Sunday, May 31, 2009

Superior journalism as Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel do it.

Journalism is the profession that is supposed to keep us abreast of what is going on in the world, so its reports become an archive of events and activities as they transpire. But good journalism needs also to be examining the claims of officials, to see how they match with the public record. Good journalism has to be more than, as someone has said, a stenographer; it should be reminding us, the public, of things we tend to forget, matching official statements against events and statements in the past. In fact, the public has a short memory, and some of us have a notably short memory, a problem I have had since …, well, as long as I can remember [!] . So journalists need to help us remember what officials have done and said that bear upon what they are doing and saying in the present.

Officials need to be scrutinized -- what they say about themselves and the world – for how accurately they represent the truth, at least as it can be known, a process that entails matching their public affirmations with the available public record. This professional service is necessary because officials have agendas of their own; they want the public to understand situations as they do, in order to justify their perspectives, their past decisions, and their projects. Politics is a continuing debate about how situations should be defined and so is often, by implication, about the past as well as the present. And because definitions of situations affect the interests of public officials, the public statements of officials can be contorted by their interests. The interested viewpoint of officials and the professional obligation of journalists to examine the statements and activities of officials in the light of the public record places journalists and officials on opposing sides. The interests of one clash with the interests of the other.

So a common device of politicians is to dismiss those to bring up embarrassing details as already biased "on the left" or "on the right."

We have recently heard a speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney that has been available for the scrutiny of journalists. As the speech rehearses policies of the Bush administration, it invites such scrutiny. I wonder how many journalists have examined his speech in light of the public record, to see how faithfully the Vice President represented the past. Certainly a fine example of good journalistic practice was the work of Washington DC McClatchy journalists Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, who went through the Cheney speech and found as many as ten “omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.” [Click on the title for a link to their article.]

I wonder how many other journalists have provided this service to their readers? I don’t remember seeing anything like it elsewhere, except for Frank Rich’s statement in the New York Times today.

Dictators in many countries simply control the news by abusing journalists, intimidating, imprisoning, even assassinating those who stubbornly insist on presenting embarrassing and “inconvenient” truths as they know them. In our country we hope our journalists will avoid censoring themselves. When they become reluctant to point out the failures of leaders we all lose, no matter which side we are on in a specific debate.

We now have a new administration. They will have their own perspective, policies, and projects, like the previous one. Lets hope the journalist profession does a better job with this adminstration than they did with the past.

How to be a great journalist the Nicholas Kristof way

Many of us have admired the reports of Nicholas D. Kristof. He has reported on many of the regions of great suffering among human beings around the world. He has faithfully humanized what it’s like to be a slave, a woman trafficked in the sex trade, children forced into war. What we don’t get to see much is what is entailed in telling the world about the human condition in its most tragic forms. Today’s report, though, reveals some dimensions of what it is like to be a great reporter of human suffering. You will have to read it yourself to see what he says, but there is a subtext in what he says worth putting into words. This is what I surmise from today’s op-ed piece about what one has to do to be a great reporter of the human condition:

• Live out of a back pack.
• Hide your valued possessions on your person at all times.
• Travel in the scrawniest taxis available.
• Watch out for bed bugs.
• Block your hotel room door so intruders cannot sneak in on you when you are sleeping.
• Be prepared to fight pickpockets -- and to lose the fight.
• Be prepared to charm bandits who are equipped kill you on the spot.
• Know how to deal with those who might poison you.
• Watch out for robbers who carry machetes.
• Know how to manage corrupt police and fake police.
• Be prepared for a bus crash when almost everyone is injured.
• If you get malaria, shrug it off.

[Click on the title to see the original article.]

Friday, May 29, 2009

Complexities in the Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal.

Bruce Pannier [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] provides further information on the recently announced pipeline deal between Iran and Pakistan [What Are The Prospects For Iran-Pakistan 'Pipeline Of Peace'?, May 25, 09].

Deals for infrastructural development like this are important because they establish new long term mutual relationships and effectively reduce the cost of, in this case, the transport and accessibility of a good that is vital to the maintenance of a modern society. They indicate practical arrangements that become possible only in certain friendly contexts and that can establish a mutual dependence that in the long run will be costly to disrupt. So we see this announced deal as evidence of a willingness to become mutually more interdependent, thus tightening relations of mutual interest in the Middle East-South Asian region. It’s one more way of making the world smaller and vital goods (gas for Pakistan; money for Iran) more accessible to wider numbers of people.

But in this case, as in most such arrangements, there are serious issues yet to resolve. Here are some details of importance that are mentioned in the article:
• This is a 25-year deal that could export some 150 million cubic meters of gas to Pakistan per day.
• The pipeline would extend 2,100 kilometers from Iran’s South Pars field into Pakistan, starting in the city of Asalouyeh. Even though India is not a part of this deal it is hoped that an agreement could be made for the pipeline to be extended into India, another 600 kilometers.
• One of the main problems is how to fund the project. The Asian Development Bank has shown no interest in supporting this project even though it is willing to back the rival gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
• That Iran and Pakistan abut each other in Baluchistan means that the new pipeline will have to pass through an unstable region, as Baluch nationalists who want more autonomy have already disrupted Pakistan’s only local gas pipeline.
• The project could start within the next three or four years and take five years to build.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A gas deal between Iran and Pakistan

According to AFP Iran and Pakistan have announced that they are about to sign an agreement to export gas to Pakistan. India was once to be part of the deal but they withdrew from talks about the deal last year. The report says, “The 900-kilometre (560-mile) pipeline is being built between Asalooyeh in southern Iran and Iranshahr near the border with Pakistan and will carry the gas from Iran's South Pars field.” It says that only 250 kilometers of pipeline was still to be constructed. The infrastructural mechanisms for integrating south Asia and Central Asia is proceeding apace, with large implications. Pakistan’s need for gas will soon be desperate. It will pass through Baluchistan, making a zone of dissidence that is already vital because of its own gas reserves all the most vitally important to the country of Pakistan.

The shameful record of American health care: Some statistics

To follow the previous statement of a need to abolish the health care insurance industry in the United States I add here some statistics on how poor the current system of health care is for the American people as a whole.

On the quality of health care in the United States: For the society as a whole it is among the worst health care results among the industrial nations.
On the mortality of children under 5, the US has twice as many deaths as Japan, and more than any of the other four countries listed below.

In 2007 the mortality rates were the following: US 8%; Canada 6%; Japan 4%; UK 6%; Germany 4%.

In 2005 [Latest date available] mothers who died in childbirth were the following: US 11 per 100,000; Canada 7; Japan 6; UK 8; Germany 4.

In 2007 infant mortality statistics per 1000 were the following: US 7; Canada 5; Japan 3; UK 5; Germany 4.

Source: Reuters []

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A statement in support of single payer health insurance

I am mailing a letter to the President and to my two senators, Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond. The issue seems critical for the future of the country. RLC

President Barak Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,
In his May 22 program on PBS Bill Moyers and his guests described how the attempts to develop a useful health care reform bill have been subverted by the health insurance industry. [I append a list of some details from that program.]

I would like to express concern that what appears to be a good solution -- a “single payer” system – is being sidelined in the discussions about health care because of the influence of the insurance industry on the various senators considering health care reform.

Most terrifying in the Moyers report is the sense that what the public most wants is being ignored because of the power of big moneyed interests such as the health insurance industry. I am hearing in various ways, in various contexts, that the democratic process, which we take such pride in – by which elected officials represent the interests of those who elected them – has been subverted by large financial interests. The result has been, of course, an emasculation of the democratic process.

I do understand the problem of the elected official: these days one has to garner huge amounts of money to be elected, which in effect – despite all denials – effectively creates obligations that need somehow to be reciprocated. It is easy to suppose that every elected official is in the pocket of at least some wealthy interests. I am therefore writing to ask you what can be done to free public officials from such dependence on such large financial interests. A way needs to be found to ensure that elected officials will actually represent the interests of those who elected them, without the public interest being hijacked by the wealthiest industries in the country. Nothing reveals more clearly how seriously our government has become dependent on big moneyed interests than the Medicare bill that prohibits competitive bidding for the cost of medication.

I therefore urge you to
(a) help promote a single payer health system bill, following the model of Canada and Taiwan [mentioned in the transcript]; and
(b) pursue legislation that will enable those who run for office to be free from heavy obligations to wealthy donors and powerful corporate interests.


Robert L. Canfield

Some statements from the Bill Moyers PBS program of May 22, 2009.

• What [is being proposed] is single-payer health care -- a non-profit system that would remove the role of the insurance companies and unify the financing of the health care system under one entity, a government run organization, like Medicare, that would collect all health care fees, and pay out all health care costs.

• [These were] arbitrary decisions [by the insurance companies], which were not about people's health care. They were about profits: How can I get away with the least amount of care offered to this person, so that their premium is going to give me the most profit? That's not the way health care decisions should be made.

• [T]he process [has been] hijacked by the insurance industry.

• The money and the power that's exerted in Washington on them from the health insurance and health industry lobbies is very powerful. It's hard for them to break out of that loop.

• [D]octors have had to spend hours of every day not in patient care but on the phone, hassling with insurance companies, trying to negotiate to get a patient a treatment. It makes it very difficult to deliver the right kind of care.

• If you get sick, you find out just how inadequate that insurance may be. Not only did I have health insurance; I had Aflac disability insurance, and a health care savings account on top of that. So we were like the prime example of responsible people who try and keep ourselves covered. And yet when we got sick, there was no way the deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum exposure [could add up]; [they accumulated] so quickly that we were buried very quickly financially.

• [In] data where we just ask about a national health insurance system, . . . 60 percent of the American public say we've got to have a national health program.

• It's spun out of control. It's going to bury us financially. It's going to mortgage our children, and it kills people. It just is not working.

• So just who has been getting the chance to testify before Congress? . . . The Business Roundtable. The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce. The conservative Heritage Foundation. Representatives of the insurance industry, including Blue Cross Blue Shield - all in favor, more or less, of the status quo.

• The president asked representatives of the health care business to reason together with him at the White House. They came, listened and promised to cut health care costs voluntarily over the next ten years. . . . [But we have heard this before:]

o In the 1970's in response to a proposal by Jimmy Carter “the very industry that only a decade earlier had tried to strangle Medicare in the cradle, seemed uncharacteristically humble and cooperative. "You don't have to make us cut costs," they promised. "We'll do it voluntarily."

o [In the early 1990's,] . . . the health care industry . . . came after the Clinton reforms with one of the most expensive and deceitful public relations and advertising campaigns ever conceived.. . . [And] they said, "We'll cut costs voluntarily."

• [Now] the industry is pouring big money into lobbying, more than half a billion dollars last year alone, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. They're also shelling out megabucks for a publicity blitz and ads attacking Obama's public plan or any health care reform that threatens to reduce the profits from sickness and disease.

• [A major problem is] the power of the health insurance industry. Only about one out of 14 people trust the insurance industry as being honest and trustworthy. On the other hand, in Washington, they're in bed with the health insurance industry.

• Half of the bankruptcies [in this country] are medical bankruptcies. And of those medical bankruptcies, three quarters of those people had insurance, at least when they first got sick. But people have insurance that goes away after they actually need it.

• The seats at the table, or the witnesses at the hearing are, in a sense, controlled by the health insurance industry.

• "We don't need a health insurance industry. We can do what most other countries in the world have done. Have the government collect the money and pay the bills and get rid of all these people who are wasting $400 billion a year on excessive administrative costs."

• [We now have] a fragmented health insurance industry. And it thrives on being fragmented. The pharmaceutical companies make much more money with the fragmentation, because there's no price control. The insurance companies make much more money, 'cause they can push away people who aren't going to be profitable. The only people that suffer are the patients.

• And there's big money being made. There are billions being made from the private health insurance industry, from the drug industry, and that gets spread around Washington.

• The biggest recipients of insurance money, of drug money, are the powerful people who chair the committees, who decide what witnesses testify.

• Senator Baucus [who is chair of the Senate hearings] is the third highest recipient of donations from the health insurance and health care industry in general.

• Over the last 30 plus years there have been maybe two and a half, three times more doctors and nurses. Pretty much in proportion with the growth in population. There are 30 times in the insurance industry. These people are not doctors. They're not nurses. They're not pharmacists. They're not providing care. Many of them are being paid to deny care. So, they are fighting with the doctors, with the hospitals to see how few bills can be paid. That's how the insurance industry thrives: by denying care, paying as little out as it can.

• In Canada, back in 1970 or so, they were spending the same percentage of their gross national product as we were on health. They had huge numbers of uninsured people. They had the same insurance companies. Blue Cross Blue Shield. They decided to just get rid of the health insurance industry. . . .

• Canadians [now] have better choice than we do. They spend half as much per person on health care as we do.

• We're really talking about social insurance, like Medicare is social insurance. But doctors and hospitals remaining privately owned.

• Medicare actually takes care of the sickest, most expensive parts of the system. So in a way, they subsidize the private insurers. They take the unprofitable patients off the private insurer's hands.

• Canada has been a very good model. It's been going on for 38 years. Canadians would revolt, literally, if someone said, "We're going to take away your health insurance system."

• [F]or the insurance industry, for people making $225 thousand a day as CEOs of insurance companies, [the single-payer system would be] disruptive for them.

• [S]urveys are showing that most doctors support national health insurance-

• Taiwan [recently] said, “We don't like the fact that 40 percent of our people are uninsured.” They passed, essentially, single-payer plan and within a few years 90-95 percent of the people were covered.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tariq Ali exposes incidents of abuse of women in Pakistan

I have just gotten around to looking at my copy of the December issue of the London Review of Books and there I discovered an article by Tariq Ali that should not be buried and forgotten. Tariq Ali is noted for giving us valuable information on affairs in Pakistan; I especiallay appreciate his analysis of the way Pakistan is structured [see his article “The Colour Khaki.” New Left Review, Jan-Feb 2003;].

In the December 18, 2008, of LRB [article entitled “Diary”] Ali reveals details about the rough treatment of women among some populations. Mostly, he tells us about Pakistan. What he reveals is of course usually carefully hidden; it should be exposed as such practices are cause of shame for any people.

Ali tells us the following about the treatment of women in Pakistan:
• Traditionalists have always considered love to be something that brings shame on families: patriarchs should be the ones to decide who is to be married to whom, often for reasons to do with property.
• A sample survey showed 82 per cent of women in rural Punjab feared violence resulting from their husbands’ displeasure over minor matters; in the most developed urban areas 52 per cent admitted to being beaten by their husbands.
• [O]fficial statistics admit to 1261 honour killings in 2006 and half that number again the following year. The actual figures are probably much higher, since many deaths go unreported. ‘Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group, and the owner of the property has the right to decide its fate,’
• Since the police and the judicial system regard murder in the family as a private affair, most cases don’t get to court even if they’re reported.

Here are some specific incidents he describes [in his words]:
• A man dreams his wife has betrayed him. He wakes up and sees her lying next to him. In a fury he kills her. This really happened in Pakistan and the killer escaped punishment.
• In 1999, Hina Jilani was in her office with Samia Sarwar, a mother of two from Peshawar seeking a divorce from her husband, when Sarwar’s mother burst into the room with two armed men in tow and had her daughter shot dead. In 1989 Samia Sarwar had married a first cousin. For six years he beat her and kicked her. But after he threw her downstairs when she was pregnant with their second child, she went back to her parents’ house. The minute she told them she wanted a divorce they threatened to kill her. Yet they were educated and wealthy people.
• One widely reported murder this year was that of Tasleem Solangi, the 17-year-old daughter of a livestock trader in the Khairpur District of Sindh. She wanted to go to university and become a doctor like her uncle, but instead agreed to marry a cousin in order to settle a protracted family dispute over property. Her mother, Zakara Bibi, tried to stop her, but Tasleem was determined. Her father-in-law, Zamir Solangi, came to collect her and swore on the Koran that no harm would befall her. A month after the marriage, Zakara had a message from her daughter: ‘Please forgive me, mother. I was wrong and you were right. I fear they will kill me.’ On 7 March, they did. She was eight months pregnant. The Koran-swearer accused her of infidelity and said the baby was not his son’s. She went into labour, her child was born and instantly thrown to the dogs. She pleaded for mercy, but the dogs were set on her as well and the terrified girl was then shot dead.
• Another case much discussed this year is that of five women in Baluchistan who were buried alive in Baba Kot village, about 250 miles east of Quetta, the Baluch capital. Three of the women were young and wanted to marry men they’d chosen for themselves; two older women were helping them. Three male relatives have been arrested. According to the local police chief, the brother of two of the girls has admitted that he shot three of the women and helped bury them, though they weren’t even dead.
• In the last week of October, my uncle’s granddaughter, Zainab, barely 18 years old, was shot dead by her brothers, Inam and Hamza Ahmed. Zainab apparently had a lover and despite repeated warnings refused to stop seeing him. She was on the phone to him in her grandfather’s house when her brothers pumped seven bullets into her body. . . . I find it deeply shocking that my uncle allowed the young woman’s body to be buried that same day without at least insisting that a First Information Report be lodged at the local police station, let alone demanding an autopsy.

In looking back at this blog I have realized that many of the recent entries here have dug at Pakistan. I have repeatedly made statements or quoted the statements of others that are critical of social practices in Pakistan as well as of the Pakistani leadership. Truth is, these criticisms reveal how deep is my worry about the Pakistani people and their country. In this case, at least, I have quoted from a Pakistani observer, and one who has earned the right to be heard. Note that he has exposed real names, real situations.
[To read the whole article click on my title above.]

Monday, May 11, 2009

The melting ice sheets of the world: What will it mean in Central Asia?

Joseph Romm tells us that Bolivia’s 18,000 year-old Chacaltaya glacier is gone. Chacaltaya glacier was famous because it has been studied for many years. One reason for the scholarly interest in Chacaltaya has been its location on the equator where the shifts in the axes of the earth have had a different effect from the ice sheets at the poles. It provided information on the history of the earth that some other glaciers did not. Now it's gone. [Click on the title for a link to his article.]

This is not to lament the loss of a famous glacier so much as to use the occasion to reflect on what it could mean if the glaciers of the Himalayas would similarly disappear. Joseph Romm reminds us that the waters that run off in spring provide the surface flows that enable the irrigation of crops; millions of people live on water that originates as glacial runoff. The runoff of the winter snows on the mountains, which replenish the glacial ice, also supply the aquifers that supply wells and sometimes rise to the surface further downstream.

So when he tells us that there is already massive loss of glacier ice in the Himalayas comparable to the loss of glaciation in South America Romm is sounding a warning about the eventual risks for populations who depend on the water flows from the great ice-covered mountains of Inner Asia -- altogether a substantial portion of the world's populations. Romm quotes a report by Swiss geologists who say that as many as half a billion people are at risk.

An eventual problem that could further complicate affairs in an already complicated social world.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Brother of Afghanistan's President threatens a reporter for enquiring into drug connections

Several sources on the drug industry in Afghanistan have accused the brother of Hamed Karzai, President of Afghanistan, of being a major figure in the illicit drug industry in southern Afghanistan where more than 90% of all the opium in the world is produced. Tom Lasseter of the McClatchy newspapers went looking into the question and directly confronted Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of Kandahar's provincial council. The reaction was to threaten him.

Karzai grabbed my hand and used it to give me a bit of a push into the next room. He followed me, and his voice rose until it was a scream of curse words and threats.

I managed to record just one full sentence: "Get the (expletive) out before I kick your (expletive)."

I won't describe the rest, because it involves the Afghans I was working with, none of whom wants to risk revenge in a country where feuds often end in blood.

Lasseter got out and can now tell the story, but I wonder about his assistants. One of the people who had informed on Ahmad Wali Karzi had subsequently been killed; perhaps there was no connection but one wonders . . . . In any case, if Lasseter was threatened, then the Afghans who work with him, who cannot leave, are still threatened.

The search for the truth is a more risky game than most us think about. But it turns out that in the modern world the truth is precious, for [to quote again from the wisdom of the ancients] "men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed." Afghanistan's drug industry has to be one of the most critical elements of the insurgency problem in the region, and discovering and revealing how it operates will be a perilous venture. [Click on the title for the original article.]

Friday, May 08, 2009

Vivid fears of an American invasion in Pakistan

From this side of the world the behavior of the Pakistanis seems bizarre. On the one hand they would never want to live under a regime like the Taliban while on the other hand they cultivate the Taliban. Graham Usher has explained that the military are still fighting a war with India and they see Afghanistan as in the pocket of India and therefore don’t mind if the Taliban attack Afghanistan. That’s one reason. Anatol Lieven has given us another [(London) Times, May 5, 09, "Mistrust of the West is stronger in Pakistan than fear of the Taleban"]: the Pakistanis believe the Americans want to dominate the Muslim world, indeed are so bent on taking over the Muslim world that they would murder thousands of their own people in order to have an excuse to blame Muslims and invade. Here is what Lievan tells us:
“to judge by my meetings with hundreds of Pakistanis from all walks of life over the past nine months, . . . the vast majority of people believe that the 9/11 attacks were not an act of terrorism by al-Qaeda, but a plot by the Bush Administration or Israel to provide an excuse to invade Afghanistan and dominate the Muslim world.”
And he adds: “most of the Pakistani population genuinely believe it, even here in Sindh where I have been travelling for the past week; and the people who believe it include the communities from which the army's soldiers, NCOs and junior officers are drawn.” [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]

Here are some other things worth noting about Pakistanis, according to Lievan:
• What will be tolerated is Taleban strength in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. As I discovered during a visit to the region last September, the level of support for them there is such that crushing them completely would take a huge campaign of repression.
• The jihad of the Afghan Taleban against the US “occupation” of Afghanistan enjoys overwhelming public approval in northern Pakistan,
• The Pakistani judicial system is such a corrupt, slow, impenetrable shambles that the Taleban's programme of Sharia enjoys a great deal of public support, at least in the Pashtun areas that I have visited.
• The security Establishment is determined to prevent Afghanistan becoming an ally of India, and continues to shelter parts of the Afghan Taleban as a long-term “strategic asset” against this threat.

Even so, he reassures us that
There is no possibility at present of the Taleban seizing Islamabad and bringing down the state. In Punjab . . . [there is] as yet, nothing like the insurgency occurring among the Pashtun tribes. In the interior of Sindh, support for the Taleban is virtually non-existent.

The whole situation underlines how vulnerable we all are to information flows around us. In an earlier post I quoted from a Pakistani blogger who seems to believe that the Taliban are a creation of the CIA in order to provide an excuse for Americans to invade Pakistan. It sounds so haywire from here that we are all likely to discount it as a single crank. But we are all caught up in currents of opinion larger than we are. It is just easier to see it in others.

We all live within fields of lies, piled upon one another, so that it becomes difficult to sort out the truth from the misunderstandings and even the deliberate lies -- like that promoted by the Pakistani military virtually on 9/11/01 that the Americans had done it to themselves in order to promote their imperial interests. Such a story works in Pakistan because the South Asians are vividly aware of how long they have been dominated by outside powers. From here it just sounds bizarre. But we have only to remember that the Bush administration persuaded the American people that Saddam Hussain had been involved in the attack on 9/11/01. We create the myths we live by -- sometimes very costly myths, as those that justified a 'preemptive' attack on Iraq. As far as I know, our only hope is to seek the most authentic and reliable sources available in order to understand as we best can what is going on around us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Another warning from Ahmed Rashid

As Ahmed Rashid says in his Op-ed piece in the Washington Post, May 5, 09, he has been sounding alarms about the advance of militant Islamists in Central and South Asia for many years. The difference now is how shrill his warnings have become. He sees disaster almost already here.

My problem is that it is hard to refute him. We are seeing various groups, each with its own distinctive quarrel with the Pakistani administration, gathering together under the umbrella of the Taliban against the government. What was once a Pushtun/Pathan movement ["Taliban"] has attracted the support non-Pushtuns -- Baluchis, Punjabi, Sindhis. Several kinds of militant groups now seem to agree that “the government is the problem” and in the name of "Islam" they seem to be working together. Obviously, if they succeed in bringing down the whole administrative edifice – which Rashid seems to fear is about to happen – they will soon fall out among themselves for their complaints are different. The scenarios that come to mind, all of them, seem truly terrifying, especially for the Pakistani people who deserve better but have been cursed by failures of leadership.

Anyway, here are some quotes from Rashid’s most recent appeal for American help.
• Pakistanis are beset by a galloping Taliban insurgency in the north that is based not just among Pashtuns, as in Afghanistan, but that has extensive links to al-Qaeda and jihadist groups in Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. That means the Taliban offensive in northern Pakistan has the potential to become a nationwide movement within a few months.
• The army's recent counteroffensive against the Taliban was prompted in part by U.S. pressure and, more significant, by a dramatic shift in public opinion toward opposing the Taliban. Many people are beginning to see the country threatened by a bloody internal revolution.
• Every government official I have met says that the country is bankrupt and that there is no money to fight the insurgency, let alone deal with the refugees [from Swat, possibly as many as a million].
• But the extensive conditions [being established by congress for giving aid] -- as varied as improving relations with India, fighting the Afghan Taliban and allowing the U.S. interrogation of Pakistani nuclear scientists -- are too much for any Pakistani government to accept and survive politically.
• Pakistan is deteriorating. Congress should pass the emergency funds quickly and, at minimum, offer the first year of the $1.5 billion without conditions to foster stability between the two sides at this critical juncture and ensure that the powerful right wing here has no excuse to once again decry U.S. aid as politically motivated.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Some different views of reality: Euro-American vs Pakistani

The reports on what is going on in Pakistan come from very different points of view. Compare what we see in today’s papers in US sources versus what one Pakistani observer sees. I collect here some quotations from articles in today's papers and then note what I found in one Pakistani blog, chosen only because I recently came to know it. It cannot be representative of all Pakistanis, or of all middle class Pakistanis even though this web site seems clearly to be a product of some young Pakistanis. So I cannot present it as representative of Pakistanis in general. But there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty, even confusion, among Pakistanis about what is going on in Swat and in the tribal territories, and this comment on Swat by this blogger reveals how confused one can be, and thus how mistaken one might be about what is taking place only a few miles away from the capital city. Anyway, for what it's worth I juxtapose these several newspaper reports with this blogger's perception of what is going on.

The New York Times [JANE PERLEZ And PIR ZUBAIR SHAH, “Porous Border With Pakistan Could Hinder U.S. Troops” May 5, 09]
• [A Taliban source] described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers.
• The Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of many brands of jihadist fighters backed by Al Qaeda, are spearheading wars on both sides of the border in what for them is a seamless conflict.
• "There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us [the Taliban] weapons.”
• The drone attacks simply prompted Taliban fighters to spend more time in Afghanistan, or to move deeper into Pakistan, straddling both theaters of a widening conflict.
• [The Taliban have] a long-haul strategy to destabilize and take over a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
• The tactician says he embeds his men in what he described as friendly Afghan villages, where they will spend the next four to six months with the residents, who provide the weapons and succor for the missions against American and NATO soldiers.
• His guerrillas, in their late teens to mid-20s, are handpicked for their endurance and commitment, he said. Some, like him, were trained by the Pakistani government as proxy fighters against India in Kashmir and have now joined the Qaeda and Taliban cause.
• There was respect for the scale of Al Qaeda’s ambitions. “They have a global agenda, they have a big design,” he said. The Taliban goal was more narrow. “Capturing Afghanistan is not an Al Qaeda mission,” he said. “It’s a Taliban mission. We will be content in capturing Afghanistan and throwing the Americans out.”

Washington Post [Pamela Constable, “The Taliban Tightens Hold In Pakistan's Swat Region”]
• Yet even as the Taliban continued its rampage and rejected the government's latest concession to its demands -- the appointment of Islamic-law judges in Swat -- Pakistan's military leaders clung to hopes for a nonviolent solution, saying that security forces were "still exercising restraint to honor the peace agreement."
• Behind this strained hope for a peaceful solution lie an array of factors -- competing military priorities, reluctance to fight fellow Muslims, lack of strong executive leadership and some internal sympathy for the insurgents -- that analysts say have long prevented the Pakistani army from making a full-fledged assault on violent Islamist groups.
• analysts said it is doubtful the army has the stomach for a sustained fight against Taliban forces if the peace accord does collapse.
• "The militants have resolve, determination, focus and ideology. On the other side, I don't see any of those," said Aftab Khan Sherpao, a former interior minister and a member of Parliament who comes from northwest Pakistan. "The army understands the threat from the militants, but they are more permanently worried about India. They are waiting for civilian leadership and direction, and there isn't any.”
• Analysts said that in the past several weeks, the growing defiance and ambitions of the Taliban -- whose forces reached within 60 miles of this capital city when they seized Buner -- have frightened the country and begun to shake its leaders out of their complacency.
• "The occupation of Buner did raise alarm bells, and a shift in thinking has started to take place. But I'm not sure it can be sustained," said Talat Masood, a retired general and defense analyst. "People are still confused about whether this is our war or America's war, and nobody in the government is getting out and explaining to them why we should fight it. Nobody has the guts to say that cutting off people's heads is un-Islamic. People don't seem to realize how dangerous Talibanization is for Pakistan. It would destroy us."
• Despite the Taliban's record of rapaciousness, it is hard for the Pakistani military establishment, trained to view Hindu-dominated India as its mortal enemy and inculcated with an Islamist mind-set during the military dictatorship of the 1980s, to accept Muslim insurgents as adversaries. Soldiers home on leave have been taunted for fighting their own people; desertions are rising.
• But now that Pakistan is under democratic rule, analysts said, the army has no desire to be seen as making policy and is determined to seek civilian cover for its actions.
• "The government is trying its best to give time and space to the other side to allow the reconciliation process to reach its logical conclusion," Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military's spokesman,…

The Guardian [Declan Walsh, “Pakistan urges evacuation of Taliban-controlled Swat valley town”]
• Public opinion shifted two weeks ago after a senior pro-Taliban cleric who helped negotiate the pact, Sufi Muhammad, declared that democracy and the superior courts were "infidel" concepts.
• Swat residents now face a grim choice between Taliban gun rule and a bloody army operation. Yusufzai said Swat residents initially backed the introduction of sharia law but had grown disillusioned with the cleric Muhammad.
• "There is a view that the Taliban have another agenda. They want power. This is the talk of the town," he said.

In an effort to identify what people are thinking in Pakistan I went to the blog, Pakistani Spectator, to see what they were thinking about. And on that site we have an observer saying that the radical Islamist group that has taken over Swat, Tehrik-e Taliban [Taliban Movement], is really a front for the CIA. Here are a few quotes from A Khokar • May 4th, 2009.
• The recent smart move of Pak government in Malakand division to re-establish Nizam e adil [“The Righteous Order” or "The moral order"] has, although [it has] taken the air out of Tehrik e Taliban’s balloon and it seems that the calculated game of CIA for which this copycat TTP was hired on a high bids to subdue nuclear-armed Pakistan; at the face of it, their entire scheme is seen [to have] gone awry.
• Pak Armed forces have also moved in with full blast to cleanse the areas and make it free of anti Pakistan Elements. But the usual rhetoric of vulnerability of [a] weakened Pakistan Government and its nuclear arsenal at the hands of so called Taliban has exceptionally been heightened. The entire US Administration including President Barrack Obama is singing a same anti Pakistan chorus and they look at Pakistan, as it is breathing its last.
• To give a full Talibanish flavour to TTP [Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan], reportedly the dissident of central Asia; Uzbek, Tajick even Chechnian and some Arabs are recruited on very good wages. The subversive activities by suicidal actions, bomb blasts, kidnapping of high profile personalities and large scale disruptions to cripple the normal government functioning are on its full scale and Pakistan is seen sufficiently bruised.
• TTP is a highly sophisticated tool in the hands of US lead NATO forces. It is exceptionally well armed on ground, well fed and has very well trained operatives. Seemingly CIA is satisfied with the ground works done by TTP inside Pakistan and its necessary preparation as a prelude to the planned final occupation of yet another sovereign country after Iraq and Afghanistan.
• Use of Nizam e adil card by Pak government, in troubled Malakand division has in a way weakened the stance of anti Pakistan elements but CIA is bound to spring up another cat out of their bag; the long awaited card of—moving in and striking an amoral power monger and self-anointed savoir of the world; —the old friend Osama bin Laden is there. By hook or crook an enclave for TTP is about to be secured in troubled PATA and Osama and his cohort of Al-Qaeda are likely to declare it the Islamic Emirates of Taliban; thus to enable the US lead forces; (a well sought pretext) to launch an invasion—- inside Pakistan.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Pakistan: Conflicting views of a deteriorating situation.

The news from Pakistan gets more worrisome by the day. Not only because the situation is obviously deteriorating but because the legitimating explanations for the situation there are so different, depending on which side of the information flow you are on. Today’s New York Times has two articles on the situation, one yesterday, all revealing how dangerous is the long term trend. Compare those with an article by Iqbal Jafar in Dawn today.

The NYTimes article by Sabrina Tavernise [“Pakistan’s Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy”], for instance, describes the conditions under which the madrasas of Pakistan have grown in number. The government and the wealthy class have no interest in funding a viable educational system for the country, madrasas are a source of income for those whose only training has been in the memorization of the Koran, and anyway education beyond learning to recite the Koran is not prized among the poor. The trend in Pakistan seems to be toward the continuance if not the expansion of Islamic schools. Such schools are not necessarily radical or Islamist but some of them can be an early stage in the radicalization of some young people. [For this article go to:]

Consider how different is the view presented in Dawn today, “The roots of fanaticism,” by Iqbal Jafar. His point is that the advance of other religious groups into “Muslim lands” is the cause of the advance of Islamic insurgency. His concluding sentence captures it all: “Hence, so long as Muslim lands remain under the occupation of others [Jews, Christians, Hindus], militants will be seen as freedom fighters and liberals as collaborators of the West. The West should not, therefore, expect to eliminate the militants while it remains in possession of Muslim lands. . . . As for the liberals, they will be lucky if they merely cease to be relevant.” [For this article go to:]