x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Pakistan blamed for Kabul bombing

A car bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul raises strategic questions about India's role in Afghanistan, while Pakistan's intelligence services are accused of having a role in the bombing. In spite of White House statements to the contrary, Iraq says it wants a hard date for the withdrawal of US troops. The Iranian president sees no possibility of war.

In reaction to Monday's car bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan's capital, an editorial in the Indian Express said: "India must come to terms with an important question that it has avoided debating so far. New Delhi cannot continue to expand its economic and diplomatic activity in Afghanistan, while avoiding a commensurate increase in its military presence there. For too long, New Delhi has deferred to Pakistani and American sensitivities about raising India's strategic profile in Afghanistan." In Asia Times, Sudha Ramachandran said that in the eyes of Indian experts, suspicion points to the Taliban and its backers in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency. "Over the past few years, the ISI and its surrogates in the Taliban have sought to cut India's influence through intimidation and attacks on Indian engineers and construction workers. Now with the attack on the embassy, they have signaled that they are stepping up their battle against India. It marks a major escalation in terrorist attacks not only against India's presence in Afghanistan but against New Delhi's Afghan policy. "India has reiterated that the attacks will not weaken its mission to help in Afghanistan's reconstruction. In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs commented, 'Such acts of terror will not deter us from fulfilling our commitments to the government and people of Afghanistan'." The BBC spoke to Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "Mr Hamidzada said it was 'pretty obvious' who was behind the attack. He said it had been designed outside Afghanistan and exported to it. "'The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it and the specific targeting, everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past. We have sufficient evidence to say that,' Mr Hamidzada said. "The Afghan government has accused Pakistani agents of being behind an April assassination attempt against President Karzai, in addition to playing a role in a mass jailbreak in Kandahar last month and a string of other attacks." ABC News said that while the war in Afghanistan might demand more attention from the next US president than does the situation in Iraq, that shift has yet to be reflected in the presidential campaign. "As John McCain and Barack Obama attempt to boost their foreign policy credentials, both candidates may find that whoever wins the White House will likely have to focus more attention on the conflict in Afghanistan than the debate over Iraq that has dominated much of the foreign policy discussion this campaign season. "After seven years of war and billions of dollars to support the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the security situation in Afghanistan is worsening as a resurgent Taliban mounts more attacks on US troops. That makes it increasingly likely that the next administration will have to consider sending more troops to Afghanistan to meet the needs of military commanders. "As the number of US fatalities has dropped in Iraq, those in Afghanistan have been steadily rising. In June, US military fatalities in Afghanistan nearly equaled those in Iraq and were the highest since the start of the war in 2001. It's a reflection of a resurgent Taliban that has refocused the attention of Pentagon planners, but drawn little attention in a presidential campaign in which politicians have been more focused on Iraq." AFP reported on comments from the Democratic presidential candidate. "Obama told reporters that the bombing [in Kabul] 'is one more indication of the severe deterioration that we've seen in the security situation in Afghanistan.' "'I have consistently stated that one of [the] other reasons for us to begin a careful phased deployment out of Iraq, is that we are under-manned in Afghanistan,' the Illinois senator said in St Louis, Missouri, on Monday. "'And as president of the United States I will do everything that we can to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and go on the offensive against al Qa'eda, who have reconstituted themselves,' he added." Mr Obama's Republic party opponent, John McCain, said: "We need to succeed in Iraq, and I am confident we can succeed in Afghanistan, but it's not just a matter of more troops." The Associated Press reported: "Worried about increasing insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, the US military says it is sending extra air power there by shifting an aircraft carrier away from the Iraq war. "Defense officials said Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was moved out of the Gulf and to the Gulf of Oman, shortening the time that the carrier's strike planes must fly to support combat in Afghanistan." Ahmed Rashid, a leading expert on the Taliban and al Qa'eda, was asked by the German magazine, Der Spiegel, whether he thought that the Taliban might be successful in its current offensive. "We are witnessing a major offensive in both countries by the Afghan and the Pakistan Taliban. Previously one of these two groups of Taliban was fighting while the other would rest. This summer they are both on the offensive. This is a strategic decision by the Taliban who see a lame duck American president and also know that it will take until next spring before a new US administration can become effective. They also see a weak and divided Pakistani government and a weak and ineffectual Afghan government." When asked what he saw as their strategic aim in Afghanistan, Mr Rashid said: "The Afghan Taliban want to create a strategic debacle, either by taking a town or city and announcing an alternative government or by trying to force one or two of the less committed Nato states to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban are determined to conquer or grab as much territory as possible in the next few months in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in order to extend their influence in the Pakistani population, but also to offer more protection for al Qa'eda and the Afghan Taliban leaders in this region." Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reported from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, where one of the wealthiest parts of the capital, Peshawar, has been referred to as a 'kidnappers' paradise'. "Beheadings, martial law, kidnappings: The Taliban is making its presence felt at the gates of Peshawar. The Pakistani army is trying to fight back, but is doing so only half-heartedly against a committed enemy. "The situation changed overnight in Peshawar. The villas in the posh suburb of Hayatabad, hidden behind acacias, palms and oleander bushes, are now directly on the front line. The Pakistani security forces have declared war on the Muslim fundamentalists who are said to have taken up positions in the immediate vicinity. "Eight armored vehicles belonging to the Pakistani Frontier Corps stand ready to move out in the courtyard of Peshawar's Beaconhouse School. Riflemen are positioned behind sandbagged emplacements at strategically important intersections. Pakistani anti-terror units and paramilitary forces in black uniforms are on patrol in the area, their submachine guns at the ready. "But where is the enemy? Outside the city, in the direction of the Khyber Pass, the sound of exploding heavy artillery rounds can be heard every few seconds." For The Australian, Bruce Loudon reported: "Foreign diplomats based in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, were reportedly preparing plans yesterday for an emergency evacuation as alarm grows over a resurgence of suicide bomb attacks by militants linked to al Qa'eda and the Taliban. "In the wake of Sunday night's devastating bomb blast in the heart of the capital, two of the country's leading newspapers said diplomats - already operating under heavy guard in a fortified diplomatic enclave - were discussing plans for emergency evacuations, should the need arise. For most countries represented in Islamabad, including Australia, the city is already a 'non-family' diplomatic post."

"Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday he is negotiating a deal with Washington that will for the first time set a timetable for a withdrawal of foreign forces as part of a framework for a US troop presence into next year," AFP reported. "The White House, however, said no 'hard date' for the withdrawal of US forces was contemplated and US officials suggested that any timetable would be dependent on conditions on the ground." Nevertheless, The Washington Post later reported: "Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday that his government would not sign an agreement governing the future role of US troops in Iraq unless it includes a timetable for their withdrawal. "The statement was the strongest yet by an Iraqi official regarding the politically controversial negotiations between Iraq and the United States over the US military role in Iraq. A United Nations mandate that sanctions the presence of US troops in the country expires in December. "Speaking to reporters in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie declined to provide specific dates, but said his government is 'impatiently waiting' for the complete withdrawal of US troops." AFP added: "Iraq's hardening demand for a pullout deadline for US troops on Tuesday reignited the sharp campaign quarrel over the war between White House rivals John McCain and Barack Obama. "Republican hopeful McCain insisted that any US troop withdrawals must be dictated by security conditions in Iraq, after Obama said he was encouraged the Iraqi government now shared his desire to set a timetable for withdrawals. "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's comment on Monday that Iraq was seeking such an arrangement in talks with Washington on the future US force structure in the country reverberated across the presidential campaign."

"A senior Iranian cleric was quoted Tuesday as threatening that Tehran would respond to any military attack by striking Israel and 'burning down' America's vital interests around the globe," The New York Times reported. "'If they commit such a stupidity, Tel Aviv and US shipping in the Persian Gulf will be Iran's first targets and they will be burned,' said Ali Shirazi, a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader." At the same time, The Associated Press reported: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that he sees no possibility of a war between his country and the United States or Israel. "He also predicted Israel would collapse without Iranian action. "'I assure you that there won't be any war in the future,' Ahmadinejad told a news conference during a visit to Malaysia for a summit of developing Muslim nations." The Christian Science Monitor reported on the conclusions of several US-based experts who have assessed the likelihood of a US attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. At a recent seminar on US policy toward Iran held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, said he believed the key way for US officials to look at the issue may be to decide whether they could live with a nuclear-armed Iran. "If they decide they can't live with an Iran that has a nuclear arsenal, what they are really saying is that they are willing to invade Iran to prevent that from occurring, Pollack said. "'And I don't think that the American public is ready to invade Iran to prevent it from having a nuclear weapon,' he said at the CSIS seminar."