Malfunction Likely Put U.S. Drone in Iranian Hands

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The unmanned U.S. drone Iran said on Sunday it had captured was programmed to automatically return to base even if its data link was lost, one key reason that U.S. officials say the drone likely malfunctioned and was not downed by Iranian electronic warfare.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about Iranian claims that its military downed an RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, a radar-evading, wedge-shaped aircraft dubbed “the Beast of Kandahar” after its initial sighting in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said the Iranians might be referring to an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared on a flight in western Afghanistan late last week. But they declined to say what type of drone was involved.

A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane was on a CIA mission. The CIA and Pentagon both declined to comment on the issue.

The incident came at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.

The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, was first acknowledged by the U.S. Air Force in December 2009. It has a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.

Former and current military officials familiar with the Sentinel said they were skeptical about Iranian media reports that Iran’s military brought down one of the drones in eastern Iran, especially since Tehran has not released any pictures of the plane.

POSSIBLE ‘CATASTROPHIC’ MALFUNCTION

The aircraft is flown remotely by pilots based in the United States, but is also programmed to autonomously fly back to the base it departed from if its data link with U.S.-based pilots is lost, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson, who is a consultant for Lockheed and other companies.

Other unmanned aircraft have a similar capability, including General Atomics’ Predator drone, industry sources said.

The fact that the plane did not return to its base suggests a “catastrophic” technical malfunction, agreed one industry executive familiar with the operation and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. officials say they always worry about the possibility of sensitive military technologies falling into the hands of other countries or terrorist groups, one reason U.S. planes quickly destroyed a stealthy helicopter that was damaged during the bin Laden raid in Pakistan.

Many classified weapons systems have self-destruction capabilities that can be activated if they fall into enemy hands but it was not immediately clear if that was the case this time.

In this case, the design of the plane and the fact that it had special coatings that made it nearly invisible to radar were already well documented. If it survived a crash, all on-board computer equipment was heavily encrypted.

Lockheed confirmed that it makes the RQ-170 drone, which came out of its secretive Skunk Works facility in southern California, but referred all questions about the current incident to the Air Force.
Thompson and several current and former defense officials said they doubted Iranian claims to have shot the aircraft down because of its stealthy features and ability to operate at relatively high altitudes.

Iran was also unlikely to have jammed its flight controls because that system is highly encrypted and uses a direct uplink to a U.S. satellite, they said.

“The U.S. Air Force has experienced declining attrition rates with most of its unmanned aircraft. However this is a relatively new aircraft and there aren’t many in the fleet, which means that malfunctions and mistakes are more likely to occur,” Thompson said.

One former defense official familiar with the RQ-170 and other unmanned aircraft said he “absolutely” agreed that the aircraft was not lost due to any action by Iran.

Exact details about the drone remain classified but industry insiders say the plane flies at around 50,000 feet and may have a wing span of up to 90 feet. Its shape harkens back to the batwing design of the radar-evading B-2 bomber.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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U.S. Prepares to Vacate Pakistan Air Base

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball

2011-11-30T141847Z_1272910458_GM1E7BU1Q8B01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN-NATO

Men on motorbike, with Pakistan’s national flag in hand, lead an anti-American rally of thousands through Karachi’s Lyari town on November 30, 2011. A senior Pakistani army official has said a NATO cross-border air attack that killed 24 soldiers was a deliberate, blatant act of aggression, hardening Pakistan’s stance on an incident that could hurt efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

(Reuters) – The United States is preparing to accede to Pakistani demands that it vacate a remote air base in Pakistan used for drone flights, but the move is not expected to have a significant impact on operations against militants, U.S. government sources say.

Washington is treading lightly not to aggravate an already fragile relationship that was bruised further by a NATO attack on a Pakistani military outpost last weekend that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghanistan border.

Pakistan demanded that the United States leave the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days and blocked ground supply routes through Pakistan to U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Three sources, who declined to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity, said U.S. planning is under way to leave the base, a remote facility in Baluchistan that has been a point of contention.

The cross-border incident escalated tensions between the two countries and the U.S. military is conducting an investigation to find out exactly what happened on the ground.

The moves by the Pakistanis to block ground supply routes and the air base were not expected to significantly hinder U.S. operations.

One U.S. government source said the United States has spent months preparing for a possible eviction from the Pakistan base by building up other drone launching and staging capability.

Earlier this year, after the U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, some Pakistani officials demanded that Washington vacate the Shamsi facility.

At the time, however, U.S. officials said that American personnel would remain at the base and would continue to conduct drone flights in pursuit of militants.

But in one concession, the United States stopped conducting lethal drone operations from that base and limited operations to surveillance flights.

U.S. officials believe that this time Pakistan appears much more resolute about carrying out the eviction threat. Vacating the air base was seen more as an inconvenience rather than a critical blow to drone operations which the United States also conducts from Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere.

The unmanned aerial vehicles may have a longer flight from Afghanistan but they are capable of hovering overhead for hours as they seek to spot suspicious activity and follow militants.

U.S. officials are reluctant to openly talk about drone operations because they are considered a covert CIA activity.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, in London this week addressed the Shamsi issue without acknowledging the use of drones at the base.

“There are other options for stationing aircraft and other resources around the region,” Dempsey told Britain’s ITV News.

“It’s a serious blow in the sense that the Pakistani government felt that they needed to deny us the use of a base that we’ve been using for many years,” he said. “And so it’s serious in that regard. It’s not debilitating militarily.”

BLOCKED SUPPLY ROUTE

The United States also has to deal with the blocking of the ground supply route through Pakistan to Afghanistan.

Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, said that route accounts for less than half the supplies for international forces in Afghanistan and the military has contingency plans.

“We have a large distribution network to make sure that coalition forces are well-stocked,” he told Reuters. “It’s not going to affect our ability to follow through and execute our mission.”

Yet alternate supply routes such as the northern distribution network are not a perfect substitute and there are concerns that the cost of keeping soldiers fed, armed and fueled without use of Pakistani roads would be excessive.

Ruppersberger, who visited Pakistan to meet with officials after U.S. forces killed bin Laden, said the relationship was poor at that point.

“We were starting to improve in the last month or so and then all of a sudden this unfortunate incident occurred, and now we’re right back to where we were again,” he said.

“It is to the advantage of both countries to work together,” Ruppersberger said. “In the end that will come. It’s about relationships, it’s about trust, and unfortunately that hasn’t been there for a while.”

Ruppersberger would not comment on the Shamsi departure.

STILL INVESTIGATING

U.S. officials said there is still considerable confusion about details of the latest border incident.

Wary of further damaging an already delicate situation, U.S. officials were reluctant to speculate about what happened before getting the results of military investigations.

“The focus of the administration at this point is on trying to find ways to show Pakistan that we’re serious about investigating the incident and forging a cooperative relationship in the future,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

“No one at this point has the complete narrative on what happened,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said. “I think it’s premature to articulate the facts of this incident.”

A U.S. government source familiar with counter-terrorism operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border said the latest incident apparently grew out of an Afghan-U.S. special forces commando patrol operation.

Some early information from the region suggests that at some point the Afghan-U.S. patrol team came under fire from what they believed were militants. They then called in an airstrike, which hit a Pakistani military outpost.

Investigations into the incident now are trying to determine if the militants deliberately took up positions near the Pakistani outpost to confuse American and Afghan forces or whether Pakistani forces at the border outpost were somehow complicit in initially firing on the Afghan-U.S. patrol.

A U.S. military official, without commenting on details of the current incident, said the Taliban had previously tried to provoke cross-border fighting between Pakistani soldiers and NATO forces but problems were headed off by cross-border communication.

“It is something we’ve seen previously, yes. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that happened,” the official said, without confirming anything about the recent incident.

Another key question is what happened to cross-border communication systems set up to avoid this kind of confusion.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is badly marked, and disputed in many stretches. The terrain of steep mountains, dense forest and sparse population provides hideouts for militants who can move freely along the frontier.

The Pakistani and Afghan militaries and NATO-led alliance have tried to limit deadly mistakes by establishing communication links including a hotline to check on potential targets or warn of possible friendly fire.

The Pakistani military says it has given maps with permanent outposts clearly marked to NATO and the Afghan army. It also said there is a hotline between the two sides, but declined to say if it was used the evening of the attack.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said he was not aware of a hotline.

(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan, Phil Stewart, Emma Graham-Harrison; Writing by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Editing by Deborah Charles and Cynthia Osterman)

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This Struggle Has Re-awakened Our Imagination

November 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Arundhati Roy

Text of a speech given by Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square, NYC on 20 November, 2011.

india-arundhati-at-mike3Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back.

The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.

Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks.

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:

One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.

Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

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Qaradawi Warns of Niqab Ban Discrimination

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Anwar ElShamy, Gulf Times

FILES-ALGERIA-EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-QARADAWI Qatar-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi urged those European countries which are considering outlawing the full veil (niqab) to review their plans, saying that a wider ban on niqab might prompt clerics to campaign for imposing a “modest dress code” on foreigners living in Muslim countries.

In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Qaradawi said the recent outlawing of the face-covering veil in public by Belgium along with a French draft law to make it illegal would be a violation of both religious and personal freedoms.

“I hope that France, Belgium and all of Europe will show respect to Islamic values and creed. Banning a Muslim woman from wearing the niqab would only place her in a dilemma about whether to comply with the law or obey what she believes is a religious order,” Sheikh Qaradawi told a congregation at the Omar bin Al-Khattab mosque at Khalifa South town.

However, the scholar, who is the chairman of the Dublin-based International Muslim Scholars Union, said the face-covering veil was not obligatory in Islam and that a woman should cover the head and neck but leave the face open.

“Although I think that wearing niqab is not obligatory and that women should only wear the hijab (covering the head and neck, but leaving the face visible), I am totally against banning a Muslim from wearing niqab if she is convinced of it as a religious obligation,” he explained.

“I do not represent all Muslim scholars. There are scholars in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries who consider niqab as obligatory and there are millions of women who wear it by their own free choice. If I asked them to stop wearing it, I would be violating their personal and religious freedom,” he maintained.

Quoting from a letter he had sent to former French president Jacques Chirac, the scholar said the ban imposed on hijab in schools would be a betrayal of the principles of the French Revolution, namely liberty, fraternity and equality.

“I told (president Chirac) that prohibiting women from wearing the hijab would be discrimination against them and make them hate France which is known to be a leading country for freedom,” he added.

In his letter, he had also dismissed the notion that hijab was a religious symbol for Muslims as “untrue”, saying that if it was a symbol, why they were allowed to take it off when they were in the presence of other women or male relatives.

“Wearing hijab for Muslims could not be dealt with as wearing a necklace with a cross pendant for Christians,” he said.

He indicated that the sentiments against niqab or hijab were a reflection of a desire by European countries to impose their culture on others.

“I have received a recent visit by French ambassador Gilles Bonnaud and I explained these things to him. I told him that Muslims believed in the unity of humanity but also believed that each nation should stick to its traits,” he added.

“When Muslims ruled India, they did not close down temples or impose a ban on cremation. It is the duty of each nation to respect the values of the other, but with the European case, we can make it difficult for French and Belgian women who stay in Muslim countries by asking them to stick to a modest dress,” he quoted from the conversation he had with the French ambassador to Qatar. 

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War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

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Remarks by the President at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Supplied Transcript

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center–Washington, D.C.–6:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Washington. 

In my life, and as President, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many of your countries, and I’ve always been grateful for the warmth and the hospitality that you and your fellow citizens have shown me.  And tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to return the hospitality.

For many of you, I know this is the first time visiting our country.  So let me say, on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.) 

It is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to this Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.  This has been a coordinated effort across my administration, and I want to thank all the hardworking folks and leaders at all the departments and agencies who made it possible, and who are here tonight.

That includes our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.  Where’s Ron?  There he is.  (Applause.)    I especially want to thank the two departments and leaders who took the lead on this summit — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)   

We’re joined by members of Congress who work every day to help their constituents realize the American Dream, and whose life stories reflect the diversity and equal opportunity that we cherish as Americans:  Nydia Velazquez, who is also, by the way, the chairwoman of our Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives.  (Applause.)  Keith Ellison is here.  (Applause.)  And Andre Carson is here.  (Applause.) 

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for being part of this historic event.  You’ve traveled from across the United States and nearly 60 countries, from Latin America to Africa, Europe to Central Asia, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. 

And you bring with you the rich tapestry of the world’s great traditions and great cultures.  You carry within you the beauty of different colors and creeds, races and religions.  You’re visionaries who pioneered new industries and young entrepreneurs looking to build a business or a community.

But we’ve come together today because of what we share — a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations.  To live with dignity.  To get an education.  To live healthy lives.  Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody.  To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed.  To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.

But we’re also here because we know that over the years, despite all we have in common, the United States and Muslim communities around the world too often fell victim to mutual mistrust.

And that’s why I went to Cairo nearly one year ago and called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities — a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several years.  But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill.

As President, I’ve worked to ensure that America once again meets its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the security and political issues that have often been a source of tension.  The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and we will partner with Iraqi people for their long-term prosperity and security.  In Afghanistan, in Pakistan and beyond, we’re forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, but also to combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities.

I say it again tonight:  Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.  (Applause.)  And around the world, the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people.

But even as I committed the United States to addressing these security and political concerns, I also made it clear in Cairo that we needed something else — a sustained effort to listen to each other and to learn from each other, to respect one another.  And I pledged to forge a new partnership, not simply between governments, but also between people on the issues that matter most in their daily lives — in your lives. 

Now, many questioned whether this was possible.  Yet over the past year, the United States has been reaching out and listening.  We’ve joined interfaith dialogues and held town halls, roundtables and listening sessions with thousands of people around the world, including many of you.  And like so many people, you’ve extended your hand in return, each in your own way, as entrepreneurs and educators, as leaders of faith and of science. 

I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr. Naif al-Mutawa of Kuwait, who joins us here tonight.  Where is Dr. Mutawa?  (Applause.)  His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.  After my speech in Cairo, he had a similar idea.  So in his comic books, Superman and Batman reached out to their Muslim counterparts.  (Laughter.)  And I hear they’re making progress, too.  (Laughter.)  Absolutely.  (Applause.)

By listening to each other we’ve been able to partner with each other.  We’ve expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century.  Our distinguished science envoys have been visiting several of your countries, exploring ways to increase collaboration on science and technology. 

We’re advancing global health, including our partnership with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio.  This is just one part of our broader engagement with the OIC, led by my Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain, who joins us here tonight.  Where’s Rashad?  (Applause.)

And we’re partnering to expand economic prosperity.  At a government level, I’d note that putting the G20 in the lead on global economic decision-making has brought more voices to the table — including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia.  And here today, we’re fulfilling my commitment in Cairo to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Now, I know some have asked — given all the security and political and social challenges we face, why a summit on entrepreneurship?  The answer is simple. 

Entrepreneurship — because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream — taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.

Entrepreneurship — because throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.

Entrepreneurship — because it’s in our mutual economic interest.  Trade between the United States and Muslim-majority countries has grown.  But all this trade, combined, is still only about the same as our trade with one country — Mexico.  So there’s so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries.

And social entrepreneurship — because, as I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.

And that’s why we’re here.  We have Jerry Yang, who transformed how we communicate, with Yahoo.  Is Jerry here?  Where is he?  He’ll be here tomorrow.  As well as entrepreneurs who have opened cybercafés and new forums on the Internet for discussion and development.  Together, you can unleash the technologies that will help shape the 21st century.

We have successes like Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who I met earlier, who built a telecommunications empire that empowered people across Africa.  And we have aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses and hire new workers.  Together you can address the challenges of accessing capital.   We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier — a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. 

Please read continuation at www.muslimobserver.com.

So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper.  I believe that.  (Applause.)

We have pioneers like Chris Hughes, who created Facebook, as well as an online community that brought so many young people into my campaign for President — MyBarackObama.com.  (Laughter.)  We have people like Soraya Salti of Jordan who are empowering the young men and women who will be leaders of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Together, they represent the great potential and expectations of young people around the world.

And we’ve got social entrepreneurs like Tri Mumpuni, who has helped rural communities in Indonesia — (applause) — harness the electricity, and revenues, of hydro-power.  And Andeisha Farid, an extraordinary woman from Afghanistan, who’s taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time.  (Applause.)  Together, they point the way to a future where progress is shared and prosperity is sustainable.

And I also happened to notice Dr. Yunus — it’s wonderful to see you again.  I think so many people know the history of Grameen Bank and all the great work that’s been done to help finance entrepreneurship among the poorest of the poor, first throughout South Asia, and now around the world. 

So this is the incredible potential that you represent; the future we can seize together.  So tonight I’m proud to announce a series of new partnerships and initiatives that will do just that.

The United States is launching several new exchange programs.  We will bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.  (Applause.)  So women in technology fields will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.  And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we’re creating new exchanges for science teachers.

We’re forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise — in venture capital, mentorship, and technology incubators — with partners in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Southeast Asia.

And tonight, I can report that the Global Technology and Innovation Fund that I announced in Cairo will potentially mobilize more than $2 billion in investments.  This is private capital, and it will unlock new opportunities for people across our countries in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education, and infrastructure.

And finally, I’m proud that we’re creating here at this summit not only these programs that I’ve just mentioned, but it’s not going to stop here.  Together, we’ve sparked a new era of entrepreneurship — with events all over Washington this week, and upcoming regional conferences around the world. 

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Prime Minister Erdogan has agreed to host the next Entrepreneurship Summit next year in Turkey.  (Applause.)  And so I thank the Prime Minister and the people and private sector leaders of Turkey for helping to sustain the momentum that we will unleash this week.   

So as I said, there are those who questioned whether we could forge these new beginnings.  And given the magnitude of the challenges we face in the world — and let’s face it, a lot of the bad news that comes through the television each and every day — sometimes it can be tempting to believe that the goodwill and good works of ordinary people are simply insufficient to the task at hand.  But to any who still doubt whether partnerships between people can remake our world, I say look at the men and women who are here today.

Look at the professor who came up with an idea — micro-finance — that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children.  That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus.

Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.”  That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar.  (Applause.) 

Look what happened when that idea spread across the world  — including to people like my own mother, who worked with the rural poor from Pakistan to Indonesia.  That simple idea, began with a single person, has now transformed the lives of millions.  That’s the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So, yes, the new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun.  It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build; not those trapped in the past, but those who, like us, believe with confidence and conviction in a future of justice and progress and the dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, regardless of their religion. 

That’s the enormous potential that we’re hoping to unlock during this conference and hoping to continue not only this week but in the months and years ahead.  So I’m grateful that all of you are participating.  May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

END 6:22 P.M. EDT

12-19

While You Were Sleeping

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

COV_iranFlag This week has seen a spurt of would-be terror plots that painfully highlights the reality that our world is still not as safe as it should be, despite the two wars still being waged against purported terrorist regimes. The most notable occurred in the heart of New York City as Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad has confessed to being the mastermind behind the car bomb that, luckily, did not explode in Times Square. Shahzad was just barely apprehended as he sat on an Emirates flight set for Dubai.

The tiny Gulf State of Kuwait also got its own dose of a potential terror-plot in the making when security personnel unraveled a tangled web of deceit within its own borders. A ‘sleeper cell’ network of spies, apparently working covertly for the Iranian government’s Revolutionary Guard, was exposed this past week much to the surprise of the denizens of the region. For weeks, local Kuwaiti newspapers have been reporting renewed ties between Kuwait and Iran as well as a couple of deals, like oil exports. By all appearances the sleeper cell was put into place to gather intelligence on primary Kuwaiti and American targets, in the event that America decided to take a preemptive military strike against Iran. Iranian President has always promised to lash out at any Gulf neighbor that allows its land to be used by the US and its allies in a show of force against Iran.

Kuwait’s security forces have arrested at least eleven high-ranking Kuwaiti citizens that worked in close proximity to both the interior and defense ministries as well as several Arab nationals whose nationalities have not been released. During the bust, Kuwaiti security personnel raided the home of one of the leaders of the sleeper cell and found a great deal of incriminating evidence including maps for sensitive targets in Kuwait, hi-tech gadgetry and an estimated $250,000 stockpile of cold hard cash. Key players within the sleeper cell have also revealed to Kuwait security forces that they were instructed to recruit new members from Kuwait that were sympathetic to the plight of Iranians.

It’s not surprising that Kuwait was chosen as a primary location for the Iranian sleeper cell to settle in unnoticed. There are several American army bases littered throughout the country and Kuwait is a key stopping point for American troops headed to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the strongest reason is most likely the friendship that Kuwait and America have built ever since the 1991 Desert Storm war, where America and its allies literally pulled Kuwait out of the clutches of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Word out of Iran is that the whole fiasco is merely a chance for Kuwait to discredit the country. However, the evidence is strongly leaning towards the validity of the sleeper cell and the Iranian governments full knowledge of its existence. And according to the Kuwaiti government there are still at least seven more members of the sleeper cell who have not yet been apprehended. But what is most disturbing is that interrogations with the suspects are slowly revealing that the espionage stretches clean across the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) member states with several Gulf countries supposedly having an invisible sleeper cell operating from within. Leaders from the Arab world are expected to meet in the foreseeable future to join forces in combating Iranian spy rings.

12-19

Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Yes, We Could… Get Out!

By Tom Engelhardt

2010-05-05T120909Z_1306706484_GM1E6551JSJ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan man smiles after he received food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.        

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Yes, we could. No kidding. We really could withdraw our massive armies, now close to 200,000 troops combined, from Afghanistan and Iraq (and that’s not even counting our similarly large stealth army of private contractors, which helps keep the true size of our double occupations in the shadows). We could undoubtedly withdraw them all reasonably quickly and reasonably painlessly.

Not that you would know it from listening to the debates in Washington or catching the mainstream news. There, withdrawal, when discussed at all, seems like an undertaking beyond the waking imagination. In Iraq alone, all those bases to dismantle and millions of pieces of equipment to send home in a draw-down operation worthy of years of intensive effort, the sort of thing that makes the desperate British evacuation from Dunkirk in World War II look like a Sunday stroll in the park. And that’s only the technical side of the matter.

Then there’s the conviction that anything but a withdrawal that would make molasses in January look like the hare of Aesopian fable — at least two years in Iraq, five to ten in Afghanistan — would endanger the planet itself, or at least its most important country: us.

Without our eternally steadying hand, the Iraqis and Afghans, it’s taken for granted, would be lost. Without the help of U.S. forces, for example, would the Maliki government ever have been able to announce the death of the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq? Not likely, whereas the U.S. has knocked off its leadership twice, first in 2006, and again, evidently, last week.

Of course, before our troops entered Baghdad in 2003 and the American occupation of that country began, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. But that’s a distant past not worth bringing up. And forget as well the fact that our invasions and wars have proven thunderously destructive, bringing chaos, misery, and death in their wake, and turning, for instance, the health care system of Iraq, once considered an advanced country in the Arab world, into a disaster zone(that — it goes without saying — only we Americans are now equipped to properly fix). Similarly, while regularly knocking off Afghan civilians at checkpoints on their roads and in their homes, at their celebrations and at work, we ignore the fact that our invasion and occupation opened the way for the transformation of Afghanistan into the first all-drug-crop agricultural nation and so the planet’s premier narco-nation. It’s not just that the country now has an almost total monopoly on growing opium poppies (hence heroin), but according to the latest U.N. report, it’s now cornering the hashish market as well. That’s diversification for you.

It’s a record to stand on and, evidently, to stay on, even to expand on. We’re like the famed guest who came to dinner, broke a leg, wouldn’t leave, and promptly took over the lives of the entire household. Only in our case, we arrived, broke someone else’s leg, and then insisted we had to stay and break many more legs, lest the world become a far more terrible place.

It’s known and accepted in Washington that, if we were to leave Afghanistan precipitously, the Taliban would take over, al-Qaeda would be back big time in no time, and then more of our giant buildings would obviously bite the dust. And yet, the longer we’ve stayed and the more we’ve surged, the more resurgent the Taliban has become, the more territory this minority insurgency has spread into. If we stay long enough, we may, in fact, create the majority insurgency we claim to fear.

It’s common wisdom in the U.S. that, before we pull our military out, Afghanistan, like Iraq, must be secured as a stable enough ally, as well as at least a fragile junior democracy, which consigns real departure to some distant horizon. And that sense of time may help explain the desire of U.S. officials to hinder Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban and other rebel factions now. Washington, it seems, favors a “reconciliation process” that will last years and only begin after the U.S. military seizes the high ground on the battlefield.

The reality that dare not speak its name in Washington is this: no matter what might happen in an Afghanistan that lacked us — whether (as in the 1990s) the various factions there leaped for each other’s throats, or the Taliban established significant control, though (as in the 1990s) not over the whole country — the stakes for Americans would be minor in nature. Not that anyone of significance here would say such a thing.

Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there — by proxy and directly — on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.

Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.

In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.

Vietnam and Afghanistan

Have you noticed, by the way, that there’s always some obstacle in the path of withdrawal? Right now, in Iraq, it’s the aftermath of the March 7th election, hailed as proof that we brought democracy to the Middle East and so, whatever our missteps, did the right thing. As it happens, the election, as many predicted at the time, has led to a potentially explosive gridlock and has yet to come close to resulting in a new governing coalition. With violence on the rise, we’re told, the planned drawdown of American troops to the 50,000 level by August is imperiled. Already, the process, despite repeated assurances, seems to be proceeding slowly.

And yet, the thought that an American withdrawal should be held hostage to events among Iraqis all these years later, seems curious. There’s always some reason to hesitate — and it never has to do with us. Withdrawal would undoubtedly be far less of a brain-twister if Washington simply committed itself wholeheartedly to getting out, and if it stopped convincing itself that the presence of the U.S. military in distant lands was essential to a better world (and, of course, to a controlling position on planet Earth).

The annals of history are well stocked with countries which invaded and occupied other lands and then left, often ingloriously and under intense pressure. But they did it.

It’s worth remembering that, in 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and we essentially fled the country, we abandoned staggering amounts of equipment there. Helicopters were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make space; barrels of money were burned at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; military bases as large as anything we’ve built in Iraq or Afghanistan fell into North Vietnamese hands; and South Vietnamese allies were deserted in the panic of the moment. Nonetheless, when there was no choice, we got out. Not elegantly, not nicely, not thoughtfully, not helpfully, but out.

Keep in mind that, then too, disaster was predicted for the planet, should we withdraw precipitously — including rolling communist takeovers of country after country, the loss of “credibility” for the American superpower, and a murderous bloodbath in Vietnam itself. All were not only predicted by Washington’s Cassandras, but endlessly cited in the war years as reasons not to leave. And yet here was the shock that somehow never registered among all the so-called lessons of Vietnam: nothing of that sort happened afterwards.

Today, Vietnam is a reasonably prosperous land with friendly relations with its former enemy, the United States. After Vietnam, no other “dominos” fell and there was no bloodbath in that country. Of course, it could have been different — and elsewhere, sometimes, it has been. But even when local skies darken, the world doesn’t end.

And here’s the truth of the matter: the world won’t end, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in the United States, if we end our wars and withdraw. The sky won’t fall, even if the U.S. gets out reasonably quickly, even if subsequently blood is spilled and things don’t go well in either country.

We got our troops there remarkably quickly. We’re quite capable of removing them at a similar pace. We could, that is, leave. There are, undoubtedly, better and worse ways of doing this, ways that would further penalize the societies we’ve invaded, and ways that might be of some use to them, but either way we could go.

A Brief History of American Withdrawal

Of course, there’s a small problem here. All evidence indicates that Washington doesn’t want to withdraw — not really, not from either region. It has no interest in divesting itself of the global control-and-influence business, or of the military-power racket. That’s hardly surprising since we’re talking about a great imperial power and control (or at least imagined control) over the planet’s strategic oil lands.

And then there’s another factor to consider: habit. Over the decades, Washington has gotten used to staying. The U.S. has long been big on arriving, but not much for departure. After all, 65 years later, striking numbers of American forces are still garrisoning the two major defeated nations of World War II, Germany and Japan. We still have about three dozen military bases on the modest-sized Japanese island of Okinawa, and are at this very moment fighting tooth and nail, diplomatically speaking, not to be forced to abandon one of them. The Korean War was suspended in an armistice 57 years ago and, again, striking numbers of American troops still garrison South Korea.

Similarly, to skip a few decades, after the Serbian air campaign of the late 1990s, the U.S. built-up the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo with its seven-mile perimeter, and we’re still there. After Gulf War I, the U.S. either built or built up military bases and other facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, as well as the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. And it’s never stopped building up its facilities throughout the Gulf region. In this sense, leaving Iraq, to the extent we do, is not quite as significant a matter as sometimes imagined, strategically speaking. It’s not as if the U.S. military were taking off for Dubuque.

A history of American withdrawal would prove a brief book indeed. Other than Vietnam, the U.S. military withdrew from the Philippines under the pressure of “people power” (and a local volcano) in the early 1990s, and from Saudi Arabia, in part under the pressure of Osama bin Laden. In both countries, however, it has retained or regained a foothold in recent years. President Ronald Reagan pulled American troops out of Lebanon after a devastating 1983 suicide truck bombing of a Marines barracks there, and the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, functionally expelled the U.S. from Manta Air Base in 2008 when he refused to renew its lease. (“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorian base,” he said slyly.) And there were a few places like the island of Grenada, invaded in 1983, that simply mattered too little to Washington to stay.

Unfortunately, whatever the administration, the urge to stay has seemed a constant. It’s evidently written into Washington’s DNA and embedded deep in domestic politics where sure-to-come “cut and run” charges and blame for “losing” Iraq or Afghanistan would cow any administration. Not surprisingly, when you look behind the main news stories in both Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see signs of the urge to stay everywhere.

In Iraq, while President Obama has committed himself to the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011, plenty of wiggle room remains. Already, the New York Times reports, General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in that country, is lobbying Washington to establish “an Office of Military Cooperation within the American Embassy in Baghdad to sustain the relationship after… Dec. 31, 2011.” (“We have to stay committed to this past 2011,” Odierno is quoted as saying. “I believe the administration knows that. I believe that they have to do that in order to see this through to the end. It’s important to recognize that just because U.S. soldiers leave, Iraq is not finished.”)

If you want a true gauge of American withdrawal, keep your eye on the mega-bases the Pentagon has built in Iraq since 2003, especially gigantic Balad Air Base (since the Iraqis will not, by the end of 2011, have a real air force of their own), and perhaps Camp Victory, the vast, ill-named U.S. base and command center abutting Baghdad International Airport on the outskirts of the capital. Keep an eye as well on the 104-acre U.S. embassy built along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. At present, it’s the largest “embassy” on the planet and represents something new in “diplomacy,” being essentially a military-base-cum-command-and-control-center for the region. It is clearly going nowhere, withdrawal or not.

In fact, recent reports indicate that in the near future “embassy” personnel, including police trainers, military officials connected to that Office of Coordination, spies, U.S. advisors attached to various Iraqi ministries, and the like, may be more than doubled from the present staggering staff level of 1,400 to 3,000 or above. (The embassy, by the way, has requested $1,875 billion for its operations in fiscal year 2011, and that was assuming a staffing level of only 1,400.) Realistically, as long as such an embassy remains at Ground Zero Iraq, we will not have withdrawn from that country.

Similarly, we have a giant U.S. embassy in Kabul (being expanded) and another mega-embassy being built in the Pakistani capital Islamabad. These are not, rest assured, signs of departure. Nor is the fact that in Afghanistan and Pakistan, everything war-connected seems to be surging, even if in ways often not noticed here. President Obama’s surge decision has been described largely in terms of those 30,000-odd extra troops he’s sending in, not in terms of the shadow army of 30,000 or more extra private contractors taking on various military roles (and dying off the books in striking numbers); nor the extra contingent of CIA types and the escalating drone war they are overseeing in the Pakistani tribal borderlands; nor the quiet doubling of Special Operations units assigned to hunt down the Taliban leadership; nor the extra State department officials for the “civilian surge”; nor, for instance, the special $10 million “pool” of funds that up to 120 U.S. Special Operations forces, already in those borderlands training the paramilitary Pakistani Frontier Corps, may soon have available to spend “winning hearts and minds.”

Perhaps it’s historically accurate to say that great powers generally leave home, head elsewhere armed to the teeth, and then experience the urge to stay. With our trillion-dollar-plus wars and yearly trillion-dollar-plus national-security budget, there’s a lot at stake in staying, and undoubtedly in fighting two, three, many Afghanistans (and Iraqs) in the years to come.

Sooner or later, we will leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too late in the history of this planet to occupy them forever and a day. Better sooner.

Tom Engelhardt runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”).

12-19

Muslim Presence at the Twenty 20 Cricket World Cup

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

cricket world cup The shortened 20 over format of cricket is on display at the International Cricket Council Twenty 20 Cricket World Cup tournament currently underway at various sites in the Caribbean.  Matches began on April 30th, with twelve teams from all over the world chasing the title that currently belongs to defending champion Pakistan. But there is Muslim talent sprinkled throughout this year’s tournament.

The Pakistani team, unfortunately, enters this year’s tournament with a dark cloud over its head. A disastrous tour of Australia in February led not only to poor results on the pitch, but also to infighting that resulted in multiple suspensions and replacement of the team captain. But the dust appears to have finally settled, and the team, led by bowler Shahed Afridi, and batsman Salman Butt, is still one of the favorites to win this year.

Bangladesh, led by captain Shakib Al Hasan, is a team loaded with Muslim talent as well. Afghanistan is one of the Cinderella stories of the tournament. While they aren’t expected to contend for the title, they have ascended despite minimal facilities and training to establish their place on the big stage.

Several Muslim players have risen to prominence on other teams as well. Yusuf Pathan and Zaheer Khan are major players on the Indian team. Hashim Amla plies his wares as a batsman for South Africa but fell just short of this year’s T20 team. And Ajmal Shahzad is a rising all-rounder on the British team.

So, as the wickets start falling, watch for Muslim cream to rise to the top of the cricket ranks at this year’s ICC T20 World Cup.

12-19

Kandaharis Want Peace Talks

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

2010-05-05T121705Z_1095639419_GM1E6551KBZ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan women clad in burqas and a child receive food aid in Kabul May 5, 2010. The Afghan Ministry of Defense distributed food aid such as wheat, cooking oil, sugar and beans to 220 poor families.

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

An opinion survey of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province funded by the U.S. Army has revealed that 94 percent of respondents support negotiating with the Taliban over military confrontation with the insurgent group and 85 percent regard the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.”

The survey, conducted by a private U.S. contractor last December, covered Kandahar City and other districts in the province into which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is planning to introduce more troops in the biggest operation of the entire war. Those districts include Arghandab, Zhari, rural Kandahar, and Panjwayi.

Afghan interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control.

The decisive rejection of the use of foreign troops against the Taliban by the population in Kandahar casts further doubt on the fundamental premise of the Kandahar campaign, scheduled to begin in June, that the population and tribal elders in those districts would welcome a U.S.-NATO troop presence to expel the Taliban.

That assumption was dealt a serious blow at a meeting on April 4 at which tribal elders from all over Kandahar told President Hamid Karzai they were not happy with the planned military operation.

An unclassified report on the opinion survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a Washington-based “strategic communications” company under contract for the Human Terrain Systems program in Afghanistan. A link to the report was first provided by the Web site Danger Room which reported the survey April 16.

Ninety-one percent of the respondents supported the convening of a “Loya Jirga,” or “grand assembly” of leaders as a way of ending the conflict, with 54 percent “strongly” supporting it, and 37 percent “somewhat” supporting it. That figure appears to reflect support for President Karzai’s proposal for a “peace Jirga” in which the Taliban would be invited to participate.

The degree to which the population in the districts where McChrystal plans to send troops rejects military confrontation and believes in a peaceful negotiated settlement is suggested by a revealing vignette recounted by Time magazine’s Joe Klein in the April 15 issue.

Klein accompanied U.S. Army Capt. Jeremiah Ellis when he visited a 17-year-old boy in Zhari district whose house Ellis wanted to use an observation post. When Ellis asked the boy how he thought the war would end, he answered, “Whenever you guys get out from here, things will get better.”

“The elders will sit down with the Taliban, and the Taliban will lay down their arms.”

The Kandahar offensive seems likely to dramatize the contrast between the U.S. insistence on a military approach to the Taliban control of large parts of southern Afghanistan and the overwhelming preference of the Pashtun population for initiating peace negotiations with the Taliban as Karzai has proposed.

Ironically, highlighting that contradiction in the coming months could encourage President Barack Obama to support Karzai’s effort to begin negotiations with the Taliban now rather than waiting until mid-2011, as the U.S. military has been advocating since last December.

Obama told a meeting of his “war cabinet” last month that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have opposed any move toward negotiations until Gen. McChrystal is able to demonstrate clear success in weakening the Taliban.

The Taliban ruling council has taken advantage of the recent evidence of contradictions between Pashtuns in Kandahar and the U.S. military over the Kandahar offensive by signaling in an interview with the Sunday Times of London that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

In a meeting in an unidentified Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan reported Sunday, two Taliban officials told the newspaper that Omar’s aims were now limited to the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners, and the restoration of security. It was the first major signal of interest in negotiations since the arrest of Mullah Omar’s second in command, Mullah Baradar, in late January.

The report of the Glevum survey revealed that more people in Kandahar regard checkpoints maintained by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) and ANA and ANP vehicles as the biggest threat to their security while traveling than identified either Taliban roadside bombs or Taliban checkpoints as the main threat.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in the survey said the biggest threat to their security while traveling were the ANA and ANP checkpoints on the road, and 56 percent said ANA/ANP vehicles were the biggest threat. Only 44 percent identified roadside bombs as the biggest threat – the same percentage of respondents who regard convoys of the International Security Assistance Force – the NATO command under Gen. McChrystal – as the primary threat to their security.

Only 37 percent of the respondents regarded Taliban checkpoints as the main threat to their security.

In Kandahar City, the main target of the coming U.S. military offensive in Kandahar, the gap between perceptions of threats to travel security from government forces and from the Taliban is even wider.

Sixty-five percent of the respondents in Kandahar City said they regard ANA/ANP checkpoints as the main threat to their security, whereas roadside bombs are the main problem for 42 percent of the respondents.

The survey supports the U.S. military’s suspicion that the transgressions of local officials of the Afghan government, who are linked mainly to President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar province council and the main warlord in the province, have pushed the population into the arms of the Taliban.

An overwhelming 84 percent of the respondents agreed that corruption is the main cause of the conflict, and two-thirds agreed that government corruption “makes us look elsewhere.” That language used in the questionnaire was obviously intended to allow respondents to hint that they were supporting the Taliban insurgents in response to the corruption, without saying so explicitly.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) endorsed the statement that the Taliban are “incorruptible.”

“Corruption” is a term that is often understood to include not only demands for payments for services and passage through checkpoints but violence by police against innocent civilians.

The form of government corruption that has been exploited most successfully by the Taliban in Kandahar is the threat to destroy opium crops if the farmers do not pay a large bribe. The survey did not ask any questions about opium growing and Afghan attitudes toward the government and the Taliban, although that was one of the key questions that Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the head of intelligence for Gen. McChrystal, had sought clarification of.

12-19

The Pakistani (Acting) Consul General For the West Coast of the United States

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Muhammad Khalid Ejaz

Los Angeles–April 10th–My last two articles came out of a discussion with the Indian (former) Ambassador to Afghanistan.  I was fortunate to hear a speech of the (Acting) Consul-General of Pakistan to the Western United State at the South Asian Studies Association (S.A.S.A) banquet here at U.S.C. (the University of Southern California).  His comments balanced those of Ambassador Maukapadya in Berkeley a month before.

Dr. Ejaz stated that Pakistan was the fifth most populous country in the world, but because of political disruptions over the land, (there has not been an accurate census since 1991, but it is safe to say that in early 1994, the inhabitants of Pakistan were appropriately estimated at 126 million, making it the ninth most populous country in the world although its land area, however, ranks thirty-second among nations.  Thus, Pakistan, then, had about 2 percent of the world’s population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world’s land. The population growth rate is among the world’s highest, officially assessed at 3.1 percent per annum, but privately considered to be closer to 3.3 percent for each year. Pakistan is assumed to have reached 150 million citizens ten years ago, and to have contributed to 4 percent of the world’s growth which is predicted to double by 2022.)  All this past paragraph demonstrates is that the  Consul-General’s approximation of Pakistan’s place in population today in relation to the demographics of the world probably is close to correct.

Strategically, his nation is at the intersection of four vital locales to the U.S. and to the developing world.  That is both Central and South Asia, and the Middle East and with China on its border connected by the Karkoram Highway.  Several of these regions are either oil/gas rich, or require Pakistan’s help to transport this energy to their ever-expanding economies.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Rawapindi was America’s most allied of (trusted) allies.  Now, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) fulfills that function for Washington. 

In the 1980s, the two countries joined forces to help defeat the Russians in Afghanistan, but the District of Columbia deserted not only the Pakistanis, (but the Afghani and foreign fighters in the Hindu Kush Mountains. With the retreat of the Russians, and the collapse of their empire [the U.S.S.R, or [the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic], and [the whole “Second World” with it]), a five-way Civil War developed in Afghanistan, and eventually the rise of Taliban.) 

Thus, (your author consigns the blame the roots of 9/11 on the Reagan Administration ill-advised policy of not providing development aid and skills to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This, in turn, has lead to our current War in the Pakistani-Afghanistani Mountains.  That is why your writer designates Reagan to have been one of the worst of American Presidents instead of one of the best which the vulgar declare him to be in the Metropole [the Center of Empire] here.  Besides Washington’s airport being named after, there is a movement to put his face on the fifty dollar bill!).

After the ninth of 9th of September 2001 Islamabad was (forced) to become a front line State once again.  Ejaz asserted our allied relationship with the U.S.A. should evolve into a more equitable one.  We should have a “normalized” relationship with both those in the West, (and with the Taliban)!

We (Pakistan) are, also, under the threat of terrorism whose roots reside along the Durand Line.  It is a porous border that dives a subnationality (the Pashtoons) that should have a right to regularly cross that frontier to visit their relatives on the other side!  We cannot seal the borderland where the tribes exist in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It is true, though, many things that happen on the Afghani side of the border deeply impact the Northwest Frontier Provinces.

With this porous borderland, there are fighters who cross into our country for sanctuary.  Thus, despite the West’s accusations, Rawalpindi has suffered high casualties!  Muhammad Khalid Ejaz called on the U.S.A. to become more involved with development in the Af-Pak territories.  There is a serious problem between Pakistan and India, too, over water rights; the great powers could help negotiate this.  Still, Pakistan, as a nuclear power, has issues with nuclear India.  He affirmed that Kashmir can be settled!

He concluded that the U.S.A. has a role in the Afghan conflict, but the tribes have to have their traditional rights of cross-border movement.

12-19

Taliban for Peace?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Supreme Leader Signals Willingness To Talk Peace

By Stephen Grey in Kandahar

AFGHANISTAN/

Taliban fighters pose in front of a burning German military vehicle in Isaa Khail village of Char Dara district of the northern Kunduz Province April 3, 2010. Three German soldiers were killed and five others seriously injured in fighting in Kunduz, the German Army Command in Potsdam said on Friday.

REUTERS/Wahdat

April 18, 2010 “The Times” — The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has indicated that he and his followers may be willing to hold peace talks with western politicians.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, two of the movement’s senior Islamic scholars have relayed a message from the Quetta shura, the Taliban’s ruling council, that Mullah Omar no longer aims to rule Afghanistan. They said he was prepared to engage in “sincere and honest” talks.

A senior US military source said the remarks reflected a growing belief that a “breakthrough” was possible. “There is evidence from many intelligence sources [that] the Taliban are ready for some kind of peace process,” the source said.

At a meeting held at night deep inside Taliban-controlled territory, the Taliban leaders told this newspaper that their military campaign had only three objectives: the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners and the restoration of security.

“[Mullah Omar] is no longer interested in being involved in politics or government,” said Mullah “Abdul Rashid”, the elder of the two commanders, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity.

“All the mujaheddin seek is to expel the foreigners, these invaders, from our country and then to repair the country’s constitution. We are not interested in running the country as long as these things are achieved.”

The interview was conducted by a reputable Afghan journalist employed by The Sunday Times with two members of the shura that directs Taliban activity across the whole of southern Afghanistan, including Helmand and Kandahar provinces. It was arranged through a well established contact with the Taliban’s supreme leadership.

Looking back on five years in government until they were ousted after the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, the Taliban leaders said their movement had become too closely involved in politics.

Abdul Rashid said: “We didn’t have the capability to govern the country and we were surprised by how things went. We lacked people with either experience or technical expertise in government.

“Now all we’re doing is driving the invader out. We will leave politics to civil society and return to our madrasahs [religious schools].”

The Taliban’s position emerged as an American official said colleagues in Washington were discussing whether President Barack Obama could reverse a long-standing US policy and permit direct American talks with the Taliban.

If the Taliban’s military aims no longer included a takeover of the Afghan government, this would represent “a major and important shift”, the US official said.

The Taliban objectives specified on their website had already shifted, Nato officials said, from the overthrow of the “puppet government” to the more moderate goal of establishing a government wanted by the Afghan people.

In the interview, the two leaders insisted that reports of contact between the Taliban and the Kabul government were a “fraud” and stemmed from claims made by “charlatans”. Up to now, no officially sanctioned talks have taken place, they said.

They laid down no preconditions for substantive negotiations, saying simply that the Taliban were ready for “honest dialogue”. Another Taliban source with close links to the Quetta shura said the movement was willing to talk directly to “credible” western politicians, including Americans, but not to intelligence agencies such as the CIA.

This source said that although the Taliban’s unwavering objective remained the withdrawal of all foreign troops, their preconditions for talks might now be limited to guarantees of security for their delegates and a Nato ceasefire.

According to a Nato intelligence source, Taliban representatives have established direct contact with several ministers in President Hamid Karzai’s government. But they refuse to have any direct contact with Karzai, whom they regard as an “illegitimate puppet”.

During an interview that lasted for several hours and was interrupted only by the coming and going of messengers on motorbikes, our reporter heard nothing from the Taliban leaders to suggest that the movement was weary of war, as some western analysts have claimed.

Instead, he was told that the Taliban believe they are winning and are able to negotiate from a position of strength. Asked about a forthcoming Nato offensive in the Kandahar region, a local Taliban commander who sat alongside the two scholars boasted: “We’re ready for this. We’re going to break the Americans’ teeth.”

The Taliban leaders said that lessons had been learnt from Nato’s last big offensive in the Marjah area of Helmand province earlier this year. When Nato gave advance notice of the operation, the Taliban were lured into sending too many fighters to the area, some of whom died.

The leaders said that in Kandahar a plan to counter Nato had already been prepared.

“There will be no surprise there,” said Abdul Rashid. “We have our people inside all positions in the city, in the government and the security forces.”

He added that America already had enough problems “to haunt her” and fighting in Kandahar would only turn more people against it.

“People don’t trust the foreigners because they are backing the warlords. People are fed up with crime and brutality and that’s a big problem for the Americans. We’re well positioned, with supporters everywhere.”

As they prepare for the traditional summer fighting season, the Taliban leaders are placing as much emphasis as Nato on winning the hearts and minds of the population.

Abdul Rashid said there had been Taliban commanders who had financed their campaigns by taking bribes to give safe passage to Nato supply convoys or from drug smugglers. But the Taliban’s leadership had ordered a halt to this.

“What we do is not for a worldly cause — it is for the sake of Allah. More important than the fighting for us now is the process of purification. We are getting rid of all the rotten apples,” he said.

12-17

Negotiating with the Taliban?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.

12-17

US Puppet Cuts His Strings

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Thwarted by the American government on compromise with Taliban, Karzai has begun openly defying his patrons

By Eric Margolis

2010-03-31T115509Z_01_BTRE62U0X4200_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN-OBAMA

U.S. President Barack Obama inspects a guard of honor with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, March 28, 2010.

REUTERS/Jim Young  

April 11, 2010 “Toronto Sun” — Henry Kissinger once observed that it was more dangerous being America’s ally than its enemy.

The latest example: the U.S.-installed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who is in serious hot water with his really angry patrons in Washington.

The Obama administration is blaming the largely powerless Karzai, a former CIA “asset,” for America’s failure to defeat the Taliban. Washington accused Karzai of rigging last year’s elections. True enough, but the U.S. pre-rigged the Afghan elections by excluding all parties opposed to western occupation.

Washington, which supports dictators and phoney elections across the Muslim world, had the chutzpah to blast Karzai for corruption and rigging votes. This while the Pentagon was engineering a full military takeover of Pakistan.

The Obama administration made no secret it wanted to replace Karzai. You could almost hear Washington crying, “Bad puppet! Bad puppet!”

Karzai fired back, accusing the U.S. of vote-rigging. He has repeatedly demanded the U.S. military stop killing so many Afghan civilians.

Next, Karzai dropped a bombshell, asserting the U.S. was occupying Afghanistan to dominate the energy-rich Caspian Basin region, not because of the non-existent al-Qaida or Taliban. Karzai said Taliban was “resisting western occupation.” The U.S. will soon have 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 dragooned NATO troops.

Karzai even half-jested he might join Taliban.

Washington had apoplexy. A vicious propaganda campaign was unleashed against Karzai. The New York Times, a mouthpiece for the Obama administration and ardent backer of the Afghan war, all but called for the overthrow of Karzai and his replacement by a compliant general.

An American self-promoter, Peter Galbraith, who had been fired from his job with the UN in Kabul, was trotted out to tell media that Karzai might be both a drug addict and crazy.

Behind this ugly, if also comical, spat lay a growing divergence between Afghans and Washington. After 31 years of conflict, nearly three million dead, millions more refugees and frightful poverty, Afghans yearn for peace.

For the past two years, Karzai and his warlord allies have been holding peace talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.

Karzai knows the only way to end the Afghan conflict is to enfranchise the nation’s Pashtun majority and its fighting arm, the Taliban. Political compromise with the Taliban is the only – and inevitable – solution.

But the Obama administration, misadvised by Washington neocons and other hardliners, is determined to “win” a military victory in Afghanistan (whatever that means) to save face as a great power and impose a settlement that leaves it in control of strategic Afghanistan.

Accordingly, the U.S. thwarted Karzai’s peace talks by getting Pakistan, currently the recipient of $7 billion in U.S. cash, to arrest senior Taliban leaders sheltering there who had been part of the ongoing peace negotiations with Kabul.

It was Karzai’s turn to be enraged. So he began openly defying his American patrons and adopting an independent position. The puppet was cutting his strings.

Karzai’s newfound boldness was due to the fact that both India and China are eager to replace U.S./British/NATO domination of Afghanistan. India is pouring money, arms and agents into Afghanistan and training government forces. China, more discreetly, is moving in to exploit Afghanistan’s recently discovered mineral wealth that, says Karzai, is worth $1 trillion, according to a U.S. government geological survey.

Russia, still smarting from its 1980s defeat in Afghanistan, is watching America’s travails there with rich enjoyment and not a little yearning for revenge. Moscow has its own ambitions in Afghanistan.

This column has long suggested Karzai’s best option is to distance himself from American tutelage and demand the withdrawal of all foreign occupation forces.

Risky business, of course. Remember Kissinger’s warning. Karzai could end up dead. But he could also become a national hero and best candidate to lead an independent Afghanistan that all ethnic groups could accept.

Alas, the U.S. keeps making the same mistake of seeking obedient clients rather than democratic allies who are genuinely popular and legitimate.

12-16

Pak MP’s Refuse Body Scan

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah-Mehmood-Qureshi
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

Pakistani MPs abandon US visit over body scanning

Pakistani lawmakers belonging to different political parties have refused to visit the United States amid a row over body scanning at American airports.

A senior member of the Pakistani Parliament told Press TV on condition of anonymity that 18 lawmakers had rejected official invitation extended by the US embassy in Islamabad.

The lawmakers say they would not visit the US until their exemption from scanning at US airports.

Earlier this month, a six-member Pakistani parliamentary delegation, protesting full body scanning in Washington, cut short their official US visit immediately to return home.

The US state department had invited them to Washington to discuss security in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

The X-ray machines show naked images of passengers.

Under the new rules, citizens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive an extra check of their body and carry-on bags before boarding a plane.

12-15

US Anger at Election Claims Prompt Karzai Call

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Agencies

2010-04-07T124306Z_01_BTRE63417OR00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-AFGHANISTAN-KARZAI

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a shura, or meeting, in Kandahar city April 4, 2010.

REUTERS/Golnar Motevalli

The United States has rejected President Hamid Karzai’s anti-foreigner outburst as “troubling” and “preposterous”, prompting a hurried effort by the Afghan leader to make amends, Agence France-Presse reported.

Officials said Karzai did not specifically apologise during a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday, but expressed “surprise” at the furor over his claim that foreigners orchestrated election fraud.

The row came just a few days after President Barack Obama made an unannounced trip to Kabul to press Karzai on tackling corruption and to demand progress on good governance, as Washington’s troop surge strategy unfolds against the Taliban.

The new confrontation will only raise doubts about the fragile relationship between the Obama administration and Karzai, whom Washington is forced to consider a partner despite distaste for his political record.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called Karzai’s comments “troubling” and “cause for real and genuine concern”. Gibbs noted the huge US military and political resources – and sacrifices – committed to Afghanistan.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, meanwhile, described Karzai’s intervention as “preposterous”. US Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry also met with Karzai in person to seek clarification on his comments on Thursday.

The Afghan leader then initiated the call to Clinton and expressed “surprise that his comments had created what he called a stir,” a US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Generally we were happy with the call and we’re moving on,” the official added.

Crowley called the conversation a “constructive” one as Washington and Kabul seek to defuse tense relations.

“President Karzai reaffirmed his commitment to the partnership between our two countries, and expressed his appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the international community,” he said, adding that Karzai and Clinton “pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership”. But the Obama administration scrapped a planned Karzai visit to Washington last month after he gave himself full control over the electoral commission. In another snub to the United States, he then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Afghanistan.

The Afghan leader drew fierce global condemnation for his speech on Thursday.

“There was fraud in presidential and provincial council elections – no doubt that there was a very widespread fraud, very widespread,” Karzai told Afghan election commission workers in Kabul.

“But Afghans did not do this fraud. The foreigners did this fraud,” he added, accusing other countries of interfering in his country’s domestic affairs.

He also claimed that such moves risked the 126,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan being seen as “invaders” – terminology used by the Taliban – and the nine-year insurgency as “a national resistance”. Afghan analysts suggested Karzai had lost control after being criticised by Obama and angered by the Afghan parliament, and noted the statements could signal a shift in foreign policy.

Afghan soldiers killed

German troops based in north Afghanistan mistakenly killed at least five Afghan soldiers, NATO forces said on Saturday, hours after the Germans lost three of their own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents, Reuters reported.

A statement from NATO said that on Friday evening a unit of German soldiers was approached by two unmarked civilian vehicles which failed to stop when troops signalled them “using a variety of methods” in the northern province of Kunduz.

“The force eventually fired on the vehicles killing at least five Afghan soldiers … Initial reports indicate that the two civilian cars were part of an Afghan national army patrol en route to Kunduz,” NATO-led forces said in a statement.

A NATO spokesman later said it was unclear if the vehicles were civilian and the alliance was investigating the matter.

Hours before the incident, three German soldiers were killed in a gunfight with insurgents. The unit of German troops that killed the Afghan soldiers were on their way to the scene of that gunfight, when they came across the Afghan soldiers, NATO said.

Earlier, the governor of Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, said he had been to a hospital in the province and saw the bodies of six Afghan soldiers who had been killed in the incident, which happened near Char Dara district.

Opinion polls show most Germans oppose Berlin’s involvement in the Afghan war.

Opposition spiked after a German-ordered US air strike in a village in Kunduz in September killed scores of people, at least 30 of them civilians according to the Afghan government, the deadliest incident involving German troops since World War II.

Germany is the third-largest NATO contributor to the war with some 4,300 troops in Afghanistan, most in northern Kunduz where Taliban attacks and strength have increased over the past year. Germany’s parliament has agreed to send a further 850 soldiers.

12-15

Negotiations with Taliban? (Part 1)

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–March 15th–Gautam Mukhopadhaya is a career diplomat in the Union of India’s Department of External Affairs (i.e., Foreign Service). He was their Ambassador Embassy to Kabul for the first time after the Taliban victory during the 1990s.  When, after the 200l American onslaught, the Indian federation deemed it safe enough to re-establish a presence in the Hindu Kush.  In many ways, New Delhi is more of a negative influence than a positive one in that area, for they have exacerbated the Indo-Pak rivalry as it was slowly cooling down.  Succinctly, your essayist sees New Delhi pulling a geopolitical pincher movement.  Rawalpindi has moved significant Divisions of their Army into new areas facing India’s Western frontier that previously Pakistan did not judge to be essential to their security.  This, curiously, has hurt the military their campaign in the Durand borderlands, for the Pak COAS (Commander of the Army Staff) has decided to move a significant numbers of his military to counter the new Indian concentrations.  Further, your author’s sources have informed him that there is a  very secret “War” being waged between the Pakistani ISI (Inner Services Intelligence) and the Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) within Afghanistan itself destabilizing the efforts of foreign forces (NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and especially Washington).

Although (Indo-) Bharat is not an Islamic-majority country, it is the second most populous (“culturally”) Muslim land in the world.  Although he has a Hindu name, (Former) Ambassador Mukhopadhaya was raised in Calcutta, which is within the eastern (Indian) state of West Bengal, and borders the Islamic-majority nation of Bangladesh.  Slightly over a quarter of Indian (West) Bengalis are Muslims, which must have given him a great sensitivity for — and knowledge of — the Afghanistani Muslims, for he was the first Indian chief envoy to be appointed there after the fall of the Talibani State in 2002.

He made a notation which your reporter has heard from other knowledgeable people in field:  Iraq was/is a War of choice for the U.S.A. while Afghanistan is one of necessity.

Mukhopadhaya observed that President Barrick Obama of the United States of America is beginning the second year of his Afghan Policy.  Obama is now considering negotiations with the Taliban!  His Excellency America perceives Pakistan as aggravating the War in Afghanistan, for the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives that the province Peshawar rules has not pursued the Taliban and Al-Qaida with the zeal for which they the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hoped, (but the causality figures of Pakistani Army in the N.W.P. [the Northwest Provinces] belie the accuracy of his Excellency’s analysis.) 

The Obama Administration views not only the Pakistanis but the  Indians as “spoilers!”  Yet, whatever, the U.S. War effort entails, the assistance of Pakistan’s COAS, General Ashram Parvez (Kayani) and his staff, the North Americans with their European allies cannot do alone, for the regional nation-states are long-term stakeholders within their topography! 

12-15

Thousands Take to the Streets to Demand: U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq now…

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

On Saturday, thousands of people converged at the White House for the March 20 March on Washington—the largest anti-war demonstration since the announcement of the escalation of the Afghanistan war. By the time the march started at 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled up to 10,000 protesters.

Transportation to Washington, D.C., was organized from over 50 cities in 20 states. Demonstrators rallied and marched shoulder to shoulder to demand “U.S. Out of Iraq and Afghanistan Now,” “Free Palestine,” “Reparations for Haiti” and “No sanctions against Iran” as well as “Money for jobs, education and health care!”

Speakers at the Washington rally represented a broad cross section of the anti-war movement, including veterans and military families, labor, youth and students, immigrant right groups, and the Muslim and Arab American community.

Following the rally, a militant march led by veterans, active-duty service members and military families made its way through the streets of D.C. carrying coffins draped in Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, Somali, Yemeni, Haitian and U.S. flags, among those of other countries, as a symbol of the human cost of war and occupation. Coffins were dropped off along the way at Halliburton, the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and other institutions connected to the war profiteering, propaganda, and human suffering. The final coffin drop-off was at the White House—the decision-making center of U.S. imperialism.

The demonstration received substantial media coverage. It was featured in a major story on page A3 on the Sunday Washington Post (click here to read it). An Associated Press article on the March on Washington was picked up by a large number of newspapers and media outlets in the United States and abroad.

Joint demonstrations in San Francisco and Los Angeles drew 5,000 protesters each.

In San Francisco, the demonstration included the participation of UNITE HERE Local 2 hotel workers, who are presently fighting for a contract; students, teachers and parents who have been organizing against education budget cutbacks; and community members and activists who have been engaged in a struggle to stop fare hikes and service cuts.

In Los Angeles, demonstrators marched through the streets of Hollywood carrying not only coffins but also large tombstones that read “R.I.P. Health care / Jobs / Public Education / Housing,” to draw attention to the economic war being waged against working-class people at home in order to fund the wars abroad. Essential social services are being slashed to pay for the largest defense budget in history.

The March 20 demonstrations mark a new phase for the anti-war movement. A new layer of activists joined these actions in large numbers, including numerous youth and students from multinational, working-class communities. A sharp connection was drawn between the wars abroad and the war against working people at home. Though smaller than the demonstrations of 2007, this mobilization was larger than the demonstration last year—the first major anti-war action under the Obama administration. The real-life experience of the past year has shown that what we need is not a change in the presidency, but a change in the system that thrives on war, militarism and profits.

These demonstrations were a success thanks to the committed work of thousands of organizers and volunteers around the country. They raised funds, spread the word through posters and flyers, organized buses and other transportation, and carried out all the work that was needed on the day of the demonstration. We took to the streets in force even as the government tried to silence us with tens of thousands of dollars in illegal fines for postering in Washington, D.C., and felony charges against activists for postering in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We want to especially thank all those who made generous donations for this mobilization. Without those contributions, we could not have carried out this work.
March 20 was an important step forward for the anti-war movement. We must continue to build on this momentum in the months ahead. Your donation will help us recover much-needed funds that helped pay for this weekend’s successful demonstration, as well as prepare for the actions to come.

12-14

Interview of Arundhati Roy

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

…on Obama’s Wars, India and Why Democracy Is “The Biggest Scam in the World”

New York, NY: Guest: Arundhati Roy, award-winning Indian writer and renowned global justice activist. Her latest book is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. Her most recent article is published in the Indian magazine Outlook called Walking with the Comrades.

ANJALI KAMAT: We spend the rest of the hour with acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy on the dark underbelly of India, a country that prides itself on being known as the world’s largest democracy? Earlier this month, when Forbes published its annual list of the world’s billionaires, the Indian press reported with some delight that two of their countrymen had made it to the coveted list of the ten richest individuals in the world. Meanwhile, thousands of Indian paramilitary troops and police are fighting a war against some of its poorest inhabitants living deep in the country’s so-called tribal belt. Indian officials say more than a third of the country, mostly mineral-rich forest land, is partially or completely under the control of Maoist rebels, also known as Naxalites. India’s prime minister has called the Maoists the country’s “gravest internal security threat.” According to official figures, nearly 6,000 people have died in the past seven years of fighting, more than half of them civilians. The government’s new paramilitary offensive against the Maoists has been dubbed Operation Green Hunt.

Well, earlier this month, the leader of the Maoist insurgency, Koteswar Rao, or Kishenji, invited the Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy to mediate in peace talks with the government. Soon after, India’s Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, criticized Roy and others who have publicly called state violence against Maoists, quote, “genocidal.”

G.K. PILLAI: If the Maoists are murderers, please call the Maoists murderers. Why is it that if Maoists murders in West Midnapore last year from June to December 159 innocent civilians, I don’t see any criticism of that? I can call it—159, if government have done it, a lot of people would have gone and said it’s genocide. Why is that not genocide by the Maoists?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Arundhati Roy recently had a rare journalistic encounter with the armed guerrillas in the forests of central India. She spent a few weeks traveling with the insurgency deep in India’s Maoist heartland and wrote about their struggle in a 20,000-word essay published this weekend in the Indian magazine Outlook. It’s called “Walking with the Comrades.”

We’re joined now here in New York by the world-renowned author and global justice activist. She won the Lennon Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize in 2002 and is the author of a number of books, including the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things. Her latest collection of essays, published by Haymarket, is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

Arundhati Roy, welcome to Democracy Now!

ARUNDHATI ROY: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go into the very interesting journey you took, you arrive here on the seventh anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. You were extremely outspoken on the war and have continued to be. I remember seeing you at Riverside Church with the great Howard Zinn, giving a speech against the war. What are your thoughts now, seven years in? And how it’s affected your continent, how it’s affected India?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think the—you know, the saddest thing is that when the American elections happened and you had all the rhetoric of, you know, change you can believe in, and even the most cynical of us watched Obama win the elections and did feel moved, you know, watching how happy people were, especially people who had lived through the civil rights movement and so on, and, you know, in fact what has happened is that he has come in and expanded the war. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and took an opportunity to justify the war. It was as though those tears of the black people who watched, you know, a black man come to power were now cut and paste into the eyes of the world’s elite watching him justify war.

And from where I come from, it’s almost—you know, you think that they probably don’t even understand what they’re doing, the American government. They don’t understand what kind of ground they stand on. When you say things like “We have to wipe out the Taliban,” what does that mean? The Taliban is not a fixed number of people. The Taliban is an ideology that has sprung out of a history that, you know, America created anyway.

Iraq, the war is going on. Afghanistan, obviously, is rising up in revolt. It’s spilled into Pakistan, and from Pakistan into Kashmir and into India. So we’re seeing this superpower, in a way, caught in quicksand with a conceptual inability to understand what it’s doing, how to get out or how to stay in. It’s going to take this country down with it, for sure, you know, and I think it’s a real pity that, in a way, at least George Bush was so almost obscene in his stupidity about it, whereas here it’s smoke and mirrors, and people find it more difficult to decipher what’s going on. But, in fact, the war has expanded.

ANJALI KAMAT: And Arundhati, how would you explain India’s role in the expanding US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? This is a climate of very good relations between India and the United States.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, India’s role is—India’s role is one of, at the moment, trying to position itself, as it keeps saying, as the natural ally of Israel and the US. And India is trying very hard to maneuver itself into a position of influence in Afghanistan. And personally, I believe that the American government would be very happy to see Indian troops in Afghanistan. It cannot be done openly, because it would just explode, you know, so there are all kinds of ways in which they are trying to create a sphere of influence there. So the Indian government is deep into the great game, you know, there, and of course the result is, you know, attacks in Kashmir and in Mumbai, not directly related to Afghanistan, but of course there’s a whole history of this kind of maneuvering that’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: For an American audience, and perhaps for an audience just outside of the region, if you could really talk to us about an area you’ve been focusing a great deal on, of course, and that is Kashmir. Most people here know it as a sweater. That’s what they think of when they hear “Kashmir.”

ARUNDHATI ROY: OK, mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: So, starting there, if you can tell us what is going on there—even place it for us geographically.

ARUNDHATI ROY: OK. Well, Kashmir, as they say in India, you know, is the unfinished business in the partition of India and Pakistan. So, as usual, it was a gift of British colonialism. You know, they threw it at us as they walked—I mean, as they withdrew. So Kashmir used to be an independent kingdom with a Muslim majority ruled by a Hindu king. And during—at the time of partition in 1947, as there was—you know, as you know, almost a million people lost their lives, because this line that was drawn between India and Pakistan passed through villages and passed through communities, and as Hindus fled from Pakistan and Muslims fled from India, there was massacre on both sides.

And at that time, oddly enough, Kashmir was peaceful. But then, when all the independent princedoms in India and Pakistan were asked to actually accede either to India or Pakistan, but Kashmir, the king was undecided, and that indecision resulted in, you know, Pakistani troops and non-official combatants coming in. And the king fled to Jamu, and then he acceded to India. But he was—you know, there was already a movement for democracy within Kashmir at that time. Anyway, that’s the history.

But subsequently, there’s always been a struggle for independence or self-determination there, which in 1989 became an armed uprising and was put down militarily by India. And today, the simplest way of explaining the scale of what’s going on is that the US has 165,000 troops in Iraq, but the Indian government has 700,000 troops in the Kashmir valley—I mean, in Kashmir, security forces, you know, holding down a place with military might. And so, it’s a military occupation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to your travels in Kashmir, Arundhati Roy, award-winning Indian writer, renowned global justice activist. Her new book is a book of essays; it’s called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. She’s here in the United States for just a little while. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: ”Hum Dekhen Ge” by Iqbal Bano. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Anjali Kamat. Our guest for the rest of the hour, Arundhati Roy, the award-winning Indian writer, renowned global justice activist. Her latest book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

You recognize that music, Anjali?

ANJALI KAMAT: Yes, “Hum Dekhen Ge” by Iqbal Bano. Arundhati Roy, your latest article in Outlook, “Walking with the Comrades,” you end the piece by talking about this song that so many people rose up in Pakistan listening to this song, and you place it in a completely different context. Start by talking about what’s happening in the forests of India. What is this war that India is waging against some of the poorest people, people known as tribals, indigenous people, Adivasis? Who are the Maoists? What’s happening there? And how did you get there?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, it’s been going on for a while, but basically, you know, I mean, there is a connection. If you look at Afghanistan, Waziristan, you know, the northeast states of India and this whole mineral belt that goes from West Bengal through Jharkhand through Orissa to Chhattisgarh, what’s called the Red Corridor in India, you know, it’s interesting that the entire thing is a tribal uprising. In Afghanistan, obviously, it’s taken the form of a radical Islamist uprising. And here, it’s a radical left uprising. But the attack is the same. It’s a corporate attack, you know, on these people. The resistance has taken different forms.

But in India, this thing known as the Red Corridor, if you look at a map of India, the tribal people, the forests, the minerals and the Maoists are all stacked on top of each other. You know, so—and in the last five years, the governments of these various states have signed MOUs with mining corporations worth billions of dollars.

ANJALI KAMAT: Memoranda of understanding.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Memorandums of understanding. So as we say, it’s equally an MOU-ist corridor as it is a Maoist corridor, you know? And it was interesting that a lot of these MOUs were signed in 2005. And at that time, it was just after this Congress government had come to power, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced that the Maoists are India’s “gravest internal security threat.” And it was very odd that he should have said that then, because the Maoists had actually just been decimated in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I think they had killed something like 1,600 of them. But the minute he said this, the shares in the mining companies went up, because obviously it was a signal that the government was prepared to do something about this, and then started this assault on them, which ended up as Operation Green Hunt, which is where now tens of thousands of paramilitary troops are moving in to these tribal areas.

But before Operation Green Hunt, they tried another thing, which was that they armed a sort of tribal militia and backed by police in a state like Chhattisgarh, where I was traveling recently, they just went into the forest. This militia burned village after village after village, like something like 640 villages were, more or less, emptied. And it was—the plan was what’s known as strategic hamletting, which the Americans tried in Vietnam, which was first devised by the British in Malaya, where you try and force people to move into police wayside camps so that you can control them, and the villages are emptied so that the forests are open for the corporates to go.

And what happened actually was that out of the—in this area, in Chhattisgarh, out of, say, 350,000 people, about 50,000 people moved into the camps. Some were forced, some went voluntarily. And the rest just went off the government radar. Many of them went to other states to work as migrant labor, but many of them just continued to hide in the forests, unable to come back to their homes, but not wanting to leave. But the fact is that in this entire area, the Maoists have been there for thirty years, you know, working with people and so on. So it’s a very—it’s not a resistance that has risen up against mining. It preceded that a long time—you know, by a long time. So it’s very entrenched. And Operation Green Hunt has been announced because this militia, called the Salwa Judum, failed, so now they are upping the ante, because these MOUs are waiting. And the mining corporations are not used to being made to wait. You know, so there’s a lot of money waiting.

And, I mean, what I want to say is that we are not using this word “genocidal war” lightly or rhetorically. But I traveled in that area, and what you see is the poorest people of this country, who have been outside the purview of the state. There’s no hospital. There’s no clinic. There’s no education. There’s nothing, you know? And now, there’s a kind of siege, where people can’t go out of their villages to the market to buy anything, because the markets are full of informers who are pointing out, you know, this person is with the resistance and so on. There’s no doctors. There’s no medical help. People are suffering from extreme hunger, malnutrition. So it’s not just killing. You know, it’s not just going out there and burning and killing, but it’s also laying siege to a very vulnerable population, cutting them off from their resources and putting them under grievous threat. And this is a democracy, you know, so how do you do—how do you clear the land for corporates in a democracy? You can’t actually go and murder people, but you create a situation in which they either have to leave or they starve to death.

ANJALI KAMAT: In your piece, you describe the people you traveled with, the armed guerrillas, as Gandhians with guns. Can you talk about what you mean by that and how—what you think of the violence perpetrated by the Maoists?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, you know, this is a very sharp debate in India about—I mean, you know, even the sort of mainstream left and the liberal intellectuals are very, very suspicious of Maoists. And everybody should be suspicious of Maoists, because, you know, they do—they have had a very—a very difficult past, and there are a lot of things that their ideologues say which do put a chill down your spine.

But when I went there, I have to say, I was shocked at what I saw, you know, because in the last thirty years I think something has radically changed among them. And the one thing is that in India, people try and make this difference. They say there’s the Maoists, and then there’s the tribals. Actually, the Maoists are tribals, you know, and the tribals themselves have had a history of resistance and rebellion that predates Mao by centuries, you know? And so, I think it’s just a name, in a way. It’s just a name. And yet, without that organization, the tribal people could not have put up this resistance. You know, so it is complicated.

But when I went in, I lived with them for, you know, and I walked with them for a long time, and it’s an army that is more Gandhian than any Gandhian, that leaves a lighter footprint than any climate change evangelist. You know, and as I said, even their sabotage techniques are Gandhian. You know, they waste nothing. They live on nothing. And to the outside world—first of all, the media has been lying about them for a long time. A lot of the incidents of violence did not happen, you know, which I figured out. A lot of them did happen, and there was a reason for why they happened.

And what I actually wanted to ask people was, when you talk about nonviolent resistance—I myself have spoken about that. I myself have said that women will be the victims of an armed struggle. And when I went in, I found the opposite to be true. I found that 50 percent of the armed cadre were women. And a lot of the reason they joined was because for thirty years the Maoists had been working with women there. The women’s organization, which has 90,000 members, which is probably the biggest feminist organization in India, now all 90,000 of those women are surely Maoists, and the government has given itself the right to shoot on sight. So, are they going to shoot these 90,000 people?

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, the leader of the Maoists has asked you to be the negotiator, the mediator between them and the Indian government. What is your response?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Look, I wouldn’t be a good mediator. You know, that’s not my—those are not my skills. I think that somebody should do it, but I don’t think that it should be me, because I just have no idea how to mediate, you know? And I don’t think that we should be jumping into things that we don’t know much about. And I certainly—I did say that. You know, I mean, it’s—I don’t know why they mentioned my name, but I think there are people in India who have those skills and who could do it, because it’s very, very urgent that this Operation Green Hunt be called off. Very, very urgent, you know, but it would be silly for someone like me to enter that, because I think I’m too impatient. I’m too much of a maverick. You know, I don’t have those skills.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember, back to Kashmir, when President Obama was running for president, Senator Obama, in an interview, talked about Kashmir, and he talked about it as a kind of flashpoint, said that we have to resolve the situation between India—between India and Pakistan around Kashmir so that Pakistan can focus on the militants. Can you talk about it as being a flashpoint and what you think needs to be done there?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think, you know, unfortunately, the thing about Kashmir is that India and Pakistan act as though Kashmir is a problem. But really for them both, Kashmir is a solution. You know, Kashmir is where they play their dirty games. And they don’t want to solve it, because whenever they have, you know, internal problems, they can always pull up—pull this bunny out of the hat. So it’s really—I really think that these two countries are not going to solve it, you know?
And what is happening is that there is a population of people who have been suffering untold misery for so many years, you know, and once again so many lies have been told about it. The Indian media is just—the falsification that it’s involved with about Kashmir is unbelievable. Like two years ago—or was it last year? Two years ago, there was a massive uprising in Kashmir. I happened to be there at the time. I’ve never seen anything like this. You know, there were millions of people on the street all the time. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And they were rising up for?

ARUNDHATI ROY: They were rising up for independence. You know, they were rising up for independence. And then, that uprising was—you know, when they rose up with arms, that was wrong. When they rose up without arms, that was wrong, too.

And the way it was defused was with an election. An election was called. And then everybody was shocked, because there was a huge turnout at the elections. And all the—you know, we have many election experts in India who spend all their time in television studios analyzing the swing and this and that, but nobody said that all the leaders of the resistance were arrested. Nobody asked, what does it mean to have elections when there are 700,000 soldiers supervising every five meters, all the time, all year round? They don’t have to push people on the end of a bayonet to the voting booth, you know? Nobody talked about the fact that there was a lockdown in every constituency. Nobody wondered what does it mean to people who are under that kind of occupation. The fact that they need somebody to go to, you know, when someone disappears—or, you know, they need some representative.

So now, once again, the violence has started. You know? It’s a permanent sort of cycle where, obviously in the interest of geopolitical jockeying, any sense of morality is missing. And of course it’s very fashionable to say that, you know, there isn’t any morality involved in international diplomacy, but suddenly, when it comes to Maoists killing, morality just comes riding down on your head. You know, so people use it when they want to.

ANJALI KAMAT: And Arundhati, in both India and the United States, as these wars expand, as the military occupations, as you delineated, in Kashmir, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, as they expand, what is your message to antiwar activists, to peace activists around the world, here and in India? What do you think people need to be doing?

ARUNDHATI ROY: See, I think I just want to say one thing more, which is that in Kashmir, you have, as I said, 700,000 soldiers who have been turned into an administrative police force.

In India, where they don’t want to openly declare war against the Adivasis, you have a paramilitary police, which is being trained to be an army. So the police are turning into the army. The army is turning into the police. But to push through this growth rate, you know, you have basically this whole country is turning into a police state.

And I just want to say one thing about democracy. You know, in India, the elections—the elections were—they cost more than the American elections. Much more. This poor country costs much more. The most enthusiastic were the corporates. The members of parliament are—a majority of them are millionaires. If you look at the statistics, actually this big majority it has ten percent of the vote. The BBC had a campaign where they had posters of a dollar bill—$500 bill sort of molting into an Indian 500 rupee note with Ben Franklin on one end and Gandhi on the other. And it said, “Kya India ka vote bachayega duniya ka note?” meaning “Will the Indian vote save the market?” You know? So voters become consumers. It’s a kind of scam that’s going on.

So the first message I would have to peace activists is—I don’t know what that means, anyway. What does “peace” mean? You know, we may not need peace in this unjust society, because that’s a way of accepting injustice, you know? So what you need is people who are prepared to resist, but not just on a weekend, not peace but not just on the weekend. In countries like India, now just saying, “OK, we’ll march on Saturday, and maybe they’ll stop the war in Iraq.” But in countries like India, now people are really paying with their lives, with their freedom, with everything. I mean, it’s resistance with consequences now. You know, it cannot be—it cannot be something that has no consequences. You know? It may not have, but you’ve got to understand that in order to change something, you’ve got to take some risks now. You’ve got to come out and lay those dreams on the line now, because things have come to a very, very bad place there.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Her latest book is called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. I look forward to being with you and Noam Chomsky in Cambridge in a week.

12-13

Preconceptions, Misconceptions: Disaster in Afghanistan

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

PRECONCEPTIONS, MISCONEPTIONS AND “NO FEEDBACK LOOP” LEADS TO AMERICAN DISASTER IN AFGHANISTAN

By Gordon Duff

I have only recently returned from the region where I toured as a journalist and lecturer.  Our group included Jeff Gates, Raja Mugtaba, BG Asif Haroon Raja and BG Ali Raza and me of Veterans Today and Opinion Maker.  We met with some people we will not mention and many we can.  Prince Ali of Afghanistan had a delegation with us headed by Fayyaz Shah,  as advisors.  BG Ali Raza was primary coordinator on the ground for Pakistan during the “Charley Wilson War” against the Soviets.  No person has spent so much time “where he isn’t supposed to be” as General Ali Raza.  BG Asif Haroon Raja is Pakistan’s best known military analyst and author and an invaluable resource.

I would thank the Director General of the ISPR,  Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas and Director BG Syed Azmat Ali for their detailed briefing and great courtesy.

Background on the critical border regions was supplied by the former military head, BG Amir Gulistan Janjua.  His vast experience in the region was an invaluable aid to our understanding.  I would also thank Ahsan Rashid and Col. Javed Mujtaba for their advice, hospitality and analytical skills.

Our primary briefer and advisor for the region and constant correspondent is Admiral I A Sirohey, former Chairman, JCOS of Pakistan.  General Aslam Beg, former Army Chief of Staff and General Hamid Gul, former DG ISI, also briefed us extensively on military affairs.  These three, along with our companions, BG’s Raja and Ali, are the primary experts on regional military affairs and the Taliban.

We also want to thank Tarik Jan of the ISSI for his kind assistance.  I am leaving out two dozen names, some out of kindness.  Many political leaders met with us who normally would never see Americans.  We were treated with more than courtesy and kindness in some of the most unexpected places.

My close friends and personal advisors, Col. James Hanke, USA SF (ret) former Defense Attache to Israel and Fred Coward, former FBI counter-terrorism expert were a continual help.  Their knowledge and extensive contacts in the region were vital.

The question, of course, what did we learn?  Does anyone learn anything if weighed down by prejudiced, misconceptions or military and political theories based on flawed analyses or policies?  Our job is simply to listen, learn and use our best judgment.  Our responsibility is to be honest in our assessments.  The findings in this work are entirely my own.

The root of the problems in the region are historical in nature.  Unless you go back 200 years or more, something we aren’t doing here, nothing will make sense.  The region, Af-Pak, is a creation, primarily of Britain’s, seemingly created out of a design to stimulate instability and conflict to enable “the great game” Britain is famous for to be played, one side against the other.  In 1893, when Afghanistan and India/Pakistan were split by Durand, dividing tribes and even families, continual war was guaranteed.  In 1947, when Pakistan was created out of a group of peoples, roughly “Islamic” but otherwise unrelated, we were guaranteed even more instability.  Pakistan would be a combination of advanced culture, warlike tribes and resentful quasi-independent regions constantly at odds with their powerful neighbor, India.

The alliances that have defined the region, India and the Soviet Union, Pakistan and the United States (and China) and now, India and Israel and the United States(maybe Russia again and part of Afghanistan) and Pakistan and the United States (and China) have led to continual military buildups, including nuclear weapons and other advanced strategic technologies, all within a framework of acrimony and continual terrorism.

India, Israel, the United States, Afghanistan, China and Britain are all accused, on a daily basis, of coordinating terror attacks inside each country of the region, including Iran.  Accusations of training and arming terrorist groups, numbered in the dozens, perhaps the hundreds, in each of the countries involved, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, are continually voiced.  In the process, everyone denies involvement in the vast drug trade that has reemerged with the American occupation of Afghanistan and the vast network of corruption based primarily on what seems to be an American policy to stimulate waste.

Permanent war, in itself, has become the only business of the region, other than drug trafficking, with endless thousands of “contractors” from around the world flocking to the region to suck down the American dollars carelessly thrown at every imaginable perceived threat or ill, often with little or no consideration for end result or attempt at accounting.

This has brought American war planners to a number of disastrous conclusions about the area, ones that defy any historical or strategic model.  The gutting of the intellectual capabilities of American policy planners during the Bush administration, based on an overlay of an Evangelical Christian model, applied, not only to the Pentagon but intelligence services, State Department and many key decision making environments has left the United States unable to process and respond properly to feedback.  Thus, failed policies are replaced by untested experiments and short term fixes, none based on broad or sound analysis.

All advice comes from groups tied financially to the continuation of the war and even the destabilization of Pakistan.  One major unseen actor is Israel, whose powerful lobby in Washington is capable of making policy for the region.  Israel’s military alliance with India and extensive investment in the regions gas and oil industry is a major driver in, what has become a suicidal American effort.  With Israel benefitting from billions in arms contracts with the United States and India along with becoming a defacto “super power” of the region by proxy, their “special interest” and unique ability to use their control of media, their massive influence over the electoral process in the US and their long relationship with the Pentagon, continual regional conflict may be a hidden agenda.

Current American policies in the region, both military and economic, seem to prove this out.  All are doomed to eventual failure, seemingly purposely so and all are the result of reliance on advice from sectors profiting from war and destabilization, not only of the region, but of the United States itself.  It is a unique possibility that the series of ill conceived wars begun under the Bush administration may eventually bring about the economic collapse of the United States as had happened to the Soviet Union some years before.

Afghanistan

America claimed they came into Afghanistan seeking the terrorists who attacked on 9/11.  This is blatantly dishonest.  Osama bin Laden had been a guest of the Taliban for some time but had been put under severe restrictions by that group.  There is no evidence any terrorist organizations were being run by Bin Laden in Afghanistan and current intelligence has proven, despite “media” coverage to the contrary, that bin Laden had no involvement in 9/11.  Broad evidence exists that bin Laden died during the initial US attack in 2001.  All intelligence and informed opinion leads to this conclusion causing both embarrassment and consternation when “press driven” demands for a continued hunt for bin Laden come from the United States.

Less publicly, the United States has long accepted the death of bin Laden yet has spent millions of dollars and hundreds of lives in a dishonest attempt to keep a “branded” big name terrorist in front of the public. 

This has caused a general distrust of the United States among its military allies who, universally, believe that the phony “hunt for bin Laden” is proof, not of a need to resurrect a phony “boogieman” for public consumption but rather to create an artificial “icon” to cover massive corruption and a history of failure.

At the outset, America’s approach in Afghanistan was flawed.  Our dependence on the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords wishing to restore drug production, prohibited by the Taliban, to assist us led to establishing a regime in Kabul that was never accepted by the people of Afghanistan.  President Karzai, not only notoriously corrupt and weak but closely allied to India, would make an unlikely leader in a war requiring continual coordination with Pakistan, a country nearly as distrustful of Karzai as his own people.

The decision by the US to support Karzai, even after a rigged election and to build an army and national police force primarily out of tribal minorities from the Northern Alliance who are hated by the majority of Afghanis has led to the need for the current increase in American presence and the stalled military operations in Helmand, the nation’s primary opium producing region since 2001.  Current American plans to consider restructuring the massive national police force on regional ethnic lines is encouraging but doomed to failure.

Tribal traditions in Afghanistan are based on a system called Pashtunwali.  All judicial and police functions reside within a long established tribal structure, one that functioned well prior to the Soviet occupation and one which could be restored.  Replacing this with a “northern occupation” will only lead to continual warfare.

Gun Culture

The economy of Afghanistan is almost entirely non-existent.  Warring groups are living off American bribes, payments to allow supplies to pass unharmed to American forces or from taxes on the massive opium harvest.  With the destruction of tribal cohesion under the Russian backed government and the mining of Afghanistan, the traditional yearly migrations of the large pastoral population within Afghanistan has stopped.  This group, numbering as many as 15 million, are a recruiting ground for “gun culture.”

Replacing normal occupations, farming, husbandry or small industries is a vast number of fighters, many simple bandits and criminals but untold thousands fighting out of a belief they are opposing a foreign occupation.  Discerning the difference between the two and restoring a traditional economy to replace warlord-ism, drug production and mercenary activities is the only way of bringing about stability.  The cost of these programs, some of which the USAID is working on now, is low in comparison to military action.

However, too little is being done and, for every successful program, ten “boondoggle” programs are put in place, building useless projects with massive cost overruns and corruption.

Military Action

American military planners are currently trying a variety of approaches, including working with the Afghan army, a vast mercenary group, primarlily of the northern tribes that is, on the whole, both unsupportable economically and totally helpless when used in any independent capacity.  Afghanistan has a tradition of compulsory military service, a “people’s army” of lowly paid but highly motivated soldiers from every area of the nation.  These troops are paid as little as $5 per month but receive food subsidies for their families and extensive training in civilian trades as part of their service.

This successful system has been destroyed by the United States and the Karzai government, replaced with a “paid” professional army untrusted by any group within the country.  Pakistan fears that this army will fall under Indian command and threaten their borders and, perhaps, rightly so.  The model used is based on Blackwater, a private military contractor, not any national army.  The new national army in Afghanistan is quite likely to work for any group capable of paying them.  The nation of Afghanistan itself will never have that capability.

American efforts to occupy destabilized regions thru “civil affairs” operations used in Vietnam with some success can only function as they did in Vietnam, as part of a permanent occupation force which will be immediately replaced by an opposing “occupation force” of domestic fighters, the enemy, when Americans leave.  In fact, Taliban units simply melt into the civilian population when confronted by American forces beyond their capability of defeating.

Only the foreign fighters in Afghanistan, those who came to fight and die, continue action against the US forces under unfavorable conditions.  Others, trained in “irregular warfare” from birth, simply wait out America’s resolve, exactly as had happened in Vietnam.  Pentagon planners understand this, thus making our current efforts by cynical and deceitful.

America is unaware that most of the Taliban live in Pakistan.  The total number of Taliban exceeds 50 million, a number America and Pakistan can never fight successfully nor do they need to.  The vast majority of those the US considers enemy combatants can be rehabilitated, but not under programs currently being initiated by the United States.  The idea of paying “fighters” or members of the “gun culture” to stop resisting is hardly a thoughtful strategy but it is the one the United States has chosen.

There are forces that need to be defeated and that could be defeated by an Afghan army, a traditional force based on compulsory service and fighting for a government with wide support among the tribes, a government Afghanistan currently doesn’t have.

Current military operations are likely to recruit more fighters against the United States and the unpopular Karzai government and, as things are going, eventually lead to a wider conflict in Pakistan and the economic destruction of that nation, a vital US ally.   We are well along that road already and are more than well aware of it despite our protestations to the opposite and the total lack of media attention to any “reality based” assessment.

Economic development programs being enacted in Afghanistan are primarily based on supporting a corrupt culture and maintaining “cover” for the massive drug trade that powerful groups among all the players, Afghanistan, Israel, the United States, India and Pakistan, are growing immensely wealthy and powerful on.  A restructuring of the economies on both sides of the Durand Line separating Pashtun regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan along lines suggested by Imran Khan and Jeff Gates and groups supporting Prince Ali Seraj may be the best solution.

Simple “grass roots” development built on supporting and expanding traditional industries while providing improved delivery of educational and health care services is a start.  Only education of men and women can fight the cycle of extremism, broad public education delivered at village level within a social and economic environment supporting a traditional model.  These plans exist, are inexpensive and have broad support among nearly all tribal leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The only thing stopping their implementation is the current much more profitable and corrupt system that is creating a new ruling oligarchy based on American money and continual chaos.

Solutions?

They have always been there but real solutions have been opposed by those profiting off the war and the environment the war has created.  Too many with too much money and power want the wars to continue for too many reasons, including long term geopolitical goals unfavorable to the United States and Pakistan.  With a lack of strong leadership within the United States compounded by the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, US foreign policy will continue to be a “runaway train.”

The first step toward enacting known solutions would be getting real information to decision makers and keeping the American people properly informed.  Currently, media in the United States is so heavily skewed toward misinformation and propaganda that political accountability has nearly disappeared.  An systematically misinformed populace negates all concepts of democracy and representative government.   There can be no accountability and no national policy as long as the mechanisms for disinformation that have taken control of America’s news media exist.

Defacto control of Americas media by foreign nations and a cabal of corporations tied to the war economy has ended effective public participation in American policy and decision making and, in the process, ended Congress’s ability to oversee policy.  Grassroots movements in Afghanistan, while America remains the “prime mover” depend on restoration of similar authority in the United States.

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