Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Best Medical Care" Being Provided for Peddler of Pakistani Nuclear Technology

In 1976 Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan came to Pakistan bringing "stolen uranium enrichment technologies from Europe," acquired through his position at the classified URENCO uranium enrichment plant in the Netherlands. Put in charge of building, equipping and operating Pakistan's Kahuta facility, he developed an extensive clandestine network in order to obtain the necessary materials and technology to enrich uranium preparatory to developing a nuclear bomb. As a government sponsored program this project was kept under wraps for years, but Dr. Khan would - perhaps without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities (?) - eventually peddle his nuclear expertise to other countries, notably (as far as we know so far) to Libya, North Korea, and Iran. What was a state-sponsored clandestine activity in the 1970s became a private "shadow" enterprise unmonitored by any state in the 1980s and 1990s.

Evidence of the continued respect, even affection, for Dr. A. Q. Khan, mastermind of the Pakistani nuclear weapon, is evinced in the intense interest the public has in his
health. That he is held under house arrest for contraband activities has been lost on the Pakistani public.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Domestic Policy in Iran: Intellectuals and Civil Society under Fire

Bahman Nirumand. Is pointing out that the more international pressure put on Iran the easier it is for the government to stir up citizens' suspicions of both internal and external enemies. The victims are intellectuals, artists, and journalists. The Iranian Writers' Association on August 16 put out a notice saying that "Censorship of literature and the press, filtering of websites, the confiscation of satellite dishes and censorship of film and theatre are mounting day by day." All politically “critical content is censured, but also anything that even hints at renewal, openness and diversity, at enlightenment and modernization.” Intellectuals are being ”publicly denounced and tortured into making false confessions.” In the past Iranian TV has portrayed popular artists, writers and intellectuals as traitors, Western puppets and corrupters whose primarily goal was to undermine Islam and the national culture. Torture has become more common: one of the “many demonstrators arrested during the student uprisings in Tehran in the summer of 1999” was recently tortured to death. The intent, of course, is to spread fear and to intimidate and silence critics and cultural practitioners. Journalists are of course intimidated: “One in five journalists has been imprisoned at least once. On average, journalists don't work longer than seven months for a newspaper, either because the newspaper ends up being banned or because the justice system or secret service recommends that the journalist be fired.” Even the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, presided over by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was declared illegal and officially banned in early August, 2006. The government strategy to spread fear, incite hatred and stir the public's hostility can only be effective if the country is in a permanent state of crisis.

By Bahman Nirumand
August 25, 2006 (Qantara de)

Friday, August 25, 2006

The biggest surprise is that it is a surprise

There has been a buz in the American and European media about the Chatham House report on Iran:
"The US government's "war on terror" has indirectly strengthened the position of Iran in the Middle East, according to a new report by leading British think tank Chatham House."

In fact, the biggest surprise in this discussion is that people in the West are just now discovering how much Iran has gained from American policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. This has been noted for, I suppose, a year among the Arabs -- and how could the Iranians have missed it? Are the media this slow on the draw? Yes, of course, by attacking the Taliban, mortal enemy of Iran, and by attacking Saddam, the other mortal enemy of Iran, the United States has given Iran more security than it ever could have had otherwise. The surprise is that for the western media this is news -- now, so late.

Pakistan's Wars

Recently there have been two articles with similar titles, “Afghanistan’s Other War” (The American Prospect July 12, 2006) and “Pakistan’s Other War” (Time, Asia Magazine edition, Jun. 19, 2006). Actually, they could both be entitled “Pakistan’s Wars”. It turns out that in both cases, Pakistan’s struggles -- with the Baluch in their own territories or with their neighbor, India – belong to the same bundle in the sense that they are critical issues for a government whose legitimacy is getting shakier by the month. It is hard not to see Pakistan as the most conflicted, even dangerous, place on earth. The Pakistanis are struggling with India over Kashmir – and as the articles indicate, they still resent the loss of East Pakistan (now Bagladesh) – and at the same time their future depends on connecting into the riches of Central Asia, which requires that they do everything possible to have a commanding presence in Afghanistan. In the mean time they have to deal with insurgent Baluch who believe they have been short-changed, and who in fact sit atride not only vital gas reserves but also the new port being built at Gwadar, in preparation for the day when it will be the terminus (and access point for the world) of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan. So, our friends who are supposed to be “fighting terrorists” must somehow balance crises on three fronts: Afghanistan, which is increasingly unstable, but in any case is resentful Pakistan's failure to control the Taliban who are spilling across their borders; India, for which Pakistan needs to keep producing a reserve of holy warriors to fight for Kashmir; and Baluchistan within its own borders, for which Pakistan must deploy a professinal army. Not one of these problems is new or will go away in the near future. A dangerous situation for the country, but also a dangerous situation for the world, as this is a nuclear power.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Shifting Sands: And Now, Islamism Trumps Arabism

In an earlier post I noted that a Pakistani leader of a violent group said they believed in "Huntington's 'Clash of Civilizations' and they would be fighting until Islam becomes the dominant religion. I also quoted the President of Indonesia who feared that such a "clash" would be the "ultimate nightmare." Here is what they are saying in Egypt and the Arab Middle East in the context of the "victory of Hizbullah in Lebanon." According to one observer "The secular resistance movements are gone. Now there are the Islamists coming in. The new nationalism is religious nationalism, and one of the main reasons is dignity. People want their dignity back." And another commentator: "People have come to identify themselves more as Muslims during the last five years in response to the U.S.-led 'war on terrorism' which Egyptians frequently feel is a discriminatory campaign targeting Muslims and Islam worldwide." Note that this Islamic nationalism [in Egypt] is pitted against the regime in power whereas in some cases [Pakistan] Islamism is the tool of the state inorder to stay in power. RLC

August 20 (The New York Times)

By Michael Slackman

The prevailing view in the Middle East is that where Arab nations failed to stand up to Israel and the United States, an Islamic movement succeeded.

She grew up in Cairo with the privileges that go to the daughter of a military officer, attended a university and landed a job in marketing. He grew up in a poor village of dusty unpaved roads, where young men work long hours in a brick factory while dreaming of getting a government job that would pay $90 a month.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Samuel Huntington developed the thesis that “[C]ulture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilizational identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world.” “Of all the objective elements which define civilizations,” he says, “the more important usually is religion. … [P]eople who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other …” (p. 20, 42, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996).

As far as I know, most scholars in the West have scorned Huntington’s thesis.

But in the Muslim world the notion is taken very seriously. Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Islamist group in Pakistan, Lashkar-i Taiba, has said, “We believe in Huntington’s clash of civilizations, and our jihad will continue until Islam becomes the dominant religion.” (Quoted in Hassan Abbas (2005) Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, p 212). And the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has recently said that Middle East hostilities involving Israel “will radicalize the Muslim world, even those of us who are moderate today. From there, it will be just one step away to that ultimate nightmare: a clash of civilizations.” (Quoted by Scott Atran, “Is Hamas Ready to Deal?” The New York Times, August 17, 2006).

That Huntington’s notion is ignored or scouted in the West but embraced in the Muslim world, says much about the two cultural worlds. If we want to understand others we must begin by listening. What does it mean that one of the most violent Islamist groups in the world “believes in Huntington’s clash of civilizations”? Or that the President of the largest Muslim country in the world believes we could be “one step away” from “the ultimate nightmare: a clash of civilizations”?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Nation Building at Gunpoint

Even though this article is very long there is so much specific information here that I wanted it to be posted. It raises some questions: where do the Taliban get their money? No longer is money a problem for them. Dignifying and to laundering the reputations "of the worst war criminals in the country"? In the long run, much depends on how these people behave.

July 15 (Sydney Morning Herald)

By Paul McGeough

In a land where the Taliban will pay $US25,000 for the body of an MP, many question the Afghan parliament's ability to help build real democracy, writes Paul McGeough.

As a warlord with all the backing of his Alokozai tribal elders, Dad Mohammed Khan did not stoop to campaigning for his seat in Afghanistan's infant parliament. Suspicious electoral officials disallowed several ballot boxes in which the heavy- set candidate scored 100 per cent. But Khan still topped the vote in Helmand province, a parched southern wasteland that local opium farmers and smugglers call the valley of death. And within days of the poll, the spilling of more blood cruelly punctured Khan's air of expectation and his urge to celebrate - his brother Daoud, the security chief in the province's Sangin district, was mowed down in a hail of Taliban bullets as he and four of his bodyguards emerged from the local bazaar. All 350 members of the new parliament have been threatened or attacked for having the courage to take their place in Afghanistan's new American-sponsored democratic order. But none of their stories comes anywhere near the butchery the resurgent Taliban was storing up for Khan.

Iran's Nobel Winner Risks Arrest

Shirin Ebadi's book "Iran Awakening" (2006) brings her experience in Iran up to a fairly recent time. Clearly the Iranian government is not pleased with the recognition she has received, and if they read her book they will be even less pleased. Their attempts to quench all open expression of dissent have been relentless. RLC

August 12 (The Age)

By Paul McGreough

AMID a new crackdown on human rights activists, the Iranian Government is attempting to isolate one of the country's most high-profile lawyers, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A String of Intelligence Failures

This is a serious indictment against the intelligence agencies of the West, but it also reveals something of the attitude of the comfortable capitalist world toward the rest. Consider his critique: "A cultural arrogance seems to have set in with Western diplomatic services and intelligence agencies. They no longer take the trouble or time to understand why people would spend six years building tunnels or sending out suicide bombers." RLC

August 6 (International Herald Tribune)

By Ahmed Rashid

LAHORE PAKISTAN - What is it about the intelligence failures by Western armies and governments in the past few years? Despite being armed with the latest high-tech paraphernalia, the richest countries in the world have gone through stunning reversals of fortune when it comes to intelligence gathering and assessment.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pakistan's 'jihadi option' threatens regional peace: analysts

July 16 (Yahoo News)

By Danny Kemp

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan could jeopardise peace in South Asia by clinging to a "jihadi option" despite a high-profile crackdown on Islamic militants by President Pervez Musharraf, analysts say.
Military ruler Musharraf, a major US ally in the "war on terror", has also failed to tackle the so-called holy warriors because he needs Pakistan's hardline Muslim parties on-side, they say.
The result is worsening ties with India -- which says Tuesday's Mumbai bombings were carried out with "cross-border" help -- while Afghanistan is urging him to purge Taliban rebels allegedly based on Pakistani soil.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Journalists thrashed in Kabul

Journalism in the modern world is one of the most vital and, as it turns out, dangerous professions. Sayyaf and his men have been abusive for years. His participation in the democratic process is, like many other of the former mujahedin leaders of the past, more appearance and pretense than reality. We can at least be thankful that the report of this beating has been reported. RLC

KABUL July 29 (Pajhwok Afghan News)

Three staffers working with a private television channel were beaten by armed men while covering a demonstration against former Mujahideen leader and current Member of Parliament Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf in Paghman district of Kabul on Saturday.

Noorullah Rahmani, a reporter with the Tolo TV, said his cameraman Qais Ahmad and their driver were thrashed and their cameras were confiscated by seven gunmen 'loyal to Sayyaf'. Some 400 demonstrators staged the demonstration to protest against illegal grabbing of lands by Sayyaf. Residents of Paghman, west of Kabul and Sayyaf's native district, have held several demonstrations in the past against illegal land grabbing.

Rahmani said they were on the way to the police headquarters of Paghman to get officials' comments after covering the protest and taking photos of burnt photos when the gunmen intercepted them.

Confirming the thrashing of the Tolo workers, Police chief of Paghman Abdul Razzaq said the staffers were beaten by some unidentified gunmen. Sayyaf was not available for comment on the incident.

Head of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association Rahimullah Samandar also confirmed and condemned the beating of journalists. He said it was against all international laws and norms and that warlords were still disturbing journalists' works.

Liza Baron on the street in Damascus

Liza has graciously allowed me to put this up here. It was originally written to a few friends. It is a valuable testimony to the goodwill still out there, despite the many blunders of our government. Thanks, Liza, for this. RLC

After clumsily ordering my first falafel sandwich in uncertain Syrian-colloquial Arabic a few weeks ago, I braced for the inevitable question from the curious vendor: Where are you from? Say Canada, say Canada, my reason, rationality, street smarts, and instinct told me. “America,” I heard myself saying. He smiled broadly. “Where in America?” Say Alaska, say Wyoming, say Nebrasca - “Washington, D.C.,” my voice informed him and a growing crowd of Damascenes waiting for sandwiches. Bracing myself for boos, hisses, and flying falafels, I winced as the TV above his head trumpeted news of President Bush’s exasperated remark to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the conflict would end if the UN would only get “Syria to get Hizbollah to stop doing this shit.” The vendor winked and, grinning as he passed me my sandwich, said with gusto “Ahlan wa sahlan,” a phrase that conveys sincere welcome. It would be the most-repeated expression in the month and a half that I spent in Damascus, Syria, this summer.
Despite daily excoriations of Syria in the American media, I found Syria to be among the most hospitable countries I have ever visited. Exceptionally welcoming of foreigners, Syria has absorbed millions of neighboring refugees escaping violent conflicts. In addition to the constant flow of Palestinians (since 1948), and Iraqis (since 2003), hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have flooded Damascus in a matter of days. Hotel staffs are enduring round-the-clock shifts and filling rooms to the limit, Syrian students on summer vacation have returned to school to transform their classrooms into bedrooms for displaced families, and restaurants and street vendors spend the lull hours between meals producing food for the refugees. Ahlan wa sahlan. The official figure of distinct recognized religious sects within the country the size of North Dakota now numbers eighteen, and Syrians of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds live together without conflict in this stable, tolerant society. Since 2002, when President Bush added Syria to his roll call of rogue nations, a curious phenomenon has occurred in Syria: as its global image deteriorates, the quality of life has improved within the country. After the 2000 death of the iron-fisted Hafiz Al-Assad, his son, the current president Bashar Al-Assad, has opened the society, emphasizing tourism and connecting Syria with the modern world. High-speed internet is now available in cafes and homes with limited censorship, satellite television with channels from the Middle East and Europe is highly accessible, and recently a group of respected professors, journalists, and community leaders wrote an open letter to the President to ease his grip on the country. Jokes involving politics and the secret police, whose presence has eased slightly since Bashar assumed power, can be heard in cafes and in the streets.
Passing a sign commemorating the connection between the Al-Assad family and Syria, my Syrian companion shook his head disgustedly. “Damascus is the oldest city in the world,” he explained. “The Assad family came to power in 1970. There is more to Syria than that father and son.” A favorite joke asks who survives when a plane carrying the President, the Chief of Secret Police, and the Prime Minister crashes into the mountains. The punchline: the Syrian people, of course! Even so, Syrians I spoke to said that compared to other regimes in the Arab world, their government is the best of the worst. Without having much of a choice, Syrians plaster Al-Assad^Òs unsmiling picture on their cars, homes, and stores. In the past three weeks, another face appears next to the President’s, and another flag flies in tandem with the Syrian flag. Syrians have seized the passion of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, their Che Guevara. Before July 12th, the Damascenes I spoke with despised Nasrallah. My good friend deplores his politics, his strategies, and his religious views. After the campaign in Lebanon stretched into its first week, she enlisted me in hanging a distastefully large Hizbollah flag that cast her room in a garish gold and green light. I sent her a quizzical look as we tacked up the last corner and she shrugged sadly. “He’s all we have,” she explained.
In a region where innovative thinkers, advocates of democracy, and anyone who represents a challenge to the status quo disappear in the thick of the night or meet unpleasant fates in car “accidents,” Nasrallah symbolizes a force of change and a stark contrast to the current Syrian leadership, paralyzed by global alienation led by the United States. Theoretically, radical Shi’a Hizbollah should never enjoy the support it has recently garnered in moderate, primarily Sunni Syria. For example, the general public barely tolerates the presence in Damascus of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, and he is categorized as a liability and threat to personal security instead of being extolled as a local hero championing the Muslim cause. Realistically, the effects of wars in three of its five neighboring countries have taken their toll and Syrians are ready for an end to the fighting and a return to normalcy. Millions of Palestinians, Iraqis, and Lebanese have passed through or settled in Syria, and both the conflicts and the huge numbers of refugees have far-reaching effects on Syrian society.
The power of the secret police, for example, had ebbed since the death of the previous president but is now returning with a vengeance because of the tense international climate. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, making it virtually impossible for families to afford their apartments. Prostitution, previously comparatively rare in Syria, has become a disturbing phenomenon as desperate Iraqi women arrive with no income and no hope. The trend disrupts the delicate social equilibrium between Syrian men and women, and the Syrian women with whom I spoke reported feeling more nervous walking alone in the streets at night (a luxury Syrians of all ages and both genders usually enjoy as a benefit of living in a society with an extraordinarily low crime rate). These inconveniences, imbalances, and irregularities are directly associated with conflicts that are American-perpetuated or supported. In a countrythat has traditionally shunned extremism in favor of moderation and tolerance, the embracing of Nasrallah is significant but not surprising.
These days in Damascus, sympathy for the slaughter of innocents- Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Israelis alike- reigns. But under the sorrow and anger is a poignant emotion: confusion. How exactly does the current American government picture its ideal Middle East? Baghdad before the US invasion eerily resembled today’s Damascus, which is to say it was a successful, self-sufficient, highly educated, peaceful society with a sizable middle class and an oppressive leader. Lebanon, just recently rebuilt after 15 years of bloody civil war which finally ended in 1991, before two weeks ago eerily resembled Miami, which is to say it was the chic, cosmopolitan party capital of an open democratic society. The Arab cities and countries that once boasted successful societies have been abruptly reduced to rubble. “What is it that your government wants in the Middle East?” asked an Iraqi refugee. “What system will ever be good enough here to escape the bombs of the US and her allies?”
Days after Israel began striking Lebanese cities in response to Hizbollah^Òs murder of eight soldiers and kidnapping of two soldiers, I spoke with a young Lebanese man who described his perilous journey from south Beirut to Damascus. The agony of the tale was horrifying, but the man shrugged and said, “Well, you know, that’s how war is.” Of course, as a 20 year-old college student from suburban Washington, I have no idea how war is and I told him so. He was incredulous: “You’ve never seen war? The US sends troops to every corner of the world to wage war, and you have no idea what it’s like?”
As President Bush and Condoleezza Rice repeat, it is time for a new Middle East. The Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Palestinians whom I met agree: they are ready for a democracy to choose leaders who will not “disappear” them in the middle of the night and leaders who will stand up to the West to protect their national interests. Remember that the majority of these people consider images of young radicals burning our flag, perpetuating violent acts against innocent Israelis, and blowing themselves up as sickening and detrimental to their national security as we do to ours. Unlike most Americans, they do know how war is. And almost everyone is ready for it to be over.