist militants. However, these developments likely had more to do with a potential political power struggle within Uzbekistan that Karimov sought to quash, using militancy as an excuse. Tajikistan also saw a resumption of attacks in 2010 when a military convoy was sabotaged by what the government said were Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants in the eastern part of the country. This, too, was likely the work of internal political divisions in the country, with remnant rebel elements from the civil war pushing back against Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon’s venture into their territory rather than harboring a transnational militant agenda.
In recent years, the governments of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have all claimed to have captured Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants planning attacks in security sweeps, though little evidence has been given of their affiliation and plans of attack. While remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan could remain in Central Asia, the group’s situation is complicated. The movement as it was known prior to the U.S. invasion no longer exists; its former leadership was chased out of Central Asia and killed off (Juma Namangani was killed in a 2001 airstrike, and Tahir Yuldashev reportedly was killed in 2009). Leadership then went into new hands, and the group splintered into numerous militant factions with differing nationalities, ideologies, strategies and tactics. Some of these militants have fought in Pakistan alongside the Taliban, others have fought alongside al Qaeda and still others have been incorporated into the tribal milieu of the Afghan-Pakistani border area.
So, although the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan label has given Central Asian regimes a convenient reason to crack down on internal dissent, the term is often used as an oversimplified classification. In reality, Uzbeks and other Central Asians make up a fluid landscape of militancy based on location, connections and ideology. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan itself has not posed anything but a limited tactical threat to the region since 2001.

The U.S. Withdrawal and Beyond

However, the U.S. plan to draw down its forces in Afghanistan in 2014 could once again create a new dynamic — both in terms of politics and the security situation — between Afghanistan and Central Asia. The withdrawal of the U.S. and allied forces will likely lead to a re-emergence of the Taliban as a leading force within Afghanistan’s political and security arenas. The extent to which the Taliban is able to coexist with the current regime led by Hamid Karzai (who is not eligible to run in the 2014 presidential elections) and other elements remains to be seen, but there is likely to be a political and security struggle to fill the vacuum accompanying the U.S. drawdown. The negotiations among the Taliban, Karzai’s camp and the United States will be key in determining the country’s future political and security landscape.
The Central Asian countries have expressed concern over the fate of post-U.S. Afghanistan and the potential for the Taliban to re-emerge as a strong, if not pre-eminent, force within the country. Although the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has not posed a significant threat within Central Asia for the last decade, the group is reported to have continued operations and attacks within Afghanistan. Indeed, the movement reportedly has increased its activity in northern Afghanistan, with militants reportedly being killed in important northern cities like Kunduz and Taloqan and active in border provinces like Faryab, Balkh and Badakhshan, among others. This worries Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, whose governments are already facing internal issues and cross-border disputes with each other.
Still, a large and immediate wave of Islamist militant attacks from Afghanistan into Central Asia after the U.S. drawdown is unlikely for several reasons. First, the peak of militant activity in 1999-2001 came when the Taliban were at their apex of power in Afghanistan; the Taliban are unlikely to return to such an uncontested position in the short to medium term, if ever. Second, the northern parts of Afghanistan were the last to fall to the Taliban as the group built its position across the country over a five-year period, and northern Afghanistan will continue to be seen as the buffer between the Taliban and Central Asia and thus will attract political and financial support from the Central Asian countries and Russia. Third, the Central Asian countries have now had more than 20 years to build up their political and security institutions to withstand a rise in militant elements. Finally, many regional powers — including Russia, Iran, Turkey, China and the West (with a residual security presence in Afghanistan likely on the part of the United States) — are all interested in stemming the flow of militancy and narcotics into Central Asia and making sure the region does not have to confront Afghanistan on its own. Moreover, the Taliban have, at least rhetorically, sought to eschew their transnational linkages and reassure neighboring countries they will not host groups that are hostile to them if and when they return to power.
But Central Asia faces its own internal problems that could lead to instability or be further exacerbated by the situation in Afghanistan in the coming years. Power struggles are possible in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which are both dealing with the looming question of who will succeed their long-serving leaders. Tajikistan has ongoing issues with restive rebels in the east that could reignite tensions during or after the country’s presidential election this NovemberKyrgyzstan also has internal divisions that have spawned two revolutions and major inter-ethnic violence over the past few years. All of these situations can be exploited by radical elements.
Furthermore, the borders in the region – both between the Central Asian countries and between Central Asia and Afghanistan – will continue to see movements of people, goods, narcotics or militants. What happens in Afghanistan has long affected events in Central Asia and vice versa, and the upcoming political transformation of Afghanistan in 2014 will not be an exception.

The truth about Arab – Israel conflict

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From green-lighting military operations in Gaza to giving unstinting diplomatic support at the United Nations, the U.S. government is wholly complicit in Israel’s latest assault on Gaza.
November 19, 2012  | Israel’s assault on the besieged Gaza Strip has entered its sixth day. At least 58 civilians have killed, and the toll is likely to rise. Hundreds of Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been injured as well.
And if you’re an American, it’s your money that is being used to pay for these atrocities. As Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Guardian, “Israeli aggression is possible only because of direct, affirmative, unstinting US diplomatic, financial and military support for Israel and everything it does.”
So it’s no surprise that those outraged at the latest Israeli assault on Gaza would also blame the U.S.
Here’s a look at 5 ways the U.S. enables Israel to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians.
1. Green Lighting Military Operations
When Israel escalates in Gaza, the country can count on the U.S. to give it the greenlight to do what it feels it has to. This dynamic was on display the past week, as Israel conducted an assault of choice on the largely civilian population of Gaza–and the U.S. fully backed it.
The serious escalation in violence began after Israel decisively broke a tacit truce it had reached with Hamas. Israel assassinated a Hamas leader, Ahmed al-Jabari, and proceeded to pound the Gaza Strip for the next week. But despite the fact that it was Israel who decided to escalate, the U.S. had no interest in looking at the facts.
The supportive rhetoric from the U.S. began the day of the assault, when a military spokesman told reporters that “we stand by our Israeli partners in their right to defend themselves against terrorism.” Similar statements were used over the week, culminating in Barack Obama’s extremely supportive comments aired yesterday. “There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” said Obama, missing the irony and blatant hypocrisy in his statement. “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”
2. Giving Israel Weaponry
Israel can’t carry out a decades-old, belligerent military occupation and siege without having the tools to do so. And the U.S. obliges Israel, day in and day out.
Every year, the American government delivers about $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel. That money is sent to Israel with the stipulation that they must use the money to buy American weaponry, so that aid gets recycled back into the U.S. military-industrial complex. These weapons include the F16s bombing Gaza; missiles raining hell on civilians there; and U.S.-made rifles. According to theU.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, over the past decade “the United States licensed, paid for, and delivered more than 670,903,390 weapons and related equipment to Israel, valued at $18.866 billion through three major weapons transfer programs during this same period.”
You can also see this dynamic being played out in Israel’s use of the Iron Dome system. This defense system is meant to protect against the rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fire at Israelis. It was paid for by the U.S. government, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. The Iron Dome system has been effective at knocking down some of the rockets fired during this latest escalation.
3. Diplomatic Protection
When Israel assaults the Gaza Strip, it can count on the U.S. to shield the country from meaningful diplomatic action by other countries to stop the aggression.
During this assault, dubbed “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” the diplomatic front has been largely absent. But there was one Security Council meeting, where the U.S. again defended Israel. As scholar Vijay Prashad points out, “Morocco and Egypt, on behalf of the stateless Palestinians, hastened to the UN Security Council, wanting to stop the violence and condemn Israel for its disproportionate use of force….The United States defended Israel. Susan Rice put the onus on Hamas.”
The Obama administration has also protected Israel from opprobrium over its illegal West Bank colonization policy. In February 2011, the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that condemned West Bank settlements as illegal–despite the fact that U.S. policy is that settlements are illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.
And when there are credible accusations of war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians, efforts at finding justice for those crimes fall short because of the U.S. Israel waged another, more deadlier assault on Gaza about four years ago, which killed about 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. International outrage at Israeli actions reached a peak during this 2008-09 assault, and resulted in the formation of a UN fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of war crimes on both sides.
The result of this fact-finding mission was the Goldstone Report, written by South African Jewish Zionist Richard Goldstone. Despite his Zionist political beliefs, Goldstone went to Gaza and reported on the facts, and they were damning. Israel carried out a disproportionate attack that leveled civilian infrastructure in Gaza, the report concluded, and war crimes were likely committed. But the U.S. effectively blocked any international action on the report.
As WikiLeaks cables reported on by Foreign Policy show, “in the aftermath of Israel’s 2008-2009 intervention into the Gaza Strip, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, led a vigorous campaign to stymie an independent U.N. investigation into possible war crimes.”
4. The U.S. Political System
There are a couple driving forces people point to explain why U.S. policy is so pro-Israel. And there should be no doubt that one of the reasons, the Israel lobby, has helped push the U.S. towards such a blindingly one-sided policy in favor of Israel.
The Israel lobby works in myriad ways, but one way is its powerful role in the U.S. electoral process. Israel lobby-affiliated donors, some of them Jewish and others Christian Zionists, pour money into the coffers of politicians across the spectrum. These politicians, in turn, put out statements and make policy with the money the received from pro-Israel forces in mind.
And as Israel waged its assault on Gaza over the past week, the U.S. political system has followed this script. Both the House and the Senate passed unanimous resolutions expressing support for Israel’s “inherent right to act in self-defense.” As Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now wrote in The Daily Beast, the Senate resolution “contains no mention of any aspiration to see hostilities end and includes no exhortation for the President to in any way to engage to try to calm the violence or bring about a ceasefire.” Furthermore, Friedman writes, “the Gillibrand-Kirk resolution doesn’t even pay lip service to, or offer even canned language feigning concern for, civilian life on both sides—or even on either side. This is bizarre, given that innocent civilians, including children, have already been killed and injured on both sides, and these numbers are almost certain to grow.”
5. U.S. Media Bias
Israel still enjoys fairly wide support among the U.S. population, though the discourse has slowly changed in recent years. Still, one reason why there remains little outrage among the U.S. population is that the American media they consume is heavily biased towards Israel.
The bias emerged during this latest assault. Many media outlets got the chronology of events wrong as to who started this latest escalation. For example, the Washington Post reported that “the latest round of fighting began Saturday, when militants from a non-Hamas faction fired an antitank missile at an Israeli jeep traveling along the Israel-Gaza border, injuring four Israeli soldiers.” But that ignores the fact that the escalation began when Israeli forces killed a teenage boy, and Palestinian armed factions responded.
CNN also repeated this wrong chronology. As the Arab American Institute pointed out, “CNN chose to begin the story of the latest round of violence in Gaza on November 10th, when 4 Israeli soldiers were wounded by Palestinian fire, and the IDF ‘retaliated’ by killing several Palestinians. But just two days before, a 13 year old Palestinian boy was killed in an Israeli military incursion into Gaza. And a few days before that, a mentally ill Palestinian man was killed and another man was seriously wounded due to Israeli fire. Is there any reason why those couldn’t be the starting point of the ‘cycle of violence’?”
By Alex Kane

V.K. Singh’s role in destroying India’s national security

Posted by Admin On Friday, 27 September 2013 0 comments
V.K. Singh's role in destroying India's national security
Gen (retd) V.K. Singh will go down in history as one of the most controversial Chiefs of the Indian Army. Not only was his promotion to the apex post deterred by his predecessor, Gen Deepak Kapoor, but V.K. Singh actively pursued his own policies and undermined the Congress/UPA government’s control over the Ministry of Defense (South Block) and over the country’s national security policy. He is also perhaps the first military chief in India’s history to have overtly politicized the institution, having nearly forced his way into the Army Chief’s office, having tried to continue his term beyond Constitutional limits by filing a case in the Supreme Court of India regarding his date of birth (and thus his date of retirement), and also doing his best to succeed where his predecessor failed: to foil the chances of incumbent Indian Army Chief, Gen Bikram Singh, in succeeding him. Inevitably, the Indian Army general staff was divided into two cabals even when Gen Deepak Kapoor was Army Chief: one group supported Gen V.K. Singh, while the other supported Gen Bikram Singh. The extent of this politicization remains uncertain even after the ascension of Gen Bikram Singh as Army Chief, since many generals and officers remain loyal to the former Chief, thus continuing the politicized rift in the Indian Army.
This has become certain after he appeared on stage at a rally in Rewari for Indian military veterans hosted by the opposition BJP party. He was accosted by the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, the controversial Narendra Modi, who remains accused of sponsoring attacks on Muslims in Gojra and in other communal attacks in Hyderabad province, of which he is Chief Minister incumbent. The Congress and the BJP are now at loggerheads over why the reports of the TSD had been “leaked”, especially after Singh appeared on the stage with Modi. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said charges levelled against Gen Singh by an Army inquiry are “bogus” and he is being targeted for being close to party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
While Gen (retd) Singh dismissed the reports as “hogwash”, “politically motivated”, “a load of rubbish”, “laughable”, “most absurd” and a “vendetta”, there are reports that he will also file a Freedom of Information (FOI) petition in this regard – a clear indication that he has covered his tracks with complete certainty, and wishes to prove that the Congress is “out to get him”. The former Army Chief blames what he calls the “Chandigarh lobby” as the source of the leak and of the vendetta against him – it remains to be seen whether this lobby is a political group or a group of military officers currently serving in India at general staff positions. Gen V.K. Singh further told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that “there is a nexus between arms dealers and those behind the reports”.
A few days after the rally, news leaked that Gen V.K. Singh had created a special Military Intelligence group – the Technical Services Division (TSD) – in May 2010 which reported directly to him, as opposed to the standard operating procedure and Indian Army guidelines, where they were supposed to report to the Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI). There were many reasons why Gen Singh created this organization and ordered that it directly report to him as Army Chief, rather than to their immediate supervisor, the DGMI. The issue is so sensitive that the Indian Army has asked an external investigative agency, the CBI, to pursue the matter and uncover other alleged wrongdoings of the TSD. The main allegations against TSD (and V.K. Singh’s use of this military group) are the misuse of secret intelligence funds to try toppling the Omar Abdullah government in J&K, to scuttle the line of succession in the Army, and use off-the-air interceptors to tap phones of top officials in the Defense Ministry. The BoI report has asked the Indian government to order a high-level inquiry into the functioning of TSD, which has become “dysfunctional” ever since Gen Bikram Singh took over.
Lt Gen (retd) Raj Kadyan said allegations against TSD are serious and needs to be probed to the fullest extent possible. Maj Gen (retd) G D Bakshi also shared Kadyan’s views.
The Technical Services Division (TSD) of the Indian Military Intelligence
According to an Indian Army Board of Inquiry (BoI) report, prepared by a secret Board of Officers (BoO) led by Director-General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia and ordered by Gen Bikram Singh, the TSD was especially raised by Gen V.K. Singh to “conduct covert operations”, but the BoI report uncovered irregularities as well as financial wrongdoings in its functioning to a great extent. However, many of the documents concerning TSD’s work were destroyed by TSD operatives themselves, so the full extent of what TSD did cannot be ascertained. But what we know about the TSD’s activities can certainly explain why Gen V.K. Singh created this group from within the MI, and had it report directly to him. The report has been examined, sources said, at the “highest levels” in the MoD and the PMO. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon is known to have chaired more than one high-level meeting to discuss the report and follow-up action.
The report, which includes original Army documents and notings, was submitted to the then Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma around March this year. It has rattled the security establishment and prompted a series of measures to curtail MI’s powers, tighten monitoring of its covert operations and its use of secret service (SS) funds. Sources said the report contains financial details of withdrawals of SS funds from accounts of the State Bank of India that match payments claimed by TSD officials — in their statements to the Board — for specific operations. It, however, cautions that given the covert nature of these operations, there is an element of “deniability’’.
Gen V.K. Singh said that the TSD was set up after 26/11 with the approval of then-National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan – who is now Governor of Bengal state – as well as the Defense Ministry, including the Minister, A.K. Antony. However, the activities of the TSD – listed hereunder – show that it had an entirely different agenda: one that was set and pursued by V.K. Singh as Army Chief; the TSD siphoned off large sums of money to fund “unauthorised operations” and the acquisition of the snooping equipment. This was later used to tap the phones of senior political and military officials at the height of the controversy over Gen V.K. Singh’s date of birth, and after the matter yielded no results, the equipment was destroyed so that it could not be traced back to the TSD or to Gen V.K. Singh.
According to the BoI report, the TSD used two of the off-the-air interceptors, procured from a Singapore-based company for Rs 8 crore in November 2010, to tap the telephones of senior MoD officials when the tussle between the government and Gen V.K. Singh over the latter’s age was unfolding early last year. The TSD’s existence came to light in March last year when it was alleged that the unit had tapped the phones of Defence Ministry officials.
TSD activities in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir
The BoI report accused retired Indian Army Chief V.K. Singh of misusing secret service funds to destabilise the government in Indian Kashmir. Speaking about the Army Board of Officers who submitted a report on the TSD, Gen V.K. Singh said it had carried out an in-depth check and had gone to J&K to assess the work of the TSD in “stabilising the situation” in Occupied J&K and the “work on the borders”.
One of the key allegations is that Rs 1.19 crore was given to J&K MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir, who is currently the state agriculture minister, to destabilize the Omar Abdullah government. Mir, however, has dismissed the allegation as “incorrect and unbelievable”. Attacking the chief minister of the occupied state, Omar Abdullah, for “mis-governance”, Gen Singh said he was “shooting of his mouth for nothing” on the allegations that the TSD was used to topple the state government.
Then, the report alleges, another Rs 2.38 crore was paid to set up an NGO named Jammu and Kashmir Humanitarian Service Organisation, which in turn got another NGO “Yes Kashmir” to file a PIL against Gen Bikram Singh for an alleged fake encounter when he was posted as a brigadier in J&K in 2001. The PIL, which was later dismissed, was widely perceived to be a clear attempt to scuttle the appointment of Gen Bikram Singh, who was then the Eastern Army commander, as the Army chief after Gen V.K. Singh.
Lashing out at the Occupied J&K CM Omar Abdullah, Gen V.K. Singh said it should be ascertained as to who all in the Army are regularly in touch with him (Mr. Abdullah). V.K. Singh also claims that the Indian Army has “brought stability to Jammu and Kashmir”, a statement that proved hollow with today’s twin attacks in Kathua and Samba districts.
Gen. Singh had also claimed that the successful panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2011 were the “achievement” of his Technical Support Division (TSD): “It was all part of a larger game plan, and two major achievements of the TSD were the panchayat elections of 2011 and the sudden end to the stone-throwing agitation in Kashmir in 2010″ Gen (retd) V.K. Singh said.
The TSD paid off panches and sarpanches to contest the local bodies (panchayat) elections in the Occupied state in 2011, and also paid off the winners of the elections – this may have been one of the ways in which V.K. Singh brought “stability” to the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir through the TSD. Now, representative of panches and sarpanches in Jammu and Kashmir, Shafiq Mir, expressed apprehension of fresh militant attacks, holding the former Army chief General (retd.) V.K. Singh responsible for endangering the lives and properties of thousands of panchayat members. “With his reckless statements, Gen. Singh has caused an extremely serious apprehension of militant attacks on more than 33,000 panches and sarpanches as he has completely discredited and maligned the panchayat elections of 2011″.
“I believe not one of us has demanded or accepted a pie of money from the Army or any other agency of the Centre or the State government for contesting or conducting the panchayat elections. It’s strange and surprising that a General, who has functioned as the Chief of Army Staff in 2011, has degraded a legitimate democratic exercise as a military-intelligence operation and thus imperilled the lives of all panchayat members,” Mir, Chairman of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference, complained. Dozens of attacks have already taken place on panches and sarpanches, and after these revelations, Mir is concerned that militants will target all officebearers of the occupied state’s panchayat organizations for taking money from the Indian Army.
Mir said; “At this stage we can’t rule out that some politicians or officers have grabbed the Army’s money in the name of conducting panchayat elections. But, in that case, it is Gen. Singh’s moral duty to name such individuals. If it is established that we have been used for a political or military operation, we will resign en masse. We have risked our lives only to serve our people.”
Battle of the Singhs
Gen V.K. Singh clearly did not get along with Gen Bikram Singh, and this was widely known in the Indian general staff as well as in political circles – this tiff was also reported in the media from time to time. The TSD payment to “Yes Kashmir” is direct evidence of this.
Gen V.K. Singh tried to block the promotion of Gen Bikram Singh to the post of Army Chief based on a case in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir’s High court which blamed then-Brigadier Bikram Singh for staging an encounter and killing a 70-year-old Muslim citizen of the Occupied state.
On allegations that he tried to stall the appointment of General Bikram Singh, V.K. Singh said: “There is a case against Bikram Singh in court, if we wanted to cause problems we could have by changing the army’s stance. It involves the killing of a man, a 70-year-old, who is labelled as a foreign terrorist. There is no terrorist in J&K who is more than 30 to 40-years-old…”
The case was dismissed by the Jammu and Kashmir High court, which ruled that the encounter was genuine. Bikram Singh, then a brigadier, was injured in the encounter and a colonel and a soldier were killed. V.K. Singh used all his might and power as Army Chief to use the dismissed case against Bikram Singh, bringing it out of the dusty shelves of the Occupied J&K High Court’s records to deprive Bikram Singh of his deserved promotion to the top slot.
However, political and military circles successfully defeated V.K. Singh’s efforts to undermine Bikram Singh, who became Chief of the Indian Army in June 2012. Now, V.K. Singh says that had he wanted to stop incumbent Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh from assuming charge, he could have done so, with the case in the Occupied J&K court being sufficient reason for him to stall Gen Bikram Singh’s promotion.
In a strange twist, Pakistan’s Express Tribune says that Bikram Singh was V.K. Singh’s “favourite”, and that the NGO was paid to file an application to dismiss the case against Bikram Singh. However, by the time the TSD was created and issued funds, the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir High Court had already dismissed the case; still, the Express Tribune quotes the Indian Express by stating that “this was done to ensure that no hurdle is created in Bikram Singh – who is currently the Indian army chief – becoming VK’s successor”.
The reality, however, is clearly different.
Controversy over Gen V.K. Singh’s date of birth
V.K. Singh took the unprecedented step of dragging the government to court (when he was Army Chief) on the issue of his date of birth and its impact on his retirement. According to latest reports, he was still hurting from the controversy over his date of birth.
But in revealing his wounds, the former Army Chief has also blamed the judiciary — risking contempt of court if he goes too far. He had challenged the government in the Supreme Court on the question of his date of birth, but the court decided not to give a ruling, and the general had to withdraw his petition. He eventually superannuated on May 31, 2012, after which Gen Bikram Singh became Chief of the Indian Army.
In V.K. Singh’s case, the Supreme Court had questioned why he was raising the matter after having earlier accepted the date of birth in his service records and gone on to become Army Chief.
What happens now?
The former Army chief said the TSD was not his “private or rogue Army” as was being alleged by certain organisations and it was budgeted by the DG Military Intelligence. However, the case certainly seems to prove otherwise, since it should have reported to DGMI and not directly to the Army Chief if it wasn’t his personal army.
MoD officials, pointing to the ongoing tussle between the Intelligence Bureau and CBI in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case in Gujarat, said it would be “dangerous” for an investigating agency to probe covert intelligence operations, which perforce have to have “deniability” and “cannot be compromised”. But it is a matter of huge concern that the Indian Army – cognizant of the groups and cabals that still exist in the military organization – has asked a non-military investigative agency, the CBI, to further pursue the case and investigate the workings of the TSD. This means that the Indian Army continues to feel compromised when it comes to investigating the misuse of office by Gen V.K. Singh, and to many, the discovery of the TSD comes as the tip of the iceberg.
Indian government and Army sources have said that a summary of the BoI report has been put up by the Defence Ministry to Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is understood to have instructed that its contents be brought to the notice of Prime Minister’s Office. “The report has been examined at the highest levels in the Defence Ministry and Prime Minister’s office. The secret Board of Officers inquiry has recommended that India’s premier investigative agency, CBI should look into the matter,” it further stated. The government said it had taken steps to prevent such ‘undesirable activities’ as undertaken by groups such as the TSD, but was yet to decide about ordering a CBI inquiry.
“The report impinges on matters of national security and, as such, the government will take a decisions and further actions after a careful examination of the report,” said Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar. “It is further clarified that the MoD has not taken any decision for a CBI inquiry into the issues raised in the army’s report,” Kar said.
Reacting to the report, senior Congress leader Rashid Alvi has said Indian government will decide if an inquiry will be conducted or not. “We want to know if General VK Singh was doing this on his own or he had the backing of some political party,” he said. Now, after his retirement, it becomes much clearer whether V.K. Singh was doing this on his own, or with the backing of a certain major political party.
Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad also sought a probe, suggesting that the findings of the Army inquiry may not be reliable. “This is a serious allegation. It needs to be probed,” Azad said.
When asked why the findings of an inquiry headed by a top general needed to be probed again, the minister said the findings could not be relied upon because “there are groups” in the Army. “Unfortunately for the last few years there is groupism in the Army. This also could be because of internal fighting in Army”, Azad said. He said the allegations made in the report had not been proved, and that the defence ministry was investigating.
After these revelations, experts have come up with mixed reactions. While some are blindly believing the report and tending it as a further proof of BJP being a divided house itself (as L.K. Advani had tried to scuttle Narendra Modi’s chances of becoming the party’s PM candidate earlier), others have trashed it.
“Another of those reports that takes a premise from an already know fact, and adds mindless masala to make it sensational,” a media critic said. “Advani may not have succeeded in toppling Modi, and Gen V.K. Singh may not have succeeded in toppling the J&K government, but looks like there is deep politicization at the top brass of the Indian Army, and that cannot be tolerated because it is extremely unhealthy for the country’s national security”, the critic said.