Home > News > News in Brief: 18 December 2009

News in Brief: 18 December 2009

A brief list of news clippings for the day:

UN’s Afghan mission takes a hit. The United Nations’ special representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has launched a blistering attack on his sacked former deputy, American Peter Galbraith, claiming that he plotted to unconstitutionally depose President Hamid Karzai. Karzai remains in power, with a new five-year term, but the UN’s efforts at coordinating civilian reconstruction projects have taken a big hit. (Asia Times)

Dead in its tracks. Palestinian unity is still unreachable. The delegation of independent Palestinian public figures that recently met with Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman was surprised to learn that Palestinian national dialogue is frozen until Hamas agrees, without preconditions, to the Egyptian reconciliation proposal. Their surprise stems from a general impression in Gaza and the West Bank, enforced by leaks to the media, that Cairo is preparing another reconciliation plan, aiming to convince Hamas to sign off on it and end divisions plaguing the Palestinians. According to Palestinian political writer and analyst Hani El-Masri, who was part of the delegation, Suleiman made it clear that Egypt will not revise its proposal “or change a single word, because it is based on a bilateral and comprehensive dialogue which lasted months. Any revisions would detract from Egypt’s stature and security, and would be an attempt to twist its arm. This will never happen and is unacceptable.” (Al Ahram)

Hackers steal SKorean-US military secrets. South Korea’s military said Friday it was investigating a hacking attack that netted secret defense plans with the United States and may have been carried out by North Korea. The suspected hacking occurred late last month when a South Korean officer failed to remove a USB device when he switched a military computer from a restricted-access intranet to the Internet, Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said. The USB device contained a summary of plans for military operations by South Korean and U.S. troops in case of war on the Korean peninsula. Won said the stolen document was not a full text of the operational plans, but an 11-page file used to brief military officials. He said it did not contain critical information. (AP)

US Congress to probe private military contractors in Afghanistan. Congress is launching a broad-ranging investigation into possible waste, misuse and corruption tied to billions of taxpayer dollars used to support private military contractors in Afghanistan. Among the questions being raised is whether money provided in a nearly $2.2 billion trucking contract in the war-torn country went to pay off local warlords and the Taliban. (CNN)

Pentagon’s Private Militias. A wave of public concern swept through Pakistan over the news of clandestine activities of the US contractor DynCorp International that has been reportedly engaged by the Pentagon to provide security for US diplomatic personnel. The uproar led to uncovering the record of DynCorp and Blackwater, US military contractors, which are suspected to be linked. Blackwater’s activities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan turned out to be very disturbing. Blackwater faces legal proceedings in the US for a variety of crimes such as murder, manslaughter, weapons smuggling, use of unnecessary, excessive and unjustified deadly force against civilians, etc. Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial on manslaughter charges and a sixth has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempting to commit manslaughter in the aftermath of the September 16, 2007 Nisour Square shootings in Baghdad, which left seventeen Iraqis dead… DynCorp’s activities in Pakistan also raised alarm when it reportedly bribed officials for licenses to import prohibited weapons and secretly recruited and trained ex-SSG (army) personnel at facilities in Sihala, dangerously close to Pakistan’s nuclear installations, and at another location outside Islamabad. This fuels suspicion that the Pentagon has outsourced to this military contractor the task of raising a private militia for multiple roles, including a rapid intervention team, with an eye on Pakistan’s nuclear assets. (Axis of Logic)

US: Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret C.I.A. Raids. Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials. The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said. (CorpWatch)

Pakistan: Defence minister blocked from China visit. Pakistani defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar said that immigration officials stopped him from conducting an official visit to China. Mukhtar, one of around 250 officials being investigated for corruption, was stopped from boarding an aircraft bound for China. Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week struck down an amnesty protecting senior members of government from prosecution for corruption. Those under investigation are barred from leaving Pakistan but have so far not been named. (AKI)

Pakistan: NAB court issues arrest warrant against Rehman Malik. A NAB court has issued arrest warrants against Interior Minister Rehman Malik… These warrants are likely in connection with two previous references against Malik. One of the references was for alleged misuse of authority and the other for the alleged receipt of two cars from Toyota Motors as illegal gratification to expedite the purchase of official vehicles. (Dawn)

Pakistan: Govt under pressure over NRO ministers. With both the Pakistan People’s Party and its government in a quandary over the Supreme Court’s verdict against the National Reconciliation Ordinance, cracks that have been visible in the party for months are poised to widen. (Dawn)

Update from Pakistan: NRO Bubble Busts. The verdict of the Supreme Court should have required that all people who have been charged with corruption must not hold public office until they clear their name(s). This is something that the Supreme Court did not do. We ask why? Apart from the Supreme Court, there is a separate Authority to work on corruption cases, which reports to the Prime Minister (Yusuf Raza Gillani), The National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The Prime Minister of Pakistan has appointed Babar Awan, minister of Law, (with a fake PhD degree) the new head of NAB. Babar Awan himself is one of the corrupt beneficiaries of NRO; he is accused of looting up to Rs 9 billion of state money. We can all imagine just how effective NAB will be… The main opposition party, PML(N)4 of Nawaz Sharif, did not benefit from NRO. They are openly calling for removal of key ministers and President Zardari himself. (Axis of Logic)

Former French President Faces New Corruption Probe. Jacques Chirac has been placed under investigation over corruption allegations relating to jobs awarded to political allies while he was mayor of Paris. (New York Times)

Grand Ayatollah Ardebili: Iran’s situation bad. Grand Ayatollah Mousavi-Ardebili warned that Iran is in a “dire situation” and stressed that Shia marjas, or sources of emulation, are not indifferent to the country’s state of affairs. “All sides agree that the current state of the country is not good. What is disputed, however, is the source of and solution to these problems,” Mousavi-Ardebili said… “The people should not think that the marjas [Shia sources of emulation] are indifferent to this situation and are not doing anything,” he added. “Every one of them has done what they could … and their efforts have not been fruitless, although the public may not be aware of the details of these efforts. What must be taken into account is that this dispute is inside the family of the revolution and no side wants to damage the revolution or see its disintegration…” (Tehran Bureau / Tabnak)

India pulls out 30,000 troops from Kashmir. Two infantry divisions were moved out from Rajouri and Poonch in one of the biggest withdrawals since 1999… (Dawn / AFP)

Time is running out. A leaked U.N. document shows that a huge gap remains between the amount of emissions cuts that nations have pledged thus far and what is needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C – a level scientists say would be a tipping point for runaway climate change. Obama has committed the U.S. to a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, which equals merely a 4% reduction based on 1990 levels, which has long been the benchmark year used to account for emissions reduction. The E.U. has pledge to reduce its emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, 30% if other leading emitters boost their commitments. China and India have pledged to reduce their economies’ carbon intensity – a ratio between economic growth and emissions produced. China has committed to a 40 – 45% reduction, India to 24%. (The Nation)

Barack Obama’s speech disappoints and fuels frustration at Copenhagen. Barack Obama stepped into the chaotic final hours of the Copenhagen summit today saying he was convinced the world could act “boldly and decisively” on climate change. But his speech offered no indication America was ready to embrace bold measures, after world leaders had been working desperately against the clock to try to paper over an agreement to prevent two years of wasted effort — and a 10-day meeting — from ending in total collapse. (The Guardian)

EUROPE: Cosy With Israel, Despite the Headlines. Israel’s relations with the European Union were tense for most of 2009 – if newspaper headlines are to be believed. In the past week, a British court drew fierce criticism from Israeli politicians after it issued an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, following a complaint that she had authorised war crimes in Gaza… In reality, however, the tension has been superficial. While there may have been the occasional angry word exchanged on the diplomatic front, the EU’s political and economic ties with Israel have been strengthened over the past few years to such an extent that Javier Solana, who stepped down as the Union’s foreign policy chief in late November, has remarked that Israel is an EU member state in all but name. Perhaps the most tangible illustration of this enhanced relationship was the sealing of an accord on agriculture last month, under which 80 percent of Israel’s fresh produce and 95 percent of its processed foods can be exported to the EU without incurring any trade taxes. (IPS)

The Last Hopes of Afghanistan. By Mohammad Reza Bahrami, Iran’s former ambassador to Kabul. Comparing Afghanistan’s current situation with the one during 2004 presidential elections is simply erroneous. The biggest challenges facing the new administration are the crisis of mistrust between key political figures which naturally afflict the Afghan society. The legitimacy crisis which stems from the Karzai government’s inefficiency (a challenge which can be tackled in short-term), high expectations and little patienceof donor countries , increasing power of Afghan insurgents and their ever-growing role in undermining security are other problems. Add poverty, unemployment, bureaucratic corruption and narcotrafficking to this collection. (Iran Diplomacy)

NATO Chief Says Medvedev’s Pact Unneeded. Rasmussen, who was making his first visit to the country since assuming NATO’s top post over the summer, also said Ukraine and Georgia would eventually become members of the ­alliance and that Georgia’s territorial integrity needed to be fully respected. (Moscow Times)

Development of strategic nuclear fleet under threat? The unsuccessful Bulava missile test calls into question the entire development strategy Russia has chosen for its strategic nuclear forces. At present the Russian Navy plans to introduce eight Project 955 submarines armed with 16 R-30 Bulava ballistic missiles for strategic nuclear purposes in the next 10 to 12 years. The failed missile test calls these plans into question. (RIA Novosti)

Kazakhstan mulls China land deal. Vast empty spaces of Kazakhstan may soon be populated by Chinese farmers – 15 million, according to opponents – if President Nursultan Nazarbayev follows through on what he says is Chinese interest in renting 1 million hectares of Kazakh farmland. (Asia Times)

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