Friday, June 18, 2010

Death for believing what you believe

What's going on in Afghanistan these days is cause for worry. Karzai threatens to join the Taliban. Karzai suggests that the Americans were behind the attempt to attack the recent jerga. Karzai fires two of the most trusted members of his cabinet. It makes one wonder what Karzai sees on the horizon that the rest of us don't. Or is it what the rest of us don't want to see: a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan? There are even reports that Karzai doesn't believe the American/NATO enterprise in Afghanistan will succeed. With Karzai doubtful and even poisoning the waters against his own allies and with Pakistan committed to supporting at least some of the Taliban, what indeed are the prospects for success in this war?

And then there is the question of persecution because of what people believe and practice in private.

It's hard to get our minds around the abuse of individuals by a government simply because of what they say they believe. What people think, most of us suppose, should not be controlled by the state. But the news that people accused of believing in Christ are being searched out, imprisoned, even possibly sentenced to death, sounds like first and second century Rome, not twenty-first century anywhere. That is what is happening in Afghanistan. A member of the Afghan Parliament has demanded that anyone found to be an honest Christian -- that is, people who won't change what they say they think about Christ even when threatened with death -- should be publicly executed. A number of students in Kabul University say they agree, and about a thousand people in Mazar-e Sharif say they agree. We should not suppose that everyone, or even a plurality of Afghans, agrees, but it is true that in Afghanistan it's the law that anyone who says he thinks otherwise than the state on religious matters should be killed.

It makes you wonder: if there really are people willing to put their lives on the line because of what they believe, how many hold the same ideas but are unwilling to say so?

This is the regime, the legal opinion, and the public conscience that American troops are fighting for.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Protesting too much: Pakistan's pro-Taliban military

The sadest part of these new reports of Pakistan's complicity with Taliban is that they are not new. We have heard this for years. And Pakistan has been denying it for years. RLC

Australian Broadcasting System: a program on today.

Pakistan angry over Taliban support claims
Updated June 14, 2010 18:57:36

Pakistan has responded angrily to renewed allegations that its military intelligence agency, the ISI, is actively supporting Taliban militants in Afghanistan - and on a much larger scale than previously thought. The report, commissioned by the London School of Economics, says Taliban field commanders that it interviewed, suggested that ISI intelligence agents even attended Taliban Supreme Council meetings. The report follows one of the deadliest weeks for NATO troops in Afghanistan, with over thirty soldiers killed. [more ...]

From The Times
June 14, 2010
Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence accused of directly funding Taleban
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent

Pakistan’s military intelligence agency directly funds and trains the Afghan Taleban and is officially represented on its leadership council, according to a report by a British academic. The study, published by the London School of Economics, also alleges that Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, met Taleban leaders imprisoned in Pakistan and promised them early release and future support.

Pakistan dismissed the report by Matt Waldman, a Harvard fellow who interviewed current and former members of the Taleban, as “baseless” and “naive”. A spokesman for the Pakistani Army said that the state’s commitment to opposing the Taleban was demonstrated by the number of soldiers killed fighting on the Afghan border.

Western officials and analysts have often accused elements within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency of supporting the Afghan Taleban, even as its army combats the Pakistani Taleban on the northwestern frontier.

However, Mr Waldman’s report goes further, arguing that support for the Afghan Taleban is “official ISI policy” and is backed at the highest levels of Pakistan’s civilian administration. “Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude,” the report says. “There is thus a strong case that the ISI orchestrates, sustains and shapes the overall insurgent campaign,” it said. “Without a change in Pakistani behaviour it will be difficult if not impossible for international forces and the Afghan Government to make progress against the insurgency.”

The ISI helped to create the Taleban in the early 1990s, principally to prevent its arch-rival, India, from gaining a strategic foothold in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. It claims to have severed all links with the Islamist movement but remains determined to prevent a pro-Indian government from taking power in Kabul after Nato troops leave.

The report follows one of the bloodiest weeks for foreign troops in Afghanistan, with 30 Nato soldiers killed, and the announcement of a two to three-month delay in a counter-insurgency operation in Kandahar — the Taleban’s stronghold.

It also comes a few days after Amrullah Saleh, who resigned as head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service last week, described the ISI as “part of the landscape of destruction in this country”.

Mr Waldman worked in Afghanistan for two and a half years as Head of Policy and Advocacy for Oxfam and is now a fellow of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He advised the Liberal Democrats on defence and foreign affairs from 2004 to 2006.

His study carries weight because it was based on interviews with nine Taleban field commanders and ten former senior Taleban officials, as well as Afghan elders and politicians, foreign diplomats and security officials. The ISI “provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies”, the Taleban field commanders are quoted as saying.

Major-General Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s military spokesman, described the report as ridiculous and “part of a campaign against the Pakistan Army and the ISI”.

Friday, June 11, 2010

News of conflict in southern Kyrghizstan

Strategy page is a site produced by "Strategy World" a site that seems devoted to the exaltation of war. The Strategy Page has information that is sometime very interesting. Here I reproduce a new article on the situation in Kyrghizstan.

Dirty Money To Die For
June 11, 2010: Ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan has caused over 200 casualties in the last few days. In the south, where most of the Uzbek minority (14 percent of the population) lives, Kyrgyz supporters of ousted president Bakiyev are fighting local Uzbeks. Most of the violence is in the southern city of Jalalabad. While the violence appears to be ethnic, a lot of it is centered around Kyrgyz families that supported former president Bakiyev, had received jobs from him, and had been corrupt (either as government officials or businessmen). Bakiyev was himself was the head of a reform government, that replaced a corrupt one, and many Kyrgyz are wondering if the new reformers will be any cleaner. The Kyrgyz in the south, who supported Bakiyev, will lose a lot if the new government takes complete control of the south.

Russia is trying to get the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) to help with the unrest in Kyrgyzstan, and crippling the Afghanistan drug trade. The SCO consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Mongolia, Pakistan, India and Iran as associate members, or "observers". The SCO, unofficially, exists to keep the peace between China and Russia over economic activities in Central Asia. At the moment, China is winning the race to develop large oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. China needs the energy, and is willing to pay whatever it takes. Since the Central Asian nations are run by corrupt leaders, often dictators, the Chinese have an easy, if expensive, way to gaining control of natural resources. At the moment, Russia more concerned with halting, or much reducing, the flow of opium, hashish and heroin from Afghanistan to Russia. These drugs have created millions of addicts and major social problems. Russia has supplied the United States with extensive information on the drug gangs in Afghanistan, and throughout Central Asia, and how the smuggling networks operate. Russia is also trying to get more cooperation from Central Asian governments as well. But in many of these countries, senior officials are on the drug gang payrolls.

A naval arms race is brewing on the Caspian Sea (the largest lake in the world, and a major body of water for Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan). Iran recently built a 1,400 ton corvette at a Caspian shipyard. Russia, which controls access to the ocean via the Volga-Don canal, can bring in large warships (up to 140 meters long), and is doing so. Kazakhstan is seeking Russian help in expanding its fleet with three new corvettes and three new patrol boats.

June 6, 2010: Uzbekistan is preventing hundreds of railroad cars (loaded with NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan) from crossing into Tajikistan, on the pretense that needed repairs must be made on several kilometers of rails. The real reason is a diplomatic dispute Uzbekistan has with Tajikistan. NATO must reroute these trains via other rail lines that enter Afghanistan.

June 3, 2010: Uzbekistan has removed its troops from a small portion of southern Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek troops had been there for nearly a week, to protect ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyz gangs loyal to deposed Kyrgyzstan president Bakiyev.

June 2, 2010: The new Kyrgyzstan government has blocked fuel shipments to U.S. aircraft using Manus air base. This has been done because the government believes that the family of recently deposed ruler Kurmanbek Bakiyev were receiving over a million dollars a week in kickbacks on the fuel contracts. As a result of the halt in fuel supplies, the U.S. is shifting its aerial tankers from Manas to other air bases in the region. © 2010

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Conflicted feelings about our "friends"

I've said plenty about how conflicted Pakistan is, and in fact, how conflicted the Muslim world is but it turns out that as I reflect on the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, places I care about and worry about, I am no less confused and conflicted myself. From one point of view, I support the war in Afghanistan/ Pakistan; I think it matters plenty [and I will soon present something about that]. But at the same time I grieve for the ways that the peoples and governments of these countries tolerate and even encourage the abuse of their own populations, abuses that are simply inexcusable.

So here is the other side of my view:

These countries as currently constituted are allowing and cultivating policies that makes support for them unpalatable. The United States and its NATO allies are investing heavily in a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan while the governments of these two countries demonstrate repeatedly an inability to defend and protect conventions of behavior that are taken to be essential and fundamental in the United States and Europe.

This is what we have heard in the news in recent days.
• Afghan Girls as young as 13 have been forced into marriage, and when they have run away even the police turn them back. Two of them were not only forced to return but flogged when brought back.
“Disguised in boys’ clothes, the girls, ages 13 and 14, had been fleeing for two days along rutted roads and over mountain passes to escape their illegal, forced marriages to much older men, and now they had made it to relatively liberal Herat Province. Instead, the police officer spotted them as girls, ignored their pleas and promptly sent them back to their remote village in Ghor Province. There they were publicly and viciously flogged for daring to run away from their husbands.”

• There is a new social ferment in Kabul over the publication of a video showing some Afghans who have been meeting secretly in Christian worship. Students at the university have been demonstrating, calling for these people to be killed. A member of Parliament declared,
"Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them."
Popular sentiment on the street, according to live television interviews, agrees. [Rah-e Nejat, June 2, 2010; International Christian Concern, June 2, 2010]

• The Pakistan government has been cultivating radical Islamist groups who are fighting the American and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan. Now that it is clear even to the Pakistanis that those Islamists are bent on overturning the Pakistani government the government lacks the commitment and possibly the means to restrain them. The great surprise is how long it has taken for them even to admit what they have been doing to their "friends" [the US/Nato] and to themselves.
“Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official declared in a surprising public admission that extremist groups were entrenched in the southern portion of the nation’s most populous province, underscoring the growing threats to the state. … The statements by the interior minister, Rehman Malik, after the killing of more than 80 people at two mosques last week here in Lahore, were exceptional because few Pakistani politicians have acknowledged so explicitly the deep roots of militancy in Pakistan. They also highlighted the seeming impotence of the civilian government to root out the militant groups, even in Punjab Province, providing a troubling recognition that decades of state policy to nurture extremism had come home to roost in the very heart of the country.”

This is what our troops are risking life and limb for.