Monday, December 18, 2006

How Will History Judge Rumsfeld?

You know the worm has turned when even Parade Magazine is saying that history will be harsh on Donald Rumsfeld’s service as Secretary of Defense. There appears to be a growing recognition of the severe blunders of this administration. If this is what Parade will say about Rumsfeld as he leaves office, what will it say
about George W. Bush when he leaves office? By then the scale of the disaster will be even broader, the extent of the waste in human life and American treasure even greater, the sweep of the humiliations before the world even more evident, even to Bush’s most loyal followers. By that time not only Bush and his administration will be vilified for its follies but also the public who supported him – the minions who followed him, accepted his misreprentations of truth at face value, and provided the grass-roots operations that activated a movement to support the implausible claims and promises of the neo-cons who could never have gained so powerful a voting constituency without them. Those hard core followers were of course the “far right,” the white middle-class church-going “evangelicals” – among them many of our closest friends – who were animated by the wedge issues, abortion, gay marriage, flag burning, etc.

A disturbing element of the Bush follies has been its linkage with a religious movement. As the Bush administration’s excesses of ignorance and arrogance become broadly recognized the religious elements that supported it will be impugned along with it. The claims and ideals of the evangelicals will be discounted along with those of the neo-cons who scarcely respected them even as they found them useful.

The pendulum is swinging. What kind of excesses will be generated in the other direction?


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Diplomat's Suppressed Document Lays Bare the Lies Behind Iraq War

The American and British’s governments’ case for going to war in Iraq was “torn apart” by the publication of previously suppressed evidence. In fact, Tony Blair – and no doubt many people in the Bush administration – were pretty sure that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. This is only the beginning; we are going to see many more instances of ‘laying bare’ the lies that were told to enable the ‘pre-emptive’ war against Saddam Hussein to start. So many lives lost, so much money spent, so much respect lost – how can the costs of this blunder ever be recovered?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ahmadinejad Attempts to Deny the Holocaust

The attempts of President Ahmadinejad to deny the holocaust is another indication of the way contemporary societies re-interpret the past in order to define the present. "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, portrays participants like David Duke, the former Louisiana Klan leader, and Robert Faurisson of France, who has devoted his life to trying to prove that the Nazi gas chambers were a myth, as
silenced truth-tellers whose stories expose Western leaders as the hypocrites he considers them to be." Because of the broad resentment against Israel in the Middle East his attempts seem to be gaining traction.

Ahmadinejad intends to make Iran – and Shi’ism – the dominant power in the Middle East. No wonder the Saudis threaten to support the Sunnis of Iraq if the Americans leave. This is no surprise and surely cannot be new: Already the sympathies of the Saudi Arabian people is with the Sunnis of Iraq. Wealthy Saudis must be providing at least some support for them even now: We keep wondering if private Saudi money is not already heavily invested in the activities of the most militant Sunnis (takfiris) in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bush's Insistence That The Military Stay

I have been so accustomed to being offended, even scandalized, by the policies of President Bush that my first reaction to the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group has been to accept it, and to again see Bush’s refusal to accept all that they recommend as more of his usual ignorant obstinacy. However, after a little reflection I have to say that their recommendation that the U. S. military get out of Iraq by a certain time is a mistake (anyway, it will not happen, as I explain below). Here, at least, I understand George W. Bush’s insistence that the American military should stay long enough to quell the opposition.

The invasion of Iraq was a blunder of incomparable proportions – it was a blunder to go in under false pretenses (to say nothing of the dishonesty of leading the American people to believe that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack), and it was a blunder to start a “pre-emptive war” – but now that we have actually invaded Iraq, what is there to do? Bush claims that we have to finish the job; indeed, I do so wish that the US could overcome the image that its troops normally flee from conflict after a few losses. I grieve for the loss of American military personnel for what was a boondoggle of unforgivable proportions. None of this had to be. But now – now that the mess has been made, the U. S. may create more mayhem if it does not follow through.

The pattern has not been missed on Osama, who has repeatedly pointed out the American practice of avoiding conflict: American troops withdrew after 241 servicemen were killed in Lebanon in 1983; they withdrew after 19 were killed in Mogadishu in 1993; they did nothing much to avenge the deaths of 5 servicemen in Riyadh or 19 killed in Dhahran in 1996; and after 220 people were killed in the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration did no more than fire off some rockets into Afghanistan (most of which missed). If the American servicemen are withdrawn now, after four years of war, the loss of nearly 3,000 lives, and the squandering of scandalous billions of dollars, Osama and the most radical takfiri militarists will, as they suppose, be proven right. The most radical of militants will be emboldened to continue violent causes, if not in the West then least in various countries of the Middle East.

The situation is complicated by multiple mis-readings of each others’ point of view. The Americans think of themselves as liberators who are doing good – even if as it happens they are acting very much in their own self interest (more below). The Iraqi people want the Americans to leave because they see the Americans as invaders like the Ottomans and British. The radical Islamists see themselves as fighting unbelievers in the Middle East and Americans as well as others in the West in order to establish – rather, re-establish – a proper Islamic society under a true Caliphate, the sort that has not existed since, say, the eighth century. What is not being made clear is that even if our troops are “pulled out” they will not be far away and could be sucked into conflict again. Whatever the Americans do or appear to do, there is virtually no chance that they will genuinely “leave” the area: The huge natural wealth of the region will continue to draw American interests, indeed those of the whole world, into the area.
Note this map:

Within this ellipsis is 70% of the world’s known oil resources and about 70% of the world’s known gas resources. This region is destined to be the focus of future struggles for dominance in the world. (
BGR, 2006, “Petroleum” Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Hannover. (accessed October 14, 2006)]

No wonder the Americans are building the largest embassy in the world just outside Bagdad – to mention another matter not much reported to the American people. The new embassy will be as big as the Vatican, about 104 acres. It will house a number of high-rise buildings, already being constructed. That the Bagdad embassy will be strategically situated in such fossil-fuel rich area is of course no accident. So it turns out that, whatever the appearances, whatever the Baker-Hamilton report recommends, the United States is not really leaving.


The Jirga Method of Peace-Making

Dawn has an editorial that addresses the discussion about a joint-Afghan-Pakistan jirga (council of elders), brought on by the rise of the Taliban. Pakistanis - the official ones -- still can't quite believe the Taliban are a creation of their own policies. But the voice of a sensible public observer is a good sign. Even so, if, as is reported, the escalation of violence comes from outsiders, mainly from Egypt, promoting their own brand of "takfiri" radicalism (justifying the murder of almost anyone different from them), then the situation is far more serious than this article seems to acknowledge. Lets hope for progress, but we can't hold our breath.

Enough Evidence to Believe There Is No Exit From Iraq

Eurasianet's Weekly Update provides more than enough evidence to believe that there will be no useful exit for the Americans from Iraq and that the region more generally could easily decay into a broad civil war:
Sunni - Shia with Iran being the main source of funding for the Shia side and Saudi Arabia for the Sunni side. Or am I unusually pessimistic?

Mr. Sheikh, as the Editor in Chief of Al-Jazeera, you are one of the most important opinion-makers in the Arab world. What do you call suicide bombers?
Lunch with Robert Fisk: Video: Robert Fisk talks about his latest posting to Lebanon, shares his intimate understanding of the Middle East and tells us where the region-wide struggles are heading

U.S. made Hezbollah stronger, analysts say: America's failure to stop Israeli attacks weakened the Lebanese government, critics argue

Taliban 'Mini-State' In Pakistan?: Peace deals between Islamic militants and Pakistan's government have created a virtual Taliban mini-state near Afghanistan, giving militants a "free hand" to recruit, train and arm for cross-border attacks, a think tank reported Monday.

Darfur crisis crosses borders : Both Chad and the Central African Republic have become engulfed in fighting that involves a toxic mix of rebel groups, government forces, armed militias, and civilians.

Britain stops talk of 'war on terror':
A Foreign Office spokesman said the government wanted to 'avoid reinforcing and giving succour to the terrorists' narrative by using language that, taken out of context, could be counter-productive'. The same message has been sent to British diplomats and official spokespeople around the world.

Sunni and Shiite Resistance Remain Mystery to U.S., Iraq Report Charges :
Nearly four years after the invasion of Iraq, the United States still does not understand the enemy that American troops are fighting, according to last week's report by the Iraq Study Group.

Prominent Saudi Muslim clerics urge Muslims to support Iraqi Sunnis against Shiites: Over 30 prominent Islamic clerics from Saudi Arabia on Monday called on Sunni Muslims around the Middle East to support their brethren in Iraq against Shiites and praised the insurgency.

History will not treat us kindly By Tim Andersen
We will be remembered as the Americans who insulated themselves from reality and remained self-absorbed, concerned with their own personal comfort and privilege while our government wrecked havoc on the world and destroyed our own culture.

The militarily organized practice of torture, the sexual abuse, and all other abuses of men and women, clandestine incarcerations and forced disappearances, are not new in the history of the Third World, and of Latin America in particular. It has been instead an historical constant of colonial, neocolonial and neoliberal domination.

Revolution in the air as Lebanon's rift widens By Robert Fisk

With Fouad Siniora's cabinet hiding in the Grand Serail behind acres of razor wire and thousands of troops - a veritable "green zone" in the heart of Beirut - the largely Shia Muslim opposition, assisted by their Christian allies, brought up to two million supporters into the centre of the city yesterday to declare the forthcoming creation of a second Lebanese administration.
The Americans don't see how unwelcome they are, or that Iraq is now beyond
repair By Patrick Cockburn: Manipulation of facts was often very crude. As an example of the systematic distortion, the Iraq Study Group revealed last week that on one day last July US officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. In reality, it added, "a careful review of the reports ... brought to light 1,100 acts of violence".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Good News and Bad News From Afghanistan

There is both good news from Afghanistan and bad news. The BBC published an encouraging report on Herat on 12/5/06. Herat has had five years of relative calm since the fall of the Taliban, whereas the Taliban have been gaining strength in Pakistan and southern and eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were never accepted here. This is a Persian speaking city (the Afghans call their dialect "Dari"), and mainly Shi'ite, so the Taliban had no use for the local population. The Taliban spoke Pushtu and the widespread use of Urdu among them emphasized that their roots were really Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. Now that they are gone schools for girls are no longer banned, television is available, music is now again part of every day affairs. People wear clothes, jeans. Medical care is better: women doctors and nurses can work now. "There are a lot of private clinics and labs with relatively sophisticated diagnostic machines. Health facilities have been opened up in remote areas." Even so, many women are still wearing the burka - preferring to remain covered to avoid insults from the men.

But the BBC has also published a report on suicide among Afghan women. "Driven to desperation by forced marriages and abusive husbands, more and more are seeking release through self-immolation." Such a painful way to die - and some survive: we wonder what kind of world they will be able to live in now. Jealousy, forced marriages, a culture that permits domestic violence, and the hardships of living in a society broken by war - these
are the sources of the despair of young women seeking to destroy themselves.

Exposing the Truth of Abu Ghraib Wasn't Easy

Joe Darby is the man who revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib. For revealing the abuse of other human beings he was rejected by his fellow soldiers and his home community. He feared for his life and even now lives incognito, in fear that someone from his former company or community might do him in.This is America? Even what our leaders say our troops were fighting for was being outraged. Consider the moral values of the American heritage: "The doctrine of blind obedience and unqualified submission to any human power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is the doctrine of despotism, and ought to have no place among Republicans and Christians.":
Angelica Grimke - (1805-1879) Anti-Slavery Examiner, September 1836

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Plot Against Musharraf

It’s curious that the western press made little of the coup attempt against Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan soon after his arrival from abroad. The attempt did not take place while he was away but immediately after he returned. Presumably the idea was to shut him up so that after the coup he would have no voice to reveal information about his usurpers. A ring of rockets was set up to attack his residence and apparently one was set off by an Air Force officer by his cell phone, which was discovered, leading police to him and a long list of others involved with him. Mostly they were said to be middle rank officers in the Air Force, all of whom are described as “Islamists”. All of the several attempts on Musharraf’s life have come from the armed forces, and especially the air force. And presumably all have been instigated by Islamists. While in the United States Musharraf had admitted that former ISI officials had been supporting the Taliban. Apparently he decided to reign in those elements even before he returned: he sent instructions to “check on top officials.” The most notable of them were retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, former director general of the ISI, and retired Colonel Ameer Sultan, who is said to have “founded” the Taliban movement. Musharraf also is said to have ordered that some major Al-Qaeda figures being protected by the Taliban in Waziristan be apprehended, contrary to a deal the Pakistani army had made with the tribesmen in Waziristan. It was in this context that retired squadron leader Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official who once fought alongside Osama bin Laden against the Soviets in the1980s, said plainly what some of us have wondered about: that the officials who were helping the Taliban were doing so on state instructions. For the state to renounce them and punish them for what they did, as if they were acting illegally was a betrayal. No wonder the military are disaffected. How long can Musharraf survive?

Qom to be Home to Cutting Edge Rail Industry

IranMania reports that one of “the most advanced” rail industry complexes in the Middle East is to be built in the region of Qom, Iran. How the world has changed. Qom, a historical center of Shiite learning and religious activity, was of no interest to the Shah who saw himself as a modernizer and the Shiite figures who dominated affairs in Qom as social and political drags on progress. Qom was therefore marginalized in the days of the Shah, its marginalization objectified by the neglected roadways leading to it; in time of travel it was far away. Now that Iran is being led by Islamic scholars, most of them trained in Qom, the city is a major hub in the infrastructure of the country. And will become even more central: The new rail complex will be reflect “highly developed management and engineering know-how on factory construction.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Four

More on public sentiments in Central Asia:

Kate Clark of Unreported World has reported that "five years after the fall of the Taliban, western intervention has produced a mafia-style state" in the northern part of the country.

Clark was far from the region where the Taliban are rising, but there she found "an economy dominated by the drugs trade." Those in power are the commanders from the days of the Northern Alliance. Now they are prominent in the police and in parliament, and some of them are accused of human rights abuses. "The father of a child killed in an attack on NATO Peace-keeping forces says civilians have no-one to turn to - commanders are powerful in the local administration and foreign peace-keepers are seen to be working with them." Clark interviews a local commander who claims that "senior members of the police force with links going up to the heart of the Kabul government" are in involved in the drug trade. He tells her that the local people are "re-arming themselves and selling weapons to their old enemies, the Taliban," because not only in opium but in weapons "serious money" can be made. She is shown "palaces" that "commanders and cabinet ministers have built on government land." She meets a woman, unnamed, who has "publicly criticized the warlords" and so has become "a magnet for those wanting to complain about abuses." The
young woman is, however, plagued by death threats. Such is the situation in late 2006.

Compare the hope that was expressed by a courageous young woman in 2004, Malalai Joya, in the face of threats in her time. Joya was at that time was running an orphanage and health clinic. "One woman's words defy might of Afghan warlords; Malalai Joya tells Hamida Ghafour of the threats she faces in a battle to end her country's violence"] She also was courageous, openly accusing the "warlords and criminals" of her area, Farah, of "drug trafficking, land seizures, rape, and looting of houses." Farah is a very different province of Afghanistan, and it is now at risk of being overrun by the new Taliban. Even in those days Joya was being threatened; her home had just been ransacked by soldiers. Even so, she had been able to persuade President Karzai to evict the sitting governor of Farah for criminal activity. "These people should be taken to court," she said. If not, she warned, "Those people will be in parliament and the country will revert to bloodshed. Maybe it will be me they kill, but there will be others whose voices will be louder than mine." The bloodshed she predicted seems to be coming true, but we wonder if there will really be others like her with the courage to speak out. Pray that she and others like her will have the courage to call a spade a spade in the face of the rising criminality of public officials.


Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Three

More on the diverse sentiments among the various publics in Greater Central Asia:

William Dalrymple, in a 2005 article about attitudes among the Pushtun tribesmen in the Pakistan, quoted a local tribal leader who reveals the social context in which the Taliban have recently gained new strength. Javed Paracha said to Dalrymple, "The people are so desperate." "They are waiting for a solution that will rid them of this feudal-army elite [who control the Pakistan government]. The people want radical change. We teach them in the madrasas that only Islam can provide the justice they seek."

Paracha is a lawyer representing his Islamist-leaning Pathan tribesmen to the Pakistani government. Having survived solitary confinement in a notorious Pakistani prison and torture by the CIA, he enjoys high respect among his neighbors. He founded two of the largest madrassas in Pakistan, the first of which, he proudly says, "produced many of the younger leaders of the Taliban." He envisions the appearance of an Islamic state in Pakistan. There will be a crisis, he says, not only in the tribal areas but in all of Pakistan. He says that in Pakistan there are 200,000 graduates of various schools who cannot find employment - and the number will rise, for half the population is under the age of 21. A "more extreme form of the Taliban is coming to Pakistan," he predicts.

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment Two

In the next few days I want to note the various ways that people in various parts of Greater Central Asia have been coping with a modern world in which the certainties of the past no longer obtain or are at least contested. Iran is a curious example of one place where Islamism has been victorious, but its success has bred a sympathy for western cultural forms among many of its young people, who in fact constitute a substantial portion of the total population: 70 percent of the country is below the age of 30. Officially there is no doubt about the "certainties" of our times but unofficially the social conventions demanded by the state are resented or rejected. The state has found one measure that attracts genuine public loyalty among the Iranian people, namely its nuclear program. This is one reason President Ahmadinejad continues to press for nuclear power. Even so, the religious zeal of his government creates a careful dance between the official enforcers of the state and a superficially compliant public.

Here is a note on the tension between the requirements of the government and the behavior of many of its young people: from an article on underground rock music among Iranian young people by Michael Slackman:

After the 1979 revolution, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was fashioning Iran into a Shiite Islamic state, one of his many sayings was, "Keep the appearances of Islam." Public profile is important and so, if Iranians chose not to fast during Ramadan, well, O.K., but they were expected to eat in the privacy of their homes. . . . . [Someone told Slackman] "there is no written law . . . , You are allowed to do everything, unless you want to share it [openly]." That seems to be the unwritten law in Iran today: no sharing. The act of publicly sharing ideas that challenge the system is forbidden, because, at a minimum, that amounts to challenging the appearance the government would like to promote. . . . And so people in many spheres - arts, sports, politics, business - find themselves pressing
against the limitations of what is deemed permissible. Mostly, this is done behind closed doors, in the privacy of people's homes. Some people, like the rock musicians, do risk public sharing, but watchfully.

So the body complies, but the sentiment is elsewhere. All the more reason not to suppose that "Iran" is being truly represented by Ahmadinejad.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Perspectives From Central Asia: Installment One

One of the formative conditions of many of the peoples in Greater Central Asia is the absence of the kind of certainties that make social life possible. The Soviet Union is no more. Capitalism is threatening and intimidating. Alien social elements, sometimes in the form of NGOs and missionary organizations from outside, bring social conventions that are unfamiliar. And of course the regimes in power are distrusted. For the next few days I want to post statements by individuals that reflect their quest for better social certainties.

Here is a statement by a mother of two young men imprisoned in Uzbekistan for their participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic movement that has gained popularity in the last few years:
"[P]eople want a just system. They want to live in a just and fair society with good governance. Nowadays, there is no justice. Corruption and bribery are everywhere. Unemployment is the people's biggest problem. That's why they read the word of God. Since the seventh century, when Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, lived, there was a caliphate for 14 centuries. It was a just system. I also believe that if people learn these things, they will become more just."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Trouble Continues in Baluchistan, Pakistan

The International Herald Tribune reported on Wednesday, 11/29/06, that "four bombs exploded minutes apart on a railway line linking Pakistan with neighboring Iran." No casualties and no indication of who did it.

On the same day the Pakistan police detained about 50 people "for breaching the peace." The detainees included a former chief minister of Baluchistan (Chief Ministers are locally elected but the province that elected him has been generally restive for a long time, so he is not liked by Pakistan's army, which actually rules the country). In the previous few days police also picked up as many as 200 workers and supporters of the Baluch National Party (BNP). The problem was that the BNP were planning a rally on the 30th. They have been agitating for a greater share in profits from the province's vast natural resources, including its gas reserves. And they became more insurgent after their 79 year old leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a military operation on August 26. Two BNP members of the Pakistan parliament resigned in protest.

Besides the worry of the police about the BNP there was also the problem of the radical group, Baluchistan Liberation Army, which has been bombing gas pipelines. The group has claimed responsibility for the killing of three Chinese engineers in the province in February this year.

There are a lot of issues in Baluchistan for the Pakistan administration to worry about.


Al-Qaeda Threat Overblown?

A question I have had for some time is how connected up the various militant Islamists elements are. A case can be made that in many places the incentives for insurgency are local and provincial, in which case the various militant groups, even if in some contact, have little reason to cooperate except in the most elementary sense. Authors like Robert Naylor (Satanic Purses) argue that in fact al-Qaeda is a small network of fairly informally connected militants; to him the West's fear of al-Qaeda, etc., is overblown.

At the same time there are indications that some of the groups cooperate. Claims that Al-Qaeda and Iran or Hizbullah are cooperating seem preposterous to me: Al-Qaeda is a Sunni movement that cannot tolerate any divergence from their view; Shi'a for them are anathema. But the recent news that Hezbollah has trained several hundred members of Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Lebanon is plausible. It is also likely - perhaps only too obvious -- that Iran has been supporting Iraq's Shi'a militants, including the Mahdi Army.

Even so, I wonder if the scale of the militant movement, lethal and vicious as it is, has not been overblown. Islam - or rather Islamic terms, Islam as a political ideology -- now seems to be the popular vehicle of anti-Western expression in the Middle East and South Asia - which means that we cannot take the movement as an authentic religious movement, a struggle over "higher values," so much as an authentic political expression of frustration.

In the end, this is what many specialists of this region have been saying all along, while the public in the West has not internalized it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What Makes a Muslim Radical?

John L. Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, has teamed up with Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Muslim studies for Gallup, to study the perspectives of "radical" and "moderate" Muslims in several countries. On the basis of a comparison of the views of 9,000 Muslim respondents who thought the 9/11 attack was justified ["radicals"] and those who thought it was not justified ["moderates"] Esposito and Mogahed have discovered that, contrary to popular wisdom, "radicals" are better off than "moderates," and expect to be better off in the future; they are better educated than "moderates," and are not more "hopeless" than the moderates. The difference between them seems to be that radicals tend to feel that the West threatens and attempts to control their way of life whereas "moderates" are more eager to build ties with the West through economic development.
Esposito has been vilified by the far right for his efforts to explain what the Muslim world is like. I hope his work will be looked at carefully but chances are that, as usual, this report will be read as just another attempt to mitigate Bush's fabricated "war on terror".


Why Are So Many Afraid to Call Iraq a Civil War?

Most of us are so pessimistic about the course of affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia that we can't envision things getting worse. But they keep on getting worse. Yesterday was an example: Once again George W. Bush denied that there is a civil war in Iraq. Then on the Jim Lehrer News Hour there was a serious discussion about whether the fighting in Iraq can be called a civil war. Somehow admitting that it was a civil war seems a threshold; it would mean something new and important if the war can be called a civil war. But Thomas Friedman sees it as even worse than a civil war, "This country is so broken it can't even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons - religion, crime, politics - that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable. … [In the Bosnian civil war] leaders . . . could cut a deal and deliver their faction. But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war - it's gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It's Hobbes's jungle." At least in his view, Iraq has descended below a threshold we could scarcely imagine. The nearest analogue to such an image is the convoluted carnage in Darfur, which is being called genocide. The wreckage of decisions made, bridges crossed and burned, continues to compound.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Middle East Specialists Wanted by U.S. Government

I, along with many others no doubt, have received an advertisement for a specialist of Islam and social affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Level of Education: MA/MS or PHD in History, Anthropology and Religion with emphasis on Iraq, Middle Eastern, Afghanistan and Southwestern Asia ..." Yes, if only such people were in abundance, and already involved in our government. In fact, the government has had a number of smart people whose opinions the administration studiously avoided lest they deflect them from its stated agendas. Now the government wants such people, now that the mess has been made, now that this administration has discovered that it is not possible to confront the outside world without knowing something about it. I wish them well in finding such competent people. And to those who take the job I offer my prayers, that they will be wise and discerning in their advice, and that they will be listened to, that their warnings will be heeded, etc.

U.S. Carried Out Madrasah Bombing

So it turns out that what seemed obvious but that everyone "in the know" denied was indeed what it seemed to be: the US did the bombing in Bajaur after all, not the Pakistani army, as was claimed. And again there appears to have been tragic "collateral damage."

It is regrettable that the truth is so hard to come by, when government announcements are involved. Surely the officials would have known that the truth would eventually come out, to the embarrassment of both governments. Or are our governments innured to scorn and ridicule? By now it should be evident to anyone who pays attention that these government officials *as officials* will misrepresent the truth over and over again. Surely they recognize that the end result of such mindless dissimulation is a general cynicism about virtually everything they say. Someday they might need to cry "wolf" and mean it.


Pashtuns in Pakistan Speak Out Against the Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan

On November 20 there was a remarkable gathering of Pushtun leaders in Peshawar, Pakistan. Remarkable because most of these leaders were coming out openly against Pakistan's support of the Taliban. Musharraf has been insisting that the Taliban are Afghans and are not really supported by Pakistan; and he says Pakistan is doing all it can to control insurgents who might sometimes cross the border into Afghanistan. Not so, says this group of Pushtuns. It is time, they say, that Taliban violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan come to an end. And they called upon the Musharraf government to cut its ties with the radical Islamic movement. Those attending are described as "hundreds," all Pushtuns, in "a peace jirga", or tribal council. The real values of Pushtun society are, one of them said, "being drowned out in a sea of blood" owing to the Taliban insurgency. According to one speaker, "The Taliban [is] not the creation of Pashtun society, but the creation of the Pakistan army." Another described the Taliban "as the tail of the ISI" (Pakistan's intelligence directorate). "We are caught in the middle of warmongers, extremists and militants." This is great news: Finally those who are fed up with the carnage and brutality are speaking up. Lets hope Musharraf and the army - who really do control Pakistan - will admit the deception and bring an end to the war. Well, lets hope anyway. [The Taliban are essentially a Pushtun movement and most of the Pushtuns are in Pakistan: about 40 million versus 12 million in Afghanistan.]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Journalists Killed in Iraq

Bob Herbert points to a UN report that says that among the 7,000 killed in the civil war in Iraq in the last two months eighteen journalists have been killed. Raad Jaafar Hamadi, reporter for Al-Sabah in Baghdad, was shot to death in the streets on November 22, 2006. Other staff of the newspaper have been attacked in the recent past: “One of its technicians was shot and killed in Baghdad on Sept. 9. In August a car bomb exploded in the paper's office parking lot in the capital, killing one person and wounding 30.” Altogether, 92 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began and 36 other employees and associates of media organizations have been killed, all but one of them Iraqi. The loss of any human being is a tragedy; every life is precious in the sight of God. But the loss of journalists – the targeting of journalists – has special significance: it is the loss of those who might reveal to the outside world what is happening. When a journalist is killed or intimidated from describing what he/she sees or can collect from others who have seen events, the world looses access to what is happening among human beings. Without them there would only be silence, darkness. Well, not silence but propaganda, since those in power prefer to tell stories that enhance their own interests. And that is the point, of course. That’s why those who are trying to get to the truth are targeted. We grieve for the loss of life, and we grieve for the loss to the world when access to information on the human condition is stolen by an assassin's bullet. Ana Politkovskaia is dead; Daniel Pearl is dead; and now Raad Jaafar Hamadi is dead. Again, the ancient wisdom warns: “men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” Let us hope that those who seek the truth will be free to expose to the light what they know.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jewish Extremists Attack Human Rights Worker in Israel

It's troubling that the media have so far said little or nothing about an attack on a Swedish woman in Israel who was trying to protect Palestinian children. The main source for it is International Solidarity Movement. I found it on the site of MPACUK, which describes itself as "a non-profit making organisation working with the community, helping Muslims to help themselves. We are not a charity but a unique Empowerment System; the first of it's kind for Muslims in Europe and it is our aim to defend Muslim interests and Islam throughout Britain and the world." The story they tell is the following "Jewish Settlers attack Swedish woman," 23 November 2006]:

"A 19-year old Swedish human rights worker had her cheekbone broken by a Jewish extremist in Hebron today. Earlier the same day at least five Palestinians, including a 3-year-old child, were injured by the settler-supporting extremists, . . . Palestinian schoolchildren on their way home were also attacked. The Israeli army, which was intensively deployed in the area, did not intervene to stop the attacks." [The woman] "walked through the Tel Rumeida checkpoint with a small group of human rights workers (HRWs) to accompany Palestinian schoolchildren to their homes. They were confronted by about 100 Jewish extremists in small groups. They started chanting in Hebrew "We killed Jesus, we'll kill you too!" … . After about thirty seconds of waiting, a small group of very aggressive male Jewish extremists surrounded the international volunteers and began spitting at them, . . . Then men from the back of the crowd began jumping up and spitting, while others from the back and side of the crowd kicked the volunteers. The soldiers, who were standing at the checkpoint just a few feet behind the HRWs, looked on as they were being attacked." . . . [As she fell to the ground] the group of Jewish extremists who were watching began to clap, cheer, and chant. . . . . The extremists, . . . . were allowed to stay in the area and continued watching and clapping as the HRWs tried to stop the flow of blood from the young woman's face. Some, . . . even tried to take photos of themselves next to her bleeding face, giving the camera a "thumbs-up" sign." [At least one of the attackers was in fact from France.] . . . [It turns out that] The settlers in Tel Rumeida encourage Jewish tourists to come to support them, as a way of making up for their small numbers. Today, hundreds had come from tours in Israel for a special event - many from overseas: France, England and the United States.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Iraqi Civilian Deaths Continue to Climb

The Lancet medical journal, in a report issued in October, estimated that 655,000 Iraqi people have been killed as a result of the March 2003 US-UK invasion of Iraq. The report was criticized by the Wall Street Journal but one of authors of the study, Les Roberts, replied in a way that seems worthy of respect by the scientific community. Of course, getting accurate numbers in wartime is impossible, but the methods used by the Lancet scientists were disciplined. The point is, the news seems to be worse the more we know about what is going on in Iraq. [Peace, Earth, and Justice News, "Media alert: Lancet report co-author responds to questions".]

Bloomberg has just reported (11/22/06) that "Iraqi Civilian Deaths Reached Record High in October (Update2)." The article says "A total of 3,709 Iraqi civilians were killed in October, a monthly record, and most were victims of sectarian conflict," according to a United Nations report. "Hundreds of bodies continued to appear in different areas of Baghdad handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing,'' the UN said. "Many witnesses reported that perpetrators wear militia attire and even police or army uniforms.'' … "The influence of armed militias is growing, and torture continues to be rampant despite the government's commitment to address human rights abuses,'' the UN said.

The word "genocide" for what is going on in Iraq has just been used by a UN official on TV. The colossal blunders of the last six years seem to be compounding. Where will it all end?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Opium, Militants and the Porous Afghan Borders

On Nov. 20, Sixty Minutes showed a segment on the opium trade in Afghanistan. It showed some large fields of poppies and tracked the affairs of a merchant who was smuggling large amounts of opium out of the country into Iran whence it would be transported to Europe. The higgle-haggle with the farmer was typical Afghan: "This product is wet; it's not what I was looking for. But since you are under such difficulty now, with such a large family, I'll give you …." The process - negotiation, loading, shipping, transferring to other shippers, etc. -- was pretty much in the open, although the smugglers did not act with complete impunity: their convoy of several vehicles crossing the border into Iran had, at one point, to turn back because of the danger - apparently the Iranian officials were not in the employ of the smugglers like the Afghanistan police, whose attempts to stop them were perfunctory. To me, the most significant part of the story was that all the
communication was in Pushtu. Sixty Minutes did not say where the poppy fields were or where the crossing point was into Iran but it clearly was within Pushtu speaking territory. Presumably Uzbeks and Tajiks and others are involved in the drug trade but here the producers and dealers were Pushtuns.
At this time the Pakistanis are noting the rising importance of Pushtuns for their affairs. Imtiaz Gul, in The Friday Times ["Jirgas as panacea?", November 17-23, 2006 - Vol. XVIII, No. 39] attacks the recent talk about solving problems through "jirgas" the Pushtun custom of collectively consulting notable figures to result problems. Gul describes a debate over whether jirgas can solve the many problems among Pakistan's Pushtuns. And of course the Taliban, both as a problem and as participants in the jirgas, figure prominently in this argument. Gul notes that the carnage on both sides of the border - Pushtu areas in either case - has been huge:
he says 3,000 in Afghanistan south and southeast quarters and the loss of life in the strike on a madrassah in Bajaur (at least 80 dead, some said to be children) and in retaliation the suicide bomber attack on a military instillation in Dargai (at least 42 dead and 20 wounded). These clashes have generated a new focus on Pushtuns and the need to convene jirgas to bring out a modicum of social order. Gul says that the idea of jirgas was broached at the White House (unpalatable?) dinner that brought Presidents Karzai and Musharraf together. Somehow the use of the Pushtun word "jirga" to indicate a council meeting is supposed to evoke images of consensual decision making; it's a view the Afghanistan government, especially under Da'ud, promoted as part of the Pushtu -mongering of that administration. Gul says their has even been talk of a cross-border jirga: again, I wonder if it can produce the results hoped for. The most encouraging thing about this talk is that it is taking place. By now the Pakistani military has to be eager for some kind of resolution. Well, at least some kind of reduction in the violence. Do they really want to stop producing those holy war fighters who would be ready to die for Islam in Kashmir? That would be a profound turn-around in policy. And if it ever takes place it surely will make a huge difference in the prospects for peace.

War on Terrorism Doomed to Failure?

Patrick Seale in Al-Hayat (Nov 17, 2006) notes that Dr Louise Richardson, in a recent book, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat, has written what many others of us have been saying - shouting into the wind - for some time: "'The declaration of a global war on terrorism has been a terrible mistake and is doomed to failure.'" The difference now is that this desperate assertion is finally getting a hearing. Seale points out that finally there is now a discussion in the decision making circles about the condition of the world after six years of Bush II's foreign policy. At least now the nature of the situation can be discussed, now that no one is claiming that the "liberal media" have exaggerated the problem. Seale also quotes George Soros: "The war on terror cannot be won." Rather, "an endless war against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money."
What to do about so great a disaster is, finally, the new question. U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, says he has the answer: the solution is to fight it out in Iraq. This he declared in congressional committees last Wednesday. But at the same time he rejected calls to either boost U.S. troop levels to quell the violence or to start a phased withdrawal from Iraq. And in a speech last Friday he said that if the world does not find a way to stem the rise of Islamic militancy, it will face a third world war.
Dangerous as the situation is, as he presents it, he doesn't want to increase the level of US commitment to Iraq. That seems like more of the same: On the one hand our leaders tell us that the situation is desperate; on the other hand they don't want to make the kind of commitment that would be necessary to deal with a situation so desperate that it could lead to world war III. Given such doublemindedness, what hope is there that a serious commitment will be made to address the ever worsening situation in the Middle East and Central Asia?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Afghan Women Seek Death by Fire

A new BBC report says that the number of young women in Afghanistan setting fire to themselves to escape abuse has been increasing dramatically. 36 cases in Kabul this year, and incidents are reported every day in Herat. "It is the final decision for women who don't have any other way to solve their problems." The practice has been noted in Iran among women similarly trapped in what they regard as hopeless situations but it is relatively new to Afghanistan.

Afghan Women Seek Death by Fire

Published: November 15, 2006 (BBC)

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are committing suicide by setting fire to themselves to escape difficult lives, according to NGOs based in the country.

Secret Terror and the Conspiracy of Silence

One of the things I have learned in my long life is the power of rhetoric. Rhetoric is what politicians live by: "War on Terror", "Clash of Civilizations", "Crusade against evil", "War on Poverty," "We are here - the real Islamic front and the real Islamic opposition against Zionism, Communism, and imperialism" [Ayman Zawahiri]. But besides the turns of phrase, the gripping metaphors, there is another rhetorical form, silence. The world has been silent about slavery - the slaves once held in New York as well as those now, in our time, who are captured, abused, and whose labor produces goods bought by us on the global market.

My friend Sami Saddiqi has brought to my attention a book that has been around a good while that I have not faced: Kevin Bales, 2004. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. [[2nd ed.] Berkeley: University of California.] Everyone should read it, for like so many practices going on in our time, it exposes a side of ourselves as human beings the we can hardly bear to see. We would rather cover it with silence.

Here is an example of a practice we would rather not see or talk about [from a Human Rights Report on Pakistan, reproduced in the book, p 157]:

["Salman" was] a Punjabi man in this thirties [who] did not get along with the jamadar at a brick kiln near Kasur, as the jamadar beat him on any excuse. He had a number of scars from this treatment. Once, in June 1993, after a disagreement with the jamadar, he was beaten unconscious and then locked in a small shed with no food for three days. After the third day he was brought out in front of the other brick kiln workers where he was hung upside down by a rope and beaten with a long stick. The jamadar laughingly told the other workers that this would be their punishment if they disobeyed him.

If the practices of human beings can be "read" as texts conveying meaning, a point we now are used to making, then what is the rhetorical force of this practice, viewed as a text? It can hardly be anything other than terrorism. The whole system could not work without terror.

The Bible says that at the end of time, the merchants of the world will weep for the destruction of "Babylon," the world's great emporium where among other things they have been trading slaves. I always thought, "It cannot be; this is the modern world." But here it is: A real practice, in many places around the world (Bales tells us about France, Thailand, Mauritania, Brazil, India, and Pakistan). And everywhere it is covered by the rhetoric of denial, and silence.

Monday, November 13, 2006

China's Muslims Awake to Nexus of Needles and AIDS

An issue that has been given little comment is the possibility of the spread of AIDS in Central Asia. Like other societies there is of course a reluctance to bring it up -- my colleague Shanti Parikh has discovered in Uganda that people won't discuss it even as the disease is decimating the population. That the Chinese are addressing the problem in Xinjiang is something new in Central Asia. The rumours all through the area are that various forms of homosexuality are not uncommon, and that the numbers people addicted to heroin are growing rapidly according to all estimates. Both these practices are said to be associated with the AIDS epidemic. So it's worth taking note that at least in Xinjiang the the Chinese officials are taking the problem seriously. Will that happen in Afghanistan? Pakistan? Iran? The ex-Soviet Central Asian states? Probably not for a good while. And what could that mean over the long term?

China’s Muslims Awake to Nexus of Needles and AIDS

Publised: November 12, 2006 (New York Times)

The story of Almijan, a gaunt 31-year-old former silk trader with nervous eyes, has all the markings of a public health nightmare.

... The way the authorities handled Mr. Almijan, including his treatment with methadone, is part of a sea change by the Chinese public health establishment, which is struggling to confront an increase in intravenous drug use and an attendant rise in AIDS cases in Xinjiang, an overwhelmingly Muslim region close to the rich poppy fields of Afghanistan and near the border with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Afghan Newspapers Expose of Pakistan's Dilemmas

The Afghanistan newspaper Pajhwok joins the chorus of criticism of the Pakistanis. The importance of this article is that it is in Pushtu for the Afghanistan audience.

'Islamabad in dilemma over Taliban role'
Published: October 27, 2006 (Pajhwok)

. . . [A]ccording to the imam of Peshawars 17th-century Mahabat Khan Mosque, who is also director of the Jamia Ashrafia, a Deobandi madrassa, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, . . ."The heart of this government is with the Taliban. The tongue is not." . . . "I think they want a weak government and want to support the Taliban without letting them win." He said that the ISI was supporting the Taliban, because of the "double policy of the government." . . . "We are supporting them (the Taliban) to give the Americans a tough time. Leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban and foreign fighters will not give Afghan President Hamid Karzai problems. . . .

... Accoding to "A former chief of staff of Pakistan Army, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, . . . Muslims . . . must reach out to defend the tyrannised, are now a "global deterrent force". . . . "Aslam Beg played a leading role in the militarys creation of asymmetrical assets, jargon for the jihadis who have long been used by the military as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan."
Also, . . . . "many Pakistanis believe India is backing the Baluch insurgency in Pakistans far south, clouding the prospects for the new, Chinese-built port in Gwadar. The port is Pakistans single largest investment in its economic future and has been attacked by Baloch rebels.


Taliban Institutionalized in Pakistan?

The Pakistani newspaper expresses worry that the Taliban are now officially recognized by the Musharraf regime. The Taliban in some places are now free to impose their particular view of Islamic practice on the population of some tribal areas.

Taliban in Command?
Published: October 25, 2006 (Dawn Pakistan)

EMBOLDENED, it seems, by the September 5 accord with the government, militants in North Waziristan are now institutionalising their authority over the tribal agency. There is now at least one Taliban `office' in Miramshah, the regional headquarters, and there is no doubt as to who is calling the shots in terms of administration. The militants' jurisdiction has lately been formalised by the Taliban council of advisers, with a clearly defined territory in and around Miramshah demarcated as an "area of operations" where criminal activities are banned. Here it is the Taliban, not the political administration, who will lay down the law for crimes ranging from theft to murder. Punishment is to be meted out in accordance with the Taliban's peculiar interpretation of the Shariat, not the state law applicable to the tribal areas. Penalties include execution, imprisonment and fines. ....


Musharraf's Impossible Options

We have been generally critical of Musharraf for his failure to deal with the Taliban in Pakistan - or at least what appears to be his two-faced dealing on the matter (saying he doesn't support them when in fact allowing others to support them, and even for them to cross the border into Afghanistan). But there is another reality: It's almost impossible to make it work. In fact, it is worth wondering if Pakistan is still under the grip of an army that basically wants to use militant Islamists for its own purposes. Here is what Zahid Hussain is saying in this week's Newsweek.

Running Out of Options:
Musharraf has tried both hard and soft tactics to stamp out radicalism along Pakistan's border. Neither has worked

Published: November 13, 2006 issue (Newsweek International)

"Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ... has run out of options in the fight against rampant radicalism along his country's rugged western border. Thousands of armed Pashtuns took to the streets in Bajaur to protest the attack, and the demonstrations spilled over to parts of North-West Frontier province, which is ruled by a radical Islamic alliance known as the Muttehida Majlis Amal (MMA). . . . Musharraf has switched tactics in trying to deal with the Islamists along the border, alternating from military action to peace deals and now, apparently, back to armed force. Neither approach has worked. At the heart of Musharraf's predicament is the failure of his plan to pacify pro-Taliban tribesmen in Waziristan with a peace accord. . . . Musharraf made the deal under pressure from his Army, which had grown disenchanted with the occupation of north Waziristan and a lack of progress in pacifying the region. Around 700 soldiers have been killed in the area, and at least six middle-ranking Army officers have been court-martialed for refusing to fight. . . . But . . . the Waziristan truce appears to have contributed to deteriorating conditions in the eastern Afghan border provinces of Khowst, Paktia and Paktika. . . . What might work? Maybe nothing, say experts. Any further military operation in the border areas could split the Army. And left alone, the Islamists continue to pursue jihad. Caught between the almost medieval religious fanaticism of the Islamists, a disenchanted Army and the pressing Americans, Musharraf is in a very tight spot indeed.


British troops will die for as long as Bush and Blair allow it

According to Ahmed Rashid, last week in Brussels, Nato ambassadors devoted two days of secret discussions on what to do with Pakistan. Musharraf has been supporting the Taliban in Pakistan despite claims to the contrary. Bush and Blair are covering for Musharraf because they want his support in case they decide to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. The problem is so severe that Nato's very survival could be at stake in its summit meeting in Riga this month, Rashid says. Not good news.

British troops will die for as long as Bush and Blair allow it
Published: November 1, 2006 (Daily Telegraph)

Faced with mounting pressure from Nato over Pakistan's alleged harbouring of the Taliban, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf's response was not to arrest Taliban leaders residing in Quetta, but to bomb a religious school hundreds of miles to the north.
European and Nato tolerance levels for Musharraf's two-track policy of hunting down al-Qa'eda, while allowing Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to recruit, plan and arm themselves in Balochistan province, is now at an all-time low. ... Taliban (and by default al-Qa'eda) base areas are being established in Pakistan's northern tribal agencies and Balochistan, which are spreading to the Afghan side of the border because of a shortage of Nato troops. International terrorists take advantage of such base areas to train, arm and collect funds. ...
British policy is even more short sighted. To its credit Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI) is giving its fullest cooperation to Britain's MI5 in tracking down British-born Pakistani militants who travel between the two countries. MI5 and the Foreign Office have been seduced by this cooperation and have warned British commanders in Helmand province not to rock the boat by accusing the ISI of helping the Taliban.
Pakistan .. . [has offered] full cooperation on "one-off" terrorist cases involving a few individuals, but [will] do little to stem the Taliban crossing into Afghanistan or the rapid Talibanisation that is taking place inside Pakistan. ... Despite the promises made ... there has been no reform of the madrassas, no serious attempt to deal with extremists and the military remains in political cahoots with the largest Islamic fundamentalist party that aids the Taliban - the Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam. ...
European publics want answers as to why the Taliban are back when they were supposed to be finished and why their media is reporting that the Taliban leaders are in Pakistan


Friday, November 10, 2006

The Struggle for Control of the Taliban

The struggle for control of the Taliban and Taliban-sympathizers within Pakistan continues.

While the Americans were closely following election results a devastating blast in a Pakistan military instillation killed more than 40 soldiers, the deadliest attack yet on the Pakistan Army by someone collected to the Islamist militants.

The reason for the attack appears to be retaliation for the October 30 attack on seminary in Bajaur tribal area in which 85 people died. The attack was said to be launched by Pakistani forces against suspected militants in the country's tribal region where, it was said, suicide bombers were being trained for attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although denied by Pakistan officials, many people in the region believed the attack could not have been possible without American
or NATO involvement. It generated large demonstration in parts of Pakistan, especially in Bajaur and other tribal areas.

Pakistan's Troublesome Borders
Published: November 9, 2006 (Newsweek International)

Musharraf has tried both hard and soft tactics to stamp out radicalism along Pakistan's border. Neither has worked.

Suicide Attack on Army Base: search on for bomber's aide
Published: November 9, 2006 (Dawn)

At least 40 soldiers were killed and 20 others wounded when a suicide bomber struck a military base in Dargai, 100kms north of here, on Wednesday morning, officials said.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Continued disappointment after Rumsfeld?

Juan Cole has just written,

"I am afraid there may be a great deal of disappointment and even more anger when the Iraqis gradually realize that [newly appointed Secretary of Defense] Gates cannot provide security either. It is not clear, either, that the Democrats can bring the troops home any time soon. Disappointment and anger in Iraq turn into violence."

While some people in the US and in Iraq may rejoice at the loss of Rumsfeld, all the problems that plague Iraq - and Afghanistan/ Pakistan - are still in place. So far, we don't have a clear strategy for bringing peace to this hornet's nest stirred up by reckless decisions of the Bush administration. We can pray for the new leadership to make progress at finding a solution.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Great War for Civilization

As the mayhem goes on, the loss of life, the confusion in the councils of the powerful, we all may wonder, as does Robert Fisk, recipient of the Lannan award for cultural freedom:

"Have they all died for history, then, those thousands of dead …whom I have seen with my own eyes across the Middle East? The dead soldier with the bright wedding ring on his finger, the slaughtered masses of Sabra and Chatila, the Iranians putrefying in the desert, the corpses of Palestinians and Israelis and Lebanese and Syrians and Afghans, the unspeakable suffering of the Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese, Afghan, Israeli - and, yes, American - torture chambers; was this for history? Or for justice? Or for us?"

-Robert Fisk
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Friday, November 03, 2006

Response to a Disillusioned Officer

I want to thank "Anonymous" for his comment yesterday. The statement is profoundly worrisome. I here parse what he said, to make clear how significant this brief note is.

"I am a senior military officer who recently returned from Afghanistan. It is shocking to me that there is little understanding, or concern, about the war in Afghanistan here in Washington. When one is in Afghanistan, particularly when one is in the field, one deludes oneself into believing that someone is in charge and someone cares what is going on. There is no such someone. I feel particularly sorry for the Afghans."

It is easy to see why this "senior military officer" has to speak anonymously. He is shocked at the lack of understanding and concern about a war that has been going on since 2001 and has taken several hundred American lives. He has been "deluded" into believing that someone was in charge in Washington who actually cared about that war: No such person exists. The implications of this statement by a "senior military officer" are shattering.

"Anonymous" has had responsibility in a setting ("the field") where his own life and the lives of others were likely put at risk, and now, after such effort and so much risk (and loss?) he is shocked to discover that no one in Washington cares.

Two important consequences of his experience: One is that the struggle to establish a secure and stable state in Afghanistan is unlikely -- can we say it is effectively impossible? If no one in the Washington establishment actually cares, what hope is there of getting control of the situation in a difficult and conflicted place like Afghanistan? The other consequence is the likelihood that disillusionment will eat away the commitment and morale of troops being deployed into Afghanistan and Iraq and indeed in other dangerous places. We have already noted how "The Destruction of Conscience and the Betrayal of the Honor Code from the Top Down" (October 20, 2006) became a rot within the military system after the Vietnam War. What are we doing to our military, the finest in the world, under these circumstances now?

Thank you, Anonymous, for your note. We join you in your disillusionment and feelings of helplessness. Like Jeremiah we are crying out "O Land, land, land! Listen!"


Pentagon wants to control the news: How can it be a disinterested source?

We have been relieved that finally the administration is admitting how serious the problems are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President has stopped criticizing the “liberal press” for its reports on the number of deaths of Iraqis and Americans. For once the President and the “liberal press” are living in the same world. A forthcoming election at a time when the public is unhappy with events in Iraq and Afghanistan has focused the attention of the administration in a new way. Attempts to represent reality in such terms as “mission impossible” and “last throes” have been abandoned for a bracing encounter with the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

But now we learn that the Pentagon is not satisfied with the reporting and wants to control the news. “The Pentagon is reorganizing its public affairs operation in an attempt to influence news coverage, amid internal frustration at the tone and substance of reporting on Iraq and on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.” The plan is even “to recruit ‘surrogates’ who are not on the department’s payroll to defend its policies.” The main concern is to dispute “stories about the war in Iraq and about Mr. Rumsfeld that [the Pentagon] deem[s] to be inaccurate.” According to an unnamed senior military officer “They are completely consumed with trying to control the message on Iraq.” So they are “adopting tactics more often associated with a political campaign, rather than the military.” An example of their new attempt to control the news: Last month when a reporter quoted “the military’s top spokesman” in Iraq as saying that “the results of recent security operations [were] ‘disheartening,’” the report was challenged by the Pentagon. Why would they challenge reports on what was actually said openly and publicly?

This kind of drift toward controlling information is extremely worrisome because the Pentagon is a profoundly interested party in the reporting of events. Like other political figures who want to control the news (for example, Slobindan Miloshivic when he was orchestrating genocide in Serbia, Fanjo Tujman, involved in genocide in Croatia, and other political figures like Ahmadenijad in Iran, Musharraf in Pakistan, Kim Jong-il in North Korea, Umar Hasan Al-Bashir of Sudan, for instance) the Pentagon has many reasons for wanting to withhold unseemly reports on its behavior and to present their behavior in a favorable light. As they say, generals bury their mistakes.

The reason the founding fathers in the United States left room for a free and independent press was because, in the words of the ancient wisdom, “men loved darkness rather than light; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” There is no other way than to allow an open free press that, whatever their limitations, seeks to represent events and statements as they actually take place, embarrassing as they may be to certain interested parties. This is the way of a free society.

“Pentagon Widens Its Battle to Shape News of Iraq War”
By David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker
Published: New York Times, November 3, 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

War on West shifts back to Afghanistan

There are a number of signs that Afghanistan is a locus of increasing concern:
Not only are the Taliban coming back in force but also many
militant Islamists from elsewhere are coming to Pakistan or Afghanistan to join in the Taliban anti-western movement.

War on West shifts back to Afghanistan
Published: October 26, 2006 (Los Angeles Times

Sebastian Rotella [LA Times] says that the insurgents in Iraq are shifting their attention to Afghanistan. "Muslim extremists aspiring to battle the West [are turning] their attention back to the symbolically important and increasingly violent turf of Afghanistan." "Militants played a major role in suicide attacks and kidnap-killings." "Insurgent leaders in Iraq are now mainly interested in foreign recruits ready to die in suicide attacks." "An accelerating Afghan offensive by the resurgent Taliban offers a clearer battleground and a wealth of targets".
The movement of
foreign fighters to Iraq has "significantly declined in recent months, "There is less need for them in Iraq, because there's a need above all for kamikazes and there are not an infinite number of volunteers," accordingto a French authority. "The Iraqi insurgency is now very well organized around Iraqis. Those who want to fight, but not necessarily to die as martyrs, go elsewhere."
"Today they return to the route of Afghanistan,
or the tribal zones of Pakistan, where clearly they are thriving,"
Afghanistan there are certainly many Pakistanis and people from Arab countries and some from North Africa" who have come recently to help the Taliban resistance activities.

See this article in its entirety at

Monday, October 30, 2006

Armed and defiant: a tour of duty with the Taliban army

The rise of the Taliban is worrisome. We have been reassured that they were recently crushed by the British in a recent battle, but this report by Dave Loyn is not encouraging. Here are some notes from his article:

Armed and defiant: a tour of duty with the Taliban army
Published: October 25, 2006 (The Independent [UK])

"The Taliban were demonstrating their control over a wide region. These are the same Taliban that Brigadier Ed Butler, the commander of British forces in the region, said were "practically defeated" in Helmand.
"Instead, they are confident and well-armed, all with AK-47s, and many of them carry rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
"... Their communications equipment and vehicles are new and they have a constant supply of fresh men from the madrassas, the religious schools in Pakistan. Recently, the "Waziristan accord", which has seen Pakistani forces withdraw from parts of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, has made it even easier for the Taliban to manoeuvre. ... Few carry any possessions other than weapons.

.... They demand and get food and shelter wherever they stop, but it is impossible to say how enthusiastic the villagers really are.
"The Taliban commander said the tactic of suicide bombing, still relatively new to Afghanistan, would be employed far more intensively in the future. "There are thousands waiting at the border," he said. "We are trying to stop them because they would cause chaos if they all came at once."
Â… Driving around the region during the next day with a local commander, Mahmud Khan, was a little like visiting villages in Britain might be with a popular local politician. He knew everybody, and stopped often to chat.He said: "We gained our freedom from the British 160 years ago, and should remain free. We don't accept the claim that they are here to rebuild our country. They have done nothing for us."
... Meanwhile, the scale of institutionalised corruption practised by the Afghan National Army is shocking. They demand money at gunpoint from every driver on the main roads in the south. It was to stop just this kind of casual theft that the Taliban was formed in the first place in 1994."

Bashing Pakistan

One of my Pakistani friends has pointed to a recent editorial in the Pakistani press, in which the author points to the new criticism of Pakistan as a "media's sensationalist herd mentality" in its blaming of Pakistan for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For many in the West it is impossible to conceive that Pakistan has been unable to get control of the "anti-Western forces" within its territory. The Pakistani view is that the failures of the West are to blame for the rise of the Taliban. Western policies have alienated many of the Pashtuns. Perhaps this is also a sign of the future, in that the U.S. might be able to externally influence the situation in a post-Karzai Afghanistan only through measured blackmail and intimidation tactics to induce Pakistani cooperation.

Bashing Pakistan
Published: September 2006 (The News International)

It seems no matter what we [Pakistan] do as a country in the context of the war on terror, we will continue to be the West's
whipping boy -- especially the US media.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Karzai's Wild Card

A recent artilc by Dr Roashan sees Karzai's recent proposal to meet with Pushtun tribal leaders on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a promising proposal. It seems to me a possible way to upstage Musharraf's recent deal with the tribes in Waziristan, to leave them alone if they "promise" to behave. And it is conceivable that they will talk with Karzai. But whether their current arrangements will change is problematic; they have few reasons now to consider any major shifts in policy.

Karzai's Wild Card
Published: October 10, 2006 (

President Karzai has taken upon himself to seek a radical solution to the problem of increased violence by Taleban in his country in meeting with tribal leaders on the Pashtun lands. …[B]ecause of the fact that the Taleban emanated from among Pashtun students of the madrassas in Pakistan and because of the shifting of the center of extremist activities from Afghanistan to Pakistan and newly found basis for al-Qaeda within the Pashtun belt in Pakistan, it seems a necessity that Karzai for the first time should play his so far un-played Pashtun card.

During his last month's trip to America, he overshadowed in rudence and diplomacy his Pakistani counterpart, President Musharraf.
… General Musharraf, [for his part] played his role as a general rather than a civilian politician. His statements verged between the two extremes of harsh and blunt military leader's utterances and those of a soft spoken diplomat. Yet … he left many questions unanswered regarding his pet military spy agency, the ISI, Inter-Service Intelligence organization and its role in supporting of Taleban that are carrying out wide range of violence in Afghanistan and especially in the south of the country. President Musharraf did not succeed in defending in any convincing way the treaty he had signed with tribal leaders in north Waziristan. The treaty, some believe, encourages Taleban and al-Qaeda to continue training insurgents, now unhindered and rather freely in the semiautonomous tribal zone. The trained and regrouped Taleban would then easily cross the border into Afghanistan and commit acts of violence.

President Karzai [has] … proposed joint meetings on both sides of the border area with leaders mostly of Pashtun tribes to deal with the annoying issue of the Taleban resurgence and its acts of violence.

This ... is one of the rare proposals that has surfaced regarding [the search for] a non-military solution to the question of insecurity in Afghanistan. ...

Afghanistan much like its neighbor, Pakistan is a tribal society. In both countries Islam has consistently played a unifying role among many ethnic groupings that live within their boundaries. [But in] Pakistan where after a little more than half a century of its life as an artificial nation, the four nationalities of Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Pashtun have failed to thoroughly emancipate as a nation that is united. Hypothetically, if you take away the religious factor from Pakistan the country will fall apart. In Afghanistan however, even without consideration of the factor of religion, the Afghans would remain united because of their thousands of years of history. [B]ecause of the shifting of the center of extremist activities from Afghanistan to Pakistan and newly found bases for al-Qaeda within the Pashtun belt in Pakistan, it seems a necessity that Karzai … plays his so far un-played Pashtun card. If [the meeting is] planned thoroughly with ample preparations …, the Afghan President would be in a good position to negotiate with the Pashtun tribal leaders and find a lasting solution to the problem posed by Taleban.

Read the article in its entirety at

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Captured Taliban say they were sent to fight by Pakistani mullahs

Despite the denials of Pakistan's generals, the indications that Pakistan is providing sanctuary and support for the newly insurgent Taliban are legion.
Here is but one piece of evidence:

Captured Taliban say they were sent to fight by Pakistani mullahs
Published: October 19, 2006 (AFP)

Handcuffed and weary, three confessed Taliban fighters told this week how they crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out a "jihad" against troops after mullahs said it was their duty as Muslims. … [T]wo Pakistanis and an Afghan -- were captured after a fierce five-hour battle in Paktika province Tuesday, just a few kilometers (miles) from the border. The dead were mostly Afghans but included an Arab, Chechens, Pakistanis, Turks and a man from Yemen… "Mullahs in Pakistan were preaching to us that we are obliged to fight jihad in Afghanistan because there are foreign troops -- there is an Angriz (British) invasion," dishevelled Alahuddin told reporters. …. After five hours of fighting, 24 Taliban and a soldier were dead. Some of the rebels not killed by the troops blew themselves up with their own grenades, soldiers said.… Alahuddin said he was misled into believing that Afghanistan was overrun by foreign "infidels", …"We were sent to Afghanistan blindly. We call on our other friends in Pakistan and say, 'There is no jihad here, everybody is Muslim,'" he told AFP. Alahuddin was from Miranshah in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area that is just on the other side of the border with Afghanistan's Paktika.
[where] The Pakistan government last month signed a truce with the area's pro-Taliban tribal elders … [a deal that] … Political analyst Samina Ahmed, from the International Crisis Group, … called the deal "irresponsible to say the least". For "all practical purposes, now the Taliban are running the show," she told a meeting in Brussels. [Another prisoner said] "We came to Afghanistan to carry out jihad against British forces - as Muslims we are obliged to do jihad against them, this is what we weretold," he said. … "The cooperation of Pakistan with Taliban and Al-Qaeda is visible," [and Afghan general said]. …"They cross into Afghanistan even in areas where Pakistani posts are installed, but they are not prevented. They carry out attacks and then return."

One step forward, two back

I continue to be impressed with the press in Pakistan. This is not a free country, as can be surmised from the article below, and yet some of their news outlets describe the reality of power politics in Pakistan in devastating ways. Surely the generals, and of course especially Musharraf, are embarrassed by such blunt descriptions of the Machiavellian machinations of Pakistan's several power blocs, each working to its own ends, virtually none of them actually displaying a concern for the country. There is, however, little sign that the religious establishment is embarrassed by revelations of what they do. Below are excerpts from an article by an intrepid professor at the Quaid-e-Azam University in
Islamabad that appeared in the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn. Pray that he and the newspaper will stay safe.


One step forward, two back
Published: October 12, 2006 (Dawn)

[T]he present regime … has a single-point agenda - to stay in power at all costs. It, therefore, does whatever it must and Pakistan moves further away from any prospect of acquiring modern values, and of building and strengthening democratic institutions. … On the one hand, the army leadership knows that its critical dependence upon the West requires that it be perceived abroad as a liberal regime pitted against radical Islamists. On the other hand, and in actual fact,to safeguard and extend its grip on power, it must preserve the status quo. The staged conflicts between General Musharraf and the mullahs are, therefore, a regular part of Pakistani politics. … In a nutshell: provoke a fight, get the excitement going, let diplomatic missions in Islamabad make their notes and CNN and BBC get their clips - and then beat a retreat. At the end of it all, the mullahs would get what they want, but so would the general. … [T]he blasphemy law … under which the minimum penalty is death, has frequently been used to harass personal and political opponents. [But] under the watchful glare of the mullahs, Musharraf hastily [abandoned attempts to rescind it]. … [In another instance,] even before the mullahs actually took to the streets, the government lost nerve and announced its volte-face on March 24, 2005. … [Worse was] the astonishing recent retreat over reforming the Hudood Ordinance, … unparalleled both for its cruelty and irrationality. … These laws prescribe death by stoning for married Muslims who are found guilty of extra-marital sex (for unmarried couples or non-Muslims, the penalty is 100 lashes). …Rape is still more problematic. A woman who fails to prove that she has been raped is automatically charged with fornication and adultery. … [S]he is considered guilty unless she can prove her innocence. [which requires her] to provide "at least four Muslim adult male witnesses, about whom the court is satisfied" who saw the actual act of penetration. General Musharraf, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, proposed amending the Hudood Ordinance [but] outraged the fundamentalists of the MMA, the main Islamic parliamentary opposition, …. The government cowered abjectly and withdrew. ...[Another case:] In 2002, presumably on Washington's instructions, the Pakistan army established military bases in South Waziristan which had become a refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda fleeing Afghanistan. It unleashed artillery and US-supplied Cobra gunships. By 2005, heavy fighting had spread to North Waziristan and the army was bogged down. The generals, safely removed from combat areas, and busy in building their personal empires, ascribed the resistance to "a few hundred foreign militants and terrorists". But the army was taking losses … and soldiers rarely ventured from their forts. Reportedly, local clerics refused to conduct funeral prayers for soldiers killed in action. In 2004, the army made peace with the militants of South Waziristan. It conceded the territory to them, which made the militants immensely stronger. A similar "peace treaty" was signed on September 5, 2006, in the town of Miramshah in North Waziristan, now firmly in the grip of the Pakistani Taliban. [The treaty] met all the demands made by the militants [and] the financial compensation demanded by the Taliban for loss of property and life … [was] "astronomical". …[T]he locals have been left to pay the price. The militants have closed girls' schools and are enforcing harsh Shariah laws in both North and South Waziristan. Barbers have been told "shave and die". Taliban vigilante groups patrol the streets of Miramshah. They check such things as the length of beards, whether the "shalwars" are worn at an appropriate height above the ankles and the attendance of individuals in the mosques. And then there is Balochistan. In 1999, when the army seized power, there was no visible separatist movement in Balochistan, which makes up nearly 44 per cent of Pakistan's land mass and is the repository of its gas and oil resources. Now there is a full-blown insurgency built upon Baloch grievances, … The crisis worsened when the charismatic 79-year old Baloch chieftain and former governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, was killed by army bombs. Musharraf outraged the Baloch by calling it "a great victory". Reconciliation in Balochistan now seems a distant dream. Musharraf and his generals are determined to stay in power. … No price is too high for them. They are the reason why Pakistan fails.