Is Yemen the New Hot Spot for Terrorism Training?

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, Q&A, Aaron Glantz

Editor’s Note: Reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, was trained in Yemen have raised the specter of further U.S. military involvement in that country. To get a better sense of what’s going on in Yemen, NAM editor Aaron Glantz spoke with Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

2010-01-06T200542Z_440314731_GM1E6170BC301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN-QAEDA

A security personnel stands behind a machinegun installed on a vehicle in Sanaa January 6, 2010. Yemeni forces surrounded a suspected al Qaeda regional leader near the capital on Wednesday and captured three militants wounded in a raid, security sources said. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.                                

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

What was your first reaction when you heard that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen?

Yemen has fairly porous borders and a lot of people are in and out of there. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s not like going to a camp in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the same meaning. I mean, you go to a camp in Afghanistan, you’re pretty much going for one reason. It’s not the same as Yemen.

It seems like in the popular discussion, Yemen is becoming associated with fundamentalist clerics and terrorism.

There are definitely a lot of extremists there, but I think the bigger framework to think about Yemen is not as a hotbed of radicalism and terror but as a state where the government does not control all of the land. They’ve been fighting a significant insurgency in the North for six years now and there’s a separatist group in the South that’s in an armed conflict. The Ministry of Interior estimates that there are 60 million weapons outside of government hands in Yemen. And that’s in a country of 20 million people. So it’s a highly-armed, fragmented society and the government hasn’t really had control over the entire country for some time, if ever. So certainly there’s extremism there, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that the government isn’t really in control of.

So who is in the leadership of the government of Yemen?

The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is essentially a central government, but there are many parts of the country that are not under the central government. There are armed areas that the government doesn’t police and doesn’t have anything to do with, except to offer very limited services. And we’re talking about big chunks of the country in the North and the East particularly. It’s not one little enclave.

And a huge part of the border with Saudi Arabia is not even defined because it’s a desert. There are not a lot of people there but there are chunks of the country that are frontier-land kind of areas where people move between those two states.

Yemen was two countries during the Cold War.

Even calling it two countries becomes sort of a fiction. For years, it was just sort of a bunch of enclaves including the British colony that was there for nearly 100 years in the South, various tribal governments, there was a Northern government. But from the ‘60s, you had two states, a Northern state which was the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Southern state which was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was a Marxist, Soviet outpost. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, they lost all their funding and then North Yemen was never particularly strong, and so the two decided that they would unite, which they did and initially had democratic elections in which nobody won a majority.

Northern loyalists were assassinating socialists in the South and the unification never really went forward. They unified the country formally, but former governments maintained their owned armies. That culminated in a civil war in 1994 that lasted two months. And the North defeated the South and has been in control ever since under the leadership of the same president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

So it’s really become an Egypt-style government where there’s a president who pretends to be elected and everyone else pretends to have candidates.

So during all this time, what has the U.S. government’s role been?

Well, right after Yemen unified in May 1990, Yemen had the unfortunate opportunity to have a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. So they had the seat during the first Gulf War in 1991 and they abstained from that Security Council vote. They did not vote for the coalition in 1990 and they did not vote against it; they abstained. So the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all punished Yemen by unilaterally cutting all aid to the country. So it was a newly-unified country that had a tremendous amount of aid cut. Millions of Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were all deported and that had a devastating affect on the economy in Yemen.

But then relations gradually improved, with the U.S. not really having an interest in Yemen. Then, with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and subsequent events, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has been working very closely with the U.S. government because in some ways these Islamists are threatening to him as well. That said, there’s an Islamist party that’s closely aligned with the regime. So while the government is working with the U.S. to battle extremists, at the same time he’s playing this delicate balancing act that includes allying himself with extremists.

So basically, he’s allying himself with the United States in the war on terror, and with the people who are opposing that at the same time.

Exactly. And I don’t think he’s that brilliant as a politician. It’s just luck that it’s all held together at this point. It’s surprising to me that he’s pulling it off. A lot of people think it could get really bad there really quick.

Already, the Fullbright program has been suspended. People aren’t going there to study or do research. It’s really not safe.

So when you’re watching the news right now, what are you looking for? What are you looking for in these reports that will help you decide what’s going on?

In so much of what’s coming through, I hear mistakes in reports that frustrate me. What I want to know is: Are things realigning? Are new people coming on top? I haven’t seen this in the media, but for example: Saudi Arabia would have a clear interest in Yemen not becoming a failed state. So is Saudi Arabia sending more government and trying to bolster them and is that creating more Wahabi influence? Or this: Are you seeing a lot of the tribal sheiks realigning themselves? Because with that many weapons out of government control a few significant shifts in alignment could be game changers. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in, but you don’t tend to see them in media a lot.

Jillian Schwedler is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

12-2

A Talk with the Taliban

December 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

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Former Taliban are part of the ongoing dialogue between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Pakistan. (Photo: Codepink / Flickr)

Obama has finally opted for troop reinforcement. But by evoking the beginning of a scheduled withdrawal 18 months from now, he has also incited the Karzai government to keep the channels of discussion with the Taliban open.

And what if the stabilization of Afghanistan could come only at this price? While Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan seems to sound the death knell for that option envisaged by the more cynical members of the American administration, those who don’t believe in a military solution in the country continue to militate in favor of a “discussion” with the enemy. Not with the “pragmatic” Taliban Hamid Karzai boasted of having been able to rally to his cause – and who are today considered traitors by the guerrilla – but with the most ideological fringe of the “students’ of religion” representatives, the Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. These are the ones who are inflicting losses on NATO’s forces and laying siege to Kabul. “If you want significant results, you have to talk to important people,” Norwegian diplomat and UN representative in the country Kai Eide declared the day before the elections to encourage discussions with the guerrilla movement’s leadership.

The idea is highly controversial. Its detractors explain that any attempt at dialogue would be considered a sign of weakness by the fundamentalist guerrilla at precisely the moment when the West is demonstrating the scope of its determination to pacify the country militarily. Didn’t Mullah Omar just violently reject the proposals for national reconciliation that President Karzai since his investiture has ceaselessly tried to engage him in? Nonetheless, Barack Obama has repeated that NATO’s troop withdrawal should begin in 18 months. Yet, nothing proves that the counterinsurgency strategy he has opted for will be a success in the meantime. Consequently, the Afghan president maintains all channels open and, far from official platforms, enemy leaders are talking to one another.

In spite of the fighting, meetings occur between the clandestine headquarters of the blind mullah and the Afghan government. From Pakistan to Kabul, intercessors see to it that messages are passed under the watchful eye of the Americans. Even American Defense Secretary Robert Gates has declared that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it would be necessary to come to the point of conducting a policy of a reconciliation with people who have killed American soldiers: “Isn’t that how wars always end?” he declared during a NATO meeting.

Maulvi Arsala Rahmani is one of those messengers. Under the Taliban regime, he was minister for religious affairs. Today, he has returned to the Afghan Senate. He receives people in his house in Kabul, where he is under good protection and spied on by several countries’ intelligence agents. Enveloped in an Uzbek coat lined in gray fur, he prays with fervor, as though better to reflect on the questions he is asked. To hear him tell it, he would like to reconcile everybody. For he likes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and … Mullah Omar. He mentions his “friend, Osama” (bin Laden), whom he knew well in Sudan, then during the jihad. According to Rahmani, Mullah Baradar, the present Taliban operational commander, is a “good and honest man.” And he misses Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose armed groups are covering the south of the country with blood: “We always used to be together …” Nonetheless, he believes that the time has come for the guerrilla movement to dissociate itself from his “friend Osama.” But are the members of Mullah Omar’s choura (council of notables), with whom he is in contact, ready for that divorce? In his opinion, it’s not impossible. For, in spite of their military “success,” the Taliban, like all soldiers, would like to be able to go home. Moreover, and contrary to what has been suggested in Mullah Omar’s communiqués, it is sometimes the guerrilla leaders, and not the Afghan presidency, who take the initiative for these meetings, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani assures me. Last year, Mullah Baradar led a Taliban delegation to Kabul to talk with Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum.

Born to the same tribe as the Afghan president, Mullah Omar’s right hand man is supposed to be a more conciliating man than his mentor. Patient, charismatic, he has proved to be a redoubtable enemy for NATO’s troops. At the head of the Quetta choura in Pakistan, it is he who manages the war chest – the booty from kidnappings and trafficking – and who coordinates attacks. Above all, it is he who has been authorized to speak in the name of the man the insurgents consider the commander of the faithful: Omar. “Should there ever be discussions, he will be an indispensable interlocutor,” asserts Rahmani.

In Kabul, the former minister is sharing his home with another one of these “intermediaries” who sound out the Taliban and regularly meet with Barack Obama’s advisers. His beard is black, his turban, cream-colored: Pir Mohamed was the president of the University of Kabul under the Taliban regime: “Afghanistan is composed of several groups. No one should be excluded … That’s what I said to Holbrooke, who shares my point of view!” Repeating – for whatever purpose it might serve – that, at the time, he had tried several times to convince Mullah Omar to allow him to give girls a religious education, he asserts that today he has warned the White House special envoy against the new pacification strategy for the country: “Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Taliban come from very different origins. Mores come from Uzbekistan, Kandahar or Khost. And one may neither set the tribes against one another nor buy them: there are too many of them!”

Yet, is seems that the political leadership of the Taliban, tossing around between Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, would like to put an end to its wanderings in Pakistan. That’s the sense of the messages from the Quetta choura and its representatives, Baradar and Mohamed Mansour, former chief education officer. The rebels would like to install themselves somewhere, then form a government-in-exile to elaborate the conditions for a negotiation with the Karzai government. Why not in Saudi Arabia where Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has already tried to organize a meeting between the enemy sides? Then from Riyadh, the Taliban leadership could negotiate its own neutrality in exchange for a right to return, amnesty and participation in political life after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Isn’t this scenario unrealistic or premature? Our intermediaries agree: it will not be easy to convince Westerners to guarantee a safe haven for the same people they’re fighting. But the two men insist on the necessity of cutting the guerrilla off from its Pakistani sanctuary. Even though they know Afghanistan will not be at peace until Pakistan agrees to it. “As long as Pakistan’s vital interests, such as the future of the Durand Line, are not taken into account, all discussions will fail,” explains Rahmani. According to him, the key to potential negotiations is in the hands of the Pakistani mullahs, themselves under ISI – the Pakistani secret services’ – control.  As are Mullah Fazel Rahman and Sami ul-Haq, who lead the coalition of Pakistani fundamentalist religious parties. “Before the Taliban, it is they who must be convinced to make peace, because today they control al-Qaeda and bin Laden and hold the future of the region in their hands …” On this point, at least, the former Taliban and Barack Obama come to the same conclusions.

Maulvi Rahmani

Religious affairs minister under the Taliban regime, he is a member of the Afghan Senate today. He has contacts within circles close to the Pakistani secret services.

Pir Mohamed

Former rector of Kabul University. He meets regularly with Richard Holbrooke and representatives of the Quetta choura.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef

He was the sole interface between the Taliban regime and the international community from 1996 to the end of 2001. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2005. He would like to see the Saudis play a role in future peace talks.

Wakil Muttawakil

Former foreign affairs minister for the Taliban, he played the role of intermediary between the Americans and Taliban groups in Kandahar and negotiated the conditions for surrender with the Americans at the fall of the regime.

11-52

US Sends Gitmo Detainee Home to Kuwait

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say a Kuwaiti citizen held at Guantanamo Bay has been brought back to his home country.

Justice Department officials say Fouad Mahmoud al-Rabiah was handed over to Kuwaiti authorities.

A federal judge had ruled in September that al-Rabiah must be released. His departure leaves 210 detainees at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. President Barack Obama has pledged to close the detention center, but the administration is expected to miss a deadline next month to complete the task.

Separately, Attorney General Eric Holder visited the New York federal courthouse, where he plans to put five accused plotters in the Sept. 11 attacks on trial. All five are currently held at Guantanamo.

11-52

Paan—Red-Stained Scourge of the Middle East

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

Paan2_new For many residents of Kuwait, litter and pollution have taken a back seat to a more heinous environmental disaster. As the tiny Gulf State continues to looks for ways to improve its global reputation as a country that cares for the environment, at least one segment of the society is determined to pollute the landscape as mindlessly as they can.

It used to be that second-hand cigarette smoke was at the top of everyone’s list of noxious pollutants. However, in many parts of the Middle East, poor Southeast Asian laborers have dotted the landscape with their own homemade pollutant. Commonly known as “Paan”, which is a concoction of natural and chemical substances bundled into a Betel leaf, this chewing-tobacco like substance creates dark red tinged saliva, which the person chewing it usually spits out at any available target. Paan stains can be found outside of buildings, inside elevators, at bus stops and just about anywhere the public shares a common place. As a result, the spit stains its target thus leaving a blood-like appearance on the surface. Most residents would agree that the red hued Paan stains are more offensive than graffiti especially since they contain millions of disease carrying bacteria.

Many business owners in Kuwait have called upon the Kuwaiti government to intervene. Paan is banned in Kuwait, as most of the ingredients are forbidden entry into the country. However, it is widely available on the Black Market, as clever businessmen have found ways to smuggle the ingredients into the country. Since Paan is more affordable than cigarettes, it is a hot commodity with an eager market. Yet enforcing a law against Paan could be difficult, as it would really entail looking in the mouths of every possible offender. However, Paan-spewing crimes might soon appear in Public Service Announcements (PSA) that already educate the public about litter and saving water. Perhaps future PSA’s will include proper receptacles for spitting as well as the dangers of chewing it.

2052708660_1 Paan is just as deadly, if not more so, than cigarette smoking. Since the Paan rests against the interior of the mouth when it is chewed, it can cause a host of oral mouth cancers that affect the throat, cheeks and tongue. Treatment for the cancers may involve the removal of the entire jaw or portion of the mouth.  Chewing Paan also permanently stains the teeth red and causes the gums to recede, which can cause the teeth to fall out prematurely.  And it also creates severely bad breath and is fast becoming a social stigma.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf state suffering from Paan chewing and the by-products of the habit. Dubai has seen its share of Paan stained surfaces and is cracking down hard on anyone who chews or sells it. According to the Director General of the Municipality, Hussain Nasser Lootah, anyone partaking in Paan will face harsh penalties, which includes a fine and deportation. The Dubai government has also offered a $1400 reward for anyone that offers information about people who sell or chew Paan. The municipality recently launched an awareness campaign by distributing leaflets to inform the public about the dangers and unhygienic nature of Paan chewing. In addition, the Dubai government has also launched a media campaign in local newspapers and magazines informing the public about the new laws that will punish Paan dealers and chewers to the fullest extent of the law. 

Even European countries are not spared from Paan staining their capitals, as more and more Southeast Asian immigrants flood to the region looking for a better life. London, for example, is just one city that has recently faced a spat of red-tinged spittle staining its most treasured landmarks.

11-51

Swiss Politician Apologizes For Calling For Ban On Muslim And Jewish Cemeteries

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rachel Slajda

A Swiss politician has apologized today for calling for a ban on Jewish and Muslim cemeteries two days after the country voted to outlaw minarets on mosques.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” said Christopher Darbellay, president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland, a centrist party and the smallest member of the government coalition.

“It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society,” he added.

In his call for the ban, Darbellay said, “I don’t imagine that in this country, every religion or sect can have a separate cemetery in every town. It wouldn’t be manageable to make these exceptions. … Principle requires that one does not distinguish on the basis of origin or religion.”

Darbellay has also called for a ban on burkas or veils worn by some Muslim women.

Switzerland made international headlines Sunday when residents voted to add a line to their constitution banning the construction of minarets, or prayer towers, on mosques. The initiative, backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, passed by more than 57 percent of voters.

“The minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over,” said one SPP politician.

The Swiss have a long history of trying to keep their culture free from the influence of both Muslim and Jewish immigrants.

In 1893, Switzerland banned the practice of shechitah, the kosher way of slaughtering animals, citing cruelty because the animals are not stunned first. Although the government opposed the measure, a group called the Anti-Semite Committee gathered more than 83,000 signatures to bring it to a referendum.

Even now, Jews and Muslims must import their kosher and halal meat from neighboring countries. In recent years, some groups have gone farther, trying to ban even its import. In 2003, for example, the Swiss Animal Protection group began a campaign to ban its import, but failed.

Six other European countries join Switzerland in banning the practice: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The European Union recognized such slaughter earlier this year and declared kosher and halal meat can be sold in every country, but did not go so far as to legalize the slaughtering practice throughout the EU.

Much of the xenophobia in Switzerland seems rooted in the belief that immigrants will not assimilliate into Swiss culture. In 2006, the citizenship application of a Turkish woman and religious teacher was rejected because she didn’t want to integrate into society.

Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in Europe, sparking culture clashes throughout the continent. In France, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban the burka on the grounds that such veils oppress women.

11-51

Why the U.S. Kneels

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Philip Weiss

Gideon Levy in Haaretz tells America to stop sucking up to Israel. He leaves out the root cause. You can’t just tell the Americans to make better policy without dealing with the Israel lobby and, barring wider outrage among Americans, issues of Jewish identity.

Levy: Before no other country on the planet does the United States kneel and plead like this. In other trouble spots, America takes a different tone. It bombs in Afghanistan, invades Iraq and threatens sanctions against Iran and North Korea. Did anyone in Washington consider begging Saddam Hussein to withdraw from occupied territory in Kuwait?

But Israel the occupier, the stubborn contrarian that continues to mock America and the world by building settlements and abusing the Palestinians, receives different treatment. Another massage to the national ego in one video, more embarrassing praise in another.

Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don’t change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America’s automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world’s policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways.

Illegal acts like the occupation and settlement expansion, and offensives that may have involved war crimes, as in Gaza, deserve a different approach. If America and the world had issued condemnations after Operation Summer Rains in 2006 – which left 400 Palestinians dead and severe infrastructure damage in the first major operation in Gaza since the disengagement – then Operation Cast Lead never would have been launched.

It is true that unlike all the world’s other troublemakers, Israel is viewed as a Western democracy, but Israel of 2009 is a country whose language is force. Anwar Sadat may have been the last leader to win our hearts with optimistic, hope-igniting speeches. If he were to visit Israel today, he would be jeered off the stage. The Syrian president pleads for peace and Israel callously dismisses him, the United States begs for a settlement freeze and Israel turns up its nose. This is what happens when there are no consequences for Israel’s inaction.

When Clinton returns to Washington, she should advocate a sharp policy change toward Israel. Israeli hearts can no longer be won with hope, promises of a better future or sweet talk, for this is no longer Israel’s language. For something to change, Israel must understand that perpetuating the status quo will exact a painful price.

11-50

Interview–Pakistan Wants Trade, not Aid

November 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amena Bakr

DUBAI, Nov 1 (Reuters) – Pakistan plans to send an official delegation to the United States in mid-November to attract investment in a bid to revive its economy following a series of militant attacks, a senior official said on Sunday.

Last month, suicide bomb blasts targeted the United Nations, army headquarters, police and general public, killing more than 150 people.

“The recent attacks did have a negative impact on the perception (of the country), but at the same time Pakistan is a growing country and investors have to be in it for the long term,” Waqar Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s minister of investment, told Reuters during a visit to Dubai.

A delegation headed by Khan, along with businessmen from Pakistan, will head to Washington on Nov. 18, he said.

“From the United States we are seeking trade, not aid, because that’s what’s going to really help stimulate our economy,” he said, adding that opening up trade between the two countries would support political stability.

“The growth of the economy and fighting terrorism go hand-in-hand and the government is committed to protecting investors’ interests.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has also said increased aid and trade will be tools to fight Islamic extremism both in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Congress has just approved a bill tripling aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years, but with conditions attached that have unleashed a storm of protest from Pakistanis who say the country is being humiliated.

Investment Interest

Last month, a delegation headed by the Turkish prime minister was in Islamabad to discuss investment opportunities, said Khan.

“The Turkish investors are now in talks to establish textile factories, lease land for agriculture projects and are also looking at the livestock and dairy industries,” he said.

Pakistan’s GDP growth is expected to be between 2.5 and 3.5 percent in the fiscal year 2009/10, up from 2.0 percent in the previous year, the central bank said in its annual report released on Thursday.

“Despite all the recent attacks I think that the GDP will remain on the positive side this year, and I also expect foreign investment to increase during the forth quarter,” said Khan, without giving further details.

Net foreign investment in Pakistan fell 28.9 percent to $671.1 million in the first three months of the 2009/10 fiscal year, beginning on July 1, compared with $943.4 million in the same period a year earlier.

(Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11-48

INTERVIEW-Pakistan seeks US trade, not aid, says minister

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amena Bakr, Reuters

DUBAI, Nov 1-Pakistan plans to send an official delegation to the United States in mid-November to attract investment in a bid to revive its economy following a series of militant attacks, a senior official said on Sunday.

Last month, suicide bomb blasts targeted the United Nations, army headquarters, police and general public, killing more than 150 people.

“The recent attacks did have a negative impact on the perception (of the country), but at the same time Pakistan is a growing country and investors have to be in it for the long term,” Waqar Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s minister of investment, told Reuters during a visit to Dubai.

A delegation headed by Khan, along with businessmen from Pakistan, will head to Washington on Nov. 18, he said.

“From the United States we are seeking trade, not aid, because that’s what’s going to really help stimulate our economy,” he said, adding that opening up trade between the two countries would support political stability.

“The growth of the economy and fighting terrorism go hand-in-hand and the government is committed to protecting investors’ interests.”

U.S. President Barack Obama has also said increased aid and trade will be tools to fight Islamic extremism both in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Congress has just approved a bill tripling aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years, but with conditions attached that have unleashed a storm of protest from Pakistanis who say the country is being humiliated.

Investment Interest

Last month, a delegation headed by the Turkish prime minister was in Islamabad to discuss investment opportunities, said Khan.

“The Turkish investors are now in talks to establish textile factories, lease land for agriculture projects and are also looking at the livestock and dairy industries,” he said.

Pakistan’s GDP growth is expected to be between 2.5 and 3.5 percent in the fiscal year 2009/10, up from 2.0 percent in the previous year, the central bank said in its annual report released on Thursday.

“Despite all the recent attacks I think that the GDP will remain on the positive side this year, and I also expect foreign investment to increase during the forth quarter,” said Khan, without giving further details.

Net foreign investment in Pakistan fell 28.9 percent to $671.1 million in the first three months of the 2009/10 fiscal year, beginning on July 1, compared with $943.4 million in the same period a year earlier.

(Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11-47

Pakistan Lashes Back at Clinton

November 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Farhan Bokhari

The controversy could overshadow Clinton’s first visit to the country as Secretary of State, especially as her remarks will be seen questioning the sincerity of the influential military, Pakistani officials said.

“If we are going to have a mature partnership where we work together” then “there are issues that not just the United States but others have with your government and with your military security establishment,” Clinton was quoted telling senior Pakistani journalists in Lahore. “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they (al Qaeda leaders) are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to,” she said.

Pakistani officials said Clinton’s remarks on the “military security establishment” probably referred to the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the counterespionage agency.

In the past, Western officials, including U.S. officials, have claimed that the ISI has nurtured Islamic militants to stage proxy insurgency campaigns on the country’s behalf in India’s mountainous Kashmir region and in Afghanistan.

A senior Pakistani government official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity late Thursday night said, Clinton’s remarks will likely provoke some reaction from key military leaders who increasingly see the U.S. as insensitive to the army’s ongoing campaign against Taliban militants in the south Waziristan region.

“How can the U.S. at this time be so insensitive for Mrs. Clinton to speak out in public in this way,” asked the Pakistani government official. “These remarks suggest a very high degree of insensitivity.” However, Western diplomats said Clinton’s trip following the recent Kerry-Lugar bill passed by the U.S. Congress which triples U.S. aid to Pakistan to an annual of $1.5 billion over the next five years, was likely to enhance U.S. influence in the country.

“The U.S. position will become stronger if the money begins flowing in. While there will be heart-burning among segments of the Pakistani government, the U.S. will remain a very influential country,” a Western diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News.

11-46

Why Are They Afraid?

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

It is now well known that four Republican Congressman did not hide their feelings against Islam and Muslims when they expressed their deep concern about Muslim interns and staffers in Congress.

They were obviously targeting CAIR, suggesting that anyone close to this mainstream Muslim organization is not worthy of trust. this is an irony that those who are elected to protect Americans are calling fellow Americans suspects based on their religion and race.

This is contrary to constitutional law. But who is going to challenge them openly when they know they are safe in their districts and they would win no matter how do they treat their others?

What is interesting to note is that all four congressmen happen to have reportedly strong support of Christian right and Pro-Israeli lobbyists. What else one can expect from such office bearers?

We believe that everyone who works in the federal government goes through a background check.

Their credentials are verified and their past history is minutely studied. They get to their position after close scrutiny. To say that people who have endured such scrutiny are still suspect because of their religious identity and closeness to CAIR is nothing but political bigotry.

Such people are still living in the Bush era that was famous for its anti-Islamic rhetoric.

But why are they afraid? The reason is very simple. they have yet to adjust to the changes that have taken place in America in the last two decades.

Young Muslims through their educational credentials and hard political work have proven that they are no different in their commitment to their country from blue-eyed, white protestant Americans.

They have proven their worth to the country. The four Republican Congressmen (and who knows how many more are hiding behind them), have refused to acknowledge their existence and see their worth, simply because they have a political agenda that relies on Islamophobia.

They try to view Islam as a religion at war against America, and Muslims as enemies. They view their presence in the country’s highest political institutions as dangerous to the interests of the country.

Interestingly, they have not been able to point a single example in defense of their argument. When did you hear last the name of a Muslim selling country’s secrets to a Muslim country, unlike the regular drumbeat of souls either caught spying or caught attempting to spy for China, Russia, or Israel.

We would like to suggest something positive to these four congressmen. Give placement to a few Muslims in your office and see how efficient and useful they to your work.

You will surely be able to change your perspectives about young Muslim interns.

As far as CAIR is concerned, they can certainly hold a one to one meeting with CAIR officials to clarify issues.

In civil societies, the only way to overcome one’s doubts and apprehensions about the other is to develop a dialogue with the opponent.

Seemingly, Republicans are so immersed in their partisan politics that they are not willing to acknowledge that they also need to critically examine their own policies and agenda.

But, if Republicans can say Nancy Pelosi is working for the nation’s enemies, and call President Obama an ineligible President, they are certainly capable of accusing Muslims of any number of crimes or sins.

It is unfortunate to see some of our politicians going so low in their eagerness to get re-elected that they are willing to sacrifice the constitution and the long standing American tradition of being fair and balanced.

11-44

The Shoe Thrown ‘Round the World

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

shoes1 In one single gesture, Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi summed up the sentiments that had been swelling in the hearts of Iraqi’s and Muslims from all over the world ever since former President George W. Bush indulged in his own ‘Axis of Evil’ and went to war with Iraq. With the throw of a pair of size 10 loafers, al-Zaidi unleashed a wave of discontent that Iraqi’s had grappled with ever since their country was unlawfully invaded.

Many Muslims from all over the world cheered, as scenes of adults and children alike rejoicing in the streets of Baghdad waving their own shoes in the air played out on TV. Copycat shoe throwers also emerged in the days following the incident, most notably in India and China where at least two diplomats found themselves also dodging footwear.

However, news about the man behind the shoes was hard to come by. Following the incident, he was rushed away by Iraqi security personnel and imprisoned. Family members later revealed that al-Zaidi was severely beaten and tortured in prison. He was originally sentenced to spend three years in prison, but served only nine months of that sentence as he was recently released.

Finally, al-Zaidi is able to speak for himself and tell the world the reasons behind his actions. In a column recently appearing in the British-based ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, al-Zaidi writes, “When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diasporas.”

Further al-Zaidi denies that he is a hero and writes, “It humiliated me to see my country humiliated; and to see my Baghdad burned, my people killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation. The scandal of Abu Ghraib, the massacres of Falluja, Najaf, Haditha, Sadr City, Basra, Diyala, Mosul, Tal Afar, and every inch of our wounded land. I traveled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.”

After his release, al-Zaidi was reunited with his family in a tearful and long-awaited reunion. According to his employer Al-Baghdadia TV, al-Zaidi has left Iraq and will travel to Syria and later Greece to receive medical care. Al-Zaidi suffered greatly at the hands of Iraqi security personnel who beat him with melt bars, electrocuted him with live wires and engaged in ‘water boarding’ to make him feel like he was drowning. The state of al-Zaidi’s health is unknown at the present time.

In a recent development, al-Zaidi also revealed his future plans in a TV interview conducted by TSR television. He hopes to rally Iraqis together to lodge a complaint against former President Bush and put him on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity. “I really want to go to Switzerland because it is a neutral country and because it is a country that did not support the occupation of Iraq,” al-Zaidi said, “Switzerland hosts many international organizations, including some that fight for children, and Switzerland is a country that has a great democratic tradition. It is an example for the world,”

While the man himself may resist being touted as a hero for his actions. At least one artist has forever immortalized the shoes that were ‘thrown’ around the world. Based in London, artist P Waniewski has created a pair of size 10 shoes identical to the ones al-Zaidi threw, since U.S. security personnel purportedly destroyed the original pair following the incident. So named, ‘Proud Shoes’ the tribute is made of 21 kilograms of bronze and dipped in 24 KT. gold. The artist recently revealed in an interview his reasons for creating the tribute to al-Zaidi, “When I heard this story I was moved by the passion and fearlessness of Mr al-Zaidi’s actions. The shoe that he threw was destroyed by the US authorities, so I felt it was a fitting way of marking this emotive event.”

11-40

My Flower to Bush, the Occupier; The Story of My Shoe

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mutadhar el-Zaidi

Mutadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi who threw his shoe at George Bush gave this speech on his recent release.

In the name of God, the most gracious and most merciful.

Here I am, free. But my country is still a prisoner of war.

Firstly, I give my thanks and my regards to everyone who stood beside me, whether inside my country, in the Islamic world, in the free world. There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act.

But, simply, I answer: What compelled me to confront is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.

And how it wanted to crush the skulls of (the homeland’s) sons under its boots, whether sheikhs, women, children or men. And during the past few years, more than a million martyrs fell by the bullets of the occupation and the country is now filled with more than 5 million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. And many millions of homeless because of displacement inside and outside the country.

We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shiite would pray with the Sunni in one line. And the Muslim would celebrate with the Christian the birthday of Christ, may peace be upon him. And despite the fact that we shared hunger under sanctions for more than 10 years, for more than a decade.

Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. Until we were invaded by the illusion of liberation that some had. (The occupation) divided one brother from another, one neighbor from another, and the son from his uncle. It turned our homes into never-ending funeral tents. And our graveyards spread into parks and roadsides. It is a plague. It is the occupation that is killing us, that is violating the houses of worship and the sanctity of our homes and that is throwing thousands daily into makeshift prisons.

I am not a hero, and I admit that. But I have a point of view and I have a stance. It humiliated me to see my country humiliated. And to see my Baghdad burned. And my people being killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, and this weighs on me every day and pushes me toward the righteous path, the path of confrontation, the path of rejecting injustice, deceit and duplicity. It deprived me of a good night’s sleep.

Dozens, no, hundreds, of images of massacres that would turn the hair of a newborn white used to bring tears to my eyes and wound me. The scandal of Abu Ghraib. The massacre of Fallujah, Najaf, Haditha, Sadr City, Basra, Diyala, Mosul, Tal Afar, and every inch of our wounded land. In the past years, I traveled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and hear with my own ears the screams of the bereaved and the orphans. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.

And as soon as I finished my professional duties in reporting the daily tragedies of the Iraqis, and while I washed away the remains of the debris of the ruined Iraqi houses, or the traces of the blood of victims that stained my clothes, I would clench my teeth and make a pledge to our victims, a pledge of vengeance.

The opportunity came, and I took it.

I took it out of loyalty to every drop of innocent blood that has been shed through the occupation or because of it, every scream of a bereaved mother, every moan of an orphan, the sorrow of a rape victim, the teardrop of an orphan.

I say to those who reproach me: Do you know how many broken homes that shoe that I threw had entered because of the occupation? How many times it had trodden over the blood of innocent victims? And how many times it had entered homes in which free Iraqi women and their sanctity had been violated? Maybe that shoe was the appropriate response when all values were violated.

When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diaspora.

After six years of humiliation, of indignity, of killing and violations of sanctity, and desecration of houses of worship, the killer comes, boasting, bragging about victory and democracy. He came to say goodbye to his victims and wanted flowers in response.

Put simply, that was my flower to the occupier, and to all who are in league with him, whether by spreading lies or taking action, before the occupation or after.

I wanted to defend the honor of my profession and suppressed patriotism on the day the country was violated and its high honor lost. Some say: Why didn’t he ask Bush an embarrassing question at the press conference, to shame him? And now I will answer you, journalists. How can I ask Bush when we were ordered to ask no questions before the press conference began, but only to cover the event. It was prohibited for any person to question Bush.

And in regard to professionalism: The professionalism mourned by some under the auspices of the occupation should not have a voice louder than the voice of patriotism. And if patriotism were to speak out, then professionalism should be allied with it.

I take this opportunity: If I have wronged journalism without intention, because of the professional embarrassment I caused the establishment, I wish to apologize to you for any embarrassment I may have caused those establishments. All that I meant to do was express with a living conscience the feelings of a citizen who sees his homeland desecrated every day.

History mentions many stories where professionalism was also compromised at the hands of American policymakers, whether in the assassination attempt against Fidel Castro by booby-trapping a TV camera that CIA agents posing as journalists from Cuban TV were carrying, or what they did in the Iraqi war by deceiving the general public about what was happening. And there are many other examples that I won’t get into here.

But what I would like to call your attention to is that these suspicious agencies — the American intelligence and its other agencies and those that follow them — will not spare any effort to track me down (because I am) a rebel opposed to their occupation. They will try to kill me or neutralize me, and I call the attention of those who are close to me to the traps that these agencies will set up to capture or kill me in various ways, physically, socially or professionally.

And at the time that the Iraqi prime minister came out on satellite channels to say that he didn’t sleep until he had checked in on my safety, and that I had found a bed and a blanket, even as he spoke I was being tortured with the most horrific methods: electric shocks, getting hit with cables, getting hit with metal rods, and all this in the backyard of the place where the press conference was held. And the conference was still going on and I could hear the voices of the people in it. And maybe they, too, could hear my screams and moans.

In the morning, I was left in the cold of winter, tied up after they soaked me in water at dawn. And I apologize for Mr. Maliki for keeping the truth from the people. I will speak later, giving names of the people who were involved in torturing me, and some of them were high-ranking officials in the government and in the army.

I didn’t do this so my name would enter history or for material gains. All I wanted was to defend my country, and that is a legitimate cause confirmed by international laws and divine rights. I wanted to defend a country, an ancient civilization that has been desecrated, and I am sure that history — especially in America — will state how the American occupation was able to subjugate Iraq and Iraqis, until its submission.

They will boast about the deceit and the means they used in order to gain their objective. It is not strange, not much different from what happened to the Native Americans at the hands of colonialists. Here I say to them (the occupiers) and to all who follow their steps, and all those who support them and spoke up for their cause: Never.

Because we are a people who would rather die than face humiliation.
And, lastly, I say that I am independent. I am not a member of any politicalparty, something that was said during torture — one time that I’m far-right, another that I’m a leftist. I am independent of any political party, and my future efforts will be in civil service to my people and to any who need it, without waging any political wars, as some said that I would.

My efforts will be toward providing care for widows and orphans, and all those whose lives were damaged by the occupation. I pray for mercy upon the souls of the martyrs who fell in wounded Iraq, and for shame upon those who occupied Iraq and everyone who assisted them in their abominable acts. And I pray for peace upon those who are in their graves, and those who are oppressed with the chains of imprisonment. And peace be upon you who are patient and looking to God for release.

And to my beloved country I say: If the night of injustice is prolonged, it will not stop the rising of a sun and it will be the sun of freedom.

One last word. I say to the government: It is a trust that I carry from my fellow detainees. They said, ‘Muntadhar, if you get out, tell of our plight to the omnipotent powers’ — I know that only God is omnipotent and I pray to Him — ‘remind them that there are dozens, hundreds, of victims rotting in prisons because of an informant’s word.’

They have been there for years, they have not been charged or tried.

They’ve only been snatched up from the streets and put into these prisons. And now, in front of you, and in the presence of God, I hope they can hear me or see me. I have now made good on my promise of reminding the government and the officials and the politicians to look into what’s happening inside the prisons. The injustice that’s caused by the delay in the judicial system.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you.

The translation is by McClatchy’s special correspondent, Sahar Issa.

11-40

Back to School?

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

School Bus - Cartoon 7 The photo spreads in local sales circulars in Kuwait bear all the familiar ‘back to school’ images of kids wearing cute outfits complete with backpacks swung over an arm. The ‘back to school’ sales placards cover the storefronts over most businesses that are competing for each sale as the global downturn continues to dig in. However, despite the familiar images, there is nothing ordinary about this school year that is set to start in only a few days.

The H1N1 virus, known as the ‘swine flu’, has cast a dark shadow over the Holy Month of Ramadan and impending school year that is set to start on the first of September in all Gulf countries. More than 1,100 people in Kuwait alone have already been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, and while almost all of the patients have recovered, three people have died as a result of the H1N1 virus. The Kuwaiti government has been vigilant in providing public service announcements, via various media, since the spring when the first few cases were reported in Mexico and later America. The H1N1 virus ahs spread to all regions of the Middle East as each country can only count as the rapidity of infection rises.

In Kuwait, in particular, many parents have been sounding the alarm as the summer holidays have slowly begun to fade away. Concerned ministries, primarily the Ministries of Health and Education, met this past week to discuss the possible closing of schools to avoid the spread of the H1N1 virus. The results were less than fruitful. The joint decision as of press time is to only postpone the start of Kindergarten classes in both public and private schools for 10 days. Regular classes are set to resume as usual on September 1st.

The Kuwaiti government has also this week developed a swine flu plan, which is supposed to be put into effect by school administrators in the tiny Gulf state. Desks will be positioned 1 meter apart and congregating, in the cafeteria or at the playground, will be forbidden. Health Minister Helal Al-Sayer further announced that, in the event that a single student comes down with the H1N1 virus, the entire class will be closed indefinitely. He also said that if any school reports more than 5% of the student population are infected with the H1N1 virus then the entire school will be closed.  Individual students, who are suspected of having the H1N1 virus by teachers while in class, will be quarantined until health officials can properly diagnose their affliction. Al-Sayer further announced that 120 schools would be outfitted with special clinics specifically for the treatment of students suffering from the H1N1 virus.  The remaining schools in the country have no such facilities and it remains to be seen if health officials will monitor each school individually.

Kuwait is not the only Middle Eastern country to take ‘back to school’ swine flu precautions. Several private schools in Dubai have also postponed the start of the school year by several days. However, no Gulf country has taken as drastic measures as Oman. The country has cancelled the school term for both private and public schools until mid-December when the H1N1 vaccine, expected to be available in September, will have immunized pupils from the deadly virus. So far 5 people have died in Oman from the H1N1 virus.

When asked about the current decision the Kuwaiti government has made to continue with the start of the school year as normal, a Pakistani housewife and resident of Kuwait who wishes to remain anonymous said, “ What’s the point in closing a class after a student gets sick? The whole class will already be infected. I can only pray that the Minster will change the decision before school starts.”

11-36

US ‘Biggest’ Threat, Say Pakistanis

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Owen Fay, Al Jazeera

2009-08-09T151039Z_01_AAL113_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN

Men pray during rally in the northwest Pakistan city Peshawar August 9, 2009. Over 500 supporters of the Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami gathered in a park in Peshawar to protest against military operations in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. 

REUTERS/Ali Imam

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed a widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal Pakistani affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan – a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc – and more than 2,600 people took part.

Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

The resentment was made clear when residents were asked if they support or oppose Pakistan’s own military offensive against Taliban targets.

Keeping with recent trends a growing number of people, now 41 per cent, support the campaign.

About 24 per cent of people remain opposed, but an additional 22 per cent of Pakistanis remain neutral on the question.

That number changes quite significantly when people were asked if they would support government-sanctioned dialogue with Taliban fighters if it were a viable option.

The same 41 per cent said they would still support the military offensive. But the number of those supporting dialogue leaps up to 43 per cent.

So clearly, Pakistanis are, right now, fairly evenly split on how to deal with the Taliban threat.

However, when asked if they support or oppose the US military’s drone attacks against what Washington claims are Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, only nine per cent of respondents reacted favorably.

A massive 67 per cent say they oppose US military operations on Pakistani soil.

“This is a fact that the hatred against the US is growing very quickly, mainly because of these drone attacks,” Makhdoom Babar, the editor-in-chief of Pakistan’s The Daily Mail newspaper, said.

“Maybe the intelligence channels, the military channels consider it productive, but for the general public it is controversial … the drone attacks are causing collateral damage,” he told Al Jazeera.

The consensus of opinion on US military involvement is notable given the fact that on a raft of internal issues there is a clear level of disagreement, which can be expected in a country of this size.

When asked for their opinions on Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, 42 per cent of respondents believe he is doing a bad job. Around 11 per cent approve of his leadership, and another 34 per cent have no strong opinion either way.

That pattern was reflected in a question about the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Forty-one per cent of Pakistanis say they support the offensive against the Taliban

Respondents were asked if they thought the PPP is good or bad for the country.

About 38 per cent said the PPP is bad for the country, 20 per cent believe it is good for the country and another 30 per cent said they have no strong opinion.

Respondents were even more fractured when asked for their views on how the country should be led.

By far, the largest percentage would opt for Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, as leader. At least 38 per cent back him to run Pakistan.

Zardari received only nine per cent support, while Reza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, has the backing of 13 per cent.

But from there, opinions vary greatly. Eight per cent of the population would support a military government, 11 per cent back a political coalition of the PPP and Sharif’s PML-N party.

Another six per cent throw their support behind religious parties and the remaining 15 per cent would either back smaller groups or simply do not have an opinion.

Babar told Al Jazeera that Zardari’s unpopularity was understandable given the challenges that the country had faced since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

“Any president in Pakistan would be having the same popularity that President Zardari is having, because under this situation the president of Pakistan has to take a lot of unpopular decisions,” he said.

“He is in no position to not take unpopular decisions that are actually in the wider interests of the country, but for common people these are very unpopular decisions.”

The level of diversity disappears when broader questions of security and military intervention are posed.

In the same way that most Pakistanis right now reject what they see as US military interference, they strongly oppose US policies as a whole.

The respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan: 11 per cent of the population sees the Taliban as the largest threat, while 18 per cent believe it comes from India.

But by an overwhelming margin, 59 per cent of respondents said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US.

That is a number worth bearing in mind the next time the US claims its military campaign is succeeding.

11-34

CHINA: Uighur Uprising

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Riot in Urumqi: At least three people were killed and more than 20 injured after an ethnic minority clashed with police in China’s far north-western province of Xinjiang. The disturbances come after a year of rising tensions between the dominant Han Chinese authorities and the Uighur ethnic minority. The clashes in Urumqi on Sunday night between police and a 3,000-strong crowd from the Uighur Muslim ethnic minority left burned-out cars and buses and several smashed shop-fronts. — Peter Foster in Beijing

Travellers in today’s China are often surprised to discover that the country has a sizeable Muslim population. According to the Chinese government, there are more than 20 million Muslims who live in all parts of the country. Others say the number may even be higher. Many Chinese towns have mosques. The call to prayer can be heard on Fridays from Beijing to Yunnan in the south, and especially in the oases of arid Xinjiang in the far northwest. But there are subtle differences among the communities that follow Islam in China — cultural, linguistic and nationalist nuances that formed over centuries of an often-troubled history. Muslims have lived in the Middle Kingdom from just after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. – Backgrounder, CBC News

11-29

The Pullout

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

2009-06-30T122617Z_01_BAG405_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ-USA-TROOPS

Iraqi soldiers march during a parade in Baghdad, June 30, 2009. U.S. combat troops left the last of Iraq’s cities on Tuesday, restoring to the country a proud sense of sovereignty that many applauded even though some fear it may leave them more vulnerable to attacks.

REUTERS/Saad Shalash

In a burst of fireworks that illuminated the Baghdad sky, jubilant Iraqis celebrated the pullout of US forces from their country this past Tuesday. It has been six long and bloody years with over 100,000 civilian lives having been lost since the Bush-era “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq changed the country and, by extension the World, irrevocably.  U.S. Forces handed over the reins of power to Iraqi security personnel. However, it will take at least two more years for the American armed forces to complete the withdrawal in 2011.

The long awaited pullout, which many political commentators believe helped President Obama win the Presidency, is a component of a security deal that was reached last year by Washington and Iraq. In a press interview, U.S. General General Ray Odierno said about Iraqi security forces, “I do believe they are ready. They’ve been working towards this for a long time.”

In a symbolic gesture, Iraqi security personnel retook the former Ministry of Defense building even though there are still more than 130,000 U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. The remaining soldiers will continue to train and advise the 750,000 strong Iraqi army in a primarily ‘back-seat driver’ role. The Iraqi security forces remain on high alert as the government expects insurgents to do their best to spoil the transfer of power. Iraqi security personnel are visible on the city streets in a show of force against anyone attempting to disrupt the current calm. Security checkpoints remain in place and motorcycles have been banned from the streets, as they are often the mode of transport for suicide bombers.

The Americans may be leaving, but Iraq will never be the same. The country bears the scars of an unwelcome war and occupation. Lives have been lost, innocent civilians maimed and the course of history has been changed forever although it remains to be seen if it will be for the worse or better. Likewise, hearts and minds have also been changed. Many Iraqis are exercising more freedoms than under the reign of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which are in line with their American counterparts. The influence of the U.S. in Iraq can be seen as near as the local marketplace where western-inspired clothes are quickly scooped off the racks by customers eager to dress like the characters from their favorite American movies or sitcoms.

The stakes are high as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised his people that the Iraqi security personnel can effectively protect the country. If Maliki can keep that promise, the future looks very bright for Iraq. No less than 31 companies are vying for coveted oil-development contracts, which will make Iraq a force to be reckoned with in the global oil market.  The plan is to develop six massive oil fields and two gas fields located in the Iraqi deserts. The Iraqi government wants to double production from 2.4 million barrels per day to a whopping 4 million barrels per day, which will give the Iraqi government an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars in revenue that can be used to rebuild the country’s beleaguered infrastructure. It has been almost 40 years since any oil company has been willing to do business with Iraq. And it could take another 40 years if the Iraqi government cannot maintain a high level of peace and stability to appease investors.

11-28

The Time for Immigration Reform is Now

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: This editorial was produced in association with New America Media (www.newamericamedia.org), a national association of ethnic media, and was published by ethnic media across the country this week to bring attention to the urgency of immigration reform.

The White House and members of Congress must move quickly on enacting a just and humane immigration reform package that will reunite families, reinvigorate the economy, and remove the term “illegal or undocumented immigrants” from the dialogue in this country. Ethnic media, which reaches over 60 million adults in the United States, calls on Congress to move decisively on immigration reform because there are few issues as important to the nation’s well-being as an overhaul of the inefficient, inhumane and economically debilitating immigration system. More importantly, we are also urging our readers and viewers to contact their Senators and Congressmen and let them know that immigration reform must be a national priority.

The immigration system is broken not just for 12 million undocumented immigrants, but also for specialized workers blocked from joining the American economy because of narrow quotas, and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who must wait for years before being reunited with their families.

Our nation needs comprehensive immigration policies that will replace a broken system of raids and roundups with one that protects all workers from exploitation, improves America’s security and builds strong communities. It’s time to end the division between workers, which has allowed big business to exploit both sides. Clearly, working-class citizens and immigrant workers have much in common – dreams of better homes, education for their families and quality healthcare.  There is more that brings us together, than separates us.  United we can be a strong force for change, changes that that bring more workforce safety and humane conditions.  

Immigration is often portrayed as an explosive, divisive issue. In reality it’s not. Since the repeal of the national origins quota system in 1965, which discriminated against certain immigrants, a consensus has been building towards an immigration system that respects the country’s core values. These include economic opportunity, equality under the law regardless of ethnic background, and an embrace of the world’s most innovative, energetic and ambitious workers. Now, with the country facing serious competition from workers abroad, it’s more important than ever to create a world-class immigration system. It’s for the good for families, good for communities and good for America.  

11-28

Reality Check for Obama in Afghanistan

February 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

He’s facing pressure to increase US troop levels there. Has Washington learned nothing from the Soviet experience?

Courtesy Walter Rodgers

 

2009-02-18T122025Z_01_POP09_RTRMDNP_3_AFGHANISTAN

between the U.S. troop commander in the area and local tribal leaders near Khas Kunar refugee camp, Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan February 18, 2009.

REUTERS/Oleg Popov  

Oakton, Va. – History may not repeat itself, but all too often it recycles mistakes. In 1961, before the Vietnam War became full-fledged, former Gen. Douglas MacArthur warned President Kennedy not to fight a land war in Asia. Over the next 14 years, more than 58,000 Americans died as Washington ignored his advice and ramped up operations.

Today, the US is stuck in another land war in Asia: Afghanistan. The original mission was to capture Osama bin Laden, disable Al Qaeda, remove the Taliban, and keep the country from being a safe haven for terrorists. After seven years of fighting, hundreds of dead US soldiers and thousands more wounded, those objectives have not been met.

And now the US wants to double down, adding as many as 30,000 additional US troops there to get the job done.

Sharp lessons from the Soviets

It’s unfathomable that Washington learned so little from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which ended in an ignominious retreat followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union three years later. The Soviets lost 15,000 soldiers.

In the brief honeymoon after the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, US and Russian intellectuals and officials met to analyze the Afghan war and concluded it would have required 750,000 to 1 million Soviet troops to subdue Afghanistan. But Moscow never deployed more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at any one time. The Soviets discovered they could win battles but never hold more than a few cities in a country the size of Texas.

The United States now has 33,000 troops in Afghanistan. Even if President Obama agrees to double that amount, the effort will be wasted. Half a million US troops might not be enough. It wasn’t in Vietnam. Mr. Obama needs to recognize that hesitation to expand the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with will or cowardice and everything to do with wisdom.

The totalitarian Soviets lacked the political will to deploy three quarters of a million troops. Kremlin mossbacks knew even the docile Russian populace of the Communist era wouldn’t buy it. In 1979, when the ruling Politburo reluctantly decided to send in the troops, it was bitterly opposed by the chief of staff, Marshal of the Army Nikolai Ograkov. He flatly first told then-Defense Minister Dimitri Ustinov and later party leader Leonid Brezhnev that a war in Afghanistan would be a huge mistake. So controversial was the decision to commit Russian forces that only a handful of senior members of the ruling Politburo participated. In the end, those elders chose to go in, primarily because they feared the US was trying to destabilize Afghanistan and sew it into the West’s patchwork encirclement of the Soviet Union.

It took nine years before Moscow concluded that its war in Afghanistan was a mistake. After the cold war, Russia declassified documents on Afghanistan and the West learned that on more than a dozen occasions between March of 1979 and the December invasion, Brezhnev refused to intervene despite destabilization of the Soviet Union’s southern border.

As a correspondent based in Moscow in the 1980s, I made several trips into Afghanistan with the Soviets. When I returned to Moscow, my Russian office manager asked me what it was like there. Waxing enthusiastic, I told her, “It was magnificent, straight out of Kipling and the 19th century.” Her blue Slavic eyes narrowed. “No, Walt, you are wrong. Afghanistan is the 14th century.”

After 9/11, when hordes of reporters traveled to this mystical, medieval land, the recommended reading was historical fiction of the late George MacDonald Fraser’s first “Flashman” volume on the Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842. The entire retreating British column of upwards of 16,000 men, women, and children – save for one survivor – was wiped out by the forefathers of those who drove the Soviets out 150 years later. Obama would be well advised to read “Flashman” and realize how little Afghanistan has changed.

It would be delusional to expect any American expeditionary force to liberate and enlighten Afghans, freeing women from resurgent Taliban. There’s an adage familiar to all who worked there: “There only two times an Afghan woman leaves her home: when she gets married and when she dies.” Afghanistan is a land polka-dotted in graveyards beyond counting. UNICEF says 20 percent of all Afghan children die before their fifth birthday. The entire US Army will not be able to convert greedy warlords to modernity.

Afghanistan is a feudal quilt of tribes. It’s disingenuous to call it a country. It is a failed state, perhaps best babysat by its regional neighbors: Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and India.

Their individual interests and goals in Afghanistan may differ, but none is eager to have a rejuvenated Al Qaeda caliphate led by loose cannons such as Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden, whom they cannot control. If three regional superpowers – India, China, and Russia – opt to sit on the sidelines in their own neighborhood, what logic is there for American intervention from an ocean and continent away?

Even as they request more troops, US generals have acknowledged that an Iraq-style “surge” won’t work. “Afghanistan is not Iraq,” said Gen. David McKiernan, who leads US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General McKiernan, who led ground forces in Iraq in 2003, has described Afghanistan as “a far more complex environment than I ever found in Iraq.” Today, the Pentagon talks of achieving not victory or lasting democracy but merely progress against militants.

No good options left

There are no good options left after the Bush administration’s unnecessary war in Iraq. An increased American intervention in Afghanistan might have been more welcome six years ago. Now it is probably too late. Yet a total American withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave in its wake anarchy and bloodbath. An ugly Taliban triumph would ensue. The Taliban need to be contained, but not exclusively by the US, so Obama must persuade NATO and Afghanistan’s near neighbors to play a larger, perhaps dominant, role.

Pakistan can no longer labor under the ill usion that it can manipulate events from across the border. If the Pakistanis have learned anything since 9/11, it should be that Afghanistan’s growing destabilization increasingly threatens their own society. Imagine for a moment that the Obama administration were to announce a withdrawal from Afghanistan in six months. The regional powers who know their own neighborhood far better than Washington would quickly come up with a formula and the troops to stabilize the failed state. If there is no constituency among these neighbors to “fix” Afghanistan, then the US can no more go it alone than could the Russians.

The resurgent Taliban may be unstoppable. The Bush administration was warned of that four years ago but spent most of its resources instead in Iraq. Still, accommodation with the Taliban, who are brutal and medieval, is not the same as capitulation to bin Laden. Recall that in the late 1990s, the Taliban was initially reluctant to have an Arab-led Islamist jihad waged from Afghanistan. The past seven years of US bombing and war in the countryside have sharply reminded the Taliban that they were better off without bin Laden as a guest. The Sudanese were persuaded of that more than a decade ago.

The idea of creating a secular national army in Afghanistan to fend off the20Taliban is not only tardy but smacks of the usual American mind-set of throwing money and advisers at a problem. The Afghan tribes speak Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, and Turkmen with some Baluchi, Pashai, and Nuristani thrown in for good measure. Which language is the Afghan Army going to fight in?

The real challenge to a new Afghan Army, however, is that it is not aflame with the Islamic cohesiveness that fires the Taliban. Until it is, it will be little more than a collection of uninspired, unmotivated militiamen more interested in collecting a monthly American paycheck than in creating a unified nation out of the ashes of 30 years of war.

It is still not clear what Obama thinks other than that, unlike George W. Bush, he says Afghanistan is more central to the war on terror than Iraq. On that he is correct. Washington and Kabul just agreed to a strategic review of the war. Whatever option Obama chooses, he must not risk the same mistake the Soviets made in underestimating the energized power of the Islamic faith. An enlarged American footprint in Afghanistan runs the risk of repeating Russia’s fatal miscalculations. War, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Obama must remember that it is intolerable in the eyes of Muslims to be subjugated and occupied by non-Muslims, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan. Western military occupation didn’t work for the Crusaders in the Levant, for Napoleon in Egypt, or for the British in Iraq. Obama needs to be mindful of this as he decides whether to expand a war in southwest Asia, a historic graveyard of empires.

• Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN.

The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The phrase ‘hired help’ takes on an extreme meaning in the Gulf with just about everyone, who is anyone, employing a bevy of service workers to fulfill their every whim. The majority of the workers are males hailing from Southeast Asia who leave their homelands in the hope for a better life in the oil rich region where they earn a meager living, which they send back to their families. They are garbage collectors, office tea boys, stockists, chauffeurs, janitors and are basically ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in every sense. They do the work that no one else wants to do and keep the Gulf nations running smoothly. Without this source of cheap labor, the current construction and economic boom in the region would come to a screeching halt.

However, the side effect of importing laborers from other nations is that there is an abundance of bachelors residing in residential areas, which often causes problems for families and the community as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Kuwait. According to recent research conducted in the tiny Gulf nation, bachelors are responsible for the bulk of crime in the country with theft and sexual assault topping the list of transgressions. It comes as no surprise that the so-called bachelors have turned to crime when they have limited opportunities in Kuwait, zero chance of promotion in their menial jobs and are lucky if they are paid their salary on time or at all. Some have no choice but to dig through the garbage to earn money from recyclables as their ‘payday’ is unreliable.

The issue of the bachelors has long been a sticking point in the Kuwaiti Parliament with MP’s from every district highlighting citizen complaints about the bachelor’s crimes and presence on the streets into all hours of the night. This past week the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MSAL) announced plans to construct a ‘bachelor city’ to house the ever-growing number of unattached men in the country. The first complex will be built in Sabhan city. It will cover 60,000 square meters and accommodate an estimated 3,000 laborers. The second complex, still in the planning stage, will cover 1000 square meters and house an estimated 9,000 workers. Both complexes will contain entertainment facilities and basic service businesses, like mini-grocery stores and barber shops. The governmental aim is to relocate all bachelors from the residential areas of Kuwait into their very own city to limit the opportunities for crime and to appease residents.

However, it remains to be seen if the idea will be a success or a failure with many bachelors up in arms for being forced to leave the only homes they have known since they landed in Kuwait. Many are law-abiding citizens whose only crime is that they are labeled as menaces to society simply because of the actions of other bachelors. The bachelors will be bused to and from their places of work in every city of Kuwait each day and return to their own city at night.

When asked about the plan for the bachelor’s city, Muhammad Amin, who is a Pakistani bachelor and day laborer said, “I think it is wrong to blame all bachelors for the problems of the country. The finger-pointing should be directed to the recruiting agencies who hire us from abroad. Moving us all to one city is not going to solve any problems and will cause anger amongst us for being kept away from society as if we are lepers.”

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