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Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC

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First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.

The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.

The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.

Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.

In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.

News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.

On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.

At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.

So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?

The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?

CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.

Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.

So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.

If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.

The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.

As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.

Supratim Barman, MSc (Queen Mary – University of London). Kolkata, The Republic of India. I live between the two extreme edges of what was the British Colonial Empire, in the vast and important cities of Kolkata and London; with the midpoint being where I was born and where I grew up, Bahrain: observing and experiencing events in a time of great change.

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‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began

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A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday. 

In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.  

It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013. 

However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said. 

At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety. 

Rise in ‘targeted killings’ 

According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.  

There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said. 

According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents. 

2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’ 

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”. 

“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said

The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added. 

Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.” 

UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020

‘Shocking toll’ on women and children 

The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women. 

“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said. 

“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.” 

Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’ 

With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations. 

It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes. 

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Is Blacklisting on Cards for Pakistan?

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Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been an integral part of the economic decision making and regulatory procedures of the country. The days of the ultimate decision are finally on cards as the Global Watchdog is expected to evaluate and review the performance and strategies of Pakistan via virtual meeting tentatively scheduled for February 22-25, 2021. This would be a much-anticipated review since a keen eye would be payed following a long hiatus to the litigations recently undertaken by the country to eliminate the risks and gaps in the financial framework which might earn Pakistan, a way out from the grey list. However, while the preceding meeting only guided more hopes for better litigation and measures to curb terror financing, brimming foreign propaganda and nefarious rulings within the country itself might hamper the way out but instead could dig the trench further towards a harrowing financial turmoil.

Pakistan was placed on the grey list back in June 2018 due to strategic deficiencies. Just before the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world, Pakistan was allowed a breather of 4-months to comply with the 27-point action plan; of which Pakistan met only 14 targets while missing out on the rest of 13 targets. Moreover, Pakistan could only satisfy 10 of a total of 40 recommendations devised by the task force. These lags led to a major pitfall in the Pakistan’s Stock Market; PSX plummeting bellow 30,000 points. Furthermore, a bitter narrative started blooming regarding arch-rival India pulling all the strings to push Pakistan down further, even in the blacklist. This was largely shunned by the Indian representatives but the failure of the economic and diplomatic front of Pakistan was evident by now.

The FATF plenary was scheduled, like traditionally, in June. However, all scheduled evaluations and review procedures were deferred for 4-months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing yet another unforeseen yet thoroughly welcomed relief span to Pakistan to strive more actively to meet the requirements.

In the preceding 4 months, Pakistan acutely worked to amend the contradicting laws and policies, the parliament playing an agile role to introduce new bills relating to counter-terrorism and countering money laundering as an act to expedite compliance to the international laws and ultimately meeting up all 27 points in the action plan. Almost all the bills presented, albeit some political resistance, were eventually passed which even led to optimism in the stock market; PSX climbing back over 40,000 points after more than half a year, rallying to record high levels despite of the pandemic wreaking havoc on the investors’ mentality across the globe.

The meeting held, after a steep deferral, back in October 2020; the FATF committee observed and commended on the vigilant stance assumed by Pakistan to crawl out of the Grey list. Pakistan has since delivered on 22 out of the 27 core points of the action plan defined. However, the meetings adjourned till February, retaining Pakistan in the grey list under the tag of ‘jurisdiction under enhanced monitoring’ whilst praising the steps of counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering adopted by Islamabad.

Pakistan was warned back in February last year that if not complied by the 27-point action plan, it could be a great threat to the foreign mechanism and would be eventually moved to the monitored jurisdiction, notoriously also known as the ‘Blacklist’. Later this month, FATF would examine if Pakistan meets the 8 key categories of the action plan; remedial actions taken against money laundering, counterfeit terrorism while also reviewing the vigilance of the institutions in countering Terror Financing and actively managing risk. The committee representing Pakistan would perpetually convince the plenary that the country in-fact meets the criteria and transitioning over the next month, the fate of the tormented economy would finally prevail in light of the decision made.

However, Pakistan has been sluggish in taking action against the notorious entities linked to terrorism around the region. The meeting nears with the pinned watch of UN regarding Pakistan’s role of providing a safe haven to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, or the notorious acquittal of Ahmed Omer Sheikh, the prime culprit of the Daniel Pearle Murder case of 2002. Pakistan, however, claims to have made virtue on 22 of the defined 27 points while has garnered ‘Substantial progress’ on the remaining 5 points. Thus, the optimism brews that the meeting would push the country out of the list and would open more financial avenues especially in these distressful conditions.

Although Pakistan’s Foreign Office including the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, appears optimistic to climb out of the grey list after 3 years, the infamous decisions passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the excessive money laundering cases surging against the ex-office holders of Pakistan and the determined efforts of India to subvert Pakistan in global politics, all thwart down that optimism bit by bit. And while some of the economic experts claim that the decision of advancing Pakistan off the Grey list would be naïve move and would arguably impact regional dynamics, the decision could fall in tandem with the preceding outcome of sustaining the grey list status or could deteriorate the level further as gauged by a political expert, opining his narrative: “The facts demand that Pakistan remain on the grey list. The FATF shouldn’t just keep Pakistan on the grey list. It should rather warn Islamabad that absent rapid and wide-ranging reform; blacklisting is coming”.

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Europe Must Confront Iranian Regime’s Terrorism

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After a two-and-a-half-year investigation, on 4thFebruary 2021, a Belgian court sentenced four culprits for attempting to bomb a large gathering of tens of thousands, including politicians and dignitaries, at a global summit organized by the Iranian opposition – the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – in Villipinte, France in June 2018.

The perpetrators who attempted to attack the global summit included Assadollah Assadi, a senior accredited Iranian diplomat, who received the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on attempted murder and terrorism charges – and his three accomplices who were imprisoned for 15,17, and 18 years, respectively. This was the first time that an Iranian diplomat was convicted in Europe.

The conviction and the sheer scale of the crime requires the EU to reconsider its approach to the Iranian regime.

The 2018 global summit was attended by tens of thousands of people who advocate for democracy and freedom in Iran. If the foiled terrorist plot had been successful, thousands of innocent people, including European citizens and prominent political figures, would have been killed or injured. The head of Belgium’s national security has blamed the Iranian regime for orchestrating the attack, including Iran’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Intelligence and Security who played a significant part in the execution of the attack.

Such terrorism-related trials are not new for the regime. In 1997, the regime was tried for a major terrorist act in Germany. The proceedings were called the Mykonos trial after a Berlin restaurant in which regime agents gunned down several opponents.

In a report dated April 10, 1997, the European Union’s Presidency stated: “The High Court of Justice’s findings in Berlin in the Mykonos case indicates Iranian regime officials’ involvement at the highest level.”

On April 29, 1997, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed that progress in normalizing relations between the EU and Iran would only be possible if Tehran’s officials respect international law and cease terrorist acts, including those against Iranians residing abroad. When the regime refused to comply,Europe made a declaration to expel Iranian nationals with intelligence and security ties. Twelve countries that were not members of the European Union at the time also complied with the declaration.

21 years after the Mykonos trial, Assadi used his diplomatic cover to take a high-powered explosive on a passenger plane from Iran to Austria. He then personally handed it over to two intelligence agents to detonate it at the NCRI rally in Paris. The irrefutable evidence in this case shows Iranian regime officials’ involvement at the highest levels.

Separately, the regime’s ambassador and three diplomats were expelled from Albania (January 2020), three diplomats were expelled from France and the Netherlands (March 2018), and a diplomat was expelled from Denmark (October 2018) in the wake of the regime’s terrorist plots. All of these expulsions reveal the involvement of the regime’s embassies, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Intelligence and Security to create terror in the European region.

Despite all of this, the EU has not taken any serious measures to counter the regime’s belligerence.

Europe’s failure to take appropriate actions has emboldened Tehran. Inaction reassures the regime that it can act with impunity, even in Europe. Europe has essentially communicated to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism that not even an attempt to bomb a peaceful gathering, which could lead to the killing of hundreds of European citizens, would bear any consequences. Thus, Europe’s appeasement is in large part fueling the regime’s aggression.

It is naive to speculate that Tehran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did not know about this conspiracy. Zarif sits on the Supreme National Security Council, which approves all such major security decisions. Additionally, his ministry and embassies serve as logistical and operational centers for terrorism and espionage.

Those who hatched and approved this terrorist plot, none other than senior Iranian leadership, must be brought to justice. This step is a necessary deterrent against Tehran, the godfather of international terrorism.

German security officials are reportedly still investigating the numerous trips that Assadi made throughout Europe, where he helped establish an extensive Iranian regime spy network across the region. At the time of his arrest, he had received several receipts for payment of money. The identities of money recipients have yet to be determined. The regime has always used its embassies and so-called religious and cultural centers abroad as centers of espionage against its opponents.

Normalizing diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime must be made contingent on disbanding its terrorist apparatus in Europe and ensuring that it will never again engage in terrorism in Europe. By taking this critical step, European leaders will protect their own citizens and effectively counter the regime’s terrorist threats.

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