Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another assassination in the Russian sphere of influence: What does it mean?

The assassination in Dubai of a former Chechen opponent of the current Kremlin chosen leader of Chechnya reveals how actively President Kadyrov is working to ensure there is no further question about his power. Chechnya, which fought so vigorously against Russian domination, twice in recent years, and many times before that, no longer exists: It is now part of Russia. And one wonders if that whole regime has gone into the hands of a kind of mafia organization, that cannot bear to have its reporters reveal what they know (and so have to exterminate Anna Politkovskaia) and cannot bear to have a remotely potential rival remain alive, even in another country (general, Sulim B. Yamadayev; his brother Ruslan; and Umar S. Israilov).

But there is another reason to wonder if not worry about this report: the Dubai source for this article was not revealed. Is there a risk of telling the truth there?

New York TimesMarch 31, 2009

Another Foe of Chechen Leader Shot Dead Abroad


MOSCOW — A former general in Chechnya and foe of the republic’s Kremlin-backed president was shot over the weekend in the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, and the police there said Monday that he had died.

The former general, Sulim B. Yamadayev, was shot at least three times outside an elite apartment complex in Dubai in what appeared to be an assassination, the police said. It was unclear exactly when the attack took place.

The identity of the man who was killed was the subject of conflicting reports. Officials of the hospital in Dubai said that two Chechen brothers, whose names were not released, had been shot during the attack. One died, they said, while the other was in critical condition.

The attack evokes others on Chechens, in Russia and abroad, who ran afoul of President Ramzan A. Kadyrov.

The Kremlin has invested Mr. Kadyrov with almost unchecked authority in a bid to return stability to Chechnya after nearly a decade of bloody war and political turmoil. With Moscow’s blessing, Mr. Kadyrov has created a personality cult and imposed his own interpretation of Islamic morality in Chechnya, whose population is predominately Muslim.

He has also built a powerful security force that has all but crushed Chechnya’s separatist movement, often, rights groups say, with the help of torture and extrajudicial killings.

In January, a Chechen hit man tracked down and killed Umar S. Israilov, a former bodyguard of Mr. Kadyrov, who had received asylum in Austria after accusing the president, and officials in his circle, of kidnapping, torture and murder. Ruslan Yamadayev, one of Sulim’s brothers, was shot dead in his car last September as he waited in a traffic jam in Moscow just outside the White House, the government building where the offices of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin are situated.

Mr. Kadyrov’s government has denied responsibility for these deaths and others, and Alvi A. Karimov, Mr. Kadyrov’s spokesman, said Monday that the president had no information about the killing in Dubai. “We hope that the truth will be established and the guilty found,” Mr. Karimov said.

Sulim Yamadayev, who until last year commanded his own heavily armed fighting force in Chechnya, was perhaps Mr. Kadyrov’s most powerful and well-known adversary and had often clashed with the president.

A separatist fighter in Russia’s first Chechen war in the 1990s, Mr. Yamadayev, 36, switched allegiances and fought with pro-Moscow forces in the second war, which began in 1999. He was later named head of the Vostok Battalion, a contingent of former separatists, co-opted into the Russian Army, that became notorious for its daring raids on militants’ hide-outs and its callous disregard for civilian casualties. Mr. Putin awarded both Mr. Yamadayev and Mr. Kadyrov the Hero of Russia medal, the country’s highest honor.

Mr. Yamadayev ultimately emerged as something of an independent power center in Chechnya. He was backed by Moscow, but his growing authority brought him into conflict with Mr. Kadyrov. Last April, an altercation on a country road between troops from the Vostok Battalion and guards from Mr. Kadyrov’s motorcade ended in gunfire. Some reports said Mr. Kadyrov had personally intervened to avoid bloodshed.

Soon, Mr. Yamadayev was stripped of his command and charged with involvement in kidnappings and murders, though there have been persistent reports that he commanded his Vostok troops in fighting last August during Russia’s war with Georgia.

According to Russian news reports citing relatives of Mr. Yamadayev, he, his wife and their six children left Russia in December and were living in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

A reporter for The New York Times in Dubai contributed to this article.

Hands "smeared with the blood of their own people"

Despite Omar Hassan al-Bashir's involvement in the killings and abuses of thousands of people in Darfur he has been welcomed and feted by the leaders of the Arab world. What must not be said in that group is that none of them holds power by popular suffrage. The former Kuwaiti minister of information said it well. Referring to the one thing that the Arab leadership can agree on -- that is, to support Sudan dictator al-Bashir in the face of indictment by the International Criminal Court -- he put the issue succinctly:

“The leaders’ position is their own self-defense, because they don’t want to open the door to an international tribunal of any kind that will open the file of any crimes they committed against humanity or against their own people. Most of those regimes are actually dictatorships, and most of them have their hands smeared with the blood of their own people.”

It's refreshing to see someone in the Middle East call a spade a spade. What I wonder now is, what kind of future does this guy have if he plans to live in the Arab world?

[Click on the title for a link to the source.]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tajikistan's troubles are mounting [Wired]

Below I highlight some issues of interest. RLC

“Central Asia's cold war over heat” Pulitzer Center Wired

By Ilan Greenberg

March 26, 2009


Ilan Greenberg, a journalist based in New York, lived in Central Asia from 2002 to 2007. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting contributed funding for the reporting of this article from Khojand, Tajikistan.

"This is why we have no electricity, no water," says Alovutdin Sololiev, waving at the broken-down traffic lights as he speeds into a major intersection, asserting a right of way not recognised by other drivers. His gesture extends from the dead signals to the belching little gas generators with rubber hoses, which colonise the pavements like a maze of octopuses stranded on cement. "Nobody wants to stop and figure out rules."

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, most of Tajikistan – including big cities like Khojand – has little access to electricity or running water for the majority of the year. Tajikistan generates electricity from hydroelectric dams, which don't work when the country's alpine lakes freeze during winter months. Without electricity, the country can't run the Soviet-era pump technology that delivers clean water to cities, villages, and farms.

Central Asia's political problems compound Tajikistan's resource problems. A deal it struck this winter to buy electricity from neighbouring Turkmenistan, for example, was terminated by Uzbekistan, which controls a critical piece of the grid between the two countries. The governments of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are currently having back-room talks, according to diplomats in the region, but the two countries have long been engaged in a resource-driven cold war. Each side has multiple grievances against the other, but key among them are Tajikistan's demands that Uzbekistan supply its energy and Uzbekistan's demand that Tajikistan release more water downstream.

The volatile resource conflict flares beyond Tajikistan across Central Asia, the massive centre of the Eurasian continent which stretches into Russia. However, unlike Europe's recent energy crises, which were rooted in Russia's foreign policy goals, Central Asia's energy issues are mostly homegrown. The region is rich in oil and gas – and in Tajikistan, rich in water – but hampered by state rivalries, quixotically drawn borders, authoritarian modes of government and daunting pipeline problems informed by geographical isolation and crippling geopolitical calculations.

While the problems begin at home, Russia's role in the politics of energy in Central Asia is starting to grow. “Russia in various ways has started to insert itself into these intra-regional power conflicts,” says Katherine Hardin, senior director for Russia and Caspian research at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy consultancy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Russia is Central Asia's major customer for natural gas and weakening demand from Europe is likely to affect gas deliveries to Russia, said Hardin.

Russia sells Europe all the gas Europe will buy, gaining foreign currency and profit in the process, but it doesn't have enough gas to meet both European and domestic demand. Russia therefore buys Central Asian gas on the cheap,
using its control of the supply route to Europe as a bargaining chip to demand low prices, and then marks up the gas and re-exports it to Europe. Slackening European demand for gas means Russia can meet most of Europe's needs with its own gas supplies, and that has pushed down demand for Central Asian gas. That, in turn, could jeopardise a large portion of some Central Asian governments' revenues. "It's interesting to me that we're seeing Gazprom sticking itself into the region, and to ask how that will play out," said Hardin.

Russian economic difficulties are poised to exacerbate the region's resource conflict. The global financial crisis imperils the payments from Russia on which Central Asia relies, potentially destabilising regimes, expanding powerful criminal networks, and disrupting Nato strategies in Afghanistan, which shares a long northern border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In a recently released report widely cited by Western diplomats here, the International Crisis Group concluded that there is a risk of social unrest in Tajikistan, and that the country is no longer a “bulwark against the spread of extremism and violence from Afghanistan.”

Back in Khojand, Sololiev drives his car through the city's dangerously laissez-faire intersections to pick up home repair supplies. His visit to Tajikistan is a brief one: he has returned from a job as a construction worker in Russia to spend March with his family, but plans to return to Russia next month, when he hopes Russia's massive building spree will resume. This pattern of work is not uncommon. More than a million Tajik migrants work in Russia's seasonal construction industry, as well as in Russian factories and in its agriculture sector. According to the International Monetary Fund, half of Tajikistan's GDP is derived from the income of workers in Russia.

Tajikistan has almost no jobs to offer returning migrant workers. Sololiev knows of only two factories in Khojand, Tajikistan's second largest city: a spirits factory, and an Italian-Tajik jeans manufacturing co-venture. The government has promised to hire 5,000 workers to build one of two new planned dams, but wages are expected to be low. The energy problem, meanwhile, has encouraged an across-the-board lack of business investment. Money from pay cheques have been poured into home repairs and used cars imported from Russia and Europe, but without electricity in winter, few returning migrants have started new businesses.

“How can I work in Tajikistan without electricity? I have to go back to Russia. Whether there is work in Russia for me is something I can't think about. Let the Russians think about it,” said Sololiev, still driving his car, newly purchased.

See the story as it ran at Wired.co.uk

For related reporting and dispatches from the field in Tajikistan visit the Tajikistan: Winter of Discontent project page.

Tajikistan: Winter of Discontent is part of our Food Insecurity project that includes Nigeria: Oil Rich but Hungry and Stalking a Wheat Killer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Brahimi on Sri Lanka: "A Slaughter Waiting to Happen"

Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (from 3 October 2001 to 31 December 2004), and before that the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Afghanistan from July 1997 until October 1999, has written a special appeal on behalf of civilians caught in the last throes of the Sri Lankan civil war. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are now desperate and using civilians as cover rather than consenting to the situation they have, namely, total defeat. RLC

Here is his article from the
International Herald Tribune.

A slaughter waiting to happen
By Lakhdar Brahimi
Thursday, March 19, 2009

The already severe humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka is on the brink of catastrophe. It will take the quick arrival of humanitarian relief and high-level international political muscle to bring the nightmarish situation to an end and prevent a slaughter.

An estimated 150,000 civilians are now trapped in a tiny pocket of land between Sri Lankan military forces, whose artillery shells regularly fall among them, and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who shoot at them if they try to escape. Food, clean water and medical assistance are all increasingly scarce.

According to U.N. figures, 2,300 civilians have already died and at least 6,500 have been injured since January. Some 500 children have been killed and over 1,400 injured. What happens to the rest of those caught in the middle of the government’s onslaught and the Tigers’ fight to the death depends not only on the two parties but on the international response as well.

The crisis is born of acts by both sides that most probably amount to serious violations of humanitarian law and perhaps to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

As it has withdrawn before the government forces, the LTTE has sought refuge in the civilian population. It has been holding men, women and children as hostages, forcibly recruiting them and using them as human shields.

The government has responded with attacks that independent observers describe as indiscriminate. Distinguishing combatants from noncombatants has become impossible with fighters and civilians packed so closely together. Alarming reports are coming in that government forces are shelling even those areas they themselves have declared ‘‘no-fire zones.’’

If both groups do not end the fighting immediately, the lives of tens of thousands of civilians are at risk. Both parties must understand that the continuation of their current actions is not acceptable.

The situation is even more tragic because it represents an unnecessarily devastating coda to a war that is already over.

Totally overwhelmed by government forces, the LTTE has lost. Holding civilian hostages and showing complete disregard for the Tamil population that it claims to want to liberate will not resurrect its ability to fight this war.

Nor will the annihilation of thousands of civilians secure the government’s long-cherished victory over terrorism. On the contrary, the indiscriminate killing of its own citizens will make it harder for Colombo to seal its military victory with post-conflict reconciliation and development of the Tamil-majority north.

Opinion among the millions of Tamils around the world, especially those in southern India, is being dangerously radicalized by images and stories of intense civilian suffering.

The international community should not let the already desperate situation end up an all-out humanitarian catastrophe. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should insist on immediate access for U.N. staff to no-fire zones in order to assess the needs of the population. He should appoint a special representative to work with the government of Sri Lanka and all the relevant parties to guarantee the rights and protection of the endangered civilians.

On the political side, other international leaders — in particular, President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders from Asia, the nonaligned movement and the Commonwealth — must urgently use their leverage to convince the Sri Lankan government to stop its offensive.

They should help shift the government from a strategy of total annihilation to one of containment by addressing government fears that LTTE leaders will use a pause in the fighting to flee and regroup.

In addition to assisting the U.N. in the evacuation of civilians, all these friends of Sri Lanka should commit themselves to supervise the surrender of the LTTE, with guarantees of the physical security of those who surrender, backed up by the presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees wherever the military receives civilians or surrendered fighters.

The United States and India could also offer to increase naval surveillance in order to prevent remaining Tiger fighters from escaping by sea.

None of these measures will be easy to achieve. The government and the LTTE are locked in a war to the last man and seem oblivious to the civilian death toll around them.

The international community has the means to act; it must not, it cannot fail to act. Being a spectator when 150,000 thousand people are trapped in a death zone is not an option.

Lakhdar Brahimi, former special adviser to the U.N. secretary general, is a board member of the International Crisis Group.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stratfor's report on the mosque bombing 3/27/09

Stratfor has announced a brutal bombing of a mosque in Jamrud, which lies on the road to Khaybar in what is effectively Tribal territory. I think Stratfor's suggestion that the Taliban are taking a risk here is savvy. The signs that they are revving up the resistance activity says they expect a fight and may be unsure how things will go. Of course they [like everyone in the fray] will claim they are ready and can handle the new challenge -- for them it is of course the expected arrival of more American / NATO troops in a few months. I wonder if the drone attacks don't worry them also. Everyone says that there will always be new recruits for the battle, but I wonder if there will always be a sufficient supply of effective leaders -- the ones the drones are attacking. We'll see. Thanks to my friends for cluing me to this report. RLC
[Click on the title to link to Stratfor's report.]

Is the new unity among the Taliban good news or bad?

The news that the Taliban are "uniting" against the Americans sounds worrying. Lots of sabre-rattling. Yes, it is bad news, because it reveals how intent the Taliban leadership is to carry on their holy war. But one wonders -- am I inventing a reason for encouragement? -- if their blustering could be a sign of concern, evidence of a worry that they recognize that they have a serious problem. Actually, they have a great advantage, if the ISI continues to support the Taliban, but maybe, finally, some mechanisms might get put into place to deal with that fundamental cancer in Pakistani society. If it is not, the American venture in Afghanistan is a waste of lives and money. RLC
[Here is Carlotta Gall's report. Click on my title for a link to the original.]

March 27, 2009
Pakistani and Afghan Taliban Unify in Face of U.S. Influx
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year.
In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans, the fighters said.
The refortified alliance was forged after the reclusive Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, sent emissaries to persuade Pakistani Taliban leaders to join forces and turn their attention to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said.
The overture by Mullah Omar is an indication that with the prospect of an American buildup, the Taliban feel the need to strengthen their own forces in Afghanistan and to redirect their Pakistani allies toward blunting the new American push.
The Pakistani Taliban, an offspring of the Afghan Taliban, are led by veterans of the fighting in Afghanistan who come from the border regions. They have always supported the fight against foreign forces in Afghanistan by supplying fighters, training and logistical aid.
But in recent years the Pakistani Taliban have concentrated on battling the Pakistani government, extending a domain that has not only threatened Pakistan but has also provided an essential rear base for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
At the same time, American officials told The New York Times this week that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency continued to offer money, supplies and guidance to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as a proxy to help shape a friendly government there once American forces leave.
The new Taliban alliance has raised concern in Afghanistan, where NATO generals warn that the conflict will worsen this year. It has also generated anxiety in Pakistan, where officials fear that a united Taliban will be more dangerous, even if focused on Afghanistan, and draw more attacks inside Pakistan from United States drone aircraft.
“This may bring some respite for us from militants’ attacks, but what it may entail in terms of national security could be far more serious,” said one senior Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to talk to news organizations. “This would mean more attacks inside our tribal areas, something we have been arguing against with the Americans.”
The Pakistani Taliban is dominated by three powerful commanders — Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulavi Nazir — based in North and South Waziristan, the hub of insurgent activity in Pakistan’s tribal border regions, who have often clashed among themselves.
Mullah Omar dispatched a six-member team to Waziristan in late December and early January, several Taliban fighters said in interviews in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in North-West Frontier Province that is not far from South Waziristan. The Afghan Taliban delegation urged the Pakistani Taliban leaders to settle their internal differences, scale down their activities in Pakistan and help counter the planned increase of American forces in Afghanistan, the fighters said.
The three Pakistani Taliban leaders agreed. In February, they formed a united council, or shura, called the Council of United Mujahedeen. In a printed statement the leaders vowed to put aside their disputes and focus on fighting American-led forces in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied that the meetings ever took place or that any emissaries were sent by Mullah Omar. The Afghan Taliban routinely disavow any presence in Pakistan or connection to the Pakistani Taliban to emphasize that their movement is indigenous to Afghanistan. “We don’t like to be involved with them, as we have rejected all affiliation with Pakistani Taliban fighters,” Mr. Mujahid said. “We have sympathy for them as Muslims, but beside that, there is nothing else between us.”
Several Pakistani officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to news organizations, confirmed the meetings. But they said that the overture might have been inspired by Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan Taliban leader who swears allegiance to Mullah Omar but is largely independent in his operations.
Mr. Haqqani, and his father Jalaluddin Haqqani, the most powerful figures in Waziristan, are closely linked to Al Qaeda and to Pakistani intelligence, American officials say. From their base in North Waziristan, they have directed groups of fighters into eastern Afghanistan and increasingly in complex attacks on the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The Taliban fighters said the Afghan Taliban delegation was led by Mullah Abdullah Zakir, a commander from Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, whose real name is reported to be Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul.
A front-line commander during the Taliban government, Mullah Zakir was captured in 2001 in northern Afghanistan and was detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, until his release in 2007, Afghan Taliban members contacted by telephone said.
The Pakistani fighters described Mullah Zakir as an impressive speaker and a trainer, and one said he was particularly energetic in working to unite the different Taliban groups. Beyond bolstering Taliban forces in Afghanistan, both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders had other reasons to unite, Pakistani officials said.
One motivation may have been to shift the focus of hostilities to Afghanistan in hopes of improving their own security in Waziristan, where more than 30 drone strikes in recent months have been directed at both Mr. Mehsud and Mr. Nazir. Two senior commanders of the Haqqani network have been killed.
The Pakistani Taliban leaders also rely on Mr. Haqqani and their affiliation with the Afghan mujahedeen for legitimacy, as well as the money and influence it brings.
In their written statement, decorated with crossed swords, the three Pakistani Taliban leaders reaffirmed their allegiance to Mullah Omar, as well as the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
The mujahedeen should unite as the “enemies” have united behind the leadership of President Obama, it said. “The mujahedeen should put aside their own differences for the sake of God, God’s happiness, for the strength of religion, and to bring dishonor on the infidels.” The Taliban fighters interviewed said that the top commanders removed a number of older commanders and appointed younger commanders who were good fighters to prepare for operations in Afghanistan in the coming weeks.
In confident spirits, the Taliban fighters predicted that 2009 was going to be a “very bloody” year.
Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan; Pir Zubair Shah from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan; and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Parag Khanna's reading of the situation in Afghanistan

I have much respect for what Parag Khanna writes but I wonder about some of the things he says in his recent article on what the US should do to get control of the situation in Afghanistan [Link to the Atlantic Community version by clicking on the title; a longer version appeared in Foreign Policy Feb09].

He says, and he would know, that "Despite American activity in the region, it's by no means clear if Washington is any closer to understanding the dynamics in South-Central Asia." Not a reassuring statement: so far, we await evidence that the Obama team will do better than the previous one. But his proposal that the solution is to "go regional" is certainly on target.

But the following seems off the mark: "If the additional 30,000 US troops being deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan succeed at pushing Taliban fighters into retreating into Pakistan, they could destabilize that country's already volatile Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).On the Pakistan side, newly armed tribal lashkars (militias) would be unable to cope with the Taliban influx." Khanna is overlooking how much the Taliban is a creation by Pakistan. He seems to suppose that the Taliban movement is still essentially an Afghan movement. Not so -- see the several article in Crews and Tarzi The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan. The more we know, the more we are sure that Pakistan was and still is behind the Taliban. And today's NYTimes says -- again -- that in fact a certain wing of the ISI is still provisioning and advising the Taliban. There is no threat that a huge influx of Taliban will be driven into tribal territory by the American forces. The impetus of the Taliban is Pakistani -- and if we are to believe Nojumi [in his book and his contribution to Crews and Tarzi], they have always been a creation of the Pakistanis.

And what Khanna himself says about Saudi support seems eminently plausible and consistent with what we know about Pakistani investment in the Taliban: "Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is thought to be channeling money to Wahabbi mosques and the Taliban, and the country's leadership is brokering the latter's negotiations with the Karzai regime."

So Khanna's view on a crucial matter seems to me mistaken. And if the government is listening to him -- and I hope they do -- I would hope that he will recognize the controlling influence of Pakistan in the Taliban movement, as that will certainly be crucial in the development of policy.

Indeed, his proposal of a joint Afghanistan/Pakistani force to go after the Taliban seems feasible and wise.

[Link to the article on the Atlantic Community site by clicking on the title.]

With Friends Like These ... Pakistan's double game

This is not news, but it is infuriating. How many more times and in how many ways will the Pakistan military undermine the American project in Afghanistan? And even their own stability? Certainly they undermine their own credibility. [selections from today's NYTimes]

March 26, 2009
Afghan Strikes by Taliban Get Pakistan Help, U.S. Aides Say
WASHINGTON — The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties to militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials. ...
The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements.
Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections.
Details of the ISI’s continuing ties to militant groups were described by a half-dozen American, Pakistani and other security officials during recent interviews in Washington and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. All requested anonymity because they were discussing classified and sensitive intelligence information.
The American officials said proof of the ties between the Taliban and Pakistani spies came from electronic surveillance and trusted informants. The Pakistani officials interviewed said that they had firsthand knowledge of the connections, though they denied that the ties were strengthening the insurgency.
American officials have complained for more than a year about the ISI’s support to groups like the Taliban. But the new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known — even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a “double game” had ended.
.. . part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy. A senior Pakistani military officer said, “In intelligence, you have to be in contact with your enemy or you are running blind.”
Pakistani official explained that Islamabad needed to use groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.”
the ISI’s S Wing, which officials say directs intelligence operations outside of Pakistan. American officials said that the S Wing provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan: the Taliban based in Quetta, Pakistan, commanded by Mullah Muhammad Omar; the militant network run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and a different group run by the guerrilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, recently told senators that the Pakistanis “draw distinctions” among different militant groups.
“There are some they believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone,” Mr. Blair said.
The Haqqani network, which focuses its attacks on Afghanistan, is considered a strategic asset to Pakistan, according to American and Pakistani officials, in contrast to the militant network run by Baitullah Mehsud, which has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government.
The ISI support for militants extends beyond those operating in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. American officials said the spy agency had also shared intelligence with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group suspected in the deadly attacks ….
As a result, when the Haqqani fighters need to stay a step ahead of American forces stalking them on the ground and in the air, they rely on moles within the spy agency to tip them off to allied missions planned against them, American military officials said.
Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Eric Schmitt from Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stratfor's article on Iran's concerns about the Taliban

Stratfor has produced a good statement on the problems created by the US attempts to negotiate with “moderate Taliban.” I note, in the statements I have seen by Karzai, that he does not call the people he wants to deal with “moderate Taliban”; he refers to them as authentic Afghans who have some problems with the present situation and are for their own local reasons allied with the Taliban. They can be won over, he says. I’m not sure what real “moderate Taliban” will actually look like; it seems to be a term Americans have invented.

But, as Stratfor points out, the Iranians are not pleased by any overtures to the Taliban. The Iranians and the Taliban / Al Qaeda are more serious enemies than many Americans understand: Allied with the Taliban are Sunni Islamist organizations that believe it is their religious duty to kill Shias, and they have attacked an killed many in Pakistan in recent years. As Stratfor points out, the Taliban killed several Iranian diplomats and a journalist as well as many Hazara Shia in a romp through Mazar-e- Sharif in 1998.

So the Iranians are displeased by the news that Obama might make contact with “moderate Taliban”. At the same time the Saudis are delighted because for one thing their Wahhabi religious ideology is similar to the Taliban and anyway many Saudis have supported the Taliban for years, and for another thing the Saudis are frightened of the Iranians. Iran is a much bigger country and is just across the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the Saudis have a good sized Shia population that happens to be astride most of the Saudi oil fields. And the Shia in Arabia have been restive recently.

All this is a mere overview of affairs in this part of the world: layers of adversaries supported by other layers of adversaries, etc., each with its particular grudges. Another reason for worry is the ignorance of such subtleties that those in the West have who will make policy decisions. It has not been long since various notable politicians, Senators and Congressmen, were accusing Iran of supporting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Little did they know . . . .

Friday, March 20, 2009

The incorrigible ISI

The ISI's support of Islamist insurgents has gone on for so long, despite many official denials, that the practice seems to be programmed into them. They just can't help themselves. So, despite the appearance of being part of the Pakistani system, maybe they are more part of the Taliban/ Al Qaeda system than of either Pakistan or Afghanistan. When asked whose side the ISI are on, Barnet Ruben once said they are on the ISI side. So it appears to be. Anyway, for whatever reason, the ISI is still playing the same game. Here is the NYTimes report of the source of the attack on the Ministry of Justice in Kabul a few months ago.

March 20, 2009
Pakistan Accused of Link to Kabul Attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan —Suicide bombers who stormed the Justice Ministry and a prison department building in the Afghan capital last month were trained in Pakistan’s lawless border region, Afghan intelligence officials have said.

The attack on Feb. 11, which left 26 people dead and more than 50 wounded, was conducted by eight armed men wearing suicide vests, and has been compared to the militant attacks in Mumbai, India, in November and against the Sri Lankan cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore on March 3.

The attackers’ aim was to kill as many people as possible, Sayed Ansari, a spokesman for the National Security Directorate, said Wednesday at a news conference in Kabul. They also intended to take hostages inside the Justice Ministry and demand the release of Taliban members held in Afghan jails, he said.

Mr. Ansari said seven accomplices had been arrested, and several more killed in a raid in Logar Province, south of the capital. At least one of those arrested has said he was trained in Waziristan, a tribal region of Pakistan, by a man named Mohammad Haris, who Mr. Ansari said organized the operation.

“He played an active role in organizing the attack from the other side of the border,” he said, adding that Mr. Haris uses a number of aliases. “He was using a Pakistani mobile phone number to contact other members of the group.”

A Taliban fighter based in Pakistan’s tribal areas confirmed that a group led by Mr. Haris and operating out of North Waziristan was behind the Kabul attack. Mr. Haris is an Afghan and conducted operations on both sides of the border, he said. One of the attackers killed in Kabul was also known to him and was an Afghan from Zabul Province, said the fighter, who spoke by telephone on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Ansari also suggested that Pakistani intelligence had a role in planning the attacks. “I would like to say specifically that the intelligence agency of our neighboring country is involved and behind these attacks and organizing these activities,” he said.

Afghan security officials have long said Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, aids the Taliban insurgency, and increasingly complex attacks on Kabul in the past year have indicated greater sophistication.

In particular, a senior Afghan security official has said that phone calls from a facilitator who organized a suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul last July was in direct phone contact with a Pakistani intelligence official in Peshawar, Pakistan. American intelligence agencies also concluded from intercepts that Pakistani intelligence officials helped plan that attack, American officials said later.

India has also accused the Pakistani intelligence agency of being behind the suicide attack on its embassy in Kabul last year and the attacks in Mumbai.

Pakistan has denied the allegations, blaming “nonstate actors,” at most, for the attacks.

The attackers at the Afghan Justice Ministry were all killed in the battle there. In order to take hostages and demand prisoners’ release, Mr. Ansari said, they had a megaphone, enough food for several days and cellphones to keep in touch with one another and with the mastermind in Pakistan.

Even though the eight gunmen were able to breach security and reach the center of the city, Afghan security forces ended the siege within three hours. Five Afghan members of the police and intelligence services were killed.

Sangar Rahimi reported from Kabul, and Carlotta Gall from Islamabad, Pakistan. Pir Zubair Shah contributed reporting from Islamabad.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on Infrastructural Development: China's Savvy Policy

Today’s New York Times says that China is using the occasion of the downturn to invest in infrastructure. And I found a note by Matthew Argersinger in an article [March 11, 2009] in the Motley Fool [!] on the ratio of benefit to highway construction: $5.4 to $1. That is a fishy number, of course, [I know economists believe these things] but it does emphasize the point that China’s policy makers are making a savvy investment in future development.

Here is what the original articles say:

The Times: “China’s leaders are turning economic crisis to competitive advantage, . . . The country is using its nearly $600 billion economic stimulus package to make its companies better able to compete in markets at home and abroad, to retrain migrant workers on an immense scale and to rapidly expand subsidies for research and development. Construction has already begun on new highways and rail lines that are likely to permanently reduce transportation costs. “

The Motley Fool: “China has a lot going for it right now. While slower than previous years, China's GDP is still set to grow by 6% in 2009. Compare that to the U.S., where GDP is expected to decline. And unlike our stimulus bill, which sets aside only $111 billion for direct infrastructure spending, China is going to spend the bulk of its world-changing $586 billion stimulus plan on infrastructure projects.
“Why is that an important distinction? Infrastructure spending is an efficient way to stimulate the economy and build long-term growth. For example, studies show that every dollar spent on highway construction delivers $5.40 in economic output. And while the U.S. stimulus bill includes less than 1% of GDP worth of infrastructure spending, China's mostly infrastructure-related stimulus package makes up 13% of its GDP. That's some powerful stimuli, and I believe it almost assures that China's growth will be faster and more durable than our own.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

A letter from a friend in an Arab world

I received a note the other day from a friend in Saudi Arabia. These informal notes from a person on the ground are so valuable. They give you a sense of what is like to be there, how it feels, how one is touched by the sounds and sights of encounters with real people who are living under rules and strictures unfamiliar to us. This note requires not comment. RLC

I'm slowly adjusting to life in the Kingdom, . . . and I'm not quite as negative about it as I have been previously. With that being said, we have this acronym that we use to explain most things that happen in a day: TISA. This is Saudi Arabia. The credit card reader at a fancy restaurant suddenly crashes and you're expected to pay $300 in cash for your meal?

TISA. Your meeting with an important government minister can't happen because he has to have permission from his government to meet with you in the meeting he requested? TISA. Being confused with domestic workers because I'm not clearly identifiable as Arab? TISA.

The thing that really strikes me about this report is the part about controlling the roads, the internet, and the phones, because I definitely see the first part, lament the internet censorship, and try not to think about the latter. The checkpoints around this city are insane - all the major highways have them every mile or so, and most of the bigger city streets do as well. Cars usually get inspected. Some friends of mine who grew up here tell me that they're looking for a specific make of car, or a specific physical description of a person, or a specific ethnicity to pick on (the first two are security related, the latter is just Saudis being themselves). Most of these checkpoints are permanent, but roving ones pop up from time to time, especially in the worst neighborhoods. There's one notorious neighborhood that supposedly has checkpoints every two blocks.

Security has noticeably beefed up - the guards are wearing body armor now, and my friends and coworkers say that they're being asked a lot more questions when they come inside the compound where I live. At the compounds around town, security has been amped up as well, because the compounds are notorious for the debauchery (homebrew alcohol, swimming pools, women not wearing abayas) inside. The compounds all have Saudi military protection outside, as well as their own forces of hired guards.

It's an interesting time to be here. There's a definite sense that the king is shaking things up - a woman was just appointed to be a deputy minister in the department of education, which is a huge, huge deal, especially since in her photos in the paper she didn't cover her face (maybe 80% of Saudi women in the cities do that, and 95% or higher outside the cities do). Saudi Arabia has the ninth-largest contingent of foreign students studying in the US (and given that India, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are at the top of that list, being in the top ten is no small feat) due to the king's generous scholarship program that pays for pretty much anyone to study in the US, and the returning students are agitating for change. It's starting small - women with advanced degrees demanding spaces where they can work an honest job in the field in which they trained, people who learned to blog in the US asking for the right to do the same here, high school students in an international school trying to form an elected student council - but it's a growing movement.

When Saudi Arabia makes me cry with frustration, I try to think about the poor Shia kid I met through my job who gets to study chemical engineering so he can work at Aramco and have the first real job in his family, or the Bedouin girl who can only go study at Princeton if her brother goes along as well to chaperone her - she's the only Saudi I've ever seen get admitted to an Ivy League. He is in an English program so he can learn to fit in to the US somewhat while she studies for her undergraduate degree. They're the reasons why we have the hope that this country can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the modern world. The question is just how quickly the
religious conservatives and the tribal elements will allow things to modernize without open revolt.

Good news and bad news in Pakistan

The signs of instability and conflicting forces among the Pakistanis continue to burst into the open.

On the one hand, the news from Lahore is encouraging: the police finally backed down and allowed Nawaz Sharif to escape house arrest; and finally Zardari has allow Chief Justice Chaudhry to be reinstated. This is a huge change: popular protests have forced the government to back down. No doubt the army was the critical influence on Zardari's government, but it was because of the protests that the army stepped in.

Chaudhry had been removed by Musharraf because Musharraf feared he would delegitimate his claim to hold office. But Zardari, now in Musharraf’s place, has his own reasons to distrust Chaudhry, for the Chief Justice has in the past had similar objections to Zardari.

The Asia Times [http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KC17Df01.html] lists the issues that Chaudhry will likely address, once he is in office:
> “the credibility of the National Reconciliation Ordinance - a presidential pardon - which Musharraf issued over the corruption cases against now-President Asif Ali Zardari and other PPP leaders, which enabled them to participate in elections and then form a government early last year;
> [and] the many dozens of missing people, . . . detained for alleged "war on terror" crimes without trail. Prior to his dismissal, Chaudhry had had run-ins with the military establishment over this.”

So while, finally, there is hope of the rule of law in Pakistan, with the reinstatement of the Chief Justice, there is trouble elsewhere. AFP reports that the Taliban have torched several trucks and trailers carrying goods for the American war in Afghanistan, the second such attach in the last two days. Elsewhere a drone has hit another location in tribal territory. It’s a hot war in western Pakistan.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Torture, more and more is being revealed, to our shame

Most of the people who would look at this blog have already looked at the New York Times so it may seem strange to put up an op-ed piece by Mark Danner that appeared there today. But somehow I feel a need to emphasize what that I and others have said before, that a great outrage has been done to the American people apparently without the notice of many of them. If the American people actually internalized what has been done in their name -- torturing of other people in the name of "freedom", American "freedom," "American values" -- they would, I'm sure, be as appalled and outraged as I am. I know many of you are, but I grieve that many of my Christian friends, my Christian brethren, have stood by silently, indifferently, and seem still to be unable the grasp the shame that our leaders have brought upon this country. It is frustrating to read the judicial opinions that were writing for the Bush administration that effectively legalized torture of other human beings. It continues to grieve many of us to read of the actual practices that our young people were commanded to do (See Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian, Fear Up Harsh). And it is sickening to read specifically what "torture" -- legal torture -- consists of. I here reproduce Danner's piece to emphasize how much we as a country have to internalize, how much we have yet to live down, how much we cannot atone for. RLC

The New York Times March 15, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Tales From Torture’s Dark World

ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.

“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still.

At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to speak. For he announced that he would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark into twilight: they would be transferred from the overseas “black sites” to Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International Committee of the Red Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them.”

A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross officials — whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing the prisoners.

Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the C.I.A. detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.”

As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.

The result is a document — labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials — that tells a story of what happened to each of the 14 detainees inside the black sites.

A short time ago, this document came into my hands and I have set out the stories it tells in a longer article in The New York Review of Books. Because these stories were taken down confidentially in patient interviews by professionals from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not intended for public consumption, they have an unusual claim to authenticity.

Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination: “The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Perhaps one should start with the story of the first man to whom, according to news reports, the president’s “alternative set of procedures” were applied:

“I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4 meters by 4 meters. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket.

“I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.

“The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting-type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.

“The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.”

So begins the story of Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of Al Qaeda, captured in a raid in Pakistan in March 2002. The arrest of an active terrorist with actionable information was a coup for the United States.

After being treated for his wounds — he had been shot in the stomach, leg and groin during his capture — Abu Zubaydah was brought to one of the black sites, probably in Thailand, and placed in that white room.

It is important to note that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators, that everyone in that white room — guards, interrogators, doctor — was in fact linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m going to slap him. Or I’m going to shake him,’” said John Kiriakou, a C.I.A. officer who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, in an interview with ABC News.

Every one of the steps taken with regard to Abu Zubaydah “had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’”

He went on: “The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific.... No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.”

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.

At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.

This went on for approximately one week.”

Walid bin Attash, a Saudi involved with planning the attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, was captured in Pakistan on April 29, 2003:

“On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks.... I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.”

This forced standing, with arms shackled above the head, seems to have become standard procedure. It proved especially painful for Mr. bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:

“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists.”

Cold water was used on Mr. bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:

“On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.

“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.... I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003.

After three days in what he believes was a prison in Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammed was put in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood and headphones, and shackled and placed aboard a plane. He quickly fell asleep — “the first proper sleep in over five days” — and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he realized he had come a long way:

“I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet X people. I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ‘.pl.’”

He was stripped and put in a small cell. “I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor,” he told the Red Cross.

“Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist, resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”

For interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions lasted for as long as eight hours and as short as four.

“If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe.”

As with Abu Zubaydah, the harshest sessions involved the “alternative set of procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the effects of the others:

“The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor.”

Reading the Red Cross report, one becomes somewhat inured to the “alternative set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grow numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking.

Here again is Mr. Mohammed:

“After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well.... The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request” — he was shackled standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling — “but I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month.... I wasn’t given any clothes for the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.”

Abu Zubaydah, Walid bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — these men almost certainly have blood on their hands. There is strong reason to believe that they had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other “high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by the United States is described in the Red Cross report.

From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be. The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantánamo — means it is highly unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.

For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Mark Danner, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bard College, is the author of "Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror.” This essay is drawn from a longer article in the new issue of The New York Review of Books, available at www.nybooks.com.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

China and Iran: $3.2 billion natural gas deal

LA Times is reporting this deal as if it were a surprise. It has been in the works for years. But it is important, not because it shows how ineffective economic sanctions are (what LATimes makes of the deal), but because it shows how many ways infrastructural investments are tying Eurasia more tightly together, much of it centering on China. Iran's saber-rattling to the west is pomposity and hubris; its deals with China, India and Pakistan to the east are investments for the future.

For those of us interested in Central Eurasia, this deal is yet one more sign of how strategic Central Asia is becoming. For those of us who would like to assess trends for the future in Eurasia infrastructural developments are a pretty good index of trends that are likely to hold up for a long time. RLC

[click on the title above for a link to the source article.]

Iran signs $3.2-billion natural gas deal with China

By Borzou Daragahi March 15, 2009
Reporting from Beirut –

Iran announced a $3.2-billion natural gas deal with China on Saturday, a move that underscored the difficulty of using economic sanctions to pressure Tehran to bow to Washington's demands on its nuclear program.

Iranian state television quoted a senior government official as saying the deal with a Chinese consortium, announced two days after the Obama administration renewed U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, would eventually include an unnamed European country as a partner.

Under the three-year deal, China will help develop the South Pars field, a sprawling cavity beneath the Persian Gulf seabed that is part of what geologists describe as the world's largest natural gas reservoir.

Washington has routinely renewed embargoes on doing industrial-scale business with Iran since the 1990s, even barring foreign companies that do more than $10 million a year of business with the Islamic Republic from operating in the U.S.

Under Washington's pressure, the French energy giant Total has quietly scaled back plans to develop Iranian gas fields. But many companies still do business with Iran, especially from the rapidly expanding Asian economic and political powerhouses of India and China and in countries with few commercial ties to the U.S., such as Russia.

Iran says it supplies China with 14% of its oil and recently announced that it was signing a $1.3-billion deal for two methanol plants with the Danish firm Haldor Topsoe and a $260-million deal for a tire factory with Italy's Maire Tecnimont.

On Thursday, the Obama administration extended U.S. sanctions for another year, a move Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed as "childish." President Obama has called for talks with Tehran as a way of resolving a years-long dispute over the nature of Iran's nuclear energy program and its support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

Some European officials, frustrated after years of attempts at dialogue with Iran, say that Obama must work harder to coordinate his policies with Moscow and Beijing.

"The big challenge will be to get the Russians and Chinese on board for tougher actions and sanctions once [the Americans] try to engage and fail," said a Western diplomat in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Advocates of sanctions say they keep Tehran's ambitions in check and its leadership isolated by denying Iran revenue and technical expertise.

But Iranian officials say sanctions hurt mostly ordinary people while convincing all Iranians of the need to forgo Western partners in favor of cultivating their own technological advances. That includes Iran's controversial drive to master the enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb.


Los Angeles Times

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The way Saudi Arabia treats a 75 year old woman: Khamisa Sawadi

I felt this was so important that it would be worth reproducing here. I hope Sabria will not mind. This comes from her "Out of the box" blog. RLC

How Saudi women celebrated International Women’s Day From "Out of the Box" by sabria jawhar, 3/11/09

I don’t think that Khamisa Sawadi celebrated International
Women’s Day last Sunday. No, more than likely the 75-year-old widow was
wondering abut the 40 lashes and four months in prison she is facing
for mingling with two young men, which included her late husband’s
nephew, who had brought her bread.
International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, political and social
achievements of women in the past and the present.
While the event is a national holiday in some countries, such as China
and Russia, it goes largely unnoticed by women n Saudi Arabia. The case
of Khamisa Sawadi is evidence that the social achievements of Saudi
women remain a distant dream.
Sawadi is Syrian but is the widow of a Saudi. The nephew and his friend
and business partner had delivered bread to Sawadi to her home in
Al-Chamil. They were immediately arrested.
In court Sawadi testified that she had breast-fed the nephew as an
infant and considered him her son. But her argument was rejected by the
court, which based its conviction on testimony from the father of the
nephew’s friend who alleged that Sawadi corrupted his son.
After Sawadi serves her sentenced she is expected to be deported to
Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in the advancement of women
in key government positions. The appointments of Noral Al-Faiz as
deputy minister for Girls' Education and Dr. Fatimah Abdullah Al-Saleem
as cultural attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Canada by the Ministry of
Higher Education, inspires Saudi women. Saudi women view Al-Faiz and
Al-Saleem as role models, recognizing that they, too, can achieve
success on their own terms.
Yet the social realities are that Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem are the
exceptions, not the rule, of what Saudi women face in the future. For
every Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem there are 100 Khamisa Sawadis. For every
female Saudi graduate student studying abroad, there are 100 other
Saudi women denied their right to divorce abusive husbands or to gain
custody of their children.
A Saudi delegation can stand before the United Nation’s Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and provide a laundry
list of all the good things the Saudi government has done for their
women. But closer scrutiny of Khamisa Sawadi, the Qatif Girl, forced
divorces and the countless 13-year-old brides married off to men four
times their age tarnishes the appointments of Saudi women to high
While we have seen remarkable changes recently in the general
presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevent of
Vice and a new chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council, it’s the
judges in court that seemed to have lost sight of their religious and
social obligations and revert to tribal customs.
A friend of mine has had her divorce case in the courts for 10 years.
No matter how many appeals she makes to the court, she is refused a
divorce. Another friend is scorned and humiliated by government
officials as she attempts to gain permission to marry a non-Saudi. And
for what purpose? A woman is entitled to a divorce as long as she
complies with Islam and is prepared to return the dowry. A woman is
entitled to alimony, but rarely receives it. A husband can only take a
second wife if his first wife approves, yet these religious obligations
are often subverted by the husband and later upheld by the courts. A
woman is entitled to marry whom she pleases, but the obstacles are so
great to receiving permission it’s virtually impossible to get married
to who she wants.
There is no religious prohibition preventing women from driving yet we
are forced to mingle with unrelated men who are employed as our
drivers. If Sawadi is guilty of mingling with men who are not her close
relatives, then 95 percent of the Saudi women are guilty of the same
thing. Imagine if the laws, as interpreted by the Saudi courts, were
administered in an equitable manner. The jails would be bursting at the
seams with thousands upon thousands of Saudi women bearing the scars of
hundreds of lashes.
Saudi Arabia is witnessing an unprecedented brain drain of female
post-graduate degree holders who find jobs and freedom in other GCC
countries – notably the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain. They
know they can live productive lives, work alongside whomever they want,
and drive a car without looking over their shoulder for the Hai’a. They
can live their lives without being exposed to the risk of facing a
judge who parses every word of a Hadith to reach a verdict he had
already decided on or who will succumb to tribal pressures.
I have great hope for the future of Saudi Arabia. Certainly change,
especially in our society, comes slowly. But tell that to Khamisa
Sawadi and my friend who hasn’t been granted a divorce after 10 years.
What about their future?

Friday, March 13, 2009

A new train connection between Pakistan and Iran and Turkey

Pakistan Times has an article [undated but I think published today] indicating that train service between Pakistan and countries west will come into service some time this year. It will run on a newly connected track system. As we have mentioned often, infrastructural developments like this have long-term effects. In this case, of course, the effect will be to bring the Subcontinent into closer relation to the Middle East. The costs of shipping between South Asia and the Mediterranean world will drop abruptly. This is significant because for over a century there has been talk of establishing train connections to South Asia and (another issue, but a related one) Central Asia without it being possible for political reasons. Afghanistan's lack of railroad lines arose from the attempts by the 19th Century powers to keep their respective empires apart. Forms of transport in the modern period, trucking and air shipping, and telephony, have of course changed that, but railroads are coming, at least in some parts of this region. So far, political issues have restrained such developments. RLC

Pakistan-Iran-Turkey container train service soon
'Pakistan Times' Punjab Bureau

LAHORE: Pakistan, Iran and Turkey at Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) summit have agreed on a container train service, which is expected to start this year. Talking to media at Allama Iqbal International Airport here Thursday, State Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Sumsam Ali Shah Bokhari said the tri-nation train service would not only boost trade activity but also improve regional contacts.

The initiatives taken in the 10th ECO summit at Tehran would ensure regional development and prosperity, he said, adding that all the ten member countries had stressed the need for resolving mutual problems by enhancing cooperation at all levels to bring stability and counter terrorism in the region.

To a question, he said the summit also discussed at length the new formula for tri-nation gas pipeline project and soon there would be a breakthrough in this regard. Sumsam Bokhari said that during the summit, the presidents of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan had decided to hold meeting after every three months to review the regional matters.

He asserted that deputy foreign ministers would hold an important meeting, which would be followed by a meeting of foreign ministers of all the three countries. Later, the presidents of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan would meet again in Tehran in April. While, the next ECO meeting would be held in Islamabad, he maintained.

He also hailed the President Asif Ali Zardari for his efforts in holding of the summit as well as the role played by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in this connection. To a query, the minister said the present democratic government would not obstruct the lawyers’ Long March, provided that it was being held in a peaceful manner.

Long March is not being participated by all the lawyers community of the country but its some group, he added.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hope for negotiations with the Taliban?

It’s very hard to assess what is going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan at this time. Swat has been handed over to the Taliban, a move that the Pakistanis represent as a device to bring the Taliban under government control. So far, there is no sign of it. At the same time the Pakistan military has crushed a group they claim to be the Taliban in Bajaur. The reports, however, indicate that those who were attacked were fairly benign while some of the most dangerous insurgent elements are still at large.

The most interesting development is the news, reported today by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times, that “preliminary discussions with the Taliban leadership were already under way” between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, even before Obama expressed an interest in negotiating with the Taliban. I was most struck by a sentence buried in the article: “The Taliban leadership council first approached the government about peace talks last year, a senior security adviser said, after suffering heavy battlefield casualties and seeing the election of a civilian, antimilitant government in Pakistan.” That the Taliban took the initiative suggests that they see, or at least at that time saw, limitations in what they could accomplish.

I am worried about the flawed arguments being presented about how hopeless the American cause is in Afghanistan. Those who offer such ideas generously quote Kipling’s colorful depictions of the Afghans in the nineteenth century and pointedly remind us that the Soviets were hopelessly bogged down in Afghanistan. “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires”, etc.; they believe all the clichés. These arguments forget that the British were unable to decide for sure whether they cared about establishing a serious presence in Afghanistan in the nineteenth century. There was a Forward policy and then there was a retreat to more secure territory; and there was, in the case of the disastrous retreat by the British army in 1842, a plethora of flaws in leadership. The Soviets in more recent times were in a different position. True, they also were conflicted about the Afghanistan venture, but more importantly they were faced with an American and Saudi- supported insurgency emanating from Pakistan’s tribal territory. Lots of money and arms were supporting the Mujahedin struggle against the Soviets. And there was a huge refugee population from which to recruit holy warriors.

That’s not the situation now. The Taliban- Al Qaeda coalition are faced by a gradually improving Afghan army from the east, a frustrated (but again conflicted) military regime in Pakistan that finally acts like it’s fed up with the radical Islamists they protected for so many years – fed up at least for now – and with them is joined an American –NATO force that now finally, after years of neglect by the Bush administration, acts like it will make a serious commitment to the problem. So the Taliban-Al Qaeda coalition has to rely on corruption in Afghanistan and Pakistan and on the illicit drug industry to survive. It’s true that they have a firm grip on some places but if they are hemmed in by sufficient forces and if the nations interested in resolving the issue remain committed, then the Taliban-Al Qaeda coalition have reason to think about negotiating.

It seems to me that this could be a significant shift in the situation. One of the conditions in our modern world that many of us have noted is that the effective instruments of political activity of the past have shifted. State institutions are being seriously challenged by person-centered coalitions of the sort that were far more viable before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which established the practice of giving state institutions rights of sovereignty. The Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Middle East, and FARC and the drug cartels in Latin America are organizations for the exertion of influence that resemble the pre-Westphalia agreement. Even so, all of them earnestly want to grasp the reigns of state power. If and whenever one of them would, it would be an event of significance because it would seem to give legitimacy to such groups. Criminal gangs seem to control several of the states in Africa. And some of us wonder if in fact the coalition headed by Vladimir Putin in Russia is in fact a kind of criminal mafia.

In any case, the discussions with the Taliban seem promising. The Taliban demands in any deal seem eminently reasonable from here: an end to house searches and arrests, and the release of Taliban detainees from Afghan jails and the United States detention centers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Bagram Air Base. There are also “other things” they want, unspecified in Gall’s article. But if we can believe what we read there is hope.

Friday, March 06, 2009

US, desperate for more routes of access into Afghanistan, makes a deal with Tajikistan

Reuters is reporting that the United States is making a deal to transport goods through Tajikistan. The effect would be to strengthen the transport facilities of Tajikistan, another development that will be important for the long-term. See below. RLC

U.S. sees deal on Tajik transit for Afghan cargo
06 Mar 2009 11:52:35 GMT
Source: Reuters
DUSHANBE, March 6 (Reuters) - The United States and Tajikistan expect soon to finalise an agreement that would allow the transit of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe said on Friday.

Russia gave the go ahead for the first cargo of non-lethal supplies to cross its territory this month. The cargo went by rail across Russia and Kazakhstan and is currently in Uzbekistan awaiting transit across the Uzbek border with Afghanistan.

A deal with Tajikistan would give the United States the added option of using the former Soviet state's border which is closer to U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

"I think we have the support of the Tajik government," the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Tracey Ann Jacobson, told Sobytiya weekly in an interview published in Russian.

"We are now working on a few details. But I hope we will have an agreement soon," the ambassador was quoted as saying.

A spokesman for the embassy confirmed the comments.

Once a deal is struck, trains could go direct to Tajikistan where cargos would be loaded onto trucks and driven across the Tajik-Afghan border.

Washington is seeking to find new supply routes for its troops fighting Taliban forces after militants stepped up attacks on convoys through Pakistan. (Reporting by Roman Kozhevnikov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Jon Boyle)

AlertNet news is provided by Reuters

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How Many of Our Constitutional Rights Might We Have Lost?

Last Monday’s disclosure of the post- 911 policies of the Bush administration suggests how easily and quickly our cherished conventions can be put at risk. And the revelation that the CIA destroyed 92 tapes of torture sessions reveals how much could be [and has been?] kept from the public. That these things have come to light is a great gift to the American poeple, for only by the open exposure of what our government does can the public effectively and wisely exercise its responsibility to hold its leaders accountable.

Here are some of the most egregious policies that were formally promoted within the Bush White House [but not made public at the time]:
• The president could use the nation’s military within the United States to combat terrorism suspects and to conduct raids without obtaining search warrants. [Formally presented on Oct. 23, 2001 by John C. Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office.]
• The president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.
• “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” [Indeed, …] “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”
• “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense, …. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, … since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force.
• [Memo of Sept. 25, 2001:] [J]udicial precedents approving deadly force in self-defense could be extended to allow for eavesdropping without warrants.
• [Memo of March 2002:] Congress lacked any power to limit a president’s authority to transfer detainees to other countries [“rendition” that was widely used by Mr. Bush and by Clinton before him].
• Congress had no right to intervene in the president’s determination of the treatment of detainees [subsequently invalidated by the Supreme Court].

These judgments were officially repudiated by Steven G. Bradbury, the last head the Office of Legal Counsel under Bush, five days before the end of the Bush term. He did so in order to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.”

Connect these policy statements with the news that the CIA had and destroyed 92 videotapes of the harsh interrogation of two Qaeda suspects in C.I.A. detention. The tapes were destroyed at the very time that Congress and the courts were intensifying their scrutiny of the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Roggio says the Taliban have violated the cease fire in Swat

Bill Roggio in The Long War Journal tells us that the Cease Fire in Swat is already being violated by the Taliban. Actually, nothing new here; this was predicted and is consistent with other deals they have made. [Click on the title to get to the source article.]

The Long War Journal: Taliban violates Swat truce
by Bill Roggio on March 2, 2009 1:03 AM

The Swat Taliban violated the ceasefire with the Pakistani military twice on Sunday, prompting protests from the local government.

In the Kambar region of Swat, the Taliban abducted a district commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and four of his troops, Geo News reported. In the Kabal region, Taliban forces attacked a military vehicle transporting sick troops.

The military did not respond to either incident, except for filing a complaint. A "protest has been registered before the concerned authorities that have been asked to bar extremists from such attacks in the future," according to Geo News.

The Taliban and the government agreed to an indefinite ceasefire as the peace agreement, know as the Malakand Accord, is negotiated. The peace agreement, if signed, would put an end to the brutal fighting in Swat, which began in 2007 and resulted in the Taliban taking total control over the district.

The agreement calls for the military to halt operations and return to barracks in exchange for the implementation of sharia in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan. The Taliban have demanded that its prisoners be released and an amnesty granted for its members. A similar peace agreement failed in 2008.

The Taliban have violated the ceasefire several times since it was implemented in late February. The most prominent case took place just days after the ceasefire took effect. The Taliban captured the district coordinating officer for Swat and six of his Frontier Corps Guards. A Taliban spokesman said he was a "guest" who was detained to "discuss some issues." The government freed several Taliban prisoners to secure their release.

As the Taliban violate the ceasefire, Sufi Mohammed, the radical cleric who served as the intermediary between the government and the Taliban, demanded sharia, or Islamic law to be implemented by March 15. Sufi threatened to launch protests if the demand was not met. Sufi also provided a list of Taliban prisoners to be released.

The government quickly agreed to Sufi's demand to implement sharia by mid-March, and also caved on his demand to oversee the appointment of judges for the sharia courts. The government said Taliban prisoners "would be released in phases after scrutiny by the government," Dawn reported.

Background on Sufi Mohammed

Sufi Mohammed is the spiritual leader of the outlawed Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law. He claimed to have eschewed violence after being released from prison in November 2007 as a condition of a similar failed peace agreement in Swat. Sufi led more than 10,000 Pakistanis into Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001. Mullah Fazlullah, the radical anti-government cleric behind the insurgency and terror attacks in Swat, is his son-in-law.

Sufi and the Swat Taliban maintained very close links to the radical administration of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, the pro-Taliban mosque in the heart of Islamabad whose followers enforced sharia and kidnapped policemen just one mile from the seat of government. The Pakistani military stormed the Lal Masjid in July 2007 after a several-month standoff. More than a hundred followers and more than a dozen soldiers were killed in the battle.

In recent interviews, Sufi declared his hatred for democracy and the West, and described Mullah Omar's regime in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 as "ideal."

“From the very beginning, I have viewed democracy as a system imposed on us by the infidels. Islam does not allow democracy or elections,” Sufi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur just days before the Malakand Accord was signed. “I believe the Taliban government formed a complete Islamic state, which was an ideal example for other Muslim countries."