News from Europe, Pakistan and Russia

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on October 9, 2012

EUROPE – Al-Qaeda blamed for Europe-wide forest fires

Al-Qaeda has been blamed for a recent series of forest fires across Europe, as the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service claimed they were set by arsonists as part of the group’s low-cost attack strategy.

“One should note that setting fires to forests in the countries of the European Union is a new tendency in al-Qaeda’s strategy of a ‘thousand cuts’,” Alexander Bortnikov said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti, at a meeting of heads of security agencies.

“This method allows (al-Qaeda) to inflict significant economic and moral damage without serious preliminary preparations, technical equipment or significant expenses.”

In linking al-Qaeda to the deadly wildfires, Mr Bortnikov pointed to calls to launch a “forest jihad” by various extremist websites which he said also publish detailed instructions about how and where to best carry out arson.

He said it was very difficult for special services to find and prosecute such arsonists.

Deadly fires have swept through forest land in EU countries such as Portugal and Spain over the past few months, killing scores of people and forcing thousands to evacuate.

In its continuing campaign against the West, al-Qaeda has vowed to “bleed the enemy to death” by resorting to inexpensive, low-scale attacks it refers to as a “strategy of a thousand cuts.”

PAKISTAN – Imran Khan: I will order air force to shoot down drones

Imran Khan [who would like to be elected the next prime minister of Pakistan] has promised to order the Pakistan Air Force to shoot down American drones if he takes power in a general election due in the first half of next year.

The former cricket captain is to lead peace activists into the country’s lawless tribal belt [South Waziristan] on Saturday to publicize the human toll of the CIA’s covert program of missile strikes.

He has emerged as a serious contender for power after a decade and a half in the political wilderness since retiring from cricket and is now one of the country’s most outspoken critics of America’s use of unmanned aircraft.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, he said the attacks were pushing young men in the arms of Taliban recruiters. …

Khan accused the government of Pakistan of condemning the attacks in public, while privately giving American commanders the go-ahead to launch strikes in the country’s tribal belt.

“This government is completely complicit in it,” he said.

Instead, his government would urge the U.S. to end the strikes, he said. Failing that he would order the Pakistan Air Force to intervene “because it violates our sovereignty”.

He made a similar claim earlier this week during an appearance on a local television talk show.

“At first I will strive to convince the U.S. to stop these attacks but if they refuse to do so I will ask our air force to shoot down drone intruders,” he said. …

RUSSIA – Russia planning celebrations for Vladimir Putin’s 60th birthday

Russia is planning concerts, a poetry reading, a giant greetings card and a 140-metre long banner across the river Don to mark Vladimir Putin’s 60th birthday.

The Russian president was to be feted* across the country on Sunday (10/7) as he reached his 60th birthday after a turbulent year. [*fete: to show appreciation, respect, or affection for (someone) with a public celebration]

Mr. Putin returned for his third stint in the Kremlin in May after serving four years as prime minister. That followed several months of street demonstrations over allegedly rigged elections and his authoritarian style of government.

[Government controlled] state television is expected to mark Putin’s birthday with a fawning documentary about the president, who has been at the helm of the country since December 31st 1999.

Celebrations will be held across all nine time zones. Residents of Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, have organized an oversized birthday card on which well-wishers can write a message. In Rostov on Don, pro-Kremlin youth activists will stretch a huge banner along the Voroshilov Bridge – which is said to join Europe and Asia – “so that the president’s birthday congratulation connects two sections of the planet.”

There were signs on Friday that the authorities have tried to dampen embarrassingly sycophantic festivities. Putin fans who formed a “National 60 Committee” in St Petersburg had planned a march around hallowed places of the president’s early life and political career, including a sports hall where he practiced judo. Organizers said they had replaced the march with a concert.

An artist in the city is presenting an exhibition named “The President: A Kind-hearted Soul”. One picture features the leader kissing his Bulgarian sheepdog, Buffy.

Mr. Putin’s opponents will not be letting the day go unmarked. They plan a gathering in front of the presidential administration in Moscow called “See Grandpa Off On His Pension.”  The organizers suggested bringing retirement gifts for the long-serving leader such as “a radio, a garden hose for watering the vegetable patch, [etc.].”

Mr. Putin’s spokesman said he would be spending the day with his family.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Oct. 3 and Oct. 5.)

Questions

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1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For EUROPE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What type of damage has al-Qaeda’s arson caused?
c) What options do European authorities have to end this new type of terrorism? (hunt all al-Qaeda members down and destroy them; negotiate or use diplomatic talks with the al-Qaeda leaders to convince them to stop; deport all suspected terrorists and close the borders of Europe; there is nothing leaders can do; hire more firefighters; pray for rain; another answer)  Explain your answer.

3. For PAKISTAN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Read the “Background” on Pakistan posted below the questions. Pakistan’s government will not and/or can not stop terrorists from operating out of Pakistan.  Do you think Khan’s public move to win votes will win him the election in Pakistan?
c) Should the U.S. end the drone program targeting terrorists in Pakistan?  Explain your answer.

4. For RUSSIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What were some of the activities planned for President Putin’s birthday?


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Background

PAKISTAN:

U.S. DRONE STRIKES IN PAKISTAN:

  • In September 2008, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. lawmakers that the Afghanistan mission would place a greater focus on eliminating terrorist safe havens inside Pakistan.
  • The U.S. began missile strikes from unmanned drones aimed at depriving Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists of shelter on Pakistani soil. Top terrorist leaders are suspected to be hiding out in the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan.
  • Pakistan’s remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the tribal lands) have been a training ground for terrorists, particularly since the 9/11 attacks.
  • “The [tribal area] has become a melting pot for jihadis from all over the world,” Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid said in 2008, adding that the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Chechens, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are among the militants who train and take refuge in the tribal region. Furthermore, since the beginning of the Afghanistan war, members of the Taliban have advanced into leadership roles in some parts of the tribal lands, particularly the agencies of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. The Pakistani government appears to take a harder stand on al-Qaeda to please the United States and a more permissive posture with the Taliban, who in turn work with other militant groups. (from cfr.org)

IMRAN KHAN:

  • [Last weekend Khan] lead peace activists on 300-mile, two-day rally to South Waziristan, scene of dozens of drone strikes, to draw world attention to the plight of civilian populations living in fear of the drones buzzing overhead.
  • The controversial CIA program began in 2004 and has accelerated under Barack Obama.
  • Critics have called for him to halt “signature strikes” against individuals that have not been identified and accuse his administration of drastically underestimating the number of civilians killed.
  • Data collected by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggest that between 474 and 881 civilians have died in strikes. (from the article above)

Pakistan’s remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (the tribal lands) have been a training ground for insurgents and a focal point for terrorism fears, particularly since the 9/11 attacks.

The semi-autonomous tribal lands consist of seven parts called “agencies” … There are also six smaller zones known as Frontier Regions in the transitional area between the tribal lands and the North-West Frontier Province to the east. The harsh, mountainous territory of the tribal lands runs along the Afghanistan border, drawn during colonial times by British Diplomat Sir Henry Mortimer Durand as a means to divide and weaken the eleven major Pashtun tribes and turn Afghanistan into a buffer zone between the British and Russian empires. (from GlobalSecurity.org)

In May 2011, al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed by a U.S. raid at a compound not far from Islamabad, raising new questions about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism. Meanwhile, leadership elements of al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, along with other terrorist groups, have made Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas their home, and now work closely with a wide variety of Pakistani militant groups, like the Haqqani Network, which in September 2012 was added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Links between many of these new and existing groups have strengthened, say experts, giving rise to fresh concerns for the country’s stability. (from cfr.org)

  • RUSSIA:

    Vladimir Putin:

    • Vladimir Putin (born in 1952) was the second president of Russia.
    • Putin was an officer in the KGB (Russian secret police) from 1975-1992.
    • Putin became acting president on December 31, 1999, when President Boris Yeltsin resigned.
    • Putin won the 2000 presidential election and in 2004 he was re-elected for a second term lasting until May 7, 2008.
    • Due to constitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term.
    • After the victory of his [hand-picked] successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in the 2008 presidential elections, he was nominated by the latter to be Russia’s Prime Minister; Putin took the post on May 8, 2008. (from wikipedia)
    • Prime Minister Putin accepted his party’s nomination to run for president in the March 2012 elections, while the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, agreed to be the party’s top parliamentary candidate [candidate for Prime Minister].
    • Mr. Medvedev took over as prime minister after the presidential election in March 2012, in what is effectively a job swap with Mr Putin. (from bbc.co.uk)