US-Iran sanctions hits Afghanistan: Trump battles another woman with tapes | Sunday Observer

US-Iran sanctions hits Afghanistan: Trump battles another woman with tapes

Does a long-time woman showbiz protégé of American President Donald Trump truly have secret recordings of conversations inside the White House that could reveal how much Trump knew about his 2016 election campaign officials’ collusion with Russian agents to engineer his victory? And did the already embattled President last week arbitrarily strip a former CIA chief of his security privileges simply to divert attention away from the looming Russia scandal?

India is mourning the passing of one of its greatest and most loved Prime Ministers, Atal Behari Vajpayee, even as regional tension grew last week over fiery Taliban assaults in Afghanistan, and, South Asia faced up to economic and political challenges arising from US sanctions against Iran.

United States President Donald Trump’s executive action against a former CIA head last week caused a fresh political storm in a Washington already reeling with revelations of secret tapes of White House conversations and the imminent criminal verdict against Trump’s former election campaign chairman. Over a dozen former heads of American intelligence agencies and other top defence ex-officials on Friday issued a joint public petition to the American government protesting the stripping of immediate past CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance credentials.

In Afghanistan, the army is yet battling to fully clear the strategically important city of Ghazni after Taliban insurgents last week launched a powerful commando-type assault on the city centre in what analysts say is the worst military strike by the Sunni Islamist hardline rebel movement in recent years.

After several months of seeming retreat punctuated solely by guerrilla suicide bombings, some of them causing high civilian casualties in Kabul and other urban centres, last week, the Taliban struck not only at Ghazni but also temporarily overran a minor army camp in the usually quiet northern region.

Analysts speculate that this new uptick in insurgent operations is an attempt by the Taliban and allied groups that currently hold about 15 per cent of the country to demonstrate their politico-military advantage prior to entering into further peace talks.

At the same time, hopes for a resurgent Afghan economy are fading in the face of new US economic and political sanctions against neighbouring Iran which has traditionally been a mutually beneficial, trading and pastoral herding region for Afghanistan and much of central Asia.

In fact, China’s recent massive continental economic development and trading outreach programme named the Silk Road, derives from the ancient trading routes through Iran between east Asia, on the one hand, and west Asia and Europe on the other.

Iran, the world’s sole majority Shia Islam society, has always attempted to maintain friendly ties with majority Sunni Afghan communities on its border.

In pre-modern times these sparsely populated border regions allowed constant local and international trading and, local pastoral herd movements and most of these communities have maintained friendly cross border ties transcending religious divides.

In recent decades, Iran has hosted a refugee spillover from Afghanistan caused by successive internal conflicts.

There has been an economic migration as well with the Afghan economy propped up by migrant remittances from Iran. But the new onset of crippling American sanctions against Iran is already causing an economic downturn in that country affecting the future of over 400,000 Afghan refugees and migrant workers there.

Afghanistan, with about 40 percent unemployment (due to the civil war), depends heavily on western aid and, migrant employment and trade with Iran and the oil-rich central Asian states that are its northern neighbours. With Pakistan’s military still covertly supporting elements of the Taliban, Iran has replaced Pakistan as Afghanistan’s major trading partner.

Furthermore, the Americans had earlier given tacit approval for land-locked Afghanistan’s development of a transport corridor to Iran’s south eastern Chabahar Port on the Arabian Sea, a project that is part of a new transportation corridor for Afghanistan.

Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Pact and re-imposition of economic sanctions undermines all this and more. Iran could also covertly help the Taliban if only to maintain some level of cross-border Shia-Sunni cordiality. Due to its new Iran policy, America’s policy for Afghanistan is seriously undermined.

Last week, even as the White House watched the completion of the first criminal prosecution of Trump’s former election campaign chairman (no less), the President also had to face claims by one of his recently sacked staffers that she had secretly recorded conversations inside the White House that could implicate the President himself in the ‘Russia collusion’ scandal that has beset this Washington regime from its inception.

The latest scandal is about audio recordings, apparently secretly done by long-time Trump showbiz protégé Omarosa Manigault Newman who, till recently, seemingly occupied a nominal ‘advisor’ post in the White House until summarily sacked two weeks ago. Omarosa, as she is popularly known had apparently long worked with Trump in his 1990s successful ‘The Apprentice’ business world ‘reality’ drama serial. She had been one of several political appointees who barely did any work in the White House.

On being suddenly sacked, Omarosa has ‘gone to town’ with what she claims are a collection of secret recordings of phone and verbal conversations between Trump and her and also with other senior and junior White House staff.

She has already released several tapes to the media (which loves the latest scandal) including one of a brief call from Trump in which he seems to pretend that he did know of her sacking. To spice things up further, Omarosa then released another tape of a call by younger Trump daughter Lara Trump in which she offers a new job with the Trump corporate family – again involving no work and explicitly contingent on her silence about her time at the White House.

Omarosa claims she has access to another audio tape of a conversation in which Trump is recorded using the derogatory American Black slavery era epithet ‘nigger’ several times. She also claims that Donald Trump knew well in advance of his top election campaign manager’s secret meeting with Russian agents in the Trump Tower in New York while the presidential election campaign was on.

As this latest scandal grabbed the headlines, Donald Trump did something he has done before – a controversial act to divert attention away from an ‘enemy’.

On Thursday, he shocked the political establishment by carrying out his threat to strip critical former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan of his special security clearance privileges. Over a million former military, security agency and senior state officials retain their top level security clearance privileges in order that they can be consulted for defence and high state purposes even in their retirement.

John Brennan who had been CIA head under both Republican and Democrat administrations until his retirement when Trump took office, had been loudly critical of the many defence and foreign policy blunders of Trump, and the President had resented this.

Following this executive ‘revenge’ action by Trump, a powerful group of over a dozen former heads of intelligence and defence agencies on Friday issued a public petition protesting this action by Trump and warning of the damage such action will do to defence and intelligence planning and cadre morale.

The Republican Party, scared to annoy Trump’s uneducated but adoring voter base in the face of Congress elections in November, is largely silent on this action which is yet another act that undermines the American state system and its standing in the eyes of the world.