Saturday, September 27, 2008

Other cliams of an Anti-Taliban movement among the Tribes

Another article, this one in Foreign Policy in Focus, on the possible rising dissent among the tribes with the Taliban movement in their midst.

[Click on the title to link to it.]

Civil War in the Tribal Areas?

An article that appeared today in the Guardian suggests that the Pushtun tribes are now mobilizing against the Taliban, and presumably Al Qaeda. According to the article the local populations still have the ability to control the Taliban in most of the tribal areas although that ability has been lost in Swat.
A civil war in the Tribal Areas? The Americans will surely see this as good news. However, there is the factor of the Pak army, which as many have noted is conflicted on how to develop the country. Even as the army can't control its own Taliban [and other Islamist groups it has been nourishing for years] it doesn't want the Americans to attack the Taliban in the Tribal Areas. Pride of sovereignty even if it can't be enforced.
But if the tribes unite against the Taliban [if most of them actually join this project it will be one of the few times such a unification of tribes has ever happened] then that will dramatically change the scene in Pakistan.
This could be big news.
[Click on the title to link to the article]

Monday, September 08, 2008

In 60 days she could be President: Do we know her?

I find it odd, even insulting, that the McCain crowd would pick for VP someone they scarcely knew merely to win votes. This seems to me to trivialize the whole process of choosing a President and Vice President -- and even to trivialize the role and responsibilities of the most powerful person in the world. They suppose that they will gain votes by doing this: what kind of people do they think will buy into this? People who seriously care about the Presidency? The USA? The world? What would American affairs have been like if all the leaders in American history were chosen so carelessly, so precipitously?
I wish I could feel better about this process.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Superficial impressions of Kabul

Whatever one can say about a city like Kabul based on a short whirlwind visit can only be impressionistic, but for what it's worth I note here some of my impressions.

> Everyone has a cell phone. For me that was a surprise, but I understand now that that is about par in most countries, especially those where the roads are poor.
> A huge amount of money is being invested in the city. Lots of road building. Many palatial houses are being built. Where does it come from? One person said at least some of it is drug money.
> As before, there appear to be no zoning rules so people seem able to put virtually anything on their private property. So there is an odd scattering of expensive investments around the city.
> The walls around virtually every house are no longer a mere 8 or 9 feet. Now most houses have added large steel panels on top of the walls adding another 12-15 or feet to the hight, and sometimes on top of those is razor wire. Obviously folks are worried about attacks on their homes.
> The taliban are, as we know, in the countryside not far out of Kabul these days. They are trying to strangle the city by interrupting traffic in and out. So far, there seems to be no shortage of anything, based merely on a cursory look at what's in the bazaar.
> Publishing industry seems to be doing well. I was treated with great courtesy by one person who owns several newspapers. He said he is free to say whatever he wants. Up to a point. If he wants he can talk about the drug industry in general, but if he begins to ask how 50% of the opium produced in the country [which is to say half of the world's opium supply] is produced in one county of one province, then that is meddling a little too close. All those officials in the area would then seem to be implicated, and he knows better than to step into that cesspool.
> There are some wonderful signs of growth and investment that will be beneficial for the whole country. The most notable of them is the massive reconstruction of Babur's garden. There is a fine museum there, in the recently constructed caravansarai at the bottom of the system of terraces that has been renovated.

Warnings of impending disaster: anyone listening?

Some notes on an add by the Peter G Peterson Foundation in today's New York Times [pp. 14-15].

> The total of the US government liabilities and unfunded entitlement promises is $53 trillion. This amounts to $456,000 debt per household.
> Medicare and Social Security amount to $41 trillion of the above number.
> Our trade deficit is $800 billion a year and we are saving about zero collectively.
> This makes us dependent on foreign lenders to supply the funds we need [that is, want] to maintain our standard of living. Japan and China and other countries now own about half of our public debt.

So much for the reality we don't want to know. The most worrisome part of this story is that the American people are not listening; I suspect they will scarcely take note of this advertisement. It even says we should not punish our politicians for telling us the truth: if they tell us that it will cost us to avert disaster. I wonder. The finest example in literature of precisely this kind of situation is in the Bible: the refusal of the Hebrews to take note of impending disaster. "Oh land, land, land! Hear the word of the Lord!" says Jeremiah. What chance is there that this country will elect the kind of leaders that would turn the country away from disaster?