Further reports from US officials and Afghan militants have claimed that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, has been actively encouraging Taliban field commanders to fight the US and its allies in Afghanistan. Prominent newspaper editorials have highlighted, and added to, the strain between the US and Pakistan, which has been deteriorating for some time.
The US has pledged billions of dollars worth of military support and development aid in return for Pakistan’s cooperation, while encouraging Taliban commanders to lay down their arms in return for jobs and cash. Yet it seems only a few have found such offers enticing, while there are accusations the ISI is only interested in pursuing commanders who fail to carry out its orders.
Such suggestions met with short shrift in Islamabad, with one senior official quoted as saying: "Whenever anything goes wrong in Afghanistan, ISI is to be blamed. Honestly, they see ISI agents behind every bush in Afghanistan." A Taliban commander in the Afghan province of Kunar, meanwhile, has confirmed a connection between his organisation and the ISI exists, but that relations between the two have soured over the issue of who to fight and why. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the commander pledged to continue to fight foreign troops in the region. However, the ISI, he said, “wants us to kill everyone—policemen, soldiers, engineers, teachers, civilians—just to intimidate people.” When he refused, he said, the ISI had tried to arrest him.
The US, meanwhile, has also turned its political attentions to working with militant groups directly. Officials from the state department have been cooperating closely with members of Hamid Karzai’s government in indirect talks with the Haqqani and Quetta Shura networks, which have close links to al-Qaida. The latter group is headed by the powerful Taliban leader Mullah Omar, though both he and the Quetta Shura are believed to have lost influence to the Haqqani clan recently. Although still only very tentative, these discussions, say Arab and Pakistani sources, can be seen as a sign such groups may be interested in reaching some form of conciliatory agreement in the future. On 10 October it was also announced that Burhanuddin Rabban, Afghanistan's former president, is to lead a council tasked with starting peace talks with Taliban-led insurgents.
Helmand weapons haul offers clearer picture
Have you ever wondered what an insurgent’s gun locker looks like? The New York Times has for some while been looking at what weapons the Taliban and associated groups have at their disposal, how they equip themselves, and what each might tell us about their ability to function as a fighting force. The area of Marja, in Helmand Province, has seen some of the most sustained fighting this year. Earlier this summer, local law enforces working with US Marines captured 26 firearms – of which twelve were variants of the Kalashnikov, eight were fifty-year-old bolt-action assault rifles, four were variants of the PK machine gun, and two were semi-automatic pistols. An RPG-7 rocket launcher was also taken.
According to the New York Times, the weapons collected – and in particular the presence of a growing number of ancient bolt-action rifles in the regions – fit a broader pattern which suggests arms supply issues may well be starting to affect militant groups’ attack capabilities – though at the same time, the report stresses that an apparent decline in the prevalence of assault rifles should not be taken to indicate a dramatic drop in the availability of all types weapons across Helmand.
The report’s author also draws attention to the repairs carried out on a number of the captured weapons – repairs that, while certainly hindering their overall accuracy, render them usable nevertheless. A testament to their owners resourcefulness or, again, to increasingly limited supplies? The answer, it is suggested, probably lies somewhere between the two. In contradistinction to the bolt-action rifles – most of which are either Lee-Enfields (the oldest of which is dated 1915) or Mosin-Nagants – the AK-47s are (as one would expect), leftovers not from the first or second world wars, but from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and can even be traced back to the Kalashnikov’s main production plant at Izhevsk.
Munitions-wise, wartime standardisation between former allies in the region has proved beneficial for today’s insurgents: of all 24 rifles and machine guns captured in Marja, only three types of cartridges are required, though these, too, are often fairly ancient; the oldest – the 7.62x54-mm round fired by the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle was first issues in the 1890s. Old they may be, but together they have helped some of the poorest and least well-equipped forces in the world stand up to one of the biggest, best funded and most technologically sophisticated armies ever seen
Attacks and demonstrations leave Thailand braced for trouble
Red Shirt demonstrators in Thailand have called for the release of almost 300 protesters arrested and detained under emergency laws enacted following last Spring's wave of clashes between protesters and troops on the outskirts of Bangkok. Twenty-six people were killed and over 800 were injured when fighting broke out last March. In total, 92 people were killed and between 1,400 and 1,900 left injured before the 67-day long rally ended in May.
On Sunday, approximately 5,000 people attended a memorial service held at the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. Those arrested have been charged with breaching the emergency decrees and with various terrorism-related activities, local press reported. Speaking to the Bangkok Post, Chaiwat Trakarnratsanti, coordinator of the Progressive Democracy Group (PDG), which organised the 10 October rally, said none of those arrested were terrorists and should be released.
There are reports that in recent weeks state agencies have also closed red shirt websites for alleged violations of the Computer Crime Act. Prior to the gathering Metropolitan and Special Police Bureau officers set up checkpoints to inspect all participating vehicles and pedestrians, citing the discovery that over 70 rocket propelled grenades and other military weaponry had been stolen from an army base in the central province of Lop Buri earlier this month.
Speaking ahead of the memorial service, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who along with the army has been subject to severe criticism over the disappearance, said “There are some groups of people who want to see disorder and violence in the country. They appear whenever a mass rally is held while some (movements) appear to be related to politics.”
Thailand’s new army chief, General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who is thought to have overseen large parts of the military assault on the Red Shirts encampment in the centre of Bangkok last May, is believed to be a vociferous opponent of the movement, raising fears of further violence between protesters and government forces. However, last week he moved to diffuse the situation: “I have never said I hate Red Shirts,” he said. “Thais have one colour”. “We are not involved in politics,” he went on, before adding: “There is already a lot to do.”
At the beginning of October Thailand’s National Police Commissioner, General Wichean Potephosree, also revealed that he has found what he believes to be crucial DNA evidence linking several Thai politicians with the recent series of explosions in Bangkok and at a factory in Chon-Buri province believed to have been caused by weapons matching those missing from Lop Buri. Despite the urging of opposition MPs, however, General Potephosree declined to name any of those suspected of involvement in the attacks.
Mob attacks first Serbian gay pride march in nine years
Serbian police fought running battles through the streets of Belgrade at the weekend, as anti-gay protesters attempted to disrupt the city’s first gay pride march since a 2001 event was broken up by far-right extremists. The headquarters of President Boris Tadic’s ruling Democratic Party was set on fire briefly, as were those of Serbian national television. Shops, buses, trams and a mobile mammography unit were also attacked by hundreds of hooligans chanting “Death to homosexuals!” and “Go to Kosovo!”. Petrol bombs and stones were thrown at armed police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. At least one shot is believed to have been fired, with officials estimating the damage the city as running into millions of dollars. According to the BBC, more than 100 people – mostly police – were injured, and another 100 arrested. The march began at Menjez Park in the heart of the city, though from the outset it was surrounded by riot police and armoured vehicles in anticipation of violent opposition.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said around 6,000 rioters had taken part in the violence, 250 of whom had already been detained, while Justice Ministry official Slobodan Homes stated that a further 102 people had been placed under judicial investigation. "The arrests will continue during the night and in the coming days," he added, before suggesting that the suspects, if tried could face up to eight years in prison. Democratic Party spokesperson Jelana Trivan denied the violence had anything to do with moral values. "These are hooligan gangs which must be punished severely," Ms Trivan said. However, it a claim many will find hard to believe, the mayor of Belgrade, Dragan Djilas, appeared to imply that the attack was not motivated by homophobia, but that the that the rioters had merely used Gay Pride as an excuse for a brawl. "What's going on now has nothing to do with the Pride parade,” he said. “Unfortunately there are always people who will use every opportunity to destroy their own city. Fortunately no lives were lost - this is the most important thing."
Only the day before, several thousand people turned out onto the streets of the Serbian capital to protest against the march taking place. Despite urging protestors not to resort to violence beforehand, and having voiced its disquiet after the event, the Serbian Orthodox Church nevertheless condemned the parade publicly, echoing claims last year that the event should be seen as a “parade of shame”. The riots were the first such violence in the capital since July 2008 when former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade.