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