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Iran and Pakistan sign gas export agreement

Iran and Pakistan formally signed yesterday an export deal which commits the Islamic republic to supplying its eastern neighbour with natural gas from 2014.

The contract is the latest step in completing a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan within the next four years.

“This is a happy day,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister Javad Ouji told reporters at the contract signing ceremony in Tehran. “After decades of negotiations, we are witnessing today the execution of the agreement… to export more than 21 million cubic metres of natural gas daily from 2014 to Pakistan,” he added.

He said that from today, Iran will start building the next 300-kilometre leg of the pipeline from the southeastern city of Iranshahr to the Pakistani border, through the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Iran has already constructed 907km of the pipeline between Asalooyeh, in southern Iran, and Iranshahr, which will carry natural gas from Iran’s giant South Pars field. Pakistan’s Deputy Energy Minister Kamran Lashari, who was present at the signing ceremony, said Islamabad will conduct a one-year feasibility study for building its section of the pipeline.

It will then “take three years for constructing the 700km pipeline” from the Iranian border to the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, he added. The pipeline was originally planned between Iran, Pakistan and India, but the latter pulled out of the project last year. Pakistan plans to use the gas for its power sector.

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India left out. Iran and Pakistan ink $7.5 billion Pipeline deal

India left out. Iran and Pakistan ink $7.5 billion Pipeline deal

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Iran on Friday signed a “sovereign guarantee” agreement paving the way for the completion of a 7.5-billion-dollar gas pipeline project within the next four years.

The 900-kilometre (560-mile) pipeline will be between Asalooyeh, in southern Iran, and Iranshahr, near the border with Pakistan, and will carry natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field.

Pakistan petroleum minister Syed Naveed Qamar told reporters after a signing ceremony in Islamabad that originally the pipeline was planned between Iran, Pakistan and India, but the latter withdrew from the project last year.
“I am extremely pleased that after 17 long years this project is finally starting. It would help us generate energy for our industrial growth,” Qamar said of the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) between the two countries.
Qamar added that “Iran had assured us that they would complete the project between two-and-half to three years, ahead of schedule.”

The imported natural gas — whose volume is estimated at nearly 20 percent of Pakistan?s current gas production — will be dedicated to the power sector.

Electricity generation through gas would result in “significant” annual savings when compared with other fuels, a petroleum ministry statement said.

Supply is contracted for a period of 25 years, the statement said, renewable for another five years.
“While all other CPs (Conditions Precedent) of the GSPA are completed, the project is now ready to enter into its implementation phase,” the ministry statement said.

“As per current project implementation schedule, the first gas flow is targeted by end 2014.
“The capital cost for the Pakistan section is estimated at 1.65 billion dollars.”

Drone Strikes Continue To Fuel Anti-US Sentiment In Pakistan

Drone Strikes Continue To Fuel Anti-US Sentiment In Pakistan

Jason Ditz

US Claims Massive ‘Militant’ Deaths and Almost No Civilian Casualties

The CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, something which has become an enormous issue over the past year and a half, have been an enormous source of controversy, both legal and practical.

The US, for its part, maintains that the drone strikes have caused no more than 30 civilian casualties, while killing over 500 militants. The claims seem common among US officials, in keeping with the narrative of precision drone strikes.

But they are tough to swallow for children killed and maimed in the almost constant bombardment. And for villagers the claims that friends and relatives are “suspected militants” are tough to reconcile with reality, as are the claims of US precision.

They also don’t jibe with figures from Pakistan’s own intelligence agencies, which estimate that the US actually killed 700 civilians in 2009 alone, while killing only a handful of confirmed militants. The number of civilians wounded in all these attacks is unknown, but significant.

It is unsurprising, then, that the strikes continue to inflame anti-US sentiment across Pakistan, and US claims that the victims are almost universally “militants” is likely only making matters worse, in the face of enormous evidence to the contrary.

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U.S. Forces Leave Afghan ‘Valley of Death’

April 15, 2010 Leave a comment

U.S. Forces Leave Afghan ‘Valley of Death’

KORENGAL OUTPOST, Afghanistan—For five years, U.S. troops fought their way up and down the cedar-studded slopes of the Korengal Valley. The ferocity of the fighting inspired a video-game scenario, thrust the remote valley into the media glare, and famously forced a U.S. soldier to fight in his underwear. In all, 42 U.S. troops have been killed here.

On Wednesday, the fight for Korengal officially ended when the final U.S. soldiers were airlifted from a ridge above this collection of stone buildings, sandbagged bunkers and jury-rigged plumbing built on the grounds of a former lumber mill. The Americans pulled out because they determined that instead of bringing a measure of stability to Korengal, they had largely proven “an irritant to the people,” said the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

“We’re not living in their homes, but we’re living in their valley,” Gen. McChrystal said on a visit to Korengal last week as the withdrawal was getting under way. “There was probably much more fighting here than there would have been” if U.S. troops had never come.

U.S. soldiers responded to Taliban fire outside their bunker in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, May 11, 2009. This photo, made available by World Press Photo in Amsterdam, won second prize in the People in the News Singles category of the 2010 World Press Photo contest by American photographer David Guttenfelder for the Associated Press.

Asked about moving out of the valley after losing so many men here, Gen. McChrystal said: “I care deeply about everyone who’s been hurt here. But I can’t do anything about that. I can do something about people hurt in the future.”

American officials say the exit from Korengal represents neither a victory nor a loss—just changing priorities. The focus since President Barack Obama’s Afghan strategy review has switched to seizing key population centers back from the Taliban and restoring the Afghan government’s battered authority and credibility. That thinking underpinned the coalition offensive in the southern town of Marjah in February and the plans now being drawn up for a massive surge of forces into Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland.

The flipside of the counterinsurgency strategy is the withdrawal of troops from sparsely populated areas where an American presence is deemed unnecessary to defeat the Taliban and potentially harmful in creating a violent environment. Many of the soldiers are in the remote valleys of eastern Afghanistan, forested slivers where outsiders—even those from elsewhere in Afghanistan—have never been welcome and the government’s writ never really existed.

“If you don’t understand the dynamics, you have no chance of getting it right,” Gen. McChrystal said.

U.S. forces have already pulled out of much of Nuristan province to the north, where last year eight American soldiers were killed when two of their bases were stormed by insurgents. More withdrawals are planned. Reporters were allowed to visit soldiers in Korengal on the condition they didn’t report on the withdrawal until the military said the valley was clear.

Regional Violence

“We’ve got to come out of these valleys,” said Lt. Col. Brian Pearl, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. “This is going to free up a full company”—roughly 120 men—”and that’s going to give us a lot more flexibility to focus on places where there are more people.”

Korengal, with its 4,500 people who speak their own dialect of Pashto and practice a particularly ascetic form of Islam, definitely didn’t fit into the new counterinsurgency plan. Even when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they never established their authority over the valley.

Its topography—a six-mile long, two-mile wide gorge lined by steep, forested slopes with rocky outcroppings—and a toxic mix of angry locals, Taliban, and foreign insurgents coming over the border from Pakistan prompted Time magazine to call it the “Valley of Death.” Vanity Fair dedicated nearly 14,000 words spread over two stories to Korengal, noting in a January 2008 story that nearly a fifth of all combat in Afghanistan at the time took place in the valley.

The valley also produced one of the most iconic images of the war: a May 2009 Associated Press photograph of a U.S. soldier fighting off an attack on his base clad in flip flops, a red T-shirt and pink boxer shorts emblazoned with little “I love NY” logos.

One of the observation posts in the valley, Firebase Phoenix, later renamed Firebase Vimoto, was even featured in a scenario in the best-selling video game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”

“I’ve never had to tell war stories because everyone’s heard of this place,” said Pfc. Chris Huggins, 22 years old, of Baker Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The Gloucester, Virginia-native spent his last few weeks in the valley at Vimoto, a tiny collection of stone buildings crowned by a wooden, sandbagged observation post. The base comes under fire almost daily.

Still, “I was always telling people back home it wasn’t as bad as they thought here,” Pfc. Huggins said.

It wasn’t good, either. One of the Americans’ first forays into the valley was an effort by U.S. Navy Seals to capture a local Taliban leader in July 2005. The initial four-man team that dropped into the valley was quickly attacked, and then a Chinook helicopter packed with men sent to save them was shot down by Taliban forces. In total, 19 U.S. service members were killed.

Nearly a year later, in April 2006, U.S. forces moved back in to stay. They set up the Korengal Outpost in the valley’s north end on the site of the defunct saw mill, whose owner, Haji Matin, is now one of the valley’s main insurgent leaders. Over the next two years, U.S. forces established two more large observation posts and two small fire bases in Korengal.

But they never made it to the southern, Taliban-infested end of the valley, and fighting was a daily occurrence. By last year, officers as high ranking as Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were questioning why the U.S. was tying down a whole company here.

The valley never became one of those places in Afghanistan where the coalition could measure progress in schools and clinics and irrigation projects built. Whatever they built, the Taliban destroyed. There is no local Afghan government here to work with.

“Everybody hates them in the valley,” Haji Nizamuddin, a tribal elder in Korengal, said of the Americans. U.S. forces “shoot at people, they raid our houses and kill our women and children.” Mr. Nizamuddin stressed that he wasn’t pro-Taliban. He, like many people in the valley, simply wanted to be left alone, he said.

“If the foreigners leave the Taliban will stop harassing my people,” he said during a telephone interview from the provincial capital, Asad Abad. “We have our tribes and our tribes can protect us against the insurgents when the Americans leave.”

The U.S. withdrawal involved 84 runs by helicopters down the twisting, narrow gorges that lead into the valley and back out. It was kept secret to avoid tipping off the Taliban; commanders feared that if the insurgents found out the timing of the withdrawal, they would try to mass fighters and launch one last coordinated attack on the exposed and retreating soldiers.

Instead, the Taliban appeared to have missed its chance to do a final “complex” operation, Baker Company’s commander, Capt. Mark Moretti, told Gen. McChrystal during a briefing last week at the Korengal Outpost. Communications intercepts by U.S. intelligence showed the Taliban’s chief figure in the valley, Abdul Rahim, was recently across the border in Pakistan with $18,000 and trying to raise a force of 200 fighters even as the Americans pulled out.

No officer here, including Gen. McChrystal, believes Korengal will become a haven from which Taliban fighters can launch attacks beyond the valley. There remains a coalition base at the valley’s northern end to keep fighters from coming into the more populous Pech River Valley, which runs perpendicular to Korengal. And teams of soldiers can always be airdropped back into Korengal on specific missions, officers said.

Militants Attacks Indian Camp In Afghanistan

April 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Militants Attacks Indian Camp In Afghanistan

KABUL: Militants launched a pre-dawn attack on an Indian road construction camp in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, burning vehicles and equipment and sending the crew fleeing, authorities said.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the attack in Khost province’s Domanda district, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Suspected Taliban, who are active in the mountainous eastern region bordering Pakistan, descended on the camp around 2 a.m.

Such raids seek to discourage foreign involvement in Afghanistan and destabilize the central government, which is struggling to bring development to the impoverished countryside and extend its mandate outside the capital, Kabul.

It wasn’t clear whether the camp was targeted due to Indian involvement, although militants have launched a number of bloody attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan over recent years.

In July 2008, 58 people were killed in a suicide car bombing on the Indian embassy in Kabul, while at least six Indians were killed in an attack on a Kabul guesthouse in February. Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for the attacks, although New Delhi has claimed arch-rival Pakistan may have provided support in the embassy attack.

Elsewhere, two members of a nomadic tribe were killed by a roadside bomb Friday in the southern province of Kandahar, the ministry said. No details were given.

Following a rancorous week, US and Afghan officials have recommitted to their relationship, with President Barack Obama saying in an interview published Friday that Karzai remains “a critical partner” in the fight against terrorism.

That followed Karzai’s recent stern assertions of Afghan sovereignty and accusations that the United Nations and the international community interfered in last year’s fraud-tarnished presidential election in Afghanistan.

The White House called the comments disturbing and had suggested it might cancel Karzai’s planned visit to the White House in May if they continued. However, National Security Adviser James Jones told reporters Friday that the sides had ”gotten through this period.”

Jones said that Obama wrote and had delivered a thank-you note to Karzai for hosting him on short notice during the US president’s trip to Afghanistan on March 28. The note did not mention the recent controversies.

Also Saturday, Nato said it still had no information on what caused the crash of a U.S. Air Force Osprey in which three service members and a civilian contractor were killed. It was the first crash of the costly tilt-rotor aircraft in a combat zone, the US military said.

Numerous other service members were reported injured when the aircraft went down late Thursday seven miles (11 kilometers) from Qalat, the capital of Zabul province about 200 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

A Taliban spokesman said militants shot down the aircraft, but the insurgents often make exaggerated claims. – AP

Pakistan gas pipeline is Iran’s lifeline

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

http://pakistan.foreignpolicyblogs.com/files/2009/09/iran-pakistan-india-natural-gas-pipeline.gif

TEHRAN, March 19 (UPI) — As Iran braces for another broadside of economic sanctions over its nuclear program, Tehran moves closer to opening up a new lifeline — a natural gaspipeline to Pakistan and possibly India and China as well.

If everything goes as planned, this much-delayed, controversial project could wreck U.S. efforts to check Iran’s expansionist ambitions.

U.S. energy analyst Gal Luft said the pipeline could also “have profound implications for the geopolitics of energy in the 21st century and for the future of South Asia.”

Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement for the construction of the 560-mile, $7.5 billion pipeline from the huge offshore South Pars gas field in the Gulf through Pakistan’s unruly Balochistan province to Sindh province.

The project is crucial for Pakistan’s growing energy requirements. Iran will supply 750 million-1 billion cubic feet of gas per day by mid-2015.

The project was first mooted in 1994. It was intended to carry gas through Pakistan to India in a 1,724-mile pipeline. But India, under intense pressure from the United States, withdrew in 2009, citing disputes over prices and transit fees. There was also deep misgivings in New Delhi about dealing with its longtime foe Pakistan.

India has invested instead in nuclear power to meet its ever-rising demand for energy in its burgeoning economy. It signed a landmark deal with the United States in 2008 for nuclear equipment.

There has been no official explanation about why the Americans would allow Pakistan to go ahead and sign a pipeline agreement with Iran at a time when Washington is striving to isolate the Islamic Republic and paralyze its economy.

But the Americans cannot afford to antagonize Pakistan at a time when Washington needs Islamabad’s support to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban. Pakistan is already suffering serious energy shortages with an electricity shortfall of 3,000 megawatts. These cause politically troublesome long and frequent blackouts.

The United States had been pressing for a pipeline to South Asia from gas-rich Turkmenistan in Central Asia via Afghanistan that would bypass Iran. But the security situation in Afghanistan made such a project unlikely.

India hasn’t closed all doors to the project and may still rejoin. It is expected to require 146 billion cubic meters of gas per year by 2025 and its options are limited.

China, ever hungry for energy to fuel its mushrooming economy, has indicated that it might sign on and run an extension of the pipeline from Pakistan.

It may provide financial assistance to Islamabad for the project, which would provide an overland energy corridor less vulnerable to interference by the United States — or others — than the long tanker route from the Gulf across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.

China is the main obstacle preventing the United States mustering the U.N. Security Council behind new sanctions on Iran. Sanctions would cut 10-12 percent of China’s oil imports and jeopardize oil contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Iran desperately needs this project. Its potential in the energy sector is enormous. It has the second largest gas reserves in the world after Russia, roughly 15 percent of the world’s gas supply.

But U.S.-led sanctions have prevented it from exploiting this through high-volume exports. The pipeline to Pakistan, and possibly the massive markets in India and China as well, could change all that and immunize Tehran from U.S. pressure.

The geopolitical implications of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline going through are immense. If the Americans relent, they may secure concessions from Iran and would certainly win influence in Pakistan by helping it out of a worsening energy crisis.

“By connecting itself with the world’s second largest gas reserves, Pakistan would guarantee reliable supply for decades to come,” says Luft, director of Washington’s Institute for Analysis of Global Security, which focuses on energy security.

“If the pipeline were to be extended to India it could also be an instrument of stability in often tense Pakistan-India relations as well as a source of revenue for Islamabad through transit fees.” One estimate puts that at around $600 million a year.

But, Luft concludes, “Should the worst happen and a Taliban-style regime takes over in Pakistan, the economies of the world’s most radical Shiite state and that of what could be the world’s most radical Sunni state would be connected to each other for decades to come, like conjoined twins.”

And there’s one other thing. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and, under that scenario, Iran would, too.

Afghanistan Not Safe For Indians

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment