Libyan foreign minister defects while Obama authorises covert action

US President Barack Obama has authorised the use of covert US support for the Libyan rebels, as forces loyal to President Muammar Gaddafi pushed the poorly-disciplined rebels out of several recently-taken towns.

His signature has been widely reported as the first stage of authorising the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to arm the rebels, however neither the CIA or the US State Department would confirm the decision.

Obama never ruled out providing direct assistance, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed support for arming the rebels.

“It’s fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We’re looking at all our options at this point,” Obama told US media.

Involvement of Western powers in Libya following the UN Security Council’s resolution has escalated from initially disabling Gaddafi’s air defenses in order to provide a no-fly zone, to attacking armour columns threatening rebel-held towns, and now to providing direct assistance to opposition forces.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, also the head of the country’s infamous intelligence service, has defected from the Libyan dictator and arrived in London via Tunisa.

Koussa reportedly told waiting UK officials that he was “no longer willing” to represent Gaddafi’s government.

The US was also this week grappling with the fallout of an article in Rolling Stone magazine and German newspaper Der Spiegel, concerning a rogue army unit in Afghanistan accused of killing three civilians for sport and cutting off their fingers as trophies.

Photos collected by the soldiers showed members of the Fifth Stryker Brigade posing with the dead bodies. The soldiers involved reportedly killed the civilians and planted ‘drop weapons’ near the bodies, claiming they were enemy combatants.

After a concerted effort to repress the photos from publication, the Pentagon has apologised and claimed the images are “in striking contrast to the standards and values of the United States Army.”

Five soldiers have been charged with murder and are being tried in a military court.


Comment: What happens if we leave Afghanistan?

This article was originally published on the website of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives. Republished with permission.

A month ago I was shocked to hear the news of an 18-year-old woman from Afghanistan who was punished by slicing her ears and nose, for running away from her abusive husband’s house.

The news was carried around the world by the leading news agencies for many days, especially the western media. A few days later, I was shopping at Ashrafee Bookshop – one of the largest bookstores in Male’ – and happened to see the mind-disturbing image of the abused woman named Aisha.

The image was published on the cover page of the TIME magazine. I did not have the courage to gaze at the horrifying picture for long, because the beautiful girl’s nose was missing. A maroon coloured shawl partially covered her head while her ears were covered with the beautifully combed black hair.

The image would certainly create hatred against the Taliban, the previous rulers of Afghanistan, before the US forces occupied the country to hunt Osama Bin Laden. Like any other reader, the bold letters on the image also caught my attention. It read: “What happens if we leave Afghanistan?”.

The message was very clear.

What I understood from it was that if US forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the country’s condition would worsen as seen in the picture. Every woman would be abused likewise, as we see Aisha in the image.

The article was written by the famous writer Aryn Baker. I read the whole article twice. My conclusion is that the purpose of publishing the article was to criticise Islamic Sharia and to blame the Taliban because they are gaining victory over the US forces in many of the districts in Afghanistan.

One line in the article read: “Under the Taliban, women accused of adultery were stoned to death; those who flashed a bare ankle were whipped”.

The whole article was in favour of Islamaphobia, and creating abhorrence against Islamic customs, principles and jurisprudence. The article was very much in support of the occupied forces while failing to bring all the sides of the story.

Although I am not a professional journalist, I had the opportunity to report from Pakistan and Indian controlled Kashmir. To my knowledge all the parties involved in a sensitive story should be given a fair chance to respond.

But the writer has failed to bring the comments of Aisha’s husband and in-laws, and Taliban. The whole article was single sourced, breaking journalism ethics. It may be hard or impossible to get an interview from the victim’s husband and in-laws. But if the writer wished, she could have got a comment from Taliban.

The writer also could have mentioned Taliban’s denial statement made through internet. The whole story is totally a biased one. Aisha’s case may be true, or it is possible that the story was created. There is no way to prove the accusations made by Aisha.

She might have been abused by her family or by muggers. Who knows what is behind the picture? Aisha might have blamed the Taliban by posing for the cover image of TIME, as it may be her only chance for reconstructive surgery.

In the editorial, Managing Editor Richard Stengel wrote: “Aisha will head to the US for reconstructive surgery sponsored by the Grossman Burn Foundation, a humanitarian organisation in California. We are supporting the effort.”

This statement proves that TIME has bought the story by funding for the surgery to some extent.

Since US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed and many were made disabled by ‘accidental’ attacks. But these incidents have failed to catch the attention of the international news media.

On 19 September, the Washington Post reported that the US military was investigating a case where three civilians were killed for fun by a group of US soldiers. The newspaper also reported that the culprits even posed for pictures with the amputated body parts of the dead Afghans.

I want to question the western media as to why stories involving abusive acts of US military are not covered in the same manner as the story of Aisha? Like Afghanistan, the unlawful invasion by the US has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq. A report published by Iraq Body Count Project (IBC), an independent UK-US group reveals that nearly 1,989 civilians have been killed in Iraq only in 2010 by coalition military action, Iraqi insurgency and excess crimes.

According to IBC, 106,072 civilians have been killed since Iraq was invaded in 2003. This is also an under estimated figure as the information was based only on those reported by media organisations. IBC project’s director John Sloboda has said earlier “We’ve always said our work is an undercount, you can’t possibly expect that a media-based analysis will get all the death.”

As witnessed in other countries, the US Embassy is investing money on lots of projects in the Maldives under the banner of promoting democracy, human rights and free media. But the reality is that there is a hidden agenda behind these investments.

The purpose is to influence and control the country through modern methods of colonialism. My answer to the messy writer is, if you (US and other coalition forces) leave Afghanistan, tens of thousands of lives would be saved, so leave Afghanistan and other Muslim countries.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

Secret US military Afghanistan files released by Wikileaks

200,000 pages of secret US military files concerning the war in Afghanistan have been released by the whistleblowing site Wikileaks, and simultaneously published online by the UK Guardian, US New York Times and German Der Speigel.

The news organisations have been examining the documents for weeks, after receiving them from Wikileaks which is headed by Australian Julian Assange.

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A Taliban victory in Afghanistan: William Dalrymple

The respected historian of India, William Dalrymple, is predicting defeat for the US and its allies in Afghanistan, and victory for the Taliban.

“Certainly it is becoming clearer than ever that the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal’s surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai’s western-installed puppet government. The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital, much as the US-backed mujahedin once did to the Soviet-installed regime in the late 1980s… The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country, where they collect taxes, enforce the sharia and dispense their usual rough justice. Every month, their sphere of influence increases. According to a recent Pentagon report, Karzai’s government has control of only 29 out of 121 key strategic districts…

“It appears that the Taliban have regained control of the opium-growing centre of Marjah in Helmand Province, only three months after being driven out by McChrystal’s forces amid much gung-ho cheerleading in the US media. Afghanistan is going down… It is time to shed the idea that a pro-western puppet regime that excludes the Pashtuns can remain in place indefinitely. The Karzai government is crumbling before our eyes, and if we delude ourselves that this is not the case, we could yet face a replay of 1842.”

Read more


Resettling GITMO detainees will tarnish tourism industry: MATATO

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has warned the government that its plans to resettle Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the Maldives, and the recent Afghan peace talks that took place in the country, could “tarnish the prestigious name” Maldives has made for itself as a tourism destination.

“The association notes that the international media has been writing on the matter of bringing in the prisoners, who have been allegedly linked to severe inhumane crimes,” the association noted, adding that the BBC had described the government’s plan as “transforming a tourists’ paradise to a paradise for terrorists.”

Their concern was that tourist arrivals would decline due to the international perception of the country, creating a devastating domino effect in the country’s tourism industry.

Furthermore, they said “bringing Guantánamo Bay prisoners will badly affect the tourism industry and so this association calls on the government not to do anything that would pave the way for such a thing.”

MATATO board members have been planning a meeting on the issue this week, but it has been postponed twice due to several members being out of the country.

Secretary General of MATATO, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, said they did not have quorum to hold the meeting yesterday, but are trying to gather enough members to hold it as soon as possible.

He told Minivan News yesterday “we are meeting regarding the Afghan talks, which is quite a sensitive issue.”

Board and council member of MATATO, Sharif Ibrahim, said whether or not the recent events will have a negative impact on the tourism industry in Maldives “is all about how you see things.”

Referring to the Afghan peace talks, he said the international community “might see us as a loving, peaceful country. Somebody had to step in and help. Some people will see this as a good thing.”

As to the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, he said “it may have a negative effect,” but added everyone must keep a “broad mind” before jumping to conclusions.

“I haven’t seen any bad reactions yet,” he said, “I don’t think it will have a bad impact. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Although MATATO have voiced their concern, other associations are not so worried about the Maldives’ reputation, or its effect on the tourism industry.

Maldives Resort Workers posted an article on their blog titled ‘Gitmo resettlement will NOT damage Maldives’ reputation’.

In the article, they repeatedly argued that MATATO’s concerns of the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay detainees and the recent Afghan peace talks are exaggerated views, and are sure that neither issue will have a negative effect on the industry.

They gave several reasons back up their argument, saying that resorts in the Maldives are usually visited by “high spenders” who “generally have their heads with them. So they could not possibly be unaware of world politics or ramifications of it.”

They also argue that Guantánamo Bay detainee centre is “not a terrorist camp or training ground for terrorists,” and they support US President Obama’s bid to close it down. They also added that, “this time, the president [Mohamed Nasheed] is correct. Absolutely correct to ZERO decimals without error.”

The article further reads the opposition parties in the country are “taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses to gather support,” and they have applauded President Nasheed for refusing to answer journalists’ questions at a press conference last week.

“In this case,” it continued, “the opposition is using media to the hilt to discredit a rather commendable move by the president.”

They add that MATATO members are “just individuals who make a life selling package holidays to unwary tourists” and they are “the most worker unfriendly people who works [sic] in the tourism industry.”

The Maldives Association for Tourism Industry (MATI) did not wish to comment on the issue, because “we don’t want to lend anything to either side of the argument.”

The government has sustained any prisoners resettled in the Maldives would be first cleared of any criminal charges, and have repeatedly assured “they are not terrorists” and the transfer is “purely humanitarian.”

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ali Sawad, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Second round of Taliban peace talks to be held in the Maldives

The Maldives is hosting a second round of talks between Afghan lawmakers and “groups opposed to the Afghan government.”

Press Secretary at the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed the talks were taking place and said the Maldives government had “no involvement”.

“We cannot disclose the location of the talks, although we can confirm that they are not being held in Male’ or other population centres,” he said.

In late January Al Jazeera reported that a group of seven men allied with the Taliban had met in the Maldives on January 22 to discuss an ambitious plan to bring peace to the war-torn country by offering cash, jobs and incentives to Taliban fighters in exchange for laying down their arms. Taliban fighters are reportedly paid US$10 a day, a considerable sum in an embattled country with 40 percent unemployment.

One of the Taliban’s representatives told Al Jazeera the Maldives was chosen as a venue for the talks because “we feel safe.”

Photos of the meeting at Bandos Island Resort and Spa were later leaked to the press.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, Siyamak Herawi, later told news agency Reuters the visiting group included “Hekmatyar loyalists along with some former Taliban members who are now sitting in the parliament. It happened in January in the Maldives and they decided to hold more talks,” he said.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is an Afghan Mujahideen leader who was the country’s prime minister from 1993-1994, and is considered by the US to be one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency. He was a key figure in the insurgency against Soviet occupation, reportedly receiving millions in CIA funding, but is now labelled as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the US.

The last secret meeting in the Maldives coincided with the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Lancaster House in London on January 28, where discussions revolved around a national council for peace, reconciliation and reintegration to be set up by the Afghan government.

The programme was to channel development funds towards luring fighters away from the insurgency into alternative livelihoods, with US$140 million in international funding earmarked for the first year.

While many elements of the Maldivian government were oblivious to the first meeting, Zuhair said this time “Maldivian security and intelligence agencies have been fully informed of the talks.”

“All the representatives involved in the talks are holding valid passports and visas. None of the representatives involved are listed in UN or other international travel blacklists,” he said.

“Afghanistan’s stability affects the peace and security of our region. The Government of the Maldives supports efforts to bring a resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” Zuhair said.


President sends condolences to Afghani president

President Mohamed Nasheed sent his condolences to Afghan President Hamid Karzai following the crash of Pamir Airways on Monday.

The air craft crashed into the Hindu Kush mountain range north of Kabul, carrying 48 passengers.

The air plane and passengers are yet to been found.


Afghani President talks terrorism with Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed met with Afghani President Hamid Karzai yesterday at the Afghanistan House in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Village in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu.

At the meeting, President Nasheed said SAARC’s position on climate change should benefit all the countries in the region.

He noted the importance of a common SAARC position on climate change in the international arena, and highlighted the importance of promoting trade in the region through the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

President Karzai said Afghanistan was rich in water before, but due to climate change, the country was experiencing yearly droughts.

The presidents also discussed ways of handling terrorism and religious extremism in the region.

President Nasheed then met with Japanese Parliamentary Vice President and Minister for Foregin Affairs, Chinami Nishimura at the Maldives House in SAARC Village.

Nishimura spoke of the existing bilateral relations between the countries and ways to strengthen these ties. She congratulated President Nasheed on the democratic reform in the country, noting the process had accelerated under his leadership.

President Nasheed said Japanese assistance has been instrumental in helping the Maldives with its upcoming graduation from the list of the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC). He added the Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, was one of the few leaders who supported the Maldives during Copenhagen climate change summit.

President Nasheed sought Japanese assistance in developing the fisheries industry in the Maldives and to undertake a study for the reasons of decline in fishing.


Cabinet ratifies accession of Afghanistan to SAFTA

The Cabinet decided yesterday to ratify the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) protocol of accession of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).

The protocol was originally signed by all member states of SAARC in August 2008 in Colombo to enable the accession of Afghanistan to the SAFTA agreement.

Afghanistan joined the SAARC in April 2007, during the 14th SAARC summit held in New Dehli.

Cabinet members also discussed their December 2009 decision on the measures to be taken on islands leased for resort development, which are behind schedule. Members decided to defer the implementation of these measures until the passage of bills concerning the issue, which are currently being considered by the People’s Majlis.