Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Progress against the Taliban?

A recent article in the BBC news by Alastair Leithead gives encouragement that progress is being made among the Taliban. It comes just as the news of the murder of the second Korean Christian volunteer, from among the original 23 who were captured. It is hard to believe that the Taliban, any of them, could think that they attract respect by anyone through the kidnapping of folks so obviously intent on service to the Afghanistan peoples whom the Taliban claim to represent. Nor can we believe that the murder of such prisoners by the Taliban can accomplish anything but the general opprobrium of the world.

We can only hope that Leithead’s analysis is right. We have become inured to the misrepresentations of the American administration; if a BBC analyst who has been looking closely can give us fair and unadorned positive news about the situation we may have reason to hope for things to turn around in Afghanistan.

In the mean time the news from Pakistan is far from encouraging. But we can hope that the clashes of recent days will have exposed to the Pakistani administration how risky it has been to play with fire – producing and countenancing madrassas that teach students to prepare for holy war in Kashmir (against Indians) and in Afghanistan (against Americans) while appearing to act responsibly on the international scene in George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”

Click on the title for Leithead's article

Friday, July 27, 2007

New American Embassy in Iraq: Colossal and Imperial

Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley of THE PROGRESS REPORT, JULY 27, 2007, tell us that the new U.S. embassy in Iraq will open this fall: size 104 acres (about 80 football fields); cost $592 million; a staff of 4,000 people; annual operating costs $1.2 billion; builder First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting (FK), a foreign contractor with egregious labor abuses.

This is what they say about the abuses of First Kuwaiti:
In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday [7/26/07], several former managers and employees of FK reported on the conditions at the embassy, which ranged from "deplorable" living conditions to "kidnapping" of employees. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded, "If what you are telling us is right, something appears to be seriously wrong with the management and oversight of this project."

Click on the title above to see the whole article

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pakistani bloggers on the rising madness

Adil Nadam and many other Pakistani bloggers are asking if Pakistan is not at war, indeed at war with itself. Yes, even if the rest of the world doesn’t notice what has happened to Pakistan, its citizens have noticed it. What can be done? The madness that has infected some in the Arab world – again, not all, and in fact probably not many, but enough to cause havoc – is infecting Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Click on the title for the whole blog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why The Pakistani Lawyers' are Still in Revolt

An article in the Friday times [July 20-26, 2007 - Vol. XIX, No. 22, http://www.thefridaytimes.com/20072007/page24.shtmlt] entitled “The Lawyers on Lahore’s Streets” provides some specifics on why the demonstrations against Musharraf’s government continue, even now, even though the crisis over the Taliban and extremist Islamists in the North West Frontier Province has become another major issue. The authors of the article, Asad Hashim and Sameen Khan, quote from three different lawyers involved in the demonstrations on behalf of the Chief Justice who has been removed by Musharraf for apparently spurious reasons.
Here is some of what they say:
• Mohammed Ahsan Bhoon, President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, claims “his lifetime devotion to the law was insulted when the judicial institution was challenged in the resignation demanded of the Chief Justice.” The key issue is not the person but the office of Chief Justice that is at stake. He says the office has been ridiculed by the executive branch, which frightens him: “When the highest court is not saved, how can I, as a citizen, feel protected?”
• Salman Raja, Advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan, says “It’s not like the Chief Justice was some kind of a paragon of virtue or brilliance.” But he was trying to do some good as well as furthering his own career, for which Raja does not fault him. The government’s accusations against the Chief Justice were trivial. In fact, he says, the judiciary has been abused and taken for granted since the days of Ayub Khan so that anger for the government’s limitations on the legal practice simply “spilled over” when the Chief Justice was accused.
• Syed Mohammad Nisar Safdar, Advocate, Lahore High Court, told the Friday times that the crisis has been brewing for sixty years: “The Chief Justice today represents the anger of the people . . . his ‘no’ is the ‘no’ of the people . . . He doesn’t even know how to make a speech. He is not a political man, but people are making him a hero because we have been asking for 60 years that the decision-making power should go back to the people and that democratic institutions should be reinstated.”
This movement is indeed serious for Pakistan: If Washington’s policy of supporting Musharraf no-matter-what turns out to enable Musharraf to hold power in the face of such public resentment then we have reason to worry what worse things are in store for Pakistan. The United States ought to be on the side of the public, especially when it is calling for a court system that has the power to enforce the constitution.

One more discouraging sign in Iraq

How serious the situation has become on the ground in Iraq is indicated by a recent request by the US ambassador in Baghdad that visas be granted to all Iraqis employed by the US Government in Iraq. He is concerned that his best help will flee the country if they have no hope of escaping to the US. Already there has been a hemorrhage of the middle class from Iraq. The worry about the loyal Iraqis working for the US government in the embassy and elsewhere for the US reveals how serious the situation is. Much as we could wish otherwise the decay of optimism among the Iraqis seems reveal a worsening situation despite the claim that the surge is working.

Click the title above for the Washington Post article.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The weaknesses of realism in Iraq and Afghanistan

The struggle in congress over what to do about Iraq – when/ how to leave – so full of posturing and pretension, reveals in fact how impossible the situation seems. Much as I have disagreed with President Bush on the conduct of affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia I can hardly disagree with him that any attempt of Americans to withdraw from Iraq simply emboldens Al Qaeda. True, no Al Qaeda existed there until his administration through misrepresentation started a pre-emptive war. But now they have an overwhelming presence. Somehow, it seems odd that the media make so much of a formal report that states the obvious: The US is worse-off than when the administration took a series of foolish moves. As Joe Biden has said it, not one move this administration has taken in the Middle East and Central Asia made sense.

But what to do? The one comfort I have is that the future eludes the human ability to predict. I have made my share of foolish predictions. So my despair about the future in Afghanistan and Iraq could be wrong. Could the situation be less hopeless than most of us see it? Could it be less dire than what we hear the politicians are saying in the corridors, if not before camera? Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac pointed out in 1999 (Tournament of Shadows, p. 570-2) that experts, despite their pretenses, have done poorly at predicting the future. In the 1960s and 1970s Iran, for example, was swarming with social scientists, but scarcely anyone, including the CIA, expected the radical upheavals that became the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and 1979. And who foresaw the cataclysmic implosion of the Soviet Union? -- “indisputably one of the most astonishing geopolitical events of the century” (Graham Fuller, in 1994). The only one who foresaw it, I think, was the Afghan Professor Gholam Ali Ayeen, who in 1986 suggested (Afghan Wulus, in Farsi) that the Afghanistan resistance movement might actually be undermining the Soviet Union’s apparent invincibility and even its integrity. Events in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew were likewise generally unforeseen. Few expected the Tajiks and Uzbeks (instead of the Pushtuns, who had always done so before) to seize and hold the capital city, as they did in 1992. The ferocious battle for Kabul in 1992-1996 was likewise scarcely imagined beforehand. And no one dreamed that a puritanical Islamic group, the Taliban, would rise out of the refugee camps to dominate most of Afghanistan by 1998. Meyer and Brysac point out that in the 1980s book The Book of Predictions a CIA expert predicted that within a few years the Soviet Union would dominate most of the world. (And in the same work Andrew Greeley predicted the demise of the Soviet empire by 1990; he missed it by a year.) If I could be wrong about what awaits Iraq and Afghanistan, could that be construed as reason for comfort? Whatever awaits, I still believe that we live under a kind heaven.

The problem, Meyer and Brysac point out, is that we always predict a continuation of whatever is going on at the time. And that misses a crucial ingredient in human affairs: that human beings face their affairs imaginatively – that is, in terms of an imagined “reality.” We seem to have an infinite number of ways to imagine the situations we think we encounter. We can scarcely predict how people will imagine the world and act from that imagined “reality” in the future. Who would have predicted that the neoconservative imagination of those who came to power with George W. Bush would for eight years shape the polities of the greatest power on earth? Perhaps someone, but not me. Could that be reason for optimism?

More evidence of CIA "rendition" of prisoners without trial

It is now clear that the CIA has made use of Germany’s airspace to transport prisoners they have kidnapped to Guantanamo. The government is about to begin a serious probe into what the previous regime under Gerhard Schröder was allowing the CIA to do, contrary to any admissions so far and contrary to German law.

Click on the title above for the Spiegel article.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Critical problems in Paksitan: the first twelve [!]

Pakistan has to be one of the most conflicted countries in the world. The list of problems endemic to the country is so long that it would require many pages just to explain what they are and why/how such items are serious issues for the country. Here is a preliminary outline of the problems that one needs to explicate if one is to explain Pakistan.
Readers: Please add comments, elaborations [explications], and corrections on this list.

> Army is the real controlling power, has been even from the beginning
*Sometimes in the background, always powerful
*The army owns a great percentage of the economy, provides comfortable retirement for the officer corps

> Lost wars with India: a continuing irritant for the military, and a continuing worry for the future

> Kashmir as place to be claimed for Pakistan and for honor at war
* The need for Islamist troops to carry on the struggle is continuous, so Pakistan cannot shut down all Islamist madrassas.
* Kashmir is source of continual tension with India

> Afghanistan is crucial to Pakistan's future
* As fall back territory in case of war with India, "strategic depth"
* Pakistanis assume Afghanistan is essentially Pushtun; want a friendly Pushtun administration in Kabul
* Transport across Afghanistan- Pakistan border is easy; permeable borders
* Need for access to central Asia -- gas, oil – requires Afghanistan to be a friendly corridor to Central Asia.

> Saudi Arabian investments in Pakistan
* Madrassas, many of them funded by Wahhabi money
* Many radical Islamist groups are supported by Saudi money

> Tribal areas
* History of isolation and independence of the Pathan [Pushtun] tribes
* Territorial separation, isolation from the rest of Pakistan

> Radical Islamists have sanctuary in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, even protected by some Pakistani military
* Osama and al Qaeda are ensconced there, probably in the tribal areas
* Mullah Muhammad Omar and the Taliban are comfortable there, supported by the military, headquartered in Quetta.

> Baluchistan
* Gas resources; the main source of gas within the country is there
* Baluch resentment vs Pakistan government: local acts of sabotage

> Many ethnic groups, still importance as basis of alliance, mutual help:
* Punjabi dominance
* Other ethnic groups: Pathan, Baluch, Sindhi, Muhajer, Brahui,

> Much of the society is feudal. Feudal lords dominate much of the country, control much land, peasant workers

> Religious parties, organizations, now command the loyalty of many, are out of control of the government
* Sunni – Shia Islamists have been attacking each other
* Sanctuary for extremist Islamists exists in Pakistan
* Even criminal elements masquerade as Islamists

> Many kinds of downtrodden populations
* Peasantry that is owned by army
* Christian minority, sweepers
* Shia minority, now the target of Islamist attacks
* Ahmadiyya
* Brickmakers are famously abused, effectively enslaved
* There are women who are trafficked, enslaved [always poor, destitute]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Shocked that Al Qaeda is stronger?

The Washington Post today indicates that a five-page secret threat assessment of Al Qaeda has been presented to the White House. It is entitled "Al-Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West," and concludes that “the group has significantly rebuilt itself despite concerted U.S. attempts to smash the network.” Surprise. However secret the report may be, the fact is not secret. That Al Qaeda has gained strength since 9/11 is scarcely news.

And what about those "concerted attempts to smash the network"? The reason for Al Qaeda's prosperity seems clear: the Bush administration rushed into Iraq before the American military had actually found and punished Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. That Osama has remained alive emboldens all those who would attack the United States. In so far as there were "concerted attempts" they were misdirected. The American military effort has gone into Iraq, not Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, where Osama and other Al Qaeda figures have been hiding out. None of this is secret.

My only hope for the report is that the White House might actually pay attention to it. What the world has already noticed, what is painfully clear to anyone who gives any attention to the issue – could it be noticed by the White House too? Lets pray that the administration will notice, and will acknowledge that there is a problem. If the first step for an addict is to admit to a problem, then we hope that as a first step the administration will admit that they have been living in a fantasy world: it’s time to get real. Osama and other key leaders are in Pakistan, not Iraq.

Click on the title for the web site.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Musharraf after the Lal Masjid seizure

Musharraf may come out of the Lal Masjid incident better off than when it began. The many demonstrations against him, prompted by his firing of the Chief Justice, demonstrated a broad frustration with his leadership by the Middle Class. On the other hand, the Middle Class have become frustrated with the jehadists in their midst. According to reports they have gradually turned away from the extremists in the mosque, especially since it became known that the jehadists have used women and children as human shields.

There are various reports on how Ghazi died, but one of them is that his own men shot him as he sought to leave the mosque after he had been injured.

Without being on the ground there, one cannot guess how all these affairs will work out, but it is likely that if Musharraf uses this occasion to crack down on the other jehadists -- of whom there must be thousands, as the Army has not only been tolerating them but even supporting them -- he could gain even more popularity around the country.

But Pakistan is a conflicted country. The contradictions are so pervasive and persistent we can never be sure that what we see is what we have.

Jang and Reuters have provided the best early coverage of the event. Click on the title for the Jang report. The best reporting in the US is by the McClachy newspapers: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/17771.html, and http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/17761.html, and http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/17393.html.

Friday, July 06, 2007

My two-cents on the Libby affair

Let us remember that the bruhaha over "Scooter" Libby began over the attempt of the Bush administration to protect the lie that justified the attack on Saddam Hussein. Hussein was never involved in the 9/11 attack; he was not stockpiling weapons of mass destruction; he was not seeking "yellow-cake" from Africa in order to develop a nuclear weapon -- all claims made by the administration in order to justify a war that many of the neocons had wanted to start even before Bush was elected the first time [See Project for the Twenty-First Century]. Libby's deception was but one small feature of the broader project to mislead the American people. He thus took the rap for the rest. In fact, his guilt for misstating the truth was in a sense not his but theirs -- the President, the Vice-President, Rumsfeld and all the rest -- for he was but following orders. So I feel for him -- again, he was the small fry who took the rap while the big fish got away Scott free. So all the talk about how minor his infraction was should not be allowed to conceal the real issue: the deliberate deception by the Bush administration to start a war that was never necessary and was, in fact, a digression from the war that should have been pursued relentlessly (in Afghanistan against Osama Bin Laden). Not only Libby, but all of us will be paying for that deception for generations to come.

The Taliban's "Regulations"

Last November a Swiss weekly, Die Weltwoche, published the Layeha [regulations] of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It can be found at: http://www.signandsight.com/features/1071.html

What makes it interesting is how clearly it reveals an institutional structure among the Taliban. We have heard of many instances when people who called themselves Taliban were so unruly or ad hoc in their applications of rules that we tend to regard the Taliban as essentially a rag-tag association of brigands or at least ignorant and uncontrolled vandals. This statement reveals that, at least in theory, they belong to an organization that seeks to be institutionalized, regulated. Consider the following regulations:

2) We guarantee to any man who turns his back on infidels, personal security and the security of his possessions. But if he becomes involved in a dispute, or someone accuses him of something, he must submit to our judiciary.

4) A convert to the Taliban, who does not behave loyally and becomes a traitor, forfeits our protection. He will be given no second chance.

7) A Mujahid who takes a foreign infidel as prisoner with the consent of a group leader may not exchange him for other prisoners or money.

12) A group of Mujahideen may not take in Mujahideen from another group to increase their own power. This is only allowed when there are good reasons for it, such as a lack of fighters in one particular group. Then written permission must be given and the weapons of the new members must stay with their old group.

14) If someone who works with infidels wants to cooperate with Mujahideen, he should not be killed. If he is killed, his murderer must stand before an Islamic court.

16) It is strictly forbidden to search houses or confiscate weapons without the permission of a district or provincial commander.

21) Anyone with a bad reputation or who has killed civilians during the Jihad may not be accepted into the Taliban movement. If the highest leader has personally forgiven him, he will remain at home in the future.

We must suppose that such regulations seek to be consistent with their understanding of Sharia. The problem is, of course, that the "Sharia" is itself nowhere to be found in one single undisputed place, so there is lots of room for misunderstanding and disagreement. What make this document interesting is the evident attempt of the Taliban to be operating according to "regulations."

Click on the title to get the whole document.