Near New York City, New York
1884 08 10 19:07 UTC
This severe earthquake affected an area roughly extending along the Atlantic Coast from southern Maine to central Virginia and westward to Cleveland, Ohio. Chimneys were knocked down and walls were cracked in several States, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Many towns from Hartford, Connecticut, to West Chester,Pennsylvania.
Property damage was severe at Amityville and Jamaica, New York, where several chimneys were “overturned” and large cracks formed in walls. Two chimneys were thrown down and bricks were shaken from other chimneys at Stratford (Fairfield County), Conn.; water in the Housatonic River was agitated violently. At Bloomfield, N.J., and Chester, Pa., several chimneys were downed and crockery was broken. Chimneys also were damaged at Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Allentown, Easton, and Philadelphia, Pa. Three shocks occurred, the second of which was most violent. This earthquake also was reported felt in Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Several slight aftershocks were reported on August 11.
CPEC is slowing down and China is hesitant to finance Pakistan Railways. That doesn’t mean Beijing will back off.
Tara Kartha4 January, 2021 9:32 am IST
Pakistan Army officers at Corps Headquarters in Peshawar | @OfficialDGISPR
In a year that saw the world suddenly being brought to its knees, it might be academic suicide to try a little forecasting. But Covid or not, it is something that should be done within governments rather than the usual year-end ‘review’ that essentially ends up as a cut-and-paste exercise to hide bad assessments.
The task is not easy, but a forward look is vital to prevent nasty surprises from popping up, especially in a country that is located next to the powder keg that is Pakistan. This is going to be an exercise in gray with streaks of black, but it has to be done.
The first level of forecasting is somewhat easy – the army will continue to be the dominant force in Pakistan. But there’s a twist. A combined opposition while ranting against Prime Minister Imran Khan carefully stated that while it was against the ‘puppet’, and its controllers, it fully ‘respected’ the army. Even former PM Nawaz Sharif’s rant was directed against (extended) Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, together with the assurance that he had great regard for the army and its soldiers.
This is a tirade against the army chief in particular, which is curious since Sharif’s party actually supported Bajwa’s extension last year. As any army officer from a democracy will assert, extending an army chief’s tenure is bad news for everyone else down the line. As many as seven Generals were reported to have joined hands to block Bajwa’s extension when the Supreme Court decided to take it up. Expert opinion holds that 17 senior generals will retire if Bajwa completes his term, presumably in November 2022. That’s a lot of unhappiness.
It seems, therefore, that it is not entirely coincidental that the opposition in Pakistan is targeting Bajwa and his circle only. Add to that, the fact that he essentially ‘lost’ Kashmir to Article 370, and the circle is complete. The new year will not find an easy head at the top, either in the army, or by extension, in the Prime Minister’s Office. That, in turn, means that some adventurous action by Pakistan cannot be ruled out; not martial law, which is entirely unnecessary when the army is already in full control, but some populist action against enemy number one – India. Remember that General Pervez Musharraf came to power on the winds of Kargil. A group of generals could do the same.
The political maelstrom
Political forecasting is more difficult. The combined opposition in the form of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), unusually combining Left, Right and centrist parties, is being unified by the glue provided by the Pakistani ‘establishment’. There are few political leaders left who don’t have ‘accountability’ cases lodged against them, or have not been harassed in other ways. Fazlur Rehman has found his more than three-decade-old party split, with a breakaway faction under Maulana Sherani. Worse, Ali Wazir, the charismatic leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) found himself under arrest. Nawaz Sharif will have his passport withdrawn, while his strongman Khwaja Mohammed Asif was detained on accountability charges.
This onslaught may have created an ‘all for one and one for all’ spirit, but unity did come under strain when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) decided to contest Senate elections and by-elections, despite the PDM’s common agenda of mass resignations. But the 31 December deadline for this move has passed, and no party has done much about it. Neither is there any possibility that Imran Khan will resign by the demanded 31 January deadline.
Yet, each party has proved its strength to gather massive crowds at each venue, indicating that Pakistanis are ripe for change. The PDM cannot, however, sustain its jalsas at fever pitch indefinitely. It has to force a decision, and do it soon, probably through ‘Plan B’ – the threatened march to Islamabad or Rawalpindi. Sufficient numbers could spook the establishment into using force to disperse crowds. Which is probably why an offer of dialogue has been extended by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), even while it pooh pooh’s PDM unity. That offer has been rejected. Plan A or B, a crisis is possible by mid-2021 at least.
The economy suffers and so does CPEC
The boiling up of that crisis is directly linked to Pakistan’s dire economic situation where forecasts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), showing a yawning divide between GDP and inflation, are available, as does the World Bank’s, all of which are quite at variance with the rosy picture presented by the Pakistani State. To be fair, Pakistan was hardly alone in suffering the economic shock of the Covid pandemic and climate disasters. What is likely to hit is the slowdown of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), most apparent as the State Bank of Pakistan indicated a complete slump in imports of machinery, among other things, from China.
Reports also note Beijing’s hesitation to finance projects of the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways, while Pakistan is attempting to re-negotiate loans on the back of ‘malpractices’ by Chinese companies. If or when President Xi does visit Pakistan in 2021, what can be expected is large declarations and small investments, with the sum total not reaching anywhere near the much-acclaimed $60-billion mark. It’s the classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Pakistan needs more investment for growth, but it won’t come in till the economy does a little better. That doesn’t mean China is going to back off. But it does mean that there is no ‘game-changer’ available in 2021.
…And relations with India
In relations with India, forecasting is shaded with grays rather than an outright black. Faced with charges of having ‘sold out’ on Kashmir, the Pakistani government has reacted with full-blown invective, taking the Kashmir issue to every forum; produced a map claiming not just Kashmir but also Junagadh and Sir Creek; and is now providing a dossier on alleged Indian terrorism to anyone and everyone. Recently, Foreign Minister Qureshi, during his visit to the UAE, charged India with planning another surgical strike, and in a possible swipe at reinvigorated Indian diplomacy in West Asia, warned of attempts to garner approval from partners.
All of this is a decided black. Yet, Pakistan did not significantly up the ante during the recent District Development Council elections in Kashmir, nor (so far) open up a ‘third front’ when India is decidedly occupied with China.
The year 2021 will also see Pakistan adding Gilgit-Baltistan to its constitutionally mandated territory, in a significant ‘tit for tat’ move that should give it satisfaction. Meanwhile, both countries have carried on with the annual exchange of lists of nuclear installations and prisoners in each other’s territory, indicating they would carry on with standard activities despite neither having a High Commissioner in residence.
Overall, 2021 will see a significantly weaker Pakistan, across the parameters discussed here. It must be remembered, however, that Kargil occurred when Pakistan was reeling under severe financial stress after its nuclear tests of 1998, resulting in yet another ambitious general coming to power. Another adventure could serve to sideline the PDM, unify the army, and provide proof of Islamabad’s fidelity to Beijing. The trouble is it would have to be a successful adventure. That’s not so easy.
Yet, 1999 is not the same as 2021. Nawaz Sharif no longer has his thick mop of hair, and the future seems to be in the hands of youthful politicians like Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and the not-so-young Maryam Nawaz. Neither will move away from the army orbit. But there is little appetite internationally for Pakistan’s endless wars either against India or in Afghanistan. And that’s the crux of it all. In 2021, Pakistan will really have less reason to hold up its head and stare down its opponents. And everyone knows it. It’s just that someone has to tell that to the generals.
The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.
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The news comes amid simmering tensions between the United States and Iran in the last days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
The enrichment hike puts Iran a technical step away from enriching at 90 percent, the level needed to produce a nuclear warhead. Before the announcement, Iran was enriching uranium at around 4.5 percent, in violation of the nuclear pact but at a significantly lower level.
President Hassan Rouhani visits a nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran.Mohammad Berno / AP file
The news comes amid simmering tensions between the United States and Iran in the last days of President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, setting off a series of escalating incidents that culminated in the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Jan. 3 last year.
The enrichment announcement and the seizure of the ship came the day after the one year anniversary of Soleimani’s killing that saw thousands take to the streets to protest his death in Iraq on Sunday.
According to Iranian officials, the enrichment is being carried out at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility, which is hidden deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom. Under the terms of Iran’s nuclear deal, Tehran is only allowed to enrich uranium at around 3.5 percent and no enrichment is allowed at the Fordo plant.
The deal stipulates that in exchange for agreeing to limit its uranium enrichment, world powers would grant Iran sanctions relief.
Since the United States pulled out of the pact in May 2018 and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, Tehran has steadily breached its own commitments to the agreement, prompting alarm among the other five parties to the deal: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.
Iran’s decision comes after parliament passed a bill aimed at hiking enrichment to pressure Europe into providing sanctions relief.
Uranium enriched to up to 20 percent can be used to fuel nuclear reactors, according to Eric Brewer, deputy director with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a think tank in Washington D.C.
Iran has a research reactor that uses near 20 percent enriched uranium, but that fuel is provided by other countries under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, Brewer added. It remains unclear what Iran is planning to do, if anything, with the higher-enriched uranium.
Tehran has long denied seeking to develop a nuclear weapon and says doing so would be against Islam.
The hike also serves as pressure on President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration. Biden, who was vice president when the United States entered the nuclear deal under President Barack Obama in 2015, has said he is willing to return to the pact if Iran abides by the deal and has suggested building on the agreement.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani last month dampened hopes that it would be possible to extend the scope of the deal, saying the country’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence were non-negotiable.
“There is one JCPOA that has been negotiated and agreed — either everyone commits to it or they don’t,” he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear accord that is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi informed member states Monday that Iran began to feed uranium already enriched up to 4.1 percent U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordo plant for further enrichment up to 20 percent, the IAEA said in an emailed statement.
Iran had previously informed the agency of its intention to start producing uranium enriched up to 20 percent, it added.
The Russian Federation is widely believed to possess around 3,000 to 6,000 tactical nuclear warheads; that number is significantly down from its Soviet predecessor, which owned at least 13,000 and as many as 22,000 tactical warheads by the end of the Cold War in 1991.
But Russia continues to have the most tactical nuclear warheads in the world, and there are no signs that this will change anytime soon.
First, the basics. Part of the difficulty in quantifying nuclear weapons stockpiles is that there is no technical, widely-accepted definition of terms like “tactical” and “strategic” warheads. Rather, these terms are rough approximations of what the weapon is supposed to do. A strategic warhead is regarded as a nuclear weapon used against enemy infrastructure—cities, command centers, industrial hubs, etc.—for strategic purposes. By contrast, Tactical warheads are used on the battlefield as part of an ongoing military engagement. There is no hard dividing line between these two categories, a situation further problematized by inconsistent standards between different countries and the inherent secrecy surrounding these weapons.
Still, the West has been able to gather somewhat reliable data concerning the rough makeup of Russia’s tactical nuclear forces. The biggest owner of Russia’s tactical nukes is likely the Navy. Its weapons include the submarine and ship-launched variants of Russia’s Kalibrcruise missiles, which are operable across a wide range of Russian vessels including the new Yasen nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines and the recent Admiral Gorshkov class frigates. Then there is the Air Force, which notably includes the Tu-22M3 and Tu-22M3M modernized maritime bombers. Russia’s nuclear-capable, hypersonic air-launched Kh-47M2 Kinzhal represents a particularly stark threat as a tactical nuclear weapon that’s exceedingly difficult to intercept in most circumstances. Though the Su-57 is rumored to have some limited nuclear weapons capability, it is the upcoming PAK-DA bomber that’s expected to represent the coming generation of Russian air-launched nuclear missile capabilities. Meanwhile, Russia’s ground forces are modernizing with the nuclear-capable Iskander-M missile systems. By no means an exhaustive overview, this brief list nonetheless shows that nuclear warheads are both widely proliferated across Russia’s armed forces as well as a source of constant further investment.
Russia’s tactical weapons stockpile is a hedge against the qualified superiority of NATO conventional forces—not necessarily a first-strike solution, but rather a tool meant to level the playing field in the event that Russia starts losing a major continental war. Depending on how such a conflict—unlikely as it currently is—were to unfold, Russia’s tactical warheads could also figure prominently into a Eurasian armed conflict with China. As costly and increasingly difficult as it is for Russia to store and maintain its aging Soviet inheritance of tactical warheads, it’s still much more efficient and cost-effective than trying—and likely failing, given the practical limits of Russian military spending—to match NATO’s conventional superiority. Tactical nuclear warheads are, and will likely remain, Russia’s most effective means of securing its vast frontiers and expansive security interests.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.
Dr. James J Zogby
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, I’ve been reflecting on the current messy state of affairs in the Middle East and what can be done to move us forward.
Ten years ago, I released ‘Arab Voices: What They Are Saying and Why It Matters’, based on our polling in the US and across the Arab world during the first decade of the 21st century.
What we observed was that there were two seminal events that bracketed and defined that decade: the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Of the two, the Iraq war proved to be the most consequential. Born of hubris and blind ideology, it was the most devastating US foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.
By the end of the first decade of the 21st century the lasting impact of the war was clear. The US, which had begun this century as the world’s unrivalled superpower, had embroiled itself in a costly, bloody, and needless war that it could never win. Its military had been humiliated and exhausted. The costs in lives and treasure, both American and Iraqi, had been incalculable. And worldwide respect for the US had suffered immeasurably.
The war also unleashed sectarian conflict in Iraq, while also empowering and emboldening Iran to meddle in Iraq and beyond. The behaviour of the US occupation also fuelled Sunni extremism giving Al Qaeda new opportunities to recruit and grow.
A decade later, I released ‘The Tumultuous Decade’ based on our polling of Arab, Iranian, and Turkish public opinion during the second decade of the 21st century.
What came through clearly was that the negative developments that shaped the first 10 years of the century – sectarian conflict in Iraq, aggressive Iranian intervention, and diminished US capacity and leadership – were to have an increasingly devastating impact in the century’s second decade. Added to this already unsettled environment was the tumult created by what came to be called the “Arab Spring”.
The old regional order was collapsing and not in the way the naïve Bush administration’s ideologues envisioned. They had predicted that a decisive victory in Iraq would result in the US emerging as the uncontested world superpower and democracy spreading across the Middle East. In fact, the opposite had occurred.
The Obama administration began with the great promise of digging the US out of the deep hole it inherited. But the task proved too great. Their missteps in Iraq, followed by their lack of follow-through and loss of interest in the region, not only let wounds fester, but also left the US in a weakened position, unable to play a constructive role.
The rushed US departure from Iraq left in place a deeply sectarian government that served to exacerbate Sunni resentment causing Al Qaeda to morph into the even more lethal Daesh. This movement terrorised its way into controlling a sizeable piece of Iraq.
The Obama administration made several promising starts in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but when confronted by Israeli intransigence and strong pro-Israel support in Congress, it faltered. When confronted by the “Arab Spring”, it found itself on the horns of a dilemma. It dithered in Egypt, Syria, and Yemen and then intervened in Libya with no intention, or capacity, to follow through, thus contributing to making a bad situation worse.
The administration’s one accomplishment, the Iran nuclear deal, only served to aggravate regional tensions. It may have removed the threat of the Iranian nuclear programme, but it resulted in further emboldening Iran’s regional meddling, while provoking states which had grown increasingly concerned with Iran’s aggressive and boastful role in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
What additionally came to define this decade were the roles being played by politicised or weaponised sectarian movements preying on deep unrest and causing chaos and conflict in the region. Instead of a unipolar world with the US in the lead, the region became a virtual battleground of multipolarity, engaging the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the regional nations.
Iran said Saturday it plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility “as soon as possible,” pushing its program a technical step away from weapons-grade levels as it increases pressure on the West over the tattered atomic deal.
January 03, 2021, 09:54 AM
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly given green light to Tehran-backed terrorist groups
A senior Iranian commander has warned that the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given the green light for Tehran-backed proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to level two of Israel’s three largest cities.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Corp (IRGC) Aerospace Force told the state-run Al-Manar TV channel that the terrorist groups would destroy Haifa and Tel Aviv if “any foolishness is committed against Iran,” warning that the Islamic Republic has been working for years on developing the capabilities of its proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, according to The Times of Israel.
“All the missile capabilities of Gaza and Lebanon have been supported by Iran, and they are the front line for confrontation,” he added.
Noting that “the capabilities of the resistance axis” are much advanced from what they were 10 years ago Hajizadeh said, “today, the Palestinians fire rockets instead of throwing stones.”
Hezbollah and Iran have threatened both Haifa and Tel Aviv in the past, particularly in the 34-day 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The Lebanese Shi’ite proxy is assessed to have as many as 150,000 missiles secreted around various silos and launching sites throughout mostly southern Lebanon.
A proportion is assumed to be precision-guided and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has worked assiduously over the last several years to attempt – mostly through the aerial bombardment of shipment convoys in Syria – to prevent equipment needed to upgrade Hezbollah munitions from reaching their intended destination.
As the first anniversary of the US drone strike that killed IRGC Quds Force Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Iraq ticks round, the Israel military is on high alert for other potential missile or drones attacks emanating from either Iraq and/ or Yemen.
The recent hit on Aden Airport – in which at least 26 people were killed -and which has been ascribed to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, might be viewed as a template with which to attempt to attack Israel.
Iran has issued a stream of threats against both the United States and Israel in the run-up to the Soleimani anniversary and the region is seemingly even tenser than would ordinarily be the case.