US defense secretary visits Pakistan to discuss reconciliation role in Afghan strategy

US Defense Secretary James Mattis. (Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2017
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US defense secretary visits Pakistan to discuss reconciliation role in Afghan strategy

ISLAMABAD: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is due to arrive in Islamabad on Monday to discuss matters in progress for eradicating terrorism from Pakistani soil, and the country’s role in Afghanistan — an agenda he underlined on Saturday to the media.
“The US remains committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands … cooperation on shared interests while reinforcing President Trump’s call for action against terrorist safe havens,” the secretary said.
This is Mattis’ first trip to Pakistan as defense secretary, though he has visited the country several times before.
Mattis is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and will conclude his last leg in Kuwait of the five-day four-nation tour which began Friday in Egypt.
Mattis is the second highest-ranking US official to visit Pakistan after Trump unveiled the US’ Afghanistan and South Asia policy on August 21. In October, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Pakistan to deliberate over the new strategy, which is devised to defeat the Afghan Taliban and compel them toward reconciliation dialogue with Kabul.
In his previous visit to the region, Mattis opted to meet with the Afghan and Indian leadership to discuss details of the strategy while ignoring Pakistan.
“There has been some sort of tactical adjustment between both countries for short-term goals on Afghanistan, otherwise his visit to the region previously skipped Pakistan,” foreign relations expert Qamar Cheema told Arab News.
Relations between both countries soured when Trump accused Pakistan of harboring “agents of chaos” in August, questioning Pakistan’s resolve to uproot militancy, allegedly thriving in its backyard, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. However, a series of continuing military operations has cleansed much of its volatile tribal areas of terrorists and Pakistan has conveyed its commitment to ensuring peace in the region to the international community.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammed Faisal at a press briefing last week said Mattis’ visit is a continuation of interaction on the policy in which differences persist. “This clearly indicates that dialogue between both the countries to bridge the gap in perceptions is ongoing. We are trying to find common grounds and move forward in our bilateral relationship with the US in a positive and cooperative manner.”
Mattis has acknowledged that Pakistan is actively supporting the US strategy but wants assurances that it will not provide sanctuary to any proscribed groups, especially ones it doesn’t find detrimental to its interests.
Addressing the media, he said: “The bottom line is that Pakistan has to act in its own best interest. They know this” and stressed that its non-NATO ally must cooperate with the US and honor sacrifices of its countrymen with a zero-tolerance approach toward terror elements. The US wants Pakistan to promote reconciliation with the Taliban, which it hopes will be a step closer to ending the 16-year ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Mattis said: “It’s a continued dialogue, in what our vision is for the Afghan peace process, which is based on four R’s” plus sustain which stand for regionalize, realign, reinforce, reconcile, an abridged description of Trump’s policy. US firmly believes Pakistan’s role is instrumental for the reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Analysts observe that both countries have differences on rules of reconciliation engagement. The US wants the Taliban forces to be stopped and squeezed by Pakistan and US-led forces between the Pak-Afghan border region, leaving no option but for them to negotiate. Pakistan wants to separate the good from the bad and have open dialogue with those who wish to talk, and strike those who refuse.
Mattis’ visit to Pakistan signals a further improvement in relations, said Cheema. “Pakistan has given assurances which show relations may stay on track between both states.”
The US is important for Pakistan, even though its northern neighbor China’s massive investment under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project has given the country a sense of stability and security as its economic crisis widens, he says.
“The US has a global footprint. Its support on the world forum is essential. Pakistan needs that and can’t afford the US being anti-Pakistan.” In terms of defense, no matter what China can offer, “the US military hardware is reliable in comparison.”


Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

Updated 18 December 2018
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Arab refugees in sights of Berlin’s crime ‘clans’

  • Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies
  • Police warn they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment

BERLIN: Berlin crime gangs of Arab origin have long earned infamy with violence and brazen robberies but now, police warn, they have targeted a new generation of refugees for recruitment.
Known in the media as Berlin’s “clans,” whose founders themselves fled war in Lebanon in the 1980s, they have long controlled much of the city’s illegal drugs trade, street prostitution and protection rackets.
While East European and Asian organized crime and homegrown biker gangs are also active, the clans have been especially visible, given many members’ love of gangster bling and muscle cars.
The dozen or so Arabic and Kurdish-origin extended families, with their patriarchal structures and codes of honor, have also been mythologized by rap artists and portrayed in the TV series “4 Blocks.”
Now police warn that the clans have sought out new members from among the over one million asylum-seekers who have arrived in Germany since mid-2015, half of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The clans “are trying to get others to do the dirty work” such as selling drugs or committing small burglaries, said Benjamin Jendro of the GDP police union.
Many refugees, he said, are “men who have arrived alone in Germany” and who “have not yet had to do with the justice system,” making it less likely they will go to prison if caught.
An undercover police investigator also told Die Welt newspaper that “above all, it is the young, physically strong men who are in the sights of the clans, who make them do the dirty work.”


The migrant wave that peaked three years ago sparked a xenophobic backlash in Germany, and stoked heated debate about integration efforts and crimes committed by foreigners.
This has thrown a new focus on the clans and raised questions about how Berlin’s police could let them openly flout the law for so long in a generally fairly low-crime country.
Germany’s best-known rapper, Bushido, long boasted about his close ties to one Berlin clan — until they had a falling out this year and he sought the protection of a rival group.
Bushido’s wife, Anna-Maria Ferchichi, told news weekly Stern that the couple now feared for their lives from gangsters who had formed “parallel societies right here in Germany.”
The clans’ latest show of force was the September 13 funeral of an infamous underworld figure, when 2,000 mourners congregated in the Islamic section of a Berlin cemetery, watched over by some 150 police.
In scenes Stern described as “worthy of a mafia movie,” they paid their last respects to Nidal Rabih, a 36-year-old violent repeat offender who had been shot dead in front of his family days earlier.
Rabih, a Palestinian born in Lebanon, had achieved cult status in the Berlin criminal underworld.
Boasting more than 100 offenses from robbery to attempted manslaughter, he had spent more than a decade behind bars but avoided a 2004 deportation attempt when Lebanon refused to issue him a passport.
Days after his death, Berlin municipal workers guarded by police whitewashed over a wall mural at the murder scene that depicted Rabih in the style of a martyred Islamic fighter.


Sociologists say the story of Berlin’s clans is a cautionary tale about failed integration.
Their patriarchs mostly arrived in the 1980s as refugees from then war-torn Lebanon, among them Palestinians and members of Turkey’s Arabic and Kurdish minorities.
Many had only temporary protection status and “did not have access here to education or work,” said Islamologist Mathias Rohe, arguing that this sped up the descent into delinquency.
The extended families, aside from now running large chunks of Berlin’s illegal economy, have also committed some of the city’s most headline-grabbing criminal stunts.
In 2010, masked men wielding machetes and guns robbed a poker tournament in the Berlin Grand Hyatt, making off with about 240,000 euros ($270,000).
In 2014, robbers rampaged through Berlin’s KaDeWe luxury department store, smashed glass displays and stole watches and jewelry worth 800,000 euros.
And last year, clan-linked bandits stole a 100-kilogramme (220-pound) Canadian commemorative gold coin worth over 3.75 million euros from Berlin’s Bode museum, around the corner from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apartment.


Berlin’s police is now under fire for having long neglected the problem — something researcher Ralph Ghadban blames partially on a “fear of stigmatising and discriminating against certain minorities.”
In recent months, authorities have started to hit back by stepping up raids of shisha bars and betting shops, many in Berlin’s Neukoelln district, and confiscating expensive cars for speeding.
In August, police and prosecutors seized 77 properties worth 10 million euros, alleged to have mostly been bought with proceeds from a major 2014 bank robbery.
Some of the properties were officially owned by one convicted bank robber’s 19-year-old brother whose only declared income was state welfare.
The confiscations still have to stand up in court against challenges from the clan’s expensive lawyers, but authorities believe they have struck a first blow.
“We’re stepping on their toes,” said Berlin interior minister Andreas Geisel. “We’re spoiling their fun in Berlin.”