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Showing posts from February, 2017

Asian ports: Pitfalls of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative

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Source: Daily Mail
By James M. Dorsey
Troubled ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, envisioned as part of China’s string of pearls linking the Eurasian heartland to the Middle Kingdom, exemplify political pitfalls that threaten Beijing’s ambitious One Belt, One Road project.
Political violence over the past decade has stopped Pakistan’s Gwadar port from emerging as a major trans-shipment hub in Chinese trade and energy supplies while turmoil in Sri Lanka threatens to dissuade Chinese investors from sinking billions into the country’s struggling Hambantota port and planned economic hub.
The problems of the two ports serve as pointers to simmering discontent and potential resistance to China’s ploy for dominance through cross-continental infrastructure linkage across a swath of land that is restive and ripe for political change.
Chinese, Pakistani and Russian officials warned in December that militant groups in Afghanistan, including the Islamic State (IS) had stepped up operations in Afgha…

Whither the Muslim World’s NATO?

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Source: Dawn By James M. Dorsey
Controversy and uncertainty over the possible appointment of a Pakistani general as commander of a 40-nation, Saudi-led, anti-Iranian military alliance dubbed the Muslim world’s NATO goes to the core of a struggle for Pakistan’s soul as the country reels from a week of stepped up political violence.
It also constitutes a defining moment in Saudi relations with Pakistan, historically one of the Gulf state’s staunchest allies and a country where the kingdom is as much part of the problem as it is part of the solution. Finally, whether the general accepts the post or not is likely to be a bellwether of the Muslim world’s ability to free itself of the devastating impact of Saudi-like Sunni ultra-conservatism and bridge rather than exasperate sectarian divides.
Retired Pakistani military chief of staff General Raheel Sharif’s acceptance of the command of the alliance, the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, would kill several birds with one stone.…

Bowing to pressure: Iran grants women spectators access to sporting event

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By James M. Dorsey
Iran, bowing to external pressure, has allowed women spectators to attend a premier international men’s volleyball tournament on the island of Kish. The Iranian concession constitutes a rare occasion on which the Islamic republic has not backtracked on promises to international sports associations to lift its ban on women attending men’s sporting events. Human rights groups hailed the move as a positive, albeit small step forward.
The Iranian concession appeared to contradict Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s hard line towards international pressure in the wake of renewed sanctions imposed by US President Donald J. Trump. “Everybody has tested Iran over the past 38 years and they all know that Iran is hardly moved by threats. We do not respond very well to threats. We respond very well to respect and mutual respect and mutual interest,” Mr. Zarif told CNN’s Christian Amanpour this weekend on the side lines of the Munich Security Conference.
In contras…

Challenging the state- Pakistani militants form deadly alliance

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By James M. Dorsey and Azaz Syed
This week’s suicide bombing of a popular Sufi shrine is the latest operation of a recently formed alliance of militant jihadist and sectarian groups that includes the Islamic State (IS) and organizations associated with the Pakistani Taliban, according to Pakistani counterterrorism officials.
The bombing of the shrine of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the southern Pakistani town of Sehwan in Sindh province by a female suicide bomber that killed 83 people, including 20 children, was the alliance’s 9th attack this week. The grouping earlier this week targeted the Punjabi parliament, military outposts, a Samaa TV crew, and a provincial police station.
The alliance represents a joining of forces by Pakistani and Afghan jihadists and groups who trace their origins to sectarian organizations that have deep social roots. The alliance’s declared aim is to challenge the state at a time that Pakistan is under external pressure to clean-up its counterterrori…

Militants put half-hearted Pakistani counter-terrorism at crossroads

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Source: The News
By James M. Dorsey
A militant faction associated with the Pakistani Taliban has put Pakistani authorities, already under pressure from the United States and an Asian money laundering watchdog, at a crossroads in their hitherto half-hearted efforts to crack down on violent groups, some of which maintain close ties to Pakistani intelligence and the military.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar earlier this week fired its first shots in a new offensive that aims at Pakistan government, military and civilian targets with a suicide attack on the Punjabi parliament. Fifteen people were killed in the attack. The group also attacked three military outposts in the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand.
The offensive dubbed Operation Ghazi came as Pakistan sought to fend off potential steps against Pakistan, including inclusion on a possible revision of President Donald J. Trump’s embattled list of countries whose nationals are temporarily banned from travel to the United States, and punitive steps b…

Women’s gyms lay bare limits of Saudi reforms

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By James M. Dorsey

A Saudi decision to license within weeks the kingdom’s first women-only gyms constitutes progress in a country in which women’s rights are severely curtailed. It also lays bare the limitations of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan for social and economic reforms that would rationalize and diversify the kingdom’s economy.
Restrictions on what activities the gyms will be allowed to offer reflects the power of an ultra-conservative religious establishment and segment of society critical of the long overdue reforms that became inevitable as a result of sharply reduced oil revenues and the need to enhance Saudi competitivity in a 21st knowledge-driven global economy.
At least two years in the making, the licensing rules announced by Princess Reema bin Bandar, vice president for women’s affairs of the General Authority of Sports, the kingdom’s sports czar, focus on Prince Mohammed’s plans laid out in a document entitled Vision 2030. The plans involve streaml…

EXCLUSIVE - Going into politics: Detained Pakistani militant tests the system

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By Azaz Syed and James M. Dorsey
Muhammad Hafez Saeed, the recently detained UN and US-designated global terrorist and one of the world’s most wanted men, plans to register his group, Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD), widely seen as a front for another proscribed organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), as a political party in Pakistan, according to sources close to the militant.
The move comes days after Mr. Saeed and several other JuD leaders were put under house arrest in a bid to fend off potential steps against Pakistan, including inclusion on President Donald J. Trump’s list of countries whose nationals are temporarily banned from travel to the United States, and punitive steps by an Asian money laundering watchdog.
In a further effort to fend off pressure, Pakistan’s State Bank, the country’s monetary authority said it had installed a long overdue automated system to detect money laundering and terrorism financing.  The announcement followed last year’s freezing by the bank of the accounts o…

Trump pressured to confront Pakistan on support for militants

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Source: The Express Tribune By James M. Dorsey
Pressure on the Trump administration is mounting to adopt a tougher position towards Pakistani support of militants in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan itself. The pressure comes from a chorus of voices that include the US military, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and influential Washington-based think tanks.
The calls for a harder line were issued despite a Pakistani crackdown on militants in recent months that many see as half-hearted. It also comes days after China, at Pakistan’s behest, blocked the United Nations Security Council from listing a prominent Pakistani militant as a globally designated terrorist.
Pakistani officials hope that some of Mr. Trump’s key aides such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security advisor Michael Flynn, both of whom have had long standing dealings with Pakistan during their military careers, may act as buffers. They argue that the two men appreciate Pakistan’s problems an…

Protecting Militants: China blocks UN listing of Pakistani as a globally designated terrorist

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By James M. Dorsey
China, at the behest of Pakistan, has prevented the United Nations from listing a prominent Pakistani militant as a globally designated terrorist. China’s protection of Masood Azhar, who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence and the military, raises questions about the sincerity of a Pakistani crackdown on militants as well as China’s willingness to use its influence to persuade Pakistan to put an end to the use of militants as proxies.
The United States, Britain, France and India have long wanted the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee to designate Mr. Azhar on the grounds that his organization, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), has already been proscribed by Pakistan as well as the international body.
Mr. Azhar, a fighter in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who graduated from a Deobandi madrassah, Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town in Karachi, the alma mater of numerous Pakistani militants, is believed to have been…