NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative.
The European Union launched the scheme with great fanfare in December, touting it as a way to get member states to work more closely post-Brexit and spend more effectively on defense projects.
But the plan has come under fire in recent days from US officials who fear it could draw resources away from NATO and even become a “protectionist” umbrella for European defense manufacturers.
Stoltenberg, speaking on the eve of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, said there was “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.
Efforts to boost European defense spending were welcome, he said, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans.
“It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete,” the former Norwegian premier told reporters.
“European allies are absolutely aware that the defense, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO.”
The EU’s so-called permanent structured cooperation on defense agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
But on Sunday Katie Wheelbarger, a senior official at the US Department of Defense, said Washington regarded some of the proposed initiatives as “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO.”
And the US stepped up its criticism on Monday, with Ambassador to NATO Kay Baliey Hutchison warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shut US defense companies out of cooperation projects.
“Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we’re going to watch carefully because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have,” she told reporters.
“We want the Europeans to have capabilities and strength but not to fence off American products or Norwegian products or potentially UK products.”
Britain, which is leaving the EU, is one of only three member states along with Denmark and Malta not to sign up to the pact.
Under the rules of the cooperation agreement, as a non-EU state Britain will be able to take part in specific missions but will have no decision-making role.


Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

Updated 18 August 2018
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Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

  • Pakistan’s Foreign Office says Afghanistan has not shared any evidence to support its recent allegations against Pakistan
  • Imran Khan’s idea of a soft border between Pakistan and Afghanistan may have suffered a big setback in the wake of the Ghazni attack

PESHAWAR: In the backdrop of the Taliban’s brazen assault on the southern city of Ghazni in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani alleged that the bodies of the perpetrators had arrived in Pakistan, though Islamabad maintained that Kabul had not officially shared any information or evidence in this regard.
Soon after that, the Afghan president said in a fiery speech to a jirga in Ghazni: “I have a message for Pakistan. Dead bodies (of the Taliban) have arrived in (Pakistan). Peace cannot be forcefully imposed on Afghanistan. Where did they (Taliban) come from and why are they being treated in (Pakistani) hospitals?”
But Pakistan strongly rejected reports claiming that some Taliban fighters involved in the Ghazni attack had been offered medical treatment in its hospitals.
In the absence of any official communication through regular channels established bilaterally, such reports cannot be given any credence, said Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
Haq Nawaz, a senior Peshawar-based security analyst, told Arab News that the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a string of daunting challenges, such as economic revival, political stability, tackling corruption, and improving relations with his country’s immediate neighbors.
However, he added that recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up violent activities, will probably constitute a much bigger predicament for the new political administration.
He recalled that Khan had mentioned in his victory speech that he wanted a European Union-style soft border with Afghanistan, claiming that the idea had seemingly received a setback after the Ghazni attack.
“The latest bout of allegations will have a negative impact on the process of reviving good relations between the two neighboring countries,” Nawaz noted.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also expressed “deep concern” over the recent surge in violence in Afghanistan and lamented in a statement released by the military’s media wing the loss of precious lives.
Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan was not supporting terrorist activities inside Afghanistan. He added that the allegation about the movement of injured or dead terrorists from Ghazni to Pakistan was incorrect.
However, the army chief noted that there were scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan, and that some of them periodically fell victim to acts of terrorism along with their Afghan brothers inside Afghanistan. “Terming such victims as terrorists is unfortunate,” he maintained.
Yet, the Afghan president sought an explanation from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership on the Ghazni attack.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. General Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga.
Bajwa said that different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan hiding in their sanctuaries in Afghanistan after assuming Afghan identities, were transported to Pakistan for medical help after receiving injuries.
Nawaz said the Afghan government should share relevant evidence with Pakistan in this case, arguing that using the media or social media to deal with such serious and sensitive developments can worsen the situation.
He said it was not just a statement or allegation from an ordinary official since the claim was made by a head of state, adding that both countries should settle such teething issues through dialogue and diplomatic channels.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in its statement: “Such reports can only be viewed as malicious propaganda to vitiate the existing cooperation between the two countries.”