Thursday, June 25, 2009

To conceal the truth Iran brutalizes and humiliates the family of its most famous victim

The actual results of the election in Iran is no longer the point in the struggle between the opposition and the government, owing to the behavior of the government. The response of the government has been [a] to deny any need for a serious recount [instead it offers to recount only a few of the precincts, and even then selectively], [b] to bully the public into submission, and [c] to claim that the whole affair was created by outsiders. Total denial.

Repressive regimes flaunt their lunacy. To make sure the Iranian government embarrassed its own claims to legitimacy it publicly dismantled all semblance of concern for its own citizenry by the way it treated the family of Neda Soltan. Neda's offense was to allow herself to be murdered by Iran's paramilitary Basij in front of the cameras of her friends -- and so to become the world-renown emblem of Iranian repression. The family was then forced to suffer further owing to Neda's "offense". Here is The Guardian's report on how the Iranian government treated Neda's family:

Neda Soltan's family 'forced out of home' by Iranian authorities

> The family were banned from mourning and funeral services were cancelled. "The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world."

> In accordance with Persian tradition, the family had put up a mourning announcement and attached a black banner to the building. But the police took them down, refusing to allow the family to show any signs of mourning. The next day they were ordered to move out.

> Since then, neighbors have received suspicious calls warning them not to discuss her death with anyone and not to make any protest.

> A neighbor said her own family had not slept for days because of the oppressive presence of the Basij militia, were were "in the area harassing people since Soltan's death." "We are trembling," another neighbor said. "We are still afraid. We haven't had a peaceful time in the last days, let alone her family. Nobody was allowed to console her family, they were alone, they were under arrest and their daughter was just killed. I can't imagine how painful it was for them. Her friends came to console her family but the police didn't let them in and forced them to disperse and arrested some of them. Neda's family were not even given a quiet moment to grieve."

> Another man said "Neda's family was forced to be alone, otherwise the whole of Iran would gather here," he said. "The government is terrible, they are even accusing pro-Mousavi people of killing Neda and have just written in their websites that Neda is a Basiji (government militia) martyr. That's ridiculous – if that's true why don't they let her family hold any funeral or ceremonies? Since the election, you are not able to trust one word from the government."

> A shop keeper who knew her said, "She was a kind, innocent girl. She treated me well and I appreciated her behaviour. I was surprised when I found out that she was killed by the riot police. ... She has been sacrificed for the government's vote-rigging in the presidential election."

> The police did not hand the body back to her family. They buried it without the family knowing it.

> The government now accuses protesters of being the killers of Soltan, describing her as a martyr of the Basij militia.

> Also, a pro-government newspaper has blamed the recently expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, of hiring "thugs" to shoot her so he could make a documentary film.

[Click on the title for a link to the whole article.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interview with Atlantic Community

Natalie Catherine Chwalisz of the Atlantic Community website asked me for comments on the relationship between the European Union and the situation in Pakistan. Some of what I said was published there. I include here the whole of their questions and my responses to them.

1. How does Pakistan's political instability impact EU security concerns?
The obvious first answer is that the world is now so intimately connected that any serious crisis anywhere can affect much of the rest of the world -- and Pakistan is in crisis. But in the case of Pakistan there are many specific issues. The most obvious one is that for many years Pakistan has been a sanctuary for insurgent groups whose agendas include reducing (and reshaping) Europe as well as the United States (the more prominent target for the time being). But the status of the EU in the eyes of the insurgents in Pakistan/Afghanistan is no different than the US. They see both as the source of dangerous influences and if they have the ability they will attack them.

But there is more to reflect on here. As you know, all of those involved in the 9/11/01 attack on New York and the Pentagon were radicalized in Europe: whatever were the conditions for developing their hostility they developed it in European contexts. At the same time, since at least the mid-1970s Pakistan has been a critical incubating place for insurgent groups. That Osama Bin Laden has been able to hide there for some years can be no accident; there must be Pakistanis in high places who know something about that. Moreover, Pakistan has been nourishing several radical Islamist groups in order to have recruits for their unending struggle with India over Kashmir. In that context OBL may be regarded as a useful asset to some elements of the Pakistan military. They have claimed that the Taliban are an Afghan group, but the main localities from which they have operated ever since late 2001 have been in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The folly of Pakistan’s policy of tolerating OBL and certain Taliban groups, one that could be fatal, is now only too obvious, as the “Pakistani Taliban” have turned against their handlers.

Much has been said about the danger of nuclear warheads falling into the hands of insurgents. How likely that is I would not know, but the possibility of a growing insurgency committed to creating a new political force in the world – a new “caliphate” – is not remote. The success of an insurgency in Pakistan/ Afghanistan could inspire a new generation of young people in the wider region of the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, places from which most of the insurgents come. And the numbers of such people are potentially large, for the median age of most of these countries is around 20. These young people are now developing a sense of where the world is going and of what they want to do with their lives. And the course of affairs in Pakistan/Afghanistan will influence what they see, what they can imagine, and what they decide to commit their lives to. That most of them are poorly educated and thus unprepared for employment in the emerging world will become a problem, as they are unlikely to escape the appeal of the more conspiratorial rumors of the times and the more radical solutions being proposed by the extreme elements of their world. Such social conditions in a society only a couple of hours by plane from Europe such induce the EU to invest heavily in measures to counter the influence of such extreme movements.

2. What should be the guiding principles of Europe's foreign policy in the region?
Again, the answer seems transparent: Europe [and the US] must be prepared to invest in the wellbeing of the great population clusters of the world, especially those that are disadvantaged. This means encouraging infrastructural development for those populations that are now underprivileged, many of whom are becoming aware, through modern communication devices, of what the more advanced parts of the world are like – a condition that will foster resentment against the “West” if effective means are not developed by which these populations can develop. The good news is that that awareness should induce many of them to welcome efforts to equip them for living and working in the modern world.

3. How could/should the EU's policy vis-à-vis Pakistan complement US policy in the region? Are there avenues insufficiently or not at all pursued by the US, where the EU can set itself apart and provide additional value? Can the EU's expertise in institution building and cooperation on economic reform (as was developed in the EU's
Neighborhood Policy) be applied to Pakistan?
The most obvious way that the EU can help is in education and institutional development – in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, as you cannot now consider the issues in either country without considering the implications for the other. The EU is well positioned to provide such help.

It is important that the Americans and Europeans work to help develop these two countries, but this seems to me a delicate issue. The Pakistanis and Afghans can be offended by arrogance and condescension. In fact, both countries need large infusions of help in education. But in order for that assistance to be effective the leaders themselves have to be able to embrace it without feeling humiliated. That is, they have to “own” the educational and institutional development project themselves. This is a major problem in Pakistan, as the elite of Pakistan have managed public affairs in their own interest from the beginning. Pakistan is still a “feudal” society, a social condition that provides room for, even encourages, radical insurgent movements.

One useful function of the leadership of the EU would be to help the leadership of Pakistan to recognize the need to give more opportunity to the less privileged. This includes persuading them to commit to educating the lower classes. It also includes entering into serious dialogue with Baluch nationalists who are seeking a stronger voice in public affairs and a degree of local autonomy.

For all of this to be possible, the leadership of the EU might enlist the help of the Chinese, whose support is critical to the Pakistanis. And if at all possible, they should seek to bring some resolution to the Kashmir crisis. Until that issue is resolved the two most powerful countries in South Asia, both nuclear-armed, will be effectively at war.

It is worth noting that the EU is currently more highly regarded than the United States, a condition that the EU could effectively use. Some possibilities for the EU to consider in helping raise the level of education as well as change the perceptions of young Pakistanis about “Western” society: develop a king of “peace corps” from Europe; send professional advisors and trainers for the professional and trade workers in the country.

Monday, June 22, 2009

1953: What American’s don’t know and Iranians can’t forget.

Most Americans are proud of their “free press” and their history of great humanitarian achievements, but they are surprisingly ignorant of their own history – at least of the sordid activities of their government, some of them successfully veiled from their own “free press.” As a result, like every other people the Americans have a selective memory of the past. Currently there seems to be a return to stories of World War II, which is recalled as the last “good war” in which Americans participated. What we forget – or in fact, for most Americans, we never knew ‒ are some of the unseemly ventures of our government in other countries. One of those unseemly ventures was what the CIA did in 1953 in Iran: they overturned a duly elected government led by a very popular Prime Minister, Muhammed Mussadegh, by paying goons to create an appearance of public disorder so that Muhammad Reza Shah could be installed as an American client.

In fact, most of us had no idea; the act only became known many years later – at least to Americans; the Iranians came to know it very quickly, and were soon deeply resentful of it. [The tale is well told in Stephen Kinzer’s book, All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.] This affair has loomed in the Iranian public imagination ever since. It was a major factor in the massive revolt against the Shah in 1978 that eventually brought Khomeini to power. The Iranian people supposed that the Americans were behind the abuses – beatings, executions, intimidations, especially by the secret service agency known as SAVAK ‒ that became increasingly common in the 1970s. And the supposition was right, for indeed the Americans had trained SAVAK and funded the Iranian military that kept the Shah in power.

That memory, the sense that America messes with Iran’s internal affairs, is still alive. This is the reason why the Obama administration dares not take sides in the current struggle in Iran, for merely by expressing support for the opposition it will delegitimize it, turn it into ‒ again ‒ a seeming attempt of the American government to overturn a “duly elected” administration. Or at least “duly elected” as the Iranian administration wants everyone to believe but that many now doubt, judging from the demonstrations of outrage in at least the Iranian cities. And now the country’s highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, admits that the "votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballots in those areas." [].

The government would like nothing better than to pin the opposition on American meddling. And accordingly the opposition most urgently desires to avoid any evidence of contamination by American support.

So the dance by all sides – Khameinei and the Iranian administration, the Mousavi-led opposition, the Americans, even the Europeans ‒ has been carefully calibrated in terms of that grotesque unseemly event of the past. As always, the past poisons the present, in this case a past that most Americans never knew and virtually all Iranians will never forget.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Private news on the Iranian regime's butchery of its own people

My colleague at Washington University in St Louis, Fatemeh Keshavarz, sends out periodical notes on the situation in Iran: WINDOW_ON_IRAN@ARTSCI.WUSTL.EDU. Her latest post, as of this morning, reveals how desperate the situation there is. On it a medical student describes "chaos" in the emergency room in the hospital where he works. Many people were brought in with wounds. Nine died. "Employees were crying till dawn". "The government moved dead bodies on backs of trucks before we were even able to get their names or other information. What can you even say to the people who don't even respect the dead. No one was allowed to speak to the wounded."

Fatemeh says that many people believe the bizarre suicide bombing at the tomb of Khomeini was staged by the government to discredit the opposition. "An unconfirmed report said the bombing was reported on the National TV minutes before it actually happened."

Contact Fatemeh to see her whole report. [I believe she wants her reports to be distributed, so would be glad to have your name on her mailing list. There is soon to be a blog also.]

Friday, June 19, 2009

An interview with Trend

The situation in Iran now seems beyond repair. I here reproduce an interchange I had with Tatyana Konyayeva, a Correspondent with TREND News Agency in Baku, only becuase so far it doesn't seem to be unduly out of date.

Q: Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur, the chairman of the Votes Security Organization founded by presidential candidate Mir Hosseyn Musavi, stated that there is a need to establish the Justice Search Committee in order to conduct fair and transparent elections. How do you think, such a committee will affect the transparency of the future elections?

A: I know nothing about the committee so nothing I could say would reveal anything significant. The one impression I have, as you also must have, is that the Iranian administration wants the legitimacy of having won an election without actually having allowed a true election to take place. The administration's behavior reveals that they cannot bear to have the public reject them openly, so they are using violent means to contain the obvious outrage that permeates the society. They want to seem legitimate in "democratic" terms without being willing to subject themselves to an open electoral process. So I presume they would manipulate whatever agency was assigned to oversee the process. Through a private source I know that the announcement of the winner of the election was made before the vote counters had finished counting the votes in at least one place [from one of the vote counters].

Q: The Guardian Council announced the re-count of the ballots at some polling stations. In your opinion, whether the re-count of the ballots will guarantee the transparency of the elections, or nevertheless, the new presidential elections should be arranged?

A: What I said above reveals my opinion: this administration has been generally losing its legitimacy over time. Certain elements in the population are evidently in support of Ahmadenijad. But behind the whole system is a religious pretense that has undermined the general respect of the population for authentic religious faith. The religious "experts" in power have become excessively rich under this system and their abuses now resemble those of the super-rich westernized class allied with the shah in the 1970s, against which the Islamic revolution took place. They pretend to be good Muslims and to allow authentic belief but in fact they brutalize those who reject their faith and want to convert to another faith [for example, Christianity]. As you know, they even try to control ayatullahs who criticize them.

Modern Iran has a history of long periods of stability punctuated by massive public uprisings [early 1900s; 1970s], and if this regime does not relent it will eventually have to deal with a huge public explosion like that of 1978-1979. What should be very disconcerting to many of the mullahs is that among those who are now outraged are some of their own children and grandchildren.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Zahid Hussain of Dawn unveils more of the contrary behavior of the Pakistani army

Zahid Hussain's report in Dawn is so revealing that I want to point it out to anyone who is interested. No wonder Pakistan has so many problems: One day the army hosts the Taliban and celebrates their victory in a new area. The next day they are at war with them and put a price on their heads. Again, the Pakistani people deserve better. As we know, recent news is that in exasperation some local people in the tribal areas have formed their own fighting group [laskars] to drive the Taliban out, and we now hear the army is now willing to help them. Good news. RLC
Dawn May 31, 2009
"From much sought after to ‘most wanted’"
By Zahid Hussain

Accompanied by dozens of well armed Taliban fighters, Muslim Khan, Sirajuddin, Mahmmod Khan and some others (who are said to be responsible for killings of hundreds of soldiers and civilians) were being hosted by the former commissioner of Malakand, Syed Mohammad Javed.

The only person conspicuous by his absence was Maulana Fazlullah, the man with a head money of Rs50 million. ‘He is in Kabal for some important work,’ I was told by one of his lieutenants. [In Kabul?]

It was April 12 and the commissioner had just returned from Buner where he had apparently brokered a truce between the Taliban threatening the district after the Swat peace deal and the local Lashkar who had long resisted the militant onslaught. ...

It seemed that the militant commanders had gathered at the Commissioner House that evening to celebrate the takeover of Buner after consolidating their hold on Swat on the back of the controversial peace accord.

[A] man who now has a reward of Rs4 million on his head looked at home in the hospitable setting of the Commissioner House that night. I was taken aback to see top government officials standing there to receive the man who was responsible for ordering the execution of innocent civilians.

Earlier in the day when I went to interview him in Imam Dehri Madressah, he showed me a list of people whose execution orders were to be issued. Among them was a woman whose husband had allegedly served in the US army.


Sirajuddin, a former spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah who also has a bounty of Rs4 million for his capture, was huddled in a corner with some of his comrades.
... A former left-wing activist, he received his higher education in Kabul in 1980s during the communist rule in Afghanistan. He planned to join Lumumba University, but had to return home for reasons not known.

His transformation from a hard core socialist to a radical Muslim came in late 1990s when like many young men he fell under the spell of Maulana Fazlullah’s fiery sermons.


More shock was in store when later that evening I saw Faqir Mohammed walking in with a large entourage. Escorted by an Uzbek bodyguard he was whisked inside a large hall where a number of commanders squatted on a carpeted floor.

One of the top leaders of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Faqir Mohammed, has been spearheading the bloody war against Pakistani forces in Bajaur tribal region.

Because of his close links with al Qaeda, security agencies considered Faqir Mohammed more dangerous than Baitullah Mehsud. The presence of Pakistan’s most wanted militant leader at the Commissioner House that evening, when the fighting still raged in Bajaur, was intriguing, to say the least.

[Click on the title to read more.]